The following night, after El had left for work, Mike left his apartment and ran downstairs to his car. Instead of taking the same route he had last night when he had followed El on foot he decided to use a different route in case El spotted his vehicle.
He made it to the pick up spot in about ten minutes. The black van wasn't there as yet. Mike reversed his SUV into a narrow alley way between two buildings about fifty feet away from where the van had picked El up. From there he would be able to see when El approached the van.
About ten minutes later the black van drove by. Mike's window was rolled down so he heard when the van breaked to a stop and turned off the engine. It was silent in the alley way. Dark. Mike didn't want to turn on the radio in his car lest he got distracted. He pulled out his cellphone and started to play a game on it when he glanced up at the windshield and saw his reflection clearly on it. He had forgotten that the phone's screen would have illuminated his face. Fuck. Not only could he feel his heart pounding against his chest at how nervous he was, he now had nothing to distract him from it.
He was just about to give into his nerves and go home when he spotted El walking down street. With quick, precise strides she walked past him to the van. He heard when the door closed and then he listened for when the van started. When he heard it move off, Mike counted to five and then pulled out of the alley way behind them. It was a good thing that the road ways were pretty light because they had gained quite the distance away from Mike already.
However, Mike managed to cover some ground but kept his distance from them by having some cars between them. As he followed them into Manhattan he began to feel anxious. What was he really doing anyway? What was he trying to accomplish by following El? He had no doubt that if El found out what he was up to that she would break up with him immediately. He drummed his fingers impatiently as he waited at a red light. This whole idea was stupid. He had no plan really. But as the light turned green and the cars started rolling through, the only thing that made him feel better was the fact that he was close to El even if she could never find out about it.
Once in the city, he had to do some clever driving with the sudden twists and turns that the black van took. He nearly missed them when they swung down a small alley between an electronics and pet store. Taking a chance on the nearly empty street, he did a U-turn in the middle of the road so that he could park between two buildings that were on the opposite side of the street, a little way up from where El and the van had gone. As soon as Mike had gotten himself settled in his vehicle, the black van pulled out of the alley and they were on the move again.
Mike ended up following them on three more stops during the night before following the van along a ritzy residential neighbourhood across the street from Central Park. The van disappear down a ramp to some sort of underground parking it seemed but Mike knew that it would be out of the question to follow them down there. There was no place for him to park on the side of the street and he couldn't keep his car idling outside of the building unless he wanted to attract suspicion so he slowly circled his car around the block. On his third time around he caught El getting into a cab. He followed the cab for a bit and realized that it was heading out of the city. El was on her way back home.
Oh shit. Mike knew that he had to get back home before El did. He took his some short cuts that he knew that soon put him ahead of the cab. He pulled up to his parking space behind the apartment building just after two in the morning. The adrenaline was still pumping through him. He couldn't believe what he had just done. He had spent the entire night out following El but at least he knew that she was coming home to him that night unharmed.
He was in bed with the sheets pulled up to his waist. His body illuminated from the glow of his tablet when El walked into his bedroom.
"Still up?" El inquired as she started to undress.
"Yeah. Couldn't really sleep so I decided to some reading." It kind of surprised him how easy it was for him to lie to El.
His girlfriend didn't seem to think anything much about it as she discarded her clothes unceremoniously on the floor. When she was down to her black bra and panties set she climbed into the bed with Mike. He placed the tablet on the bedside table and embraced El as he pressed her lips against his own.
"You need to get some sleep," El told him as she settled her head on Mike's chest. "You've got an early morning client in a few hours."
"I know." Mike planted a kiss on El's forehead as he kept the woman locked in his arms. He was only going to get a couple hours of sleep before he had to get up again but getting to ease his anxieties about El was worth it.
"Are you fucking stupid?" The door of the staff kitchen rattled as Dustin slammed it behind him. "Have you lost your ever loving mind?"
Dustin paced the kitchen as Lucas looked on and Mike stared at him sheepishly. "It wasn't that bad. Nobody saw me."
