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394

"He needs a doctor." Speeding the stolen Lamborghini out into the foothills, Olivia threw an awkward glance back at van Dahl. The car had no real back seats, so he was crammed into a practically non-existent space behind the front ones, head lolling with every bump in the road. There were a lot of bumps now. They seemed to have long ago left behind decent tarmac.

"Still breathing, isn't he." John's voice was a deep-throated growl, not at all like the voice that she had heard him use before. His eyes were fixed straight ahead, as though focused on something that she couldn't see.

"He's breathing now, yes. He's losing a lot of blood, John. He needs--"

"You didn't have to come. If you don't like this, I'll drive." He didn't look at her. She fell silent then, driving on until she ran out of road. At some point she must have taken a wrong turning, for she had not noticed any warning signs. Abruptly the tarmac just petered out into a rocky, grassy tangle that led upwards into the hills. She stopped then, turning off the engine, and looking expectantly over at her passenger.

"Well?" she asked him. He shot her an impassive look.

"I suppose this'll do."

"Do for what?" He ignored her question though, as he had ignored the others, climbing out of the car with a muscular grace that somehow made him look dangerous. He had not exactly moved clumsily before, but it had been nothing like this; this suggestion of raw power and force. A second later, when he hauled van Dahl out of the car, and threw him across the hood, Olivia got her first glimpse of something else that was new - a hot, hard gleam in his eyes that spoke of ruthlessness and unspoken threats. She swallowed hard.

"John..."

"What do you want?" Van Dahl sounded pathetic, his voice a hoarse whisper. He was trying to press one of his hands to the wound in his arm, but the blood still seemed to be escaping with worrying speed. Olivia had no idea who had shot him; she had been too busy getting herself out of harm's way to be especially aware of what was happening to anybody else; but clearly he had been caught up in the crossfire. How John had escaped the same fate she didn't know. All she knew was that, as the last of the gunfire had died away, she had raised her head to see him picking up van Dahl and walking off. How many of the bodies had been his work, and how many had been killed by friendly fire, was probably something that he couldn't have told her either. She had not bothered to ask. Instead she had simply chased after him, certain that she did not want to stay behind when the police were sure to be heading their way. Going with him had seemed the best plan; there was a charm and a sense of security about John Black, she had realised in the past. All of that was gone now though. Now there was just a machine who refused to be drawn on anything.

"Who ordered the hit on Marlena?" John's voice was low and guttural, his eyes so fierce that Olivia wasn't sure she wanted to look at them. She had always thought of herself as fearless, and in her long career as a thief there had certainly been very little that had scared her. She couldn't remember any people who had; not since she had reached adulthood, and learnt to fight back. This was different, though. This was something almost inhuman.

"I don't know." Van Dahl was staring up at him with an expression of confused disbelief. "For God's sake, man. Do you think I'd lie now? Do you think I have that kind of loyalty to a buyer?" He had turned chalk white, his usual tan a thing of the past, his eyes widened with something that might have been an appeal. "Stop the bleeding, please. I'll do anything if you'll stop the bleeding."

"He's not going to be able to talk for much longer," said Olivia, quite certain that she should not stay quiet anymore. Ruthlessness had always been a fair part of her own make-up, but there were limits, she realised. Watching a weak and helpless man being tortured in this fashion made her feel queasy, a sensation that was quite alien, and decidedly uncomfortable. John shot her a fierce look.

"Why are you here?" It was the first really direct thing that he had said to her since they had left the house; the first time that she was sure he was really seeing her. She frowned.

"It's my car." There was a slight flare of indignation that went with that statement, and she was glad to feel it. She was a little afraid of him, yes - but she was determined that she would not be that afraid. He frowned, the hostility abating slightly.

"It's stolen," he said that. She almost smiled.

"It's still mine. Possession is nine-tenths and all that. I'm a thief, John."

"Yeah." He was still frowning, and for a moment his grip on van Dahl seemed to relax slightly - then van Dahl moved, and John's attention was snapped back to him in an instant, the fires rising once again, and the grip tightening on his shirt. The injured man went abruptly slack, his eyes fluttering closed.

"I don't know anything," he said. Very slowly, as though she were dealing with a wild animal, Olivia climbed out of the car.

"I think he's telling the truth," she told John. He flashed her a glare, but the danger in it was not quite as explicit as before. He seemed to have calmed down some. "Look, he had a point. Why would he keep a secret to protect his buyer when his life is at stake? He's in this for the money. You can't spend money when you're dead."

