Disclaimer: Chaosia Ripley Guadimus belongs to Chaosia Guadimus (I really recommend reading her stories if you haven't yet!) as does Marston 'Mars' Rivers
After a few days of forced relaxation–though she was content to call it the guilt ridden isolation that it actually was but whatever–Essence finally returned to work, her bruising still evident even with the constant icing and heat wraps to elevate the swelling. Just like the super-duty cover up was failing to cover the horrible dark blotches against her skin. God why could nothing work the way it was supposed to?
Yet in spite of the concern and looks, the whispers and very thinly veiled attempts to avoid the elephant in the room–and all from the damn parking lot gate to spots before the door!–Essence trudged right through the doors of Halliwell Restoration like her name was on the building. She didn't want any of these people to see her as fragile or worse the stereotypical woman that couldn't defend herself. She'd dealt with that enough before and she was officially sick of it. She knew with her precious treasure she couldn't afford to be defenseless or weak–not again at least. All her life she was protected and cared for, despite her small rebellions and constant attempts to break away from that very label. Something neither her brother nor her ex had helped her do. They hadn't wanted her to be on her own, always trying to prevent mishaps and avert 'the catastrophes she attracted like moths to flames'. And though she could consent that their motives were worlds apart they had the same agenda–to ensure she was always the damsel in distress.
And that one of them would always be handy to play the role of White Knight Saviour.
With a shake of her head to rid of the thoughts about her past Essence parked in her usual spot next to the Shelby. Smiling, she quickly took out her iPod and started to scroll through her music list as she inserted the earphones. Hopefully this would keep the few brave ones from trying to shower her with pity and apologies–because she knew that she was probably one of the last ones here. Otto and his friends were always at the shop early–not that it was any of her business–and it would only be a matter of time before the people Atley had kept from calling started piling in the office to 'check on her'.
She sighed, her brows furrowing on their own as she considered exactly what she'd landed herself in. She knew that this group–these mechanics–met up for other reasons than just to work on the cars in their care. She just didn't know why . . . Shrugging she tried to push the though from her head. If she continued to let them be then they would do the same for her. But it was kind of insulting to know that despite the easy way they all got along she still wasn't 'in' with the group, an outsider looking in through muddied windows at a bigger picture she just couldn't quite make out.
Essence stopped for a second, confused at her own thoughts. Why would she be included? She hardly sees these people outside of her work–both works–and she knew that the main reason they were so agreeable was because they were–generally–just as personable as she is…even if it had taken some of them a while to warm to her. With her music blasting and her thoughts settled Essence made her way towards the garage, unlocking the door with her key. Otto had told her to keep the spare key even after she had cleaned out the office.
"Just in case."
She shrugged, moving in the fairly still room. Singing along with the song that had started beneath her breath, she locked the door behind her; the sound barely audible over the melody playing in her ears. Which is why when she turned around she shrieked, clutching her chest before laughing. Tumbler was standing right behind her–grinning roguishly as scooped her up; swinging her around once before setting her back on her feet. Essence flushed brightly as she smacked his shoulders, tugging out her earphones as she willed her heart to beat at a normal rate once again.
"What the hell, Tumbler? You scared the crap out of me!"
Tumbler merely chuckled, placing his hands in his pockets as he rocked back on his heels almost innocently. He grinned mischievously at her, Essence narrowing her eyes with suspicion. Despite that she didn't find him attractive the twenty-seven year old was indeed handsome, if albeit a bit flirty and touchy-feeling. And in her short time among the odd group she'd learned that look–from either Tumbler or the youngest Raines–was one to fret over. It almost always meant they were up to something. Essence sighed exasperatedly, about to yell at him when she noticed Toby shaking his head just behind Tumbler as Chaosia walked towards them with a frown.