"That you know about." Dustin countered. "I mean god!" Dustin pulled his hair out of frustration as he continued to pace the room. "Out of all of the hair brained schemes that you have ever come up with this has got to be the worst."
Lucas went up to Dustin and placed his hands on his shoulders. "Calm down dude. Just relax okay? Let me talk to him."
Dustin nodded. "Fine. See if you can talk to some sense into him."
Mike felt a little better when Lucas approached him. He was calmer than Dustin.
Mike's eyes met Lucas' slowly. "Yeah?"
"I'm gonna ask you one question okay? And I want you to be honest with me." Lucas had the tone of a high school guidance counselor.
Lucas crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Are you on drugs?"
"What?" Mike was completely stunned by that question. "No!"
"You know what I would feel better if you were on drugs." Lucas responded. "At least I could justify why you're running around like you don't have any goddamn sense."
Mike was seriously regretting telling his friends what he had done last night. They just didn't understand what he was going through. "You guys just don't get it." He replied somberly.
"Don't get it?" Lucas raised an eyebrow at him. "What we get is that El has got you acting stupid. Driving around New York in the middle of the night chasing criminals that are working for Brenner. Brenner! Do you want to be found in the East River with a brick tied around your balls?"
Mike never felt so small in his life. He was embarrassed and ashamed that his friends thought so little of him and his decision making. "I just wanted to make sure that she's alright." God, even his response sounded stupid as he said it out loud.
"Look Mike," Dustin had stopped pacing and came over to stand next to Lucas. "I get that you're in love with her and you want to protect her. I get it. But doing it this way, you're just asking for trouble."
Mike shook his head. " I'm not in love with her. I ..."
"That's a goddamn lie!" Lucas interrupted. He tapped Dustin on his chest with the back of his hand. "Can you believe he's fixing his mouth to tell us that he's not in love with El?"
Dustin disappointedly shook his head at him.
"The whole damn world can see that you're in love with her." Lucas continued. "Driving around behind her in the middle of the night, in the dead of winter is only what fools in love do." Lucas placed his hand on Mike's shoulder. " You need to get real with yourself dude. You're in love with El. There's nothing wrong with that but what you're doing? Man, you're just asking for trouble."
Mike slurped on his large fast food soda as he sat in his car on the fourth night. Okay maybe Lucas did have a point as he recalled their conversation a few days ago. He was in love with El. He could accept that he guessed. Didn't being in love meant that you wanted to protect the person that you were in love with? And that you did things that you wouldn't normally do? Besides, El didn't seem to have suspected anything although he realized that Paladin always woke up when he returned home at night and gave him a look that he figured that it meant that the cat was judging him.
He was parked across the street between some cars whilst El and the other girl she drove around with were parked further down the street. He kept an eye on them with his side mirror. It was after one in the morning. This was probably the last drop before they headed back to Central Park Mike figured. Brenner probably lived in that apartment building Mike guessed. He no longer followed them there after the second night. Once they drove off in that direction, he headed back to Queens.
He noticed in the mirror the door to the store that El's vehicle was parked in front opened. El and the other girl got out of the van and went around to the back. He saw the doors opening behind the van. They were starting to unload whatever cargo it was that they were carrying.
Mike wasn't really paying close attention after a while. It was a long day and he wanted to go home and sleep. He had just slurped up the last bit of his soda, sighing when he heard the straw scratching the bottom of the styrofoam container. He shouldn't be drinking soda so late at night. He made a mental note to pack a flask of green tea for the next night.
Suddenly there was a sound of a gun shot piercing the night time quiet. A couple of guys ran past his car and one of them turned around and shot at the black van. Then he saw El and the other girl running after them shooting back at them. El ran straight past his car and Mike was frozen in his seat. He couldn't think to act. It felt as if his heart had stilled in his chest. The first two guys had ran around the corner but El and her partner had stopped at the top of the street. His entire body felt paralyzed with fear. His fingers were numb. When El and her partner turned around to walk back down the street, it was only then Mike's brain kicked in. He quickly lowered his seat so that he wouldn't be spotted as El and the other girl walked past. He prayed that El wouldn't recognize his car.