"Loyalty is all," John told her, very simply and without apparent malice. She frowned, then nodded agreeably.

"If you say so. For most of us it's a lot more fluid than that. Our loyalty gets bought by whoever's paying the bills, but it has its limits. They buy our skills for a few weeks. They don't buy us."

"Victor Kiriakis is your buyer?" he asked then, and she sighed, nodding her head.

"As far as I know. Look, I never know these things, it's not really my department. Besides, who cares where the money's coming from?" John's eyes snapped back to van Dahl, but she reached out, laying a hand on his arm. "He usually only deals with a voice on a telephone line. We steal things for very rich people. Often well known pieces that would attract a lot of media attention. People don't want to meet face to face in a situation like that. It's all done carefully."

"But you were hired by Victor Kiriakis?" John asked van Dahl. The prostrate man nodded weakly.

"By a man who called himself that. He could call himself Moonbeam for all I care, so long as I get paid."

"And you don't know if the hit was his idea?"

"He's not going to tell me, is he!" Van Dahl fell silent, gasping for breath. John frowned down at him. It had been a fair point. If Victor had hired a bunch of thieves to steal a painting, he wouldn't tell them if he had arranged a hit. He was highly unlikely to tell anybody. Olivia looked down at the blood that was dribbling all over the hood of the car, and offered John what she hoped was a friendly smile.

"Can we take him to a hospital now? I can't exactly claim to be fond of him, but I do sort of owe him a little."

"I don't," said John. He sounded disinterested though, rather than angry or confrontational. She decided to take that as encouragement.

"But would letting him die accomplish anything? Look, we have to go back to the city anyway. The painting's in Rome, not on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere. Right?"

"Affirmative." John's eyes narrowed. "But the painting's mine."

"I never want to hear of the damn thing again," muttered van Dahl. Olivia thought that he was even paler now, if that were possible. She was rather impressed that he had managed to stay conscious for so long.

"For what it's worth, it looked like the others were all dead," she told John. "There's nobody left but you who wants to steal it."

"There's you," said John. She smiled.

"Yes, but that's different. I'm not exactly going to get in your way, am I. We're friends."

"Friendship is irrelevant." John's expression was no longer quite so hard, though, and his eyes were no longer narrowed into quite such unforgiving slits. He nodded. "We'll return to the city. I'll drop the two of you at the hospital."

"I'd rather stay with you," said Olivia immediately. "You might need help."

"I work alone." Hauling van Dahl to his feet, he propelled the unfortunate broker back along the car, throwing him without ceremony into what passed for a back. The older man groaned, and began to slide off.

"This car isn't big enough," said John dispassionately. Olivia did her best to secure van Dahl, half expecting to be told to leave him behind if he couldn't stay put.

"I didn't think I'd be needing to use it as an ambulance," she grumbled, rather put out that her beloved stolen Lamborghini was being put to such abuse. "Which reminds me. This blood better come off, or I'm going to be saddling you with the bill for the repairs."

"I could leave you both here, you know." John's voice was gruff and without humour, but he climbed readily enough into the passenger seat, without making any demand to drive. Olivia climbed into the driver's seat beside him.

"What happened to you?" she asked as she started up the engine. He didn't look at her, his eyes once again fixed on a distant point up ahead. "You weren't like this before. You smiled before. Your voice was different."

"Drive the car," he told her. She reached out, taking one of his hands and pulling it back, indicating that he should hold onto van Dahl as she reversed.

"He could die, you know," she persevered. "Have you any idea how much blood he's lost? You didn't seem like the kind of man who'd interrogate somebody when they're bleeding to death. Not before. You seemed like the kind of man who'd stop that from happening."

"That so." He didn't let go of van Dahl, continuing to stabilise him until she had turned the car around, and got them back on the road. After that he stared straight ahead again, his body language telling her that the conversation was over. She persevered.

"Something happened," she said. "It must have done. What is this, PTSD?"

"Just drive the car." There was a clicking sound beside her, a sound that she recognised all too well. When she shot him a quick, sidelong glance, it was to see her gun in his hand, sleek and black and gleaming. When he had got hold of it, and how, she had no idea. She only knew that at this range, if he fired it, there would be little enough left of her but bird food. She swallowed hard.

"Drive?" she asked him, and a flicker of a smile passed across his face. It was a cold smile, and it did nothing at all to warm his eyes.

"Drive," he confirmed, and with one worried eye on van Dahl in the rear view mirror, she did just that, speeding them onwards on their way back toward Rome.

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