Summary: When an injured John Sheppard shows up at his door in the middle of the night, David Sheppard finds himself in the middle of a desperate adventure. Hunted by implacable enemies and haunted by past misunderstandings, the two brothers struggle to survive in a world gone terribly wrong.
Part one is here
The tunnel was entirely dark, and they had to feel their way along the walls. It was strange, Dave thought, how your mind played tricks on you and told you that your next step couldn't possibly find solid ground. It was strange how there were enforcers outside, apparently wanting to kill his brother, but the thing that was most making his heart hammer with fear was a silly childish fear of darkness.
"You're kidding me," John said again. "A tunnel? I've escaped through tunnels before, but not on… Well, not here."
"Dad was always paranoid." Dave ran his hand across smooth cold stone. "You know that. You remember. Always thinking that someone was going to target us because of his money. Sensitive business information, too. He had this built a couple of years ago." Dave remembered speaking up, telling his father how ridiculous it was. "I guess he was right," he said now, "and we were wrong."
Talking helped, but not much. "Where does it come out?" John asked.
"Garage." Dave managed a mirthless smile. "Quick getaway."
John didn't say anything. He isn't there! Dave thought – stupid, irrational fears. He's gone! He remembered holding Johnny's hand, walking through a sea of tall legs and loud, jabbering voices. He remembered following Johnny and his friends down to the lake, then getting stuck in the mud and crying. The friends had laughed, but Johnny had taken care of him, wiping him clean and leading him home.
Stupid thing to remember now, he thought, when he was nearly forty years old, heading up an international company.
"They'll find the hatch," John said. His hand touched Dave's back, urging him forward.
"I locked it behind us." Even as he said it, he knew how ridiculous it was. He was clinging to something that offered safety only in another, softer world. A few rounds of a machine gun or a small piece of explosive, and the enforcers would be bursting into the tunnel, flooding it with light.
Dave tried to run, but stumbled and almost fell. As he flailed for balance, his hands found John, invisible in the darkness. He heard John suck in a breath. "Sorry," Dave gasped. "Did I touch your--"
"I'm good," John said, and led Dave forward, keeping a grip on him, guiding him to the end of the tunnel.
"There's a key," Dave whispered, "on a hook." His hands groped around, but he couldn't find it, he couldn't find it, he couldn't find it.
Then he heard the sound of a key turning in metal. "Got it," John said quietly.
It wasn't much lighter in the garage. Dave climbed the ladder, and scraped his hand across his face as if he could erase the memory of the fear and the darkness. The helicopter was silent now, but he could still hear the sound of shouting voices. His car keys rattled, cold and familiar. "Get in," he hissed at John.
"No. Listen. Dave. I…"
"Get in!" He all but shouted it, even though his voice was no louder than a whisper. "There's no time to argue it. For once, just once in your life, you're doing what I want you to do."
The car's internal light came on when he opened the door. John looked mutinous and dangerous and horribly sick, all at the same time. "Just let me take the car and go," he said.
Dave jerked his thumb at the noise outside. "And leave me alone with this?"
John looked at him for a long second, then nodded, as if he accepted that much, at least. "At least let me drive."
Dave shook his head. "My car."
"For God's sake, Dave…"
Dave climbed in, and put the key in the ignition. "Like you ever let me drove yours?" He didn't dare turn the key, though, not yet. After a few seconds, John climbed into the passenger seat. "And you're hurt, John," Dave said. "I'm not a doctor, but I know that it's… well, it's bad. I don't want to be driven by someone who's likely to pass out at any moment."
"I won't pass out."
John said it like a promise, but Dave just shook his head, and turned the key. The noise would bring the enforcers, he knew, but the helicopter was grounded, and the troops were probably out of their vehicles, ransacking the house. They would have a minute's head-start, perhaps two.
He hadn't expected to feel things thudding into the side of the car. Bullets, he thought. God! He gripped the steering wheel with desperate hands. "Down!" John shouted, and Dave ducked down, not quite driving blind, but almost doing so. John opened the window and started shooting – one shot after another, the sounds sharp and precise. The car struck something – a glancing blow – and skidded around, but Dave fought the steering wheel and managed to keep control. He heard something smash and shatter. A fence, he thought. I've just driven through Dad's fence.
