The loud clap of thunder brought him out of very possibly the best dream he'd ever had. At least, he couldn't remember having one like it in a very long time. He was drifting back to sleep, coming awake again at the realization that his dream wasn't entirely based on fiction.
"Echo?" he whispered.
"Yes," she said, sounding wide-awake despite the fact it had to be the middle of the night.
"What are you doing in here?"
He hadn't thought to shut his door for anything other than when he changed clothes. He had nothing to hide from her after all and he understood that waking up somewhere that wasn't the Dollhouse was going to take a while for her to adjust to. He'd certainly never imagined this scenario.
"I couldn't sleep," she said, as if that explained the reasoning behind her being here. In bed with him. As if she belonged there.
"I'm sorry the storm's scaring you, but we're safe. Particularly in the basement."
"I just," she edged closer and he realized she'd even gotten under the covers. Some bodyguard he was, sleeping through someone climbing into bed with him. "Feel safer here. With you."
"I'm glad that's true, but you should wake me up next time."
"I didn't want to wake you. You looked peaceful and I know you didn't sleep well last night, if at all. I didn't think you'd mind."
What could he say to that? What man in his right mind would be bothered by an attractive woman wanting to share his bed? Add to that she could probably do things to make him beg for mercy ten different ways.
"How long has it been raining?" he asked.
"I don't know. That's the third or fourth thunder I heard."
"Really? I guess I was tired."
She laughed. "Well, you're the one who's been doing all of the work so I don’t blame you."
"Thank you," he murmured, realizing he wasn't as awake as he should be considering the circumstances.
"Are you mad?"
"No," he said. "I'm glad you trust me enough to come to me when you're scared."
"I know you'll keep me safe, no matter what."
"No matter what," he repeated.
It was still dark and raining from the sound of things when next he woke. Echo was asleep beside him. Somehow, they'd shifted during the night to where she was resting against his chest and he had an arm around her, supporting her. Keeping her in place?
As he became more awake, he realized that his mind wasn't the only part of him that was of the opinion she belonged here. And liked having her here. He closed his eyes, wondering if visualizing the heavyweight boxers he'd idolized as a boy would make his libido stand down.
Or better yet, gutting the fish they'd cleaned. The only problem with that visual is that he'd found her willingness to not just learn but get her hands dirty appealing.
She sighed softly, her breathing didn't change so she was still asleep and he left her that way. He drifted back to sleep easily, perhaps too easily considering he shouldn't be in bed with her.
The next thing he knew it was morning. She was awake but still beside him, her hand tracing shapes on his abdomen.
"It stopped raining."
"How do you know?" he asked.
"I went upstairs a bit ago."
"And I slept through that, too," he said with a soft laugh. "I'm not making a very good impression."
"Or maybe you're just comfortable with me."
He was and he wasn't. Now that they were here, embarking on whatever it was they were doing. He had no idea what he was going to do with her. And what thoughts he did have here in bed were entirely inappropriate.
"Perhaps. I am sorry the rain bothered you, Echo. I didn't realize it would."
"I don't know the last time I heard it rain."
"I suppose," he said, mulling that one over. "Surely one of the personalities?"
"I think so, maybe. It doesn't work like that. I mean, I can slip into them but what I get is the personality, the abilities not so much the memories."
"I see," he said, though he didn't really. He didn't understand the imprinting process Topher put them through entirely let alone what Alpha had done to Echo.
"I have an idea," she said, letting her head rest against his chest.
"Oh?" He gave a soft chuckle. "Well, let's hear it?"
"Let's forget the city idea and live some place like this?"
"We can't, Echo. It wouldn't work."
"Why not? I like it here. It's quiet."
He wasn't sure she'd really like the quiet on a permanent basis. What he did know about Caroline suggested she wasn't a small-town person.
"We'd stand out as the new people. Even if we came into town separately, we'd still be noticed. The only reason we're able to stay off the radar right now is because it's not peak season. A couple more weeks and the other cabins will have people in them; the lake will have boats on it night and day. We couldn't even go into the local bar without getting noticed. Our best bet is the city."
She sighed softly.
"I understand you like it here, it is relaxing and peaceful. You'll get bored with it quickly, I imagine. Especially once you start realizing how limited our movements can be. In a city, we'll blend in and therefore be free to come and go as we please. Here, we have to be careful about going to the corner store too frequently and draw attention to ourselves."
"You have a point."
"I've thought this through, Echo. I really have. First things first, we need to get ourselves some ID."
"Yours is more important than mine."
"Yes," he said. "You'll want to work, too. Want a place of your own eventually."
She looked at him then. She had such nice eyes, they were one attribute about her he always noticed no matter the programming Topher had instilled in her.
"What if I don't?"
"We'll deal with that when the time comes. You're an attractive young woman…" he said, sliding his hand over her hair, smoothing it down as he went. Even just waking up it was easy to touch.
"You know everything about me."
"Try explaining my life to someone."
"You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone to believe you."
"Again, we'll see, Echo," he said.
He slid his hand along her cheek, the side of her face and down to her chin. He cupped it, tilting her face up a bit to meet her gaze.
"I didn't take you out of there to hold you in a different type of prison. I want you to have a life. A healthy one."
"I hope so. I don't expect anything from you, Echo. Nothing. If you got into bed with me because the storm frightened you, that's fine. But if you think that I expect it in exchange for your freedom."
