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My heart is on your doorstep...

Chapter Text

Mike shifted the groceries he had bought from the store down the street from one arm to the other as he walked up the flower lined path to his apartment building. He took the short stairs up to his apartment on the second floor.

As he got closer to his own door he noticed that the door to the apartment next to him was open. That apartment had been vacant for at least six months but he heard voices coming from within so he guessed that he had a new neighbour.

A girl with red hair walked out seemingly exasperated. "El! You're impossible. Why do I have to carry your shit?" She yelled to whomever this El was inside of the apartment.

"Because Mayfield, that's what best friends do."

Mike watched as the responder came to the front door. She was small, if she came up to his shoulder he would have been surprised. She was wearing a white coca cola t-shirt and faded blue jeans. She cockily propped herself up against the door frame and smiled cunningly at the girl called Mayfield. "Aww come on Max, I'll owe you a beer."

Max or whatever she was called was about to respond when she noticed Mike watching them. "Hi!" She called out to him, tipping her head in acknowledgement.

Mike shifted the heavy bag in his arms a bit. He hadn't even realized that he had stopped to watch them for so long. "Hi. Are you girls moving in?"

"Why are you asking?" That came from El. Her eyes narrowing suspiciously, as she pushed her honey brown hair out of her face, even Mike could see the distrust in them coming through from where he stood.

"Well," Mike fished into his front jeans pocket and pulled out his keys. "It's because I live here."

"Oh." El's stance changed completely and she seemed to have relaxed some. "So you're my neighbour?"

Mike nodded. El had the last apartment at the end of the hallway. "It seems that way." Mike tried to put on a friendly smile even though he wasn't quite so sure of this El character. "I'm Mike Wheeler by the way." He carefully balanced his groceries in the crook of his left arm as he stretched out his right arm towards the girl.

El looked down at Mike's outstretched hand for a few seconds as if she was puzzled as to what to do with it. He heard the girl Max muttering to El not to be a dick and that seemed to be the magical piece for it to click to El and she shook Mike's hand. It was a firm handshake.

"I'm El Hopper." Her smile was wide but not what Mike would exactly call warm.

"I'm Maxine Mayfield, Max for short." The red haired woman had stepped forward of her own accord and offered her hand. Mike shook it and noted that Max's smile was more genuine. "I'm El's best friend."

"Oh god," El groaned. "Did you have to say it like that? It makes it sound as if we're five."

Max rolled his eyes. "I'm sorry. I meant to say that I'm El's only friend."

Mike couldn't help but to grin when El sighed melodramatically. "Great. Now Mike thinks that I'm a loser."

Max shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly. "Well..."

"Don't you dare finish that sentence Mayfield." El ruffled Max's red hair affectionately. "Now go bring me my stuff."

Max looked at Mike. "You see how she treats me? This is why she doesn't have any more friends."

Mike laughed as Max dodged the playful punch that El swung at her arm.

"All right, all right. I'm going." Max put her hands up as she walked away.

Mike smiled as he unlocked his door. At least Max seemed cool. El on the other hand, he hadn't gotten a clear read on her yet.

"See you around." Mike said as he glanced at El.

"Oh, what?" El turned around to face Mike as if she had already forgotten about his existence. "Um, yeah sure."

Mike gave a brief nod as he walked into his apartment. The familiar sound of the television greeted him as he closed the door. "I'm home!" He called out as he made his way to the kitchen to finally put down the heavy bag. He always wondered why he did that. He never got a response anyway.

He followed the noise of the television into the living room. As usual he found his cat curled up on the carpet at the foot of the couch with his own remote right beside him covered in claw marks.

"Hi Paladin." Mike reached down and scratched between the cat's ears and he purred lovingly, tilting his head back.

Mike picked the black and white cat up and placed him in his lap. He continued to pet him as he tried to figure out what Paladin had been watching. Deadliest Catch. It figured that he would be watching a show about fishing. He would never forgot the evening when he came home and he could hear his television blasting from the hallway. He had been certain that something was wrong. He had hurriedly unlocked the door and rushed to Paladin. He had been sitting in his usual spot and his head was moving left to right to the beat of the music as he watched graphic visuals on television. Somehow Paladin had discovered one of the audio channels and he had the volume turned up to almost all. Mike had immediately turned it back down to a normal level and Paladin started meowing loudly to let him know his displeasure.

Paladin was a smart cat. He had figured out which button controlled the channels and which had controlled the volume, from watching Mike all of the time. But Mike got tired coming home to find his remote clawed and chewed up so he bought Paladin his own and left it on the floor, while his remained on the coffee table. This arrangement worked well as Paladin left his alone and only used the one that Mike had brought for him.

Paladin rolled over on his back and stretched out as Mike scratched his tummy. "Guess what Pal? We have a new neighbour. Her name is El Hopper." Paladin only shifted his front paws from left to right and couldn't seem to give two hoots about a new neighbour. "She seems a bit, I dunno, weird I guess." Mike thought about his new neighbour for a couple of minutes. He didn't have much to go on. He just hoped that she didn't bring any sort of trouble home with her.

Mike lived in a nice, peaceful neighbourhood in Queens, that bordered Long Island. Sometimes he even forgot that he was a part of the Big Apple. Out here had a more of a small town feel like his home town, Hawkins and he enjoyed owning a car and not having to deal with public transportation. He was an IT consultant by trade and was able to walk the few blocks to his office where he had to check in a couple of times a week. He mainly got his car for when he had to go out and visit clients who were scattered through out Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island and the obligatory visits to his family home.

"Okay Pal," he lifted the cat up and placed him back on the floor. "I have to go make dinner."

He smiled when Paladin's ears perked up at the word dinner and meowed at him expectantly.

"Give me a few minutes, alright?" He headed into his bedroom to change his clothes before starting dinner.

Half an hour later, Mike was sitting at the breakfast counter eating his meal while Paladin crunched noisely on his dry food in the corner. He picked up his cellphone and checked his calender to see his schedule for the rest of the week. He was distracted when he felt something furry rubbing against his leg.

"Hi Pal."

The cat meowed in response and looked up at him expectantly and watched Mike hard as he placed a piece of chicken into his mouth.

"I just fed you."

Paladin meowed again and rubbed himself even harder against Mike's leg.

"That's not going to work this time."

Paladin purred and then butted his head gently underneath Mike's knee.

Mike laughed as he placed his fork down. "You don't ever like hearing the word no, do you?"

He tore off a piece of meat from the chicken breast. He held it over Paladin's head. "Okay just one small piece."

Paladin got up on his hind legs and eagerly bit the piece of meat that Mike was holding, pulling it out of his fingers. Mike watched as the cat ate the meat with relish before returning to his own food.

Meow.

Paladin was looking at him expectantly again.

"I told you just one piece."

Paladin just cocked his head to a side. Green eyes wide.

Mike sighed and handed his last piece of meat over to Paladin who snatched it out his fingers with his paws and placed it on the tile to eat it.

"You're gonna get fat you know. And how is that going to look? A fat cat."

Paladin was not concerned or interested in Mike's dilemma as he ate the chicken and Mike washed the dishes.


Saturday morning found Mike cleaning his apartment, while Paladin was at his usual spot watching television. Formula one racing was on and he seemed to be fascinated by the cars speeding around the track.

Mike had just emptied the dust pan into the garbage when there was a knock at the door. He was a bit surprised when he opened the door and saw his new neighbour standing there.

"Um hi." El shuffled about on one foot. "It's Mike right?"

"Yeah." He observed him curiously.

"Look sorry to bother you but the air conditioning is out in my apartment and the super says that it will be a couple of hours before the repair guy gets here. Do you mind if I crash here until he comes?" She said hopefully. "It's really hot in there."

Well fuck. He couldn't really turn her down even if he wanted to. Although deep down Mike didn't. "Yeah sure you can stay here." He opened the door wider. "Come..." before he could finish the sentence El had already walked in and Mike noticed that she was barefoot. Though it didn't really make any sense to put on shoes to go next door he reasoned.

"Nice place." El said as she took in the warm earth toned hues with splashes of burgandy.

"Thanks." He watched as El went over to a side table and picked up an ornament, examined it with her fingers and then placing it back down before picking up another one. Mike couldn't help wondering if she was planning on stealing it.

"Do you want something to drink?" He offered.

"Yeah, thanks." El picked up a silver picture frame of Mike and his two sisters.

Mike walked away nervously as El ran her finger along the edge of the frame. He really didn't know anything about this girl he thought as he grabbed a soda out of the fridge.

When he came back out, El had made her way to the living room and he heard Paladin meowing loudly as if he was in distress.

"Pal, what's wrong?"

Paladin was standing and glanced over at Mike and meowed and looked up at El.

"I don't know what's wrong with your cat. I just picked up the remote and he started going off. Why is it so chewed up?"

Mike laughed lightly. "That's his remote. You took his remote." Mike picked up the remote that was on the coffee table. "This is mine."

El looked absolutely perplexed. "Your cat has its own remote? And why did you name your cat Pal?" she set Paladin's remote back down on the floor and took the drink and remote that Mike offered her.

"Yes he has his own remote. He's home all day and I got tired of replacing mine. And I didn't name him Pal, his name is Paladin, after my D&D class". Mike replied blushing slightly.

He watched as El sat in the middle of the couch and saw how Paladin narrowed his eyes at her as he draped himself over his remote.

"So what do you do?" Mike asked as he fixed a stack of gaming magazines on a nearby table.

El popped the ring on the can of soda and the familiar hiss of the fizz sounded as it hit the air. "Stuff."

That didn't make Mike feel any better about El possibly stealing his possessions. However, he couldn't exactly kick her out with out any proof that she was thief. "What kind of stuff?"

"You know, odds and ends." She took a sip of the drink. "Do you have the History channel? I wanna watch Pawn Stars."

Yup. She was definitely going to steal his stuff. "Uh, yeah."

"Awesome." El flipped through until she found it.

Mike decided to try a different approach. "Are you from New York?"

"Nah. I hate it actually. I'm from Chicago." El already had both feet up on the couch making herself quite at home. Dressed in a yellow t shirt and grey flannel pajama trousers, she looked more relaxed than Mike did, who was wondering at this point what sort of woman had he let into his home.

"So how comes you moved here?" He said finishing fixing the stack of magazines.

"Work."

Mike waited in the hope that El would continue but she didn't.

"So what do you do?" El took another swig of the drink without taking her eyes off the television.

"I'm an IT consultant."

That caused El to actually break her eyes away from the television. She was checking Mike out in the way that people usually did when he told them that he was an IT consultant. It also reminded him of the way he was judged in high school.

"Cool, I'm useless with technology." El replied shrugging slightly and with that she turned her attention back to the television apparently ending the conversation. He had been dismissed in his own house. Unbelievable.

He decided to go straighten up his bedroom. He was certain that Paladin would alert him if El did anything funny.

When he came back out half an hour later, El was now fully curled up on the couch having taking the blanket from the back and wrapped it round her legs. Paladin meanwhile had fallen asleep on top of the remote.

"Hi, I'm going to make a sandwich for lunch. Do you want one?"

"Yeah sure, that sounds fine." she raised her hand up holding a can of soda. "I got another one, if you don't mind."

"Yeah, it's cool." There wasn't anything he could do about anyway. El had made herself a bit too comfortable in his home rather too quickly for his liking but he didn't want to seem inhospitable.

Mike was carefully putting together the sandwiches on his kitchen counter when El strolled in.

"Can you put some of that fancy mustard that you had in your fridge on mine?" She requested folding her arms on the counter to rest on them.

"No problem." Mike reached across for the fridge door and pulled it open and took out the mustard from the door.

El watched in amazement as Mike unscrewed the lid and dipped a knife into the bottle. "Don't you ever say no?"

"Excuse me?" Mike spread the mustard across the bread and then locked eyes with El still holding the knife in his right hand.

El smirked and pushed her hair out of her eyes but it still fell back. She had brown eyes with flecks of gold running through them. Mike guessed that he would have found them beautiful if he wasn't busy being preoccupied at getting irratated with his house guest.

"I mean are you always this accommodating?" El reached across the counter and placed the bread on top to cover the sandwich and then took it up with both hands. "Or only to cute girls like myself?"

Mike stared at El as if she had lost her mind, as she took a bite of the sandwich. "I..ne..never said that you were cute." he said stuttering, the blush returning to his neck and cheeks. He didn't think that El was cute, not really.

"Lies." El gestured with her hand that was holding the sandwich, predictably a piece of lettuce slipped out and dropped on the ground, of course she wouldn't use the plate that Mike had provided. "Everyone says that I'm cute." She took another bite of the sandwich. "This is a pretty good sandwich."

"Thanks." El was making Mike feel a bit uneasy. He didn't know if to eat his sandwich there in the kitchen or in the living room. However El munched through hers without a care in the world.

The familiar tune of an old country rock song suddenly assaulted the air and El pulled a dated cell phone out of her pocket. "Yeah." El popped the last piece of the sandwich into her mouth. "Ok yep I'm next door. I'll be right over." She dusted the crumbs off on the side of her pants, so of course they fell to the floor.

El ended the phone call. "That was the repairman. "He's here." El reached over to rub Mike on the arm. "Thank you."

As soon as El placed her hand on Mike's shoulder he heard a loud hiss. Both of them looked over to see that Paladin was awake and very angry. His back was arched and his hair nearly stood on end as he hissed loudly at El. She raised an eyebrow and slowly took her hand off Mike's forearm. Paladin stopped hissing. El slowly placed her hand back down on Mike's arm, gripping it firmly. Paladin hissed and looked as if he was about to attack her.

Mike shrugged her hand off his arm. "El stop. You're upsetting Paladin." He went and scooped his cat up, who made a great show of rubbing himself against Mike's chest.

"I'm upsetting Paladin?" El repeated staring at the two of them incredulously. "I barely touched you and he's ready to attack me. Your cat doesn't like me." She actually sounded quite upset about it.

"He doesn't dislike you, he just doesn't know you yet." Mike said as he accompanied El to the door while petting Paladin.

"Uh huh." El opened the door and looked back at the cat, who narrowed its green eyes at El so menacingly that a chill nearly went through her body.

"That cat doesn't like me." She repeated as she headed back to her apartment.

Chapter Text

Mike had just finished a client consultation at the office and was making his way to the staff kitchen. He loosened his tie as he pushed the door open.

"Hey Wheeler! What's going on man? Are you still coming to trivia tonight?

Mike grinned as a smiley stocky guy with curly hair came over to him. "Sure Dustin. I'm in." Mike said reaching for the kettle.

"That's great! I scored the best table from this girl I know who works at the bar. You know the one I told you that I was going out with last Friday but then I met this other girl Suzy, on Friday afternoon so I had to reschedule with this girl." Dustin noticed the confused expression on Mike's face. "Anyway, this girl really hooked me up. We're sitting right next to the quizmaster."

"Oh man that's awesome." Mike said stirring his coffee. "Who else is coming?"

"Let's see, Will, Tyler, Lucas and uh, Stacey." Dustin was a little hesistant when he said the final name. "I.. we.. know you guys had a thing but I wasn't too sure where you guys are at, so if you don't want her to come, I could uninvite her."

Mike just laughed and shook his head. "No, it's cool. Me and Stacey didn't really date. We just sorta hooked up occassionally. We're still cool."

"Oh that's great because Stacey has this really hot friend that I've been dying to meet, so need her to get an intro organised."

"But what about bar girl and Suzy?" Mike asked raising his eyebrow.

"What about them?" Dustin looked lost for a second. "Mike dude, I told you. I'm not about that relationship life, besides haven't you been listening? I only met Suzy last Friday."

"And bar girl?" Mike smiled knowingly.

"Well I think I'll take her back to the love shack tonight," Dustin knocked Mike playfully with his elbow. "For some post trivia celebrations!" He laughed loudly. "purrrr"

"You're terrible." Mike chuckled and shook his head.

"Hey at least my dick is getting wet. When's the last time you got some?"

Before Mike could open his mouth to speak, Dustin cut him off. "You took too long." Dustin shook his head sadly. "You're killing me man. I weep for you. I weep for your dick." Dustin made a show of fake crying and walked off.

Mike laughed to himself as took his coffee and headed back to his desk. Dustin was always a trip.


Mike had just come out of the shower and was drying his skin off with a large towel. Paladin was sitting on his cat bed, that was in the corner, watching.

"I'm late Pal. I gotta get ready and get to the bar in twenty minutes or Dustin is actually gonna kill me."

He had just pulled a pair of black boxer briefs out of the drawer when there was a loud continuous knocking on his door. "Who the fuck is that?" He pulled on the underwear, his dark curly hair was wet and hanging in front of his eyes. He was running out of time to dry his hair properly, which would inevitably result in him having a fuzzy mop on top of his head. The knocking continued and it sounded as if the person was getting impatient.

"Hold on, I'm coming." Mike called out as he made his way through the living room to his front door with Paladin at his heels.

Much to his surprise when he opened the door he saw El standing there.

"Hi Mike, sorry to bother you but my TV is on the blink and the Bachelor final is starting soon." She walked straight in without even waiting for Mike's invitation.

She made a bee line straight for the couch and took up the remote off the coffee table and turned the television on.

"Um, El I'm going out."

El actually looked at him properly this time. He noticed her eyes slowly travelling up and down his body, realizing that Mike was only in his underwear. "Your hair is still wet. You can't go out like that." She turned back to the television as the opening sequence for the Bachelor began.

"Yeah I know but it means that you can't stay here."

El stood up confused. "Why not? My tv's out and the pizza guy is supposed to be here in five minutes and Max is coming over. Come on Mike. I'll be here when you get back."

Mike wondered if this girl was crazy enough to think that he would let her stay in his apartment when he hardly knew anything about her. "El..."

There was another knocking at the door.

"That must be the pizza guy." El bounded to the door. She opened it and paid the kid that was holding three large pizzas.

After El paid for the pizzas, she kicked the door shut with her foot. "See? I even got you your own pizza. I hope you like pepperoni. I can put it in the fridge until you get back."

"El I can't leave you in my apartment alone. I hardly know you." Mike pointed out as he followed El back into the living room where he placed the pizza boxes on the coffee table. Paladin went up the table, excited at the smell of the pepperoni.

"Nonsense. Of course you know me. I'm your neighbour." El plopped back down on the couch. "And I won't be alone. Max would be here and Paladin."

Hell no. Mike would be damned if he left his cat alone with El. He walked back into his bedroom and picked up his cellphone and called Dustin. He was going to be so mad at him.

"What do you mean you can't come?" Dustin said through the phone.

"I just told you why. I can't leave Paladin alone with her."

Dustin sighed heavily into the phone. "I can't believe you man. Is she at least cute?"

"Who? Paladin?"

"Not your damn cat. I meant your neighbour. The El girl."

"Oh. I dunno. I haven't really looked at her."

"So she's hideous."

"No but she's more annoying than anything."

"Staying at home with an ugly girl, man I do not envy you at all. Later."

The phone call ended and Mike tossed the phone onto to the bed. He decided to pull on a black t-shirt and navy blue joggers.

