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Violent Delights || roy harper

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``   𝐢 𝐰𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝐬𝐡𝐨𝐰 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐟𝐞𝐚𝐫 𝐢𝐧 𝐚 𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐟𝐮𝐥 𝐨𝐟 𝐝𝐮𝐬𝐭   ``

𝔸 𝔻𝔼ℕ𝕊𝔼 𝔽𝕆𝔾 lay over the stagnant streets of Star City. From out of the murk came a droning blast of sirens from an unmarked police cruiser accompanied by a swarm of fire engines and ambulances less than a mile from the center of downtown, but no lights from the cityscape pierced the veil of mist.

               Ainsley Colte sat in the front passenger seat, fingers wrapped tightly around the door handle as Jack Gallahan's vermilion pool car bounced and swayed over the uneven asphalt of the rough two lane road. The headlights stabbed into the darkness, twin shafts of bright beam yellow that somersaulted wildly up and down, briefly illuminating the rutted drive and the skeletal telephone poles that lined it. From a rickety stereo held to the dash of the car by duck tape and thumb tacks, came the heavy growl of grunge guitar and Courtney Love's throaty alto pushing over it like a tidal wave. 

               " I think you missed a pothole back there, " she said dryly over the music, hazarding a glance into the review mirror.

               Jack shot her a look that dripped of nonchalant sarcasm, her dyed blond bob bouncing off her shoulders as the car plowed through yet another dip in the road. The metal frame jostled violently, and Ainsley gripped the door handle grimly. Ahead, the shoulder of the road narrowed into a sketchy dirt lane lining the backside of red brick apartment buildings, and instead of slowing, Jack pushed the car relentlessly forward. The tires on the passenger side reared up onto the curb and Ainsley felt her entire mass shift in the seat, rocking crazily back and forth as her heart jumped into her throat. Her hand shot out to her left, fingers digging into Jack's shoulder, a squeak pushing past her lips.  " Jack! "

               There was a screech of rubber tires, and the car slowed rapidly to a stop, throwing them both forward only to be yanked back by the seat belt, the friction of the movement sawing a line of red against Ainsley's throat. A throaty exclamation left her lips, soon followed by a curse.

               Jack pouted, and her ruby lips glinted in the review mirror. " You're no fun. "

               Ainsley shifted disconsolately and threw a heated glare over her shoulder at her best friend. Compared to her own unease at being tossed around in a swaying car and narrowly escaping vehicular manslaughter, Jack was all smiles and glamour. The silver glitter eyeshadow she wore blazed like moonshine in the dimness of the interior, and large hoop earrings dangled down to her chin; unconcerned, she parked the car on the side of the gravel lot between an industrial sized dumpster and the alley road that snaked past a razor wire fence onto the main highway leading back into Star City's downtown thoroughfare. The setting was eerie- the fog had adopted a faint orange glow in principle of the street lamps hounding the outer edges of the buildings, two tall fat towers the made the air claustrophobic and thin. Broken beer bottles littered the ground, making it twinkle like artificial stars, and against the far wall of the apartments, caught between the red brick and the high raised fence, Ainsley thought she saw a shadow move. 

               " You could've killed us, "  Ainsley replied, a scowl etching across her features. She was used to Jack's hunt for adrenaline and propensity for danger, and she even encouraged it sometimes. Other times, the suicidal behavior just scared her. 

               She unbuckled her seat belt, fingers grazing tenderly along the welt they had left on her throat, and opened the car door with a violent twist of the handle. The music cut off as Jack did the same, and they both stepped out into the cool night air. Thick and heavy, the fog acting as some sort of suffocating agent, and Ainsley wrinkled her nose. The slamming of car doors echoed off of stone walls and bounced inside her head, and she cautioned a glance upwards. The sky was starless, and even the moon seemed tentative to show itself, drifting across the black canvas and hiding behind the thick layers of smog. A blinking red light roamed as an airplane flew overhead. 

