"So what are you and the girlfriend doing for New Year's Eve?"
Mike closed the locker door. "She's not my -" He stopped himself in time and smirked and glanced over at Dustin who laughed. "Sorry. Got accustomed to saying that."
Mike grabbed his cellphone from off the bench. His wallpaper was the picture that Dustin had taken at Christmas with him and El. He had chosen the one that El had been pouting in because he thought it was endearing somehow. It made him smile before he shoved the phone into his pants pocket.
"I don't know. We haven't made any plans."
"Well the boys are going to be doing the usual. We're going down to Times Square to watch the ball drop. You guys could come along." Dustin offered as he lifted his gym bag to his shoulder.
Mike nodded as they made their way out of the locker room. "That sounds cool. I'll ask her."
"Hmm?" El wiped the back of her hand across her face leaving a trail of orange Cheeto dust across her cheek.
"Do you have any plans for New Year's Eve? Dustin has suggested that we join the guys in Time Square to watch the ball drop."
"Um..." El dug into the Cheeto bag shoving five into her mouth at the same time. "I think I have to work that night."
"Can't you take the night off?" Mike wasn't even hiding how disappointed he was.
El shook his head. "It's an important night."
The image he had of kissing El at the stroke of midnight rapidly disappeared. Mike got off the couch and headed to the kitchen. He didn't want anything but he was upset right now and didn't want El to notice.
Of course the solitude didn't last for long. El followed him into the kitchen. She looked at Mike from underneath her eyelashes as she sat on a stool. "What's the problem?"
Mike drummed his fingers against the table top. "Nothing."
El raised her eyebrows.
Mike sighed. "I just wanted to ring in the new year with you that's all."
El just continued to watch him saying nothing.
The silence continued on between them for a while. Neither side relenting on the issue. Mike leaned over and rested his forearms on the counter, his fingers locked as he watched El watching him. He knew that El couldn't just call in sick like a regular job. He knew that El was a professional criminal and she couldn't just walk away easily. But maybe there could be something else that El could do. But at the same time he knew that he couldn't ask El to change professions just for him.
Eventually El slid down off her seat and came around the other side of the counter. She casually slung an arm around Mike's hunched shoulders and kissed his cheek. She pulled back to observe Mike who used his thumb to dust away the orange crumbs from her face. A slight smile played on El's lips as she leaned in and pressed a closed mouth kiss to Mike's lips.
Mike could feel a slight wetness on his lips as El pulled away. He didn't want to tell El about how he worried about her when she was out at night instead of hogging the bed that they shared. That he was anxious until he saw her in the early morning. No it was way too early in the relationship for that and he didn't want El to think that he was clingy.
"See you soon." El's arm slipped off of Mike's shoulder and she made her way back around the counter. She flashed him a cheeky grin that showed off her dimple and left.
On the night of New Year's Eve, Mike travelled with Dustin and Lucas to Manhattan. Dustin drove and parked in a paid parking garage several blocks away. They followed the large movement of people that were heading in one direction to Times Square.
Mike was bundled up tightly with his beanie pulled over his ears so he didn't hear Dustin clearly when he said who they were meeting up with. The street was tightly packed with people of all different ages, races and even nationalities. Some had even taken up more space on the street by using foldout chairs. The three guys managed to work their way to the center of the crowd right across from the gigantic crystal ball. It never ceased to take Mike's breath away whenever he saw the ball in person. Music was blaring from random speakers and everyone seemed to be in a festive mood. He couldn't help but to notice how many people were paired off and right at that moment he wished that he had stayed had home with Paladin until El got there.
Suddenly a coffee cup appeared in front of his face and a hand slid comfortably into his own. He looked around to see Stacey smiling up at him.
"Hi. Thought that you could use this." She gestured with the coffee cup and Mike took it.
"Thanks." Mike scanned around for Dustin and Lucas. He found them a few feet away chatting up some women. He made a mental note to kill both of them when they got back to the car.