He heard another voice coming from his living room and guessed it to be Max. When he re-entered the living room, sure enough Max was sitting on the couch with El and a pizza box was opened.

"Hi."

Max looked around. "Oh hi Mike. Thanks for letting us use your place."

"No problem." Well that was a lie but at least Max thanked him unlike a certain someone who was busy licking her fingers as she ate pizza. Mike went into the kitchen and opened his fridge to find that El had already placed beer in there to get cold. He popped one off the plastic. He might as well get used to the El Hopper way of life.

"Well aren't you a cute kitty?" He heard Max say as he joined them in the living room once more. She fed Paladin a slice of pepperoni which the cat ate with gusto.

Paladin the hopped up on the couch and nuzzled his head against Max's arm purring appreciatively.

"Well aren't you the sweetest thing?" Max stroked him with one hand whilst she held pizza in the other.

Mike sat down in the single seater and took a slice of pizza from the box and watch the two of them interact. Paladin rolled over on his back and Max fed him another slice of pepperoni.

El was staring at Paladin amazed. "How comes he likes you and not me?"

"Because he's a smart cat, aren't you Paladin?" On cue Paladin meowed and rolled back over and got another treat from Max.

Paladin laid his head on Max's thigh and the red headed girl smiled at him.

Mike noticed El looking at Paladin wistfully and then she plucked a pepperoni slice off her pizza and dangled it over Paladin's head. The cat leaned up and ate it but didn't move away from Max. The disappointment on El's face was so comical that Mike couldn't help but to laugh and El scowled at him and Mike laughed even harder.

"Stop glaring at my cat."

"I just don't understand it." El shrugged her shoulders. "Look at him."

Paladin was curled up quite comfortably in Max's lap licking his paw.

"So?"Mike raised an eyebrow at her.

" So how come he's like that with Max but not me?"

Mike shrugged his own shoulders and turned back to the TV show. "I dunno."

Max laughed. "I can't believe that a cat's got you so damn pressed."

"Yeah whatever." El got off the couch and wandered towards the kitchen. "I'm going to get a beer."

El came back out with a beer in hand. A thought slipped into her mind and she smirked. She went over to Mike and placed her hand on Mike's shoulder. Paladin immediately jumped down from Max's lap and ran towards them meowing.

Mike rolled his eyes. "El, I thought I told you to stop atagonizing my cat."

"So why am I not allowed to touch you? I bet Max can touch you. Max, come here."

"El, I'm not playing any of your stupid games." Max said ignoring her for the Bachelor.

"No seriously. I wanna prove something. Just for a minute." Max did not budge. "Pleeeeassseeee?" She said in the most pitiful voice.

Max sighed heavily and got off the couch. "Fine. You know I hate it when you use that voice."

El stepped back, away from Mike and immediately Paladin stopped but was watching her warily.

"Okay, now place your hand on Mike's shoulder." El instructed.

Max did as El commanded. Slowly bringing her hand down in the same spot that El's had been. Paladin only glanced at them and then looked away seemingly uninterested. All three of them were tense, waiting for any sudden movement from Paladin. But the cat apparently got bored and walked back to the couch with his tail in the air.

"Move out of the way." El pushed Max aside, as the girl protested but El was not concerned.

"Now watch this." El leaned over the back of Mike's chair and wrapped his arms around Mike's neck in a romantic gesture.

"What the hell are you doing?" Mike yelped blushing furiously

Before El could reply, Paladin was back hissing at her. His teeth bared.

Mike threw El's hands off. "Stop upsetting him." Mike moved towards his cat with his hand stretched out. "Come here Pal. It's okay. The weird girl isn't touching me anymore."

"Hey!" El protested at being called weird.

Paladin allowed Mike to pet him and then Mike picked him up and he was purring up a storm in Mike's arms.

Max noticed the flustered look on El's face and couldn't help chuckle to herself at El being out done by a cat.


After the Bachelor was over Max was clearing up the beer bottles in the living room while El helped Mike in the kitchen with the pizza boxes.

Mike had just tied up a black garbage bag and as soon as he turned around El was in his face looking at him in amazement.

"How did you do that?" Her eyes staring as if she had been starstruck.

"Do what?"

"Your hair. I mean how do you get it to dry to this curly perfection?" Of course without asking, El started to thread her fingers through his hair, she was standing so close to him that her breath fanned his cheek and caused a warm feeling low in his stomach. For the first time he noticed that El had dimples. Dimples that were on display right now because her lips were parted in a slight smile as the silky strands slipped through her fingers. Yeah, he guesses that El was pretty cute after all feeling a small shiver run down his spine.

"You know you could sell it?"

El's voice suddenly cutting through his thoughts.

"Sell what?"

"Your hair." El twirled a lock around her index finger. "I mean if you grew it a bit longer, I know a couple of girls that would pay top dollar for this hair." She released the lock and smoothed it back in with the rest of his hair.

"For my hair?" Mike's tone was full of disbelief.

"Yeah. I mean once you have grown it out, I can even cut it for you, keep it nice and simple. I think I even have scissors in my apartment unless you would prefer to use yours?" El said distractedly whilst continuing to play with Mike's curls

"You're not cutting my hair." Mike knocked El's hand away.

Naturally of course, El's fingers were back in it again. "You sure? I mean it could make some money."

"Yes I'm sure. I'm not selling my hair."

"El stop torturing the guy."

Both of them turned around in surprise as if they had both forgotten about Max's existence.

El shook her head and shoved her hands into her pockets. "I was just offering him a way to make some money." She responded toeing the floor, she didn't do anything wrong. She was just trying to help the guy out and maybe get a little bit closer to him.

"Anyway, thanks for having us over on such short notice Mike. I hope it wasn't too much of an inconvenience."

Max was always so polite, Mike thought. "No it was fun." That was the truth. He did have fun watching the Bachelor with Max and El.

"I had fun too." Max then felt something rubbing against her leg. "Hi little one." She bent over and scratched Paladin behind his ears and he immediately held his head back loving it. "I have to go now."

El headed towards the door. " Yeah thanks for having us over Mike."

Something spurred her and she went over to where Max and Paladin were and she tried to pet him, immediately Paladin stepped back away from her touch.

Max laughed and Mike picked the cat up.

"Let's go El." She couldn't help but to be amused by her friend's embarrassment. "Goodnight Mike."

"Goodnight." Mike replied although he was too preoccupied with Paladin who was playfully swatting at his hair to really notice them leaving.

Max whispered to El as she opened the door. "I've never seen you strike out so hard before."

El glanced back at Mike and Paladin and bit her bottom lip. "Yeah well, you can't win them all." her eyes clouded with disappointment.

Chapter Text

Mike wasn't sure how it happened but El was always in his space.

Every day, either morning or evening, El managed to worm her way into Mike's apartment. It had been two weeks since the Bachelor final and apparently something was always wrong or broken in El's apartment. Today however, she didn't even come up with an excuse, she just waltzed in as soon as Mike opened the door and plopped down on the couch and changed the channel that Paladin had been watching. Of course Paladin had been none too pleased and meowed loudly until Mike told El to change it back.

Mike was sitting at his breakfast bar digging his spoon in to a container of yoghurt. It wasn't that Mike minded El's company, it's just that she was always there and it was leaving him feeling confused.

"What's that you're eating?" El said walking into the kitchen. "It looks good. Can I have one?"

Before Mike could answer, El was already opening the fridge door and looking inside. Sure why not, El. Mike thought sarcastically. You act as if you pay the rent for the damn apartment any way.

Mike was already in a foul mood. It had been a long tiresome day and one of his clients in Brooklyn had stiffed him again, the third time within 3 months. He had worked with this guy for nearly 18 months. In that time he had helped transform his garage business into one of the most promising new start ups this side of the East River. Mike got the feeling that the guy was starting to feel that he didn't need him anymore and was trying to give Mike the slip, instead of being up front and ending his services.

El pulled a stool out and sat on it and peeled back the the cover of the yoghurt. "Gluten free," she said as she read the label. "I hope it tastes good."

Mike didn't respond as his mind was miles away trying to figure out the best way to deal with his work problem.

"Oh you got some here. Let me get it." El reached over to wipe away the yoghurt on Mike's chin with her thumb. "Much better." She gave Mike a small smile and then went back to eating her yoghurt.

Mile looked at her blankly. "How come you're always over here? Don't you have any other friends?" the tone in his voice leaving no question as to its intent.

El slowly placed her spoon down in the yoghurt. "I have friends," she said quietly. "Why? Is there a problem with me being here?"

Mike frustrations erupted, how clueless could one person be. "Yes there's a problem. You're always here. You're always making excuses and barging in even when no one invited you. You just come in here and act as if you live here and I'm just suppose to put up with that." Mike spat. "And Paladin doesn't even like you and he tends to like everybody." All of the pent up anger rushed out of Mike and in that brief moment it had felt good to get it off his chest.

"I see." El's voice was barely above a whisper as she pushed back her stool and stood up. "I'll get out of your hair then. I know when I'm not wanted."

Mike blinked and observed El's face. He could tell that he had hurt El's feelings. El had been getting on his nerves a bit and leaving his feelings all over the place but he hadn't meant for it to come out so rudely.

"El, I'm sorry." He said hurriedly, as El walked past him to the door. "I didn't mean for it to come out like that."

"No, you meant it." She slipped on her shoes at the door. "That's how everyone sounds when they mean what they say." She placed her hand on the knob, twisting it to open the door. Looking back at Mike with glassy eyes "It's cool. I didn't mean to be a bother." And with that El walked out and closed the door behind her.

Mike stared at the closed door for a moment or two. The sudden quietness in the apartment felt weird. He hadn't meant to hurt El. He wouldn't have minded her coming over, only if she gave him a little prior notice. But even he knew from the way he had phrased it El would now think that he didn't want her over at all.

Mike shook his head trying to reassure himself with the knowledge that at least it got him some peace in the house for the time being. As he walked back to the living room he glanced into the kitchen and saw the half eaten yoghurt left by El and felt another twinge of guilt wash over him. He surmised that El hadn't meant any harm, was her being here really that bad.

He sat on the couch, brushing off some crumbs from potato chips that El had left behind. Paladin jumped into his lap and settled down. Mike stroked his soft fur. "It's just me and you again Pal." The television was on and Mike was free to be alone with his thoughts once more.


It had been three days since Mike last saw El. He had never noticed until now that he never saw El coming or going unless she was at his apartment. He had told Dustin what had happened and even Dustin thought that he had been a little harsh. Ok, he knew how he went about it sucked but was it so wrong of him to occasionally want some peace and quiet in his own home?

As he settled in for the night, and Paladin jumped on the bed next to him, even though he wasn't allowed to, he run through the bust up with El again, he decided that it probably had been for the best. His house remained undisturbed. His tv channels the same. His food untouched. Everything in his life had shifted right back into place before there was a El Hopper.


A few evenings later Mike was walking up the path to the apartment building when El came out the door. She was walking quickly with her head down as if she didn't want to be bothered.

"Hi El." Mike called out to her.

El snapped her head around. "Hi."

"How's it …." Mike never got to finish his sentence as El was already walking away down the path.

Ouch. He didn't expect that it would have been a complete one eighty from hot to cold. Then again he didn't know El.

When he got into his apartment, everything was the same as he had left it that morning. His books were in the same spot. Paladin was sitting in the same spot at the foot of the couch. His food was the same way that he had left it. He dropped his keys down on the coffee table. When the fuck did his life get so damn monotonous?


The air was sharp and crisp at five thirty in the morning. However, his shirt was stuck to his back and chest because of the sweat of his early morning run. He loved inhaling the fresh air before it was ruined by the gunk of day to day life.

Dustin had told him that Stacey had asked about him at the trivia night, when he stayed home to babysit El. Dustin had said that Stacey had been hinting at another possible reconnection between the two of them and Mike wasn't opposed to the idea. Stacey was typically pretty with overtly feminine features. She had dark brown hair, blue eyes and a kissable mouth.

Stacey, however, was too flighty to be in a relationship but as Dustin loved to remind him, he needed to get some, it had been a while and like most men he has needs. Maybe he would call Stacey later today.

As luck would have had it, when he got to his hallway, El was coming out of her apartment but the way she looked had Mike stopping and staring. She had a black baseball cap with her honey brown hair tied up high and pulled through the back of the cap. Gone was the oversized t shirts he was used to seeing her in and there in their place, a snug fitting sports bra and Mike couldn't help but stare at her body. It was such a change from what he had seen her in up until now. She had delicate shoulders and toned arms, he blushed lightly as he took in her prominent collar bones down to her ample chest in that god damn sports bra. His eyes continued down to a flat toned stomach. In short, El had one hell of a body hiding under those clothes she was wearing.

As she walked towards him, he noticed that El's shorts were sitting low enough to rest on her hip bones and cupped just under her ass cheeks, leaving a long exspanse of bare leg on show. Mike sucked in his bottom lip. El was hot. And he was now noticing after he had kicked her out of his apartment. He had the worst timing.

"Hi," Mike said with an enthusiastic smile. "Haven't seen you in a while."

El looked at him as if he had made a terrible joke. "Yeah, well I've been busy."

"Well I hope to see you around more," Mike said hoping that El would get the hint.

"Yeah, whatever. I have to start my run." El said bouncing up and down on the toes of her sneakers.

El took off without another word and Mike sighed.

Mike had forgotten all about calling Stacey when he got back to his apartment. Sure El had been a bit weird and she left him feeling all confused but with a body like that, Mike was more than willing to over look a few things. Mike pulled his clothes off as he got ready for the shower. His dick was half hard and resting against his thigh. He absent mindedly ran the palm of his hand over it as he waited for the shower to get to the right temperature.

He was getting ahead of himself he thought as he stepped into the shower. He didn't even know if El was even interested in men, much less him for that matter.

He scolded himself for being so shallow at how quickly he didn't mind El invading his space anymore. Well once she invaded it with no clothes on, he wouldn't have a problem in the world, the dark part of his brain muttered.

He caught himself stroking his length to complete hardness and then shook his head at his predicament. Well this wouldn't be the first time that he got himself off in the shower.


Dustin laughed at him the next time he saw him at the office. He had told him about his predicament, minus getting himself off in the shower of course.

"I swear. I don't even know how you manage to cockblock yourself." Dustin chuckled as he shook his head.

"I didn't mean to." Mike responded meekly in his defense.

"Well since you practically chewed her out the last time she was over, why don't you go over to her place apologize and ask her out to have a drink with you to talk, clear the air?" Dustin suggested.

Mike chewed his bottom lip nervously. "You think it would work?"

"It may or may not. I mean you don't really have anything to lose. She's already not speaking to you."

"I guess." Mike didn't sound that optimistic as he packed up his bag.

Dustin clapped his hand on Mike's shoulder. "Cheer up. If you strike out, there's always Stacey."

"How exciting." Mike responded dryly.


Dustin was right. What did he have to lose? He raised his fist and knocked three times hard on El's front door. He waited for a moment or two and then knocked again. An annoyed "I'm coming" sounded through the door.

As he heard the locks being unfastened, Mike felt a nervousness in his belly. He didn't know why he was so anxious. He was just asking El out for a drink to clear the air between them.

"Oh, hi." El clearly looked surprised as she peaked her head out of the barely opened door.

"Hi," Mike started. "I was wondering if..."

"El! Hurry up and come back here." A dark skinned girl came up behind El and wrapped her arms around her waist.

"I'll be with you in a second Mick," El said giving her a cheeky wink "I just need to see what my neighbour wants."

Wow. He had been reduced back down to neighbour. Not even Mike. The wind had been completely knocked out of his sails and now with two sets of waiting eyes on him, he had lost all confidence.

"Nothing. Um, sorry to bother you. Have a good night." Mike said hurriedly as he walked away, feeling his cheeks turning red with embarrassment.

Two hours and six beers later, he was sprawled across his couch, with Paladin cuddled into his side. His fingers raking through the short hair on Paladin's head. The television was on but if asked, he couldn't say what was showing. He had fucked up. Big time. It had been a month since the blow up and since then El acted as if he was a stranger. Even though he had asked for it, he didn't expect things to be quite so unpleasant.

El used to talk a mile a minute about a million different things but never about herself. And he could still recall clearly, the pain in El's large doe eyes when Mike told her how unwelcome her company was. He had been a fucking prick to El. If the shoe had been on the other foot, he guessed that he wouldn't speak to her either. Now El was next door with a woman, looking all cozy and getting up to who knows what. He guessed that he never really had a shot to begin with.

Mike's fingers raked through the soft hair on Paladin's back as the cat was contented to have Mike all to himself again. "I think that I've really fucked up Pal. I don't think there's any chance of getting El back in any way now."

Chapter Text

"You think he's missing his little girlfriend?"

"Yeah he's definitely missing his little girlfriend."

"Mike's little girlfriend won't come over anymore since Mike was mean to her.

"Awww. At least Mike still has Paladin."

"That isn't the pussy that Mike wants."

"You guys are assholes." Mike said as spun round on his chair

Dustin and his other colleague Lucas burst out laughing.

"Aww come on dude, you've been sulking practically the whole week since you found El with that girl." Duston said flicking a rubberband at Mike's head.

"I have not been sulking." He huffed.

"Ooo, someone hit a nerve." Dustin sang and made his way over to him.

He sat on the desk next to Mike's PC. "Why don't you go over there and try again?"

"Because just this morning a blonde left her place wearing a dress that ended right under her ass. I think it's safe to say that she's not into men." Mike said running his hands through his already dishevelled hair.

"Okay let's say that it's true and El's gay. Does that mean that you don't even want to be friends with her because you can't fuck her?"

Mike paused looking up at the guys around him. Dustin did have a point. Even though he did think that El was attractive, and the chance of them hooking up was practically non exisistant. He wouldn't mind having El as a friend and he wasn't that shallow, disappointed but not shallow.

"I guess you do have a point." Mike said logging off his desktop and grabbing his bag. "So what do I do?"

"You do what I've been telling you to do since last week. Go home, take a shower, throw on some cologne or whatever and go over to her place and ask her out for a drink so that you guys can talk it out like adults." Dustin stood up and patted Mike on the shoulder. "I mean you don't have anything to lose anyway."


Dustin was right. He didn't have anything to lose. He carefully tried to tame his unruly hair as he looked himself over in the mirror. Black shirt, sleeves rolled up, blue jeans and his converse with a dash of cologne. He didn't know why he listened to Dustin sometimes.

"Wish me luck Pal." He called to the cat as he walked the door. The cat kept its head straight seemingly ignoring Mike. He smiled to himself. That cat could be so moody.

Mike took a deep breath outside of El's apartment door as he raised his fist to knock on the door. He could do this, he told himself. He gave El's door three hard taps and waited.

It seemed as if it took forever as he heard the locks being undone on El's side of the door. He tapped his right foot nervously against the hardwood floor as he waited.

El peeped out at him through the barely cracked open door. No greeting. Just a raised eyebrow.

"Hi." Mike started. "Look I shouldn't have gone off on you like I did a few weeks ago. I was in a messed up place and took it out on you." No response. "I.. I was wondering if we can go.. I mean if you would like..I mean that if you're not already busy maybe you fancy going for a drink and just hang out?"