               There was an abrupt crunch in the gravel, and Ainsley felt a warm hand slip into her own, and she sighed as Jack pulled her towards an ominous baby blue door leading into the more rundown of the buildings. Etched into the metal was a variety of graffiti, most of it proclaiming lewd acts or disdain for the police, and beneath that, dents and scratches and more than one suspicious stain. Jack said nothing as she knocked, three slow rattling pounds that shook off the frame of the door, and Ainsley shifted her weight in unease. This wasn't their usual meet up spot. The Glades were rarely a host to glamorous places, but at least the places they frequented before weren't the back alley of some rundown apartment complex that looked straight out of a horror movie. Ainsley opened her mouth to say something, but as soon as she took a deep breath to get the words out, the metal door creaked open a few inches and one beady gray eye appeared. It was bloodshot and wide, like whoever was attached to it had been crying for a long time, and it was undeniably creepy. A voice shot out of the darkness, light and melodic and soft, a young girl's voice that sounded like it was constructed out of whispers and keens, which added so much more to the creep factor.

               " Password? "

               Jack smiled triumphantly, and she tossed a look over her shoulder at Ainsley as if to say 'watch this'. Lips curled up in a snaggle tooth grin, and she placed her hands on her hips. " Vertigo. "

               An acrid feeling bubbled up in Ainsley's chest and exploded in her synapses, and her shoulders slouched. She hated that word, and what it meant in the slums, more than anything else, and dread coiled like an angry viper in the pit of her stomach. Vertigo was a new strain of drug, a cross between heroin and cocaine and everything else out on the streets, and it usually had fatal side effects after prolonged use. She hoped that it was just a coincidence, that whatever this password stood for, it was just a word, and didn't lead to anything more- Ainsley knew the kind of trouble that followed it, and Jack had too bright of a future to throw it all away.

                The door swung open, revealing a child that couldn't have been any older than eleven. Mousy, with dull brown hair that looked like it hadn't seen a good wash or a brush in quite a few days, and two bloodshot eyes that were the dim gray color of stones found in the creek bed. She looked borderline emaciated, her hollowed cheeks casting grim shadows down her already long face, and when Ainsley looked at her feet, she saw they were bare and dirty. A knife of dismay twisted in her gut; her jaw dropped at the sight, and she gave a quick look of surprised horror towards Jack, who looked like she didn't notice a thing. She merely crouched down low, pulled a candy bar out of her pocket and handed it over to the girl. 

               " Hey there, Syl. You doin' okay, missy? " She coiled a tendril of hair around her finger, then spoke again without waiting for an answer. " Vinnie hasn't started yet, has he? I'm betting triple tonight. "

               The girl, who had now been identified as Syl, snatched the chocolate out of Jack's hand quicker than they both would've given her credit for, and set upon immediately unwrapping it and taking a healthy bite. There was a crinkle of the wrapper in the space between them, and Jack adopted an annoyed expression that, in turn, made Ainsley feel queasy. She cleared her throat, her red painted lips forming a slight pout, and Syl looked at her, startled. A beat passed, and she shook her head and pointed down the hallway behind her, where Ainsley could make out a beam of light framing a doorway. Even from down here, she could smell tobacco and alcohol, and hear a cacophony of beer bottles clinking together and rambunctious laughter and cursing. A pang of apprehension made her shudder, but Jack was already wrapping cold thin fingers around her wrist and dragging her in the direction of the noise.

               " Jack- "

               " You're gonna love this new crew, Ains, " Jack announced, excitement riding the current of her voice. " Vinnie is a real doll, I'm telling ya. Ain't nothing like those other guys- the ones that stole your earnings that one time? Not anymore, Ains. Not with my Vinnie. "

               Ainsley didn't miss the 'my Vinnie' part, but at this point, she didn't really care who or what Vinnie was to Jack. She just wanted to play a few rounds of poker, get her money, hightail it out of there, and never ever come back. The place reeked of booze and musk, a scent so thick it got stuck in the back of her throat and made her eyes water, and it only got worse the closer they got to the room. Down the hall, Ainsley made out the outline of someone leaning against the sill of a window, beefy arms crossed over his chest and head angled in their direction- or more of just her direction, because whoever was down there made almost instantaneous eye contact with her. Alarmed, she looked away, wondering if it might have just been a coincidence, but then she looked back at him, and saw that his arms were now uncrossed and he wasn't leaning on the windowsill anymore. He was just standing dead center in the middle of the hallway, a beam of moonlight from outside cutting across his bald head, and he was staring straight at her.