"So how was your Christmas?" Stacey asked as Mike took a sip of the coffee. It was still hot and it was welcomed in his body.
"It was good." He responded noncommittedly.
However that didn't stop Stacey from pressing further. "Did you spend it with anyone special?"
"Um yeah." His eyes remained focused on the building opposite them, watching the billboards as they changed. "I spent it with some friends and my girlfriend."
Mike felt Stacey's hand squeezing his as soon as he said girlfriend. "So um..." Mike noticed that Stacey's cheeks were red but that just could've been from the cold. "So who's this girlfriend?"
"Well, uh," Mike chuckled as he took another sip. "You remember my neighbour that was staring at us at the bar?"
"Yeah?" Stacey looked at him skeptically.
"Well that's her."
"That girl?" Stacey looked completely perplexed. " Her? You sure?"
Mike chuckled. "Yes I'm sure."
"Really?" Stacey pursed her lips. "Forgive me for saying but she doesn't look like your type."
Mike flinched at those words. They sounded inflammatory against El but he tried to hear Stacey out before his temper got the best of him. "What do you mean by that?"
"Well," Stacey shrugged. "You normally go for the pretty, well maintained type. And your neighbour, well she's kinda scruffy looking."
Mike let go of Stacey's hand. "She isn't scruffy looking." He gritted through his teeth.
"You have to admit that she kinda is." Stacey responded unphased.
When Mike didn't answer her, Stacey turned her gaze towards him. "Hey, I didn't mean to insult her or anything. You know she just doesn't look like your usual."
"You mean to say that she doesn't look like you."
Stacey swallowed hard as mile stared her down. "Sorry." She looked noticeably dejected as she turned back to face the crowd.
Mike couldn't wait to leave. It was a minute to midnight. He was cold, miserable and he wanted to be home and away from all of these loved up couples. Even Dustin and Lucas had managed to find women to have a midnight kiss with. In his mind he willed the ball to move faster as it made its way down the pole. He didn't even bother to join in the countdown when ten seconds remained. He looked around for Stacey but he couldn't spot her anywhere. A chorus of happy new years rang out all around and it was accompanied by a boisterous and off key rendition of Auld Lang Syne.
Confetti rained down around him and someone tugged him close and kissed his cheek. "Happy New Year bro!"
Of course it had to be Dustin.
His friend took one look at his face and patted him on his shoulder. " Okay, give me ten minutes then we'll leave."
"Thanks." That was one thing that he appreciated about Dustin. He was good at reading Mike's feelings without him having to say a word.
It was almost two in the morning as Mike lay in bed wide awake, softly stroking Paladin's fur who was asleep on the bed next to him. He thought about El and he thought about what Stacey had said.
He hated to admit it but Stacey was right in a way. El wasn't his usual type. He normally dated girls who were well dressed, never had a hair out of place. El's hair was usually messy to put it midly. Her clothes weren't fashionable but somehow they suited her just fine and Mike didn't care. There was just something about El that he liked and that he was attracted to like crazy. She was this delicious mix of danger and vulnerability that worked Mike's heart and libido like no one had ever done before.
Mike was dozing off when the bedroom door creaked opened. His eyes watched as El came in wearing a thick wool coat. He said nothing as El stripped down to her underwear before making her way over to the bed. Mike lifted the sleeping Paladin off and placed him on the rug next to the bed. El crawled on all fours on the bed towards him before resting herself on Mike's partially covered body. Her cold hand resting on Mike's chest.
"Happy new year." She said as she took Mike's mouth in a hot kiss.
It felt almost as if El was trying to devour his mouth. Her lips, tongue and occassionally teeth were everywhere. Sucking on Mike's lips, scraping them and exploring his mouth with her clever tongue. Mike held El close against him. God he needed this. He needed to feel El like this. Feel her body heat against his own. He need to touch her and taste her. It was a bit embarrassing how much he had missed her in such a short space of time.
