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the tangled web of fate we weave

Chapter Text

March 21, 2003

It’s a foggy Friday night in the Bay Area, and the highway glistens with the damp. Lucy had the radio on, but she doesn’t want to hear any more about Dubya and his cronies invading Iraq, and she needs to concentrate on what she’s planning to say to her mother. Carol Preston, to say the least, is not going to be pleased by the idea of her eldest begotten daughter quitting school and playing keyboard in a garage band (Puff The Tragic Wagon, the last time they changed the name – called it after this car, actually, a crappy Subaru that needs the brakes done, but it gets Lucy where she needs to go and she, a college sophomore, can’t afford the repairs). Lucy can’t really play keyboard, but Jake sings, and he is big on the idea of seeing the world while they’re young. Only losers get degrees these days. Go-getters drop out, found websites, or start a platinum-selling rock band. Doesn’t Lucy want to do her own thing for once?

Lucy loves history. She does. But everything that Jake is offering seems much more exciting, vigorous, real. She’s twenty years old. She should be living her life. (Whatever this means, but she’s sure it involves parties somehow.) Yes, the Stanford women's studies department is Carol’s legacy, and she’s always expected Lucy will work there as well some day, but… later. Later.

Once more, Lucy rehearses the speech. Her mother has never approved of Jake (the words slacker and pothead have been used, which is unfair – he doesn’t partake any more than your average Californian, and his grades are fine) and that will be an added insult. Amy is only thirteen, but Lucy feels pretty confident that her baby sister will back her up on this. There will probably be some kind of guilt trip about how Dad died just last year and now Lucy wants to spring this shock on her poor mother as well, but –

She doesn’t even see the oil slick, probably left from a passing tanker truck on the way to the harbor, especially when the road is already wet from the mist. One moment she’s driving, and then the next the world has reeled sickeningly headlong. Lucy cranks the wheel desperately, trying to compensate for the skid, but Puff the Tragic Wagon plunges straight off the Bayshore Freeway and into the estuary beyond. The next instant, Lucy is in cold water up to her waist and the driver door won’t open.

She swears – this piece of shit, this fucking piece of shit! – and tries to jam it. She’s been slammed hard against her seatbelt and she’s badly winded, but pure cold adrenaline drives her to try again. The power windows have already shorted, and all she can see is black. She sobs with terror as the water laps beneath her chin, as the car continues spinning, spinning, into a featureless, empty void. No quitting school, then. No joining a band either. No way to know what her mom is going to think of this, because all there will be is a wreath of orchids on a closed coffin, and another plot next to Dad’s in the cemetery.

This is it, Lucy thinks, with eerie, perfect clarity. The car keeps sinking. This has all happened almost too fast to be real. One minute ago, her entire future was in front of her. Now there’s no time left at all.

She chokes on a gulp of water. Thinks she hears a splash, somewhere above her. But that is probably just some sort of cruel trick.

It’s over her head. It’s over her head.

She’s twenty years old. She doesn’t want to die.

And then in the next instant, somebody wrenches the door open from the outside, letting in a rush of seething dark water. Grabs at her as she fumbles to undo the seatbelt, reaches around her and snaps it loose, then gets an iron grip around her waist and hauls her upward, as her lungs start to burn from the strain. Then the next instant, her head – their heads – break the surface, the city lights sparkle back into existence like candles, and just that fast again, the pendulum of fate has swung. From life to death to back to life again, and she’s too stunned to move as she floats there in her rescuer’s arms, her back to his – it feels like a his – chest. He holds her without a word as she gasps and gags and heaves, then says in her ear, as if gentling a horse, “Easy.”

“Th-thank you,” Lucy cries, as he starts kicking them backward toward the rocks, the broken guardrail looming overhead where Puff plunged through. “Thank you so much, oh my God. Did you – did you see me go over, or – ”

“I saw it.” He has some sort of accent she can’t immediately place, and although she can’t say why, something makes her think that he has experience at this kind of thing. High-pressure job, some kind of military, perhaps. He doesn’t seem terribly rattled to have saved a woman from drowning, at any rate, as they reach the shore and he pulls her up. Her legs are too shaky to immediately support her, and he lets her hold onto his arm. He’s a full foot taller than her, with a sharp-nosed profile and wet dark hair, and his car is parked rather wildly on the shoulder, as if he saw her go through, pulled over, and dove directly in, all in a matter of seconds. Definitely a take-charge sort, this one. “Are you all right?”

“F-fine,” Lucy stammers. She is, mostly. Bumps and scrapes and bruises, and an abrasion on her shoulder where the seatbelt caught, not to mention the shock. Other than that, though, she’s miraculously unscathed. “D-do you have a phone? I n-need to call someone for a ride.”

“I’ll give you a ride. Where are you going?”

“M-Mountain View, but…” Chivalrous as he’s been, and the fact that he definitely saved her life aside, Lucy’s usual instinct not to get into a car with a strange man flares up by reflex. “I was going to talk to my mom anyway, I was – ” She wipes her face. “I don’t know. Maybe that was a sign that I shouldn’t.”

“Shouldn’t what?”

“It’s dumb, really, but… I was going to drop out of school with my boyfriend, we were going to join a band. . .” Lucy is shivering in earnest by now, and he takes off his leather bomber jacket and drapes it around her shoulders. She can’t quite remember why she agreed to it. “Jake has all these ideas about traveling, seeing the world and – ”

It’s almost completely dark, but she can still make out her rescuer’s scowl. “You’re dropping out of school for a boy?”

“I – ” Lucy pushes her sodden hair out of her face. “Well, I was thinking about it.”

“What do you do?”


“Don’t quit.” He says it with a certain, unexplainable conviction. “Not for him.”

Lucy is about to tell this strange European (she thinks he’s European, at any rate) man that he has no business telling her what she can or can’t do, but (fittingly, perhaps) the future once more seems entirely different than it did a moment ago. She stares at him, unsure what to say. Decides that maybe, at least, she can think it over tonight, shouldn’t make any hasty decisions after a near-death experience. “Do you have a phone I can use?”

He pauses, then strides to his car (it definitely looks like the kind of thing a government type would drive, sleek and black) and returns with a Motorola, which he hands to her. Lucy dials her mother’s number, still shaking, and when Carol picks up, tells her that she had an accident and she’s okay, but she’s on the Bayshore Freeway and can Carol please come get her? She’s fine. Really, she is. The car, though. The car, uh, may be gone.

Her mom freaks out at this, understandably, and Lucy has to spend a few minutes reassuring her. She doesn’t mention the nearly drowning, and she doesn’t mention the handsome stranger pulling her out, because it seems half a dream already. He stands with her, hands in his pockets, not saying a word, until headlights veer up, and her mother calls, panicking, “Lucy? Lucy?”

“This is me, I guess.” Lucy takes off his jacket and hands it back to him, as he glances over and seems to decide, for whatever reason, that this is his cue to go. “Thank – thank you again.”

He nods once, but doesn’t answer. Waits until he sees she’s gotten into the car, then walks to his own. Shuts it and pulls out, before Lucy remembers she doesn’t have a name, doesn’t have a phone number, doesn’t have any way to get in touch later and thank him. Maybe he’s the kind of Good Samaritan who doesn’t want credit, is just going to vanish into the ether and leave her wondering if he was even entirely real, or just one of the strangers you meet on wet dark nights, who aren’t there when you look twice.

She tells her mom she’s fine. She doesn’t mention the plan.

Three days later, she breaks up with Jake and enrolls for her junior year of history.

Chapter Text

March 19, 2010

It’s Friday, and it’s the first time all week that Lucy Preston has seen the sunset. Possibly in two weeks, for that matter, or more. She has been shut up in the library since what feels like the start of the new year, buried in her carrel among an endless stack of books, articles, notes, photocopied primary sources, her overworked laptop, her three thumb drives (someone else in the department has a horror story about their computer dying five days before submission, and Lucy isn’t taking any chances), a rotation of takeout cups and sandwich wrappers from the library café, and whatever other sustenance she needs to keep going. She’s rented a campus studio apartment, otherwise she would probably be sleeping in the stacks in the basement. Be way too much hassle to try to commute back and forth to Mom’s house in Mountain View otherwise.

The Stanford campus is cool and blue and quiet, and Lucy leans against the outside library wall, rubbing her eyes and trying to get them to focus. They don’t seem to want to. She turned twenty-seven two months ago, and feels about eighty-one. It’s been a nonstop grind of work, from that moment she nearly died seven years ago, almost exactly to the day – that was the twenty-first of March, 2003, she’s never forgotten. Dumped Jake, abandoned her plans of joining a band, enrolled for junior year of history, finished, graduated, went straight onto her master’s degree that fall, and now, the fact that the end might actually be in sight is one Lucy cannot wrap her head around. It feels surreal and dreamlike.

Overachiever that she is, her PhD is being conferred jointly by two departments, history and anthropology, which means her dissertation is at least one and a half times longer than everyone else’s. She’s teaching HIST1210 on the Civil War and HIST1300 on primary sources, she still has papers to mark from both, and she needs to update her CV and apply for research funding for the conferences she submitted paper prospectuses to. And think, again, about the future. Even having a mother who basically invented the Stanford women’s studies department isn’t a guarantee that she’ll get a job, even if it does pitch her odds a lot better than most people’s. Lucy has already had most of her tuition paid by Carol Preston’s institutional pull, and she can’t help but wonder where the gravy train stops. She likes to think that she’s smart enough that she’d have earned scholarships on her own merit anywhere, but why go anywhere else, when it’s Stanford, for God’s sake? Not Jim Bob Jones Community College.

After a long pause, Lucy straightens up, swings her bag to her shoulder (she leaves most of her stuff in her carrel overnight) and starts down the path. She’s wondered if now might be an opportune moment to develop a drinking habit, but her anxious mind won’t let her. One near-fatal car crash was bad enough, after all. No need to push her luck with a second.

(She thinks again of the man who rescued her. Just dove in, no hesitation at all, and fished her out, told her not to quit history for a boy, and vanished. She never got a name.)

(Is he pleased, then, that she threw herself in headfirst? Is that what he wanted? Not that it matters. Not that that is the reason she’s doing this.)

Lucy comes to a halt in front of the beige-stucco residence halls and digs for her keys, wondering how obnoxious her neighbors feel like being tonight. This is postgrad housing, supposedly quiet, but the way they go at it, you’d think it was undergraduate party central. Lucy has been over to bang on their door at 1AM a few times, and she could complain to the office, but – again, Lucy Good Girl Preston– she shirks from the idea of actually getting anyone in trouble. She’ll be out of here soon anyway, moving on. She can endure it, she can –

“Good evening, Lucy.”

She almost has a heart attack. Drops her keys and fumbles for them madly in the dimness, having some panicky idea that it’s someone jumping out of the bushes to put a bag over her head and drag her off behind a dumpster. Yes, it seems odd to politely address her by her first name beforehand, but who knows? It’s a man’s voice, gravelly and accented, almost familiar. But it’s been at least two years between boyfriends, it’s not any of her professors (and it would be more than a little creepy to follow her home) and –

She whirls around, gets a good look at his face in the portico light, and feels momentarily faint. She was, of course, just thinking about him, and wonders half-seriously if she’s charmed up him up like a djinni. He looks exactly how she remembers: tall, dark hair, sharp-nosed profile, though this time he is not dripping wet, having not had to dramatically dive into the Bay to save her from her sinking car. He’s wearing the leather bomber jacket and a nice pair of jeans, has his thumbs linked casually through his belt like a Grease extra, but it comes off casually competent and slightly chilling. She also remembers what she thought about him last time, that instant response to high-pressure situations might be something he deals with a lot. What the –

“You,” she says at last, having managed to unstick her tongue from the roof of her mouth. “What are you doing here? How did you – how did you know where to find me?”

He has apparently been prepared to remind her how they know each other, but sees at once that he doesn’t have to. He shrugs. “I know people.”

That’s not exactly a reassuring answer. Lucy clutches her bag closer, as if he’s really come here for the $3.20 in her wallet and her backup thumb drives. “Have you been stalking me?”

He looks amused, but only briefly. “We should get inside.”

Lucy goggles at him, not least at his apparent presumption that she’s going to ask him into her house, but something makes her do as told. Hands trembling for no good reason, she taps her key card, buzzes them in, and climbs the stairs to her second-story apartment. She can hear the thumping of rap music before she even reaches the hallway – yep, her neighbors are at it again. Trying to ignore it, not least because she suddenly has bigger problems, she reaches into her bag for her phone, trying to dial a 9 and 1 without him noticing. But why would the man who saved her life want to kill her?

His eyes flick to her hand. “You don’t need to call the police, Lucy.”

“Don’t need to, or you would prefer that I didn’t?” Lucy refuses to budge. “There’s a difference.”

He looks admiring of her bravery, if irritated at the timing. “Don’t need to. Go inside, I’ll be along.”

Lucy debates dialing the last 1 with her thumb. Or campus security, they could probably get here faster. But – weird as this is, and as he is – something stops her. He slowly removes his hands from his belt and holds them up, then opens his jacket to show her that he isn’t packing heat inside. There is, however, a holster as if he usually does, and he reaches into his back pocket, pulls out a slim black case, and flips it open, holding it out. It’s a U.S. government ID. Gives his name as Garcia Flynn.

“Okay,” Lucy says, a little weakly. “Why didn’t you lead with that?”

Garcia Flynn doesn’t bother to answer this perfectly reasonable question, making another gesture at her apartment. Lucy goes inside, puts down her bag on the couch, and feels like collapsing onto it. Next door, the music continues unabated for a few more moments, until it abruptly cuts off. The silence is blessed, but suspicious. She hears voices, but can’t make out what they’re saying. Then her front door opens again, she jumps, and Flynn enters, looking smug. “That’s better.”

“You didn’t kill my neighbors, did you?” Lucy isn’t sure they wouldn’t deserve it, but that is obviously not a man she wants to be alone with. Not that she knows how he would kill three people in thirty seconds with no noise, but… it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t seem out of his ability. “Or – ”

“I didn’t kill anyone.” He seems somewhat aggravated that she keeps harping on this point. “I’m not here to hurt you, Lucy.”

Lucy remains looking at him tensely, but he returns her gaze forthrightly, and she finally lets out a whisper of a breath. “What’s going on?”

“That’s complicated.” Flynn is prowling around her living room, tapping and shaking things, picking them up and turning them over, in a way that seems – to say the least – out of line in a perfect stranger’s house. Maybe Lucy’s watched too many spy movies recently, switches on whatever looks halfway interesting on Netflix and vegs out, but it looks a lot like sweeping for bugs. He takes a small silver thing that looks like a coin out of his pocket and sets it on her bookshelf. “I’m not sure you’d understand.”

“I’m a PhD student,” Lucy says, voice brittle. “I’m pretty sure I’d understand.”

Flynn glances up at her, one eyebrow raised, but doesn’t answer. He presses something on the silver thing, which hums as if to disrupt any nearby listening equipment, and finally seems satisfied that her shithole student flat is in the clear. “So you kept up with history?”

“Yes. And I’m due to submit my dissertation in about two weeks, my supervisor is supposed to email me by Monday with my oral exam date, half the committee is from Harvard, and I just spent thirteen hours reading nineteenth-century handwriting. So you better make this quick.”

Flynn half-grins, seemingly despite himself. “A PhD at – what, twenty-seven,” he says. “That’s very impressive. You’ve worked hard.”

Lucy doesn’t want to accept the praise of a possibly crazy government operative, but it makes her glow, a little. Her mom always wants to know how much more she still has to do, as if keeping a timetable in her head and marking her off, and of course Amy is encouraging, but Lucy has kept her nose to the grindstone so long that she’s barely picked it up to look at the rest of the world. She doesn’t even know what she’s doing, other than that she has to do it. She does love history. She really does. You don’t get this far without it, and you have to enjoy the tedious parts (well, mostly), even if you’re re-reading your draft and shouting at your first-year self because they didn’t put in page numbers, thus obliging you to go grumbling to hunt them down. She is damn and justifiably proud of this accomplishment, and she doesn’t need anyone, much less FBI Freddy here, to tell her that. But still.

“Never mind that,” she says. “Why are you here?”

Flynn regards her for a long moment. Then he says, “Scientia potentia est. You’ve heard that?”

“It’s Latin,” Lucy says, a little shortly. She is not up for having a fright, and her time wasted, for something he could have typed into Google Translate. “It means knowledge is power.”

“Yes, I know that.” Flynn sits across from her, looking too big for her secondhand armchair. “It’s also a motto. Have you seen it anywhere?”

“No.” A phrase as banal as that could be a motto for dozens of private schools. “Mr. Flynn, I’m afraid I can’t – ”

“Very well.” He sits forward, gripping his knees. “Rittenhouse, Lucy. Have you ever heard of that?”

“Rittenhou – David Rittenhouse?” Lucy is vaguely familiar with him, a leading intellectual of the eighteenth century, polymath and professor of astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania, and correspondent and cohort of the Founding Fathers. Has Flynn come here to ask for help with some research project, some kind of sponsorship some historical society is doing to raise awareness of his life? That at least might make more sense. “Is that what we’re talking about?”

The expression on Flynn’s face seems to say that he momentarily isn’t sure. “So he founded it?”

“What?” Lucy gets up, not entirely sure that she isn’t asleep atop a stack of books back at her carrel, drooling on her notes. “Founded what?”

“The society in his name. Rittenhouse. Scientia potentia est. That’s their motto.”

“There is no society in his name. Unless you mean the astronomy club?”

“I don’t mean the astronomy club. The other one.”

“Is this a – ” Lucy isn’t sure what it would be, some extended performance-art practical joke, perhaps, but he doesn’t look like he’s trying to prank her. Besides, why would an eighteenth-century astronomer have anything to do with why Flynn wanted to sweep her apartment for bugs? “I work more on the nineteenth century than late colonial-early federal America, but if you have some kind of question about him, I can recommend someone in the department to – ”

“I’m not asking anyone else,” Flynn says brusquely. “I’m asking you.”

“Well then. You’re in the wrong place, I can’t help. I don’t have time.” Lucy gets up, pacing toward the kitchen. Flynn remains seated, but she can feel his eyes following her. She runs a glass under the tap and takes a drink, then returns to the living room, as if this will somehow have fixed the problem. “What do you want to know about him for? There’s Wikipedia, there’s whatever else, there’s – ”

“Nothing of what I want is available online.” He says this with the tone of somebody who’s looked – and NSA Nicky probably has. “You, though – I thought there was a chance you might. Given who your father is – ”

“What?” Lucy’s father died eight years ago. Lung cancer. The reason she won’t take up smoking either, that and the way her mother’s been coughing a lot and she’s urged her to get it checked out. She feels slapped. “My father’s dead.”

“Henry Wallace?” Flynn shakes his head. “No, not him. I meant your biological father.”


He pulls a slip of paper out of his pocket and holds it out to her, but Lucy does not budge to take it. In a savage whisper, she says, “You need to leave.”

Flynn belatedly seems to realize that it might not have been the best time to bring this up. He opens his hand and lets the paper flutter onto the floor, but doesn’t move to retrieve it. He gets to his feet instead, eyes never wavering from hers. He is just so damn intense in everything he does, it makes Lucy feel like she’s on the inside of a forge, burning, burning. “Very well.”

With that, he starts across the floor, but seems reluctant to go entirely. Any other person would apologize for the intrusion, or tell her to be careful, but he doesn’t. “Ask your mother about your father,” he says. She can’t tell if his eyes are green or brown – in some lights they look one, in some lights the other. He looks at her challengingly. “Ask him if he is who you thought.”

Lucy’s about to respond, but just then, headlights waver on the ceiling through her half-closed curtains, and she looks down to see a car pulling into the parking lot. It’s the sort of nondescript black sedan that screams shady government business, and she might have thought it was Flynn’s ride, but after he strides to the window and looks out, his mouth goes very thin. He jerks the curtains shut, reaches into his jacket, and remembers he’s left his gun off in a bid not to alarm her. He swears in something that sounds Slavic; Lucy can’t be sure exactly what. It fits with the accent and appearance, but he had a U.S. badge – unless that was some kind of forgery and –

Flynn whirls back to the silver gizmo he has, switches it off, and pulls something else out of his jacket that kills the lights. Then he takes hold of Lucy – it feels much too forward, even as she remembers him pulling her out of the water – and tugs her flat on the floor. “Don’t open the door,” he hisses. “You’re not home.”

Lucy is about to struggle, to ask questions, but the look he gives her is so searing that she bites her tongue instead. She can hear footsteps on the stairs, then a knock on her door. “Miss Preston?” a voice calls. “It’s FedEx.”

She’s pretty sure it isn’t FedEx. She and Flynn lie close together on the floor, his arms still around her, the lights off and the apartment dark. Are they going to go look at the library next, or just assume she’s out having a life like an ordinary twenty-seven-year old woman would on Friday night? She tries to concentrate, to slow her breathing, as if they could hear it. The thump of Flynn’s heart seems distractingly loud, though her ear is pressed directly against his chest. He is so tall that if they were standing, her head would tuck easily under his chin. What is it about him and appearing out of nowhere to get her out of – or into – life-threatening situations?

The faux FedEx man knocks again. They don’t budge. Lucy has to admit, it is more than a little freaky that this has happened right after Flynn has turned up talking about secret societies and – whatever else, and it unwillingly makes her think that there might be something to his story. Oddest of all, however, is the fact that it almost feels familiar to lie next to him, not just because he saved her life. Like it’s something else, and she just has to remember what.

After a long pause and one last knock, the fake deliveryman departs. Flynn doesn’t let go of Lucy until several minutes after they’ve heard the car pull out, he’s looked through the window to make sure, and swears again. “That is the last time I leave my gun at home.”

Lucy sits up slowly, rattled. “Are you going to tell me that was Rittenhouse?”

“Might be.” Flynn speaks distractedly, eyes still on the parking lot. “I don’t suppose you carry?”

“I’m a history student.” Lucy has never wanted to touch a gun in her life, especially since she plans on being a professor. “No.”

“Of course.” His brow remains furrowed, as if he’s judging the advisability of leaving her alone long enough to go back and get his own. Finally he says, “I think it’s better for me to stay here tonight.”

Lucy opens her mouth to tell him that he can’t invite himself to stay the night, but the words get stuck. Despite herself, she is scared. Nonstop dissertation anxiety and crushing uncertainty about the academic job market almost seem preferable. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know.” Flynn turns slowly, the dim light from outside etching the sharp features of his face. “They could have guessed something about what I knew, or… I’m not sure. It could blow over, but I’d feel better about it to stay. Just for tonight.”

“And then what?” Lucy demands. “I can’t go into witness protection, just because of whatever stupid thing you got me into! I have to finish my dissertation!”

“You can do that, Lucy.” He looks at her frankly. “I’ll protect you.”

Whatever she is about to say withers on her tongue. After all, isn’t that what he did – the first time, and then now? She doesn’t know what’s going on, he has been an enigma in a bomber jacket ever since she met him – seven years ago, technically, does it count to have known him for seven years, if it’s only been one night and this one? That did freak her out. As strange and unwise as it might be, she would in fact feel better if he stayed. Not that her sagging yellow-plaid couch, older than her, which she picked up at a garage sale for $12, is exactly comfortable to sleep on. She can’t believe she’s thinking about this, but –

Flynn, still clearly ruing his lack of a firearm, makes another check around her apartment, then sits back down on the couch. It’s about half as long as he is, and his legs will clearly be dangling over the end. Lucy has no obligation of hospitality, and in fact is sorely wishing she left the library at her normal time of eleven o’clock PM. Then she wouldn’t have run into him (unless he let himself in to wait for her) and this would not be happening. It’s not that late, and ordinarily she might get into bed and watch something on her laptop, but her concentration is shot. She heads into her bedroom, shuts the door, and changes into her pajamas, then goes to the bathroom and washes her face several times, staring at herself in the mirror. She still appears to be real. Somehow, this is happening. Maybe it will stop doing that.

Lucy brushes her teeth and hair, and mulls a long bath, but it feels awkward with a NSA (she thinks he’s NSA, at any rate) agent sitting in her living room, even one ostensibly there to protect rather than spy on her. She goes out and climbs into bed, tugs the covers up, and lies there for a long time, staring at the ceiling. Every time a car pulls into the parking lot, she tenses. Keeps listening for footsteps on the stairs, a knock on the door, but nothing.

Lucy eventually drifts off, has scattered and turbulent dreams, and wakes with a start sometime past midnight. She gets up in search of a drink of water, and when she peers into the living room, sees that Flynn has dozed off on the couch, still dressed and sitting up. Something wrenches in her heart, she can’t even explain what, and she pads out. Taps on his shoulder, and he wakes instantly, snapping to awareness, in what must be a long-honed reflex. When he sees it’s her, he relaxes, if only slightly. “Is something wrong, Lucy?”

Her name sounds softer in his mouth than it did earlier. Less as if it’s coming from a stranger, and Lucy shakes her head. “No, it’s fine. It’s. . . you just didn’t look very comfortable.”

“I’m all right.” He grimaces, though he tries not to let her see. “It’s not the worst place I’ve slept.”

“Thank you,” Lucy says simply. “For staying.”

He starts to say something, then forgets or stops halfway through. Their eyes meet with a frisson that Lucy is fairly sure both of them feel. There is a touch of destiny about the idea that they’ve run into each other seven years apart almost to the day, that he saved her life the first time and is making sure he does again. Trying to be unobtrusive, she glances down at his left hand. He isn’t wearing a wedding band, but she doesn’t know if there’s someone else in his life anyway. Not that this is remotely her business. She’s not interested in dating him. For Pete’s sake.

(She isn’t altogether sure, however, that she isn’t interested in something else.)

She considers a moment longer. Then she decides that he can take it however he wants, and says, “Come on.”

Flynn looks almost comically startled as she beckons him to his feet. He hangs back, then follows her into the dark bedroom, her covers still tousled and warm with the imprint of her, her sheets glowing soft white in the murk. It’s clear he’s wondering if he’s supposed to climb in with her, and it is equally clear that he isn’t sure if he’ll refuse. “Lucy – ”

“Look, just…” This isn’t her style. Lucy Good Girl Preston. She has never had sex on a first date, this does not even qualify as a first date, and similarly, she likes nice men. Genuinely nice ones, that is, the smart and thoughtful ones with a grown-up job who she can talk to and feel supported. Whatever Flynn is, he is not nice. “It’s a queen bed. There’s room.”

Flynn continues to hesitate. Finally, he shucks his shoes, jacket, and belt, and gets on top of the covers next to her. The bedsprings creak under his weight, and even here, his feet extend a few inches past the end of the mattress. Lucy lies there with her eyes closed, well aware that she knew she wasn’t going to get back to sleep with this unfamiliar masculine presence on her bed, fighting herself back and forth. She thought he was here to possibly throw her into the trunk of a car or whatever else, it is – to say the least – concerning that she is now considering, well, the opposite. Her mouth is dry. It has been two years since Noah and as noted, she doesn’t do one-night stands. She doesn’t think Flynn is horrified or repelled by her. Oh God, this is stupid.

After fifteen minutes of increasingly excruciating feigned-sleep, Lucy gives up the ghost. Sits up fast enough to startle him, and she feels guilty, as if she’s somehow the one jerking him around by all this. They stare at each other, faces close in the dark. She can feel the whisper of his breath on her cheek. In this light, his eyes look almost hazel. His tongue darts out to touch his lips, almost unconsciously, and he shifts as if to ease the fit of his trousers. “Lucy – ”

Slowly, lightly, timidly, Lucy raises her hand and brushes her fingers across his chest, to the unbuttoned neck of his shirt. A shudder runs through him – well, no, he doesn’t look repulsed. It seems to take a great deal of self-control for him not to reach up and grab her hand, but not because he doesn’t want her to touch him. Just that this is a man used to controlling everything, to setting parameters, establishing boundaries. Sweeping for bugs. Making sure it’s clear. He takes the lead by temperament and occupation. That’s just who he is. And yet –

Lucy’s fingers settle in the hollow of his throat. She can feel his pulse bumping against them like a jackhammer, the way both of them have forgotten how to breathe, noses almost brushing. If she kissed him right now, if she actually did that – it would be one way to relieve her stress, an unhelpful little voice whispers in her brain. And then possibly cause any number of other things, but still. If he’s meant to be here somehow, if they’ve been led together again for some greater plan… Lucy isn’t religious, exactly, but she finds herself believing in some sort of unity, some kind of intention. Maybe it comes from being a historian. Looking at how everything has fitted together and interlocked, built upon each other like a flowering vine, gone forward and backward. The big picture. That’s how she always looks at it.

This feels like that, but different. Something like design, maybe. If she wants to call it that. But really, a whole lot more like desire.

Flynn doesn’t try to pull away from her, but Lucy can’t tell if that’s just because he’s stunned that she’s the one making a move on him, after the way the night started out. She shifts her weight, absurdly self-conscious, feeling like a nervous, bespectacled seventeen-year-old all over again. Lifts her hand and lays it alongside his face, strokes a thumb over the groove alongside his mouth. Then, when he still doesn’t stop her, she leans closer.

Flynn recovers from his paralysis just enough to lean in himself, and they knock noses painfully, forcing them away with muffled exclamations. It seems to jerk them back to their senses, both of them apologizing at the same moment. Lucy’s cheeks start to flame. “I – we should – shouldn’t.”

If Flynn was feeling as dickish as she gets the sense he might usually be, he could easily point out that she was the one who thought they should. He, however, doesn’t. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, even though they didn’t actually kiss. “I’ll go back out.”

Lucy supposes that, strictly speaking, is a good plan. She doesn’t need to keep making this mistake, having been saved from it the first time around. Her voice is breathy and choked. “Ok – okay.”

Flynn glances back at her, then shifts himself off the bed, standing up and collecting his jacket and shoes. It’s on the tip of her tongue to tell him not to go, but if he stays here on the bed, something else is going to happen, and on the most brutally practical level, Lucy doesn’t have any condoms. They’re not something you need when you’ve been single for two years because your current relationship is with Abraham Lincoln (and in a less weird-cat-lady-way than that sounds). She wishes for once that she wasn’t so confoundedly rational. But still.

Once the door shuts behind him, she falls back on her pillows, flushed and breathing much harder than she should. All that, and she didn’t even get actually kissed for it. This night has been a total bitch.

(Dissertation, she reminds herself. Tomorrow is Saturday, and she needs to go grocery shopping and clean the house, but she can still do a little work.)


Flynn’s face floats in front of hers. She has a hard time thinking that she’ll forget it again.

Out in the living room, the couch creaks as Flynn must sit back down to resume his lonely vigil, and Lucy clenches her fists, reminding herself that she is absolutely under no circumstances going to go out there instead. She rolls over into a more comfortable position, reaches for her phone to check the time – it’s 3:32 AM – and closes her eyes determinedly. Maybe he will be gone when she wakes up, and she will successfully convince herself that it was all a dream.

Finally, slowly, badly, she sleeps.

Chapter Text

Garcia Flynn is woken the next morning by sunlight in his eyes, banging in the hallway – he tenses, but it sounds like the usual stampede of students out for weekend jollity – and a killer cramp in his back, which has come of sleeping mostly upright on an ancient, sagging sofa that will probably never recover from the experience. He stands up slowly, muttering under his breath and rubbing both hands over his face. Lucy probably doesn’t have any male toiletries, unless he wants to try shaving with a Dove disposable razor. Which likely neither she nor he would appreciate, and besides, he shouldn’t even be here. Should be back at his hotel, and he can’t repress a sudden stab of fear that Rittenhouse drove directly there and tore the room apart. He didn’t realize they knew quite so much about him just yet, and he came here. Now it’s his fault that Lucy’s in trouble, and he has no idea what to do next.

Flynn goes to the apartment’s small bathroom and washes up awkwardly with Lucy’s lavender-scented hand soap, gargling with the half-inch of Listerine left in the bottle, and digging without success under the sink for anything a former (or current, an unhelpful voice whispers) boyfriend might have left there. Makeshift ablutions concluded, he steps out and shoots a look at her bedroom door; she’s still asleep. Probably a good thing. Maybe it will give him some time to work out what the hell he appears to have gotten himself into.

The kitchen isn’t much bigger than the rest of this shoebox, and Flynn bangs his head on the door when he steps in. A cursory rummage of the fridge reveals almost no food; what does this woman live on, devoted zeal to academia and Red Bull? Then again, she is right in the final stages of trying to finish her dissertation, and did not need him crashing into her life like a… well. Bull.

She didn’t mind it last night, that unhelpful voice notes. Neither did you.

Flynn banishes it. He finally locates eggs, bread, and jam, makes toast and scrambled eggs, and after unearthing a canister of instant coffee, boils water and pours it into Lucy’s well-worn Stanford University mug. He’s almost finished, carrying it to the card table and setting it down, when he hears the bedroom door open. Drawn by the scent of food, Lucy comes shuffling in, hair tousled and loose, wearing pajamas and fuzzy socks, and her bleary eyes widen at the sight. “You made breakfast?”

“Least I could do, eh?” Flynn passes the plate over, and returns to the counter to whip up a second portion for himself. Lucy hesitates briefly, but accepts it. Sits down and starts to eat, as Flynn racks his brains for any light, ordinary conversation. Nothing occurs to him. Public relations and interpersonal skills have never been his forte; that’s why they send him on missions into hellhole war zones, where he can just shoot first and leave the talking for never. But the NSA is redistributing its assets these days, wants him on a few more domestic postings, dealing with industrial espionage, intelligence warfare and infrastructure sabotage, that kind of thing. It was in this capacity that Flynn came across the name Rittenhouse for the first time. His follow-up investigations have been very, very off the record.

“You don’t have any food,” he says, after he’s managed to scrape up some for himself. “Sofa’s on its way out too.”

“I’m sorry my crappy student apartment isn’t the Hilton.” Lucy gives him a cool look. “Anything else you’d like to complain to the front desk about?”

Flynn snaps his mouth shut, which he uses to chew the slightly blackened toast. They eat in silence after that, the air too tense in a way that means both of them are trying to pretend nothing out of the ordinary happened last night – which is difficult, given the sheer amount of weird shit. (That is indeed the technical term, Flynn would have her know.) Then Lucy wipes her mouth and stands up. “I need to go shopping, as you point out, and do some chores. So, for the rest of the day, are you…?”

There’s a clear question in her voice – how long is he planning to stay here, exactly? It’s valid, but he has no idea. He isn’t sure he shouldn’t already be gone. But if Rittenhouse drops by for a return visit, he knows he’d never shake that guilt. He doesn’t think they’d hurt her, even if Lucy clearly has no idea who she is. But he isn’t willing to take that risk.

Lucy vanishes to shower and get dressed, and Flynn, who has had quite enough of the sofa for forever, paces back and forth in the living room instead. God, this is surreal. He pulled her out of San Francisco Bay seven years ago, and she’s never entirely gone out of his thoughts since. He’s been a lot of places – Iraq, the Balkans, Somalia, Egypt, and finally back home to Croatia for thirteen months before HQ directed him to the new post in the States – and yet somehow he’s ended up exactly back here. The jolt when he read Lucy Preston in the case file (he’s investigating Benjamin Cahill, a wealthy Silicon Valley businessman who plays all kinds of dirty pool, and Lucy… well, if she’d picked up that paper last night, she’d know) is one he won’t soon forget. It feels like… something. He doesn’t want to say fate, but he’s thought it more than once.

Lorena’s voice echoes in his head. For God’s sake, Garcia. Just go talk to the woman.

Flynn grimaces again. He’s known Lorena Kovac for a few years, in the rare interludes he’s been in Dubrovnik between assignments. They get on well – in fact, she’s about his only friend, as he has never been in either the right line of work or frame of mind to make them easily. He can sense that the feelings might be a little more than friendship on her part, and to be honest, if he’d met her sometime else, it would be easy for him to feel the same. Lorena is one of the only people he is comfortable with, lets down his guard, as if he can rest and enjoy himself. But with the ghost of Lucy Preston so stubbornly stuck in his head, he thinks it would be unfair to Lorena to try for anything else. Besides, ever since he started on this Rittenhouse manhunt, he’s had to cut off contact with her for her own safety. He has come across enough unexplained deaths, enough whistleblowers found hanged in their closets in apparent suicides, enough straight-out disappearances, to know what he is dealing with here. And might be the only man in the world who does.

Flynn paces a few more fruitless circuits until Lucy reappears, hair dark and damp, wearing her university sweatshirt and leggings. She grabs her car keys off the bookshelf and slings her bag over her shoulder. “I’m off to the grocery store,” she says. “See you later?”

Flynn grunts, opens the front door for her, and scans both ways before they step out into the hallway. They descend the stairs, whereupon they come across the three individuals he had a small chat with last night in re: their blatant idiocy and/or discourtesy in blasting rap music in a shared block of flats with thin walls. They all go white-faced, hasten to apologize to Lucy, and promise they will be quieter, as long as she doesn’t send her boyfriend over again.

Both Flynn and Lucy choke slightly at that, but manage not to say anything as they head out into the parking lot. As she reaches her beater of a Honda, Lucy looks up at him. “What exactly did you say to them?”

Flynn shrugs. “A word or two.”

Lucy eyes him for a moment, then unlocks her car and gets behind the wheel. Flynn thinks too late that he should have checked for a bomb underneath it before she started the engine, but she does not implode in a glorious fireball. She reverses out, not without a final glance over her shoulder, and he stands there a moment longer before going over to his own car, an unremarkable rental coupe with Washington plates. He does check for the bomb this time, earning himself a funny look from a passing power-walker, but he has more important things on his mind than whether a lot of grass-eating hipsters think he’s weird. Still, it’s clear. He gets in, turns on the radio, and drives exactly the speed limit, helped by the inevitable morning gridlock, back to his hotel in Palo Alto.

Flynn pulls in, steps out, and heads up to his room, which appears to be unmolested. He swipes in with his key card, goes to the safe, and spins in the combination, pulling out his Glock and stowing it back in his shoulder holster. He checked in here under a false name – John Thompkins – and paid in cash, but Rittenhouse knows something. Unless they were after Lucy for totally unrelated reasons last night, which is stretching coincidence but still possible. Still, Flynn doesn’t feel like taking chances. He unzips his suitcase, pulls out a pack of sterile wipes, and scrubs his fingerprints off everything he touched in the room, strips the sheets off the bed, and runs hot water over them in the shower. Housekeeping will think he’s just a nightmare guest. He is probably being paranoid.

Blanking of the room complete, Flynn goes down, checks out, and gets into the car again. Lucy has probably gone to the Safeway in Menlo Park, just a few minutes from campus, and after he fails to talk himself out of it, he heads in that direction. Turns into the shopping center parking lot, trawls up and down looking for a spot in the Saturday morning rush, and finally just manages to eke in between a giant Chevy Suburban on one side and a giant jacked-up pickup truck on the other. Fucking America. Everything has to be sprawling and enormous, arrogant and excess. Flynn works for it, and has dual citizenship thanks to his mother, but he’s spent too much time in the weeds and trenches of its imperial projects, seeing the grisly results of its policies and everything it spits out and leaves behind, to love it. He was born in former Yugoslavia in the seventies, his childhood was never what you would call luxurious, so perhaps there’s some ancestral Soviet premier inside him haranguing about the decadence of the West. Not that Flynn likes the fucking Russians any more, though he has family ancestry there too. Sired out of mortal enemies and belonging to neither. It makes a poignant kind of sense when you look at his life.

Flynn goes into the busy grocery store and gets a basket, buys a few essentials – if he is in for some sort of extended stay, he might as well provide for himself. He catches a glimpse of Lucy in the produce section, reassuring him that she has not yet been bundled off in an unmarked car, and makes sure she doesn’t see him. He hangs back until she’s bought her groceries and left the store, then pays for his and follows a few minutes later. Heads out, makes another stop at Target for a sleeping bag and air mattress, then drives back to campus and pulls in. Lucy’s car is there. He wonders if the rest of his life, or at least the foreseeable future, is going to be dedicated to checking off her whereabouts every five minutes.

Having locked the car and hoisted his bags, Flynn goes up to the residence hall, presses the buzzer to be admitted, and climbs the stairs to Lucy’s apartment. He knocks and so as not to startle her, calls, “Lucy, it’s me.”

After a pause, she opens the door and lets him in, somewhat surprised to see his purchases. Her eyebrows raise the most at the camping gear. “So you are staying?”

“I don’t know, but I’m not sleeping on that piece of shit couch again.” Flynn puts his bags down. “I could probably make do under a bridge, if I had to.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Lucy says. “I’m not making you sleep under a bridge.”

They glance at each other again, eyes lingering just that beat too long, and Lucy coughs and turns away quickly, as if to disguise the color of her cheeks. She allows Flynn to store his perishables in the fridge, his toiletries in the bathroom, and sets about her chores with an air of determined normality, scrubbing and sweeping and vacuuming. Flynn feels like a bum sitting there and doing nothing, so he pitches in. It’s pleasingly and absurdly domestic. His jacket clanks as he hangs it on the hook, and Lucy’s eyes flicker to it. “You… got your gun?”

“Yes.” Flynn double-checks the safety is on, which it is, because he’s not an idiot. Not that he thinks Lucy is going to go play with it, but it makes him feel marginally better. Trying to be comforting, if perhaps not altogether truthful, he adds, “I don’t think you’re in any danger, but better than leaving it in the hotel room, either way.”

Lucy continues to look at him. Anyone could imagine that she must still have a thousand questions about the whirlwind with which he enters her life periodically, this de facto cohabitation situation, or anything else. Finally she says, “Is Garcia Flynn your real name?”

Flynn supposes this is a warranted question given what he does for a living, some of which at least she must have guessed. “Yes.”

“And you work for the U.S. government, but you’re originally from…” Lucy tilts her head, trying to guess. “Serbia?”

“Close. Croatia. My mother was American, though.” Flynn is impressed; people usually think either Russia or Hungary, though the more geographically challenged have come up with anything from Spain to Sweden. He doesn’t look Scandinavian, but Americans are idiots. He could return the favor with some getting-to-know-you questions, but frankly, he’s already read most of the information in the public domain about her. Not because he’s a stalker (he isn’t, right?) but because this woman has no idea who she really is, and he’s starting to wonder if he’s going to have to be the one to tell her. He hopes not, but the world has tended not to care a whole hell of a lot about Garcia Flynn’s hopes.

Lucy takes that in with a brief little nod, then bends down to pull the kitchen trash out and tie it off, put in a new bag, and haul the old one to the door to be taken out. Seeing that the chores are mostly done, she wipes her hands on her jeans. “I should go to campus, at least for a few hours. I could probably finish the section.”

“On Saturday?” Flynn is no stranger to working ridiculous hours himself, but even he thinks Lucy could benefit from a chill pill. “Nothing else to do?”

Lucy gives him another look, as if she can’t see him letting her loose to wander blithely around farmer’s markets or seaside promenades or what have you, and also suggests he is woefully underestimating her present stress level (for which, admittedly, he has done no favors). “Weekends aren’t really a thing for me right now.”

“Are they ever?” Flynn, again, is not one to talk. “What’s this dissertation about, anyway?”

“History and anthropology of American political movements.” Lucy winds up the vacuum cord and shoves it back in the closet. “Studying their developments from circa 1776 to the present day. My argument is that the country’s political philosophy, and a lot of its more troubling elements – racism, slavery, economic inequality, sexism, isolationism, etc – are much less driven by common populist ‘ignorance’ than people think, but have been deliberately constructed by long-term and elite schools of thought that are very solidly in the mainstream. I mostly focus on the nineteenth century, when these narratives got established, but I work both forward and back as well. I swear, it feels like I’ve read every obscure state paper or moral essay that’s ever been printed.”

In someone else’s mouth, this might have sounded like a brag, but Lucy says it almost apologetically, as if she knows her interest and obsession is unusual and wants to reassure him that he doesn’t have to share it. Flynn, however, feels quite the opposite. There’s a certain amount of irony in the fact that Lucy Preston of all people is arguing for the conscious creation of America’s dark side – if only she knew how much, and if only she knew from (not only, but certainly more than their fair share) who. “So what?” Flynn asks. “What do you conclude from it? Do you point out all the ways in which this asshole world has screwed the vast majority of everyone who’s ever lived on it? Or just sit back and say that’s not your job?”

“It isn’t my job.” Lucy looks at him strangely. “I’m a historian, I have an obligation to create a fair and accurate reflection of the past, to de-mythologize a lot of stuff that gets conveniently glossed over or ignored, but I can’t change it. The present isn’t perfect, but it’s ours. For good or bad, this is what we’ve come to, and if I can teach people to recognize the processes that created it, we can be more proactive about what we do in the future.”

“Can we?” Flynn stares at her incredulously. Smart as she is, this seems, from his point of view, intolerably naïve. “So you’re one of the historians who thinks we have to ‘let the past speak for itself,’ as it were? The past doesn’t speak. Historians are its ventriloquists. Refrain from moral judgment in the name of some pseudoscientific objectivity, and actually think that we can teach people not to be selfish and greedy and interested only in their own enrichment? I’ve worked – well, where I do for over a decade now. I’ve seen how the world gets made. We’re scared animals making stupid choices. History is the name that’s given to our ancestors’ stupid choices once they’re far enough removed. We’re never going to remember them accurately or honestly. So if that’s all you want to do, Lucy, you’re doomed.”

Lucy’s eyes flash back at him. “What? I shouldn’t even try, because the world is terrible and God is dead? Just throw up our hands and go home and embrace the void?”

“I didn’t say that.” Flynn takes a step. “But there’s no moral impartiality in what you do. This ‘we should hear both sides’, or ‘we can’t judge’ or ‘parts of it are unfortunate, but we shouldn’t wish it was different’ – it’s bullshit. Bullshit. You’re giving it a meaning and a justification it doesn’t deserve. Just another privileged wealthy white girl sailing through on Mommy’s coattails, are you?”

This sounds even nastier out loud than it did in his head, and the instant it’s out, he wishes he hadn’t said it. Lucy goes ice-white, jerking back as if he slapped her, and he can tell it’s a sore spot. Still, much as he wants to apologize, he barrels on like a juggernaut. “Tell me. Who’s your favorite president, Lucy? Who do you think has done the most for this country?”

Lucy chews her lip. She’s clearly considering ordering him to get the hell out, and she’ll take her damn chances with Rittenhouse. Instead she spits, “Lincoln.”

“Predictable.” Flynn sneers. “He was shot, of course, yes? So if we were there, somehow, and he was alive, he was in front of you, and then I shot him – you wouldn’t care at all, would you? It was supposed to happen. You wouldn’t lift a finger.”

“Why would – ” Lucy throws her hands in the air. “Why would you shoot Lincoln?!”

“It doesn’t matter, does it? John Wilkes Booth did it. It could be him, if you want. He comes in, you’re there, you see it happening. You could change it. But apparently, you wouldn’t.”

“You asked about my dissertation!” Lucy shouts. “So I told you, and all of a sudden I’m getting a lecture on moral relativism? What am I supposed to do? I’m one twenty-something graduate student, and you come after me as if all the terrible things that have happened in history are my fault? I don’t agree with them, I don’t like that they happened, but I can’t change that they did! So yes, I try to make better sense of them, and explain how they work together, and hope that the next time can go a little better, despite all the awful stuff humanity has ever done. I’m sorry if that’s not nihilistic or cynical enough for you, but you were the one who told me to carry on with history, remember? What did you think it would be, picket lines and pipe bombs? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to the library.”

With that, she grabs her bag, keys, shoes, and sunglasses, throwing them on and storming past him to the door. Flynn is already feeling like a massive idiot by the time the door snaps shut behind her, and half-turns as if to follow and apologize, but his own pride has been stung and he doubts she wants to see him right now. Well, this is just wonderful. Finally return to the woman you’ve been thinking about for seven years, put her in danger, insult her intelligence and her morals, insinuate she’s a nepotistic freeloader, and make sure to remind her that her apartment is barely a step up from the Bates Motel. There may have been worse first impressions, but Flynn is having trouble coming up with any.

Muttering a curse under his breath, he kicks the doorstop, stubs his toe, figures he probably deserves that, and is just wondering if Lucy is expecting him to have cleared out by the time she gets back when, in his pocket, his phone buzzes. When he pulls it out, he sees to no surprise that it’s a restricted number, as are most of those that call him. He swipes to answer it and grunts, “Yes?”

“Morning to you too.” The voice on the other end belongs to a man known as Karl, but this is almost certainly not his real name. Flynn has never met him face to face, only over the phone, but Karl is his NSA handler, the shadowy source from whence Flynn’s assignments and transfers and periodic progress reports originate. The closest thing he has to a boss, in other words, and him calling out of the blue is never a good sign. “What the hell did you do last night?”

“I’m working on Cahill,” Flynn says shortly. “I’m fairly sure this doesn’t warrant a – ”

“Cahill? Benjamin Cahill? Jesus, Garcia. No. Drop that one, you hear me? Drop it.”

“Excuse me?” This puts Flynn’s hackles up. The NSA has always operated in, to put it charitably, a grey area of legality, and sometimes their targets deserve investigation and sometimes they don’t, but he can’t recall ever being ordered point-blank to close a case. There is obviously no organizational transparency, but things just go into the maw and stay milling around in there for months or years, to be pulled out again when Uncle Sam thinks they’re useful. Hell, the NSA has always thought that as much information as possible is better than too little, and Flynn definitely has a lot of nerve yelling at Lucy for compliance with the system, when this is what pays his bills. “Did you say drop it?”

“Yes. Cahill or anyone associated with him, you’re off rota.”

“Is he cleared now?” Flynn doubts it, given as he is (to the best of his knowledge) the only agent assigned to this, and he has barely started to tug at Cahill’s spiderwebs. “Or is this something else?”

“Garcia, I gave you a goddamn order. Drop the case. Destroy your phone and hard drive and anything else you have with information on it, then get a flight to LAX. Go to the Burberry store in the Tom Bradley International Terminal and ask for Winston. They’ll give you a briefcase, your new assignment will be in it. Is that clear?”

Flynn doesn’t answer. He should be welcoming this, perhaps, but every inch of him is resisting. “What new assignment?”

“I don’t think that’s important at this stage.”

“Why are you pulling the plug on Cahill?”

“Also not important.”

“I think it is.”

“Fine,” Karl says. “You wanna know? Because last night, whatever fucking idiotic thing you did lit up about a dozen Batsignals, and let’s just say, things started happening fast. Wherever you are, pal, you’re blown. I’m trying to save your ass. Get out of there.”

“If a little water on the anthill sets things in motion, that’s not bad, is it?” Flynn is not about to deny that he definitely did several fucking idiotic things last night, but the NSA does not usually react to interesting developments in its investigations by yanking its agents out of tender concern for their personal safety. Something is off about this. “It’s these Rittenhouse people, isn’t it? They’ve asked someone to make the heat die down. I didn’t know that the United States government was in the habit of taking those orders.”

In fact, Flynn knows perfectly well that the U.S. government will listen to anyone if enough money is involved, and he’s seen enough eye-popping figures to know that there are almost certainly more. If Lucy actually knew this – knew that Benjamin Cahill was her biological father, and there is an entire world that is being hidden from her – then maybe they would be getting somewhere. Not that Flynn has really done a bang-up job at presenting himself as a trusted confidante. “Who told you to do this?”

“Garcia, I’m not here to shoot shit. The briefcase will be in LAX in four hours. Text when you’ve gotten a flight.” With that, and leaving him no more time to get in a word in edgewise, Karl hangs up.

Flynn stares at the ceiling for a long moment. Then he says, “Fuck.”

Lucy has a harder time than she would like to admit getting focused enough to work. She’s opened her laptop and her notebook and taken down the books she was using yesterday, everything set up and ready to go, but she can’t type more than a few words before her concentration slips again and she finds herself reliving that stupid argument with Flynn. She is not a bad person. She’s not a bad historian. What did he expect her to do, embark on a single-handed crusade to miraculously correct all of humanity’s evil? She can’t do that, for obvious reasons. Yes, it sometimes seems trite and stupid to think that anything anyone does matters in the least, but Lucy has fought hard to hang onto the idea that it still does. She takes pride in teaching her students, in her own work, in what she is able to do. Flynn has no right to bomb back into her life and tell her she’s doing it wrong. No right.

It’s made even worse by the fact that while she was at the store earlier, she super-casually tossed the most discreet box of condoms she could find into her basket, then quickly grabbed several more toiletries she didn’t need so it didn’t look like it was the only extra thing she was buying. If she has been half-toying with the idea that there is something fated, destined, about his reappearance in her life, that romantic illusion has been swiftly disabused. He is dangerous, abrasive, elusive, obnoxious, and obsessive, and those are his good qualities. If she was going to keep him as a special memory, she shouldn’t have met him face to face.

After several minutes of staring at the screen have only made her more irritated, Lucy stands up with a huff and heads out of the library, down to the café, with her phone. She pulls it out and dials, then listens to it ring, waiting for it to be picked up. Then she says, “Hi, Mom.”

“Sweetie?” Carol Preston sounds surprised. “Is everything all right?”

“Yeah, fine. I just… I could use a little encouragement. This dissertation is kicking my ass, and – ” Lucy stops. It has actually occurred to her to ask if her mother has been lying to her for her whole life about her father. Just for a moment, and then it goes away. “I just feel like we haven’t talked very much lately.”

“You’ve been so busy, I haven’t wanted to bother you.” Carol pauses to cough. “Are you sure you’re going to be able to submit this semester?”

“Yeah. It’s really not that much left to do. I have to reference the last chapter, and finish it, and write a conclusion, but I can do it.” As ever when speaking to her mother, Lucy feels that she has to prove she’s doing enough work, she’s not slacking off, she really is trying her best. “Dr. Underwood thinks I’m on schedule, she’s going to be in touch with my exam date on Monday.”

“I just worry about you, Lucy.” Carol coughs again. “But if you’re sure…”

“Have you gotten that checked out yet?” Her mother has had a smoker’s hack for several years, but it seems to have gotten worse recently. “Mom, I keep telling you to go to the doctor, remember?”

“Lucy, now, don’t go fretting over me. I’m sure it’s just stress. Your sister really seems determined to stick to the sociology thing.” Amy Preston’s choice of major (and college – rather than following her mother and sister to Stanford, she’s part-timing at San Francisco State) has been a permanent source of contention with Carol. She insists that Amy will never get a job with a sociology degree, that it’s a soft option and not academically rigorous, and she just doesn’t understand where she went wrong with her. Why can’t she be more like Lucy? Lucy has had no problem being a good and dutiful Preston daughter.

“You know Amy is… Amy,” Lucy says, after a pause. No, if her mom has enough on her plate to boot, the last thing she’s going to do is add to it with Flynn’s ranting and raving. “My life isn’t really a lot to envy, and she’s always liked to do her own thing. Don’t be too hard on her, okay?”

Carol sighs. Then she says, “Is everything else all right?”

Lucy considers the answer to that question. There are a lot of things she could say to that. The one that comes out, of course, is, “Yeah. Everything’s fine.”

Once she’s hung up, feeling shittier than ever for lying to her mom, she decides to grab some sustenance before heading up for another bash at her paper. She’s just collected her small latte and Boston cream donut when two men in ties and trench coats enter the café and glance around. This isn’t that unusual – Stanford is a professional workplace, after all, people come from all over the world and any number of backgrounds – but then they see Lucy. One of them strolls up to order a casual coffee, and the other drifts in her direction. “Miss Preston?”

Lucy goes tense. She can’t tell if it’s the same voice as whoever knocked on her door last night, claiming to be from FedEx, but she doesn’t like it. She offers a demure, close-mouthed smile. “I’m sorry, do we know each other?”

“Not personally. I apologize for the intrusion.” Without asking permission, Agent Smith seats himself across from her. “My name’s Jake Neville. Do you have a moment to talk?”

“What’s this about?”

“I’m from Homeland Security. We believe you may have recently encountered someone that could pose a public threat.” Neville reaches into his pocket. “Have you seen this man?”

Lucy has half-expected whose face will be on the photograph that is produced, but it still jolts her. “I – I’m sorry?”

“Garcia Flynn,” Neville says. “He’s worked for us for a while, but we have reason to believe he’s no longer listening to orders from high command, and may be increasingly turning rogue. He may also recently have approached you. This is a dangerous individual, Miss Preston, I very much need to emphasize that. Think Edward Snowden, but with extensive military training and a lone-wolf nature. If he’s slipped the leash, well…”

Jake Neville is, admittedly, not wrong, but Lucy’s hackles are up anyway. “So he works for Homeland Security?”

“Something in that area,” Neville says. “You understand the need for discretion.”

Lucy doesn’t answer. After their fight earlier, it’s certainly plenty tempting to turn Flynn over to whoever is looking for him – it doesn’t seem terribly surprising that he’s made enemies within his own department. She can’t even say what’s holding her back. But she smiles again and says, “I can’t help you. I haven’t seen him.”

Neville continues to eye her. Then he reaches into his pocket, takes out a plain white business card, and slides it across the table to her. “I’d be very interested to hear if you do.”

“What’s he supposed to have done, exactly?” God knows Flynn isn’t telling her, and Lucy isn’t above digging for a few answers, regardless of whether or not he wants to give them. Not that she’s expecting a real response, as it’ll probably be some mumbo-jumbo spook jargon. She smiles as guilelessly as possible. “Just so I know?”

“Don’t worry about that, Miss Preston.” Neville smiles patronizingly, in a way that makes her want to remind him she’s less than six months from being Dr. Preston. “Just call us. We’ll be around. All right then? We’ll see you soon.”

Lucy doesn’t know what else to say, and sits there like a lump as he gets up, rejoins his colleague in the coffee pickup area, and they roll out. The business card doesn’t have a name on it, just a number. She hesitates, then slides it into her pocket.

She scoffs down her latte and donut without tasting them, and is just about to venture once more into the breach when the library doors open again, and – she’s getting tired of this – a sleek, silver-haired man, also in a suit and cashmere scarf, walks in, looks around, and spots her. He smiles a square-toothed, white smile that probably made a cosmetic dentist in Monterey very rich and hurries over. Harassed final-year doctoral students are suddenly Stanford’s hottest commodity. “Lucy Preston?”

“Yes.” Lucy doesn’t offer her hand. “And you are?”

“My name is Benjamin Cahill.” He looks like the father in a stock photo, like a smiling middle-aged man in a prostate-medicine or erectile-dysfunction ad, explaining how Prozavaldiagra changed his life. He beckons to the black car that has just pulled up in the rotunda outside. “I was hoping we could talk.”

Wyatt Logan has now been standing an unsuspicious distance from the Burberry store in the Tom Bradley International Terminal for three goddamn hours, and something – call it his keen intuition from years of special forces training – is telling him that his target is not coming. Hell if he knows what’s going on. The brass has been even more close-mouthed than usual. Wyatt got a call this morning telling him to haul his ass up from Pendleton to LAX and be ready to capture a certain high-value mark. Said mark is dark-haired, male, about thirty-five years of age, tall, and speaks with an Eastern European accent. He is supposed to go into the Burberry store and get a briefcase, and then Wyatt is supposed to… arrest him without causing a scene and causing the terminal to go into lockdown, apparently. This is what you need Delta Force for. When he returned from Afghanistan, he didn’t think he was going to be busting small-time drug kingpins in LAX toilets. That’s gotta be what this guy is. Drugs, or illegal Russian cash, or something like that.

Wyatt shifts his weight. He has a bag and backpack, posing as a traveler whose flight has been delayed, but the departure boards are otherwise green and it’s going to look weird if he keeps hanging around. He’s made a few circuits so he’s not in the same place forever, but he doesn’t want to be out of sight of the store for more than a few minutes. He checks his phone and sees that Jessica has sent him a text of the perfect San Diego beach weather (which, to be fair, is most days of the year) that this last-minute assignment dragged him away from. They are still feeling out actually living together. They got married young like soldiers tend to do, and he’s been out of the country for most of it. This weekend was supposed to focus on reconnecting as a couple. Now he’s in frigging Los Angeles waiting for some dick who hasn’t even had the decency to turn up to be arrested, and it’s fair to say his patience is waning.

Just to be thorough, Wyatt waits another thirty minutes. One of the airport guys on golf carts drives past a few times; Wyatt hopes it is his imagination that he’s giving him the fish-eye. On the fourth round, though, it’s not. The hardworking employee of the American aviation system pulls over and says, “Can I help you, sir?”

“I’m… waiting for a buddy to get in. We were on separate flights, he was supposed to be coming from San Francisco, but I don’t know what’s going on with him. Sorry I’m holding this pillar up, but it’s cool.” Wyatt flashes a rueful smile and pulls out his military ID, which tends to work wonders. “We’re in the service.”

The employee hastens to thank him, apologize for the trouble, and motor away, which buys Wyatt another half-hour. At the end of it, however, he’s officially calling it a wash. He walks out toward the bus stop, pulls out his phone, and hits speed dial number three.

“Yeah,” Wyatt says, when it’s answered. “He didn’t show. Something’s up.”

“Thank you, Sergeant Logan.” The man’s from Homeland Security. Wyatt thinks his name is Neville. “We’ll be expediting our arrangements.”

Chapter Text

It’s a long drive out of Stanford. Lucy’s already half-sure she should not have gotten into this car (well – car, it’s a full bells-and-whistles black limo with retracting glass and drink services), but it wasn’t presented as something that she had much choice in. Just that Benjamin Cahill rolled up, seemed to figure she had absolutely nothing better in the world to do than go for a spin with him, and fifteen or twenty minutes later, here they still are. Lucy’s declined whatever he’s offered, since she’s not about to get into a car with a strange man and his Matrix-looking friends and then sip the aperitifs. It’s probably roofied. Or it isn’t, and he really thinks it’s the pleasure of his company. She can’t be sure.

“Tell me,” she says, as neutrally as possible. Cahill’s mentioned he’s an old friend of her family. “How do you know my mother again?”

“We were at school together, a while back.” Cahill looks encouraged that she’s taking an interest in the conversation. “Carol was in one of my classes, actually. Very bright girl, I always knew she was going to do well. We’ve lost touch over the years, but I’ve always remembered her fondly.”

Lucy doesn’t answer. Her mother has never mentioned knowing a Cahill at school, or any time after. He could have read the name off the department website; her mother is still on there, professor emeritus. “What did you teach?”


“At Stanford?”

“I was a visiting professor for a few terms, yes. Back in the seventies. Everyone was doing a lot of weed then. Of course, they still are now.” Benjamin Cahill chuckles, as if to show that he is hip with the young’uns. It sets Lucy’s teeth on edge. “Anyway, Lucy, I do hope your mother’s doing well, but I have come to talk to you. I’ve been keeping an eye on your progress for a while, and you’re set to graduate this semester, aren’t you? It’s been a very impressive educational career. Summa cum laude bachelor’s in history, high distinction master’s two years later, and I don’t doubt you’ll take top honors with your doctorate. Tell me, have you thought about what you want to do when you finish?”

“Apply for some postdocs,” Lucy says, after a pause. “Some junior fellowship positions. That sort of thing. Tenure-track jobs don’t just appear out of the blue for new PhDs.”

“Well, you know, they could.” Cahill takes a drink of his sparkling water, as if to prove he hasn’t put anything in the bottle. “I still have plenty of friends at Stanford, and several other highly ranked academic departments across the country. Even abroad. Where would you like to go, Lucy? Stay in California, or spread your wings? We have lots of opportunities for a talented young woman like yourself.”

Lucy smiles, close-mouthed. “That’s kind of you, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.”

“Think about it.” Cahill leans forward. “We’ve just started a new recruiting cycle, we’re filling plenty of new posts, and – ”

“We? Who do you work for?”

“Ah, well.” Cahill smiles back, which doesn’t do anything to dispel the ambient creep factor in this car. “That’s something we’d discuss at a later date, if we could confirm that you were interested. There are protocols and processes, we – ”

Either he’s tapping her for some kind of CIA work, become a paid informant for the government or the sort, or… Lucy doesn’t know if this is a good idea, but it spills out anyway. “Is it Rittenhouse?”

The limo hits traffic at that moment, causing the driver to brake hard, but that’s not the only reason for the look on Cahill’s face. It’s pretty clear he didn’t expect her to know that name, and the silence is momentarily queasy. Then it’s gone, and he smiles again, which somehow is more awkward than the first one. “Where have you heard that?”

Lucy doesn’t want to bring up Garcia Flynn in front of these men. She doesn’t know why. Just the same instinct that prevented her from turning him in to Jake Neville and friend. “I read it in a document,” she lies, which is not too far off. She’s read things about David Rittenhouse, after all. “Part of my work on late eighteenth-century America.”

“Well, that is… not incorrect, I suppose.” Cahill keeps his eyes on her as the traffic starts to inch forward again. “And what did it say?”

“It was a reference to…” Lucy wracks her brains. What did Flynn say about it? “It was some kind of organization?”

“Yes. Anything else?”

“No. Not really.”

“It is an organization,” Cahill acknowledges. “It’s existed since about the same time America achieved its independence. A select group of highly educated, influential, enlightened men – and women – who have been instrumental to the country’s political and social development for many generations. And you, Lucy… you have an opportunity to become part of that.”

This sounds very, very off the ranch to Lucy. Having studied American history as much as she has, she is well aware that it is not a benign, democratic public process, that it is often controlled by a few powerful interests and backroom oligarchs. Benjamin Cahill, a wealthy white man of late middle age with his limo and suit and slick corporate asshole demeanor, is about representative of the demographic, but it makes absolutely no sense that he would swoop her off for what appears to be the private sales pitch. No matter how good friends he and her mother used to be. Not to mention that whole knowing Carol when she was a student and he was a professor thing. It’s rubbing Lucy the wrong way.

Ask your mother about your father. Ask him if he is who you thought.

No. No. That can’t be it. There’s definitely another explanation, and Lucy absolutely wants there to be. Even if she knows there’s no way Cahill would just turn up with the full-court press to pluck some random PhD student off campus and offer her – whatever he’s offering her. Everything she wants, by the sound of things, if she signs on some dotted line. These Rittenhouse people, the ones Flynn has been looking for, what are they?

“Why?” Lucy says at last, the one question that she can most distill her many others into. “Why would you offer me this?”

“Because…” Benjamin Cahill hesitates. “Because it’s your birthright, Lucy.”

“My what?”

“I promised I would stay out of the picture as long as Henry Wallace was alive, and I have. I’ve certainly wanted to contact you before. I wanted to wait for you to approach me on your own, but… well, I suppose my hand was forced, a bit. Still, we have lots of time to make up for, don’t we?” Cahill leans forward. “Lucy, I’m your father.”

Lucy stares back at him for a very long moment. She’s heard his words, she’s known they’re English, but they haven’t fully percolated through her brain, connected into logical, reasonable sense. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father flickers through it, very unhelpfully. At least she had Flynn to prepare the ground for this, however much she didn’t believe him, otherwise – well, she doesn’t think she’d be actually swooning with shock, but it would be bad. “You what?”

“I’m your father,” Cahill repeats. “Your mother and I… well, the truth is, we had a brief relationship that resulted in you. We cordially went our separate ways, and when Henry Wallace married your mother, he raised you as his own. I occasionally sent money, but we agreed that it would be up to you if you wanted anything else.”

Lucy still can’t breathe. Flynn was right, she thinks, before she can stop it. Flynn was right, my mother’s been lying, Rittenhouse is real, he’s not just some insane rogue agent with a paranoid vendetta. Of course, he still could be, but this is not what she bargained for. Finally she bursts out, “Dad – Henry – died eight years ago. You haven’t sent any word, this whole time? Not a single birthday card or phone call? Just suddenly turn up with your limousine and henchmen and ask if I want to join your creepy government cult? What is wrong with you?”

“Again, I wanted it to be your choice.” Cahill shrugs ruefully, as if this has really all been out of his hands. “But since you’re about to finish your education, I thought this was really a good time to step forward. Introduce myself, see if I could make up for some of the missed time and opportunity.”

“Is that what you mean by your hand being forced?” Lucy counters. “If you’ve actually been keeping an eye on me this whole time, then you’ve just – what? Waited for the right moment? Is this supposed to make me feel better?”

“That is… not all of it,” Cahill says, after another pause. “There’s been… an individual who’s recently attempted to cause some disruption in our operations, and we have reason to believe he may be in the area. Or that he has tried to approach you. If this is the case, we’d appreciate knowing about it, so – ”

Lucy is quickly getting tired of this. “You mean Garcia Flynn?”

“Wh – have you – ?”

“Someone else just came by to ask me about him. An Agent Jake Neville. Friend of yours?”

“Ah – no, I don’t think so.” Cahill gives an unctuous little chuckle. “He’s in Homeland Security, we’ve just been coordinating for logistical purposes. Marshaling some resources. Anyway, about Garcia Flynn. We know he’s in the Bay Area somewhere, he arrived about a week ago. Unfortunately, he seems to have guessed that we might… have some interest, and he’s taken care to cover his tracks. He’s worked for the NSA for some time, he has plenty of skills and insider knowledge. I realize I haven’t given you much reason to trust me, Lucy, but let’s make a new start. I really do want what’s best for you.”

Lucy doesn’t answer. She is aware that people who refuse these kinds of offers can sometimes turn up in black trash bags with cinder blocks wired to their feet, or otherwise dead with the coroner recording a verdict of suicide, but surely Rittenhouse isn’t that cartoonishly evil. They could still possibly be a perfectly legitimate political lobbying group, or at least no more sleazy than anyone else who works in the world of big money and government secrets. But her gut is telling her that something’s off, and the last time she felt this, she bailed on a bad date with a guy who turned out to have three sex assault convictions. No matter if this is true, and Benjamin Cahill is Darth Vad… her father, she has no interest in joining the family business five minutes after finding out. “Pull over. I want to get out.”

“Lucy – ”

“Pull over right now and let me out.” She’s almost shaking with rage. “Now!”

Cahill glances at his two large, suited companions. Then he presses a button on the armrest, causing the tint on the windows to lighten, and for Lucy to see that they’re proceeding through the gates of what looks like some Marin County wine-country retreat, a big alpine-lodge-style mansion set back up a long wooded drive. “What’s this?” she demands. “Are you kidnapping me?”

“Lucy, please, calm down. We’re not kidnapping you.” Cahill almost looks genuinely distressed. “I just wanted you to have a proper chance to look at what Rittenhouse can do for you. You’re a pure-blood, practically royal. I just want you to make an informed decision.”

“Pure-blood?” Lucy repeats scathingly. “You really are the Death Eaters, aren’t you?”

“No, no.” They roll to a halt with a crunch of gravel, and the goons in suits shift their weight. No matter what Cahill is babbling about this not being a kidnapping, it looks an awful lot like they’re making sure Lucy doesn’t run for it. “Five minutes, Lucy, that’s all I ask.”

Still she doesn’t move. She doesn’t know how far they drove, but it was a way, and she’s willing to bet that for one reason or another, her phone won’t work out here. She’s wearing a sweatshirt and light sneakers, it’s getting dark, and running away from this lot in the woods sounds like the start of a horror movie. If this creepy, soulless corporate stooge is in fact her father, and if he means a single word of any of this… he probably doesn’t, but nobody knows where she is. She has to keep calm and think about this logically. She’s a smart person. It’s what she’s made her life on.

“Fine,” Lucy says, very coolly. The car door swings open, with a rush of cool, quiet, mountain-smelling air. “Five minutes.”

 Garcia Flynn is starting to get on edge.

To be fair, he’s been on edge 24/7 since he started the Rittenhunt, but this feels different. He has no idea how long he’s expecting Lucy to spend at the library on a Saturday, especially after he put his foot in it on her way out the door, and sitting in this crapsack apartment and staring at the wall has lost whatever limited charm it possessed. Nobody can fault him if he just… drops by campus. Long enough to see if she’s still buried in books.

It’s close, so Flynn heads out and strides down the treed walk. Once he reaches the library, he can’t get past the front foyer because he doesn’t have a student card. This is a stupid fucking obstacle that he has no intention of allowing to defeat him, so he waits until the receptionist has looked away, sidles up behind a distracted undergraduate as they swipe their ID, and slips through the glass barrier on their heels. Then he nips into the elevator and tries to think where Lucy’s carrel might be. Do they have a special pen for the PhD students, make sure they don’t wander out into traffic unsupervised? Can he ask someone without being obvious?

Finally, Flynn jabs the button for the arts and social sciences floor, rides up, gets off, and makes for the librarian with as charming a smile as he can manage on short notice. “Excuse me, I am looking for my girlfriend, she left some things at home. Lucy Preston, can you point me to her work space?”

He has just enough time to hope that Lucy doesn’t have some other boyfriend who has recently been through here (for the sake of the integrity of his ruse, obviously), but fortunately, the librarian is not immune to the effects of a tall, dark man with a dashing white smile and foreign accent. She is happy to direct him to Lucy’s carrel, with a look that half-suggests that if for any reason Lucy doesn’t want that, she’s ready to tag in. Flynn has certainly not come here to pursue intrigues with middle-aged university administrators, so he thanks her and heads off. Comes round the corner, remembering just in time to keep his voice to a whisper. “Lucy?”

It’s definitely her carrel – the heaps of books on various obscure aspects of American history, a photocopy of some handwritten Lincoln document, her computer, and her bag make that clear – but there’s no Lucy. She can’t have left for long, otherwise she would have taken her things with her, so perhaps she popped out to the bathroom or the café, and will be coming back in a few minutes. Flynn accordingly waits, shifting from foot to foot. After ten minutes have elapsed, he heads to the bathroom and wonders if he needs to bribe some teenybopper to go in there for him. But Lucy doesn’t emerge, and he doesn’t want to look like a pervert lurking by the ladies’ toilets, so he wanders around the stacks, in case she’s searching for a book or has run into a friend. He doesn’t want to leap to premature conclusions, but as he finishes the round, it’s pretty clear she’s not here. He could go downstairs and check the café like a sensible person, or he could go into crisis mode and activate emergency measures.

After another moment, Flynn makes an executive decision. He wheels around and hurtles past the librarian before she can ask if he found his girlfriend, rides down in the elevator, and takes a quick look at the café just for the sake of completeness. Then he pulls out his phone, opens an app he wrote himself, and enters in a passcode. It works basically like Bluetooth, networking into any security system that uses a certain chip, and in California, since this chip is run on Google’s standard OS, that’s pretty much everywhere. Stanford is no exception. It takes Flynn all of five minutes to access the nearby CCTV cameras, rewind the footage, and start flicking through the grainy black-and-white images. He sees himself come in, and goes back past that. If she left this way, she’d have to be –

Flynn almost misses it, since the angle isn’t great, coming out of the café and not in the camera’s direct line of sight. But that there – that’s definitely Lucy. She’s with a man in a suit. They pass through the glass doors and out of the frame, and Flynn feels his heart catch in his throat as he scrolls back to watch it again. Neatly coiffed silver hair. Face is, again, at the wrong angle to be 100% sure, but he’s spent weeks searching through photographs of that individual from all sorts of sources, and he feels the blood drain out of his head.

Benjamin Cahill. Benjamin Cahill has her.

Rittenhouse has her.

Flynn almost bowls over a tiny freshman wobbling under a stack of books, barely stops to pant an apology, and sprints back down the path to the residence hall and the parking lot where he’s left the rental car. Hopefully he can track Lucy’s phone at least part of the way, even as he feverishly reels through anywhere they could be taking her. Rittenhouse, for obvious reasons, has a lot of installations in the wealthy, high-tech Bay Area. Flynn can guess at maybe a third of them.

He reverses out hard enough to lay rubber, then reminds himself that the last thing he needs is to get pulled over by some jobsworth policeman when he’s in in the middle of trying to track a hostage. He doesn’t know if that’s what Lucy is, exactly, but if she was already suspicious of him, it’s hard to see her willingly abandoning her precious dissertation and all her possessions to take a joyride with these idiots. In fact, Flynn wonders if he should go back to the library and get her computer. He doesn’t want some laptop-pilfering fiend to make off with all of Lucy’s hard work. He instinctively protests at losing any time to find her, but still.

That, therefore, is what Flynn does, driving around to the far side of the library, parking in a loading zone, leaving his flashers on, and dashing back up to the carrel. He is definitely getting funny looks and “shh!” motions from surrounding students as he sweeps Lucy’s books, computer, and bag off the desk, gathers them up in his arms, and rushes back down. At the door, therefore, he’s stopped by a campus security officer who has apparently heard that there might be people stealing unattended computers. “Sir, are those your items?”

“They’re my girlfriend’s,” Flynn says testily. “And I think she might be – look, I just need to find her, all right?”

“Is your girlfriend a student here?”

“Yes, her name is Lucy Preston.” This guy has about thirty more seconds until Flynn loses his patience, and it probably won’t be enjoyable if he does. “She’s a PhD student, history. I don’t want someone taking them. Now move.” He masters himself, and adds, “Please.”

This mall cop gives him a squiggle-eyed look, but something – perhaps Flynn’s palpable air of desperation – makes him relent. He stands aside, albeit with an expression promising that he will be looking into this further, and Flynn bulls down the path, nips into his car again while the parking warden is just a few dozen yards away, dumps the books into the passenger seat, and puts it into gear. Keeping the phone out of sight, as an encounter with California Highway Patrol would just be the crowning cherry on the shit sundae, he steers one-handed and taps into “Find My Phone”; he took the liberty of linking Lucy’s to his last night, after Rittenhouse’s little visit. Good thing he did.

He’s getting only an intermittent signal, but it looks like it’s moving out of the city, heading north up 280. Flynn racks his brains for any mention, in any of his research, of anything that Rittenhouse might have in north coast California, but he draws a blank. They’re on the Golden Gate Bridge; he’s already well behind, and is timed to be hitting the worst of the commuter rush. Blasting through gridlock like the Terminator, while appealing, is probably not feasible. God, he hates this place.

Flynn crawls northward like a very angry snail in a too-small rental car, anxiously checking his phone again and again. The signal has gone blank just past San Rafael, where the endless suburbs suddenly give way to open parks, valleys, green spaces, private ranches, and other such opportune places for Rittenhouse to kick back and enjoy a cigar and white cat in peace. They’re probably not taking Lucy to Skywalker Ranch for an exclusive look at Star Wars Valhalla. San Quentin Prison? You’d think not, but who knows.

It’s starting to get dark as Flynn tersely navigates the long, twisty road that climbs up through the green hills, eyeing up every desolate pull-out or turn-off in case his quarry should have recently vanished down it. God, he should have guessed that something like this could happen, but even he wasn’t expecting Rittenhouse to out-and-out nab Lucy and spirit her away. Though they did try that last night, would have gotten her if he wasn’t there, and it’s clear that Flynn’s turning over of their rocks has caused some heat and alarm beneath their white collars. They know he’s onto them, and that makes them dangerous.

At last, Flynn sees lights up ahead, and can just make out the silhouette of a handsome mansion nestled among the trees. He can’t be sure, of course, but he’s been behind a black Mercedes with diplomatic plates for fifteen minutes, and it turns off there. He considers, then pulls over on the shoulder, checks that his gun is present, loaded, and accounted for, and switches off the engine. Gets out into what is now a cool, starry night, taking a breath of piney air. It might be easier to go on foot from here.

Flynn climbs as stealthily as he can along the dark hillside, hearing voices, laughter, and the clink of glasses from the open veranda above. It’s strung with little golden fairy lights, and he should probably avoid bombing into the middle of what sounds like a Rittenhouse cocktail party, but his ears are straining for any sound of Lucy. Did she actually, somehow, go willingly? Did Cahill tell her who he is? Is she duct-taped and thrown in a trunk somewhere? That last seems unlikely, but Flynn isn’t ruling anything out.

He makes it to within about a hundred yards of the house, takes out a small pair of binoculars from his other pocket (he always travels prepared) and scans the distant, well-dressed figures milling around the porch. This could just be some millionaire’s birthday party at his mountain chateau; this part of the world is hardly lacking in cash and expensive retreats. But as Flynn scans again, he catches unmistakable sight of Benjamin Cahill in black-tie eveningwear, looking totally in his element. Next to him, wearing a dress that she definitely didn’t have when she left this morning, hair upswept and neck garlanded with pearls –

Flynn’s heart skips a beat again. At least Lucy hasn’t been beaten or mistreated, is holding a champagne flute and smiling at some investment-banker type, but it suddenly makes him wonder if he’s been completely wrong from the start. He isn’t usually, hasn’t gotten this far in his career because he makes mistakes in his intelligence or his hunches, but what if Lucy has changed her mind? He doesn’t think she’s so good an actress as to pretend total ignorance this whole time, working with Cahill to set a trap and lure Flynn in, but… she’s standing there in the middle of a Rittenhouse soiree and seems to be at ease with it. If she wants to be there, can he rush in and pluck her out? Does he have to add her to the enemy list, treat her henceforward as a compromised asset? Report this back?

That, at least, is the one thing Flynn is fairly sure he isn’t going to do, given as Karl ordered him to drop the case, and his failure to turn up at LAX will probably trigger questions. But that felt like a setup from the start, and he also doesn’t know if Karl has been compromised too, knowingly or unknowingly. God, he’s getting paranoid. Nobody to trust, nobody to consult with, only his hunch that Rittenhouse is up to no good, and it’s on his head if he doesn’t find it or stop it. Nobody’s asked him to do this. Flynn took it on himself.

After another pause, Flynn stows the binoculars back, makes sure he stays out of sight, and circles around just outside the reach of the patio lights. He spots an open window at the back of the house, sneaks up, and listens carefully for the sound of anyone inside. Seems like a hallway. He leans forward, swings a leg over the sill, and ducks – a lot, Flynn is a large man and this is not a large window. Rittenhouse or not, it’s a good thing no one is watching, as it is not his most graceful entrance. He tumbles out and lands with a thud on rich red carpet. The murmur of voices still echoes from the front of the house like waves.

Flynn picks himself up with some affronted dignity, brushes himself off, and wonders if he can find a waiter’s uniform. He doesn’t think anyone in Rittenhouse knows him by sight, but then again, they could have been circulating his picture. He can’t be sure if they know it’s him specifically that’s investigating them, or just that someone is, but strolling into the middle of them, plain as day, is probably not his wisest plan. He needs to get closer, and he has to be careful.

By dodging and weaving, stepping back into doorways when he hears someone coming, Flynn manages to make it to a small library just off the main party. It’s leather couches and mahogany bookshelves, a mounted deer head staring down at him with glassy, judgmental eyes. From here, he can spot Lucy, talking to a red-haired woman in a resplendent blue evening gown. Maybe one or both of them will decide to use the powder room. Then –

Flynn waits, breathing shallowly through his mouth, until Lucy finally breaks off with a polite excuse and starts toward the hall that leads past his hiding place. This is his one shot. As she is going past, he steps out, claps a hand over her mouth, and drags her back into the library, shutting the door with his foot, as she – obviously, having been grabbed by a strange man in the middle of a cultish party she never volunteered to attend – starts to scream. It comes out muffled against his fingers, Flynn winces as she stamps on his foot with a heel – she didn’t have those this morning either – and has to fight surprisingly hard to contain her. “Shut up! Lucy, shut up, it’s me!”

“Y – ” Lucy goes stiff in shock, as he slowly removes his hand to see her lipstick smeared on the palm, and feels vaguely bad about ruining her look. She whirls on him, flaring like a cobra. “What on – what on earth are you – are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?” Flynn feels that the need for explanations decidedly goes both ways. “Decided that daddy dearest was onto something after all?”

He remembers an instant too late that if Cahill hasn’t spilled the beans, this is going to be another shock that they really don’t have time to gently ease Lucy through, but for once, the wretched bastard appears to have done him a favor. Lucy’s face is tense and white and furious, but not totally shocked. “Yes,” she says at last, low and angry. “He said something about that. And how did you know, exactly?”

“I told you, I’ve been investigating these dicks. Your name was in his file. That’s why I came back to find you.” Flynn offers her his handkerchief, as Lucy icily wipes off the smeared lipstick. “What else did he say?”

“That’s why you came looking for me?” For half a moment, Lucy looks as if she was hoping the reason was something else. That he wanted to see her again, that he never forgot saving her, that he just felt the need to return. All of which are true, in fact, but Flynn would rather not get into that. “To pump me for information on my apparently extremely creepy biological father? I don’t know anything about him! I never have!”

“And yet,” Flynn says sharply. “Here you are.”

“He came to get me from Stanford. We drove here, and – ” Lucy gestures at the surroundings. “He wanted me to meet some members of the organization, keeps talking about getting me a job. I’m definitely being recruited, they want something. They were planning this, they had the gown and shoes and jewelry in my size. Everyone’s been telling me how lovely and accomplished and promising I am. It’s Stepford Wives times ten.”

“So do you believe me?” Flynn challenges. “About Rittenhouse?”

“Clearly!” Lucy’s gown is strapless, and the night is cool; she hugs herself with both arms. “I’ve never known anything was out of the ordinary, I always thought Henry Wallace was my father, and suddenly it’s this rich Slick Rick who is promising me everything I – ” She waves a hand. “You reappeared two days ago, the first time I saw you since you saved my life, and now you’ve turned it upside down.”

Flynn wants to point out that strictly speaking, this is not his fault, but also, it kind of is. Lucy is trying to hold it together, but her chin is quivering, and after a pause, he shucks off his jacket and drapes it over her shoulders. It is much too big, hanging on her like a circus tent, but she clutches it close anyway. They stare at each other, at a loss for how to proceed, until Lucy says, “How did you find me?”

“Later.” Flynn’s instinct is to get them out of here ASAP, even if the abrupt disappearance of their guest of honor will set off Rittenhouse’s alarms. Maybe they’ll think she just ran away like Cinderella, but he would be a fool to count on it. “I got your computer from Stanford, by the way. And your books.”

Lucy blinks, as if oddly touched by this unexpected thoughtfulness, and bites her lip. Flynn wants to warn her that if anyone asks, she does in fact have a tall, foreign, and somewhat ill-mannered boyfriend, but that is another conversation that can wait. They open the library door, peer out together, and then hasten down the corridor, back in the direction he came. They reach the window, Flynn climbs out first, and Lucy snags her hem and nearly does a faceplant as she follows. He catches her automatically, scooping her up, and thinks that with Lucy in three-inch stilettos, it is going to be a hell of a lot more trouble than it’s worth to ask her to scramble through dark forest in a hurry. He shifts her, swings her against his chest, and starts off. She’s a petite little thing. He’s carried heavier gear bags.

Lucy seems to guess what he’s thinking, and doesn’t ask him to put her down. In fact, her arms tighten briefly around his neck, unspokenly trusting, in a way that makes him too-vividly recall the interrupted kiss-that-wasn’t. To speak of things they don’t have time for. They have maybe five minutes more before someone starts to wonder where Lucy went, and then they’ll have to look, and – well, Flynn would rather avoid a car chase down this highway. He goes faster, skidding down the verge.

It isn’t much longer until they reach where he left the car, and he strides up, shifts Lucy enough to open the passenger door, and dumps her in the passenger seat, somewhat breathless, dirty, and with twigs and pine needles caught in her hair. He goes around to the driver’s seat, gets behind the wheel, and starts the engine, glancing warily over his shoulder for headlights coming down the drive. It occurs to him that he doesn’t know where to go. Her apartment isn’t safe, and nor is anywhere else back in the Bay Area. They need distance.

Flynn accelerates down the dark two-lane highway, as Lucy fishes the books out from under her butt and does her best to collect herself. She’s holding up admirably for all the shocks she’s been through, but it’s clear that is fraying at the edges. Her hair is coming down from its elegant updo, falling on her shoulders in dark, shining curls, and Flynn reminds himself to keep his attention on the road. She stares blankly through the windshield, not speaking, struggling to wrap her head around this. Then she says, “Thank you. For coming after me.”

“I wasn’t going to leave you there.” Flynn is fairly sure the headlights in his rearview mirror have come from the direction of the mansion, and he wants to go faster, but he’s already taking the curves at close to maximum speed. Fly off the road and hit a tree at sixty miles an hour, and they’ll both be toast. Still, his training is telling him to debrief the asset, get the intelligence collected, see if the infiltration was a success. “Who was that woman you were talking to? The red-haired one?”

“She said her name was Emma. She works at some aeronautics and engineering company. Mason, I think. Mason Industries.”

That sets Flynn’s antennae up. Connor Mason is one of the billionaires in the Elon Musk mold: funds revolutionary transportation and innovative tech, is in on the space-tourism plan, just landed a contract to supply the software for Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliners. Rittenhouse having a finger in that pie is potentially extremely lucrative in any number of directions. “Did she say what she did there?”

“No. Some kind of advanced software testing, I think?” Lucy combs the forest detritus out of her hair, jerking back against her seat as Flynn rips around another corner. “Slow down!”

“Not yet,” Flynn grunts, trying to calculate how far it is back to the interstate. It feels safer to keep heading north. South is traffic and slow going and endless city; north is up to redwood country, emptiness, room to stretch the distance. They are in this now, all right. “I think your friends noticed you left the party.”

Lucy looks about to remind him that they aren’t her friends, but stops. She concentrates instead on keeping down her hors d’oeuvres as Flynn continues to rocket down the road, briefly gets stuck behind a slow-moving RV and then overtakes it like a drag racer. The mid-sixties retirees driving it are almost surely grumbling about kids these days, but that is their problem. He spills out at the junction with the highway and guns it up the entrance ramp. They’ll have to take 101 north, toward Santa Rosa. He doesn’t know how far they might have to go to throw Rittenhouse off the scent. Or, for that matter, any of his colleagues.

For the longest time, there’s no sound but the asphalt humming away beneath the tires, the freeway lights flashing over their faces. Lucy stares straight ahead, saying nothing, until they reach the exits for Santa Rosa, Flynn doesn’t take them, and she stirs. “How far are we going?”

“Just a little more.” Flynn is fairly sure they’re in the clear for the time being, but if Rittenhouse establishes a search perimeter, he doesn’t want to take risks. He is running low on gas, they will have to stop soon anyway, but he takes them another few minutes up the road to Windsor, gets off the highway, and pulls into a Holiday Inn Express, thinking it’ll be reasonable. But since this is wine country, the front desk attendant quotes him a figure that makes him wince. It’s not outrageous, but it’s still more than Flynn thinks he should be paying, and he grumblingly shucks out some bills. Feeling the attendant’s eyes on him, and on Lucy in her still disheveled-state, he puts a hand on her back and says, “All right, honey?”

“Fine.” Lucy seems to sense what he’s doing, and manages not to look as if the whole godforsaken night has happened, which is a feat. They get their key cards and trudge up to their second-floor room, get inside, and more or less collapse. Lucy is still in her torn evening gown, hair loose, heels kicked off, as she lies on the polyester hotel bedspread and stares at the ceiling. Finally she says, “I can’t believe how much work time I missed.”

Despite the clear exigency of their situation, Flynn raises an eyebrow. “That’s what you’re worried about?”

“Maybe it’s easiest.” Lucy shifts herself up onto the pillows. “Besides, I’ve busted my butt to get here, to be on the verge of finishing. I’m not losing it now because of – of this.”

“I saved your books,” Flynn reminds her. “And I’ll try to sort this out. I… I didn’t mean to. Turn everything on its head.”

Lucy considers that, then pushes herself to her blistered feet. “I think I’ll take a shower.”

She goes into the bathroom and shuts the door, as Flynn is left to consider that they didn’t really pack an overnight bag, and if Lucy isn’t going to sleep in the evening gown, she doesn’t have a terrible lot of options. Maybe there’s still some Target or Walmart that’s open late, even if he very much rebels against the idea of leaving her alone again. But he figures she’ll probably appreciate it, since it’s the least he can do, and calls into the bathroom, “Lucy, I’ll be back in a bit, all right? Don’t open the door to anyone.”

With that, he goes back downstairs, gets in the car, drives down the street to the gas station and fills up – might as well they’re ready for any fast escape – and finds that good old stalwart of American exploito-capitalism, Wally World. Goes in and grabs a few things in Lucy’s size, some toiletries, takes them to the front, and pays. Then drives back to the Holiday Inn, already feeling anxious, and practically runs inside to assure himself that nothing’s wrong.

It’s not, strictly speaking. However, Lucy is wrapped in a towel and not much else, and the sight momentarily fries Flynn’s circuits. He clears his throat, startling her, and she snatches at it as she turns around. “I – uh.” He waves the Walmart bag. “I got you some things.”

“Thanks.” Lucy takes it and goes back into the bathroom to change. As Flynn sits down on his bed, telling himself that he didn’t realize it was that bad, his phone rings.

He stares at it suspiciously. It’s a restricted number, yet again. It could be Karl, or it could be – well, given who he’s just pissed off, the options are numerous and unpleasant. If he picks it up, someone can definitely track him, and then they’d have to run out of here again, and…

Flynn debates long enough that the call goes over to voicemail, and he stares at it like a ticking time bomb. About ten seconds pass. Then it rings again.

He might as well know what he has to prepare himself for. What he’s going to have to fight against. He picks it up and growls, “Who is it?”

“Is this Garcia Flynn?” For better or worse, he doesn’t recognize the voice. “NSA?”

“I asked you first.”

There’s a faint but audible sigh. Then the man says, “My name is Sergeant Wyatt Logan. Believe me, we need to talk.”

Chapter Text

The incredibly stupid (and rather terrifying) situation that Master Sergeant Wyatt Logan has presently found himself in goes like this.

Something feels off about the botched operation the instant he gets off the phone with Neville, and since Wyatt is still technically the official personnel assigned to this case, if he doesn’t want to drop it, he doesn’t have to. He stands there in the middle of the pickup curb at LAX, being jostled to every side by passing travelers, until he decides he should, if nothing else, get out of the way. Heads back to his car, stares through the windshield for a long moment, then takes out his phone again. Sorry babe, he texts Jessica. Order some pizza and invite some friends. Don’t think I’m making it home tonight.

With that, he tosses the phone into the passenger seat, trying to ignore the twinge of guilt. Jessica knew when she married a serviceman, especially one in special ops, that it would be a lot of long separations and unexplained absences, and she’s held up admirably thus far, but she has to be wondering when the buck finally stops. So is Wyatt, for that matter. They need this. They love each other a lot, but they’ve become different people during his last three deployments. A relationship can’t survive forever on Skype calls and care packages.

Putting that out of his head for now, Wyatt turns on the engine, pays the exorbitant parking charge, and rolls into downtown L.A. He can’t help wondering if he’s been outsmarted and the mark is going to turn up at the Burberry store now that a potential accomplice has given him the all-clear. But how would a relatively routine drug runner, or even mid-level member of the mob, be privy to the classified details of a Delta Force sting arranged just hours ago? Their counterintelligence is good, but not that good. And while tons of information isn’t exactly par for the course in this job, they usually at least give you a name. Even a fake one.

At that, Wyatt makes a decision. He isn’t hauling all the way back to San Diego tonight, and he’s gonna drop by Bam-Bam’s. Dave Baumgardner, given the nickname for his enthusiasm for certain parts of the job, is on leave, but he lives here. Has a nice bachelor pad in Westwood. His dad is rich, because Bam-Bam definitely does not make enough money to afford it by serving in the army, even in a specialized unit. At least Wyatt can get a second pair of eyes on this, judge if there’s actually a wrench in the spanner, or he’s just being paranoid. Everyone in their line of work knows it happens eventually.

Traffic is a crawl up 405, because aside from all the other reasons for L.A. to have terrible traffic, there’s a Los Angeles Tech Convention and some billionaire bigwig named Connor Mason is the featured attraction. Has all kind of gizmos he’s wheeling out for public display for the first time ever, so this place is Nerd Mecca. In Wyatt’s opinion, it’s bad enough they keep inventing new iPhones every year. Who needs all that?

He sighs, reminds himself not to be quite so curmudgeonly, and makes it to Westwood with only two minor road-rage incidents. Pulls up in front of Bam-Bam’s place, parks, and heads up the walk. Technically the term for what Bam-Bam is on is “paid administrative leave,” because there’s still some question about whether his actions on the Abu Dhabi mission were entirely necessary. This is, also in Wyatt’s opinion, a dog-and-pony show. The U.S. government pays David Baumgardner to kill people, and the legality isn’t something they’re concerned with except when it appears in the press. It does occur to him to wonder if this is a great place to be asking advice, but hell, he’s here now.

A few moments after his knock, Bam-Bam opens the door, holding a sweating Budweiser bottle and looking surprised. “Hey, Logan! What the hell are you doing here?”

“Complicated,” Wyatt says briefly. “You gonna let me into your beer and porn den, or what?”

Bam-Bam smirks, gives him a bro clap on the shoulder, and leads him into the kitchen, where he twists the cap off another cold Bud and hands it over. Wyatt takes a long swig, leaning against the counter, then follows Bam-Bam out to the porch. Here in an airy, comfortable suburban backyard, it feels as if he might definitely be overstating things, but no point chickening out now. As economically as he can, he explains his hunch. The fact that he can’t be sure, but this feels like a setup, and not in the right way. Bam-Bam might be trigger-happy, but he’s a good soldier. Wyatt trusts his instincts.

“Huh,” Baumgardner says, when he finishes. “That is a little weird.”

“Okay, so it isn’t just me?”

“No, that does sound off the ranch. Not even this guy’s name or who he’s supposed to be working for – ‘Ndrangheta, Yakuza, plain old Mafia, Big Pimpin’ dealing weed down in Compton?” Bam-Bam takes another slug of beer. “Who’d you piss off?”

“Nobody,” Wyatt says. “Far as I know. This all came out of nowhere. Yesterday I thought I was finally going to have a real weekend with Jess, today I’m here with… this.”

“Just send her a dick pic.” Bam-Bam finishes off the Budweiser and chucks it expertly across the lawn into the recycling. “Tide her over?”

Wyatt gives him a cold fish stare, as he doesn’t think that any woman, not even his wife, just magically needs his genitals to appear in their life. “Good thing I don’t ask you for romantic advice, you dog.”

“Whatever.” Bam-Bam shrugs. “Anyway, what are you planning to do about this?”

That catches Wyatt short. He doesn’t actually know. Critical thinking is a valued skill for a solo operative, but independent thinking, less so. A soldier follows orders, he doesn’t start yanking at threads and veering off on tangents and trying to rewrite the script, thinks he knows better than the brass and can do whatever he wants. Finally he says, “Should we call someone?” You never know. Pestering the boss could do something.

“Guess you could try? I’d call my dad, actually, but he’s at some retreat up in the Bay Area this weekend.” Bam-Bam’s rich daddy, Rick, is a defense lawyer in Orange County and makes gigabucks shielding even richer assholes from the consequences of their crimes. In other words, if there’s a big bust afoot, he might know something about it, albeit on less official channels. “Leadership development potential, or whatever.”

“Can you call him anyway?”

“Because my Delta Force buddy thinks something smells a little fishy about one of his jobs?” Bam-Bam gives Wyatt a weird look. “This is still classified, remember?”

“You don’t have to tell him it was me. Just put it in general terms.”

“Yeah, I don’t think that’s gonna work. Anything else?”

Wyatt racks his brains, trying to recall the paperwork he skimmed through quickly to get to the operational summary. This is probably a cautionary tale about why you should actually read it. “I think there were initials? Dunno if it corresponded to the guy at all. G.F.? And something about an unauthorized investigation.”

“Shit.” Baumgardner’s eyes widen. “Garcia Flynn?”

“What?” That catches Wyatt off guard. “Who?”

“He works in the NSA. He’s from somewhere in former shithole-Soviet land, he’s been in Eastern Europe for most of that time. I met him a few times, actually. He’s about the one guy who could take me in a shooting contest.” Bam-Bam sounds proud of this, which Wyatt finds worrying – is this the guy they sent him into LAX to take down, solo op, civilians to every side? “Anyway, though, that’s not why I thought of him. My dad was just talking about him earlier. Apparently Flynn’s lost his marbles, and that worries people.”

“Your dad’s work colleagues? Flynn sounds like the exact kind of client they love.”

“You think anyone from Orange County is gonna defend a possible Russian mole?”