El studied his face for a few seconds. She was clearly thinking the offer over. Finally she shrugged her shoulders as if she had given up. "Fine. Lemme grab my coat." El closed the door in Mike's face.

Well at least it was a good start. Mike went back to his apartment to get his own coat. Paladin was in the living room. "Stepping out for a bit Pal. Now don't tear up the house while I'm gone, okay?"

Paladin just watched him as he slipped on his brown wool jacket. The nights were starting to feel a bit chilly.

"Are you ready?" El was already standing at his door wearing a lightweight hood over her black skinny jeans.

"Um yeah." Mike looked around for his keys on the side table spotting them almost hidden by a couple of D&D figurines. He grabbed the keys and shoved them in his front jeans pocket. "Let's go."

"Do you have any place in mind?" Mike asked as he locked the door.

"Uh, Benny's down the block is pretty good."

Mike knew of the quiet little dive bar that El spoke of. "Yeah that sounds good."

They set off down the street. The sun was setting and people were making their way home from work. They didn't really say anything to each other mainly because the tension between them felt awkward as hell and Mike didn't want to make it any worse.

They crossed a busy intersection and then they were at Benny's. Mike was walking towards the door when something told him to look behind him. When he turned around, he gasped. Looking quite innocently up at him was his cat.

"Paladin!" Mike darted forward and scooped up the cat. "How did you get out? Why did you follow me? Oh my god, I can't believe that you crossed that intersection by yourself. You could've been killed. Don't you ever do that again. Do you hear me?" The cat just purred and rubbed it's head against Mike's neck.

Mike turned and looked at El apologetically. "El, are you ok to go in without me? I have to take Paladin back home."

El raised her eyebrows, she had to play second fiddle to the cat again. It was hardly surprising at this point. "Sure."

"I'll be right back as soon as possible," Mike said as he continued to stroke Paladin's head.

El just watched Mike cross the busy intersection before shaking her head as she went inside.

Benny's was never fully of traffic which was what El liked about it. She choose a booth near the back and ordered a beer. It was at least a ten minute walk to get back to theirs. Mike would probably be back in half an hour or so, El thought as she sipped her beer and watched the dodgy 80s music channel on the television hung up on the wall.

El was on to her second beer by the time that Mike reappeared.

"El I'm so sorry about that," he said sliding into the booth opposite El. "Paladin wanted to play when we got home and I couldn't get away."

El narrowed her eyes slightly, whilst taking another sip of her beer, unflinching, as if she was just waiting for Mike to get to the purpose of this outing.

Mike sighed softly. "El look, I'm truly sorry for what I said to you. I was angry at a client and instead of dealing with it, I let it fester and unleashed it all on you and I was wrong for that."

A waitress popped up as if on cue and placed a beer in front of Mike and left as discreetly as she came. He figured that El had ordered for him.

"You said that I just waltz in uninvited." El accused him.

Mike looked at him sheepishly. " Yeah sorry. Of course you can come over, whenever you want," he paused. " Well with in reason."

"You asked me if I didn't have any other friends." El's golden eyes narrowed even further at him.

"I have no excuse. That was completely an asshole thing to say." Mike finally took a sip of his beer.

"You even said that Paladin doesn't like me." El said sounding completely hurt.

Mike slowly placed the bottle down on the table. "Well..."

"Oh god, seriously? He doesn't like me?" El shook her head. "Why?"

"I don't know." Mike shrugged. "Maybe he just isn't accustomed to you as yet."

El tilted her head slightly and blinked slowly at Mike.

Mike laughed nervously. "Maybe it's because you took up his remote."

"Really Wheeler? Your cat can hold a serious grudge." El drained the remainder of her beer.

She stood up and eyed Mike impatiently. "Come on. I wanna go to the park."

Mike was confused. "But isn't the park closed by now?"

El sighed dramatically and rolled her eyes. "I bet you pay all of your taxes too." She started to walk away.

Mike quickly dug a twenty out of his pocket and dropped it on the table and then walked quickly to catch up with El.


"I can't believe that I'm doing this," Mike said as he squeezed through the sizeable hole in the fence. El was already standing, waiting for him on the other side.

"Jesus Mike, chill out." She watched as Mike stood up and dusted off his clothes. "It's just a park not the Pentagon."

El started to walk down a dirt trodden path and Mike called out to him. "Hey wait up. Its pitch black, I can hardly see in front of me."

"God, you're such a whiner." El waited until Mike caught up with her and then she grabbed his hand. "Just so you won't get lost."

Mike didn't mind El holding his hand at all. El's palm fitting perfectly against his own.

They held hands until they reached a park bench. El hopped over the back of it and plopped down in the seat whilst Mike sat like a normal person.

There was nothing in front of them but an open field and the night sky. Mike glanced over at El who had her arms spread across the top of the bench as if she owned it.

"You know, I don't really know anything about you." Mike finally said after sitting in silence for a while.

El raised an eyebrow. "What do you want to know?"

Mike slid a bit closer to El on the bench but didn't touch her. "Everything."

El furrowed her eyebrows. "What are you? The FBI?"

Mike crossed his arms over his chest. A wry grin playing on his lips. "Just start talking."

El gave him one of those long looks that made him feel something that he knew better than to feel.

He watched as El's tongue lightly licked her bottom lip before she started to speak. Mike involuntary bit the inside of his own lip. Damn it. There was just something about her.

"Well I'm twenty-six years old," El started. "From Chicago. Single, no pets." El smirked. "Safer that way apparently."

She stopped speaking and stared out into the night.

"Um..is that it?"

El shrugged nonchalantly and stretched out her legs. "What else is there to know?"

"Oh come on." Mike knocked his knee playfully against El's. "Like what do you do? What are your hobbies?"

El waved him off.

"Oh no you don't get to ignore me." Mike pulled a lock of her hair gently. "If you insist on coming over and eating my food and upsetting my cat, I think l at least deserve to know at least what you do." he said batting his eyelashes ridiculously.

"All right, all right." El swatted Mike's hand out of her hair, scowling whilst trying to suppress a grin

Mike laughed at the look on El's face. El was about to say something sharp but the way how totally relaxed Mike looked when he laughed, stopped her in her tracks. She needed to stop finding this man so damn attractive. Knowing her luck he probably wasn't going to be into her, not many guys were, she was a little rough round the edges for most.

El used her right hand to push her hair from out of her eyes. "I'm into stuff." She finally said.

"Really?" Mike gave him a disbelieving look. "You don't say?" he said sarcastically. "What kind of stuff?"

El gave a slight shrug. "You know, stuff."

"You're terrible at communicating." Mike dead panned.

"Look all I can tell you is, I'm a girl who knows a few guys and girls who can get you anything you want." El's right foot started to tap nervously against the pavement.

Mike's voice lost all of its merriment. "Like drugs?"

El shot him a look. "No."

Mike noticed how uncomfortable El was becoming with the conversation but he needed to be sure for his own safety as well as hers. "Are you telling me the truth El? I won't judge you."

El locked her large golden eyes firmly onto Mike's dark brown pools. "I am telling you the truth. I don't sell drugs."

She sounded sincere enough to Mike. He honestly didn't know El well enough to know if she was lying or not. "Okay fine. I'm not going to bring it up again."

"Thank you." El gave Mike a quick once over. "You know, you aren't so bad when you get out of the house. Less up tight."

Mike chuckled good naturedly. "I'm not up tight."

"Yeah, whatever." El suddenly stood up. "Let's go home. I'm freezing."

lronically El nearly froze to the spot when Mike gently squeezed her shoulders and his soft voice was right by her ear. "You would be freezing in this hoodie."

Okay, that was a mistake. Mike had decided to go bold with the physical contact to see if El was interested in him and she tensed up as soon as he touched her. El clearly was not interested, whether it was just in him or all menkind he wasn't sure.

"Yeah, I, uh didn't realize how cold it would be." El replied blushing lightly, she definitely appeared uncomfortable and Mike released his grip. At least I didn't try to kiss her, Mike reasoned. That would've been a huge mistake.

They made their way back to the hole in the fence and got through without incident. They held a light conversation on the way home, the awkward shoulder encounter forgotten both thankful for the fresh start post argument, although neither knew where it was going.

As they walked up the path to the apartment building side by side, their fingers kept on brushing against each other. Both of them guilty of doing it on purpose but secretly hoping that the other didn't notice.

Finally as they opened the door, El half hooked her index finger around Mike's and the brushing stopped. El didn't dare look up at Mike and kept her head down. She felt as if she was in high school again not knowing how to act around her crush, hence the earlier shock when those beautiful hands of his touched her shoulders.

Mike of course noticed El's finger, half curled around his. Maybe the brushing of fingers annoyed her he thought, trying to quell that small flicker of hope that was burning in his stomach.

They took the stairs together with Mike leading, fingers still hooked, and both of them trying to ignore it.

However, when they reached the top of the stairs, El unhooked her finger. It was getting too weird, noone could ignore it for that long.

They heard a commotion coming from the end of the hallway and as they walked Mike realized that it was his neighbour Logan Lowell banging on his door.

"Come on! Shut up in there." Logan yelled at the door.

Mike rushed forward. "What's going on?"

"Your damn cat has been yowling for blue murder for the past three hours. The fuck didn't you leave some food for it to shut it up?" Logan accused Mike.

Logan was a rather large man as he was a competitive bodybuilder and Mike felt a little intimidated.

He could hear Paladin yowling loudly in the background. His heart was beating quickly wondering what had happened to him. Paladin had never behaved like this before. Then El stepped right into Logan's personal space "He did leave him food and water. Maybe all of your yelling is upsetting him more."

Logan snorted and then stood back from El, looking between the two of them. " You know what? At least you're home. Shut up your damn cat." He gave Mike one final glance and walked away.

Mike fished the keys out of his pocket and unlocked the door. He had barely gotten the door opened, when Paladin launched himself at him. Jumping as high as Mike's thigh.

Mike picked him up and Paladin clung to his shoulders, meowing in a softer and a more grateful tone.

"What's the matter Pal?" Mike asked as he walked into his home. "What's the matter boy?"

The cat just purred and rolled over in Mike's arms, nuzzling his neck with his head.

Nothing in the house looked disturbed.

"Oh you just miss me boy? Is that it?"

The cat meowed and playfully butted its head against Mike's chin.

Mike laughed. "I missed you too. I didn't mean to upset you."

Mike sat on his couch and started to tickle Paladin's tummy. The cat stretched out his body purring in delight. "Who's my favourite kitty? You are." He teased. Paladin meowed and rolled over as Mike gave him a good petting.

El stood in Mike's hallway and watched them from a distance. It wasn't lost on her that Mike had completely forgotten about her and her entire existance as soon as he saw Paladin, with a small sad smile and shake of her head she turned and left.

Chapter Text

"So let me get this straight."

Dustin waved the half eaten pizza slice around in front of Mike's face. Lucas was down at the other end of the barcade fighting a losing battle with the pinball machine.

Dustin took another bite of the pizza, the sauce smearing on one side of his mouth. "You ditched your date for your cat? Are you purposefully trying to remain celibate or something?"

"No, it wasn't like that." Mike took a sip of his soda. " l thought that something was seriously wrong with Paladin. I have never heard him yowl like that before. I thought that he had hurt himself."

"And then you got inside, realized that was nothing was wrong and yet insisted on playing with him until you realized that your date was gone." Dustin said swallowing the last of his slice before licking his fingers clean and picking up another one. "I'm beginning to think that you're doing it on purpose."

"I'm not." Mike responded defensively. "And it wasn't a date."

"Oh so you didn't go over to her place, ask her out, she accepted, then you guys went to a bar for drinks and then hung out in a park afterwards?" Dustin smirked. "Sounds like a date to me."

"Well you asked me out to this bar and picked me up as well," Mike smiled. "Is this a date too?"

"Nope." Dustin bit into another piece of pizza. "Because I'm not trying to fuck you."

Dustin laughed at the scowl on Mike's face.

"Well don't you want to fuck her?" Dustin asked as he winked at an attractive blonde who walked by the table.

"Yeah I guess," Mike swirled his straw around in his glass. "But like, I want to get to know her better first. But she's so guarded. It's like she can talk about every thing but herself."

"I see what the problem is," Dustin dabbed the napkin around his mouth, removing the sauce. "You just don't want to fuck her. You wanna date her and hope that more comes out of it."

"Yeah, what's so wrong with that?" Mike inquired.

"Nothing really," Dustin shrugged. "If she wants the same thing that you do. You don't even know if she likes men or not."

He noticed the crest fallen look on Mike's face. " Look Mikey, all I'm saying is don't put all of your eggs in one basket. If you want El to open up to you, you can't push it. And she definitely won't do it if you continue to ignore her for a cat."

Dustin slid out of the booth and patted Mike on the shoulder. "Just something to think about my friend. Now if you'll excuse me." Dustin put on his best smile and strolled towards the redhead that he had been eyeing at the bar.


"No! We're not putting both anchovies and pepperoni on a pizza."

"Why not?" El whined.

"Because it's disgusting." Mike responded wondering where in the world El came up with these weird combinations.

"Have you ever tried it?" El tried to lean over the counter and grab the phone out of Mike's hand but Mike backed away.

"No."

"Then how do you know that it's disgusting then?" El cocked an eyebrow.

"I just know that it is." He looked at the flier in his hand and started to dial the number.

"Well since I'm paying for half of his pizza then I should have a say." El folded her arms across her chest, which reminded Mike of the tight sports bra that had been plaguing his thoughts.

Swallowing deeply Mike sighed. "Fine. We'll put the anchovies on half of the pizza."

El walked around the counter and plucked the flier out of Mike's hand.

"How about habaneros?" She looked at Mike wide eyed and hopeful.

"No."


"I can't believe that you're actually eating that." Mike watched in disgust as El took a huge bite of the pepperoni and anchovy laden slice.

"You don't know what you're missing." El smacked her lips together as she chewed.

Meow.

El looked down at her bare feet and surprisingly, Paladin was there, watching her intently as she ate. "See, even Paladin wants to try it."

She plucked an anchovy off and held it in front of Paladin and the cat gobbled it greedily down.

El threw a triumphant grin at Mike. "He likes it."

Mike rolled his eyes and resumed watching the television. "What ever."

Before El could take another bite, Paladin meowed again.

"Okay here's another one."

Paladin ate the offerring quite happily.

"I think your cat ate more of my pizza than I did." El said as she walked back into the living room after cleaning up.

"Well you kept on feeding him."

"You think that he likes me now?" El approached Paladin who was curled up in the single seater.

"I dunno. Maybe." Mike watched with curiosity as El slowly stuck out her hand to pet Paladin.

However, the cat sensing this turned around and hissed at El who immediately withdrew her hand.

Mike laughed loudly at El's puzzled face.

"But you ate my pizza." El said to Paladin who just narrowed his eyes at him and turned away. " I thought that you liked me. You used me."

Mike chuckled. "Come here and leave Pal alone." He held out his hand to El who took it and then plopped down defeated next to Mike on the couch.

She released Mike's hand and turned herself around and rested her head in Mike's lap with her feet hanging over the arm of the couch. "Your cat used me."

"Is that why you're using me as your bed?"

"It's the least you could do. My feelings are hurt." El pouted.

Mike laughed softly. El looked different in this position as Mike looked down at her. So much softer and younger. He knew that he shouldn't be letting himself get so attracted to El in case it wasn't reciprocated but he couldn't help it.

"Did you have any pets as a kid?" Mike found himself softly stroking El's long hair. His fingers lightly pressing against El's scalp. He glanced at Paladin and found that the cat had fallen asleep in the chair. No wonder El was allowed to be this close to him.

"No. I was always told that they were messy." El said picking at a thread on her t-shirt. "I always wanted a dog though."

"I had three cats, a dog and a goldfish when I was a kid." Mike shared.

" Your parents allowed you to keep all of those?" El looked up at him in amazement.

Roman laughed. "Well I have two sisters one older, one younger. So it wasn't just me." He twirled a lock of El's hair over his index finger. "You have any brothers or sisters?"

"Nope. Just me."

"You must have been a handful." Mike joked.

" I, uh, guess." El noticeably became a lot less interested in the conversation as if she was trying to avoid talking about her family. "So how did you get Paladin?"

Now it was his turn to become uncomfortable. He turned his attention to his window, seeing nothing but the glow of the street light in the darkness. "I took him from my ex." He said quietly.

El sat up and stared at him. "You stole your ex's cat? That's cold."

Mike turned to face her. "My ex was selfish. She was always work focused and she went to a work retreat for a couple of weeks to try and make partner at her firm when her female cat was pregnant. This was after we had broken up and I didn't know that she had left. Anyway she called me one night whilst she was away, telling me that her neighbour had called telling her that there was a scent coming from her apartment and she wanted me to go and check it out. I wasn't going to until she said that she had left the cat in there. The selfish bitch didn't even think to put her up at pet hospice while she was away. So I went over there." At this point Mike stopped talking and just continued to stare out the window.

El could see that Mike's mind was far away and he was reliving that day in his head. His jaw was set tight and his eyes were glassy. Fuck. If she knew that the question would've upset him, she wouldn't have asked. She slid her hand over Mike's, lacing their fingers together. "You don't have to continue Mike."

"No, it's okay." He said rubbing his eyes vigorously. "I didn't realize that it still upset me this much." Mike took in a deep breath and then continued. "So I went over there and the stench coming from her apartment was awful. I was surprised that her super hadn't gone in. So I went in and..." Mike's voice dropped. "The cat was dead and so was the litter of her newborns. They were starting to decompose. It was awful."

El felt Mike squeezing her hand and she let him. She was getting upset herself. His ex had to be one heartless bitch.

"I was about to leave when I heard this tiny meow. I thought that my mind was playing tricks on me but I heard it again. It sounded as if it was coming from the kitchen. Sure enough that's where I found Paladin. He was curled up on the mat by the kitchen sink. He was so tiny El." His voice broke a little. "I picked him up and he was smaller than the palm of my hand. He was the only one that survived. So I took him and carried him straight to a veterinary hospital. He was really weak and malnourished. The vet said that I got there just in time. He stayed there for a week and then he came home with me."

"So what happened to your ex?" El knew that she shouldn't prod but she really did want to know.

"Well I called her super, who in turn called the police. The super kicked my ex out and the police charged her with negligence and animal cruelty and a whole host of other charges. But my ex knows a lot of people in high places and got off with community service for six weeks. Of course she blamed me for everything, said that I should've taken care of the bodies. Asshole."

"Yeah she was a douche supreme." El agreed.

"So yeah I know that I sometimes, well almost all of the time, I spoil Pal but I can't help it." Mike looked at the sleeping cat. "He's a tough little guy."

El nodded. "He is."

"So um," Mike tried to smile. "You have any bad ex stories?"

El shook her head regretfully. "I haven't really, I mean I don't really do relationships."

Mike snorted. "You sound just like Dustin."