Grinning, Essence took a step back; leaving Tumbler to look her over suspiciously. Right before he yelped; him bobbing forward just enough to make her wince as the blonde shrugged away from her, turning to level an incredulous glare at whoever had smacked him. Chaosia stood scant inches from where he'd been her arms crossed and a decidedly bored glare directed at Tumbler. But as the girl shifted on her feet Essence had to fight the urge to fidget. She got along with Chaosia, what with the two of them being in the same age group but Essence could admit to envying her, feeling even more like plain Jane just standing in the same area. But then again Sway had the same effect on her, the platinum blonde in her leathers and layers the very epitome of confidence and capability.
God working here was going to give her a freaking complex . . . if she didn't commit murder or completely refurbish her wardrobe just to stay up first.
Mentally shaking herself Essence occupied herself with powering the iPod down and stashing it in her purse. While Tumbler whined to Chaosia as he rubbed the back of his head. Falling into the habit the younger workers had of calling her by her middle name instead of her first.
"Come on, Ripley, it was just a joke!"
"A joke that scared her half to death! Now leave Essence alone and let her get started on the day. She actually does work around here, unlike some people."
Essence moved towards the stairs, leaning into Toby who hugged her around the waist. She placed her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes tiredly, fighting a yawn as he squeezed her tighter. God she really needed some caffeine in her soon!
Toby tugged the younger woman closer, not overly concerned with missing the meeting quietly proceeding over at the painting docks. He and Tumbler had just walked down the stairs from the private office–to try and find some information for their next list that seemed to elude the others–when they'd spotted Essence locking the main door behind her. Toby had sighed and told–nay begged–Tumbler to let her be so they could go back to the meeting and not get in any more trouble when his friend had decided to scare her instead.
He sighed, cutting his eyes to her as she covered her mouth; yawning quietly into her hand. His eyes traced the bruises shining stubbornly through the makeup and Toby knew that he would rather miss the meeting–though he figured that Memphis had wondered what was taking so long when Chaosia had eased up behind them. Taking in the situation and stalking past him to cuff the back of Tumbler's head after the other boost dropped Essence. He'd noticed the similarities between him and the girl before; trying to go out of his way to make her feel welcomed. And he knew that that was the reason they got along so well–aside from being close in age.
"How are you doing, Essence?" he asked softly, walking up the stairs.
Essence sighed, looking up at the taller boy as he grinned despite himself. Something he and Mirror had been thrilled over at first. Even Chaosia was their height, her usual heels making her even taller. But Essence was petite enough that he and the other vertically challenged boosts didn't feel silly standing next to her.
"I'm doing as well as I can be, Tech. I just really need some coffee."
Toby's grin blossomed into a full blown smile at the nickname, a few chuckles escaping his throat as he shook his head. Otto Halliwell was a great man, one who had accomplished various impressive sorted deeds in his lifetime–even though only about half were of the legal variety. But he had proved that even he had shortcomings to overlook, his sheer laziness–okay unwillingness–in replacing certain extremely outdated office technology manifesting scant days after Essence had started. Which had led to her having problems with the resident dinosaur–er computer. He'd stepped in and fixed it; overclocking the processor and fabbing a water cooling unit–so the thing wouldn't burn to ash in the months Chaosia predicted it would take her and Junie to grind Otto down enough to cave.
Which had led her to fondly dub him Tech, Essence deferring to the nickname more often than not. Not that he cared. He actually liked the name over young blood or kid. Of course he was used to being called kid or young blood, but Tech was definitely nice to hear once in a while. Especially since it meant someone actually understood that he was talented in the technical department...and not just able to hack into any system Memphis needed him to.
"I'll make you a cup while you boot up that damn dinosaur."
Toby smirked as Essence laughed, doing just that as he fought the coffee pot. He turned, watching as Tumbler pushed into the office subdued; dropping down into one of the chairs in front of the desk with a huff as Ripley gracefully sank into the other. Well it looks like none of them were going to go back to that meeting. His smirk widening, Toby turned back to the side table closer to the door and started the coffee pot, making a note to have Ripley aggravate Otto into getting a new one.
He'd cave on the coffee pot before he would the computer after all.