“Yeah. Probably have three on the payroll already. Is that what they think he is? A mole? How the hell is that too controversial to tell me?”

“Look, man, I don’t know. This is probably on shaky confidentiality grounds anyway, but you and I are on the same security clearance, so…” Firearms-related or otherwise, David Baumgardner has never been bound too strictly by an exacting observance of the rules. “You wanna stay and play some Halo, or go and do your fucking job?”

“Probably the latter, huh? Not all of us get to sit on our ass and stuff our face right now like you.” Wyatt slugs down the last of his beer and stands up. “Do you have anything else you can think of? Anything at all?”

Bam-Bam considers, frowning. Then he says, “I think my dad knows that tech guy who’s in town for the convention. Connor Mason. If you wanna pull rank and flash a badge at him, pull him off into some back room and scare him, he could be helpful. Not sure, though.”

“Yeah, I’ll get a last-minute ticket to that and haul the keynote speaker off the stage in front of ten thousand hyped-up nerds?” Wyatt looks at the ceiling, then blows out a breath. “Not like I got anything else to try. Thanks, buddy. Hope they let you out of the doghouse soon.”

With a quick hand-shake and bro-hug, he lets himself out, gets back in the car, and drives to the packed convention center, which involves subjecting himself to I-10 at peak evening hours and thus takes approximately eighty-one eons. It takes him several more after that to find a parking space, which is practically in Chavez Ravine, and he heads to the door and asks to speak to the security staff. It takes (more) time, but he finally gets the head honcho, introduces himself quietly as Delta Force, and says there may be a security threat that he needs to speak to Mr. Mason about. Yes, he knows that Mr. Mason is scheduled to give the kickoff speech at 7:00pm, which is nineteen minutes from now. It’s urgent.

The security guys look at each other, but after Wyatt repeats “credible security threat” a few more times, one of them slopes off to get Mason. He arrives fixing his cufflinks and the microphone pinned to his lapel – twelve minutes to go – and clearly angry at the interruption. “They said there was some bloke who wanted to talk to me? Now?”

“That’s me, Mr. Mason.” Wyatt clears his throat, with a significant look at the others ordering them to scuttle off. “This won’t take long.”

“It better not.” Mason is a bald black British guy in a very expensive suit, who has not gotten to the level of success that he has by tolerating fools. “Well?”

Wyatt checks that they’re alone. “Do you know a Garcia Flynn?”

It’s a good thing Mason wasn’t trying to take a drink, otherwise he definitely would have done a spit-take. He takes half a step backwards, as if Wyatt has turned radioactive. “I’m sorry,” he manages, trying and failing to sound nonchalant. “Who did you say you were with, again?”

“I didn’t.” Wyatt takes a step of his own, in case Mason tries to bolt. “You’re the one in the hurry. Tell me what I want to know, we can make it quick. Well?”

“You’re… not…?” Mason’s eyes search Wyatt’s face, as if trying to uncover a mask, a sudden reveal. “Is this some attempt to punish me for not attending the…? I’ve told them, many times, that the work is on schedule, and…”

“What work?” Wyatt asks. “On schedule for who? Not attending the what?”

Mason’s eyes flick from side to side again. He scrutinizes Wyatt carefully, then asks all of a sudden, “Scientia potential est?”

“Is that Latin?” Wyatt is more baffled than ever. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“So you’re not.” Mason seems to have been checking something. Rather belatedly, he hitches his professional, P.T. Barnum smile back into place. “I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about, Mr. …?”

“Smith.” Wyatt is pretty sure Mason is lying out his ass, but he’s not sure how to force him, short of tackling him and dragging him off to a broom closet for the old shock-and-awe routine Bam-Bam recommended – and that is definitely a bad idea. “You really sure you don’t know anything about Garcia Flynn? Really sure?”

“Absolutely.” Mason almost sells it, too. There’s a moment more in which they stare at each other, and then there’s a harried knock on the door.

Mason turns away to open it, and a young African-American man in a MIT sweatshirt sticks his head in, looking frazzled. “Mr. Mason, what the hell? Your cue’s in five minutes!”

“Yes, Rufus, of course. My apologies, I was unavoidably detained by G.I. Joe here.” Mason tweaks his cuffs, stares back at Wyatt, and turns on his heel with a slight, sarcastic flourish, marching out after his – assistant, aide, graduate student, whatever Rufus is. Wyatt has about five seconds to decide if he is in fact going to throw his weight around – he’s not a cop, and if he’s going to hold Mason for questioning, he needs something to, you know, actually question him about. Mason seems like a smarmy dick, but that’s not illegal. But who the crap do he and Rick Baumgardner both know that makes Garcia Flynn a potential problem for them? They’re both rich, successful corporate types. Bam-Bam said that Flynn’s in the NSA. Has he gone black hat, exploiting security loopholes in their servers and threatening to hold their trade secrets for ransom? Sophisticated cybercrime? But then why wouldn’t Mason want him taken down? Or does he, but he doesn’t want to tell Wyatt how he knows him?

Yeah. There’s something really fucking fishy going on here, it’s not just Wyatt’s imagination. As Mason and Rufus vanish down the corridor, he blows out a breath and tries to work out what to do next. He can’t tap Bam-Bam for any actual action, he’s still on leave, and that would land Wyatt’s ass in hot water right next to him. And yet again, the question remains. Action against who? It feels like kickboxing with your own shadow.

Wyatt thanks the security guys, assures them the threat has been dealt with (which is a lie, but he doesn’t know what else to say), then hikes back to his car, pulls out his phone, and scrolls down to the encrypted numbers, the ones you don’t call except on (hopefully) rare occasions. Once it’s been picked up and he’s gone through the various steps of verifying his identity, he is finally transferred to whatever Lovecraftian horror that is the NSA switchboard room, insists he has the proper clearance to three different people (you’d really think the U.S. government would be better at sharing intelligence and coordinating between departments, but nooooope) and finally, finally gets someone to tell him that yes, Garcia Flynn is an agent on active roster. As far as they know, he still is, but he has missed a scheduled check-in and reassignment. That was supposed to take place today. This afternoon, at the Tom Bradley International Terminal in LAX. At the Burberry store. He didn’t show.

At that, Wyatt feels a goose walking over his grave, as the saying goes. What the shit. He was sent to arrest – as far as Flynn’s bosses know – an agent still on his regular assignment, a fellow high-level, elite operative, but why? Someone who has been, apparently, making trouble for Rick Baumgardner and Connor Mason’s chummy corporate buddies? Mason assured Wyatt that the work was on schedule – what work? Did Wyatt just stumble into the middle of an attempt to whistleblow a whistleblower – stop Flynn before he can pull the clothes off whatever emperor he is trying to disrobe? What. The fuck.

It takes Wyatt several more minutes of cajoling, but he finally convinces the NSA lackey that he’ll try to get in contact with Flynn, put him off his guard, and see if there’s anything he can extract about this very, very puzzling situation. The lackey gives him the company phone number that they have on file for Flynn, and Wyatt jots it down on his hand. He thanks the guy, then hangs up.

Wyatt isn’t nearly stupid enough to call a potential hostile on his own government phone, especially since that could lead to him getting tracked. So he starts the car, wearily girds his loins for his – what – fourth go-round with L.A. traffic for the day, and drives off to the kind of totally reputable establishment on Sepulveda Boulevard that sells burner phones that can be bought with cash. By the time he’s done that, it’s getting quite late, and Wyatt is starving, so he makes an In-n-Out run. He scoffs it down, buys a second burger for the road, and sits in the restaurant until he’s pretty sure the traffic will only be mildly exasperating rather than hellmouth terrible. Then he trucks out, gets back in, and drives off to a deserted high school parking lot. According to the dash clock, it is 11:23 pm.

This is probably a horrible idea. The guy could be full-on, off-the-ranch insane. Or – almost more frighteningly – he couldn’t be.

Wyatt checks that the number on his hand hasn’t gotten too smudged, and dials.

Lucy is getting changed into the Walmart pajamas when she hears Flynn having a terse conversation through the door. He’s keeping his voice down, so it’s hard to make it out, but it sounds like it’s important. God, not something else, not now. This has already been the absolute hell of a day, and she just wants it to be over. Please no more.

She combs out her tangled hair and brushes her teeth with the toiletries he also got, which was nice of him. So was the rescue, if that’s what Lucy wants to call it. She had everything under control, or so she would like to think. Told Cahill five minutes, and then… well, then she was changing for an evening party with his serried social set, they were telling her how great she was, and she kept swearing that she was about to make a run for it somehow. And then out of nowhere, dragging her back into the library with its mounted deer head, scaring the life out of her and yet making her never so grateful to see anyone, Flynn. He keeps doing this. Turning up, and saving her. The last several times, from situations he put her in in the first place, but still. And that car with Benjamin Cahill and company, that wasn’t him. That was something else entirely, and Lucy didn’t like it.

She clenches her hands,which briefly seem inclined to tremble, and looks at herself in the mirror. She is a little pale and wan, dark smears of washed-off makeup lingering beneath her eyes, but she still seems like her. She waits until Flynn has finished his conversation, out of her usual polite instinct not to interrupt someone else’s private business, then steps out of the bathroom. “Who was that?”

Flynn jumps, then puts down the phone, which he has been glaring at as if expecting further information, or just because he’s annoyed. “You should probably go to sleep.”

“Maybe.” Lucy folds her arms. “Who was that?”

Flynn considers her, then gets abruptly to his feet, which is a fairly imposing thing for him to do. “You aren’t working for Rittenhouse,” he says, half as a statement and half as a challenge. “Are you? Some play-pretty-and-ignorant act, some very deep cover?”

“I am not working for Rittenhouse!” Lucy bristles. “Didn’t we settle that? Would I have left with you, or just gone to take a shower, instead of – I don’t know, calling someone and tipping them off where we are?”

“I was gone for a good twenty minutes or so,” Flynn points out. “I don’t know that you didn’t call someone.”

“I didn’t. Here, check my phone if you like.” Lucy thrusts it at him. “Besides, if you really thought I might be some kind of deep-cover agent, why did you rescue me?”

Flynn opens his mouth, realizes he doesn’t have an answer, and shakes his head brusquely. He takes her phone and scrolls through it, tosses it down on the bed, and finally says, “That was a Wyatt Logan. Friend of yours?”

“For the last time, no. I have no idea what is going on with any of this!” It’s close to midnight, Lucy’s exhausted, and this day has been, to say the least, a bitch. “Do you have anything else to interrogate me about, or can I go to sleep?”

Flynn briefly looks chastened, mulls another response, and jerks his head at the bed; apparently the Emperor has given permission. Lucy marches over, turns the covers back, and crawls beneath them, determined to put up a brave front but feeling shaky and small. Why, why has her mother kept this from her? Was it for her safety? It must have been for her safety. Realized that Benjamin Cahill was up to his eyeballs in whatever bad news Rittenhouse is, and cut Lucy (and later, Amy) off for their own good. It still hurts, but at least that way, Lucy can make sense of it. When she gets back to Palo Alto, hopefully soon, she’ll call her mom and clear the air, see if there’s anything else Carol needs to tell her. Maybe she can even help Flynn with this hell-bent investigation of his. Must know firsthand how sketchy they are. Maybe put him onto a few leads.

That is Lucy’s rational historian brain at work, the part that wants to cycle the kaleidoscope pieces together and see the big picture, the best outcome. And yet, all she can think of is Henry Wallace, all the times she called him Dad, and he never gave her any reason to think that was anything but the truth. How much did he know? All this time raising another man’s daughter – did he ever resent her? Did he truly just love her that much? Lucy wants beyond anything to see him again, to know. And yet obviously, she can’t. Lucy the historian understands all this, but Lucy the daughter is broken-hearted.

She sniffs, once and then again. Can feel a wetness soaking into the pillow under her cheek, and wipes her nose with the back of her hand. There can’t be many worse places to have this breakdown. Not yet, not yet. But another tear escapes, and a third.

Lucy thinks she hears an uncomfortable cough, and isn’t sure if she wants Flynn to notice this or not. She’s not really sure that he’d have anything particularly comforting to say, since his whole attitude about this seems to be “I told you so.” Why the hell did he come after her, then? Track her all the way out to the literal Rittenhouse in the middle of nowhere, but still won’t entirely relinquish his belief that she might be in with them somehow? Ugh. What the hell. This man is beyond frustrating.

Despite herself, Lucy slips into an uneasy haze, seeing as Flynn has apparently decided that the best strategy to deal with this is to sit very still and pretend he’s a tree. Yet again, if she was thinking that he might offer any comfort or …comfort, she’s mistaken. It’s really a good thing that she didn’t actually kiss him that first night.

Satisfying as this may be, it’s still hollow, and since Lucy doesn’t have Amy’s lap to put her head in, she could at least do with some brief moment of human connection or support. But if Flynn’s not offering, she’s not asking, and pulls the covers up tighter. If Rittenhouse comes barging in here during the wee hours, it is decidedly not her fault.

When Lucy opens her eyes again, the light is grey, the room is quiet, and the clock on the bedside table reads 6:43am. Flynn has dozed off on the other bed, still dressed, the same way he slept on her shitty couch back in her apartment, and nobody has been murdered, so there’s that. Lucy still feels like she’s been hit with a hammer, and could probably sleep another six hours at least, but she’s not sure if they’re going to have to pick up and bugger off somewhere else. It’s Sunday, maybe that will help with the traffic. It’ll still be at least two hours back to the Bay Area, though. If that’s where they’re going.

Lucy groans, closes her eyes again, and steals another forty-odd minutes of precious slumber, before she’s woken by the sound of Flynn moving around. She lies still and pretends to be sleeping, until he says gruffly, “Lucy, I know you’re awake.”

Ever the charmer, her knight in shining armor. Lucy sits up slowly. She has not had a ton of time to go to the gym recently, and yesterday was the most workout she had in months; she can feel it down to her toes. “Other people say good morning.”

Flynn’s mouth twitches, as if he’s almost about to smile, until he catches himself. “You should probably get up.”

“Oh? And what have you been doing all night?”

“Thinking.” Flynn pulls off his shirt, wads it up, and tosses it on his unmade bed. “I’m going to take a shower.”

Lucy was about to shoot back some remark about how she can’t see that going well – if he’s going to prod her, she’s going to prod him – but she’s distracted by the sight of his torso. Broad shoulders, heavily muscled arms, and several rugged scars – whatever the majority of this man’s career has been spent doing, it is not just annoying nearly-completed PhD students in California hotel rooms. There is a small, puckered, pinkish circle that looks like a bullet wound, and a few others that look like knives. She doesn’t know how old Flynn is – maybe mid-to-late thirties, seven or eight years older than her – but he’s clearly lived a hard life. Unwelcomingly, unnecessarily, her fingers flex, and her breath hitches.

Flynn catches her looking, and his tongue flicks out briefly to touch his lips. “Yes?”

“I thought you were taking a shower,” Lucy says, as coolly as she can. “Or are you still afraid that I’ll call Rittenhouse if you turn your back on me?”

Flynn arches an eyebrow at her. This man does have a remarkably expressive face, even if it mostly is employed for various permutations of smug, sass, smirk, and son of a bitch. “What, were you planning to come in? Only room for one in there, I’m afraid.”

With that, he strides to the bathroom and shuts the door, for all the world as if he just virtuously turned her down from making a move on him – which, obviously, did not actually happen. Lucy rocks back and forth on the bed, fighting an urge to scream, then gets up, gets dressed, and wonders if she can go down to the continental breakfast by herself, or Flynn will come tearing in and terrify some yuppies. Which might be amusing, at least momentarily, but will then result in even more headache and hassle to sort out.

It takes a while, but they finally eat (though Flynn, to judge from his dark looks at the buffet tables, doesn’t think much of Holiday Inn Express’s culinary selections), check out, and head back to the car. Lucy is not enthused to see it. “Are we going home yet?”

“No.” Flynn gestures her to get in, but she doesn’t. “I couldn’t keep you safe there.”

“Who said that was your job? Can’t you call someone? Whoever you work for?” Lucy folds her arms. “Get me a protection detail, so I can go back to my life, even if someone has to babysit me? However this is ordinarily handled?”

Flynn looks frustrated that she isn’t just taking his word and following his orders. Finally he says, “It’s… last night. When Logan called. There’s been some kind of complication. He said he was supposed to arrest me, at LAX. I don’t know what’s been decided on, but first they ordered me to drop the investigation and now Rittenhouse is trying to – ”

“What? Your bosses ordered you to drop it, and you didn’t see fit to share that with me?” As if he was going to share anything. “So what, we’ve been off the grid and against orders for at least the last twenty-four hours? It was one thing to be on the run with you when you were working on some official government business, now you’re off that too, and – what? I’m supposed to just trust you and get in the car?”

“Lucy – ” Flynn looks exasperated, as if he has genuinely never considered how insane he and all his plans sound. She’s gone along with it thus far, because she didn’t really have a choice, but before they head any further away from home, off into whatever planet he lives on, she needs solid answers. “Don’t make this difficult, just – ”

“Oh, me? Me? I’m the one who should not make this difficult?” Lucy catches sight of a nice retiree couple eyeing them from the hotel portico, and waves reassuringly. She might try to run for it right now, but all her books and her computer are still in the car, and it does not seem beneath Flynn to hold them for ransom. “Either we go home, or you explain a hell of a lot more about who this Wyatt Logan person was and what he told you.”

“He – ” Flynn rolls his eyes viciously. “It’s not a conversation for right here. Get in, and I promise – I promise – ” he repeats, seeing her look deeply dubious – “we’ll drive around a bit and I’ll tell you. Yes or no?”

Lucy hesitates, then jerks the car door open and gets in with as much icy dignity as she can muster. Muttering, Flynn does the same, pulls out with only a slight grinding of the gears, and keeps to his end of the bargain in puttering around at 30mph on some residential streets. As he does, he provides her a doubtless still-very-abridged version of what he learned. Wyatt Logan is a soldier of some description, though he didn’t specify his exact branch of service. He was sent by person or person(s) unknown to arrest Flynn at LAX, which is where he was supposed to go instead of staying with Lucy. Given that Flynn’s boss told him to go there, either he didn’t know that the rendezvous had been compromised, or he did. In short, someone highly placed in the U.S. government has ordered Flynn taken off the Rittenhouse investigation, and has gone to the lengths of sending a fellow special-ops guy to apprehend him. In short, Flynn can’t trust anyone back at headquarters, or know who they’re reporting to. That’s why he can’t just call in for backup and let someone else take it from here.

Lucy stares at him. If Flynn isn’t lying about this – and lying isn’t really his way, rather brute-force application of the unvarnished truth with all the subtlety of a speeding freight train – then that, obviously, is worrisome. “Why would he call and warn you?”

Flynn shrugs. “Dumb decency. Some people have it. But he wasn’t told either, he smelled a rat, so he did some digging.”

“How did he find out it was you?”

“I’m not sure. Wouldn’t say.” Flynn flashes a grim smile. “Had to play some of it close to the vest, after all. Said that he asked a few people. I assume someone like him, it wasn’t just the local hot dog vendor. So then. Do you see the problem?”

“You’re not willing to just drop me off back home and…” Lucy has no idea what the ordinary protocol would be, it’s a little outside her area of specialty. She doesn’t want to be kidnapped by Rittenhouse again, obviously, but she also doesn’t want to be joyriding around with a possibly-ex-NSA agent who’s managed to push the envelope too far even for them. “They couldn’t have had some good reason for pulling you off the case?”

Flynn looks at her flatly. “You’ve met who I’m after. Do you think so?”

Lucy hesitates. Yes, Rittenhouse was obviously creepy, there was a Waco-compound vibe to the party, and to have all these powerful, accomplished, wealthy people suddenly swanning out of the woodwork and offering her a dream job clearly came with a major catch. But… political parties and lobbying groups and other business conglomerates might be distasteful or even unethical (shock, horror, politics are dirty) but that still doesn’t make them strictly or flagrantly illegal. “I don’t know. I need more evidence.”

“Need more evidence.” Flynn makes a derisive noise in his throat. “That’s a historian’s answer.”

“I am a historian, in case you forgot. And I need to be back to Stanford by Tuesday, I have a class to teach.”

For a moment, Flynn looks as if he can respect this commitment to professional responsibility, even if he has no intention of honoring it, himself. “Why did you want to be a historian?” he asks instead. It doesn’t sound entirely like pleasant small talk. “Though it’s better than dropping out of college to join a band.”

Lucy flushes. That is the first reference he’s made to the fact that he saved her life seven years ago. But as to his question, she isn’t even sure she remembers consciously choosing. Just that it was implicit in her mind ever since she was a little girl, that she was going to study history and follow in her mother’s footsteps. That time with Jake was the only time she came seriously close to deviating from the plan, and Flynn is the reason she returned to it. Well, indirectly, since if he hadn’t come along, she would have been six feet under for a while now. “I just… always knew that was what I was supposed to do,” she says, after a pause. “My mom was… well, she is very… she just wanted what was best for me. She pushed me a lot, and that time when… when you saved me, that was when I’d decided I was going to tell her that I could live my own life, and not just mimic hers. But when I almost died, it… it seemed like a sign. That it had been a mistake. So I continued.”

“Do you even like it?” Flynn asks. “Or is it something else she made you do?”

“Of course I like it.” Lucy stares at him. “Really. If I hated it, I wouldn’t have gotten this far, even for my mother.”

She isn’t altogether certain about that. Just because she’s not sure she could live with her mother’s disappointment, her constant remarks about how Lucy isn’t really doing everything she could be. And she – she does want this, she can’t think of anything else she wants to do with her life, and frankly, if you’d be happy doing anything else apart from getting a PhD in history, you should probably do that. But that’s odd to think about, almost unsettling. If Puff the Tragic Wagon hadn’t gone off the road, and she hadn’t almost died, and Flynn hadn’t saved her, would she have gotten to her mother’s house, told her the plan, and followed through on dropping out of Stanford and running off with Jake? Or would she have wilted at the first sight of her mother’s disapproval, called the whole thing off, and continued as normal anyway? Does she actually have it in her to defy Professor Carol Preston, who red-penned her homework assignments from the age of nine? Who used to open up her laptop and go through her college papers and just delete whatever she thought wasn’t strong enough?

Lucy starts to say something else, then stops. “What about your mom?” she says instead, not sure why she’s inviting more intimacy, but determined to learn something about this man, half guardian angel and half obnoxious, dangerous, stubborn liability. “You said she was American, but you were born in Croatia.”

“She was.” Flynn rolls to a precise halt at a stop sign, then continues. “From Texas. She worked at Lockman Industries in the aeronautics and engineering division. She was in Houston during the moon landing, actually. A very talented woman.”

Lucy glances at him. She’s always up for hearing more about talented women. “What was her name?”

“Maria.” Flynn’s mouth shapes around it as if he hasn’t said it in a while. “Maria Thompkins. She died a few years ago.”

It’s plain that he would rather not keep talking about the subject, and they drive for a few minutes, going nowhere in particular. They make a few loops around the Windsor main drag, until Flynn says, “All right, I’ll take you home. But if anything happens on the way, or when we get there, then – ”

He sounds so grumpy and yet so worried that Lucy can’t help but smile. Impulsively, she reaches out to put a hand on his where it grips the gearshift. “I’ll be fine, Garcia.”

He blinks. His fingers tense under hers, for a moment as if they might turn and take hold. She gets the sense that people don’t often call him by his first name; it’s either Flynn or Agent or something else curt and formal. He’s still looking down at her. The air feels thick. She hasn’t quite let go.

“Lucy.” It sounds half as if he was trying to say something else, and half as if it just spilled out, as if he wanted to taste it. It lilts on his tongue, he looks at her from under his eyelids, and – Lucy doesn’t know what might have been about to happen. And for that matter, doesn’t get a chance to find out.

She’s aware of a flash, a glint, from the car that’s just pulled up next to them at the stoplight. Is aware, in a horrible, too-slow way, of Flynn realizing what it is, and slamming her down. In the next, the entire world has exploded in Lucy’s ears.

Flynn spreads his arms, sacrificing the chance to go for his own gun in order to shield her, and she hears him grunt as he straight-up takes two shots. All she can think about is those scars she saw this morning, how there was at least one bullet wound, and –

At that, Lucy moves. Reaches over, half-climbs into the driver’s seat, and hits the accelerator, trying to steer with one hand and hold him upright with the other. She can barely spare a moment to look in the rearview mirror and see if they’re being followed; all her attention is for him. “Garcia?” she says frantically. “Garcia!”

He grimaces, pressing a hand to his side. It wells up red. “Shit.”

“Don’t talk. Don’t talk, all right?” Lucy looks madly from side to side. She can see a sign for an urgent care, but she isn’t sure how well-equipped they are to handle a drive-by shooting. There’s probably a proper hospital in Santa Rosa, but how bad are his wounds? She tries to look, then has to swallow hard and turn away; blood has never been her strong suit. And if they go somewhere that needs ID, if that’s the exact thing they don’t want to do –

“Lucy.” He sounds somewhat squashed; even aside from being shot, their impromptu driving arrangement is making it hard for him to breathe. “There’s… a kit. In the back. Pull over somewhere, I’ll – ”

“You think you’ll fish two bullets out of you by yourself?” Lucy snaps. “We are getting someone to take care of you!”

Flynn opens his mouth, grimaces, and stops. The left shoulder of his shirt is wet red. He looks like he might pass out, and Lucy decides to hell with it. The urgent care it is. She veers them into the parking lot, slams on the brakes, and hauls Flynn out with a considerable effort. Once she has gotten him inside to the very alarmed receptionist, Flynn is just in command of himself to grouch, but someone takes hold of him and he vanishes into the back. Lucy drops into a chair, covered in blood and shaking. What the hell. What the hell.

She doesn’t think she’s going back to Stanford today.

Chapter Text

Lucy has been standing in the bathroom of the urgent care for fifteen minutes, trying to scrub the bloodstains off her clothes – cold water is supposed to set them, right? She doesn’t want cold water? – and telling herself it’s too melodramatic to feel like Jackie Kennedy in her pink suit. Even if, strictly speaking, a man did just get shot while sitting in a car next to her, in what definitely looked like a targeted hit, the rest of it is different. Lucy keeps hearing the sound of the gunshot, Flynn’s muffled grunt, the flash of the barrel from the tinted window. She doesn’t know for sure who’s behind it, but she has a sickening feeling. And if so –

Lucy is not washing this off with bleach-smelling hand sanitizer and pink cream soap, no matter how hard she scrubs, and she gives up her efforts with nothing more than making herself look like a horror-movie escapee. There might be more clothes in the Walmart bag back in the car, but does that count as removing evidence from a crime scene? She has no idea how this works. Can’t walk into somewhere else to casually purchase a new outfit without someone calling the cops. Besides, she doesn’t want to leave. She has no idea where to go, and she feels that same lurching, bottomless swirl of terror that nobody in the world can, in fact, be trusted. That it is just them, and right now, her.

Lucy allows herself to come unglued for a few more moments, then takes a deep breath, and turns a switch. “I’m fine,” she announces to the mirror, cool and flat. “I’m fine.”

With that, she turns around and marches out of the bathroom, which was probably needed for some pee test anyway, just in time to collide with the nurse coming the other way. “Ma’am, I’ve just been looking for you. Are you Mr. Thompkins’ point of contact?”

Lucy supposes that by process of elimination, she is, and notes that even while undergoing emergency medical treatment, Flynn has had enough presence of mind to give them a fake name. His mother’s maiden name, possibly a familiar alibi, but Lucy can’t ask what the first name is without sounding very odd. Fine, if Jackie Kennedy it is, there you have it. “Yes,” she says. “I’m Anna Thompkins, I’m his wife. Is he going to be all right?”

The nurse blinks, but that seems to be more surprise that Lucy is handling this so well, rather than any doubt about whether they are in fact married. “We’ve managed to stabilize him, but I strongly recommend that you agree to let us call an ambulance to transfer him to Santa Rosa Memorial. The bullets are still inside him, we’re not equipped for surgery.”

“But is he – ” This time, Lucy’s voice does wobble, which she doesn’t have to feign. “Is he going to be all right?”

“Mrs. Thompkins, he was shot twice, at very close range, with a high-velocity weapon. He’s not bleeding out right now, but he needs to go to a hospital.”

Lucy takes a slow, shaky breath. She knew this wasn’t the right place for gunshot wounds all along, especially since the fact that they are asking her for consent means that Flynn is unconscious. Maybe if he stays that way, she can think on her feet long enough to get them out of this, somehow. “All right.”

She signs the paperwork as Anna, notices that Flynn’s name has been put down as John Thompkins, and walks beside the paramedic team as they wheel Flynn out to the waiting ambulance. The wounds are in his shoulder and side, packed over with gauze and surgical tape and still showing red around the edges, and he’s on an oxygen mask, eyes closed and face grey. Lucy’s only medical education consists of several seasons of ER and Grey’s Anatomy (shh, everyone needs their trash escapist television, especially graduate students) but this doesn’t look good at all. She is allowed to ride with him in the back, and they scream down 101 with the siren on, so the journey to Santa Rosa Memorial takes less than ten minutes. Flynn is wheeled off, Lucy almost collapses into one of the uncomfortable chairs, and prepares to wait.

Her brain is too anxious to shut up or allow her to relax. How did the assassins find them? Was it a hit on Lucy and Flynn just got in the way, or was Flynn the intended target all along and they didn’t know Lucy was there? Was it in fact Rittenhouse, willing to arrange a target killing in whitebread suburbia, in broad daylight, to silence a man who has started asking too many inconvenient questions about their shady operations? But how could they – how would they –

Lucy can feel her chest freezing as the obvious answer occurs to her. Jesus Christ. She was in a car with Cahill and his minions, then at their weird party, from which Flynn rescued her in spectacular style and they surely noticed she went missing, and it would be really easy for them to have tracked her phone. She brandished it at Flynn, after all, telling him to check that she didn’t call anyone while he was gone. But what if – inadvertently – she did? Is she the reason the hitmen came after them? Take out Flynn, bring her back? Frame it as their own version of a daring rescue, from the lunatic who kidnapped her?

No. No, this can’t be happening. Lucy gets to her feet. She doesn’t want to throw out her phone – for one thing, it’s got a bunch of pictures of documents from the archive trip she took to Springfield in January (sidenote, never go to Illinois in January) – but if the alternative is sitting here and letting more killers track them, maybe she has to. Her fingers fumble as she tries to eject the SIM card, so at least she’ll have her stuff, but the small chip falls through them to the floor. With a hiss and a curse, she bends down to pick it up, and –


Her head jerks up at the sound of her name, even as she knows that’s not supposed to be what they’re saying, they’re supposed to be saying Anna Thompkins. But her eyes travel across the waiting room and land on none other than her ex-boyfriend, Noah. He was in medical school while they were dating, and has apparently finished and gotten a residency at Santa Rosa, of all things. It’s not like they’ve run into each other in some remote backpacker’s hostel in Thailand, this is a major Northern California hospital, his odds of ending up here were just the same as any other’s. But still, to say the least, Lucy isn’t prepared for it.

“Noa…?” She retrieves the SIM card, stuffs it into her pocket, and shoots to her feet, then hurries across to him. “Noah?”

“Lucy?” He keeps blinking. Their breakup wasn’t a horror story, just two busy, ambitious people never really making enough time for each other and Lucy not feeling ready for commitment when Noah proposed, but running into your ex is awkward at the best of times. This is… pretty much the exact opposite of that. “What – the name I have down is – ”

“Noah, please.” Lucy lowers her voice. “Just… please call me Anna Thompkins, all right? It’s important. Okay?”

Noah stares at her with a squiggled brow, as if he’s pretty sure that lying about your identity on hospital paperwork and asking a doctor to back you up is Not Okay, ethically speaking. “Lucy, what the hell is going on?”

“Anna. Please.” Lucy doesn’t think there are listening devices or undercover agents in the room, but she feels not too far off from starting a tinfoil-hat podcast. “Just for now?”

Noah takes a deep breath. “Anna,” he says, somewhat more loudly. “Your… John is out of surgery. He’s critical, but stable. He got pretty torn up, we’ll need to keep him at least for the week. Obviously, given the nature of the injuries, I have to ask if you have filed a police report, or if you would like any assistance in doing so.”

Lucy hesitates. She is pretty sure that putting the police onto this isn’t going to do anything helpful, but it will look hella sketchy if she refuses. Besides, Noah doesn’t need to know if she has or not. “Yes, I’m going to do that next. Thank you.”

Noah continues to eye her. It’s clear that he might want to ask who exactly “John” is to her, but he’s a professional, Flynn is his patient, and this is not the time to grill your ex-girlfriend, even if she did just turn up at your place of business while covered in dried blood, insisting you call her by a fake name, and worried about a strange man with multiple unexplained gunshot wounds. Instead he says, “Lu – Anna, are you all right?”

“I – ” Lucy has no idea. “I don’t know.”

“Look, it’s my break,” Noah says. “Let me take you to the hospital café and buy you a coffee, okay?”

Coffee sounds good, and if Flynn isn’t up and dying right this instant, Lucy supposes she can allow it. She waits while Noah shucks his coat and changes his scrubs, then walks her down to the ground floor and the usual long line for sustenance. They finally order, sit down, and Noah looks at her, blowing out a breath. “I’d say it was good to see you, but… yeah.”

“I know.” Lucy looks down at her hands. “It’s… not exactly what we were expecting.”

Noah takes a sip of his latte (three extra shots). Now that he’s off the clock and this is private time, it’s clear that he thinks it might be acceptable to ask the obvious question. “So, this John Thompkins. The two of you… are the two of you?”

“It’s complicated.” Lucy looks at the table. She does not owe Noah an exhaustive recital of her romantic history, not least because it’s been pretty much dead since him. “We know each other. He – I told you about my car accident, remember? In sophomore year? He was actually the guy who saved my life. He turned up again a few days ago, and…” She trails off, then repeats, since it is the only word that can come close, “Complicated.”

“That’s him?” Noah’s eyebrows go up. “Well, looks like he saved it again, that’s for sure. I could buy a random drive-by shooting in, like, Oakland, but Windsor? Who is this guy, Lucy? This isn’t the first time. He has at least one other shooting scar, and some other trauma-related cicatrices. Sorry, jargon.” He catches himself. “He’s been knifed a lot. And if he’s just been blasted with a sawed-off shotgun or whatever else, do you really want to be riding around in cars with him?”

Lucy doesn’t know how to answer. She’s seen Flynn’s scars for herself, obviously, of which he is going to have at least two more (he’s going to be fine, he’s as strong and stubborn as an ox, he’ll wake up soon). She knows he’s dangerous, that all kinds of people are looking for him, that he may have been taken off his investigation for going too far. But if Rittenhouse was the one aiming the gun at them and pulling the trigger… Flynn just got shot for her. He’s earned a little more benefit of the doubt.

“I trust him,” Lucy says, as steadily as she can. “I know you’re concerned, Noah, but it isn’t your responsibility anymore.”

Noah’s hand clenches on his cup, as if she didn’t have to remind him. She’s getting the sense that he’s not altogether over her, though he’s trying not to let on. There’s an awkward silence as they finish off their drinks, he checks his watch, and stands up. “I need to punch in again pretty quick. I’ll walk you back.”

Lucy agrees, and they return to the ward. Noah heads off to go back to work, and Lucy makes sure he’s gone, then gets her stuff and hurries down the stairs, out of the hospital, and down the street. The blood has dried enough that it’s not immediately recognizable as such, and she manages to make it into a Goodwill and buy a $2.50 top and $4 pair of leggings that will hopefully last longer than her most recent go-round. She changes, puts her old clothes into a plastic bag and knots it shut, then tosses it into a dumpster. Walks some more until she hits a strip mall, finds a secondhand electronics store, and buys a replacement phone, which she has them put her SIM into. Then she walks all the way to the freeway on-ramp – it’s not far enough, it’s still in Santa Rosa, if they can get a decent triangulation off the nearby towers, they can probably guess – and picks up a broken piece of concrete. Grimaces, whispers an apology to her phone, and hammers it until it’s a broken heap of LCD screen and electric innards.

Feeling as if she has murdered a small pet like a hamster or a guinea pig, knowing that she’s crying over the phone just because she can’t cry over everything else, Lucy sniffs, wipes her eyes, and notices that several nearby cars are slowing down, clearly in concern. This is detrimental to her aims of avoiding attention, so she climbs back onto the sidewalk and wearily trudges back to the hospital. She’s sunburned, footsore, and starving, so she chokes down some more canteen food, then goes back upstairs.

They’ve moved Flynn into a recovery room, and Lucy is allowed in to see him. He’s awake but not very, still woozy from the anesthesia, and it’s hard to say if he recognizes her. There’s an IV line in his left hand, which makes him grimace as he tries to reach out, and he drops it. The nurse says, “Mr. Thompkins, it’s your wife.”

Even given the fact that he is heavily sedated, on oxygen, and a few hours out of emergency surgery for the two major bullet wounds in his torso, Flynn’s eyebrows manage a certain sharp excursion upward. His gaze flicks between Lucy and the nurse, as if to be sure that they are talking about the same person. For her part, Lucy can only think it’s a good thing she didn’t listen to this idiot telling her to pull over so he could do amateur field medicine on himself, patch it up and go on their way. This is the most vulnerable Lucy has ever seen him, and while he is out of commission, she is the one who has to do the thinking and keep them safe. Which is a hell of a lot more difficult given that she still doesn’t know anything definite about their enemy, doesn’t have Flynn’s extensive tactical skill and military/intelligence training, and took a Krav Maga class in the first year of her master’s degree, after some women were mugged and assaulted late at night on Stanford property, but is far from a Navy SEAL. She needs help, she needs…

At that, a faint idea comes to Lucy. It’s a stretch, but not more than the rest of this. Once she’s been reassured that Flynn is comfortable (he doesn’t look comfortable, but then, he’s on a shit-ton of morphine, he may not notice) she asks about his possessions, and is allowed to collect them from a plastic tub. There are his car keys, his phone, his wallet, and his gun, and Lucy takes them all. She needs to start being systematic about this. Collect the evidence, then analyze it. Not far off her day job anyway.

With a word to Flynn telling him that she’ll be back later, Lucy puts his things into a trash bag and goes out, yet again. It’s Sunday night, and California is not big on public transit anyway, but she finally manages to climb on a shuttle bus taking hospital employees to the Windsor park-n-ride. It’s not far from there to the urgent care clinic, where Flynn’s rental car, with shot-out driver’s side window, is where Lucy left it. She is not sure what Enterprise or Avis consider acceptable insurable damage, but this is stretching it. Still, not her problem. She unlocks the door, sits down in the bloodstained seat, and switches on the overhead light.

The first thing she does is open Flynn’s wallet. He does in fact have a fake driver’s license giving his name as John Gabriel Thompkins, a few prepaid credit cards, several unmarked key-card-looking things that must be for whatever secret installation he’s based at, some old food receipts (does the NSA reimburse Subway?) and $100 in cash, along with 40€. There’s a secret zip pocket that contains his actual EU identity card, with his real name on it, as well as his U.S. government badge, the one he showed her the first night. The gun is a heavy Glock; Lucy doesn’t know enough about firearms to say what model. The phone has a passcode, which she stares at for a long moment before, on sudden instinct, trying 0321.

The phone flashes red; denied. She only has about two more attempts before it will lock, and it then occurs to her that being European, Flynn probably writes dates with day/month, rather than month/day. She tries again. 2103.

The phone dissolves into a homescreen. 21/03. The date he saved her life.

Lucy is too relieved at her success to spend too much time thinking about this. She thumbs through the contacts, most of which are encrypted, and she doesn’t think she could get away with calling any of his Big Brothers, but the most recent call isn’t from a restricted number. The area code is 310, which means Los Angeles. For some strange reason, Sergeant Logan thought it was worthwhile to call and warn the guy he was supposed to arrest that something didn’t smell right. Flynn called it dumb decency, but it might be the only thing that saves their asses.

Lucy considers, then makes a decision. She hits CALL, and lifts the phone to her ear.

She waits tensely as it rings, telling herself that he’s probably not going to pick up – or worse, he will. It’s eight PM on Sunday night, not exactly business hours, though those probably don’t mean a whole lot to him. Or perhaps this is the sting, and he’s been waiting for Flynn to call back, so he can find out where he actually is and –


Lucy’s breath shrivels in her throat. She clutches the phone.

“Hello?” Sergeant Logan, if it’s him, sounds wary. “Anyone there?”

“Hi.” It comes out in a faint squeak. “Is – is this Wyatt Logan?”

“Yes.” Now he just sounds confused, for which he cannot be blamed, and still wary. “How did you get that phone?”

“It’s. . .” Lucy debates what to tell him, and starts off with the basics. “My name’s Lucy, Lucy Preston. I’ve been. . . traveling with Garcia Flynn. He’s in the hospital.”

That gets Logan’s attention, and Lucy manages to badly explain the far-too-eventful day. He listens without interrupting, though he muffles an interjection or an expletive at a few points, until she’s done. Then he says, “Well, shit.”

This is an understandable assessment of the situation, even if Lucy was hoping that a guy like him would then have a plan beyond it. “Do you have any idea how this happened?”

“I…” Logan hesitates. “I talked to a guy after I told him Flynn hadn’t shown at LAX, he said they’d expedite their arrangements. But one, he’s in Homeland Security, and two, carrying out an extrajudicial contract killing on a government employee in the car with a private citizen… there’s no way that can be what he meant. Or it was, and that’s about ten thousand times worse.”

“Who was it? I know, protocol, whatever, but – did you get a name?”

She can hear Wyatt Logan evaluating whether to trust her. Then he says reluctantly, “Neville.”

“Jake Neville?” Lucy sucks in her breath. “He came by Stanford, right before Benjamin Cahill and his goons did. He was looking for Flynn then, he showed me a picture and asked if I’d seen him. It has to be the same person, doesn’t it?”

“That’s a little too weird to be coincidence.” She can hear rustling and banging in the background, as if Wyatt (can she call him Wyatt?) has the phone wedged under one ear and is running around doing stuff with his hands. “Listen, ma’am, where are you right now?”

“In Windsor. I – went back to get my things.” It occurs to Lucy that this is a very risky thing to do. Go back to the shot-out car in a dark, empty parking lot – it would be inadvisable for a woman alone late at night in the non-psychotic timeline, let alone this. If the hitmen hung around after shooting Flynn, they could have been waiting to see if she’d do just this, and she looks around sharply, scanning for any sign of movement. Can feel the invisible itch of a sniper’s sight on her forehead, whether or not it’s there, and fumbles for the keys, starting the car. “But I’m heading back to Santa Rosa right now.”

“Don’t take 101.” Another muffled thump and crash from Wyatt’s end. “Just in case, all right? Find some avenue or back road or whatever. I’m in Los Angeles, I can’t get there immediately, but I’ll call some buddies and see if they can give me a lift, rather than waiting on a commercial flight tomorrow morning. When you get back to Santa Rosa, stay in the hospital, somewhere public and well-lit. Okay?”

“Okay.” Public and well-lit definitely does not describe her present surroundings. Lucy pulls out, really hoping she doesn’t get pulled over for the broken window (not even to mention the dried blood all over the seat). “I know it’s illegal to talk on the phone and drive, but – ” She hesitates. “Could you just stay on the line until I get there?”

“All right,” Wyatt says, after a slight pause. “I got you.”

She’s never met this man face to face in her life, but Lucy decides, at that, to trust him. She puts the phone in her lap without hanging up, finds some way to drive back to Santa Rosa without taking the highway, and finally pulls into the parking garage. Finds a space near the elevator, carefully puts her books and computer into their bag (she is not risking being parted from them again) and puts her keys between her fingers like brass knuckles, then picks up the phone. “Wy – Sergeant Logan? Are you still there?”

“Yes, ma’am. Are you at the hospital?”

“Yes, I am.” Lucy trots quickly into the elevator, then out across to the front doors of the building. She isn’t eager to sleep on a Formica couch, but safety in numbers definitely seems like her best bet, with Flynn out of action and Wyatt several hours away. “I – thank you. For just… dropping everything and coming up here.”

“It’s my job, ma’am. Don’t worry about it.”

“You don’t have to call me ma’am. Lucy’s fine.”

Wyatt pauses again. Then he says, “All right. See you soon, Lucy.”

 After he gets off the phone with the poor history student that Garcia Flynn has been apparently carting around and taking bullets for the last few days, Wyatt sticks it in his pocket and moves fast. He has been staying in a motel that is, to put it kindly, a dive – not quite on the “hooker murdered in the next room” level of sleaze, but still somewhere that is not too exacting about its clientele. He could go back to Bam-Bam’s, but he doesn’t want to invite himself in as a houseguest, and besides, something is bothering him – especially after that conversation – as to just how Rick Baumgardner, Connor Mason, Jake Neville, and whoever else is implicated in this mess (Lucy mentioned a Benjamin Cahill, which Wyatt would swear sounds familiar, but he can’t place it) all know each other. Flynn said something about Rittenhouse on their call, but when Wyatt asked what that was, he immediately insisted that he wasn’t talking about it on the phone. Wyatt googled it, and turned up an astronomer from the eighteenth century. That can’t be it. Maybe he misheard.

In any event, whoever these dicks are, they’ve wasted no time in moving to aggressive negotiations, and Wyatt feels a proprietary responsibility to look after the civilian, if Flynn can’t. Perhaps this is making up, a little, for all the times when he couldn’t do that, or didn’t have the luxury of thinking about it. He throws together his few things, texts Jessica letting her know that his return has been delayed yet again, and places a call to a buddy in the Air Force who owes him a favor. Fifteen minutes later, he’s in a car on his way to a private helipad, and fifteen minutes after that, he’s airborne in a chopper, watching the endless glittering sieve of Los Angeles, the dark sweep of the Pacific, fall away beneath him. This job tends to suck, but at least you can pull a few useful strings.

It’s the wee hours by the time they touch down in San Francisco. Wyatt rents a car of his own, since by the sounds of things Flynn’s has gotten pretty beaten up, and checks that he has a few extra clips for his Sig Sauer. He really doesn’t want this to involve any more shooting, but can’t expect to avoid it either. This is suburban California, not Kandahar or Fallujah, but if it continues as it’s begun, that’s a problem.

Wyatt buys a large coffee since his eyes are starting to sag, and since it’s the one time that the traffic isn’t hellacious, he actually makes good time burning the literally midnight oil up to Santa Rosa. He locates the hospital, turns in, and parks the car, then heads inside. The place is mostly deserted except for some bored-to-death receptionist on the graveyard shift, a few equally zombified doctors and nurses heading for their 3AM caffeine jolt, and a few family members who have been kicked out since visiting hours are over but didn’t want to go home. There’s always something dull and twisted and strange about the energy of a place like this in the dead hours, the way the fluorescent light is harsh and glaring and the shadows too dark and sharp-edged. Wyatt turns his head very fast at least three times, convinced he sees someone skulking in a service corridor or around a corner, but there isn’t anyone there.

After a search through the couches and chairs upholstered in soothing neutral vinyl colors, he locates a dark-haired young woman with a bag of books on the floor next to her. She’s dozed off in an uncomfortable-looking position, brows drawn tightly, and Wyatt can’t be sure, but he thinks it’s her. He reaches out and shakes her gently. “Hey – ma’am? Lucy?”

She comes awake with a jolt, and stares up at him wildly, before blinking hard and forcing her heartbeat back to a more normal level. She rubs her eyes, grimacing. “God, you scared me.”

“Sorry. So – it is you?”

“Yes.” She glances edgily over her shoulder. “But if anyone’s around, call me Anna, all right? Anna Thompkins. They think I’m – Flynn’s – wife.”

Lucy clearly does her best to say this as determinedly and offhandedly as possible, though Wyatt sees a flush climbing up her throat. That is definitely none of his business, even as it seems a little questionable – still, they have bigger problems. He shifts his backpack and holds out his hand. “So, yeah. Wyatt Logan.”

Lucy shakes it. “Thank you for coming up here.”

“No problem.” Wyatt sits awkwardly on the couch next to her. It’s not really the time for small talk, she’d probably rather go back to sleep, even though this is not a comfortable place for it. “Sounds like you’ve had a… rough few days.”

Lucy snorts, as if that’s one word for it. She curls back up, drifting off again despite herself, and while Wyatt knows the boost will wear off eventually, he’s still awake enough from the coffee that he can keep an eye on things for her. Half an hour trickles past, then another. His eyes droop. Lucy’s asleep. He may just rest his own for a minute, for a minute, for a…

Wyatt opens his eyes, convinced that he’s only dozed for a brief spell, to see the morning blue and pink, the foyer busy with the nine-to-five admin staff and the day shift arriving, the café opening up, and family members pulling in with balloons and flowers to visit their loved ones. Lucy has vanished from the couch next to him, and he’s briefly alarmed, until he sees her emerging from the bathroom across the way, clearly having done her best to freshen up. He grimaces – nice watchdog work there, Logan. “What time is it?”

“8:34.” Lucy sits down. “Visiting hours open at nine, we should go see him. Let him know you’re here.”

Wyatt isn’t sure if Flynn is going to appreciate that or not, or be in much shape to answer his questions, but he can see that Lucy is very anxious to go up. After he’s bought a croissant and another coffee, they head up to the sixth floor, where Lucy presents herself as Mrs. Thompkins and asks if John’s awake. This is her brother, Logan. Can they please go in?

Wyatt nods and smiles, trying to look brotherly, and after an interlude while the nurses are doing whatever they need to do to make sure Flynn hasn’t croaked in the night, they are admitted. To judge from the look on Lucy’s face, he looks at least a little better than he did yesterday, is on an oxygen line rather than a full mask, and is sitting mostly upright. In turn, the look on his face when he sees Lucy is… tender, relieved, vulnerable, almost soft. Then he sees Wyatt, and his spine snaps straight. “Who the fuck is – ”

“Honey,” Lucy says, rather pointedly – there’s still a nurse in the room. “You remember my brother, Logan? From the army?”

Flynn’s dark eyes flicker suspiciously. He looks at Wyatt, who gives him a small nod, and they wait until the nurse leaves before Wyatt fishes out his military ID and waves it in front of Flynn’s contemptuous Slavic nose. “In case you were wondering.”

Flynn huffs again. “What are you doing here?”

“Lu – Anna asked me to come. Try to figure out who exactly you pissed off.”

“I know exactly who I pissed off.” Flynn reaches for his water cup with his IV’ed hand, hisses, and pulls back, as Lucy goes forward to pick it up instead. “You have anything else?”

Despite himself, Wyatt is annoyed. He wasn’t expecting boundless gratitude, but considering that he stuck out his neck, a lot, to track Flynn down, warn him about the attempted arrest, come up here, help out Lucy, and otherwise delay what he really wants to do, which is go home for a romantic weekend with his long-suffering wife, something a little more than barely-veiled fuck-you might be considered appropriate. “Wow, so you’ve really got this under control, huh? Except for the part where you’re badly injured and bedridden?”

By the look on Flynn’s face, he does not appreciate the reminder. His gaze flicks around the room, as if checking who might be watching the cameras. Since even he can apparently sense that it might be dickish to snap at Wyatt again, he confines himself to a disapproving grunt. Then he says, “Well, if you’re here to help, you might as well help. Lucy wants to go back to Stanford, but if that means someone else is going to aim a gun at her – ”

“Do you think that?” Lucy asks, sounding troubled. She’s still standing at his bedside, having not moved since she helped him fetch his water, and has not quite seemed able to look away from him. “That I was the target?”

“Either way, if someone shot you, pal, Lucy’s in more danger if she’s near you,” Wyatt puts in. “I’ll take her back, but for her own safety, you should think hard about if you really need to involve her in any more of… whatever this is.”

Flynn glares at him. “And you’re going to lecture me about keeping her safe, then? Ride in like a white knight and take all the credit for solving it? I don’t – ”

“Stop it, you two.” Lucy sounds strained and exhausted, as she clearly does not have the spoons to separate them from their instinctive, immediate bickering. “J – John, Logan’s right. I… might be safer back at Stanford.”

“But if Rittenhouse – ” It’s clear how much Flynn doesn’t like the idea of agreeing to be separated from her, if he’s actually speaking that word here in an unsecured environment. Even if he must know that if he’s injured and can’t protect her anyway, his continued presence in her life would just draw in more trouble. “Lucy, if Rittenhouse – ”

Lucy looks back at him without a word. She doesn’t have an answer for that, apparently. Then she says, “I just think it’s best.”

Flynn flinches, then grimaces, coughing. Then he falls back on the pillows, staring at the ceiling with a flat, hot gaze. “Fine,” he says. “Should probably just go, shouldn’t you?”

“Jo… Garcia.” Lucy seemingly can’t bring herself to say something like this under his alias. She half-raises a hand, as if to touch his unshaven cheek. “I’m not just going to run out, I’ll stay at least through today, if you wanted – if I have to miss one class, I’m sure the department would understand, I – ”

“Go,” Flynn says, half in a snarl. “Go back to Stanford and your precious dissertation, Lucy. Don’t fool yourself that I want to see you again. Wyatt Logan’s here to save the day, isn’t that nice? As he says, I know who I pissed off. I can handle it from here, and if they show up to finish me off, who cares about that, eh? This is my war. I don’t need you.”

Lucy looks as if she’s been slapped. Her cheeks go red, then white, and she bites her lip hard, as if to hold back tears. She ventures to reach out for him again, but he turns away sharply from her touch. The silence in the room is hideous. Wyatt wonders what the odds are of the linoleum tiles splitting open and swallowing him whole.

Finally, when Flynn doesn’t say anything else, Lucy apparently decides to take him at his word. Nods stiffly, picks up her bag, and beckons to Wyatt, who puts a hand automatically on her back as they start for the door, then drops it quickly. He can feel Flynn’s gaze boring a hole through it, wants to tell him that he has literally made this bed for himself and he is more than deserving of lying in it, but parting shots are more fun when your opponent is on their feet to take them. Now that he’s actually met the man, Wyatt can’t help but think that some arresting would have done him good after all. Too late for that, unfortunately.

Wyatt and Lucy walk out to his car, and get in. He promises he’ll drive her back to Palo Alto and drop her off, and maybe arrange quietly for someone of a security nature to be nearby, at least until they can be sure the heat is died down. Wyatt isn’t going to give up on finding out whatever this is, but he is going to need a new strategy. People who straight-up shoot federal agents in cars aren’t the kind who fuck around, and if they’re willing to go that far to stop Flynn from exposing them, there’s maybe something there to be exposed.

It’s Monday morning, so the trip back into the Bay Area is glacially slow. Wyatt and Lucy don’t talk much, until they finally make it to the Stanford campus, Lucy directs Wyatt to her apartment, and collects her things to get out. “Hey,” she says. “Thanks for the ride.”

“You’re welcome.” Wyatt glances at her, then pulls a piece of paper out of his pocket and scribbles down his number. “If anything else comes up, if you feel unsafe, if those dicks show up again, anything – give me a call, all right?”

“Thanks.” Lucy takes it, and their eyes briefly meet and hold. Then she coughs, swinging her bag to her shoulder, and steps out, striding away, clearly on her way back to the library as faithfully as ever. That takes some dedication.

Wyatt watches her for a moment longer, then sighs. Puts the car into gear, and reverses out. Drives off, not without one more glance over his shoulder, and has a weird feeling that whatever this is, it isn’t over. Somehow, much as he wishes otherwise, that it’s barely begun.

Chapter Text

Lucy gets through the next several weeks mostly on autopilot. There’s spring break in there somewhere, but she doesn’t really notice, since she spends it working anyway. Her dissertation is inching toward the final finish line, though she still has to write a conclusion, put together her bibliography (which will be an absolutely torturous process of going through the whole thing and copy-pasting every footnote – why hasn’t someone invented a better way to do this yet?) and add her acknowledgments: places she went for trips, foundations who gave her scholarship money, people she’s collaborated with, that kind of thing. Most of it is straightforward, but when Lucy gets to the personal section, where people thank their parents, significant others, grade school teachers, supervisors, etc., she stares at the screen until it goes out of focus. Ordinarily she’d write, Thanks for everything, Mom and Dad, no problem at all, but how can she do that now? Thanks for everything, Mom and Henry Wallace, except for never telling me who my biological father was? Thanks for everything, Mom, but Benjamin Cahill, why?

Lucy leaves that part undone, just adds Amy for now, and finally pushes back her chair and lets out a hoarse war cry of victory, punching the air with both fists and startling the nearby students. She emails it to her supervisor, Dr. Kate Underwood, with the triumphant subject line FIRST COMPLETE DRAFT!!!!, then cleans out her carrel with something probably akin to what a new mother feels, when they finally hand her the baby after the sweat and strife of labor. Not that Lucy’s interested in kids, at least for a while, but still.

She sleeps like the dead for the entire weekend (her neighbors are actually still being quiet, and she certainly isn’t going to tell them that she’s probably never going to see Flynn again) then gets up and goes off to her final review meeting with Dr. Underwood on Monday. Most of the changes she suggests are small, though there’s one part of the last chapter that she pushes Lucy to do a little more with. Nothing outside her usual corrections, but since that was the chapter Lucy was dramatically interrupted from writing with the Weekend of Total Insanity, it triggers something in her. In one of the more embarrassing moments of her life, she bursts into tears in Dr. Underwood’s sunny office, as her supervisor looks bewildered, gingerly hands her Kleenex, and finally asks if everything is all right.

Lucy figures that last-minute nervous breakdowns are far from uncommon for PhD students just about to submit, and there’s a ready-made way to play this off as just that, which she more or less does. There are student counseling services that she could probably make an appointment with, though they’re busy enough at crunch time that it would be another few weeks until anyone saw her. And she just can’t picture sitting across from some graduate-student psychiatrist-in-training and actually making sense of this. Has the usual feeling that she doesn’t need to burden people with her first-world problems – “starving kids in Africa syndrome,” one of her friends called it. This is a little more than ordinary, perhaps, but still.

Having promised that she will have the changes in by next Monday, Lucy confirms the date for her oral examination, six weeks from now, and realizes that she has no idea what she will be doing for that time, aside from sleeping and bingeing on TV shows. Her work is done, she has class to finish teaching but only two days a week, and her schedule gapes perilously wide open. She isn’t good at sitting around and doing nothing; can manage maybe a week or two, then she starts feeling that she needs to be productive. Another gift from her mother. She never let Lucy just veg out during the summer as a kid. She had to be doing an extracurricular, or preparing for a AP exam, or off at Young Achievers Camp, which is exactly as nerdy as it sounds. She’s not sure she even knows how to rest.

Once Dr. Underwood has sent her off with advice to get some sleep and feel proud of her accomplishment, Lucy staggers out into the world beyond Stanford like Rip Van Winkle. It’s a nice day, warm and summery and almost difficult to remember that that whole ridiculous seventy-two hours ever happened, and she pauses. Then on a sudden impulse, she digs out her phone and scrolls through her contacts. Hits call, and waits.

Wyatt Logan picks up on the last ring, sounding slightly breathless. “Hello? Lucy?”

“Hi. I’m sorry, is it a bad time?”

“No, it’s fine. What’s up? Are you all right?”

“I. . . yeah, I am. I just. . . finished my dissertation, actually. And I thought if you were in San Francisco, maybe we could meet up and grab a coffee, or. . . or something?” Her heart flutters in her throat. “Just, you know, to catch up?”

There’s a slightly awkward pause. Then Wyatt says, “I’m, uh, I’m back in San Diego, I’m based out of Pendleton. And I promised my wife we’d go to the beach today, or whatever.”

“Your w – ” Lucy can feel her cheeks turning the color of a fire engine. “Oh my God, I didn’t – I really wasn’t – of course. No, no, of course. I’m sure you’ll have a great time.”

“Yeah.” Wyatt coughs. “Congratulations on finishing your dissertation, that’s an amazing accomplishment. Nothing else weird has happened recently?”

“Not that I’ve noticed. Maybe they’ve given it up.” Lucy knows this is too easy, but she wants to think so. Likewise, she both does and doesn’t want to ask. “Have you heard from Flynn?”

Wyatt hesitates. “No. I called back to the hospital a week later, they said they let him out, but I have no idea where he went. Probably off the grid. I would, if I was him. There’s an APB out, anyone who sees him is supposed to call it in. Whoever Rittenhouse is, they’re still very, very pissed.”

Lucy struggles to take this in. On the one hand, it’s good news, of a sort, that Flynn somewhat recovered and was released from the hospital, but was this because he was ready to roll again, or because he didn’t want to take the risk of lying there waiting for his enemies to show up? There are a nearly unlimited number of ways that they can kill him in a hospital and make it look like an accident, after all. If he is officially persona non grata for a lot of powerful and high-ranking people, and he’s hurt, that doesn’t sound like a good combination. Maybe he’s fled the country, gone up and crossed into British Columbia and hidden out somewhere in the Canadian Rockies. Lucy reminds herself that either way, she shouldn’t care. Whatever the hell his actual feelings on her might be, he made himself clear.

“Thanks,” she says, after a too-long pause. “Let me know if. . . well, whatever happens, all right?”

“Do my best. Congrats again on the dissertation.” Wyatt clears his throat. “Yeah.”

“Yeah,” Lucy echoes, cheeks still hot, and hangs up rather quickly. Well, that was a disaster. She should have known that the only guy she’s even attempted to ask out recently was unavailable, though there’s a cute-ish geek with glasses who smiles at her whenever he sees her in the coffee line. Lucy thinks his name is Alan. But not even for the principle of the thing can she really work up any desire for a closer approach. After a final moment, she fishes her keys out of her purse, heads to her car, and tries to decide if 280 or 101 will be more congested at this time of day. She ends up taking the latter, despite the unpleasant associations of recent escapades on it, up to Amy’s apartment in South San Francisco.

Lucy turns into the complex, parks, and heads up the steps to Amy’s place. She rents it with two of her friends, one of whom is named Sage Tranquility and the other of whom is usually getting arrested at protests. There’s plenty of room at the Preston house in Mountain View, it’s not like Amy had to move out, but she’s always butted heads with their mother far more than Lucy has. Said that she would rather live in a shitty apartment, away from Carol’s domineering and constant questioning about why she’s doing this sociology degree and wasting her potential, and build something that was hers. Lucy doesn’t know how much she should tell Amy, but she is the only person she feels like confiding to.

Amy opens the door a few moments after Lucy’s knock, her headphones around her neck still emitting the echoes of her music, but she pauses it at the sight of her sister. “Hey, you. What are you doing here? Aren’t you still working on your dissertation?”

“No, I just finished it. Just. Hey, are you doing anything right now?”

“No. Come in.” Amy frowns. “You don’t seem super jubilant, Luce.”

“I. . . have a lot on my mind.” Lucy blows out a breath. “I’d kind of like to talk.”

Amy agrees, gestures her in, and goes to fetch some cookies from the kitchen, before they go to the secondhand futon, Amy sits down, and beckons Lucy to put her head in her lap. “Okay,” she says. “So talk.”

As Amy gives her a head rub, which feels heavenly, Lucy closes her eyes, tries to find somewhere to start, and can’t think of any way to do this delicately. She teeters and stumbles at the edge, then finally comes clean about Flynn, about Rittenhouse, about Benjamin Cahill, about Wyatt, about everything. That it turns out they’re only half-sisters, that Carol has lied to them – to her – her entire life. That her real father is Corporate Darth Vader, and all of this. . . all of this. . . she’s slowly losing her mind, and has just squashed it down and put it away to concentrate on finishing. Now that’s done, and she’s. . . here.

Amy stays quiet as Lucy talks, until she finally chokes up and can’t finish. Then she grips Lucy’s shoulder hard and says fiercely, “We’re sisters, all right? We’re sisters. I don’t care what Mom did or did not tell you, it doesn’t change anything. We’re just the same as we’ve always been, and nothing is ever going to take that away from us.”

“Thanks.” Lucy’s voice remains stuck in her throat. “I just. . . this has been a lot.”

“Shyeah.” Amy reaches over her for a cookie, breaks off a bite, and dangles it above Lucy’s mouth like a zookeeper feeding the seals. Lucy manages a weak laugh and snaps it up, as a sigh shudders through her from head to heel. They remain in silence for several more moments, until Amy says, “So, this Flynn guy. You have feelings of some kind for him, but he’s a complete emotional disaster, not to mention possibly on the run from the feds for God knows what or where or why. Accurate?”

“I don’t – ” Lucy opens and shuts her mouth. “I wouldn’t say I have feelings feelings for him, he’s – I don’t really – ”

Amy raises one eyebrow. “Now who’s being the emotional disaster?”

Lucy feels as if this is rather unfair – she’s here sharing her problems and trying to work through them like a grownup, even if, yes, she did repress them for several weeks beforehand and hope they would go away. “I’m not the one who set my phone passcode as the day he saved my life, then told me not to fool myself that he wanted to see me again and basically vanished off the face of the earth!”

“Fair.” Amy considers this. “But you do feel something.”

“He saved my life. Twice. He did endanger it the second time, but. . .” Lucy stops. “Maybe there was something between us, or I believed a little too hard in fate or design or whatever. I could have been imagining it, but. . .”

“But you don’t think you were,” Amy completes. “He just blew it. Super hard. Complete buffoonery.”

Lucy snorts. “Remind me why I bother with men again?”

“You could always date another lady,” Amy points out. “I liked Carine.”

Strictly speaking, this is true, and does have a certain appeal after the recent overabundance of testosterone in Lucy’s life. But she dated Carine Leclerc, a journalism student from Montreal, for eight months in her senior year, and while Carine was making noises about looking for jobs in California after she graduated, it stalled over the fact that Lucy never got around to introducing her to Carol. It wasn’t exactly a secret – Amy knew, her friends knew, they went to a pride parade, there were pictures – but Lucy never talked about it directly with her mom. It wasn’t the queer thing, exactly. Just that whenever Carol discussed Lucy’s future, it always seemed to involve a husband and kids. Not because of any awe or reverence for the patriarchy – Carol gave both her daughters her own surname, rather than, apparently, either of their fathers’, and was a women’s studies professor for many years – but, well. It just did. And while you can obviously have a family by non-traditional methods – adoption, fostering, surrogacy, whatever – Lucy somehow didn’t get the impression that was what her mom had in mind. The kids just seem to be part of it. It’s why, although she’s not really had any enthusiasm for the idea now, she’s subconsciously penciled it in for five or eight years in the future, once she’s presumably met Mr. Right. Lucy has all kinds of arguments with herself over whether that makes her a bad feminist. But because it’s what her mom wants –

“Oh, God,” Lucy says hoarsely. She raises both hands to her face, then drops them. “You’re right. I really have let Mom dictate my life, haven’t I?”

The expression on Amy’s face clearly says, no duh, although she charitably refrains from uttering it aloud. Instead she says, “I still think you should have followed through on that band thing. At least it would have shown her that you can stand up to her.”

“I – no, that was definitely a bad idea, I’m glad I didn’t.” Lucy is still Lucy, and thus cannot believe that she ever treated the prospect of her education so frivolously. “But maybe if I went over there now and confronted her about Cahill – ”

“You’re sure that’s a good idea?”

“What? You’re always the one telling me to push back against her more!”

“Yeah, I know.” Amy chews on a thumbnail. “But this is more than about just that, isn’t it? From what you said about Cahill, it sounds like he’s mixed up in some pretty skeevy shit. I give Mom a hard time a lot, but maybe she did have a good reason for separating us from all that. Are you sure you want to know?”

“If they come back, I should at least know the truth.” Lucy rubs at her tired eyes with her fingertips. “I’d like to think they just gave up, but I’m not sure. Maybe if I tell her that I know, it might help clear the air.”

Amy gives her a probing look. “And are you going to tell her about Flynn?”

That catches Lucy short. She wants to say that she will, that if she’s demanding or even requesting honesty from her mother, she should be prepared to return the favor. But something – she doesn’t even know what, not quite what it was with Carine – gives her pause. “Why would I?” she says feebly. “It’s not like anything actually happened.”

“Aside from him turning up and you two going on a three-day joyride that ended with him getting shot and telling you to go piss up a rope.” Amy’s tone is more or less lighthearted, but her expression is serious. “That’s definitely something that happened.”

Lucy opens her mouth, then shuts it. She reaches for the last cookie and eats it, partly to give herself an excuse not to talk, then brushes off the crumbs and gets to her feet. “Well, if I am heading over there today, I should get going before the traffic gets too bad. I should at least tell her that I finished.”

“Because you’re hoping she’ll finally tell you that she’s proud of you?” Amy glances up at her. “You know you did a good job even if she can’t choke it out, right?”

“Of course I know.” Lucy manages a smile, picking up her purse. “See you later, Ames.”

Her baby sister hugs her, not without a final look, and Lucy lets herself out, heading to the parking lot and getting into her car. She drives down to the Preston family home in Mountain View, the attractive four-bedroom ranch house on an affluent, leafy street where Lucy grew up. Worth a tidy chunk of change if Carol decided to downsize, since it’s currently just her living there, but she has held onto it. Not good at letting go of things, Carol Preston. It is only in the last few days that Lucy has realized just how much, and it saddens her.

A light is on in the kitchen as Lucy parks by the curb and gets out. She heads up the front steps, noting that the plants could use some watering; it’s not like her mother to let things droop, or look anything less than perfect, daughters or azaleas alike. This is her house as much as anyone’s, and yet Lucy stands there for a long moment, feeling as unwelcome as a door-to-door salesman or friendly local Jehovah’s Witness. It feels as if she finally got here the way she was intending to do seven years ago – before the accident, before nearly dying, before Flynn, before Flynn’s reappearance, before Benjamin Cahill and Rittenhouse, before everything that’s brought her back. She tries to rehearse words in her head, questions, justifications. Nothing really occurs to her.

Lucy swallows hard, and rings the bell.

It takes a bit before she hears footsteps, and then Carol Preston opens the door. She looks down at her eldest daughter in surprise, or perhaps confusion. Something about her seems as off, less than pristine, as the drying flowers, and her makeup is slightly smeared, though Lucy can’t imagine her mother actually crying. “Lucy,” Carol says. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”

“I’ve been finishing my dissertation.” Lucy twists her fingers together anxiously. “I – I did finish, by the way. Just today. Dr. Underwood gave me her final changes, Dr. Gardener in anthropology still has to look it over as well, but he’s at a conference until Friday, so that will take a little longer. But – yeah, it’s done, I did it.”

“I see.” Carol considers, then steps back. “I think we should talk. Come in.”

Lucy follows her mother inside, wondering if Carol’s guessed somehow, if Cahill came by to creep on her as well or ask why she never told Lucy the truth, and feels absurdly guilty for causing more trouble. She almost starts to apologize, though with no idea what for, and a tiny, ridiculous part of her half-hopes that Flynn will be sitting in the kitchen, somewhat recovered if doubtless no more tactful, come by to ask Carol what she knows about Rittenhouse. Which seems like a bold move, given that he’s a wanted fugitive from the government, but reality doesn’t have much to do with Lucy’s thought process just now.

Nonetheless, it comes crashing back in in a cold, sobering wave when they step in. There’s a piece of paper lying on the counter, and Lucy can’t see the wording, but it looks clinical. Hospital. Carol turns it over as Lucy tries to get a better look, then says, “Tea?”

“No, it’s all right, I was just over at – ” Lucy stops. “Mom, is… is everything…?”

“I went to get that cough checked out, like you wanted,” Carol says, after a slight pause. “And, well, the scan turned something up in one of my lungs. They’re going to run more tests, they can’t be sure, but there’s a possibility it’s malignant.”

She says this like the professor she’s been for thirty years, explaining a difficult fact with her usual classroom voice, and so it takes Lucy a moment to understand. Then she does, and it feels as if the world has gone out from under her feet. “M… malignant? As in cancer?”

“Yes.” Carol takes a deep breath. “I suppose it’s not entirely unexpected – your father was a heavy smoker, after all, and I never picked up the habit until I met him. I stopped when he died, of course, but if this does come back positive…”

Part of Lucy wants to inform Carol point-blank that she knows Henry Wallace isn’t her father and never was. The rest of her wonders how awful you have to be, to confront your mother about that when she’s just told you that she might have cancer. “I – I, I’m so sorry,” she stammers, once more as if this is her fault, has not gotten the right score on a test or has whined about never having summers off. “Mom, I’m sure it’s fine, but if – ”

“But if it’s not?” Carol looks at her levelly. “I know we’ve had a bit of distance recently, Lucy, but this is the sort of news to put things in perspective. Of course, there’s medicine, there’s chemotherapy, there’s options. We don’t know anything yet. But if the worst-case scenario does come to pass, I really want to make the most of whatever time I have with you. There’s still so much I need to teach you, to talk with you about.”

Yes, Lucy thinks, there is. But any urgent desire to force answers to all her questions has vanished in her flood of guilt and fear and concern. “Of course, Mom, of course. If there’s anything I can do – and I’m sure Amy too, we’d both be happy to – ”

“I’m not sure about Amy.” Carol sighs. “But if you have finished your dissertation, like you said, and therefore don’t need to be at campus every day… I’ve seen that apartment of yours, Lucy. It’s terrible. Is there any way you might consider moving back in? We would be closer here, we’d be together. It would be easier, and if I did get sick…”

“No, of course. Of course I’ll move back in. Absolutely, you don’t have to worry about that at all. My lease on campus runs through the end of the school year, but – ”

“I’ll pay your early termination fees.” Carol takes Lucy’s hand. “I really want us to be together again. Believe me.”

“Me too,” Lucy says in a rush. “But – if the test did come back clean – if you’re not really… well.” She can’t bring herself to utter the name aloud, speak of the devil and he will appear. “If you’re not… sick, do you… will you still want me back?”

“Why on earth wouldn’t I?” Carol looks hurt. “Do you think I only love you when you’re useful? You are my daughter, my eldest daughter. So much like me, my historian. You’re so bright and you’ve worked so hard. Of course I want you back.”

Lucy opens and shuts her mouth, then reaches out, and Carol wraps her arms around her, pulling her close, as Lucy rests her chin on her mother’s shoulder and has to struggle to blink back tears. And so, within ten minutes of going home with the intention of some final confrontation, some ultimatum or insistence on separating herself from Carol’s trunk, Lucy instead cleaves back in, root and branch, and promises that she will never bring it up again.

There really isn’t time to arrange a move – even a short-range one – between the last-minute rush of dissertation edits, job applications, and graduation plans, and Lucy’s apartment has a few pitiful half-full boxes sitting around, which she will toss things into when she remembers. She feels like a terrible daughter, which is not helped when Amy calls her up at the end of the week and wants to know what happened to telling Mom off. “You know how she is, Lucy! Even if – God forbid – she was actually sick, doesn’t this seem a little…?”

“A little what?” Lucy challenges. “Are you really going to accuse our mother of faking possible lung cancer just because she wants – I don’t know what, something?”

“I didn’t say she was faking,” Amy says reluctantly. “I’ve been worried about her health too. But Mom has a couple nest eggs, you know she does. If it got to the point that she needed a live-in helper, she could hire someone who actually knew what they were doing and would get properly paid for it. That’s not your job. You’re not that kind of doctor.”

“I know.” Lucy shifts the phone to her other shoulder. “But – look, I know what we talked about, I know what we said. I just don’t think this is the right time to bring it up.”

Amy doesn’t argue with her again, but Lucy can sense that she still isn’t pleased. And yet, all of that goes out the window when Carol calls them both and says they should come by, there’s something she needs to tell them. That doesn’t sound like the kind of invitation that ends with “and nothing’s wrong, the doctor said I’m fine,” and indeed, it doesn’t. The biopsy results came back. It’s cancer. Carol’s prognosis isn’t terrible – they caught it before it was already irreversible – but it’s not particularly great either. The words fifty-fifty chance are used. A lot will depend on how she responds to treatment.

Amy starts to cry – she and Mom have fought a lot, but they do still love each other – and Lucy puts an arm around her, feeling numb. It feels crass to ask for any graduation celebration, even if she’d like one. Suddenly, even applying for jobs is up in the air. Lucy doesn’t want to complain about being inconvenienced by her mother’s serious illness, but she was so ready to start her own life, do something else, stretch her wings, and now she’s back in the birdcage, throwing away the key. It just doesn’t seem (and she winces at the thought) fair.

Lucy finishes the rest of the revisions recommended by her second supervisor in a blur. At the last meeting before this three-hundred-page monster is sent off to the committee for reading and to the printing service for binding, Dr. Underwood mentions that she’s been in contact with the history department at Kenyon College in Ohio. Kenyon is a small liberal arts college, upper-tier and avant-garde, and while it would unfortunately mean living in Ohio, there is currently an opening in the faculty for a junior lecturer with almost exactly Lucy’s research specialty. Dr. Underwood has passed her name on, and the people at Kenyon would like to speak to her next week, if that works.

Lucy’s first reaction is delight and disbelief. Tailor-made opportunities for academic jobs at places where you would like to work, and that are looking for your research interests, are as rare as the proverbial rain on the Sahara. She’s thought for a while that she’d like to teach at a small liberal arts school, one of the places that doesn’t think SAT scores are a good measure of academic performance and give a lot of focus to student development – somewhere in the Northeast, maybe. Sarah Lawrence, Vassar, Middlebury, Wellesley, something in that vein, the usual schools described as “diehard liberal” by U.S News and World Report in their college rankings. Stanford is obviously Stanford, but it takes a lot of work not to get lost in the machine, and plenty of students who come through Lucy’s classes now are clearly just checking elective boxes and playing on their laptops during lecture. At a place like Kenyon, she could actually talk to them more, have smaller and more immersive seminars, supervise senior projects and have more of a say in shaping the department. Have that exact chance to make it her own, rather than following in predestined footsteps.

At that, however, something catches Lucy short. She remembers Benjamin Cahill essentially promising her that he could get her any dream job she wanted, anywhere in the country. Is this Rittenhouse’s clever new strategy? Realize that the face-to-face approach backfired bombastically, and take a more subtle approach, pull some strings and call in some favors so this fat juicy worm just happened to land on the right hook? Would she move there and find herself surrounded by their people, or expected to pay something substantial back?

Asking Dr. Underwood about this, however, just makes Lucy sound crazy. She doesn’t mention anyone by name, but she delicately probes whether anyone just happened to call up and offer this, and if so, why. Dr. Underwood is puzzled, says that no, this has been in the works for a while and it just happened to time well with Lucy’s completion. Due to someone who knows Dr. Underwood, who supervised so-and-so’s thesis, etc. – not the creepy Rittenhouse networks of patronage, but just the usual byzantine channels of academia – Lucy currently holds right of first refusal on the job. If she turns it down, they’ll shop it more broadly, but assuming she doesn’t completely bomb the interview, buys some winter clothes, and is all right exchanging Palo Alto for Gambier, it’s hers if she wants it.

“I…” Lucy hesitates. “My… my mom was just… she was actually just diagnosed. With cancer. She wants me to move back in and spend more time with her. I don’t know if I could justify going to Ohio instead. That’s the exact opposite of what she wants.”

Dr. Underwood hastens to offer her sympathy, and appreciates that this is a difficult decision for Lucy to make. However, while she knows family commitments are important, ultimately Lucy needs to think about what she wants from her career and getting established and so on. If Lucy does decide to stay in California, there will probably be several teaching opportunities at Stanford for her, and she’ll submit papers to journals and attend conferences and the rest of the rigmarole that it takes to be a Professional Academic ™. It’s not necessarily the wrong thing to do. But Dr. Underwood thinks Lucy should consider the Kenyon job carefully. She knew Carol when they were both faculty in the department, knows what kind of personality she had, and maybe it’s not the worst thing for Lucy to go.

Lucy nods and smiles, even as she wants to go somewhere private, put her face in a pillow, and scream. At least the damn dissertation is done, exam date is firmly set, no more of that, no more, praise Jesus, NO MORE. She picks up her bag, swings it to her shoulder, and heads out of Dr. Underwood’s office, riding down the elevator and stepping out into the foyer. As she does, she collides with someone coming the other way, and starts into the usual apology. But as she does, she catches a glimpse of the face under the hat, and freezes. Reaches out to grab at his jacket sleeve, her voice a hiss.


 Garcia Flynn has not been having the greatest week. Or two. Or three.

He stayed for six days in the hospital, being cared for by a doctor named Noah who was entirely professional to all outward manners and appearances, but who kept shooting him looks out of the corner of his eye that made Flynn suspect the worst. Either he’s a Rittenhouse agent, or he used to be some sort of gentleman acquaintance to Lucy, and Flynn would almost prefer the former. At least that way he could kill him without anyone being too upset about it.

Of course, and regretfully, killing is off the table, at least for the moment. At least for Flynn himself, as he’s fairly sure that Rittenhouse has authorized everything short of public beheading to apprehend him, and which was why he decided that he was no longer going to trust to the dubious safety of Santa Rosa Memorial and the judgment of Noah. . . whatever his damn last name is, Flynn hasn’t been arsed either to find out or remember it. So he checked himself out against medical advice, gave a fake name and address for the bill (the American health system is a racket anyway, and technically he’s supposed to have insurance – yes, the NSA does offer dental) and left the rental car in the garage. It’s too conspicuous, and he has bigger fish to fry than whether he is blacklisted by Enterprise in the future. They can take it up with John Thompkins, later.

After which, Flynn rode a Greyhound (yes, it’s as miserable as you’d think, especially when you’re six-foot-four) to some shithole Inland Empire city, somewhere in California close to the Nevada border where nobody goes if they can possibly avoid it, probably still riddled with decades-old radiation from the Las Vegas test site. Rented a room in some motel that definitely has one filled with haunted clown dolls, laid low, gingerly tended his raw wounds with over-the-counter antibiotics and sutures, and was forced to admit it was a good thing he did not die of septicemia. He hasn’t succeeded in coming up with a new plan just yet, as it’s clear that he’s been cut off from the usual channels with extreme prejudice. He has kept his old phone with the NSA numbers, but keeps it switched off and hasn’t used it. He can’t risk calling Karl to see what he did, or did not, know about the Wyatt Logan fiasco.

And so, Flynn grimly considers his options. He can try to throw together another fake identity and go to Canada, or travel on his real name back to Europe and hope they haven’t gotten Interpol on this, or just lie here in a motel room that might literally be the manifestation of hell on earth, with air conditioner that barely works in 25-plus Celsius heat and a stain that looks like a murder victim on the carpet. If Rittenhouse is after him, no holds barred, he may just be able to avoid their notice if he stays, especially for a man whose professional tradecraft is disappearing. And yet.

The more Flynn thinks it over, the more he can’t account for everything going sideways as fast and as comprehensively as it did, unless Rittenhouse was plugged into the whole thing almost from the beginning. They must have multiple high-level operatives across several branches of government, focusing on the ones you’d expect – CIA, NSA, FBI, Homeland Security, whoever’s stealing your personal information these days – but by no means limited to them. They could be salted through every level of middle bureaucracy (he wonders if all DMV and IRS workers get an automatic membership) and beyond. It sounds ridiculously, relentlessly paranoid, like that prizewinning intellectual who insists that the Royal Family and other leading British celebrities are all secretly lizard people. But given what Flynn saw at the gala, Cahill and his powerful, well-connected, wealthy friends, this also might not be entirely off the ranch, and that means he has to do more digging. Where?

It takes him a bit, but he recalls what Lucy said to him at their first (well, first real) meeting. Something about David Rittenhouse, who Flynn discovered to be a famous eighteenth-century astronomer and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and asking if he founded it. Flynn doesn’t know the answer to that question, but it seems to strain credulity that the man it’s literally named after has nothing to do with it. It also is not a given that Rittenhouse’s secret archives are housed somewhere at UPenn, but there are several things named after the man in Philadelphia. It’s not entirely implausible.

That, therefore, is where Flynn is faced with the final part of the plan. It’s going to be hard enough for him to get in as it is, what with the Take Dead or Alive order they probably have out on his head. But if he didn’t appear to be attached to it – if it was just an innocent research visit from an up-and-coming academic who would have plenty of legit business with UPenn’s history collections on colonial America, and he just so happened to appear –

Flynn is well aware that this is quite a reach. That it’s dangerous, that it’s unfair, that he doesn’t really have any right to ask it, given how their last parting went, and what he said then. That she has any number of things to do right now, and none of them necessarily involve dropping all her work and heading cross-country to pick up, again, the world’s most demented and dangerous scavenger hunt with him. No sir.

He checks out of the motel and hops a ride with a trucker the next morning.

As they stare at each other for a very long and very excruciating moment, all Lucy can think is that he shouldn’t be here. Rittenhouse could have been watching her from afar, guessing (correctly, apparently) that she will prove too tempting a target for Flynn to resist contacting again. Maybe this is the moment they jump out and dogpile them both, or – or –

Lucy hesitates only a split second before tightening her grip on Flynn and dragging him around the corner into an unused classroom. She bangs shut the door behind them and leans against it, legs trembling. “You need to get out of here.”

“You just shut me in.” Trust Flynn to have a smart-aleck response readily at hand, as he watches her from under hooded eyes. “We would need to try reversing that first.”

“Just be quiet.” Lucy clenches her fists, fighting a brief urge to slap him. “Did anyone see you?”

He shrugs. “It’s a public university, I imagine they did. Nobody who seemed to recognize me, though.”

Lucy blows out a breath, getting the table between them just so there will be something to prevent her – or him – from anything intemperate. “You’re such a bastard.”

A hard, sardonic smile glimmers in the edges of his mouth. He seems unruffled by the accusation, almost even pleased. He does not bother with small talk, explaining where he’s been, or why he said everything he did in the hospital. (Don’t fool yourself that I want to see you again. . . this is my war, I don’t need you and yet, lo and behold, here he is. He’s a disaster.) Instead he says, “Did you finish your dissertation?”

“Yes,” Lucy says, curt and unwilling. “I have a lot going on, a lot, so why don’t you just – ”

“Is there anything else you can pretend to be working on?”

“What?” Screw the table, she might want to do something intemperate after all. “Why?”

His eyes remain on hers, cool and unswerving. “I need your help.”

Chapter Text

“Help?” Lucy repeats, after a long moment where Flynn has continued to stare at her expectantly, there doesn’t appear to be a punchline forthcoming, and that actually seems to be where he’s leaving it. “That’s really where you think we’re going with this?”

“You said you were finished with your dissertation.” Flynn remains unswerving, as if since this is the case, she should have nothing better to do than drop everything and run off with him on another idiotic adventure. “So?”

“So?” Lucy almost chokes. “I have things to do – my mother, she – I’m trying to get ready to move back home, among other commitments, and last time – ”

“Move home?” Flynn’s gaze sharpens. “Why?”

Lucy hesitates. She doesn’t really want to drop the “lung cancer” bomb here, not least because it’s definitely not his business (even if Flynn has already gotten himself more than involved in her family’s business), but something makes her tell him, as shortly and curtly as possible. Her mother’s sick, any extra stress of trying to grill her about Rittenhouse and Benjamin Cahill would definitely not be helpful, and Flynn turning up again out of the blue, after close to a month of radio silence, thinking they’ll just pick up where they left off on their now-very-illegal investigation, is just – no. The word she’s looking for is no. She can’t do this all over again. He should probably get out of here.

“You haven’t even heard what I had in mind.” Flynn folds his arms. Lucy experiences a strong desire to smack him upside the magnificently chiseled mug. “Have you?”

“If it involves more guns – which it shouldn’t, by the way, you were shot barely over three weeks ago, then I am definitely not – ”

For a moment, Flynn almost looks smug at this inadvertent hint that she might care whether he gets shot or not. Then he says, “No, no guns, at least not for now. You were the one who told me about David Rittenhouse, the professor at UPenn, yes? He must have something to do with it, and there’s a possibility some of his papers are there. I don’t think I could get in myself. But if you went for some research project or other – ”

Lucy eyes him mulishly. She wants to point out that it is his literal job to get into places he is not supposed to be, and that he was doing fairly well for himself before – in fact, she wonders if this is a half-baked excuse to see her again, before remembering that that is not important. “Even if there are some of their papers there, do you think I could just waltz in and ask to see them? It would set off all their alarm bells, they’d – ”

“Or they could be pleased that Benjamin Cahill’s daughter is taking an interest in her inheritance,” Flynn counters, with a certain maddening logic. “Might even be half-hoping you’ll go – there, or somewhere similar. Cahill’s in the inner circle. Doesn’t that practically make you a princess?”

“It does not make me a princess.” Lucy has no interest in being Queen of Jonestown, or whatever, especially since the way Flynn says it makes it clear that he thinks it’s a racket. Besides, her historian’s brain pedantically corrects her that the daughter of a king’s vassal would be a duchess or a countess, so it’s not the right title anyway. “And what are you, just some sort of – of oracle on my family, turning up and spouting cryptic information? What else should I know about, or can’t you be bothered to tell me?”

Flynn shrugs. “You know as much as I do.”

Lucy turns away, reminding herself that enjoyable as the thought is, she is definitely not large enough to overpower him, and he wouldn’t actually let her strangle him. It is clear that an apology or recantation of any sort for his previous behavior is not forthcoming, not unless she really digs for it, and she doesn’t think that is a productive use of anyone’s time. Flynn genuinely appears to feel that since his declaration of never wanting to see her again was plainly a bluff and a lie, he’s forgotten it, she should too, QED. God, this man is bad at emotions. Or social interaction. Or anything involving anyone. No wonder he joined the NSA. Just plant him deep in conflict zones and let him do his juggernaut thing, never have to actually interact with people. Did the job make him that way, or was it something else?

Lucy pushes that thought aside. Unwillingly, the Kenyon offer has floated into her head, and the fact that while Gambier, Ohio, is not exactly close to Philadelphia, it is a hell of a lot closer than it is to Palo Alto. And it’s on the way, if they took some kind of terrible road trip (oh no, she knows how the first road trip with Flynn went, she is not taking another – they’ll just fly, if he’s even allowed to still do that, and if she agrees to this) – if she did just stop by campus and have a chat…

“I need to think about this,” Lucy says abruptly. “You really should go.”

Flynn shrugs again. Hands her a card with a number on it. “I hope you don’t take too long.”

With that, since that is clearly the note he wants to end this interaction on, he adjusts his hat to a jaunty angle, straightens his jacket, and opens the classroom door. Strolls out and down the corridor, vanishing around the corner and out of sight. All that really proves he was even there, and that was not just a five-minute, highly colored, extremely obnoxious daydream, is the card in Lucy’s hand. Which, by all rights, she should tear up now and here.

She judges herself viciously, and puts it in her pocket instead.

By the time she gets back to her half-boxed-up flat, has to fish around to find enough dishes to make dinner, and really doesn’t want to go to the bother of packing them again once she’s done, even though the moving company is supposed to come this weekend, Lucy is finally forced to admit that she doesn’t really want to move back home. It makes her sound like a truly terrible daughter, but there it is. Yes, it’s more comfortable, and it’s familiar, and it would save on expenses in a time when she’s pretty strapped for cash, and she wants to be supportive, and she wants to make her mom happy, and she wants to learn whatever is still left to be taught. Wishes this cancer would just magically vanish and she wouldn’t feel pressured, but that’s probably what everyone wants. It’s already bad enough that she’s making it about her. Should just choke it down and do what Carol wants. Again.

Lucy paces restlessly on the worn kitchen floor. Her neighbors have started to play their obnoxious music again (quieter, but still) and she almost wants to have Flynn at hand for a repeat visit. That’s another point in favor of getting out of here. But Amy and Dr. Underwood clearly think it’s not her best choice to return to the nest, Lucy respects both of them, and surely she can at least consider the Kenyon job, even if she ultimately turns it down. She still can’t seem to pluck up the backbone to confront her mother about Cahill and Rittenhouse directly, so if this is the only way she’s going to get answers – the usual way she gets answers, the way she’s comfortable with, researching them and checking out books and reading old documents, analysis and evidence – there’s that to be said for it. As for the fact that this involves more time with Garcia Flynn…

Lucy honestly has no idea what to make of him by now, or whatever thing (as she calls it for lack of a better word) that appears to exist between them. As soon as she thinks it’s one way, it slips out from under her and changes to something else, unsteady as quicksand. She has no idea what Rittenhouse would do either to see her again, or to find her smuggling a man they definitely tried to kill into their secret archives, but it surely would not be the same reaction for both of them. Flynn appears to have zero self-preservation instinct, which is probably a good thing for him in other circumstances, but if Lucy carts his dysfunctional ass all the way to Philadelphia and there’s another hitman there… if it happens before her eyes again…

As much as she dangles from either horn of the dilemma, Lucy can’t break the impasse. There are solid reasons for going, and there are solid reasons for staying the hell away. Finally, however, she makes a decision. She’ll go, but not because Flynn asked her to, or for anything to do with him. She’ll go because she wants to know more about Rittenhouse, about who she really is, about everything she’s never been told, and Flynn – well, he can tag along if he wants, she won’t forbid him. But if he puts them, or himself, in danger, he has to clear out. That’s the deal. If he won’t agree to play by the rules, tough titties.

Lucy sighs deeply, picks up the phone, and dials his number.

He doesn’t answer, so she leaves a terse voicemail instructing him to meet her at the Menlo Park Starbucks tomorrow at 11am, then hangs up and redials, praying once more that it will not be picked up. She does not want to have this conversation in person, or even over the phone, even if she’s perfectly justified. Or –

“Hello? Lucy?”

God damn it. Lucy blows out a slow breath. “Hi, Mom.”

“Is everything all right? Are you finished packing?”

“I – ” Lucy glances around at the chaos of her apartment. No wonder she’s been half-assing it, if she really doesn’t want to go. “I – almost. Look, Mom, something came up in my last meeting with Dr. Underwood today. It’s not major, but since we have a little time before the exam, I’m going to do it. There’s some archive in Pennsylvania that has the original copy of the Federalist Papers drafts I was looking for, so I’m going to be away over the weekend. Maybe a couple days more, I don’t know. But I’ll be back soon.”

There’s a long pause. Then Carol says, “Uh-huh. A last-minute research trip. Lucy, isn’t that a little sloppy of you? Surely you could have done a better document search before now.”

“I – yeah, I could, I definitely could have.” If Carol doesn’t think it’s anything besides that, Lucy is happy to accept her usual criticism. “But they mislabeled it, I probably wouldn’t have known that they had it before now anyway, so – ”

“Lucy, you’ve been acting very strange lately. I know that my illness and the dissertation stress must have been a lot, but… I asked you to move back in so we could be close, so we could talk. Is there something else going on?”

“Just… work things.” Lucy rubs a hand over her face. “I’m sorry, Mom, I really am. I’ll move in as soon as I’m back. I promise, all right? Promise.”

“I’d really like you to be here, you know that.”

“I know, I know. But you want me to do my best job on this dissertation, don’t you?” Lucy feels like this always happens, that she has to justify one thing to her mother by working even harder on another, forever a balancing act strung out between two skyscrapers. It’s tiring, and it’s difficult, and it always takes twice as much labor as it should. “Don’t you?”

A pause. Then Carol sighs, and coughs. “I suppose. I hope something else doesn’t come up.”

“Me too. Okay.” Lucy grimaces. “Bye, Mom.”

With that, she hangs up, plugs her phone into the charger, and packs a proper bag, so she doesn’t have to go off half-cocked with emergency Wal-Mart couture (and Goodwill, once the Wal-Mart stuff got bled on). Flynn hasn’t called her back, so there’s no way to know if he got her message, if he ran into trouble by showing his face around these parts again (God, she sounds like the sheriff in some old western) or… something else. If he doesn’t turn up tomorrow… well, she’ll figure it out then.

Lucy sleeps fitfully and wakes ahead of her alarm, then gets up, showers, dresses, and grabs her things. She doesn’t want to leave her car in a Starbucks parking lot for a week or however long they’re gone, so she catches the campus circular, steps off, and orders an iced coffee before taking a seat at one of the outdoor tables. It’s 10:54am, and Flynn isn’t here. She said eleven. She can give him until 11:15, then she’ll call again. Otherwise, too bad, he missed his ride, and she’ll go by herself. Affording a plane ticket to Philadelphia would be a major stretch, though, so she hopes he is planning to pay. Least he can do, really.

It’s 11:17, Lucy has just phoned again with no answer, and is just thinking that of course he left her in the lurch, when a silver Toyota pulls into the parking lot and beeps its horn. She squints at it, makes out an unfortunately familiar shape behind the wheel, and sighs deeply. It’s good that he’s acquired another car from somewhere, but she remembers too well how the last one went. This one probably doesn’t have bulletproof windows, either.

Lucy chucks her drink into the trash, picks up her bag, and trots over, opening the passenger side door. It’s Flynn, and he looks… weird. Weirder than Flynn usually looks, that is. He doesn’t appear to have shaved, and his usually immaculately parted dark hair is uncombed and shaggy. There is certainly an appealing rough-hewn air about it, especially since he’s in the clothes he was wearing last night, just more rumpled. Lucy’s immediate impression is that he looks like he stayed over somewhere, if you know what she means, and a sharp flash of jealousy burns through her stomach. This is highly inconvenient and should be ignored, but still. Is that why he wasn’t picking up her calls last night? Someone else to visit?

She gets in, throws her bags in the back, and pulls the door shut. Then she says pointedly, as if to prove someone around here has manners, “Morning.”

Flynn answers with a grunt. His eyes flick briefly sidelong to her, then away, as he puts the car into gear and pulls out. He’s concentrating rather too hard on driving, and Lucy is almost sure she can make out a half-covered mark on his neck, almost but not quite covered by his collar. In a slightly too-sweet voice, she says, “Have a good night?”

“It was…” Flynn pauses, then shrugs. “Nothing to report.”

Lucy is immediately suspicious of this answer, because nobody rolls up looking like that and then claims everything is peachy – at least, not if they expect to be believed. It occurs to her that he could look wrecked because someone was chasing him and/or shooting at him, rather than… you know, and concern momentarily occludes the jealousy. “Hey. Are you all right?”

“Fine.” Flynn still doesn’t meet her eyes. “We’re flying from San Jose. I didn’t want to return to SFO, just in case. It’ll take longer, we have to connect in Denver, but at least gives us an extra chance to lose anyone after us.”

“Is someone after us?” Lucy can’t be sure if this is something to be genuinely worried about, or if he’s just being extra paranoid (which is understandable, given recent events). “After you last night, perhaps?”

At that, Flynn actually looks at her, one eyebrow cocked. “Is that jealousy, Lucy?”

“No.” God, he’s a smug dick. “I was asking about whether we were safe, which we probably aren’t, given what you like to do, so why don’t you just – ”

“It’s not that,” Flynn says, after a pause. “But it doesn’t hurt to be careful.”

Lucy very badly wants to find out more, but she’s also unwilling to give him the satisfaction of seeing that she’s bothered, and he’d probably just sass back at her anyway. She affects to be very interested by the passing traffic until they reach San Jose, pull into the rental-car return, and head inside. It’ll be some ungodly hour by the time they get to Philadelphia, with the connection and the time change, and Flynn appears content to spend it ignoring her. While this is perhaps an improvement on actively idiotic utterances, it’s yet another whiplash in their frustrated, fragile relationship, and Lucy wants to shake him. His eyes are flicking nonstop from side to side – he was supposed to be arrested in LAX, maybe he thinks someone is staking out all the Bay Area airports just in case. Maybe he’s just focused on not getting busted. At least one impromptu upside of his dishevelment is that he looks quite a bit less like himself. Is that a hickey? Lucy is going to strain her neck trying to glance sidelong.

According to the passport Flynn presents at check-in, his name is Alexander Kovac, a German citizen of presumably Slavic extraction, and Lucy manages to look as if this is not news to her. Once they are through security without being pulled aside into a TSA interrogation room for twelve hours, she says in an undertone, “Do you speak German?”

Flynn looks at her as if incredulous that she thinks he would ever select a cover that he could not convincingly pull off. “Obviously.”

“And you just had time to make that?”

“You can’t just forge documents with some printer and laminator these days,” Flynn says, with the air of someone who definitely knows. “The technology’s too sophisticated, it catches them. They have to be made by the official channels, but with different names. I have Russian, Spanish, and German ones as well as my real ones, and the – my former employers don’t know all my aliases. So.” He shrugs. “Guten Tag, Fräulein Preston.”

