Whelp, I'm glad you liked the last chapter because I almost didn't post it. I wasn't sure if I liked it or not and I was feeling real sassy about it.
Here's the next one.
Hope you enjoy.
I own nothing.
"She pepper-sprayed your face…"
"Yeah. And it might've been bear-mace. Because seriously, the width of that stream was enough to take down an elephant."
"We're talking about the same girl, right? Spencer Carlin? The girl you've been borderline obsessed with for months?"
"I'm not obsessed." Glaring brown eyes surged over bent knees. Their intensity disturbed by briny droplets sliding passed a creased brow.
"Right, excuse me. The girl you pine after."
"God you're annoying." Her words squeezed through contracted muscles, escaping in a drawn out rumble.
"You finally reveal yourself, in all your leather-fitted glory, and—"
"I was there, I don't need a play-by-play. Thanks."
"Come on Ash, admit it. Tell me you see the humor here."
"Whatever. It could've been worse. I think she liked me." The trainer's low chuckle bounced off the metal structures adorning the rooftop. Echoing playfully from one surface to the next.
"People don't typically mace someone they like."
"I hate you."
"You know what they say, hate is just another form of 'I love you.'"
"No one says that."
"Fifty more. Then we're done."
Her harsh pants filled the air, accentuating the momentary silence between the two figures.
Taut muscles quivered along her abdomen. Tremoring over shifting ribs.
A strangled cry surged from her throat as she pitched forward one final time before sprawling backwards. Arms and legs thrown wide, proudly displaying their warranted fatigue.
"Seriously though, I think it could've been worse." Her words staggered as her chest heaved.
"I think the only way it could've been worse would've been if you were nude. If you ever drop in to save her again she'll either mace you for a second time or run in the opposite direction. That's how bad your first impression was. It's like when you're at a bar and you see that middle aged, balding man trying to grind on twenty-somethings but he can't find the rhythm so he's just doing a series of awkward pelvic thrusts and hip gyr—"
"Stop, okay? I get it. And you're wrong." Her statement punctuated by her rising form.
"I've totally seen a guy doing that."
"I'm going to see her again. Tonight. And it'll be different."
The man's face bent under a frown. Eyes fixed with mild concern. "Do you think that's such a good idea? I mean, you see her when you're Ashley and then you see her when you're, you know. What if she figures it out?"
"She won't. We barely hold a conversation when I see her after my appointments."
"I just think that if you're going to try to pursue her you should do it as Ashley."
"I'm not pursuing her Aiden. She works for Times Quarterly. I don't want them to run some article about how I'm a spaz. That's not good for my image. You're the one who said I should embrace a more public role."
"I just don't want you to get hurt, Ash. I care about you. And if you really like this girl, don't you want her to fall for the real you?"
"This is the real me."
"Aiden don't. You're pissing me off. And stay away from Shelly." Her eyes narrowed as she glanced at the man. His broad shoulders aligning with hers as they stood before the elevator doors. "Don't think I didn't notice you checking her out earlier."
"She's cute." His simple response covered his concern.
"She's the best assistant I've had in a long time. She had groceries sent to my apartment and this morning my office fridge was full. She's off limits. Unbutton your pants somewhere else." A frustrated finger jabbed harshly at the glowing orb, relenting in its prodding only after a shrill chime. The metal frame lazily swallowed the passengers, disinclined to start its tired journey.
"You act like I'm a pig." His mouth lifted in lopsided amusement.
"You are." The machine lurched to an ungainly rest. Its steel entrance parting to reveal the woman's office door. "I need to grab my suit before I leave. I'll talk to you later."
An acknowledging grunt slipped through the closing doors, reaching the woman's retreating back.
Her sweat-slicked hand grasped the brass sphere. A slight twist pushing her into the shadowy room.
Determined brown orbs focused on the bottommost drawer of her filing cabinet. Its silver knob held slightly askew.
She slid the worn drawer open. The small wheels sighing wearily.
A tanned hand delicately enclosed around the neatly folded leather pile. Pulling it from its shady resting place.
The brunette jumped. A sudden rush of harsh white light pinching her eyelids. She hastily ushered her black cargo behind her back. Body snapping towards the door.
"Shelly. What is it?" Her voice decorated with barely masked irritation.
"I've a—arranged for a taxi to take you home today. Most—most public transport is shut down and the company cars are blocked in on Broadway."
"What's going on?"
"There's a h—hold up on Queensboro Bridge, Miss Davies."
"Must be some traffic jam if it's holding up Transit and lower Manhattan." The brunette mumbled as she quickly shoved the suit into her vacant briefcase, careful to keep it from the other woman's view.
"Yes Miss Davies. The—the driver already called to let us know he's arrived. He's parked on the s—south side of the building. Apparently uh, traffic is so bad he couldn't make it out front. The service elevator would pr—probably be quicker."
"The south side... Like in the alley?"
"I—I guess so."
"Alright." A slight frown pressed into the brunette's features as she pushed through the heavy emergency exit doors.
Her light footsteps echoed down the cement stairwell as she made her way to the waiting service elevator.
The bottom of the padded cart gave way slightly under her feet before lurching downward with a determined diligence.
The passing floors did not call out cheerfully to her. Greeting her instead with an unfocused grunting, too busy to waste their time on pleasantries.
Distracted hands played absentmindedly with the briefcase as blue padding swayed on either side of her. Mirroring the subtle movements of her transport.