"I know that."
"Just so we're clear."
"We are," she said, returning to her spot against his chest.
She was quiet for a while, her hand still against his stomach. He wondered if she'd fallen asleep again. He wouldn't blame her. It had been a stressful few days. He couldn't imagine what she was going through. He continued running his fingers through her hair gently, slowly. He was pretty sure he could drift off to sleep again if he allowed himself to.
"I think there might be something wrong."
"There's nothing wrong with you, Echo. We've gone through this."
"No, I mean," she said.
"You mean what," he prompted when she didn't continue for a minute or two.
"Well, I took a bath."
"Oh?" he asked. He'd slept through that, too. Good grief.
"And I started leaking."
He sat up then, looking at her. She had his full attention now. He thought at first this was another one of her bouts of feeling inadequate or as if she would never fit in anywhere ever again.
"What do you mean? Were you crying?"
"No, my breasts."
"Oh," he said after a rather long pause. She was looking at him so trustingly with her dark eyes, as if he had all of the answers.
"I see," he said.
"Is that bad?"
He chuckled softly. "Well, no, but I guess I hadn't thought of that before taking you away from them."
"Thought of what?"
"Your last assignment they not only programmed your mind, but your body as well. That's when I realized I couldn't stand by any longer. Possibly headaches or sickness aside. I'd vowed to watch you closely from a distance to ensure you were okay in that respect."
"What did they do?"
"You were mother to a baby. And they altered your body chemically so that you could breastfeed."
"They can do that?"
"Evidently because it worked."
"So, the leaking?"
"I assume it's normal. I took you away before they could finish deprogramming you. I imagine they had a shot or something to give you to stop it."
"So, what do I do?"
"I don't know," he said with a light laugh.
"The bath felt good."
"Yes. They're sore."
"You haven't said anything."
"I didn't really think anything of it, but this morning they started to hurt."
"Is that why you took the bath?"
"Well, maybe that will help then. I'll fire up the computer later and see if I can find anything on the Internet. I'm sure there's tons of advice out there on the subject."
"Thank you," she said softly.
He noticed she wasn't looking at him any more, since the conversation had started as a matter of fact.
"Are you okay otherwise? Is there something wrong?"
"No, I'm just used to talking to Dr. Saunders when something hurts."
"Oh right. Well, you can tell me anything. I want you tell me anything. You can think of me as the new Dr. Saunders if you want to."
She scooted up on the bed, resting her head against his chest again. He noticed she shifted against him, avoiding her breasts coming into real close contact with him.
"I don't want to do that. It was just weird saying that to you, you're a man."
"I don't embarrass easy, Echo, and you shouldn't be embarrassed about something that's absolutely normal."
"For someone who's had a baby."
"There is that," he said with a light laugh.
They grew quiet then. He was thinking about the Dollhouse and just how little they took anything into account but their bottom line and completing missions. He doubted what Echo was experiencing was life threatening or that serious, but he wasn't sure that would stop them.
"What if I want to," she whispered.
"Want to what?"
She kissed his chest once, twice and his breath hitched.
"I think I'd have to say we should wait to make that kind of decision until we're settled."
"I can't get careless, Echo. I have to be at my best, I can't allow myself to be distracted."
"So, it's not me?"
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't, Echo, but we can't. It's not right."
"You just agreed no one else would believe me," she said, turning away from him. She didn't move from her spot next to him though.
"That doesn't mean that I'm going to have sex with you!"
He turned a little, dislodging his arm from around her. She remained turned away from him and he gave a sigh, realizing he'd insulted or hurt her. That hadn't been his intention.
"Echo, look at me."
"Please, look at me."
A slight shifting of her body, but still she didn't look at him.
"That came out wrong," he said, touching her shoulder. "I'm still getting accustomed to what you've become. For all we know, you're still becoming. We're on the run, our lives are at risk, and I have to keep all my attention focused on getting us completely off the Dollhouse's radar."
She turned a little then, glancing at him over her shoulder. He leaned in then and kissed her shoulder, rubbing it again.
"I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings or made you feel undesirable, Echo. It's not that the idea is abhorrent to me, but I'm still getting adjusted to the fact that you're not a blank slate any longer. You're evolving into something I don't think the Dollhouse could anticipate, and I don't want to stand in the way of that happening."
"We don't know that, but first and foremost, it would be a distraction neither one of us can afford until I think we're safe. We might have to move around a bit, the first city may not fit. I have to keep my eyes and ears open on my goal, which for now is ensuring your safety."
She turned so she was facing him now.
"Thank you," he said. "You have a whole life, a whole world, waiting for you to discover, Echo. TV and junk food and corny movies and school if you desire it."
"First I need a name."
"That you do. I told you to think about what you want to be called."
"Are you going to change yours?"
"I should," he said, though he still didn't like the idea. In his former life, he'd busted people who made fake IDs, providing people with identities more thorough than his legitimate and legal one was. "I have to think of one, too, I guess."
Her eyes fluttered closed. He realized she wasn't the only one who was still tired and allowed himself to fall back asleep as well. It had been a long time since he'd consciously fallen asleep with someone. He found as she turned so her back was against him, that he liked having that again. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew he should send her back to her room. Or get up and get ready for the day, leaving her here to sleep on her own.
He couldn't do it, though. At least not today.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com