“Frohe Weihnachten,” Lucy says idiotically, as that is all she remembers from a ski trip to Bavaria when she was sixteen; she can speak French, but German has escaped her. Flynn’s casual multilingualism – that must be what, five languages, counting Croatian and English – is annoyingly attractive, though for someone of his professional skill set, it must come with the territory. She almost wants to ask where he’s been, but it’s not likely he could (or would) tell her. Classified up the ass.

They reach their departure gate and don’t have much time to wait before they shuffle aboard and find their seats. Lucy is not above enjoying the sight of Garcia Flynn, all six-foot-four of him, squashed into a coach-class airline seat and looking extremely disgruntled. She hopes for their own sake that the person sitting in front of him does not recline it. He might actually reach over and throttle them with his bare hands.

The flight departs only slightly late, and Lucy tries to leaf through the paperback she threw in her bag, one she bought with her Christmas gift card and keeps promising she will actually read one day. She can’t really read for pleasure anymore, though, and her focus keeps wandering to Flynn’s inexplicable rumpled state. She doesn’t want him to have been jumped and mugged in an alley, but she also doesn’t want it to have been something else either. Which is irritating, because she has already promised herself that she was over him. If there was ever anything there to be over in the first place, which is doubtful.

It’s late afternoon when they touch down in Denver, and although their incoming and outgoing flight are both in terminal A, Flynn insists on them separating, riding the train to terminals B and C, and then returning at different times, so they don’t appear to be traveling together. Lucy seems to recall that DIA is the one supposedly built by the Illuminati or whatever (it does have that possessed blue horse statue out front) and wonders if they’re just strolling back and forth atop some secret Rittenhouse black site, but that is not helpful.

It’s dusk when they board the plane for Philadelphia, and thankfully, they have an empty seat in their row, so Flynn can eke out his few more precious inches of legroom. They then spend an hour sitting on the tarmac for no apparent reason, as Flynn’s fingers tap out a dangerous rhythm on the armrest, but once they are finally airborne, the mountains dark blue on the pink western horizon, Lucy decides to bite the (figurative) bullet. “What happened last night?”

Flynn’s eyes flick to her. She can feel him weighing up a possible smart remark, and gives him a look as if to say he had better not even think about it. Once that option is stripped away, however, he appears to be at a genuine loss. Finally he says, “It’s not important right now.”

“Oh?” Lucy knows she shouldn’t let him see that she still cares about this, but the least he owes her is some answers. “Someone you wanted to see while you were in town?”

“No.” Flynn gives her another of those half-glances under his eyelashes. “As I said. It doesn’t matter.”

“So you’ll just expect me to once again take your word for that?” Lucy keeps her voice down, as she does not want all of Frontier Airlines’ customers on this fine evening to overhear their argument. “Or – ”

“Leave it, Lucy.” Flynn’s voice isn’t quite a growl, but it’s close. And yet it’s not angry, but almost pleading, as if whatever this is, he is – for once in his obnoxious life – not withholding it just to be a heel. Rather, it is as if it is too large and strange and frightening to get even his head around, and he needs some time to chew it over, to sort into anything approaching sense. As that has been Lucy’s predominant state of mind over the past month or so, she should be pleased that the tables have been turned, that Flynn gets a chance at that total and utter existential disorientation, but somehow, she’s not. What can be enough to scare him?

“Just tell me one thing,” she says quietly. “Were you hurt?”

A grim smile tugs up the corner of Flynn’s mouth. “No,” he says at last. “I wasn’t hurt.”

Lucy flinches slightly, despite herself. If he wasn’t hurt, then it was probably the other option, and she is definitely far more irked by that than she has any right or reason to be. Fine. Rolling stone gathers no moss, all that. Good to know he’s not looking back at all. And then still had the gall to come and ask her for help. Flynn is no good with emotions, but that seems almost purposefully cruel. Prove how much their non-thing thing is done with.

Lucy is very out of sorts the rest of the way to Philadelphia, where they finally touch down past midnight. After they collect their bags and manage to get the last cab as it’s pulling out of the stand, they head to their hotel, a Sheraton just around the corner from UPenn. They manage to check in with the night clerk, then head upstairs, and Flynn swipes their key card. It is their second late-night arrival at a hotel in a month, and Lucy is exhausted from the long day of traveling. She hopes Flynn is not planning on springing up with the lark tomorrow, since she really needs to –

As they step inside, the Philadelphia skyline glittering through the dark window, Lucy switches on the overhead light and realizes the problem. Well, not problem exactly, but there is in fact only one bed, a king-size. Given as she just spent the entire flight silently fuming over him apparently getting it on with some mystery woman, this has the potential to turn very awkward very fast. It is probably too late to switch, the poor night clerk just wants to go home, and there’s certainly room, but –

Flynn glances over and realizes it at the same time. A strange expression crosses his face, he considers for a long moment, and drops his bag with a thunk. “It said two queens when I booked it.”

“I guess they changed it.” Lucy tries to keep her voice level. “I can go back downstairs and see if I can get them to – ”

“No,” Flynn interrupts. “It’s fine. I’ll sleep on the floor.”

“The fl – ?” It’s covered in some office-standard thin carpet, and looks more comfortable than a meat grinder, but barely. Unless he’s still determined to punish her or show how much he has entirely and solely reappeared in order for her to help him with a research project and That Is It. “The floor? Really?”

“Yes,” Flynn says stubbornly. “Then we can switch tomorrow.”

For a moment, Lucy actually, literally sees red, and has to clench her fists. Fine. If he wants to sleep on the floor after a day crammed in economy class, that is altogether his lookout, and she hopes he is very stiff in the morning. She goes into the bathroom, washes her face, brushes her teeth, and changes, then re-emerges. “So what is this, straight alpine bivouac, or should I throw you an extra pillow?”

Flynn raises an eyebrow again at the sharpness in her voice. “Oh now? You’re angry?”

“Oh my God!” Lucy shouts, finally provoked beyond endurance. “Yes! Yes, I am angry! You get shot, tell me to take a permanent hike, then reappear again several weeks later, think I have nothing better to do with my life than drop it all and come with you again – my mother has cancer, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing next, I still don’t know what Rittenhouse wanted with me or if they’ll come back, and then you – and then you – you haven’t offered anything approaching an explanation, much less an apology, because you apparently think that everyone else operates on the same level that you do. If you need help, why don’t you just go ask whoever you were – you were with last night? I didn’t come here for you, and I have no reason to stay on your account, either!”

Flynn actually looks, for half a second, as if he realizes he might have in fact blown this spectacularly (no shit, Sherlock). He opens his mouth, then shuts it, and turns away, rumpling a hand through his hair. (Lucy does not notice that it is inordinately attractive, because she is still mad at him.) Finally he says, “It’s complicated.”

“Oh yes. Again. That’s what you said last time.”

“It’s. . . more than that.” Flynn drops his hand and stares at the wall. “You’re so much more important than you knew, or I did, or any of us, and. . . I was going to leave. Last night. I had decided that I should do this alone, that I wasn’t going to drag you into it after all. That you had enough going on, and I had made a mistake coming back.”

Lucy isn’t sure if this is encouraging or not. Seeing as they are in fact now in Philadelphia together, he apparently went through with Plan A, momentary cold feet or otherwise. It’s nice, she supposes, to hear that he was troubled with exactly one thought as to whether he should actually be doing this, as she gets the feeling that that little voice in Flynn’s head has a terrible job. “But,” she says, somewhat less vehemently. “You did come back.”

Flynn’s eyes dart to hers, then away. “I changed my mind.”

Lucy is about to ask if anyone helped with this, but there’s no way to do that without sounding far too much like some stereotypical bitchy ex (they’re not exes, there was nothing to be ex about), and besides, it occurs to her that Flynn’s never actually said that anyone else was involved at all. Her brain has done that for her, that there had to be someone one way or another to make him look like that, but if he just sat up all night thinking hard, or whatever. . . it’s less dramatic, but she can’t deny a certain unwanted relief.

“Oh,” she says at last. She’s not letting him off the hook altogether. “All right. Well. Suit yourself and sleep on the floor if you want to, but I’m going to bed.”

With that, she marches over, turns the covers back, and climbs in. She’s a small woman, and it’s a large bed; she is practically swimming in it. Flynn’s eyes follow her, with an intensity to almost make Lucy feel naked, even though she’s wearing her pajamas. He admittedly does not look like a man who spent a night engaged in fits of carnal passion with someone else, at least from that expression, but Lucy is almost sure that’s a bite mark of some sort on his neck. What, is he going to claim that vampires are real and they work for Rittenhouse too? Inconveniently placed shelf edge at exactly throat height? Just another injury he somehow accumulated on his usual headlong plunge through life?

No good whatsoever can come of obsessing over this. Lucy slides down under the covers and closes her eyes, barely suppressing a groan, but she cracks them an inch to see if Flynn is planning on joining her – just so she can roll to one side or another, that’s all. He’s still standing stock still at the foot of the bed, staring at her. It’s bizarre and frankly slightly creepy, and Lucy hopes he doesn’t keep it up all night.

At last, Flynn turns away, picks up the blanket and pillow that Lucy has kicked off, and – stubborn as a rock – lies down on the floor. You almost have to admire his commitment, even if you want to hit him over the head with a real rock. Lucy decides that she is going to do absolutely nothing to get him out of his self-inflicted misery, since he deserves it, and closes her eyes the rest of the way again.

She is very tired, but she doesn’t go to sleep immediately. She dozes, but she can hear Flynn shifting and grunting on the floor, clearly trying to get comfortable and failing for blindingly obvious reasons that have occurred to everyone except him. Lucy lets him keep it up for another ten minutes or so, just to be sure he’s good and agonized, then finally sits up. “Garcia,” she says. “Get in the bed.”

Flynn immediately stops moving. After a long pause he says, “I’m fine.”

“Just. Get. In.” Lucy has officially had enough of him. “Now.”

There is a silence broken only by the hum of the window unit. She can hear Flynn wondering if getting up and running straight out the door is an appropriate response in this situation. Then abruptly he stands up, tall figure silhouetted by the dim city glow, and climbs onto the bed, as far away as he can get without falling off the edge. Neither of them can fail to be thinking of her inviting him into her room on the first night, the way that went briefly in one direction and then definitely in another, and Flynn seems to have decided that she can lead him to water, but she can’t make him drink. He lies down atop the covers, on his back, hands folded on his chest like a tomb-carving, and stares at the ceiling.

Lucy thinks it’s altogether advisable if this is as far as it goes – she did in fact only suggest he get up here so she can get some sleep, and he won’t be even crankier than usual tomorrow. Especially with this newfound neurosis, where he apparently thinks he can’t touch her or look at her or he’ll be smote down by a bolt from the blue. If it was in apology for being an ass, that would be one thing, but she saw him when he first turned up at Stanford again, and he wasn’t acting like this, to say the least. It’s still something about the night that he isn’t telling her. Not that she has any expectation or obligation to it, but. . .

Lucy huffs to herself, rolls over, and tries to get comfortable again. It’s butt o’clock in the morning, but she’s still running on California time, three hours behind, and she’s almost tempted to reach over and tap Flynn on the shoulder, just to see if he jumps clear out of the bed. She cracks an eye. Once again, he’s looking at her.

This, perhaps, is not so surprising. But the look itself is. Lucy has kept her eye shut enough that he doesn’t realize she’s watching, and the expression on his face rocks her. It’s intent, tender, devouring, disbelieving, as if he has never seen anything like her in his entire life and is not sure what to do now that he has. As if she has changed the course of his world, spun his planet off the axis, and he’s tumbling out into space, falling, falling. There is no way to square that look with his utterly bizarre behavior for the last twenty-four hours, and Lucy half-wonders if he can in fact, somehow, be thinking of someone else. The only word that comes to mind to describe it is worship.

It shakes Lucy too, as if she is feeling its echoes in some indescribable way, rattling down into her stars and shaking them out of the heavens. As if for just a moment, she understands that the world is nothing like it was, and it’s not surprising that neither of them know how to stand up. Would be flung off into the darkness of the universe otherwise.

Unsettled, slowly, she falls asleep.

Chapter Text

Lucy wakes up the next morning with spring city sunlight pouring in the window, a brief and total sense of disorientation and panic, and the belated recollection that she in fact occupying half a king-sized bed in a Philadelphia Sheraton with a man who seems intent on doing anything but. Even in sleep, Flynn’s attitude has not softened; he remains exactly where he was last night, arms crossed on his chest, brows drawn down and mouth carved into a grim line. You could paint him grey and pop him on top of a sarcophagus somewhere, and nobody is likely to be able to tell the difference. Wow. That horrible, is it?

Lucy herself is still jet-lagged, the clock says 8:30am which feels like 5:30am to her, and while twenty-seven doesn’t seem that old to most people, she is in fact discovering that there is a world of difference between how you feel entering your twenties and how you feel leaving them. For one thing, you think, Agh, my back! unironically, which is exactly what she is doing now, and shifts position with a grimace. She might not mind getting up and moving around, if only to stretch it out, but she is also sore and stiff and wants to lie here like a bump on a log. The eternal paradox.

After a few more moments, Lucy glances over again at Flynn. He does appear to be genuinely asleep, so at least he didn’t keep it up with the staring all night. In daylight, however, she can get a better look at his neck, and if that isn’t a hickey, she will eat her entire dissertation. No matter how frustrating and evasive Flynn has been on the subject, the proof is in the pudding, as it were, that he did spend the night with another woman and then deliberately obfuscated it to her, if not outright lied. Is that why he did? Too ashamed to fess up? But that is decidedly not Flynn’s style – either the lying, or the shame. As Lucy has had abundant opportunity to note, Flynn is honest to the point of blunt trauma, and he observes very few of the ordinary social courtesies that have allowed human civilization to survive thus far, despite a marked inclination for killing each other. The two of them are not in a relationship by any imaginable measure, he’s a free agent (though Lucy thinks that either he has some massively undiscovered wooing mad skillz, or some poor woman out there is really desperate – Flynn’s tall, dark, and handsome European-ness looks very good, after all, as long as he doesn’t open his mouth). Or maybe it wasn’t a woman. He could be into men too; Lucy herself dated Carine, after all. Yet for some reason, that makes less sense right now. Though really, nothing does.

To hell with it. Lucy has better things to do than this. She rolls over, gets out of bed with only a minor groan, and goes into the bathroom to shower and dress. Their last morning like this ended with Flynn getting shot, and since Flynn is presently only wearing a white tank top and pajama pants, Lucy saw the wounds when she pushed down the covers. The one in his side has probably patched up more or less well, since there’s only one bandage on it, but the one in his shoulder still looks gnarly, a rough half-scabbed mess that he has unsuccessfully tried to disguise with several wraps of an ace bandage and gauze pads. No wonder he’s sleeping on his back. The floor had to be even more uncomfortable than usual. God, he’s such a pighead.

Once she has applied her makeup and thus feels marginally more human, Lucy emerges to find Flynn awake and swearing. At least that is what it sounds like, but he bites down on it when he sees her, raises his good arm to rub his face, and looks mulish. Then he swings out of bed, sees that she’s done with the bathroom, and lumbers into it, from whence more swearing emits in colorful detail. A lot of banging and running water later, he likewise reappears, shaved and combed and otherwise looking five percent less like a wanted fugitive who would trigger an Amber Alert if he entered a school. He strides to his suitcase, pulls out a sport coat, and shakes the wrinkles from it, then shrugs it on. Finally he deigns to utter his first real words of the day, which are, “Are we ready to go?”

“Breakfast?” Lucy suggests coolly. “That might be nice.”

Flynn grunts – Jesus, was this man raised by wolves? – but condescends to allows that they can stop for a bagel and a latte on the way to campus. It’s a busy, bright, humid morning – Lucy has forgotten how damn sticky it is on the East Coast, her hair is already matting to her neck. They’re staying in University City, so it isn’t a long walk, and Penn is suitably Ivy League in appearance, with redbrick buildings done in pseudo-Oxbridge collegiate gothic, tall green trees lining the sunlit paths along which backpacked students dutifully rush. The familiar academic aesthetic of the setting calms Lucy’s nerves somewhat, and they stop to consult a campus map. There is a David Rittenhouse Laboratory, which jumps out at both of them, but it appears to be one of the science buildings, so it’s less likely as a storage spot for delicate old papers. Finally, they decide that Van Pelt, the main campus library that also houses special collections, is their best bet. If this is the house that David Rittenhouse and his creepy disciples built, time to get cracking.

They walk into Van Pelt and address themselves to the information desk. Lucy isn’t sure it’s entirely a good idea to use her real name, but unlike Flynn, she does not have multiple pieces of international documentation with various aliases, and if there is anything to be said for her having special access to the secret collections, they have to try that. She introduces herself as a doctoral student at Stanford, which is obviously the truth, and this is her boyfriend, Alexander Kovac. It’s driven by some split-second impulse she decides it better not to think about, since it’s the easiest explanation for Flynn’s presence, and she’s feeling just vindictive enough to slip her arm through his and smile sweetly. Now he has to sell it. Ball in his court.

Flynn, however, has clearly decided that Alexander Kovac belongs to the stoic Germanic school of masculinity, and merely nods once. The Penn librarian has no reason to suspect anything dodgy about him, except for perhaps Lucy’s taste in men, but while she is nice, she is also apologetic. They do have a fine collection of David Rittenhouse’s papers, but access is strictly by prior appointment. If Lucy wants to set one up, they can possibly accommodate her, but it’s just not possible on the day. She’s very sorry.

Lucy hesitates, then leans forward, trying to be conspiratorial, which is not really her thing. “Scientia potentia est?”

The librarian stares at her quizzically. “Beg pardon?”

“Scientia potentia est?” Lucy is fairly sure she’s pronouncing it right, and unless Flynn’s intel was wildly mistaken, this was supposed to be Rittenhouse’s motto or passphrase, the equivalent of the Masonic handshake to identify oneself to fellow believers. But the librarian is continuing to look genuinely stumped, so Lucy makes gracious excuses, grabs Flynn by the sleeve, and tows him out like a tug and a barge. She didn’t really think that walking straight up and asking to be let in would work, but it was worth a shot. “Well, now what?”

“We’ll have to come back and get in one way or another,” Flynn says. “Break in, or – ”

“No, we are not breaking into the Penn library!” Lucy quickly lowers her voice as a campus security officer motors past on a Segway. “I’ll go back in in a little bit and see if I can make an appointment. Remember what I said, about how we were doing this my way?”

“And what if your playing nicely by the rules doesn’t work?” Flynn shoots back. “Then what? We need to get those papers, Lucy! No matter what it takes!”

Lucy stares at him. He’s obviously been fairly dedicated to the Rittenhouse hunt before, and has taken considerable risks in the pursuit, but this is different – dangerous, fervent, obsessive – and it frightens her. His face is set and dark and hard except for his eyes, which glitter like two chips of onyx, and it makes her take an involuntary step backward. What the hell?

Flynn belatedly seems to realize he’s scared her, and drops his gaze. Finally he says, modulating his tone with an effort, “We need to get in there. We need to find out what they’re planning. I know you can do it, I know you can. Just think.”

Lucy has no idea what to respond. This apparent vote of confidence might be more reassuring if he didn’t sound so frantic when he said it. “Flynn – Garcia – what is. . .?”

“You. . .” He stops. “I know it’s difficult to see, to understand. I can’t explain it right now. I just need you to trust me for a bit longer, all right?”

Lucy searches his face. He is starting to sound on the wrong side of deranged, but he doesn’t sound like a mental patient, babbling incoherently about whatever delusion has gripped him now. This could be misleading, since people can present well and be able to have a civil, sensible conversation and be absolutely climbing-the-walls crazy, but whatever tangent Flynn is on, it doesn’t seem like he’s making it up. Lucy is absolutely justified in making any number of remarks about how he is doing nothing to inspire overweening confidence in her or anyone, she has already followed him well past what would be remotely required, and even if he has some NDA barring him from full disclosure (if he’s been fired, does it still apply) can he at least give her a hint? She’s groping around in the dark without a flashlight, and it’s possible he’s just cracked altogether. It’s possible.

“Look,” Lucy says, after a long, tenuous moment. “I want to believe you. I want to understand what has you so worried. I’ve come this far with you, you know I’m taking you seriously, but this… are you absolutely sure you’re not Beautiful Mind-ing it? Think that there’s a secret plot by the Soviets you need to stop, and it’s all a hallucination?”

“It’s not a hallucination.” Flynn sounds short, but at least somewhat more like himself. “I’m serious, I’m deadly serious. Rittenhouse is capable of things we never even imagined or dreamed of, and if we don’t stop them – ”

“Like what?” Lucy grabs his hand and hauls him around to face her. Her patience with his nonsense, already finite, is well out. “Why, why am I supposed to believe this isn’t just – what is so terrible about them? What can they do that every other evil corporate conglomerate in America can’t? What are we talking about here? What are the stakes?”

Flynn’s eyes flick over her from head to heel. He does that thing with his tongue where he is either thinking hard, or imagining what she looks like naked. (It would be a very inconvenient time for the latter, but still.) He tries to pull back, but she won’t let him, and their gazes lock with a crackle. Despite the hum of passing students, it’s almost silent.

Then, at last, Flynn lets out a breath. His eyes remain on hers. Slowly, reluctantly, as if well aware that this cannot sound any less crazy than it does, he says, “Time travel.”

Wyatt Logan is having a professional dilemma.

This might be the longest one he’s ever actually had, since by their very nature, most of his dilemmas have to be resolved in a few minutes, at most an hour. He makes the call, carries out the mission, and then has something else gone FUBAR that needs to be handled in turn. There isn’t much rollover in the military. You solve your problems, or you’re not around to have more of them. It’s different when you’re at home, you’re not even sure it is a problem anymore, and it’s listed as “resolved” only because nobody else has any clue what the fuck happened either. The problem, as you may have guessed, is named Garcia Flynn.

Wyatt has kept one ear to the ground since the events of several weeks ago, including making that call to Santa Rosa Memorial only to discover that Flynn weaseled out the back and has not been heard from since, and it still isn’t sitting right with him. He made some more calls when he got back to San Diego, trying to find where exactly the arrest order issued from, but he got the usual bureaucratic runaround. Need-to-Know, Operational Integrity, jargon out the ass. Nobody is telling Wyatt where the order came from, in other words. A lowly grunt, even a Delta Force one, does not need to know such things. But his hunch is Jake Neville. It feels like too much to swallow that one guy should turn up at Stanford asking Lucy about Flynn, and then for Wyatt to talk on the phone to him, having failed to nab said Flynn. And so…?

Homeland Security is not what you would call a transparent organization, but Wyatt has done a little digging, and while Neville is an agent with a good career, been in the department since W. created it post-9/11, he’s not quite high-ranking enough to unilaterally order someone arrested, especially an until-now-upstanding government employee, without any help or second confirmation at all. That means that Neville isn’t the father of this whole ugly baby, just its evil nanny. (Not one of Wyatt’s stronger metaphors, but whatever.) He didn’t arrange it, he just carried it out for whoever did. And while Wyatt doesn’t have absolute proof, he does have a hunch. He recalls his bafflement as to how Rick Baumgardner, Connor Mason, and Jake Neville could all be worried over the same person, and Mason’s odd reaction when Wyatt ambushed him backstage at the tech convention. (It could just be the ambushing, but Wyatt doesn’t think so.) And that weird thing Mason said to him – Latin? The work is on schedule? The way he thought Wyatt might be there to punish him for not attending – what?

The solution, in this case, is obvious. Something Wyatt can actually do is always preferable to sitting around and tying himself into knots, and at the least, it might be a mildly useful rock to kick. This, however, is not totally compatible with having a long-suffering wife who wants you to spend time together, and that is another problem.

“Another last-minute trip, huh?” Jessica shakes out the tablecloth and drapes it over the table, then turns to open the cupboards. It’s clear from the tone in her voice that she isn’t completely thrilled. “Baby, you’re supposed to be on home leave. There really isn’t anyone else they could ask to do this?”

“This isn’t technically an official assignment.” Wyatt opens the silverware drawer and takes the dishes as she hands them over. “It’s a… side job.”

“A side job.” Jessica’s lips tighten, but she keeps her voice level. “How long is this one going to take, then?”

“Hopefully not too long.” Wyatt glances over at her. “It’s important, you know that. Trust me, I don’t want to be chasing shady businessmen rather than spending time with you.”

Jessica considers that, then nods. She works full-time during the week as well, so the weekends are really the only chance they have to be together without interruption, and she’s allowed to be ambivalent at the prospect of sacrificing yet another one of them. Wyatt takes her by the waist and kisses her forehead, and she blows out a breath and puts her hands on his chest. “My husband, the hero,” she says at last, wryly. “Can’t rest while there might be some chance that he needs to rush in like Captain America and fix it.”

“I think that’s a stretch.” Wyatt lets go of her and starts setting the table. “I just… I have a feeling about this, Jess.”

“I know you need to do whatever you feel is right,” Jessica says, picking up the lid of the pot on the stove and giving it a stir. “But Wyatt, you’ve been back for two months now, and it still feels like we haven’t seen each other for more than a few days of that.”

“You know if they cut some of your hours at the office – it feels like you’ve been clocking, what, forty-plus every week – ”

“Yes, unsurprisingly, Accupro LLC is part of the corporate rat race.” Jessica shakes some oregano into the sauce and tastes it. “But I’ve had other invitations to hang out with people on the weekends, I have other friends, I have a life, and I’ve been turning down all of it because I keep hoping that you’ll be around one of these days. We’re talking about you, Wyatt. Don’t change the subject. I know it’s hard to come home and live as a civilian again, I know you have to alter the entire structure of your life, but… can you at least talk to me about it? Or if not me, someone whose job it is to listen, and can help you?”

“Look, I don’t want to mess around with the VA, it’s a joke. Besides, their waiting lists for mental-health services are months long, and that’s for guys with major PTSD and shell-shock, it’s not me, I don’t want to take a space from one of them, I’m fine – ”

“Are you?” Jessica finally abandons the sauce and whirls on him. “Are you fine, Wyatt? Because I don’t have a clue what this job that has been preoccupying you for weeks actually is. Not a clue. You used to tell me basically your whole day, as much as you could, when you were in Afghanistan. Eight thousand miles apart, but it felt like less. Now we live in the same damn house, and it feels like more.”

Wyatt opens and shuts his mouth. His first instinct is to say that this is unfair, that she’s always understood before how it works, but it’s true that he hasn’t exactly been a bountiful communicator recently. It’s just been easier to run in solo-operator mode: see the problem, sort the problem (or at least make an attempt). But while this is useful for a soldier, it’s less so for a marriage, and maybe he has been leaning on this, a little, as a coping mechanism. As long as he has a job, an assignment, he knows how to live. Take that away, and he’s less sure. He’s not the deeply messed-up that some of his peers are, since sending nineteen-year-old kids from Wichita over to kill people with rocket grenades is actually, believe it or not, not good for them, but he knows he’s not the same. Keeps running, keeps living in the war. Some guys figure out how to leave it behind. Not many, but at least some. The rest…

“I’m sorry,” Wyatt says at last. “You’re right. I’ve been kind of a dick lately, and I’m sorry.”

Jessica looks at him as if that was all she really wanted to hear, comes over, and lets him take her in his arms again. He rests his chin on her hair, thinking that if he was truly making an effort to reform, he’d offer to abandon the investigation and take her to SeaWorld or something (though Jessica hates SeaWorld on ethical grounds). But he is sorry, he is – and yet. He still wants to go through with what he originally planned, and sneaking out the back without telling your wife is a great way to get into a lot of hot water later. How do you say this without restarting the entire argument, though? Not that it’s an argument. They just politely disagreed, like adults, and talked it through. That’s a sign of relationship health, so they can’t be doing too badly.

They eat dinner and chat. Jessica complains about her slave driver of a boss, clearly at least in part to make Wyatt feel better, and he appreciates it, but he can’t stop feeling guilty. He provides generic responses to most of what Jess says, volunteers to do the dishes, and encourages her to go put her feet up when she offers to help. This is dumb. If she was his superior officer, he’d have to just march in there and tell her (and take her answer as final if she vetoed it, unless he wants to be court-martialed). But she’s not his CO, she’s his wife, and while domestic harmony is obviously a noteworthy and honorable consideration, she does not in fact possess the ultimate call. He can still go whether or not she approves, and obviously they are grownups, they don’t need to ask the other’s permission to do their jobs or live their lives. But it’s still clearly cheap to piss off without a word. Even if he’s done it before. Jess is angry, but they work through it. He makes it up. He does.

Wyatt keeps searching for the opportune moment to bring it up again, which is not that night when they are in bed. They have been talking about kids, but don’t want to actively start trying until they get their shit sorted out. This is obviously a mood-killing conversation, so Wyatt strategically eludes it now, but he can’t put it off forever. Being afraid to talk to your spouse is definitely a bad sign. They’re not that kind of couple, after all.

“Babe?” Wyatt says eventually, as they’re tangled in the quilts and dozing off. He reaches over to put a hand on her back. “Hey, Jess?”

She rolls over to give him a sleepy, pleased smile. “Hmm?”

Wyatt looks at her face, her hair tumbling loose, the shine in her eyes, the most relaxed she’s seemed in weeks, and can’t bring himself to do it. He takes her hand to his lips and kisses it. “Just want to say that you’re beautiful.”

Jessica grins again and nuzzles into him, and Wyatt drapes his arm over her, fighting another stab of guilt. He reaches over with his other hand to turn out the light, and while she falls asleep quickly, he doesn’t. He usually conks out after sex like a proper old person (late twenties, but whatever), but he lies awake instead, wondering if this is really worth everything he might have to give up. He knows what happens to whistleblowers, and it isn’t pretty. Does he want his life, his wife, his career dragged through the mud or gaslighted or subjected to the many and terrible ways that the U.S. government can make your life hell for bringing something up that they don’t like? Wyatt has worked for the system for a long time, and dished out some of that treatment on occasion. There’s always been a good reason for it, there’s always been some justified premise. But in the deepest part of him, he knows he wouldn’t want to have the same thing happen to him that he’s seen authorized on other people, and he even have the luxury of saying no to this investigation. As he said to Jessica, nobody’s making him do it. Everyone, in fact, would be much happier if he didn’t. Stay home with his wife, maybe have a kid someday, be a better dad than his ever was. Don’t get involved in things that could much more profitably and sensibly be avoided.

Don’t bring the war home, Wyatt. He stares at the ceiling. Enlisted in the Army as soon as he was remotely old enough, because it meant getting away from home. There was some other stuff, it was military school or juvenile hall as his main options for a while there. But he overcame it, worked hard, served his time in the trenches, took the Delta Force training course when he was twenty-four and passed on his second try, which is still on the high end. He has nothing left to prove. Maybe he can move on from that angry stunt-driving, drug-smuggling redneck kid who was not far off from being Bam-Bam himself when he first joined up. He doesn’t need to ruin it now.

Don’t bring the war home.

(Thinks of how he’d promised Jess he’s fine, that he’s not some raw nineteen-year-old kid, and ignores the fact that either those nineteen-year-olds break and don’t get put back together, or they turn into twenty-seven-year-old sergeants who feel a hundred, like him, who only pretend they made it home unscathed.)

Wyatt finally gets to sleep too late, doesn’t wake up with Jessica’s alarm the next morning as he usually does, and has Friday to spend thinking of ways to tell her that he needs to leave after all. He runs some errands and cleans the house, as if to purchase some good-husband cachet on his way out the door, and if he can’t pull strings for a last-minute chopper ride, he should start driving now, before the weekend rush gets too heinous. (Yes, everything you do in California has to be planned around the traffic.) It’s at least an eight and a half-hour drive in the best of times, but Wyatt can buy some gas station coffee and jerky and hammer it out with some Def Leppard, some Journey, your classic rock selection. He's done worse. Be there in time to get a late hotel.

Finally, after he calls Jess and she doesn’t pick up, he leaves a voicemail, apologizes profusely, and throws a change of underwear and a toothbrush into his backpack. Then he locks the front door, gets into his truck (you can take the boy out of Texas, etc. etc., and he’s already surrounded by arugula-eating, juice-cleansing farmer’s-market devotees), checks that it's gassed up, and rolls out.

It’s a straight shot north on I-5, the day is hot and clear, and Wyatt sings along loudly with Steve Perry, tapping his fingers on the wheel. Or rather howls tunelessly; he has the pitch and musical acumen of a wounded warthog bellowing in the savannah, which is why he can only ever sing when he’s alone in the car. This almost feels like a fun spur-of-the-moment getaway, if you can forget the sort-of-lying-to-your-wife, going-to-investigate-some-dangerous-shady-people part, and it briefly occurs to him to wonder if Lucy’s in town. Just check in, see how she’s doing, totally aboveboard. It was awkward when she inadvertently asked him out, there aren’t going to be any repeats of that, but he doesn’t think it’s breaking any rules just to touch base and make sure nobody’s been shot again.

Wyatt drives into the evening, stops for an extra tank of unleaded and more jerky, changes to The Eagles (one of his buddies called him the oldest young person he’s ever met in terms of his musical taste – whatever) and finally makes it to San Francisco just past eleven. He’s had a lead foot most of the way, which helped, but he fortunately avoided any encounters with California Highway Patrol. He finds a downtown hotel near the Giants’ stadium, pays probably too much, but he likes the view of the skyline and the bay. It’s past visiting hours, he can’t go to Mason Industries until tomorrow, so why not kick back a little?

Wyatt orders room service dinner and a beer, sits on the bed in his underwear, and watches action movies on Pay-Per-View. It’s close to three AM when he, having decided that it was a great time to power through Die Hard one and two, hears his phone buzz on the sideboard, looks over, and sees three missed calls and several texts from Jess, in all caps. WHERE ARE YOU???

Wyatt frowns, since he called her – he did, he left a voicemail – and switches off the TV. He should probably go to bed anyway. Then he picks up the phone and reluctantly hits Call.

Jessica answers on the first ring, sounding harried. “Wyatt? Wyatt! Jesus! Where are you?  Are you hurt? Do you need me to come pick you up?”

“I – ” Wyatt’s insides writhe with guilt. “I’m fine, Jess, I’m fine. I called you. Didn’t you get my voicemail?”

“Do you think I’d be calling you in a panic if I got your fucking voicemail?!” Jessica stops, blows out a breath, then composes herself. “Where are you?”

“I’m… in San Francisco.” Wyatt looks at the remnants of his burger on the plate, feels it sitting like a stone in his stomach. “I’m going to be here for the weekend. I had to keep up with the investigation, I’m sorry. I’ll be home on Sunday, I swear.”

Jessica is silent for a long moment. He can hear her breathing on the other end of the phone, thinking about this, taking this in. That absence, that sheer lack of any response, is almost worse than if she kept shouting at him. Then she says, “The investigation you’re supposed to be off? Someone called and told you to go back on?”

“Yeah,” Wyatt says. It’s a quick and automatic lie, a butt-saving cover. “Yeah, Pendleton wants me to look into it again. They called this afternoon, I had to just get up and go, you know? You know. How that all works. Baby, I’m so sorry, I never meant to scare you.”

This is the truth, and perhaps Jessica can hear it, because she refrains from a sharp reply. Then at last, she sighs deeply, sounding tired and sore. “Fine. I can’t argue with the U.S. Army brass, now can I? All right, go do your thing. Sorry if I woke you up.”

“I was just going to bed.” Wyatt decides not to mention the burger-beer-underwear-and-John-McClane parts of the evening. “I love you, okay?”

“Love you too.” Jessica hangs up.

Well. Wyatt has at least been married long enough to know that was a disaster. He clears away the tray, jumps in the shower so he doesn’t have to do it in the morning (well, later in the morning), then sets his alarm for a wincingly short few hours away (his own fault) and gets into bed. This really had better be worth it.

He has weird, shallow dreams, and wakes up feeling hungover from that one stupid beer, which definitely serves him right. Gets up, dresses, and tries to look marginally like Johnny Law, then checks his directions and sets out. Well. Here goes nothing.

Mason Industries is a big industrial complex in Silicon Valley, just a few cubicle farms away from Google and Facebook, and Wyatt drives up to the visitor entrance and finally succeeds in talking his way in. He doesn’t want to pull the Delta Force card immediately, since that would definitely put people on their guard and give them time to destroy evidence, but he succeeds in posing as a startup entrepreneur who was here to meet Connor Mason. Since Mason’s diary is probably a shithouse, unless he has a really good PA, there’s no way to say they didn’t have a meeting scheduled, after all. Mr. Mason is busy until eleven, but he can spare a few moments then if Mr. Logan would like to wait.

Wyatt paces back and forth in the windowless waiting room, not sure he’s up to the perc coffee, until the door opens, someone starts to step in – then stops. “Wait. You?”

Wyatt turns around with a start, to see the young man in the MIT hoodie who came to collect Mason at the tech convention – Rufus, was his name Rufus? He is regarding Wyatt with (not unjustified) squiggle-eyed suspicion, arms crossed. “G.I. Joe? From Los Angeles?”

“Yeah, buddy, hey.” Wyatt tries a disarming smile, holding out his hand. “How are you?”

“I’m definitely not your buddy.” Rufus doesn’t take it. “What are you doing here?”

“I just want to talk to your boss. I assume he’s your boss, right?”

“Yeah,” Rufus says. “Yeah, I work here.” He flashes the cred on a lanyard around his neck. “And you’re not oozing past me for whatever you’re trying with Connor. Unless you’re going to explain what the hell you actually want.”

Wyatt has to be impressed with this shy little tech nerd’s moxie. At least he thinks Rufus is shy, though he can’t say why. “Relax, all right? I’m with the – fine, I’m with the government.”

“Wow, that’s reassuring,” Rufus says. “Nothing bad ever happens when a white man turns up and says he’s from the government.”

“Fair point. I just – I need to talk to Mr. Mason, all right? I think he might know something about something I’m working on, and it’s important.”

Rufus eyes him warily, still not backing down. He doesn’t quite dare another smart comeback, and settles for eyeing Wyatt in suspicious silence until the door opens again and a woman dressed in some kind of flight suit sticks her head in. “Rufus, where are you? We’re about ready to run the next simulation.”

Rufus jumps. “Sorry, Emma. I’m just – ”

“Keeping an eye on him?” The woman – an attractive redhead with freckles and a cool, piercing green gaze – flicks it over Wyatt. “Well, I don’t completely blame you for that. I don’t think I’ve seen you here before, Mr. …?”

“Logan.” Wyatt glances at the name on her suit. “Miss – Ms. Whitmore?”

Emma Whitmore holds out her hand, and they shake. She certainly seems friendlier than Rufus, though he can’t tell if it’s underlaid with flirtatiousness, or she’s just seen another way to throw the government snoop off his guard. “Who do you work for, Mr. Logan?”

“You know.” Wyatt waves a hand. “The Man.”

“I see.” Emma purses her expertly made-up lips, then smiles. “I swear, you seem familiar somehow, I can’t think why, but it’ll come to me. Rufus, you need to check the capacitor for me. Come on.”

Rufus, with a final glance over his shoulder at Wyatt, scurries out of the room after Emma, once more leaving Wyatt to wait. The newspapers in here have not been changed for several weeks, he takes a sip of the coffee and decides it was a better idea to abstain, and is just about to start picking stuffing out of the couches when the door opens for a third time. By the split-second of silence before he glances around, Wyatt can guess who it is.

“Mr. Mason.” He turns around with a smile that nonetheless warns the other man not to run, or reach for any hidden buttons, or otherwise summon the armies of Mordor. “You probably remember me?”

It’s clear from the look on Mason’s face that he very much does. He remains where he is, regarding Wyatt, then says, “You do know I haven’t got anything to say to you?”

“Look, you’re not in trouble, I’m not here to arrest you. But when we saw each other in L.A., you acted almost like you thought I was there to punish you. Asked if it was because of you not attending something. Said the work was on schedule. What work?”

Mason manages a pale version of his smarmy smile. “I really don’t see how I’m at all obliged to tell you.”

“Sure,” Wyatt says. “You don’t have to. Or I could call back to some of my buddies and bring in more people and more bureaucracy and more of us Army grunts running around your fancy high-tech palace and getting up in your business and our hands on all your priceless gizmos. I’m guessing that wouldn’t be something you’d really like.”

“Is that some sort of would-be threat, Mr. Logan?”

“Threat?” Wyatt feigns surprise. “Oh no, that’s talking. If I was actually threatening you, trust me, there wouldn’t be any confusion.”

Mason regards him for a long moment. Then he says, “Well. It’s a surprise to me to hear that is still an option, given as I have been repeatedly assured that any more ill-advised investigations were off the table. In which case, I would very much appreciate you taking your little Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy act elsewhere and permitting me to get on with – ”

“Who told you that?” Wyatt asks bluntly. “Rittenhouse?”

A look of total shock flickers across Mason’s face before he can stop it. He opens his mouth, starts to say something, then shuts it. “I’m sorry,” he says at last, with a poor stab at nonchalance. “What did you just. . .?”

“I’m pretty sure you heard me.”

Indeed, Mason clearly has to admit that, given his reaction, he did. “I have no idea where you heard that name, or would have any reason to connect me with it. However, I very much advise that you don’t go around repeating it. Now, if you’ll excuse me – ”

Once more, he starts for the door, which is an action of questionable wisdom, and Wyatt is likewise left to make a decision on the advisability of pushing it inside Mason’s own temple. Just as he’s taking a step, it opens – they should just make it a revolving one, apparently – and Emma Whitmore sticks her head back in. “Connor, Rufus has prepped the test, what’s – ”

“I,” Mason says through his teeth, “have just been informing Private Ryan here that – ”

“Sergeant,” Wyatt says, losing patience. “Master Sergeant Wyatt Logan, actually. And if you don’t feel like chatting about Rittenhouse, we can – ”

He’s saying the name just to be an ass, since Mason clearly doesn’t want him to, and thus has not expected Emma’s reaction. Her eyebrows fly up, then her eyes go narrow, and she ushers Mason out quickly with promises that she’ll be right along. Then she shuts the door and says to Wyatt, “You’re looking into – into Rittenhouse?”

“Apparently.” Wyatt cocks his head. “What, are you – ”

“Not here,” Emma says. “Not here. Pick me up from work tonight, I get off at seven. We need to talk.”

This is unexpected, but oddly gratifying, Wyatt’s experience thus far being that people don’t want to do that. He notes that down, is tempted to ask her what they’re all doing at work on Saturday (then again, tech geeks don’t keep the same business hours as everyone else) and promises he will do that. Then, since he’s made himself enough of a hassle, he decides to cut Mason a break, at least for now, and heads out.

It’s a nice day in San Francisco, and Wyatt amuses himself without much trouble. On a whim, he calls Lucy, but she doesn’t pick up, which is probably for the best. He already did agree to pick another woman up from work, even for strictly professional purposes, Jess is probably still resentful, and he doesn’t need to go meeting up with the woman who kind-of-sort-of asked him out, even without knowing he was married. Bam-Bam would probably tell him to stop worrying and live a little, but Bam-Bam’s the one on administrative leave, and Wyatt is here. He doesn’t need to fuck this up again.

Finally, he heads back to Mason Industries, pulls into the parking lot, and waits until he sees Emma emerging, touching up her lipstick and digging in her purse for her phone. Wyatt opens the driver’s side door, stands up, and waves. “Hey!”

Emma sees him, detours over, and opens the passenger door, swinging in. Out of her flight suit, she is wearing crisp navy slacks and a vaguely sixties-looking blouse (not that Wyatt is an authority on the eras of women’s fashion) tied with a bow at the neck. A slight fragrance of gardenia clings to her elegantly marcelled red curls. She looks like she just stepped out of a vintage photoshoot, an aesthetic Wyatt isn’t too proud to appreciate. “So, if you’re picking me up, are you also taking me out to dinner?”

“I – uh, no.” He flushes. “When you said talk, I assumed you just meant – ”

“Relax, soldier.” Emma smiles faintly. “Just yanking your chain. We should go somewhere public, though. Somewhere busy and anonymous. I’d rather not risk my apartment, just in case.”

This sounds foreboding to Wyatt, but also somewhat promising, as if there’s something here to be tugged on. So they drive to a middle-tier restaurant, nice enough that there’s no risk of food poisoning or narcs in the corners, but not so nice that it looks like they’re on a date – somewhere you could take a business colleague for dinner, in other words. It’s Saturday night on Market Street, so it’s busy, and they have to wait fifteen minutes for a table, but they’re finally seated, have a look at the wine list, and Wyatt glances around at their neighbors so he can tell if anyone is staying too long or leaning in. Once he’s reasonably certain they’re just random strangers enjoying their evening, he looks at Emma. “What’s this about?”

“I heard you talking to Connor earlier.” Emma looks back at him levelly. “You were asking him about Rittenhouse.”

“Yeah.” That apparently answers Wyatt’s outstanding question about whether it’s real, or just a figment of Garcia Flynn’s paranoid imagination. He frowns. “Is this the part where you’re going to say you know something about it?”

“Know something about it?” Emma laughs, very dryly. “I’m in it. I’ve been in for several years, I was just up at their big gala in Marin County. I know all kinds of things about them and what they’re working on and what they want, and whatever you think you’ve got figured out about them, you haven’t. You have no idea what you’re tangling with.”

That does rock Wyatt, if briefly. He distracts himself by taking a sip of the house red the waiter pours, approves it, and glances down at the menu again. “So I’m guessing this isn’t just some lobbying cash and political palm-greasing they’ve got going on?”

“That’s barely the start of it.” Emma glances at the surrounding tables as well, and lowers her voice, so Wyatt has to lean in. “Look. I want out. These people are crazy. Truly, deeply crazy. I joined when I was a dumb teenager, my mom was in it, I wanted adventure and to have a cool job that paid well and it sounded like the best choice I had. But once I saw what they really are. . . I’ve wanted to leave for several years, but I don’t know how. Anywhere I’d go, they’d find me.”

Wyatt considers that. As delicately as possible, he says, “Are you willing to talk? If so, there’s witness protection, there’s something we could arrange, if – ”

“Witness protection?” Emma raises both gingery eyebrows as high as they’ll go. “From Rittenhouse? They’re in every major branch of the government. Most of the Cabinet of the last, oh – eleven administrations has had direct or indirect ties. You ever heard of the Family, that shadowy Washington lobby group? Huge Rittenhouse boys’ club. Sponsor the National Prayer Breakfast with the President every year.”

Wyatt has not heard of the Family, but he has heard of the National Prayer Breakfast. “So what are they? Wacko religious fundamentalists?”

“Only if they want to be. They’ll wear any hat, as long as it gets them closer to power. Like I said. I want out, and I’m scared.” Emma looks at him, exquisite lip almost, dare he say, trembling. “Can you do anything about that?”

Wyatt racks his brains. An attractive woman is in distress, and his old instinct is to leap in and promise her that of course he will fix it, he will do whatever she wants. He knows this is a bad idea, and nods to the waiter as he puts their wine glasses down. Once they’ve ordered their entrees, Emma says, “Is there anyone you know who could help?”

Wyatt thinks. He doesn’t really want to offer up someone who, to say the least, is an unreliable entity, who has zero social skills, and may be off the grid already, but if nothing else, this hypothetical person he has in mind does sound like someone Emma might want to talk to. “Well,” he says at last. “Maybe. No promises, though.”

“Please?” Emma leans forward. “It. . . well, I don’t know how I could ever repay you.”

“If you call him, just. . . don’t say it was from me, all right?” Wyatt opens his wallet and pulls out a piece of scrap paper, then scribbles down a name and a number. “And probably be careful. He’s not exactly the most popular guy right now either.”

Emma looks at the paper. “Flynn,” she says. “Is that him?”

“Yeah,” Wyatt says. He’s starving. Hopes their food gets here soon. “That’s him.”

“Time travel,” Lucy repeats, after another of those hideously long moments where she keeps waiting for Flynn to break character, laugh (can this man even genuinely laugh, or is it physiologically impossible? She’s not sure) or otherwise claim he was just psyching her out. “I just told you to convince me that you’re not crazy, and that’s what you’re going with?”

“Yes.” Whatever this is, Flynn is apparently committed to it now. “That’s what Rittenhouse wants, that’s what they’re playing toward. They’re having a time machine built, that’s what Connor Mason is working on. It’s not complete yet, but they’re running tests, and it’s not too many years away from functionality. Once they get it – if they get it – ”

“Stop.” Lucy puts her fingers to her temples, as if that will somehow shut this out. “Just – Garcia, just stop. Do you hear yourself? I’ve gone this far, I’ve listened to you, I’ve tried to help you, but if this is seriously what you – ” She feels close to tears, unable to believe that she has allowed herself to be taken advantage of yet again, by all comers. Her mother, Benjamin Cahill, Rittenhouse, and now Flynn himself. She shouldn’t be surprised, and yet. “You don’t need to be here at UPenn on some demented scholarly scavenger hunt. You need to go somewhere and get help, all right? You need help.”

“I don’t need help.” Flynn pulls back fractionally when Lucy tries to put a hand on his arm. “It’s real, I swear. Don’t you think I know it sounds insane, Lucy? But it’s not, it – ”

“Oh?” Lucy challenges. “How do you know this? How could you possibly know this?”

Flynn hesitates.

Lucy looks at him, keeps waiting for him to say something, that he can have anything to say. As insane as it was, if he would just explain, she would listen. She’s still drawn to him over and against all reason or logical grounds, nothing that his charming personality and sunny disposition has done anything to merit. But she’s a scholar, a historian. She can’t run on empty conjecture and baseless speculation forever. Needs the evidence, the analysis, the due process. He is asking her to believe the impossible, and seems inexplicably and utterly convinced that she will. But her life is in total shambles back home, she’s already come this far, and – if this is some cruel joke, embarrass the history nerd, she doesn’t –

“I’m sorry,” Lucy says, voice breaking. “I’m sorry, I think I need to go.”

At that, at last, Flynn makes a half-assed gesture toward her as if to grab her arm, but Lucy pulls away. Hitches her bag over her shoulder and turns quickly, before he can see the tears in her eyes, and walks quickly away down the campus path, head down, dodging through the incoming crowds of undergraduates. She doesn’t know where she’s going, or how she will in fact get home. Maybe rent a car and drive to Ohio, interview for the Kenyon job like she originally planned in coming out here. If she gets it, she could just start right then. Never go home, leave all her stuff behind, ghost everyone in her life, start fresh. At the moment, the idea has a certain morbid appeal.

She thinks she hears Flynn shout after her, but she doesn’t stop to look. Wonders if she should start running away from him, not walking, even though she is in no doubt whatsoever that he would never actually hurt her. Maybe she’ll just go sit in a coffee shop for a few hours and decompress, think about this more rationally. Anything except –

Just then, Lucy walks hard into someone coming the other way, and opens her mouth to reflexively apologize – that’s her, she has to mind her manners even when she feels like total shit. But as she looks up, she realizes to her shock that she knows the woman. They talked at the Rittenhouse gala, right before Flynn arrived to dramatically bust her out. She doesn’t know what she’s doing here in Philadelphia, but –

“Emma?” Lucy says, stunned. “Emma Whitmore?”

The other woman smiles at her tentatively. “Remember me?”

“Yes.” Lucy wonders what the odds of this possibly being a coincidence could be, and decides that they are vanishingly slight. “What are you – what are you doing here?”

“I need help,” Emma says. “And I think you do too.”

Chapter Text

For a very long moment, Lucy struggles to discern what the sensible, rational response in this situation would be. Not that that is remotely pertinent to her actions anymore, but she still has to make the effort. How did Emma know they were here? Has she been looking for Lucy (and Flynn) on Rittenhouse’s behalf ever since the Great Gala Jailbreak? There were certainly more convenient moments to approach her, if so – not here in frigging Philadelphia when she’s decided she can’t do this anymore. But Emma does look genuinely distressed and apologetic, and Lucy’s caretaker instinct surfaces: a student has come to her with a problem, needs to talk it through. After another moment when she wonders if she should yell for Flynn, and decides that absolutely no good can come of it, she repeats, “What are you doing here?”

“I’m sorry. It’s a long story.” Emma glances at her diffidently, notices her tears, and frowns. “Are you okay? I ran into you pretty hard.”

“Yes, I’m fine. It’s not – not that.” Lucy wipes her eyes quickly with the back of her hand. “How did you find – me?”

“I talked to your friend Wyatt, back in San Francisco,” Emma says. “On Saturday. Got a flight out, and here I am. Is Garcia Flynn here?”

Lucy flinches. “What – if he was, what would you want with him?”

“I need to talk to him.” Emma shrugs. “Wyatt suggested he might be helpful. Here at the University of Pennsylvania – I think I know what you’re trying to do. Just got turned down trying to access the Rittenhouse collections, didn’t you?”

“How did – ” Lucy's suspicious instincts flare up instead. “What, have you been following me? Spying? We talked at the gala, I know you’re one of them!”

Emma raises both hands, then uses them to slowly open her sleek leather jacket and show Lucy that it’s empty. “Easy, princess. Look, no gun, none of that. I’m not here to help Rittenhouse. I’m here because I’m trying to get away from them.”

That, despite herself, catches Lucy off guard. She figured that Rittenhouse’s members were as fanatically devoted to it as any other cult, and sure, there’s probably a job perk or two – money, influence, knowledge, power, the sell-your-soul-for-a-teeny-little-price infernal bargain that goes back to Faustus and Mephistopheles. They didn’t seem like the kind of people troubled by second thoughts, in other words, but she supposes that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Just made to conveniently disappear, or forced to shun their entire family – like the “Suppressive Persons” principle in Scientology, where you can’t talk to your loved ones if they don’t appreciate you becoming a marching disciple of Xenu. Does Rittenhouse have a Sea Org? Probably. They must not know about Emma’s desertion plans, or do they?

At any rate, it’s unhappily clear that this is a question beyond Lucy’s pay grade. She really does not want to turn around and walk back to Flynn, especially less than ten minutes after telling him to get professional help and that he was on his own, but if Emma really is here to turn on Rittenhouse, it could be the break that they need. Besides, that old impulse to be nice, Lucy Good Girl Preston, has once more made its reappearance. Emma came quite a long way and took considerable risks to do it. She should at least get a proper hearing out.

Lucy wavers a moment more. Then she says, “All right. Come on.”

Emma walks next to her as they start back down the path, as Lucy tries to resist the urge to ask what exactly Wyatt said about her (or Flynn). Finally, as casually as she can, she says, “So you saw Wyatt in San Francisco?”

“He turned up there, yeah.” Emma glances sidelong at her. “Came all the way to Mason Industries. Seemed pretty determined.”

“Mason – right, you work there.” Lucy remembers that, and telling Flynn while they were hurtling down the dark road on their great escape. “So he’s still on the case?”

“Looks like it. Also, if I had to guess, behind his bosses’ backs. Freaked Connor the hell out.” Emma laughs shortly. “Then again, Connor – but no. I shouldn’t talk about this here.”

That makes Lucy glance to either side, as if armed Matrix henchmen might be rushing up to apprehend them, but she sees nothing out of the ordinary for a normal Tuesday morning on a busy university campus. It occurs to her to wonder what to do if Flynn has done a bunk or run back to Van Pelt for another go (or to aggressively persuade the librarian to hand over the books and nobody gets hurt), but they round a corner and there he is, still standing where Lucy left him. His never-ending whirl of energy and (mostly bad) ideas and anger seems to have momentarily run dry, as if he never considered that they weren’t going to do this as partners, that he’s, as the saying goes, S.O.L. Then he looks up and sees her walking back toward him, third party in tow, and the expression on his face is almost comical. And then, he apparently remembers where he recognizes Emma from, and it goes thunderous.

“Easy.” Emma pulls open her jacket again. “There. Not carrying. Can you say the same?”

Flynn clearly can’t (Lucy saw him take his gun out of the suitcase this morning), but this at least throws him enough for Emma to take over the conversation first. “Yes,” she says, before Flynn can recover. “You saw me at the Rittenhouse party, I’m guessing, when you had the brilliant idea to sneak in and grab Lucy. Cahill was furious. I think he fired his entire security team. Ruined their stock options, too.”

“Good,” Flynn manages, after another dumbstruck moment, while Lucy is still wanting to know what exactly Rittenhouse stock options are. “Serves the bastard right.”

“I agree.” Emma smiles faintly. “Cahill’s a pompous asshole who thinks he’s a lot smarter than he is. We all could have told him that popping up in your secret daughter’s life after twenty-seven years incommunicado and promising her that she too can join the Evil Empire isn’t a great plan. Is that what you’re doing here? Investigating Rittenhouse?”

Flynn hesitates. He half-puts out an arm toward Lucy, as if to shield her, then drops it. Finally he says grumpily, “Yes.”

“Thought so. Whose idea was this?”

“Mine,” Lucy says, without stopping to think it over. It might be more convenient to let Flynn take the blame for it, since he was the one who dragged them out here (well, he didn’t quite drag, she did choose to come along, at least until he started with the time travel business – perhaps she should warn Emma that Flynn is possibly clinically insane and not liable to be much help, but the words don’t come). “I put the pieces together about David Rittenhouse and where he used to teach, and I thought there might be something here.”

“Clever.” Emma eyes her approvingly, almost in a way that makes Lucy wonder if she’s hitting on her, and if she would mind if she was. “And as a matter of fact, you’re right. There are plenty of Rittenhouse papers here. I could probably get you in.”

“We tried,” Lucy admits. “They wanted an appointment.”

“Well.” Emma shrugs again. “I can deal with that. Well? You in?”

Flynn has been regarding her narrowly, as if trying to find the words for a thought he can’t quite articulate. Then he says, “Why are you helping us?”

“Because,” Emma says, “I have full expectation of being helped in return. As I said to your girlfriend, I want away from them. You’re in the NSA, or at least you were. I’m figuring you can give me something a little more substantial than the witness-protection starter kit that Logan was offering. New identity, new placement, possibly somewhere outside the States. I was thinking London. I’d like to live in London.”

“It rains a lot.” Flynn has continued to watch her carefully. “Not much like California.”

“I think I can adjust.” Emma tilts her chin back. “We could make it look legit. Connor Mason’s from there, after all. He has plenty of satellite corporations and partner enterprises in the City. I could even keep my day job, just pretend to be hired on as a new employee. So?”

Flynn is quiet. Lucy can hear him debating whether to disclose that he’s not really an NSA agent anymore, that his employment status is – to say the least – murky, and that even if he did promise, there’s not any guarantee that he could carry it through. But if that is all it would take – tell Emma to buy an umbrella and start watching Doctor Who, and she’ll spirit them into the Rittenhouse archives – is he really going to do that?

It turns out, indeed, that the answer is yes. Flynn pauses a final moment, then jerks his head in a terse nod and holds out his hand. “Fine.”

Emma smiles, shakes it, and gives Flynn just enough of a look to make the jealousy in Lucy’s chest, just about (but not quite) tamped down, flare its green-eyed snout out for another sniff. Emma is based in the Bay Area, after all – is this who he spent the night with? He seems genuinely surprised to see her, as well as learning that she wants to turn on Rittenhouse, and they’re not acting like two people who had a secret dirty hookup just a few nights ago. But since Flynn has been so utterly obtuse about it, and Lucy is so utterly in the dark, she is scrambling for any clue or possibility, even while reminding herself that it is stupid. Emma gave her a look kind of like that too, after all. Maybe she’s just really excited about getting away from Rittenhouse. Which is entirely possible.

Emma leads the way with a confident stride as they climb the steps of Van Pelt. Lucy wonders what the librarian is going to make of them, turning up hopefully again barely an hour after being bounced the first time, but she doesn’t have to wonder for long. They head inside, Emma asks to speak to someone managerial-sounding, and a balding, middle-aged man with an institutional ID around his neck is apparently delighted to see her. He does look briefly squiggly-eyed when Emma introduces her friends – is Lucy being paranoid, or has he been tipped to be on the lookout for someone matching their description? – but it is quickly smoothed over. Yes, he would be happy to fetch up any boxes they want. Did Ms. Whitmore have something particularly in mind?

For the first time since Lucy walked off in tears, she and Flynn glance at each other, though she isn’t sure what is communicated in it. This is certainly an improvement over their last aborted attempt, and Emma has an air about her that feels as if you should just make it easier on yourself and do what she says. The archivist scurries off to get their boxes, and once they’re in the private reading room, Lucy says, “You must know these people pretty well.”

“I’ve worked my way up.” Emma evidently catches the implicit question in this. “You don’t entirely trust me, do you?”

“It seems a little convenient,” Lucy admits. “That you’ve turned up now.”

“Any more than you agreeing to come out here with him?” Emma turns an amused eye on Flynn, who is once more impersonating a piece of classical statuary. “We all have our reasons for wanting Rittenhouse taken down, don’t we? Trust me, if I was still working for them, I wouldn’t have let you get within sniffing distance of this place. There’s stuff here that even some of the long-term members haven’t seen. Tell me, Lucy, have you ever heard of Nicholas Keynes?”

“No.” Lucy’s startled. “Should I have?”

“You tell me.” Emma arches an eyebrow. “Anyway, he was killed in 1918 – World War I, Saint-Mihiel, France. It was a huge loss for Rittenhouse, apparently. He was some kind of mastermind for them, wrote reams and reams about how to reform the world and redesign humanity in a new image. The kind of eugenics soft-fascism screed that was really popular for everyone until Hitler came along and ruined it. Some of his stuff might be here.”

That sends a cold chill down Lucy’s spine, though she’s not even sure why. She glances at Flynn again. He hasn’t been rushing to bust out his “time travel!!!” theory in front of Emma, so either he realizes it’s cracked, or he doesn’t want Emma to likewise decide he’s too crazy to help. Not that that really seems to constrain Flynn otherwise, given what he’s been busting out on Lucy on a regular basis, but still.

After a few more minutes, the archivist returns with several boxes, which prove to contain some of David Rittenhouse’s original papers. Lucy can’t help a historian’s frisson of delight – she loves old books and obscure archives and handling the documents that people so many centuries before you (or three, in this case) touched, knowing that they survived this long and you’re looking at what they made with their own hands. She thanks the archivist, who sees himself out with half a bow, then shuts the door, and she, Flynn, and Emma start to dig.

Of the three of them, Lucy is by far the most experienced at reading elaborate eighteenth-century handwriting; both Flynn and Emma are quickly looking a little cross-eyed. It’s undoubtedly interesting, if not as immediately enlightening as they were hoping. A lot of Rittenhouse’s scientific and astronomical notes, and sketched models for his orrery, or model of the universe, that’s still in Penn’s collections. A copy of his lecture to the American Philosophical Society in February 1775, which so impressed the founding fathers that they ordered it distributed at the Constitutional Convention. Some correspondence between Rittenhouse and famous and non-famous parties – Lucy catches her breath when she sees one from Thomas Jefferson, even though Jefferson was definitely a jerk. But nothing referencing an Illuminati-esque secret society bent on taking over the world, and she starts to wonder if ol’ Dave Rittenhouse actually had anything to do with it. Maybe it really was a bunch of creepy ideologues borrowing his name and some of his ideas about time and fate.

An hour or so passes, as Lucy keeps diligently searching. Flynn is working on a stack of newspapers, and Emma is turning through a folder labeled J. Rittenhouse, which seems to be David’s son – that’s weird, Lucy didn’t recall him having one, though she doesn’t keep a close track on that kind of thing. Finally, when she’s pretty sure that she’s had at least a preliminary look through everything, she straightens up. “I’m not sure this is it.”

“These are only a few boxes,” Emma says. “The full collection is much bigger. We could keep looking.”

“There has to be something.” Flynn throws down the newspapers rather harder than one should for a lot of delicate historical documents. “This is taking too long!”

Lucy bites her cheek, wanting to point out that if Flynn thinks one morning of trawling through archives without finding what you want is too much, he is definitely not cut out to be a historian. Still, either they can try to read more of this, or they can try… well, something else. She looks back at Emma. “Did Rittenhouse purge these documents? Probably, right? They wouldn’t have kept anything around where some random researcher could find it, even if the odds were low. Is there some other archive?”

“Look,” Emma says. “I am telling you everything I know. I can ask if there are other boxes that the archivist is keeping back, or – ”

“No.” Flynn stands up, knocking the desk. “This isn’t working. We need to try something else. What you said earlier – Keynes, Nicholas Keynes. Where’s the material on him?”

“I’m not sure,” Emma replies. “I only said I thought it might be here, I don’t know if it is. But we need to be careful. I can open a lot of doors, but not all of them. If Rittenhouse gets wind that I’m poking around in the dark underbelly of things, they could get tipped off, and – ”

“Are you going to be useful or not?”

Emma blinks. “Excuse me? I’m the one who came here and tried to – ”

“Yes, well, I didn’t ask Wyatt Logan to give out my whereabouts like I’m some sort of rest home for stray Rittenhouse runaways! So how about you come up with an idea, or – ”

“Wow,” Emma says bitingly. “So I’m only worth having around if I’m immediately useful, not because I’m on the run from an incredibly evil organization that will take both of us down the instant they get the first chance, and I’m already doing everything I can to help you. Good to know. Real winner you’ve got here, Lucy.”

It is on the tip of Lucy’s tongue to inform the other woman that they are not together, that Flynn has been doing everything short of lighting himself on fire to forestall the possibility, but that is also not Emma’s business either way. Instead she says, “Squabbling about this is not going to help. Emma, is there any way for you to see if they have the Keynes stuff without setting off too many alarm bells? Maybe have them bring up another Rittenhouse box, just to be thorough, but it’s probably already been censored.”

Emma considers, then tips a shoulder. “Fine. I’ll go back down and ask. But if something does go sideways, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

With that, she strides to the reading room door and lets herself out, shutting it with not-quite-a-bang behind her. That leaves Lucy and Flynn alone together for the first time since she ended it (the professional relationship, if you can call it that) this morning. Did that, and yet look, here they are, back together. As if they can’t escape each other’s gravitational pull no matter how hard they try, as if there is some invisible tether yanking them back together. It’s not clear if either of them appreciate it, or if this “somehow destined toward each other” thing is a hell of a lot more trouble than it’s worth. Lucy could do with being able to walk away from him, just once. See how it goes. Not that the three-odd weeks in which they were apart after the shooting were that great, in the least. But still.

Neither of them seem keen to break the silence, staring fixedly at the far wall. Finally Flynn says, “If she can find the papers on Keynes, then what? Can we just – ”

Lucy holds up a hand. She doesn’t know that she’s surprised that he’s still barreling full speed ahead to what looks like a truly spectacular fiery crash, but she can’t in good faith stand by and let it happen. “Can we back up from that for a minute? For several minutes? This morning, remember, when you came out with the ridiculous time travel thing? Emma works at Mason Industries. You can just ask her. I’m not saying it’s not something that a cutting-edge spec-tech company might try, but. . . Garcia. Please.”

Flynn looks at her for a long moment. There are clearly any number of things he could say to that. Because he’s Flynn, apparently, he selects the least helpful. “So what? This is only possible if it happens with things you know about? Haven’t we established that you don’t? You don’t know, Lucy. So why pretend you do?”

Lucy’s cheeks flame. “That’s what you’re going with? I try to help, I try to take you seriously when you sound more like a paranoid ranting lunatic all the time, and instead of acknowledging this or giving me any solid reason to believe you, you’ll just keep acting like a total – ”

“How is this my fault now? Emma’s here, she’s told you that Rittenhouse are exactly as bad as we thought or worse, so what do you need – an itemized receipt? Or do you never actually intend to believe that I could possibly – ”

“It’s not that I don’t believe Rittenhouse is bad, it’s that I don’t believe – for obvious reasons, I might add – that time travel has anything to do with it, or that you should be working this again when you already almost got killed, or that you’re going to just – you know what. I don’t care. I don’t care. Suit yourself.”

Flynn’s eyes glitter. He does that thing with his tongue that he – well, that he really just should not be allowed to do, especially right now. Echoing her own words deliberately back at her, he says, “That’s what you’re going with?”

Lucy’s flush deepens. “What do you mean?”

“I think you know what I mean.” Flynn shrugs. “Considering the looks you’ve been giving me. Or are we also pretending those don’t exist?”

For a moment, for two, for several, Lucy is totally speechless. She isn’t sure what she’s more furious about – that he’s taken note of her thinly disguised jealousy and is using it against her, or that she’s almost pleased he did. Not that he’s being a dick, but that is just Flynn’s everyday, ordinary operation. Nothing out of the ordinary, and yet. She has had it up to here, and she takes a step, then another, advancing on him like a big-game hunter. “If by that little crack, you mean that it’s bothered me that you’ve gone to all this trouble to get me to help you, then start acting as if I don’t exist or you can’t say a sensible word to me, then – then yes! Just tell me, just tell me, why you’re so convinced that we’re some sort of – ”

“I’m trying to explain!” Flynn shouts back at her. “I’m trying to explain, but it’s insane, it’s insane, and if you’re just going to act like a – ”

“Act like a what, exactly – or am I somehow the only one in denial about what’s – ”

They’re almost nose to nose despite the height difference, Lucy almost on her tiptoes, head craned back in order to look him in the eye, even as her utterly unhelpful Nice Girl brain chimes in yet again to remind her that she should not be shouting in a library, even one where they are currently alone in the room. Honestly, she wants to reach out with both hands and shove Flynn in the chest, not that she’s likely to dislodge him at all, but it might be worth it to see him off guard, even for a split second. But if she does that, she’s not altogether sure what would happen next. There is too much bottled up between them, and this is as far from the place or time as could be imagined. Yet her exasperation has run well over, and she needs to do something more than just shout at him, needs to –

Lucy pushes at him, and Flynn catches her, his large hand almost swamping her slender wrist. It’s clear that he’s not going to get without giving just as good, but it feels like fire shooting down her entire body, rooting her feet to the floor. She wriggles like a fish on a hook, almost whimpers  – she’s practically in his arms and his free hand comes up to cup her face and the look on his own – it’s not about goading her, it’s not about scoring points off her jealousy or whatever the hell this nuclear disaster of a human being thought he was doing earlier. He looks as if he’s caught lightning in his bare hands, as if that is why the world turns on its axis and how the stars align, as if he can’t believe he is actually touching her, and nothing about this man makes sense, and yet –

Lucy grabs at his head, hauling his obnoxious skyscraper ass closer to hers, completely out of patience or desire to pretend that she doesn’t want to find out, at least once, what they were about to have on that first night, before everything got knocked off track and arguably has never gotten back on. One of his arms is around her and the other still has hold of her wrist and he lifts her and her mouth is opening, raw and hungry, and –

There is a click at the door as it opens, a marked silence, and a very pointed cough and throat-clearing. “So. . . I should just come back later, then?”

Lucy and Flynn are too entangled to let go of each other immediately, but they try, managing to spring apart after only a belated instant of sorting out whose limbs belong to who. Emma is standing there with a box in her arms and both eyebrows arched as high as they will go, as if it’s a good thing she walked in here if Van Pelt Library did not want its nice old tables banged upon like rabbits. (Not that they would have, but – Lucy’s legs feel weak and she doesn’t dare look at Flynn and her heart is hammering in her ears.) Emma continues to regard them archly as they weakly shuffle several more paces apart, then says, “Well, I don’t know if this is useful or not, but it’s what they had. Should we take a look, or is there something else you’d rather be doing?”

“No,” Lucy blurts out. “We’re fine. We’re ready.”

Emma carts the box over to the table, pulls it open, and they start to dig. It’s old journals and thin sheets of onionskin-fine paper, covered in the same strong, slanting black handwriting. There’s a black-and-white photo of a young man, presumably Nicholas Keynes, in a World War I uniform, holding a blonde baby girl who looks briefly, glancingly familiar, though Lucy has no idea why. It’s poignant to think that he never made it home, went off to die on the killing fields of France like so many other young men. Is that his daughter? Did she grow up wondering what happened to him, or did she always know?

“Lucy?” Flynn says. “Lucy!”

“Sorry.” She jumps. “I’m awake. I – just.” She can’t believe she’s the one asking this, but before she follows either of them any further down this rabbit hole, and since Flynn clearly isn’t going to bring it up, she is going to have to be the one to bite the bullet. Hopefully not literally. “Emma, is Mason Industries working on. . . is there anything you know of about them trying to invent. . . a time machine?”

She cringes even as it’s coming out of her mouth, ready to be laughed out of the reading room, but Emma doesn’t react as if it’s a joke. Indeed, her eyes and mouth both go narrow, she looks as if she definitely did not see that coming but not for the reasons you’d think, and cocks her head to one side. Then she says, “Who told you that?”

“I did,” Flynn bulls in, completely blowing to hell any idea Lucy had about protecting him by not bringing him up (she doesn’t know why, but she’s done it consistently for a while now, and it’s just habit, ill-advised or not). “Well?”

Emma laughs, but with somewhat less humor than previously. “Aren’t you two a pair of eager beavers. Very well, yes. Connor Mason has been working on the prototype for at least the last five years. Probably longer, I don’t know. He used to just be able to send quarks and other sub-atomic particles, but he graduated to vertebrates, then to midsize mammals, and he’s finally gotten to the place where he’s ready to try human subjects. I told you that I did advanced software testing, Lucy. Remember?”

That rocks Lucy almost physically onto her heels. It’s one thing to have Flynn running off at the mouth about a time machine, but to then hear it from someone else – someone who seems, to all appearances, sane, well-adjusted, professional, and with no apparent reason to lie about it – is altogether something else. “I – I’m sorry,” she manages. “You do – is that what you do? Test runs in a time machine? Isn’t that – isn’t that dangerous?”

“Of course it’s dangerous.” Emma seems slightly surprised that she has to ask. “We’ve lost half a dozen people already. Others returned with mental problems, seizures, missing limbs – it’s a regular Dr. Frankenstein’s nightmare lab in there, sometimes. I’m one of the lucky ones, I’m good at my job. It’s something, let me tell you.”

“You’re. . .” Lucy feels choked, faint, reaches out reflexively for Flynn’s arm. “You’re telling me that you’ve traveled through time?”

“Only briefly. I haven’t been allowed out of the Mothership. Just jump back, hold it – I think the longest I’ve managed is two minutes – and then return to the present. One of these days, though, one of us is going to open the door and step out. Probably Anthony, it’s his brainchild as much as Connor’s.” Emma looks somewhat gratified at the effect that this is having on both of them – even Flynn seems floored, much as he’s trying to play it cool. “Actually visit the past. A historian like you, Lucy, you can’t tell me you’re not interested.”

Lucy keeps opening and shutting her mouth, making noises like a stepped-on bladder. Finally she succeeds in, “Why? How can this – surely this can’t be legal?”

“What do you mean?” Emma clearly doesn’t understand. “Was it illegal for us to try to get to the moon, into space? Astronauts died, plenty of them, but the ultimate goal, the success, was worth it. Humans always want to go places they’ve never been before. If they die on the adventure, well, that happens. That’s not illegal.”

Lucy supposes she’s right, but this isn’t like kayaking down the Amazon or trying to climb Mount Everest or whatever else. History is her field of study, her specialty, her love – but it’s in the past, it’s comfortingly solid (at least in one sense), and it’s the reason you don’t wake up some morning and find that all of known reality has shifted out from under you. Things happened one way, not another, and that is just how the cookie crumbles. It might be arbitrary, it might be irrational, it might be – as Flynn said in their argument back in her apartment – scared animals making stupid choices, but they’re still done, solidified, over with. The possibility of messing with that is very, very dangerous.

“Why does anyone need a time machine?” Lucy says at last. “What would they possibly do with it? Rittenhouse – is Rittenhouse planning on. . .?” A creepy cult is one thing. A creepy cult with the chance to control all time and space is. . . not even nightmarish seems to fit. Jesus. Flynn is right. He’s right, he’s not crazy (or at least if he believes this, it’s because someone even crazier has claimed it first). He’s not actively or maliciously misleading her, he’s. . . as insane as this is, and putting aside the entire question of whether it is actually the case, he’s trying to tell her the truth as he sees it. He isn’t lying about this, or at least not consciously. And Lucy has no idea what to do with that.

“I don’t know what they want with it,” Emma says. “That’s Connor’s department, not mine. I just run the tests they tell me.”

“And what?” Flynn growls. “You’ve never told Rittenhouse that your other employer just happened to invent a time machine? When this would be the exact sort of thing they’d kill their own grandmothers to get a hold of?”

“They might know something about it.” Emma’s fingers tap on the edge of the Nicholas Keynes box. “Not from me, though. Connor has all sorts of cozy ties with them, they’ve funded his work for years. Very generously.”

Flynn’s nostrils flare. He turns sharply on his heel and stalks the length of the reading room, then back, like a zoo tiger in a too-small cage. “Brilliant,” he spits at last. “So it’s true. Rittenhouse are about to have a time machine of their very own, and that imbecile Mason is in it up to the hilt. How far is it from completion?”

“It’s in the testing phase, like I said.” Emma eyes him carefully, as if to judge the likelihood that he will burst out of here and go full Incredible Hulk. “It’s nowhere near out of beta. I’ve come back from my test jumps because I’m good. Not everyone does. It has to be at least a few years away from full functionality, we still have to invent half the technology we need to complete it properly. It’s incredibly complicated theoretical physics and mechanical engineering, you can’t just put out an ad on Craigslist for the kind of people you need to work on it. But if we can disrupt Rittenhouse beforehand, it doesn’t matter.”

Flynn stares back at her. His gaze flicks between the box on the table, to Lucy, then back to Emma, as if he’s trying to work something out – what exactly, Lucy can’t be sure, but given his track record, not likely to be anything good. Finally, he whirls on his heel and starts toward the door, without a glance back at the Nicholas Keynes papers he was so adamant that they fetch, and Lucy runs after him. “Flynn. Flynn! Where are you –?”

“We’re wasting time in here,” Flynn snaps. “We’re done.”

“I just went to get these damn things,” Emma says. “Now you’re doing a bunk on me without even looking at them?”

“What other homework do we need to do? I think we’ve heard plenty about who these people are and what they want! You’re the one who’s good at this, if that’s what you want to do. Me, well, I have something else.”

“Don’t do anything stupid.” This might be a fool’s errand, but Lucy doesn’t care. She takes a few more steps after him, reaching for his arm, turning him toward her. “Garcia, don’t – ”

He looks at her as if he never wants to stop, as if he is memorizing her. His brow is drawn and dark, his lips thin, his eyes shadowed. It’s as if he has suddenly felt the weight of whatever he has decided on, and is struggling to understand if it is worth bearing. Then, almost gently, he pulls his arm out of her grasp. “Goodbye, Lucy.”

This is an extremely dramatic and frankly, incredibly extra thing to say, especially since Lucy wasn’t even aware that this was a farewell until he did. She stares at him, words caught in her throat, and just then, hears footsteps behind her. Emma’s voice says in her ear, “How about everyone just calm down.”

Lucy would like to point out that she’s calm, she’s very calm – well, she’s not, her mind is racing, she doesn’t quite understand what Flynn was about to do, but she’s not coming unglued. Then she feels the slight prick of something at the side of her neck, which she doesn’t understand, and starts to turn. “Emma, what are you – ”

“Everyone calm down,” Emma repeats. Her hand catches Lucy’s wrist, lithe and strong. Lucy can feel another prick under her right ear, sees a brief glint of metal in the ceiling light and – she can’t look to be sure, but she has the sudden and overwhelming impression that Emma is holding a box cutter to her jugular vein. She can, however, see Flynn’s face, and it’s gone white and frozen. What is – what is –

“Easy,” Emma says. “One thing at a time. You. Flynn. You have a gun on you?”

Flynn’s head jerks up once, then down.

“Thought so. Now, take it out of your jacket and slide it over here with your foot. Very carefully. No sudden moves.”

“Emma,” Lucy manages, feeling the razor-sharp edge of the blade rasp against her skin. This has all turned on its head too fast to be believed. “Emma, what are you – ”

“Sorry, princess,” Emma says. “But I can’t let your boyfriend do what I’m pretty sure he was just about to do. I thought we were getting along. I was really helping you out, you know. Not my fault you decided to be difficult.”

“You’re not here to turn on Rittenhouse,” Flynn says, voice a rasp. “Are you.”

“We’ll leave it up to debate what I’m doing, and for who.” Emma’s tone remains light, offhand. “Not something we need to get into right now. Anyway, as I was saying. Your gun?”

Flynn’s eyes burn holes through both of them. Emma makes a pointed little jab with the tip of the box cutter, and Lucy can feel a bead of blood roll down her neck. Flynn looks like the entire world has gone out from under him, as he slowly undoes his jacket, reaches in, and removes the gun, setting it on the floor and sliding it over. Emma puts her foot on it, never taking her eyes off him, as she can clearly sense that he is waiting for a split-second of distracted attention to try to charge her. She pulls Lucy down with her, using her as a shield, to pick up the gun and stow it in her own jacket, then straightens up. Transfers the box cutter deftly into her other hand and takes hold of Lucy’s as if they are in fact just gal pals, pressing the blade against the inside of her wrist. If Lucy tries to pull away too fast, or otherwise tries something funny, she will open the vein there, and bleed out within a few minutes.

“Well,” Emma says pleasantly. “Let’s take a ride.”

Chapter Text

In any other circumstances, the fact that Garcia Flynn is presently crushed in the backseat of a vehicle that can only generously be described as “economy size” would be the worst thing about this situation. His knees are practically rammed through his chin, he may develop a permanent crick in his back from hunching, and he suspects, from catching her smirks at him in the rearview mirror, that Emma goddamn Whitmore is thoroughly enjoying watching him suffer. Except, of course, that this isn’t the worst thing about the situation. Emma is in the driver’s seat, left hand on the wheel and right hand cuffed to Lucy’s – she doesn’t have the box cutter blade at her wrist any more, but Flynn can’t try to dive forward and grab the wheel (assuming he could even get up enough leverage to move) without hitting Lucy, and then obviously endangering her in any resulting crash. If it was just him, he might take his chances, but her –

He blinks hard until the memory that has just flashed through his brain goes away, and tries to focus on the task at hand. He doesn’t know where Emma is taking them, or who they might be meeting. He’s still trying to figure out how this just went so terribly, horribly, no-good-very-badly wrong. Should have guessed that Wyatt Logan sending them a too-good-to-be-true willing Rittenhouse defector was some kind of trick – and frankly, Flynn wondered, but ignored it. Getting the files was more important. And now the files turned out to be a fat lot of nothing, and he has no idea what the situation is, much less how to get them out of it. All his training is screaming at him that this is what you avoid, you have no control, and you especially don’t want to get mixed up in it with a non-combatant. Wonderful.

Lucy sits stiffly in the passenger seat, staring straight ahead, as Emma pulls out. They seem to be heading for the interstate – 95, if Flynn had to guess. They drive in silence for several minutes. Too much to ask that she at least put the fucking radio on. Then Lucy says, with admirable composure considering that this is the second time in less than six weeks that she’s been snatched by Rittenhouse, “So where are we going?”

“Just to sort some things out.” Emma accelerates up the merge ramp – yes, 95 northbound, they’re headed somewhere in New England. Flynn’s mind reels feverishly through potential Rittenhouse possibilities or important sites in the area. He isn’t entirely sure that Emma is working for them, as her statement in the library left just enough ambiguity that she could be in this for herself, or Mason Industries, or even as a double or triple agent, but it has to be deemed the most likely. “You’re in no danger, princess, as long as you cooperate.”

“Stop calling me that,” Lucy says through her teeth. Flynn could have warned her that this was a mistake; never show your enemy that they’re getting to you. “And yeah, the threatening me with a box cutter part made me feel really safe.”

“That was just to get his attention.” Emma throws an amused look over her shoulder at the fuming Flynn. “He doesn’t really do subtle. I had to prevent him from doing something stupid. Stupider, that is. It was the most direct.”

“So what was that beforehand?” Flynn barks, not that he has any expectation of a proper answer. “Show up playing the wounded fawn, run away from your evil overlords, want to go to London – that was all a lie?”

“Oh no. I want to go to London. It’s important to get our overseas operation established, just like I said. That was entirely true.”

“Overseas operation meaning Mason Industries or Rittenhouse?”

Emma gives him a demure, nasty little smirk, enjoying even more the fact that she isn’t going to tell him. Flynn curses viciously under his breath. He’s gotten himself into a lot of dicey situations, admittedly, but this ranks up there. He makes a mental note to throttle Wyatt when he sees him again – it won’t fix anything, but it will make him feel better. Assuming he does see him again. It has not escaped Flynn’s attention that Emma has promised Lucy’s safety in exchange for her cooperation, but said nothing about him. Well, he’s been a major pain in Rittenhouse’s ass for several months now, and if he had gotten a proper chance, would in fact have rushed back to the Bay Area with the intention of destroying this purported time machine, no matter what. Great way to make friends with a multi-billionaire tech mogul and all his likewise important buddies, but Flynn has never cared about making friends.

There is silence for another few minutes as they drive. Emma cuts someone off, they honk, and she raises her middle finger without looking back, in a gesture of such utterly unconcerned fuck-you that Flynn almost (almost) can’t help but admire it, considering that is how he operates most of the time. Then Lucy says, “So the turning up and promising to help us research Rittenhouse – that was strategic, wasn’t it? Get a few boxes of unimportant papers, make it look like you were really helping, find out how much we knew, and not actually give anything away. But why bring in the Nicholas Keynes stuff?”

“You might have really learned something, if you looked at those,” Emma remarks lightly. “They were mostly for your benefit, Lucy. But your boyfriend blew it.”

“He’s – not my boyfriend.”

“Oh? So when I walked in and you were about to run into each other with your faces, you just tripped and ended up that way, did you?”

Flynn can make out the flush in Lucy’s cheeks, even without her turning around. He looks down, just because whatever is on his own face, he thinks it’s better if neither of them see it. He clenches his fists, trying to forget the sensation of touching her, after diligently avoiding it for several days, since – well. And then since all his self-control went out the damn window when he did, perhaps it’s for the best, in a sick way, that Emma interrupted them. Definitely not the opportune moment, but when it comes to this, when could it possibly be?

Some interminable time passes in silence. There is obviously not a lot to gab about on a road trip with your mortal enemy, after all. They seem to be heading for New York – there have to be half a dozen Rittenhouse installations there, don’t tell Flynn that Donald Trump isn’t up to his ears in it – but Emma bypasses the city, continuing up 287. Apparently they are headed upstate, though how far isn’t clear. They can’t really do anything (or rather, Flynn can’t do anything) until they arrive, though he refuses to give Emma the satisfaction of asking if they are there yet. (It might annoy her, at least, but still.) Finally they take the freeway exit for West Point, and Flynn’s hackles go up. Are they visiting the academy? What the hell is going on there – target practice, using him? Nothing can be ruled out.

Flynn is almost inclined to be relieved when they do not drive through the gates of a heavily secured military facility, but rather down a bumpy dirt road to a stately old house at the end. It looks like a colonial museum, handsomely restored, but the two black cars parked out front makes it clear that they’re not expecting hordes of Nikon-wearing tourists and their sticky-fingered offspring to descend. This is… not necessarily an improvement. If they disappear out here, nobody is likely to be any the wiser.

Emma parks the car and opens the driver door, swinging out. Since her right wrist is still cuffed to Lucy’s left, Lucy obviously cannot get out the passenger door, but is dragged awkwardly after her, banging her shoulder into the gearshift and getting her shoulder wrenched over her head in a way that looks painful. Flynn reminds himself that he needs to be careful, but his blood is boiling and he is sick of being careful. He’s already broken the cardinal rule, has let his enemy transport them from the scene of the crime – even basic police advice tells you that if your assailant takes you somewhere else after they nab you, they’re planning to rape and/or kill you. This is deep on their ground, and Emma has his gun. He is going to have to get that back posthaste.

Flynn yanks the door open and bursts out of the car, wrathful as only a six-foot-four man who has been packed in an orange crate to be kidnapped possibly can be. Emma jerks Lucy pointedly in front of her. “Watch it with the sudden moves.”

The whites of Lucy’s eyes are showing, but she’s calm. Coldly she says, “What was that about how I was in no danger as long as I cooperated?”

“Are you cooperating?” Emma asks – fairly enough, Flynn supposes, but he still hates this woman with every inch of him. “I’m not sure.”

“Yes, well, you people don’t really make it easy to like you, do you?” Lucy explodes. “At least Cahill tried the sweet-talking approach, get me a dream job, see the world, all the stuff that an ordinary human might like! This, now – ” she rattles the handcuff – “just went straight for the ropes and chains, didn’t you?”

“Look.” Emma seems impatient. “Just tell him not to make any trouble, and this can be a lot easier for everyone. Like I said, it’s really him we want. You just happened to get in the way. I can’t release you just yet, because you would run off and call someone and make it messy, but stop fighting me. You might not believe it, but this is the gloves on. I have orders to treat you gently. But out here – ” she waves at the house – “who knows if I do?”

A chill goes down Flynn’s spine. He’s met a lot of people in a lot of wars, some of whom like killing and some who do it because it’s their job, and he is belatedly realizing that yes, that wounded-fawn act, even if it didn’t entirely take him in, has blinded him to Emma Whitmore’s full danger. Not because she’s a woman; it has nothing to do with that. Just that she straight-up wants power (he thinks that’s Rittenhouse’s lure on her, at any rate), wants control, wants pain, and she has been given plenty of enjoyable opportunities to explore her talents. He doesn’t know what she has in there. He has to get Lucy out of this.

“Fine,” Flynn says in a growl. “I’ll play nice, for the time being.” The tone of his voice leaves it clear that if Emma takes her eyes off him for an instant, she’s dead, but she probably expected that. “Now let’s get this over with, huh?”

Emma smirks primly, then turns and starts toward the door, Lucy perforce accompanying her. She enters a code in a secret keypad, too many digits for Flynn to follow, and the door swings open, leading them into a dim, dusty front hall. An elegant chandelier tumbles crystal droplets from the ceiling, a grand staircase leads off into the gloom, and by the reverent look on Emma’s face, they might be walking into some old cathedral, some hallowed hall of power. Flynn doesn’t know what this is, but when Emma opens a glassed French door and they step into a study crammed to the brim with clocks, his stomach begins to turn. Clocks of every description, large and small, ancient mahogany grandfather clocks, cuckoo clocks, handsome brass navigation instruments, ornate gilded ones that look as if they’ve been ripped from a fin-de-siècle train station, fancy golden pocket watches in various stages of assembly and repair… a mad clockmaker’s lair. And the thing David Rittenhouse was known for, aside from astronomy, was –

“Yes.” Emma seems to have been following the process of realization on his face. “This is Rittenhouse’s house. You don’t realize how lucky you are, you both are, getting to see a special place like this. Ah, Millerson, Vincent. About time, boys.”

Flynn glances up to see two men, clearly the owners of the cars outside, entering the study from the other side. They both are wearing suits and have sidearms strapped to their torsos, as well as any other possible number of hidden weaponry, and they are not here to appreciate the historical value of the place. (Well, maybe, but still.) These are clearly Emma’s Rittenhouse cohorts, the muscle of the goon squad, and they come to a halt, looking at her for orders. It’s clear that she isn’t just some random piece in the system, but one of its essential and high-ranking cogs. Of course, they’d want their agent in Mason Industries, right next to the time machine, to be one of their best and brightest. Flynn feels sick.

“Got him,” Emma says briefly, jerking her head at Flynn. “It wasn’t even that hard. Like I said, don’t send a man to do a woman’s job. Boys, you take him upstairs to debrief him. We need a full and complete account of everything he knows, everyone he might have passed intel to, all his sources of information, how long he’s been on the case – everywhere. We need to make sure we have it airtight, any more leaks cut off. I know about Logan, we’ll be dealing with him, but anything else – remember you need him to talk.”

“Good luck with that,” Flynn snarls. “I’m not going to.”

Emma eyes him again, then rattles her handcuffed wrist, making Lucy’s arm shake. “Are you?”

That takes him like a punch in the gut. They can beat up on him all they want, but if they go after Lucy – and these people are exactly the kind who would do that – he doesn’t know if Emma is bluffing, if Lucy’s pureblood status (and where has he heard that before?) is enough to protect her. Lucy has rejected Rittenhouse, after all, and made things plenty difficult on her own. But if – but if –

For the moment while Flynn’s defenses are down, Millerson and Vincent swoop in on either side, grabbing hold of his arms and twisting them behind his back. They march him away – they’re good-sized gents, but it’s still taking considerable effort from them both – and up toward the stairs. He doesn’t know whether to fight. He thinks he hears Lucy yell, but then the door slams behind him, and he is in darkness.

 Once the women are alone in the creepy clockmaker parlor from nightmare land, Emma undoes the cuff from her own wrist, fastens it to the old sofa instead, and obliges Lucy to sit down with a short push. “Can I get you something to drink?”

“Be real,” Lucy snaps. “Like I’m drinking anything you’d give me.”

“What, princess? Think I’d give you a poisoned apple?”

“I don’t know, wicked stepsister. You might.”

“Wicked stepsister?” Emma laughs. “That’s the best you can come up with? It’s almost kind of adorable. As I said, you’re still safe, for now. But it might be a long wait.”

Lucy doesn’t answer, because she is straining with every inch of her to hear any sound from beyond the door, or from upstairs. Flynn was shot barely a month ago, she saw the wounds herself, they’re not totally healed. If they start hitting him in his bad shoulder, or pulling out the waterboard or the pliers or whatever other terrible idea they have – Rittenhouse’s idea of debriefing him is clearly not going to be a pleasant and gentle experience. This must be a major Rittenhouse black site. If she ever did get back to a godforsaken normal life, could she call someone and tell them to check David Rittenhouse’s mansion in West Point – Lucy never knew he lived in New York, what was he doing here? Or would they get here and find nothing but a handsome old historical house, all illicit tracks expertly covered, or a Rittenhouse agent waiting to shoot them and hide the corpse in the root cellar? It might be a regular Cask of Amontillado situation down there. Her heart is hammering in her ears. Oh God, oh God, this is bad. She has not the first idea of how to fight her way out of this.

“So,” Emma says at last. “You and Flynn, huh? Garcia Flynn. I suppose he’s cute in a tall-dark-and-psycho Eastern European way, but really, what else does he have going for him?”

Lucy cannot believe that Emma really thinks they will sit here and girlfriend-gossip about boys (she probably doesn’t, she’s just trying to get under Lucy’s skin) and thus maintains a dignified silence. It’s broken by a distinct thump from overhead, and Emma’s eyes swing up toward the ceiling. In that, despite the fact that she very much is still handcuffed to an antique piece of furniture, has only that Krav Maga class going for her, and is terrified out of her wits, Lucy Preston lurches (it is not nearly anything as graceful as leaps) into action.

She jumps up, wrenching her wrist in the cuff, but manages to headbutt Emma solidly under the chin, hard enough to make her teeth click. Lucy shoves a hand into Emma’s jacket and her groping fingers find the butt of Flynn’s gun, which she hauls out, trying to find the safety and switch it off. She somehow manages it, clicks the trigger to cock it, points it at the chain, and shoots.

The sound of the gunshot at close range is deafening, making her madly flash back to seeing Flynn shot in front of her in the car, and it’s like using a flamethrower to kill an ant, but it does the job. Lucy pulls her freed wrist out of the blown-apart couch, feathers floating everywhere, just in time to hear another heavy clunk, and freeze. Emma has recovered herself enough to grab a spare gun from a nearby drawer, which she is pointing dead at Lucy’s head with hands far steadier and more accurate than Lucy’s own. “I wouldn’t do that. Princess.”

The tension crackles almost unbearably as they stare at each other, as Lucy struggles with the idea of pointing it at Emma, at some vital part of her, and actually doing it. Not that there is any guarantee she’d make it, since it would be the grand total of a second time she has fired a gun and beginner’s luck is nothing to count on in this situation, but still. She feels nauseous even trying to train it on Emma’s arm or shoulder, much less her head or heart. She is not Annie Oakley, cannot shoot the gun deftly out of Emma’s grip without hurting her. And frankly – Emma has hurt them, has her thugs upstairs probably beating holy hell out of Flynn, works for an incredibly evil organization and enjoys it remorselessly – does she deserve to be treated nicely? Does she deserve to die?

Lucy can’t breathe, can’t focus, feels like she’s having a panic attack, which is obviously not conducive to firing a gun in any circumstance, much less this one. Her hands rattle hard enough to make the muzzle wobble crazily in all directions. Emma clearly doesn’t think she can or will do it, but she’s not an amateur; she’s not going to laugh off someone with motive to want her dead pointing a heavy Glock at her. Her eyes don’t leave Lucy, waiting to see what she’s going to do, what she’ll possibly –

And just then, there’s a sound at the door, it opens. One of the goons has clearly heard the gunshot and rushed down here. “Emma?” It’s Millerson. “Emma, are you – ”

“Ryan, you idiot, don’t – ”

Lucy swings around, brings the gun up, and fires in the direction of the door. There is a yell and a heavy stumbling sound, and she ducks low and sprints across the parlor. There’s another door on the far side, she doesn’t know if it leads upstairs as well – Emma is shouting, swearing – Lucy hit Millerson somewhere, he doesn’t sound like he’s dead, but she shot him, put the gun against his head pulled the trigger now he’s – no, she didn’t, he’s not, not Bohemian Rhapsody, not now, this is stupid, this is demented, this is –

There’s a staircase on the far side, which Lucy hurtles up, not sure what she’s going to find at the top and not sure she wants to, but driven on with blind panic. Halfway up, she runs very hard into someone coming down, screams (or tries – it gets choked in her throat as a gurgling squeal) and raises the gun again, just as they grab it. “Lucy! Jesus!”

She almost faints again, for a different reason. It’s Flynn, blood running down his face and shirt torn, as he wrenches what is, after all, his own gun out of her hand. This is probably a wise idea, as he can be much more effective with it, and by the looks of things, he caught Vincent in a moment of distraction after Millerson had hurried downstairs to check the gunshot. Vincent is probably soundly unconscious on the floor, if Flynn didn’t have time to do anything else, Lucy hopes he’s dead, with a savage, burning need that scares her. She hopes he's fucking dead.

There is a lot of banging and crashing behind them, and Flynn grabs Lucy’s hand, half-throws her over his shoulder (they seem to spend a lot of time escaping from Rittenhouse-owned properties in this fashion) and runs down the back corridor. They reach a door, which he wrenches open, and they spill out abruptly into the muggy spring afternoon beyond, into the thick tangles of untrimmed greenery that abut the back of the house. They bash and barge through it, branches lashing at Lucy’s face as Flynn does his best to break a path, feet slipping out from beneath them in six inches of mud. Nonetheless, they keep running, sliding down gravel and splashing through a murky green rivulet, through more trees on the far side, and finally out into an abandoned play park, which is exactly as creepy as it sounds, but looks like a warm and sunny daycare after the Rittenhouse of Rittenhorrors. Graffiti defaces the slide, the swings hang off their chains, and by the looks of things, local teenagers or junkies come here at night to get high. Lucy sways, grips hold of the monkey bar post, and goes to her knees, hoping not to stab herself on a stray heroin needle. Then she is very sick.

Flynn is likewise breathing as if they have been chased by a train, but he crouches next to her, almost but not quite putting a hand on her back, as if she is still a piece of dangerous ordnance that will explode if approached unwisely. “Lucy,” he says hoarsely. “Lucy?”

Lucy can’t answer, because she’s still throwing up, but finally spits and shudders, remaining on her knees, hair hanging loose in her face. She can feel herself shaking, a fine and constant tremor, and doesn’t know how to make herself stop. Her wrist is still in the cuff, the broken chain dangling. She feels half as if she is watching this remotely from above. Shock, she thinks. This is called shock. It’s entirely understandable, but you should have a blanket and somewhere to put your feet up. Probably also liquids and deep breathing.

All of those things seem as far away as Mars at the moment, and she retches once more, but doesn’t bring up anything except a dribble of sour bile. She wipes her mouth on the back of her hand. Her voice is hoarse and deep when she speaks. “What’re… we going to do?”