After the meeting Memphis had tasked Atley with looking for the three people that had flaked half an hour before. Though, Memphis did trust Chaosia to do her part in three nights even without being at the meeting. Nodding to the group as they entered the main area, Otto moving to open the doors for both business and his non-boost workers, Atley rushed up the stairs. He stopped a second, letting his leg rest before he pushed into the office; stopping as he realized he'd just walked into the middle of something. Essence was leaning against her desk and laughing with Chaosia, Tumbler, and Toby. The computer genius was actually leaning against Essence–who didn't seem to mind at all. Actually the girl was leaning more into the geek then the older boost liked or cared to see.
Chaosia tilted her head back, glancing over her shoulder to see who had come in before smirking knowingly. Though it wasn't as pronounced as she'd like, she was at least glad that Atley was showing some sort of reaction when it came to Essence being around other men. It was easy to see he fancied her–even if they couldn't quite place it themselves just yet.
She rolled her eyes, trying not to snort as she fought to keep her grin contained. Now if only he would actually do something about it and not be as stubborn as her lover–though if he and Sphinx were able to be friends it probably was possible he was just as stubborn and hard headed as the brooding idiot. Probably more so when it came to someone he cared about.
"Well Atley, what brings you into the office?"
Essence glanced up, her smile brightening before she looked down; her hair falling over the most severe bruising on her face, hiding it almost completely from view. Atley felt something buried inside him tighten at that look but tried to keep his composure. It wouldn't do to show what he was feeling–even when he didn't know what it was himself. But as he glanced down to the practically preening boost he had a feeling that Chaosia already knew. He narrowed his eyes at her slightly, fighting back a curse as her own little smirk darkened. Of course she would pick up on him fighting himself whenever he was around Essence. He just hoped she took a page from Sphinx's book and kept quiet about it. Though he knew–in the back of his mind–that she was planning something; trying to figure out how to exploit the weakness she'd picked up on. And by God he hated it; she was worse than he and her boy ever had time to be.
"Um, I came to speak with Essence." Atley raised an eyebrow when the group continued to stare at him, trying to deliberately ignore Chaosia's smug look. "If that's all right with you guys?"
The group turned to Essence, asking her if she wanted to leave them alone, making Atley's face darken into a scowl. Why wouldn't she want them to be alone together? Essence however shrugged, looking up through her hair and her lashes with a soft smile. Toby wrapped an arm around her and hugged her tightly, whispering into her ear quickly before kissing her cheek. Essence laughed at whatever he said, nodding as the group started to walk out. Chaosia winked at her before smiling brightly at Atley who looked at her suspiciously, his eyes narrowing again she wiggled her fingers at him before leaving.
"Behave kiddies. Don't do anything I wouldn't do . . ."
Essence shook her head at the other woman and quickly began to shift through some of the paperwork that piled up from the day before, waiting for the older man to speak first. She was grateful that Chaosia had filled in for her despite that she had her own business–which Essence forgot the name of its location but knew it was a bit on the high society class…maybe Wake Beach? Well what she did remember about the shop was that the first floor had to do with clothes and the second floor a salon, which Chaosia's best friend handled.
Atley shut the door and held the chair that Tumbler had vacated, watching the woman move to pace the room nervously, biting her lip as she went about to work. Now, how to say what he wanted to say without looking like a total idiot? He knew that–like everyone else–asking her how she was and maybe she should go back home would probably just upset her. And since he was positive that Toby had at least asked about her wellbeing he didn't want to sound like a broken record. But he was concerned for the woman; and more to the point confused over how calmly she's been since the attack.
Essence could practically see what Atley was thinking and smiled ruefully before rolling her eyes. She was typing–or at least trying to type up the reports from the day before–watching the older man from the corner of her eye. She watched him shake his head and move around the chair to sit in it, stretching out his long legs before him. He rubbed his right knee, letting Essence know that he was having trouble with his leg again. Just like she knew she shouldn't say anything because she knew he would be embarrassed.
Even if she always wondered how he got that limp but was afraid of him shutting down.
"I really am all right, Atley. I needed to come back; I was suffocating in my own house!"