"Who's Dustin?" Immediately El sounded wary and she held Mike's hand a bit tighter but as usual the raven haired man didn't notice.

"Oh he's a good friend of mine we work at the same office." Mike laughed when he remembered Dustin trying to pick up the redhead at bar. "A different day, a different girl is his motto."

"So what's your excuse?" He couldn't help but notice that El was rather close to him. He lightly stroked the area between El's thumb and index finger a few times with his thumb. "Why don't you do relationships?"

"l don't know." El shrugged. "I guess I've never really been comfortable with the whole notion of putting all of your trust and energy into one person, only to have them betray you in the end."

"They all don't end like that." Mike pointed out.

"But most of them do. I mean it just seems as if you're setting yourself up for failure. I don't see the point in that." El rested her head against Mike's shoulder, keeping that one hand firmly grasped with Mike's.

"But what if you meet someone and fall in love with them? What then?" Mike actually broke the hold that El had on his hand and placed his arm around El's waist instead.

"That isn't going to happen." She responded knowingly.

"But it can," Mike insisted. "Sometimes you can't help who you fall in love with."

El turned to face him. "Yeah you can. It's a choice to love someone and I choose not to. We can have a good time together but that's it. None of that love crap."

"Why?" Mike just couldn't understand this way of thinking at all. Why would a person want to deny themselves something like love? Sure he had experienced his share of heartbreaks but being in love made it worth it.

"Well one of the first reasons being, is that I hardly stay in any place long enough to fall in love with anyone anyway. I normally spend about three to six months in a place, a year tops and I'm out. I like a change of pace and scenery. I don't like the feeling of being tied to one person. Besides it wouldn't be fair of me to ask a person to uproot their life to move with me just for the hell of it, would it?"

"I guess not." Mike said thoughtfully although he felt that there was more to it than what El was telling him.

El's face was only a foot away from his own and Mike wanted to lean over and kiss her just because he felt like it. But he didn't think that El would approve or even appreciate it. So he tried to redirect his gaze away from El's pretty honey brown hair, which constantly fell into her beautiful eyes which shared her face with that perfect mouth.7

He focused on the cop show on the television that El had decided. "So how long do you plan on staying in New York?"

"Maybe six months, I guess. A year tops. It really isn't my favourite place."

So in less than a year El would be out of his life. Crap. It really didn't make any sense for him to develop his feelings for her any further. It wouldn't work out anyway. "Okay."

El remained in Mike's embrace for a few minutes more savouring the feeling of closeness. She could tell that Mike was thinking about something but he didn't share it with her. She observed the sleeping Paladin and she figured that it was time that she called it a night as well.

She removed Mike's hand from around her waist and placed it on the couch. She then stood up and stretched. "I guess it's time that I turn in for the night."

Mike looked up at her.."Yeah I guess, it is getting late." He wondered if he should walk El to his door but then changed his mind. He would be too tempted to try to steal a kiss and might end up ruining this new fragile friendship.

"Well see ya." El walked off to the front door and Mike watched her go.

When the door closed, Mike picked up his remote and turned off the television. He sighed and and rested his head back on the couch. He had to get all of this nonsense of him and El ever dating out of his head now. The woman said it herself. She doesn't do relationships and she doesn't plan on staying long in New York. Mike wished that he could change El's mind, on one of those things at least.

Chapter Text

"Oh Michael you are a star, I'm not sure where I would be without you."

Mrs. Samantha Johnson's hand lingered on his arm as she smiled charmingly up at him.

"That's what I'm here for Mrs. Johnson," Mike responded as he easily stepped away from her but not before she got in her regular squeeze on his arm.

"Oh Michael, stop being so formal. I told you to call me Sam." She perched on the desk in front of him and smiled beguilingly at him.

"Sorry. I just want to be respectful that's all." He said crawling under the desk to pack up his gear into his bag and he heard Samantha moving above him.

"But Mrs. Johnson, sounds so old. I don't look old do I?" Mike could hear her standing behind him. Probably staring at his ass as usual.

Mike stood up straight and looked at her, pretending to consider the question. The truth was Samantha Johnson was a well preserved forty two year old, thanks to regular exercise and cosmetic procedures. Her hair was bleached perfectly blonde and her forehead contained no wrinkles, but she also couldn't move it, so there was that. "No you don't look old at all. You look quite youthful."

Samantha beamed at him. "You're so sweet. Now let me just grab your details so I can sort out your payment."

Mike watched as she walked away. He had been working with Samantha for just over three years now. He had taken the job despite the fact she lived out near the middle of Long Island and it took him almost an hour to get to her place. Initially he was going to turn her down but she offered to pay him twice his normal rate and he agreed. When he arrived at the house he saw why she could afford it. She lived in a massive, Tudor styled mansion and she apparently had nothing better to do than to spend her husband's money on getting her crochet costumes business online. She was always telling him about some event she had to attend, and how they were dreadfully boring. The rest of the time she spent not so subtly trying to hit on him. Usually he just politely brushed her off. Besides she always paid him well over the agreed amount anyway. He was certain that his youthful comment would earn him an extra something this month.

"Here you go." Samantha smiled as she handed over the recept from the transfer she had just made to him.

Mike read through it quickly. There was a Iot more zeros than he was expecting. "Is this for the quarter?"

Samantha giggled. "No silly. That's just a thank you of sorts. I mean ever since you made the alterations to the site and set up online payment processing I have had more hits and orders than I know what to do with. "

"Oh wow....well thanks. Appreciate it." Mike said as he slid the receipt into his back pocket.

Mike hefted his bag on his shoulder to leave when Samantha called out to him. "Can I have a hug before you go?"

He didn't really want to but as the woman had just paid his rent for two months, he turned around and smiled at her. "Sure."

Samantha bounded up to him and threw her arms tightly around his neck, pressing her body against his. Mike lightly embraced her around her shoulders.

He ended the hug and Samantha stepped back blushing. "I'm sorry I have got my perfume all over you.. I hope your girlfriend won't mind?"

"Ha no its fine.. Er.. I mean she won't.. Actually I don't have one." Mike bumbled getting flustered as he walked towards the front door.

"So next month?" Samantha called after him in a hopeful tone.

Mike nodded as he opened the door. "Next month it is."


"Aww man, I remembered when I had a rich chick." Dustin took a big bite of his deep dish Hawaiian pizza. "It was some of the best money that I ever made." Dustin sighed as if he were reminiscing. " And the work wasn't bad either." He added grinning mischeviously

"So what happened?" Mike speared some of his Caesar salad on the fork.

"Her husband got a tad upset when he came home early one day and found us fucking on the desk in his study."

Mike nearly choked on his salad. He grabbed his glass of water and drank it down quickly. "What?"

Dustin shrugged and continued to eat as if it was no big deal. He looked at an attractive brunette who had stopped to converse with the couple at the table next to them. "I know right? Cancelling my contract was totally uncalled for, if anything they were getting additional services for free."

Dustin shoved the remainder of the slice into his mouth and Mike wondered how Dustin managed to eat what he wanted and never get fat

"So how's it going with the new girlfriend?" Dustin sucked on the straw in his soda, awaiting Mike's response.

"She's not my girlfriend." Mike wiped his mouth with the paper nakin and placed it down next to his plate.

"Yeah whatever. Doesn't she like come over every night?"

"Yeah, so?"

"Doesn't she leave like early in the morning?"

"She lives next door."

Dustin slowly blinked at him and then shook his head. "Okay, when's the last time that I came over?"

Mike frowned. "Um..."

"Too long! You can't even remember." Dustin drummed his fingers on the table top. "Okay, the last time that Lucas came over?"

"Oh last week to return some dvds." Mike smiled.

"I bet he didn't stay to after midnight just talking to your ass."

The smile vanished. "Well no, he had to go meet some girl."

"Exactly. That's what single straight guys do. We spend our time trying to get laid. Not spending every night just taking with some chick."

Mike looked a bit miffed. "I'll have you know that my company is awesome."

Dustin laughed. "Yeah I'm sure El thinks so."

He noticed the confident look on Mike's face waivering a bit. "Look Michael. You're a great dude. I honestly think that neighbour girl has a thing for you but you're stuck you don't know if she is straight and if she is, it's not exactly going anywhere with the two of you."

"But she's never said that she wasn't interested in men." Mike finally said after a long pause.

Dustin reached over and patted his shoulder. "But she never said that she was.


"El, I don't want to watch Zombie Axe Murderers part three."

"Why not?" El placed her feet up on Mike's lap. "You just watched parts one and two."

"That's exactly why." Mike shoved El's feet off with his right hand. "And take your feet off me."

El scowled. "You let Paladin lie down in your lap."

"Pal's a cat." Mike changed the channel to some cop show and placed the remote back on the table. He wondered if what Dustin had said was true and El was just trying to find a way to stay over longer. It was after eleven at night already.

"He's an animal." Suddenly El's entire face brightened up as if she finally realized what was going on. "It's discrimination."

"What?" Mike looked puzzled.

"Paladin's an animal and I'm a human being. You won't let me put my feet on you because I'm human." She smirked triumphantly. "It's discrimination."

Mike shook his head, whilst trying not to grin. "You're crazy."

"No. I'm right." El turned around on the couch and without warning planted her head in Mike's lap.

"What the -" Mike started.

El looked up at him all innocently. "You said that I couldn't put my feet on your lap. You didn't say anything about my head."

El turned her head to the side and faced the television. "I don't want to watch a cop show." She whined.

"Well I'm not watching any more zombie movies."

"You're just mad because the second one scared Paladin." El huffed.

After another person screamed after getting their head chopped off by an axe wielding zombie, Paladin had taken off in the direction of the bedroom and Mike hadn't seen him since.

"Well it's either this or you can go home," Mike declared.

He saw El pouting and then fold her arms across her chest. "Fine. I'm the guest and I never get to have any say."

Mike stared at her and wondered if he should point out that they just spent the last three hours watching cheesy zombie flicks at El's insistance. But he lost his train of thought when he noticed how good El looked lying in his lap. Now if only she would face the other way and press her mouth against the crotch of his pants and Mike would be in heaven.

Fuck. He needed to control his thoughts around El. He didn't want to get excited, leading to further embarrassment. Mike tried to shift his attention to the show on television that he was making El watch. It wasn't a favourite show of his by any means but it wasn't about zombies or mutants so that was a plus in its favour already.


"Mike? Wake up."

Mike felt someone tapping the side of his face and slowly he opened his eyes. Damn it. He fell asleep without even realizing it. El shifted into focus in front of his eyes. She was so close to the front of his face. He could see every fleck of gold in her eyes and the length of her eyelashes more clearly.

"You snore." El said matter of factly.

"Couldn't be that bad.You're still here." He pointed out.

El ignored that comment and reached a hand up and twirled a lock of Mike's hair between her fingers. "You know you really do have nice hair. You sure that you don't want to grow and sell it?"

"Yes I'm sure." El's face was flawless. Nothing really could detract from how beautiful she was. Maybe Dustin had a point. Why would a girl that want interested get so close to him? El's ass was pressed right up against his thigh. Their faces were barely six inches apart and she was playing with Mike's hair again. Even if she wanted to sell it.

Mike made up his mind. He was going to do it. He hated not knowing where he stood and he hated going to bed frustrated every night because he couldn't have El like he wanted. He brought his right hand up and gently cupped El's jaw. He waited for El to say something but instead his hair got a sharp tug, bringing their faces even closer. It was now or never he thought as he closed his eyes.

He pressed his lips firmly against El's, covering that pretty mouth that he had so many dirty thoughts about. He slowly moved his lips against El's, kissing her softly. His other arm going around El's waist, holding her body that had gone quite stiff. His right hand keeping El's head in place. El was obviously in shock, Mike thought. Didn't matter now though, he was going to get this kiss even if they parted ways forever right afterwards.

However, it surprised him when he felt El's arms around his neck and then she started to kiss him back. Well at least that gamble paid off, Mike thought as El's lips plucked at his top lip. Her lips were soft, and her mouth was warm. Mike traced El's plump bottom lip with the tip of his tongue and to his pleasant surprise he felt El's tongue tap against his own. El parted her lips and Mike's tongue slid into the welcoming wet heat. Their tongues slid against each other as Mike moved the hand that was holding El's jaw and pushed his fingers through the hair at the back of El's head. This kiss was good. Very good. He continued to kiss El for a few more seconds before pulling away and ending the kiss.

He opened his eyes and looked at El. Her lips were wet, red and swollen and Mike couldn't help but to feel proud of himself knowing that he had done that to El.

"Finally," The girl in his arms muttered.

"Finally what?" Mike tucked some of the honey brown hair behind El's ear.

"I was wondering how long it was going to take for you to notice me." El smirked. "I was just about to start humping your leg."

"Seriously?" Mike stared at her increduously. "How was I suppose to know that you were interested? I thought that you dated women."

Dean shook his head in disbelief. "What because of Mick and Dottie?! Don't be daft, I'm telling you how pretty your hair is and you really thought that?"

"You said that you wanted to sell it!"

Mike watched as El shifted her position again and straddled Mike's hips, sinking down on to his lap.

"Whatever." El leaned forward and kissed him. "It worked."

"Oh please," Mike countered as he returned the kiss. "I only kissed you because I thought you were hot. Your lame pick up didn't work."

"Sure, sure, doesn't matter," El brushed him off and torturously sucked Mike's bottom lip into her mouth. "The point is that we're kissing."

True, there was no point in arguing that Mike decided as he pulled El right up to his body and started to return her kisses. Yeah he could definitely get used to this. El had a sweet mouth and she was an excellent kisser even when she randomly licked the corner of his mouth for no apparent reason.

Mike slid both of his hands underneath El's t-shirt to feel the smooth skin on El's back. Her skin was almost like silk beneath his fingertips. He started to kiss along El's jawline and down the side of her neck to where the collar of the shirt was. El emitted soft sighs and groans as Mike flicked his tongue out and suckled on the delicate skin before making his way back up to El's lips.

El kissed him hard and used her tongue to explore Mike's mouth this time. He could feel El pressing against his hardness. The heat being emitted between them was intoxicating. Mike moved a hand to El's left ass cheek and pressed her in even closer so that he could feel her better.

Suddenly El yelled out and pulled away. "Fuck!"

Mike looked to see what was the matter. Paladin was biting El's little toe and was holding on for dear life.

"Paladin no!" Mike shouted at the cat.

Paladin immediately released El and looked at Mike with wide eyes and a surprised look on his face. Well as surprised as a cat could possibly look. It was almost as if Paladin couldn't believe that Mike had shouted at him.

"Paladin no." Mike repeated, shaking his finger at him. El had rolled off him and onto the couch where she was looking at his foot. "Bad kitty."

"Are you okay?" Mike asked El concerned. "Do you need to go see a doctor?"

"No, it's not that bad. He really doesn't like me huh?" El watched as the cat walked off towards the kitchen, probably in search of his food bowl.

"I don't know what came over him. He's never behaved like that towards anyone else." Mike reached over El to look at her foot. "You're bleeding."

"It's just a little scratch." El insisted.

"I don't care. I don't feel good about it." Mike stood up and grabbed El's hand. "C'mon let me fix it up."

"It's not necessary," El pointed out but all the same got off the couch and followed Mike into his bedroom.

Mike flicked on the light on the wall and his bedroom came into view. It was a standard male bedroom with a king sized bed with burgundy sheets, a dresser, closet, various books and magazines piled up in a heap in a corner and of course, Paladin's bed in another corner.

"Sit." Mike pointed at the bed and El obediantly sat. Mike then went into the adjacent bathroom to get supplies from the medicine cabinet.

Mike returned with an armful of items and placed them on the bed next to El. He then knelt on the floor and rested El's foot on his knee as he cleaned the wound off with antiseptic.

"That burns!" El whined.

"That's good. It means that it's working." Mike continued to apply it, ignoring El's complaints.

Mike then applied some neosporin to the small wound.

"All of this isn't necessary Mike." El tried to pull her foot away but Mike kept it firmly on his knee.

"Will you relax? You're acting as if you never had anyone take care of you before."

El became silent after that and allowed Mike to finish. She didn't even complain when Mike put a tiny plaster on it.

"All done." Mike said, standing up, rather pleased with himself.

El stood up as well. " Thanks. It's getting late. I guess I should go."

"Let me walk you to the door," Mike said following behind her. Tonight had been a good night, despite Paladin's interference.

When they reached the front door, Mike wrapped an arm around El's trim waist and pulled her in for a kiss. He was pleased when El kissed him back without hesitation. It was a sweet, lazy kiss.

El looked as if she was studying something before she leaned back in and kissed Mike hard on the lips. "Let's just keep this casual between us okay?"

No it wasn't really okay, was Mike's first thought. But then he reminded himself that El wasn't planning on staying long in New York any way and it wouldn't make any sense getting deeply attached to her. He could do casual. He did it with Stacey. Why would El be any different?

"Okay," he responded as he kissed El back.

Chapter Text

Mike didn't see El at all the following day or night. It was kind of strange in itself as he had seen her for a moment or two every single day for the past two weeks. But the day after they kissed, nothing. Not a peep. As he watched television that night with Paladin curled up in his lap, he kept on replaying in his mind what El had said. Let's keep it casual. He convinced himself that he had no problem with that but it was pretty strange and maybe if he was being honest, it hurt a little not see her after the previous night's encounter.

The next night, Mike had just given Paladin his kibble and was watching him eat as he drank a bottle water when he heard a knock on the door. Immediately the shiver of anticipation ran through him. He felt silly, but he really hoped that it was El. He walked quickly to the door running his hand nervously through his hair and undid all of the locks and opened the door. He smiled when he saw who was standing on the other side.

"Hi Mike." El walked in and toed off her shoes by the door, not caring that they had landed on top of Mike's as she walked towards the living room. "What's going on?"

"Nothing really," he responded as he admired El in her black tank top and jeans. "Didn't see you yesterday."

"Yeah, you know how it is." El responded as she sank down into the couch and took up the remote off the coffee table changing the station to a music channel. She glanced up at Mike. "I'm thirsty." She took the bottle out of Mike's hand before he could offer her one of her own. She chugged down the remainder of the water quickly and then handed the empty bottle back to the dumbfounded Mike.

"I'm hungry." She stared at Mike and blinked.

"What?" Mike stared at her in disbelief. "Do I look like the corner deli to you? How do you just expect to waltz in here and start demanding things like if I'm your personal chef or something? You must be out of your mind."

Much to Mike's surprise El grinned at him. "Finally growing a set of balls I see."

El got off the couch and headed towards the kitchen.

"What?" Mike went after her confused.

El opened the fridge door and peered inside. "Well before you would just get a tight look on your face and still do what ever I asked for." El pulled out a packet of sliced cheese. "Now you're calling me out on my shit." She then removed a bag of lettuce and the dijon mustard of course. She smirked at Mike over her shoulder. "I wonder what caused it?" She placed the items on the breakfast bar.

"I can't stand your ass," Mike said as he took two big steps towards El. He placed one arm around El's waist, turned her around and pulled her up against his body, their lips connecting immediately.