“We need to get out of here.” Flynn glances edgily back in search of pursuit. If Vincent is unconscious or dead, and Millerson is shot, hopefully Emma has been delayed, but they would clearly be foolish to think it was forever, and they’re still far too close. “Can you walk?”

Lucy obediently tries to struggle to her feet, but her knees immediately give out, and Flynn catches her, swinging her across his chest as he did on their escape from the first Rittenhouse shindig back in Marin County. (That one looks much more civilized and preferable, really – maybe Cahill is not so bad after all.) She can feel him shaking too, ever so slightly, as she tucks her head under his chin and buries her face in his shoulder. There is a wet spot of fresh blood on his shirt where the thugs must have broken his scab, and she shifts restlessly, pressing her hand to it. “Garcia, you’re…”

“Shh.” Flynn doesn’t break stride. “It’s fine, it’s nothing.”

“What did they – did they – ?” To judge from that and the blood on his head, he must have taken at least a few good licks, but thank God they didn’t get enough time to really dig in and go to town. “Are they – did you – ”

“I didn’t tell them.” Flynn hesitates. “Much.”

In that, Lucy can sense that whatever he did tell them, however deliberately misleading and unhelpful, was to make it sound as if he was cooperating, so they would not have any occasion to try to hurt her. Her abused heart clenches almost unbearably. They have crossed some kind of Rubicon here, some point of no return. Rittenhouse is not going to stop. They are going to keep looking for Flynn – and for Lucy, and probably for Wyatt, by the sounds of things. They’re not going to stop. They’re not going to stop.

Lucy falls into a fevered half-doze despite herself, worn out with exhaustion and terror, as Flynn keeps going. Finally, she stirs as he is stepping into the parking lot of some backwoods motel, two-story whitewashed cinderblock with garish pink doors. Flynn goes in and tells the receptionist there’s been a hiking accident, his wife is hurt, they really could use a room, at least for a few hours. He will take care of phoning the emergency services, and he has a little money, but still – if she could find it in her heart –

The receptionist, clearly alarmed by their appearance and hoping this is not the start of a TV horror series, quickly agrees. Five minutes later, Flynn is awkwardly unlocking the door of the end second-story room, carrying Lucy through, and setting her down on the bed with its polyester floral bedspread. The portable air conditioner wheezes in the grey, stuffy air. He shuts the door and swears, for which Lucy can’t really blame him in the least.

“Is this going to be our life now?” she asks weakly, eyes closed. “Hiding out in shitty hotel rooms from Rittenhouse? Running from one to the next? Having to hope we don’t get caught and do it all over again?”

Flynn doesn’t answer. It’s plain that he can’t, that he has no idea, that he has not had anything to recommend him at keeping her safe – that every time he reappears in her life, trouble and danger inevitably follows. Lucy cracks an eye to see him still standing there, staring down at her. Then he sits down on the bed and carefully picks the handcuff off her wrist, smoothing his callused fingers lightly along the abrasion. “Did Emma hurt you?”

“No, she…” Lucy feels her stomach revolting again, even though there’s nothing left to bring up, and pushes herself clumsily upright. Flynn is looking down at her hand, very small between both of his, still not quite meeting her eyes. “She just. . . she said I was safe for the time being, and gloated. I… startled her, I stole your gun and got the chain off, and…” Her words stutter to a stop. “I shot Millerson.”

At that, Flynn does lift his gaze, startled and pained. He looks at her for a very long moment, the way she can’t stop her lip from trembling, the way her eyes are wet, how she feels as fragile as porcelain. It’s clear he can’t quite decide how he wants to respond to that. He lifts one of his hands as if to tuck her hair behind her ear, still not entirely touching her. At last he says, “Did you kill him?”

“I don’t think so.” Lucy’s stomach turns over once more – and then, weirdly, it stops. She should be feeling worse about this. She, like any godless liberal academic, has plenty of opinions about American gun culture, about gun control (or lack thereof), about all the ways it’s ridiculously easy to kill someone in this country even if you aren’t part of an evil secret society. And while she does feel bad, obviously, it’s a worryingly less degree than she should. She might be able to do it again. She might be able to shoot somewhere less easily mended. This is not, is not, how Lucy wants to feel about it. And yet.

Flynn glances at her under his eyelashes again, her hand still in his, which Lucy feels as if she shouldn’t remind him of in case he pulls back. Finally he says, gruff and awkward, “Well. Good – good job. Getting away from them. Someone should teach you how to properly shoot, though. In case it happens again.”

Lucy does not want to know how to properly shoot. She wants to go home to her books and her papers and the safe, ordered, settled nature of her old life, which might have had its problems but at least was not an active turd volcano. She doesn’t know why Flynn still won’t entirely touch her or why she even wants him to, doesn’t know, doesn’t know. She is the one to pull her hand loose this time, and stands up. Has an overwhelming urge to wash until her skin comes off. “I think  I’m going to take a shower.”

Flynn glances at her with a pained and haunted expression. All he can fucking bring himself to say, however, until she almost wants to slap him, is, “Should I go look for some food?”

“If you want. I’m not really hungry.” Lucy sits up, and her head reels. He automatically reaches out to steady her, and their fingers lock. His tension is clearly evident, and after a dumbstruck instant – as if they haven’t been holding hands this entire time, because he has to make everything as difficult as possible, always – he tries to pull back.

Lucy, just then, has had enough. He clearly cares about her, gave up his gun when Emma had a box cutter at her throat, and even before that, in the reading room, he wasn’t exactly cringing in horror from her ugliness. But with this and everything, she isn’t in the mood to just patiently and graciously overlook his inexplicable, yo-yoing behavior one more time. This is not really a smart or healthy thing to do, but neither has been the rest of it. Lucy leans forward, catches his chin clumsily in her hand, and kisses him.

After all this time, and their multiple near misses, it’s – well, it’s as exactly as awkward as kissing someone you can’t decide if you love or hate for the first time, angry and messed up and just off a near-death experience, can possibly be. Lucy almost misses his mouth, and their teeth scrape, their noses knock, his head is not at quite the right angle and he momentarily seems to have had a heart attack anyway. His hand floats up, ghosting over her hair. The angle gets adjusted, and she cups her free hand at the back of his neck. His lips open. It turns into a proper kiss for five or ten glorious seconds, Lucy sliding forward on her knees and leaning down into him, eyes half-closed. It feels so much better than shouting at him. Then, since he must have gone too long without making a clanking emotional gaffe, he pulls back, turning his head just enough to separate their mouths. “Lucy. . .”

“Can’t we just. . .” Lucy slides up on him again, knees on either side of his hips. She has solid evidence, if you will, that he does not mind this at all. “For once, can’t we just. . .”

Flynn glances up at her with that same expression from earlier, that almost-anguished, disbelieving, tender, adoring look, that contains all the emotion he is such utter crap at articulating aloud. “You’re not in the right – ” he starts, then stops. “You’re angry, and you’re feeling like you want to lash out, and – you need a shower, Lucy. A shower, and maybe some food, and to sleep. You do.”

This may be, and indeed probably is, entirely true. Lucy, however, is aggravated beyond belief that the one time he’s able to come up with a mature, rational emotional response is the one time she doesn’t want him to. She also can’t tell if this is the “this isn’t the right moment, but we’ll get to it later” kind of gentle shutdown, or the “you’ve definitely read it wrong and I’m trying to let you down nicely” kind. You wouldn’t think so, given everything else, but she has given up on his guessing games. Fine. This has already been the worst day of her life, what else can really go wrong at this point?

Face burning, Lucy collects herself, slides off him, and retreats to the bathroom, staring at herself in the mirror until her eyes cross and the image blurs. Then she undresses and turns on the tap, trying to get it past a tepid trickle. The ancient boiler seems incapable of running properly hot, and the water pressure isn’t great either. It feels like standing under a dribble of warm spit, which is far from the soothing deluge that Lucy envisioned, and isn’t helping her tension or her frustration. She runs her hands over her face, through her wet hair, still possessed of the phantom urge to scrub. There’s a hard bar of blue soap that feels like gravel when she scrapes it over her skin. She sits down and watches the water circle the drain. She would like to think she’s handling this relatively well, but she has no idea.

Lucy remains where she is until the water has run completely cold, then gets out of the shower and dries herself with another sandpapery towel. She looks at her clothes and can’t really stomach the idea of putting them back on, doesn’t feel released or relaxed. Finally, she just struggles them back on, fingers fumbling. She doesn’t look at herself in the mirror this time. She’d rather not see.

Flynn is gone when she emerges back into the room, and she goes tense, staring out the window at the mostly-empty motel parking lot. There aren’t either of the black cars that must have belonged to Millerson and Vincent, but that doesn’t mean anything. They could have stolen the decrepit seventies RV parked at the end and turned it into a mobile surveillance unit. Did Flynn leave his gun here? No, that would be stupid. After what just happened, he will probably only be parted from it on pain of literal death. The world is turning out from under her, it feels like the walls are closing in. This isn’t nearly a small enough room to trigger her claustrophobia in the ordinary course of things, but –

Breathe, Lucy instructs herself firmly, locking her knees. You’re fine. You’re fine.

And in fact, since she is, in some terrible way, fine, things level out the next moment. There’s a rattling at the door, and Flynn enters with a brown grocery bag, probably from the general store down the road – this seems like the kind of place that has a general store down the road. He sets it down, regarding her cautiously. “Dinner.”

“I’m – not very hungry.” Lucy turns away, crossing her arms over herself. “If you were thinking of a shower, it’s terrible.”

Flynn raises one eyebrow, but doesn’t immediately respond. The tension in the room is thick as maple syrup, but much less enjoyably so. They have reached the limit of their polarities, cannot continue to be forced apart without some sort of major explosion, but it’s less certain if it would not then be a bigger one if they came closer. The way Flynn is standing just inside the door, watching her warily, is proof of that. They don’t know if they are arguing or on the verge of making out or slapping each other or sobbing (or perhaps that’s only Lucy). She feels like a rack of dishes tilted over and slammed on the floor. Whatever is in the bag smells good, but she can’t get herself worked up to actually eating.

At last, after another painfully awkward silence, Flynn penguin-shuffles closer, digs the food out – looks like a deli chicken special, some rolls, a couple prepackaged Caesar salads and two bottles of fruit juice – and sets it on the table. “Hey,” he says, in that gruff but gentle voice. “Come here, Lucy.”

She pauses, then walks closer, feeling rather light on her feet and glad to sit down. Flynn opens the chicken box and pulls out a leg, then hands it to her. Despite herself, Lucy almost laughs, as he reminds her of a concerned mother bird anxiously testing out the juiciest worm for an ailing nestling and trying to force it down her beak. She nibbles a little, just to placate him, as he stubbornly keeps up the process with torn bits of the bread roll and salad, handing her the juice every so often as if to get her sugars up. As food tends to do, it helps. Lucy’s head settles a little, she feels less fragile and off the handle, able to breathe more deeply and clear out the knot in her chest. “Thanks,” she manages at last. “Thank you.”

He inclines his head, watching her carefully. “Better?”

“Yes.” Lucy lets out a long sigh, then nods timidly at his cooling portion; he’s barely paid any attention to it, too involved with feeding her. “You should eat yours too.”

Flynn shrugs, then economically dispatches it, clearly as an afterthought. The silence has tipped toward the easier, and there is less chance of a stray spark blowing the whole room sky-high, but the conversation is still not bountiful. At last he says, “I still think this is too close, but without a car, we can’t move anywhere tonight. That piece of shit is not worth it.” He aims a disparaging look at the RV. “Tomorrow, when there’s daylight, I’ll find something else.”

By the sound of things, Lucy thinks, Flynn is going to steal a car. This is possibly something she should talk him out of, but she can’t be arsed. She eats a final bite of salad and then pushes it away. “So. . . I’m guessing interviewing at Kenyon would be out?”

“I think you should.” Flynn swigs the last of his juice and tosses it across the room into the garbage, with a casual skill that Lucy can’t help but admire. “Get out of California. Away from all this. It might be safer.”

“And you?” Lucy tries to speak as offhandedly as she can, but her voice trembles. “What are you going to do?”

Flynn’s eyes are shadows beneath his drawn brows. “I’m going to fight them.”

Lucy was afraid of that. She doesn’t know that she expected anything different, or that Flynn would be content to go back to whatever life he used to have before this, but it still turns something over cold in her stomach to hear it confirmed. “Garcia. . . this thing with the time machine, whatever’s going on at Mason Industries, I don’t pretend to understand it, but if that’s the scale of what you’re up against, how can you. . .” How can you do it alone?

Flynn looks back at her steadily, gently, very sadly. “Do I have a choice?”

Lucy doesn’t know. She doesn’t know, doesn’t know if they are both fooling themselves with the comfortable, comforting delusion that she can take the job at Kenyon and recuse herself from all of this. As if moving to Ohio would be any kind of deterrent to Rittenhouse, if they were determined to catch up to her. She could change her name (ha, like that’s a foolproof method). She could move to Australia. She could run. It’s all possible.

And yet. Lucy has tried to run away from Flynn enough times by now, for whatever reasons, that she’s not altogether sure there’s going to be any different result this time. And she doesn’t want to, she still doesn’t want. Yet going with him down this path is unimaginably dark and dangerous, so far out of her comfort zone that it can’t even be spotted with the Hubble Telescope. She doesn’t owe this to him. She doesn’t have to risk it.

And yet.

Lucy leans forward slowly and takes Flynn’s hand where it lies on the table, clenched and tense. She doesn’t know what she’s saying, doesn’t know what the answer is, other than that she wants their stars to align for a little while. She doesn’t want to try another move on him and get shut down again, doesn’t know what his problem (rather, problems) are. Just links their fingers and lets them rest together on the table. It is getting dark in the room. Headlights waver past on the country highway outside, a brief flash of illumination, and fade.

At last, Flynn stirs from his reverie, gently lets go of Lucy’s hand, and stands up. He strips off his shoes and belt, then shucks his shirt, revealing his undershirt beneath. There is more bruising around his wounded shoulder, deep in the muscle and continuing down the arm where Millerson and Vincent must have hit him, and Lucy sucks in a breath. It’s not like there’s much she can actually do for it, but she makes half a move to get up. “Garcia. . .?”

“It’s all right, Lucy.” He prods at it, and grimaces. “You should get some sleep.”

As there is again only one bed in the room, Lucy does not feel up to facing another bizarre repeat of the Sheraton incident, where he insisted on sleeping on the floor and then wouldn’t look at her. Her pulse is fluttering in her throat as she pulls off her own shoes and socks. Taking off her own shirt would leave her in just her bra, and that definitely seems a little too forward. Is he going to flip out again? He’s managing to act remotely normal right now, but who knows. It’s as if he can be a disaster all he pleases, but the instant she’s in worse distress, he somehow acquires the magical ability to pull himself together and try to support her. It’s almost cute, in a tragic way.

Tentative and careful, they get into bed, still in their clothes. Flynn is not insisting on the floor, so there is that, at least. The sheets smell slightly musty, and the pillows are not the most robust item of bedding ever produced. They lie there side by side, staring up at the ceiling, neither of them clearly getting much sleep given the way they jump at small noises. Then very slowly, Lucy lifts her head and moves it to his good shoulder, settling into the broadness of his chest. It’s more comfortable than the scanty pillow, and it makes her feel safer to be close to him (his gun has been left in easy reach on the bedside table). She listens to the beat of his heart, deep and strong and slow, and rests her hand lightly on his arm.

Slowly, tentatively, Flynn wraps his own arm around her, gathering her closer. Lucy edges close against him, curled into his side, still afraid of him going haywire again and doing something else regrettable. But for now, the fragile, unspoken truce is holding, and she could swear he presses the ghost of a kiss to her hair. If she’s not dreaming already. It’s the same way they spent last night (God, was it just last night?) in the same hotel bed, and yet something, yet again, has changed. Later. She’ll work it out later.

Lucy closes her eyes, and although she hears screaming in her head, she sleeps.

Chapter Text

Wyatt Logan learns he is in trouble the way most busted husbands learn they are in trouble: his phone starts buzzing up a storm, falls off the side table, and when he gropes at it and picks it up, the first three words he sees are “Jess cell” and “TALK.” This is a combination to strike terror into any unsuspecting man’s heart, especially when he’s not quite certain what he did – what else, that is. He’s been in San Francisco for the last several days, he didn’t come home on Sunday like he promised, but he had a nice floral arrangement sent as an apology, and he’s gotten weirdly involved in this Rittenhouse hunt. For instance, he’s pretty sure that Bam-Bam’s dad is in it. Whether Bam-Bam knows about that is another question, as he seemed genuinely blank on it and Wyatt has known him long enough to be sure that he’s not that good a liar. But this means that there’s an operative in Rick Baumgardner’s swanky, high-powered law firm, and the operative’s son in Delta Force, which fits with the emerging pattern that Wyatt is discovering. Tons of important and well-connected people, embedded in just about every relevant government and military department – not necessarily pulling strings, but those strings aren’t far away if they feel like venturing a tug. Wyatt thought Flynn was crazy (frankly, the jury’s still out) but he’s not making this up. This is serious.

Wyatt’s valiant detective work, however, is currently of secondary importance. Still bleary-eyed, he swipes at his phone, then stares as a photo pops up in a text message. It’s him, out to dinner on Saturday night with Emma Whitmore, at the exact moment he was leaning in to hear her better. Unfortunately, from the angle of whatever vigilante mystery diner snapped the photo, it looks an awful lot like he’s leaning in for a kiss. He can almost, therefore, understand the string of angry texts from his wife. She sent the first one six hours ago. Uh-oh.

Sleepiness evaporated, Wyatt sits bolt upright and hits Call. He sags back against the hotel pillows as it rings, running a hand over his sandy stubble and cursing. He probably should have seen this coming, but – how did someone just happen to get hold of that picture and Jessica’s number, was there some old school friend who recognized him and decided to get the lowdown on the garden-variety dirtbag husband – but that’s not Wyatt, that’s not what happened, that’s not –


Wyatt winces. It’s Jessica, and she definitely saw the caller ID. “Hey. Uh. You have a minute?”

“Do I have a minute? I’m the one who’s been texting you for six hours! By definition, I have had three hundred and sixty minutes! How about you, Wyatt? You have a minute to tell me what’s going on? Now that’s a question.”

“Jess, just – it’s not what it looks like, it was a business dinner. You don’t have to get so – ”

“Wow, so it’s the not what it looks like and women, so emotional! cards right out of the gate?” Jessica sounds even angrier. “Want to just go for the nothing happened, I swear and make it a trifecta?”

“Nothing did happen, it’s not – Jess, just let me explain, it – ”

“You stand there glaring and harrumphing whenever I talk to any guy – including my boss, that one time – and all of a sudden, I’m the irrational one when, after weeks of you vanishing and ducking out the back door, I get a mysterious text with a picture of you practically jumping down some glam redhead’s throat? If there – if there was someone you met overseas, and now you’re trying to keep it up now that you’re home, Wyatt, just – ”

“Jess! Jessica! I’m not cheating on you, Jesus!” Despite the fact that this is the truth, Wyatt is aware of a small voice in the back of his head, which is yelling, YOU BLOWING IT, SON. Getting angry is not his prerogative in this situation; it does look bad. “I told you, it’s for the investigation, her name’s Emma. It was just to – ”

“Yes,” Jessica says. “The investigation? The one you assured me you were still on? So I’m guessing you have another dazzling explanation for why Pendleton called the house yesterday and wanted to know where you were, since you got reassigned three weeks ago?”

Son of a bitch. Wyatt should likewise have seen that coming, but he figured they’d call him on his cell first. He has done the usual check-ins, but he hasn’t told them what he’s doing, and he may have missed the last several days, since he doesn’t think it’s a great idea to go straight from investigating a shady cult to waving beacons at the government. “Look, I – fine, some parts of it are. . . it’s complicated, but I swear, I swear, nothing happened. It was not a date. She was asking me about another guy, she wanted his number. She’s trying to get out of a bad situation, I wanted to help. That is the whole story.”

Once again, he can hear Jessica breathing but not answering, taking her time about it. Finally she says, “I’m not even sure I care at this point, honestly. We have barely had a real marriage in – who knows how long. Since at least the last deployment. I don’t want to be that nagging wife insisting you stay at home, but God, Wyatt. I’ve given you the world’s longest leash, a favor you have not returned, and you just keep lying, you keep dodging out, you – ” Her voice breaks, and she stops. He can hear her gulping, hand over her face.

Wyatt sits there feeling about two inches tall. He can’t even physically comfort her, if that was a thing she wanted right now, and he’s known all along that he was fucking this up, but kept justifying it in the name of the bigger picture. Which is not entirely inaccurate; Rittenhouse does seem to be a genuine threat. But the demands of the job, however valid, don’t always cover your ass when you’ve comprehensively fornicated the canine in the way he has, whether or not he meant to. He needs to get over himself, get off this case, and take a goddamn breath, before he hurts Jess any more. Platitudes and floral arrangements aren’t going to cut it. He needs to get home, or the next thing on the docket for them is divorce papers, and frankly, he’d probably deserve it.

“Listen,” Wyatt says at last. “I’m going to swing by Mason Industries and find Emma and see if I can get an explanation for this. Then I’m coming home right away. It’s a drive, I can’t get there immediately, but I should be back by tonight. You hear me? I promise.”

“Yeah.” Jessica sounds unutterably weary. “You’ve promised a lot, Wyatt. I suppose we’ll see if that extends to you turning up. I’ll leave dinner on. Surprise me.”

And with that, she hangs up.

Wyatt stares at the phone in his hand for a long moment, hoping he’ll feel better. He doesn’t. At last, he tosses it onto the nightstand and gets out of bed, heads to the bathroom, and bumbles through a half-assed shower. Wants to shave so he doesn’t look like a total mug, but doesn’t know if it’s the greatest idea to have something sharp near his throat, even (or especially) a Gillette three-blade Super Turbo Macho thing that Jessica bought him last Christmas. Mostly as a gag gift, but Wyatt likes it, all right. He finally manages a cursory scrape, only nicks himself twice, and dabs it off with toilet paper. Feels like the kid who ran away from home before he was old enough to properly shave, doing it for the first time in a dank truck stop bathroom that reeked of piss – but he’s fine. He’s not gonna spiral. He’s fine.

Wyatt pulls on his least wrinkled clothes and heads out. He doesn’t know what he’s going to say to Emma when he finds her – she has no more control over the fact that someone snapped an apparently compromising photo than he does – but obviously, he is not thick enough to think it’s coincidence. Rittenhouse might still have someone on her, watching her closely, keeping an eye out for any attempts at desertion or making contact with an outside source. Was that a warning, the proverbial horse head in the bed, and the next time, Emma goes sleeping with the fishes? If nothing else, Wyatt needs to warn her.

He pulls into the parking lot at Mason Industries and talks himself inside with only a little extra effort. Asking for Emma Whitmore, however, he is told that she is not there. She didn’t come into work on Monday, and hasn’t been in for the rest of the week. There was some sort of notice. Personal time, or family emergency. Very sorry, that’s all we know.

Wyatt barely restrains himself from hitting the counter in frustration. It is mildly comforting to hear that Emma took the initiative in disappearing (at least that’s what it sounds like) rather than waiting around to be nabbed, but it still leaves him with no clue about where that is or why, or how that picture came to exist. Or is it all just some giant –

Right then, before Wyatt can entirely finish the thought or remember what it was going to be, the glass hall doors swish open, and Rufus The Tech Nerd makes his reappearance. He’s juggling a stack of papers that look to be covered in complicated mathematical gibberish (Wyatt failed ninth-grade algebra, don’t look at him) and muttering to himself, but he screeches to a halt when he sees Wyatt. “Wait. You again?”

“Yeah. Me.” Might as well own it, Wyatt thinks grimly. “We still haven’t actually properly met. My name’s Wyatt Logan.”

“Rufus Carlin.” Rufus shifts his armload of papers enough to free up a hand for a shake, which he offers politely, but still guardedly. Given what’s been going on around this place recently, Wyatt doesn’t blame him. “You here to interrogate Connor again?”

“No, actually, I’m not. That coworker of yours I met the other day, the two of you were running some kind of tests. Emma, Emma Whitmore. I need to talk to her.”

Rufus blinks. “Emma? She – ”

“Hasn’t been in? Yeah, I heard.”

“So you always just turn up at high-tech labs planning to go through the whole workforce for answers, is that it?” Rufus doesn’t look impressed. “Emma and I work together, but we’re not buddy-buddy, I can’t tell you where she is. I did hear someone talking about it, they just said that she was gone and it was important. So?”

Wyatt supposes that technically, this is understandable. He did give Emma Flynn’s phone number and tell her to talk to him, and if she’s jetted off in hopes of doing that, she might not know about the picture situation anyway. He could actually call Flynn, but can’t quite summon up the desire to do that. Instead he says, “Okay, all right. But you don’t have just a few seconds, do you? To talk?”

“Do you have a warrant?” Rufus shoots back. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Belatedly, Wyatt realizes that a white lawman coming in here and throwing his weight around, even more or less politely, to a black scientist isn’t a good look, as if he thinks that Rufus – despite his clearly staggering intellect and well-paid tech job – is just another “hoodie kid” he can lord it over with impunity. “Hey,” he says, more humbly. “There’s just some weird shit going down recently, I’ve kind of gotten mixed up in it, and once I get some things straight, I will disappear and never darken your doorstep again. Okay?”

Rufus eyes him as if to say that he holds probably multiple PhDs, Wyatt does not need to dumb it down for him, but finally shrugs, indicating the papers. “I was just on my way out to bring these over to the guy who’s taking them to the JPL. So this isn’t a – ”

“Where are you headed?” Wyatt asks. “I’ll give you a ride.”

“And I really think it’s a great idea to get into a car with you?”

“Fair. But I – ” Wyatt struggles to think of one genuinely decent reason that Rufus, in fact, should. “It’ll save you gas money?”

Rufus almost looks amused, despite himself. Then finally, he shrugs. “The office is in San Jose,” he says. “Just a second, let me tell someone where I’m going and who I’m going with, in case I don’t come back.”

Wyatt raises an eyebrow, but wisely holds his tongue as Rufus goes off, then returns a few minutes later, tucking something into his pocket. “Fine. Let’s go. If you’re going to kill me, at least don’t play Motley Crue. Or Kid Rock. I’m not dying listening to that.”

“I’m not going to kill you, honestly.” Wyatt leads the way out to the parking lot and hits the clicker to unlock his truck, momentarily hoping that nobody has planted a pipe bomb under it while he was inside. It wasn’t that long, but it feels like that kind of day. Hoping to make friendly small talk, he adds, “These are going to the JPL?”

“Jet Propulsion Laboratory,” Rufus says. “In Pasadena. They do a lot of work for NASA. Us too.” He shrugs. “The Star Wars nerd in me still has a tiny inner meltdown coming to work every day, and I’ve had this job since I graduated from MIT.”

“Nice.” Wyatt glances at him; Rufus can’t be much older than he is. Maybe even a year younger. “I’m guessing you finished high school when you were what, fifteen?”

“Fourteen.” Rufus can’t quite keep the tinge of pride out of his voice. “Then computational science and engineering, and physics, all the way through. I’ve worked here for two years, but I’ve known Connor since I was in middle school. I owe him a lot.”

That’s clearly a veiled warning that he’s not going to be induced to turn on his boss, if Wyatt was thinking of squeezing him for more information. Wyatt’s not, though he is feeling decidedly intellectually outclassed. Technically, he’s not a high school dropout – he did his GED when he was twenty-one, and took a few classes at community college between postings. Plus he’s trained as an Army language specialist; he speaks four (Spanish, German, Urdu, and he can just about scrape by in Arabic). That, however, is definitely not on the same level, but he starts the truck and pulls out without anything exploding. Following Rufus’s instructions, he heads for 101 and merges onto the highway.

They’ve been driving for about ten minutes when Wyatt becomes increasingly aware that the black car two or three lengths behind them has taken every turn they have. That is not terribly suspicious – this is a major thoroughfare, and it’s Silicon Valley, black cars are everywhere – but Wyatt, for obvious reasons, is sensitive to the possibility of being followed. Just to be sure, he makes a few quick lane changes, cutting deftly in and out of the heavy flow of midmorning traffic. A pause, then the black car makes them too.

Wyatt’s pulse starts to pick up. This is obviously no place for a car chase, in the middle of a throng of civilian commuters, but he also doesn’t want to keep tooling on as if he hasn’t noticed anything. He keeps an eye on the freeway exits, speeds up, and throws them into a small break in traffic, abrupt enough to catch them both against their seatbelts. Been a while since he had to really bust out some moves. That is definitely a bad thing, not a good one.

“Dude!” Rufus yelps, as they take the exit ramp a great deal faster than recommended. “What the hell are you doing? It’s not for another three exits, and all of a sudden, I’m riding shotgun with Vin Diesel? I knew this was a bad idea!”

“Sorry,” Wyatt says tensely. “There’s some guys tailing us.”

Rufus twists around in his seat as if to look, but the black car has, for the moment, vanished. Or maybe it hasn’t; Wyatt didn’t get a good look at the license plate, after all, and there are several black cars presently behind them. He switches sharply out of a stalled queue at the off-ramp traffic light, gets honked at, and accelerates into the right lane. Fuck. He’s pretty sure that one there, coming down the pike, is their pursuers, and nips through a very dark yellow turn arrow, but not entirely fast enough to avoid notice. The mystery car is solidly in his rearview mirror, and a nice suburban avenue, with traffic lights at every intersection, is an even worse place for high-speed vehicular escapades. Shit. Maybe he bailed on the highway too soon.

Nonetheless, Wyatt Logan is a man of action, and this is the action in front of him. As Rufus grabs onto his seat with both hands and squeaks something that sounds like, “What the fuck,” they peel down Scott Boulevard, adroitly dodge a car coming out of a hidden drive, and push it as close as they can with the lights without outright running them. Wyatt can’t help the surge of adrenaline that pulses through him, almost tempted to whoop, though he’s very sure Rufus would not appreciate it. And if some yuppie in a Prius calls the cops to report some tool in a truck driving like, well, a tool, he will shortly not be in a whooping mood.

It takes a few more minutes of pretty fancy driving (if Wyatt says so himself) but they finally take several turns without the car reappearing. He’s pretty sure he can get into San Jose from here, even if Rufus is loosening his grip one finger at a time. Again he says, “The hell?”

“Sorry. I – used to drive a lot.”

“That’s not even what I meant. We just drag-raced through Santa Clara, and you’re – ”

“Look,” Wyatt says, finally daring to take his attention off the road for more than two seconds. “I told you there was some shit going down, remember?”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t realize that was the car-chase kind of shit!” Rufus glances edgily over his shoulder again. “How about you drop me off in San Jose, and I’ll just. . . call someone at the lab for a ride back to work, huh?”

Wyatt has to admit that he would probably want to do the same thing in Rufus’ position. There is not much talk for the next few minutes as he finds his way to the generic office complex where Rufus is dropping off the papers, turns in, and parks. As they pop their seatbelts with some relief, Wyatt says, “Hey, I’ll walk you in, all right? Just in case.”

Rufus opens his mouth, considers, apparently decides it can’t hurt, and nods, if grudgingly. They get out, enter the complex, and head upstairs, where Rufus finds where he’s supposed to go, dispatches the papers, and chats briefly with his JPL contact. It’s all very science-y and incomprehensible to Wyatt, but he can tell that Rufus lights up around it the way Wyatt himself does around cars, and has a moment of wishing they could be friends, despite the awkwardness of the situation. He doesn’t have any who aren’t also old squad mates, and it’s been a long time since he’s seen most of them. Don’t really keep in touch when they aren’t on deployment. You trust the guy in the foxhole next to you, but you don’t always kick back and order pizza and do the dude equivalent of braiding each other’s hair, either. And in a branch of the service like Delta Force, your buddies are a lot more ephemeral than jarheads who’ve been in the same platoon since the Flood. They get reassigned, they take different postings, they die. A lot of the time, you never even know.

Wyatt shakes his head, reminds himself that he still needs to get this over with and go home to his well-deserved chewing out from Jess. He offers to walk Rufus back and wait with him until his ride arrives, though he’s not sure if this is counterproductive in terms of getting Rufus away from him. Or if it’s just a question of –

They emerge into the parking lot, and stop short.

The black car that Wyatt was congratulating himself on escaping is parked next to his truck, and several men in suits are leaning against it. Two of them are clearly security, built like linebackers, and the third looks like the genial silver-haired man in prostate medication ads. (Wyatt just feels that’s how anyone would describe him.) He glances at them, still frozen in their tracks, and smiles. “That was some very impressive driving earlier, Mr. Logan.”

If there is a creepier way in all of existence to open a conversation, Wyatt doesn’t want to hear it. He has automatically reached into his jacket for his gun, but if he pulls it out, Thing 1 and Thing 2 are going to do the same, and that can’t go well. “I’m sorry, and you are. . .?”

“Cahill,” Prostate Medication Man says. “My name’s Cahill. Hello, Rufus.”

Rufus opens and shuts his mouth, throwing Wyatt a deeply betrayed look. Wyatt mouths I’m not with them, which he hoped was obvious from the Fast-and-Furiousing it, but he can’t blame Rufus for a little confusion. He has a very bad feeling that he knows exactly where they are from, but he takes a sideways step toward Rufus, preparing to shield him if necessary. It’s only the fair thing. Rufus would not be in this situation (or would he?) if not for Wyatt, and he’s not going to let Rufus’s pessimistic (but possibly accurate) predictions of getting murdered come to pass. This is ridiculous.

That, however, does not have any bearing on whether or not it’s happening, and Rufus looks shaken and afraid. “Mr. – Mr. Cahill, sir. I work at Mason Industries, you can phone Connor Mason right now and he’ll send someone to prove it, I’ll give you his – ”

Cahill waves a hand. “Of course you work at Mason Industries. That’s why I’m here. You see, Rufus, I just need to make sure. Did you hand off those equations exactly as you received them, no alterations, no deletions? You – ” he glances at Wyatt – “you didn’t attempt to change or interfere with them in any way?”

“What the hell? No, I gave Rufus a ride over, I didn’t – ”

“You went to some effort to lose us, though.”

“I’m a soldier. I have that reaction when someone starts tailing me.”

“You’re an employee of the federal government, Mr. Logan. So are we.” Cahill spreads his hands in what is clearly supposed to be a why-don’t-you-trust-me-man kind of way. “Unless you’ve also decided, like certain others, that your obligations are flexible?”

That definitely sounds like a trap, and Wyatt is quiet as he tries to think how to answer. Rufus clearly doesn’t dare to sass these clowns – being a little fresh with Wyatt in the safety of Mason Industries is one thing, but every black man knows what happens if you so much as look at an armed white man wrong, and even Wyatt feels half-intimidated, which doesn’t (or isn’t supposed to) happen. He obviously doesn’t want to bring up Emma in front of them, but it seems more than clear that they (and their friends) are the ones she wants to get away from. There’s a very awkward silence as they eye each other. Then Cahill says, “If that’s all the case, clearly you won’t mind me running up and checking that the calculations were submitted correctly. Rufus, we’ll give you a ride back to Mason Industries, so just – ”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Rufus says. “But I’d actually prefer to ride with Ranger Rick.”

Cahill smiles patronizingly. “Good to know you’re getting along – but I’d be careful of how much you do going forward.  You’re a smart young man with a bright future, Rufus. Don’t mess that up. Oh, and Mr. Logan. While I go up, I think my associates want to have a quick word. It shouldn’t take too long. Gentlemen?”

As Wyatt instantly prepares for being jumped, hesitates a split second too long in deciding whether to go for his gun – it’s a suburban office park, there are civilians everywhere, he can’t just let loose – the meatheads step forward, take firm hold of either arm, and escort him into the car, where he is immured on the patent leather seat. After that, with barely the preliminary of offering him a drink (which Wyatt is not a total moron and thus does not take) they do in fact proceed to have a chat. It’s a terrifying chat, but still. The gist of it is that they’re sure he’s a nice boy and nobody wants to make this difficult. He is going to go back to San Diego, make no report of this to anyone in Pendleton, and take up whatever ordinary new assignment they have for him. He is not to attempt to make contact with anyone whose recent actions might cause any question of his sincerity on this matter, or continue to insert himself into Mason Industries’ proprietary intellectual-property ventures. He can sign an affidavit right now swearing to all the above, or. . . well, it’s really preferable that he signs.

Wyatt listens with disbelief, then incredulity, then anger – and then, despite himself, some fear. NDAs and classified protocols and stuff you can’t talk about for years, or ever, is obviously par for the course in this job; he generally expects that most, if not all, of his missions will remain officially off the books for the entire duration of his service and well after his retirement. But he knows how that works, and it entails letting him in on the secret first. This clearly is not what the brute squad came here to do. If he disobeys, he’s going somewhere the law can’t help him. Or worse.

“Look,” Wyatt says. “This is a little much, don’t you think? We’re all coworkers here, in a way. Like your boss says, all on the same side. You don’t have to – ”

“You married, Mr. Logan?”

“What?” Wyatt stares at Thing 1. “Why?”

“Just answer the question.”

“Yes.” He thinks of Jess, waiting for him to get home and not really believing he will. “Not that I see what that has to do with – ”

“Any kids?”

“No,” Wyatt says, slower. “Maybe, you know. One day.”

“If that’s the case, Mr. Logan, you want to sign.” Thing 2 slides a sheet of paper toward him. “Better for you and whatever family you’re thinking of having. Trust us here.”

Wyatt doesn’t see a way out of this car – at least any good one – if he doesn’t. He accepts the offered pen and scribbles illegibly where indicated; he’s heard of cases where people got out of ill-advised signing decisions because the prosecutor couldn’t prove it was their name on the damn thing. This done, the goons seem satisfied, at least for now, and tell him to head on home. They’ll handle Rufus. Everything will be fine.

“You just – ” Wyatt can’t punch them, much as he would like to, but he pins them with a searing look. “You just take him back to work and leave him alone, all right? He’s just a geek doing his job, he – don’t mess him up in this.”

The goons exchange an amused look, as if they’ll agree that they know something he doesn’t. Then Thing 1 says, “As long as Rufus keeps on living his life as normal, he has nothing to worry about. You have a good drive home, Mr. Logan.”

Wyatt is almost sure that that means they’ll be keeping tabs on him somehow to make sure he doesn’t go anywhere else en route, and likewise quite sure that he knew who took the picture of him and Emma. Probably sent it to Jessica as an opening shot across the bow. He waits until they open the door (the car does not have regular inside handles) and stumbles back out, just in time to see Cahill emerging from the office complex and looking pleased; evidently he has satisfied himself that there was no funny business with the equations submitted to the JPL. Rufus has shrunk back against Wyatt’s truck, and shoots him a desperate look, as if to acknowledge that he was not his biggest fan this morning, but now would really appreciate it if Wyatt would not leave him alone with these lunatics. Frankly, Wyatt does not want to, but it’s also clear that he is not going to be given a choice. He mouths sorry at Rufus several times, opens the driver side door, and gets in.

It takes him a moment to put the truck in gear. His hands feel cold and uncooperative, there is slime down his spine and an unpleasant lump in his gut. He doesn’t want to be meekly rolling out of here, tail between his legs, and yet somehow, he is. If this is Rittenhouse, and it seems beyond any doubt that it is, they have not, not in the least degree, come to play.

It is a very long drive home.

Lucy wakes up slowly, surfacing from a repeated roundabout of uneasy dreams, in that split-second state of total disorientation that she has had far too often recently. The light is an indeterminate grey, reflecting through her closed eyelids, and she can feel the stall before her brain belatedly re-engages and the events of the past twenty-four hours return in nauseating detail. She lies very still, as if hoping that they will get bored and go away, but of course, it’s too late. She’s here, they already happened, and Flynn –

At that, Lucy opens her eyes with a start. Despite the turbulence of her mental situation, her physical one is – for the moment – actually rather comfortable. She’s tucked into Flynn’s side like a shrimp, head half on his shoulder and half on the pillow, her arm draped over his stomach and moving with the slow rise and fall of his breathing. Their legs are entangled beneath the quilts, her knee between his thighs, and for once, if only since he’s fast asleep, he has abandoned his efforts to put as much space between them as possible. His left arm is wrapped around her shoulders, cradling her into him, and his right is resting atop the covers, as if he made sure to leave it free if sudden gun-grabbing should be called for. He clearly is not discounting the possibility, but – at least for now – the early morning is still and quiet.

Lucy lets out a long breath, fingers sketching lightly across Flynn’s broad chest. She doesn’t want to wake him, especially since he could probably use the rest even more than her, but she also can’t quite bring herself not to touch him, as if there is space and time and distance that needs to be made up, and she’s not sure how much longer she has to do so. She drifts the tips of her fingers over his solar plexus, careful about his wounded shoulder. The bruising looks uglier this morning, from where Millerson and Vincent hit him. Are they going to walk down for breakfast and find Emma lurking behind the bagels? How are they getting out of here?

Those are pressing questions, and now that she’s awake, Lucy can’t fend them off, but she still wants to try to hold onto this moment, in whatever small part of it she can get. She glances down at Flynn again. Even in sleep, he does not look relaxed, a grim line drawing his dark brows together as if his dreams are not pleasant either. She is taken by an odd urge to kiss it, to smooth it away. He’d likely wake up and do something else to prevent it, but still.

Lucy cautiously edges closer, moving her knee to the other side of his hip and swinging half atop him. She isn’t going to do anything too forward – he, after all, is unaware, she isn’t going to be creepy about this or ignore the fact that he can’t presently say yes or no – but she still wants to be closer, to press and shape them together, to take comfort, however fleeting, in his sheer solidness. After the fact that her entire world has turned to quicksand and shattered glass, there’s something deeply appealing about it. Yes, Flynn himself was responsible for a good part of that destabilization, but he’s also been trying just as hard to hold it together for her, in his take-no-prisoners, give-no-fucks kind of way. And it’s Rittenhouse that’s really done most of it. Flynn, for all his faults (and they are many), has been trying to protect her. Lucy is certain beyond any remaining doubt that as long as it is remotely in his power, he will keep her safe, and that is no small thing.

She hesitates, then traces her fingers over the grooves on either side of his mouth. He shifts and sighs, but doesn’t quite wake up, and she pulls her hand back. She settles back down next to him, unable to avoid the thought that it feels nice, lying here together. This is clearly not the time to investigate whether it could become a recurring arrangement, especially since she still has very little faith in his ability not to torch himself all over again. Who knows.

Lucy lies there until she has to regretfully disentangle herself from his arm and get up to pee. When she returns from the bathroom, Flynn is awake, sitting half up and looking around as if the one thing to summon him back to the land of the living was the sensation of her going missing from his side. When he sees her, he blows out a breath and tries to disguise it. “Oh.”

“Yeah.” Lucy coughs. “Not Rittenhouse.”

Flynn answers with a grunt, sitting the rest of the way up and running a hand through his hair. He glances at the clock, then gets up right away to recon the parking lot, which is unchanged except for the crappy old RV. His face darkens. “I should take a look at that.”

“If Rittenhouse was here, don’t you think they’d have tried to case the rooms already?” Lucy isn’t sure, but she doesn’t want him going down alone. “Or at least – ”

“Who knows?” Flynn points out. “Less chance of a scene if they can just pull out and grab us once we leave, rather than breaking down everyone’s doors. Stay here, I’ll be back.”

With that, he clicks a fresh magazine into his gun, puts on his shoes, and goes out of the motel room, as Lucy watches very tensely. The last thing Flynn needs is more perforations in vulnerable regions, and she sees him emerge, stroll over to the RV, and rap briskly on the window. It takes a few moments to be answered, but finally, it turns out that the occupants of the RV are not elite undercover secret agents, but a dreadlocked young hippie couple who, to judge from the way Flynn’s nose wrinkles, absolutely reek of pot. Flynn proceeds to have a little chat with them. The male hippie seems to be apologizing profusely. They go back into the RV and emerge with a pair of hiking backpacks and a dog, give something to Flynn, and hoof it down the drive, out of sight beyond the trees. Flynn watches them with a malevolent expression, waits several minutes, then finally turns around and comes back up to the room, where he tosses an also vaguely-cannabis-scented keyring at Lucy. “It looks like it’s the piece of shit for us after all.”

“What did you – I thought you said it wasn’t worth stealing?”

“It isn’t,” Flynn says disparagingly. “Not in the least. But beggars can’t be choosers, and at least I could easily convince them not to file a police report or talk to anyone about it. If I had to go to the effort of actually stealing a car from someone who didn’t want to give it up, well…” He pauses, then shrugs. “Things could get unpleasant.”

Lucy decides she probably really does not want to know if he’s talking about carjacking and murder, which it sounds like he is. “So what, just told them to give you the RV and you wouldn’t tell anyone about the pot and illegal camping?”

“Something like that.” Flynn does not seem terribly concerned that they have now inherited the mobile weed situation. Maybe they can get some Febreze. “We’ll take it as far as it will go, then figure out something else. Get dressed, Lucy, we should go.”

This is true, even if Lucy can’t help but wonder resignedly what happened to the soft, gentle, worried caretaker of last night. Probably woke up and was aghast at himself for slipping. Or knows this is going to end with them separated again, and thinks he’ll make it easier if she wants to see the back of him. Push her away pre-emptively, so she doesn’t miss him when he’s gone. It’s the sort of garbage logic that probably appeals to him.

They don’t want to stay longer than necessary, so they eat the last few stale bread rolls and figure they’ll find something more substantial later. Then they head down and climb into their fancy new ride, which has a broken gas gauge and bits of yellowed stuffing exploding through the cracked faux-leather seats. The kitchen is clearly from the seventies, the bed is the size of a cupboard, Flynn cannot stand up even close to straight, and there’s dog hair on everything, as well as the lingering atmospheric aura of eau de ganja. Lucy opens the windows, trying to air it out and not breathe too deeply, as Flynn jiggles the gauge and tries to get it to tell how much he has before he has to find a service station. He finally guesses there’s a little under a quarter of a tank, and this beast probably does not get great mileage. Clearly thinking that it would have been worth it to kill a businessman and steal his Mercedes (though this is not the kind of place that attracts businessmen with Mercedes) he growls under his breath, puts it into gear, and swings out.

They rattle down the road, passing the hippies standing with their thumbs out in hopes of hitchhiking. Lucy wonders suddenly if Rittenhouse will come by and pick them up, if they will tell them who jacked their RV – has Flynn thought of that? She would be a fool to doubt it, but… it’s a horrible thing to consider, but should they have left them alive? Maybe someone would realize they were missing, but if they were just out here wandering, not for a while.

Lucy pushes it aside and returns to the passenger seat, and they drive until they hit the junction for I-87 and the main route up to the Catskills. There is a Wal-Mart mega center here, as Lucy thinks wryly that yet again, Wal-Mart to the rescue. Flynn pulls into the gas station to fill up the tank, but then drives over to the main store parking lot and beckons Lucy out. “I think we need to get you a gun.”

Lucy opens her mouth, then shuts it, then opens it again, then shuts it once more. Of course, you can in fact just walk into Wal-Mart and buy a gun from the sporting goods counter, especially in upstate New York – which, while it might not be libertarian-paradise-rural-survivalist Maine, still has plenty of that mentality in places, especially not far from the military academy. She doesn’t want it and she wants to think she won’t need it, but she also can’t say it’s wrong. “I – ” she says. “I don’t – are you sure that’s really – ”

“I’ll teach you how to use it,” Flynn says. “And I obviously would prefer that you didn’t have to. But I think it’s time you did.”

Lucy does not have a substantial denial for this, and they walk inside. Go to the gun counter, Flynn says his wife wants to look at something compact and sporty (Lucy notices how comfortable both of them have gotten with that lie, just comes naturally to their tongues now) and the salesman pulls out a few options. Lucy picks them up carefully; they all feel alien and heavy and wrong in her hand. She lies – too easily – about having something mainly for target shooting (well, this isn’t wrong, she will possibly be shooting at targets, just not the one the salesman thinks). Then the salesman asks if she has her pistol permit, if she’s an in-state resident, and since the answers to both these questions are no, they have to politely thank him for his time and bow out. Gun laws actually working for once. Mirabile visu.

Still, Flynn does not intend to be thwarted, and since upstate New York generally has a lot more slide in its handgun licensing requirements than NYC, he figures there has to be another private gun store around here, because a) hunting country and b) America. There is, and it isn’t totally straightforward, but he manages to convince the owner that the license is in the pipeline and that (with a quick flash of his NSA ID) it would really be a good idea for him to sell. This is a risky strategy, because the guy is as likely to hate the government as to obey, but he decides he does not want the hassle. He supports women being armed too. He’s a feminist.

Lucy manages not to visibly roll her eyes at this, but they finally pick out a smallish handgun that she can hold comfortably. They buy a few clips for it, Flynn gives her a lecture on the various types of ammunition, the bore differences, don’t put the wrong size bullet in, etc. etc. He goes over the basic firearm rules – always assume it’s loaded, don’t ever point it at a person (or animal) unless prepared to shoot, keep it secured when you don’t have direct control of it, don’t loan it out, so on. Lucy feels as if this should be common sense, but she knows it’s not, and she does her best to listen attentively as she hands over her driver’s license, passes a five-minute background check, signs some paperwork, and is now the proud owner of her very own gun. American as apple pie.

She keeps looking at it as they get back into the RV. Opens the owner’s manual and carefully scrutinizes all the parts and pieces, still can’t imagine how she’d be comfortable toting this around as an everyday accessory (they had “For Him” camouflage gun cases, and “For Her” pink ones, because Heteronormative Gender Roles!) Finally, before she can stop herself, she says, “Where did you learn – where did you learn all this?”

Flynn glances briefly sidelong at her, with a grim smile. “How to shoot?”

“That, and just…” Lucy waves a hand. “All of it.”

Flynn takes his time about answering, until she briefly thinks he won’t. Then he says, “I enlisted in the Croatian army when I was fifteen. 1990. The Soviet Union was breaking up, there was the war for independence. After that, I just… kept doing it. There were stints in Chechnya, in Bosnia, in Kosovo. I was in Afghanistan after the ’01 invasion. Briefly in America, then Somalia in 2006. That was my last war. I joined the NSA after that. So.” He pauses, then shrugs, as if this is just like anyone’s CV. “I’ve had experience.”

Yes, Lucy thinks, he has. Got started as a fifteen-year-old boy, probably lying about his age because he looked older, to go shoot some Reds. If he’s been around the Balkans, he’s probably been constantly fighting in regional guerrilla wars, against the Russians, against the Serbs, in whatever populist uprising is at hand against the oppressive status quo. Maybe what he’s doing against Rittenhouse is not terribly different. She wants to ask what he was doing in San Francisco in March 2003, when he saved her life, but doesn’t expect she’d get an answer.

They drive steadily. Lucy sees a road marker for I-80 west, and then a “Welcome to Pennsylvania” sign not much later – apparently, they’re back. She can’t think that they’re going back to Penn, unless Flynn thinks those Nicholas Keynes files are really that vital – but the whole place must be on high lookout. “Where are we going?”

“The one and only Gambier, Ohio.” Flynn downshifts with a worrisome grinding sound. “You have a job to interview for, don’t you?”

Kenyon. God. Lucy legitimately almost forgot. She could hardly feel less prepared to waltz in there and present herself as a competent, trustworthy, well-put together adult, when she’s arriving in an ancient, pot-smelling RV with her not-really-boyfriend, an ex-NSA asset on the run from the evil organization that has tried to kidnap and/or kill both of them at least once. Is it really fair to Kenyon to turn up and act like she’s in a real position to take the job? Maybe she is, but she has no way of knowing for sure. Rittenhouse could just come barging around this campus, instead of Stanford’s.

They have just stopped for gas and some proper food in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and Flynn has been trying to figure out if that banging noise is going to get any worse, when they see blue lights in the mirror, a siren wails, and a Pennsylvania state trooper ushers them over onto the gravel shoulder. Flynn swears. “Hide the gun.”

Lucy thinks this should be obvious, even her own heart has picked up to a dangerous level. A traffic stop with at least two weapons in the car, a strong reek of marijuana, no registration or insurance (she digs in the glove box and comes up with an emissions report, failed, from 2004) and not a single clue who used to own the damn thing before them (did the hippies just reclaim it from the junkyard?) Flynn pulls out his Alexander Kovac passport and is clearly preparing to lean on the dumb foreign tourist card with all his might. They sit as tensely as statues while the trooper runs the plates. Finally, they hear crunching footsteps, he approaches the car, and Flynn obligingly rolls down the window. In a very thick German accent, he says, “Hallo?”

“Afternoon, sir, ma’am.” The trooper is your standard-issue, early-thirties beefy white guy with a blond buzzcut and a ranger hat. “Do you know why I’ve stopped you today?”

“It is because the… because the…” Flynn waves a hand as if he can’t think of the right English word and is hoping the trooper will supply it for him. “The… rule?”

“Your tags expired last October, and your tailpipe is smoking. Where are you folks from?”

“We’re visiting,” Lucy says, in the best French accent she can pull off at short notice. Altoona Allan here is not likely to be able to tell the difference. “From Europe. We have borrowed the campervan from our friends. There is a problem?”

The trooper sniffs the air. “You two been enjoying your visit to America, then?”

“Vas is dat mean?” Flynn blinks as innocently as a lamb. “I have here mein passport.” He hands it over. “Alexander Kovac.”

The trooper flips through it. “You have a U.S. or German driver’s license, Mr. Kovac?”

Flynn hesitates. He, after all, has several, but they all have different names on them. “I haff German license.”

“You have that license on you, Mr. Kovac?”

“Yes, yes, I do.” Flynn digs through his wallet for several minutes, looking first confused and then increasingly flustered. “Honey, where is my license? I had at airport, yes? When we rented car? I showed them then?”

“Where did you folks arrive in the country?”

“We flew into Philadelphia,” Lucy says, which is not a lie. She opens her own wallet and pulls out her luggage tags from the Philadelphia airport. “Yes?”

“Thank you, ma’am. You find that license, sir?”

“I – I haff it, I haff it just the other day.”

“All right, well. Just in case, sir, please step out of the vehicle.”

“Why is dat?” Flynn says, looking agitated. “This is – I have not done an error!”

“I’ll be the judge of that, Mr. Kovac. Do you have anything you would like to declare?”


“Is there anything in the vehicle that I need to know about right now?”

“There is – there is just my wife. We are going to see, you know.” Flynn waves a hand. “Beautiful Pennsylvania.”

“I see. Please step out of the vehicle, slowly. Mrs. Kovac, stay where you are, please.”

Flynn considers. Lucy can see a muscle working in his jaw. Then he gets out of the RV and straightens up, whereupon it becomes apparent that he has several inches and a good fifteen pounds on the trooper. Not that she’s calculating the odds of him beating up a policeman, since that is the one thing definitely guaranteed to bring the wrath of Khan on their heads, but – well, she may be calculating the odds of him beating up a policeman. They eye each other up and down. Hopefully Flynn does not smell too noticeably of pot outside the confines of the driver’s seat. He’s clearly dearly wishing that he did in fact go for the Mercedes.

The officer insists on administering a pat-down, checks the passport again, and finally decides that they are clearly very clueless and should probably learn how things are done in the good ol’ U.S of A. But he gives them a ticket and tells them to get the tags updated, and that they should maybe check with their friends about the lifestyle choices they appear to be making. He has decided to let it go this time and not ruin their holiday, for which he clearly expects to be thanked. Flynn does so. Then he gets back into his cruiser, pulls off the shoulder, and drives away.

Flynn stands there until it’s certain that he’s gone, then marches back to the driver’s seat,  jerks the door open, and gets in, fuming. He plainly knows just as well as Lucy that they have had a very, very lucky escape, but it also raises the possibility of a repeat incident that may not have the same result. “I knew this piece of shit was more trouble than it was worth!”

“Hey.” Lucy reaches over to grab his hand. She has to hold on for a moment as well, to steady herself. “Let’s – let’s just keep going, all right?”

Flynn’s eyes flick from hers to their fingers. He lets out a slow sigh, then starts the engine again. He does not cease to mutter under his breath in a wide and colorful variety of vernaculars, but at least they get underway again. It’s another four and a half hours from here to Gambier, but neither of them feel like stopping. If their valiant chariot doesn’t just die on the spot. Lucy thinks briefly of Puff the Tragic Wagon, thinks of the sensation of plunging, the cold water rushing in, feeling it sink away beneath her even as Flynn hauled her to the surface. After that, aside from just doubling down on the history, she became very averse to risks, wouldn’t even go on those extreme-thrill roller coasters or anything like that. Nothing dangerous, nothing out of her control, nothing to make her think she’s still falling. Had a panic attack in public when it felt like a BART train she was riding had lost its brakes, was going to derail or worse. She doesn’t know when she’s felt more like that than now.

It’s getting dark by the time they finally plow into Gambier, which is a very small Midwestern-standard town; Kenyon is the main reason anyone comes here. They find a Comfort Inn and get a room, which has two beds this time. Lucy can’t help being somewhat disappointed. Not for any reason.

In any case, the topic doesn’t come up, because they eat dinner, sleep like the dead, and wake up the next morning in a vain attempt to look less like they feel. Lucy does her hair and makeup, Flynn shaves, and while they will be arriving in the worst vehicle in the history of vehicles, hopefully that won’t be the first thing the selection committee notices. As they step outside, Lucy notices that the RV’s expired New York plates have been changed for current Ohio ones, and raises an eyebrow at Flynn. “Just find those lying around?”

“No,” Flynn says. “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to.”

“You didn’t…?”

“If I killed someone, I promise, I would also have stolen his car.” Apparently not realizing that that is not a comforting statement, Flynn opens the passenger door for her with a slight, sarcastic bow. “Madame?”

Lucy rolls her eyes at him, but gets in. They drive to Kenyon campus and park, consult the directory, and bumble in the direction they need to go, until they find the history department. Lucy apologizes several times for turning up like this out of the blue, introduces herself, and asks if Professor So-and-so, who knows Dr. Underwood, has a spare moment this morning. Fortunately, it’s quiet, so she is taken through, shakes hands and makes more introductions. This is just an informal meet-and-greet, not a formal interview, but they want to know what sort of questions she has, what they can tell her about the position, etc. Standard stuff.

Lucy spends the morning more enjoyably than she has for a while, getting shown around the department and meeting her potential new colleagues. They are all very nice (it is the Midwest) and generously offer that her boyfriend can come too, if he wants. Flynn has been too busy keeping an eye on all windows and exits to pay much attention, but Lucy says quickly that he’s fine, though it’s true that she finds herself getting antsy when they have been out of each other’s sight for too long. But no way Rittenhouse can be here. Right?

Finally, they wrap things up, Lucy shakes everyone’s hands again, and they promise to be in contact very soon. She’s still feeling very good about herself as she and Flynn walk out; you would never know that she almost died two days ago, or whatever could have happened (she somehow doesn’t believe that Emma’s promise not to hurt her would have held out indefinitely). They were very impressed with her CV and her research background, the amount of teaching she’s already done, the various projects she has in the pipeline (she will probably complete a Lincoln monograph in a year or two, and has had three articles published). Likewise, Lucy can sense that it is possible for her to be very happy here. Gambier is a sleepy nowhere that would be a big change from Palo Alto, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At least give it a try. It’s not tenure-track, she can leave in a few years if she hates it, but as a starter job, it could be much worse.

They get into the RV and billow back into town, where they get lunch, and Flynn decides that they are going to make the most of their terrible vacation by finding a shooting range and giving her some preliminary lessons. They stop at the motel to change into some more appropriate clothes and retrieve the guns, then drive around until they find one. Park, and head inside.

Lucy has been wondering what exactly the lessons will entail, if Flynn’s pedagogical method is just to light it up and deal with the consequences later, but he turns out to be a very precise and exacting teacher. Before they get anywhere near the actual shooting, he makes her load and unload the gun a dozen times, feel the difference between each, know how to click the magazine in and out and tell just by the weight if it’s armed or not. They’re using blanks for these first exercises, rather than live ammunition, but she has to treat it as if it is loaded and ready to kill at all times. Practice switching the safety on and off, likewise start to know if it is or not just by how it feels in her hand. Work on how to draw it without pointing it at anything you don’t want to point it at. How to grip it, what it feels like to fully pull the trigger. Practice that, a dozen more times. All right, now put it all together.

Lucy is not the world’s most physically coordinated or gifted individual, and this is not something that comes naturally to her, but she tries. At last, when she can do all this more or less without literally shooting herself in the foot, they get the bright orange ear protectors, go to one of the galleries, and set up. Flynn takes the pistol from her and nails half a dozen dead-center shots in about thirty seconds, either to test that it’s working or just to show off, then watches with an eagle eye as Lucy loads it properly for the first time. The ear protectors make it hard to communicate verbally, so he stands behind her and adjusts her arms and hands, sets her into a good stance, nudging her slightly here and there. Then he lets go, and nods.

Lucy raises the gun, tries not to think about doing this reflexively and shooting Millerson, and aims at the target. Her hands are oddly steady. Then she fires.

The gun kicks, even if not as much as a rifle would, and she takes half a step backward into Flynn. He steadies her, hands momentarily lingering at her waist, as they inspect the result; she at least hit the target, if nowhere near the center. He pronounces it acceptable for a first try with a brusque nod of his head, and beckons her to try again.

They’ve been working on the actual shooting part for thirty minutes or so, after the hour and a half of preliminaries, when another man comes in, takes out his ear protectors and his service weapon – looks cop or military, and very hopefully not a friend or employee of Pennsylvania law enforcement – and starts jacking in the rounds. It’s clear he’s good at it, and Lucy tells herself that it’s her imagination that his eyes periodically flicker sideways to them. Even if they are, that doesn’t mean it has a nefarious purpose – he could just feel bad for the guy trying to teach his girlfriend how to shoot, because women, etc. Maybe they are intruding on whatever fantasy he is imagining for himself. He’s not Rittenhouse, Rittenhouse can’t know that they’re here, or just what a shitbox of an RV they stole. Unless they picked up the hippies, and the hippies blabbed. Is that what happened? Is it?

Lucy is losing her focus, and Flynn likewise seems to be slightly edgy. They shoot a few more clips, but wrap it up, pay for their time, and head out. Hopefully not too quickly or suspiciously. Lucy is rattled, feels as if her momentary illusion of safety and isolation from the rest of the insanity has been destroyed, and can’t sit down when they get back to the motel room. She really just wants to go home. She just wants it to be over, to –

And just then, that’s when her phone rings.

It’s not Emma, which was her first, paranoid thought. It’s the dean at Kenyon. They were very impressed with her this morning, and of course there are still more formalities to go through, committees to rubber-stamp things, and so on. But if she wants the job as soon as she has the PhD in hand, they would be happy to extend a proper offer. Does she? Want it?

Lucy sits there frozen, briefly having forgotten how to breathe. It feels almost like another panic attack, though she doesn’t know why. Is she going to move from the beautiful, sunny Bay Area, her home, her roots, to Bumfuck, Ohio? Leave her mom and Amy and Stanford and everything she knows, to come out here alone and never know if the sharpshooting guy at the gun range was a secret Rittenhouse agent? Do that one thing – throw herself out into the void, into the ether, the reckless and  uncontrollable, that she’s avoided so steadfastly since the accident? This would be a huge change. She would have no support system. It feels too close to West Point and Rittenhouse’s black site there, even though it’s three states away. If so, what, bring Emma and her associated maniacs down on these nice Midwesterners? Can she do that? She feels like she’s going to throw up. Jesus, how can she possibly –

“Ms. Preston?” The dean sounds puzzled. “Are you still there?”

“I. . . I am.” Lucy takes a heaving breath. “I. . . thank you for your consideration. So much. But I – I just – right now, honestly, I – I don’t think it’s the right fit. It was – it was so nice to meet you all, and the position is wonderful, but – ”

Her throat closes. This is as close to her dream job as she is going to be offered – certainly just after graduation, possibly ever – and she is letting it slip through her fingers. She is just too scared, and Rittenhouse’s shadow has fallen over everything, and her mother’s face is in her head, looking disappointed. Lucy, she sighs. Of course you weren’t going to leave me?

“Ms. Preston?” the dean says again. “Would you like some time to think about it?”

“I. . .” Lucy’s fingers are cold and nerveless. “I just – I am so grateful, I am so grateful to you for meeting me so ad-hoc, and – and everything. I really am. I wish I could accept it, I wish it so much. But with how things are in my life right now, I’ve thought it over and. . .”

Flynn looks up with a start, as he has been checking something on his own phone, and frowns at her. Lucy shakes her head at him, barely manages to hold it together for the rest of the conversation, and finally hangs up. Then she leans forward and puts her face in her hands.

“Lucy?” Flynn gets to his feet. “What was that about? Why didn’t you take the job?”

Lucy doesn’t know if she can or wants to explain, or if the howl of misery forming in her chest is just going to come rushing up her throat. Flynn remains hovering for a moment more, then sits on the bed next to her, and very gingerly puts an arm around her shoulder. It’s as if he’s not entirely sure that this is a thing humans do in a situation where their friend is sad, like he’s just dressed up as one and is hoping nobody notices. But Lucy turns, takes hold of his shirt with both fists, and buries her face into his chest. She takes half a ragged breath, and – it’s this, it’s everything, it’s too much, too much – silently starts to cry.

Flynn holds her as if he is once more unsure if this is a thing people do with their arms, rather than using them for punching. He pats her back once or twice as if she’s a colicky baby, but for the most part, he just lets her get on with it, like being sick, knowing it’s been a long time coming and she’ll feel better once she’s done. Finally when she’s fallen more or less silent except for a hiccup or two, slumped against him, he says, “I thought you wanted it.”

“I d-did.” Lucy wipes her nose, snuffling. “I – I do. I do. But right now, how can I – how can I be here alone, how can I leave Mom and Amy and Stanford, how – with Rittenhouse probably just waiting for me to – I’d put the people at Kenyon in danger too, it’s just – it’s not going to work right now. It’s just not going to work.”

Flynn doesn’t answer except for a noncommittal humming noise. It’s unclear whether he agrees or disagrees with this line of reasoning. Then he says, “All right. Well. If that’s what you actually want, then. . .  we’ll drive to Columbus and get a flight back to San Francisco tomorrow. I don’t think you should shackle yourself to that bitch, but – ”

Lucy stares at him, aghast. “You’re talking about my mother. Who has cancer.”

Flynn looks briefly like he’s been caught with his trousers down, though she doesn’t know why. Then he shrugs. “You didn’t seem to be very fond of her either.”

“When did I say that?”

“Earlier,” Flynn says, though Lucy can’t think when they’ve ever talked about her mother in any detail. “Anyway, wherever you go, you need to keep up practice with that gun. We don’t know who will find you, or what they’ll – ”

“I need to keep up practice with that gun?” Lucy stares at him, brow wrinkled. “Am I mistaken, or does that sound like you don’t plan on being around to help?”

Flynn glances away. Finally he says, “You’re not the only one who’s been thinking about the future, about what needs to be done. Yes, I could go back and try to destroy the time machine, but you heard what Emma said. They still haven’t invented half the things they need. I can’t be sure that it would permanently stop them if I did it now, that I would take out anything close to what I need to. And even if I did destroy it, Rittenhouse would still be there, they would still be evil, they would still have Connor Mason and any of their marching myrmidons there to make more for them. I can’t stop them like that. It wouldn’t be enough.”

Lucy keeps staring at him. She isn’t sure entirely what he’s suggesting, but she doesn’t like it. “Garcia, what are you – ”

Flynn looks back at her levelly. “I need to know more,” he says, after a long moment. “About Rittenhouse, about how they got this capability, about what they’re going to do with it. And for what I need to do with that, it’s going to be very difficult for us to – well. To anything. So. I’m sorry, Lucy. But we may not see each other again for – a long time.”

“You. . .” Lucy feels punched. “So you’re what – going off the grid?”

“Something like that. Yes.” Flynn almost succeeds in sounding matter-of-fact. “I know how to live like this, what I need to do. You don’t. One day, we will work together, Lucy. You’ll see. But this, I need to do alone.”

“You – ” Lucy is half-tempted to say screw it, she’ll drop everything, she’ll come with him. But she doesn’t, as he says, have any experience of disappearing off the face of the earth, of conducting deep-cover intelligence operations for months, living on the run – the limited experience she has had of it already has been decidedly unpleasant. That’s the whole reason she turned down the Kenyon job – to return to the safe, settled embrace of Stanford and her mom’s house and her controllable, predictable life, not to fling it completely to the wind and go deep underground on this very dangerous mission. And yet. A tiny, painful part of her thinks it might not be so bad if it meant she got to stay with him.

Flynn sees the look on her face. He smiles sadly, and touches her chin with his thumb. “I told you not to give up history for a boy,” he says. “It doesn’t change now that I’m that boy.”

With that, he lowers his face to hers, and gently, lightly kisses her forehead, the most tender thing he has ever done to her, at least openly. His hand stays alongside her cheek, and Lucy turns her mouth up, all but begging him to kiss her properly, fuck it, even if it makes tomorrow even worse. His eyes drop to her lips, and she can see that there is no part of him that does not want to. Indeed, he clearly wants to do just that, and more. Would be entirely willing to throw tonight away and forget about the morning, just burn the consequences the way he often does, and consider it a parting gift. The air almost shivers. Their eyes remain locked. If she touched him now, he might snap, and then, better judgments or not, wise ideas completely aside and self-control out the window, it could happen anyway.

At last, with a visible swallow, Flynn pushes himself backward. There does not seem to be enough air in the room for both of them, and it is clearly impossible for them to touch, even in passing, without using up all of it. Lucy’s fingers claw out inadvertently after him, fall short. Her voice is caught in her throat. “Garcia – ”

“It’s better that we don’t, Lucy.” His face is turned away from her, profile half in light and half in shadow. “Not if I’m leaving tomorrow.”

Yet-frigging-again, Lucy can’t tell if this means that he would be totally unable to leave her, to commit himself to the long and lonely work of whatever he’s going to do to take down Rittenhouse, if he abandoned himself to a night of wild passion with her, or if it’s just a distraction he prefers to do without anyway. No sex the night before the big game (Lucy dated a second-string member of the Stanford Cardinal football team for six months as a freshman) or whatever. It’s true that she is still not in a good headspace, to say the least. That this likewise counts as the kind of bad decision she is dutifully trying to avoid. But – how?

(How does she let him go, how does she know what the world looks like now, how does this make sense, how is this bearable, how is he going to possibly do this – any or all of those.)


Lucy stares at the ceiling, and listens to everything burn.

Chapter Text

February 10, 2012

Lucy turns over a glossy proof for the book cover, then another one, trying to tell if there’s much discernible difference (maybe the title typeface is a few points bigger on the first one, and the photo of Lincoln is a little smaller?) or if there is any way she still needs to be here at 10:55 pm on Friday night to sort it out. The answer to that latter question is no, she doesn’t really need to be, but it’s been the week from hell and she hasn’t had much other time to do it. She sent the final line edits and galley proof back on Wednesday, she has the midterm to write for two classes, and there’s a Historian’s Craft workshop that she naïvely volunteered to help with back in December, after someone sent out a panicked email and of course she felt obliged to step in. When you are not quite two years into the job, and are still the lowest in the faculty pecking order, you get stuck with these kinds of things.

Where was she? Right. Book covers. Lucy stares back and forth between them again. It’s not like this has any chance of ending up on the NYT bestseller list, though she’s sure that the University of Chicago Press will appreciate her attention to detail for the hundred copies ordered for other academic libraries. She’s worked hard on the book, though, and she’s proud of it. “Publish or perish” is absolutely a real thing, and she’s had her journal articles, a few chapters in edited volumes, and papers from conference proceedings, but a monograph is different. Good, solid, quantifiable work. She just turned twenty-nine a month ago, and here it is. Already has a permanent position at Stanford. Things worked out.

(Things worked out.)

Lucy reaches out to adjust her book lamp and take a dutiful inventory of them both. Spines look the same. Her picture on the back cover is not completely hideous (a shallow thing to be concerned about, perhaps, but there you have it). You don’t really have admiring quotes on academic books the way you do on popular press ones, but whoever has written the blurb for the back cover has made her sound decently appealing. Eeney-meeny-miney-mo?

After a pause, Lucy decides that she’ll just close her eyes and point, and then she will get her things together and go home. It is, after all, Friday night. Noah will be working late, because he does on Fridays, but she can run a bubble bath and maybe drink a glass of wine in the tub. Start that new novel she’s been meaning to. She’s been meaning to. Been meaning a lot.

Lucy closes her eyes, and points at the covers.

She opens her eyes, looks at the winner, decides she likes the other one better, and then wonders if she really does, or she’s just being contrary. What the hell. Not now. It is in fact eleven o’clock, and she wants to go home. She picks up her purse and keys, shrugs on her jacket and throws her scarf around her neck, then steps out of her office and locks it, still briefly admiring the “Dr. Lucy Preston” nameplate by the door as she does every time it catches her eye. It’s supposed to be nice weather this weekend. She’ll see what Amy is up to, maybe. Call Mom. The last doctor’s report came back encouragingly; Carol’s cancer seems to be in remission after the first major round of treatment. She’s been feeling incredibly crappy, since chemo does that to you, but the prognosis, for now, is moderately decent.

Lucy takes the elevator down and steps out into the dark campus, heading for the faculty parking lot. As she always does when she comes out late, she dutifully looks both ways, keeps her keys at hand, and takes an extra look, just in case. Both for the possibility of any muggers – and, well. Just in case he feels like coming back.

(Lucy doesn’t know that she’s proud of getting back together with Noah, exactly. But he is a grownup with a real job, he knows how to be in a relationship, he did still have a torch for her and was willing to give things another try, and if she’s just tired of being alone and wants to have someone in the house when she comes home, that’s not something to be judged for. It’s fine. It’s always been fine. Noah is a caring and attentive partner and has been supportive of her coming down the stretch with the book, given her space when she acts weird, done his best to help her how she needs. It’s comfortable and it’s familiar and it could be much worse. She has nothing to apologize for, to herself or anyone.)

Lucy reaches her car and unlocks it, swinging behind the wheel and turning on the heater; it’s February, it’s still plenty chilly, especially late at night, and she has a Californian’s innate horror of temperatures below fifty degrees Fahrenheit. At least rekindling things with Noah means that she got to move in with him, after six months of living at home again with her mom. It wasn’t bad, she reminds herself. She is glad that she was able to be there for Carol while she was going through the first, worst stages of treatment. But now that the cancer is in remission and the book is done, now is the time to finally, finally ask her mother about Benjamin Cahill. Lucy has been sitting on this secret for two years, weighing heavily on her heart and mind and soul, and held her tongue because she didn’t want to make things worse. But now, now she is going to do it. She hasn’t seen anyone from Rittenhouse, or at least that she knows is from Rittenhouse, since all that shit went down. Hasn’t seen Emma, or Cahill himself, or anyone. It makes her wonder if Flynn did something, made a big enough mess elsewhere that all their attention got pulled off her, or someone issued orders that she was to be left in peace. Why or how, Lucy has no notion. She has been content to pretend those two months in 2010 did not, for the most part, exist. It hurts her too much when she lets them live.

Once the car is decently warm, Lucy pulls out and heads home. Noah finished his residency at Santa Rosa and is at a hospital in Oakland now, but they still live this side of the Bay Bridge. It’s a decent rental townhouse, just achievable with their combined professional salaries (well, Noah’s professional salary – Lucy doesn’t exactly make bank). They’ve been back together for about a year now, and it’s clear that most people feel another proposal is in the offing before long. It’s also clear that if Lucy turns it down a second time, well, that’s a sign that this isn’t the guy to spend her life with, or at least that she wants to. But she hasn’t met anyone else in the real world – in this world, here, now, possibly – that she can actually see herself with, or that is available. Noah might be all there is. It isn’t the case, fish in the sea and all that, but when would she have time to date, throw herself out there for a new relationship? She has a strong introvert streak and the idea is not appealing. No need to mess this up, when Noah is – after all – fine. And yet. She still hopes he doesn’t propose.

There is a light on in the window when Lucy pulls in, and Noah’s car is parked on the driveway, which is surprising. She didn’t think he would be home yet. Maybe they actually had a quiet night at the hospital and let him off rotation early, though that almost never happens. He’ll probably be tired, though, so maybe she can still proceed to the bath-and-wine part of the evening. Or, since it’s late, just hit the hay and go do something tomorrow.

Lucy gets out, locks the car, and heads up the walk, pushing the door open. “Hey, I’m home!”

“In here.” Noah’s voice comes from the living room, sounding… odd. Lucy frowns, suddenly worried. “Can you come in, please?”

“What’s going on?” Lucy shucks her work heels and blazer, hangs her purse on the coat tree, and walks into the living room, where Noah is sitting on the couch with the face he has on when delivering bad news to patients’ families. Oh God, this isn’t about Mom, is it? Noah isn’t her doctor, and there would have to be some major breach of medical ethics for him to have seen her files, but Carol loves Noah and is usually talking to him about this anyway, things she’s seen on the internet, the efficacy of new treatments, one name-brand drug vs. the other, etc. Lucy feels that if her mother wants to use her boyfriend as a free source of information and expertise, she should pay him for it like everyone else would when accessing a professional service, but Noah feels awkward asking, and everyone is sensitive to Carol’s illness, wants to help, make it easier. Seems crass to bring up money for family, after all.

“Hey,” Lucy says tentatively. “I – didn’t realize you were going to be home. What’s going on?”

“I switched shifts,” Noah says. “I took the one on Sunday that nobody wants, so I could come home early and clean and cook dinner and treat you for finishing your book. Anyway, I was doing that, and while I was, I found this in the closet.” He points at the coffee table. “Along with a couple boxes of bullets. You can guess I was pretty surprised.”

Lucy’s stomach flips. It’s the gun that Flynn bought her two years ago, zipped in its case, but in a way that makes it clear Noah opened it and saw what it was. She hasn’t kept up religiously, but she’s still gone to a range every few months, and while she is not a Navy SEAL, she’s not a total joke. This, obviously, has been a private weekend activity that she hasn’t really felt the need to share with anyone else, not even Amy. Maybe Emma went to London like she wanted and Rittenhouse has moved on to bigger and better things than one history professor, but Lucy has never had the luxury of being sure. This, however…

“So,” Noah says, when the silence has gotten painful. “You wanna tell me why you own a gun and have apparently been using it, and haven’t told me about this?”

Lucy winces. “It was just… it’s just been something I’ve been doing on the side.”

“On the side, okay.” Noah looks up at the ceiling. “You know how I feel about this, Lucy. I’m in Oakland, half the cases that come through the ER are kids who’ve gotten shot up, seventeen-year-old gangbangers with three holes in them, or Mr. Fragile Masculinity brought a gun to his workplace because a woman turned him down for a date and boom, six people are dead. I spend five hours trying to save them and still lose them, and I really – ” He pauses, composes himself, and breathes deeply. “I really do not want one in my house.”

Lucy cannot blame him for this at all, given it was how she felt until two years ago. Even more, she can’t really explain how and why she got it in the first place without venturing into deeply perilous territory. “You know,” she says weakly. “Self-defense. Just in case something ever happened, we might – ”

“You work at Stanford University. This is as nice and boring a middle-class neighborhood as they come. If there was a break-in, the cops would be here in five minutes or less.” Noah is clearly trying very hard to keep his tone calm, but the rough edges of anger keep breaking through. “How long have you had this?”

“For a…” Lucy hesitates. “Remember when I turned up at Santa Rosa on that… that really weird weekend, with the… the guy who was shot, and… all that?”

“When you wanted to be called Anna Thompkins and pretend you were his wife?” Noah’s lips tighten. They might be back together, but it is clear that he does not need reminding. “What, was it – did he get it for you?”

“Yes,” Lucy says. “There was a lot of stuff happening. It was a very bizarre few months. I… had reason to think my life might be in danger at a few points, and Fl… he thought it was a good idea if I… if I knew how to use one.”

Noah looks at her even more strangely. “You’ve never mentioned this.”

“I… I know.” Lucy looks down at her hands. “But it was a year before we got back together, and it stopped, and… I just didn’t think it was important.”

“But your last visit to the range was…” Noah pulls a crumpled receipt out of the bullet box and checks it. “December 16, 2011. So just a couple months ago, you still thought it might be important, and it still didn’t feel like something you might share with me?”

“I’m…” Lucy has no excuse. “I guess I didn’t want to bother you with it.”

“We’re together, Lucy! We live together, here, in the same house! If someone might be coming after you, the odds are good they would also be coming after me!” Noah’s cheeks go blotchy red. “Besides, I obviously want you to talk to me if you feel scared, if you think things aren’t right, if there is something I can help you with! I love you, Lucy, it’s not a bother to deal with serious, major situations that are making you feel so unsafe as to buy a damn gun! I just – ” He catches himself again, modulating his tone. “I thought we were working on these things this time around. Second chance, fresh start.”

“We – we were. I mean, we are.” Lucy knits her fingers more tightly. “Noah, believe me, I wish I could explain, but – ”

“You wish you could explain. Maybe, I don’t know, just actually explain? That guy, John Thompkins or whatever he said his name was – you said he was the one who saved your life in that car accident when you were in college, but never anything else about who he was or why he got shot. Those the same people you think might be shooting at you?”

“I… would imagine so,” Lucy says, after a long moment. “Probably. Yes.”

“Jesus Christ.” Noah racks his fingers down his face. “And one small woman with a handgun is going to stop those kinds of people, is she?”

“It’s better than not having it.”

“As long as they only attacked you at home? Or have you been bringing it when you go out too?”

“I – no, I’ve just been going to the range every few months or so.”

“Right. Okay.” Noah clearly can’t decide whether be relieved or even angrier. “Have you seen John Thompkins recently?”

“No.” Lucy can’t quite keep the hollowness out of her tone. “I don’t think I will. The last time, we… he made it clear he was… not planning on coming back.”

Noah glances at her sidelong. Then he says, “Well. Honestly, he seemed like bad news. I know he saved your life a couple times, but maybe it isn’t coincidence that he’s disappeared and the scary shit stopped. You think?”

“Maybe it isn’t,” Lucy agrees. “And if you’re going to ask, no. I have literally no idea where he is. It could be anywhere.” Anywhen?

“Okay.” Noah blows out another breath. “Look, I don’t want to be outrageous about this, but you were the one who hid a gun in the house and thought we might be attacked and didn’t say anything to me about it, I feel like I have at least a leg to stand on. I really do not want it here. I’m not saying you have to get rid of it altogether, but like – take it to your mom’s and stick it in the attic or something. Somewhere like that. Can that be the compromise, Lucy? Please?”

Lucy hesitates. This is, again, an entirely reasonable offer – completely in character, things with Noah are never bad, they are always fine. This has been a shock and he’s rightfully angry, but he’s trying to work through it and be reasonable. “Okay. I’ve been meaning to talk to her anyway. The – the first round of chemo is finally done, and she’s – she’s in remission.”

“That’s great to hear.” Noah stands up. “I’m sorry I didn’t get around to making your dinner. We’ll reschedule. I think I’m just going to take a shower and go to bed. Night, Lucy.”

“Night,” Lucy echoes, turning her face up so he can peck her quickly on the cheek. Once he’s gone upstairs and she hears the water start running, she sags back on the couch and feels as if that went a lot worse than, strictly speaking, it did. As well, she hasn’t so much as spoken Flynn’s name aloud since the last time she saw him. They drove to Columbus, discovered that it would be cheaper and nonstop to fly from Cincinnati instead, and got most of the way there before the RV finally and spectacularly gave up the ghost. Had to hitchhike the last thirty miles to the airport, but were finally picked up by a kindly trucker, while Flynn sat glaring with his hand on his gun inside his jacket the whole time. Lucy was afraid that someone would sneeze and set off a bullet hailstorm, but they made it. Flew back to San Francisco and stood in the terminal awkwardly, since it was clear that Flynn wasn’t staying here, but wanted to wait until she left before getting onto his next flight. She was going back to her life, and he was leaving his altogether.

(“Goodbye, Lucy,” and a handshake. A handshake. He walked her out to arrivals, then as she was standing on the curb waiting for a bus into downtown, she looked over her shoulder for him one more time, and he had vanished in the crowd.)

Lucy rubs both hands over her face, trying to feel better, which doesn’t work. She knows why Noah was angry, as he had every right to be, but what’s making it worse is the fact that she doesn’t know if she should in fact have gotten rid of the gun months ago. She has no clue what’s happening with Rittenhouse or Flynn or the fucking time machine or any of the utterly bizarre shit that dominated her life for those few months in 2010. Noah is right that maybe Flynn’s disappearance and the world going back to normal are correlated, and Lucy should be grateful for that. To some degree, she is. But why, why is she still half-expecting, half-hoping to see Flynn waiting for her when she leaves campus late? Reappear out of the blue with some miraculous plan to defeat Rittenhouse and return the world to normal? But if it is… or is this just another illusion, another thin veneer of safety, to be shattered in turn? She doesn’t know. She has no idea. For someone like Lucy, that’s her worst nightmare.

At last, Lucy gets up, goes upstairs, and feels like Noah might not be altogether interested in sharing a bed with her tonight. So she goes into the guest room and pulls out the futon, piles on some pillows and quilts from the closet, and crawls in, burying herself like a mole. Tomorrow. She’ll go by Mom’s tomorrow and finally get some answers. Drop off the gun (but maybe Carol doesn’t need to know exactly what it is either). Sort this out.

Lucy dozes off eventually, has weird dreams, and wakes up late the next morning. When she shuffles downstairs, Noah is gone, but he has left a plate of blueberry pancakes as an apparent peace offering, and Lucy is not too proud to eat them with butter and syrup. Then she showers, gets dressed in her flannels and sweats since it’s Saturday and she looks nice the rest of the time, and carefully packs the gun and ammo in a box with lots of other newspapers and knickknacks and other stuff she’s been meaning to clear out. There. Nothing suspicious. She loads it into the car, pulls on her sunglasses, and heads out.

Twenty-odd minutes later, Lucy turns into her mom’s driveway, parks, and gets out with the box. Trundles up the walk, running over her script in her head one more time – how to bring this all up in a gentle but firm way, and not be sidetracked again. Her mom can be good at doing that. But this is a good time to clear the air, she won’t get a better chance. She just has to… do it.

Lucy shifts the box onto her hip, and knocks.

After a pause, she hears footsteps, the deadbolt chain unlocks, and her mom, wearing a bathrobe and a flowery beanie, opens the door. Her hair is just starting to grow back in after the first round of chemo, and Carol, a woman who is always impeccably put together, is self-conscious; she wears a wig in public, and a variety of fashionable hats otherwise. She still looks thin, but better, and smiles warmly. “Lucy. What a surprise.”

“Hi, Mom.” Lucy takes a better grip on the box. “We – well, Noah was doing a little spring cleaning, and there’s just some stuff that we don’t really have room for. Can I possibly pop this in the attic? Then we can have some coffee and talk.”

“Of course.” Carol opens the door and steps back to invite her. “How’s the book going?”

“I just finished it. Picked the cover, I can show you. It’s in my purse.” Lucy shuffles in, hauls the box up the stairs, and up the creaky, dusty, fold-out ladder that leads to the attic. She puts it down with a clunk, feeling better that she has done as Noah wanted, and worse that the gun is now out of her house and out of easy reach if, God forbid, she did need it. Maybe she can sneak back here and pick it up again anyway. There has to be somewhere else in the house that Noah won’t find it. Or just –

“Lucy? What are you doing up there?”

She jumps. “Coming, Mom.”

With that, she puts a crate of Christmas decorations and a blanket on top of the box, feeling like Harry hiding the Horcrux in the Room of Requirement, then climbs back down the ladder, brushing the dust off. She follows Carol down to the sunny kitchen, where they sit down. She waves off the offer of tea, since she’s just had breakfast, goes in circles with some small talk about the book and how the classes are going, then finally tells herself that it is now or never. “So, Mom. I was… hoping we could talk.”

“Isn’t that what we’re doing?” Carol asks. “You’ve been so busy, but – ”

“Yes, of course. I just meant.” Lucy steels herself. “About Benjamin Cahill.”

There is a long and very nasty pause. Her mother goes somewhat pale (or at least, paler). Her thin fingers tap out a rhythm on the tabletop, stop, then tap again. Finally she says, rather too levelly, “Where did you hear about Benjamin?”

“I met him. Actually. A while ago. He told me.” Lucy looks her mother straight in the eye. “Who he is. Is there any reason for him to be lying about it?”

“He… no.” Carol looks crumpled. “He’s… he is your biological father. But Lucy… the situation was difficult, I was young, I know you may be angry at me, but try to see it from my point of view. Henry was a wonderful father to you and Amy, there was never any need to – ”

“Dad was.” Lucy’s throat feels rather thick, as if she can’t call him that without qualification any more, but Henry Wallace is the only man in her life who remotely earned the title, and he gets to keep it. “Dad was great. But don’t you think that I might have needed to know this at some point? If nothing else, for medical histories and whatever, if not for the fact that I had a father that neither of you ever thought it was important for me to know?” Having met Cahill herself, she understands, but maybe he wasn’t always like that.

Carol raises a hand. “Lucy – how did – when did you learn this?”

Lucy isn’t sure if the truth is better or worse in this instance, but she doesn’t feel like it’s the moment for more lies. “Two years ago. He came by Stanford. He was very interested in recruiting me into – some society of his.”

“Some society?” Carol looks puzzled. “What was that?”

“Never mind. It was… it was all a little strange. I thought that might be why you had put distance between us, why you… why you never told me about him.”

“Lucy, you’ve known about this for two years, and you haven’t told me about it?”

“You knew and didn’t tell me for twenty-nine years of my life, so.” Lucy looks at her mother evenly. “I think I still have some catching up to do.”

“That’s not fair, sweetheart. I’ve been sick, I’ve – ”

“Yes, you have, and I’ve been worried about you. I moved home for several months, I spent the week after I graduated going with you to doctor’s appointments, I didn’t say anything until we got the news that you were in remission because I didn’t want to add to your stress. I’ve waited, I’ve been patient. And you weren’t sick before. You could have told me before.”

“You sound very hostile right now.” Carol surveys her daughter with a frown. “Lucy, if there’s all this anger, it can’t be healthy that you’ve just let it build up. You know you could try to – ”

“It’s my fault that I’m upset about you lying about my father?” Lucy gets half to her feet with a clatter. “You can’t even let me have this without telling me how to do it better?”

“Sweetheart, that is not what I meant. Sit back down, please. Let’s talk about this like grownups. I don’t know how much Benjamin told you, but – ”

“It sounded creepy, frankly.” Lucy hesitates, but sits. “He says that he was a visiting professor at Stanford and you were in his class. Please tell me that is not when you… slept together.” No one wants to think about their parents’ sex life, period, but still. She needs to know that that at least is not the case, though it won’t be any less squicky.

“It was after,” Carol says. “It was just a brief thing. He was in another relationship, and for various reasons, we agreed that it was best to continue on our separate ways. He did send some money, sometime. It was all very discreet and professional.”

Discreet and professional. Just the words you want to hear about your parents getting together, after – by the sound of things – Benjamin Cahill cheated on his girlfriend/wife with a pretty young student, knocked her up, then vamoosed. Lucy’s mouth tastes sour, as if the more she learns about this, the more horrifying it gets. “And you were okay with that?”

“Look.” Carol puts her hand over Lucy’s. “It was a long time ago. I’ve made my peace with it. Do you want to know the best thing about Benjamin Cahill? He gave me you.”

Lucy opens her mouth, then shuts it. She looks down at their fingers, the sunlight pooling on the table. Doesn’t want to ask this next question, but still. Finally she says, very carefully, “Did he ever mention anything called Rittenhouse?”

“Rittenhouse? That’s an odd name. What was it supposed to be?”

“Some… weird secret society. He’s very into it. Some – well, some stuff happened around when you were first diagnosed, and… like I said, I thought that was why you decided it was better not for me to know him.”

“He may have mentioned it in passing, I don’t remember.” Carol shakes her head. “The Cahills were a wealthy family, well-connected – his father was an aide in the White House, I do remember that. Eisenhower administration. They had all kinds of political and philanthropic projects. I can’t be sure of them. Why?”

“I just… I met a few of their people, around the same time I met him. They’re very… intense.” Lucy tries to think how to phrase this without worrying her mother. “I – I used to know someone who wanted to look into them, and I just thought…”

Carol’s eyes sharpen. “I’m sorry, you knew who?”

“Just… a guy.” Not that she would do a damn bit of good with the information. It’s not like she’s going to randomly run into Flynn in the Starbucks line. “But if you remembered anything useful, then I just – ”

“Whatever it is,” Carol says with great finality, “it’s his business, Lucy, and it does sound like it’s better to stay away from it, so I think you should. But I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned this friend of yours who wanted to look into a Rittenhouse.”

“It was a while ago. We’re… not in contact anymore.”

Carol glances at her. Then, seemingly as a non sequitur but Lucy can tell that it’s not, she says, “So how are things with Noah?”

“Things with Noah are fine.” Lucy isn’t sure she’s ever given another answer to that question in her life. “He – was going to cook me dinner at some point to celebrate the book getting done. You know we’re both busy, it’s just whenever we can – ”

“Well,” Carol says. “Now that you’ve been back together for a year, you’ve moved in together, have you given any more thought to what a next step might look like? Noah did ask me the other day if you had any more thoughts about… you know. A proposal.”

“What?” Lucy feels a sudden urge to get up and walk out of the house. “He was asking you if we should get engaged?”

“Not necessarily. But he did want to know if you had changed your mind on that at all.”

“I…” Whatever Noah was asking about, Lucy isn’t sure he still thinks the same after the gun reveal, which is almost a perverse relief. “Look, what we have is – it works, all right? It doesn’t need to change or have labels or – you know, any of that. It doesn’t need to be messed up.”

Carol’s brow furrows. “Messed up is a strange way to describe marrying the man you love, Lucy. You do love him, don’t you?”

“Y – yeah, of course.” Lucy glances at the clock. “You two are apparently still friends, so… that’s great. Hey, how about I get my cover proofs? I can show you those.”

Carol eyes her, but deigns to accept the change of subject. Lucy fetches the covers from her purse, Carol thinks she should have chosen the other one, and corrects a split infinitive on the back cover copy. Then finally, Lucy kisses her on the cheek, tells her that she’s happy to see her doing better, and heads out.

It’s a nice day, and she goes out to sit at a coffee shop, hoping that nobody she’s supposed to impress will see her slumming it like a student in her sweatpants. (Professors are human too, you know.) But even though she’s finally gotten a few answers, nothing feels as if it has fallen magically into place. Benjamin Cahill was a skeezeball, her mother doesn’t know anything about Rittenhouse, Noah was kicking around the idea of proposing or at least before he discovered a gun in her shoebox, and Carol’s last question is what Lucy is going to start on next, now that she’s finished the Lincoln book. Nothing exactly earth-shaking. Lucy has clung tenaciously to this life, has insisted on going back and burrowing into it as a defense mechanism, and of course, of course she loves it. But she isn’t sure she likes it any more.

(She wishes – she wishes – that she could just see Flynn again. Know where he’s been. What he’s doing. If he’s even still alive. Rittenhouse could have shot him and dumped him in a shallow grave, and she would never, never know.)

But she’s not going to. She can’t keep hoping, waiting for a man who has, yet again, become all but a ghost, and she didn’t. Moved on with her life, in all senses of the word. Yet if Lucy’s honest, she knows there is a part of her that doesn’t want to accept any possible proposal from Noah, because she doesn’t want Flynn to turn up two days afterward and explain that he has some grand plan to finally defeat Rittenhouse, and she should once more leave her entire life and come with him to do that. It wouldn’t be fair. To Noah.

(That’s what she’s going with. Unfair to Noah.)

And yet. It doesn’t matter. Because it feels, at last, as if Garcia Flynn is finally and truly gone, and the only real way to describe that is heartbreak.

 It’s Saturday night, February the eleventh, and Wyatt and Jessica Logan are fighting.

They have in fact been fighting almost non-stop recently, and took a break from fighting at home to go to a bar, which has just resulted in them fighting in public. They’re keeping their voices down, they’re not making a scene, mostly just hissing at each other over their beer and smiling unconvincingly at anyone who might glance over. The idea was that they would get a change of scenery and talk about this over drinks, but that does not appear to be happening. After the whole San Francisco fiasco, Wyatt went home, apologized a lot, and promised they were turning over a new leaf. Then three weeks later he took a months-long assignment tracking two major cocaine cartels from Colombia, one of the most dangerous jobs he’s ever had (and that’s saying a lot). With his previous exploits and Spanish-language ability, he was pretty damn good at it, but he’s still obviously an American gringo, and he came home with yet more damage. Had nightmares. Won’t go see a shrink. Jessica says he’s deliberately stonewalling her, burning them down, and she is at her fucking wit’s end.

(He’s not, he’s not – not on purpose, he’s not, he’s not. Pendleton disagreed with this assessment and put him on leave, but it didn’t help. Wyatt was antsy, unpleasant, itchy, needed to go out, needed to get back to the war – any war, really. It gives him form and definition and purpose, and he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know, what is so deeply fucked up inside him that he wants it more than to rest at home with a woman who loves him.)

Jessica says it’s pretty obvious he either can’t or doesn’t want to change, that she loves him but isn’t sure how much longer she can stand living with him. They have met with a marriage counselor a few times, but Wyatt hates doctors and he isn’t sure how this is supposed to help them. He knows what’s wrong – that he’s chronically uncommunicative, hot-tempered, difficult, drinks a lot, and is prone to vanishing for months on highly dangerous classified missions – but that then implies there is any way for it to stop. Wyatt has tried, he’s tried over and over. He loves Jess and wants it to work as much as she does. He’s tried eating the rabbit food that Californians love so much, he took pills for a while but they fucked up his reflexes, he’s even given the whole Kumbaya cleansing thoughts and scented candles a whirl. None of it works. He’s still stuck in his head, looking at himself being this person, and he hates it so much he sometimes thinks that if he just switched off tomorrow and did not reactivate for five years, he wouldn’t mind. Wipe the mainframe and perform a complete reinstall/reboot.

Jessica says that fad diet and happy thoughts aren’t going to help serious, pervasive long-term depression and PTSD – it’s clinical, it’s a disease, why won’t he just see a doctor. Wyatt snaps back that clearly everything is his fault in this relationship. Jessica is less able to keep her voice down as she points out that she didn’t say that, and he doesn’t keep his down at all as he fires back that she was definitely thinking it. Heads turn. A hush falls over the room.

Wyatt’s face burns. He gets to his feet and pulls $10 out of his pocket, palms it down on the counter. “Keep the change,” he says. “Jess. Let’s go.”

Jessica pauses, then icily swings her purse to her shoulder and stalks after him, as Wyatt can feel the eyes of everyone in the bar following them. They are obviously wondering if this is the kind of situation where they should have spoken up and done something, but nobody moves to openly interfere. They walk stiffly into the parking lot and get into the car.

Wyatt is hoping the argument can wait until they get home, but Jessica says she just wants to know what’s wrong with him, and Wyatt – perhaps since this is the one question he has no answer to, is so terrified about – can feel himself snap. He slams on the brakes and shouts that fine, if she thinks he’s so terrible, she doesn’t need to stay close to him for a second longer. Get out. Door’s right there. It’s not that far home. Nice night. She can fucking walk.

Jessica stares at him for the longest, most nauseous moment in the world, white to the lips. Then she nods once, rips her seatbelt off, and practically kicks the door open. Steps out – Wyatt catches a glimpse of her face in the rearview mirror, glowing demonic red in the hue of the brake lights – and stands there, waiting for him to pull away, until he does. The tires scrape and squeal. He’s not drunk, but he’s possibly had more than he should to be driving. It’s not far. It’s not far.

