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“You’re escaping?” Austin asks, leaning up against the door. He’s not really interested in getting any closer to Dallas, not when the other man is surgically removing his own microchip. “Why?”
“Like I said, the opportunity presented itself.” Dallas gives a noncommittal, one-shouldered shrug, already digging around in his arm again. “I was always going to leave the Department sooner or later. It was just a matter of when and how. Honestly, I’d assumed it was going to be much harder, but then fate came and dropped you into my lap.”
Gross. Austin does his best to suppress a shudder. “So I’m guessing you weren’t actually at the DPR because the pay was better.”
“Are you kidding?” Dallas laughs. “Criminals pay much better for surgeries. I mean, it helps that they can’t exactly go to a hospital if they’re looking to avoid the cops, so coming down here is pretty much their only option. But, you know, their money also doesn’t come in the form of a paycheck with taxes already deducted. And I don’t have to live in a cell, down here.”
“So why do it?” Austin raises an eyebrow. “What was so important at the DPR that you didn’t mind being thrown in a cell?”
Dallas flashes Austin a grin over his shoulder. “Don’t you have bigger things to worry about?”
He’s right, the more practical side of Austin says. Abbott clearly isn’t down here, so that means your biggest lead was a bust. And if you don’t hurry, any kind of trail he might be leaving is going to be ice cold pretty soon. He could already have left town while you were messing around down here.
But then again, he thinks, Dallas used to work for Abbott, and probably showed up at the DPR to turn himself in around the time Abbott got re-hired. Who’s to say they haven’t been collaborating this whole time?
“That’s for me to worry about, not you,” he says, keeping his voice even.
“Pretty stubborn, aren’t you?” Dallas laughs again, the sound turning into a sudden, sharp inhale. He jerks his arm forward a little - Austin can’t tell what’s happening, but it looks like he hurt himself.
“What did you do?” Austin asks, taking a hesitant step away from the door.
“Nothing I can’t fix,” Dallas says, his voice still upbeat, but a little strained. “What was your question, again?”
Austin thinks of moving a little closer to Dallas, then thinks better of it. This might be a ploy to get him into a position where he’s easier to attack. And even if it’s not, he doesn’t really want to see what Dallas is doing to the inside of his arm.
“What were you doing at the DPR?” he asks, repeating his earlier question.
“Oh,” Dallas says, “I was mostly there to see if they had any of Abbott’s old research I could steal. I’d heard that he did these weird brain surgery experiments on kids while he was there, and I was interested in studying the notes.”
Austin blinks. “You didn’t know Abbott was actually going to be there?”
“Nope!” Dallas confirms. “It was a pleasant surprise, but I barely saw the guy. I was always in a cell, when I wasn’t helping out in the infirmary or the labs.”
Great. So he’s not going to be helpful after all. Austin chews his bottom lip in thought, before carefully posing another question. “Did you get the notes?”
“Abbott’s notes? Oh, yeah. They were in some evidence locker in the lower levels.”
“So how’d you get to them?” Austin asks. “If you were always in a cell when you weren’t being escorted around the building by Rainer, how did you get down to the evidence lockers?”
“I didn’t have to,” Dallas says smugly. “The Underground has plenty of insiders at the DPR, and not all of them are in the rehab program.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Austin asks, genuinely puzzled. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for Dallas to let slip so much about his motivations, and so much about Underground operations. Is he setting up some kind of long con right now? Giving me information to try and get me to lower my guard around him?
“Why not?” Dallas retorts. “I’m keeping you interested, aren’t I?”
“Why would you want to keep me interested?”
“Because if I don’t,” Dallas says, “you’ll leave. And I’m enjoying your company.”
Austin chokes on whatever words were about to make their way out of his mouth, and feels himself flush up to the tips of his ears. He can’t be serious. He’s just fucking around to try and weasel his way out of here, throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks.
“Are you sure you don’t just want me here to help if something goes wrong with your little surgery?” he asks wryly, forcing himself to breathe evenly and keep his composure.
“Well, that too,” Dallas says, chuckling. “Always helps to have a second set of hands when you need one.”
“I’ve never done surgery before.” Again, Austin resists the temptation to draw a little closer to Dallas, to see what’s happening to his arm. “I couldn’t tell you how much help I’d be.”