He could hear them talking as they got closer, and then they were right next to the car and there was no sudden pause in the conversation even though Mike couldn't makeout clearly what was being said. The conversation continued on past his car. Mike laid down in his seat until he heard the black van drive past him. He brought his chair back up and started the car. His nerves were still fried from the incident. As he pulled out of his parking space and headed back to Queens, it was the first time that he seriously reconsidered what he was actually doing.
He was in bed as usual with his tablet in hand when he heard El unlocking the front door. His mind still hadn't completely settled from tonight. El could've been shot tonight. She could've been killed and there was nothing that Mike could've done to stop it. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly just before El reached his bedroom door. He just had to play it cool and act natural.
"Hi." El came in and closed the bedroom door behind her.
"Hi." Mike responded as nonchalantly as he possibly could.
El started undressing as usual, dropping her thick, heavy, winter coat on the floor. "You've been reading a lot lately."
"Yeah well," Mike tapped the screen. "There isn't much to do."
Mike looked up and noticed that El was already shirtless and was shimmying out of her jeans. He subconsciously bit his bottom lip when he saw the black lace briefs that El was wearing. He always liked how her ass looked in those.
"So how was work?" Mike tried to make the question sound as casual as possible.
"It was fine." El responded as she kicked the jeans away.
El would've never told him about the shooting incident, Mike noted.
El crawled on all fours onto the bed, pulling off the blanket that was covering Mike, exposing his blue plaid boxers. "You know what bugs me Mike?"
"What?" Mike watched as El straddled his hips, sitting firmly on top of his crotch. He sighed softly as El's ass rested firmly on top of him. His hands moving to take ahold of El's hips. If El was in the mood for tonight, he would certainly oblige her.
El was moving her hands slowly down Mike's body, pausing to rub her thumbs in small circles across his chest. "When one of the very few people that I trust, violate that trust."
El's hands stilled on his body and Mike slowly drew his eyes up to meet El's. It was written all across her face. Mike could feel his heart beating in his ear. El knew. El fucking knew.
He knew that his guilt must have been written all over his face as he felt El's fingernails digging into his skin. El slowly began to rock her hips back and forth over his clothed crotch while her fingers remained piercing Mike's skin. Mike's own hands seemingly frozen to El's hips.
"El.." He had to explain.
"Shhh!" El's voice was low, dangerous. And by some sick twisted joke of fate, it was turning him on. "Why Mike? Why would you follow me to my job?" El's gaze was on his body now, watching as his nails left a thin white line down his torso that was dotted occassionally with some blood. "Why would you do something so damn stupid Mike?" El moved her hips in a circular motion, grinding her ass extra hard against Mike.
An involuntary moan escaped Mike's lips before he could answer. He tried to buck his hips up to meet El's but his girlfriend's thighs were clamped down firmly on either side of his hips, preventing him from moving.
"Because," somehow he figured that now wouldn't be the best time to tell El that he was in love with her. "I was worried about you."
"You were worried about me?" El looked skeptical.
"Yeah." Mike tried to sit up but El pushed him back down.
"You were so worried that you decided to follow me around the city for the entire night?"
"So what were you going to do in case there was trouble?" El started moving her ass up and down Mike's boxers once more, grinning. She could feel Mike's fully hard length underneath her and she could tell from the lustful look in Mike's eyes that he was turned on and getting quite horny. "Do you have a gun Mike?"
Mike shook his head regretfully. "No."
"So what were you going to do out there if I did need help?" Mike's hands were moving up the sides of El's body but El pushed them off. "No. You don't deserve to touch me."
"El." Mike whined his girlfriend's name when she gave him a vicious grind of his hips.
"No tell me Mike. What would you have done?" El leaned down and kissed Mike's right nipple before flicking it with the tip of his tongue.
"Fuck." Mike could feel his nerves on fire. He wanted to touch El so badly but El wasn't allowing it. "I don't know what I would've done." He hissed. "Oh fuck!" El had sucked the nipple into his mouth. "I would've saved you."
