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395

"So... do I start thinking of you as the Incredible Hulk?" asked Olivia, after they had been driving for some time. John glanced across at her, his slightly baffled frown more expression than she had seen from him since he had hauled van Dahl out of the car. "Changing personality when you get angry," she clarified. "Although without the colour change, obviously. Which is good." He continued to look as though he had no idea what she was talking about, and she offered him a friendly smile. "Not that I have anything against green, particularly. I'm just not sure that it would suit you."

"I'm not the Incredible Hulk." His voice had lost some of the gruffness, and he just sounded tired now. She was half tempted to slow the car to a halt and ask if he was all right - half tempted. Any more would be a little too much like caring.

"That was still quite a change that came over you. You seem a little more relaxed now. You get it all out of your system attacking van Dahl like that?"

"Maybe." He turned back to check up on the other man, still looking less than safe or comfortable sprawled behind them, then rubbed rather sleepily at his head. "How far are we from the city? We need to get him to a hospital."

"Yes, I'm well aware of that. I seem to recall trying to persuade you about it rather a lot just recently." He didn't answer, his head resting in his hand, supported by his arm on the door. "John? Should I be worrying about you needing a hospital as well?"

"I'm fine." He didn't sound it, and he didn't look up. After a moment he looked away instead, over the door and into the growing suburbs of Rome. She had avoided taking them back by the same route that they had used before. There would be police all over those streets now, and she had no desire to run into them - not in a stolen car, and most definitely not with a half-dead man in the back. Busy looking for road signs that might help her to find the nearest hospital, Olivia was too pre-occupied to continue the conversation for a little while, but once she had got her bearings again, she threw another glance at John. He didn't seem to have moved or made a sound since she had last spoken to him.

"Fine?" she asked, carrying on from where they had left off. He turned back towards her again, the slightly confused frown making its return. "You. You don't look remotely fine. John, you just went crazy back there. Throwing van Dahl around, looking like you were going to kill him. Kill him or let him bleed to death, which isn't too different. I know that I invited myself along here, so perhaps you don't owe me any explanations, but whatever that was back there, it--"

"I'm sorry." He looked away again, but out of the windscreen this time, which at least made him seem less as though he was avoiding her. "I'll apologise to him also if you think it'll help. It was the situation back there. The firefight, and... other things. I was already angry, and I lost control for a while. It happens sometimes."

"So it is like the Incredible Hulk?" She had meant it as a joke, but when he didn't answer, she tried to be a little more serious. "Jekyll and Hyde?"

"Something like that." He spoke very quietly, still sounding tired. "Without the potion, though. At least nowadays. All those years ago... who knows."

"Coded messages are lots of fun. They're less than helpful in a conversation, though."

"Sorry." This time he smiled a little. "It's a little more than I plan on explaining. I'm sorry, Miss...?"

"It's just Olivia, and don't apologise. Hey, like I said back there, van Dahl's no friend of mine. He more than deserved what you did to him. I'd just like to be sure that next time it won't be me that you're trying to play pinball with."

"It won't be. It's not likely to happen again." He shifted a little in his seat, seemingly awkward, and unhappy with the conversation. She reached out towards him then, not sure how far she could go, but determined to make some attempt to connect with him. When she laid a hand on his leg, however, he shifted to one side as though her hand were made out of fire. He even winced. She smiled at that.

"You know, a girl could take that as an insult."

"Sorry." He took her wrist, and guided her hand back to the steering wheel. "Married man. Automatic reaction."

"Not from most married men that I know." She was still smiling, amused by his behaviour, and by her own response to it. She liked him. She had suspected it anyway, but now she was sure of it - at least now that he no longer seemed to be playing the part of a human robot. That still bothered her, but now, with the lengthening afternoon, and the warmth of the sun shining into the comfortable car, and the knowledge that they would soon be dropping their patient off at hospital, it all seemed far away and less important. She would work on him, she decided. He might well thaw out yet. Right now he was tired, and that was as good a time as any to start making her moves. Happy with this plan, she slowed the car at a crossroads, and turned it to the left. Her hands moved on the steering wheel, and she frowned. The right one was damp - wet with a stickiness that she felt as soon as she dragged it along the wheel. It didn't show on the black of the steering wheel, but she could see it on the palm of her hand as soon as she looked. It was blood. She had done nothing to her hand, so there was only one place it could have come from, and she threw a worried look towards John's leg.