Essence got up with the now typed–therefore legible–paperwork and started to place them in their proper home within the filing cabinet, trying not to let the inevitable conversation sour her mood. Atley had been on her case about her return to work almost nonstop and it was grating on her last nerve. Why couldn't the man just leave her in peace so she could finally start to work through the restlessness the attack four days ago had left her with? Moving back to the desk Essence picked up a sheet covered in grease. She eyed the sheet skeptically before she spotted the cluster of others, the sight actually causing her to sigh in relief. Since the others couldn't seem to keep any paperwork clean she would have to redo it . . . meaning she might have an escape for the world of attempted rapes, hassling exes and aggravating but caring older men–namely her brother and a certain someone sulking in front of her.
She closed her eyes, trying to banish the slightly hateful thought. She knew he meant well–hell so did Troy–so she needed to cut them some slack. She wasn't going to let them victimize her or force her back to her damsel role but she didn't have to be hateful. Even if Atley's next words made her want to bash his head with the archaic keyboard.
Hey, maybe if she broke it Otto would buy a new one.
"Are you sure? Because those bruises are pretty dark still. Even with the make-up."
Flushing hot, Essence brushed her hair over her shoulder, covering the hand print around her neck as her bangs covered the entire left side of her face; shielding her black eye and battered cheek from further scrutiny. She chose to ignore the man and quickly stood, the grease stained papers in hand. It didn't matter how many hours she spent trying to decipher those damn things she never would figure it out. So she would just have to track down each mechanic and have them tell her everything they remembered–which was usually only about seventy five percent of what was on the original report. And after that she could finally just give up and file it away until they remembered the rest.
Note to self: invent grease proof carbon copy paper and educate the male mechanics on the necessity of washing their hands. Sway–and Chaosia the scant few times she'd helped Sphinx on one of their cars–could both remember to wash off the sludge. So the men should be just as capable.
"I need to go find Otto and–" she looked to the name on the next sheet, rolling her eyes at Donnie and Kip's names sloppily written side by side "–Donnie and Kip. You can stay or go if you want, but I do have work to do Atley."
She saw him flinch at her words and felt a flicker of remorse as she pushed out of the office. She hadn't meant to snap at him, but aside from all the questioning and concern from everyone–and the whispered conversations she just knew were going on behind her back–Essence was on edge. Troy still hadn't called her back and she was starting to worry about never seeing her treasure again. The woman was brought out of her thoughts to see two men looking around in the main restoration area. Frowning at them suspiciously, she made her way down the stairs; her stiletto heels announcing her approach long before either were able to see her.
Although wary she placed a professional smile, thinking that they may be potential cliental. She was very grateful that she had worn black straight trousers with a casual grey cashmere sweater that was off the shoulders. Even though Otto had told her that she could wear casual clothes–had hinted that he might prefer her in the jeans and shirts and sneakers–Essence still liked to look as professional as she could. Maybe it was a throwback from the dress code in her previous retail employment or a habit that she couldn't break. Either way today it was going to work in her favor.
"Welcome to Halliwell Restoration, gentlemen. May I help you?"
The two turned to face her and Essence felt her breath catch in her throat. The older man had dark, rich skin and a stern face; though his lips were spread in a warm and respectful smile. But the younger of the two is who caught her attention. She knew that he was out of her league, but she couldn't help the shy smile tugging at her lips. But who could blame her? She was sure any red-blooded woman would love how his dark hair and tanned skin brought out the color of his eyes. He looked her over, his eyes taking on a slightly darker tint. Which of course made her think something that she later kicked herself for; flushing in embarrassment at corrupting the small part from the story Little Red Riding hood.
'My, oh, my, what green eyes you have.'
Marston Rivers–or Mars to his friends and colleagues–continued to shift in the passenger seat as his boss (and lead detective of the GRAB unit) Roland Castlebeck drove towards their current destination. Halliwell Restoration. Two days ago their desk had been swamped with theft reports and copies of insurance claims–the apparent aftermath of a thirty car sheet that had been run within the Long Beach limits. Everything Mars had–every instinctual part of him practically screamed what Castlebeck had already voiced. The entire stunt reeked of Randall 'Memphis' Rains and his ragtag crew of boosts.