It is, of course, barely ten minutes later when Wyatt feels as if he’s had a bucket of freezing water sluiced over him, and realizes that leaving your wife on the side of a dark road late at night is an awful, awful thing to do no matter how angry you are at her (and especially when she is 100% right about what a fucked-up mess you are). He whips the car around and lays even more rubber racing back to where he left her – where he thinks he did, at least. He didn’t get a good look at the mile marker, but it was around here. He parks, grabs a flashlight from the glove box, and jumps out. “Jess? Jess! Jessica! JESSICA!”

He sweeps the anemic beam of the flashlight back and forth, heart pounding in his throat, mouth dry as a desert, all his drunken caveman rage burned off. He climbs down into the bushes, skins his hands on the gravel and bangs his legs on the sharp edge of a drainage culvert, but he deserves that, he deserves the pain. He crunches through the bracken, catches the glow of eyes and has a heart attack, but it’s only a raccoon. Maybe he didn’t go far enough. He climbs back and gets in the car and cruises along slowly, window down, shouting for her. A car full of teenagers whips past, faces laughing and grotesque as carnival masks. They think it’s a joke. “Jesssssicaaaa!” they yodel back at him. “Jessiccaaaaaaaa!”

Wyatt drives up and down every part of the road between their house and the bar at least five times. Panic is starting to take over his head, banging like a neighbor’s too-loud music through a wall, drilling and relentless. Jesus. Jesus Christ, this is all his fault. She can’t be gone, she’ll turn up. Someone probably stopped, like a sane person would, to see if a woman on the side of the road was all right, and took her to their place. Or if someone else, someone not a sane person, stopped, and –

By the time Wyatt has realized sickeningly that she’s definitely not here, it’s almost three in the morning. He goes home and calls her cell, which isn’t answered. Calls it again, leaves a message begging her to let him know that she is safe. She doesn’t have to come home, if she’s still angry. But please, please, please let him know that she is safe.

Wyatt dozes fitfully for a few fractured hours, phone in his hand, until his morning alarm goes off. He sits upright immediately, but he can tell she isn’t home. He calls her back again, another three times. Likewise, none of these are answered. This isn’t like Jess. She’s angry, she has every right to be, but the one of them who ditches without a word is Wyatt. If she was safe, if she was in any position to do so, she would have called, or at least texted, by now. Something is wrong. Something’s wrong.

Wyatt goes out and gets in the car to make one more search by daylight, just in case. But when this doesn’t turn up anything, he knows what he has to do. Drives downtown to the police station, and says he needs to file a missing person report.

He can tell that the cop who takes down the information isn’t terribly impressed at hearing about the circumstances in which Mrs. Logan has vanished, but it’s not his job to comment on that. He does ask several times if Wyatt is being forthcoming with everything he knows – as it obviously looks very easy for Wyatt to have whacked her over the temple with a tire jack, hidden the body somewhere, and turn up here to file a report to make it seem like he’s worried. When a wife goes missing, the husband usually did it, and it is an especially bad look when the husband is a military man who was arguing with her beforehand. Wyatt swears up and down that he has never laid a hand on Jess, which is the truth. Their fights can get ugly, but they’ve never turned physical. He would never, ever hurt her.

The police officer remains skeptical, but allows that search teams and K9 units will be dispatched, and if Wyatt has an item of clothing with Jessica’s scent on it, that will help. Wyatt fetches it for them, feeling numb and dreamy. Yesterday was almost ordinary, before it started going downhill with the argument around four o’clock. Today he’s standing in a police station talking about sniffer dogs and search arrangements. This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening. He needs to press rewind and play it out again.

Once that’s settled, Wyatt heads home, slaps together a missing poster on Microsoft Publisher, and runs out as many copies on his printer as he can before its toner goes dry. Then he feverishly heads out and starts tacking them to street corners and utility poles. It strikes him that he has not called anyone since this started, has no sibling or friend or even a god damn poker buddy out here helping him. He should call someone. He needs to call someone. But then he’d have to say the words “Jess is gone, and it’s my fault” out loud, and that might break him. He needs to hold it together until this is over. His bullshit has already cost them – cost her – this much. If by some God-given miracle she comes home, she walks through that door again, he will do absolutely whatever she wants. Therapy, counseling, you name it. He has been an idiot – understandably in some ways, but still an idiot – and this is the bolt from the heavens that he was overdue to get. She has to come back. Has to. Has to.

Wyatt gets concerned, confused, wary, or sympathetic looks from people as he wanders along, offering them the poster. There are plenty of people who pretend they don’t notice and motor on past with their headphones in, because humanity is terrible sometimes. A nice older couple wants to know if there is anything they can do for him, and Wyatt reflexively tells them that he’s got it under control. He does not, he has never had it less under control, but it seems to be an answer he can’t get away from even now. He thanks them for their concern. They promise they will pray for him. Great, he thinks. Great.

Wyatt is sunburned and footsore by the time he gets home, but it feels wrong to sit down and relax, to be comfortable, while Jess is out there enduring God knows what from God knows who. He takes just enough of a shower to refresh, gulps down whatever is in the cupboard, and prepares to go back out again. He’s not going to be allowed to help directly with the search, because they still haven’t formally ruled him out as a suspect, but he has promised to be back at the police station for a longer interview at five o’clock. Needs to look less like a disaster. Shaves. Puts on a sport coat, a pair of nice trousers, and heads out to get in the car.

By the time he walks into the precinct, he can tell that something’s changed just from the way they look at him, and he isn’t sure that he likes it. They shake hands, ask him if he wants a glass of water, maybe they should go to the back and sit down. Wyatt has been around law enforcement long enough to know that when they start going for the tender concern angle, it’s usually because they’re trying to lull you off guard for a big reveal, or it’s because it’s bad-news-breaking time and they have no further reason to play hardball. And this… doesn’t feel like they’re going for the bait and switch. This feels bad.

By the time Wyatt is in fact sitting down in the briefing room, he has a terrible feeling that he knows what they’re going to say, and is clenching his hands white-knuckled on his knees, trying to prepare himself for it, trying to breathe in short, juddering gasps in case he forgets altogether afterward. The police chief sits down and calls him Sergeant Logan – yeah, respectful title, he’s the grieving husband now instead of the suspicious possible domestic abuser. They have completed their search of the area, and they have in fact found a large patch of blood in thick undergrowth, about three-quarters of a mile from where he left her, that matches with Jessica’s DNA. There is a trace amount of other blood present as well, which they can’t identify, but is that of another human, suggesting someone grabbed her, Jessica fought back, and there was a struggle. They are going to continue to put resources out there and track down any leads, any perps with violent-crime rap sheets in the area, conduct interviews. But at this point, they aren’t expecting to find Mrs. Logan in a state compatible with life. They are very sorry, and they offer him their full support.

At that, Wyatt almost collapses. Fucking – not in a state compatible with life. Fucking jargon, fucking military/police jargon, the kind he has used himself, plenty of times. Just say it, he wants to scream at them. Just say dead. Dead. DEAD! Four little letters! Just fucking say it! I deserve it! This is my fault. This is my fault. My fault. My fault!

Someone goes out to get him another glass of water, and someone asks if he wants to speak to the staff chaplain. Wyatt barely hears any of it. The world reels by in heightened fantasia blurs like a bad acid trip. He sits there in the chair with a weird, detached awareness that this is somehow happening, he is living through the worst moment of his life, it is going by right there, right in front of his nose. It’s happening and it keeps happening and it won’t stop happening and all he can think, all he can think, is yes – it could have been some local lowlife. But what if it wasn’t. What if it wasn’t.

(He’s done as he promised, after he signed the stupid affidavit. He knows it was a bad idea, but – he did as ordered, he gave up the Rittenhouse hunt, he went back to his ordinary life with his wars and his broken head and his long-suffering wife, he didn’t look any more, and he fooled himself that that meant it was all fine.)

And at that, a strange, preternatural clarity falls over Wyatt. It’s not relief, exactly, but it feels so good, even for just a minute, after the initial madness and horror and distraught heartbreak, that he almost cries. Because if that’s the case, if there is one tiny wedge he can drive into this heart of darkness and make it crack, if there is something he might be able to do that the police can’t – if he’s lost everything that mattered, so why not take the risk –

There is something he needs to do.

There is someone he needs to find.

 Jiya Marri started work at Mason Industries two months ago. Rufus Carlin fell in love with her about one month, twenty-nine days, five hours, and – oh, let’s say seventeen minutes ago.

He was probably doomed the instant she walked in – dark ponytail bouncing, stuff packed in a bulging Caltech tote, and a Star Trek scarf wrapped around her neck, the proud result of a “Groundbreaking Women in STEM” fellowship program that Connor Mason sponsored, with the winner offered a job at Mason Industries to design, build, and launch their own app, high-tech project, social transformation scheme, or something else at the cutting, cutting edge. Connor brought her around to meet the team, and Rufus, noting the Caltech and Star Trek accessories, made an awkward joke that he, as the resident MIT/Star Wars diehard, was probably going to be her biggest problem here. Jiya just gave him a bring-it-on-nerd-boy look, smiled, and told him that she was looking forward to it.

It’s not like Rufus hasn’t met smart women before – he has grown up with them, went to school with them, works with plenty of them. It’s not that Jiya is “Not Like Other Girls,” a phrase Rufus hates, but that just she seems so comfortable with being, well, a geek. And that is not a reflection on geek girls, because Rufus has found they are often much easier to get along with and much more enthusiastic and self-deprecating about their interests than unbearably pretentious and insecure geek boys. It’s partly because he wishes he could be more like Jiya, have a little more trust that the world would like him if he came out of his shell. Jiya writes fanfic and has a Tumblr account, goes to cons, does cosplay for various fandoms, has a Twitter where she hilariously and scathingly takes down misogynistic fuckwits on the Internet (so, Rufus thinks, most of the Internet, then). She writes blog posts on everything from advanced theoretical technology concepts to why Kirk/Spock is a classic love story among the greats of literature. She can do crazily difficult equations in a couple of minutes, scribbled on the back of a lunch napkin. She has fought through her fair share of bullshit to get here, absolutely. But she’s then powered right on far past it, up, up, up into the stars. Looking at her, Rufus genuinely believes anything is possible (considering what Connor has been working on for the past several years, that’s saying a lot) and he would give anything, anything, for just a little of that to rub off on him.

Rufus knows he’s no slacker, and he’s proud of that. You don’t go from a black kid growing up on the South Side of Chicago in a not-great neighborhood, to where he is now, without some serious ambition and drive (and luck) along the way. He’s made plenty of money and managed to buy his mom and little brother a new house out here, they’ve moved to California and put down new roots. He is part of the lead team on – (it still takes a moment every time he says it, even in his head) – developing a god damn time machine. Rufus knows he’s valuable and knows he’s smart and knows he’s done a lot. It just somehow never feels like it.

Then again, Rufus supposes, maybe it’s better if he just stays safely within the protective cocoon of Mason Industries for his entire life, let other people be the Steve Jobs and the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world, get the attention and the billions and the name recognition. His one brief foray out, with Wyatt Logan, did not go terribly well. He thinks that maybe Wyatt shouldn’t feel bad for leaving him behind (they aren’t friends, he made it plain that he didn’t trust the dude, of course Wyatt cleared out) because once he got back to Mason Industries with Cahill’s Corporate Creepos from Hell, he went in, found Connor, and handed him the recording device that Mason insisted he take, when Rufus told him that Wyatt was giving him a ride. Here, Rufus said. Don’t know what that was about, but… fine, here.

Thank you. Mason took it and stowed it carefully inside his jacket pocket. Oh, and Rufus? Word of advice? Don’t go gallivanting off with Wyatt Logan any more. It’s rather a bad look, and… well. You know I’ve always had your best interests at heart, so really do listen to me on this one. If he does get in contact again, inform me immediately.

This sounded a little odd to Rufus even back then, but as per usual, he settled on not asking any questions. He likewise has gone back to his life, of working on new bits of supporting technology for the time machine. It’s been rough – Anthony did the first major run out beyond just the few-second temporal displacements, which have been dangerous enough, and as a result, he was in a coma for eight months. Rufus visited the hospital faithfully until he woke up, because Anthony has sponsored his intellectual development just as much as Connor. It would be easy for a middle-aged white-guy engineer, especially working on this, to just blow someone like Rufus off, but Anthony has always trusted him and valued his advice. Loyalty is the one thing Rufus prizes the most, and he returned the favor.

Now, however, Anthony’s awake and mostly back to work, and Mason Industries is taking a team trip to London as part of the festivities surrounding the 2012 Olympic Summer Games taking place there later this year. Connor Mason, hometown boy made good, returning to his roots to share his improvements and breakthroughs. He’s chartered a private jet for the whole staff, and while Rufus is side-eyeing the timing a bit (who wants to go to London in February? Couldn’t it have been in actual summer?) he’s obviously not about to turn up his nose too much. As he steps on board the plush plane (ivory leather seats, gilded trim and wood paneling, the whole nine) carrying his duffel bag, he glances around and tries to see if a) Jiya is already on board, and b) if there’s an open seat anywhere near her. It’s a long flight from San Francisco to London, after all, and maybe they could chat a bit.

By happy coincidence, there is one relatively nearby, which Rufus takes. Jiya has her headphones on and a dog-eared Anne McCaffrey Dragonriders of Pern paperback open, though, so he doesn’t want to bother her. They’ll be in London for a week, and maybe Rufus can take her to get fish and chips, or whatever it is that Brits do for a date. While assuring her seventy billion times that it’s not a date, because he does not want to be creepy. Or is it creepier if he does that? God, he is so bad at this.

They take off and fly into the falling night. Rufus stares out the window and watches the distant pinpricks of light wheel past below them, though he starts dozing off about the time they turn only to black and the flight tracker shows they’re out over the Atlantic Ocean. Rufus thinks then of Anthony, steering a time machine out into the uttermost void, the deepest darkness, a world beyond uncharted, where not even the dragons have proper form or name. Beyond Apollo 8 and the dark side of the moon, beyond a place any human can think of or have a proper conceptual idea of. A few of the techies are really interested in asking the test pilots how it actually feels, to leave time and space behind, to move in dimensions the human brain is not remotely equipped to comprehend. Not Rufus. Even the idea gives him a chill. He might be curious on an academic, theoretical-interest level, but he has no desire to ever experience it for himself. Sometimes he wonders if it’s the right thing to do – they can, it’s there, it’s possible, but as he knows well, something done because someone can do it doesn’t mean they should. All the Mason Industries test pilots basically have to sign their own will before taking the job, prove they either have no dependents or have made the proper arrangements for their care in the event of their sudden and unfortunate decease. It’s not quite the Tuskegee syphilis scandal, obviously, and everyone involved knows what they’re getting in for. Mason himself is a black man, he is aware of this. But still. Rufus wonders.

Rufus sleeps for the main leg over the ocean, and wakes as they are touching down in London the next morning. In proper English fashion, it’s raining as they shuffle into Heathrow, pass customs, and are shown to the chauffeured cars that Mason, naturally, has waiting; no cramming onto the Underground for them. As they glide into the city, Rufus turns to Jiya and clears his throat. “So, uh, if it stops raining, maybe we should go look around? Just, you know, whatever seems cool?”

“It will never stop raining,” Mason remarks, overhearing him, with the jaded demeanor of a true Londoner. “Just do take a brolly and be back by six for our opening dinner. If you don’t want to sleep off the jetlag, that is?”

“I’ll probably crash as soon as the dinner’s over, but I’m feeling okay right now.” Rufus glances at Jiya, wondering if he should then invite their other coworkers to prove it’s not a date. But he doesn’t really want to. “You?”

“Yeah, I’d rather make the most of it,” Jiya says. “We should freshen up first once we get to the hotel, but sure, I’m up for it.”

Rufus hastily tries to quash the flare of excited and apprehensive victory in his stomach, as he still has plenty of chances to screw this up somehow. They arrive at the hotel, check in (everyone gets their own room – you really don’t realize how many doors money can open and how much a billion dollars is, until you hang out with a billionaire – Rufus has never quite gotten used to it) and while some employees elect to snooze until dinner tonight, Rufus and Jiya hastily change out of their comfy flight clothes and into something a little more non-embarrassing for public. Then they pick up the envelopes with their daily allowance of spending money (£100 apiece, and Connor has promised to increase it if anyone feels pinched), make sure they have umbrellas and a map, and head out.

The rain has thinned to an atmospheric mist, the trees have faint hints of green on them, black cabs and red buses rush past (Rufus is completely mixed up about which way he needs to look crossing the street, and hopes he doesn’t end up plastered to the front of one of them) and of course, it’s London. They wander past the various touristy sites – Westminster, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, the Tower of London, the London Eye, etc. – chat, and take goofy pictures. It’s possibly one of the best days of Rufus’s life, even if he starts yawning hardcore around three PM and suggests they return to the hotel for a power nap before dinner. First, however, they duck into Covent Garden Market to grab coffee. Jiya wanders away to look at one of the stalls, Rufus sips his latte, and feels as if he has actually had a successful day with a girl, miracles are real. Hopefully he can keep it up, and –

Just then, someone standing behind him taps him on the shoulder, and he turns automatically, a little surprised. Maybe it’s just another of their coworkers out to carpe the diem, but –

Rufus doesn’t recognize the tall, dark-featured man, though something makes him think he should. The newcomer is wearing a trim leather jacket and jeans, a scarf and a newsboy cap, looking like the rest of the fashionable denizens of central London, but he has one hand in his pocket, and he pulls it out just far enough to let Rufus see that he’s holding what appears to be a gun. The Brit laws are a lot more strict than the American ones. What the fu

“Hello, Rufus,” the man says. His voice is gravelly and accented, his eyes cool and level and more than a little frightening. “I’d like you to come with me.”

Chapter Text

Garcia Flynn has spent the last two years – well, he hasn’t had a single permanent address, a stopover longer than a few months, any phone that wasn’t a burner, a consistent identity or nationality, a less than fifty percent chance that someone will appear with a semi-automatic weapon to finish the job, or a fully legal exit from any of a dozen countries. So really, draw your own conclusions. On the run seems almost hilarious in its understatement; he vaguely recalls that the literary device is called litotes. Completely undersell something for sharper rhetorical effect, usually by presenting it as the negative or opposite of the truth, the kind of sassy and contrary thing that appeals to him. You call Chernobyl just a little industrial fire. Or Rittenhouse really not that bad. Or Garcia Flynn a sensible, well-adjusted man who has a full idea of what he’s doing and everything under control. There, you see? Irony.

Flynn has a full half-dozen fake identities under his belt by now, an assortment of dollars, loonies, euros, pounds, and pesos in reserve depending on where he’s going, and has lived in shitty hotel rooms for so long that he has forgotten there is any other kind of human domicile. It’s better not to ask how he’s getting the money. The NSA doesn’t exactly offer severance pay, and while he has a few accounts in Croatia, they are under his real name and if Rittenhouse knows the first damn thing about their business, they are just waiting for him to try to access them. They’re probably frozen anyway. And while Flynn is perfectly willing to mug someone in an alley if need be, this does not generate any substantial or sustainable income. So he owns one computer, firewalled and encrypted and IP-randomized up the wazoo, a computer that God Himself could not hack (Flynn has made sure of this by running monthly attempts on it himself). This computer is configured to access the Deep Web, otherwise known as the Dark Web, where at least seventy-five percent of the world’s high-level organized crime takes place, a murky cyber underworld and the lifeblood of the black market. Every few weeks, Flynn logs on, performs a few tasks for someone whose real name or employment he will never know, and one to three business days later (good to know that crime syndicates are reliable about their payroll processing) a large amount of money turns up in one of the corresponding fake identities’ offshore bank account. Never the same one twice in a row, or on too consistent a schedule. Flynn likes to think that he hasn’t taken jobs for anyone truly terrible, that it’s the usual petty exchange of knockoff prescription drugs, corporate sabotage, data ransomware, and insurance scams, but he doesn’t know for sure.

And yet. Morally questionable or not, black-hat hacking has enabled him to keep a roof (even a terrible motel one) over his head, eat regularly, change his identities as needed, and track Rittenhouse across multiple countries and continents, so he’s going to keep doing it. For obvious reasons, he cannot return to either Philadelphia or West Point. D.C., where there must be the highest concentration of them, is also out. He can’t go at them directly, so he has to come at them from angles and pincer movements, feints and probes, a subtle, surreptitious game. Try to pin down just how far their influence extends, and how deeply it’s entrenched. It would be impossible for an entire task force with all the money and time in the world. For one man, it’s beyond that. And yet. Garcia Flynn is doing it anyway.

His first port of call was Bavaria, in Germany, seeing if Rittenhouse shared any connections or resources with the Illuminati, founded in 1780 for similar aims but (supposedly) quickly repressed. If you ask your bog-standard conspiracy theorist, they’ll claim the Illuminati are still alive and kicking, and Flynn wanted to figure out if they just subsumed their operations into Rittenhouse. So Dr. Alexander Kovac went to some regional archives and libraries, looking for stuff on Adam Weishaupt and his disciples, any contacts they might have had with David Rittenhouse and his. He found a few things that seemed to suggest this was possible, but Germany has, for obvious reasons, cracked down hard on these kinds of groups post-WWII. It is no longer the ideal environment for Rittenhouse to flourish, even if they probably have a few tendrils planted near Angela Merkel and the EU. Europe might be the birthplace of this kind of thinking, but America has realized it to its fullest potential.

After that, Flynn went to the Caribbean, since he guessed that most of their money has to be moving through the same havens as his. The Caymans, he thinks. But he can’t get physically near it, if there was anything to get close to, without setting off alarm bells, and even his hacking attempts have to be careful. He did enjoy sleeping on the beach beneath the tropical stars, but the news that a hurricane was on the way, plus seeing the same man wander casually past him a few too many times, felt like his cue to leave. Where, he wasn’t quite sure. He wanted to go back to California, wanted like crazy, but he didn’t dare.

Thus, he went to Ottawa instead. It was an unpleasant shock to go from the sunny Caribbean to Canada in winter, but there are bigger problems at stake. Canada obviously has close ties to America, so Flynn could pick up on some things by inference, intercept bits of useful intelligence here and there, and it was close enough to the border that he could nip over a few times and prowl around upstate New York (very, very carefully). The black site in West Point still seems to be in operation, and Flynn made every possible effort to hear about it if Lucy ever returned there, if there is any whisper that Rittenhouse has gotten their hooks into her again. If he did hear anything – well, to hell with subterfuge or delicacy. He would in fact just crash in and pull her out, even if it meant blowing the whole operation, and he’s relieved for any number of reasons that he has not had to. It’s a good thing she did not come along. He could never have been this flexible and this relentless if he had to keep one eye on her and teach her how to live this way. This isn’t a job to learn on.

(A very good thing.)

(Very good.)


Ultimately, however, Flynn’s Canadian sojourn ended up concluding the same thing as Germany: that Canada was not the right place for Rittenhouse to think it worthwhile expanding their foothold. Too nice, probably, and they don’t have the same sense of American imperialism and exceptionalism, don’t fit into Rittenhouse’s patriotic-fascist grand design. So then it was the question of the time machine, which he has been putting off in the hope it was just some sort of trick (even if he has very good reason to know it’s not). Connor Mason has been generously bankrolled to build it, according to Emma, and while Flynn will kill the bitch if he ever sees her again, she’s not lying about that. How much more do they still need to get done to make it a viable operational threat? Where are they getting their engineers, their machinery, their tech? Is Mason himself in Rittenhouse? He has to be. No way they’d outsource that little job to just anyone. Does Mason owe his entire fortune, all his well-publicized accomplishments, to these people? How much else has he done for them?

Flynn still cannot return outright to the Bay Area without sending up too many smoke signals. He has to be strategic. Finally, he lucks into a tip that Connor Mason is taking his team to London for a week in February, bringing the whole circus. As London is obviously also where Emma said she wanted to go, where Rittenhouse was supposedly trying for a new foothold, the coincidence is perfect and self-explanatory. London calling? London calling.

Thus, Flynn picks up from where he has been living in a log cabin in Vermont for the last two months (it’s practically home, he feels an odd pang at leaving it), and takes a flight out of JFK on the Canadian passport that gives his name as Gabriel Ashe. It’s a Commonwealth country, he’ll get less scrutiny entering the UK that way, especially since the passport is only mostly legit. If he blows this, he could find himself out on his ass and in even more hot water, but his luck has held thus far. He has to trust that it will.

On the flight, Flynn supposes that he knows very well what sins he is being punished for by getting stuck in the middle seat, and thinks about Lorena Kovac. About seven months ago, on a lonely, late night, he gave into a moment of weakness and emailed her from his untrackable computer. He hasn’t really spoken to her in several years, and didn’t know what he was going to achieve by getting in touch again. He didn’t say anything about where he was or what he was doing, just that he hoped she was well. He knows it probably confused and hurt Lorena, since he gave her no explanation for dropping out of her life in the first place, and he’s sorry for it. But he wanted – he wanted something, he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know. Just to be sure he didn’t dream a real life, perhaps. The one where they met for coffee on sunny mornings in Dubrovnik, looked over the glittering Adriatic Sea, and did not talk about war.

Lorena’s reply, three days later, was polite and to the point. She also hoped that he was well. She was doing fine – better than fine,. She has recently had a baby girl, Iris. She and Iris’ father – a childhood friend of Flynn’s, an old schoolmate, Luka – are engaged, and they are very happy. A summer wedding is planned. She wishes Flynn the best in his life, and remains fond of him. She hopes he is at peace. She is.

Reading it felt, for Flynn, like being punched in the chest. Somehow it never occurred to him that Lorena would also move on with her life, that since her feelings for him never turned into the relationship she was hoping for, she would tidily shut the door and walk away. And Luka – he’s a doctor, he’s a great guy, he and Flynn have known each other forever, he and Lorena will have a wonderful life. A baby girl named Iris. The ghost of a smiling child floated into Flynn’s head and has never entirely left. It hurt in a way he can’t articulate. It still does. He loved Lorena, in some unformed, tentative, unrealized way, even if Lucy was already between them, somehow, from the start. He knows why Lorena has written the letter as she did, with the tone of wishing an old flame well, even if they were never officially together. She has made it clear that as far as she and her life are concerned, the wound is no longer open, the space has been filled. Perhaps this put them out of danger from Rittenhouse, but Flynn can’t risk writing back. Lorena will probably wonder why she even bothered, and go to her child and future husband, and live. He wants that, God, he wants that, he does. And yet.

That was the night he finally broke a little, under the strain, the effort, the loneliness. He feels corroded, rusted and deformed and darkened, and he was no saint to start with. He is fighting for something, not just against, but he’s not sure he can see it anymore. It was a strange and highly colored dream, and he’s losing the impossible kernel of faith, or fate, that has driven him thus far. It’s too much. It’s too much.

Someone found his hideout the next day, and Flynn killed him. It’s not clear whether he needed to. It was probably just a lost backpacker stumbling on a place that looked inhabited in the woods. Probably. But Flynn shot him anyway and buried him five miles away from the nearest cell phone signal. It’s not the first man he’s killed on this journey, and by far not the first he’s killed in his life. But it was the first one he killed while the man was defenseless, on his knees, and begging that he just wanted to see his mother again.

(It’s a good thing Lorena is with a man, not a monster.)

(A very good thing.)

(Very good.)


The flight finally lands in London, Flynn just makes it through customs with the bogus Gabriel Ashe passport (the customs officer is a little dubious, but the queue is very long and he smiles as unthreateningly as possible) and heads into the City. He has guessed the approximate location of the hotel that Mason Industries is staying at – it’ll be somewhere fancy – but he can’t be completely sure. There are a lot of upmarket hotels in London, after all, and he needs to be careful about which member of the squad he snipes off. He needs someone well-placed on the project, who can answer his questions, and someone who is conveniently clueless about the fact that Mason is in it deep with Rittenhouse, who is so blessedly fortunate as to never have heard the name “Rittenhouse” in their life. Flynn has a few ideas, but he is willing to be flexible. See what comes up, as it were.

The law is almost a ridiculous concept to Flynn now, has had no bearing on his actions whatsoever for months and months. And so he does not care that he has flagrantly illegal methods of tapping into the vast network of data, of closed-circuit television and cell phone signals and open wifi hotspots and all the other stuff that you can access with just a little effort. He narrows it down to Covent Garden, wanders around until he has visual. Yes, it’s him. One of Mason’s engineers. Due to Flynn’s extensive scrutiny of the employee lists, he can identify him as Rufus Carlin. He looks to be on a date. That’s unfortunate.

Flynn takes a better grip on his gun inside his jacket pocket, and strolls forward for a chat.

“I’m sorry?” Rufus repeats, when Mysterious European Gunman makes another brusque motion. Is he a Bond villain? Is this the start of a heist film where Rufus and Jiya race through London, Paris, Madrid, Budapest, and Rome, trying to stop him before he can launch a nuke from his secret Swiss Alps base? (Rufus should wonder what it says that he has this fantasy all ready to go, but better for all concerned that it remain a fantasy – he is not an action hero). “How do you know my name? What is – do you think you can just – ”

“Let’s just agree I know more than you do, Rufus.” A flash of a shark-like white smile, which (amazingly) does nothing to make him feel more confident. “Sorry to interrupt your date.”

“It’s – ” Rufus starts into his well-worn spiel that it’s not a date, until he realizes that a) they are getting sidetracked, and b) this is not Douche von Douchebag’s business anyway. “Well then? How about you not interrupt it? And just let me go? Look, I’ve got some money. Is this a robbery? You want that? You can have it, man. Seriously”

He makes a motion as if to go for his wallet, thinking that at least he wasn’t dumb enough to bring his passport out – as long as he doesn’t need to spend his time here tied up in the consulate getting a new one, Jerkface McGee here can have the rest. Cancel his credit cards and whatever else, it’s not worth his life. But the man shakes his head. “I don’t want your money. Let’s go somewhere we can talk.”

Rufus hesitates. The dude does have a gun and it’s clear just to look at him that he’s not afraid to use it, and who knows what he has in the other jacket pocket – a detonator for a bomb? Damn, and one of the things he was looking forward to on this trip was a lessened risk of being shot for walking down the street while black. “Can I just – can I just tell Jiya that – ”

“Sorry,” the man says pleasantly. “Can’t have her calling anyone. Come on.”

With that, he takes Rufus by the jacket sleeve and walks him briskly out, into the plaza and up toward Leicester Square. Rufus keeps twisting vainly over his shoulder, trying to catch a glimpse of Jiya – great, there goes that entire successful day, she’s gonna think he ditched her on purpose like an asshole, or he’s just the world’s most inattentive doofus who couldn’t bother to wait for her before running back for a nap. Yes, he has more problems on his hands, but that one stings. “Hey,” he says. “Can I call you back? You know, meet for coffee tomorrow, if this is really what you – ”

“Do you think I’m an idiot, Rufus?”

“No… sir?”

“Good.” Sir Shithead keeps walking. Rufus wants to ask him to let go of his sleeve, but he has a feeling that wouldn’t go anywhere good. They make their way up into the maze of side streets and closes that branch off the major thoroughfares in London, toward a tea shop – wait, really, the guy is going to abduct him in broad daylight and then buy him an Earl Grey? Is this the most British kidnapping in existence? His accent isn’t British, though. Rufus is confused enough not to struggle (besides, he also can’t see that going anywhere good) as they reach the shop, Herr Horrible orders a small black coffee, and does not offer to get Rufus anything (he just had his latte, but still). Rufus asks for a Coke just as the man is about to pay, though, which means that he is obliged to buy it. As they sit down at a corner table barely large enough to fit him, the Red Baron raises an eyebrow. “Well?”

“Well what?” Rufus snaps. “Like I’m the one who needs to explain myself here?”

“I just want answers.” The man – Rufus is enjoying coming up with new disparaging nicknames for him, since it’s the only satisfaction he is getting out of this, but he would like an actual one – sounds impatient. “Do that, you can be back on your way in ten, fifteen minutes, tell the girl that you just got lost. You want to cooperate or not?”

Rufus holds out as long as he dares. Then he says, “How do you know my name?”

“You work for Mason Industries. Yes?”

Oh brother, Rufus thinks. Not another throw-his-weight-around military white boy coming to ask probing questions. This one is almost making him miss Wyatt. “Yeah, so?”

“Does Emma Whitmore still work there?”

“She transferred? About a year and a half ago? She still works there, yeah, but I think she took a job at one of the other offices. Here, maybe?”

“Where?” the man demands. “Where?”

Rufus stalls. It’s pretty clear from the look on the Teutonic Terror’s face that it’s bad news for Emma if he catches up to her. He and Emma have never been buddy-buddy, but they’ve worked together for a while, he’s done the calculations responsible for sending her through time, and he doesn’t want that on his head. He is relieved that it is the truth as he says, “I don’t know. We haven’t exactly been keeping up with Christmas cards.”

The man stares at him narrowly. “Do you know if she’s planning to rejoin the main office?”

“I don’t know,” Rufus repeats. “Maybe you should have kidnapped the HR manager.”

For half a moment, a sardonic but genuinely amused smile flickers across the hard lines of the other man’s face. Then it’s all back to business. “Fine,” he says. “How close is the time machine to being done?”

“I – ?” Rufus stares at him. “I – what are you talking about?”

“You’re a smart man, Rufus. Don’t act like an idiot.”

There is a silence long enough to turn very uncomfortable. They stare at each other over the rickety table. Rufus feels as if his odds of flipping it and launching the hot coffee into the man’s face are very slim, but he has to fight down an urge to do just that. Instead of answering, he says, “I’m guessing you and Wyatt Logan know each other?”

Something brief and inscrutable appears, then disappears, in the man’s guarded gaze. “We were acquainted in the past,” he says noncommittally. “Answer the question, please.”

“This is going to get me into trouble.”

“I honestly don’t care if it does or not.”

“Yeah, well. I do.”

“You’d care about something more if you knew why I was asking. And if you have to make me do it a third time – ”

“Jeez.” Rufus raises his hands. “Scorched-earth everything with you, isn’t it? Look. We’ve progressed to running more extensive tests, but it’s still very buggy. One of the lead engineers just got out of an eight-month coma. It’s not out of any sort of beta.”

“When do you think it will be?”

“What are you, some kind of corporate spy? Government whistleblower?” Mason has, for obvious reasons, wanted to keep this project strictly under wraps, and Rufus has definitely already breached several paragraphs of his organizational NDA by talking this much. “Shoot me if you want, but you’re not going to make me turn on – ”

That mirthless smile pays a visit to the corner of In Soviet Russia’s mouth. “I don’t have to shoot you,” he points out. “The girl you were with. I got a nice look at her face. From my examination of the employee directory, I think that is… Jiya, yes? Jiya Marri?”

That rocks Rufus onto his heels and all further smart remarks out of his mouth. “You son of a bitch,” he says, low and hard. “Stay away from her.”

“Do your part, Rufus, and neither of you ever have to see me again.” The man shrugs. “A little answer. Very easy.”

Rufus chews his tongue. Whatever he says, he has a feeling that it isn’t just an academic interest, that he could be directly responsible for setting off a barrel of nitroglycerin in the middle of Connor’s life – in everyone’s. Finally he says, “Again, like I said. It’s in beta. There is no expected timescale of completion when we’re talking about something this. The Mothership runs better, but we – ”

“The Mothership?” The man leans forward with an intent, wolfish expression. “What’s that?”

Shit. Rufus wants to bite his tongue off. He says reluctantly, “The main machine is called the Mothership. There’s a backup called the Lifeboat, but it’s designed just for short-term use, in the event of something going wrong with the Mothership’s crew and a rescue squad being sent to pull them out. That one’s really in beta.”

“Two time machines.” The man taps his fingers on the table, thinking hard. “And either of these, how do they run? Can you visit moments in your own lifetime?”

That is a weirdly specific question. Rufus almost wonders if he’s a crazy UFO fan, or something like that. Or maybe he’s clung onto a time machine as a solution for the big steaming heap of cow poop that his life appears to be – go back and change all your bad choices, that kind of thing. “No,” he says. “That’s not possible. You can’t travel on your own timeline. The ones that’ve tried, you – you don’t want to know what happened to them. The universe doesn’t like it, it’s not like Harry Potter with two versions of you running around.”

For some reason, that answer disturbs his interlocutor (yeah, he’s disturbed now, finally some equality). Rufus wants to demand how the hell he knows this, where he’s got his information and what he is planning to do. There is a final pause until the man makes up his mind. “Give me your access card to Mason Industries,” he says. “Your ID, your key card, whatever I need to get in. You can say you lost them.”

“I just happened to lose my ID?”

“Or I can rob you,” the man points out. “Yes, I think it might be better if we do that. I will take your money after all. London is an expensive city, why not?”

“I can’t let you into Mason Industries. I can’t – ”

“You’re here in London for the whole week. The entire team is. That is much neater, I don’t need to kill anyone to get in. You can tell Jiya that you were robbed, she will feel very sorry for you. A happy ending. You don’t report it to anyone and you don’t say anything about losing the card until you get back.”

“To what, a giant bomb crater where Mason Industries used to be?”

“Oh, no.” The man shakes his head. “I don’t want to destroy it. I just need information. Now. You give me your ID card, the cash in your wallet, and anything else a robber might take. I will let you keep your phone. Hurry up, Rufus. Jiya must be looking for you.”

Rufus has never wanted to kill anyone with a stare more than he has wanted to kill this idiot, but he can’t think what else to do. Slowly, he fumbles out his Mason Industries ID and key card on its lanyard, jerks the cash envelope out, and shoves it over the table. It’s not even his money, but still. He feels the betrayal on a soul-deep level, the one thing he hates most. What a way to repay Connor, after everything he has done for him. Rufus feels tainted and unhappy and used. “There,” he snaps. “Take it. Are we done?”

“You tell me.” The man shrugs, pocketing the card and cash. “Actually, I have changed my mind. A robber would take your phone. Give it to me, I will mail it back in a few weeks.”

“I – ” Rufus clutches his phone like his firstborn child. Like any proper millennial, he cannot function more than a few hours without it. “Like I’m going to believe that?”

“Phone. Now.”

Rufus grits his teeth, thinks that he can hopefully report it as stolen and freeze it before the bastard has time to mine all its data, and drops it into his hand. King Kraptacular, of course, makes sure to ask him for the passcode, makes Rufus do it to demonstrate that it is in fact the right one, and then finally stands up with a mocking grin. “It’s been good to do business with you,” he says, touching two fingers to his hat. “Enjoy your trip to London, Rufus.”

And with that, leaving Rufus sitting there completely gobsmacked, he goes.

 Wyatt Logan has no idea how to find a man whose entire professional value lies in his ability to completely fucking disappear at will, but by God, that is not going to stop him trying.

He can’t exactly drive up to NSA headquarters and demand to consult their personnel files, especially for ex-personnel that, as far as Wyatt knows, still have a standing arrest warrant. He did try the old phone number for Flynn, but he was not surprised at all when the cool female robot voice told him that this number was not in service. He’s tried to think if anyone in the intelligence branch of things owes him a favor, or might feel bad for him because his wife is probably dead and would be willing to kick some rocks. The possibility of the quest has galvanized Wyatt like a direct intravenous hit of caffeine; he hasn’t slept more than three hours at one time since this started. It’s been four days, and he has barely focused on the fact that for all intents and purposes, the cops are looking for a body. That’s not it, that’s not what happened. Jess is alive somehow, somewhere. She’s alive.

In the course of this, Wyatt has also been managing to convince himself that Flynn is not as bad as he remembers. Sure, he was an abrasive jackass with zero interpersonal skills and an amazing ability to make everything ten times more difficult than it needs to be, but to be fair, when they actually met face-to-face, Flynn had just been shot twice and was freshly out of emergency surgery. That might put a damper on anyone’s sunny disposition, and Wyatt is painfully aware that his own behavior has been no basket of roses. Maybe it’s just because he’s so lonely, he’s so desperately lonely and so terrified that this in fact the one mistake he cannot take back or get around, but he’s already half-made Flynn into a friend in his head. Grumpy, but essentially good-hearted. Definitely willing to lend an old pal (even in a very loose sense of the word) a hand. It’ll work out. It has to.

No one ever said that this was the most realistic appraisal of the situation, but at least it’s kept Wyatt from eating bark off trees, and after his feverish hours of work, he’s decided that the best angle he has into the whole thing is Mason Industries. However, that is going to piss off Rittenhouse something wild; the whole scene in the car was very clear at instructing him that he had better never come near that place again. If Wyatt is trying to be clandestine, this is not the way to do it. The only other person he can still contact (hopefully) is not guaranteed special access either, and it could once more put her in danger. But she’s also the only human being on the planet who might know where Flynn is, or at least want to see him again too. And really. Wyatt has nothing left to lose.

He takes out his phone, and dials.

It rings once, then twice, then again. Just as he thinks it’s not going to be answered, it is. “Hello?” She sounds confused and tenuous. “Is this – Wyatt?”

“Hi.” Wyatt blows out an unsteady breath. He was the one who told her to call him if she was ever scared, if she needed anything, and now here he is, practically ready to beg. “Lucy. I – I know it’s been a while since we talked. I’m sorry to just call you out of the blue.”

“No, of course,” Lucy says. “It’s fine, it’s fine. Are you okay?”

Wyatt was fondly supposing that he didn’t sound like that much of a wreck, but he appears to have been disabused of that along with everything else. “Actually,” he says, swallowing hard as his voice catches. “Actually. . . since you ask, I’m. . . I’ve been better. A lot better. I’m sorry again, I know this may not be something you want to talk about, but have you – have you seen Flynn recently? Garcia Flynn?” As if there can be another.

There’s a marked silence. Then Lucy says, “No. I haven’t seen him for almost two years.”

Wyatt can feel his fragile, giddy optimism heading for a crash as fast as it went up, but he still refuses to let this be the end of the road. “So you – you don’t know where he is these days, or what he’s doing, or – ?”

“No,” Lucy says. “I have no idea. Wyatt, what’s – what’s going on?”

Wyatt stares at the ceiling, trying to formulate the words. The idea of speaking it aloud is still unbearable, and it’s bad enough for Lucy that he called her like this, he doesn’t need to start unloading his flaming trainwreck of emotional baggage onto her. He tries to keep his voice as calm as it would be at a briefing for his superiors. Tells her, as succinctly as he can, what’s happened, and why he’s looking for Flynn.

Lucy makes shocked and sympathetic noises, which Wyatt appreciates, but he knows he still does not deserve her pity. “I’m so sorry,” she says. “Is there anything else I can do? Do you have – have family in town, or anything?”

“Family?” Wyatt laughs, bone-dry. “My family? Nah. Grandpa Sherwin died a few years ago. Jess’s family has – they’re in town, they’ve been with the cops. I get the feeling that they think I should be at the station more, that I wasn’t there for her when she was alive and now I’m not there for her when she’s – ”

He stops. He can’t bear the fact that he almost said it, that it seemed so terribly possible. It feels like there’s a boulder wedged in his throat, and he rubs his hand over his eyes, trying to collect himself. “Anyway,” he manages. “I told them that I was – that I was working on something, and – this is my fault, I know it is. But if it’s not just some local scumbag, if it’s more – if it’s them –

Lucy doesn’t answer immediately. He can hear what she must be thinking – that he’s got a lot of nerve strolling into her life again, dumping a sob story about his wife on her, and assuming she will return to something that must hurt her as well, that she will unearth what must be some not-very-well-buried bodies and contend once more with the ghosts. She would be justified in any or all of it, and he tries to steady himself for her telling him to take a hike. There might still be some other way to track down Flynn, though it gets much narrower and more impossible if so. But when there’s nothing else but this –

“Okay,” Lucy says, quiet and level and cool as stone. “What do you need?”

This is not the wisest idea Lucy has ever had, not by a long shot. She should be unnerved, perhaps (but again, that is the whole point) at how greatly not-wise it is. And yet. She’s not.

It feels like something has changed in her, turned as sharply as a key, and she’s not even sure what. Just in that moment of finally accepting that Flynn was gone (the way that Wyatt is desperate not to do with Jessica, but it is not for Lucy to decide that before its time) it was like she woke up, somehow. There was never any chance that she was going to sit around and languish on a couch and weep. She got right on with her life, professionally and personally, and she’s done fine with it. And yet, after her visit to her mother’s the other day, when she’s gotten even fewer answers than she has questions, when she realized that she’s lived like she’s sleepwalking, determined that things are normal, not to rock the boat, to make everyone else’s lives easier and safer, pushing herself further and further away –

She doesn’t know what, but she’s sick of it, she’s angry, she’s tired, and she’s not willing to do it anymore. So suddenly, when Wyatt Logan calls out of the clear blue sky, says his wife is missing, and hints that he thinks Rittenhouse has something to do with it, Lucy’s game.

She drives to her mom’s house when she knows that Carol will be out for a doctor’s appointment, goes upstairs, and gets the gun out of the box. Takes the ammunition as well, hurries down to her car feeling properly scandalous – she has never done something like this, it doesn’t even feel like her. She’s licensed the gun in the state of California, she’s allowed to carry it, but she still puts it in the glovebox and locks it. Her hands are shaking, but she clenches them, and they stop. Then she drives back to Stanford, finishes her day, and waits.

It’s around five o’clock when there’s a knock on her office door, and she stands up to open it. Has guessed who it is, but it’s still a small shock to see him in person. He doesn’t look that great, with a missing wife and a long drive under his belt, but he manages a wan smile and offers his hand. “Hey, Lucy.”

Lucy pauses, then reaches out and hugs him. She doesn’t know why, other than that he looks like he could use it, and Wyatt goes briefly stiff, then awkwardly hugs her back. They step apart after a moment, and he clears his throat. “I – so. . . how. . . how are you?”

“Fine.” The word almost lives on her lips these days. “It’s not going to cause you any problems with the cops or Jessica’s family if you came up here, is it?”

“Them?” Wyatt laughs bitterly. “They’ve never exactly been my biggest fans, and honestly, I’m not sure I blame them anymore. Her stepdad almost didn’t attend the wedding – he’s a son of a bitch anyway, but. . . yeah. I told them I was working on something to get her back, and that’s not a lie. Told them to call if the cops – ” He stops. “Well, if anything came up.”

Lucy supposes this is his business, and what they are proposing is going to take enough attention and concentration that they don’t need any more distractions. Wyatt waits as she finishes up a few things, turns off the lights, and grabs her purse. They have a few hours to kill, so they get a quick dinner and try to catch up. The conversation isn’t exactly bountiful, and it’s hard to be sure what the dynamic here should be. Old friends? Not exactly friends, but they did trust each other in a tight spot, and they’re not strangers. Heist partners preparing for the night’s action? Some of that is true, but still. Should she be comforting him, offering to talk him through his problems? She is not a trained psychiatrist, and she gets the sense that Wyatt’s problems are a lot more than she’s reasonably prepared to take any kind of crack at, but there’s also value to be had in just talking to someone who cares. She doesn’t get the feeling there’s a whole lot of that in his life, really. Especially not now.

In any case, it’s getting later, and it’s time to put their plan (such as it is) into action. There is a solid chance that this night ends with both of them arrested, but (who is she and what has she done with Lucy Preston) the idea almost exhilarates her. They drop off her car at home, and Wyatt glances at the house. “All that space just for you?”

“I – no. We – live together. My boy – boyfriend and I.” Lucy feels like a high schooler about to blush at saying the word, given how awkward it feels on her tongue. “Noah.”

“That was – ” Wyatt gives her a funny look. “Wait, was that the doctor at the hospital when Flynn was shot?”

“Yeah. We dated a couple years before that, and I… we got back together about a year ago.” Lucy goes around the side of Wyatt’s truck and climbs in, hoping that none of the neighbors are peering out their windows and will feel like telling Noah about it later. Suburbanites are in fact horrible gossips, apparently. But this way, they streamline their operations, Noah will hopefully just think she’s out for a walk or whatever when he gets home, and it’s just easier to do this in one car. “He works in Oakland now.”

Wyatt glances at her, but doesn’t say anything, as if well aware that he has no stones to throw at anyone else’s relationship choices. He starts the truck and they pull out, heading down the street and back toward the freeway. Here goes nothing.

They are, of course, not going to do this like total savages and/or jailbirds if at all avoidable, and pull into the Mason Industries parking lot when, as planned, it has almost cleared out for the day. There are in fact almost no cars there, which might either make things easier or much more complicated, and Wyatt considers it with a furrowed brow. “Technically, we’re still going to have to break in,” he says. “Let me take the lead, all right? I’ve got a lot less to lose if I’m popped for B&E, but I’m guessing Stanford would be less impressed.”

“I don’t care,” Lucy says, startling herself. She leans forward and checks that the zipped gun case is still in her purse; she took it out of the glovebox before leaving her car. “We’re going to save your wife, all right? We’re going to save your wife and I don’t care if we have to step on Rittenhouse’s toes to do it. I’m tired of waiting and worrying if they’re coming after me again one day. Maybe it’s time we found out.”

And with that, as Wyatt is still blinking, Lucy pushes open the truck door and steps down into the blurry blue evening. She unzips the case and checks that the gun is loaded, but that the safety is on and there’s no risk of it discharging automatically. Her hands are almost practiced at this, though she has obviously never been in a real situation of possibly having to use it and doesn’t know that she ever wants there to be a first. Obviously, they are not going to blaze in and hold a lab full of terrified scientists (or even the lab’s night crew) hostage, but Wyatt wants to talk to Connor Mason, and Lucy intends to see that he does. If that involves a little hardball, even though ‘hardball’ is far from a five-foot-five history professor’s skill set, fine.

They cross the parking lot and head for the visitor’s entrance, which is still open. They push the glass doors open and stroll down to the reception area, where the poor receptionist is just switching off her computer and preparing to go home. At the sight of them, she looks up with a start. “I’m sorry, we’re just about to – there aren’t any more appointments scheduled, I’m sorry, I was just about to lock the building, sir, ma’am, so – ”

“Hi,” Lucy says, smiling sweetly. “We’d like to talk to Connor Mason.”

The receptionist goggles at her. “Ma’am, I’m sorry, this is past business hours. Besides, Mr. Mason is out of the country until next week. Obviously, he’s a very important and busy man, you can’t just expect to walk in off the street and expect to see him – ”

“Fine.” Wyatt steps up next to Lucy. “Who else is here?”

The receptionist’s eyes whiz back and forth between them. She is obviously getting the sense that they are neither a pair of IT professionals late for an appointment, or a couple of starstruck fans wandering off the street and trying to cadge a meeting with their idol for a viral video. She makes a move as if to reach for a security button under the desk, but Wyatt says, “I wouldn’t, ma’am.”

The receptionist glances at Lucy, clearly hoping for some female solidarity here. Normally, that is 100% Lucy’s bag otherwise, but tonight, alas, principles have to be sacrificed in more ways than one. “Tammy,” she says, glancing at the ID badge around the receptionist’s neck. “How about we just borrow that for a few minutes? You sit here and we’ll be right back.”

“I’m going to call security,” Tammy the receptionist warns them. “You need to – ”

“I wouldn’t,” Wyatt repeats. “What you’re going to do is switch off the security cameras, or at least scramble them for a few minutes. We don’t want to hurt you, ma’am, we don’t want to hurt you at all. But we need some answers, and we won’t leave until we have them.”

“I told you. Mr. Mason isn’t here.” Tammy’s face is white. “I couldn’t bring you to talk to him even if I wanted to. I don’t know what you want. Please, I have two children, I – ”

“Calm down,” Lucy says gently. “We’re not here to hurt you, like he said. But even if Mason isn’t here, there has to be someone else we can speak with.”

“No, they’re – it’s a team trip, all the project leads and main engineers went to London, it’s only a few part-timers here, and they’re gone for the night. I don’t want to lose my job, I – ”

“Yeah?” Wyatt says roughly. “Well, I really didn’t want to lose my wife. So I guess it’s going to be hard knocks for everybody, isn’t it? How about his office? Can you take us to his office? Probably won’t be able to get into his computer, but there have to be some paper files. Your boss know anything about Rittenhouse? Probably does, doesn’t he? Since he’s in it?”

Tammy flinches as if she’s been slapped. “Sir – ” She looks appealingly back at Lucy. “Please, it’s – you don’t know, you – ”

“I think you should take us to Connor Mason’s office,” Lucy says, gently but relentlessly. “I really think you should.”

Tammy hesitates.

Lucy reaches into her purse, and draws out what’s in her hand just enough to be seen.

Tammy blanches, and Wyatt blinks again, as if he had no idea she was carrying until now and is impressed (and slightly turned on) despite himself. Lucy shakes her head minutely at him when he opens his mouth as if to ask, and they wait until Tammy, fingers trembling, takes her key card, swipes it, and enters a few things clearly intended to put a five-minute freeze on the relevant cameras. Then she clicks around the desk, beckons them with a very tight nod, and starts to walk, as Lucy realizes she can’t let her get too far ahead of them, and jogs to catch up. She takes firm hold of Tammy’s wrist, and the other woman jerks as if it’s a handcuff. Lucy has never had anyone look at her with that much fear and revulsion before, and she isn’t sure she likes it. And yet, there is an unmistakable frisson of power that is, in a sick way, kind of appealing. Oh God, she isn’t a psycho, is she? She’s not. She’s not.

They walk down a glass corridor that overlooks a vast, dim steel warehouse, banked with computers and consoles on every side. It looks kind of like NASA launch headquarters, an impression reinforced by the sight of the large white plasteel eyeball sitting on struts in the middle of the expanse. It’s banded with blue blinking lights, increasing its resemblance to a UFO even more, and Lucy suddenly thinks that she might know exactly what that is. There has, obviously, still been a kernel of doubt in her mind – Emma was convinced that Mason Industries was building a time machine and she was test-piloting it, yes, but Emma was crazy. This, though. It could somehow be a film prop that Mason Industries is building for some bizarre reason rather than a set dresser in Hollywood, but Lucy doesn’t think so.

Wyatt, who has no clue (probably for the best) that time travel enters into this anywhere, is totally befuddled, but Lucy once more shakes her head at him. They complete the traverse to the doors of important-looking offices – Connor Mason, Anthony Bruhl, a couple others – and Tammy swipes her key card to open Connor’s. One of them is going to have to watch her while the other ransacks for useful intel. Otherwise she will run away and raise the alarm, and then they’re definitely getting arrested. Or worse.

With Tammy still firmly in hand, Lucy ventures over the threshold. She has no idea how they’re supposed to shake down Mason’s office in five minutes or less for some convenient Rittenhouse papers that he might just happen to have in some carelessly unsecured file cabinet. Wyatt, however, clearly doesn’t care if they’re secured or not. He takes a small crowbar out of his jacket and advances in after the women, looking around as if to decide where he needs to start smashing. Lucy appears to be on Tammy-minding duty, but she hopes Wyatt doesn’t leave too much of a mess. There’s no guarantee how long the cameras stay off. Or did they actually even go off in the first place? Maybe they should have worn balaclavas like proper robbers. Wyatt’s right, Stanford will not be enthused, and –

Just then, all the remaining blinking lights in the room, and along the hall, go dark. Wyatt, who was about to start bashing the bejesus out of Connor Mason’s file cabinets, stops with a startled curse, and Lucy thinks that this must be it, Tammy tricked them and the emergency protocol is kicking in. But if so, you’d expect klaxons and flashing lights, not just silent darkness. What the hell? Power just shut down at eight o’clock every night? But from what little Lucy can make out of Tammy’s face in the red emergency backups that are just flickering on, she is as startled as they are. Wasn’t expecting that.

Lucy looks down into the launch area, which she can see from Mason’s magisterial God’s eye view of his kingdom, and her heart skips a beat. She can just see a dark figure wending through the shadows, making its way purposefully toward the time machine (as it has to be). There’s someone else here, someone else broke in, shut down the lights and surveillance with a lot more skill than their clumsy receptionist kidnapping, and is making for its – for his? – target like a homing pigeon. No way to tell if it’s bad news or worse.

“Wyatt?” Lucy hisses. “Wyatt!”

Wyatt, who has clearly been about to decide if he should just smash some shit anyway for the stress relief, looks over with a start and follows her pointing finger down to the interloper on the operations floor. He stashes the crowbar hastily back in his jacket and pulls out his gun instead, then strides out of the office and toward the metal stairs that open into the warehouse. Lucy hurries after him, Tammy bumping in her wake like a kite on the end of a string, then pushes her down to hide behind a computer bank, which the receptionist does only too gladly. If she can somehow call 911 from there, well, that’s another problem. Lucy wants to have her hands free in case Wyatt needs any help.

She reaches in, pulls out the gun, and switches the safety off. Can in fact feel the difference, the way it comes alive, and advances at Wyatt’s side in recon stance. They’re just on the other side of the time machine from the intruder, and Lucy and Wyatt flatten themselves stealthily against it, guns in hand. They exchange a look, trying to decide if they need to actually fire. Not in a warehouse full of priceless technology, not when they’ve already illegally entered, not when they don’t know who the other person or what they want, but –

They can hear footsteps. They need to make a decision.

They throw themselves out from behind the time machine and come around, raising their guns at the intruder, who – even faster than them – has already done the same. Lucy has an indistinct impression of unusual height, and a merciless stare in the low, hellish light, and then, all the blood draining out of her head, her heart, her world. It can’t be, it can’t, and yet. All along, there was really no one else it could be.

She can’t get enough air into her lungs, and isn’t sure she will again. Her strangled whisper sounds as loud as a shout.


Chapter Text

For a very, very long moment, Lucy and Flynn do nothing but stare at each other, totally dumbstruck. There is, to be fair, not a whole heck of a lot else that anyone would do. It’s been two years, Lucy just finally gave up and let go of the idea of ever seeing him again a few days ago, and yet, with his utterly contrarian nature in everything ever, should probably have guessed that this is when he would make his dramatic return. It’s difficult, indeed, to see how it could possibly be more dramatic. Pointing guns at each other from opposite sides of a time machine after his-and-hers break-ins – to say the least, this is a far cry from Flynn turning up at Stanford to coax and cajole an oblivious and skeptical young graduate student into his bonzai plans. Now it’s Professor Preston, she’s still got the gun, and she was just doing the exact same damn thing that he was. It has to be immediately apparent that this is not the Lucy he left, and nobody should make the mistake of thinking otherwise.

At last, when a track light flickers on by the control panel, everyone’s heads swivel around to see what Tammy is doing, and it occurs to them that they should really get out of here before legions of jackbooted private security thugs arrive, the spell is broken. Lucy lowers her gun, glances at Wyatt (who is looking equally stunned), and jerks her head at Flynn. He could do anything, react in any way, but all it takes is that to bring him on her heels, following orders. They dash past the dim, hulking silhouette of the time machine, down the way Flynn appears to have come, along the service corridor and out into the back courtyard by the dumpsters. There’s an industrial linens truck parked there, which – just a quick guess – has probably not actually come to take care of industrial linens. Sure enough, Flynn hauls the door open and vaults up behind the wheel, as Lucy and Wyatt scramble in the other side. There are more and more lights slamming on across the Mason Industries complex; it’s clear that no matter whose operation they are talking about, it’s blown. He throws the truck into gear, reverses with a screech, and burns down the delivery drive, scanning a badge hastily through the exit gate and pulling out onto the road beyond. Then he hits it.

There is understandably no talk at all for five or ten frenzied minutes, only the sound of clattering laundry tubs from the back of the van, as Flynn peels past the entrances to various sprawling technological campuses. Once he reaches the main road, he drives at a more sedate pace, but barely. They hit the freeway, he speeds up again, and doesn’t stop until the glittering night skyline of San Francisco rises into sight. Lucy wants to mention that they left Wyatt’s truck back at Mason Industries, it’s going to be very easy for someone to find it and connect it to them, but she has a feeling Flynn isn’t terribly arsed about that just now.

At last, they pull off into a quieter, dark street, find a parking lot that is past paying hours, and turn in. Flynn kills the engine, staring down at his hands on the wheel, a muscle working in his cheek. Then he turns to them. “Why the hell did you two blow it like that?”

“We blew it?” The first words out of his mouth in two years, and of course he’s grouching that they were so inconsiderate as to step on his toes in his rule-breaking. “We were doing the same thing as you were, so if that’s our fault – ”

“Yes,” Flynn says. “Like cartoonish amateurs, though I should have expected that from you.” He aims a scathing look at Wyatt. “You were the one who sent Emma after us, weren’t you? Played you like a fiddle the whole time, probably gave you some sad story and you buckled right under, so once we get out of here, remind me to punch you in the – ”

Wyatt starts into a heated response, even as Lucy – once more forced into the role of playground chaperone pushing apart two angry twelve-year-old boys – shoves her arms out. “Both of you, shut up right now. Wyatt’s truck is back there, we’re probably on half a dozen cameras, and Tammy would definitely be able to pick us out of a lineup – me and Wyatt, at least, I don’t know if she got a good look at Flynn. So maybe save the stag fight for later?”

Flynn and Wyatt shut their mouths in mutinous unison and give each other one last look out of the corner of their eyes, but consent to do so. There is an unpleasant silence. All the obvious questions – where have you been, what have you been doing, why are you back here, why were you there tonight – feel pointless. Lucy isn’t sure if she’s happy to see him again, if she wants to slap him, or if she wishes he didn’t materialize just in time for another giant mess. (To be fair, she and Wyatt made a great start at getting themselves into this one on their own, but still.) Then, startling all of them, her phone rings. It’s Noah.

Jesus. It’s not that late. Theoretically, she could still be out for a walk. But might as well head him off at the pass, so Lucy swipes her thumb over the screen and answers it. “Hello?”

“Hey.” Noah sounds apologetic, as the two of them have been tiptoeing around each other since the fight about the gun. “I’m sorry to bother you. But your car’s here, and you’re not, and it’s dark, and… everything okay?”

Lucy glances to her left, at Garcia Flynn squashed into the driver’s seat of a stolen laundry truck, still glaring, looking like a dozen different kinds of trouble. Lucy glances to her right, at Wyatt Logan determined to go kamikaze headlong against Rittenhouse to find his possibly dead wife. Lucy glances at herself, gun still in her lap, having just engaged in criminal mischief and threatening a receptionist to break into a high-tech time machine laboratory.

Lucy says, “Yeah, everything’s fine.”

“You gonna be home later?”

“Yeah. Don’t worry, don’t wait up, I’m just out with some friends. Okay, Noah. Bye.”

With that, not really giving him time to get in anything edgewise, Lucy hangs up, even as she can feel Flynn steadfastly pretending that he is not going to ask who that was. He manages it for a whole ten seconds before he says, “Who was that?”

“Noah. My boyfriend.” Lucy probably shouldn’t enjoy looking him dead in the eyes as she says that, but she does. Two years. Two years. No word, no sound, nothing. Then he turns up and snarks at them and otherwise makes himself a pain in the hindquarters all over again. Yeah, he gets to hear this, the reminder that she hasn’t sat around pining and brushing her hair in some princess’s tower. “He was worried.”

Flynn flinches. He rubs a hand over his mouth and turns away, at a visible loss for words. It is plain that he has in fact felt the blow, and this time, Lucy isn’t sure whether she likes it or not. He has no right being jealous of anyone in her life, after vanishing off the face of the planet and making such a dog’s breakfast of everything with them beforehand, and yet, there’s that part of her that wants to prod and push and test, to experiment, to see if she does still have that control, that ability to take him under rein. He might have no right to be jealous, but she admittedly wants him to be anyway. Then to suffer. He deserves it.

(She’s pretty sure she does in fact want to slap him. But later.)

“Right,” Wyatt says. “Can we get back to the part where we just broke into Connor Mason’s lab and then had to break out of it really fast? What were you doing there? You – you know about Rittenhouse, don’t you? What they’re doing, what they – might want to do?”

Flynn glances sidelong at him, eyebrow arched. “Now you want my help?”

“Just…” Wyatt clenches his fists several times, takes a deep breath, and clearly struggles to find his happy place. “Look. My wife is missing, all right? My wife is missing. I don’t know for sure if Rittenhouse had something to do with it, but I don’t know that they didn’t. And that might not matter to you, but it matters to me. Connor Mason knows something about those dicks, so I was going to ask him, but – ”

“Connor Mason’s gone,” Flynn interrupts. “As even you may have noticed, Wyatt. Besides, what, you thought you’d just stroll into his office and get him to open up for a friendly chat about those people? What was your other plan, threaten him with a water pistol?”

“Wow,” Wyatt says. “I cannot believe that I convinced myself you weren’t actually that bad.”

Something flickers over Flynn’s face at that – shame, perhaps? An awareness that it’s going a little too far to kick a man while he’s down? He seems to sense Lucy glaring at him in disapproval, at least, even if he apparently couldn’t give a damn about Wyatt, and finally shrugs. “So that was what you wanted? Get Connor Mason to tell you why Rittenhouse might have kidnapped your wife?”

“I don’t know what they did with her. The cops found her blood, someone h – ” Wyatt stops again. “Someone hurt her. They think they’re only searching for a body now, and a culprit if they’re lucky. But what’s this about Emma – Emma Whitmore? She said she wanted to escape Rittenhouse, I was trying to help – ”

“Well,” Flynn says curtly. “To say the least, she didn’t, so you didn’t at all. Fine, Wyatt. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll try to find who’s responsible for the disappearance of your wife, but you go back to Mason Industries, claim your truck, take the fall for the break-in. Play the grieving husband card. You were out of your mind, you were just trying to do your best, but now you’re here and you’re going to fess up. That way, nobody looks for anybody else connected to it, and we have a little time.”

Wyatt opens his mouth, then shuts it. Finally he says, “I’m pretty sure the thing Rittenhouse made me sign told me to stay away from there.”

“You signed a – you did what?” Flynn looks as if he really cannot hear one more piece of information about how utterly Wyatt has bungled this, or he will rescind all offers of help on the spot. “Jesus Christ! Do you people have any ability to do this on your own?”

“Look, I – it was that or a gunfight in the parking lot, so – ”

“You know,” Flynn says. “I think I might have taken the gunfight. But that’s the deal. Do you want me to look into your wife’s disappearance or not?”

Wyatt hesitates clearly as long as he dares. Then he says, “Fine. Yes. I’ll tell everyone it was me. But what was that thing, what – what were you doing there?”

“I was trying to see if the time machine was done or not.” Flynn drops this little bomb as casually as if saying he wanted to see what was for lunch. “And if not, what I was going to have to do with it. I still haven’t decided.”

“The t – ” Wyatt is the only one of them who has not been in the loop, and he emits an strangled croaking noise, but no words, but several moments. Then he demands, “I’m sorry, did you just say that Connor Mason has invented a – ”

“Yes, Wyatt, get with the program.” Flynn flinches as headlights turn down the street, but they continue past the parking lot without interruption. “I’m surprised that Lucy hasn’t briefed you, now that the two of you are such good friends. A time machine. That’s what Rittenhouse has been working toward. I have considerable intel on them, but not enough. They’re good at hiding their tracks, even from me. I don’t know why exactly they might have wanted to kidnap your wife, but if you made life difficult for them, that’s their M.O.”

“But I didn’t,” Wyatt says. “All right, briefly, but after I signed that damn thing, I went back to my regular life, I didn’t look, I did what they said. I went back to Delta Force and took a job tracking damn cartel coke traffickers! Now they just – what, appear and steal Jess and – ”

“Coke traffickers.” Something seems to have occurred to Flynn. “The Black Eagles in Colombia one of them, by any chance?”

“What?” Wyatt stares at him. “Yes, actually. Why?”

“That explains it,” Flynn says, with the world’s grimmest smile. “You know how the U.S. has been interfering in Central and South America and sponsoring death squads and CIA coups for decades? Rittenhouse has their fingers all in that pie. Big facilitators of Iran-Contra for Reagan. Anyway, they take a big chunk of their profits from the drug trade, stealthily disrupt any major attempts to tackle it because it’s so useful for them. You went for their pocketbook, after promising not to. Of course they came for your wife.”

“What the fu…” Wyatt can’t finish that sentence. It’s clear he doesn’t necessarily disbelieve what Flynn is saying, might even be relieved to hear that it’s not just him being paranoid, that it’s very possible Rittenhouse was in fact involved in Jessica’s disappearance. But still, first the time machine and then this is a lot to throw on an emotionally compromised man all at once, and Lucy reaches out to put a hand on his shoulder. Wyatt says, for completeness and accuracy’s sake, “What the fuck.”

“Yes.” Flynn leans back in his seat. “Like I said. I will try to find out what happened to her. But you have somewhere to go, don’t you?”

“Fine,” Wyatt says tightly. “I assume it would defeat the point for you to be seen giving me a ride back, so I’ll find some other way to return and hand myself in. Is there any way for me to get in touch with you, or do I just have to believe that you’ll hold up your end of the – ”

“I’ll call you,” Flynn says. “Now get out of the truck.”

Wyatt regards him with barely-disguised loathing, clearly cannot quite bring himself to offer a handshake to seal the deal, and offers an extreme abbreviation of a nod instead. Then he opens the passenger side door and swings out, crossing the dark parking lot and striding off toward the main thoroughfare. Flynn and Lucy, thus alone together for the first time in two years, sit there watching him through the windshield until he’s gone. Neither of them seems up to venturing to a conversation; the air hangs thick enough without a word already. Then Flynn remarks, “How do you think he’ll look in his mugshot?”

“Oh my God.” Lucy rubs her fingers under her eyes. The urge to strangle him has never been so immense as it presently is. “You’re a bastard.”

Flynn looks half at her as if to say he’s never made any bones about that, if nothing else. Still, of course he’s too stubborn to apologize or retreat. “Well. As long as Rittenhouse has someone to play with, that might buy us a little – ”

“Oh my God.” That’s it, Lucy has had it. She spins around in the seat to face him, on the very verge of actually losing it. “Two years. Two years of no word or breath or knowledge of you whatsoever, then you turn up again, snark at a man who’s just lost his wife and doesn’t know anything about the time-traveling part of this insanity, and are still utterly obsessed with Rittenhouse, Rittenhouse, Rittenhouse! Not even a single ‘it’s good to see you, Lucy?’ or ‘how have you been, Lucy?’ or a ‘I’m sorry for making you wonder if I might be dead, Lucy?’ or – or anything, huh? Not even hello?

It is Flynn’s turn to look as if he has slipped on a verbal banana peel. No wonder, since anything about human emotions or ordinary interactions tends to have that effect on him. Utterly competent and terrifyingly formidable at strategy and tactical intelligence and fighting, complete shit at everything else. That’s Garcia Flynn for you. He sounds almost awkward as he asks, “Did you actually want me to say hello?”

“I… Jesus.” Lucy wraps her fingers around the gearshift as the nearest acceptable substitute for his neck, and squeezes. “That might have been somewhere to start.”

Flynn blinks. At last, he shrugs. “Fine. Hello.”

“No. You’ve ruined it.” Lucy lets go of the gearshift and shakes her head. “Well, I don’t want to keep you from your pressing Rittenhouse-hunting commitments. Take me home.”

“What, to – ”

“Yes. I want to go home now. To my boyfriend.”

Flynn looks as if she’s just swung a weed whacker into his face, but he doesn’t respond. Then at last he says, “I meet you doing exactly the same thing as me, holding a gun on me in Mason Industries at night, and I’m supposed to think that you’re still the same Lucy as when I left? Or just – ”

“Yes,” Lucy says. “Yes, you left. I know why you said you were going to. I’m sure it was very productive for you. I know why I couldn’t come and it’s best on balance that I didn’t. But you left. Of course I changed. I lived two years of my life, I didn’t sit around pining. I got a job at Stanford and I published my Lincoln book and yes, I have a relationship and other commitments. But you know what? I also decided that if Wyatt needed help finding his wife, I was going to do it, even if it meant going against Rittenhouse. Who else was going to? You left.”

Despite himself, Flynn grimaces. “Lucy,” he starts. “Lucy, I’m – ”

“Don’t.” Lucy raises a hand. “Don’t apologize to me. I don’t want to hear it. I know the way you are now, what it’s always going to be like between us. Far be it from me to stand in the way of what you really want, and that’s to take down Rittenhouse. I even support you doing it. But if that’s the case, I don’t want to pretend that there’s ever going to be – well, whatever else. We can be partners, if that’s what you thought we were aiming at. We can work together. But anything else – no. We don’t have the luxury.”

Flynn closes his eyes as if he’s been stabbed. He seems about to say something – to ask, perhaps, if that’s how she sees it – a luxury, a gift, something she would want if it was remotely possible. But again, he clearly recognizes that he does not have the right. “Very well,” he says at last. “Fine. I suppose I should take you home then, shouldn’t I?”

Lucy looks at him under her eyelashes, and catches him looking back at her in that way that she remembers from their ill-fated East Coast trip – with that utter, consuming, impossible adoration, but the only thing stronger than that is the realization that he cannot or will not ever have it. It twists her guts into knots. She is furious at him and is determined to remain that way for a while, reasonably or not, but Noah has not once, not once, looked at her like that. He’s looked at her tenderly, of course, and with affection and pride and support, but that kind of soul-searing worship – no. No one has, in fact. Only Flynn.

And yet. Noah has plenty of other qualities that recommend him as a more preferable partner, not least a baseline of sanity and general functionality, and Lucy never liked the romances where the heroine trashes everything she believes in just because some dark and broody tragedy prince proclaims he can’t live without her. Which… to be fair, Flynn has never actually done. He’s the one who has avoided all her various attempts to get closer, or seemed to change his mind immediately after his own. He has never been anything less than brutally, bluntly honest. He flat-out informed her he had to leave because he didn’t want that kind of life for her, and yes, they did meet doing the precisely same thing tonight. He didn’t seek her out. She met him halfway.

(She said they could be partners. She said that. She didn’t have to offer that much, but she did. She tries to rationalize, even as her stomach is still somersaulting. Even if she is well goddamn aware that she has to stay as angry at him as she is now. Because if she cracks even a little, she will do something she can’t take back, and that can go nowhere good at all.)

“All right,” Flynn says, very belatedly. “Fine. Where do you live?’

Lucy tensely gives him the address, as he starts the engine up and pulls out. She really, really hopes Noah doesn’t see her rolling up in a stolen laundry truck, riding shotgun with the man he knows as John Thompkins and has made clear his opinion upon. There is not much talk as they drive, Flynn’s attention too fixedly on the road and his fingers tapping on the wheel, until they turn into the subdivision and pull up in front of her house. Just as Lucy opens the door to get out, she sees the curtains move, and then the front door cracks.

Lucy frantically waves at Flynn to duck, but of course he doesn’t. Sits right the hell where he is, staring evilly at the house, as the door opens the rest of the way and Noah steps onto the porch. “Lucy?” he calls. “Is that you?”

Lucy closes her eyes and judges her odds of vanishing on the spot. Slim. “Stay there,” she orders Flynn in a hiss. “Stay there, or I will kill you.”

Flynn looks as if hearing her threaten bodily harm on him, however obviously impractical, is considerably arousing. This is not the thing to help Lucy’s self-control, and she jerks the door open and jumps out as quickly as she can. “Yes, Noah, it’s me,” she calls. “I’ll be right in.”

“Are you – ” Noah stares at the truck. “Cooper Industrial Linen Service? What is…?”

“My… friend.. works for them.” It’s pretty much the feeblest lie in the history of the world, and she can tell that Noah thinks so too. God, it is too much to ask that Flynn will just reverse down the driveway and pull out, since he’s great about not being there when you want him and being there when you don’t? Apparently. “Noah, just – ”

“Lucy, what the hell?”

“She said to go inside.” At that, since he apparently can’t restrain himself any longer, Flynn leans over, into the garage lights. “Are you deaf?”

Noah’s face freezes. He stares for a long moment, rubs both hands over his mouth, spins away, and looks back, as if to be sure he’s not hallucinating. Most unfortunately, he’s not. “Oh my fucking God,” he says. “You?”

“Yes, pal. Me.” Flynn grins devilishly; he’s far much of a troll not to be enjoying this. God, Lucy hates him. “John Thompkins?”

“I know who you are.” Noah looks about two seconds away from calling the cops, which is something that Lucy would have to prevent him from doing. “You kidnapped my girlfriend with a laundry truck, huh? Anyone shoot at you this time?”

“Happily, no.” Flynn shrugs. “Though she has to come home to you, so I’m not sure that’s any better.”

“What the – ” Noah is not a blow-up-in-anger kind of guy, but it’s clear that there was ever a time it might happen, it’s now. “Lucy, get away from this maniac. Please. I won’t ask about where you were or what you were doing, but just – get away from him.”

“Noah, look – ”

“Lucy – ”

At that, Flynn unclicks his seatbelt, gets out of the truck, and strides around to stand directly behind Lucy, as if to make it clear that if Noah should think about any next moves or words very, very carefully. It’s a nice feeling to have him towering at her back, even if Lucy is no less angry at him than she is at Noah – probably more, at least Noah has an excuse to feel how he does. But it’s like standing in an operating room and looking down at some gruesomely cut-open body, at all the parts and pieces that don’t work and which she has tried so hard to amateurishly patch together, to keep it running somehow. Sew up one bleeder, it starts somewhere else, and she hasn’t fixed anything, she’s just made Frankenstein. Noah’s face is hard and blank and almost looks like a stranger’s, until she can’t think of anything she wants to do less than go inside and apologize to him. Not that she thinks he’d hurt her or anything like that. Of course he wouldn’t. Just that she can’t think why she’s tried so hard to keep making space in her life for him, of fooling herself that it’s working. It just – it isn’t.

“I’m sorry, Noah,” she says. “But this is none of your business.”

“None of my…” Noah opens and shuts his mouth. “Wow. You turn up with your crazy mafia ex from a few years ago, I don’t even know what you’ve been doing, and this isn’t any of my business? Lucy, what the hell has – ”

“I’m sorry.” She is. He is a genuinely decent guy, and he will make someone very happy one day, hopefully, and he doesn’t deserve this. But so it is. “I’m going to go inside and pack a bag, and – I’m going to spend the night somewhere else, and then we can think about this later. Okay?”

Noah opens his mouth, and Flynn shifts his weight, clearly implying that he will take Noah around the back and pound on him if that would help. With him thus standing guard, Lucy scuttles into the house, up the stairs, and opens the closet for a suitcase. Her fingers are trembling as she throws some clothes and toiletries into it, small valuables and a couple books. She realizes that she’s thinking as if she can’t be sure of coming back here, and needs to take everything important at one sweep. Most of the furniture and accessories are Noah’s, he bought them and designed the place. Her books – well, most of them are at her office, and maybe he will mail them back to her later. It’s pretty clear that this is a relationship-terminating event. God, is she going to have to move back in with Carol? Her mom loves Noah, she’ll be aghast to hear that Lucy torched it like this. And yet. Just a few years ago – a few weeks, even – that might have stopped Lucy in her tracks. Now, it goads her on.

She finishes her haphazard packing, zips the suitcase shut, and drags it bumping down the stairs. She has lived here for a year, she should feel more emotion about leaving this house, but right now, she can’t wait to get out. Practically runs down the front corridor to the door and bursts out to see Flynn still alpha-male-ing Noah into submission. Pulls the suitcase across the driveway back to the truck, opens it, and heaves it in. “G – John, let’s go.”

“So,” Noah says bleakly. “This is really what you want, Lucy?”

“I’m…” Lucy turns to face him. She owes him at least this much. “I can’t explain what happened, I can’t. I shouldn’t – I shouldn’t have tried what I did, with you, with this. It wasn’t ever fair to you, and I’ve hurt you and I’ve used you and I’m sorry. I really, really am. But it’s better for both of us this way.”

“Lucy.” Noah’s voice half-cracks. “Please just come back inside and we can talk.”

“I…” Lucy lets out a jagged breath. “I’m not going to change my mind.”

Noah flinches. He turns away, crossing his arms tightly, struggles for words that don’t come. At last, stiffly, he nods once, and doesn’t turn back. Remains where he is, looking up at the porch lights. Then starts up the walk, lets himself into the house, and slams the door.

Flynn remains where he is a moment more, then goes back around and gets into the truck. Glances at Lucy. “Are you all right?”

“I’m…” Lucy lets out another breath. She has no idea what she just did, and yet, she feels no desire to take it back. “Please just get me out of here.”

For once, Flynn doesn’t sass or demur. He puts the truck in reverse, they roll down the driveway, and pull out of the neighborhood. Lucy looks at her hands on her knees, which are oddly steady. All of her is, in fact. She just ended a fairly long-term relationship, and not with the “mutually and cordially decided to part ways” kind of thing. Their breakup the first time wasn’t fun, but it was certainly more amicable. She basically just pulled the rug out from Noah’s entire life in the course of a few minutes, after telling him that their reunion was a mistake in the first place. You don’t have to be the dude’s biggest fan to know that that was cold. Lucy used him, and now she has to pay the piper.

“Where are we going?” she says, startling herself. “Another crappy hotel?”

Flynn raises an eyebrow at her. “We? Do business partners tend to share rooms? We wouldn’t want to do anything off limits.”

Of course. Having spent sufficient time protecting her, he’ll now return to regular dickish behavior. Not that it’s entirely unwarranted, given as she seems to be doing a fine job of mixing her signals, but the other option is asking him to take her to her mom’s, and she really, really does  not want that. “I didn’t say anything about sharing a room. I have a job, I can pay for my own. I’ll have to have somewhere until I can get my living situation sorted out.”

Flynn glances at her again, almost chastened. He doesn’t say anything until they turn into the crappy hotel that he is, in fact, apparently staying at, he stops the truck, and Lucy gets out, hauling her suitcase with her. Flynn drives around the corner, presumably to ditch it a few alleys over in case Cooper Industrial Linen Service has reported the theft of one of their hard-working vans. It’s as she’s standing there, wondering if he’s just going to steal a new car every day and how that is any less conspicuous, that Lucy feels someone grab her arm, and the blunt end of a gun twist into the side of her head. “Give me all your money, bitch.”

For a moment, her deranged impulse is to laugh – of course this night is being capped off by a parking-lot mugging at the zero-star inn and suites, of course. She has $12 and some change in her wallet, and she’s perfectly happy to give it to the idiot if that’s really what he wants. She knows some rudimentary self-defense basics, but she’s blanking on them. Getting the gun away from her head should definitely be step one. There’s a pressure point in the elbow, jam your thumb into it and it’ll bend, then you can get out from a headlock and twist the arm behind someone’s back. All of which can be pulled off even by a small woman, but generally one with more coordination than Lucy. She’s more annoyed than anything. At last she says coldly, “I’ll be happy to get my wallet, but you’ll have to let go of my arm.”

“No funny business, bitch. I’m not messing around!”

Sure you aren’t, Lucy thinks wearily. Sure you aren’t. How old are you, nineteen? Are you going to be another one of the kids with gunshot wounds trucking through Noah’s ER?

He lets go of her arm just enough for her to reach for her wallet, and she opens it and pulls out the money with magnificent dudgeon. She hands it to him, and he makes a scoffing noise. “Twelve dollars? I know you got more than that, bitch!”

“Actually,” Lucy says. “I don’t. So – ”

He jerks her around, and she gets a good look at his face – skinny, pimpled white kid, not even bright enough to wear a ski mask, probably thought (not without reason) that the well-dressed woman waiting alone was a good chance to get enough to buy a hit of whatever he’s currently smoking. When she doesn’t move to unearth any cash from some secret location on her person, he jabs at her aggressively with the gun. “I said more, bitch!”

“I. Don’t. Have. Any. More.” Lucy keeps a wary eye on the muzzle, trying to judge her odds of ripping it out of his hand. He doesn’t look terribly strong in the ordinary course of things, but bath salts or meth or whatever can give people crazy abilities, and he’s still bigger than her. Of course she doesn’t have her damn gun, the one time she could actually use it – but this kid is no older than her students at Stanford, and the idea of actually shooting him makes her want to be sick. “Now get going, or – ”

He takes a step toward her, as if he’s about to go through every one of her pockets to make sure, and Lucy readies to defend herself. But just then, his eyes flick past her shoulder, his expression turns uncertain, and she knows all at once what he is seeing. If he wasn’t such a misguided, bad-mouthed little twerp, she might almost feel sorry for him.

Garcia Flynn slams out of the night like a Category 5 hurricane. Grabs hold of the gun and rips it loose, then seizes the mugger’s arm and snaps it like a broomstick, sending him spinning over his knee like a tumbleweed. Pimples briefly endeavors to get to his feet, but Flynn throws him flat again, with another juicy crunching sound. This time the kid (smartly) doesn’t try to get up, and Flynn stops, towering over him, looking set to pull his own gun. Lucy, paralysis broken, darts forward and grabs his arm. “Garcia, don’t.”

It’s not entirely clear that he hears her, still staring down at the whimpering mugger with an not-far-off-from-literally-murderous expression. The kid gulps in pain, clutching his broken arm. “Please. Please don’t kill me, man, okay? I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I wasn’t going to hurt your wife, I just – I’m sorry!”

“Like hell.” Flynn’s voice is a rasp. “You fucking weasel, I could blow your brains out and it would be no loss to anyone, so – ”

“Garcia.” Lucy tightens her grip. “Not here. It would draw too much attention.”

Flynn glances at her with an ironic expression, as if he appreciates the fact that her objection to him icing the little bastard is on practical grounds, rather than moral. Of course, Lucy doesn’t want the kid to actually die, doesn’t want Flynn to do it any more than she wanted to do it herself, but it’s true that was where her mind went first. She can feel Flynn’s barely restrained rage coruscating just below the surface, twisted and snapping. As if she’s just holding him back from the  brink, and isn’t sure if she can or not.

Finally, Flynn steps half an inch away. “Get out of here,” he says. “I ever see your ugly face anywhere, I will kill you. Don’t you fucking forget it.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” The kid scoots backward on his ass, sniveling. “I’m really sorry, sir, ma’am. Good night.”

With that, he scrambles to his feet, hitches up his saggy pants with his good hand, and flees across the parking lot, outsized sneakers flapping. Flynn watches his exeunt with an absolutely baleful expression, until Lucy isn’t sure he won’t track the miscreant down later anyway, but then he turns to her. “You hurt?”

“No. I’m. . .” Lucy raises a hand to her arm to rub at the spot where she was grabbed, then stops. She has to admit, this has dampened her ardor to spend the night in a room by herself. “Can we just go inside, please?”

Flynn pauses, then nods. He bends down and picks up her bag, foregoes any smart remark if she’s sure she wants to be near him, and puts his free hand protectively on her back, glancing around for any more small-time criminals lurking in the shadows. They would have to be very stupid to try anything after seeing what befell their compatriot, and indeed, Flynn and Lucy make it in with no more unfortunate occurrences. Flynn shuts the door, puts the bolt and chain in, and makes a brief gesture at the room. “Just like you remembered?”

It is, Lucy supposes. Low and dismal and furnished with the same polyester and peeling plaster that gives these places their particular je ne sais quoi. She experiences a brief wish to go home, to her own bed, even if it means Noah would be there. Then it fades.

Perhaps for obvious reasons, the tension in the room is not subsiding. Lucy wonders if she should turn on the television and see if there’s any news bulletin about Wyatt Logan, grieving U.S. Army sergeant, getting arrested after handing himself in for the break-in at Mason Industries. She hopes he’ll be all right – Rittenhouse is clearly very angry – but Wyatt is white, male, good-looking, military, and has a sad story to back him up. He’ll probably be fine, and any publicity of the case can only help him, draw attention to Jessica’s disappearance and get a bunch of well-meaning volunteers on the job. As for the rest –

Flynn clears his throat, very awkwardly. “So. You want to go to sleep?”

That should sound like the thing to do, after this total bitch of a day, but Lucy isn’t tired. Maye it’ll hit later, but right now, she’s crackling as if in the wake of a lightning strike, buzzing and burning and wide awake. She looks over at him, but he avoids her gaze. It could be his usual contrariness, but she can sense, more than anything else, the guilt. Not even a full night hanging out with him, she breaks up with her boyfriend, he takes her here, and she gets some punk trying to mug her. She might not have been hurt, but that does not excuse the failure, the immediate reminder of how much she has to lose by taking up with him and this world again. She may have changed, but has he? Or just gone deeper?

That sounds like a conversation for not right now. Lucy is angry and tired of talking and well over this emotional whiplash, and she feels like getting a few things straight. She kicks off her shoes and socks, one and then the other, staring Flynn dead in the eye the entire time. Then she pulls off her earrings and necklace, sets them down on the bedside table, unzips her jacket. Starts on her blouse, fingering out one button at a time with a deliberateness that borders on insolence, bares her shoulders, and shrugs it off. She’s not wearing one of her nicer bras, but she doesn’t give a damn. Either way, the effect is spectacular.

Flynn turns his head, as if since she just started to undress in front of him, it’s incumbent for him to look away rather than ask her to stop. Lucy appreciates this gallantry, but she’s out of patience for it. “Look at me.”

As if pulled on a string, his head swivels back toward her. His pupils are blown out, his expression reminiscent of a man trying not to behold the Ark of the Covenant. She can see his pulse going in his throat, his lips slightly parted as if he is consciously trying to remember how to breathe, and Lucy walks (saunters, really) toward him in her bare feet, shirtless, reaching up to pull her hair out of its usual businesslike knot and letting it tumble over her shoulders. She doesn’t know if she’s actively trying to seduce him, or just torment him, as both options sound equally appealing after the nonsense he puts her through. She reaches him and stops a short few inches away, close enough for either of them to move a hand and touch. He’s visibly quivering from head to toe. Is that sweat? God. Yes. She likes this.

Lucy raises one hand and runs her finger down Flynn’s face from forehead to jaw, then running it along his lower lip. He has to tilt his head to look down at her, and she crooks a finger, ordering him to look further. This of course brings his line of sight into excellent alignment with her cleavage, which once more stops his heart, and Lucy tries to work out, both in exasperation and tenderness, how this man can clearly want her more than anything in the world but be so damn reticent and frustrating about ever doing anything about it. She reaches up and takes hold of his other hand, moves it to her bare shoulder, and runs it down her arm, settling in her elbow, thumb soft in the joint. Remembers her thought with the mugger, that pushing there makes it bend. It does now, in a different way. Pressure points. Reflexive, innate, irresistible.

Their faces are very close, foreheads brushing, mouths open, eyelashes fluttering, neither of them seemingly capable of drawing a proper breath. Flynn’s other hand comes up to hover by her waist, then clamps hold, gripping her ferociously, pulling her against him. Lucy puts both arms around his neck, standing on her tiptoes, as he takes a few steps backward, swings her around, and seats her on the desk. Steps between her legs, hands running down her back, less and less able to pretend they do not want so desperately to touch. As if trying very hard to remind himself, he says, “Lucy – you said – earlier – ”

“Can we just… forget what I said earlier?” Lucy arches her back, pressing it into the heat of his rough palm. “God knows I have to do that with you enough.”

Flynn almost looks as if he’s about to laugh. He draws both hands onto her sides, slowly up her ribs, circling but not quite touching her breasts, then venturing around back to the clasp of her bra. Lucy gives him a breathless little nod, and he snaps it deftly open. Slides it off her arms, looks at her fully topless, and altogether almost perishes on the spot.

This is satisfying, to be sure, but not nearly sufficient. Lucy reaches out and begins to unbutton his shirt, a little bit faster than she did her own, since she is starting to feel as if tormenting him is all well and good, but at a point, it also becomes tormenting herself. She pushes it off his broad shoulders and onto the floor, revealing his white undershirt, and has to take a moment to admire his arms. The bullet wound in his shoulder has closed to a circular weal, whiter and rougher than the surrounding flesh, but intact. Lucy leans forward, and puts her lips to it. Slowly, thoroughly, shapes it into a kiss.

A shudder jerks through Flynn from head to toe, and a muttered word that sounds half like a prayer, though Lucy can’t be sure. His hands snatch at her with almost desperate need, as she links her legs around his waist and pulls him smartly up against the edge of the table. Keeps up what she’s doing, kissing the scar and tracing her tongue over the sharp line of his collarbone, then slowly climbing his throat and under his chin with light kisses and nips. Their mouths are a whisper from properly meeting, but she doesn’t quite let him. Not yet.

Finally, Lucy pulls back, Flynn shucks the undershirt off, and she places both hands on his chest, rubbing slow circles with her fingers. He is strong and solid as a barrel, rough-hewn muscles cut from endless work, not a spare ounce on him, and she touches leisurely, thoroughly, in no hurry at all. Roughs his nipples with her thumbs, moves to kiss a slow trail down his solar plexus, to the place a thin dark line of hair vanishes beneath the waistband of his trousers. She kisses a hipbone, then bites. He swears. “Lucy – ”

“Shh.” Lucy slides off the table, into his arms, as he picks her up and gathers her against him, hands on her back and ass and running up and down her spine, cradling her head as they turn on the spot. She buries her face in his shoulder, wants to just stay here and let him hold her up, feet not quite touching the floor, and breathe him in for a little while. Then at last she spreads her hand on the back of his head, moves him over gently, and opens her mouth for his.

Garcia Flynn makes half a noise, choked in the back of his throat, that raises the hairs on Lucy’s arms, and almost brings tears to her eyes. His own are closed, not daring to believe this, holding onto the dream, until she touches his cheek again. Once more, this time not too steadily herself, she whispers, “Look at me.”

Slowly, as ever, he does as ordered. Pulls his eyes open and into hers, their lips brushing, his nose fitted into the side of her cheek, gazing straight into the back of her skull. He raises his hand to caress her face, tuck her tousled hair behind her ear, brush the backs of his fingers over her jaw. He cups her as if she is made of spun glass. The gentleness barely seems possible, so fundamentally at odds with the rest of him, but Lucy has that strange, selfish, perfect thrill in knowing that it only belongs to her. She pulls him back in for a second kiss, their heads turning, mouths working, hands clasping and clawing, lips wide open and tongues touching and tasting. Then he breaks away and starts down her neck, repaying the favor from earlier, to reach a nipple and suck it to a hard peak, filling his hands with the creamy swell of her breasts. Lucy gulps, toys her fingers through his dark hair, then puts her hand atop his head and lightly but insistently pushes him down.

Flynn goes carefully to his knees (he’s still barely shorter than her, she could practically rest her chin on his head) and runs his hands down to the waistband of her skinny jeans. Undoes the button and the zipper, and Lucy takes care of peeling them off her legs. But she leaves the panties for him, and he hooks his thumb into them, then slides them down. She steps out of them, crooks a finger at him again, and he gazes up at her with that same stunned, reverential stare. For he on honey-dew hath fed, and drunk the milk of Paradise.

Flynn grasps hold of her thighs firmly with each hand, spreads them to a more convenient angle, and slides forward. Now that this is (at last) happening, he is neither hesitant nor ambivalent. He kisses between her legs, curls his tongue expertly around her clit, and then sets to his work with raw, wet, breathless thoroughness. How does he – ? It occurs to Lucy that of course Flynn could just know how to please a woman as a matter of reputational pride, but she didn’t really get the sense that he knew how to please a woman in any sense of the word, much less like this. He keeps musing and breathing and licking on her exactly where she likes it, with an accuracy too exact to be luck. How the – how the…?

Baffling as this is, Lucy is quickly losing enough brain power to consider it. Her legs are jelly, his mouth is hot and hungry, tender and relentless by turns. He grips hard enough on her thighs almost to bruise, but she doesn’t care. Little shivers of pleasure keep rolling through her like a fever, hot and cold by turns, her toes digging into the carpet as if trying to keep her anchored to the world. He increases the pace, barely coming up for air, as if it’s more important to see this through to completion first. Lucy sees something hot and white and devouring behind her eyes, feels a pop in her chest, and afterimages of negative color briefly burn in the dark air. Release washes through her in long, shuddering spasms, like milk and honey. Her legs start to give out, he shifts his arms expertly to catch her, and eases her down, a total muddle, into his lap. He is smirking like the Cheshire Cat.

Lucy lies there for a long moment, struggling to get enough air into her lungs, her head against his shoulder and his arms around her back and under her knees. She feels as if a balloon has been punctured in her chest, as if all the anxiety and tension and anger and mania has run out, and the weariness is starting to rush in instead. Flynn sits there cuddling her for a few more minutes, then gets to his feet and carries her, still totally naked, across the room to the bed. Kicks down the covers, lays her in it, and tucks the pillow to the correct angle under her head, then pulls the sheet and quilt up. Goes to retrieve his undershirt and shrug it back on, remove his belt and trousers so he’s in his boxers, and then finally crawls in next to her. Plants a light kiss on the corner of her mouth, and allows her to roll over into his chest, but lets his arm fall over her as a comforting thing, rather than a suggestive one. “Do you want your pajamas, Lucy?”

“Mmm.” Lucy can’t be bothered to move, now that she’s been installed here, but she gives him a nod, and he gets up, goes to her suitcase, unzips it, and finds them. Comes back over, she sits halfway up, and struggles into them. It’s just her old Wonder Woman T-shirt and flannel sleep pants, not some lacy negligee, but lacy negligees are overrated. She starts to slide back down in bed, then stops at an angry sound from Flynn. “What?”

“That.” He uses his chin to indicate the bruise on her upper arm, which she hasn’t even noticed. “How did you get that?”

“Oh, that.” Lucy leans back against the pillows, eyes drooping closed. “That was where that idiot grabbed me. It’s fine, honestly.”

“No,” Flynn says roughly. “No, it’s not.”

“I don’t think he’ll be trying that again, so…” Eyes still closed, Lucy gropes out on the bed and finds his hand, linking her fingers with it. “Can we just worry about this later?”

Flynn doesn’t answer, his thumb moving slowly on her palm, round and round in circles. Then he brings her hand to his mouth and kisses it, simply and without pretense. Even he must be on the low end of his ability to put up whatever front he’s had since that one inexplicable night, the one before they went to Philadelphia, when he turned up with that bite on his neck and never told her how he –

Lucy opens her eyes suddenly. Glances at his neck now. She can’t be entirely sure, but one of the darkening bites looks pretty damn similar to the one he had then. Not that she’s an expert judge of hickeys, and not that they’re so distinctive as to be easily told apart, but it’s in the same spot, just by his pulse point, and sucked to the same reddish flush. Something strange and cold comes over her, makes her have a sudden and utterly insane idea, and she pulls her hand out of his fast enough to startle him. He looks at her with a frown. “Lucy?”

“I…” Lucy wraps both arms over her chest. “I was… I was just wondering. How did you know about the time machine? Suddenly you turn up the next day after we go to Philadelphia, and you know that’s what they want – it was before Emma confirmed it, I thought you were crazy. You had that mark and you never said what it was, or who it was, and – ”

Flynn’s eyes are starting to widen. Not, however, in confusion, but in something that looks to be only describable as oh shit. He glances away, rubbing a hand over his mouth. At last he says again, “Lucy – ”

Lucy grabs his arm, pulling him back around to face her. She can’t quite come up with the words she wants, because it sounds so massively beyond insane. To feel connected by fate after he saved her life is one thing, but this – but this –

“Did I tell you?” she asks, in a hoarse, horrified whisper. “Did I tell you about this?”

Flynn’s eyes never leave hers. He clearly can’t tell if she’s prepared to hear this, but as ever, he’s not about to lie. There is a nauseous silence for an instant more. Then, once, he nods.

Chapter Text

It says something about the succeeding insanity of the situations that Lucy Preston has found herself in that her first reaction to this – to Flynn apparently letting slip that he knows all this because some future version of herself told him, and in fact did a lot more than talking to judge from that hickey – is muted and unsettled shock, but not outright denial or disbelief. It almost makes a sordid sense, so far as that word can be applied to anything that involves time travel and multiple selves and the other stuff that she has accepted in an academic way as in fact being involved with this, but has not yet had to actually wrap her head around. She knows at once he’s not lying, or at least if he is, it’s because he himself believes it’s the truth. They stare at each other for a succeeding excruciating moment. Then Lucy finally says, “I told you. I told you. As in, my future self, who you met just before that trip to Pennsylvania. I somehow turned up from some unspecified moment in – in what? The Tardis? The DeLorean? What? – to tell you that Rittenhouse had a time machine. Is that it?”