“Well, I’m almost done, anyhow.” Dallas drops his scalpel on the countertop and reaches for a nearby pair of tweezers. He hisses in pain a few times as he lowers them into his left arm, then tugs them out and holds them up triumphantly, for Austin to see the tiny, blood-soaked microchip clasped in them. “See?”
“Yeah,” Austin says, the word little more than a grunt. He swallows hard, grateful when Dallas drops the tweezers and microchip back down on the counter.
“Almost done,” Dallas announces, reaching for a needle and a spool of what Austin optimistically assumes is surgical thread, not the regular kind. “And then I’ll be out of your hair.”
Austin takes a step backwards, filling the doorframe again, never taking his eyes off Dallas. “What makes you think I’m going to let you go?”
“What makes you think you won’t?” Dallas asks, busily stitching up his arm.
“You’re a criminal.”
“I’m a doctor, actually.”
Dallas finishes his stitches deftly, slicing the excess thread off with the bloody scalpel, and finally turning around again to face Austin. He looks a little sweaty, but no more worse for wear than before. In fact, there’s an exhilarated edge to his smile, as if the surgery somehow energized him.
“Doctor, criminal, whatever,” Austin says. “It’s still my and Rainer’s heads on the chopping block if we don’t come back with you in tow.”
“Say I knocked you both over the head and ran off,” Dallas suggests. He takes a few steps towards the door, then a few more, until he and Austin are only a couple feet apart. “Or that Finn helped me escape while the two of you were busy looking for Abbott. You’re smart enough to think of something, aren’t you?”
“I still didn’t say I was going to let you go.” Austin reaches behind him, towards the door handle, cupping his palm over the lock.
Dallas reaches for the handle as well, but too slowly, the tips of his fingers brushing against the back of Austin’s hand. He catches Austin’s eye, and grins, showing teeth.
“Funny,” he says, “because it seems to me that one of us already knows a thing or two about escaping the Department of Paranormal Research, and it ain’t me, Austin Jones.”
Austin balks, nearly losing his grip on the door handle. “How did you know that?”
“The Department keeps tabs on us, we keep tabs on you.” Dallas’s grin stretches a little wider. “Now, what I’m really interested in is why you chose to come back here. Do you really care about your brother so much that you want to see his attacker arrested, and brought to justice in a court of law? Or did you insist on being the one to track down Abbott because you’re itching for some good old fashioned revenge?” He presses his hand down over Austin’s, on the handle. “What are you gonna do when you find him, Austin?”
“Kill him,” Austin growls, tilting his chin up and glaring right into Dallas’s eyes. It feels like a weight off his chest, to admit it to another human being. His pulse is quick and deafening, a drumbeat in his ears.
Dallas raises his eyebrows. “And when you’re done, are you gonna skip town again?”
Austin falters, genuinely unsure of his answer. I can’t just pack up and leave without telling anyone, not again. My motorcycle’s back in Antlers - I’d have to get a flight, and a ride to the airport. And Jacob won’t want me to leave, not for some indefinite amount of time again. But I can’t stay here. Otter, Landis…my whole life is in Antlers.
“I don’t know,” he says, finally, averting his eyes from Dallas as if the admission is shameful.
“You know what it feels like to want to run away,” Dallas says, his hand still folded over Austin’s own. “Especially from Department work.”
“It was family business,” Austin says.
“Right, but you still understand. You know what it’s like to feel stuck in that kind of situation, like your only solution is to just run, and not look back.” Dallas’s tone is less biting than before, his expression a little softer. “Look, I got what I came there for, and I’ll never bother any of you agents again, if you just let me go.”
“Fine.” Austin unlocks the door, and moves aside. Something occurs to him in a brief flash of memory, as Dallas begins to turn the handle, and he quickly grabs Dallas by the wrist, letting his nails sink into the skin.
“Ow,” Dallas says, insincerely, still grinning.
“You still have Abbott’s old notes? Down here?” Austin asks, digging his nails in a little harder.
Dallas nods, his Adam’s apple bobbing erratically in his throat.
“If I ever find out that you’re using them to replicate his experiments,” Austin says, “I’ll kill you, too.”
“Duly noted,” Dallas says, giving a little mock salute with his free hand. As soon as Austin lets go of his wrist, he’s gone, slipping off into the hallway with only a set of bloody surgical tools to prove he was ever in the room to begin with.