El was ready for him and their tongues were sliding into each other's mouths. El's teeth scraped across Mike's bottom lip, nipping the edge sharply. Mike pulled his lips away and El chuckled. "Just having a little fun."

She pulled Mike back into the kiss, sucking on the spot that she had nipped. "You don't play fair." Mike commented as his hands slipped belowed El's waist to palm her ass.

"Rules don't apply to me." El's hands went underneath Mike's shirt, moving slowly up his torso . Fingertips pressing into Mike's skin as she planted kisses down Mike's neck. She flicked her tongue out at the base of the neck giving it a couple of licks and Mike inhaled sharply. "You like that huh?"

"Shut up." Mike growled out as he lifted El's head up and away from his neck so that he could kiss her again.

El was about to make another snarky comeback but it was silenced when Mike's tongue slid into her mouth and started to tangle with her own.

This kissing session was heated. Mike gave El's ass a squeeze as El's fingers dug into Mike's stomach muscles which tensed under her touch. One thing was obvious. He and El had great chemistry.

Mike felt something soft butting against his leg but it didn't fully register, as El was working since spectacular magic with her tongue. Then came a couple soft meows. He broke the kiss to look down to see Paladin at his feet. The cat meowed softly and then rolled over on its back with its legs in the air looking up at Mike expectantly.

"Oh you want to play boy?" Mike cooed. Paladin could be so cute at such random times.

Mike was bending over to pet him when El grabbed his hand and yanked him back up. She pressed her hips against Mike's and slowly grinded against him so that Mike could feel the warmth of her core against his growing erection. " You're really going to leave this to play with that pussy?" The taunt in El's voice was clear as she nipped Mike's bottom lip again.

Mike kissed El hard, nearly biting her this time. His hand moved down inside the front of El's jeans. Fingers gliding over El's damp cotton panties.

"Wow." Mike clearly sounded in awe. He pecked El's lips. "Yeah this is definitely more what I should be doing." He leaned in to kiss El once more, satisfied at the moan that rumbled out of her throat as he gently rubbed the front of her damp panties.

El deepened the kiss and returned the favour by running her hand down the front of Mike's trousers. "Fuck." Mike felt thick and long. "What have you got going on down there?"

Mike chuckled and plucked at El's bottom lip. "Something that you want." his cheeks burning with embarrassment and pride

"Most definitely." El murmurred against Mike's lips before kissing him.

Her back was pressed up against the counter. Her and Mike were locked in this deep kiss while their hands stroked each other the excitement and heat building ferociously. She could definitely get used to this.

Mike felt Paladin butting his leg again but he tried to ignore him and focus on the fact that El was swiping her fingers just above the waistband of his boxers as if she was contemplating dipping her hand inside.

Paladin started butting his leg even harder and then finally Paladin started jumping and swatting at his knee.

"Pal! What's the matter with you tonight? You don't normally act like this."

El didn't stop him this time as he bent over to pick up the cat. Paladin clung to Mike's t-shirt and purred deeply. Rubbing his head against the spot on Mike's neck that El had kissed.

El turned around and continued making her sandwich silently while Mike walked off cooing at Paladin.

When Mike returned from his bedroom, El had alread finished eating her sandwich and was just sprawled across the couch watching television.

"So what you watching?" Mike asked as he joined her on the couch.

"Nothing." El responded listlessly.

Mike moved closer to El and smoothed his hand up El's thigh and kissed her cheek. "You wanna continue where we left off?"

El studied his face briefly and then leaned in and kissed him. The kissing quickly got heated and El found herself on her back with Mike on top of her.

Mike was slowly grinding his hips against El's. Each kiss that he shared with El was never the same as the one before it. It always kept him in anticipation of what was to come next.

El wrenched her lips away from Mike's. "Get off me."

Mike pulled up a bit, stunned, that was one reaction he was not anticipating. "Why?"

El pushed at his chest and Roman got the hint and got completely off her and sat on the couch. "Because you smell like cat."

"Oh." Mike's cheeks blushed slightly. "That's because Pal rolled all over me earlier when I took him into the bedroom."

El just stared at him for a few seconds and then got off the couch and walked to the front door.

As she put on her shoes, Mike was asking her questions. "Why are you leaving? What's going on El? I could take a shower if you want."

El opened the door and walked through the doorway. "A shower isn't going to solve the problem."

She then closed the door in Mike's confused face.


"The cat is cock blocking you and you don't even know it." Lucas laughed and shook his head.

"What?" Mike watched as Lucas pulled his shirt over his head. "He's a cat. He doesn't know of such things."

Lucas grinned. "I think you're underestimating your cat. Seriously. You were in a middle of a hot makeout session that you stopped to go play with him. If I was El, I would've left your ass there."

Mike shook his head. This whole thing sounded quite unbelievable. "El can't possibly be jealous of Pal. I mean, he's a cat. It has to be something else." Mike closed the locker door.

"Dude," Lucas placed one hand on Mike's shoulder. "You're over thinking this. Just put Paladin on ignore when El's over. Nobody wants to compete with a pet for a person's affection."

Mike mulled over what Lucas said for a few seconds. "Okay I see your point. But it's new to me because Pal has never acted like this with anyone else that I brought home. Not even Stacey."

"Well," Lucas shrugged. "Maybe Paladin can sense something between you two that makes him nervous. I don't know."

Lucas hefted his sports bag over his shoulder. " But Imma do you a favour and not tell Dustin about this because he will clown you from now to next year and hey who knows if this sorts itself out your basketball game might finally improve." Patting his shoulder as he left the locker room


It seemed as if he was always the one to apologize. But then again, he was always the one fucking up. He gave El's door a couple of knocks and waited.

It sounded as if El was talking to someone on the other side as she undid the locks and Mike's heart sank.

El of course was surprised to see him when she opened the door. "Hi."

Mike nervously toyed with his hair at the back of his head. "Um, hi. Can I come in?"

He suddenly heard Max's voice in the background. "Don't be stubborn El."

El dropped her head. "Fine." She opened the door wider and allowed Mike to step inside.

"Hi Mike. How's it going?" Max came up to him with a friendly smile.

"It's good." Mike was never more relieved that El had Max over and not another random.

"You know what? I just remembered that I have something to go do for somebody." Max said picking up her coat from the back of a grey couch.

"I thought you were going to stay and watch a film with me?"El complained, following Max to the door.

"Well you know things come up." When she walked through the door, she spoke loud enough for Mike to hear. "Stay and talk to him." She then closed the door.

El walked back in sheepishly towards him. Mike had been looking around and noticing that El didn't really have much furniture in her place. Just a grey couch and small brown coffee table with a television mounted on the wall. It was definitely the environment of someone not planning on staying for a long while.

They stared at each other for a while, both contemplating what to say but Mike knew that he had to go first. "I haven't seen you for a couple of days."

El sat on the arm of the couch. "Yeah well I've been busy."

"Look, I'm really sorry about the other night. I wasn't thinking when I ditched you for Pal."

"I'm not jealous of the cat." El huffed.

A smile played on Mike's lips as he stepped closer to El. "I didn't say that you were."

"That's what you meant." El was doing everything to avoid looking Mike in the eye.

Mike easily slipped his arms around El's waist. "You're so cute when you pretend to be angry."

"I'm not pretending." All the same she parted her legs and allowed Mike to stand between them.

"Really?" Mike dipped his head and kissed El on her cheek.

El released an exasperated groan. "Are you always this annoying?" Her eyes locking with Mike's.

Mike slowly dragged his lips across El's. "Yes."

They kissed each other at the same time. El's arms embracing Mike's shoulders as their lips became reaquainted with each other. Mike could feel that chemistry sparking between them and he wondered if El could feel it too. He got his answer when El used her hand to hold the back of Mike's head, to push him in even closer. It was almost as if El wanted to devour his mouth.

They were barely taking brief pauses for air before diving back in. Mike could feel his length pressing hard against the fly of his jeans, threatening to burst through. He reached around in front of El and slowly rubbed at the front of her leggings. El moaned into his mouth and used her nimble fingers to thread themselves through his hair.

"You want to show me to your bedroom?" Mike whispered into El's ear, the fooling around becoming more than he could bare. He playfully sucked her earlobe into his mouth.

"Fuck." El ground her hips up against Mike's. She couldn't hold out any longer either. She wanted these clothes off and her and Mike in bed doing everything possible.

"Yes." El slid down off the couch and grabbed Mike's hand. "This way."

Just as soon as they were at El's bedroom door. That familiar country song barrelled through the air.

"Fuck my life." El let go of Mike's hand. "I have to get that."

Mike watched as El went back out to living room and picked up her phone from off the coffee table.

He could tell from her expression that she wasn't too pleased.

"What do you mean now? I thought that it wasn't until tomorrow." Pause. "Yes I'm still in. You have lousy timing, you know that?"

"Fuck!" El kicked the bottom of the couch out of frustration.

Mike had a feeling that he wouldn't be getting lucky tonight and that's his balls may remain rather blue. "Is something wrong?" He asked as he walked back out to the living room.

"Yeah, um something came up. I have to go." She looked at Mike apologetically.

"Well maybe when it's over you can stop by my place when you get back."

El shook her head. "No. It's one of these all nighter sort of things."

Mike was itching to ask her what exactly she was going out to do but he knew that El wouldn't give him a straight answer. He really hoped that it wasn't anything dangerous.

El came over to him and kissed him briefly on the lips. "We'll pick this up some other time alright?"

No, it wasn't really alright. But this was a casual agreement Mike reminded himself and he didn't want to come off as needy. He nodded his head slowly. "Yeah sure. Some other time."

As he walked to the front door, he realized that El didn't even walk him out. She was too busy looking for something apparently. Mike sighed softly to himself. He really didn't know what to make of this situation and how to deal with it.

As he opened the door to his own apartment, at least he was comforted by knowing that Paladin would always be there waiting for him.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

"Wheeeeeee!"

"You're drunk." Mike watched as El spun around with her arms open.

Earlier that night El had stopped by and asked him if he wanted to go have some drinks at Benny's. Mike had agreed and he had fun as he watched El knock back shot after shot while talking about anything and everything the entire time.

Now it was getting late and they were trying to head home but El was plastered and kept on trying to run off in various directions.

"No I'm not." El swayed a bit and Mike stepped forward incase she was heading to the pavement but fortunately El remained grounded. She grabbed Mike's hand. "Let's go to the park."

"No." El was already pulling him towards the street. "It's late and I'm going to get you home and to bed."

El spun around and locked her arms around Mike's neck. "Yeah I wanna go to bed with you."

Mike sighed and removed El's arms from around his neck. "That's not what I said."

He maneuvered El infront of him, placing his hands on El's hips to guide her in the right direction.

"Well it should be." El walked almost normally for the remaining blocks.

When Mike got to the door that he had to unlock to lead to the stairs to their apartments, El rested her head on Mike's back and locked her hands around Mike's waist. He manoeuvred her and slipped one arm around El's waist and used the other to unlock the door.

El insisted on remaining latched on to him as they walked up the stairs side by side, which was difficult due to the narrowness of the stairs.

"I don't want to go to sleep yet," El pouted as Mike unlocked his apartment door.

"Well that's too bad." Mike commented. "Once I check on Pal, I'm going to take you straight over to your apartment."

Mike closed the door behind him and walked into the living room and sure enough Paladin was curled up on the carpet fast asleep with the television on.

"See? He's fine." El suddenly decided to walk towards Mike's bedroom.

Mike easily caught up to her at bedroom door. "No El. I'm taking you to your own bedroom."

"Shhh." El placed a finger to his lips. Her eyes half opened in her drunken stupor. "You'll wake up Paladin."

El licked her lips as she looked Mike up and down. "You're so pretty. You have pretty hair. Pretty eyes. A pretty mouth." El placed a sloppy kiss on Mike's neck. "I bet your pretty in other places too." She kissed Mike's neck again. "I wanna see."

"Not tonight." Mike studied El's blissfully drunken face and wondered how he was ever going to get her back to her apartment.

El pouted and walked into the bedroom, and free fell backwards on to Mike's bed. "Come oooonnnn. I'll show you mine if you show me yours." she sang

Mike grinned and shook his head. "We're not five."

Mike took his coat off and went to hang it up in the closet.

"Miiike!" El whined.

"Yes?"

El was propped up on her elbows observing him. "Don't you want to have sex with me?" It was almost pitiful the way how she said it.

Mike went over to her and started removing her coat. "Yes I do, so very much." El's eyes lit up. "But not when you're drunk."

"I'm not drunk," she insisted but at the same time, her elbows suddenly slipped out from under her and her head hit the mattress. "I like your bed."

"I like it too," Mike responded as he got on his knees and slid off El's sneakers. He pulled those off along with her socks. He then stood up and started to unzip El's jeans.

"See?" El sounded drowsy already. "You do want to see me naked."

Mike didn't answer as he pulled El's jeans off, leaving her in her panties and t-shirt.

El clumsily grabbed a pillow and shoved it underneath her head. "No fair." She was drifting off to sleep already.

Mike locked up his apartment for the night. He turned off the television and decided to leave Paladin asleep on the rug. The cat hardly used the expensive cat bed that he had bought him anyway.

As he undressed for bed, he observed El sprawled across the middle of the bed, lightly snoring. He finally got El in his bed and Paladin was sleeping and wouldn't interrupt them and El was passed out and dead to the world.

Clad in only boxers, Mike went over to the bed trying to decide the best way to move El as she was starfished all over it. He lifted El's upper body and tried moving her to one side of the bed but El kept on flopping back on to him. Finally, Mike laid down and tried rolling El over on her side but she murmurred something and rolled back over on to Mike's chest. Mike sighed.


It was just after seven the following morning and Mike returned home from a run. After a quick shower, he checked in on El who was still fast asleep. He decided to make himself an omelette for breakfast. He was certain that El was going to have a wicked hangover this morning.

He prepared the egg mixture and then turned on the stove to heat the pan. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt a pair of arms wrap around his waist and a head resting on his back.

"The sun's too bright." El still sounded half asleep.

"That's because you drank too much last night." Mike said as he picked up the egg mixture and poured it into the hot pan.

"Why didn't you stop me? I thought you were my friend." El's confused sleepy tone, made Mike chuckle to himself.

"You said that you were a grown ass woman and that a few shots couldn't hurt." Mike reached for the spatula to tend to his breakfast.

He could feel El's head turning on his back. "Did we have sex?"

"What?" Mike laughed. "No. You were drunk."

"Never stopped me before." El pressed her lips against Mike's shoulder blades. "What are you making me for breakfast? I don't want whatever you're having. It's making me nauseous."

"I'll make you some dry toast and some orange juice." Mike turned around slowly in El's arms. He could get used to her holding him like this. El barely lifted her head so that she could rest it on Mike's chest this time. "Go back to bed. I'll bring it to you."

"No I can wait on the couch." El lifted her head up insisting.

Mike gentle pushed the honey hair out of El's eyes. "To bed. You're still out of it. I'll pull the curtains to make it nice and dark for you."

El observed him through half opened eyes. "You're a nice guy Mikey."

Mike proferred half a smile. "I try."

"A lot of people aren't really nice even though they pretend to be." El said letting go of Mike and walked back to the bedroom.

El watched as Mike packed his bag for the day. She had finished eating the breakfast that Mike had made for her and the curtains had been pulled blocking out most of the sunlight.

"So you're really going to leave me alone in your apartment for the whole day?"

"Well," Mike placed his laptop into his bag. "I guess it couldn't hurt. If anything goes missing, I know where you live."

"True." El tried to burrow her head even deeper into the pillow. "Even with Paladin?"

Mike shrugged his shoulders and zipped up his bag. " Honestly, you two are just going to have to work through any issues that you guys have together."

"But I don't have any issues with Paladin," El insisted. "It's him that has issues with me."

Mike just smiled as he lifted his bag. "I'm leaving now."

"Good." El rolled over in the bed. "I'm tired of you yelling."

Mike chuckled. "I left a bottle of aspirin on the bedside table."

"Fine." El waved him away and pulled another pillow on top of her head. "Just go."


When Mike returned home that evening he wasn't sure what to expect. Everything was quiet. He made his way into the living room and he found Paladin curled up on the couch with the television on as usual.

"Hey boy," Mike scratched between the cat's ears. "How was your day? Were you nice to El?"

Paladin of course didn't answer him. He held his head back and purred contentedly as Mike scratched him.

"I'm gonna go check the bedroom." Mike made his way over to it. No sign of El. His bed was unmade of course but otherwise everything seemed to be in place.

El probably felt better and left. Mike didn't want to admit it but he was looking forward to coming home and finding El there but of course reality always trumped fantasy. He stripped himself of his clothes and headed into the shower. It was just going to be him and Paladin tonight.

He had just finished drying himself off and was pulling a pair of joggers up over his hips when El casually strolled into his bedroom.

"What the actual fuck? You almost gave me a heart attack! How did you get in here? I'm certain that I locked the door."

El lazily sat on the bed and looked up at Mike with a smirk on her face. "You have a spare key on the side table near to the door."

"So you took it?" Mike was getting a bit exasperated. "Are we gonna need to have another talk about you and boundaries again?"

"What? I had to go run some errands and I'm sure that you didn't want me to leave your apartment unsecured. You did come home and find it locked didn't you?"

"Yeah." He stepped closer to El who in turn place her hands on either side of Mike's bare waist.

"Good. Then I did the right thing." She placed a kiss right below Mike's belly button. "You should be proud of me."

El had a devilish grin on her face as she watched Mike. Her hair appeared to be freshly washed and all signs of a hangover were gone. She seemed to have recovered quite well.

Mike patted El on her head. "Good girl."

The smile instantly vanished. "I'm not a dog."

El maneouvered him towards the bed and Mike got the hint and climbed on and folded his hands behind his head. El then straddled his hips and leaned over and Mike got a glimpse of a tiny eleven stud earring in El's left earlobe. "And I'm not a good girl either."

El kissed Mike fully on his lips. Her tongue instantly diving into Mike's mouth and he didn't mind it one bit. El's mouth was actually minty fresh as if she had just brushed her teeth before she came over. Mike moved his hands from behind his head and placed one on El's back, his fingers slipping underneath her shirt while the other had a handful of El's ass.

El was rubbing their hips together causing sweet friction between Mike's joggers and her jeans. Mike gave El's ass an extra sharp squeeze and then rolled them over so that El was on her back and Mike was on top and between her legs.

"You're wearing entirely too much clothing," Mike mumbled as he kissed down El's neck. He grabbed the hem of El's shirt and pushed it up and El quickly got the hint and pulled it over her head and threw it on the ground.

El's body was even more phenomenal close up. Her full breasts encased in a silky black bra and her flat stomach tensing as he lightly ran his fingers up her side. There was the cutest freckle on the mound of her left breast, that he could not control himself from planting a kiss on. Mike's fingers glided up the soft skin on El's back and gently unclasped her bra as her full breasts spilt out. As he pulled the offending item away, his mouth covered El's left nipple, his tongue swirling around the pink nub. El hissed and grabbed the loose, damp hair on the top of his head. El was muttering indescribably, underneath her breath as Mike continued to suck on her nipple and used his hand to pluck at the other one.