Flynn blows out a breath. “Do you remember the conversation we had at the hotel in Philadelphia that night?”

“I… yes.” Lucy’s cheeks go somewhat warm, as she recalls that it mostly involved her shouting at him for being a stubborn, elusive jackass. Which, strictly speaking, is all true, but she should try to remember specifics. “You said that you’d had second thoughts about coming to see me at Stanford that day, decided to walk away, and – and give it up, or do it yourself. But that you changed your mind. That was why you came back, and went through with the original plan.”

“Essentially. Yes.” Flynn is clearly still not comfortable talking about this, but he glances at her with a certain raw, tender urgency. “But I didn’t change my mind. You did. You – came, you wouldn’t tell me from when or how, you didn’t tell me much. You said I couldn’t give up the hunt, and that you – meaning your younger self, I assume – would understand one day. That was why I went back. To you.”

“Jesus.” Lucy scrubs both hands over her face. She remembers being baffled and exasperated by Flynn’s bizarre behavior, the way he kept staring at her and/or would barely look at her, insisted on sleeping on the floor, gave only evasive or partial answers. Well, she supposes that meeting a future version of her and learning that time travel is real is a pretty good excuse, as excuses go. She feels obliquely bad for being so frustrated at him, though obviously this is not an explanation that ever would have occurred to her (or most people outside of padded cells). “So that’s why you’ve kept at it? This – this whole time?”

“More or less.” Flynn returns his attention to the ceiling. “Yes. I knew what the consequences would be if I stopped, if I just sat back and let them win, and I. . . I wasn’t going to do that. What would you do, if the fate of the entire world might be in your hands, and you were the only person who knew? What, just give up? With what I’ve learned about these bastards, about what they want to do and what they’ve already done? I don’t know if I’ve done anything, but I know even less that I can afford to stop.”

Lucy is at a complete loss for how to answer that. She’s not sure she should even try. This man, who goes in and out of her life at highly significant intervals and never leaves things exactly the same as when he came, has been single-handedly fighting a shadowy evil organization for at least two years. As he says, he’s been the only soldier in the war, and he’s doing it in some part because he trusted her – some version of her, some mysterious older self that she may or may not grow up into – absolutely when she apparently told him that it was one they couldn’t afford to lose. Does this mean she starts fighting it as well, Lucy wonders? And does she do it because this happened, this circularity of causation that will give you a headache trying to figure it out – in other words, if you do something because your future self told you to do it, where does the idea originate from? Does it matter? Theoretically, perhaps, she could choose to ignore this information and carry on as normal. But she’s also not sure that, in a way altogether separate from the extraordinary and impossible elements of the whole thing, that she could.

“So you believed this?” she asks at last. “When I – when I told you?”

“Not at first,” Flynn says, entirely reasonably. “You… convinced me.”

Lucy wants to ask again what kind of convincing took place, even if she can, frankly, guess. It is a weird and obnoxious feeling to be jealous of yourself, that’s for sure. “And that was enough for you?”

Flynn shrugs, not quite meeting her eyes. “Looks like it, wouldn’t you say?”

Lucy opens her mouth again, then shuts it hard enough to hear her teeth click. This man. This utterly idiot, frustrating, dense, dysfunctional, dedicated, ridiculous man has been fighting all of time and space for two years, never thought it was worth telling her, and might have carried on to God knows what end, on her word? Sure, future-self and all that, but still her, in some impossible, unquantifiable way. That is a singular, and almost terrifying, level of trust and adoration and devotion. She does, then. She owns his soul, and always has. All she has to decide is what to do with it now.

There is another fraught, catching moment as they look at each other, the heat sparking again despite what they have (finally) just done, at least in part. Lucy knows all the conventional-wisdom, smart-girl things about not jumping into a new relationship on the night you literally broke up your last one, with a guy who might have been about to propose again if things were different. But honestly, Noah (at least the second time around) was never a real relationship. She always found some reason to hold him at arm’s length, not wanting to let him go and not wanting to be alone but also not really wanting him any closer. She and Flynn have spent years – almost ten, at this point – missing each other, whether by their own volition or someone else’s. Come and gone, ships passing in the night, stars just missing the other’s orbits. So much time may remain, if what Flynn is saying is true (and as impossible as it sounds, she knows it is), but that doesn’t mean Lucy can take it for granted. And at last, well. She doesn’t want to do a damn thing besides this.

She leans forward. Still almost timidly, expecting to be pushed away somehow, rejected.  God knows Flynn has a bad track record with handling her other attempts to make moves on him, even though you’d think that getting to third base would change that. But it’s the truth, it’s the truth, it feels like a giant iron band around her chest that has been there for years and years has finally unlocked and let go. It’s this. It is. Her and him.

Flynn’s hand floats up shyly to cup her cheek, as their noses brush, then their foreheads. She can feel his pulse tripping in his fingers, and realizes that he is as scared as she is, if not more. But likewise, he can no longer pretend he wants anything but this, and always has.

They kiss lightly and tenderly as a melting snowflake for half a moment more, and then it turns ferocious. They clutch hold of each other’s heads, fingers twisting in their hair, his hands almost engulfing her ears, as he pulls her toward her and she climbs into his lap, straddling him. His hands leave her face and run down her shoulders, her sides, her hips, settling her on top of him, grinding hard between her legs. Earlier was gentleness and disbelief and care and worship, and that was what they needed then, but this is different. The choice has now been made, the key has been turned, and what’s left is only hunger.

Lucy almost rips the Wonder Woman T-shirt getting it off her head, and Flynn’s hands are shaking almost too hard to stop as he shucks his undershirt. Lucy can still feel the faint tremor in them when they come up to cup her breasts, as she goes to hands and knees atop him and shudders as his callused fingers continue their exploration down her spine, to the waistband of her pajama pants. He pauses. “Lucy, do you want – ”

“Yes.” Lucy finds his insistence on her control and consent very arousing, has only begun to think of the ways she might enjoy that in more intimate fashions, but right now, he is the only thing she wants, and she can’t stand to wait another minute. “Yes. Yes. Yes.”

He closes his eyes as if hearing a prayer, or offering an unspoken one of his own. They squirm around to get the pajama pants, and his boxers, off, and he rubs a thumb lightly between her legs, still a bit wet from his earlier attentions. Then he lifts her atop him and nudges at her entrance, as Lucy reaches down to grasp hold of him and guide him. She half wonders if she needs to, since after all, he’s the one who knows what (or rather who) he is doing here. There is something exquisitely delicious about the fact that your partner already knows your body, has been with you before and knows what feels right and what you like, but it’s all new for you. She can relax and know that it’s going to be good, trust him in a way that she never has on the first time with a guy before, and it’s dizzying.

Flynn swears as he slips into her, a few maddening inches, and Lucy wraps her arms around his neck, pressing his face into her shoulder, both of them breathing in raw, open-mouthed gasps. He turns his head, roughing his lips against hers – too harsh and hungry to be a kiss, exactly, but she returns it with the same savage, thorough need. He continues to ease into her, pushing her solidly apart as she whimpers and rolls her hips to adjust the fit and take him deeper, until he settles. Both of them swear this time. She feels almost drunk.

“Lucy,” Flynn whispers hoarsely. Out of all the words he knows, in all the languages, it seems to be the only one he can recall. “Lucy.”

Lucy answers by clenching around him, a few slick quick clutches, and tangling her arms tighter around his neck. He remains where he is beneath her for a moment longer, then comes up like a hurricane and rolls her over, pushing her into the pillows on her back, legs sprawled open. He grips onto her thigh with one hand, tangles his other into hers, and pushes it above her head, bending her up into him for an extremely thorough drag and thrust on every single nerve inside her. He moves like a summer thunderstorm, hot and bright and rattling the heavens as the downpour comes down. Washes everything, everyone, clean.

(She can’t stand it, she can’t stand it, and yet. It is all she needs, and more.)

(They get almost no sleep that night whatsoever.)

Finally, having dozed off in a sated stupor near dawn, tangled in the sweaty sheets with Lucy’s head nuzzled on Flynn’s chest, his arms wrapped around her as she lies nearly atop him (he still barely notices her weight, apparently), they are re-awoken to the inconvenient and burdensome fact of reality. They did it three times last night (three and a half, if you count the opening warmup) and while they are giggly and flushed and flirty and can barely keep their hands off each other, they cannot go on acting like sex-crazed bonobo monkeys forever. (In their defense, Lucy thinks, it’s been a very long dry spell.) There’s still Wyatt, and Flynn’s end of the deal, and whatever else is going to happen with the two of them now. This doesn’t feel like it’s going to end like it usually does, with Flynn abruptly pissing off into oblivion and never even bothering to send a goddamn text, but it also means that hard choices will have to be made. Is he still dedicated to the Rittenhunt? Is she willing to possibly change or sacrifice her entire life to join him?

They wake up slowly, pleasantly sore in unused places, and when Lucy steps into the crappy hotel shower, she thinks it’s lucky that her clothes will cover most of this. She couldn’t look more well-fucked if she tried, and there’s a lingering afterglow that will settle in her chest like an ember and burn for a while. She can’t hope the goofy, giddy smile that keeps flickering to her lips. God, she just – she feels good.

She dries off and gets dressed, goes out, and promptly gets distracted with kissing Flynn good morning, running both hands up his arms and wrapping them around his neck again, unable to get enough of finally being allowed to touch him in the way she wants. This nearly leads to round four on the bed, but he finally groans and tears his mouth away from hers, very unwillingly. “Lucy, we need to get going.”

“Later, then?” Lucy sits up and reluctantly buttons her half-undone blouse. She then glances at the clock and has a mild panic attack to shock her out of her present state of acute nymphomania. She needs to get to Stanford for her morning class in under forty minutes, and she can’t roll in looking like – well, you know what she looks like. She jumps up, rushes to do her makeup and throw everything back into her suitcase, and they head out. She remembers just in time that they don’t have a car, since Flynn ditched the stolen laundry truck right before the world’s most ill-advised mugging attempt last night, and her own is still back at Noah’s. God, now there’s a reunion she really does not want to have. Dumps him just last night, then turns up having clearly hit a three-run homer with the guy he’s always known (accurately) was bad news? Noah does not deserve that.

They can get public transit, but it’s clear Lucy is not going to make it in time for class, and she phones the department and asks if they can let her students know that due to unexpected circumstances, she can’t make it today. If she knows undergraduates, they won’t mind in the least, and though this might be the smallest of her professional responsibilities she ends up having to shirk, she still feels a pang of guilt. Flynn, looking at her, smiles wryly. “I promise I’ll get you back for the afternoon.”

It takes a while, but they manage to do this. Lucy double-checks Noah’s schedule on her phone, prays that he has not switched shifts again, and gives Flynn her keys, so he can go retrieve her car while Noah is at work. They kiss again before Flynn leaves to do this, and as Lucy is hurrying into the history building with a hopeless smile on her face, she runs into her friend and department colleague, Eleanor Renshaw, who raises both eyebrows at her. “Someone had a really good night, huh?”

“I…” Lucy coughs, cheeks going pink. “It was all right. Honestly, it started out terrible.”

“Mm-hmm.” Eleanor glances sidelong at her and lowers her voice. “That wasn’t Noah dropping you off, though. It’s none of my business, but… everything okay?”

“It’s…” Yes, Lucy is in fact going to use the word complicated here, however risibly inadequate. “It’s complicated. Noah and I… kind of broke up. The – the other guy, I – we – we’ve known each other for a while. Don’t say anything about this to anyone, all right? It’s not really something I want to be asked about at the water coolers. It’s new. We haven’t exactly figured anything out.”

“Sure.” Eleanor is a good enough friend that she will do as promised, and as she glances at Lucy again, she smiles wryly. “You know, I haven’t seen you looking this happy in – well, the entire time I’ve known you, pretty much. Who is this new – well, old new guy?”

“Later. I’ll fill you in, I promise.” Lucy isn’t sure if she will or not, since this still seems like a delicate soap bubble and poking it or prodding it in any way will cause it to vanish. “I already missed my morning class, I gotta make some of my photocopies.”

Eleanor nods, agrees that she has a totally fascinating book on regional differences in thirteenth-century French Gothic manuscripts to get back to, and waves Lucy down the hall to her office. Once she has shut the door and glanced around, just in case, Lucy boots up her computer and opens the local San Francisco news sites. Sure enough, there’s a story on several of them that Wyatt Logan, U.S. army sergeant, has been arrested for the attempted break-in at Mason Industries, and is also dealing with the tragic disappearance of his wife, Jessica. If the public knows anything, they are certainly urged to come forward. Looks like there are already several crowd-funding campaigns started on Wyatt’s behalf. Figures.

Lucy looks at Wyatt’s booking photo in the article, can hear Flynn asking sarcastically how Wyatt will look in his mugshot, and thinks that she almost can’t stand the sad, empty stare in his eyes. The articles have noted that police are not currently looking for anyone else connected to the break-in, so Wyatt must have held up his end of the deal and lied convincingly that it was all on him, he forced anyone else spotted on the security footage to help him out. That’s a pretty big show of trust, whether in Lucy or just out of desperation to find his wife (funnily enough, Lucy doesn’t get the feeling it was about trusting Flynn). He’ll probably be released with no charges, since as noted, public sympathy is already on his side. But what life does he get to go back to either? All of them are changing, are losing, are getting little (or large) pieces chipped out of them. Can’t Rittenhouse just stop?

Lucy sits back in her chair with a frown and closes the sites. She has wondered why Flynn didn’t just try to blow up the time machine, though even he might have trouble smuggling in enough nitroglycerin and/or industrial fertilizer and/or TNT and/or anything else that goes boom, to totally take out Mason Industries and everything in it. You’d also hope that the prospect of massive property damage and multiple collateral casualties would be enough to give him pause, though she honestly can’t say for sure. There was also what he said, two years ago when he left, that there’s no guarantee he would take out the tech to stop them from just building another one, when they haven’t even invented all of it yet. But is there also a hesitation in that if he destroys the time machine for good, it’s possible that the other one won’t be invented? The other her, the older her, sometime in the future, won’t be able to use it, to find him, to tell him about Rittenhouse and whatever else. He will walk away on that night instead of returning and going to Philadelphia with her, they will never see each other again, and none of this will happen.

A chill goes down Lucy’s spine at the thought. History has always seemed so solid, so immutable, so reassuring. Yes, you can argue yourself blue in the face about the interpretations, but the events themselves aren’t up for grabs. The idea that all of it could change, could blow apart under her feet like an unstable river bank – that this could center around them, around him, around her – is absolutely horrifying in a way that the human mind, obviously, has never been equipped to comprehend. How does she not screw this up? Flynn clearly did not want to unduly influence her choice in any way, pushed her away, kept her at a careful distance so it didn’t look like he was manipulating her or forcing her into being around him if she didn’t want to be. Fate vs. free will – was she always going to be destined to do this, and it didn’t matter if Flynn tried to make it happen or not? Or… or what?

Lucy is a historian, not a quantum physicist or a theologian, and her brain hurts, as well as wanting to explode with anxiety, when she thinks about this. She gathers up her armload of assigned readings and takes them to the photocopier, runs them out, and trucks off to afternoon class. It’s not the most scintillating lecture she’s ever given on nineteenth-century American social reform, perhaps, but whatever.

When it’s finished, she packs her stuff up in her bag, reminds herself that she still needs to send the final cover for the book off to UChicago, and wonders where exactly she’s living now. She goes out to the faculty parking lot and shifts anxiously from foot to foot, scanning the drive for any sight of her car. Is Flynn here? Is he coming back? He is coming back, right? He didn’t leave again, did he? Nothing went wrong with getting said car, right? Did Noah catch him and decide to yell? Not really his style, of course, but –

At last, just as Lucy is on the verge of melting down, she sees her Kia turn in (she got rid of the crap Honda now that she has an adult job) and pull up to the curb, flashing its lights at her. She expels a shuddering breath of relief and goes to open the passenger door, unable to resist glancing in first to make sure it’s actually Flynn and not yet another Rittenhouse kidnapping attempt (two is plenty, thanks). But it is, and she crawls in, throws her bag in the back, and kisses him again, just to be sure. “Everything go okay back at the house?”

Flynn shrugs. “Fine. Noah wasn’t there. And since we’re not going back to the roach motel, I’ve found a short-stay apartment for us until we can work out something a little more permanent. I’ve paid the deposit and the first month’s rent, my name there is Alexander Kovac. It’s not as nice as where you were living with Noah, but – ” He stops, clearly trying to act nonchalant, as if her answer doesn’t matter to him. “I mean, if you don’t want to, of course. As I said, it’s short-term. But for now – ”

If he wasn’t driving, Lucy would have kissed him again. Instead, she takes his hand off the gearshift and squeezes it. “It’s fine,” she says. “I’m sure it’s fine. But you – with Rittenhouse. Are you planning to go back to that?”

“I…” Flynn blows out a breath. “I’m thinking about it. I don’t know that I can let it go permanently. I’ve managed to uproot and expose a few useful parts of their operation, and I don’t think they’ll overlook that. I can’t promise that we’re entirely free of the possibility that they’ll come after us again. But you’ve been living here for two years without me, and you haven’t seen hide or hair of them?”

“No.” Lucy, as ever, wants desperately to believe that they’re gone, but can’t quite go that far. “But if I’m living with you – ”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.” Flynn changes lanes. “That I’ll be a beacon drawing them down on you, the way I was before. If you don’t want to risk – ”

“I’ve spent enough of my life trying not to risk things,” Lucy says, quietly but very firmly. “I don’t know what’s going to happen either, Garcia. But I want to do this with you.”

Flynn’s hands clench on the wheel. A restrained sigh shudders through him, as if all the toil and danger and uncertainty of these last two years, the two years she still barely knows anything about and likely never will, has been vindicated in that. He glances at her, sharp profile painted half in shadow from the freeway lights. “I,” he says, stops, and starts again. “So do I. So do I.”

Rufus has been tying himself in knots trying to decide if he should report the “robbery.” At least, more or less as Eastern European Enema promised (not one of Rufus’s finer alliterations, perhaps, but that bastard was definitely a pain in the ass), Jiya was horrified and volubly sympathetic to his “ordeal,” so their date actually does not end in complete disaster. As they walk back to the hotel, she’s urging him to file a report and tell Connor and whatever else, all of which makes Rufus’s stomach writhe. He can’t file a report since he didn’t really get robbed, it won’t help anyway, the last thing he wants to do is fess up to Connor that he betrayed his trust like this, and he feels eminently unworthy of Jiya’s sympathy and pity. After all, he’s lying to her too, rather than admitting he just let some mysterious terrorist basically have free rein back at Mason Industries. He can barely look at her as he mumbles that it was fun, maybe again sometime, and bolts back to his own room.

Rufus muddles through the welcome dinner that night in complete distraction, doesn’t sleep a wink, and finally gets up before his alarm at ass o’clock the next morning (he’s a software programmer, his natural circadian rhythm means he goes to bed around three AM and likes to wake up around eleven, though this has had to be adjusted to the demands of a job). Connor will be down in the hotel gym, working out before a busy day of meetings and events, and Rufus doesn’t care if it gets him in trouble. He has to do the right thing and come clean before it snowballs even more than it already has. What’s-his-face probably just raced to the airport and jumped straight on a flight; with the eight-hour time change in reverse, he could have gotten into San Francisco in time to do something at Mason Industries last night. He definitely wouldn’t be lollygagging, that’s for sure. Rufus has spent most of the night neurotically refreshing news apps on his phone, and he can’t live this way.

He takes a deep breath, and tells himself that he could get suspended, but Connor probably – probably – isn’t going to fire him. They have known each other too long, and Connor has sponsored him every step of the way. He’s not gonna be pleased, obviously, but he might understand why Rufus did it. He has to.

Rufus clenches his sweaty palms, goes out of his room, and takes the elevator (lift) down to the gym. Sure enough, Connor is inside, pedaling away on an exercise bike and watching the flat-screen TV with his headphones in, and Rufus looks around for any other six-o’-clock-AM psychotic fitness aficionados that they might be disrupting. Coast clear, for the moment. He swipes his key card to let himself in, and makes a beeline for the bike.

Connor plucks out one earphone, looking bemused. “Well, Rufus. Good morning to you too. I must say, I didn’t expect to see you just yet. Everything all right?”

“No,” Rufus blurts out. “No. Connor, we need to talk. Right away.”

Mason frowns, letting the whirl of the pedals come to a halt. “Oh? You did seem rather distracted at the dinner last night. I thought your little day out with Jiya went well.”

“She didn’t – she didn’t tell you what happened?”

“No.” Mason cocks his head. “Rufus, what on earth is going on?”

Rufus feels as if he’s standing in a white-hot spotlight of shame, but there’s nothing for it. Stammering and barely able to get the words out at points, he tells Connor what happened yesterday at Covent Garden. And what, thanks to him, is probably happening at home.

Connor is quiet for a moment after Rufus finishes, at a forgivable loss for words. He considers. Then he demands, “Garcia Flynn? Garcia Flynn did this?”

“What?” Rufus swears that name is familiar, though he can’t think why. “He never told me his name, he just looked like your standard-issue Eastern European baddie, but – ”

“Oh no, I’m quite sure it was Flynn.” Mason takes the towel off the handlebars of the bike and mops his face with it. “Your description is quite vivid and unmistakable. Suffice it to say, some of my. . . professional colleagues have been keeping an eye on him for a while, or at least trying. He’s been off the grid and deep undercover for the past several years, and unfortunately, he is very good at it. We’ve had a few brief leads, but nothing solid. So you’re telling me you had a nice coffee with the person of most interest to our entire operation, who could kill this crucial and groundbreaking scientific project dead in the water, and let him into the laboratory?”

Rufus cringes. “I’m – I’m sorry, Connor, I – I just – ” He trails off. Exonerating himself feels cheap, and he doesn’t feel like he deserves it. “He threatened Jiya.”

Connor blows out a jaded-sounding breath, as if this is why workplace romances are, generally speaking, a bad idea. “Yes, well. He would. I don’t suppose it’s entirely your fault, he’s frightened a lot more powerful people than you. But if he got a chance to – bloody hell, what? Oh bugger. One moment, Rufus, please.”

With that, he fishes his buzzing phone out of the bike cupholder, looks at it, and frowns. Answers, paces to the corner of the gym, and has an intense, low-voiced conversation that looks serious. Rufus tries not to eavesdrop, while telling himself that if he does overhear something, he can’t be blamed, but he can’t make out anything anyway. Finally Connor hangs up and comes striding back. “Well. I just got a call from home that someone did in fact break into Mason Industries last night. They have a suspect in custody and are asking questions, but it doesn’t appear as if anything was permanently damaged. We may have miraculously skated this time, but – ”

“What?” Rufus’s heart feels as if it’s about to burst out of his chest. “Flynn?”

“No, actually.” Mason raises an ironic eyebrow. “Wyatt Logan.”

“Him?” Rufus, to say the least, did not see that coming. Is it remotely possible that Flynn went to all that trouble to stick him up, crash his date, and steal his ID badge and keys, possibly ruining his romantic and professional lives, to just. . . not pull off his heist? Is it too much to ask that he got busted by Border Patrol on his way either out of the UK or into the US? But even if it might be a momentary relief that Rufus has not actually been responsible for destroying everything, this is still a very confusing and not necessarily reassuring development. “Why the hell would Wyatt Logan break in? Still bitter that you wouldn’t talk to him from – what, two years ago?”

“I don’t know.” Connor’s tone remains light, but Rufus sees a brief shadow cross his brow. “You don’t suppose they’re working together, do you? Flynn and Logan? I daresay it would be much easier for Logan to get off on these charges than it would for Flynn. If the. . . police get their hands on him, he’s not reappearing any time soon.”

“Wyatt and Flynn in cahoots?” Anything is possible, Rufus supposes, but he still has a hard time picturing that. “So Flynn stole my stuff and gave it to Wyatt to use? I didn’t really get the sense that he was big into delegating.”

“Who knows,” Connor remarks, “but clearly, there remains a great deal to sort out. I don’t really want to cancel this trip, there are a number of high-profile events that I’ve spent a long time setting up, but considering what’s at stake – ”

“I’ll go.” It’s out before Rufus has time to think about it, and he’s likewise been looking forward to the trip, but this is at least partially his fault, even if Connor seems to accept that Garcia Flynn is an absolutely pants-shittingly terrifying dude and has intimidated far more worthy opponents than a shy tech geek. Besides, he wants to curl up and die every time Jiya looks at him sympathetically, since he’s done the exact opposite of earning that, and he needs to make this right somehow. “If you can just move up my return ticket, I’ll leave today, I’ll head back to the Bay Area and handle all of this for you. I understand if you don’t want to trust me, since I messed it up before, but please, Connor. I feel like I should.”

The older man studies him for a long moment, eyes unreadable. Then he says, “That is quite noble of you, Rufus, I’ll give you that. But are you sure you – ”

“I don’t know.” Rufus doesn’t know what exactly Mason was going to say next – sure you can handle it? That you know what to do? That you won’t arrive in the middle of an even bigger mess? – but either way, the answer is the same. “But I have to try.”

After a final pause, Mason nods once. “Very well,” he says, and reaches for his phone. “Do be careful, won’t you?”

Several calls later, making quick arrangements on his behalf, Rufus has been picked up by the car service and is headed right back to Heathrow for another long-ass transatlantic flight. He sits in the back and watches the grey city go by, unable even to text Jiya some kind of apology, because of course Flynn stole his phone. This has not been among a banner few days of his life, that’s for damn sure, and his head chases itself in anxious circles. Nothing about this situation makes any sense. Is Flynn still out there, planning a second break-in while everyone’s distracted with Wyatt? False flag, decoy attempt, and then the jaws actually clap shut? They might not be out of the woods yet. He doesn’t know.

Rufus gets onto the plane (first class, priority boarding, Connor has paid for all the bells and whistles, since it’s just pocket change for him) and while he thinks he won’t, ends up sleeping for most of the eleven-hour flight, to make up for missing it all last night. He is, however, disoriented as hell when they touch down in San Francisco, since it’s barely past noon, his body isn’t sure whether it’s eight o’clock at night or he’s just woken up in the morning, and whether it wants to run in any useful way or not. Rufus collects his bag, guzzles an industrial quantity of Starbucks, picks up his car from the valet lot, and blearily prepares to drive to Mason Industries and sort out what the white-people hell is going on.

When he gets there and informs the police detectives that he’s been sent as attaché for Connor, they reassure him that the situation is under control, nothing was damaged, and Mr. Logan has thus far been mostly cooperative. He did, however, have a female accomplice, as the receptionist, Tammy Westover, has verified, and while Mr. Logan has given a sworn statement that it was all his idea and he forced the woman to help him, they still want to find her for a few questions. Does Rufus have any surveillance tips or tricks for. . .?

“Wait, what?” A female accomplice? Unless Flynn put on a wig and has a hereto-unguessed and convincing passion for drag shows (Rufus would almost pay to see that), it can’t be him. “So what, you want me to just Big Brother her down for you, without a warrant or convincing proof of a crime? When that’s your job? Besides, isn’t that like, massively illegal?”

The detectives exchange a look, as if they think it’s cute he’s worried about that. (And people wonder why black folks have trust issues with the police.) After a pause, Rufus gets what they’re really after. “You’re trying to see if I had something to do with it,” he says. “I was in London the whole time, I have an alibi, I – ”

“Yes, Mr. Carlin. But we’ve heard you also misplaced your ID badge and keys recently. Lost it in a robbery, was it? That’s unfortunate.”

“I’m Mr. Mason’s representative here,” Rufus says. “I’ve talked it over with him, he knows the full account. I don’t care what time it is in London, but you can call him if you want.” He doesn’t know why this should surprise him – black man turns up trying to help the cops, quickly gets fingered as the suspect instead – but still. “I’ll wait.”

The detectives exchange more looks, but finally one of them goes to call Connor, and whatever he says must help, a bit, because the detective looks slightly more conciliatory when he returns. “Just doing our due diligence, Mr. Carlin. But by your own account, this allowed your sensitive materials to get into the hands of someone else who could have used them to gain access to the property. Is that correct?”

“Yes.” Rufus doesn’t see what good it’s going to do him to deny this. “Look, how about you let me talk to Wyatt, all right? We. . . kind of know each other, but it’s complicated. If he’s covering for Garcia Flynn somehow, I could possibly figure that out.”

More looks and low-voiced conversations, but at last the detectives seem to decide that they might as well see if either Rufus or Wyatt slips up. They leave Mason Industries in an unmarked grey Crown Victoria and drive to the jail where Wyatt is currently being held. Rufus is shown into one of the Plexiglas-box things with a telephone, sits down, and waits until the door opens on the far side. Glances up, and winces.

Wyatt Logan looks, to put it nicely, like hell. He’s dressed in prison gray, his eyes are red, his hair tousled, his face pale, and he barely notices the guard marching him along to the chair. He sits down and picks up the other phone reflexively, not even looking at who’s on the other side of the box. Then he does, and blinks. “Rufus? Rufus Carlin?”

“Yeah. Hey.” Rufus gives half a wave, which is incredibly awkward. They’re not friends, and the last time they saw each other was Wyatt leaving after the San Jose parking lot fiasco, the one Rufus secretly recorded and handed over to Connor. But Wyatt still looks like lightly warmed over dog shit, and Rufus feels genuinely bad for him. “I’d say it’s nice to see you again, but. . .”

Wyatt snorts, without any humor whatsoever. “Yeah. I get it.”

“I just. . .” There’s no way to ask this clandestinely, but he might as well. “Look. About the break-in at Mason Industries. Your accomplice – ”

“I made her do it,” Wyatt says. “I forced her to help. I’ve told them to check my call logs, it’ll show I contacted her first. It was all my fault.”

Rufus is pretty sure he’s lying, even if in a backwardly noble, self-sacrificing way. Why the hell would Wyatt do that, though? After a long pause as they stare at each other, Rufus says, “Did you get any help from Garcia Flynn?”

Wyatt stares back at him without a flicker. If that’s a poker face, it’s a good one. “Nope.”

Rufus hesitates. This isn’t an interrogation, he’s not a cop, and doesn’t want to make the actual cops’ jobs any easier for them, just on principle. He’s not gonna sit here and ask questions that Wyatt, if he’s any kind of soldier and has undergone training on how to resist giving up vital intelligence, has probably prepared his answers for. Instead, Rufus leans forward. As quietly as he can, he says, “I know you didn’t do this, Wyatt.”

Wyatt jerks, but doesn’t immediately respond. There’s another pause. Then he says, “You’re wrong. I definitely did do it. All over the security cameras. So – ”

Whatever Rufus is going to find out, it isn’t going to be like this. He holds up a wait finger, hangs up the phone, and then turns to the detectives. “I want to pay his bail.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Carlin?”

“I want to pay his bail,” Rufus repeats. “That’s still legal, right? I’ve got a well-paying tech job, I can afford it. I’m not under arrest, so. . .?”

The detectives confer and mutter and glare, but if Mason Industries’ own consigliere doesn’t want to press charges, and is willing to charitably extend the olive branch to the perpetrator of the crime, they can’t really get around that. It takes a while, Rufus pulls out his credit card and calls his bank to expect a sizeable charge, but finally, Wyatt appears, still in handcuffs but having been allowed to change back into his own clothes. The corrections officer undoes them, there’s some stuff for them both to sign, and Wyatt is finally released on recognizance. This does not necessarily mean it’s over, but for now, he’s free to go.

They walk into the parking lot without looking at each other, and get into Rufus’s car. Rufus turns on the engine and yawns fit to crack his jaw. “Where should I take you?”

“I don’t know.” Wyatt leans back in his seat, eyes bleak. “I’m not sure it matters. I just. . . thank you. I didn’t deserve that. It was a lot of money. I’ll pay you back whatever I can afford right now, and I’ll keep it up until – ”

Rufus raises a hand. “I don’t want you to thank me,” he says. “I don’t want any of that. I’m just tired of being used by people – you and Garcia Flynn, among others – and I was making the decision on my terms. Besides, there’s things you don’t know about me, either. How about we just call it square?”

Wyatt looks at him, wary and weary and wan, then nods once. He holds out his hand, and they shake. “Just take me to a hotel,” Wyatt says. “That’d be best.”

“You know,” Rufus says. “I have a spare room, and Halo. Frankly, dude, you’re a mess. How about you stay? Just for a night, at least. We can order a pizza.”

Wyatt looks at him again, touched and startled and clearly at the end of his rope, unable to reject a simple, ordinary kindness, when the rest of his world has gone so comprehensively to hell. He starts to speak, clears his throat, and stops. Then he says only, “Okay.”

Connor Mason is working late.

Connor Mason usually is – don’t make billions of omelets without breaking an equal number of eggs, after all – but this is different. He’s been receiving sporadic updates on the situation back in San Francisco, has had to remind the bloody police not to arrest Rufus, and has a great deal more reservations than he has publicly let on. He’s been waiting for something like this to happen, even as he managed to convince himself that it wouldn’t. Told himself that Garcia Flynn was gone, the threat was over, and the time machine would be ready on schedule as Rittenhouse has made it very clear that it will be, or else. In the back of his head, Mason wonders if this is entirely a good idea, but the point is moot. He has no choice.

It’s past midnight in London, and he aimlessly turns over pieces of paper on his desk, staring at the glittering skyline. He was born and raised here, this is still home in a way. His parents immigrated to Britain from the Caribbean during the Windrush, and his mother cleaned the houses of rich Londoners for a living. It was watching her struggle with the vacuum that made young Connor want to simplify her life, to invent better ways to do all this, and he has. His success is beyond any doubt, as is his bank account. His mother (his father died some years ago) lives in plush retirement and wants for nothing at all. Now her son could buy all the houses that she cleaned, several times over. If a great deal of that has come through Rittenhouse. . . well. Omelets. Eggs.

Nonetheless, Mason is feeling anything but sleepy as he sits in the office. He might stay here all night, he’s done it before. If there’s any way to know that this is going to be over, that it was a nearly catastrophic but recoverable slip, and that he can just –

There’s a knock on the door. Once, sharp, and short. It’s not a knock that expects to have to repeat itself, or thinks it would be a wise idea if it did.

Connor looks up with a jerk. He can’t say he’s not been expecting this, but his stomach still sinks. He presses a button on the underside of his desk. “Yes?”

“Hello, Connor,” a woman’s voice says. “Burning the midnight oil?”

Mason grimaces. This is not, indeed, a visit he’s going to get away with refusing. He hesitates as long as he dares, then presses another button. The door swishes open, and Emma Whitmore strides into his office.

It’s been a while since Connor has seen her, since Emma transferred out for whatever shady reasons, and he was almost hoping he wouldn’t. Emma is a very capable pilot and a genuinely impressive woman, but she’s also terrifying, and the knowledge that she is in his organization expressly on the orders of Rittenhouse higher-ups to keep an eye on him while he builds the time machine isn’t exactly comforting. As usual, she looks as if she’s fresh off killing a man, probably literally: immaculately cut and belted grey peacoat, skintight brushed-suede trousers, and black platform heels, ginger hair in elegant curls around her face and blood-red lipstick expertly crisp despite the late hour. She’s carrying a file under her arm, and she takes a moment to good and appreciate his freezing in his chair. “Long time no see.”

“Hello, Emma.” Connor offers a weak attempt at his usual smarmy smile. “Lovely that we’re finally in the same town again, isn’t it?”

Emma shrugs. “I’ve had this on my calendar for a while, sure. Though I’ve heard you’re having a fascinating time even without me. Or was that Rufus?”

“Rufus isn’t here,” Connor says, feeling rather grateful for it. “He’s gone, he – ”

“Yes, I heard.” Emma brushes that off. “I didn’t come to talk about him, anyway. Or only indirectly. I heard that he resurfaced. Is that true?”

Where Rittenhouse is concerned these days, he can only be one person. Connor nods. “Rufus says he spoke to Garcia Flynn, yes.”

“Finally,” Emma says. “There’s been a lot of circle-jerking incompetence at finding him, while they’ve only given me totally shit jobs. Playing the damsel in distress with Wyatt Logan, now desk duty for two years while these knob-slobbing chucklefucks can’t manage something as basic as tracking down the one man who could be a real threat to us. Does nobody remember that I caught him in about five minutes the last time they let me out?”

There is a smart remark on the tip of Connor’s tongue that apparently misogyny is also a workplace problem in secret supervillain societies, but he thinks better of it – as well as pointing out that from what he’s heard, Emma also lost Flynn and his little girlfriend rather spectacularly that time as well. Instead, he manages an airy shrug. “We’re all undervalued for our real talents, aren’t we?”

“Maybe.” Emma’s green eyes gleam with catlike amusement. “Anyway, I always figured that we might end up having to wait for Flynn to show himself. Now he has, and believe me, a lot of the brass wants to just try shooting him on the spot again. But we already tried that, and it didn’t work. Besides, he’s caused us enough problems by now that just killing him isn’t going to fix that. I’ll admit he’s good at his job, but still, with the resources we have, we should have been able to stop him. But. We haven’t.”

“So what?” Mason is beginning to feel decidedly peripheral in this conversation, as well as annoyed. “What do you expect me to do? I have been assured over and over that Rittenhouse would prevent that man from interfering while I finished the work, and now I find that a cut-rate, rent-a-thug private security firm could have done a better job at keeping out this gang of cretins that insist upon sticking their noses where they don’t – ”

“Exactly,” Emma says. “They’ve failed miserably, doing it their way. Honestly, I swear I’m the only person who has the right idea of this, of what’s actually possible, how to fulfill David Rittenhouse and Nicholas Keynes’ real vision.” Her face glows with a fanatic’s fervor at speaking the names. “As I said, Flynn’s resurfaced. But we don’t want him dead.”

“You. . . you don’t?” Mason is even more confused. “Rittenhouse is in the business of forgiving and forgetting now? I did not see that coming. What’s next, helping old ladies cross the street and running charity drives for disadvantaged youth?”

“You glib little prick.” Emma still seems amused. “Still the same as ever, Connor. But no. Listen carefully. We don’t want Flynn dead. We want him stalled, and we want him visible. If he goes off the grid again, that’s another two years those morons won’t be able to find him. Another solid two years of him fucking up our operations and our satellite organizations and our funding. He’s managed to do some real damage, and I am not going to sit by and let that continue. So here’s what you need to do. Pull your strings, work your magic, put the word out through all your spiderwebs and your connections and your high-tech world. Cut off all the standing warrants on him. Wipe everything away. Hack whatever you need to. Give him a clean rap sheet and a new lease on life. Make it all go away.”

“You want me to. . . solve Garcia Flynn’s difficulties with the law for him?” Mason cannot have heard right. “All this time with orders to essentially spare no extreme in taking him down for his crimes, and now you want me to just. . . erase them?”

“You heard me.” Emma smiles. “As I said. We want him to stay right where he is and to drop the hunt and to let his guard down. I have reason to think he might. I want to see him in goddamn Whole Foods shopping for olives, or out at the farmer’s market, or whatever else he might be doing if he stays in the Bay Area for a while. That keeps him away from continuing to sabotage us, and it allows us some time to fix parts of what he’s fucked up. Not everything, but that’s the beauty of it.”

A chill goes down Mason’s back. He isn’t scared of many people, but he’s very, very scared of Emma, and worse, he suspects that she has always known it. The people she works for as well, but definitely her. “Dare I ask?”

“Sure.” Emma hefts the folder onto his desk with a careless slap. “Take a look.”

Mason opens it. It appears to be newspaper articles, police reports, cell phone records, and other such material, all relating to a car crash on the Bayshore Freeway on the night of March 21, 2003. Why this would be remotely important, he can’t fathom. “What’s this?”

“Everything I could find on the accident,” Emma says. “But you need to keep digging. I want to know absolutely everything you can uncover. Legal or not, I don’t care. I want to know who so much as sneezed in a five-mile radius. You’re going to do that, and in turn, I don’t make things very difficult for you. You know all the stuff that could appear in the papers, Connor. True or false. We could throw in some illegitimate love children, corporate supply-chain scandals, laundered money – just about anything.”

Connor opens and shuts his mouth. He knows he is, to say the least, far from squeaky clean, and Rittenhouse has never been an easy bedfellow before, but that makes it starkly apparent that the gloves have not even started to come off. “I – ” he says, stops, and starts again. “I’m sure that won’t be necessary.”

“Good,” Emma says. “Make sure it isn’t. For you or for Rufus, because frankly, you can’t protect him forever.”

“Rufus doesn’t know anything about Rittenhouse.”

“Make sure it stays that way.” Emma gets to her feet. “I’ll be coming back to work in San Francisco soon, by the way. Now that we’re really getting somewhere on the machine, I want to run the new tests in person. You’ll also ensure there’s nothing. . . awkward that I might have to deal with?”

“Yes,” Mason says, rather numbly. “Of course.”

Emma smirks at him, then gets to her feet. As she starts to go, Connor finally finds his voice. “Ah – ” It sounds weak, and he has to try again. Reaches for the obsequiousness and charm, and the reflex of a man who has gotten used to solving all his problems with money. “Emma. If this is about your salary – you know I could pay you even more, don’t you? If it might, well, induce you to take a softer line or two?”

“What?” Emma scoffs. “Are you actually asking if you can buy me away from Rittenhouse with another raise? Let’s be honest, Connor. You pay me plenty. Though I’ve heard that San Francisco real estate is getting even more ludicrous, so we can talk shop when I get back. Don’t forget. March 21, 2003. Bayshore Freeway. Find it all. But you’re forgetting something.”

“Oh?” Connor doesn’t think he wants to know. “And that is?”

Emma shrugs. Standing in the doorway, she is almost entirely shrouded in shadow, except for her teeth, which flash shark-white. “I just really like this job.”

And with that, she goes.

Chapter Text

April 15, 2013

It’s Monday, it’s tax day, and it’s the week that midterms start. If it was possible for a group of people’s collective moods to actually be little black stormclouds over their heads, the entire history department would be drenched, but they have mostly confined themselves to double doses of coffee and bitching about the IRS, as well as various passive-aggressive email chains to the idiots who thought it was a great idea to schedule three faculty-search-committee meetings this week. Lucy is sitting on two of those, was up until three AM last night reading the various CV submissions (besides, it’s hard for her to sleep for other reasons these days) and trying to draw up her shortlist of candidates for the new Assistant Professor of East Asian History that Stanford is preparing to hire. She is all for more diversity in the workplace and the academic realm, but as timing goes, this could be. . . greatly improved.

Still, she supposes, she can’t complain too much, and she’s about to be away from it for several months anyway. Her leave starts at the end of next week, and she won’t be returning until the start of the fall quarter, so there’s plenty of stuff that needs to be finished up before that. Her in-tray has been apparently cursed with a magical charm to never go down no matter how much Lucy works on it, but aside from one of said committee meetings in an hour, she is free to hack at it for the rest of the day. Flynn said he’d bring lunch over, too.

A faint smile curls up the corner of her mouth, and she decides that coffee (decaf, unavoidably) sounds like a good idea, even if she’ll have to fight through the zombified departmental hordes to get it. She submitted her taxes three weeks ago, so at least she doesn’t have to mess around with that last-minute headache, though she is sure that any number of replacement headaches will pop up in its place. She does feel bad for her colleagues, even if they did bring this upon themselves. You’d think academics would be more organized, but honestly, they really aren’t.

Lucy hauls herself to her feet, picks up her mug, and heads out of her office, down the hall to the staff kitchen. Her friend Eleanor and Paul from Late Antique and Byzantine History are leaning by the coffeemaker, having an involved argument about someone amusingly named King Boso, but while this is potentially a fascinating subject, Lucy definitely needs them to move. She clears her throat. “Hate to interrupt, but I have a need.”

“Good timing, you just missed the stampede.” Eleanor empties the grounds out of the percolator and reaches for a new pack. “Decaf, I assume?”

“Unfortunately, yes. I haven’t been properly awake in weeks.”

“I thought your leave started on Friday.” Eleanor puts in the capsule and presses the button to start the cycle. “Or is it this Friday?”

“This Friday. I have no idea how I’ll finish everything.”

Paul, as if sensing that the conversation might devolve into girl talk (he’s a dazzling genius, but the kind with absolutely zero people skills who should just stay happily shut in a library learning dead languages), makes his excuses and scuttles out. Eleanor digs in the fridge. “The Huns just took the last of the half-and-half, but we have powdered creamer.”

“No, I’m fine. I’m drinking it black these days, anyway. Garcia’s rubbing off on me.”

Eleanor raises a slightly impish eyebrow. “Clearly.”

Lucy blushes, but can’t exactly deny it. She waits until the coffee has brewed, then tips it out into her mug. God, she can’t wait to drink the real stuff again (and see her feet, and walk without feeling like a lumbering juggernaut, and not have to pee every five minutes, and be woken up with auditions for the  Olympic gymnastics team, and all the rest, even if she will obviously then have different problems). She and Flynn were not exactly planning for her to get pregnant after six months of dating, but it happened, in the way that life tends to do, and they’re ready to make it work, as much as anyone can possibly be. Flynn is clearly beside himself with excitement and apprehension at the idea of becoming a father, and Lucy – well, she’s obviously had ambivalent feelings about kids in the past, to say the least. Felt it was something to do more to please her mom, rather than anything deeply desired. But dammit, something has changed. She’s thirty, she’s in a stable and loving relationship with a man who worships the ground she walks on, she has a good job, they’re financially stable (though again, better not to ask how exactly Flynn has chipped in), they’ve just bought a cute little bungalow/fixer-upper of a starter house, and there is the unspoken understanding that this summer, after the baby is born, they will probably get married. Lucy has grown up, or at least grown older. She’s ready for this. Their family. Them.

“You’re due the second week of May, right?” Eleanor asks, sitting down at the table across from her. “Picked out names yet?”

“We’re kind of waiting to see what feels right.” Lucy raises an eyebrow, as if to acknowledge that this is a very San Francisco thing to say, but while they know that the baby is a girl and that her middle name will be Maria, for Flynn’s mother, they still haven’t settled on a first name. “We have a couple ideas, but nothing’s stuck quite yet. Item number one on things not to screw up for your kid, huh?”

“You’ll be fine,” Eleanor says. “Garcia’s a little. . . rough around the edges, but anyone can see that he adores you. And he’s gorgeous, and a medieval history nut. Clear sign of good taste.”

Lucy snorts. “Hey now. He’s definitely taken.”

“Trust me, I know.” Eleanor raises both hands in mock surrender. “Honestly, though, you two are one of the best couples I know. Lucy Junior is going to be so lucky to have you as parents. But – ” She pauses, well aware it’s a delicate topic. “Your mom come around yet?”

Lucy grimaces. Amy is absolutely thrilled at the prospect of becoming a cool young aunt who can spoil the kid rotten, but her mother, well. . . let’s just say that Carol Preston looked at Flynn like he was a dead slug the first time she met him, and her reaction hasn’t gotten much warmer since. Flynn also clearly doesn’t like her; he’s coolly cordial to her for the sake of familial civility, but that’s it. Carol thinks that Noah was a far superior choice, that Lucy callously threw him away to get knocked up by some idiot ex-lawbreaking hooligan (Lucy loves him, but has to admit this is not an inaccurate description) and that while she’s prepared to have a relationship with her granddaughter, Flynn should definitely not think that applies to him. Lucy gets the feeling that Carol will just pretend Flynn does not exist, as if she closes her eyes and blinks hard, he might happily vanish. For his part, Flynn thinks it’s rich of Carol to assume that she gets to have a relationship with their daughter at all, given what she did to her own. As Lucy’s pregnancy has progressed, they seem to be getting farther apart, rather than closer. They haven’t been in the same room since Flynn and Lucy broke the news.

Eleanor can see the answer on her face, and winces in sympathy. “Shit,” she says. “I’m sorry, Lucy. Forget I asked. That sucks.”

“It’s what it is.” Lucy tries to keep her tone light. “Sometimes people don’t like each other. I’m sure Mom and Flynn will work it out.” She pauses. “Eventually.”

“They’re both very stubborn, bossy people with strong opinions,” Eleanor says. “Usually doesn’t mix well. But hey, sure, maybe they bury the hatchet when the kid arrives, let’s think positive. Anything else I can help you with?”

“No, Eleanor, thanks. I really need to get my stuff ready for this committee meeting. Then I can come back and tackle the In-Tray of Death.” Lucy finishes her fake coffee in a few more swallows, puts the mug in the sink (cheerily ignoring the “Wash Your Own Dishes Please!” sign taped above it) and waddles back to her office. She gets her dossier of papers together, winces as sharp heels trod her spleen, and gives her side a poke. Then, feeling like a barge needing a tugboat to reverse, she heads for the meeting. Since she’s a small woman, it feels like her belly precedes her everywhere by about two feet. Maybe they can tie on a flasher.

Once that’s done with, and they’ve narrowed the overall shortlist of candidates from twelve names to ten (so, a productive use of everyone’s time, then), Lucy chats with the department chair, accepts his congratulations on her impending arrival, and then makes her escape before Debbie from student services can bustle over with her latest round of well-meant advice about what Lucy should be doing at this stage. Once the morning sickness stopped, Lucy hasn’t minded it too much, but she is not a fan of the (in her opinion, frankly creepy) Mommy Culture that surrounds it. No, she is not going to eat her placenta, or take tasteful black-and-white bump pictures. You will not catch her dead at a gender reveal party, she accepted a baby shower but only a small one with a few women, and the “my labor was TEN HOURS with NO PAINKILLERS!” kind of talk makes her run for the hills. This is 2013. Lucy will have all the drugs, thank you, she doesn’t think a natural water birth is the only proper and fulfilling way for her child to enter the world, she isn’t going to start a blog detailing their toilet training milestones, and the breastfeeding wars make her wonder if these people have real hobbies. Not to bag on women who do it that way, of course, and there have been a few times (thanks to hormones) that Lucy has found herself genuinely weepy over the Miracle of Life. But still. She is, at heart, just too practical.

She rounds the corner into the department reception area, stops, and grins at the sight of Garcia Flynn holding a large and greasy bag from her favorite sandwich shop and looking too tall for the room. (Which, to be fair, is most rooms.) There is paint in his hair, so he’s probably been working on the house again. It’s livable, but they’re still trying to get the finishing touches out of the way before their time becomes unavoidably caught up in caring for a newborn. The nursery is mostly done, decorated in tasteful, gender-neutral colors (Lucy has nothing against pink, but she’s also not slapping it everywhere), and she clears her throat. “Hey, you.”

Flynn starts, nearly drops the sandwich bag, then comes over for a kiss, which is even more of a cumbersome business than usual. The other nice thing about this is that Lucy has not had to lift a finger at home for months; Flynn waits on her hand and foot. He hasn’t been patronizing about it, just that he seems to know what she will need before she does, and makes it available as swiftly and conveniently as possible. He does his best not to hover, fully aware that she is a grown woman and can handle this herself, and that he is decidedly of secondary importance in whose opinion matters the most. Still, he almost never is more than three feet from her side, is usually touching her even with just a finger or the back of his hand, and gets jumpy if she’s out of sight for too long and he doesn’t know why. It must be really hard to adjust from “permanent outlaw on the run from international terrorist organization” to “suburban dad-to-be in loving relationship and DIY home refurbisher,” so Lucy tries to be understanding.

“Hey,” Flynn says, when he’s straightened up. “Free for lunch?”

“Yeah.” Lucy links her arm in his, and they walk out to the foyer, down the stairs, and out into the sunny midmorning. Campus is busy with its usual commerce, and they walk until they find a shady spot under a tree. Sitting, especially on the ground, is a production, so Lucy takes Flynn’s hand and does so with care. Once he’s joined her, he opens the sandwich bag and offers hers, as she leans against the trunk with a groan. “Yep. Ready for this to be over.”

“Only what? Three more weeks?” Flynn says that as if he hasn’t been watching the calendar as anxiously as her, and Lucy gives him a tolerant my-husband-is-an-idiot look. Well, basically her husband. He’s had a bag packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice since month seven. “Your sister was over to drop off the last things from the shower. Helped with a bit of the painting. Oh, and she says your mother isn’t feeling as well again. Watch her announce that the cancer is returned on the very day you go into the hospital.”

Lucy glances at him sidelong. Flynn doesn’t make much of a secret that he can’t stand Carol, but for Lucy’s sake, he rarely speaks this angrily about her. “Garcia, if – if it does come back, she can’t control that. I know things between you two aren’t the best, but – ”

Flynn snorts, taking a bite of his sandwich and doing that head-turn thing he always does in crowded public places, scanning for threats. He still carries a gun, even if only a small one, and he has definitely terrified people he thinks are following them too carefully or staring too long. It’s that fine line between remaining vigilant for Rittenhouse, and turning into a full-on paranoid lunatic who rants at rosebushes. He’s mostly managing it, though as her due date gets closer, he seems to be more on edge. But they’ve bought a house under their real names, they’ve been a normal couple, they’ve opened bank accounts and phone plans and whatever else. There have been plenty of opportunities for Flynn to ping in the system, to draw the attention of the omniscient electronic overlords, but nothing. Smooth sailing.

Flynn himself is suspicious of this, thinks it’s too good to be true, but Lucy (if perhaps naively) is holding onto the hope that he just disguised his tracks well enough with all his false identities that nothing has managed to stick to his real one. It has been over a year of domestic bliss. They’re expecting a baby. Surely if Rittenhouse was going to strike by now, they would have done it. Wouldn’t they? They need to be smart about this, of course, and Lucy has battled the ever-present anxiety that they are doing a child a tremendous disservice by bringing it into the world with no sure guarantee of safety, but then, no parent can give that to any child. There could be a car accident, or some pedo at the playground, or falling out of a tree, or. . .or. . . (yes, Lucy has spent too much time aware of all the various things that could happen). How does anyone ever have children, to give them this world and let them go? Who knows. She still doesn’t.

“Hey,” Flynn says gruffly, drawn out of his anger at Carol by sensing her melancholy. He reaches out and takes her hand, squeezing it with both of his. “Lucy? Are you all right?”

“I’m fine.” Lucy musters a smile. “I just hope you’re wrong. She’s still my mother, I’m her daughter. I don’t want the day I have ours to be mixed up with losing her somehow.”

Flynn coughs, as if knowing that badmouthing your mother-in-law to your wife’s face never goes well, and changes the subject. Finally he says, “I should walk you back. You have a lot to finish. So do I.”

“Oh?” Lucy takes both his hands and allows him to winch her to her feet. “More than just the house?”

Flynn glances both ways and lowers his voice. “I promised Wyatt a name,” he says. “I still haven’t given it to him yet. And I’m quite sure we both remember that.”

Lucy starts to say something, then stops. Yes, she supposes, they do. Wyatt fulfilled his part of the bargain to the letter, took the fall for them, even if he got out of jail quickly. He’s stayed in the Bay Area, in fact – has become roommates with Rufus Carlin, the techie at Mason Industries who Flynn threatened for information. (Lucy does judge her beloved’s life choices, like most people, but there you have it.) He’s done this because there still has been no news whatsoever on his wife. Jessica Logan has been missing over a year, it’s clear she either ran off to start a new life in Rio or she’s dead in some drainage ditch, but either way, she’s not coming home. But without a body, without any firm closure, there must still be that awful, tiny itch of hope in the back of Wyatt’s mind. Maybe she is trapped somewhere, held in some lunatic’s basement. Maybe she’ll escape and come home.

Lucy isn’t sure if she should try to visit or not, drop in for casual catch-ups or what have you. Wyatt did them a major favor, she can understand why Flynn still feels obliged to come up with his end of the bargain. Still, the whole point is that they weren’t seen together, and. . . well. She isn’t sure if Wyatt wants to see her pink-cheeked, doe-eyed, and bulgingly pregnant, in the middle of the domestic life he himself has lost, with the guy he likewise still isn’t very fond of. It just seems like it might be insult to injury.

She and Flynn don’t talk much on the way back to her office, as Lucy eyes the stairs but decides that since she gets winded on flat surfaces, she can wait a little longer to be an exercise hero. But as he’s kissing her at her door, she grabs hold of his arm. “Whatever you’re digging up for Wyatt, however you’re going about it – you’re being careful?”

This is always a relative question with Flynn, and she is well aware that he’s not collecting evidence like a Boy Scout earning merit badges. Knows that he might be kicking tires and turning rocks, nicely or otherwise. She isn’t even asking for the full truth of what he’s doing. Just enough to put her mind at ease.

Flynn’s brow creases briefly, but he brushes a thumb across her chin in a quick, tender gesture. “Of course. I’ll see you later, hey?”

Lucy nods, bites her lip, then pulls his head down for one more kiss, just because. He lets go and blows her one last extra over his shoulder, because it turns out that this terrifying murder machine in love is the softest imaginable thing in the universe. Lucy watches him go, then takes a deep breath and squares her shoulders. Marches back into her office, and gets to work.

She manages to make at least some sort of dent in her in-tray, and is just wondering if she wants to go to a conference at the University of Virginia in August (it sounds really interesting, but Charlottesville in August is going to be unbearably hot, and the last time she stayed on the Lawn, there was no air conditioning) when there’s a rap on her door. Then, before she has answered – it’s  not her office hour, she wasn’t expecting anyone – it opens. “Lucy?”

It takes a moment for her brain to process this. Then it connects, it burns through her, and she leaps awkwardly to her feet, almost knocking over her office chair and looking around in search of something she can grab. Her heart is racing, pounding in her mouth, which is half-open as if to scream, and her chest seizes up. She backs away. “You!”

“Lucy, please.” Benjamin Cahill holds out both hands as if to pacify a wild animal. He’s casually dressed in jeans and blazer and plaid shirt, looks like he has just strolled down from another department for a professional chat. “Don’t be alarmed.”

“Don’t be alarmed?” Lucy eyes her phone, on the desk, and wonders if she can call Flynn in time, if he’s anywhere near here and can come racing back. If he discovers Cahill in here, it’s going to get messy, and she almost doesn’t care. “How dare you show your face.”

“Lucy.” Cahill looks pained. Almost genuinely. “I haven’t come to hurt you.”

“So you’ve come to deliver more veiled threats about Rittenhouse, or – or tell me that your offer stands, or – ” Lucy’s grip tightens on the back of her chair. “You have to understand there is absolutely no way in the world I am pleased to see you. Leave, or I’m calling campus security.”

“I’m sorry for causing you stress,” Cahill says. “I’m sure you don’t need it right now. I’ve heard about your happy news, on the grapevine.” He nods at her, as Lucy crosses her arms protectively over her swollen stomach. “I just wanted to let you know once and for all that you’re safe. I know things were. . . mismanaged, before. But that’s all been called off. A little present for my grandchild. Rittenhouse may do some things you don’t understand, but it’s about family. We’ve always believed that. A time for a fresh start, and mending fences.”

Grandchild. Lucy hates hearing that word in his mouth, a word to which he has no right. “So what? You have been spying on me this whole time, but you’ll stop because – what, only now that I’m procreating I have value as a woman to you people? The way men only care about rape because ‘I have a wife and daughter?’ Is that it?”

“No, no.” Cahill manages to keep smiling. It’s not at all comforting. “Honestly. I wanted to ease your mind. You’re in the clear. You’ve probably been wondering. If you really can’t forgive me, I’ll understand, but there you have it. Your whole life.”

Lucy keeps staring at him tensely, heart hammering in her mouth. “What do you really want from me?”

“Nothing. I don’t want anything. I just wanted to see how you were doing, if you were well. As I said.” Cahill shrugs. “It’s just a time for new beginnings all around. I’ll let you get on with your day, Lucy. Bye now.”

With that, he smiles and steps out of the room, leaving Lucy shaky-kneed, dry-mouthed, and still tempted to call campus security and order them not to let Cahill anywhere near the history department again. Was that supposed to be a warning, a veiled insinuation that he could return the surveillance or whatever else? Do she and Flynn owe their happy life thus far purely to the fact that Rittenhouse is letting them have it, was that the takeaway? Is there going to be a second part of this conversation later, where Cahill returns and lets her know what the price is, if she wants to keep this sweet little deal? Turning over new leaves, her ass. If that was supposed to reassure her, it has comprehensively done the opposite.

Lucy’s concentration is shot, she can’t focus for the rest of the day, and she locks up her office and jumps a foot when she sees the janitor at the end of the hall. She drives home in distraction, goes inside, and Flynn, who has been stirring something on the stove, drops the spoon with a clatter at the sight of her face. He almost rushes over and grabs both her hands. “Lucy? Lucy!”

“I’m all right,” Lucy says faintly, even as it is relatively apparent that she is not. “It’s – I’m just – ”

“Do we need to go to the hospital?” Flynn starts looking around for his bag. “Should I call the midwife?”

“No, it’s not that. It’s – ” Lucy inhales a rattling breath, and allows him to sit her down on the couch. “Benjamin Cahill came by campus this afternoon. After you left.”

Flynn’s face goes blank, then thunderous. “He what?”

Lucy explains, feeling like she’s making a bad job of it, stumbling over her words. Flynn’s expression goes darker and darker, and she doesn’t need to ask to see that his conclusions over it are the same as hers. He gets to his feet and starts pacing as restlessly as a caged tiger, running both hands over his face and swearing. “It was a threat,” he says. “It was definitely a threat. He knew you were expecting a baby, someone told him, or they’ve been keeping an eye on us. They’re obsessed with bloodlines, they believe Rittenhouse has a right to pass on its superior genes, like any other creepy cult eugenics fanatics. Probably think you’re having some – some mongrel half-breed, and they have to – ”

“Garcia, stop.” Lucy reaches for his hand, trying to tow him back to the couch and next to her, but he doesn’t appear to notice. “Garcia, stop.”

She doesn’t know what she’s saying – stop with the pacing, stop with the paranoia, don’t stop because it’s not paranoia, stop and come back here and hold me – but it cuts through some of his mania. He halts in his tracks, looking at her with rumpled hair and anguished eyes, the thought vibrating in the air around him that he cannot protect her or their daughter, and this is exactly their worst fear coming true. There’s a long pause, and then he whirls on his heel. “I need to go out. Ask a few questions. See what I can turn up.”

“Now?” Lucy stands up with a grimace. “You’re really going to rush out and – look, I think it was a trick just as much as you do, but if you take the bait, if they can frame it as they’ve changed but you haven’t, they give you a fresh chance and you throw it away – ”

“They’re not really giving us a chance, now, are they?” Flynn doesn’t look at her as he answers, because he’s already halfway across the room, clearly heading upstairs to get his gun. “It’s a carnival shell game, any way they set it up, we lose! And I’m not sitting and waiting for that to happen!”

“Garcia!” Lucy starts heaving herself up the stairs. She should have guessed he’d react like this, and she almost wonders if she should have told him, but obviously she never could (or would have) lied. “Garcia, please!”

She reaches their bedroom, which he is already tearing apart, pulling his gun and its holster out of the safe, slamming extra clips into his belt, looking wild-eyed and frightening. She grabs at his arms, wrestling him to a halt like a runaway bus, as she ends up with her back against the wall from the sheer force of his momentum. She grips his face in her hands, pulling him down to look at her. “Don’t,” she says, scared and small. “Don’t.”

He closes his eyes, shuddering out a deeply pained breath. He passes a hand over his face, trying to control himself, realizing that he’s scared her and clearly ashamed of it. “I’m sorry,” he says, struggling to modulate his tone. “I’m sorry, Lucy. I just – I have to go, I can’t just sit here and pretend it’ll be better in the morning. I’ve spent two years chasing these people, I know what they can do. I’m not – I’m not – letting that happen. Call Amy to come over and stay with you, turn on the house alarm, don’t let anyone in. I’ll be back in the morning.”

Lucy doesn’t answer at once. Her hands tighten on his face, even as she slowly forces them to let go. Then she stands on her tiptoes to kiss him, and he wraps his arm around her, pulling her as close as he can. “Please,” she says shakily. “Please be back in the morning.”

He nods, then lets go of her, striding down the hall to the stairs as if knowing it’ll be too hard for both of them if he looks back one more time. She stands at the top, watching him. Hears the door open, and shut, and hears his car start. Tires crunch in the driveway, headlights swing across the front foyer as he reverses, and then he’s gone.

Lucy presses her knuckles to her mouth, holding back a sob. Just for a moment. Then she shakes herself – I’m fine, I’m fine – and goes to get her phone.

Flynn’s head is a roaring, whirling maelstrom for at least the first twenty minutes out. He feels like he’s been electrified, he can’t stop or slow, he drives well past the speed limit, and he’s lucky not to be pulled over. He has a personal black site where he keeps his Rittenhouse materials, well away from the house, as he’s obviously not going to take any chances with that being raided. It’s north, up in the woods, and it has all the files he’s kept, the intel he’s collected – he’s not letting those two years go to waste, and he still adds to it where he can. He’s going to go up there and check all the things that might have pinged, run all the diagnostics and pull anything he can off whatever server he can think of. There has to be chatter, there has to be traffic. Some kind of reference to whatever covert surveillance operation that Rittenhouse has to have been running. He’s looked for everything, he’s never really stopped – how could they have fooled him?

The urge to drive to another location in Marin County – the Rittenhouse mansion in the woods where Cahill took Lucy the first time – and just go in guns blazing, try to take out anyone who’s up there for an evil retreat, is considerable. Flynn knows he can’t, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to. Every anxiety, every lurking terror from every time he’s woken up and looked at Lucy sleeping, the covers sloped over her stomach, has been triggered at once, and it’s a battle to keep his head clear enough as it is. He’s going to ask her to marry him. Should probably have done it before, but – well, one thing at a time. He knows he loves her with his entire mind and heart and soul, and if she came back to him from the future, well. Something must have happened there.

(But what if it doesn’t?)

(What if Rittenhouse takes his wife – well, soon, anyway – and his daughter away from him? What if he loves two people more than anything else on earth, and he loses them? After all this, after everything?)

(He’s not brave enough, he’s not strong enough, to stand that without going mad.)

Flynn’s hands are almost vibrating on the wheel, and he accelerates again. He’s on the Bayshore Freeway, as it happens, the stretch that runs right alongside the Bay between South San Fran and Little Hollywood. He saved Lucy not twenty miles from here, just over ten years ago. Strange that that was the moment that connected them so inextricably, that wound them up where they are, and –

He sees headlights too late. Just out of the corner of his eye.

Hears the screech, and the swerve. Then the crash.

Then there’s nothing but black water below him, and the car is falling.

Chapter Text

Flynn realizes that he’s about to go under in the instant before he does, and that split second gives him enough time to react. His training kicks in, and despite the horrible speed with which everything is unfolding, it turns almost slow. He can’t undo his seatbelt until he hits the water, because otherwise he’ll slam into the windshield, hurt himself, and lose precious moments of air and orientation. He has to open the window, because the electronics will short and if he can’t get the door open against the water pressure, he needs it as a backup. The car is going to fill up fast anyway. He has one breath, maybe two, and he needs to be prepared for the possibility that whoever just rammed him off the highway is standing up there with a gun and waiting for him to resurface. All of this has to be figured out in under a minute.

The next instant, the car plunges nose-first into the black water of the Bay, which – considering that he went off the road ten or fifteen feet above – hits like a brick wall. Seatbelt or no seatbelt, he’s slammed forward, wrenches his shoulder, bangs his head against the door, and gets half of the breath he does take knocked out of him. He rips off the seatbelt and twists around, shoving at the door and managing to get it cracked. The car is upside down, he has one more deep gulp of air before the water goes over his head, and it’s freezing, pitch-black, cold, and oily. He has to do this by touch, and remember which way the surface was.

Flynn shoves ferociously, jams the door open, and wriggles out, kicking off as the car continues its freefall into oblivion below him. Between this and Lucy’s old one, they have certainly paid their automobile tithe to the hungry gods of the Bay, he thinks absurdly. He still has his gun and his wallet, but everything else is sinking out of sight. Nothing totally irreplaceable; he’s gotten so used to living with barely any possessions that he still hasn’t gotten into the habit of owning things. Still, absurdly, it stabs at him.

No time for that. He strokes for the surface, lungs burning, and manages to break it as quietly as he can, staying out of sight beneath the bridge piling. Headlights still shine on the highway above. He can’t tell if it’s from the car that hit him or an innocent observer who saw someone go over and pulled off to phone the emergency services. This is a nice bit of civic spirit on their part, but it’s also not certain that it won’t get them shot. Flynn is bleeding from the crack to his head, and he clings to the filthy, mossy piling, legs swaying in the current, listening with all his might. It could have been a drunk driver. It could have been a random hit-and-run. But really, on this night of all nights, what are the odds of that?

He doesn’t dare break from cover. He listens intently, then freezes as he hears a man’s voice. “He should have been up by now. If he was coming up.”

“Maybe he didn’t.” Another man’s voice. Slow pacing steps on the tarmac, directly over Flynn’s head. “We got him pretty good.”

“Look, the guys pumped two bullets into him at point-blank range a couple years ago, and there have been other attempts. He’s an ox. We can’t take any chances.”

“Whitmore said we weren’t killing him, though.” Rittengoon the First (as it has to be) sounds baffled. “Now orders come down that we’re just supposed to – ”

“Whitmore didn’t make the call. She did.”

There’s a long pause. Then the second Rittengoon says, “Well, that’s one way to get rid of the deadbeat boyfriend, huh?”

They both chuckle, even as Flynn’s blood turns to ice. Emma? Emma Whitmore? She wasn’t killing him – but why? There has to be an even deeper and more nefarious reason for that, if she’s willing to call off the dogs. But this means that there’s an even more senior female Rittenhouse member who went over Emma’s head, who ordered him to be run off the highway into the goddamn San Francisco Bay, and apparently has some kind of personal motive to do it. He feels a weird sucking sensation, and glances down to see that he’s bleeding fairly badly from the chest, must have cut it on some of the underwater junk as he was swimming up. He presses a hand to it. He has no idea how long they’re going to wait, and he’s trapped down here, injured and defenseless. If they come down for a closer look –

Another few minutes pass. The first Rittengoon makes an impatient noise. “C’mon. He’s gotta be dead. Unless he’s frigging Aquaman.”

“Get the flashlight. I’m not gonna be the one to go back there and tell her we screwed it up.”

Flynn presses himself against the piling as more footsteps crunch, then a small strobe light hits the water and sweeps back and forth. The tail end of it nearly catches him, and his grip almost slips as he tries to pull himself away. He manages it almost without a sound, but not quite, and the gravel skids out from under him, as he bangs into the concrete block and catches the edge of it in his wounded chest. He bites his tongue before he can swear, but the damage is done.

“Someone’s down there!” There’s the unmistakable sound of a gun cocking, and because Rittenhouse are exactly the kind of people who don’t give a shit if it’s just some innocent seal or pothead who somehow managed to fall in, there’s the muffled thump of a handgun with a silencer firing. There’s a whiz and a spit as the bullet hits the water, only a few feet from Flynn. He fumbles for his own gun one-handed – he’s not going to return fire unless he absolutely has to, since it will give away his position, he has no good sight lines, and he’s still at a horrendous disadvantage either way. He might, he might, be able to take out one before they notice, but odds are not good on two.

The Rittengoon fires again. It’s clear he doesn’t know where Flynn is, is just pumping rounds in there like an amateur, and Flynn thinks it’s a relief that they sent two total clowns to do this, rather than someone actually frightening. Then the second one says, “Jesus, hold it. If they find his body, bullet wounds are going to be harder to explain than drowning.”

“We care if they ask questions? Someone will just make sure it gets pinned on some local punk.” Clearly Rittengoon #1 has an itchy trigger finger. “And – ”

“She said it has to look like an accident, remember? It has to be totally aboveboard. He went off the road, he was angry and not paying attention or whatever. No way for it to be anything but a tragic mistake. He turns up in the morgue with some holes in him, she’s gonna be – ”

“Look, if she hates her daughter’s baby daddy this much, why not just kill him on her own? Whatever? Why bring us out here and – ”

The rest of the man’s words are drowned out by the roaring that fills Flynn’s ears. He can’t breathe for far more reasons than being slammed upside down in a sinking car and gashing himself on shore debris, or any of it. He wants to think he misheard – he hates the woman, yes, but he doesn’t want this to be the case. Even as he’s trying to reject it, he can feel it settling into his bones like cold lead. Yes. This would make sense, wouldn’t it? Why Rittenhouse isn’t terribly concerned about keeping Lucy on a tight leash, since they always have someone prepared to report on her life and whereabouts? Why Cahill knew about the baby, and whatever else? Why he has been so singularly unwelcome as a partner for Lucy, given his well-known status as a thorn in their foot, and why orders to keep him alive, for whatever reason, might be overridden to stage an unfortunate traffic accident, so there will be one logical place for a grieving, new-mother Lucy to look for help and support and –


Carol Preston is Rittenhouse. Likely always has been, for years and years. It would make sense. As Flynn himself said to Lucy earlier, they’re obsessed with eugenics and superior bloodlines like any self-respecting cult, and Benjamin Cahill, as Flynn found out when he started his investigation, is Rittenhouse as far back as Rittenhouse goes. No way he’s expended this much time and effort to recruit the illegitimate daughter he had with some unsuspecting ordinary woman. Flynn has always thought that Carol is a manipulative harpy who’s tried to control every aspect of her daughters’ lives in the name of love, but there are plenty of shit parents who do that without being members of an evil secret society. And yet. This seems so goddamn obvious, now that he sees it, that he’s judging himself for not suspecting from the start. If he did, it was only in a passing, unformed way. But this –

Flynn doesn’t have time to do much more with the vindication that his mother-in-law is in fact evil, because there’s a noise that sounds like a grappling hook, and he realizes that one of the goons is coming down here. He can shoot him, but he doesn’t know how many more might be waiting in the car. If it’s not just Beavis and Butthead here, then it could get dicey. Or rather, dicier.

The dark shape of the goon rappels into sight, and Flynn figures he has fifteen seconds, if that. He lunges forward just as the goon sees him and opens his mouth to shout for his buddy. Grabs him, wet hands slipping, and concusses him with a piece of broken rebar, then stuffs a rock into his mouth as he tries to yell. Gets a better grip as they struggle, braces, and manages to snap his neck, but messily, in the cartilage and not the bone. The goon jerks underneath him, not quite dead, as Flynn throws him bodily back into the water, which he hits with a splash. Well then. So much for doing this secretly.

“Hey!” The second goon has realized that that was his buddy, and he’s definitely pissed. No time to fuck around with this one, noise or no noise. Flynn swings out from cover, sights down his gun, and pulls the trigger.

There’s a yell and a stumble – he winged the bastard, but didn’t hit him cleanly. He’s still on his feet, so he can’t be too badly hurt, and if he is able to call for backup – if this is all blown and it somehow bounces back on Lucy –

That, somehow, is what gives Flynn practically impossible strength to haul himself out of the water, jump for the edge of the road, and haul himself over, folding himself into a somersault and springing to his feet to materialize out of the night like a wrathful djinni. He ducks the man’s first punch, catches his next one with an arm, drives his fist into his stomach, and flips him over his shoulder and bone-crunchingly hard onto the concrete. They’re still on the highway – someone is going to see this, it’s not that late, they could –

Flynn stomps on the goon’s face as he makes to get up, then picks him up and throws him into the water below. He can’t really risk one more shot, but he does anyway, firing at the spreading splash. It’s hard to tell if there’s blood in the water; it’s too dark. Their car is parked on the shoulder, hood crumpled from where it hit his, tire marks skidded across the asphalt. There doesn’t seem to be anyone else in it, but he has to make sure.

He has just verified that they have in fact only sent two junior-level thugs to kill him (two? That’s almost insulting) when there’s another sweep of headlights. Some charitably minded and undeniably brave individual, seeing a wrecked car and a man covered in blood on the side of the highway, has done their Good Samaritan duty to stop. A window hums down. “Sir?” a voice calls. “Sir, are you all right?”

Flynn hesitates, stashes his gun back in his jacket, and makes a decision. He turns around, doing his best to look like a disoriented and confused victim of a car crash (well, that’s not entirely pretending) as he staggers closer. It’s a middle-aged guy who looks like a soccer dad, driving a minivan, a genuinely decent State Farm Good Neighbor type. Instinctively, Flynn doesn’t want to hurt him. He really hopes he cooperates.

“Hey,” he says, upon reaching the minivan window. “Hey, man. There’s been a crash. That’s my car, just there. There was a slick on the road, I lost control. It’s only me, though. No one else.”

“You need me to call the cops?” Mr. Johnson, as Flynn decides to call him, frowns. “Or an ambulance? Looks pretty bad.”

“No, no.” Flynn smiles entreatingly. “It’s bleeding a lot, but it’s not bad. Actually, can you give me a ride? To my mother-in-law’s. I’ll sort things out when I get there.”

Mr. Johnson frowns. It may be belatedly occurring to him that this is not necessarily an individual that he wants to be driving anywhere. “How about I just give her a call, then she can come here and – ”

Flynn grits his teeth. He didn’t want to do this, but it’s important. He reaches into his pocket and draws out his gun, just enough to let the other man see it. “I think you should take me to her house, my friend.”

Mr. Johnson makes a move as if to reach for his cell phone and call 911, and Flynn knocks it adroitly out of his hand. “Don’t make this difficult,” he advises. “It could get a lot more so.”

“Wh. . .” This man, this decent ordinary man who was just trying to help a brother out, stares at him. “What are you doing?”

“Right now?” Flynn pulls the gun out a little further. “I’m asking you to give me a ride to my mother-in-law’s house. Then go and get on with your night, just like you were planning. Is that really so hard?”

The guy stares at him, white-faced, as if briefly thinking about being a hero, then decides it’s not worth it. He stiffly jerks his head, beckoning Flynn to get into the car, which he does, and they pull away as Flynn informs him of Carol’s address and Mr. Johnson puts it into his GPS with slightly trembling fingers. He tries to say something once or twice, then stops. Finally he comes up with, “You know, I really was just trying to help.”

“I know.” Flynn stares straight ahead at the dark highway. “I suppose it’s a lesson about why you shouldn’t pick up strange men covered in blood late at night.”

His hostage almost laughs, but catches himself. Another few moments of silence pass. Then he says, “If you have a mother-in-law, you must have a wife. She know about this?”

“I’m doing it for her.” Flynn decides to forego explaining that they’re not technically married yet. In his mind, it doesn’t matter. “It’s all that matters.”

Another pause. “Kids?”

“One.” Flynn pauses. “In a few more weeks.”

He thinks the other man glances at him with something halfway to sympathy, still managing to feel bad for this crazy stranger holding him at gunpoint. Mr. Johnson says, “I have two. Boy and girl. I want to come home to them tonight.”

“I want that for you too.” Flynn almost asks him what his actual name is, but that’s more complication than he wants to deal with. “So just do as I say and no problems, huh?”

They drive for several more minutes, Flynn still dripping foul black water onto the seat. His shirt is really quite bloody, and at some point he should do something about that, but it’s lower on the priority list. He needs to figure out what the hell he’s doing when he gets to Carol’s. She might well be surprised to see him charge in, soaking wet and angry as hell and decidedly not dead, but then what? He can’t just shoot her. (Certainly not until he’s dragged her off and made her confess everything to Lucy.) Is her house just a Rittenhouse spy nest, tapped with bugs and cameras and whatever else, so all those private conversations Lucy thought she was having were going straight into their archives? Jesus. Jesus.

They turn into Carol’s street in about ten more minutes, pulling up by the curb. A light is on in the front window, and Flynn stares at it. Then he jerks his head in brusque thanks, opens the door, and gets out. Starts up the walk, intending to ring the bell – then stops. Carol just planned to have him killed, she’s probably not entirely ruling out the possibility that he got away, and she might even have guessed that he’d rage here to confront her. And he’s what – just going to stroll up here, a broad target? The goons said they didn’t want any holes in him at the morgue, and Carol surely would have a difficult time explaining how he accidentally got shot at her house, but if it comes down to it, she might not be picky.

Flynn reaches the door, then stares at it. He can hear his blood rushing in his ears. Fuck this up, and he might ruin a lot more than just Carol Preston’s carpets. God. Maybe she’s not home. He would almost prefer it if she was. He could still back out.

He raises his fist, and knocks.

For a long moment, there’s no answer. Then footsteps, the sound of a bolt chain being undone, and the door opens to reveal Carol in a fluffy pink bathroom, blonde hair down on her shoulders. “Yes, may I – oh.”

There’s a terrible, queasy silence as the two of them stare at each other. Carol’s expression flickers, as you obviously cannot want the father of your grandchild, who you hate and just tried to have murdered, turn up on your doorstep looking like the Devil Incarnate. She can’t quite hold his gaze, and in that, Flynn’s final shred of doubt vanishes. He takes a step, backing her into the hall. “How about you and I talk? Huh? Like family?”

“I don’t. . .” Carol’s chin quivers, but she steadies it. “I don’t know what you’re doing here.”

“Don’t you?” Flynn laughs, rough as rasping stone. “You don’t know how I survived having your boys run me off the road into the Bay, you mean? How could you do this to Lucy? How long have you been in Rittenhouse?”

Carol flinches. “I don’t see how that is any of your business.”

“Not going to deny it?” Flynn grins dangerously. “Smart. So, also not going to deny that you tried to have me killed?”

“I was trying to do what was right for my daughter.” Carol draws herself up, bristling. “Do you think I could really let her take up with Rittenhouse’s most notorious enemy? You’ve spent two years trying to ruin the finest organization the world has ever seen, that wants to do so much good and help so many people, and now – ” She breaks off. “I regret that there’s a child involved. I do. But whatever hold you have on Lucy, whatever you’ve done to her – once you’re gone, it’ll break. She’ll return to herself and live the life she was meant to have. I hope even you aren’t so selfish as to deny  her that.”

“Selfish?” Flynn almost chokes. “You’re standing here, saying that to me with a straight face? Have you looked in the mirror recently, or don’t you have a reflection? I don’t know if you’ve genuinely convinced yourself this is the best course of action, or you’re just a psychotic bitch, but I always knew that you – ”

“If you had the slightest concern for your own daughter, you wouldn’t – ”

“Don’t get to talk to me about – ”

They’re raising their voices louder and louder, until Flynn makes a move as if to go for her (he’s not, not really, but he’s infuriated and it’s a reflex) and Carol yanks open a drawer on the side table, pulling out a pistol and pointing it at him. “Don’t,” she says. “Don’t make me do it this way. It could have just been an accident, and – ”

Flynn comes to a smart halt. He’s already been considerably banged up from the evening’s events, and has no wish to add (another) gunshot wound to his extensive repertoire of scars. There’s an unbearably tense moment as they stare at each other. Her finger wobbles on the trigger. He could dare her to pull it, though that is something he would rather not do, even to win an argument. He stares at her instead, eyes snapping. She might waver, the smallest bit, but it’s impossible to tell.

Just then, sirens break the night, red and blue lights starting to flash up the street, and both of them turn with a start. It’s plain that someone heard the shouting, or saw the gun through the window, or Mr. Johnson stayed around too long and did the exact fucking thing Flynn told him not to. Called the cops, and if they catch him here, he has no doubt that Carol will spin a tale of how he burst into the house to ambush her and she was only acting in self-defense. He does not have time to bust his way out of jail and he still doesn’t know if Carol was the only mover in this plot. They look at each other for an instant more, and then he bolts.

He hurdles his way down the corridor to the back of the house, crashes (almost literally) through the sliding glass door, and bursts out onto the back lawn. Doesn’t slow as he vaults over the fence, the night lit up by the red and blue flashes from the front of the house. He’s had worse nights in his life, but not many that he can think of. Not for a while. Jesus, he can’t go back, he can’t go home. Not yet, not if he leads them all there, not if he gives them a perfect opportunity to force his hand. He doesn’t know where he’s going yet. Not here.

Garcia Flynn doesn’t look back. He can’t.

Instead, he runs.

For the first three hours, things aren’t that bad. Amy has come over, they’ve made popcorn and hot chocolate, and curled up on the couch to watch a bunch of the cheesy movies they liked as kids. They have bombed through 10 Things I Hate About You and several Sabrina the Teenage Witch episodes, as well as halfway through The Princess Bride, before Lucy starts glancing at the clock, once and then again. Casually. He did say morning, he didn’t say before, so she doesn’t have to start worrying yet. She can relax and enjoy this chance to catch up with Amy, who’s being a champ by babysitting her anxious, pregnant sister, keeping her mind off things until her idiot husband gets back. Mostly. Mostly.

Lucy can’t get her stress level down at all, however, and her heartbeat keeps feeling too fast, slamming against her chest and coursing through her body like the prelude to a panic attack. She hasn’t felt this out of control since – well, since the night of the accident, really, and it is definitely what she does not need. The baby is restless, turning little flips and flutters and somersaults under her breastbone that increase her sensation of being stuck on a live wire, and no matter how much she pokes, it won’t stop. None of it is stopping. She clenches her hands and unclenches them, sucking down a deep breath, which also doesn’t work. She’s lost track of the movie. Weren’t Westley and Vizzini having the battle of wits? No, they’re ahead of that, it’s Miracle Max. She can’t remember when they got there, is –

“Lucy?” Amy nudges her. “Lucy. Hey. Lucy?”

“I’m. . .” Lucy rubs her eyes, as some of the horrible, sickly static breaks. “I’m sorry. I just – I zoned out.”

Amy looks at her with concern, then reaches for the remote, pausing the movie. “How about we go up to bed?” she says. “That’s probably enough TV for tonight, right? Come on.”

Lucy can’t quite muster up enough volition to argue, heaves herself off the couch, and wraps the blanket around her shoulders as they head upstairs to the dark bedroom. She changes into her pajamas and washes her face, lumbers back out, and gets into bed. She can really only sleep on her side, and Amy crawls in next to her. “Man, we haven’t done this since I used to get those really bad nightmares, remember?”

“Mm-hm.” Lucy half-laughs, eyes closed. “You used that strawberry shampoo. Made me dream all night of milkshakes.”

“Milkshakes are good.” Amy wriggles out on her back, stretching luxuriously (they have a king-sized bed, since most mortal furniture does not have enough space for Flynn). “How about you try to get some sleep, Luce, huh?”

Lucy doesn’t really think she’ll sleep, but does her best to regulate her breathing nonetheless. A few minutes go by, then a few more. Then her phone buzzes on the bedside table.

Lucy sits up, pulse hammering, as she snatches at it. Mom, the glowing screen reads, and she swipes at it. “Hello? Mom? Are you – why are you calling so late?”

“Honey,” Carol says. “Honey, I’m so sorry. I need – I need to tell you something.”

“You’re sorry?” Lucy’s throat is dry, as is her mouth. Her heart is beating so hard it might explode. “Mom – what are you talking about?”

“I’m sorry,” Carol repeats again. “Lucy, you need to know something. There’s been an accident.”

In half a moment, Lucy is back in Puff the Tragic Wagon again, and it’s spinning off the road and plunging into the water, rising in her lungs and closing over her head. Her heart turns to ice. “What?” she manages to croak. “What accident?”

Carol starts saying something about getting a call earlier, one of her friends was out on the highway, something about a car, something about Flynn. Lucy can understand each of those words, knows that they’re English, but they’re not connecting into any kind of sense. All she can do is croak over and over, “What accident?” like some kind of automaton running out of its windings. She’s still falling. It’s not stopping.

Amy, hearing this, sits bolt upright, takes the phone from her, and demands a few more straight answers from Carol. It’s unclear whether she gets them, but her end of the conversation fades into white noise as Lucy sits stock still on the bed, staring at the wall. Finally, Amy hangs up, looking a little stunned herself. “Okay,” she says, clearly trying with all her might to break this news in the gentlest possible way. “From what Mom says, there was some kind of accident on the Bayshore Freeway. Flynn’s – Flynn’s missing, apparently. She’s calling the cops back and trying to confirm if it was him, she’ll be in touch when she knows anything for sure. She says that she knows they don’t really get along, but she wants to take care of it for your sake. Okay?”

Lucy tries to answer, but she can’t get any words out. Finally she says in a croak, “I told him not to go.”

Amy looks at her with an anguished expression. “I’m so sorry, Luce.”

“No. This – this just – ” Lucy starts to get to her feet, her usual impulse to do something, and staggers. “On the Bayshore Freeway?” That strikes her as significant, even if it might not be. Was it inevitable that Flynn had an accident there, after hers? Is there really some fate or curse or heavy hand of destiny lying on them, grabbing the threads and twisting, twisting? “We should go. We should go to the scene of the accident, we need to – ”

“Lucy, no.” Amy grabs her hand as she tries to stand up again. “The police are there, the cops are doing their job, you – look, you’re over eight months pregnant and you’ve just had some terribly shocking news and you’ve been at the brink of an anxiety attack all night. If we’re going anywhere, we’re going to the hospital.”

“I’m fine, I’m fine, I – ” For a third time, Lucy attempts to get to her feet, but her legs are rubber, and she sits heavily back on the bed. “Just give me a second, I’ll – ”

“You look horrible.” Amy puts a hand to her forehead, then to the side of her neck. “And your heart rate is through the roof. Yeah, okay. Put on your clothes, we’re going to the hospital.”

Lucy weakly tries to protest, but Amy is inexorable, getting her changed into a pair of sweatpants and one of Flynn’s T-shirts, then marching her downstairs to her car. Lucy gets into the passenger seat and stares blankly out the window as Amy drives, thinking that it would be her fucking luck if Noah is now working at the hospital in San Francisco. At least he’s not an obstetrician, or that would be too horrifying for words.

They get to the hospital, the nurses take one look at Lucy and wheel her off for an IV and bed rest, and manage to get her somewhat stabilized. Amy is too nice to give her I-told-you-so looks, especially considering the situation, but once they’re in a private room and Lucy’s hooked up to several monitors that she deeply dislikes, Amy raises an eyebrow. “Better?”

“Maybe.” Lucy grimaces and stares at the ceiling. “Has Mom called back yet?”

“No. I’ll go try her again.” Amy steps out of the room, shutting the door behind her.

Lucy, not having much choice in the matter, stays where she is, feeling useless. She knows she’s not, she’s been working hard, she is very pregnant, her idiot husband just vanished off the face of the earth again (hopefully not by his own volition) and it’s all right to break down once in a while. But she’s a strong woman. Strong women, as the litany goes, are not weak or emotional or ever in need of help beyond what they can figure out for themselves. Lucy knows that’s essentially a lot of misogynistic bullshit, but parts of it have stuck. She feels almost embarrassed, like she’s let feminism down by ending up in the hospital tonight, even with every right to do so. God, this is stupid.

She shuts her eyes again and leans back on the uncomfortable hospital pillows, feeling like a beached whale and missing Flynn so sorely that she wants to scream. God, he has to be all right, he has to be. He is, obviously, a very capable person who can circumvent obstacles that would fell mere mortals, so she’s not going to think that whatever happened was enough to just knock him out of commission at a stroke. It’s nice that Carol’s helping, Lucy thinks dully. Maybe they’re actually going to get along.

She waits, eyes closed, until Amy returns. The look on her face makes Lucy startle upright, banging her elbow on the bedframe. “Amy?”

“Hey. So.” Amy sits down next to her. “The cops pulled a car out of the Bay. 2007 silver Volvo S40, smashed up on the driver’s side. Registered to a Garcia Flynn.”

Lucy feels physically winded. She finally manages, “And?”

“And.” Amy weighs her words. “A couple of dead guys. Looked like there had been a struggle. At least one of them had been shot. They’re going on the theory that that part was not an accident.”

“Neither of them – neither of them was – ?”

“No.” Amy shakes her head. “Neither of them was Flynn. But Lucy, this is – it doesn’t look good. Mom says they’re looking into stuff, they’re pulling up Flynn’s old… resume, and it looks a lot like he killed two guys and ran for it. Possibly even staged the car accident to cover his tracks, or…”

Lucy still can’t breathe. The world is starting to spin again, and there’s a weird ringing noise in her ears. “You don’t believe that,” she says. “You know Flynn. You like him.”

“I do,” Amy agrees. “But from what you’ve told me about his career, this isn’t exactly something out of his capabilities. There’s also another guy, some David Johnson, who filed a police report saying that Flynn turned up covered in blood, held a gun on him, and…”


“Lucy, do you really think you need to hear this right now?”

“Amy! Now!”

Her sister flinches, just a bit. Finally she says, “All right. Mr. Johnson says that Flynn forced him to drive to Mountain View, after he stopped at the site of the accident and tried to see if he needed help. Drove him to Mom’s house. Mom says she wasn’t there, she was having dinner with some friends, but why the hell is Flynn running off to her house after this? Do you really know what he was doing tonight?”

Lucy doesn’t know what to say to that. She doesn’t want to start talking about Rittenhouse, about Cahill, about the way Flynn went directly off the handle, snapped immediately back into solo-vigilante mode and went charging out, frothing at the mouth, to hunt his enduring enemy. “Mom and Flynn don’t get along,” she says inanely. “That doesn’t mean that he’d ever try to – that she’d ever try to – ”

“Look.” Amy blows out a breath. “All I’m saying is, this wasn’t an ordinary car accident. We don’t know what happened, and until Flynn turns up again, we’re not likely to. But if he does, the cops want to talk to him about the death of those two guys, and – ”

Lucy stares down at her hands, resting on her belly. She knows Flynn too well to say that the only reason he would have killed the men was self-defense. But she also can’t shake the suspicion that in this case, at least, he was provoked. Or was he? He did go burning out in search of the nearest Rittenhouse spook. Did he decide it was them, was there some kind of struggle, a case of mistaken identity? Flynn in this mood is not a calm and rational creature who takes time to think through his best options and deal with them gently. Flynn in this mood is a killer. Lucy loves him, but she’s not under any illusions about that.

“We don’t know,” she says at last. She’s not about to malign Flynn in absentia, or come to one conclusion or another without hearing his side of the story. “We don’t know. He was… upset earlier, yes. Because Benjamin Cahill came to Stanford to see me.”

“Cahill?” Amy frowns. “As in your creepy biological-father Cahill?”

“Yes, that one. He was saying that he – that his organization had given us a fresh start, that it was for the sake of the – for this.” Lucy uses her chin to indicate her stomach. “I didn’t trust any of it. It sounded like he was saying there would be a price if we wanted to keep it that way, or we’d only had our good life because they’d let it be that way. I told Flynn when I got home, and we – we didn’t fight, exactly, but he went off the rails a little. He was angry. He…” Lucy trails off. “Honestly, no. I don’t know what he was doing tonight.”

Amy looks at her with pain and sympathy. She likes Flynn, but she also tends to think he’s an overdramatic trash disaster who goes from zero to one thousand in every situation (she’s not wrong about that) and as a loving sister, it is Amy’s right to judge him for rushing out the door and leaving Lucy behind in a vulnerable state. After a long pause, Amy says, “The hospital wants to keep you on bed rest for the rest of the night at least, and discharge you in the morning if you’re doing better. They also recommend that your leave starts right away, they don’t think you should be going back to work.”

“I still have things to do.” Lucy thinks of her half-full in-tray. “I can’t just vanish and let people down, I need to be responsible and – ”

“Lucy.” Amy grabs her hand and shakes it. “Lucy! You need to take a moment for yourself, do you hear me? And for your daughter. I’m sorry Flynn has blown it to hell, I really am. But either way, while he’s gone, while he’s doing – whatever, you have to do what’s best. Stanford will understand if you have to start leave a week early, or I’ll go over there and yell at them myself. I know you’re always in big-picture, suck-it-up mode, but listen. Listen.”

Lucy starts to answer, grunts as she gets kicked in the gut (isn’t that just a metaphor for the entire evening), and gathers her thoughts, or at least attempts to. Finally she says, “Fine, I’ll call Stanford in the morning. Okay?”

“Okay.” Amy sighs. “This is a horrible situation. I wish I could make it better. But I really just need to see you take care of yourself.”

“I’ll try.” Lucy manages a wan smile. She doesn’t feel like she’s taking care of anything. “Maybe you should go home? It’s super late.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Amy looks incredulous. “Like I’m going anywhere.”

Lucy bites her lip, tears brimming uncomfortably close to the surface, and manages a nod. A nurse comes in to check her again, but once she’s gone, Amy kicks off her shoes and climbs up on the hospital bed next to Lucy. There’s not nearly as much room as the king-size bed at home, but Lucy doesn’t care. She tries to close her eyes and not see images of Flynn behind them – fighting two men, killing them, whatever else. David Johnson said covered in blood. His own, or someone else’s? His car went into the Bay, but he wasn’t in it. Must have gotten out. Smashed on the driver’s side. Did someone hit him? Did someone hit him on purpose?

And then. That last part. Made Mr. Johnson drive him to Mom’s house. Why? What was he planning to do when he got there? Was it in fact a good thing that she wasn’t home? Why would Flynn rush to Carol after a near-fatal accident, especially given that their dislike of each other is not exactly a state secret? But didn’t find her there, so… went where? Decided not to come home if he might be popped for murder, or had more murdering to do?

Lucy can’t shut off the whirl of thoughts long enough to properly sleep, though she does doze unhappily, occasionally stirred by more jerks and jolts from within. This kid is definitely a Flynn if it can’t sit still and stay out of trouble for just five damn minutes. But she knocks it off at last around five AM, Lucy gets a few hours of semi-real sleep, and wakes up at eight. Amy’s gone, and the hospital room is full of cool grey light. She’s alone.

Lucy pushes herself upright, swears under her breath (she’s learned several more curse words in a variety of languages from her dearest mostly-spouse) and is greeted by a nurse coming in for the morning check. Lucy hopes that she’ll give her the all-clear, and Amy returns halfway through with an unappetizing hospital breakfast, but the nurse frowns. “Hmm. Your blood pressure is still pretty high.”

“Yeah,” Amy says. “No idea why that could be. Or rather, who.”

Lucy rolls her eyes at her sister a little over the nurse’s shoulder, even as she appreciates Amy’s protectiveness. The nurse performs her other checks, and decides that they’d really like to keep Lucy for at least a few more hours. Release this afternoon, maybe, if things quiet down and cooperate. (Hah. Wouldn’t that be nice.)

Lucy isn’t pleased, but since the other option is sitting at home and worrying there, maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world. Amy gets her phone for her, and she calls the history department, lets them know there’s been a slight medical emergency (she decides not to mention the familial one at all) and it’s the doctors’ recommendation that her leave starts immediately. She’s very sorry about the work she won’t be able to finish this week, and she’ll get her laptop and try to do it remotely if she can, but there you have it.

The dean is, of course, understanding and sympathetic, urges Lucy to take care of herself and the little one, and not to do anything she doesn’t feel up for. Once that’s done, Lucy should possibly feel better, but she doesn’t. She feels restless, wants to get up and walk, wants a shower, wants some clean clothes. She doesn’t have to let herself go totally to pot, now does she? There are standards, after all.

Amy leaves to get her computer, some clothes, and anything else Lucy might need, even as Lucy doesn’t want her to do that, as it seems to imply she’ll stay here for a while. The nurses don’t really want her out of bed either, but since they have taken the IV out, they technically can’t force her to stay there. Lucy swings her legs over the side, tests that they’ll take her weight, and walks carefully out of the room.

She wanders the corridors, trying to stay out of people’s way, even as the disheveled, pale-faced pregnant woman looking lost constantly makes them stop and ask if she needs any help. She assures them that she doesn’t, that she’s got this, but she does start feeling breathless and light-headed and tinny, has to steady herself on a wall that seems to somersault from underneath her hand, and there is an ache in her back (more than usual, at any rate) that won’t go away. Occasionally it squeezes, knocking the wind out of her. Maybe Amy’s right, she doesn’t need to be a hero right now. Or just go back and –

It’s about the third time this happens, more recently than the last, that it occurs to Lucy that it might not be just the usual cramps or aches. She stops dead in the corridor as scrub-wearing residents scuttle past her, one of them stops, and insists that he be allowed to take her back to her room immediately. For once, she doesn’t resist, and by the time they get there, Amy has returned and is somewhat pissed to see that she went gallivanting off for an adventure. “Lucy! What the hell? Why didn’t you just stay where you – Lucy?”