Mike's thumb was stroking down the side of El's neck when it ran a over a sliver of broken and rough skin. Mike opened his eyes and broke the kiss so that he could look at El in the faint light coming through the window. El had a fresh cut running down the right side of her neck.
"How did that happen?" Mike inquired.
El shook her head. "It doesn't matter." She dipped her head again as if to resume kissing Mike but her boyfriend turned his head away.
"El." The tone in Mike's voice warned her.
El sighed exasperatedly. "It's no big deal alright? It's just a little scratch."
"It looks like more than a scratch to me."
"Okay, some guy held a knife to my throat. Is that what you want to hear?"
Mike's eyes opened wide with fear. "Are you serious?"
El glanced at him through her lashes slowly nodded. "Yes Mike. I am."
The knowledge that El almost didn't make it home to him tonight shook Mike a bit too deeply for his liking.
He pulled El against him and kissed her forehead as his mind raced. "I want you to stop El."
"Mike you know I can't -" but Mike cut her off with a kiss before she could finish his sentence.
"I'll support you until you find something else to do." His dark eyes frantic. "I don't want to lose you El."
El felt a lump rising his throat. It would've been simpler if she had just lied about how he got the cut on her neck. She took Mike's hand and placed his fingers against her lips. "I appreciate it Mike. I do." She pressed a kiss into those fingers. "But I can't leave Brenner just like that. I would be dead if I did."
Mike slowly opened his eyes as grip around El's waist tightened as he woke up. El was still asleep lying on her side facing Mike. They were both naked underneath the covers. One of El's legs was resting between his own. He raised himself up a bit so that he could see El better. A frown crossed his face when he spotted the healed scar on El's neck.
It had been a week and yet it still bothered him. He pressed himself right up against El. His face dipping into the spot where El's neck and shoulder met, just before the scar. Mike inhaled a deep breath into his lungs that was a mixture of soap and El's natural scent. A combination that he figured that he wouldn't mind smelling for many more mornings to come.
He kissed the tender flesh that his lips was resting against. His mind wandering as he dotted El's shoulders with kisses. He wished that there was more that he could do to protect El. It didn't sit well with him this feeling of uselessness that threatened to meander into despair. He knew that El had her reasons for chosing to live this sort of life. But it seemed to Mike that if El had probably been given half the opportunities that he had as a kid then El would've done better for herself.
Mike's arm slid up El's body and his palm settled open faced over the rhythmic beating of El's heart. El still hadn't opened up much about her childhood and her past but he could sense that nothing pleasant had happened in them and Mike wasn't one for opening up old wounds especially since he had some himself.
He suckled El's skin in between his lips for a moment before releasing it. It just wasn't fair. He hadn't been involved with anyone seriously since his last relationship two years ago. Now that he had finally met someone that he really liked and wouldn't mind having around for an indefinite amount of time he had to live with this nagging fear that one day he was just going to come home and find no trace of El's existence and it would be like she never was.
He huddled even closer to El. Imparting needy kisses to his lover's body. He had to keep El as long as he could. He wasn't ready to say goodbye to her and deep down he doubted that he would ever be.
"You're ready to go already?"
The sound of El's voice startled him a bit. He hadn't realized that she had woken up. It was also then that he became aware of his half hard member pressing into El's ass cheeks.
"I'm always ready when it comes to you." Mike responded as El rolled over in his arms to face him.
They slowly rubbed against each other as Mike fixed his hand to the back of El's neck to bring their faces together. The kiss was soft but needy. El nipped his bottom lip and then used her tongue to sooth it. Mike tasted all of the mustiness of sleep in El's mouth as his tongue lapped around inside of it. But he didn't care. His fingers dug into the back of El's head working his hips against hers. This woman was his and he didn't know how long he would have her for and he wanted to remember everything about her.
El's hands were on his chest and she pushed him back a bit. "Mike?" She looked puzzled. "Is something wrong?"