El released Mike's nipple and lifting her head up to observe him. "Save me? Really?" Her voice dripping with skepticism.
"Yes." Mike responded as confidentally as he could. "What ever it takes to keep you safe."
El paused for a moment and then stood up on the bed over Mike. His breath caught in his throat as El tucked her thumbs into the waistband of her panties and pulled them down past her hips allow them to drop on top of Mike's groin . She stepped one foot out of the discarded underwear, using the other foot to kick it off the bed. Mike's eyes roaming El's body freely, visually devouring everything in sight. He would never get tired of seeing El naked.
El then got busy pulling off Mike's boxers which he was happy to get rid of. El sat right back down on top of Mike's length, rubbing her core ever so slowly up and down him.
"Jesus El!" Mike closed his eyes. "Are you trying to kill me?"
"Trying to kill you?" El responded mockingly. "It seems to me that you were doing a good job of that all on your own."
He opened his eyes when El nipped his earlobe. El's tongue then flicked at the corner of Mike's lips. Mike moved his head to the right quickly to capture El's lips but she pulled away. She was making him pay tonight.
"Mike baby." El's index finger trailed over her lover's parted lips. "You're so beautiful, why do you do the dumbest things."
El almost laughed out loud from the indignant expression on Mike's face as he continued to shift beneath her.
"You don't deserve me after the shit you pulled tonight."
"Shut up El." Mike surged up and in one swift movement, grabbing the back of El's head and pulling her into a hot needy kiss.
As soon as their lips touched that tingling warmth went straight through Mike and reminded him just how close he came to losing her that night.
Need fear and desire took over and the chance to seriously talk with El about the nights events were fading fast.
"God I can't wait to be inside of you." Mike's warm breath panted against El's lips tickling them. El only watched him but said nothing.
Feeling Mike's weight on her only made her desire him more but she would never admit that.
El's mind was delirious with all of the heady sensations as Mike moved within her, something about tonight, she just couldn't get enough of Mike, maybe she realised that she had come closer than she would have liked to not seeing him again.
"Oh god El," sweet nothings dropping from Mike's lips. "You feel so good. I don't ever want anyone else but you."
"Yeah?" El asked while threading her fingers through the tangled mess of Mike's hair.
"Yes El, I promise." Mike kissed El hard. He then locked eyes with her. "Nobody else but you." Mike could feel the energy shift between them and soon El quietly moaning his name as she came. He followed closely behind, sloppily he kissed El, whilst trying to catch his breath. That had been their most intense sex session to date.
He felt El kissing the corner of his mouth as his eyes remained closed El's head coming to rest on his chest. "Yeah?"
El paused for a bit before speaking. She kissed Mike's chest right near his heart. "I only want you too.. I promise."
Mike had a gorgeous smile.
That was the only thought in El's head at the present. She was leaning over the back of couch listening to Mike recount a funny moment at the office while he sat on the couch looking up at him. The corners of his eyes were crinkled, his smile wide and bright and he looked so damn happy in that moment. It did something to El that she didn't quite understand. She felt a warmth radiating in her and she didn't know why it happened. Well okay, she could figure out easily why she felt the way that she did. She had sort of come around to the idea of what it was but it still seemed to be a bit farfetched and a bit out there, especially for her. But Mike laughed and there went that fleeting warmth again.
She craned her neck a bit and pressed her lips against Mike's momentarily. She felt Mike's hand cupping her head to keep her still so that she could return the kiss. She cupped Mike's head as well, keeping their lips together for a few more seconds. She figured this is what people referred to as the perfect moment. She could smell Mike, taste him, feel him. He was everywhere and El wanted to dive right in. But a part of her held back. That cautious, street smart side of her that kept her alive all these years. But yet, as Mike gently sucked on her bottom lip, El's defenses slipped a bit.
It had been a few weeks since she caught Mike tailing her at night. She knew that Mike had meant no harm by it. He only did it because he was worried about her. El had never dated anyone who had cared so much about her before. To be honest, it scared her a bit.