“It’s fine.” God, it keeps coming to her lips as automatically as when people asked her how things were with Noah. “I just – I might be having a little false labor.”

“False?” Amy eyes her worriedly. “Lucy, your sweatpants are soaking wet.”

Lucy looks down. Shit. She has somehow managed to not notice that at all, which says a lot about how preoccupied her head has been. “Wh – no. No, that’s – ”

The resident has already gone to get someone more qualified to handle this particular branch of things, and Amy wavers, then makes a decision. “I think I should call Mom.”

“I… no, I’m not – not now, not now. I can’t, not when Flynn – ”

Amy gives her a look as if to say that she considers this mess at least eighty percent Flynn’s fault, and that if he wanted to potentially miss the birth of his child, maybe he shouldn’t have stressed Lucy out so much and run off like a little bitch. “I’ll be right back.”

With that, she steps out, just as the midwife arrives. It isn’t the one Lucy has been seeing at this hospital, however, and she frowns. “Where’s Gina?”

“Gina’s not in today.” The woman smiles reassuringly. “Hi, Lucy, I’m Angela. I know your mother, actually. I can promise you will get the absolute best care we have to offer, so just relax and we’ll see how things are going, okay?”

Lucy stares at her. Obviously, having strangers poking around in your unmentionables is one of the unavoidable drawbacks of childbirth, but still. “Can you call Gina?”

“Lucy, please don’t worry. Your mother has arranged all of it, she just wants you not to have to fret over anything. So – ”

Lucy starts to speak and is cut off by a contraction that does not, unfortunately, feel fake at all. She’s just about to do as asked and get up on the bed when the door opens and Amy returns. “Hey, where’s Gina?”

“Not in, apparently.” Lucy is trying very hard to hold it together, since this is not the time to break down in ugly sobs. “She just – ”

“Call her,” Amy orders Angela. “Lucy’s her patient, it’s what she wants – what is this, you think you people can take advantage of a vulnerable woman in labor? Medical ethics, what are those, right? I have a podcast, I’ll absolutely do an episode on the suspect practices of this hospital in maternal healthcare if you don’t go and call Gina right now. Understand?”

Angela stares at her as if she has no idea where Amy gets off telling her off like this. “Miss Preston, I’m just here to – ”

“Go,” Amy repeats. “Go call Gina.”

After a long pause, Angela does as ordered, leaving the room with one more judgmental glance over her shoulder at both of them. Lucy lets out a shaky breath. “Thank you.”

“I don’t know why, I just – I don’t like her.” Amy scowls after the door. “I met her earlier when I was bringing in stuff for you, I didn’t realize she was a midwife. Just – something about her, I don’t know what. I wouldn’t want her up in my hoo-ha, in other words, so I don’t blame you for not wanting her up yours. Where did she come from, anyway?”

“I – ” Lucy pauses. “She said she knows Mom.”

“Wow.” Amy shakes her head. “That absolutely figures, doesn’t it? Mom tries to control what damn midwife delivers your kid, so she can have her clutches in another Preston daughter from the very start. If I’d known she did that, I would probably have a few more choice words for her on the phone. I’m tempted to call back and tell her not to come.”

“It is her granddaughter.” Lucy wants to be accommodating, wants to be reasonable, wants to make the family happy. “But – I don’t want to have this baby now, it’s still a little early, and besides, Flynn – ”

“You’re over eight months,” Amy says. “That isn’t too early, at least. And if this kid wants to be contrary and show up whenever it wants, well, you’re not going to have much say over that. Honestly, with its gene pool, that probably should not surprise you.”

Lucy snorts weakly despite herself, as if to admit that unfortunately, Amy has that right. The contractions aren’t particularly close together, but they also don’t seem to be stopping, and Lucy reassures herself that she has done her homework for this, like everything. She has read the books and watched the videos and prepared her plan and all that. Yes, there is one literally large part of it missing, but that will just have to be dealt with.

Some time goes by. The doctors arrive with the news that they still can’t get hold of Gina, but they’ve brought the backup, Rebecca, who Lucy at least knows a little. Given the circumstances, they are treating this as a high-risk delivery, and that means that plenty more important medical people arrive to circulate through the room and mouth various reassuring words to Lucy. Amy stays at her side, making sure it doesn’t get too crowded, as they determine that yes, she is in the early stages of labor and the baby does not appear to be in distress, but again, close eyes will be kept. They’ve just finished when a nurse sticks her head in and lets Lucy know that her mother is here. She can come in briefly, if Lucy wants.

At this point, Lucy is feeling like any scared young woman doing this for the first time would, which is that yes, she wants her mother there. The nurse disappears to relay this message, and Carol comes in to cluck over her, smooth her hair out of her forehead and hold her hand, as Lucy wonders if she should ask about the Angela thing but decides that it can wait. Carol was probably trying yet again to be helpful, in her sometimes unfortunate way.

Morning tips over into afternoon. Lucy recalls that it’s supposed to take a while with the first one, but she is in enough labor to not be very comfortable and the drugs are having only middling effect. Amy and Carol take turns walking her back and forth across the room; it’s the first time the three Preston women have been in the same place without an argument for a while, and it’s kind of sweet. Finally, as it’s been going on six hours and Lucy is digging ever more inventively into Flynn’s stock of swear words, they decide that the main event is about to happen, and transfer her into delivery. Amy and Carol scrub up and come with her.

Lucy doesn’t remember most of it. It’s all a blur, bright lights and doctors in green scrubs and a lot of sweat, blood, and tears, literally. She wrenches hold of Amy and Carol’s hands, doesn’t think she can do this, then decides that yes, she fucking can. She sets her teeth and bears down and goes to that part of her that, when pressed (or pushed, in this case) can do nearly anything. Her daughter is born fifteen minutes later.

As the baby is taken off, still wailing, to be cleaned and weighed and checked, Lucy collapses back into the bed and stares up at the ceiling. She’s relieved, she’s incredibly relieved, but she also feels sick and shaken and hollow in a way that’s not from the ordeal. Carol is fussing over her and Amy makes a few jokes about definitely never wanting kids of her own, and Lucy manages wan smiles for both of them, but it feels increasingly disconnected from herself, like she’s below the water of a lake (or a bay) and looking up at the receding surface. She supposes there’s a little of the I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar vindication of her strength, but her life has turned upside down in twenty-four hours. Yesterday, she had Flynn but no daughter. Today, she has no Flynn, but a daughter, and God knows what comes next. She still doesn’t know what to name her. They didn’t get around to settling a final choice.

The rest of the messy end of the business is dealt with, and Lucy is likewise cleaned up and tucked into bed before they bring the baby back. She’s a little small, not quite seven pounds, but otherwise healthy. There’s a cap of soft dark hair on her skull, and she seems generally unimpressed with the world thus far – which really, mood. Lucy cuddles her and can’t help a grin at her grumpy expression. Yep. Daddy’s girl, clearly.

That, however, sets off something like a bomb in her chest that she can’t control, and at last, after everything, she starts breaking down. Just a bit at first, then faster, as Carol takes her new granddaughter into the next room and Amy sits on the bed to comfort Lucy. Lucy good and cries for several minutes, as Amy rubs her back and nuzzles her hair and makes soothing noises. “There you go, okay,” she says. “There you go.”

Lucy hiccups, sniffles miserably, wipes her nose on the offered Kleenex, and gulps a deep, unsteady breath. “I really wish Garcia was here,” she says, in a low, miserable husk. “I just – I really wish he could have been here for it. And just. Here.”

“I know.” Amy rubs her shoulders. “I know, I know. But you did amazing, Lucy, you were such a rock star. Stone cold badass. Hey, should we name my niece Buttercup? No, right? Definitely a no?”

“Definitely a no.” Lucy manages a watery chuckle. She realizes that they will need to fill out a birth certificate eventually, and that she may or may not have the luxury of waiting for Flynn to do it, but she still can’t bring herself to it right away. “I’m – I’m okay now. You can go get her and Mom.”

Amy nods, kisses her nose, and goes out, leaving Lucy alone for the first time in hours. The silence practically thumps in her ears. She doesn’t feel any better after crying, but at least she doesn’t feel any worse, which she has to take as a win. As for anything else, she can’t be sure. It all feels like a bunch of dishes dumped off a high shelf onto the floor; it’s happened too fast, too fast, she has been ripped off her feet and drowned in the undertow. She wants to go to sleep for ten years. Maybe twenty.

In a few minutes, Amy and Carol return, and Carol hands the baby back to Lucy, who settles her down to eat. (This is not as intuitive as it looks, but they eventually figure it out.) Then Carol says, “So what are you going to name her, Lucy? I like Eleanor, or Hannah. Good strong names, don’t you think?”

“I have a friend named Eleanor, so no. Not really into Hannah.” Lucy tips her head back against the pillow. Stubbornly, she adds, “And I want to talk to Garcia about it.”

Carol’s lips press into a thin line. “Lucy, you do know – you do know that he seems to have killed two men and gone on the run, don’t you? Went back to his old habits at the first opportunity, and left you like this. If he comes back, which frankly I doubt, he’ll have a lot of questions to answer first. And when I saw him, I didn’t get the idea that he intended to – ”

Lucy almost misses this at first. Then it catches at her, even as Carol realizes her mistake an instant too late. Lucy’s insides shrivel into a small, cold fist. There is a horrible silence. Then Lucy says, “When did you see him, exactly?”

“I – ” Carol opens her mouth, then shuts it. “Lucy – ”

“That Mr. Johnson said that Flynn made him drive him to your house, but you said you weren’t there, you were having dinner with friends.” Lucy’s voice rises. “That’s what you said. Were you lying? Did you see him? Were you there when he got there?”

“Lucy – ”

“Did you see him?”

There is another, even more horrible silence. Things from earlier are starting to whirl through Lucy’s head, pieces that she was (understandably) too distracted to put together. Carol saying that some of her friends were out on the highway and, apparently, just happened to see Flynn’s car go into the Bay (with its driver’s side smashed up as if hit on purpose). The two dead men, looking like there had been a struggle. Flynn blazing off to confront Carol, and –

“Oh my God,” Lucy says. Her voice is somehow, impossibly, lethally calm. “You’re in Rittenhouse.”

Chapter Text

It’s almost dawn by the time Flynn reaches the safe house. He really couldn’t risk another car hijacking, his own is either still in the Bay or being hauled out by a police tow, public transit while covered in blood, having already clocked up at least three felonies, and on the lam from the cops is ill-advised, and it’s too damn far to walk. Finally, he steals a bike, then a Vespa, then hotwires a rusty truck left in a Denny’s parking lot. Now that it makes it simple assault, murder, murder, kidnapping and hijack, intent to cause grievous bodily harm, escape from custody, petty theft, vehicle theft, and grand theft auto on the night, he curses the inability of the truck’s previous owner to conscientiously fill up his gas tank, stops to get some and pay in cash, and wonders if he needs to lock the teenage clerk in the beer cooler for the way he keeps looking at him. Then Flynn goes out, drives up into the hills, and is punctiliously vigilant about making sure he isn’t being followed, making random turns and doubling back, until he thinks he would have flushed out any pursuit. Then, and only then, does he allow himself to go for the cabin.

The truck door sounds loud when he shuts it, and pine needles crunch beneath his feet. The air is quiet and cool and dark, the night still lying thick over the Pacific out west and a faint, sullen pink emanating from behind the trees to the east. Flynn’s preferred method of dealing with his chest wound has been to ignore it and hope it stops bleeding, which has more or less provided results, but not very pretty ones. He hasn’t eaten all night, since dinner was dramatically interrupted by his rushing out, and between that and the rest of it, he feels lightheaded. It might not be so bad to get inside and sit down.

After a quick glance around and a grip on his gun just in case, Flynn walks up to the front door, checks to see if it’s been forced, and pulls the key out, twisting it in the lock and shoving it open with a screech. There’s always something slightly horror-movie about arriving here even in broad daylight, and he glances around very warily as he steps inside. It isn’t much more than a tiny shack in the woods, barely larger than one room, where he’s kept all his files, his computer equipment, his painstaking results of two years hunting Rittenhouse. It is more than his life is worth if the wrong people found this place. He built it himself and he’s never connected it to any grid in existence. All the wiring is scavenged, the internet home-built, the power from solar. There’s a tiny cooking stove and a pump well, and a cement trapdoor that leads into an underground cellar kitted out like a nuclear silo. There are provisions for six months, eight if he stretches it. There are also a lot, a lot, of guns.

Flynn figures that if anyone did find this place, they would conclude that it was the home of a batshit survivalist, which is not entirely inaccurate. It’s well off the beaten track, far from any tourist hotspots, and nobody has done so yet, but still. He lights the camping lantern and rummages for the first-aid kit, sits down, and gingerly peels away the torn edges of his shirt. All right. Well. Maybe he should have done something earlier, but he didn’t have the chance.

He manages to tidy away some of the gunk with paper towels and antiseptic wipes, makes his best effort at sticking himself back together, grunts and grimaces and swears, then hauls himself to his feet. He won’t die, at least, so he doesn’t have time to do anything else with it. He goes to the cupboard, gets a tin of peaches, and peels it open, gulps a few, then unwraps an energy bar. He obviously hasn’t slept either, and doesn’t seem liable to do so for a while, so he boils a mug of black coffee and takes a few gulps. God, he wishes he could call Lucy. He lost his phone along with the car and he doesn’t have reception out here anyway, but he did promise to be back by morning. The light is getting ever greyer. It’s definitely morning.

Flynn pauses, finishes the coffee, and tosses the mug in the sink. Then he heads to the bank of computers against the back of the wall and starts switching them on – carefully, he can’t overload his makeshift grid all at once. He waits, then sits down and goes to work.

The sun comes up steadily, spilling into the cabin, and he goes to blow out the camping lantern. He has to be methodical about this, run all his scans and make sure he’s identified – well, if not the entire problem, at least something he can run with. He’s been blocking the confrontation with Carol out of his head, because otherwise he will obsess about it, go in circles about it, and that will detract him from what needs to be done. Two more hours, he promises himself. He hasn’t found anything by then, or by noon at the latest, and he pulls the plug. Doesn’t go spiraling down the rabbit hole, but home to Lucy.  No excuses.

Flynn has checked most of the usual channels with nothing more than the usual traffic, when he finally stumbles across something that he can’t open. Not that he would; it’s on some kind of encryption that he would have to thoroughly check out and test for viruses first, probably decompile the code manually, rather than idiotically launching some malicious rootkit on this system that he has gone to such pains to protect. In any event, its title has caught his eye. It’s not letters, just numbers. 03212003. Unknown extension.

Flynn stares at it for a very long moment. It looks like a date: March 21, 2003. Which, as he is not likely to forget, is the day he saved Lucy’s life after her accident on the Bayshore Freeway (good to know they now have this in common?) He’s pulled it off a server he’s gotten other Rittenhouse intel off of before, though he had to crack a bunch of new security protocols first. That seems to indicate it’s something they’re still interested in protecting, not just dusty Recycle Bin old evil manifestos that they haven’t gotten around to fully erasing,  and while he certainly wants to think it’s coincidence, that would be a bad assumption to make without investigating. He opens a few more programs, and starts cracking.

He’s been at this a while, and it’s gone considerably past noon, when – startling him badly – he hears the crunch of tires out front. All this time never being found, and today of all days, someone got lost on the back roads and needs to ask for directions? Doesn’t seem likely. Flynn gets up at once, grabbing his gun, and moves to the door, peering through. A little black coupe has just pulled up next to his rustbucket stolen truck, and parks. Then the driver’s door swings open.

Then he freezes.

“Come on out, Flynn,” Emma Whitmore calls. She’s dressed casually, in leather jacket, flannel shirt and jeans, cowboy hat and sunglasses, a sort of Annie-Get-Your-Gun western look which is, in fact, nicely complimented by the AR-15 slung over her shoulder. “I know you’re in there.”

Flynn automatically jerks away from the window, in case she wastes no more time with talking at all and just opens fire. He has a few heavy-duty automatic rifles in the cellar, and while it is very tempting to run down and grab one, any sustained shootout is very likely to end up with both of them dead. He could probably kill her, but this kind of thing is dangerous at the best of times, let alone when you’re already wounded. Emma is no joke, he knows that, is a trained and hardened Rittenhouse hitwoman who, even if she does die first, will manage to fuck him up very badly on her way out. He can lie here slowly dying for days or weeks, injuries the first aid kit won’t do a damn thing for, until some hiker stumbles on his desiccated corpse. And Emma’s come alone. If she was expecting a full firefight, she’d have brought a whole team. She’s expecting him to want to talk. But how, how did she –

At that, too late, it hits. Jesus. The file. It was a trick. It probably doesn’t even open. She made it just hard enough to get to that it wouldn’t pique his suspicions, placed it on a server he’d used before and that she must have known was compromised, and has done enough digging to put a significant date as the title that would get his attention. Probably the instant he accessed it, it sent some sort of message to its counterpart on her machine, gave her a GPS readout and anything else she needed to find this place. She tricked him. Set the bait and dangled the lure, and he went head over heels snapping for it.

Flynn racks a hand over his face, trying to find any options aside from a) pitched, almost certainly fatal gun battle, or b) walking out there to realize just how cosmically he’s blown it. She seems to want that, or expect it, or. . . either way, here she is. Even he can’t just open fire without a word. Not until he can work out what the hell, the hell, to do now.

Emma slings the AR-15 off her shoulder and points it at the door – which, to say the least, is not bulletproof. “Now,” she advises. “Or I shoot. Put the gun down, open up, and come out with your hands up. Thirty seconds.”

Flynn debates. He can make a run for the cellar and try to get one of the big guns, but if Emma catches him coming up, can just stand at the top and mow him down, that leaves him back at the “dead” part of the equation. He, unfortunately, has no doubt that she is prepared to carry out her threat, and Lucy’s face flashes through his head, pale and anxious. Please be back by morning. Well, he’s already missed that, but dead would be never.

Slowly, Flynn puts his gun down on the floor and undoes the bolt. Opens the door slowly and emerges, hands up. With as much cold disdain as he can muster, he says, “Emma.”

“Flynn.” She looks amused, and she does not lower the rifle. “Good to see you. Been a few years, hasn’t it? How’s the white-picket-fence life treating you?”

Flynn doesn’t answer. She is going to toy with him first, she’s going to try to goad him, and he’s been in this situation before. He has to keep his head, he can’t rise to the bait, has to see if he can frustrate her into letting slip some intelligence of her own. Emma is, however, the one member of Rittenhouse that might be a match for him, is just as dedicated to destroying any threats to it as he is to destroying it, and the fact that she has once again managed to trap him on his own, at her mercy, is proof of that. He and Lucy escaped from the house of horrors in West Point, which was the last time he actually saw Emma face-to-face, but he’s encountered traces of her in his various points of attack. She is a true believer, a dyed-in-the-wool zealot who really thinks that what Rittenhouse is doing is right, and very little of what goes on in the organization escapes her notice or input. She’s definitely holding a grudge for Millerson and Vincent, and – well, literally everything else. This is bad.

“Farmer’s markets?” Emma goes on, when Flynn still doesn’t speak. “Long walks on the beach? And apparently a lot more than that, given your happy news. When’s the tater tot due, exactly?”

That rocks him on his heels. Even realizing now that Carol must have been the source of all this information, it rattles at his self-control, the one thing that could possibly get to him, the realization that Emma knows all about Lucy and the baby and their life. He reaches for sass, his usual defense. “Are you just planning to stand there and monologue at me all day, or did you want something?”

“Oh, of course I want something.” Emma seems incredulous that this even has to be spelled out. “You realize how I found you, don’t you?”

Flynn grinds his teeth. He will have to take this shame to his grave. “Yes.”

“Good.” With that, Emma whirls, points the rifle, and opens up on the piece-of-junk pickup, spraying bullets at it with pops and bangs. It sinks and tilts on its chassis, and there’s a smell of leaked gas from the punctured tank. It’s a dazzlingly efficient and merciless way to make it clear, in all of thirty-odd seconds, that the truck is not going anywhere ever again, and Flynn is leaving here – if he does at all – on foot or in a body bag, his choice. He starts to lunge toward the house, as if to grab his own gun while she’s distracted, and she slams back around on him, crosshairs dead on his forehead. “I wouldn’t, big guy.”

The air is fraught with the echoes of the gunshots, still clattering away into the woods. Flynn prays desperately that someone heard them, even though he chose this spot exactly so that no one would. The bullet-riddled truck steams and totters, and there’s a loud bang as the tires burst. Emma regards it with an arched eyebrow. “You know, that’s actually an upgrade.”

An emotion that Flynn is not used to feeling, that in fact he can’t really remember feeling since his first war, a tall, angry fifteen-year-old enlisting in the Croatian army to drive out the Reds, settles in his stomach. He is genuinely afraid of her. Not as much what she can do to him – although that’s clearly considerable – but the fact that she’s patiently bided her time, gathering as much intelligence on him as he did on Rittenhouse, and is prepared with all kinds of angles of attack, as many as he wants to find out. Finally he says, “You wanted me to stay here, didn’t you? Visible. Settled down. That’s why you – it was you, wasn’t it? You had all my warrants cleared and my charges erased, made sure there was no obstacle to me living here with – here.” He won’t say Lucy’s name in front of her. “Why?”

“For one thing, it was a lot more preferable than you trying to run around sabotaging us, wasn’t it?” Emma shrugs. “Besides, it looks like you’ve made the most of it, haven’t you? A house, a nice life, a pretty little pregnant wife, or close enough. So very sweet. The one thing you didn’t let yourself have with Lorena Kovac, huh?”


“Oh yes, I know about her too.” Emma’s red lips split in a smile. “Old friend of yours. Could have been a flame, but never quite got there. I went to Croatia just a couple weeks ago to see how she and Luka are doing, and their daughter – Iris? She’s precious. Didn’t you distance yourself from Lorena in the first place, when you started the hunt, because you thought there was a chance we could retaliate against her? But now here you are, with your own wife and – the baby’s supposed to be a girl, right? That’s what Carol told me.”

Flynn opens his mouth, then shuts it. Cold gooseflesh crawls up and down both arms. His tongue has been locked to the roof of his mouth. “You and Carol have a little disagreement over whether you should kill me, or just torment me to death with talking first?”

“So you did figure that out?” Emma doesn’t seem terribly surprised. “Finally. I thought you’d get there a while ago, but I suppose you aren’t as smart as you think you are. It’s ironic, isn’t it? You chase Rittenhouse and its members all over the world, and miss the one right under your nose, closest to home? Yes, Carol’s been our best source of intelligence on everything you and Lucy are doing, but she hasn’t been able to view it with some of the necessary… dispassion. I understand. If my daughter decided you were an acceptable option to procreate with, I’d do the same. Then again, if it was my daughter, we wouldn’t have had this problem, because I would have raised her honestly about who she was from the start, and she would never have lowered herself to go near you. But all Carol’s lies and manipulations, well, they’re finally catching up to her, aren’t they?”

Flynn’s chest feels like it’s been pierced with jagged chunks of shrapnel (which it was, sort of, earlier). He can’t come up with a single witty bon mot, an airy response, to any of this. She is throwing bomb after bomb, decimating him as expertly as the truck, without a single shot actually fired. Must have pictured this moment for a long time, crafted every delicious detail of her revenge, how she was going to make him pay for what he’s done. There is not a fiber of remorse in her right now. She is savoring every bit.

“Well,” Emma says, having taken a long and leisurely pause as if to see as if he’s going to contribute anything, when it’s clear that it’s just to establish that she’s still in complete control here. “Now that we’re on the same page. This is your stash of all your information, isn’t it? Everything that you’ve come up with during your investigations on us. If I know you – and it should be apparent by now that I do – you’ll have rigged the place up with kill switches. So it’s simple. You’re going to hit them, this is all going to burn, and we’ll – I don’t know, toast a few marshmallows. As I said, it’s your lucky day, I’m not going to kill you. It’ll just be a very long hike back. As for me – ” She shrugs. “You’re welcome to kill me, but if they don’t hear from me in two hours, they’ll assume you did, and the orders will go out.”

“What…” This is a nightmare, this has to be a nightmare, he keeps falling and falling. “What orders?”

Emma looks at him and smirks. “Wanna take a guess?”

“You can’t.” The instant he speaks, the way he hears his voice teeter on a guttural crack, realizes that he is in fact begging, Flynn knows he’s done for. “No, no, no. I don’t – you can’t. You can’t.”

Emma looks utterly unmoved. “Can,” she says. “Can, and will. Lorena, Luka, Iris, Lucy, and – whatever you’re going to name the kid, if you get the chance. They all die. We already have people at the hospital, you know. All I have to do is give – or not give – the word.”

“The hospit…” Flynn can’t get enough air for that one. “Lucy’s… in the hospital?”

“Of course she’s in the hospital.” Emma seems almost exasperated. “Were you really expecting any other outcome? And for once, we had nothing to do with it. All you. Maybe not the greatest idea to rush out and stress her that way, don’t you think? So tell me, Garcia. What’s it going to be?”

The world is ringing in his ears. There is blackness at the edges of his vision, and he seems even further away from the ground then he usually is. There is the thinnest chance that she’s bluffing, but even if so, it is not one he can remotely risk calling. The longer he stays here, silent and shattered, gulping pointlessly for breath, the more she gets to exult in it. His mind is reeling. He could try to make a suicidal charge at her – but that’s the exact thing that she’s planned for. If she dies, so does everyone else. That, or a shack crammed full of his only chance to cut Rittenhouse off at the knees. He should have given this up, shouldn’t have tried to live two lives, to maintain the link to the man on the run, the hunter, the vigilante. Let someone else fight this war. But he couldn’t. Because there is literally no one else.

(It has to be you, Garcia, Lucy – but not his Lucy, not his Lucy now – whispers in his ear, as his hands slide down her back, lifting her. I’m so sorry.)

Flynn is numb. He might well have lost everything, and there’s still no guarantee that he hasn’t. Emma makes another brusque motion with the gun.

With her marching directly behind him, Flynn walks around to the fuse box on the far side of the house, or at least what looks like a fuse box. Opens it up, flips all the switches, then hits the red one at the bottom. Takes several quick steps away and then starts to run, since he doesn’t want to be anywhere close and this is his one chance to get away – if not very far. Maybe the explosion will hit Emma’s car, maybe she’ll be stuck on foot as well, be slow getting back. Puts his arms over his head, and sprints.

The next instant, the air sucks in for a split second, then booms outward as the cabin blows up. A fireball rains through the trees, splinters and debris, slashing through Flynn’s sleeve and making him stumble to hands and knees in the forest loam. The heat pounds on his back, rolling out in shockwaves, as he glances over his shoulder and sees that yes, it’s burning, it’s all burning. There goes all his evidence, all his files and computers and his work, everything since he started this. Everything. Everything’s gone. Any chance he had of finding Rittenhouse and stopping them once and for all. He’s failed, failed Lucy, failed what she charged him with, failed

(How could she ask that of him? How was it fair? And why has he never felt that there was any choice but to do exactly as she wanted?)

The smoke stings his eyes as he peers up through the smoldering trees, eardrums aching from the force of the blast. They haven’t had much rain, this could start a forest fire. Typical, he thinks. Appropriate. Literally burns everything down wherever he goes. He tries to breathe, and chokes on smoke. Out of the flames, advancing like a hellish specter, he can see Emma. She’s coming. She wants to see him literally crawling, beaten and spent. Probably wants to whip out her phone and take a picture. Or –

At that, a final, mad idea occurs to Flynn. He grabs hold of a branch and hauls himself to his feet, groaning at the pain, just as Emma jumps over a log and sees him trying to get up. “You really don’t know when you’re licked, do you?” she demands, having to shout over the inferno. Sparks shower from the trees. “Stay down!”

“Fuck. You.” Over her shoulder, Flynn can see the blackened husk of the burning cabin. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and spits sooty phlegm. Then he jerks his arm back and takes a violent swing at her.

Emma brings the rifle up to block it, which allows Flynn to grab hold of the barrel and rip it out of her hands, throwing it into the underbrush. Then he goes after her with a merciless sequence of punches, jabs and uppercuts, hooks and sweeps, as Emma parries some, ducks others, and gives back in full measure – he sees stars where she catches him in the left eye. She punches brutally hard for a woman, which is not saying anything about gender but just the fact that she is nine inches shorter than him and probably a good sixty pounds lighter. She’s clearly been trained how to use that to her advantage against bigger male opponents, float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Flynn was already determined not to give any quarter, but he’s having to use everything he’s got anyway. She is as savage as a hungry wolf.

They batter each other ferociously in the burning woods for a minute more, maybe two. Then Emma slips in right under his guard, slams him directly in the chest wound, and he sees white. The next thing he knows, he’s on his back in the bracken, sucking air but not getting any, and Emma has a foot on his chest, has pulled another gun from inside her jacket, and is pointing it directly between his eyes. She’s breathing hard, one eye is blackened, and blood is running from her temple, but her voice is a snarl. “Stay. Down.”

“Just kill me!” Flynn roars at her. Or rather, wants to roar, but he still can’t get enough air. “Just get it over with! That’s what you’re working up to, isn’t it? Disagreed with Carol over killing me now, so it would be more fun to kill me later? Just do it!”

Emma smirks. Curls her finger around the trigger, as if to make it very clear that she could. Then she steps back. “Oh no,” she says. “No. You see. The title of that file wasn’t random, and it wasn’t a mistake. March 21, 2003. What does that mean? Let’s see if you can figure it out. But I won’t hold my breath.”

And with that, leaving him flattened, bruised, bloodied, and listening to the whole world burn, she goes.

 There is an extremely long, extremely horrible silence. Then Amy says, “Ritten-what?”

“Rittenhouse.” Lucy feels cold certainty pulsing through her from head to toe, a shocking, sickening clarity. “Aren’t you? Aren’t you.”

“Rittenhouse – wait.” Amy frowns. “Wasn’t that the creepy organization you mentioned, when you came by to talk about Cahill and Flynn that one time? The one that… Mom? What exactly is going on here?”

Carol is pale as a sheet, but composed. Nor does she look as if she can’t possibly have any idea what they’re talking about. For a third time, she starts, “Lucy – ”

“No. No.” Lucy wants to get out of bed, wants to walk over and – she doesn’t know what, but it frightens her with the force of it. She clutches her daughter reflexively closer, as if Carol might swoop down and try to steal her off – and frankly, she’s not sure that’s off the table. “That accident, whatever happened to Garcia – you did that, didn’t you? You tried to have him killed. Then he must have managed to escape, fight off the men, and run to confront you. After that, he – where is he? Where is he!”

She can’t help it, she’s almost shouting, and the baby wakes and starts to whimper. Amy darts in to scoop her up, holding her niece protectively against her shoulder and standing at her sister’s side, as they both stare at their mother in horror. “Wow,” Amy says. “Wow. Mom – you can’t have. You can’t – you can’t have.”

“I. . .” Carol inhales a deep breath, then lets it out. “Lucy, I realize you may be upset, but – ”

You realize I may be upset?” That’s it, she can’t, she cracks. “You realize I may be upset that you’ve been lying to me my entire life? About more than just my father, but about who you were, about what Rittenhouse was? You watched me make sacrifice after sacrifice for you, move back in with you, help you after the cancer diagnosis, turn down the Kenyon job, stay at Stanford, try with everything I had to please you and make you happy, argue for you over and over, agree that you could have a relationship with your granddaughter – everything. Everything I have done for you. And you repay me with – what, trying to have the love of my life and the father of my child murdered, because you’ve lied to me?”

Carol winces. “Lucy, when you put it like that – ”

“No.” Lucy’s voice is cold and flat as a winter highway in Siberia, fathoms and fathoms of rock-solid ice. “You don’t get to gaslight me and guilt-trip me and make me think I’m the one who’s in the wrong and you have been so generous and misunderstood. You do not. Listen to me. You take whoever you brought here with you – I’m guessing Angela the midwife is Rittenhouse, there have to be others – and you get the hell out. You get out right now. I cannot believe that you had the gall, the gall, to be here with me while I was giving birth and knowing the entire time that you ensured Garcia would miss it. You have no soul.”

Carol opens her mouth, then shuts it. She divides an appealing glance between her stone-faced daughters, neither of whom give an inch. “Lucy,” she starts, faltering. “Lucy, I didn’t intend to – I never – ”

“I don’t care.” Lucy feels on fire from head to toe, in a way far beyond the aftereffects of childbirth. “I don’t care. Now go, and take all of your creatures with you.”

After a final pause, Carol nods jerkily. She turns on her heel and walks crisply out of the room, almost colliding with a nurse coming the other way, who stares at the sight of Lucy’s face. “Ms. Preston, are you – ?”

“Please make sure my mother is not allowed back in this room or back in this hospital.” Lucy’s voice remains, somehow, utterly matter-of-fact. “She is not welcome anywhere near me or my daughter. I’d like you to ensure all the staff knows that, and that security is called if she tries to return at any point. Do you understand?”

The nurse stares at her, shuts her mouth, and finally realizes it’s much better not to ask. She nods instead, hurries through another check, and then glances at the baby. “I have the birth certificate. Did you want to – did you want to fill it out?”

Lucy doesn’t answer. There is a ragged hole in her chest, the knowledge that Flynn might not, might never be coming back, or at least not in any state to have any input on this decision. But she still can’t bring herself to do it. She allows the nurse to fill in the vitals, statistics, parents’ names, etc., but no name for the baby herself. Once she has scuttled out, clearly relieved to escape the air of incipient explosion in the room, Lucy looks at Amy. “I need you to call someone for me, please.”

“I. . . yeah.” Amy still looks stunned. “Anyone you want.”

Lucy doesn’t know if this is going to work, but she feels horribly vulnerable right now, she doesn’t trust that Rittenhouse won’t return with a full strike team to remove a new mother and a baby from a hospital bed, and she needs someone to protect her. She gives Amy the number, and lies staring up at the ceiling, wanting to completely dissociate and knowing that she can’t do that, she has to keep it together and look after her daughter and protect both of them. This is too much, her entire world has crumbled out from under her, and she doesn’t know if there is any chance of getting it back. She will cry later. Or never. Who knows.

Amy returns in a few minutes. “Hey,” she says quietly. “He said he’d be right over.”

Lucy manages a stiff little nod. They wait in tense silence, Amy walking around with the baby in her arms, until there’s a knock, the door opens, and Wyatt Logan and Rufus Carlin edge carefully into the room. Wyatt is wearing a leather jacket that he clearly has at least one gun in, and Lucy’s breath rushes unsteadily out of her lungs at the sight of him. “H-hi.”

“Hey.” Wyatt’s eyes flick to Amy and the baby. “Well, uh. Congratulations.”

“Th-thanks.” Lucy thinks of calling him the first time, to come up and help her while Flynn was in the hospital after being shot. “I’m sorry, we – we should have seen each other before. After what you did for us, and then Garcia hasn’t even gotten the name for you yet – he hasn’t forgotten, he insisted he was still going to get it, he owed you – and then I call, Amy calls you and tells you this and asks if you can drop everything and turn up at the hospital, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, you don’t deserve – ”

“Hey. Hey.” Wyatt crosses the room to her and puts a hand on her shoulder, gripping hard. “Lucy. Don’t worry about it, okay? Don’t worry about it. I’m happy to stay for a while and stand guard. Okay?”

Lucy tries to answer, and can’t. She nods instead, as Rufus clears his throat awkwardly. He and Lucy have only met a few times, and here he is in her hospital room, hours after she’s given birth, privy to her family trauma and emotional wounds. “I can – uh – pick you up later, Wyatt. If you want.” He glances at Lucy. “You know, if you don’t want Random Dude #1553 standing here and. . . being part of this.”

“No, it’s. . .” Lucy might not know him, but she trusts him somehow, and she would far rather not feel as alone as she does. “If it’s not weird, you. . . please stay too.”

Rufus hesitates, then nods. He crosses the room and takes the chair by the bed. “So, uh. Jokes? I know some jokes?”

“No.” Lucy manages a weak chuckle. “It’s all right.”

That is how the next hour or so passes. Amy gets a bassinet for the baby (Lucy supposes they can call her Maria for now, since it’s going to be her middle name) and she and Rufus sit to either side of Lucy, keeping her distracted with light conversation, while Wyatt stands at the door and keeps a sharp eye on the corridor beyond. When the nurse returns, she is clearly surprised at the crowd, and everyone considerately exits while Lucy is checked over again. She’s still bleeding a little more than normal – nothing bad or serious, but the delivery was early, under stress, and they’re definitely keeping her overnight.

Lucy isn’t sure what to think. She half-wants to go home to her own bed and bury herself, half-feels safer here where there are security teams and closed-circuit cameras and other people – if Rittenhouse came back here and tried to drag her out, someone would see them, someone would raise the alarm. Maybe it’s best if she stays for now anyway.

Maria is fed again, burped, and Amy changes her, then puts her down in the bassinet. It’s starting to get late, and when the nurse returns for the final round of evening checks, rather firmly suggests that it’s time for the circus to pack up and go home. She is thus startled when they all refuse, and even more startled when Lucy flatly refuses for Maria to be taken out of her sight to the nursery. Finally, when the nurse sees that they’re apparently all prepared to spend the night on the uncomfortable furniture, she eventually gives up. It’s against hospital policy, but she’ll turn a blind eye for now.

Amy and Rufus make themselves comfortable on the couch and the chair, respectively, and Wyatt gets the other chair to sit in by the door. Lucy is, obviously, exhausted, and once they switch the light off, her eyelids swiftly droop. Her body feels heavy, used, hurting, raw, and her chest aches the worst. There is a hollowness inside her in more ways than one, and while she thinks she won’t drop off despite the tiredness, she does.

Lucy is thus startled out of a dead sleep sometime in the absolute graveyard hours by the sound of a scuffle at the door. She can just see Wyatt’s shadowy shape wrestling with someone, as Amy and Rufus sit bolt upright with startled-owl expressions and Maria wakes up as well and starts to wail. Just as Lucy is frantically fumbling for the call button, thinking that it is in fact Rittenhouse coming to steal her away, there’s a hiss, a shocked-sounding curse, and someone has the presence of mind to hit the light switch. The fluorescents snap on, causing a round of squinted eyes and groans, as they get a load of the newcomer, looking absolutely furious that he was met by an ambush when he was just trying to get into the goddamn hospital room. He is filthy, bloodied, bruised, looks like he has been walking and/or joyriding all night, and God knows what else, and she briefly thinks she isn’t seeing right. He – he can’t – he can’t really be here. She’s terrified to hope.

They stare at each other for a moment more. Then Flynn practically runs across the floor and goes to his knees at the side of the bed, fumbling for her hands with his own dirty, banged-up ones, eyes raw and desperate and agonized. “Lucy? Lucy? Lucy!”

Lucy opens her mouth, keeps it that way for several seconds, has nothing to say, and clutches at him frantically, as he buries his head in her lap and she wraps her arms around him as hard as she can, as he shakes for a few moments and then straightens up. Grabs her face and kisses her with restrained but starving ferocity, aware that he might hurt her, but she doesn’t even care. They grip hold of each other desperately, swaying, as Amy, Rufus, and Wyatt cough hard and look considerately in different directions. The world shrinks down just to them, their foreheads touching, their hands still tangled. Then Flynn leans back, but doesn’t let go. His eyes go to Maria, still squalling in the bassinet as Amy hurries to pick her up, and he seems to stop breathing altogether. “Lucy – Lucy, I’m. . . I. . .”

Lucy doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t want to tell him that it’s all right that he missed the birth of his daughter, when they both know it’s not. Her fingers pet and worry at his face, taking in the damage and battering. “Are you – ”

“Fine,” Flynn interrupts, clearly not very honestly. “Your mother, your mother, she’s – ”

“I know.” Lucy feels another shudder go through her. “I know.”

“How – ? Never mind.” Flynn shakes it off. “Are you – ”

“Fine.” Lucy traces the burn on one of his cheeks, and the bruise on the other. He looks like he’s been through literal hell and then some. “Where have you – what happened?”

“It’s a long story.” Flynn glances around at the rest of the crowd. There are clearly any number of things he could say to this situation, but he inclines his head stiffly, a brief, unspoken gesture of thanks. “It’s. . . I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

His voice breaks on the last word, and that frightens Lucy nearly more than the fact of all his injuries. Flynn, to say the least, is not usually scared, or admitting that he doesn’t know what to do, and there is a lot they need to get sorted out. Amy hands Maria over to Lucy, then herds Rufus and Wyatt outside; they can stand guard duty at the end of the hall. Once the door has closed behind the three of them, and Flynn and Lucy are alone, neither of them can think how to begin. Then Flynn clears his throat, gruff and shy. “Is she – is she all right?”

“She’s healthy. A little small, but all there.” Lucy laughs shakily. “Do you want to hold her?”

Flynn looks down at himself, his current state of dishabille, dirtiness and blood. “I don’t – don’t think I should. Right now.”

“We still need to give her a name,” Lucy says. “I – I didn’t want to. Without you.”

Flynn looks startled, and almost heartbroken, turning his face away. Then he reaches out as if to touch the baby’s chin, but not quite. “Lily,” he says, half to himself. “It’s another flower, and it – it goes with Lucy. If you had another thought, of course, then we could – ”

Lucy cuts him off by leaning forward and kissing him, taking care not to squash their daughter. His mouth tastes like smoke. “Lily,” she repeats firmly, when they pull apart. “Lily Maria Flynn.”

Another shudder goes through Flynn the elder from head to heel. It’s half unbearable delight, and it’s half unimaginable terror. “Lucy,” he starts, then stops. “Lucy. There’s something you need to know.”

With that, he adjusts his position on the bed next to her and tells her what happened, from the moment he left the house until he finally made it to the hospital tonight. Tells her about the accident, killing the goons, rushing to confront Carol, going to the safe house, Emma turning up, the threats she made, how much she knows about them, and forcing his hand to destroy all of his collected intelligence and work on Rittenhouse. The fact that her leaving him alive is somehow more sinister, that she knows something about the night of Lucy’s accident and is holding it over their heads like the sword of Damocles. And that Flynn has, as Emma pointed out, settled down and built a life and a family and now has something that he can’t bear to lose, something that Rittenhouse might well try to take away from him. These last two days were only the opening shots in a much longer war. They will be coming back, and Flynn doesn’t know how or where or when. Just that they have not even begun to find out how bad this could get. He might not be able to protect Lucy, or their child. He doesn’t know what their future is going to look like. He doesn’t know if they’re going to have one.

At that, finally, he stops talking, overcome, silent, gulping for breath. Lily has gone to sleep in Lucy’s arms, but she moves a hand to put it on Flynn’s, rubbing lightly. She wants to say that as long as they’re together, they have a chance, but that sounds like pie-in-the-sky, naïve, hopeless optimism that has no bearing on the true darkness and terror of this situation. They’ve always feared that this day would come, and now it has, when they are as vulnerable as it is possible to be. They have a newborn daughter. They have a life they want to hold onto, but they’ve just learned that Rittenhouse allowed them to have it as a trap and a trick all along, in order to set up the grand game of their revenge. Lucy’s mother is evil. For allies, they have Amy, Wyatt, and Rufus, and only one of those – Wyatt – is a soldier. Amy and Rufus don’t even have much of a clue about what Rittenhouse is, much less what it’s capable of. This should be one of the most joyful nights of Flynn and Lucy’s lives. Instead, it’s difficult to think when, if ever, they’ve felt more grim and frightened and hopeless.

“What do we do?” Lucy asks at last, quietly. They’re sitting there with Flynn’s head on her shoulder, Lily asleep between them, in the hospital room in the wee hours, the world still somehow rushing on toward another dawn. “What can we do?”

“I don’t know.” Flynn doesn’t lift his head, his voice muffled into her side. “I don’t know how to start, or how to do it. But there’s no choice. Now we have to fight.”

Chapter Text

Lucy leaves the hospital the next day. This is not nearly as straightforward as it sounds, starting with the fact that the nurse who arrives to check on her in the morning is extremely alarmed to find a very large, grubby, banged-up man on the bed next to her, and is on the verge of calling for security until Lucy hastily reassures her that it’s her husband. It isn’t clear if this makes the nurse any more favorably inclined to him – there’s a distinct element of so where were you yesterday, champ? in her eyes – but she is a professional and thus does not say so aloud. Flynn goes off to find Amy and the boys while the nurse checks Lucy and says that it’ll probably be all right for her to leave by noon. They still recommend she takes it easy. Bed rest for a few more days, nothing strenuous, no spicy foods.

This is nice advice, but Lucy has to wonder how well it will fit into her life, as whatever they are going to be doing against Rittenhouse definitely seems likely to fall under the heading of “strenuous.” Still, that’s a problem for later. When Flynn and the others return, all looking pale and sleep-deprived (also something that’s going to be a feature of life going forward), they take care of Lily while Lucy gets into the shower. She feels slightly more human when she gets out, if barely. Then it’s time for breakfast all around.

When that’s done, everyone yawning over their dispenser coffee and trying to promise that they’re good, they’re totally good, Lucy looks around at them and feels an odd warmth. They’ve finally skipped over the awkwardness of not really knowing each other, and seem to have jumped into the part where they’re going to be a team, or a ragtag little family, or – well, she doesn’t know, but after what happened with her mother yesterday, she’s hungry for it. Wyatt is puffy-eyed and slightly giggly from having stayed up all night standing guard, Rufus says he’s good with kids since he helped out with his baby brother, and Amy is making faces at Lily. Lucy herself is tucked into Flynn’s side, since she can’t foresee herself wanting to be more than six inches away from him except as necessity demands, and he looks down at her with a weary, adoring expression that she feels to her very bones. Then he says, “Right. We have to get out of the hospital without me possibly getting arrested.”

Well then. Sweet moment over, back to the reminder that your other half is a very attractive and recently prolific felon. Lucy groans as she pushes herself out of her nestled spot against his ribs. “There could be some of their people on the front desk,” she agrees reluctantly. “I told – Mom – to clear out with all her minions, but there’s no real way to know if she did or not. Did anyone see you come in?”

“They pretended they didn’t,” Flynn says, with a certain amount of satisfaction. Frankly, if you were a security guy on graveyard shift at a municipal hospital, getting paid peanuts and not wanting to deal with this shit at three AM, you probably would just pretend you didn’t see that roll on by either. “But again, we can’t be sure.”

“Okay,” Rufus says. “Wyatt’s told me a little, but what exactly is Ritten –

Flynn makes a ferocious shushing motion, and Rufus shuts his mouth like a trap. “Tell you later,” Flynn says curtly. “Not here.”

Rufus eyes him, as it’s clear that he still hasn’t quite gotten over his first impression of Flynn from the date crash in London last year. Then he says, “Okay, we’ll go down with Lucy and get the car. You sneak out the service entrance or something, which I figure is well within your abilities. No punching orderlies or anything like that. Which of us is the least amount of a road hazard at the wheel?”

“I can drive,” Amy says, rubbing her eyes discreetly. “Are we going back to the house, Lucy?”

“I – I guess so.” It makes her uneasy, but she can’t think of anywhere else, and if their own home is unsafe, they’re already screwed. “Flynn, Lily, and I will ride with Amy. Rufus and Wyatt, you can follow us in your car. Though Rufus, you probably have to get to work, so – ”

“No, it’s all right,” Rufus says. “I’ll sort that out later. I want to know more about what’s going on here, anyway.”

With that, once the doctor has come to give Lucy the all-clear and various aftercare tips (Flynn hides in the bathroom until she’s gone), Lucy and Lily get to ride out of the hospital pushed in a wheelchair by Amy, Wyatt and Rufus stroll down a few minutes later, and Flynn is left to Mission Impossible his way through the corridors without anyone getting a good look at him. It is a tense few minutes as they sit near the service entrance in Amy’s car, with Lucy worrying about the fact that she obviously has not brought the infant car seat. Lucy stares at the hospital dumpsters, until her dearest love comes sneaking through them, opens the passenger door, and swings in. “All right,” he orders. “Let’s go.”

Amy raises an eyebrow, but pulls out, obeying the speed limit conscientiously for the duration of the drive home. They turn into the driveway of Flynn and Lucy’s house and park, wait until Wyatt and Rufus pull up to the curb, and then Flynn and Wyatt make the other three stay back as they check to be sure nobody’s in there waiting for them. Once they’ve checked from the outside, opened the door cautiously and gone in to recon, and finally emerged to report it safe, everyone is allowed to enter.

Lucy carries Lily up to the mostly finished nursery and tries to think if there’s anything they desperately need that they’ve forgotten. There’s not really space in the house for everyone to stay too long; there’s a futon couch, and enough room on the floor of the study to squeeze in an air mattress, but it’ll get tight quickly. It might be nice to have several extra hands to help with the baby, but Amy, Wyatt, and Rufus didn’t sign up for part-time surrogate parenting duties. They could still decide not to have anything to do with the Rittenhouse stuff either. Lucy doesn’t think they will, especially Wyatt, but the choice has to be offered. If so, it might be safer to stick together.

Flynn goes immediately to take a very long shower, Wyatt crashes on the futon, and Rufus goes out to make a supply run for groceries, diapers, and more coffee (they’re going to be going through a lot of that). Amy likewise lies down for a nap, and Lucy sits on the bed with Lily, both of them dozing in the morning sunlight, until Flynn finally emerges from the bathroom, dark hair standing up in damp cowlicks and towel draped around his neck. He’s wearing a white undershirt and pajama bottoms, and with some of the filth washed off, it’s clear that he took a serious pummeling. There are bruises on his face and shoulders, as well as several cuts on his hands and arms, and an uglier wound, clumsily patched up, on his chest. Lucy sucks in her breath, an instinctive reaction, and Flynn glances over. “It’s – it’s all right,” he says, gruff but gentle. “I’ll live.”

Lucy supposes that both of them have been through the wringer in different ways, and beckons for him to come join her on the bed. He eases himself down next to her with a groan, as she lifts her arms. “Do you – want to hold her now?”

Flynn hesitates, looking down at his sleeping daughter, as if fearful that he will take her and she will wake up and start to cry. That he will destroy her peace somehow, as seems on the verge of happening with everyone else, and he seems about to refuse again. But looking at Lucy’s face, he changes his mind, nods once, and lets her hand Lily to him. He settles the baby’s head awkwardly in the crook of his arm, gazing down at her and barely seeming to breathe. He puts a hand on her, which is almost half as long as she is, and brushes the backs of his fingers very lightly over her dewy cheek. His breath catches, then catches again. He closes his eyes hard, a shudder running through him from head to heel, and seems briefly and completely lost. Then, without opening them, he starts to hum. Deep and tuneless at first, then a little more melodically. Some kind of lullaby, Lucy thinks. She doesn’t know. It doesn’t need words.

She smudges the back of her hand over her eyes as well (damn hormones) and doesn’t say anything until Flynn has fallen silent. Then, as it’s something that’s been on her mind since last night, since what he told her about Rittenhouse escalating the war, and everything else that’s at stake for both of them, for everyone, she can’t hold back. “Garcia,” she says. “Garcia, I need to ask you something.”

He opens his eyes and looks at her. “Yes, Lucy?”

Lucy takes a slightly shaky breath. “About – what happened the night before we went to Philadelphia. With you and the – the other me. The – ” She is going to have to get used to saying these kinds of things. “The future me. Doesn’t the fact that I somehow make it to warn you about Rittenhouse, to travel back to you – doesn’t that mean we win? That I – I survive?”

“It might,” Flynn agrees. “It doesn’t mean I do.”

That hits Lucy in the chest like a punch. She didn’t think of that, even as it’s blindly obvious that she should have. Her imagination conjures the picture much too quickly. Some future version of her, having lost the man she loves in the war, yearning to see him one last time and to ensure that everything happens as it needs to – is this the price, then? She beats Rittenhouse, but loses Flynn? Surely she can’t just be setting him up as a sacrificial lamb, especially if her older self knows that they’re (as good as) married, they have a daughter, they are soulmates and kismet. Or does she know anyway that he’s going to die doing this, and still decides that it’s a risk that they have to take, a price they have to pay? Making the call that her personal heartbreak is worth it in the name of a larger cause? Jesus, who is this future Lucy? Does current Lucy even want to be her? Is this, is anything worth that?

Sensing her distress, Flynn shifts Lily to the other arm and reaches out to take her hand. “You didn’t say how we knew each other in the future. Or anything about me. I don’t know.”

“But you – ” Lucy’s voice chokes, and she has to stop. “You know me very well by now. Thinking back – how old did I look? Did I say what year I was from?”

“No, again. You were determined that you couldn’t interfere, and I didn’t want to know anyway.” Flynn is managing a remarkably matter-of-fact tone about all of this. “I would say you were late forties, maybe early fifties. You age well,” he adds, with a flirtatious glance sidelong. “A few silver hairs and some smile lines suit you.”

Lucy takes a moment to absorb that. “You two – we? – slept together, though. Didn’t you.”

Flynn doesn’t deny it, even as his mouth curls in a crooked smile. “I can’t believe you sound jealous.”

“Yes, well,” Lucy says, with as much as dignity as she can muster. “It wasn’t really me right now, was it?”

“It’s still you, though,” Flynn points out. Time travel relationship ethics: they’re a bitch. “So yes, perhaps we’re still in an intimate relationship in the future, or we were. I noticed you had stretch marks. I didn’t want to ask if it was my child. Maybe – ” he glances at Lily – “it was.”

Lucy opens her mouth, then shuts it. She supposes that yes, having seen (apparently all of) her body in fifteen or twenty years’ time, Flynn might have glimpsed bits of the life that it’s lived, scars and wear and secrets. She both doesn’t want to ask and does. “What else?” she says, as if urging her past-future self to have been more helpful. “What did I say about Rittenhouse? You believed me enough to keep up the hunt. I had to have given you more to go on than just ‘trust me.’ Some kind of guide, or list, or – ”

“You didn’t,” Flynn says, as if apologizing to her on her own behalf. “You told me some places to start looking, I took notes. I lost all of those in the cabin explosion, though.”

“That seems like an oversight on my part.” Lucy’s critical tone makes him glance at her in amusement. “I should have written this all down, I should have been more organized. A journal, or – a planner, or something. Did you keep a backup?”

“I might have it somewhere,” Flynn says. “But not everything. I did make copies of some of the most sensitive parts, but without the context, without all my evidence backing it up, it sounds paranoid. Insane. We could try taking it to someone, but we don’t know if they’re Rittenhouse too. I still have a few contacts in the security branches – NSA, FBI, Homeland Security – but any of those could be compromised.”

“We have to get someone to at least look at it,” Lucy says. “We could testify. Wyatt too, he knows what they are. And Rufus – Mason Industries are the ones building the time machines, he has to know something. We could tell the government, we – ”

At that, she trails off under the look Flynn is giving her. “Unless you don’t think we should? But you just suggested that we take it to someone in the – ”

“Yes,” Flynn says. “One person, maybe, that could help us. I see no good to come of getting the entire federal government in on this, especially if half of them are Rittenhouse. They’re just as likely to want to use it themselves, or God knows what, if they didn’t ship us off to a secure psychiatric facility first. I used to work for them, you know. I know all the bullshit that goes on there. The government isn’t going to help us.”

Lucy wants to say that that seems to prune their allies quite thin at the get-go, even as she knows it’s a middle-class white woman’s privilege to call the cops and assume they’ll turn up on your side. She wants to ask Flynn how they’re supposed to find this one trustworthy person in a sea of self-serving bureaucrats or active Rittenhouse plants, but Lily stirs, fussing, and there are a few moments of distraction while Lucy tends to her, trying to guess what she wants. Newborns are just a lot of work. You have to put a considerable effort into not killing them, as well as dealing with them on one end or the other, or not feeling frustrated, especially as a first-time parent, that they can’t just tell you. Lucy has a passing moment of wishing she could call her mother, before it hardens in an even deeper rage. No. No.

She finally gets Lily settled, as Flynn – who has had not much sleep for two days, except for a few hours uncomfortably squashed on the hospital bed with her – quickly dozes off. Lucy doesn’t want to disturb him, and shuts the door to leave both of them to sleep, going downstairs as Rufus is returning with the groceries, which she takes. “I’ll put those away. You should get some sleep too.”

“You’re the one the doctor said was supposed to be on bed rest,” Rufus reminds her. “Really, it’s no problem. I’ve got it. You go sit down.”

“At least tell me how much it was,” Lucy says. “Let me pay you back.”

“I can afford it,” Rufus says, politely but in a way that makes it clear he doesn’t want to be handed money for being a halfway decent person. “Really.”

“I’m not trying to insult you,” Lucy says, somewhat uncertainly. “I just feel bad that you’ve been dragged into this, and we still don’t really know each other that well.”

“It’s all right.” Rufus hauls the bags into the kitchen. “I admit, I’m still not entirely sure what you see in Flynn, but as long as he isn’t kidnapping me, I’ll live with it. Like I said, I want to know more about what’s going on.”

“So. . .” Lucy hesitates. “You were asking about Rittenhouse?”

Rufus shoots her a brief, almost warning look. “Yeah.”

“It’s. . .” Lucy debates how to condense everything she knows about Rittenhouse into one succinct and consumable paragraph. Rufus obviously knows about time travel, he isn’t going to be shocked, but that’s different from knowing that he’s working to give ultimate power over time and space to a group of people who, by all appearances, have absolutely no business having it. She’s started to explain when Wyatt comes shuffling in, still looking haggard after his power nap, and they get interrupted. Then Amy returns, and then Flynn comes downstairs with Lily on his shoulder, and there are people, and Lucy feels the hostess’ obligation to manage them circulating through her small house, and she’s invited them there but she still wants to get away, and she starts crying in the kitchen, startling everyone. Then they all make her go up to bed, which she does, and sleeps for another four hours.

She finally wakes up in the middle of the afternoon, and would happily drop back under, but needs to start adjusting to what is certain to be an intermittent schedule on that front. Besides, maybe she’s done with the random crying jags, and she feels the ever-present need to be useful, so she gets up and pads down the hall to the study, where she can hear a murmur of conversation from behind the door. Sticks her head in. “Hey?”

Flynn glances up with a start from the computer, where he has a Skype window open, and holds up a finger as if to say one minute. Then he turns back and resumes speaking in rapid Croatian, which confuses Lucy as she tries to guess who he can be talking to. She can’t really understand the language aside from a few simple phrases and the occasional endearment, so she waits until he hangs up. Then she says, “Who were you talking to?”

“My old friend Luka.” Flynn stares at the screen. “In Dubrovnik. I had to warn him that Emma made threats against him and Lorena and Iris. Tell them to be on the lookout for anything strange. Are you all right? What are you doing up?”

“I couldn’t sleep for the entire day. Where’s Lily?”

“Amy has her. Downstairs.” Flynn spins around in the chair and takes Lucy by the waist, eyes soft and worried. “Are you sure you’re all right? You don’t usually cry like that.”

“It’s been. . . there’s a lot that’s gone on.” Understatement of the damn year, Lucy thinks. “I’m better now.”

Flynn’s hands stay on her hips, and she leans down to kiss him lightly. Obviously it’s not going to be anything more than that for quite a while, as she has six weeks or so of recovery, he’s still fairly hurt himself, and frankly, there’s a point just after having a baby where intimate relations with your husband ever again sound like a terrible idea. But Lucy still needs to be as close to him as she can, needs to touch him and reassure herself with his solidness, his presence. Perhaps they should go down and relieve Amy from aunt duty, but she also wants to hang onto this, her arms on his shoulders as they stay looking into each other’s eyes. There’s a pause. Then Flynn says abruptly, “That’s not all Emma threatened.”

“You said she didn’t kill you, but. . .” Lucy frowns. Mercy, to say the least, does not seem to be in that woman’s nature. “I’m grateful, obviously, but why not?”

“I think. . .” Flynn hesitates, as if knowing this sounds off the ranch, but they’ve gone well past the point where that really applies. “She tricked me and tracked me with a file titled in the date I saved your life. March 21, 2003. She said it wasn’t a random coincidence, and that I should see if I could figure it out. Well. I hope I’m wrong, but maybe I have. And – ”

Lucy frowns. “What?”

Flynn takes a deep breath. “I think she’s going to try to make it so that we never meet.”

“That we – what? That you – what, you don’t save my life? How could she – ” Lucy remembers that obviously they are dealing with time travel here, with things done that could be changed, and has to fight off a stab of vertigo. “How could she do that?”

“Go back to that date, you mean?” Flynn says. “I don’t know if she could. When I asked Rufus in London, he said you can’t travel on your own timeline, you can’t go anywhere you already exist, so Emma couldn’t travel to 2003 in person. But there could be an exception, there could be something we don’t know about. You visited me in 2010, in a time you were definitely already alive, so we can’t entirely rule it out. But think about it. If Emma manages to change something, directly or indirectly, about the night of your accident, if someone else saves you instead, we never meet. I don’t have any reason to come back when I start investigating Benjamin Cahill and see your name in the file, because it won’t mean anything to me. Maybe I never take that assignment at all, or another one. In any case, we don’t meet, we don’t get together, we don’t investigate Rittenhouse, you never learn about Carol, you never send me off for two years to destroy crucial parts of their operation, we’re never here with the others planning to do something more. All the damage that’s been caused to them by us, by the two of us together. . .” Flynn stops. “It goes away.”

Lucy can’t answer immediately, because her chest is too tight with panic. She wants to say that this can’t happen, that the fact that they’re standing here, together, is proof that it doesn’t. It’s already over. That’s the good thing about even your worst days – they end, they go into the vault, and you get a fresh start tomorrow. The universe can’t go back and kick you in the teeth on that one particularly sucky day all over again. There’s no way to even get your words or your thoughts around the idea of that being upended, especially by a woman who clearly wants to destroy your life as comprehensively as possible, and Lucy presses a hand to her mouth, briefly thinking she might be sick. Flynn grabs at her arms. “Lucy?”

“I’m…” She swallows heavily, then sinks onto his lap, their foreheads touching. Fine, that worn old lie, doesn’t seem to cut it. “I really hope you’re mistaken.”

“Me too.” Flynn’s eyes remain grim and distant. “I’m not sure I am, though.”

Lucy opens her mouth to suggest they do something, they be proactive about this, but really, what is the action plan for “mortal enemy wants to permanently fuck up your life with time travel?” Rufus is not going to be a fan of destroying the machine, and it might cause even more problems for them if they try. They already did the Mason Industries break-in, they can’t really go back to that well without a serious upgrade and concrete assurances of success. Rittenhouse can still permanently separate them in any number of ordinary ways, after all. Anxiety bubbles like a poisoned spring in her stomach. Finally, hating the idea, but not able to dismiss it, she says, “What if you… if we… if Emma was dead, she couldn’t… she couldn’t do this, could she?”

Flynn raises his eyes to hers. “I would have killed her,” he says after a long moment. “At the cabin. But she made it clear that if she died, there would be assassination orders carried out – on Luka and Lorena and Iris, on you and Lily, on… I don’t know. There is no guarantee that those have been revoked. Killing her won’t kill all the other heads of the hydra.”

“So what?” Lucy’s frustration almost makes her voice break. “What do we do?”

“We have two choices,” Flynn says. “One, we change our names and move abroad, which might buy us a little time, but is no guarantee that we won’t be erased anyway – perhaps more, since it would give Rittenhouse a clear field to do whatever they damn well pleased without interference. Or we figure out how to fight them on the same level they’re fighting us. If they’re taking the war to time itself, maybe we have to do it too.”

“We have to – what?” Lucy stares at him. “What exactly are you suggesting?”

“If they’re planning to use it to erase us, why can’t we do it to them first?” Flynn shrugs, as if this is an entirely reasonable suggestion for a human being to make. “We know about David Rittenhouse. If the time machine works, why can’t we take it? Whether or not Connor Mason agrees. We go to the eighteenth century, and we kill him. That way, he never founds the society, it never exists, and so it can never hurt us. And – ”

“We don’t know that,” Lucy interrupts. The anxiety seems to be curdling into full-blown panic. “Killing him could have much broader implications, he’s very influential in the early development of America – one of his lectures is printed and given out at the Constitutional Convention, he’s a correspondent of several of the Founding Fathers. And if I’m in fact Rittenhouse on both sides, if that’s what brought Carol Preston and Benjamin Cahill together – if we kill him, do my parents ever meet? Do I ever exist?”

Flynn hesitates. Then he says, “America can survive the loss of David Rittenhouse and his fanatical cult. And if it can’t, maybe it’s not an America that deserves to exist.”

“Garcia.” Lucy grips his face. “Garcia, don’t talk like that, you’re scaring me, you’re scaring me. We are talking about – about hundreds of millions of people, of the vast majority of innocent people that have ever lived in this country, that could have everything they know completely changed, could have their entire existences ripped apart. I know Rittenhouse is terrible, I know they’re never going to stop, but – we don’t have the moral authority or any right to destroy everyone else’s world just to save our own. I can’t agree to this. I will never agree to this. That is not who I am, that is not the life I want for our daughter!”

“Do you want her to have a life at all?” Flynn demands. He gets to his feet abruptly, causing Lucy to slide off his lap, and stares heatedly down at her. “Because you said it yourself. Rittenhouse is not going to stop. It will be like this for whatever time we’re lucky to have left. But if we could destroy them, if we could fight for something worth it, we – ”

“You tried,” Lucy pleads, reaching for his hands, trying to take them in her own, but he doesn’t quite let her. “You tried for two years, you might have damaged them or hurt their ability in places, but they’re too embedded. There was no way that you could, as one man, possibly have done enough to – ”

“Exactly.” Flynn snaps his fingers. “They’re too embedded. Trying to fight them right now isn’t going to work, they’re too long-standing and too powerful. We’d have to get to them before they were installed, before the system protected them. If we could find the moments in history when their influence was just getting established, if we could target them then – ”

“You’re – what?” Lucy turns away, putting both hands to her head. “What are you suggesting? Time traveling to kill Rittenhouse members before they can – ”

“That’s exactly what I’m suggesting.” Flynn’s eyes gleam with a hard, fanatic light. “If those are the rules now, then we should play by them. We could figure it out. You’re a historian, and you wrote your damn dissertation on how America was invented politically and the intentional dark sides in doing it, remember? The history thing your family has done – how do you know that wasn’t what Rittenhouse was training you for? We would make quite a team. Travel there, identify who needed to be taken out, and – ”

“And what?” Lucy wishes he would stop talking like this, would be the man she loves and the doting father, but now is one of the times when she is reminded that while Flynn may be a domesticated lion, he is not a tame one. He is a man who has been a soldier since the age of fifteen, who has done far more and far worse than he will ever entirely tell her, and just as her first instinct is to mediate, to compromise, to find a logical and reasoned solution, his is to fight. His settled life with her has been the exception, not the rule. “Put an infant carseat in a time machine? Warm up bottles of formula over the campfire? Even if I did agree to this idea, which I don’t, then what? Just let you go kill whoever in history you think might have been Rittenhouse, no matter who they are or what they’re going to do, so – ”

“There are sacrifices in war, Lucy.” Flynn remains unyielding. “They die or you do.”

“This is insane,” Lucy says weakly. She has to sit back down. “You can’t be seriously thinking about this, Garcia. You can’t – ”

“You were the one who told me about it! Who told me they had to be defeated at any price!”

“My future self, yes. That’s not me, that isn’t – we don’t know if that’s going to change as well, or if that can even be trusted, or – ”

Just as she can see that disowning her future self, this woman who miraculously appeared to him and made him return to her, the real reason their stars collided again and stayed, is hurting him terribly, there’s a knock on the door. “Hey,” Amy calls tentatively. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything, but Lily’s hungry.”

“Right.” Lucy tries to gather herself, still feeling shaken and sick, and goes over to open the door, take her unhappy daughter from Amy, and sit down to nurse her. Amy can clearly sense the tension in the room, and probably heard raised voices, as her eyes dart questioningly between them. Trying to forestall any questions, Lucy says, “We just – we just had a little disagreement, that’s all. It’s over, it’s fine.”

She can feel Flynn’s eyes on her, clearly thinking that it’s not over and it’s not fine, and doesn’t look up at him, focusing more than necessary on Lily. Amy shows herself out, which is probably a wise choice, as Flynn paces silently by the desk and it isn’t clear if he’s waiting for Lucy to be done with Lily in order to resume the argument. Lucy knows him well enough to sense that there’s no way he’s changed his mind about anything. In fact, the effect is most likely that he’s doubled down. He considerately holds his tongue until Lily has been burped, changed, and put down for a nap. Then he says, “Well?”

“Let’s go downstairs.” Lucy doesn’t feel up to round two, and with an audience, perhaps there’s less likelihood of it. “The others probably want to know what’s going on.”

Flynn makes a noise suggesting that the others can lead, follow, or get out of the way, but doesn’t actually say this aloud. They head down to the kitchen, where Amy, Wyatt, and Rufus are gathered around Rufus’s laptop and discussing something vigorously, but look up at their entrance. There’s a slightly awkward silence. Then Flynn says, “Just to be clear. Is everyone on the same page now, intelligence-wise? About Rittenhouse and what they’re planning? Because if someone needs to explain it again, it’s damn well not going to be me.”

“No. I think we’re. . .” Wyatt hesitates. “We know what’s going on.”

“Finally.” Flynn raises his eyes to the heavens, then glances at Amy. “Even you?”

“I’ve heard something about a time machine,” Amy says, determinedly offhand. “It sounds a little loopy, I’ve gotta say, but I’m willing to play ball. And I’ve learned that my mother has apparently been part of this evil organization, and lied to me and my sister for years, so. . .” She briefly trails off, then says firmly, “Whatever we’re doing, I’m in.”

Lucy looks at her gratefully and squeezes her hand, as Wyatt and Rufus make similar declarations. They then get down to brass tacks, arguing about who – if anyone – they should try to recruit to their cause, or trust with the information. They get nowhere until Wyatt says, “Listen, there’s someone I know in Homeland Security. She’s tough, she’s principled, she’s the kind of Untouchable that Eliot Ness would envy when it comes to her morals. I can’t see Rittenhouse being able to recruit her, and she worked with me a little on the Colombian cartel case, actually. She’s not scared of taking down big fish.”

“Oh?” Flynn says. “Who?”

“Her name’s Denise Christopher.” Wyatt glances around the table. “Lifer law enforcement. We’d need a little more proof than we have, but if we could get that, I could maybe approach her with it. I know most of it just got torched, but pull whatever backups you have, Flynn. Anything you can think of that shows that Rittenhouse is real and it’s dangerous. You had to have some stuff that you kept off-site.”

“A little,” Flynn says, rather coolly. “I’ll see what I can find.”

Lucy glances at him, as Flynn could have been a lot more difficult about that, but the fact of him agreeing so easily means that he’s fine for everyone to think this is their primary plan, can use Wyatt asking Agent Christopher as a smokescreen. Instead, he must still be attached to the “hunt Rittenhouse through history” full-out insane one, and she puts a hand on his knee under the table. He, however, does not look at her, keeping his attention on the conversation. When it’s decided that he’ll try to pull some proof and give it to Wyatt, and Rufus will carefully dig up whatever he can on the time machine and what Rittenhouse is doing with it, Flynn stands up. “All right. Well. It’s been very nice, but maybe it’s time for all of you to get out of my house now. Yes?”

Everyone gives him slightly askance looks, as if to say that they have been here trying to help Lucy, including while he himself was off doing God knows what, and Lucy hastens to thank them and reassure them that she will be in touch soon. Wyatt and Rufus leave in their car, but Amy asks if she can stick around. She doesn’t really want to go home and explain this to her roommates, and besides, a few extra hands can never really hurt where a newborn is concerned. She’ll sleep on the futon for a couple days and work it through. Of course, if Lucy and Flynn don’t mind.

Lucy says firmly that Amy is welcome to stay as long as she wants, especially since she knows that both of them are reeling from Carol’s admission much more than they have had any time to work through or accept. It’s an old tribal instinct to huddle up, circle the wagons, stick together until they work out what to do, and yes, any help with Lily would be nice. As well, any restraining influence on Flynn, or at least a second opinion to throw at him before he does anything really crazy, might be a plus. He hasn’t seemed as close to snapping since they got together as he does right now. Paces the kitchen, then announces he’s going to go out back and practice.

The obvious question is practice what – he can’t exactly target shoot in their suburban San Francisco backyard – but Lucy decides not to interfere. She goes upstairs and sits down in their bedroom, in the warm early-evening glow, next to the cot with their sleeping daughter. She stares at Lily and tries to burn it into her mind. Tells herself that she could never forget this, that this could never be undone. It’s here, it’s happening. It’s real. It’s safe.

(Is it safe?)

(She doesn’t know.)

(Oh God, oh God, oh God, she doesn’t know.)

Rufus is feeling worse and worse by the time he has dropped Wyatt off at their apartment, made an excuse about needing to run into work and apologize for playing hooky (Wyatt’s already distracted, or he might have asked why Rufus couldn’t just text), and braved the rush-hour traffic to drive back to Mason Industries. As he parks, the weight of the small recorder in his pocket feels like a live grenade, and he can’t bring himself to get out of the car immediately. He doesn’t think this is the right thing to do. It might be the only thing to do, but that is far from the same thing.

After a pause, Rufus reaches into his pocket, pulls it out, and plays it back. When it gets to the part he hasn’t heard before, the part that it must have picked up while it was hidden in the study, he feels like his stomach is sinking through the floor. That, there, is pretty goddamn unambiguous. Flynn suggesting that they take the fight against Rittenhouse through time, Lucy being (understandably) horrified. It’s a crucial piece of intelligence, in one sense of the word, proof that Flynn has reached the last logical step that Rittenhouse did not want him to do. On the other, it’s a deeply personal argument between a couple who clearly loves each other more than anything and is horrifically torn on the best way to save that life and their newborn daughter, is faced with the monumental and impossible, and Rufus can’t listen to it all the way through. He clicks it off, feeling ill. Lucy has invited him into her home, keeps trying to be nice to him, let him stay in her hospital room after giving birth, made him part of their plans, and. . . he’s repaying her like this. Recording her private conversations with her husband, knowing that Connor is waiting to get this, presumably so he can hand it over to Rittenhouse and they can act accordingly. Rufus still doesn’t like Flynn much, but that doesn’t enter into it. This is just a matter of simple human fucking decency.

Finally, having not sorted out in the least what he’s going to do, he gets out of the car and locks it, striding across the lot. God, he hopes Jiya is gone for the day. After their abortive attempt at a date, they’ve stayed friends, but the time has never felt right to push for a renewed attempt at romance. Maybe it’s Rufus’s own guilt, maybe it’s not wanting to ruin what they do have, but either way, the shame of being caught by her right now would be too great. He puts his head down and walks fast.

Inside, the place is mostly empty for the day, everyone heading out to after-work beers and baseball games; the Dodgers are in town for three and Mason Industries has season tickets that anyone can use. Just one of the many perks of working here, but Rufus, for the first time since he got this job, doesn’t feel like it’s the greatest thing to ever happen to him. Maybe, in fact, the worst. The light is on in Connor’s office. He’s waiting. Oh God.

Dragging his feet, half-thinking he might not mind if Flynn did in fact burst in here right now and try something reckless, Rufus makes his way up. Knocks on the door, and waits. Then when Connor answers, he goes in. “Hey.”

“Hello, Rufus.” Connor puts aside the paper he’s reading and sits up. He looks grey-faced and strained, usually immaculate suit rumpled and bags under his eyes. He holds out his hand. “Please do tell me that you have it.”

Rufus pauses. Then he screws up his courage and says, “I don’t think this is right, Connor. I don’t think this is right, I don’t want to do it, and I’m not doing it anymore.”

Mason raises both eyebrows. “I beg your pardon?”

“This is wrong,” Rufus repeats. “This is wrong. These people trusted me, they invited me into their lives and their home and a very personal moment in their life, and – ” He stops, wrestling with the words. “Why would you make me do this, Connor? Why? If Ritten – ”

“Shh. Please. Shh.” Mason takes a sip from the glass on his desk, which – just a guess – is not Hawaiian Punch. “Don’t say that name aloud, eh? Officially, you still don’t know anything about it.”

“I don’t,” Rufus says angrily. “I don’t know anything about it, in fact. Just that they exist and they’re someone that even you are scared of, and I’m supposed to carry these recorders to anywhere they might be talked about. This is some real cloak-and-dagger crap, these guys sound like dicks, and I’m done. Find some other little spy, or – ”

“I can’t, Rufus.” Mason raises a hand. “You, as it happens, are the one on whom this task has fallen, and you – if you refuse, if you stop, things are going to get very difficult. For me, for Mason Industries, for you, and I would imagine, your family as well.  I cannot protect you if you don’t play your role, do you hear me? This is an absolutely crucial moment, we cannot have interference, we have to keep Garcia Flynn out of the picture until the arrangements are finalized, and that’s that. Why this tender concern for him? The man crashed your romantic outing in London and threatened grave bodily harm to Jiya, I don’t think you – ”

“Yes, he did,” Rufus says. “And yes, it was a dick move. But there’s more to it than that. He’s a father now. His wife – well, basically his wife – just had a baby. There’s a family at stake, Connor. It’s not just him who could get hurt, it – ”

“Noble as this all is,” Mason interrupts, “if Garcia Flynn wanted to safeguard his child’s future, there were plenty of opportunities – still are, in fact – for him to decide against what he’s doing. I’m worried about other families, Rufus. Mine, yours, Anthony’s, everyone who works here, everyone who ever has worked here. You don’t understand how deep I’m in with these people, and what they can and will do if I spit the bit now. So please. I am begging you. Do you have the recording?”

Rufus pauses. Then he says, “I accidentally spilled some coffee on it. I don’t think it’s usable.”

“Don’t think it’s usable? Why don’t you pop it out now, and we’ll have a go?”

“It’s not,” Rufus repeats, more sharply. “It’s not usable.”

“And I am, Rufus, a man who has made a pretty penny or two in the field of technology.” Mason looks at him mildly, as if Rufus is intentionally playing stupid. “Do you really think I couldn’t resurrect a device from a little coffee spill?”

“It’s. Not. Usable.” Rufus folds his arms. “Is that clear enough?”

Mason continues to gaze back at him for a long moment. The tension crackles. Then he says, “Rufus, I likewise have to make myself very clear. I am expected to hand over that recorder tonight. If for some reason, if for any reason, coffee spill or otherwise, that does not happen, everyone here will be out of a job tomorrow. The funding will be pulled, the project will grind to a halt, everything that we’ve done, everything that we can still achieve, will be put on ice. This is an outcome which will make some people very, very angry, and they would not confine themselves to writing disapproving reference letters or going to find another lab to take the project. They would clean house, quite literally. You could wake up tomorrow with someone at your front door to see you, your mother, and your brother, and what they would do next – I don’t want to be graphic, but I must make you grasp what’s at stake. I understand your reservations. Believe me, I bloody do. You’re a good man – the best of us, perhaps, really. But do you honestly think that one child, one family is worth this? Garcia Flynn’s family? Are you going to stick your neck out this far for him?”

Rufus opens his mouth, then shuts it. An icy chill goes down his back. Connor’s face is deadly serious, and there is no reason to think he’s joking or being flippant or anything else. They continue to stare at each other. Connor looks like he might cry.

Rufus’s fingers have turned to blocks of wood. He reaches slowly into his pocket, and closes them around the recorder. It takes a long time, an absurdly long time, to pull out. Then, ignoring Mason’s open hand, he throws it on the desk, turns his back, and walks away.

It’s around ten o’clock that evening when Flynn’s phone rings.

They’re both in bed, since they’re new parents and therefore exhausted, and Lily has been put in her nursery for the first time. They haven’t been talking, just lying in each other’s arms and holding each other close, trying in a clumsy way to make up for the argument earlier, and Lucy has in fact fallen asleep, because she doesn’t move when Flynn lets go of her and rolls to grab the phone. It shows up as Unknown Number.

He hesitates. Then grabs it, swings out of bed, and steps outside the door. “Hello?”

“Good evening.” He doesn’t recognize the voice on the other end. In fact, he can’t even be sure if it’s a man or woman, because it’s been electronically scrambled in a way that makes it sound eerie and inhuman. “The name you’ve been looking for. It’s Wes Gilliam.”

“What?” Flynn demands, switching the phone to his other ear. “Who the hell is this?”

“Wes Gilliam,” the voice repeats. “You promised to tell Sergeant Logan. You are a man of your word. Wes Gilliam. Wes Gilliam. Wes Gilliam. Good night.”

With that, leaving him unsure if it was in fact a human or a prepared recording, the call goes dead, and there’s nothing but empty air on the other end. Flynn stares at it, badly shaken. Wes Gilliam. Yes, he promised Wyatt a name as to who was responsible for Jessica’s disappearance, his end of the bargain that involved Wyatt getting arrested on his and Lucy’s behalf, and he’s been trying to fulfill it. He’s just been unavoidably distracted by other things, and this – and this –

(It could be a lie. It could be a fake. He doesn’t have to tell Wyatt, especially if the information turns out to be bad. Wyatt only spent – what, a few hours in jail? It’s not like Flynn owes him a great debt for twenty-seven years on Robben Island.)

And yet. That’s not the exact source of his hesitation. Flynn knows that if he does tell Wyatt, if he throws that grenade in the middle of everything, Wyatt will go off the rails, drop the Rittenhouse investigation, and become obsessed with finding who Gilliam is, bringing him to justice, and forcing him to tell him where Jessica is. If she’s still alive, and if not, how she died. Now that Wyatt knows there’s a time machine involved, even more drastic measures are not out of the question. It’s what Flynn would do – might in fact do, if it comes to saving Lucy and Lily – and thus he has no right, perhaps, to stop Wyatt from it. Especially when the name was promised. Especially when he doesn’t like Wyatt much anyway, and this would get him out of the way. There’s that.

But it’s Wyatt who knows this Denise Christopher. It’s Wyatt who – shaky as his standing might have gotten – still has a respected position in the U.S. military, and can open doors that Flynn can’t, even with his artificially erased rap sheet. Flynn’s last attempt to go head-to-head with Rittenhouse by himself ended up with all his evidence and work destroyed, and he was lucky to get away alive. Wouldn’t have, if Emma didn’t have something even more sadistic planned. Much as he absolutely hates it, he knows they need Wyatt’s help, at the very least. If he tells him now, Wyatt will quit the Rittenhouse hunt. And that means they might be dead in the water before they even get started.

(Flynn doesn’t have to tell him. Doesn’t have to tell him.)

Flynn stands there in the dark hall, still staring at his phone. If Wyatt does leave, it might make it easier to pull off his plan, at least as easy as it can be when it involves grand theft time machine. He knows that is not just something you can decide to do at the drop of a hat. It will take foresight, preparation, a list of the targets you need to hit and hit fast. You can’t just get in a time machine and take it for a drive to see the scenery. You need to know where you’re going, and what you’re doing, and everything else. The scale of project planning is off the charts. Is this what he’s going to commit his life to? He was thinking about asking Lucy to marry him earlier, before they got derailed by the argument. Not that there’s a real chance she’ll say no, or at least he hopes not. But how could he do this, how could he promise her forever, until death do them part, when they could be parted tomorrow? Or yesterday? Or ten years ago on a rainy March night, before they ever know each other?

Does that mean he should do it anyway?

Flynn glances down the hall at the nursery door. This is not something compatible with being a new father either, to say the least, and he isn’t planning to just vanish and let Lucy and Amy do all the work. But likewise, how can he call himself a good father if he doesn’t? He will die for Lily, he will kill for her, he will tear apart the entire world if she grows up happy and safe and untroubled by the shadow of Rittenhouse. He loves her in a way he only knew it was possible to love Lucy: the center and weight and gravity and fabric of his universe, the beat of his heart and the sinew of his soul. Losing either one of them, or both, would drive him mad. He’s not strong enough to stand this. Maybe it’s selfish after all.

From down the hall, he hears the covers rustle as Lucy turns over, must have woken and found him gone. Her voice filters through the darkness. “Garcia?”

“I’m coming.” Flynn turns and steps back into the bedroom, puts his phone on the side table, and slides into bed as she reaches up for him. He takes her in his arms, rests his chin on her head, and feels her melt into his chest. And in that, then, he doesn’t know if he can.

(Doesn’t know if he can tell Wyatt and risk destroying this.)

(Doesn’t know if he can’t tell Wyatt, and force him to leave, and go for broke.)

(Doesn’t know if he can wake up tomorrow, or any other day of his life, and not have Lucy here, like this, in the dark.)

(Doesn’t know.)

(Doesn’t know.)

Chapter Text

Lucy wakes up the next morning (well, she’s already been up twice, at one AM and then at four, and by the time she is summoned again at seven, figures there’s no point in going back to bed) and shuffles downstairs to find that Amy, wonderful soul that she is, already has the coffee going. Lucy sits down with a groan, shifts Lily to her other shoulder, and lets the life-giving fumes waft up her nose. This will be her first proper hit of caffeine in months, and she is ready to feel good, dammit. As she sits there basking, she says, “Did you talk to Garcia before he left this morning? He was gone pretty early.”

“I woke up as he was coming downstairs, but we didn’t talk.” Amy pulls the pot off, pours it into two mugs, adds cream and sugar to hers, and gives Lucy hers black. “I figured he was off to grab his evidence backups, or wherever he was going. Or that you were both awake because of the munchkin.”

“I was. Briefly.” Lucy has a vague memory of Flynn getting up around the same time she was returning from the four o’clock feeding, but she was already falling asleep on her feet and was out by the time she hit the bed again. “Very briefly.”

Amy snorts, raising her mug. “In that case, here’s to caffeine. Sláinte.”

Lucy picks it up, takes a sip, and moans in ecstasy, unable to gulp it in embarrassing amounts because it’s still too hot. She blows on it a few times, then sips again, performing a delighted little wiggle from head to toe and scoffing at her sister’s smirk. “What? You try it!”

“I’m good, thanks,” Amy says. “But that was adorable. How are you feeling today?”

“A little better.” At least physically, Lucy thinks, though she’s still not up for any triathlons. The argument with Flynn yesterday rocked her, and she has the distinct sense that it has not been resolved or released, even if they did try to silently make it up last night. She starts to get up to make herself breakfast awkwardly one-handed, but Amy waves at her to sit and goes to put in some toast. “Amy, about this – this time travel stuff. Do you really buy it?”

“Everyone else seems to be serious about it, so…” Amy opens the fridge to get butter and jam. “I guess? I like to keep an open mind about things. You know me, I’ve always been into the idea of ghosts and aliens and parallel worlds and stuff beyond what we can see. That was what drove Mom crazy. You two being the sensible solid historians, the ones who worked with facts and logic and empirical evidence, and I was out there being all New Agey and woo-woo. Now, I guess – ” Amy stops, then continues in the determinedly casual voice that means she doesn’t want to be heaping too much of her own pain on Lucy, a shared trait of the Preston sisters. Wherever that compassion came from, it clearly wasn’t Carol. “Now I guess it doesn’t matter what she thought, huh?”

There’s a brief silence. Then Lucy says quietly, “I can’t believe she did that to us.”

“I can.” Amy unscrews the raspberry jam with more than the necessary force and digs her knife in. “I loved Mom – I still do, that’s not gonna stop, even if it’s complicated – but I could never understand how you couldn’t see her manipulating you. Her love always came at a price, her approval was always conditional, she never let you make mistakes, or at least live with them. She pushed and pushed and pushed, and you kept giving it to her and thinking it was your fault that you hadn’t been good enough before. That was why I wanted to move out, even if it meant I was living in a crappy apartment and struggling to pay my bills, rather than let her do to me what she did to you. And I could have spoken up more, I could have done something, rather than just assuming you were smart and you’d figure it out and it wasn’t my business to get into the middle of that. So. I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault. God, it’s not your fault.” Lucy gets up and hugs Amy fiercely, one-armed, Lily still snoozing in the other one. “You’re just my kid sister, you should never have had to do that. That shouldn’t have been on you.”

“Yeah,” Amy says, low-voiced. “Maybe. But it was, and I blew it.”

“No, you didn’t. Okay, Ames? You didn’t. You didn’t.” Lucy grips her shoulder hard. “We still have each other, and I have Garcia and Lily, and we’ll – we’ll make our own family. Family isn’t just blood. If this is going to be how it is, with us and Wyatt and Rufus, well – we’ll get used to it. It’ll be better.”

“I guess,” Amy says. She gathers herself together, and musters a smile. “But with all of this going on, it doesn’t seem like we’re about to have any cookouts or whatever soon, does it?”

“Maybe not, but we can do that later.” Even as she speaks it, the usual, casual reassurance – we can do that later, the assumption that’s always been the case for everyone everywhere – Lucy feels a pang. What if there is no later? What if all of earlier gets upended as well? She hesitates, then sits down with her toast, passing Lily over to Amy so she can properly eat. “I – look. Amy. I have something to tell you. It’s going to sound a little weird, but I guess you just reminded me that you can deal with it.”

Thus, not letting herself have time to change her mind, she tells Amy the full story of her future self coming to visit Flynn three years ago, the effect it had on him deciding to go great guns after Rittenhouse, insisting that it was time travel at stake, and the argument they had yesterday about it. Flynn thinking that the logical next step is to escalate the war before Rittenhouse can do it to them, that he has this insane plan of tracking and killing them through history, no matter the damage it could do to God knows what fiber of reality. That he scares her when he talks like that, she doesn’t know how she ends up as this other version of herself or if she wants to, and that he thinks Rittenhouse is trying to prevent them from ever meeting on the night of the car accident. That if they somehow pull it off, Lucy and Flynn will never meet, none of this will ever happen, and Lily won’t be born. A wrinkle in time, rather literally, but not one that can be fixed or unbent. They might not even know.

“Wait. Okay.” Amy has hung in there through most of this crazy shit, but she blinks hard at that. “How could someone just… vanish from history? Lily’s already born. She can’t just… not be born, right? How would that even work?”

“I don’t know.” Lucy sits back. “This is a situation that only comes up in those sci-fi movies, or Back to the Future, when Marty McFly has to make sure his parents get together so he exists. But I suppose that yes, theoretically, if they had the ability to change the timeline and stop us from meeting, she’d just… not be there.”

Amy clutches her niece protectively. “That is messed up.”

“Yeah.” Lucy finishes the last swig of her now lukewarm coffee, and pushes her empty plate away. “Not to mention all the other stuff that would change. I might never know about Benjamin Cahill, I wouldn’t know about Mom, or Rittenhouse, or Wyatt and Rufus. I would never have met Garcia. I’d just be – I don’t know. I don’t know who I’d be. Probably still at Stanford anyway, living the life Mom wanted for me. Still dating Noah.”

“Oh, honey, no,” Amy says. “In any timeline, you can do better than him.”

Lucy laughs weakly, despite herself. “He wasn’t that bad. He was a good guy.”

“Sure,” Amy says. “For someone else. Anyway. This is – this is definitely a lot, but thanks for telling me. We’ll figure it out, okay? We won’t let Wicked Witch Whitmore take this away from you. Did you say she works at Mason Industries? Can we ask Rufus?”

“Ask Rufus what? If he can fetch his evil coworker in for a chat, after she almost killed Flynn the last time she saw him, and destroyed all of his evidence on Rittenhouse? He’s probably in all kinds of danger if he does that, he might not even know who she really is.”

“Maybe not. Should we warn him, though? We don’t want him accidentally letting something slip, if he doesn’t know that she isn’t to be trusted.”

“Maybe, but then he has to see her every day and know she’s dangerous and…” Lucy stops. “No, you’re right. He deserves to know the truth. Mason Industries seems neck-deep with Rittenhouse anyway, they’re the ones paying for the time machine. It’s not fair to Rufus to just dangle him out in that sea of sharks.”

“He might know about it,” Amy points out. “He’s worked there for a while. There might be more he could tell us. Like how close it is to being operational, and – ”

Lucy shudders. “I don’t want it to be.”

“Because you’re afraid Garcia’s going to do – what?” Amy considers her closely. “Steal it, and go hog-wild screwing up history in the name of eradicating Rittenhouse?”

“Yeah.” Lucy hates admitting it, feels disloyal, but she doesn’t entirely trust what Flynn would do if that was an option right now. “Basically.”

“Maybe Rufus can sabotage it.” Amy gets up to clear the dishes from the table. “If he knows the truth about these people and what they’re going to do with it, then – ”

“That would put him in terrible danger,” Lucy objects. “It could cost him his job, his professional reputation. We definitely have no right to ask that of him.”

“Okay, true.” There’s a slight edge in Amy’s voice. “But if we are really going to stop these Rittenhouse maniacs, if everything you say is true and they are completely evil and willing to do whatever it takes to preserve that, maybe we have to figure out what we can ask, and of who.”

Lucy looks at her, startled and unsettled. “Don’t tell me you agree with Garcia.”

“I don’t know, frankly. And obviously I see where you’re coming from too. But at this point…” Amy trails off. “I’m not sure that I don’t not agree with him.”

Lucy doesn’t know what to say to that. Perhaps it’s significant that the two people she loves and trusts the most in the world have now had the same response to the situation, and she – just like her years-long pattern of making excuses for her mother, refusing to see what Amy is now telling her was obvious – is once more dragging her feet, reluctant to upset the apple cart as usual. But if this apple cart is all of time and space and known history, Lucy thinks she’s at least a little justified in keeping it upright. She’s a historian, she loves the past, she’s worked to understand it, to make it relevant to the present, to teach it in meaningful and engaging ways. That gives her some sort of mandate to be its champion, to protect it – whether from Rittenhouse, or from the man she loves. It twists and twists in her gut, it hurts almost physically, but she’s certain. She can’t let Flynn do this.

When she doesn’t answer, Amy seems to sense that she probably shouldn’t push. They clean up the kitchen, as Lucy puts Lily in the baby-sling and tries to think what to do. It’s almost nine o’clock, so she’d usually be at campus by now, unlocking her office and picking up papers and answering emails. She’s not used to sitting around the house and doing nothing, especially when there’s so much that needs to be figured out. Yes, being a mother is important work and all that, and Lucy’s not going to diss stay-at-home moms in the least (especially since she’s getting a sense of just how hard it must be), but she does other things with her time and her talents. She can’t just serve as a dispenser of food and clean diapers and naptime to an occasionally irascible small human, much as she loves her. She should do some research. See what she can find. Not that any of what she needs is likely to be online, or anything that she can get into (Flynn is another story) but still.

Lucy goes upstairs to get her laptop, and when she comes down, glances at her phone, thinking that there should be a text from him by now. They’re far from the kind of couple that constantly has to monitor the other’s whereabouts – they are both adults and can come and go as they please, without signing a register every time. But given everything that’s going on, and the fact of what happened the last time he rushed out without telling her what he was doing, Lucy doesn’t think she’s being unreasonable to expect at least some kind of touching base. He wouldn’t intentionally make her worry, or withhold contact just to be petty. Maybe he just forgot or didn’t want to bother her. She opens their chat and types, Hey, where are you? Left pretty early this am. Lmk when you have a minute. Xo.

Hopefully that doesn’t sound too worried or accusing, and Lucy puts her phone aside. She has just been trying to find the best way to position both Lily and her laptop when she hears a car in the driveway, and looks up. “Amy, is that Garcia?”

Amy peers out the front window. “Nope. It’s Wyatt. He has some lady with him, actually. Looks important.”

“Oh no, that must be the woman from Homeland Security.” Lucy jumps up, acutely aware that she has not yet showered and is still in her pajamas, as well as not wearing any makeup. “Is it rude if I run upstairs for five minutes to make myself presentable?”

“Honestly, this is your house,” Amy says. “And you just had a baby. You can look however you want.”

Lucy supposes this is true, even if she still feels self-conscious, as footsteps click on the walk and the doorbell rings. Amy gets it, admitting Wyatt (who looks as if he’s had at least a little sleep) and his companion, a trim, dark-eyed older woman with black hair cut neatly to her shoulders, a crisp pantsuit, and a folder under one arm, which she shifts so that she and Lucy can shake hands. “I’m Denise Christopher,” she says. “Department of Homeland Security. Sergeant Logan asked if I could stop by and hear something that you had to say?”

“It’s – it’s complicated.” Lucy nods gratefully at Wyatt, then tries to jiggle Lily with one arm as she wakes up and starts to fret. “My partner, Garcia, he’s the one who has most of it, and he’s out right now, but I’ll be happy to give you what I know. Just let me have a couple minutes to run upstairs, I’m sorry, I’m not very – ”

“I’ll be happy to take your baby for a minute.” Denise holds out her arms. “Don’t worry about apologizing. Go upstairs and freshen up if you want to, but certainly don’t feel obliged to dress up on my account.”

Lucy considers Denise for a long moment, and decides to trust her. She undoes the sling and hands Lily over to Denise, who boosts her expertly up onto her shoulder, pats her back with an air of firm authority, and gets her to calm down. It’s the reassuring older-woman motherly-competence thing that Lucy was wishing she could still lean on Carol for, and it briefly chokes her up. “I – ah, I’m sorry, I’m guessing you have kids?”

“My wife and I have two in grade school,” Denise says. “The early days can be hard. Do you mind if we have a seat in your kitchen?”

“That’s fine. I’ll be right back.”

With that, Lucy goes upstairs, jumps quickly in the shower, dresses, puts on a little makeup and brushes her hair, then checks her phone again. No response from Flynn; the message hasn’t been read. Renewed agitation prickles at her heart like thorns. God, he’s just been gone, he’s just been hurt. Please don’t say he’s off on another crusade already. Please.

She tells herself she can’t send another message yet, but she calls him anyway, and it goes over to voicemail without ringing. There’s too much of a lump in her throat for her to form words, so she hangs up, smiles bright and falsely at herself in the mirror, and walks back downstairs. Amy has taken care of supplying Wyatt and Denise with coffee, and they’re sitting at the kitchen table; Denise has a notepad open and is uncapping a pen. “All right,” she says. “Please tell me whatever you know about this organization called Rittenhouse.”

Lucy and Wyatt exchange a look, he nods at her to go first, and she takes a deep breath. Starts at the beginning, tells Denise about Cahill and the event in Marin County and Flynn rescuing her, then getting shot in Windsor the next morning. The trip to the University of Pennsylvania, Emma, the excursion to the house of horrors in West Point, escaping that and going back to some semblance of a normal life, but sending Flynn off for two years to hunt them around the world. The reveal that her mother was in on it, and that Flynn’s painstakingly collected evidence has been destroyed. Tells Denise everything, in fact, except about the time travel. She doesn’t want to sound completely off the ranch first thing.

A faint line gathers between Denise’s brows as Lucy speaks, and remains there when she’s finished. Denise taps her pen, clearly considering what to say, then looks at Wyatt. “And you’ve said that the Black Eagles case we both worked on had something to do with that, didn’t you? That they were funneling the drug profits to Rittenhouse somehow, and that they may have had something to do with the disappearance of your wife?”

“I think so.” Wyatt’s jaw sets hard. “Flynn does, at any rate, and he’s the expert on this. Though I notice he’s not here, again. But yeah. Thought that because I messed around with one of their golden gooses, they came after Jess in revenge. She’s alive, I swear she’s still alive. If it was just killing her, wouldn’t her body have turned up by now, a warning to stay in my lane or whatever? If she’s just gone, she has to still be out there. If we can save her.”

“I’m not unsympathetic to what both of you have gone through,” Denise says crisply. “This does fit with several other unexplained cases that have passed over my desk recently, and obviously you have encountered someone. But right now, all I have to back it up is your word, and that’s not something I can take to my superiors. It sounds like a paranoid conspiracy theory, and the government spends enough time with those. You said there was evidence that was destroyed. Where?”

“I…” Lucy hesitates. “I don’t know exactly. Garcia never told me where his safe house was, he didn’t want me liable. It’s somewhere up in the foothills outside San Francisco, but now it’s been blown up. So that’s not very – ”

“And why does your partner have an off-the-grid safe house that’s rigged with enough explosives to detonate at the drop of a hat?” Denise cocks her head and surveys Lucy critically. “You said he’s ex-special forces. For us?”