               Nope. Definitely not a coincidence. 

               It would have been fine, usually; lots of people tended to get stared down in they were new to a particular area, simply as a show of territorial dominance. It was a good tactic to scare off anyone looking for trouble. But they were just a pair of teenagers, and scarcely looked like threats. Jack looked more formidable with her bold strokes of makeup and leather jacket, but Ainsley objectively looked like she was thirteen at best. No makeup, wearing clothes that were large enough that they concealed her true form, and a shameful height of just five feet. Hardly impressive. But nope, this guy was staring at her like she drowned his dog in a bathtub.

               She let out a sigh of relief when Jack, still toting her around by the wrist, dragged her inside the room. They were bathed in light that was otherwise absent in the hallway, and she blinked as her eyes adjusted. A low whistle sounded from the back of the room, and Ainsley felt her wrist released by Jack. 

               " Vinnie! "

               There was a squeal of excitement, and Ainsley watched in shocked stupor as Jack was swallowed up in a fervent hug by probably the prettiest looking boy she had ever seen. He looked older, much older, than either of them, with a crop of honeyed curls and sun kissed skin that practically glowed ethereally beneath the burn of the yellow ceiling lights. His eyes were fire colored, set deep into dark lashes that almost made them looked rimmed with kohl, and a long scar ran down the length of his left cheek, puckering the skin in a pearly pink gouge that only added to a handsome roguish glint in his eye. He looked like a lion, his mane swept back across his scalp and stopping short of his shoulders, and Ainsley sensed a ferocity in him that made her equally drawn to him and afraid to approach. 

               He planted a kiss right on Jack's lips. " Hey, Jacky. You stop being sweet on me in front of my boys, you hear? "

                Ah. So that's why Jack insisted on coming here tonight. This Vinnie person was her new boyfriend. Ainsley furrowed her brow in annoyance, stepping further into the room and surveying the surroundings. It was taller than it was wide, with a makeshift loft made out of empty bookshelves and plywood set up against the wall farthest from the door, propped up against the tall stained glass windows that peaked outside. The kitchen was adjacent to the front room, and consisted of a fridge, stove, and sink, with the counter crowded with half empty bottles of hard liquor and bags of tortilla chips. Queso and bean was set aside, or at least their empty containers, and flies buzzed around the sink that was piled high with dirty dishes. Right next to the counter was a rickety oak wood table with four men stationed around it- all of them looked like they had just been released from prison. Two wore black muscle shirts and camo pants, tattoos crawling up their arms and their black hair buzzed short to their head. One sat slouched in a chair, a maroon hoodie shadowing everything except his crooked smile and split lip that was a little too red to be an old wound. The last was taller than all of them, but he was also the thinnest. His arms were pocketed with scars, and his skin looked diseased with patches of purple wherever blood vessels had ruptured beneath the surface. When he smiled, Ainsley saw he had filed his teeth to points. All of them were holding cards, barking at each other as they threw them against the table with either triumphant laughter or hostile threats. 

               A hand came down on Ainsley's shoulder that was definitely not Jack's, and she yelped. She moved quickly, shying away from the contact and throwing a glance over her shoulder, a snarl snapping off pearly whites as she barked out a warning. " Don't fucking touch me! "

               Vinnie stared at her, amber eyes wide with an unreadable, terrifying expression, and he lowered his hand slowly. Guilt rose in Ainsley's chest, and she had the decency to look apologetic- she hadn't meant to snap at him so aggressively. Wilting under a stare that provoked more than a little fear in her, she dipped her head. 

