Garrett's voice from behind the door of his office in the headquarters that the All Goods had set up did not fill Silvia with the thrill it used to. The rough, gravelly sound that had been so sexy once upon a time hit her ears with a nearly completely indifferent reaction now. The only feeling that was left was determination and the barest hint of wistfulness.
She opened the door and stepped inside, jaw hard and hand clenched tight around the flash drive.
Garrett Goodall was standing in front of his massively messy desk, looking between two different pieces of paper, both heavily filled with writing. It wasn't until she had shut the door and stood there in silence for a minute that he finally lifted his head.
Garrett blinked at the hard look on her face. "Er, Silvia Truett? You're my 4 o'clock?"
"I am." She nodded once.
"All right. What did you need?" Concerned about the expression she wore, he slowly lowered the reports and notes he had been reading to face her fully.
"Mr. Goodall, I have been one of your followers and supporters for nearly two years now. It has been an honor to be part of the All Goods, and it is not an experience I will ever want to change."
"Well, we've been honored to have you." He gave her that smile that once would have made her wild with fanatic adoration. "You seem quite serious today. What's troubling you?"
Silvia held up her hand, showing him the flash drive resting on her palm. "You know Cameron Delaney? The girl accused of killing Yarrow Norcross."
"Yes. What about her?"
"She's my best friend, and she was taken into custody illegally. On this drive is footage of the one of the tortures she was subjected to in an effort to interrogate her."
Garrett took the drive from her hand, frowning. "On this? Are you serious?"
Silvia nodded. "I had help from some friends, who I will not name to protect them, to get her out. That was three days ago. I was told that if I did not hear from one of them in three days, I was to take this footage to be released by the media."
"Then why give it to me?"
"It's known that Camry has aligned herself with the All Goods. That footage shows her torture by Thad Donnelly, chief scientist for the DCS. She was put under his custody by President Chancellor himself. You want the president in your hand? There's your tool to get him there."
Garrett's hand tightened around the drive. Without another word, he walked around the desk, opening the laptop he had closed and pushed back. Silvia didn't join him. She didn't want to see the video. Though she had argued with herself for hours about watching it, she had opted not to do so. There was already one horrific image burned into her brain, she didn't need two.
However, just because she couldn't see what was being played, didn't mean that she couldn't hear it through the lousy speakers of the laptop.
Garrett's expression narrowed, brows furrowing as he leaned in closer, while the sound of Camry's muffled screams scoured along Silvia's nerves like branding irons.
"Is this real?" Garrett asked, shocked.
"Why would I lie?" Silvia was looking away, as though trying to block out the sound of the laptop by not looking at it.
Garrett frowned at the screen for a long moment. He stayed silent through the gargled screams until the footage ended. Then, to her surprise, he asked-
"Why would he do that?"
"What do you mean, why?" Silvia gasped, as though the question annoyed her. "She's literally being tortured! What does it matter why?"
Garrett shook his head. "The why is important."
"I am going to have to disagree."
"Look, the president is just as much of a money hungry tool as Langston, but he's not a monster. I can't see him ordering the torture of an innocent girl. Or even a girl accused of murder. Why is this happening?"
"I don't know. And I wouldn't care if I did. Do you think any crime excuses this kind of thing? There are literally international laws written about this!"
"This kind of video has the power to ruin lives, Silvia. You have to be careful with something like that. Say, we take this public and it turns out that there's more to the story than what we're seeing here. What would we do? If this blows up back into our face, the lives being ruined could be ours. Therefore, I need to know why."
Silvia growled, grabbing hold of the flash drive and yanking it from the computer. "If you're not going to help, then I'll do this myself."
"Calm down." Garrett held out his hand but she didn't return the drive. "I'm not saying that I won't help you, I'm saying we need to be careful."
"My best friend was tortured and is now hiding to avoid the government itself. Do you think I give a damn about being careful?"
"If you want to help her, you do." Garrett came around his desk when it was clear that she had no intention of returning the drive. "I'll contact the president myself."
"You think we haven't tried that already? The only reason that I'm here now is because my partners couldn't make him listen."
"I'm not without my clout." Garrett held out his hand between the two of them, looking at her expectantly.
Silvia glared at him for a long moment. She was reluctant now to give the video to him, knowing that he wasn't as righteously angry as she was. Then again, maybe that was a good thing. She could hardly say that she was objective in this situation. Someone with a cool head was probably exactly what she needed.
Above all, no matter what, she had to protect Camry. And if this was the only way...
Sighing, she placed the drive back into his palm. Garrett smiled at her as his fingers tightened around the device.
"I promise, I'll help your friend. But, I'm going to do it in a way that's best for the All Goods and our cause over all."
"How exactly is this going to help the All Goods?"
Garrett smirked at the drive. "Like I said, this has the power to destroy a lot of lives. And, I bet the president cares more about protecting his own skin than whatever payment that he's getting from Geovation for allowing them to make that line."