Mike kissed across El's chest to the other nipple, repeating the same movement on it. He could feel El bucking her hips underneath him. It was clearly turning her on.

"You like that huh?" Mike's voice husky as he pressed slow and deliberate kisses up El's neck to her jaw.

"You talk to much." El captured his lips, her teeth raking across Mike's bottom lip. Mike growled and attacked El's lips back. It was a clash of teeth, tongues and lips that served to turn them on more than anything else.

El while viciously exploring Mike's mouth, took the opportunity to push down Mike's joggers. Mike's ass felt smooth and solid underneath her palms, perfectly rounded. She cheeklily slapped the right cheek and Mike kissed her even harder.

She moved her other hand around to the front. It had one destination. Her fingers wrapped around Mike's hard cock and he gasped into the kiss. Mike was definitely thick and as she moved her hand up to flick over the smooth head, she was pleased to feel that he was long too.

Mike raised up on his knees a bit and grabbed the headboard as El's tongue lapped at the tip. He sighed as the head went past El's lips and the warm, wet delicious heat of El's mouth embraced him.

"Fuck... El... shit... just like that..." El had picked up a rythmn and was sucking his cock with vigour and Mike was trying to hold back from fucking her mouth too hard. El's lips were already obscenely stretched around his dick and her tongue was tracing the vein underneath his shaft and it made his toes curl.

"El! Oh shit..." His cock was starting to throb already but he wasn't ready to come yet. He pulled out of El's mouth and before she could protest he was kissing El needily and undoing her jeans. The metallic rip of the zip was music to Mike's ears and momentarily broke the kiss to finish take off his joggers and then he dragged El's jeans and panties off in one swift movement.

Damn, El looked good naked. A tight body encased in smooth honey coloured skin, pert mouthwatering breasts with erect nipples begging to be pulled. Glancing further down El had cheekily parted her legs, he could see her glistening and it made his cock ache with desire. Mike nudged El's legs apart with his knee so that he could see her wet folds better.

El was just watching him with hooded eyes, as he leaned over and kissed her. "So fucking hot." Mike said as he stole another kiss from El's swollen lips. He reached over to his bedside table as they continued to kiss and pulled open the drawer. He retrieved a condom and placed it next to him on the bed.

El raised her hips and desperately trying to rub herself against Mike's cock. The friction was sweet and Mike bit his own bottom lip out of frustration. He had to have El now.

"Who said that you were going on top?"

Mike opened his eyes and looked at El perplexed. " What?"

El looked at him unphased even though she was still moving her hips. "Just because you've got the dick, doesn't mean that you get to go on top."

Mike growled and kissed El hard nearly bruising her lips. "I'm going to fuck you and we're gonna discuss the semantics later. Got it?" Mike circled his index finger against El's entrance, slowly pushing the tip of his finger in.

El gasped. Mike was surprised that there was no snappy comebacks. But he could feel El tighten round his fingers as he carefully slid another in and she was wet, very wet. For all El's bravado she wanted this as badly as Mike did.

Much to El's surprise, Mike bent over and slowly sucked her clit as his fingers pushed into her.

El balled the bedsheets up in her grip as she was pleasured into oblivion by Mike's unholy mouth. Fuck. He had no right being so damn good at this. Mike continued to abuse her clit with his broad flat tongue, nipping and nibbbling all the while easing his fingers inside of her, sending deep waves of pleasure surging through every inch of her. El barely noticed that Mike had three fingers inside of her now. Well that was until Mike pressed his fingers against her g spot and El came hard, moaning so loudly that Mike chuckled while his mouth worked her through her orgasm.

He withdrew his fingers and picked up the condom. He opened it and pushed it on to his solid dick while keeping his eyes completely locked on El. He shakily lined himself up with El's entrance, more turned on than he had ever been before.

Mike gripped El's silky thighs and pushed in. He eased in inch by inch. He wanted to give El time to adjust and get used to him. "That's it El, let me in. You know that you want this."

"I know nothing of a sort." Came the response.

Mike chuckled. "I love it when you play hard to get."

He gently rolled her nipple between his fingers. "Fuck Mike!" El whined. The sensation was almost too much. Mike was so big, the pleasurable burning from being stretched so much, the want and ache coursing through her felt like fire in her veins and Mike thumbing her nipples wasn't helping matters.

"I'm in." Mike leaned over and kissed El's lips. "You feel so good."

Mike slowly started moving his hips back and forth, his heavy balls slapping gently against El's ass.

"Oh fuck..." El closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around Mike's neck so that their lips remained pressed together and his hair fell into El's face. Her body felt full of Mike. It was the only thing she could really feel. She barely noticed Mike planting kisses down her neck. All that mattered was that Mike's hips were moving faster now and that the initial burning was giving away to pleasure. She wrapped her legs around Mike's waist, locking their bodies together.

She could feel Mike's heavy breathing against her neck. His nonsensical mumblings about how good being inside of her felt. She had a feeling that sex with Mike was going to feel good but she didn't expect that it would feel this great. Her body sheening with sweat and Mike was licking her neck. Her g spot was being repeatedly assaulted. Long deep strokes were always her undoing and Mike seemed to have perfected the art. She couldn't hold it back any longer.

"I'm coming Mike." She panted.

Mike slid one hand underneath El's body to lift her hips by cupping an asscheek. "Then come for me. I'm almost there."

El felt her toes uncurling again and a sweet adrenaline rush through her body as she clenched tight round Mike's cock. Her body felt almost weightless as she drifted out of that sexual high. That indeed had been satisfying.

El locked down on Mike's dick with a vice like grip, which caused his eyes to roll back. He couldn't hold out any longer. "Oh shit... fuck!" His cock emptied his hot cum into the condom. He pumped his hips a couple more times before coming to a complete stop.

He rolled off of El and on to the bed. They finally did it.

"That was good." Mike finally said falling to the side of El.

"Yeah it really was." El agreed.

Mike got off the bed. " I'm gonna go get something to clean us up."

He padded into the bathroom and got a wash cloth and got it wet and then returned to the bed room.

He offered the cloth to El who took it and cleaned herself up before handing it to Mike who did the same. He then went back to the bathroom to rinse it out and placed it on the rack to dry.

When he came back out, El was almost fully dressed and was pulling her t-shirt over his head.

"Where are you going? Aren't you staying the night?"

El shook her head. "No. Why would I?"

Oh right. This was just suppose to be a casual thing. "I know it isn't suppose to be anything serious," Mike said as he approached El, "but I was looking forward to spending some time with you."

El didn't seemed phased however. "Okay, maybe we can hang out tomorrow. Look I have to go. I have to go meet someone." She gave Mike a quick peck on the lips and walked out of the room.

Mike sank down on the bed, naked and dejected. El had never planned on spending the night with him. He had been just something to do until she had to go meet up with whom ever. It was El's right he supposed. He had no claims on the girl but a part of him couldn't help but to feel a bit used.

As El walked passed the living room she noticed Paladin sitting in his usual spot on the carpet. She was honestly a bit surprised that the cat didn't try to interrupt her session with Mike not even once. Maybe the cat was over whatever the problem was that he had with El.

El shoved her foot into her sneaker and immediately she felt something warm, wet and definitely gross seeping between his toes. "Paladin!"

Chapter Text

"I don't know what has come over you lately."

"What you are doing to El is wrong. She is lovely and I need you to help me out here."

Mike was frustrated.

"Why don't you give her a chance?"

Paladin narrowed his eyes at him and started licking his paw. He was no longer interested in Mike scolding him.

Mike sighed and grabbed his car keys off the kitchen counter. He wondered if he should take Paladin to a therapist to see what the root of the problem was and then he shook his head realising how insane he sounded
"Now I have to spend my Saturday morning with El at a mall buying her new trainers." he said to Paladin as he closed the front door.

Well at least he got to spend a couple of hours with El. She had barely spoken to him since the night they had sex and Paladin pooped in her shoe. She didn't even come over anymore and she didn't invite Mike over to her place. Maybe Lucas was right. Maybe Paladin was cockblocking him after all.

The twenty minute ride over to the mall was a bit awkward to say the least. El kept her eyes fixed on the window and only gave Mike one worded answers when he tried to engage her in conversation. Mike eventually gave up about ten minutes in. El was obviously pissed off at him. It wasn't as if he told Paladin to use her shoe as a litterbox.

As they made their way through the mall, Mike walked quietly next to El. He felt as if he said the wrong the thing, El would go off on him. He followed El into a cosmetics store.

As he strolled passed the displays on small white tables, a familiar voice called out to him. "Hots Wheels, as I live and breathe!"

Mike's head instantly snapped around. Only one person in the whole entire world called him that. He grinned when he saw his old friend walking towards him. She was dressed in a black button down shirt and gold leggings. A makeup belt around her hips swayed as she walked jauntily up to Mike emphasizing the swing in her hips. Her blonde hair swept back into a tight ponytail and her pretty face immaculate as always.

"Michael darling!" The woman sang out pulling Mike into a tight embrace.

"Jenny, it's good to see you." Mike rubbed the smaller woman's back as he hugged her. It really was.

Jenny pulled away from the hug. "No, it's better to see you." She freely ran her hand down Mike's arm. "I do believe that you've gotten even hotter since the last time that I saw you." Jenny batted her eyelashes at him and Mike wasn't entirely sure that they were all her own.

Before Mike could answer her, he noticed that Jenny's attention was on El. He cleared his throat. "El, this is Jenny Hayes. Jenny this is El Hopper. Jenny's my oldest friend here in New York."

"I picked him up fresh off the bus from Indiana. He was such a sweet, innocent thing back then. He came into the store I was working at to buy some shirts and left with me." Jenny laughed and then noticed that El barely cracked a grin.

"Oh dear, did I offend you?" Jenny glanced from El to Mike and back. " Are you Mike's new girlfirend?" Jenny smacked Mike softly on his shoulder.

Why didn't you tell me that you have a new girl?"

"That's because she isn't. She's my neighbour." Mike explained.

Jenny observed a look passing between the two of them but didn't comment on it.

"So why did you call him Hot Wheels?" El asked.

Jenny linked her arm through Mike's. Before Mike could hush her she answered. " Because he is smoking hot obviously." Jenny gave another one of her giggles and began to lead Mike to her counter.

"I'm the manager of this store now," she told Mike as she resumed her position behind the makeup counter.

"That's so great. I'm glad that everything worked out for you." Mike was truly happy that Jenny had progressed since meeting him as a dressing room attendant seven years ago.

Jenny noticed El poking her fingers into the eyeshadows and blushes on display. She didn't seem like the make up type she mused. "Sasha darling?" A pretty African-American girl turned around. "Can you show El here to the perfume displays? She seems like the floral oriental type."

Sasha smiled. "Sure." She gestured to the perfume displays on the other side of the room. "Let's go."

Jenny and Mike watched as they walked off. Jenny then turned her attention back to Mike and picked up a compact mirror. "So how long have you two been fooling about?" She casually flipped the compact open and started looking at herself.

"What?" Mike seemed a bit surprised by the question.

Jenny gave him a look. "Michael, I've known you long enough to know when you're into someone. Besides, it has been two years since the last idiot that you dated. Do you still have her cat?"

"Yeah Paladin's doing great."

Jenny just looked at him, tapping her manicured fingers on the counter.

Mike sighed. "We slept together, once."

"I see," Jenny started preening her eyebrows in the mirror. "So why do I get the feeling that she doesn't like you much right now?"

Mike shook his head and told Jenny about El's encounters with Paladin that led them up to this point of him buying El new trainers.

Jenny's entire face turn red from how hard she was laughing. "My god. I love that cat."

"It isn't funny J." Mike said defeatedly

"Yes it is." Jenny wiped the tears running out of her eyes. "Pal is like the sweetest thing to everyone but totally hates El's guts."

Jenny's voice dropped low. "Maybe he can sense something that you can't."

She picked up a tiny comb and started combing through her brows.

"J, what do you know?" Mike knew her well enough that when she got like this, that there was something that she was holding back.

"How well do you know her Mike?" She could see that Mike was struggling to answer her. "Do you know what she even does?"

Mike lowered his head. "No."

"Look Michael, I don't want to cause trouble but I'm certain that I saw someone who looked a lot like her, a couple nights ago over in the Meatpacking District with Brenner and his crew."

A shiver went down Mike's spine. Brenner and his men were known for racketeering and dealing in black market goods. Is this what El meant when she said that she knows a guy who knows a guy?

"So, without wishing to seem defensive, what were you doing that way and how come she didn't recognize you?"

Jenny smiled. " Well Hot Wheels a girl needs to live a little dangerously every once in a while and a new club called Upside Down recently opened there. I assume the reason your lady love over there didn't recognise me was because she was probably far too busy trying to remain inconspicuous." Jenny raised her eyebrows in a satisfactory manner and snapped the compact shut.

She noticed how despondent Mike looked at the news. She slid her hand over her friend's. "You really like her huh?"

Mike nodded slowly. "Yeah, I really do. However she said that she wants to keep whatever it was, casual between us and I agreed."

"Mike, I know that you miss having someone around but just because she's got some cute dimples, it isn't worth compromising yourself and safety for it."

"I know." Mike was quiet for a minute. "But there's a possibility that who you did see wasn't actually her that night."

Jenny just observed him and exhaled softly. "Yeah there could be one."

Mike knew from that tone that Jenny was only saying that to appease him.

"Um, excuse me."

Both Jenny and Mike turned around to see Sasha standing there smiling apologetically.

"El said that you were purchasing everything that she wants today." As she spoke she looked at Mike. " She found some perfume that she wants."

Mike chuckled and pulled his wallet out from his back pocket. It was a good thing that Mrs. Johnson had given him some extra this week. He slid his credit card out and handed it to Sasha. She thanked him as she took it and went to ring up El's purchase.

Jenny eased out from behind the counter and Mike pulled her friend into a tight hug.

"You take care of yourself Hot Wheels," Jenny kissed his cheek. "Love you."

"Love you too J." Mike returned the kiss and gave her an extra squeeze before letting her go. He would have probably never made it in New York when he first came if it hadn't been for Jenny.

His eyes flicked over to El who was already standing at the exit with a rather annoyed expression on her face as she waited for him.

Mike caught up with El as they left the cosmetics store. "So are you a floral oriental girl?" Mike asked after several minutes of silence as they walked through the mall.

"No. Turns out that I'm a spicy citrus girl." El swung the bag on the tips of her fingers. "So is Jenny an old girlfriend?"

Mike wondered if this was the real reason for El's silence. "No. She's just a really good friend of mine. She helped me get a job and a place to live when I first came here, it really helped to meet someone who had come from a small town as well."

"Oh." He could see El digesting this bit of information. "Well she made it seem as if you guys were a bit more than that."

Mike chuckled. "Well me and Jenny were a bit like you and me," he said as they stopped in front of a shoe store. "It was just casual."

An hour later they arrived home and in addition to the perfume, El also had a new pair of vans.

As they walked upstairs to their apartments, Mike couldn't help but think about what Jenny had said about El. She was running with a very dangerous crew. Granted Mike had expected that El had been up to something along those lines, it was quite a different thing to have it actually confirmed.

"El," Mike's hand was on the door to his apartment. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

El had already opened the door to her apartment. She hesistated for a few seconds. "Sure. But in here."

Mike walked over to El's apartment and entered the door that was held open for him. "Scared of Paladin?" He joked.

El rolled her eys and closed the door. "I think it's safe to say that he doesn't like me."

"Come on El, don't say that. He just needs a bit more time to -"

"To what Mike?" El cut him off. "To push me down the stairs?" She placed her purchases down on the coffee table. "From the first time we met, he's hissed at me whenever I touched you but he's fine when anyone else does it. He's bitten me when I kissed you and now he craps in my shoe when we've had sex. I think it's safe to say that he doesn't like me." El dropped on to the couch. "I know the signs quite well when someone doesn't want me around."

Mike had a feeling that the last sentence had a lot of weight attached to it but he didn't want to pry right now. He sat next to El and gently tugged her jacket off her shoulders. El got the hint and pulled it all the way off. Mike eased up next to her and placed his hands on El's hips and a soft kiss to the side of her head. "I am really sorry."

"It's not your fault," El mumbled as she allowed himself to fall back against Mike. A small sigh tumbled out of her lips as Mike continued to plant soft, light kisses along her jawline down the column of her neck. She gently nudged Mike's head with hers so that he had an easier time reaching her lips. Her eyes drifted shut when Mike finally kissed her. It was slow and sweet. Their tongues curling around each other with great leisure. Mike's hands had drifted underneath her shirt and were sliding up her torso. She felt Mike shifting a bit and then he felt one leg next to him and the other was on the floor so El could press her ass right up against Mike's crotch.

It felt good getting El so close to him again, Mike mused as El's ass pressed against his hips. He trailed kisses back from El jawline to her earlobe, sucking the delicate flesh between his lips, flicking his tongue against it. He was rewarded with El grinding her hips against his dick and some soft sigh falling out of her mouth. He gave El's shirt a tug and a second later El had pulled it over her head and it was on the floor. His lips moved down to El's back, gently un clipping her bra and sliding the straps down her smooth arms. His fingers tweaking El's nipples until they turned into hard little nubs. He opened his eyes as he made his way down El's back and the first thing he noticed was a thin white scar that ran from just below El's shoulder blade to the middle of his back. It instantly brought him back to why he was in El's apartment in the first place.

"El," his lips trailing over the scar before planting a kiss on it. "I want to ask you something."

"Mmm," El's eyes were still closed. "What is it?"

Mike pressed another kiss into El's back before continuing, letting one hand glide down El's flat stomach to the waistband of her jeans. "What is it that you do El? Don't tell me stuff again."

El groaned. " Must we talk about this now?" She took Mike's hand that was above her jeans and placed it directly on her clothed core. Mike's fingers instantly rubbing his fingers against it. "I want you."

Mike moved his fingers. He could feel the heat eminating through El's jeans. He would be a damn liar if he said that he didn't want El now as well. He rubbed harder, which released a moan from El. "I want you too." He took El's hand and placed it on his own erection. El moaned and started stroking Mike through his pants. "But I need to know El."

El opened her eyes so that she could look at him. "Why do you need to know? It doesn't involve you."

Mike swallowed hard. "I know. I just want to know that you're alright."

"Why do you care so much?" El leaned in and held Mike's bottom lip between her teeth, teasing it with the tip of her tongue before releasing it. She could see the lust swirling in Mike's deep brown eyes. "I told you, let's keep it simple between us."

"I know," Mike moved his hand from off of the front of El's jeans and nimbly popped the button. "But Max is your friend right? And I bet she knows. Am I not your friend?" The only thing that was heard in the room was the zip being pulled down. Mike then dipped his hand inside, the heat engulfing his fingers as he touched El through her damp silky panties.

"Fuck, Mike." El arched her hips up to Mike's touch.

Mike slipped his fingers through the leg opening. His index finger touched the sensitive bundle of nerves, then traced her slit feeling her excitement wetting his finger tip. While he was doing this, his mouth was attacking the base of El's neck, with his lips and tongue.