"You're bleeding," she told him. He looked at her hand, then down at his jeans. The dark colour of the material was a good camouflage for an injury, but there was a small tear, visible when he moved. He nodded.

"Not much anymore. It's okay, it's just a graze."

"You were shot?" she asked. He nodded.

"Shot at might be more accurate. Like I said, it's just a graze. I'm fine."

"That'll be why you're half asleep in the middle of the day? You need to get that checked out. Why didn't you say anything?"

"To you?" The idea seemed to amuse him slightly, which she had to sympathise with. No matter her overtures of friendship, they were technically still enemies. "Anyway, I didn't notice before. I wasn't exactly paying much attention."

"Carrying on regardless might look good on paper, but it's not that great an idea. Goodness knows how much blood you've lost."

He shrugged. "Not all that much. I've had worse."

"No doubt." Her smile cranked up a notch, eyes crinkling at the corners as she tried to make him smile as well. "But a gunshot wound can be a real drag when you're trying to steal a painting."

"Speaking from experience?" He raised one eyebrow, a gleam of humour showing in his expression, although she hadn't quite managed to coax out a smile. She laughed a little.

"Well, you know how it is. People seem far more eager to shoot nowadays. Twenty years ago, when they saw I was a woman, they'd usually hesitate. Now they just fire."

"That's equality for you," said John. She nodded.

"Probably. Sometimes I prefer inequality. It's a lot less complicated than bullets." He still hadn't smiled, and she quirked an eyebrow at him. "What, that wasn't even a little bit funny?"

"Sorry. Too much on my mind, I guess." The hospital was visible up ahead now, and he nodded towards the side of the road. "Better let me out here."

"You're hurt, John. Why not come to the hospital too? You can get your leg cleaned up, and then--"

"It's just a scratch. Don't try to change my mind, Olivia. I'm going to get that painting, and you're not coming with me. I work alone."

"And you're going to do a great job half-conscious, and with a hole in your leg." She steered the car to the side of the road nonetheless, then glared at him as they slowed to a halt. "You know, it's not as though you're going to be very difficult to find, so leaving me behind is a little pointless. Even if I didn't know just to go straight to the museum, all I'd have to do is follow the trail of blood."

"It's not that bad. You didn't even notice until you saw the blood on your hand."

"No." She smirked. "Oddly enough, I don't look at your legs all that often. Actually that's probably a lie, but at the time you were torturing a half-dead man, and I was a little preoccupied with trying to stop it."

"Yeah." Her words had made him look tired again, and she immediately regretted them.

"I'm sorry. That little outburst back in the hills bothered you as much as it did me, didn't it."

"More than you could know." He rubbed his head again, and summoned a very faint smile. "Happily I don't remember most of it. Look, this is where I get out."

"John--"

"Don't follow me." He climbed out of the car, a little more stiffly than before, but with no obvious sign of weakness. "I don't think it'll happen again, but if it does... it's best that nobody else is around." He turned his back on her, hauling van Dahl as gently as he could down into the passenger seat. The unfortunate broker groaned faintly, but he was unconscious now, and showed no other reaction. "Get him to the hospital. Charge it all to me. I'm sure you know how."

"I do, yes." Her smile was brief, but assured and quite charming. He certainly wasn't surprised by her confidence. An insurance scam should be nothing to her. Smiling back, more than a little distantly, he raised his hand in farewell and turned to leave.

"John..." she tried again, but he didn't look back. He merely threw her another goodbye, then headed off down the street. For a moment she stared after him, limping slightly but still walking fast - then, with no other choice, she pulled the car back onto the road, and started off again towards the hospital. His departure annoyed her, but she was willing enough to take the time to help van Dahl. It was the right thing to do - probably - and she didn't really object to being left to do it. She had not seen the last of John, though. Whatever he might think, she was very determined about that.

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