Of course they had to prove it first.
Hearing the aggravated sigh next to him Mars stopped fidgeting. Part of almost always listening to his instincts had made him damned good at interpreting the moods and emotions of the people around him. Normally it served him pretty well–from being able to spot a lie to knowing when a perp was more dangerous than they looked. But another benefit was that he knew when he crossed a line, and he was very close to trampling over the thin red barrier containing Castlebeck's patience. The lead detective's jaw set hard as they rounded the corner into the lot; parking next to the rather infamous in-construction Shelby with a snort and roll of his eyes. Mars went to open the door when his boss stopped him; clamping a hand on his arm firm enough to make him look back. Castlebeck was a good guy–a great detective–but sometimes even Mars found himself scared shitless when the hint of anger would show beneath his calm words.
"I'll do all the talking, you got me Mars? You're only here to observe how we handle things since you just got transferred three weeks ago."
Not really able to find his voice Mars just nodded instead, knowing that he was testing him in more ways than just being able to follow instructions. After looking at him for a long time Castlebeck gave a curt nod and got out, Mars quickly following as he shed his coat and secured his piece. He knew that Drycoff would probably give him hell for leaving his jacket in the back seat but it was a hot fucking day. And not all of them had the luxury of being sequestered to an air conditioned courtroom to testify. The two detectives walked through the open doors of the garage, keen eyes taking in all every small detail while they kept their ears trained to even the most mundane conversations. Who knew how many members Memphis would have in his crew and one of them was bound to slip up one way or another.
They moved slowly towards the stairs, looking over the cars to see if they recognized any of them that were stolen. If he remembered correctly Otto used to own a chop-shop way back when, and it's possible that it was going on again. The click of heels on the stairs behind them made the two detectives turn to see a woman neither recognized. Mars raised a brow as Castlebeck stilled; his eyes flitting over her quickly, noting that despite the casual feel of the garage the woman–girl really. Christ she looked like she just barely out of her teens– was dressed overly professional.
The edges of Mars lips flickered upwards when he saw a red spot on her right cheek, her light brown hair covering her neck and left side of the face. He suddenly wanted to push the thick silken curtain back to see how just long her neck was. To investigate if her whole body would flush if he were to kiss and nip her lovely bronze skin. His eyes flicked down, trailing over her neck; her bare shoulders didn't look bad either. Despite the heels the girl was short; barely reaching his shoulders as she shifted from foot to foot before him. How petite-how tiny was she without them? Would she even come to his chest? And how did her legs still look long enough to wrap around his torso?
Mentally scolding himself and shaking his head, Mars listened to her soft, quiet voice. She was very shy around newcomers, he noticed.
"Welcome to Halliwell Restoration, gentlemen. May I help you?"
"Detective Castlebeck and Detective Rivers. We were wondering if it was all right to speak with either Otto Halliwell or Randal Raines?"
The woman smiled softly, if not warily at them; nodding after she looked at Castlebeck's credentials. She held out her arm holding a sheet of paper, her body turned to lead them. Mars stilled as her eyes met his; shocked by the surprisingly light color. Quicksilver irises displayed an array of emotion, swirling with a not quite blue until it was hard to look away. Jesus, with eyes like that–and a voice like quicksand he knew he was in trouble. This was the kind of woman–the kind of instant attraction and chemistry–that didn't let you go.
Even if you wanted it to.
"Right this way, detectives."
Mars raised a brow before his lips actually stretched into a grin, tilting his head to the side as he watched her backside; tracking her hips swaying. The sweater she was wrapped in fell around her thighs but was still tight enough to show her figure. And what a wonderful figure it was . . . Castlebeck rolled his eyes and elbowed the younger man, glaring at him in warning. Mars however just continued to grin, shrugging. He was man after all and the woman leading them deeper into the boost's den was well worth watching.