"You're a bastard, you know that?" El hissed out.

"Am I not your friend?" Mike simply repeated.

El watched as Mike removed his hand from her panties. The index finger shining with her wetness and placed it in his mouth and sucked it. Mike twirled the finger between his lips, a devilish gleam in his eye, before pulling it out.

"My friends aren't so evil." El didn't get to say anything else as Mike slipped his whole hand underneath the waistband of her panties. He was definitely being wicked as he stroked El's core at a painstakingly slow pace.

El groaned. "Okay, I just help some people move some stuff okay?"

Mike slowly placed the heel of his palm against her nub and El cursed a heavenly diety. "What sort of stuff?"

"Anything that you could possibly want. Phones, televisions, laptops, anything that anybody wants."

Mike knew that it would be stupid to ask if the stock she moved was stolen. It most likely was. El was a criminal and surprisingly it didn't bother Mike as much as it would if he was in his right frame of mind because right now all he could think about was fucking El.

"Judging me aren't you?" El's eyes narrowed at him.

"I'm judging the best position for me to take you on this couch." Mike admitted as he slightly increased the pace of his fingers on El's core.

In a movement faster than Mike could have anticipated El was on top of him kissing him harshly. Teeth scraping against his lips, her tongue wildly stroking against his own. As fast as El had started she stopped. She stood up and and grabbed Mine's hand and pulled him off the couch. "Come on."

Mike followed El into her bedroom, discarding pieces of his clothing as they walked. By the time, they had reached the room, Mike was just in his pants and boxers which came off quickly and joined El's jeans and panties on the floor. El grabbed a condom off the nightstand and tossed it at Mike.

Mike opened the packet and rolled the condom on to his dick. El grabbed his wrist.

"I really want you." Her eyes softening as she took in Mike's face.

Mike gently pushed El down on her back. He used his hands to hook El's right leg up over his shoulder. He pushed into El slowly. It felt almost impossible at first. El was so tight, but eventually she gave way to him. Slowly Mike started to move his hips to fuck her. In. Out. In. Out.

El's fingers tangling in the hair at the back of Mike's neck. Fingering the silky coils as Mike's hips snapped against her. She couldn't remember if any one had fucked her as good as Mike could and looked as good doing it. Her hands slipped down to grip Mike's biceps. She loved feeling the smooth skin flex underneath her finger tips. One of Mike's hands moved between their buddy's and sought out her aching bundle of nerves, the friction was blissful. Mike's's breath was tickling her neck. His dick was pounding her sweet spot over and over again.

El pushed her fingers through his hair, bringing Mike in for a kiss that ended up being a moan as El came. Mike followed soon after. There was sex and then there was whatever it was he and El were having.

He was on his back regaining his normal heart rate when he felt El's head on his chest. His arm went instantly around her waist. At least El didn't get up and leave this time. Although this being El's place she wouldn't have to. Well at least she didn't kick him out.

"Mike?"

His fingers massaged El's hips in a circular motion. "Yeah."

El lifted his head up so that Mike could see that she was being serious. "You do know that we can't have anything more than this right?"

Of course she was right. El was living a dangerous lifestyle. It didn't make any sense to get involve with someone like that. El keeping it casual between them was more for Mike's protection than her own. He finally understood that now. El in her own way was just trying to keep him safe. It also made it easier for when she had to leave town. She could just leave without owing anyone an explanation. But logic and sound reasoning never did mix well with feelings and desires. He pulled El down into a kiss. "Yeah I understand."



Mike rolled over on his stomach to stretch out on the couch. His hand lazily stroking Paladin on the ground next to the chair. He hadn't seen El since they had hooked up on Saturday afternoon. It was now Tuesday night now and he just hoped that every thing was okay. Sometimes he wished that Jenny hadn't told him what she saw, so he wouldn't be here involuntarily worrying about El and her safety.

As fate would have it, he perked up instantly at the ominous knock at the door. He didn't know how he made it to the door so quickly but he couldn't wipe the smile off his face when he opened it and saw El standing there looking as nonchalant as ever.

"Hi," El greeted him. She looked beautiful standing there with her honey blonde hair loose and a cute beanie plonked on top, her face had a light covering of makeup. A black skater belted coat over a fitted white t-shirt, faded ripped grey jeans and black heeled boots. Actually, thinking about it, this was probably the most dressed up that Mike had ever seen her. "I want a hot dog."

"Um, what?" That was not what he was expecting El to say.

"I want a hot dog," El repeated with a grin on her face.

"So you just expect me to hand you one out of thin air?" Mike crossed his arms and cocked an eyebrow.

"No," El smiled broadly. "I want a hot dog from Coney Island." El shifted on her feet. "So go and change."

"Uh, excuse you? Do you know what time it is? That's a forty minute drive." Mike shook his head. "Wait a minute, do you even have a car?"

"Nope." El replied cheekily. "But you do." She started to walk off. "I expect you by the car in ten minutes."

Mike stared after the disappearing El in a state between flabbergasted and amused. He closed the door and went to change his clothes. At least he had showered earlier. As he slipped his wallet into his pocket he remembered what El had said. She'll meet him by the car. Not Mike's car but the car as if she part owned it or something.

As he walked past the couch, Paladin narrowed his eyes at him as if in disgust.

"Behave yourself alright? None of that crying to annoy the neighbours."

Paladin narrowed his eyes even further and then turned his attention back to the television as if he was insulted.

When Mike walked past the side table to the door he realized that El hadn't returned the spare key. She really thought that she owned the place.

When Mike made it downstairs to his car, El was casually leaning up against it examining her nails. He half expected her to be inside the car already even though she didn't have the keys. Mike looked around as he pressed the button to unlock the doors of the SUV. It was a nice night. The sky was clear and he could see a few stars peeking through.

El slid into the passenger seat with ease as Mike got in the driver's side. As soon as Mike turned the engine on, El was twiddling with the radio station controls. Of course she would. Like if she would abide by the unspoken courtesy of the driver getting to pick the station. Fortunately Elended up choosing a soft rock and pop station and Mike didn't mind too much.

As they drove down Belt Parkway, the traffic light at this time in the evening, El was bobbing her head along with the music as she looked out the window. She also smelt incredible. He wondered if it was the perfume that she had gotten when they were at the mall.

"So why a hot dog from Coney Island?" Mike finally asked.

"I just felt like it." El continued to peer out at the buildings that passed by them.

"Are you wearing that new perfume from the mall?"

"Yes."

Well she wasn't in a talkative mood but she wasn't in an unpleasant mood either. She was drumming her fingertips on top of her thighs and occassionally singing along to a song. She was excited. It finally clicked to Mike. El was excited to be going to Coney Island.

"So what do you plan on doing when we get there? Besides getting a hot dog I mean." Mike glanced at his GPS and saw that they were only ten minutes away now.

"I want to ride the Cyclone." That was her immediate reply.

Of course El would want to ride the most popular rollercoaster there was this side of the country.

"I think it might be closed at this time," Mike said flicking his eyes at the clock.

"No way. It has to be still open."

"El, it's almost nine. I doubt it."

He looked over at El who was now pouting, slouching down in her seat and looking out the window.

She must have been really looking forward to it. "Maybe next time we can come earlier." Mike offered.

El just looked at him with mild curiosity but Mike had to keep his eyes on the road but wondered what was going through El's mind.

As Mike had correctly predicted the Cyclone was closed but not just for the night, but the rest of the year. El looked so upset that she almost looked like a little kid again. Mike felt bad for her and placed an arm around her shoulder and led her to the only hot dog stand that seemed to be open. El perked right back up when she had some curly cheese fries placed on her hot dog along with onion rings. Mike watched in amazement at how wide El's mouth opened to get a bite of everything piled on to the hot dog.

"What?" You know what I can do with my mouth, why are you surprised that it can fit a hot dog."

Mike blushed furiously and looked around anxiously to see if any one had overheard them as they walked down the boardwalk. But not a lot of people were around at this time plus it was a week night.

"You know this isn't a bad spot you picked for a date." Mike commented as he finished off his own hot dog.

"This isn't a date." El balled up her wrapper and threw it at the can as if she was playing basketball. She did a fist pump when it went in.

"Is too."

"Is not."

"Is too."

"Is not."

"This is so a date. You turn up at my door, dressed up and indirectly ask me to take you to Coney Island to get a hot dog. Plus you smell really good."

Mike noticed El fighting the dimples in her cheeks from appearing by trying to hold back a smile but she wasn't very successful.

"I just wanted a hot dog," she maintained as she sat on a bench that faced the dark ocean.

Mike sat next to her. "Yeah right. You just wanted to hang out with me because I'm awesome."

El raised an eyebrow.

"And because you're afraid of Paladin." Mike added on.

El scowled. "I'm not afraid of your cat. He's out to get me."

"So how come you haven't been over since that time, he did what he did?"

"I've been busy."

Mike started to laugh. El pretending to be indifferent was endearing. "Come here." He lightly tugged on El's jacket and pulled her close, smirking before he kissed her. El of course, kissed him back automatically. Her lips felt soft and warm and Mike took his time kissing her slowly.

He pecked El's lips. "This is totally a date." He teased.

However El didn't return his smile. "Mike c'mon, you know what the deal is."

"Yeah I know," he pressed his lips against El's. "But I think that you like me too even if you don't want to admit it."

El's eyes darted away from Mike. He could sense El becoming tense. "Hey, it's cool. We could just like each other. It doesn't have to be anything more than that."

He slipped his hand underneath El's jacket. His hand resting on the side of El's waist. He kissed her cheek. " Don't shut me out El. Talk to me."

"There's nothing to say," El mumbled out. "We just have a thing okay?"

"I know that it's just a thing. You remind me of it every chance you get."Mike sighed and gripped at her waist a little harder. "Okay so we have this thing and it's fine but I feel like you use it as an excuse not to get close to someone."

El eyed him suspiciously. "What are you? A goddamn shrink now?"

Mike didn't take the bait. He kissed the corner of El's mouth instead. "We don't have to be like boyfriend and girlfriend or anything but I want to know the real you. We can be friends. What's wrong with that?"

El shook her head and tried to move away but Mike wouldn't let her out of his embrace. "Mike come on, this is pointless. In a few months I'll be gone anyway. It doesn't matter."

"It matters to me," Mike responded quietly.

A sharp sea salt scented wind swirled around them as the silence laid between them.

"I don't do relationships, Mike." El finally said.

"How come?" The wind was blowing through El's hair and Mike combed through it with his fingers.

"Because," El shifted a bit to rest her head on Mike's shoulder. "They're pointless." She slipped her hand into Mike's jacket. "You're just going to get on each other's nerves and end up hating each other anyway."

"They're not all like that." Mike countered.

"Well don't you hate your ex for what she did to her cat?"

Mike stopped stroking El's hair. "That's different."

"How's it different? The end result is still the same. You hate her."

The way how El's voice dropped, Mike sensed that there was more to it.

"Are you scared that I might end up hating you?" He ventured.

El didn't answer at first. Her hand lightly resting on Mike's waist. "Most people do eventually."

That was it. The break through. El had let her guard down just a bit. Mike pressed his lips to El's forehead. "I wouldn't end up hating you."

"You will," she sounded certain of that. "Trust me, if you got involved with me you will regret it."

Mike used his index finger to tilt El's chin up towards him. He felt something pull inside of him when he saw the complacent sadness in El's eyes. Something or someone had hurt her a long time ago. He was certain of it and it had caused El to shut down like this. He kissed her softly but deliberately. El's lips supple and molding against his. His arms tightening around El's body. El's fingers he could feel pressing through the material of his shirt to dig into his back. Chest to chest. Lips locked. Tongues intertwined and savouring. Neither could get enough of the taste of the other.

It was El who broke the kiss, both of them panting heavily. "Don't do shit like that." She pulled away a bit from Mike's embrace.

"Shit like what?" His lips were still tingling from the intensity of the kiss.

"Don't make me open up to you and then kiss me like that." El shook her head. "It just complicates things. I don't do complicated things Mike." Her eyes locked onto his warning him.

And Mike understood everything that El was saying. He understood that El was trying not to have feelings for him just like how he was half way trying to not have feelings for El. But at that moment, El's lips were slightly parted and he could see that dimple that first drew him to her. Her doe eyes were brooding. Her lips kiss swollen... so despite knowing better, Mike kissed her again.

To his surprise, El grabbed the lapels of his jacket keeping him close. This kiss was needier, hungrier. El's lips were bruising his as she kissed him hard and her tongue licked his own. Mike's hands were tight on El's hips, holding her steady. He could feel adrenaline pumping through him, feeding this kiss. The chemistry between them, electrifying. El had warned him, but he knew now that he wouldn't be heeding it.

"Fuck!" El pulled away and stood up with her back to Mike. "I told you not to do that."

Mike stood up and tried to embrace El from behind but she pulled away.

"No Michael. Stop it. Just stop pushing okay?" El was agitated and she huffed and threw her hair behind her shoulders.

Mike put his hands up. "I'm not doing anything."

El turned around. "Yes you are. I told you, I don't want a relationship. I don't do relationships. So just stop trying to make me feel things." El's right foot was tapping anxiously against the ground. "I don't want a relationship and I don't want one with you. So please just stop it."

El's words just knocked the breath out of him. She didn't want him. Even if El did like him she was never going to give into it. He got it now. "I'm sorry." The words just hung between them. El's arms were crossed over her chest as she stared out onto the black sea. "I didn't mean to push. I... I just wanted to kiss you. That's all."

He heard El sigh but she didn't turn around. "I think you should go."

"What?" He took a step towards him. "Why?"

"Just go Mike. Just leave."

"El I'm not leaving you here alone at this time of night."

"Mike I've been taking care of myself quite well before you came along and I will after you're gone." El's tone curt and short.

Mike took another step so that he was side by side with El. "I'm not leaving you." He repeated softly but with conviction.

"Mike, just go." A quiet command.

"Why? What are you gonna do here?"

"Make some friends, get drunk, hit up a club, dance, grind up on someone, who knows the night is still young."

Mike swallowed hard. Just thinking about El with someone else upset him. Maybe El was right. Maybe he was getting in over his head.

He reached around behind El, his hands running over the back pockets. El was about to protest but he pulled out her cellphone.

"What are you doing?" El asked as Mike punched something into it.

"Giving you my number." When he was finished he handed it back to El. "When ever you're ready to come home, just call me. I'll come for you. No matter the time."

El looked at her in disbelief as she slipped the phone back into her pocket. She then resumed staring at the ocean.

Mike watched her for a bit and then kissed her cheek. "I wish you would come home with me."

No response. Mike watched her for a bit before he turned and took the long, heavy walk alone back to his car. He sat in the car for an hour hoping that El would come to her senses and call him. They didn't even have to continue their thing. He just wanted El to be safe. But when the hour was gone and El didn't call, Mike drove back home to Queens, alone.

Chapter Text

"Hey dude. What's up?"

Dustin sat on Mike's desk whilst he was packing to go home. He watched as Mike slowly picked up his belongings and placed them in his bag. His usual spark had been missing for the past few days. Mike had told him briefly about what had happened last week at Coney Island and even though things didn't end up as to how Mike wanted he didn't expect him to be still upset about it.

"Nothing really," came the despondent reply.

"Dude come on," he placed his hand on Mike's shoulder. "She'll come around eventually."

Mike shook his head. "I saw a guy coming out her apartment this morning when I came back from my run, scary looking dude with a mohawk."

Dustin sucked in his bottom lip. It was time for a change in the game plan. "Okay that's it. We're going out tonight."

"I don't really feel like going anywhere." Mike zipped up his bag.

"Mikey, I'm not going to let you sit at home and wallow in self pity. Come on! I'll get a few of the guys and we'll drink some beer and talk some crap." Dustin playfully bumped his shoulder with his. "Come on. Staying inside isn't going to make you feel any better." He could see Mike wavering. "Look, we don't even have to go far. We'll go to that bar that is close to where you live. What's it called? Benny's?"

Mike nodded. "Yeah."

"Well then that's it. Tonight at seven I'm dragging you from your house." Dustin stood up and clapped Mike on his back. "Remember, there are plenty more fish in the sea."

True to his word, Dustin was knocking on Mike's door at seven. They decided to walk the short distance to the bar.

"I'm glad that you decided to come out." Dustin said as he shoved his hands into his jeans pockets away from the sharp night wind.

"Well it didn't seem as if I had much of a choice." Mike buttoned his thick black wool coat up to his neck. "Could've picked a warmer night though."

"Well maybe if you play your cards right, you would have someone by the end of the night warming you up."

Mike looked at him suspiciously as Dustin opened the door to Benny's for him. As soon as he walked in he saw what Dustin was up to. He had invited Lucas and Stacey.

"Hi guys!" Dustin walked in with a big smile. "Glad you could make it."

Mike exchanged pleasantries as well, noting how Dustin made sure to sit next to Lucas so that he would have to sit next to Stacey.

The night proceeded well enough. Stacey kept her hand on Mike's thigh underneath the table. Occassionally her fingers would brush over Mike's cock keeping him in a perpetually half hard state. Dustin kept smirking at the two of them while Lucas was looking around to see who could challenge in a game of darts.

After the waitress has cleared away their plates and Lucas had found a challenger and Dustin had decided to hit on some woman at the bar it was just Mike and Stacey remaining at the table. Stacey's fingers were comfortably curled over Mike's hand that was on his thigh while she ghost kisses to Mike's neck. Mike was trying to carry on a coversation with her but it was in vain. Stacey's touches were just a bit too distracting. Stacey pried the collar of his shirt back and planted a firm kiss on Mike's neck. He was positive that Stacey wanted to sleep with him tonight and given all that had happened with El, or hadn't happened for that matter, he didn't have a problem with it.

"You know, there's this girl that keeps on watching us," Stacey said as her lips trailed up the side of Mike's neck.

Mike's eyes darted around. "Where?"

"Just behind us, on the other side of the room."

Mike's head snapped around and immediately he spotted El sitting leisurely in a booth with one leg up on the cushion and a beer in her hand. She made no attempts to hide that she had been watching them and she stared right back at Mike unphased.

Stacey's fingers curled into the hair at the nape of Mike's neck. "Do you know her?"

"Um..." Mike swallowed hard. He didn't want to deny El but on the other hand he didn't want to explain why El might be staring at them like that. "Yeah... she's my neighbour."

"Oh." Stacey sounded a bit curious. So do you want to invite her over or something."

Mike shook his head and turned his attention back to Stacey . "No. If she wanted to be over here she would be over here by now."

"Okay." Stacey leaned in to place a lingering kiss on Mike's cheek. Her hand running up and down Mike's chest. "What do you say that we ditch this place and head back to yours?" Her pretty blue eyes fixed on Mike waiting expectantly for an answer.

"Yeah sure." Mike eased away from Stacey slightly. "Just let me go to the restroom for a minute." He got up before Stacey even responded.