               " . . . Sorry. " 

               Like the flip of a coin, his features switched to that of an amiable host, and he shrugged. Everyone was staring at them, and it was a fact Ainsley was painfully aware of- eyes burning into the back of her skull, and Jack just to her left, frantically trying to get her attention. 

               " Hey, no worries man. I shouldn't have snuck up on ya. My bad. " Vinnie held out his hand, and she reluctantly shook it, cringing inwardly at the strength of his grip. " I'm Vinnie. Jacky's told me a lot about ya. Ashley, was it? " 

               " Ainsley, actually, "she replied coolly, eyeing Jack from across the room. " She hasn't mentioned you. " 

               Jack slapped down a pack of cards loudly on the wooden table, diverting everyone's attention. She looked nervous, her face drained of color, and her teeth had nibbled off a good portion of her wine lipstick. Stiffly, she sat down, shuffling the deck, motioned tensely to Vinnie. " Well? We gonna stand around making kissy faces all night? I got money to make, boyo. " 

               " Or lose, " Vinnie replied dryly, leaving Ainsley to seat himself between the identical players. " Ashley, make yourself comfortable. If you wanna play, you gotta add to the pool, doll. " 

               Almost robotically, Ainsley moved across the room and set herself between Jack and the boy in the maroon hoodie, her back against the wall and her eyes on the door that was still wide open. For a split second, through the shadow of his hood, his eyes met hers, and she noticed they were a bright green that looked almost artificial given how vibrant they were, but he looked away before she could be sure if he was wearing colored contacts. Next to her, Jack was digging through her purse and threw three twenties in the center of the playing table. The pool already had some heft to it, and beneath Jack's offer, Ainsley spotted two fifties and a hundred. There was a pair of brass knuckles, somebody's gold chain, and glinting at the very bottom of the stack, was a polished steel arrowhead. 

               What the hell? But she didn't say anything outloud- she had already disrupted the game night enough with her little outburst towards Vinnie, and she didn't want to risk asking too many questions in the wrong company. Instead, she reached into the pocket of her olive green jacket and pulled out a single quarter, flipping it up into the air before tossing it on the table with the rest of the goods. Jack rolled her eyes, a cheeky grin already splayed on her lips, while across the table, Vinnie watched the quarter roll to a stop with narrowed eyes. Again, a spark of tension, and they stared at each other, unsmiling, until Vinnie leaned back in his chair and turned his attention to Jack with a wink and a grin that reminded Ainsley of a shark.

               " Aight then, let's get started. Us boys 'ave been playin a little bit o' Blackjack to get warmed up. You girls gonna hop, or what? "

               " We'll hop, handsome, " Jack quipped, then nudged Ainsley, who nodded silently. Across the table, Vinnie's mouth quirked into something that might've equally been a smile or a snarl. In the dim lighting it was hard to tell. Wordlessly, he swiped up Jack's pack of cards and shuffled it into his own, passing them out in a circular motion around the table. Blackjack was up first, and as soon as Ainsley was delt her card, she swiped it under the table and took a quick peak. 

               Seven of hearts. Not as good as a ten point card, but pretty damn close. 

               For a fleeting moment, a half smiled twitched onto her lips, but she forced a neutral expression. Vinnie was the dealer this round, so he passed out cards to everyone except himself, then leaned back in his rickety bar stool that made him taller that everyone else. It was probably a stupid power ploy, and given the already absurd height advantage he had on Ainsley, it was working. The first one up was the kid sitting next to her- the one with the malachite eyes and maroon hood thrown up over his face. He held his card openly, and even from Ainsley's position, she could clearly see that it was an ace. 

               " Pass, " he said, yawning.