"You're using my friend's freedom as a bargaining chip?!" Silvia gasped, shocked beyond dismay. She couldn't believe that she was hearing something so heartless from a man who had adopted the phrase 'Do Good' as his personal and professional motto.
Garrett was already returning to his chair, ignoring her question. Silvia stared at him with a slack jaw for a long moment before shaking her head.
"Whatever. Fine. Do what you want. As long as I get Camry back, I don't care."
Garrett smirked, plugging the drive into his computer. "Believe me, Silvia. Both of us are going to be getting what we want from this."
Beau honestly didn't think much of it when an email from Garrett Goodall arrived in his inbox. He received near daily correspondence from the man. Even the subject heading, 'You'll want to watch this...' didn't give him pause.
He finished making a few calls and doing some paperwork before ever opening the email. While the problems between Geovation and the All Goods was taking up a majority of his attention at the moment, that didn't mean he didn't also have a great deal of work to do.
Not to mention that now Thad wasn't picking up his phone. Beau hadn't yet received the video of the interview with Cameron Delaney. Thad wasn't answering, and he couldn't seem to get a hold of Ash either. Two facts which were starting to worry him.
Because of that, it wasn't until hours after he got it that Beau finally opened the email. He honestly considered, for a moment, not opening the video file. Garrett hadn't written anything in the email itself though, deciding to let the video talk for him.
After a moment, though, he gave in and started downloading it. As his computer was working, the door to his office opened and Parker stepped inside.
"Are you busy, sir?" He asked calmly, walking towards the desk.
"At the moment, or just in general?" Beau sighed, resting back into the chair. One of the perks of the job, at least he got to have extremely comfortable chairs. The lumbar support was out of this world and, as he relaxed, his assistant came around with some papers to sign.
"I found Thad." Parker said simply as Beau signed the papers. "He was at the temporary lab that he had set up in the old meat processing plant."
Beau frowned, his fingers hesitating over the next paper. "He put it in a meat processing plant?"
"You don't approve?"
"It seems a bit unhygienic, doesn't it?"
"It's been abandoned for years. And, I'm told that it was cleaned sufficiently for Thad's purposes. Regardless, I found him there."
"Was his phone broken? It better have been."
"Hard to tell. I didn't get the chance to talk to him. He brushed me off and just kind of told me that he had to get back to work. When I asked about Miss Delaney, he didn't even answer me."
"That just fills me with confidence." Beau grumbled, pushing the last, freshly signed paper, away from him as he sat back again. "Any luck getting a hold of Ash?"
"None so far. I've spoken with Harcourt a few times, but he insists that he doesn't know where Ash is."
"How about the other one? The girl?"
"You mean Miss Rose? She only keeps telling me that she wants to speak to you. She wants me to pass on the message that it's urgent."
Beau groaned, rubbing his temple. "I don't want to speak with her, I want to speak with Ash. Tell her to tell you."
"I've already tried. She won't." Parker shrugged as if to say 'what-can-you-do'.
"Then, clearly, it's not that important."
Beau's eyes moved back to his computer to see that the video had finished downloading. He moved his mouse across the screen and clicked on it so that it would open in the video player. As it was loading, he looked back to Parker.
"Is Langston still trying to blow up my phone?"
"Yes, sir. He's very determined to get back to digging. Do you have any idea on when that might-"
"No, and stop asking."
"Of course. I just thought I'd-"
"We'll be finished when we're finished and not a moment-"
"I don't want to fight with you, Camry. I want to treat you nicely, but you make it so difficult."
Thad's voice, filtered through the computer speakers, cut Beau off. He turned his eyes back to the screen, frowning at the video that had finally loaded. For a moment, he didn't understand what he was looking at. The screen wobbled slightly, as though the video was held by hand. The first thing that he did recognize was the bright red-orange of Cameron Delaney's hair.
As he was frowning at the scene, realizing slowly what was going on, he saw Thad lift up something from a bowl on a tray and press it against Camry's skin. The pained scream, muffled by the gag stuffed into her mouth, was excruciatingly loud through the computer.
Parker, frowning at what he was hearing, moved around the desk to see what was going on. Beau, completely abandoning the former conversation, leaned in across his keyboard. He watched with a slack jaw as Thad created and documented, out loud, the burns that he was causing to Camry's arms. His voice was completely calm, even when Camry was screaming over it.
Then the video cut off and he was left staring at his own reflection in the black screen. The sudden lack of screams in his office made the silence that much more tense. From over his shoulder, Parker turned from the computer and down to his boss.
"Sir?" He said simply.
Beau held up a finger, telling him to be quiet. "What... was that?"
"Dammit! What was that?!" Beau slammed his fist down onto his desk.
Parker made an uncertain noise, moving quickly away from him. "I don't know, sir."
"What is Garrett's number?" Beau demanded to know, grabbing his phone.
He waited with angry impatience as Parker searched for the number in his contacts. As he read it off, Beau jabbed his fingers against each button as though the numbers had offended him personally. It only took a few rings for Garrett to answer.
"What the hell, Goodall?!"