"Nuh uh." Mike stole another kiss as he lifted one of El's legs and placed it over his hip. His lips sucking El's. He had to commit everything to memory before El left him. Every touch. Every taste. Every whimper.
"Mike!" El pushed him back a bit more forceablly this time. Her lips red, wet and swollen. Mike liked that look on him. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." He lowered his head and kissed El's collarbone. "I just want you."
"I get that but you seem a bit more intense than usual." El caught the shift in Mike's eyes. She cupped his jaw and brought his face back up to her level. "What's going on Mike?"
Mike sighed and snuggled his face against El's neck. "I wish I could run away with you."
El ran her fingers through the soft, ebony locks. "Where would we go?"
Mike lifted his eyes up. "Montana. Become cowboys or something."
El smirked at him. "Big Sky country? Well I've never been there."
Mike planted a kiss on El's jaw. "Good. We could explore together."
El twisted a lock of Mike's hair around her finger. "What brought this on?"
Mike kissed her jaw again. "Nothing really."
"You're lying to me." El said it rather matter of factly. Mike glanced up at her sheepishly. "Come on. Tell me."
Mike could feel the butterflies leaving his belly and getting trapped in a net at his throat. A slight tug on his hair. Amber eyes meeting reluctant brown. El was waiting. "El you know I don't like what you do. I ..." He didn't want to finish the sentence but another tug told him that he had no choice but to complete it. "I was just wishing that we could run off somewhere together."
He knew that he had made a mistake when El remained silent for a while. He shifted his hips slightly and he could feel El's damp core against his leg. He nervously sucked on his bottom lip as he looked back up at El.
"Would you really leave everything behind for me?"
"Yes." He responded a bit too quickly he thought. But there really was nothing to think about.
"Your career, your friends, your life? Everything you would just drop to be with me?"
El's eyes were cautious as if she didn't believe him. That Mike's words sounded too good to be true. He couldn't blame her really.
"Yes." He said it a second slower this time but the conviction in his voice still remained.
The corner of El's mouth twisted up into a grin. "Even Paladin?"
Mike raised his eyebrow. "I'm not leaving my cat El. Paladin will come with us."
El sighed as if she was disappointed. "Well can't blame a girl for trying. That cat is going to kill me one of these days. You'll see."
Mike laughed softly. He was glad for the humour to break up the heavy atmosphere.
He was a bit surprised when a gentle kiss landed on his lips. El rested her hand on the side of Mike's face cupping his jaw letting the early morning stubble prick her palm as her fingers got lost in the raven curls at the side of his head. "You need to trust me okay? I will be fine."
Mike clearly didn't look convinced.
"It would be foolish to leave everything that you've worked for behind for me. I'm not worth it."
"I think so." Mike said softly.
El shook her head and kissed him again. This time she traced her tongue over Mike's captured bottom lip before releasing it. "Mike what happened on New Year's was just a one time occurance. Brenner is not even dealing with that guy anymore since he pulled that shit." She gently prodded Mike's face back up so that she could look into those dark eyes as she spoke. "Trust me Mike. Everything is going to be fine."
"You're awfully quiet tonight."
El was sitting in a van in a back alley somewhere in Manhattan next to her partner Kali. They had a delivery to make but apparently the guy had gotten into it with his wife, so they had to wait until he got there.
"Got a lot on my mind." El responded as she peered through the window at the blackness in the alley.
Kali rummaged around in the bag between their seats where she kept the food stash. She pulled out a Twizzler bag and opened it up. She offered it to El who pulled off two strands of the twisted rope. She didn't know why she took it. It tasted like flavoured plastic to her but it kept her mind occupied for a bit from the other subject that was crowding it.
"Man troubles?" Kali guessed.
"Yep." El took a chomp of the candy and twiddled the remainder of the candy between her finger.