The kiss ended and Mike had the stupid, dumb smile on his face as El pulled away. Her honey eyes roamed the handsome face as if she was searching for some sort of sign but she didn't know what it was she was looking for exactly. She found it when she kissed Mike again.
" It's been eight months."
El looked at Max a bit lost. "What's been eight months?"
"The length of time you've been here in New York." Max grinned.
El took a careful sip of her beer and put her feet up on her coffee table. "So?"
Max sank into the couch, sprawling open her body while holding her beer in her left hand. "Didn't think that you would've stuck around so long."
El grunted and glanced at the television screen and then back at her best friend. Subconsciously her fingers had started to drum against her thigh. "You got something to say Max?"
"Nope." Max took a long drink of her beer. El knew, that Max knew, that it irritated her. "Just making an observation."
Nothing was said for the next few minutes as the television sound filled the void. El finished her beer and placed the bottle on the floor next to the couch. "There's good work here." She didn't know why she said it. She just felt as if she had to defend herself.
"True." Max's eyes didn't move off the screen. "Is that the only reason that's keeping you here?"
"What are you getting at Mayfield?" El tried but her emotions were getting the best of her. Yes Max knew her well. They went far back. One of the few people that knew what El was all about. But she wasn't supposed to know her this well.
"You know what I'm getting at." Max was playing with her. She could hear the glib in her voice. Taunting her just to rile her up.
El snatched her empty bottle off the floor and marched off to the kitchen. "Leave Mike out of this." She threw the bottle in the garbage and retrieved a fresh one from the fridge. When she closed the door and turned around Max was standing in the kitchen with her.
"I can't leave Mike out of this."
There was a strange look in her best friend's eyes. It was soft. Unusual. The more she stared the more she was befuddled until it clicked. It was pity.
"Goddamn it Max." El pushed passed her and headed to the living room. "Just drop it okay."
El dropped down hard on the couch, spilling some of the beer out of the bottle. It splashed over her hand and ran down her fingers on to her jeans. "Fuck! See what you just made me do?"
Max silently offered a tissue and El snatched it. She dabbed at the mess with fervour and Max just watched her.
El tossed the soiled paper on the coffee table and finally took a sip of her drink. But she couldn't relax because she felt Max's eyes on her. Scrutinizing her. Fuck. She couldn't be comfortable in her own home.
"What?" El snapped as she turned to Max.
However, the shorter, red head girl remained unphased. "Nothing." She shrugged her shoulders casually. "Just never thought that the day would come that I would see you in love."
"I'm not ..." El gritted through her teeth. "In love."
Max just sighed softly and shook her head. "If that's what you want to tell yourself in order to sleep at night."
Kali offered the plastic wrapped candy stick to her. It was the green wrapper. El took it. She liked the apple flavour. El unwrapped the candy and stuck the end into her mouth. The sickenly sweet apple flavour quickly coating her taste buds. She sank down into her seat as she looked out in to the patchy darkness of the alley.
Kali unwrapped her own Jolly Rancher and sucked on it. "So I heard from Brenner that you've asked for a few more weeks, I'm surprised that you didn't mention it to me."
Kali looked at her but El continued sucking on the candy earnestly, pulling the wrapper down so that she could fit more in her mouth.
"It's going to be spring soon. I thought you wanted out of New York. I remembered when you said how much you hated it here."
El placed her feet up on the dashboard, crossing her legs. "It's not so bad once you get used to it."
"Really?" Kali didn't sound convinced.
El glanced at her. "Yeah really."
Kali bit off part of the hard candy and crunched it with her teeth. "This change of heart wouldn't have anything to do with your boy now would it?"
El responded a bit too quickly and from the look that she and Kali exchanged, her partner knew it as well.
"The money's good here and you know it helps you in the long run right." It was blatant that she was trying to save face.
"And having a boy who's crazy about you isn't too bad either." Kali chuckled and looked around the alley. "I can't believe the idiot actually tailed you. He must have it so bad for you."
She looked over when there was no comment and found El staring into her lap. "Hey El, that's a pretty good thing if you ask me."
"Stop making my cat fat."