Then he was on the road, tyres squealing. "Go!" John shouted. Cold wind and rain surged in through the open window, hitting Dave like an assault. John pulled the gun in, twisted in his seat, and raised the window. Dave saw his hand on the gun, and wondered if his brother had just killed a man. "Go," John said, more quietly. "They'll be on our tail. You'll have to--"
"I know." Dave drove through a red light, across a deserted intersection, then twisted the wheel sharply, taking them an unexpected left. Two blocks later, he turned right, drifting around the corner, tyres screaming. "Too noisy?" he said. His heart was beating very fast. Was the helicopter rising up behind him? He looked in the mirror, but couldn't see anything. He turned the lights off, and drove for a while in darkness, inching forward, guided only by the lights of the sparse houses. A car raced past him, heading into the opposite direction, its horn screeching fury at him. "Maybe they'll start following him instead," Dave said. He switched his lights on again, and drove sensibly, blending in with the small scattering of other cars on the road. Only when he was finally away from houses did he put his foot down.
John was gripping the handle on the inside of the door. "I didn't know you could drive like that. You've tried to outrun bad guys before?"
"Of course not." Dave watched dark shadows race past outside, speckled with occasional lights. "You're not the only one in the family who likes to go fast."
"Oh." John leant forward, looking at wing mirror on his side.
"I used to race," Dave said, "when I was at College and for a few years after that."
"I didn't know." John slumped back in the seat.
"No." Dave shook his head; looked straight ahead. "I liked it, you know?" But he'd had to give it up, of course – no choice there. Because John had gone by then, and somebody had to inherit, to do the duty that the first-born should have done.
"I'm sorry." John said it quietly. Dave was watching the road, looking straight ahead, so he didn't know if his brother was looking at him.
But this isn't the time to talk about such things. He almost said it, but not quite, because if this wasn't the time, then what was the time? John had been gone for six years, and after this, would probably want to wander off for six years more.
Or after this, we'll both be dead, he thought.
As time went by, and as they drove deeper into the night, John started to drift away. His hand was still tightly gripping the gun, but his responses were growing slurred and distant.
"John?" Dave moistened dry lips. "John?"
"Uh… Yes, buddy, I…" Dave saw John's eyes snap open; saw him look around, taking in his surroundings; saw the moment when he remembered where he was.
"Yeah, it's me." Sweat was warm and slick between Dave's hands and the steering wheel. "Surprised?"
John pushed himself more upright in the seat. "Shouldn't have… Sorry. Sorry." He passed his hand across his face. Was that blood shining on it? Dave wondered if the seat was now thick with it. "What's our status?"
"Our status," Dave said, emphasising the word, "is that we seem to have shaken them off, thanks to my excellent driving skills. There's some things you never forget, it seems."
Some things, he thought, remembering when he would have done anything for his brother, when he would have walked into the fires of Hell for him, if John had only ever given him the chance.
"Where…?" John cleared his throat. They reached the edge of a small town, where a Christmas tree stood in a small front yard, decked with sparkling lights. "I thought there'd be more, you know?" John said, turning to follow the lights. "Last time I was back on… Last time I was, well… here, there were more. Lights everywhere. And cars. There were more cars on the road. Where's everyone gone?"
The town faded behind them, with the last of its lights. At least the rain had finally stopped. "As if you have to ask," Dave said stiffly.
John seemed to be about to say something, but the car hit a bump. John moaned; it sounded like something ripped from him against his will. Dave called his name, but John didn't answer. When Dave hazarded a glance over, he could see that his brother's head was thrown back, his face clenched tight in pain.
"Where…?" John let out a shuddering breath. "Where we going?"
"I didn't know at first," Dave confessed. "I just wanted to get out of there. But there's a guy a work. Was," he corrected himself. "He disappeared in the summer – probably dead now. He was a friend – you know, the sort you play golf with, go out for a drink with, but never really talk to, you know? Anyway, he bought a cabin for hunting, though I don't think he ever fired a gun. He planned to use it as a retreat. A retreat from the wife and kids, I thought, but then the enforcers came for him. Maybe he meant it literally, after all, just didn't get there in time."
"Disappeared," John echoed. Dave wondered if he had even heard anything that came after that.
