A/n: Pretty sure I'm slipping an extra night in here. Can we just go with it, for dramatic purposes? Or the scene doesn't work nearly so well.


By nightfall they've reached the barracks. Alex hasn't spoken to her father in a day and a half, but he'd also noticed her hovering nearby him throughout the remainder of the march, never more than a few yards away. Like a sheepdog, really, with all the same interest in her charge and just as little control over his fate. She'd feigned oblivion to his notice, and today waited only long enough to verify where they were going to keep him before sauntering off hand-in-hand with Karl.

Sometime after midnight, or so he guesses, Alex appears out of the darkness. Tossing a brief glance his way, she approaches his guard of the hour with plastic bucket in hand. He observes the interaction with quiet interest, unable to hear the words, until they reach an apparent agreement and she comes through the door.

Ben raises an eyebrow at the sight of her voluntary approach, but waits for her to make the first move. "Don't talk," she orders, her glower stony. "If you say one word, I'm leaving." He sizes her up appraisingly, but she holds her ground, and he follows her mandate. She sets the bucket at her feet, where water makes a soft slap against its sides, and pulls a piece of wet cloth from its depths. Wringing out the yellow fabric, she applies it to his bloodied cheek, as if by washing away the evidence she can wash away the memory of what caused it.

He watches her intently as she cleans his face, beautiful child, seeing her wince involuntarily without realizing it. Her movements are stiff and controlled, but her eyes belie her concern, as does the tongue planted too firmly between her teeth. When his face is clear of everything but bruises she can't fix, collar pulled aside for what ran down his neck, she moves on to his arms and hands. He holds very still.

Alex can feel Ben's eyes on her, see his expression out of the corner of hers, but she refuses to meet them. Not once the whole time as she wipes the blood from every inch of visible skin. She knows her emotions are flitting across her face and she knows that he's thinking of ways to use them. He can't help himself, even for her.

She gathers her things and turns to leave in the same silence, but not before he catches her forearm. Her head snaps back, sharp and precise, and reads in his mute expression more than his words can offer. Somewhere between apology and promise, it's about a parent's love. . .whatever else he conceals, he'll never hide that. She looks into his eyes one second longer, guarded against the emotion there, and shakes herself from his grasp.

Ben's fingers leave a burn on her skin as she lies down next to Karl, still fast asleep. She draws his unresponsive arm around her and stares into the darkness, thinking of white rabbits and lost innocence, and the flaws of a too-human heart.

~fin~