She had just under two hours to make it to her usual spot at her usual time. She was determined to make a better impression. Or at least make a more badass exit, instead of stumbling down a dank alley like last time.
Oh yeah. And leave the blonde without every toxic particle known to man tap-dancing on her corneas…
The elevator jostled to a halt and impatiently ushered her out its doors.
Shielding her eyes she stepped out into the somnolent evening sun. Its calm fingers stretching languid shadows across the jagged city.
"Miss Davies?" The gruff voice drew her eyes to the waiting taxi.
"Yes." She stepped forward and eased herself into the cab. "You can just take me to—"
"I already have your location ma'am." His words interrupting the woman tactlessly as he pulled forward through the alleyway.
The brunette's eyebrows rose in subtle disbelief. Eyes searching the engrossed face reflected in the mirror.
Her scrutinizing stare was abruptly cut off as her shoulder and head connected violently with the side window. The man turning his vehicle forcefully to the right.
"Ah, What the f—" The expletive died before it reached her lips. Too stunned by what she saw outside. The car was literally a foot away from passing buildings. Probably less than a foot. More like six inches.
Her eyes shot to the other window. Stilled traffic flew by her taxi as it barreled down the sidewalk.
The. Side. Walk.
Where people walk.
Where cars generally don't walk.
Drive. Whatever. Point being the taxi driver was crazy.
She was ripped out of her stunned silence as some poor woman barely dove out of the way.
"Excuse me, but what the fuck are you doing?!" Her hands gripped frantically onto the front seat.
"I was told to get you to your destination as quickly as possible."
"Is this some kind of joke? Watch out! Jesus H. Christ. Do you even have a license?"
The driver's lips remained barred as he weaved indelicately between obstacles. Breathing and not.
"Hey! Did you even hear me? Pull this vehicle over right now."
A brawny hand stretched forward, grasping a knob on the dash. The uniform voice of a radio commentator filled the turbulent cab. Grappling with the words spilling from the brunette's mouth.
"Alright, asshole. Pull this piece of shit over right now or I'm going to kick you're a—"
Wait, what did he just say?
"Turn that up, turn that up!" she huffed breathlessly.
The driver wordlessly complied and the commentator's voice flooded the taxi. His deep voice rumbling through pulsing speakers.
"…Queensboro Bridge. A school bus filled with hostages and armed gunmen have police locked in a standstill. It is unknown as of yet whether these men are working alone or if they are part of a larger organization."
She didn't know what to do. This was a little out of her element. But she couldn't help but feel like she had to try. To do something. Anything.
It would be risky. She wasn't used to performing in front of people. Large groups of people anyway.
There would no doubt be bystanders and police and reporters crawling all over the bridge.
There was also another problem. She was used to making her way around in the city. On buildings. Not bridges. Not so far in the open. Away from an easy escape.
Her decision pulled violently between rationality and conscience. Hands fighting one another in uncertainty.
Her body lurched forward. Cheek colliding with the headrest in front of her.
"This is your stop ma'am."
Her eyes scanned the view from her window. "Another alley?"
"This is your stop."
"Okay…What's the fare?" She just wanted to get out and away. The hell away. As far as possible.
She was never riding in a taxi again. Ever.
"It's taken care of."
"It's taken care of."
"Fine." She dragged her unsteady limbs from the cab. Briefcase in tow.
Since when did a cabby refuse money?
The cab peeled away. Leaving the brunette standing somewhat dejectedly in the alley.
She was of two minds. Both of which were doing their best to win her over. Gain dominance.
Should she go back to her nightly ritual? Or should she go to the bridge?
The idea of going to the bridge rubbed on her nerves. It represented something other than what she did every other night. If she went to the bridge she'd be deliberately putting herself in harm's way. That wasn't out of the ordinary. But the fact that she was doing it solely to help others was.
She wasn't itching. Her skin wasn't crawling. Her mind wasn't screaming for an escape. There was no self-loathing to evade. No voices to run from. No critical stares. No whispered reminders.
No. In that moment she didn't need the mask. The protection if offered. The sanity.
Her actions had always been driven by a certain amount of self-interest. Selfishness. She didn't know how she'd act without it. The balance of numbers would mean nothing in that situation.
It was nearly impossible to think in a calculated manner when her mind was focused on the victims and not sated by the calming relief she was receiving. Impossible to choose one life over another. To choose between saving two lives over one. When her motive changed. So did she. The photographer had proven that.
Her more than amicable feelings for the blonde had left her vulnerable. Vulnerable to the irrationality of her unthoughtout actions. Vulnerable to distraction.
And like the blonde photographer, the bridge represented something dangerous. To her. To her reprieve. To the rationality that came with it.
And what was more, once she fully stepped over that boundary she wasn't sure if she'd be able to come back. If her mask would still provide her with the same relief.
Her run in with the blonde already had her risking enough of her masked identity.
What if shifting her purpose, her motive, shattered her nightly escape?
What would she do then?
Without her leather shield surely she would snap. The darkness would close in around her. Engulf her. And she'd lose what little sanity she had left.
She took a hesitant step out of the alley. Glancing around her. Gauging her location. Gauging herself.
Her body suddenly halted in fear. Conflicted eyes landing on the ominous structure one block in front of her. Looming mockingly over her slight frame.
The Queensboro Bridge.