"And good evening to you, Mr. President."
"What the hell is this?!" Beau gestured to his computer like he could see.
"That is what we call an ace."
"How did you even get this footage?"
"What does it matter? I got it. And, I'm fully prepared to release it."
Beau growled, hand tightening on the phone. "Are you trying to blackmail me? I had nothing to do with that!"
"Doesn't matter. Thad is a government scientist under your command. You're the great leader, after all. It falls on your head. You ready to talk to me now?"
"You can't blackmail the president and get away with it, Goodall."
"Arrest me and this video gets released. Refuse to talk to me, and this video gets released. I'm not unreasonable though, I'm willing to negotiate."
"And what are your terms?" Beau didn't want to ask. He didn't like the idea that he was being forced into doing something. However, such a video would do irreparable damage. Not just to him, but to multiple people in the government. And the last thing that he needed was more civil unrest.
More than anything, however, he had to know what was going on. Why was Camry being tortured and interrogated? What was Thad thinking? The scientist had promised not to harm her. Not unless she forced him to, and she didn't appear to be a threat in that video. Not tied down and gagged the way she was. So, then, what was happening?
Obviously, Garrett knew what was happening. So, finding out started with him.
"Well, first and foremost, the charges against Cameron Delaney and Agent John Ashley need to be dropped. Their records cleaned. I think, given the circumstances, you could say that the spirit of right and wrong supersedes the letter of the law."
"Ash? What does he have to do with this?" Beau's stomach sank as he gestured towards Parker. He put his hand over the mouthpiece and said softly, "Get me Rose. Now."
Parker nodded and turned to leave. Beau turned his attention back to Garrett.
"You don't know yet? Thad didn't tell you that Camry was taken from his little meat lab? Ash took her out of there days ago. For her own protection. I'm sure you can understand why, after seeing that video."
Beau had ordered Ash to go talk to Camry. What, exactly, had happened in their interview? He still didn't have the video. Though, he had a good idea of what happened to it.
"Fine. I'll do what I can for Ash and Camry. Now, what's your cut of the deal?"
He didn't need to see Garrett to know that he was grinning smugly on the other end of the phone.
Camry stared at the broken window of the cottage with a strange sense of detachment. The rusted metal was now covered by a thick layer of soot. It was still in the upwards position where she had jerked it up when trying to escape. The open roof made its position completely irrelevant, however, she still reached out and grabbed hold it. It was stuck, but after pulling, she slammed it down into place.
She sighed, turning from the window and looking back into the charred remains of the cottage. Most of the furniture was gone. Some metal springs and the frame of the couches were still in place, as were the small metal parts from her suitcases.
However, her clothes, her books, were gone. She walked through their remains, frowning at the soot stained tiles of the fireplace. She turned, sitting down sadly. The cold of the tile was uncomfortable, even through her clothes. She felt no great urge to move though, and it didn't take long for her greater body temperature to begin warming it up.
The sound of Ash's boots on the stairs announced his presence before he actually appeared at the top of the basement steps. Camry lifted her head as he frowned around.
"What was that noise?" He asked, concerned.
"I shut the window."
She shrugged. She really couldn't say. It felt wrong that it was open. With the missing roof even now letting in the freezing cold, she knew it was a stupid urge. At the moment, she didn't really care. She just wanted the window to be shut.
Ash gave her a soft smile as he walked across the burned debris to stand in front of her. "Have you been up long?"
She shook her head. "No. Did I wake you?"
"Yeah, but it's fine. I probably shouldn't have slept so late."
"It's barely past dawn." She chuckled. Just a bit, and it lacked any real humor. But it was a start.
"Which makes me wonder why you're up." He took a seat beside her. After hesitating a moment, he rested his hand over hers. She looked down for just a moment before turning forward, a small smile gracing her lips.
"I didn't sleep well." She admitted, shrugging. "Has Blaire contacted us yet?"
"No. Not yet."
It had been a couple days now. Past the time that Silvia was supposed to have released the video. They still hadn't heard anything. Which was just making it worse. Ash was scared to take Camry back down the mountain, but they were running out of supplies.
"Hm? For what?" Ash turned to her, frowning.
"This." Camry lowered her head in shame. "We're only here because of me."
"We're here because I chose to be here. I volunteered for this. If anyone should be apologizing, it should be me. You certainly didn't ask for this." Ash's eyes moved down to the covered burns on her arms. She didn't make a big deal about them, which he thought was worse. "Don't they hurt?"
His soft voice turned her eyes and she frowned down at the concealed marks. "I mean, yeah. They hurt. But, I'm used to it."
"You're used to it?"
"The cold burns me. It always has. And, it's pretty hard to escape cold water at all times. I'm used to getting burns. I just kind of deal with it."
Ash shook his head. He put his arm around her and pulled her into his side. The motion was rewarded with another smile as she rested her cheek down against his shoulder.
"We'll get through this, Camry. Whatever we have to do, we'll get through this."