"Yeah," Dave said. He remembered when it had felt amazing and impossible even to contemplate such things happening in his own country. "But he told me where he kept the spare key – told us all, in case we ever needed a refuge. Under a stone."
"Under a stone?" John sounded incredulous.
"Under a stone." And then Dave was laughing, not really knowing why he was laughing, except that he was on the run from the enforcers, and he was entrusting their safety to a spare key under a fucking stone.
And John… Dave's laughter died, and he just felt cold, so damn cold, because his brother had come back, and was bleeding to death in the seat beside him, and Dave had no idea what to do about it, no idea at all.
It was well past midnight when they reached the cabin. The last few miles were a nightmare of fallen trees and pitted roads. A thin covering of snow lingered in the shadow of rocks and tree trunks, and even before he reached the door, Dave realised quite how badly he had miscalculated. A retreat only worked if you had supplies and equipment and a guarantee that the bad guys didn't know how to find you.
"But there's no time for that," he told himself. "We're here now."
John was only semi-conscious now, his head lolling against the door. "We're here?" he slurred, opening his eyes but not raising his head.
"Yeah." Dave had a whole catalogue of memories of times when John had looked out for him. Those occasions when it had been the other way round were memorable only because they were so few. "Wait here."
He didn't think the key was there at first. The earth was hard – earth stood hard as iron, he remembered, water like a stone; Johnny had had a beautiful voice as a boy, though he had always squirmed impatiently through the singing, eager to explore the world on this year's new bike or skateboard. Music… He hadn't turned the Mozart off, had he? The CD would be long ended, silent in an empty house. Was John…? God! and he had a meeting tomorrow morning – one at nine, and then another at twelve – and here he was, another of the disappeared – another one who went home and never showed up at work the next day. His fingers scraped on pebbles, sharp as glass, and the two of them would be trapped outside, because he couldn't find the key, he couldn't find the key.
Then his fingers closed round an icy piece of metal. Stupid, he told himself. Stupid to panic. He was the dignified one, the composed one, the stiff one – always knew what to say. Too much so, apparently, because Laura said that even after twelve years together, she still didn't know the real David Sheppard.
The key was stiff in the lock, but it turned. It was cold inside the cabin, little warmer than outside, but the lights still worked, revealing windows securely barred from the inside with wood and metal. A quick investigation revealed fire-lighters, wood and blankets, and the kitchen was well-stocked with bottled water and tinned food.
"It really was a refuge," Dave said, his arms hanging loosely at his sides. He wondered suddenly if he had ever truly known anybody at all.
"Yeah," John said.
Dave whirled round, his heart pounding. John was leaning against the door, the gun still gripped in his right hand. He looked terrible, but he was on his feet. "Damn it, John," Dave raged. "I told you to--"
"Never let one of my men go alone into unknown territory without backup." John's gaze, at least, was steady. Then he staggered, and once again Dave had to catch him; once again had to half-carry him to a couch. John no longer felt cold, or maybe it was just that Dave's own fingers were icy. His brother's skin was pale, but his cheeks were beginning to flush. "Got to check…" John said, struggling weakly. "Check the defences."
"I'll do that," Dave tried to reassure him.
"You don't know what you're looking for."
Dave tried to cover John with a blanket, but John grasped it, bunching it up, curling around it at his middle. "I know more than you think," Dave told him testily. "I know I was never as clever as you were, but I can…" He couldn't find the right words, only, "More than you think," which wasn't even fair, because it had been their father, and never John, who had treated Dave as second-best, the solid, plodding one.
"I know," John said. His eyes flickered to his gun. "But you're… free – free from… all this. You don't…" He blinked. "Look in that crate under the window."
Dave did so. There was blood on his hands again. "You need…" he began, but his voice died, because the crate contained a pair of guns – a pistol and a rifle. He lifted the pistol up, and the metal was so cold that it almost seemed to stick to his skin.
John held him with a steady gaze. "You ever fired a gun before?"
"Yes." Dave swallowed. "A few times." You had to do these things – go along and pretend to enjoy the things that your business contacts enjoyed. "I'm not… not good."
"Let's hope it doesn't come to that." John stood up and walked towards the window. Every step seemed fragile, but at the same time it seemed to Dave to be the most strong, the most determined thing he had ever seen. As for himself, all he could do was hover, making token protests, because when had he ever been able to stop John from doing something he had set his mind on?