They walked all the way towards the back where they noticed the two men they came to see speaking in low voices near a marked calendar and a table of tools. Were they talking about another boost? If so, when in the hell did they plan to move? It would be so much easier if they could take them all down at the scene of the crime . . . but apparently that was too much to hope for. The conversation came to a halt as soon as the woman spoke; the two men almost immediately freezing-before they turned to them with an emotion Mars couldn't completely decipher. Not that it really mattered- he knew that they were rattled. Mars almost grinned before he caught himself; he wanted far more than to rattle them and he would insure that happened very soon.
Walking towards the painting bay with the two detectives behind her, Essence couldn't help but try not to blush. She was quickly able to see how toned the younger detective was–okay that was an understatement, the man had muscle! And not of the bulging gross variety. The man wasn't bulky-just built and lithe with this hard edge to him that almost reminded her of Sphinx. Though that could've been just from his sheer height–even with her tallest heels on her feet he still towered over her. A hard thing not to notice.
Breathe. Essence lectured herself, trying to slow her beating heart. She's seen hot men before, so why was this one so different? Perhaps her nerves were due to him being a cop. She tried not to rush her steps, to keep her pace even and steady but who was she kidding? These cops were really making her nervous! She almost sighed with relief when she entered the painting bay, quickly spotting the two men the two cops wanted to speak with.
"Otto, there's two detectives that wish to speak with you and Randall." Essence said loudly over the noise of the other workers still painting cars.
Essence watched both Otto and Memphis looked over towards them with a look she couldn't decipher and didn't really care to do so. But it was quickly replaced with calmness in just seconds, the two men looking like their everyday normal selves.
"Thanks Essence," Otto nodded with a smile.
With a nod of her own she went to turn away and go back to work when she circled back. She desperately wanted to be away from these two cops and away from the tension she was feeling with these four men in general–it was almost suffocating. Due to her wanting to be away she felt foolish of having forgotten the reason she came to find Otto and–having taken a look at the calendar–give him her schedule for the hospital.
"Oh and when you're able to can you please translate this?"
Otto grinned as he took the stained sheet. "Sure thing kiddo, I'm actually done for the day so after I speak with these detectives I'll come find you."
Out of habit because she hates her hair near her face Essence shook back her hair. She smiled gratefully at Otto. "Thanks Otto and I'll be returning to the hospital next week and I should have my full schedule by then."
"What the–? Who the hell did that?" Mars suddenly cried angrily.
He took Essence's arm to turn her to face him and angled her head so he can see the bruise hand print better. It was then that he saw the black eye and bruises on her cheek and brushed her bangs away. Essence's breath was caught in her throat when she watched his light green eyes darken with anger she knew was coursing through him. What was it about handsome men with the urge to protect her that made her feel like a giddy teenager? Not even with her ex did she feel like this–but then again he was more of the aggressive over protector type not the knight in shining armor type she felt from the cop and Atley.
"Did you report the asshole that did that miss?" Roland asked calmly, if icily.
Essence flushed, hating the attention she was getting. The mechanic's did not question but she knew that it had to do with Otto saying something to them–as the younger men and Chaosia for they seem to be even more protective and hanging around her more. Now she hoped there will be no trouble or even pressured from these two cops for Atley and Otto had told her that the mechanic had gotten what he deserved. And she chose not to question it.
"She didn't report it," Otto answered just as calmly and icily. "But the man was fired and got what he deserved."
Roland, seeing the anger behind the words–and meaning–nodded appreciated. Mars, however, seemed like he wanted to object but Essence didn't want to continue with the conversation. She cleared her throat and stepped away from Mars, bright red with embarrassment.
"Ex-excuse me, but I have to go back to work."
And she nearly ran out of the painting bay.
A/N: Okay, long wait I'm sorry! But I got a new job as an assistant manager and I don't really have time to type up many of what I've written down. Thank you to Chaosia Guadimus for graciously editing the last bit (I love you, thank you for doing this for me!). Thank you all for reading, please review and let me know what you think! :)