"What if Blaire never contacts us? We don't have an infinite amount of food. And Langston still wants this land, someone is bound to come up here eventually."
"He doesn't care about the cottage, just the mountain. The line won't go this far up the mountain. We'll figure it out. Don't worry."
"It's hard not to." She sighed, lifting her head to look into his eyes. "I'm so sorry about this, Ash."
"Don't be. I told you, I did what I wanted to do." He pushed her hair back from her face, giving her a soft grin. "This was the right thing, and no one can convince me otherwise."
To his surprise, Camry leaned forward, closing the gap and pressing a quick, chaste kiss to his lips. He blinked at her, momentarily startled as she leaned back. She was grinning, the happiness of it finally reaching her eyes.
He didn't let her escape very far. Before she could even sit down again, he was taking her by the arm and pulling her back to him. Wholly unsatisfied with such a brief kiss, he claimed another one. Camry squeaked, her arms clutching onto his broad shoulders as he pulled her clear from the fireplace and into his lap.
The fire that had been tamed these last few days came roaring back to the surface just from the passion held in his kiss. Camry had to drop her head back, scared that it was starting to burn at the back of her throat. Ash, completely unaware of what she was doing, began kissing along her neck instead. He reveled in the heat, no longer concerned now that he knew its source.
Fire licked at Camry's tongue, just barely touching on her lips. She squeezed Ash's shoulders, panting as he ran his hands up her back. He hadn't wanted to try touching her so soon after she had just been rescued from Thad's clutches. However, she had kissed him first. With that line crossed, he felt more free to take hold of her and kiss her dizzy.
He kissed his way back up her neck, along her chin, aiming for her mouth. Camry had only a second to swallow back the fire before he covered her mouth with his. His tongue began dancing with hers, and she moaned, losing focus on her control.
She was hot in his hands. Burning like a furnace, Ash found that he liked the heat. He didn't notice that anything was wrong. The way she was clutching at him, even she couldn't tell if she was trying to pull him in closer or push him away.
But the fire had been banked for so long that it was returning too quickly. Kissing Ash again, knowing that he knew her secret and wasn't scared by it, only made it better. The flames rose in the back of her throat, sitting on her tongue.
With a great, heaving gasp, she threw her head back and a great plume of fire erupted past her lips, shooting into the sky.
Ash jumped back. Though his hands remained on her waist so that she wouldn't fall from his lap, his head was pulled as far away from her as he could manage. The heat of the golden fire was intense on his face from so close, but none of it touched him.
When Camry ran out of air, the fire cut off. She slapped her hands over her mouth and stared at him with a wide-eyed look of horror.
Ash blinked a few times, allowing the image to settle into his brain. He waited for some hint of fear or surprise, but he felt none. Instead, he just cleared his throat and said calmly-
"So, that happened.
"I'm sorry." Camry murmured from behind her hands.
She had done that before, he realized. When he had kissed her in the past. Both times had ended with her slapping her hands over her mouth and refusing to move them. He honestly hadn't thought anything of it at the time. After seeing that pyrotechnics display, however...
"What just happened?" He asked curiously.
Camry was swallowing quickly, he could see her throat bobbing as she tried to soak up her own fire. She wiped it onto her hands, pulling it away from her lips. A blush had blossomed across her cheeks, embarrassed at her own fire show.
"It happens when my emotions run high." She mumbled. "When I'm scared or angry or..."
"Excited?" Ash asked, smirking. The surge of pride that filled him at hearing her admit that he had created such a fire was as surprising as it was heady.
Her blush only deepened as she turned her head away. "...Yeah."
"That happened before, too, didn't it?" He leaned in close to her again. "Do I make you burn?"
"Ash!" Camry covered her mouth again. She didn't have enough time to try and calm her fire again, and he was already trying to stroke it back to life.
He chuckled, kissing her neck, right over her windpipe. Where the fire was burning. The skin felt hot, but not enough to make him think she was hiding such an inferno. She trembled in his arms and he could see rainbows dancing where the fire was slipping past her lips.
Ash was kissing and suckling against the skin of her neck, chin, and collarbone. Camry had dropped her head back, not to give him better access but to keep the fire that was burning from her mouth with each gasping moan away from him. That didn't mean he wasn't taking full advantage of the opening that she was offering though.
Did he not see what danger he was in? Did he not see how close to her fire he was? If he kept building it up like this...
"Ash, please..." She moaned, the words accompanied by a breath of fire.
He grinned, obviously pleased with himself. "This is fun."
"It's dangerous!" She shook her head quickly.
"Good thing that the ceiling is already gone."
"I'm serious!" She cried, giving him a sad look. "What if I really hurt you? What if I lose control or breathe on you?"
"Wouldn't be my first burn. Might be my favorite though."
"All right. All right." Since it was obviously distressing her so much, he leaned back, but kept his arms in place around her waist. She made no efforts to get off of him either, so he was certain that she didn't mind that much, at least.
"Is that going to happen every time?" He asked conversationally
"I think it's getting worse." She admitted guiltily.