The cabin was small, but by the time John had finished examining it, his breathing was painfully rapid, catching on every inhale. Dave narrowed his eyes. "You done?"
"Yeah." John let himself be led back to the couch.
"It's not enough." Dave crouched down beside him. He heard John's breathing falter; heard him begin to construct a lie. "Don't protect me from the truth, John," he said. "I'm not six any more. It would be enough if we were dealing with opportunistic thieves – people with handguns and crowbars. But we're not, are we? A bomb, a grenade… even gas and a flame… I've brought us to the middle of nowhere, with nowhere to run to. We're sitting ducks."
"Only if they find us," John said quickly, too quickly. "Stay positive now."
Dave let out a breath. The last few hours didn't seem entirely real, but here he was, and this moment, at least, felt more real than all the years before.
"Hey," John chided him, badly hurt, but comforting him, just as he had always done. "I've got people, too. They'll be looking for me."
Dave knew he should be doing something – something with bandages and fluids – but instead he found himself asking, "What did you do? Why are they after you?"
"I don't know," John said. "Don't know who the Hell they are. I was… It doesn't matter where. Flying… home. And suddenly I was here. They shot at me, winged me, but I shook them off. Took too much damage, though. I made a controlled landing…" He grimaced. "Not that controlled. She was busted, and I couldn't get an answer on any of the usual channels. Everything was wrong, and I didn't… Thought I was going crazy. Didn't know where, but I wasn't… wasn't far from... Didn't know where else to go. I ran into some hostiles on the way, and they took… Damn near took.... But I escaped. Stole a car. You know the rest."
It was far too much to process. It didn't make any sense. "Flying?" Dave snatched at one thing he could. John was still wearing his dog tags, he remembered. "They let you back in?"
John frowned. "Who did what?"
"The Air Force," Dave said. John's face was still blank. "You quit. Six years ago."
"I… quit." John went very still, then he leant back against the couch, closing his eyes. He looked quite lost, Dave thought, all of a sudden. "Tell me," John said quietly, without opening his eyes. "I can't remember. Going crazy. Forgot… forgot breaking my collarbone. Can you believe that?" He opened his eyes, and there was something different about his face. "Remind me why I quit?"
"Something about a man trapped behind enemy lines," Dave said. "You wanted go after him, but they wouldn't let you."
"So I went anyway?" John grasped a corner of the blanket in his fist. "I disobeyed orders?"
Dave moistened dry lips. "No. You did what they told you to do, and then you quit a few days afterwards. You said you couldn't do it any more." Dave hadn't been there for the phone call, but he'd seen his father the morning after. Patrick Sheppard's face had been deeply etched with fury and disappointment. For his precious golden boy to walk away from his responsibilities and waste his life playing in planes was bad enough, but for him to walk away even from that…!
"Did he die?" John's voice was faint.
"Yes. I don't know. I think so." Dave clenched his fist. "Why are you asking this? You know this. Is this some sort of game?"
"I can't remember." John's voice was stiff. "Humour me, okay? What did I do next?"
What had he done next? He'd come home for a horrendous weekend of shouting and recriminations, in which their father had bellowed that he didn't want John inheriting the company now, not if this was how he felt about loyalty and responsibility, and John shouting that this didn't change a thing, and he'd never wanted the damn company – never would - and that all he wanted was--
"I don't know," he said bitterly. "You left an address – somewhere in California – but we never heard from you again."
"And you never wrote?" John asked.
"No." Dave felt bleak with old anger. "What have you been doing for the last six years, John?"
John looked at him, and his eyes were shining, almost as if he was fighting tears. "I don't know," he said. "I'm not that John."
"What?" Dave dashed at his own eyes, half expecting to feel unshed tears there, too.
"I can't expect you to understand," John said. "I can't… There's things I can't tell you, but it's why… I should have realised it before. Stupid, John. Stupid. Things don't go this badly wrong, not in a few months. I don't know how it happened, but…"
"What?" Dave demanded.
John sat up, clearly fighting pain every inch of the way. "But whatever world we're in, you're still my brother. I'll get you out of this, Dave.
And Dave had no idea what to say, and his hand reached out uselessly, wanting to help, but not knowing how to. Darkness pressed against the windows. They'll be here by morning, he thought.
end of part two
On to part three