               Ainsley stared at him, genuinely wondering if he was stupid, or had some sort of mental deficiency. It was so easy to win a round of Blackjack with an ace as your handout card, and he was passing? She would've said something, but then her own chances at winning the pool of cash in the center of the table would have been down the drain. Resisting a look of complete disbelief, she turned away and motioned for another card. Vinnie flicked a card in her direction carelessly, and Ainsley arranged it face up in front of her handout. Four of diamonds. 

               Jack played through her turn, then the seedy looking man with filed teeth. Around the table, everyone took another card atop their initial, scanning their hand like they couldn't memorize a simple number from five seconds beforehand. Ainsley didn't move, her own card count internalized, and she reclined back in her seat, shoulder brushing against Jack's. It might've been a new crew for the night, but she knew this game like the back of her hand- given how long she had been gambling, she ought have. No respectable places of business would even think about hiring a girl that looked like she crawled out of a sewer and lived off a diet of garbage and rainwater: aka her. This was her only source of income. 

               She won the first round, much to everyone's dismay. Vinnie looked pissed off more than anyone as he pushed a pile of cash in her direction, mumbling under his breath, and Ainsley immediately pocketed the two fifties and the hundred, but left the rest on the table for grabs. There was a collective groan when she won the second one. 

               By the third round, most of the table had turned on her, and her unease made her sit a little taller in her seat, resolute on going home with her pockets full of spending money. Vinnie was passing out the second set of cards when Ainsley saw movement past his shoulder, a shadow in the doorway of the apartment. She paused, squinting, her fingernails tapping on the table fretfully. The overhead ceiling fan kicked in automatically, and a buzz filled the air that drowned out Vinnie's voice. Beside her, she felt the boy in the hoodie tense. 

               " Who the fuck is that? 

               Her question cut Vinnie off in mid sentence, and Ainsley could feel his eyes pierce her like two rods of iron until he realized she wasn't even paying attention to him. He straightened in his stool, resentful, and looked over his shoulder towards the door. 

               He visibly paled. 

               A lot of things happened at once. The boy in the maroon jacket stood up without a word and marched out the door, brushing past the hulking goliath that stood there. Vinnie fell out of his chair, prompting Jack to coe his name, worried. The guy with filed teeth let out a low keening stream of whimpers that sounded more animal than human. And Ainsley got a good look at the man in the doorway as he marched across the room, swiping a beer off the counter, and seated himself right beside her. He definitely took up more mass than the boy from before, and his arm was pressed flush against her own, and when she cautioned a look upwards into his face, she saw with horror that it was the man that had been staring her down in the hallway. He was maybe seven feet tall, exasperated by Ainsley's own measly height, and had three long scars etched across his left eye that ran straight back into a nonexistent hairline. She stared, a sliver of knife sharp panic tearing down her spine. He was staring right back. 

               " Butch! " 

               Vinnie's voice cut through the tension, and Ainsley flinched. Leaning against Jack, who wrapped one arm around her waist in a comforting gesture, she watched as Vinnie nervously scratched his own scar that marred his cheek. He wasn't the pretty player now- now he just looked scared. Nobody was playing cards now, they were just watching Vinnie, waiting for his move. " Eh . . . Butch. What can I do for ya? You want a beer, huh? "

               In response, Butch raised the beer bottle he had swiped off the counter, and popped the cap off his his mouth. His fucking mouth. 

               Ainsley turned her head towards Jack and whispered urgently into her ear. The earnings from the last two rounds totalled up to maybe three hundred dollars, and while it wasn't as much as her card shark behavior usually got her, being seated next to an aura of pure intimidation made her more than satisfied to call it a night. And she would definitely be having words with Jack about the little switch up on their usual gambling crew. 

               " Let's get out of here, " she whispered lowly. Jack looked at her, her expression implying that she agreed, but before long, it switched over to disappointment as she glanced at the still favorable pile of cash sitting on the table. The arrowhead was still there, but the brass knuckles had been pocketed by Ainsley. 