Again, Ash could only smirk. She gave him a glare.
"What are you so smug about?"
"I've just never made a girl so hot she literally caught on fire before. I kinda like it."
"Stupid!" She smacked his shoulder, turning bright red. "It's not a good thing. If I can't even control myself when you're kissing me, how can I possibly let it go further?"
"Just aim the gun barrel away from me." He stroked his hand down her neck and she shivered.
"Ash, please, I'm serious."
"I was, too." He shrugged. "But, I'll let it drop for now. In a burned down cottage is not exactly my ideal setting anyway. Though, again, the lack of roof is very helpful."
Camry sighed sadly. "This is ridiculous. We can't do this."
"We already are doing this. We just have to be careful."
She pouted. "You can't still keep wanting me."
"Trust me, I only want you more." Ash smirked. "Not here, though. The hard floor is all I can offer you, and that would hurt your back."
He laughed at her embarrassment, wishing he could kiss her again. But there was still fire on her tongue and he didn't want to get that close to the flames.
"Well, if I want to find us a bed," he smirked again, "first we need a plan."
The change in topic soured her good mood. "How much longer will we wait for Blaire to contact us?"
"I'll give it until our supplies run out."
"Which is how long?"
"We have about two days worth left. At least there's no lacking for fresh water. There's snow everywhere. And with you to melt it, my little spitfire..." He grinned at her, pleased.
Since finding out about Camry's fire, she wasn't concerned about showing it in front of him. She freely set it to burning to give them a fire that created as much heat as their space heater without eating at the energy in the battery. She could also cook without using any energy and boil the water that they got from outside to ensure that it was safe to drink.
Honestly, Ash thought she was better equipped to deal with this situation than he was. His compliment only made her smile.
"Erm, Ash?" She started, still grinning.
"Yes?" He tightened his hold on her, enjoying her warmth. Despite the cold around him, she was always heated. It made hugging her a joy out here in the frigid air.
"I was thinking..." She bit her lip, hesitating. "I... want to find that dragon."
Ash frowned. "The green one?"
"Yes. I want to find it."
"Why? You hoping to talk to it?"
Camry shrugged. "I don't know. I just want to understand. He was so determined to chase me down, but then he just left."
"Maybe it left because it didn't want to deal with the DCS helicopter." Ash suggested calmly.
"Maybe. But then, why wouldn't he have left immediately? Why did he wait for me to blow fire at him? I want to know."
"And you're hoping that you can somehow... talk to the creature?"
"I don't know." Camry pushed her hair back quickly. "We don't exactly speak the same language, but that doesn't mean we can't understand each other. We might even be able to figure out what the dragons are mad about in the first place."
"That's insane." His simple response made her flinch.
"Yeah. I know."
"What if it tries to attack you again?"
"I don't know..."
"Do you have any sort of plan at all?"
Camry grimaced. She wished that she could say she did. She didn't even really have a complete idea for what she was doing. It was closer to say that it was a hunch. And probably a bad one. But she couldn't get the look in the dragon's eyes out of her head.
"He was angry. But, it was more than that. It was like... it was personal."
"Personal?" Ash repeated dumbly.
"I know it sounds stupid, but that's what it felt like. The way he was looking at me... Maybe he knew Bunny. Maybe he knows me. It really seemed like there was more to it than just him being angry because I was carrying dragon fire."
"I didn't realize you were so good at reading dragon intentions."
She frowned. "I'm sorry. It's stupid, isn't it? It's not like we actually have the luxury of trying to track it down."
"Well, it wouldn't be hard, admittedly."
She turned up her eyes. He sighed before continuing.
"The dragons start appearing in earnest when you try to go past the ridge." He pointed with his head past the mountain. "We can't go there. They attack in mass if you try. If you're looking for dragons, that would be the place to be."
"Past the ridge." Camry swallowed convulsively, turning her eyes up at the mountain. "Okay. Then, that's where I want to go."
"May I remind you, I don't have any of my weapons or gear. The pistol I have isn't at all helpful against dragon scales. And I don't feel like cooking because the dragons got territorial."
"You're not coming with me." Camry looked surprised that he would even suggest it.
He fixed her with a dull gaze. "You're certainly not going alone. That dragon has tried to kill you twice already. You think I want it to succeed now?"
"I could tell you the same thing."
Camry frowned at him, but his face was set. And, if she was being honest with herself, she really didn't want to be on her own. But if she let him go with her and something happened to him, the guilt would eat her alive.
He must have read the emotions on her face, because his expression softened and he took gentle hold of her cheek. He caressed it with the pad of his thumb, smiling warmly.
"Have I not made it clear enough already? You and I are in this together. You want to go dragon hunting? Let's go. You'll be safer with me than without anyway."
Camry wanted to fight him further. She knew that she should. But she just couldn't bring herself to try and push him away. She nodded her head, leaning into his touch.
"I'm sorry, Ash." She whispered regretfully.
"Don't be. I'm just doing what I want to do." He rested his forehead against hers, still smiling. He was already this far gone, what did he care if she wanted to provoke the dragons?