El ignored Mike has she held the piece of the burger out to Paladin who gobbled it out of her fingers greedily. While she wouldn't say that her and Paladin were now the best of friends, she would say that the cat now tolerated her a lot more.
"He isn't going to get fat." She waited until Mike turned his back to pick up the television remote and snuck Paladin a french fry.
"I saw that."
"Saw what?" El blinked his eyes innocently.
"El, I can see the end of the fry sticking out of the corner of Pal's mouth."
El turned to the cat and saw him battling with the last bit of the fry. "Well see, he's getting his vegetables."
"He's getting his arteries clogged."
El rolled his eyes. "Well maybe if you fed him something other than kibble he wouldn't be so interested in my burger." El defiantly stared Mike in the eye as she fed Paladin another piece of the burger.
Mike threw his hands up in the air. "I give up." He watched as El gleefully observed Paladin chowing down the burger. "When he starts throwing up, you're the one who's gonna clean up after him."
"Whatever." El dismissed him biting down into the remainder of her burger.
She could get used to this. The flirty friendly banter between her and Mike. Spending nights on the couch curled up next to him just watching television. And those rare occasions when Mike was feeling overly affectionate and would shower her with foot rubs or braids her hair, an art he had learnt from having two sisters.
But right now, with her head on Mike's lap and his arm around her waist, El was happy. For the first time in a long time, she could say that she was truly happy. No other relationship that she had been in had ever given her this peace of mind. Even though there was a part of her that nagged and said that she was getting too comfortable and that it would never last. But she pushed it away. No, she deserved this. She deserved Mike. He had fought for her more than anyone ever had in her life. He put himself in danger for her. Even though that concerned her she couldn't help but to feel a bit flattered.
She sat up and started peppering kisses slowly across Mike's nose and cheeks. If she couldn't make the words cross her tongue, she could show him how she felt about him. Tender kisses against the pale skin of his neck. Fingers gently curled around his dark curls. A low, throaty rumble eminating from his throat. She cherised every movement and sound. This was hers and she was going to savour it forever.
The doorbell sounded as El was just about to claim Mije's lips. She cursed it in her mind as Mike excused himself and went to answer it.
Mike wondered who it could be calling on him at this time of night. It better be Dustin or Lucas or he would be pissed. When he opened the door, the last person he ever expected to see was standing there smirking at him.
"Mike." Her voice was as smoky as it ever was. She stepped across the threshold without even waiting for an invitation.
"Megan." Somehow his throat had managed to unblock and he found his voice once more.
"Long time, no see huh?" Megan moved as if she was going to hug Mike but he took a step back.
"What? Too soon?" Megan giggled. Always a bit too smug. Too self assured.
"Hi." That was El sliding up behind him and casually snaking her arms around Mike's waist.
Megan looked a bit surprised as she glanced from El to Mike. "Who's this?"
"This is El." Mike replied. "My girlfriend."
"Really?" Megan looked obnoxiously shocked, if there was ever such a thing. "Her?"
El instinctively didn't like her when she first laid eyes on her and now she was on her shit list. This girl was tall, and wore tight fitting clothes that emphasized her physique. Her hair was black and straight down her back and the ego she exuded was suffocating.
"Who's this?" El inquired.
Mike answered before the woman could. "This is Megan Curtis." Mike paused. "My ex."
Now El just wanted bash the arrogant woman's head in just for the hell of it.
Mike could feel the tension rising from El and he didn't want things to get out of control. "What do you want Megan?"
"Can't I stop by and see how an old friend is doing?" She asked gibly.
"We aren't friends." Mike's voice was icy cold.
"Well it seems like you need one, since you seem to be dating the bottom of the barrel nowadays."
Mike stopped El from going for her by holding her arms around his waist. "Fuck off Megan."
"Fine." She turned sharply on her heels as if he was leaving but then turned back around. "But one more thing. You have something that belongs to me and I want it back."
Mike looked at her as if she was crazy. "I have nothing that belongs to you."
Megan crossed her arms across his chest. Her red manicured nails standing out against the silky black sleeves of her shirt. "Yes you do. You have my cat. I want my cat back."