               " C'mon, " Jack replied, sounding unconvincingly hopeful. " Just one more game? " 

               Ainsley stared at her, her lips thinning into a tight line of anxiety. She looked back towards Butch, thinking maybe she was going crazy. Maybe this whole thing was just a big misunderstanding, and that Butch was really some guy, a really big muscly guy, that she knew from somewhere. Maybe he was just trying to get to know her better and-

               Nope. He was still staring at her, his expression less than friendly. 

               Fuck that.  

               It was a kneejerk reaction, and Ainsley practically jumped out of her chair, and Jack's grip around her waist. Her pockets were heavy with the gambling money she had earned, and she stuffed her hands inside them, fingers looping around the brass knuckles. The metal stung, but offered cold solace to her riveting heart beat. 

               " Hey, uh . . ." Shit. What did she even say? " Um. I gotta go. I have . . .uh. A doctor's appointment. " 

               You fucking idiot. 

               She couldn't convince herself to come up with a better excuse, and she leaned over to Jack and said softly, " I'll wait in the car for you. One more game. That's it. " 

               It earned her a pout from Jack's end, but she didn't care anymore. Butch was eyeing her like he meant to say something- or maybe he didn't. Either way, the environment that had been unwelcoming from the start had now taken a sour note to it and become inhospitable. Ainsley scooped up her belongings and shimmied behind the the chairs pushed against the wall, knuckles scraping against the splintered wood along the backs, and made a beeline for the doorway. Behind her, there was a grunt of something that could have been frustration or relief, but she didn't care too much to think on it.

               Out in the hallway, she made sure to close the door and latch it; the echo of the bolt sliding into place giving her more peace of mind than she would have otherwise admitted. It eliminated any light from the narrow passage, save the scant amount of illumination from the street lamps outside. It cast angular squares of orange light against the creaking dilapidated floorboards leading to the rickety staircase, and the corridor seemed impossibly longer compared to before. Rain slanted against the cracked glass of windows, nothing more than a slight drizzle, but carried on the current of a fierce wind that tossed it against the side of the brick-and-marble facade of the building like it was artillery.  Far above the steeples and abandoned radio towers of the city, lightning tore at the sky. The first floor windows had been boarded up and covered in tin, and while the second floor windows remained securely shuttered, there was still a charged chill of storm in the stale air. 

               And Ainsley was all alone. 

              A weight was taken off her shoulders, relieved at the emptiness of the space. Compared to the cramped suffocating inside the apartment, she felt like she could actually breath out here, especially without the addition of Butch. She slumped, momentarily, against the wall, shrugging up her shoulders up against a tremor of discomfort. Hands delved into the depths of her pockets, looping fingers through harsh cold metal circlets of the brass knuckles-  there was no practicality to the endeavor, but the feel of the weapon in her hands granted confidence and false security. Feeling marginally safer in an objectively not-so-safe environment, Ainsley sniffed and started down the hall towards the staircase. Up on the second floor, a clear view of the alley below was provided, and she leaned closer to the window to peer outside. Jack's pool car was still parked by the dumpster, adopting a slick sheen from the rain and, fortunately, not broken into despite the sketchy terrain. Just to the right of the vehicle, however, a shadow passed over the chain link fence, and Ainsley squinted. Red hoodie, ripped denim jeans- it looked like Hoodie from the card game.  

               And he was hauling ass across the alley. Full sprint, hand over the top of the hood against the onslaught of rain, looking like he was running from the devil himself. Apparently deeming it too time costly to simply maneuver around Jack's car, Ainsley watched in shocked awe as he jumped up, slid across the hood, and continued his  escape into the street, and subsequently out of her line of sight. Ainsley had definitely seen weirder in her time in the Glades, but that didn't change the fact that she was appropriately awed in probably the worst way possible. 

               Too awed to hear the creaking floorboards behind her. 

               " What the fu- "

               She didn't get a chance to finish her exclamation before a hand shot through her hair, gripping at the very front in a fist, and slammed her face into the glass paneling.  There was a crunch, pinching in her cheek as shards broke off and slashed at her, and pain blossomed just below her eye. She felt a hand encircle her wrist, throwing her back against the opposite wall hard enough that she heard her shoulder pop out of place, and not painlessly. 

               Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to scream before a foot planted against her chest, rattling her ribcage. A wheeze pushed past her lips in replacement of breaths, and with her lungs suddenly feeling like deflated kickballs, sucking in air was a challenge, let alone screaming. Ainsley blinked, vision blurred before focusing on the shady silhouette standing over her. Tall, stocky, mean. 

               It was Butch. And he did not look happy. 

               Ainsley grappled with the foot pressing her into the ground, fingers slipping beneath the rubber soles and pushing upwards, but the weight was too much. A simple shift of his balance, and it simply slammed back into her, pressing harshly against her sternum. 

               " Scream, and I put you through the window. " 

               He didn't sound like he was kidding, and Ainsley was too freaked out to argue, so she simply nodded in compliance. The boot released, and before she could get to her feet herself, Butch was leaning over and grabbing the collar of her shirt, dragging her up the wall and slamming her against it. Her head, against the wall. Ainsley's vision swam with the collision, and she feebly pushed him away. Down the hall, she heard a scuffle of shoes.  " What the fuck do you want, you son of a - " 

               His hand closed around her throat, and the words immediately died on her tongue. There was no pressure or pain, and was probably used as an intimidation factor more than anything, and boy, did it work. 

               " You know, your momma back home must be missing you, girl. " Butch said the words as a threat, fingers tightening around her throat.  " She owes us money. " 

               Ainsley squinted. " What? 

               She would have said more- meaningless insults tossed like venom, but the hand around her throat slackened, then released altogether, and she was silenced with a backhand across her face, and the blow sent her skidding across the hall and onto the cold floor, jaw clipping against the wall. Copper flavor sprung up from her lip, seeping into her mouth like hot liquid, and she spat a mouthful of blood and looked up. Butch sprang down after her, and Ainsley believed he would have torn out her throat with his teeth, that's how ferocious and bestial he looked. Lips peeled back in a snarl, inhuman, and his fingers found contact with her hair once, yanking hard so her neck craned back and they were making eye contact. 

               Down the hall, she heard the scuffle of feet once more, and the creaking of a door being pushed open. And then a voice- the sweetest sound she had ever heard. It was Jack, and she was calling out her name. 

               Ainsley found her breath, and screamed. 

               Everything happened at once, but Ainsley saw it in slow motion. The moment froze as she watched Butch's face change, anger shifting into something more severe. Incredulous rage, and he dragged her up off the ground. By her hair, by her throat, up into the air where her feet paddled for purchase against the ground. 

               " You bitch, " he snarled, lips peeling back to reveal an ugly grimace. His breath fast, hissing through his teeth, and Ainsley felt herself being thrown against the window. The glass held fast, but only for a moment, and then she heard a crunch, and the pressure against her back disappeared and Ainsley was thrust into a world of falling- plummeting thirty feet down and shattering against the gravel. 

               It didn't hurt as bad as she had imagined falling two stories to be. It was much, much worse. The air in her lungs escape her body with the force of an atom bomb, leaving her so quickly that she could feel the stretch as her lungs crumpled from the vacuum. A firework detonated in her leg, and shrill agony sent a thrill straight up her back. A whiteness washed across her vision, and she feared she would lose consciousness. 

               " No, " she gasped, a sob bubbling in her throat. It hurt to talk, but the hysteria was worse. " No no no! " 

               Ainsley rolled on her back, finding traction with her hands to pull herself up, but sharp splinters of pain dragged her back down with a weak cry. Her head propped up, weary, and glanced down at her leg, twisted unnaturally backwards, and when she tried to move it, the pain was so bad she felt her entire body buzz with cold numbness. Exhaustion felt like iron chains, pulling her to the ground and keeping her there, unmoving; stunned and bleeding, lightheaded and gasping in a gutter stream of her own blood. 

               It didn't take a genius to figure out how Ainsley's trespass into a night of gambling would end.