Unsure what it would accomplish, but not unwilling to go along with her, Ash and Camry packed up their supplies from the basement and took them back to the car. Ash did most of it as Camry still didn't have shoes and the snow would burn her feet. She was the last thing he carried to the car. She blushed brightly, trying to insist that she could walk, but he carried her regardless.
In the short walk from putting her in the passenger seat and moving around to the driver's, she had to get her fire back under control. Just the simple act of carrying her, like a princess, with such ease made the flames lick at her throat again.
When Ash sat down, he looked over at her wiping her mouth and smirked knowingly. However, he kept his thoughts to himself as he pulled away from the cottage.
The road to the cottage also led further up the mountain. Camry asked if it continued on past the ridge, but Ash said it did not. The road itself terminated somewhere near the top, and densely packed trees prevented further progress by a car that wasn't designed to go off road anyway. Camry then asked how they were supposed to get closer to the ridge if they couldn't drive.
Ash gave her a calm look as he parked the car and stood. Camry didn't realize what he was doing until he had already come around and sank down in front of her.
"Climb on." He said simply, grinning back over his shoulder.
"Oh, Ash, no." Camry shook her head. "I can't ask you to that!"
"You don't weigh that much."
"We're on top of a mountain!"
"Seriously, Camry, my gear weighs as much as you do." Ash chuckled. "I wouldn't be worth my badge if I wasn't able to carry at least as much as that. Even on a mountain."
Camry now felt even worse. But, it wasn't like she would be able to walk anyway. No shoes, no pants; the snow would melt against her bare skin and leave her with terrible burns down her calves. She had no choice but to grab onto Ash.
He stood up with her on his back, tucking his hands under her thighs. He moaned softly.
"What?" She asked, blushing bright red at the sound.
"You're warm." He grinned. "Don't even need gloves if I'm holding you."
"Stop it." She mumbled, wishing she could bury her head against his neck to hide her face. Somehow, she imagined that would only make things worse.
With Camry strapped across his back, he began climbing up through the otherwise undisturbed snow towards the top. It wasn't the first time he had been here. He had come up many times trying to chase after dragons or figure out where they were coming from and why. Regardless of if he came during or immediately after a dragon warning siren, or even during a period when there hadn't been one, there was always a dragon around that would stop progress eventually.
Today proved to be no different.
Before the two of them even came close to the low ridge, from above, the loud echoing trill of the dragon's roar stopped Ash in his tracks. Both of them looked up, and neither was surprised to see the emerald green dragon glaring at them from the treetops.
Ash's first instinct was to grab a gun he didn't have, followed immediately by the desire to duck and cover and protect Camry. Neither of which was an option at the moment.
Camry took in a deep breath and blew it out slowly. No fire. Just trying to calm herself down. The dragon watched the movement through narrowed eyes.
"Now what?" Ash asked through the corner of his mouth, staring at the dragon, muscles tensed to move in a snap if he had to. From this close, he knew that it would mean little if the dragon wanted to roast them alive. Though, he supposed, he would be the only one in danger in that instance.
Camry hesitated before patting his shoulder. "Let me down."
"There is snow everywhere!"
"I know that. Just, let me down."
Ash was reluctant to obey. However, the dragon wasn't immediately attacking, which was already more than anything he or his squad had accomplished by this same point. If it had been him alone, or anyone else, he was sure the dragon would have already charged.
Ash kicked away as much of the snow as he could before turning around and setting Camry gently onto the area he had cleared. She hissed in pain when her feet hit the snow, but before he could lift her up again, she waved him away.
Taking in a deep breath, Camry blew a long, slow plume of fire around her legs. As she had seen the dragon do before, she allowed the flames to catch around her legs and feet, melting, then evaporating, the snow that threatened to hurt her. She grinned as the pain vanished and she sank down to the dirt that lay under the layer of ice.
Turning, she took a few steps away from Ash and towards the dragon. She heard him make a small sound of protest, but he swallowed it and didn't attempt to stop her.
Camry walked forward until the dragon growled softly. It didn't sound angry, but it was still obviously a warning. Obligingly, she stopped and looked back up at him. The emerald beauty was coming down, stretching his long neck out to put his face as close to hers as he could without coming down and touching his body to the snow.
Taking in a breath, Camry cupped her hands together and blew out a fireball into them. The fire caught and burned on her skin, bright gold and beautiful. She held it out and waited, as though for the dragon's approval.
His neck craned forward further, sniffing at the fire. His long fangs just inches from her fingers. Camry forced herself to remain as still as her shaking hands would allow. It would only take a single snap of those powerful jaws...
The dragon pulled its head back. He took in a breath before blowing out a slow, simmering flame all around her, melting more of the snow away. he came in close again. This time, he put his snout against her chest. Camry frowned as he leaned back, then blew air against the spot that he had touched. No fire came out, but the breath was still hot.
The motion was also familiar. Camry closed her hand over her heart, frowning curiously as the dragon pulled back.