“He worked for the NSA for several years, it’s where he picked up the investigation on Benjamin Cahill in the first place. He’s been a – a freelancer for a while, though.”

“Hmmm.” Denise is clearly thinking that there are a lot more threads she could pull at this, given that the vast majority of Flynn’s activities since Lucy met him have been skirting the very edges of legality. “And where is he from again, exactly?”

“He was born and raised in Croatia, but his mother was American, he’s a dual citizen. He’s not a security risk.” Even as she speaks, Lucy can hear Flynn last night, saying that if America couldn’t survive losing Rittenhouse, maybe it doesn’t deserve to exist. “He’s a little… idiosyncratic, but his heart is in the right place. He’s just very opinionated, he’s done this for a long time, and he’s used to working alone.”

“I’d like to talk to him,” Denise says. “Do you know when he’ll be back?”

“Soon, I’m sure.” Lucy damn well hopes so, at any rate. “Can I offer you any more coffee?”

Denise assures her that she’s fine, and starts asking them some more questions about Rittenhouse – any other names or dates or details they can remember. Lucy and Wyatt exchange a glance, as they’re not sure they should bring Mason Industries into the fray without Rufus here. Low-voiced, Lucy asks, “Should we call him? Is he at work?”

“Yeah, he’s at work,” Wyatt says. “He was acting a little weird this morning, though. Maybe we should give him a day off from the insanity.”

“Maybe.” Lucy has a brief unsettled feeling, though she can’t say why. “But this is something we need to tell her about.”

Wyatt looks back at the kitchen table where Denise is writing; they have stepped off around the corner to have a private word. Then he says, even more quietly, “Tell the government that Connor Mason’s invented a time machine and hasn’t bothered to apply for so much as a parking permit? Yeah, I can see that going really well. The place would be covered in red tape and federal agents tomorrow. There’s not any guarantee that that would go any better than Rittenhouse getting their hands on it. I vote no.”

This is essentially what Flynn said earlier, but Lucy can sense another resistance behind it. She tips her chin back to look at him. “You want to use that machine yourself, don’t you?”

Wyatt grimaces, but more as an unspoken admission that he’s been caught, rather than really denying it. He glances at Denise, then moves them a little further out of earshot into the hall. “Come on,” he says. “A time machine? A time machine? Who gets that chance, ever? We’re supposed to – what, hand it over to a bunch of cubicle-farm, pen-pusher bureaucrats who’d keep it in mothballs for eighty rounds of paperwork? No way. Rufus says they’re running advanced tests now, it’s pretty much going to be up and ready to go in a matter of months. If that’s the case, then – I can go back, I can fix my mistake, I can save Jess. Whether or not Rittenhouse ever coughs her up, it wouldn’t matter. I have to.”

“It’s – ” Lucy hesitates. “Wyatt, it’s not that easy. You can’t travel on your own timeline, you can’t go back to 2012, you wouldn’t be able to just pop in and have a re-do with her. You could only go back to somewhere before you were born.”

By the look on Wyatt’s face, that is something he does not like hearing. He whirls on his heel, stares at the wall, then whirls back. “There has to be a loophole. Someone has to have tried it. I don’t care if it’s risky, I’d only have to do it once. Or – what?”

Lucy winces. She doesn’t want to tell him about the whole future-version-of-her visiting Flynn, as that seems like it will get his hopes up in a way that will not necessarily be borne out. “I… heard about a case in which it might be possible,” she says evasively. “But I really don’t know the details.”

“Well, who does?” Wyatt glances at her, picks it up. “Flynn?”

“He – he knows something, but – ”

“Make him tell you, then. You’re married, or close enough. I’d tell my wife, I’d tell her everything, I wouldn’t keep it back. He’s MIA right now again, apparently, but whenever he gets back – he still owes me that information, remember? For what I did?”

“I know, I know.” Lucy can sense his barely restrained frustration and anger and grief, and she doesn’t blame him. Wyatt has been living in a stalemate, using up all his accumulated leave from the Army, where – frankly speaking – he would probably be happier, because at least another mission would keep him out of the squalid attic of his head. He and Rufus have become good friends, it’s better that they’re roommates than it would be if Wyatt was alone, but he still knows no more about Jessica’s fate than he did on the day she vanished. That’s a horrible way to live, one that Lucy would not wish on her worst enemy, and he deserves a breakthrough, to do something with all this. “I’m sure he’ll find it.”

Wyatt makes a noise in his throat that says he isn’t sure. His fingers tap neurotically against his thigh, a muscle works in his cheek. He looks like a man on the hair-trigger of an explosion, and Lucy, who is somewhat familiar with the sight, reaches out to put a hand on his arm. “Hey. Thanks for bringing Denise by, all right? Thank you.”

Wyatt’s blue eyes flick to her, startled, and they hold each other’s gazes for a moment. He coughs. Then he says gruffly, “Yeah. No problem.”

Lucy looks back at him, not sure what she’s about to say, when they’re distracted by the sound of the front door banging open. There’s only one person who would be entering the house like that, and she hurries down the hallway in abject relief. “Garcia?”

Sure enough, it’s him, looking windswept and grumpy, but at least no more banged up than when he went out. He looks at her in some surprise as she throws her arms around his neck, and allows her to pull his head down for a kiss. “Lucy, what – ?”

“I was just…” Lucy bites her lip. “I woke up, and you were gone again. I – I was worried.”

“I’m here now,” Flynn says, more than a little unhelpfully. “Is that Wyatt’s car out front?”

“Yes, he’s here. With Denise Christopher from Homeland Security, he brought her by. She’s in the kitchen, she wants to talk to you. She wants whatever evidence you have on Rittenhouse – is that what you were doing this morning? Getting the backups?”

Flynn shakes his head. “No, I didn’t get those.”

“What were you doing, then?”

“Later.” Flynn kicks off his shoes and strides into the kitchen like a Panzer brigade. He has clearly dialed the imposing factor up to eleven, and Lucy isn’t sure this is the best way to approach a federal agent who has already been asking a few pointed questions about his recent activities. She trots after him, feeling that a sudden need to play mediator might be called for, and steps in just as Flynn is staring at Denise, who in turn is staring back at him. There’s a pause. Then Flynn barks, “So you’re her?”

“Yes.” Denise gets to her feet and offers a coolly professional hand. “Agent Denise Christopher, from Homeland Security. You must be Garcia Flynn.”

Flynn grunts, as if to say that he is exercising his constitutional right not to answer stupid questions. Then he glances at Wyatt, who has stepped back into the kitchen, and something flickers across his face. Lucy can’t tell exactly what, but it unsettles her, somehow. Then Flynn says, equally ungraciously, “You’re here, I see.”

“Yeah. I brought her.” Wyatt stares back at him challengingly. “Because at least one of us follows through with what we said we were going to do.”

Flynn’s mouth twists. He moves to the coffee pot, discovers it’s empty, makes a noise of aggravation, and starts a fresh round. The silence remains tense and awkward as it brews, until Amy sticks her head in. “Hey, Garcia.”

Flynn makes a brief acknowledgment. “Where’s Lily?”

“In her bassinet thingy, in the living room. After Lucy and I looked after her this morning.” Amy’s tone is gentle, but pointed. “Feel like filling us in on where you were?”

“Apparently I have a lot of filling in I’m expected to do.” Flynn jabs the percolator, as if this is going to make it brew faster. “One at a time, eh?”

Amy raises both eyebrows at Lucy, who decides that for now, she’ll pretend she didn’t see that, and withdraws. Once the coffee is finished, Flynn splashes it into a cup and practically kicks out the chair across from Denise, sitting down with a jerk. “Well?”

“I have a few questions for you, yes.” Denise has managed to remain completely unfazed by the sight of a large man in a foul temper, snorting and rampaging like a rhino stung by a wasp, since she is probably no stranger to it in her line of work. “If this is a bad time, I’d be happy to return later.”

“No. We’ll do it now.” Flynn swivels to face her with a wide, snarky smile. “Fire away!”

Denise utters a small sigh in the back of her throat, but commences going down the list. Flynn gives her a few answers, but when he remains utterly unforthcoming on the subject of his two years abroad, how exactly he tracked Rittenhouse, got money to do that, or basically anything whatsoever, she makes another, far more frustrated sound. “You know I can’t do my job with this if you don’t tell me anything, don’t you?”

“What do I have to tell you?” Flynn counters. “You asked me about Rittenhouse. That’s what I’m giving you.”

“You haven’t answered half my questions.”

“Maybe you should stop trying to get me to incriminate myself, then.”

“Is that an admission that you have something that might?”

“How did I know you were going to say that?” Flynn stands up fast enough to almost knock over his chair. “Still sitting there thinking that Rittenhouse is just some paranoid delusion and the real problem here is me, aren’t you? Asking all these clever questions about, let’s be frank, things that are not relevant to the investigation, so you can finger me as the culprit. Either act like you really have come here to help, or get out of my house.”

“Garcia – ” Lucy starts. “Garcia, don’t – ”

Flynn completely ignores her, still staring evilly at Agent Christopher, who stares right back. Then Denise says, “I came here as a favor to Sergeant Logan, to hear about some evil secret society that’s supposedly implanted in all levels of American government, that’s been responsible for a long-term private terror campaign, is partially funded by drug cartels, and has unknown operational capabilities, and whatever else. Don’t insult me by acting like I wouldn’t care about that, if it was real. But if all you’re going to do is rant and rave at me and offer not a single scrap of concrete proof, there isn’t much that I can, or frankly want, to do for you. Now, are we going to keep talking or not?”

“As long as you don’t – ”

At that, Lucy clears her throat. Steps forward, and says, in the dangerously sweet voice that every man recognizes if he knows what’s good for him, “Honey? A word?”

Flynn glances at her almost guiltily, but Lucy doesn’t bother to wait and see if the realization has struck on its own. She jerks her head at him, and he hesitates, then gets up and follows her. She leads them down the hall, away from both the kitchen and the living room, shuts the door, then turns on him. “You stop it right now. Right now.”

Flynn blinks. “I – ”

“Be quiet, I’m talking. I’m not even going to ask you what you were doing this morning, though frankly I would be entirely within my rights to do so, but if you keep bellowing and stamping and posing like a bull in the ring, I might change my mind. Denise is here as a favor to Wyatt. She doesn’t have to be here, she didn’t have to spend most of the morning listening to us, and she definitely doesn’t have to sit there and swallow you acting like a jackass. We barely have any allies in this as it is. Are you going to drive them off because they’re not you? Or maybe you have some better idea about who we should be talking to, some other contact who’s willing to come out here and work this through? Or are you just acting like this because Wyatt brought her, and you have some kind of hangup about Wyatt right now? More than usual, that is?”

Flynn flinches. He opens his mouth, then shuts it. Finally, he says, “I – I didn’t – ”

“Just don’t.” Lucy feels incredibly tired, in a way far deeper even than the first-night fatigue of dealing with a baby. “Either answer her questions like a human being, or tell her to go, if you’re somehow so sure we can do this without any outside help at all. For the record, I don’t think we can. But you’re the expert here, aren’t you?”

Flynn flinches again. A dawning awareness crosses his face that yes, he done fucked up, and he looks at the floor. Finally he says, “I’m sorry.”

“Thank you.” Lucy isn’t going to hold out to punish him more, tempting as it might be, because that would go against what she just told him to do. “These people are on our side. Don’t lash out at them just because our enemies aren’t yet in reach.”

She sees a sigh shudder through him from head to heel. Again, quietly, he says, “I’m sorry, Lucy. I didn’t – I never meant to hurt you.”

“I know.” Lucy steps closer and rests her hands on his chest, as his arms come around her waist. The usual way they find themselves standing when they’re close, tucked up in two neat halves. “I’m just – I’m worried sick, my mother just betrayed me, we have a newborn, and we’re trying to launch an investigation into these evil people, and those are only our somewhat ordinary problems. I need you to be there for me, Garcia. I need you. If any one man in the world could fight Rittenhouse, it’s you, but…” She stops. “Lily and I need you to be more than the soldier, all right? We need you. Just remember that. With what we’re doing, there can be secrets, but there can’t be lies. Not between us. All right?”

Flynn hesitates, then nods. Reaches up with one hand, takes hers, and raises it to his mouth to kiss her fingers. “I don’t think either of us want a fancy wedding,” he says gruffly. “Though if you do, we can work it out. Still, even if it’s just at the courthouse, I want to properly marry you.  That is, if you – ”

“Me too.” It’s not a very traditional proposal, though they’re far from a traditional couple, but Lucy feels a smile wide enough to hurt her face starting to spread across it. “I – I want it. Very much. Now can we go back and finish talking to Denise properly?”

Flynn nods, bends down to kiss her quickly, and that’s it, that’s all the discussion they need. They walk back to the kitchen, where everyone looks slightly thrown by the delighted grins – they definitely were not expecting for Lucy to drag Flynn off in trouble and them to then return engaged – but decides not to ask. Flynn sits down and answers (most of) Denise’s further questions in a markedly more conciliatory tone, as Wyatt catches Lucy’s eye and is clearly very curious to know what happened there. Lucy mouths later, goes to the living room to check on Lily and Amy, and glances occasionally at the kitchen to see if she needs to run interference. Amy, spotting her face, says, “That’s not exactly the expression I thought you were going to have, to be honest.”

“I… told him off. It felt good.” Lucy shrugs awkwardly. “And we decided to actually get married, so there was that.”

Amy snorts. “Deciding to get married in between an argument about the best way to take down Rittenhouse? Sounds like you two.”

“I guess.” Lucy thinks of Noah’s first proposal, which checked all the romantic boxes: sunset on the beach, champagne, rose petals in the picnic basket and a ring tied with a tulle ribbon. Sweet speech that started off with how some author or poet had once defined love, and explaining how she fit that for him. It was nice and he had clearly put thought into it, and she felt very bad about turning him down. Saying that she really liked him, but they were still young, and it felt early. He took it as best as he could, and they sat awkwardly side by side without talking much for the rest of the night. Tried to stay in the relationship for a few more weeks after that, but a failed marriage proposal is kind of a sign that you aren’t on the same page, and they decided to go their separate ways. God, that feels like forever ago. Looking back on herself, trying to get back together just because she didn’t want to be lonely, makes Lucy feel vaguely embarrassed. And yet, a little frightened. Her relationship with Flynn is nothing like her relationship with Noah; she knows beyond a doubt that whatever time she has, she wants to be with him. But what if she ends up alone anyway? Or worse.

Fine, Lucy tells herself. She’s a big girl, an independent woman, she can live without a man. She’s certainly not wishing she picked Noah just because he might have a longer shelf life, and she doesn’t have any regrets. Anything she can do to tie herself and Flynn more concretely together, another reminder to the universe that they’re supposed to be this way, they chose it and they’ll keep it, also seems appealing. As he said, they don’t need fuss. Her mother was the one who envisioned a big white wedding. A courthouse ceremony is fine.

Hearing the interview winding down, Lucy gets up and goes back into the kitchen, as Denise is shutting her notepad and thanking Flynn for his cooperation in a still slightly pointed tone. As she’s reaching for her bag, she thinks of something, and glances at Lucy. “Your mother is Carol Preston? Former Stanford professor of women’s history, Carol Preston?”

“Yes.” Lucy grimaces. “As I said, she… can’t be trusted.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Denise unzips her purse and puts her things in. “I’ve read all your mother’s books, I very much enjoyed them. She shaped a lot of my thinking. I know it’s nothing to compare to what you must feel, but it’s disillusioning for me as well.”

“She… shaped a lot of my thinking too.” Lucy’s throat feels raw. So much of who she is, for better or for worse, as a woman, a scholar, an academic, is filtered through Carol’s lenses. They’ve been things Lucy has liked about herself for a long time. Even when her leave ends, can she just go back to Stanford and continue in that legacy? It feels like it would be very difficult to set foot in those hallowed halls again, much as she loves them, and keep pretending that she doesn’t know what she now knows. As if she already knows that she can’t go back. To that life, or that job, or that person, or that home.

Denise shakes their hands, tells them that she’ll try to see if she can pull anything solid out of it, and she and Wyatt leave. Once they’re gone, Lucy checks that Lily doesn’t need anything, then shuts the kitchen door and turns to Flynn. “Okay. Where did you go this morning?”

Flynn grimaces. “I thought you said you weren’t going to ask?”

“Yes,” Lucy says. “I know. And if there’s some very good reason you can’t tell me, I won’t ask again. But if it wasn’t getting the backup Rittenhouse evidence, then… where?”

There’s a long pause as Flynn leans against the counter, arms crossed. As usual, he looks too big for the room. Finally he says, “I was testing information.”

“What information?”

“Last night.” Flynn sounds reluctant, but he is keeping his promise not to lie to her. “I got a strange call, that’s why I got up. I don’t know who it was on the other end, it was scrambled, but it told me that the name I was looking for was Wes Gilliam. Repeated it several times to make sure I had it, then cut off. I don’t even know if it was a real person, it didn’t sound like one. I assume that the name is the one I promised Wyatt. About who is responsible for his wife’s disappearance.”

“Wes Gilliam?” Lucy blinks. “Is that who you were looking into?”

“Yes,” Flynn says. “I’m not some local cop. I still have my sources, my strings to pull, even without the safe house. Wes Gilliam is currently in jail in San Diego, he’s responsible for killing at least two other women. The blood at the crime scene that wasn’t Jessica’s, it was his. He wasn’t in prison when she went missing, so at least theoretically, he could have killed her. But they found the bodies of Gilliam’s other two victims, partially dressed and – ” He pauses briefly. “Sexually abused. They still haven’t found any trace of Jessica. It’s not quite his modus operandi. So I’m still not entirely sure.”

“But it’s a name,” Lucy says. Thinks of Wyatt’s anger earlier, that he’s been boxed in like this and is desperate to do something, anything, to put an end to the hellish limbo. Even possibly stealing a time machine, at which he might well agree with Flynn that that is the only way. “We promised him some kind of lead, any lead. We’re using too many people, Garcia. We can’t just take what we want and give nothing back.”

“If we do give this to him, though.” Flynn restlessly pushes off the counter. “What does he do, huh? What does he do? Probably quits the Rittenhouse investigation on the spot and goes AWOL. He knows about the time travel now, knows that just killing Gilliam won’t solve the Jessica mystery. I don’t think he’ll stop there.”

“You’re not really one to talk about going AWOL,” Lucy points out. “Or quitting investigations to take up others.”

Flynn shrugs. “I’ve been going back and forth,” he says, after a long moment. “Whether we need Wyatt or not. But for now, unavoidably, we do. I can’t give him this information and tell him to sit peaceably and not do anything with it. It’s sure as hell not what I would do, and I’m not a hypocrite. I promised it, I intended to follow through. I still do. But if we give it to him now, and he runs off and fucks everything up, then – ”

“It’s his wife.” Lucy feels obligated to emphasize the fact that Wyatt wouldn’t exactly be ditching them to run off and hit the Strip in Vegas. “And he did hold up his end of the bargain. If he hadn’t – ”

“Rittenhouse might have scrubbed my records anyway,” Flynn counters. “It’s what they wanted, for me to stay here and in sight. So no matter what he did, they might not have come us for the sake of – ”

“We can’t do that.” Lucy puts her hands on the counter and turns to him. “We can’t play the what-if game. That’s exactly what they’re doing, that’s what is going to get us into trouble. I don’t care if things could have turned out differently or Wyatt could have done more or literally anything else. He did do that. We owe him what we promised.”

There’s a brief silence as they stare at each other. Then Flynn says, “Fine. You’re right. We should tell him. But not over the phone, and not for him to go off and do something stupid. I’ll drive over to his and Rufus’ apartment and tell him in person, try to get ahead of it as much as I can. I don’t think he knows the first damn thing about the details of the time travel part, but it won’t surprise me if that’s what he wants to try. He might also want to go to San Diego and interrogate Gilliam first. Could be I can work that angle for some kind of clue as to whether Gilliam himself is Rittenhouse, or just a useful fall guy.”

“So you’re only agreeing to tell Wyatt because you think you can mine the situation for intel?” Lucy isn’t sure she should be surprised. “Never just about altruism for you, is it? About doing the right thing?”

Flynn shrugs. “Altruism without pragmatism is always what gets the heroes fucked. I don’t care about playing by anyone’s milquetoast rules, especially right now. I’m going to tell him, but I need to keep an eye on him and see if I can work out why Rittenhouse gave us that name now. It had to have been them somehow, it’s not an accident. They’re pulling something with it, whether to separate Wyatt from the investigation or otherwise trip us up. Will you and Amy be all right for a few days?”

Lucy bites her lip. “I’m sure we can manage taking care of Lily, yes. But anything else. . .”

“Do you still have the gun I bought for you?”

Chest tight, she nods.

“Get it. Keep it somewhere you can access it easily, just in case. I don’t think Rittenhouse is coming after you here, not if they’re occupied with getting the time machine ready to hurt us more permanently, but I won’t take any chances. I’ll try to keep Wyatt from botching this too badly, but if he does – ”

“What?” Lucy raises both eyebrows. “Knock him over the head and stuff him into a broom cupboard?”

“Something like that.” Flynn is unfazed. “I feel like Rittenhouse is counting on him turning against us, or just dropping out of the hunt, but we’ll see. I also need to ask Rufus more about the technical capabilities of the machines. But when I get home, let’s go and get married, eh? Run down to the courthouse. Whatever else happens, I want you to be my wife. Rittenhouse may very well try, but I don’t think they can truly take that away from us.”

Lucy looks at him, as ever struck by how he can move from coldly talking tactics and strategy, the best way to work through what is undoubtedly a Rittenhouse manipulation of some sort, and with very little regard for Wyatt’s feelings on the matter, to telling her that she is the most important thing in the world to him, and literally all of time and space cannot take that away. She pauses, then steps forward, raises herself on her tiptoes, and kisses him. “I want to be your wife too,” she says, when she pulls away. “I love you, Garcia. So just – whatever you’re going to do, whatever you have in mind, whatever you think is necessary – remember that, all right? Remember that.”

He looks down at her with all the tenderness in the world, overflowing from his eyes and face and soul. “I love you too, Lucy,” he says. “And I believe that we can defeat Rittenhouse, we can save each other, and our daughter, and our family. Get the gun, eh? Get the gun. Then I’ll see you soon.”

Lucy doesn’t want to. As if she holds back on this one thing, she can stop the planet from turning, hold it in place with her bare hands, make time stand still, and nothing else would ever have to happen. The future would not rush at them like a freight train, the past would never seem so terribly unsteady, and the present would stay as it was, just this, just them. But she has to and she gets it, and Flynn kisses her one more time, ferociously. Then he picks up Lily and kisses her too, and closes his eyes as if to wish the tears out of existence, because his gaze is cool and focused when he opens them. And he says goodbye, and he goes.

It's mostly a quiet afternoon after that. Amy and Lucy sit on the couch watching more nineties movies again, Lily snoozing on Lucy’s chest (she seems to mostly be willing to go back to sleep once the immediate needs have been attended to, which is all you can really ask for in a baby). Her tiny hand is curled on Lucy’s shirt collar, her little body molded soft and boneless into Lucy’s as if she’s still part of it, and Lucy kisses her fuzzy dark head and strokes her back, joggling her absently. They finish up with Hook and to continue the Spielberg theme, are about to start E.T., when Lucy’s phone rings.

Startled, Lucy pushes herself upright with one hand and reaches for it. It’s Rufus, which surprises her for some reason. No reason it should, though. “Hello? Rufus?”

“Hey.” He sounds terse and abstracted. “Lucy, do you have a minute? I need – I need to tell you something.”

She frowns. “Is everything all right? Are you at work?”

“I – yeah, I’m at work, but…” Rufus hesitates, as if trying to gin himself up for something, and then it spills out in a rush. “Lucy, Connor made me spy on you for Rittenhouse. I didn’t want to do it, I’m not sure I even realized what it was for, but – I did. I did it. I’ve had a recorder in my pocket, it’s been picking up all our conversations through until the last time I was at your house. I had to turn it over to Connor last night, he said that if I didn’t, the consequences would be. . . it’s not an excuse, I did it anyway, but. . .”

“What?” Lucy’s chest clenches into a cold fist. “Rufus – what are you – what are you saying?”

“I spied on you,” Rufus repeats, agonized. “For Rittenhouse. Everything I was around for when we talked about it, they know it now. Lucy, I am so sorry. I can’t begin to make it right. You invited me into your hospital room, to your house, and I. . .”

Lucy can’t answer. Her throat has closed as well, and she can hear ringing in her ears, as she slides Lily off her chest and hands her to Amy, then gets up and walks into the kitchen hallway. “I trusted you,” she says, half wonderingly, half because nothing else seems to come to mind, nothing that she can get her tongue around. Extended Rufus access on Wyatt’s account, knows in the back of her head that he would not have had a choice, if Rittenhouse (whether via Connor Mason or otherwise) knew that these meetings were happening and needed to insert a mole on them. She half-wonders if Rufus is recording her right now, waiting for her to blurt out something he might not know – does he know about the Gilliam thing? That was after he left, and as far as she knows, she’s the only person Flynn told. And yet. Logical considerations, the rule and reason of her life, have flown directly out the window. In a croak, she repeats, “I trusted you.”

“I’m sorry.” Rufus sounds even more anguished. “I – I couldn’t live with not telling you, and I – Lucy, I needed to warn you. If Rittenhouse knows about what Flynn was – is – planning to do, then – ”

“I need to call him.” All at once, Lucy realizes sickeningly, if Rittenhouse already knew what Flynn was planning when they called to give him Wes Gilliam’s name last night, that could have been the final piece in their puzzle. However they were expecting him to react, whatever they wanted – she wants to shout at Rufus, even though she knows he’s much a victim here as the rest of them, but there is not time for that. “I’ll – talk to you in – later.”

With that, she hangs up and dials with shaking fingers, praying to every higher power she knows for Flynn to pick up. As she does, she unlocks the drawer and pulls out her gun, wondering if the time is about to come to use it in earnest. The phone’s still ringing, but he’s not answering, it’s like a nightmare where everything has stretched out and turned slow. She doesn’t even know if it’s only been a few rings, because every gap between her heartbeats is taking a thousand years. Jesus, Jesus –

And then, there’s a crash from the living room. Sounds like breaking glass from the patio door, as Lucy has to make a choice: gun or phone? Right now, with her sister and her daughter in danger while she can’t see them, and the knowledge that the trap is sprung, the culmination is complete, she doesn’t have time to think. Drops the phone, still spitting tinny echoes of its rings into the air, and runs back in, pointing the gun, as –

“Hello, princess.” Emma Whitmore looks almost amused to see her, standing in the rubble of the broken door. She’s holding Amy by the hair with one hand, as Amy is frantically clutching a screaming Lily, and twisting a heavy gun into her temple with the other. “Caught up with hubby dearest the other day, but I’ve been looking forward to seeing you. First, you’ll want to put that down, unless you want both of them to die. And then – well. We have a lot of unfinished business. I think it’s time to take a ride.”

Chapter Text

For a very long moment, those words – spoken with a curled lip and arched eyebrow, making it plain Emma is deliberately echoing the last time she said them, when she kidnapped Lucy and Flynn from the reading room in Penn – echo in the air. I think it’s time to take a ride. Lucy has hold of her gun, is still pointing it, but Emma jerks her own gun harder into Amy’s head, Amy lets out a gasp, and Lily wakes up and starts to whimper. Amy tries to comfort her, the best one can in the present situation, but Emma’s nostrils flare. “I’m not really a fan of babies crying. Put it down, princess, or I’m shutting her up.”

Lucy’s hands are frozen. She doesn’t know if even Emma is so pathological as to shoot a child at point-blank range, but she’s not about to find out. Slowly, letting Emma see her do it, she bends down and sets the gun on the floor, then straightens up, hands raised. “There,” she says, as coldly and calmly as possible. “I put it down.”

“Good.” Emma smiles faintly, giving Lucy half a look that makes her think that if Emma wasn’t so completely devoted to Rittenhouse, they might be friends. A bizarre thing to ponder when the woman just broke into your house, is still holding a gun to your sister’s head, and has straight up threatened to shoot your infant daughter, but strength recognizes strength, and Emma, a formidable adversary herself, is prepared to acknowledge the same. “Now come on, all of you. You can even bring the rugrat – actually, yes, especially bring the rugrat. Mommy dearest does want to see her.”

“You – ” Lucy chokes. “You’re doing this for Carol?”

“She’s waiting, yes. We have a big night planned, Lucy.”

“She sent you to kidnap us?!”

“Actually, she sent me to pick you up. Warned me you might not want to come easily, so the kidnapping part was my decision.” Emma shrugs. “Chop chop.”

Lucy calculates frantically in her head. She can’t run back for her dropped phone without Emma shooting either Amy or Lily – there might be the chance that Carol has issued orders for her daughters and granddaughter not to be harmed, but there’s no certainty that Emma intends to obey them, at least where the spares are concerned. She certainly can’t call Flynn in time, and even if she managed to tell him that Emma was here, even if he turned around and roared home on the spot, they won’t still be here by the time he arrives. Emma is taking them somewhere else, and if it’s another Rittenhouse black site, like the one in West Point, there is no guarantee of fighting their way out. Amy has a black belt in karate, she’s not totally helpless, but Emma is a trained and ruthless killer. Oh God. Oh God, what do they do?

After a final pause, Lucy can’t see anything for it. Hands still up, she allows Emma to usher them through the broken patio door, across the yard, and through the gate to where Emma’s car is parked in the alley. (Illegally, but that’s probably not something that concerns hitwomen for powerful shadowy crime syndicates.) Emma opens the back door with her free hand and forces Amy and Lily in, then nods at the passenger seat. “All yours, princess.”

“Stop calling me princess.” Lucy glances around, trying to stall. Maybe if one of the neighbors spots this and calls the cops – she doesn’t know what good it will do, but at least it would raise some kind of alarm. But they’re hidden from view by a fence, a tall hedge, and trees (damn Californians and their fondness for aesthetic landscaping). Unless some poor kid on a bike rolled up at the end of the alley – and Emma would plug him anyway – nobody can see them. They are just going to vanish. Possibly in more ways than one.

“Well then, Lucy.” Emma inclines her head with gracefully lethal sarcasm. “How about you get in the car and let’s go?”

Lucy wants to kill this woman with every fiber of her being, with a fury that alarms her. Pulses through her body and bangs in her eyeballs and trembles in her fingers, makes her not that far from thinking that Flynn’s plan to crash through time and murder them one by one is altogether bad. She debates her odds of doing it, even bare-handed, untrained, and three days postpartum. She would definitely get shot, but if she could somehow overpower Emma –

“You really want to?” Emma aims the gun more steadily at Lucy’s forehead, as it doesn’t take a genius to see what she’s considering. “With them already in there?”

Lucy doesn’t know what that means – though she doesn’t put it past Emma to have fitted her own car with a bomb, or a poison gas tank, or anything else – but it drains her of any resolve to find out. Maybe they can get to her mother and she can convince her of how insane this all is. It’s a very slim chance, but it is the only one they have.

Lucy opens the passenger door and gets in.

Emma comes around the far side and swings behind the wheel, careful to keep her gun out of Lucy’s reach. Not that Lucy could take much chance of crashing the car with them all inside, but either way, Emma is not underestimating her or writing her off as a negligent threat. Lucy supposes it’s oddly flattering that she could be categorized as an actual danger, but right now, she just wishes she was. Still, this is going to take other tactics. As Emma pulls out of the alley, Lucy says, “You must have a family of your own. You must have people you care about.”

“Oh, so you’re trying to bond with me now?” Emma smiles coolly. “Fine, I’ll play ball. I make plenty of money to give my mother a very nice life. She has a mansion in SoCal and she doesn’t want for anything. After what she did for me, and what she got us out of, it’s the least I owe her. She’s chatty and she likes lemon cookies and she always loves hearing what I’m doing at work. She still keeps my pictures on her fridge like I’m in grade school. Probably invite you in for tea if you stopped by.”

Lucy doesn’t answer immediately. Her imagination conjures a picture of an older Emma, a warm, matronly woman with grey-streaked ginger curls and a ready plate of cookies. She tries to work out how such a woman could have ever had a daughter like Emma, stone and steel with no soft places at all, and then wonders how Carol had a daughter like her. Not that she thinks they’re so different, or she’s so much better than her mother, but it still seems like a mystery. She ventures, “What’s her name?”

Emma glances at her sidelong, never taking her eyes off the road. “Why do you want to know? Send your psycho husband to shoot her in the head?”

“I think it’s a little rich of you to be calling anyone else a psycho, don’t you?”

Emma laughs, but in a way that makes it clear she doesn’t appreciate it. “I’m not a psycho. You don’t like what I do or who I work for, but believe me, there’s a reason for it. Rittenhouse has always wanted me, always pursued me and given me real responsibility and known I was destined for greatness, and happily, for the most part, they’ve been right. You do know this isn’t personal, right? What we have to do. It’ll be fine. You won’t remember.”

“Won’t remember.” Lucy feels that sink into her stomach like a rock. “That is what you’re doing, isn’t it? You’re planning to change the night that Gar – that Flynn and I met, the car accident in 2003 when he fished me out of the Bay. So he never meets me and never saves me and none of this happens.”

“Clever.” Emma doesn’t seem upset that her plans have been rumbled. “Essentially, yes.”

“You can’t.” Lucy turns to her. “Emma, please don’t do that. Please. Please don’t do that. We’ll – look, there’s something we can do, we can – ”

“We can what?” Emma almost looks tired in the early-evening shadows. “Make a deal? Do I believe that Flynn is going to stop hunting us or trying to destroy us? Frankly, no, I don’t, and it would be a dereliction of duty on my part to leave that much of a threat unchecked, on his word that he was going to be a good boy from now on. So I don’t think there’s anything you can offer me, princess. Sorry.”

“Please,” Lucy repeats. “You’re a smart woman, you can see that Rittenhouse is – they’re evil, Emma. They’d probably turn on you too, if the price was right.”

“Nope.” Emma smiles, as if she is enjoying pricking each of Lucy’s hopeful bubbles with the sharp needle of reality. “Hard for them to do that when you run a major sector of it. The men in charge are idiots, I’ll give you that. They kept me on the bench for two years while Flynn was out causing chaos – the desk job in London, getting boring bureaucratic ducks in a row, rather than letting me off the leash. But that’s why I have to take control and institute an executive purge. You don’t like ol’ Benny Cahill very much, do you? He’s a stooge. I can easily arrange for him to go.”

Lucy opens her mouth, then shuts it. In a twisted way, you have to admire Emma’s ambition and commitment, her sense that she is chronically undervalued by a bunch of incompetent male supervillains and will rise to the top by crushing them beneath her fashionable high heels. “What?” Lucy manages. “Are you asking me if I want to join Rittenhouse?”

“It’s a thought, isn’t it?” Emma changes lanes without signaling and throws up a middle finger when she’s honked at. “It’s in your blood on both sides. Remember Nicholas Keynes? I mentioned him back at Penn.”

“Yes,” Lucy says warily. “Why?”

“He’s your great-grandfather. On your mother’s side. He died in 1918, in World War I, like I said, but he’s the founder of Rittenhouse’s vision for the modern world. All our major writings, our manifestos, our plans for everything, they owe a great deal to him. Who knows. Maybe one of these days we’ll rescue him too.”

“Wh…” There is, obviously, not much you can say to that. Lucy feels tainted and unusual. How many generations back does this go, how deeply is she tied to this? Emma looks at her like this is something to be proud of, something to be envied. “How… how far?”

“I don’t know,” Emma says. “A long way. Carol is trying to prove that you’re descended from David Rittenhouse himself, did you know that? The record of his son John’s descendants get a little fuzzy in the nineteenth century, but it’s possible. So even if you did manage to travel back to the eighteenth century and kill both of them, there’s a good chance you’d never exist. How’s that for a conundrum?”

“You know,” Lucy says flatly. Rufus has told her, and there’s no point in pretending otherwise. “You know that’s what Flynn wants to do.”

“Yeah.” Emma taps her fingers on the wheel. “It’d be a stupid idea, for that and other reasons, but I don’t get the sense that your boy is really into smart ones.”

“Come on,” Lucy says pleadingly. “Come on, Emma. How can the three of us be a threat to you? He was willing to leave it behind, if you just let us have a real chance to live with Lily, we’re not going to – ”

“Willing to leave it behind?” Emma raises both eyebrows. “Until the moment he heard Benjamin Cahill had dropped by Stanford and went racing out, leaving you alone and pregnant, on the merest off chance that there was another battle to be had? While he thinks that America shouldn’t exist if Rittenhouse does? The way he has all but convinced himself to steal a time machine and do it himself? Garcia Flynn is never going to stop hunting Rittenhouse, Lucy. Not even for you. Don’t delude yourself that he loves you more than the war. He’s already proven he can live without one, but not the other. Honestly, I didn’t want there to be a kid in the equation. I’m not a monster. But you two made that choice, and the innocent die in war. And is it even dying if she’s never born?”

“There has to be something.” Lucy is well aware that she’s grasping at straws, but straws are all she has left. She doesn’t want to admit that Emma is right, that she isn’t sure she could ever talk Flynn into stopping the hunt – not when Rittenhouse is this much and this relentless and this unmerciful. “What if – if he doesn’t save me, am I just going to drown?”

“I’ve arranged that,” Emma says. “Someone else will be there to save you. Just not him. It’s this or joining Rittenhouse. And if you thought you’d do that and then double-cross us, I wouldn’t recommend that. We’d also keep custody of Lily until we thought you were ready to raise her in the right way, and Flynn, well. You definitely couldn’t see him again.”

“That is – ” Lucy opens her mouth, keeps it that way, then shuts it. “That is – ”

“You wanted an option other than us changing the night of the accident. I gave you one. You can still remember him, you can still have your daughter. Pretty nice of me, don’t you think?”

“No. No, it’s not.”

“I’m sorry, Lucy.” Emma glances at her with something almost close to genuine regret. “But I didn’t get into this to care about your feelings, and especially not about Flynn’s. You’ll be happier without him. He’s put you through a lot of shit. Honestly, the clean break sounds like a more humane idea to me, rather than you just hurting and brooding and obsessing over him. You yank a rotten tooth, you know. One quick jerk, and over.”

“The love of my life is not a rotten tooth.” Lucy clenches her hands on her knees. “I don’t care what you think. Especially if you don’t care about what I do.”

“Love of your life.” Emma looks amused. “That’s sweet, you know. I mean it. You two do have a sort of twisted fairytale love story, I can see it. If he’d stayed out of the Rittenhouse stuff, I’d have been happy to let you have it. Mazel tov and all that. But since you both made the choice not to do that, there’s something we call consequences. It’s a bitch, but there you have it. Last chance, princess. Rittenhouse, or restart?”

“Neither,” Lucy says through gritted teeth. “Actually.”

“Unfortunate.” Emma takes the freeway exit, turns once and then again, as Lucy realizes that they’re headed to Mason Industries. “Well. I advise taking a good look at everything now. Maybe you’ll dream about it, I don’t know. We’re still getting a handle on how this works, so you’ll be an important test case. If we can manage changing history with this, we can manage it with others. Thank you for your service.”

Lucy has nothing to say to that, can’t even form words, as she glances at Amy white-faced and silent in the backseat. They turn into the Mason Industries parking lot a few moments later, as Lucy’s brain goes on red-hot overload. She could run (but that would leave Amy and Lily behind, and she couldn’t get very far). She could once more try to attack Emma. She could wait until they get inside and see if there’s some convenient vat of industrial acid to push her into. She could try to appeal to her mother’s love for her (it has to be somewhere, doesn’t it?) She could try to get away and steal a phone and call Flynn. Anything besides marching meekly to her nonexistence, or her life’s reset, like a cow in the slaughterhouse.

They park. Emma takes out the gun again and beckons them out of the car. It’s cool in the April evening, and Lucy and Amy shiver in their shirtsleeves, as Amy passes Lily back to Lucy and they stand there in a defiant huddle. They could possibly charge her together, but they’d have to put Lily down to do it, and besides –

The front door opens, and three men in dark suits walk out, clearly Emma’s colleagues and backup henchmen. They’re all the size of linebackers and are packing serious heat, and don’t seem perturbed by the fact that they would be using it on defenseless women and a child. “Good job, Whitmore,” one of them says, which gets a tiny eye-roll from Emma; she has to do everything around here, God. “Let’s get them inside.”

The goons fall into lockstep around Lucy, Amy, and Lily, escorting them toward the looming building, as Lucy has the distinct sense that she is a condemned prisoner walking into a death chamber. Her heart is racing. For better or worse, she’s been half-convinced that Flynn will sense something wrong, turn the car around, and race back here to stage a dramatic rescue. But for the first time, she starts to realize that that might not happen. He probably has no idea. Unless he saw her missed call, tried to call back, and got suspicious when she didn’t answer, but that is only wild hope. There is no way he can know where she is now, that Amy and Lily are in danger as well. This might happen. They might die – or rather, be erased, rebooted to factory default, like a defective iPhone. She has to fight. But how?

Lucy twists her head as they walk past the empty reception area (no Tammy) and through a set of several doors, onto the warehouse floor where she and Wyatt literally ran into Flynn and first saw the time machine. It’s there now, an imposing white plasteel orb banded with blue lights, and it’s surrounded with scaffolding like the space shuttle preparing for launch. Rittenhouse has everything ready, apparently. They are doing it tonight.

The goons come to a halt, and Lucy and Amy stumble to one as well. Lucy is still holding Lily, which severely limits her ability to look for something heavy and solid to hit Emma with.  Panic buzzes blankly in her ears. Is her mother here? Not that that’s necessarily an improvement, or someone she wants to see, but at least there might be a chance, however remote, of prevailing on her. Emma and the goons aren’t about to be moved by tender pleas. It looks like Emma has pulled rank and cleared out Mason Industries for the night, claimed she had some big project (which, strictly speaking, is true) that needed privacy, so none of her unwitting coworkers will stumble in. What is –

“Lucy? Amy?”

The Preston sisters start, grimace, and wheel around in unison, just in time to see Carol emerge from across the way. By the expression on her face, she clearly knows this isn’t going to be a happy reunion, and Lucy clutches Lily closer. She doesn’t rear back like a cobra, but barely. “You.”

“Me.” Carol comes to a halt. “Emma, what is this? I told you to bring them, not to – ”

Emma shrugs. “They weren’t exactly leaping at the opportunity. Honestly, I don’t blame them. It’s not like you’ve been Mother of the Year.”

Carol opens and then shuts her mouth, clearly not expecting a burn from that quarter, as she turns back to her stone-faced daughters. “It will be better for us,” she says entreatingly. “We’ll be a real family, all of us, once this is done. We can get a chance to mend it, to – ”

“Reality check, Mom.” Amy’s tone is cold and flat as glacier ice. “When people want to fix their relationships with their estranged children, they make effort to examine their own behavior, maybe think hard about some changes, go to therapy, see where they were in the wrong, and accept that a new relationship has to be on the children’s terms. Not get their evil secret society friends to erase their oldest daughter’s last ten years of life, partner, and newborn baby. So if you thought Emma was getting in that machine to do whatever, and then we’d wake up having been Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-ed and would be ready to frolic in the strawberry fields forever, you can fucking choke.”

Carol looks as if she’s been hit with something heavy. She turns to Lucy appealingly, then presses her mouth shut and takes a few steps back. The goons grip Lucy by either arm, clearly to keep her in place while this happens – and then, as Emma turns and starts toward the machine, Amy lowers her head and rocks back on her heels. There’s no time for Lucy to shout – not that she would, not that she knows what she’d say – as Amy runs full tilt at Emma. Jumps on her back, wraps her arms around her neck, and manages to leverage enough momentum to throw her flat to the polished steel floor.

There’s a horrendous crack as Emma’s nose hits the metal, and a spurt of blood, but she’s too well trained, and she’s already reacting as she falls. She lunges around like a viper, punching Amy ferociously in the face to return the favor, and they roll around, grappling, kicking, trading hits. Carol is frozen in place, clearly unsure who she should assist, until she starts, “Emma – Emma, don’t hurt – ”

Emma bares her teeth at Carol, deliberately ignoring her, as she and Amy wrestle to their feet, grabbing each other in half-headlocks. Emma is trying to pull her gun, and Amy is trying to prevent her from getting it, and it’s a blur and muddle a moment more, until their arms both twist up, there’s a lot of scrabbling, and then the sound of the shot goes off like a clap of thunder. It’s utterly impossible to know who it hit, if it hit anyone, as Lucy’s scream turns to char in her throat. For a moment more, there’s nothing. Only silence.

Then, slowly, Amy staggers backward, pressing a hand to her stomach. Wet redness wells beneath it, staining her fingers, as she reaches woozily behind her with her other hand and doesn’t quite manage to break her fall. She goes down hard on her rump, grimaces, and manages a breathless, “Well, shit.”

“No!” Lucy finds strength she didn’t know she had as she rips free of the goons and dashes across the floor to her sister, throwing herself to her knees next to her. She has to put Lily down, which she hates doing, as she catches Amy in her arms. “Amy, Amy. Amy, it’s all right. It’s not that bad – Mom. Mom, for God’s sake! For God’s fucking sake! Call 911!”

Still Carol hesitates. Her eyes flicker between Emma, looking like the embodiment of all four of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and Lucy clutching Amy.  Then she says, “Emma – if you go, if you reset it – Amy will be fine, she’ll never have been – ”

“No!” Lucy screams. “Call 911!”

Carol’s face is sheet white. She seems to be having a genuine struggle, though between what, it’s impossible to say. Perhaps she does actually think that the best way to save Amy is to send Emma back to change the timeline, just as planned, so Amy doesn’t end up here tonight and doesn’t get shot. That is twisted in a way Lucy can’t begin to envision, and she’s desperate – she doesn’t have enough arms to hold both Amy and Lily, this isn’t –

A moment more. Utterly, deathly, ghastly silence.

And then, from behind, there’s another gunshot.

Flynn has been in the car with an absolutely murder-faced Wyatt Logan for about – oh, forty minutes, there having been the bare minimum of conversation as they plow south on I-5 – when his phone rings. He squirms around to fish it out, sees it’s Lucy, and frowns, swiping to answer it. “Yes? Lucy?”

There’s nothing on the other end, except for what sounds disconcertingly like muffled crashes. Another pause, and then the line goes dead.

Flynn’s pulse jacks up a few uncomfortable notches. He immediately redials, but it rings and rings without being answered, and the result is the same when he tries it a second time. When he’s quite sure that she’s not picking up, he kills the call and looks over at Wyatt, who has been hyper-concentrating on the road with a muscle going in his cheek. The plan has been to drive straight to San Diego and obtain a prison interview with Wes Gilliam by hook or by crook, but Flynn can feel cold foreboding spreading through him like poison. He clears his throat. “I think something’s up with Lucy.”

“What?” Wyatt, attention torn off the asphalt for the first time, glances at him. “Why?”

“She just called me, but she wasn’t on the phone. There were a few crashes, then it went dead. She didn’t answer when I called back, either.”

“Maybe it was a butt dial.” Wyatt doesn’t sound entirely convinced. “Look, if we’re going to stay ahead of the traffic, we need to – ”

“No.” Suddenly, Flynn has no idea what the hell he was doing, what he can possibly have been thinking, to do anything but stay at Lucy’s side all night, every night. “Turn around. Turn around, take me back to San Francisco. Then you can do whatever you want to Gilliam, I don’t care. Just take me back right now. Right now!”

“What?” Wyatt challenges. “You don’t want to babysit me?”

“You can drag him into the prison yard and beat him with a tire iron, I don’t care. Your wife will still be gone either way, it’s not like a little more time will make a difference. But mine, but Lucy – she could – TURN AROUND!”

Flynn’s bellow rattles the inside of the truck, and Wyatt stares at him, white-faced and tight-lipped. Then he nods once, swings into the right lane, takes the next exit, and loops around to get back on I-5 north, without another word. He is gunning it several miles past the posted speed limit, and Flynn is on the edge of his seat, when it’s Wyatt’s phone’s turn to ring.

Since he’s still driving like a bat out of hell, Wyatt tosses it over to Flynn to answer, as Flynn catches it and restrains himself from a smart remark as to whether Wyatt really wants him to act as his secretary. According to the caller ID, it’s Rufus. “Yes? What?”

“Flynn?” Having expected to speak to his roommate, Rufus is forgivably surprised to reach his still-kind-of-nemesis instead. “What are you doing with Wyatt’s phone?”

“He’s driving. What is it?”

“Where are you?” Rufus starts, then changes his mind. “Wait, no. Never mind. You need to get over to Mason Industries right now. I’m on the way over myself. It’s a long story, but – Rittenhouse knows what you were planning. It’s my fault. Then tonight Emma insisted she needed to work by herself, and – it’s tonight. Whatever they’re doing, it’s tonight.”

Flynn’s stomach turns over. “What do you mean, it’s your fault that Rittenhouse knows what we’re – what I was – ”

“I really do not have time to explain.” Rufus sounds tortured. “And I would give anything for it not to be the case. But we need to get to Mason Industries. Right now. I’ll meet you there, I’ll let you in. Tell Wyatt, if you’re with him. Seriously. Please.”

Flynn hesitates a split second more. He could shout at Rufus, he could demand answers, he could swear to kill him for whatever he’s done, even inadvertently. But there is no time for that, and no space for anything but consuming terror. He hangs up without another word and turns to Wyatt. “Mason Industries. Right now.”

Wyatt looks briefly about to demur, and then doesn’t. He clocks up what would be a substantial increase on his speeding fine if he was caught, and they roar through the maze of Bay Area freeways and into Silicon Valley, laying rubber all the way, until they reach the technological campus. Wyatt almost runs over the Google Street View car as he guns it to the end, into the Mason Industries parking lot, and the two of them jump out practically before he’s turned the engine off. Rufus is waiting by the entrance, waving frantically, and they don’t break stride as they run to him. He swipes his ID card, curses when it blinks red, rips open the control panel, and performs some sort of admirably fast complicated override that finally dings it open. Then he, Wyatt, and Flynn sprint flat-footed inside.

There’s a commotion coming from up ahead, shouts and bangs, as they put on even more speed, dodging and weaving through doors and sealed access areas. Rufus has to override each one, which slows them down – Emma has clearly tried to lock out everyone but her. Then they pound through onto the factory floor, and Flynn’s heart stops.

All he can see is Lucy, on her knees, holding her sister in her arms as Amy struggles and jerks for breath, shirt turning red. Lily is lying on the ground next to Lucy, though she is trying to scoop up the baby somehow without letting go of Amy. Carol Preston is across from her, the murderous conniving bitch, and in front –

Flynn pulls his gun by completely unconscious reflex. It’s up and pointed before he can even think about it, whether it would be safe to kill her or not, he doesn’t care. He squeezes the trigger, and almost simply, it goes off.

Emma ducks just in the nick of time, so the bullet grazes her scalp instead of drilling her forehead. She spins around to see Flynn, Wyatt, and Rufus all charging at her like a herd of furious rhinos, and it’s clear from the expression on her face that she did not see that coming. There are three goons nearby, turning slowly, too slowly, and Flynn shoots one of them square between the eyes, dropping him like a stone. The other two pull their own pieces and return fire, bullets clattering and banging off the steel walls, as Flynn can think of absolutely nothing but getting to his wife and daughter. He hears the sharp crack of Wyatt’s gun, and another of the goons yells and staggers. Emma’s running full-out for the time machine, and Flynn spins and fires at her, but his hands are shaking too much, and he misses. “WYATT!” he roars. “WYATT, SHOOT HER!”

Wyatt tries to do just that, but he’s distracted as the third Rittenhouse goon tackles him, sending his gun flying out of his hand. Flynn reaches Lucy, Amy, and Lily, but can’t throw himself over them to shield them, because Emma is now running up the steps of the machine and about to seal the door. If she gets in there, there will be no stopping her. It will be over.

The following moment is the worst of Garcia Flynn’s entire life, as he has to decide in that instant what to do, who to go for, who to help. Rufus has grabbed hold of a piece of rebar, runs up and takes an almighty whack at Wyatt’s assailant, and Flynn fires at Emma as she is climbing into the machine – this, then, would be the Mothership? He might have hit her, but only glancingly. Then the door cycles shut and it starts to whir and flash, even as Flynn runs furiously at it. If he grabs hold, he’ll be scraped gruesomely out of existence when it jumps, worse than being run over by a freight train, but he’s about to take his chances. “NO!”

The gyration increases, the lights blink, and then, with a pop of bent space-time, the Mothership vanishes altogether. Flynn keeps running, even as it is registering that he just saw a time machine work, it’s real, it’s all real – and it’s too late. Emma just jumped. She is at large in the past now like a wrecking ball, and he knows exactly, instinctively, where she’s gone. There is still a chance, a tiny, insane, desperate chance, and –

There’s another gunshot behind him, and Flynn whirls around to see that a panting, bloodied Wyatt has just finished off the third goon, thanks to Rufus’s timely assistance. Flynn runs back, but even now, he can’t stop, can’t grab onto Lucy and Lily and can’t, can’t, do anything but this. “The Lifeboat!” he bellows at Rufus. “Where’s the fucking Lifeboat?”

“Wh – ”

“In London. Remember? You told me there were two machines! The Mothership and the Lifeboat! In case the Mothership’s crew needed a rescue. There’s another one. We have to go, right now. We have to go after Emma and – ”

“Go where?” Rufus looks stunned. “Emma could have gone anywhere, anywhen, we can’t just hop in and plug an address into the GPS – we were working on linking the processing cores, but that isn’t done yet, we don’t – ”

“1950,” Flynn says. “She went to 1950, Juarez, Mexico. When I was in the Bay Area in 2003, when I saved Lucy’s life, I was tracking a cartel kingpin, Albert Costa. I had been following him for a while, I knew about him, read all his files. He was born in Juarez in 1950. She’s going there to – I don’t know, pose as a nurse and drop him out the window. He never grows up, he never founds his trafficking empire, I never go after him in 2003, I’m not there to save Lucy. It has to be. It has to be!”

“Are you sure?” Rufus continues to look flattened. “We haven’t run any tests with the Lifeboat, let alone full jumps. I’ve only piloted it in the simulator, I have no way of promising that we’d get remotely near 1950, let alone survive, or not be dismembered in the time stream. It’s absurdly dangerous, we – ”

“Just get it!” Flynn shouts. “Now!”

Rufus looks about to protest, and then, as his eyes flick between them – Lucy still on her knees, Amy shot and bloodied, Wyatt and Flynn looking equally desperate – he stops. He whirls around and opens a keypad, starts punching in numbers, and a panel in the ceiling opens with a whir and whine of hydraulics. As it lowers an ugly grey metal eyeball, smaller than the Mothership and clearly less refined, toward the launch pad, Flynn finally runs to Lucy and Lily, scooping up his screaming daughter and trying fruitlessly to calm her. “Lucy – Jesus, Jesus Christ, are you – ”

“No, I’m not hurt, I – ” Lucy stares frantically at Amy. “We need to get her to a hospital.”

Flynn throws a loathing glance over his shoulder at Carol. “Are you really going to do this?” he demands. “Stand there and let your own daughter die?”

“I thought – ” Carol’s lips are white. “Once Emma – once Emma – ”


Something about that – whether Flynn’s sheer volume, or maddening rage, or perhaps, finally, her own guilt – gets through to her. Carol turns and runs off across the warehouse floor, and while she might be summoning more Rittenhouse backups, Flynn presently does not have the luxury to care. He looks at Rufus. “How many people does the Lifeboat take?”

“Three.” Rufus stares at the machine as it descends. “I have to pilot it, and if you’re going too, that leaves one more spot. But I don’t – ”

“I’ll go,” Wyatt says. “Used to spend a lot of time around that part of the border, and near that line of work. Of course, not in 1950, but.” He shrugs grimly. “Still.”

Flynn wants to ask what exactly a seemingly clean-cut, all-American boy like Wyatt was doing near Mexican drug-running – he doesn’t mean just the Colombian Black Eagles job, apparently – but there’s no time to ask. He looks at Wyatt, volunteering to come along on an unspeakably dangerous mission that’s leading him farther away from Wes Gilliam, from Jessica, from everything else he’s been fighting for this whole time. It could be just to see how the Lifeboat works for future reference, but still. Flynn stiffly inclines his head in half a respectful nod, and Wyatt nods back. A truce, at last. It’s taken them long enough.

Flynn turns back to Lucy and stares into her eyes, as Lucy grabs hold of his face with both hands and kisses him as desperately and frantically and adoringly as any human being could possibly kiss another. They know this has absolutely no guarantee of success whatsoever, that he’s about to embark on a journey through time to an utterly unknown end, and this is the very last shot they have. “I love you,” Lucy says. “I love you, Garcia – I love you.”

“I love you too.” He kisses her once more, hands Lily to her, then gets to his feet, striding toward the Lifeboat, as Rufus pulls the lever to open the door. Wyatt clambers in first, and Flynn ducks in after him, staring at the backup time machine and its janky seats with a judgmental expression. Beggars can’t be choosers, but he didn’t realize they were trying to save the love of his life in a fucking Yugo. “Does this thing even fly?”

“We’re about to find out, aren’t we?” Rufus climbs in last and gets into the pilot seat, flipping switches and peering at readout screens. Wyatt and Flynn sit down across from each other and fumble with the seatbelts, as being strapped in seems like an excellent idea when you’re about to jump fifty-three years backwards in a sardine can. The buckle seems more goddamn complicated than is really necessary, but Flynn pulls it tight.

“On the bright side,” Rufus goes on, hitting another row of buttons. “If it doesn’t work, we won’t even know, because we’ll already be dead. So. I guess that’s an upside?”

Flynn doesn’t answer, straining his neck to get another glimpse of Lucy, clutching Lily and still on her knees next to Amy, as the Lifeboat door cycles shut and locks with a clunk. He tries to imagine what this can possibly be like, and then decides then since he’s about to find out, it’s probably not worth it. He can feel the spinning building speed beneath him, more and more, prepares to lurch forward or back in any direction at all –

 – and then, with a sickening clunk, it stops.

“What was that?” Flynn demands. “Isn’t it supposed to still be going?”

“I told you.” Rufus stares at the console. “We haven’t run any tests. Let alone any jumps. There was no promise that this thing even worked yet.”

“Reboot it,” Flynn snarls. “Reboot it now!”

“I don’t know that that’s going to help.” Rufus starts hitting keys, hands shaking. “If the system isn’t complete, we’re still not going anywhere, no matter what I – ”

“We have to. We have to!” Flynn absolutely, categorically refuses to get this far and then be foiled at the last instant by technical difficulties. Yes, a time machine not being finished is a little different from your internet losing connectivity at an inconvenient moment, but still. “We have to go after her!”

“I’m trying!” Rufus enters in an override sequence, briefly gets a row of lights to flash green, and even as Flynn’s heart leaps savagely, they die. The panel goes black. All of Rufus’ efforts can’t get it to spark back to life. The machine is dead silent. They are not going anywhere. They are not going to stop Emma. They are not going to stop her.

Flynn crashes back in his seat, feeling cold adrenaline surging through him from head to heel. His instinct is to shout, to pull his gun, to threaten Rufus to try absolutely anything, but he knows in his gut that it’s no good. He has done everything possible, even pushed into the impossible, and it’s not enough. They sit there in tomblike silence for a moment more. Then Flynn says in a croak, “Let me out.”

“I – ” Rufus is barely able to meet his eyes. “I – I’ve done everything I can think of, everything I – if there was anything else, I – ”

“I know.” Flynn barely feels like it’s him speaking. The words echo as if from a distant tunnel, nothing to do with him at all. “I know you did. Please. Let me out.”

Rufus hits the door lock. It cycles open again, Flynn struggles to undo the buckle, and bangs his shin against the side of the Lifeboat as he climbs out. Presumably Wyatt and Rufus do the same, but he doesn’t look back. Strides to Lucy and gets down on the floor next to her, taking her head in his hand and leaning their foreheads together. “I’m – ” He can’t get the words out. “Lucy, I’m so sorry. I’ve failed us. I’ve failed.”

“No.” Lucy is holding onto Amy with one hand and Lily with the other, she doesn’t have enough to spare for Flynn, but she presses her face into his, as he can taste the salt of her tears on his lips. “You didn’t. You didn’t fail us.”

Flynn tries to answer, but he can’t get the words through the massive, unbearable wreckage in his chest, the pieces of his broken heart, as he takes his love’s face in his hands and cradles it, gazes at her, gazes at her as if he can’t have enough – because in fact, he can’t. He can hear sirens in the distance, wonders if Carol actually went to call an ambulance for Amy, and isn’t sure if they are ever going to find out. He looks down at Lily, lets her tiny hand wrap around his finger, bends to kiss her, as he puts his arms around Lucy and the baby and Lucy tries awkwardly to get Amy’s head into her lap. Both of them shake with crying. Amy’s eyes are closed, her face grey. It’s not altogether clear if she’s still breathing.

“I love you,” Lucy says, desperate and ragged, over and over. “I love you, Garcia, I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you. I’m not going to forget you, it’s not going to happen. I’ll remember, I’ll find you, I’ll find you.”

Yet again, even as the words are spilling from her in a ragged gasp, Flynn can’t bear to get his tongue around the same. He cradles her face, touches her chin with his thumb, kisses her eyes and her mouth and her nose. He can hear (or perhaps only thinks he does) far off, a rushing noise. Like a freight train speeding down a tunnel, or wind over water, the onset of a coming storm, the instant before the thunder claps and the lightning strikes. Before the rain sighs down, and all the world is swept clean.

He stares into Lucy’s eyes. Kisses her one last time.

“I love you,” he breathes back to her, not sure if he’s said it in English, or Croatian, or Russian, or German, or Spanish, or any or all of them at once. “I love you, Lucy, I love you. You and Lily, I won’t forget, I won’t, I love you, I won’t forge – ”

The word is never finished.

Instead, indeed, it is never spoken at all.

Chapter Text

July 21, 2014

There is no one word in the English language that is really sufficient to describe the scale of São Paulo, Brazil. Huge has a decent stab, but still doesn’t get there. When the eggheads who study urban planning and population density and civil engineering use terms like “macrometropolis” and “megapolis” to describe it, you start to realize the shortcomings. It’s not actually the biggest city in the world; it’s something like eighth or ninth, including the metropolitan area, but right now, it might be. It is a sea of endless buildings between distant blue mountains, known for its notoriously changeable weather, a city to which “diverse” likewise does no justice, a melting pot and a global powerhouse. It’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere, so it’s not very hot. In fact, the temperature struggled to get above fourteen degrees Celsius today, and a fine Atlantic drizzle is dampening the pavement outside, bleared in the endless lights. It’s ten o’clock at night in a down-at-heel bar in Vila Andrade, not far from the poor Paraisópolis favela on one side and the wealthy district of Morumbi on the other, and Garcia Flynn intends to keep drinking as long as they’re going to serve him.

Ogroman, he thinks. Maybe ogroman does as a word for this place. It’s Croatian, means “vast, tremendous, oversized, immense.” It also sounds a bit like “ogre,” in English. Ogre-man, which he isn’t altogether sure he isn’t, become something monstrous and deformed and barely human that cannot venture into the sun without turning to stone. São Paulo’s sheer magnitude is his refuge: nobody can find him here, or at least he’s fairly sure they can’t. A needle in thirty million haystacks, a completely anonymous blip on nobody’s radar. His Portuguese is rudimentary, but he knows enough to order drinks, and for now, that has to do.

The bartender passes him a glass, Flynn grunts in thanks, and puts a crumpled five-real note on the counter, as this isn’t usually the sort of place where you run a tab. He’s not even sure what he ordered, but he also isn’t going to be terribly particular, as long as it does its job. He has been in São Paulo for three days, and his wife and daughter have been dead for two weeks. No, not dead. That sounds sedate, easy, like the “passed away” bullshit that people use to make it sound peaceful and palatable. No. Murdered. Murdered in the middle of the night by a full hit squad, the muffled thump of silencers and bullets flying in the dark. He barely got out of there alive himself. He honestly wishes he hadn’t.

Flynn lifts the glass to his lips and throws down a burning gulp of whatever local poison is within. It doesn’t taste good so much as it’s a promise that eventually, with enough repeated applications, he might be numb for a little while. He has his gun back at the room if it gets too much tonight. That’s the comfort. Make it through one more day if you can think of any reason to, and kill yourself if you can’t. When the only thing burned into his brain is the image of Iris in her little flowered pajamas with a bullet hole in her head, Lorena half-fallen over her where she was trying to shield her, that’s the place he goes.

Rittenhouse. Flynn takes another drink. When he took the fairly routine corporate finance job for his old buddies at the NSA, he didn’t see anything unusual about it. Broke the encryption and discovered something about a company named Rittenhouse funneling huge off-the-books sums of money to tech billionaire Connor Mason, through multiple offshore accounts in the Caymans. Intended, of all the things, to fund a time travel project. Flynn figured they were just crazy, but not his business. He flagged the transfers to his contact, who said they’d take care of it. Flynn thought nothing more of it. Went on with his life.

Four nights later, Lorena thought she heard Iris cough. Got up to check on her.

That was when, in under ten minutes, Garcia Flynn’s entire world was destroyed.

He has no solid proof. He has nothing. In fact, when he tried to call the police, call fucking someone, as if there’s any ordinary authority that has any jurisdiction over this, he discovered that he was the prime suspect in the murder. Everyone knows the husband probably snapped and gunned down his family one night, that’s how it usually goes. The killers – Flynn knows in his gut, he knows somehow that it was these Rittenhouse people – have framed him for the crime and they want him dead or alive, and his only choice was to go off the grid and on the run. He still has a few tricks up his sleeve, so he got out of Dubrovnik and went to South America because it seemed the farthest away. He wants revenge, it’s the only reason he hasn’t stuck his gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, but he has no idea how to start to go about getting it. They appeared from the shadows and destroyed everything and vanished again. How do you fight smoke? How do you even catch it?

(Nothing, the darkness chants at him. Nothing. You have nothing. You are nothing. You should just go back to the room and get it over with.)

Later, Flynn thinks. Later. It wouldn’t be the first dead body they’ve had to carry out of that place, he’s sure, though if he’s going to make a mess, he should truck up into the hills and keep it to himself. They might not find his corpse for weeks or months, and there is something morbidly alluring about the idea of dying under the stars, staring up at them until he sees Lorena smiling at him, and it’s just a bad dream, and all the world falls away and it is all gone, it is all gone. But he can’t do that just yet without at least trying to take the bastards down with him. He has to think of something.

Right now, however, Flynn has thought all day and still come up with a big fat blank, and he’s not drinking because he wants to keep doing it. He yearns and aches and pleads for oblivion, for a sweet soft coma, and he doesn’t think there’s enough alcohol in the world for it. He has a little money, and he can get more if he puts his mind to it, but unless he’s going to bounce from place to place like a billiard ball, he needs to get himself together and decide what he’s going to do. Or he could just find somewhere high and jump. Christ the Redeemer is in Rio de Janeiro, but Flynn could head up there and really make a splash. Rub it in Christ’s face for not being any sort of redeemer. Tourists gawking at his broken body, probably a few headlines. Rittenhouse would definitely know he was dead, then. Might frame it and put it on their wall. In that case, no. He can’t give them that satisfaction.

He finishes the first drink and pushes the glass back for a second one, which is duly supplied. The door opens and closes, letting in wafts of cool, damp night air, as patrons come and go. There is a group of young men with gel-slicked hair, leather jackets and flashy necklaces, who might well know where to get the stronger sort of anti-depressant, but Flynn doesn’t feel up to it right now. A few women with too much makeup, short vinyl skirts, and platform heels circulate through the drinkers; he suspects they’re hookers drumming up business. There’s a futebol match on the TV in the corner, which Flynn stares at for the simple need to look at something besides his own reflection in the dirty bar mirror. His wife and daughter are dead. He’s not the only man who this has ever happened to, but it feels like he is. His wife and daughter are dead. His future is gone. His entire world has been erased.

One of the hookers comes up next to him, trailing her fingers over his arm, and Flynn brusquely sends her packing. He doesn’t want to be touched, he doesn’t want company or solace. He wants a miracle, and he knows he isn’t going to get one; the world is, as well proven, not that gracious and not that forgiving. Another drink, or call it curtains and go back to the room? He’s not sure he can resist the pistol tonight. If he’ll survive, he has to walk.

When the second drink is down to the dregs, Flynn cursorily pushes it back and asks for something else, just to change it up. The bartender looks askance at him; even in a place like this, it’s obvious when someone is intending to drink until they end up on the floor, and he probably doesn’t want to have to drag someone of Flynn’s size out by his heels. But Flynn puts another bill, of a larger denomination, on the counter, and the bartender hesitates, then pours him a third. Flynn isn’t drunk, since it takes a considerable amount, but he can feel the floating edges of not-total-sobriety. Good. That’s the point. He takes a sip, then another.

The liquid in the glass has dipped to about halfway when the door opens again. He doesn’t bother looking around, since it’s not going to be anyone he’s interested in. All he wonders is if it’s stopped raining, because if it has, he might think about leaving (how permanently is still up for debate). It might be stupid to care whether or not he gets wet, but he has to cling to whatever excuse he has by his fingernails, because otherwise he will –

“Hello, Garcia.”

Flynn almost has a heart attack. He jostles the glass of whiskey with his elbow, splashes it on the scarred wood, and whirls around. He doesn’t have his gun on him, if only because the temptation to use it might overtake him, but he doesn’t need it to kill someone. How – how – after all his precautions, his certainty that the megacity would hide him, after leaving no trace, has Rittenhouse found him? He’s had just enough to drink that the urgent command from his brain to snap into Terminator mode gets lost before being fully received by his body. Half-stumbles as he knocks the stool, prepares to fight whatever operative this is in the middle of some slovenly dive bar in –

And at that, he freezes.

The woman facing him could very well be Rittenhouse, and he’s certainly not ruling out the possibility that she is, but she has both hands up, clearly aware that she has startled him and that, given his current mental state, it might not have been the best idea. She holds his eyes as he stares at her in a confused, bleary, furious haze, waiting to be sure that he isn’t going to lunge at her. Then she says gently, “I’m sorry. How about you sit back down?”

Flynn tries to answer, but his tongue is glued to the roof of his mouth for more reasons than just the percentage of alcohol in his bloodstream. She’s about his age – forty, give or take a few years – and she’s beautiful. Petite and trim, with shiny dark hair that shows just an elegant touch of silver at the temples, and a few lines around her soft brown eyes. She’s stylishly dressed in skinny jeans, a long coat, silk blouse, and scarf, and she’s spoken to him in English, with an American accent, rather than in Portuguese or any of the numerous other languages spoken in São Paulo. Some faint, attractive floral scent lingers around her, as if inviting him to lean in and take a breath. He’s not going to, of course, but the desire has briefly passed through his brain. She can’t be a hooker too, can she? No. CIA, or something in that department. Intelligence agent of some stripe.

“How do you know my name?” It’s not the most scintillating question in the world, but it begs asking anyway. He sinks heavily back onto the barstool. “Look, if you’re here to kill me, Jesus Christ, just get it over with.”

“I’m not here to kill you.” She looks at him. . . tenderly? Almost like she knows him. “I’m sorry for surprising you. My name’s Lucy. Lucy Preston.”

She holds out her hand, and before Flynn has any idea what he’s doing, he shakes it. It’s small, like her, but her grip is strong, and since it’s the first time he has touched anyone in any capacity for two weeks, it’s a shock, a reminder that there is still a physical, concrete world beyond the tortured hellscape of his thoughts. He almost wants to hold on, but this total stranger (is she a stranger?) has not come here to be his emotional crutch. He withdraws and clenches his fist on his thigh, trying to stop it trembling. Finally he says roughly, “If you’re not here to kill me, what the fuck do you want?”

“It’s complicated.”  Lucy looks at the remnants of his drink. “You might want another.”

Flynn grunts. “I’ve had a few already.”

“I suppose you have.” She tilts her head, studying him with that strange, soft look that both unnerves and intrigues him. “Do you want to talk here?”

“Where else?”

“All right.” She signals the bartender and orders a drink of her own in serviceable Portuguese, though it sounds like she’s practiced the phrase. Flynn keeps watching her carefully, waiting for any hint what her game is. When she’s gotten her glass and taken a sip, she says, “This is going to sound insane, and hopefully you’ll hear me out before you make a decision. There really isn’t an easy way to start, so. . . well. I know who you are, I know what happened to your family, and I know that you’d do anything for revenge on Rittenhouse. I’m here to tell you that there’s a chance.”

That, despite himself, snaps Flynn’s spine straight like a whip. Some of the fuddled torpor burns off, almost that fast, and he stares at her narrowly. “How do you know about – ”

“Again.” Lucy raises a hand. “Let me finish?”

He bites his tongue, though his head has turned into such a cyclone that he has to force himself to pay attention. He looks at her expectantly, as she reaches into her jacket pocket and removes a slim black leather book, monogrammed with the initials LP in the lower right corner. “This is my journal. I want you to read it.”

“You. . . want me to read your journal?” Flynn blinks. Anger is starting to replace confusion. “You come here promising revenge on Rittenhouse – when I still don’t know how you even know that name – and instead you give me your fucking diary? What, am I supposed to read about your high school crushes and – ”

“This isn’t an ordinary diary.” Lucy’s tone remains level, though there’s a certain aggravation that suggests, heartbroken and spiraling as she knows he is, he’s still frustrating her with his inability to follow simple instructions. Viz., keeping his fucking mouth shut for thirty seconds and letting her talk. “As I said, this was going to sound insane. That journal is going to help you take down Rittenhouse. And – well, we’ll start with that.”

“And how the hell is it going to do that?”

“Because – ” Lucy takes a deep breath. “Because I came here from the future.”

That, as might be expected, hits Flynn between the eyes like a bowling ball. He stares at her, waiting for her to proffer some, any other explanation, half-wanting to shout at her for thinking it would be funny to come here and pick the heartbroken, suicidal widower and bereaved father for her fucking YouTube prank show. He looks around for her cameraman. If this is supposed to go viral, he’ll kill them first. Finally he says, “I beg your pardon?”

“I came here from the future.” Lucy’s lips press together. “That’s how I know your name and about your family and about Rittenhouse. We’ve already met. We’re – we know each other.”

There are implications in that pause that make it clear she could have said any number of other things. Flynn can’t quite get air into his lungs, so he reaches for his drink and polishes it off in a long, burning slug. Then he shoves it across the counter. “Outro agora.”

The barman pauses, glances at Lucy (Flynn’s almost relieved for the confirmation that he can still see her, since he briefly started to wonder if this might be a total nervous breakdown), then figures that since Flynn has paid him enough for several drinks, it’s his department if he wants to get shitfaced in front of the lovely senhora. Once the glass is returned in an acceptable state of replenishment, Flynn takes another gulp. The tipsiness is starting to be less pleasant, a grating buzz like a nail between his eyes, and is on the verge of proceeding to full-on drunk. There’s something to be said for just quaffing it all and passing out, but Lucy hands him a glass of water, and he finds himself taking it. Finally he says, “You know there’s no way I actually believe you, don’t you?”

“Yes.” Lucy hasn’t broken character, if this is an act, or summoned some hipster with a man-bun to appear from behind a video camera. “Honestly, I don’t blame you.”

Flynn debates what to say. He could be much crueler, he could lash out, he could tell her to take her ill-conceived practical joke and shove it up her ass, but something – he has no idea what – is making him hesitate. Maybe it’s just a testament to his desperation, that any lead, no matter how ludicrous, might be the difference between life and death tonight. She knows about Rittenhouse. She knows his name. Even if not from goddamn time travel, she learned those somewhere. And the way she has been looking at him, with tenderness and sympathy and care. . . perhaps he’s just too small and weak and shattered to stand up, but he can’t quite bear to remove himself from it, not yet. Even if it’s all a lie or a trick. Maybe especially if it is. Reality is too much and he could do with a few comforting illusions.

After a moment, he pushes his drink aside and takes another sip of the water instead. “The future,” he says, with something between sarcasm and curiosity. “When?”

“I can’t tell you that exactly. We’ll say the relatively near future.”

“Convenient.” Flynn toasts her sardonically. “No firm dates.”

“Time travel is very confusing.” It seems as if this is probably the understatement of the millennium, but Lucy says it simply and almost apologetically, as if she really would tell him if she could. “I don’t know what I would risk changing if I told you too much, and things have happened in a certain way that. . .” She trails off. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry.” Flynn considers that. He isn’t sure he wants to ask for what, or if she would tell him. “So you’re going to appear, tell me that time travel is real, hand me some magic diary, and think that this will take down Rittenhouse? You can’t know what they are, if you think that’s going to work. You can’t possibly – ”

“Can’t I?” Lucy’s eyes flash. For the first time, she looks downright formidable, a mature and beautiful and slightly terrible queen – no Snow White evil stepmother, but no gentle, naïve princess frolicking with the songbirds either. She stands half up, staring at him. “I can’t know what Rittenhouse is? Do you think, do you remotely think, that I would have done this, that I would have risked everything to come here and find you, if I didn’t know exactly who they are? They killed Lorena and Iris, and before that, they – never mind. But they’ve taken more from you than you even know. I’m here because I’m willing to do whatever it takes to stop them. Is that you too, or not?”

Despite himself, Flynn is jolted. He recognizes the anger in her voice, because it’s the same rage that has been burning unceasingly through him, turning him to ash and soot and char, stripping away and tearing up everything he used to be, any soft place there ever was. He opens his mouth, then shuts it, even as Lucy takes a considerable slug of her own drink. He almost feels as if he should apologize, though she’s the one who turned up here spouting deluded fairytales. There’s a fraught silence, until he says, “All right.”

Lucy raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t answer. She wipes her mouth and leans on the counter, still too beautiful and put-together and glamorous for a shithole like this, composed and mesmerizing even in her anger. She controls it well, has taken it out and then put it back in its box, but it’s clear that it rubs raw nonetheless. She takes another deep breath, then says, “I’m sorry. I realize the burden of proof rests with me here. I brought the journal this time, I wrote everything down – well, as much as I could. It was actually your idea. Sort of.”

“What?” Flynn is thrown by that. “How can it have been my idea?”

“It. . .” Lucy debates something with herself, then shakes her head. “There are. . . there are other ways things happened before,” she says at last, unhelpfully. “We’re working on retrieving some of those, but it – anyway, it’s complicated. The best way I can describe it is the garden of forking paths. You walk in, and you see all the choices that you could have made, all the realities you could have existed in, branching off to every side. You can only walk one course through the maze, and that becomes your life. But there are echoes of what used to be, what might have been, or what was taken away. They’re still there somehow, on some quantum level, with some leftover trace that can be found in the time stream. Glimpsed, perhaps, if not recaptured. You and I, in one of those, we were – ” For the first time, her voice cracks. “There’s a reason I’m here for you.”

Flynn is even more thrown, understandably, even as Lucy turns her face away as if she didn’t mean for him to see that. He finds himself fishing out his handkerchief and offering it, some idiotic gentlemanly reflex, as she takes it, dabs at her eyes, and hands it back. “Yes,” she says, her tone once more cool and businesslike. “Anyway. It’s not random. How do you think I could have found you tonight, in a city this size, if I wasn’t here for you? If I didn’t know, in fact, exactly where you were going to be?”

“I don’t know,” Flynn says uncertainly. “You could have been looking for me for a while.”

Lucy snorts. “Do you really think that would work? Going door-to-door in all the gin joints in the world? Across this city, across the entire world?”

Flynn has to admit, the odds seem low. He doesn’t know if that means he believes her or not, so he takes a few more sips of water. He wants to judge if this seems remotely sensible at even partial sobriety, or if the alcohol is the only reason he’s entertained it thus far. There is certainly a part of him that is touched at the idea that she’s traveled through time and space to see him, that they have some sort of deep connection she can’t or won’t explain, but the rest of him is horrified. His wife died two weeks ago. He is not in the market for any other options. He wants Lorena back. Lorena. Whoever Lucy Preston is, she can’t be what he’s really looking for, what he needs. But walking into this place looking like an angel, telling him this impossible story, and seeming to think he might actually believe it. . .

He doesn’t know. There is another part of him that is well aware he was just asking for a miracle, and this seems as close as it’s possible to get. He’s prayed to God for answers, he’s begged for anything – that was, when he wasn’t screaming his pain and rage into the empty, uncaring void, swearing and cursing and bleeding. Lorena was the believer more than him, though he went to church to humor her, but Lorena is the one who was murdered in cold blood in her own home, trying to save her five-year-old daughter from men with machine guns who did not turn a hair. How can God have let that happen, if He is any sort of God worth His salt? Flynn knows the technical term: theodicy, or the question of how the existence of evil is compatible with a loving and powerful divinity. None of the explanations he has heard have ever quite satisfied him. This, even less.

There’s another silence as he and Lucy stare at each other. God, she is beautiful. Disloyal as Flynn feels, he’s a man with eyes, and he can’t quite take them off her. He glances at her hands, as if in search of a ring. He still wears his own, he can’t imagine wanting to take it off, but her fingers are bare, keeping their secrets. He wants to ask more about how they’re supposed to be connected – is this some sort of past-life nonsense, does she think they’re the reincarnations of Antony and Cleopatra, or something else to add to her clearly quite eccentric beliefs about the nature of reality? What’s even stranger is that he keeps having momentary, elusive flashes of something just below the surface, like sunlight on goldfish in a pond, that he cannot grab or hold onto. Is this hypnosis? Power of suggestion? She said something outré, and now he’s adjusting his beliefs to accommodate it? He’s been a soldier and a special operative for a long time. He can usually see mind tricks coming a mile off.

“I’m not sure if you’re crazy,” Flynn says at last. “There’s still a good chance you are. But I think you believe you’re telling the truth. If nothing else.”

Lucy seems to accept that is a start, given what she’s just asked him to swallow. She pushes the journal toward him. “Please. Take it.”

Flynn looks at it. He wants to ask if there’s a piece of Voldemort’s soul contained in it, because it seems like it might be a pertinent question, but he takes it and puts it in his jacket pocket. Then he gets to his feet, and promptly staggers enough that Lucy notices. “Come on,” she says. “How about you let me walk you back to where you’re staying?”

This is almost adorable, given that Flynn is a six-foot-four ex-commando with extensive military training, and Lucy is a five-foot-five woman who doesn’t look likely to be Black Widow in disguise. But he oddly doesn’t want her to go just yet, and he reminds himself that it’s really him doing the favor for her, making sure a foreign woman on the streets alone in a huge city, late at night, doesn’t get into any unfortunate situations. The ground, however, does feel a little farther away than usual, and he weaves his way to the door, Lucy bobbing at his elbow. He pushes it open and strides out into the night. Drops of mist bead finely in the air, but it isn’t raining anymore. Cars drone by, splashing puddles. The coolness is bracing against his hot face. For once, it feels good to breathe.

Lucy walks quietly beside him, dark hair tugged by the breeze, face intent and inward-looking. She doesn’t seem in a hurry, and he is absurdly tempted to ask where she parked the time machine (that has to be how she got here, right?) and if she has to get back before the meter runs out. The endless city lights flicker across her face. She is fine and ethereal and even more lovely in the glow, like something or someone not quite mortal or human. He keeps looking at her. He can’t stop.

After another few minutes, they reach the door between an all-night Japanese restaurant and a used electronics store, which leads up into the kind of apartment that can be rented with cash, without much paperwork, and a generally flexible occupancy. Flynn takes his key out and unlocks the door, then steps through into the shabby front vestibule, mail for previous tenants stuffed in the slot. He doesn’t expect Lucy to follow him in, but she does, and then up the narrow stairs. When he glances at her in confusion, she says quietly, “I know you have your gun in your room. I’m worried. That’s all.”

For the first time, after everything else she’s said or hinted at, that’s what rocks him the most. There is not any way he can specifically think of for her to know that – everything else could be a combination of very good intel and accurate guesswork, the kind of trick that fairground fortune-tellers use to read people and come up with something that might be relevant to their lives. He hasn’t said anything about that, about the lure it has on him, the coin toss every night as to whether he’s going to buckle and give in. Shaken, he turns away and takes longer than necessary to unlock the door. Muffled samba music drifts up from the flat below. He might mind it more if he thought there was any chance he’d ever actually sleep.

He pushes open the door into the apartment. It’s a bedroom, a tiny kitchen, and a battered couch, with a bathroom squashed on the end. There are definitely cockroaches, the décor has not been updated since the eighties, and the power can be unreliable, but if he wanted to leave tomorrow, he could walk out with no strings attached. He almost feels compelled to apologize, again, for its sheer dreariness, but he stands awkwardly in the middle of the floor instead, thumbs hooked in his belt loops, half-wondering if he is supposed to be presenting for parade inspection. She is even more beautiful in the slitted light of the old venetian blinds. His throat is dry for other reasons than the alcohol, but he can’t quite get his feet to move.

Lucy looks up at him, as if trying to make up her mind about something. It’s well apparent that there is tension between them, whether or not there should be, and that if she made a move toward him, Flynn doesn’t know that he would turn her down. He’s still a little drunk and he probably shouldn’t, but he is so exhausted and so heartbroken and barely holding up, and she has appeared literally from nowhere and she’s here in front of him. He feels like he should say something about his gun, remind her why she came up, but his entire chest hurts and he is blind and raw and shaking with need. For what, he doesn’t even know. Not her, exactly. Maybe what she represents. Life. Hope. Light. Any remote, wild ghost of a chance. She hasn’t said what exactly she’s offering, what the journal is supposed to do, or how it’s related to taking down Rittenhouse. He could ask her that. He could ask her a lot of things.

Instead, slowly, Flynn raises both hands. Lucy’s throat moves as she swallows, but she shifts closer, rather than away. She looks up at him with simple, vulnerable, unselfconscious trust that shreds his already crumbling resolve. He puts his hands very, very lightly on her upper arms, not quite closing his fingers. Not grabbing her, not trapping her, not trying to give her any reason to regret coming into a terrible apartment with a mentally unstable strange man who is twice her size, but because he doesn’t know what else he can do. Because the desolate, impossible, harrowing pain inside him eases the smallest bit when he does, and he is utterly desperate for that relief. He has no pride left. He is flattened. He is wrung out.

Lucy’s eyelashes flutter, her lips parting, as she tilts her head up. Flynn runs his hand up her shoulder, cupping her face. He traces his thumb along her cheekbone, still mildly astonished that she is a flesh-and-blood woman, and not a detailed hallucination. Lowers his mouth closer, not sure if he wants to kiss her or just breathe her in, absorb her in some elemental way like symbionts, like atoms, like stardust. Her lashes make dark shadows on her cheek. Her breath is soft as a whisper on his.

Flynn closes his eyes just as their foreheads touch, as a shudder racks him from head to toe and he briefly thinks he might go to his knees. But that’s when Lucy grabs his face in her hands, guides his hungry, hollow mouth to hers, and kisses him so gently that his broken heart snaps again. The sound is almost soft, a light, dry click. Then the floodgates open.

He lifts her almost off her feet, arms wrapped around her waist as hers lock around his neck, as they turn their heads and mash their noses and open their mouths and gulp and gasp and kiss and kiss as if this is the only thing they have meant to do since she arrived. Flynn doesn’t know if it’s the case or not, and frankly does not want to think about it, or anything. If he keeps his eyes closed, it’s easy enough to pretend that she is Lorena, and either way, if he is not going to die tonight, he needs this. He can add it to his sins later. He already has enough.

There is not much attempt at seduction or foreplay. This is clumsy and staggering and primal as an avalanche, and there is just as much point (which is to say, none) of getting in the way of it. He breaks away from her mouth, pressing blind kisses into her cheek and neck and shoulder, as he shucks off her jacket and scarf, throwing them across the room. She unbuttons her blouse as they keep kissing, as he pulls his shirt off and she runs her hands over the heavy muscles of his chest and arms, catching a nipple between her fingers. He reaches around to unclasp her bra, and she shucks it off her arms. His hands come up to cup and caress her breasts, and she shudders like the wind.

They walk backwards into the bedroom in a muddle, and fall on the bed in a heap. It occurs to Flynn that he does not have any condoms, and while he does not have any diseases, thank you very much, she might not want to walk away from this night with the risk of an unexpected souvenir (of whatever sort). He manages to pull away long enough to pant, “I don’t have – are you sure you want – ”

“It’s all right.” Lucy looks touched by his concern, that he is able to snap out of his mad blind delirium long enough to make sure she is safe. “I have it handled.”

“You. . . mmm. . . sure?” Flynn kisses her again halfway through asking. “I don’t – you might – ”

“Yes.” Lucy crawls on top of him and leans forward, bracing her elbows on either side of his shoulders, lowering herself onto him at full length. “I said I was here for you.”

Flynn wonders if that encompasses the possibility of what is apparently about to happen, then decides to hell with it. He would have stopped if she said so, no matter how much it might have literally killed him, but if she’s sure – he’s shaking, he’s not able to touch her enough, as much as he needs. They untangle long enough to shuck trousers, and then underpants. The sight of her naked body in the low light – God. For a second he swears, he absolutely swears, that the sight is as familiar to him as his own, that there is nothing strange or unusual about it. He’s noticed, even in their hungry making out, that there isn’t any of the awkwardness or fumbling or uncertainty about what to do where and how that normally attends a one-night stand with a stranger. There is something uncanny about the fact that they already know exactly how to kiss each other. Almost lends a true touch of destiny to whatever she’s saying, and yet. It will just make it easier, for now, to pretend.

They stand on their knees, as Flynn grips Lucy’s hips and pulls her gently toward him. He nudges at her just a bit, just a little, as she takes hold of him and helps guide him, as he slides carefully into her soft warm wetness and almost loses his mind. He doesn’t know why she is here, why she is giving herself to him like this. In the back of his head, he wonders if this is a calculated ploy, if she is making sure that he will read the journal no matter what, take to heart whatever insane thing it says, and want to see her again. Something cynical and intentional, the old honeytrap game. She could be. He wonders if he cares.

Lucy rolls her hips, easing the fit of him inside her, uttering a small whine in the back of her throat that makes him want to roll her over and take her as deep as deep goes and fuck her flat into the bed. But he goes down on his back beneath her when she pushes lightly, straddling him and bracing herself, still breathing in quick, shallow gulps. Sweat beads on her forehead, her eyes are glazed. She seems almost as shaken by it as him.

Their hands reach out and meet, clasping hard, as Lucy pushes his arms over his head and starts to ride him, with long, possessive swoops that drag him against every single bit of her and make him see stars. But then she gives the control back to him, lets him flip her onto her back and brace his weight on his elbows, cover her with his height and bulk, and thrust into her hard enough to make her hips jerk. She draws her knees up on either side of him, wrapping her arms around his back, as he buries his face between her breasts. “Lorena,” he mutters indistinctly, cursing and gasping and praying all at once. “Lorena.”

He has just enough consciousness left to know that he is calling another woman by his dead wife’s name and he should probably try to stop doing that, but it spills out of him anyway. He gulps, he tries to apologize, but this is already enough of a mess, and Lucy seems somehow to have expected that he would. The pace of his thrusts increases, raw and reckless, rasping and rutting. He needs her, whatever – whoever – she is. The realization is coming to him in punching bursts, breathless, blinding, hot as the heat of their coupling. He can’t walk away from whatever she is offering. He has to read the damn magic diary and learn what it is. He has to follow her. He has to – somehow – trust in the utterly impossible. Nothing else makes sense. Nothing else is left.

All further thoughts, however, are driven out of Flynn’s head in the next instant, as he bucks and jerks and loses himself entirely, collapses on Lucy as if his back has been broken, and realizes belatedly that he is probably squashing her. Guilt percolates through him, slow and cold. That was probably the worst lay Lucy ever had in her life. If it was just to bind him to her, maybe she doesn’t care if it was good or not, but he feels the duty to own up to it. Slowly, badly, as if he has two broken arms and legs, he manages to disentangle his body from hers, roll off and collapse next to her. “I’m sorry,” he mumbles. He tastes the choking tears in his throat, struggles to spit them out. “M’ sorry. M’ sorry.”

Lucy rolls over and pulls his head down onto her chest, letting him rest there as she strokes his hair, as he grips hold of her side and presses his face into her. He jerks and shakes with sobs he won’t quite succumb to, his entire body torn between the sweet release of climax and the stabbing agony in his heart, his mind, his soul. He feels as if he must be hurting her, as if his hands are sinking into her like clay, molding her and marking her. She’s tiny, especially compared to him. It feels like far too much to ask for her to bear the weight of his pain.

And yet, Lucy doesn’t move, stays where she is, until he’s finally gone still, too exhausted and heartsick to stir at all. She rolls out from underneath him and goes to the bathroom, then pads back, pulling the covers out and crawling in. He manages to do the same, collapsing, as she slides up next to him and lets him rest his arm over her. He feels like a soldier that has been through far too many wars – which, perhaps, is exactly what he is. His chest heaves a few more times. His hand runs up and down her ribs, her hip, her slender thigh. “M’ sorry,” he mumbles again, eyes closed. “Isn’t what you deserved.”

Lucy doesn’t answer that, at least aloud, but he feels the light touch of her lips on his unshaven cheek. The backs of her fingers ghost along his jaw. “It’s all right.”

“It’s not.” He opens his eyes and stares at her. “It’s not, it’s – it’s not, it’s not.”

“It’s not,” Lucy agrees, admirably steady. He wants to cling onto her, he wants her to make it stop shaking. Perhaps it’s unfair of him to think that one small woman can make the whole world stand still, and yet, he almost thinks that if anyone, she could. “It’s not right now. But it will get better, Garcia. I promise. I promise.”

It’s on the tip of his tongue to ask her how she can possibly know that, until he remembers, right. From the future. He’s too tired not to play along, is starving for any drop of reassurance, however childish or impossible. “What is it?” He has to know. “What am I supposed to do? With this – with time travel. Do I save them? My wife and daughter?”

Lucy hesitates for a long moment. It’s clear she’s deciding what to say, what sort of oracle it is permissible to play. At last she says, “We’ll say you do.”

“How?” He pushes himself up on his elbow. He desperately wants to believe her and he thinks, somehow, that he already does, has made the decision and felt the key turn. “How do I do that?”

“Read the journal,” Lucy repeats. “I’ve written down everything I can tell you there. It’s going to be hard, and it’s going to be difficult, and what it’s going to cost us, and you – I can’t possibly tell you that it’s going to be easy, or that it’s something I’m asking of you lightly. But if nothing else – ” she laughs, dry as dust – “it’s been like this before. I made another visit back to you, and that set things in motion once. I have to trust it will again.”

“What?” Flynn is confused. “I’ve never met you before.”

Lucy hesitates, then shifts his head down to rest more comfortably on her stomach, fingers still playing with his hair, a soft little gesture that seems almost unconscious. “No,” she says at last. “I suppose we haven’t.”

Flynn has a feeling that that is another one of the things she’s said which wouldn’t make sense even if he was sober. He’s closer to it than he was earlier in the evening, but the combination of alcohol and sex and heartbreak is never brilliant for a man’s brainpower. All his strength has run out of him, but in a different way than when it first left him, along with a sizeable proportion of his will to live, when he saw Lorena and Iris’ bloodied bodies on the floor. He has had to bear the shattered pieces of his world in absolute solitude and silence, barely any time to even grieve, when he needed to get out of Dubrovnik and avoid being framed and deal with the logistics of staying ahead of Rittenhouse and choosing a hideout and renting this flat and resisting the ever-present urge to eat the business end of his gun. He has not let it out, not once properly wept, because he is afraid there is no way to recover from it if he does. He still doesn’t know, in fact. And yet.

He cries so hard that his entire body shakes, face pressed into Lucy’s stomach, his tears glistening on her skin like sweat. He tries to bite it back, but he still makes horrible, hoarse, gulping noises like a wounded animal, one long, choked howl that comes out of him over and over. Lucy doesn’t make any attempt to shush him or tell him not to. Finally, she nudges him up so he can put his head on her shoulder instead, wrapping her arm around his back and pulling him alongside her. She waits until he’s finally fallen silent, drained and done, can’t even open his eyes or think about ever standing up again. It seems, even more than everything else he has heard tonight, utterly impossible.

They drift and doze. They’re still both naked, there is nothing between them in the dark, and for the first few hours since the murders, Flynn sleeps without any nightmares at all. When he wakes up, the light in the room is grey, he has a splitting headache, and Lucy is asleep next to him, curled up on her side with the quilts tucked under her arms. He stares down at her, not knowing what to do or think. Is she going to stay? Can she stay? Whatever faces him, it seems as if it might be easier with her help.

Lucy stirs as a touch of fragile sun peers through the blinds, rolls over, and opens her eyes, as he’s drinking the glass of water from the bedside table, grimacing and grumbling. Hangovers always suck, but for some reason, Flynn almost welcomes this one. It feels real, it feels like waking up from the haze of grief and guilt and alcohol, the wastelands he’s been wandering in. He thinks of the gun, one final temptation, and then pushes it aside. It doesn’t have the same hold on him anymore. Its curse has been broken. Now, he has other plans.

“Morning,” he says gruffly, seeing that Lucy’s awake. “About – everything. Last night. I wasn’t very – I wasn’t.”

“You don’t need to apologize.” Lucy sits up and glances at the clock, which – given where, or rather, when, she’s come from – strikes him as oddly and unbearably poignant. “I can’t stay much longer, Garcia. I was promised only twenty-four hours in which this would definitely work, and any more than that was playing with fire. And I have other places to go.”

Flynn bites back his instinctive response that she could. “Lucy – ” he starts. “Lucy, are we – we are going to see each other again?”

“We will.” Lucy swings her legs over the side of the bed, goes to peer in at his shower, and apparently thinks better of it. “It’ll be a few years, but yes.”

“And? Then what?”

“I suppose you’ll have to find out.” She looks at him gently. “We both will.”

Flynn can’t believe he’d be visited by a woman from the future who then is no help about the future at all, when all he craves is a flicker of certainty and stability in the sea of chaos, but he can already sense that it will get him nowhere to push. He watches as Lucy gets dressed, then gets up to do the same. “Can I walk you to your – car?”

Lucy grins wryly. “All right,” she says. “I suppose you can see it work. You might as well have your proof that it’s real.”

Flynn suddenly wonders if he’s prepared for this or not, but doesn’t demur. He pulls on his shoes and jacket, and they step out into the cool, misty morning – São Paulo is once more living up to its unofficial nickname of Terra da Garoa, Land of Drizzle. It’s early enough that the streets are as quiet as they ever really are. A few fruit sellers on bicycles speed past, cardboard crates strapped precariously over their back wheels, and Flynn and Lucy walk awkwardly side by side, not quite looking at each other, hands in their jacket pockets. It’s about twenty minutes to a certain back alley, where Lucy strides up to a shrouded object at the end, pulls the lashed-down tarp off, and reveals a large grey metal eyeball. As time machines go, it looks like the junior varsity squad, and Flynn eyes it skeptically. “You came here in that thing? You’re braver than I thought.”

Lucy laughs. “Like the Millennium Falcon, yes, I did. It’s called the Lifeboat. You’ll probably want to stand back. But, well. This is goodbye for now. Good luck.”

Flynn doesn’t want to ask why she sounds as if she thinks he’ll really need it. He isn’t ready to let her go. “Lucy – ”

“One other thing.” Lucy tilts her head back to look at him. “My younger self meeting you is going to be… well, it’ll be an experience for both of us, let’s put it that way. She will ask you eventually how you got the journal. Don’t tell her about this – this night, all right? It’s going to be – well, I don’t want her to know that way. Just tell her that I gave it to you at the bar that night, and leave out the rest.”

Flynn has to run over that sentence in his head a few times to be sure he’s understood it correctly. He coughs, then nods, and holds out his hand. “Well then… goodbye?”

Lucy looks at him, then nods in return, takes it, and shakes it. Then she lets go, hits a lever, and opens the Lifeboat door, crawling in with what seems less than total grace. Flynn is almost tempted to offer her a hand up, but doesn’t. As ordered, he stands ba