Kali made herself comfortable and pulled out a chocolate bar. "Seriously El what's going on, I need your head in the game and I can tell that it's bugging you."
El just sighed and shook her head. "It's just so complicated."
"Why is it complicated?" Kali motioned the chocolate towards El who broke off two of the squares.
"I think he's a bit too far in over his head." El responded as she took a bite of the chocolate.
"He's thinking about us running off together." El popped the rest of the chocolate into her mouth. The sugar rushing all over her palette. At least it didn't have nuts. She hated chocolate with nuts.
"Sounds romantic." Kali teased. "So what's the problem?"
"He shouldn't be so attached to me." El frowned.
"Why? Don't you like him?"
"Yeah I like him...a lot." El's hand searched around the bottom of the seat until she found what she was looking for. She pulled the lever and the back of the chair lowered itself until it hit the backseat.
"So you think he's moving too fast?" Kali tossed the empty wrapper out of the window.
"In a way." El sounded frustrated. "I just don't understand why he likes me so much."
"I don't understand why he likes you so much either." Kali responded nonchalantly.
She couldn't see the scowl that El sent her.
"Is he a good guy?"
"Well then. You've got a good guy who likes you a lot and wants to be with you. Sounds to me like you've got it made."
El was silent for a minute. "He wants me to quit doing this."
"Ahhh, now that's gonna be a problem. You still have some more jobs to do for Brenner." Kali sat up as a pair of headlights shone down the alley illuminating everything in its path. She saw some rats scurry behind some abandoned crates. "Chin up. The guy is here."
El brought the chair back up to its normal position and pulled the hood of her jacket over her head. Time to get to work.
El paused a bit before she unlocked the door to Mike's apartment. The drop off had gone all wrong. While Kali and her were unloading the van, one of the guys who they were dealing with suddenly grabbed El by her shoulder and punched her in her face knocking her to the ground. She didn't hear much after that but Kali yelling and a couple of bodies hitting into metal. She then felt Kali lifting her up and placing her into the backseat of their van and then she drove off. To say that Brenner was pissed at another deal gone sour was an understatement to say the least. Brenner called up a cab for El to take her home but she could never be too careful so she gave the driver a false address that was three miles away from her apartment. She walked the rest of the way home.
She unlocked the door and as soon as she stepped in, she closed it behind her. It was after three in the morning but she knew that Mike would most likely still be up waiting on her. Great. She was coming home with a black eye. She knew that Mike would not be pleased.
Mike had been drifting in and out of sleep when he heard his bedroom door open. He lifted his head off the pillow as El entered the room. At long last she was finally home. Now Mike could finally get to sleep properly. He laid his head back down as he watched El undress. Her clothes seemed to be especially wet tonight from the snow, he mused sleepily. He would wash them in the morning.
He held up the blanket as El crawled in next to him and as soon as she was settled Mike brought it back down. Mike was so sleepy that he almost didn't notice the shiner around El's eye. Almost.
"El... What the fuck! Your eye? What happened? " Mike asked sitting up and turning on the bedside lamp.
"It's nothing." El made it sound as if it were no big deal.
"What do you mean nothing? You have a damn black eye."
"Mike, drop it please. Things got a little rough but it got sorted out." She didn't want to argue with Mike tonight.
"El you need to stop it. You can't work for this Brenner guy anymore."
El rolled over so that her back was to Mike. "I don't have a choice Mike."
"Everyone has a choice." Mike responded stubbornly.
El threw the blanket back and got off the bed." I think I'm going to sleep in my own bed."
Mike watched in disbelief as El picked up her clothes off the floor. "El come back to bed."
"I don't need a lecture Mike." El turned around to face him. She had the clothes bundled up underneath her arm. "This is my life okay? I told you that I didn't want us to get involved. But you just kept on pushing, so now you see what it is. I can't quit my job just because you don't like it." El stood in the doorway in just her underwear. "You either accept me or leave me the hell alone." With that El walked off before Mike could even respond.