That had been exactly what Bunny had done. Though, when she had done it, she had actually breathed out a flame. Why had the dragon before her now mimicked that motion?
A sound from behind him made the dragon turn back. He lifted his head, then looked to her for only a moment more, before taking to the air. Camry blew out a long breath, keeping hold of her chest as she replayed the moment in her head.
What was that supposed to signify? Why had he mimicked Bunny in that way?
"Camry?" Ash called out, unable to get close to her because of the fire.
He nodded. "So? Did you find out anything?"
She turned to look back at him, frowning. "I... don't know."
Beau flipped through the paper notes that had been placed before him. His brows furrowed, back stiff, he paid no mind to the people that kept walking in and dropping off boxes, lining them up in two neat stacks along the wall. Each one was filled with more paper notes, computer hardware, and voice recorders that had been appropriated from Thad's re-purposed lab as well as his office here in Blackridge Pass. There were more coming, but those had been gathered in Geat and hadn't had time to get here yet.
Parker was there, directing the men bringing in boxes. His voice was barely background noise as Beau browsed through the notes Thad had taken regarding Cameron Delaney.
Blood type and screen, blood cell counts, body temperature recordings sorted by time and area of the body retrieved. In another file, Beau found notes regarding how to best neutralize the fire that Camry could breathe. He hadn't stooped to using a garden hose to keep her under control, nor even just asking her to cooperate as a normal person might have started with.
There were notes about the lethal dose of the fire retardant the DCS used to control dragon fires and how much could be consumed before it caused an effect. The short answer was: not much. There were also notes on the effects of ice water against her skin. Judging by what he was reading, Beau was easily able to imagine where that information had been gleaned.
"Sir, Miss Rose is here." His secretary called out from the next room.
"I told you to call me Blaire." An irritated voice responded.
Beau waved the dark-haired woman forward, closing the file and dropping it onto his desk. The DSC agent came forward, her face closed off as she regarded the president.
"Where is Ash?" Beau asked without preamble.
"I don't know." She replied with stiff calmness,
"Do not lie to me! You're in this just as much as he is. Now, where is he?!"
"I already told you, I don't know. He didn't tell me precisely so I wouldn't know even if you asked. All I know is that he's taken Camry and they're laying low until I tell them it's safe to come out. Though, considering how long it's been, I wouldn't be surprised if they skipped out already and are heading for the border."
Beau growled, leaning forward. "This is no time for games, Blaire. This is serious."
She was looking around, almost unconcerned. "So, I guess you saw the video. Since it's not a media shit storm yet, I'm guessing someone else was finally able to get your attention."
"If you had told me why you wanted to speak to me-"
"I'm not talking through your middle man." Blaire gave Parker a look. "Besides, it should have been enough to hear that it was 'urgent'. Or, did he not relay that part?"
Beau growled, but he couldn't think up a comeback. He didn't want to tell her that he received 'urgent' news all the time that simply wasn't. What other people considered urgent, he might not, and so he had learned to filter things out. Of course, things slipped through the cracks. They weren't usually as honestly urgent as this matter was turning out to be.
Sitting back in his chair, he fixed her with a cold look. "Tell me everything you know. Now."
Reaching into her pocket, Blaire pulled out a flash drive. She held it up so he could see.
"The complete video that was shot that day, including the footage of Ash's interview. We thought we'd hold it back until you saw the more important part."
She stepped forward and placed it in on his desk. Beau wasted no time in snatching it up and plugging it into his computer. It only took a few moments before the video popped up on his screen. Cameron Delaney sitting stiffly in a metal chair in an otherwise empty room.
Blaire said nothing as Beau watched the video. Parker came around, standing behind him so he could see as well. Camry's story, captured on the video file, recalled a tale of a little girl and the dragon that had saved her. There were a great many questions regarding the why and the how, but Beau could see nothing illegal or dangerous in the recount.
Thad kept interrupting. And Camry kept stiffening whenever he did. Beau couldn't see what she mouthed to Ash, but he could definitely see the motions that she made to her arms. He thought back to the blood test results and frowned.
The video kept playing, even when Ash left. And Camry said-
"I did what you asked. I didn't say anything."
Beau's fingers tightened on his chair. That explained, at least, why Thad had been trying to figure out what she had told to Ash in the second video.
The recording continued as a female DCS agent walked in and made for the camera. It didn't stop recording as she picked it up and began walking from the room with it. It only cut to black as she was walking towards a door. Behind which, Beau was easily able to guess what was happening. He turned from his computer as the playback finished.
"Any more questions?" Blaire asked simply. It wasn't like she knew more than what had been recorded there herself.
"This is... unacceptable." Beau said finally, after a long moment of silence.
"Sir?" Parker frowned at him.
"This is too much of a liability. Thad has gone too far. Parker, make a note of this. As of this moment, Thad Donnelly is no longer employed with the WPA."
"Sir, doesn't that seem a bit extreme? After all, that girl is a..." He trailed off, unable to finish. A human with dragon fire? It was enough to make his skin crawl. Not only was it unnatural, it was an outright abomination.
"He's torturing a woman on camera, Parker!" Beau gave his assistant a dark look. "If this gets out and it's found that I did nothing to stop it, the people will be after my head too. Thad Donnelly is dismissed. But he is not to leave town yet. Send him notice immediately."
Parker frowned, but he didn't argue. "Yes, sir."
"Great. That's one problem solved." Blaire crossed her arms. "So, what are you going to do about Ash and Camry then?"
"Right. Ash and Camry." Beau frowned.
While Ash had definitely broken the letter of the law, Beau couldn't actually say that he thought the man had done anything technically wrong. If anything, people would likely side with him. The story of the agent turned rogue to save the woman he loved from the evil government scientist was just the sort of sap that the public ate up.
Again, if it got out that Beau knew about this and had done nothing, the ax would be falling on his head, not theirs.
"Fine. I hereby pardon them of any wrong doing."
"Pardon?" Blaire repeated, raising an eyebrow.
"If it ever turns into an actual criminal case, they'll be officially pardoned. Which, I will make sure that it will not. There. Happy? Now, call them, and tell them that I want to speak to both of them. Immediately."
"Er, sir." Parker interjected again. "Are you so sure that it's wise to talk to a girl that can breathe fire? She could hurt you before anyone could stop her."
"I am aware of that. It's called faith, Parker."
"Yes, sir, but I don't think it's very wise. At least, allow us to have DCS agents on hand to-"
"Parker." Beau fixed him with a cold look. "You think after what she just went through, the presence of DCS agents with cold guns is going to do anything to foster good feelings? Besides, have you read the girl's file? Burning a man alive is not really her thing."
"I appreciate that, sir, but I don't think she's earned the faith you're trying to place in her."
"The faith I was talking about wasn't me in her. It was for her in me. She needs to have faith that I'm not the one who tried to hurt her, and that she can trust me. You want to keep yourself safe? Make friends of your enemies. If you can even call her an enemy."
Parker still looked like he had tasted something sour, but he didn't attempt to argue the point any further.
Beau gestured to Blaire. "Get a hold of them. I'd rather we have this talk sooner than later."
Blaire nodded and turned to leave. Beau was already reaching for the phone on his desk. Parker frowned as he lifted it from its cradle and began dialing a familiar number. Parker followed his finger, lining up the digits in his mind.
"Sir, why are you calling Griffin Langston?"
Beau didn't answer him immediately. He drummed his fingers impatiently against his desk, waiting for the CEO to pick up. He knew it wouldn't take long.
"Beau." He answered smoothly. "I hope you're calling with good news."
Beau just imagined that he had been waiting by the phone for the permission that he needed to continue digging the line.
"I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. As of this moment, I'm shutting down any further progress on the geothermal energy line on federal lands."
Beau pulled the phone from the side of his face, saving his delicate eardrum from any potential damage at the outraged cry that reverberated from the other side of the line.
"There's been a development." Beau said calmly. "And, I'm afraid, that I can't allow anymore digging at this time."
The tirade that exploded from the speaker was as expected as it was tiring. Beau told him under his yelling that he was free to call him back with any further questions, knowing full well that the other man couldn't hear him over his shouting. Then, he gently set the phone back down onto its cradle before sighing, rubbing his temple.
The silence behind him was somehow louder than Griffin's shouts. He sighed.
"You have a problem with my decision, Parker?"
"Sir, I just don't think that it's right that we're bowing to the whims of a blackmailer. Surely, as the president, you can do more than just bend over backwards to accommodate Garrett Goodall's demands."
Beau pushed himself up, turning to give Parker a cool look. "I'm not stopping the energy line because Garrett told me to."
"No?" Parker frowned.
Beau reached over and picked up one of the stacks of notes that he had already looked through. He turned, holding it out to Parker with a stern scowl.
"Do you know what this is?"
Parker took the file and opened it. His eyes scanned the contents quickly. "It looks like... a record of dragon attacks in Summitville."
"Indeed. The year before digging began."
"So it is."
"Thad told me that dragon attacks in Summitville had doubled the year before digging started. That was the evidence that he presented to me to assure me that the digging was not the cause of the abnormal dragon behavior on the mountain."
"Yes, I know. I was there." Parker frowned up from the paper.
Beau growled, snatching back the notes. "Doubled, he said. It went from one the year before, to two the next. Two! Months apart."
"Well, that is technically double." Parker made a face.
"I don't need scientists who doctor their findings. That is not a statistically relevant difference. Especially considering that, the year the digging began, the number of attacks went from two to nearly two hundred. You know what that is? Actual proof."
"No. He lied to me about the dragon attacks. He lied to me about Cameron Delaney. Who knows what else he's lied to me about. I'm going through his past with a fine toothed comb now. And digging is not going to continue. I swear to you, Parker, if the dragon attacks stop now, or if I find any connections between Thad and Geovation, that line is never going to restart."