Mike splashed the cold water on his face and stared at himself in the mirror as the water dripped off in to the sink. Seeing El watching him like that had unnerved him more than he had anticipated. It felt as if he had been caught doing something wrong. Which in itself was silly because he wasn't. He had seen at least two guys leave El's apartment that week and now that he was going to get lucky tonight, El had to pop up and throw him off course.

"Calm yourself Mike," he muttered to himself as he grabbed some tissue from the holder and dried his face.

As soon as he exited the restroom he saw Stacey in the corridor waiting on him.

Stacey slinked up to him with a cunning grin. "I wanted to make sure that you didn't get lost." She locked her arms behind Mike's neck. The bathrooms were cut off from the main restaurant behind a curved wall giving them some privacy.

Mike wrapped his arms around Stacey's waist. His finger resting on top of the curves of her pert ass. "I'm glad that you came to find me." Stacey smirked in response as Mike leaned forward.

Stacey's lips were familiar and soft. They felt good pressing back against his own as they kissed. He parted his lips as Stacey eased her tongue into his mouth and he pulled her in even closer. This was good. This was nice. He didn't have to second guess anything. He knew what Stacey was up to. She had a legal job, as a manager of small gallery. It was uncomplicated. Mike liked uncomplicated things and people. As the kiss deepened he heard the footsteps of someone walking by. It sounded as if the person went straight into the bathroom without missing a beat. That was one thing he liked about New York, everyone went about their own business.

He tried to pull away to end the kiss but Stacey kept her hand firmly planted against the back of Mike's head. He heard the footsteps again and nearly jumped when the person stopped and pinched his ass before continuing on. Instinctively he knew that it was El. She had to let him know that she saw him making out with Stacey. He immediately felt guilty even though he did nothing wrong. Was he not allowed to enjoy himself as well or was that only reserved for El?

However he managed to separate his lips from Stacey's. If it had been any other time it would have been welcomed.

"Sooo," Stacey's arms went around Mike's waist. "Are we gonna head back to your place now?"

The answer should have been yes. It really should. He gently eased Stacey's hands from around his waist. "I think I'm gonna call it a night."

"What?" Stacey looked completely confused and surprised. "Whats changed?"

What was he suppose to tell her? That he didn't want to sleep with her because he felt guilty about it, even though El had made it explicitly clear that she didn't want a relationship with him? It sounded pathetic even in his head. "I'm just really tired."

The expression on Stacey's face showed that she clearly did not believe him. "Riiight." she ran her fingers through her hair. "Look I don't know what's going on but when you get it sorted out give me a call okay?" she put her hands hands in her back pockets and turned and sashshayed away.

Mike leaned back against the wall, exhaling audibly through his mouth. This situation with El was just fucking him up in ways he didn't even think possible. Pushing off the wall, he decided to go look for Dustin and Lucas and make his excuses and then head home. He needed the solitude just to get his mind right to sort out how he was truly feeling and what he wanted.


Mike rested his head back on his couch looking up at the ceiling. One hand absentmindedly stroking Paladin next to him. He hadn't seen El when he went back out to the bar. Dustin was none to pleased about him calling it an early night but he let him go. He knew that Dustin was only trying to help but he just wasn't into it tonight.

El was such an enigma. He didn't know where to start or end with her. Somehow she had managed to seep underneath Mike's skin and he had no idea how to get her out. It was ironic how she managed to be there when she told Mike that she had no wish to be.

His phone vibrated on the coffee table alerting him to a text message. He picked it up and read the message.

Come over.

It was from a number that he didn't recognize. It took him after a while of staring at the screen to figure out that it had to be from El. Remembering that he had given her his number last week at Coney Island.

He wondered what El wanted as he made his way to the door. He didn't even bother to slip on his shoes. He was just going next door. El's door was already slightly opened when he got there. Obviously she was expecting him. He stepped inside and closed the door behind him turning the locks.

As he walked into the living room he saw El standing by the window looking out on to the dark garden. Her back was to him and she seemed to be deep in thought about something. When Mike had almost reached her she spoke up. "I'm surprised that you didn't bring your lady friend home."

An unexpected smile played on Mike's lips. "Jealous?" He wrapped his arms around El's waist from behind pressing his hips firmly against El's backside.

"Of that Stepford Wife?" She snorted. "Never." All the same her hands clamped down over Mike's.

Mike didn't respond but continued to hold on to her. It felt so much better holding El than Stacey. The scent of her hair, the curve of her body. Everything just felt right. Mike placed his lips against El's temple. Just to linger. A touch not a kiss.

They stayed in silence for a while. El's body eventually relaxing against him. His own body forming around El's. The perfect fit.

"Mike?" El finally said. "You know that this can't work right?"

"I honestly don't." He kissed El's temple. "We've never given it a chance."

"Mike..." El's voiced trailed off and she sighed. "It doesn't make any sense. I'm not staying. I don't do relationships."

"You keep on saying that. How come you don't do relationships?" Mike slipped a hand underneath El's shirt, his fingers splaying over El's flat belly.

"They're too messy. I keep on messing up and disappointing people. I'm tired of it. This way is for the best."

Mike's hand moved further up El's body. His long fingers tweaked a nipple through her bra and a low groan slipped out of El's mouth. "You think that you're gonna disappoint me?" His lips tracing the outer rim of El's ear.

El groaned and pressed her ass against Mike's crotch. "I know it."

Mike pressed his hips back. "I don't think so."

"Mike?" El decided to try to a different approach. "Okay, so we have great sex. I can admit that. So why can't it stay there?"

"Because," Mike kept one hand on El's nipple and slipped the other underneath the waistband of El's yoga pants edging his fingers towards her core. "You like me and I like you." His fingers lightly pushing her clit through her panties.

"Mike," El tried to protest but a moan fell from her lips as Mike started to rub circles over her clit harder. "Why are you being so stubborn?"

Mike kissed El's cheek. "Because I want you." He moved El's panties to the side working her faster, skin on skin.

"Fuck Mike." El's head was now resting back on Mike's chest. Her eyes closed. Her lips parted as all of her energy was focused on how good Mike was making her feel.

Mike used his other hand to push down her yoga pants, then he fully pushed his clothed erection against her. "I'm not sure you deserve this after you messed things up tonight with me and Stacey. I could be right there next door with her. But no you had to get jealous and make it known that you were watching. Don't even try to deny it. You were jealous."

"She couldn't handle you anyway." El's eyes remained closed.

"Is that so?" Mike pushed himself against El's naked ass even harder. "I have half a mind to bend you over and fuck you right now."

El grinded her ass against Mike's hard on. "Maybe you should."

"I'm not an animal El." His hands sped up on El's clit whilst he slipped his fingers inside her heat, soon her short pants and soft moans filled the room.

Mike was nibbling on El's earlobe when she came. El was panting hard. Her heart racing. She was allowing Mike to do things to her that she didn't allow other people to do, including getting inside her head and maybe even her heart.

She felt Mike's presence disappear from behind her and she shivered slightly. He had probably gone to clean off his hand. But still she felt somewhat vulnerable and naked without Mike being there.

By the time that Mike came back El had pulled her self together physically and mentally. Mike returned looking flustered his dark eyes sparkling his pants riding dangerously low on his hips.

It wasn't fair El mused as her train of thought was almost derailed when Mike gave her a sexy smirk and licked his lips. When Mike embraced her and cupped the back of her head El knew that it had gone too far. When Mike's lips touched hers and her automatic response was to pull Mike in even closer she knew that she was heading into trouble. A kiss shouldn't be making her weak like this she thought as her tongue made its way into Mike's mouth. It shouldn't be making her feel things.

When Mike's hands moved further south to firmly cup her ass she knew that she should stop it right then. But then Mike gave her cheeks a hard squeeze and she found herself jumping to wrap her legs around Mike's waist.

This was all wrong she thought as their lips remained attached and Mike carried her to her bedroom. Mike laid her down on the bed before settling himself on top. Mike tugged at the hem of El's shirt and the next thing she knew it was off of her and Mike was trailing kisses down her chest.

"Mike," El finally managed to get out when his tongue swirled in her belly button. "We need to stop."

Mike raised an eyebrow. "Why?"

"Because ..." El trailed off. What good reason could she give other than the truth. But she didn't want to tell Mike the truth.

Mike moved back up her body. His hair all over the place. He stopped a few inches away from El's face. "What's really going on El?"

Those dark eyes demanded the truth from her but yet she felt as though she couldn't give it. "You know that this isn't going to work between us right?"

"You keep on saying that El. That it wouldn't work. That's all you say. But it isn't what you do."

"I haven't led you on." El responded defensively

"Really?" Mike sat back. "Then what the heck was that tonight at the bar? What was that? Why were you staring Stacey and me down at the bar? Huh? What was that? Or why did you pinch my ass when you saw us kissing?"

El eased herself up against her pillow. "I didn't mean it like that."

"Like hell you didn't." Mike felt himself losing his cool but he tried to control it. But he also knew that El was bullshitting him. "You don't want to be with me but when you see me with someone else you stare me down as if I'm cheating on you or something."

El didn't respond but Mike was angry at her. She could do anger. She understood anger. She didn't understand whatever it was that Mike was trying to force on her. She didn't like that. It felt strange and alien. It made her feel too many things. Things that she had no business feeling. Things that didn't belong to a girl like her. She didn't deserve those things.

"Well aren't you going to say something?" Mike rested his hands on his thighs. A dark lock hanging in front of his eyes.

A moment of silence passed between them and Mike got off the bed. "I'm going to ask you this once El. Do you want me or not?"

El worried her bottom lip with the edge of her teeth. "I just want a simple thing. This is getting complicated."

"It's only getting complicated because you're making it that way." Mike placed his hands on his hips. " I like you El. You must know that. If you want no strings attached sex I can give you that. If you want a relationship I can give you that as well. But don't be telling me that you want it with no strings attached but when I go out and do my own thing you have a problem with it."

"I didn't have a problem with it." El's eyes meeting Mike's properly.

"You're such a fucking liar." Mike didn't mean it to come out like that and he saw El visibly wincing when he said it. He lowered his voice to a more civil level. "Why can't you just be honest with me?"

El twiddled with the drawstring on her yoga pants.

Mike sighed and walked to the door. "You know what I think? I think that you're more scared of being hurt than protecting me from whatever it is."

When El started pulling the loose threads out of the drawstring avoiding any eye contact and obviously trying to block out Mike, he shook his head and walked away.



The wind was high and boisterous outside. It ripped through the few green leaves on the trees scattering them to the ground. The smaller trees bend beneath the wind's might while the older, thicker trees held on to their roots with a prayer. The rain lashed the apartment building and the thunder rumbled across the dark sky. It was a good night to be inside.

Mike hadn't heard from El since he walked out of her apartment a few days ago. He watched the last remains of his hot chocolate disappear down the sink as he washed the mug. Come to think of it he hadn't seen her either. He also hadn't seen any other random guys leaving her apartment.

He placed the mug on the counter to dry and wiped his hands on the towel that rested on the handle of the oven. Maybe Jenny had been right after all. He had been single for so long that he was willing to accept tiny crumbs of the promise of something more from El instead of seeing the big picture. El just wasn't as into him as he was into El.

He turned off the light in the kitchen and Paladin strolled next to him into his bedroom. He watched as Paladin settled down on his barely used bed, curling up into a tight ball. Mike pulled his duvet up over his shoulders and then turned off the light on the nightstand. Maybe tomorrow he would call Stacey up and apologize or maybe he could finally notice these girls that Dustin said that were always checking him out. Or hopefully he could just meet someone new. As he closed his eyes he knew that he had to move on from thinking about El Hopper.


A sudden jolt of dread washed over Mike as he slept. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing up on end. He bolted up out of his sleep. He had a distinct feeling that someone was watching him. His heart started to thunder in his chest when his eyes adjusted to darkness and he saw a silhouette standing on the other side of his bed.

"What the fuck?" He exclaimed loudly but the figure didn't move. He could feel a huge lump in his throat restricting his airway. Paladin started to meow. He clumsily reached for the lamp next to the bed and managed to knock it over on its side before he turned it onu and the light flooded the room.

"El?"

The girl was standing on the carpet next to his bed drenched from head to toe. Her hair was plastered to her head. Tiny rivers still ran over her face and down her neck. Her hoodie was soaked through and the water ran off onto the carpet. Paladin went up to her and started meowing again as she looked at the water that dripped off.

Mike scrambled out of bed. "What the hell are you doing here? What's the meaning of you scaring the living daylights out of me?"

El remained despondent and only stared back at Mike who started to feel uneasy and began to wonder if El had snapped.

"How did you get in here?"

El reached into her jeans pocket. "I have a key." She showed Mike the spare key that she had taken from the side table. Fuck. Mike had forgotten about that.

"So why are you here?" That was the most important question of the hour.

A certain lost expression overcame El's face as she stared down at the carpet. Her shoulders slumped as if she had been defeated. "I had to."

Mike waited for her to say something more but she didn't. El suddenly seemed unsure of herself and she was looking at Mike with a questioning expression that seemed to ask if she was still welcome here or not. She looked so forlon in her soggy wet clothes and red nose that against his better judgement Mike relented.

"Come on," he placed his hands on El's soaked hoodie. "Let's get you out of these wet clothes before you catch a cold."

El stripped down to her blue bra and panties set and Mike noticed that they were soaked through as well. "Okay, go and take a hot shower and I'll put these in the dryer." He pointed to El's underwear. "I'll be needing to take those as well."

El pulled them off while Mike had his back turned and placed them in his outstretched hand. Mike made his way into his small laundry room with Paladin on his heels. He lifted the lid of the dryer and started dropping El's clothes inside.

He noticed Paladin watching him intently. "Don't give me that look," he told the cat as he sighed and set the timer on the dryer, noting that it was after two in the morning. "I don't know what she wants and I know that I should have sent her home but I couldn't." He looked at the cat and the cat looked back at him. "You're judging me again." He picked Paladin up and petted him. "I'm tired of these games too. One day she wants me, the other she doesn't." He scratched Paladin behind his ears. "I'll admit that I still really do like her," he said softly. "But unless she can give me a good reason for breaking into my house in the middle of the night, I'm through."

By the time Mike made it back to his bedroom, El was walking out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her.

"Do you want your clothes back?" Mike sat on the bed with one leg propped up.

El fidgetted with the knot on her towel. She glanced up at Mike sheepishly. "I was hoping that we could talk."

Mike raised his eyebrows in surprise. Well this was a first. El actually wanted to talk. "About what?"

She seemed even more nervous now biting her bottom lip. "You and me."

"Oh?" Mike couldn't hide the shock in his voice.

El just glanced around the room nervously. She was clearly uncomfortable. Mike got up and went over to his wardrobe and pulled open a drawer taking out a pair of old grey sweat pants and a blue t-shirt. "Here put these on."

"Thanks." El slipped them on around her towel before removing the white terry cloth. Mike took the towel and went to hang it back up in the bathroom.

When he came back out El was sitting on the edge of the bed. He sat next to her but kept some distance between them.

El hunched over, clapsing her hands together. "You were right."

"About what?"

"About me being jealous over the other girl. I admit it." El shook her head. "I know that it's stupid but I didn't like seeing her touch you."

"How come?"

El released an exasperated sigh. "Do I have to spell it out for you?"

A tiny smirk played on Mike's lips. "Well considering that you broke into my house in the middle of the night scaring me half to death, it's the least you could do."

El looked indignant. "I didn't break in. I had a key."

"That I never gave you. You took it remember."

El brushed him off. "Whatever."

A few silent seconds passed.

"So are you going to tell me why you were jealous?"

El glanced across the room and saw that Paladin was sitting up waiting for his answer as well. "Jesus!" she exclaimed. "I like your stupid face alright? Is that what you wanted to hear?"

"But you said that it was pretty." Mike pouted.

"When did I say that?"

"The night that I brought you home drunk."

"Okay fine. I like your pretty stupid face," she grinned. "Is that better?"

Mike just looked at her and El slid closer to him. El placed a hand on Mike's shoulder and leaned in as if to kiss him but Mike pulled back.

"What's wrong Mike?" Her golden eyes searching Mike's face for an answer.

"El, did you really come to me in the middle of the night just to tell me that you were jealous and that you like my stupid face?" The golden eyes stopped searching and moved focus to her lap. "Because I kind of figured that out already."

El tried to move away from him but Mike placed a hand on her knee to stop her. "It's time that you stop running El. You know as well as I do that you coming here at this time, there has to be something more." Mike exhaled. "What do you want El?"

El worried her bottom lip with the edge of her teeth. Suddenly she held her head up and looked Mike dead in the eye. "I want you."

The words weren't spoken loudly but somehow they seemed to have filled the room and sucked the air right out of it. The thunder rolled on the outside, the rain lashed against the window and El wanted him.

"Are you saying that you want to be with me?" Mike asked a bit hesistantly.

"Mike," El started. "I was being honest when I told you that I don't do relationships like this. I really don't know how to. My dad died when I was young and since then nobody really wanted me around, I was good at making myself scarce and going off to do my own thing." El gave a short laugh. "Foster homes always seemed a bit disappointed when I came back."

Mike could sense that there was a lot more to that story that El was glossing over but he let her continue.

"I guess that I carried that mentality with me into relationships. I ..." she drifted off and started to laugh. " I don't know what to tell you Mike. I'm a screw up. I'm good at getting people not to like me." El tried to smile but it didn't quite reach her eyes. "I don't want you to not like me."

Mike took his time carefully thinking over what El was trying to tell him. "So what are you trying to say?"

El picked at a thread on the sweat pants. "That I don't want to mess us up. If you know, we decide to be an actual thing."

"Do you want us to be a thing?"

El's eyes darted between Mike's eyes and lips. "Very much so. But Mike, you know that I'm involved in not quite legitimate stuff, I wish I could say more but for your safety I can't. I also might have to leave soon. So a thing isn't really the most practical idea either of us have had."

"Do you want me to see other people?"

El leaned in closer to him, placing her right hand on Mike's thigh. "No."

"So if we have this thing," Mike pretended to not be distracted by that hand that was inching ever so slowly towards his crotch. "Does this mean that you're going to be exclusive as well?"

She leaned in and placed a kiss at the center of Roman's throat. "I have never not been."

"but the people at your apartment, leaving in the morning"

"Not what you think.. a story for another time" El raised her head up and brushed her lips against Mike's. "I want to give us a try." She sucked Mike's bottom lip into her mouth. "But if I mess it up, remember that I warned you from the get go."

Mike didn't say anything as he slid an arm around El's shoulder, pulling her in. His lips covered El's and that familiar spark flew through him. El kissed him back immediately, parting her lips for Mike's tongue.

El ended up on her back with Mike on top of her. She sighed as Mike planted kisses down her neck and onto her shoulder.

"Are you sure that you want this?" Mike dropped another kiss on to El's shoulder.

El nodded. " Yes."

Mike smiled. "Good." He kissed El's lips. "Because it's after three in the morning and I need to get some sleep." El smiled as Mike reached over her for the blanket.

He pulled the duvet over them before settling back down and turning off the light. It surprised him when El got closer to him first and laid her head on his chest. Mike placed an arm around El's waist and began to think of what just happened. Him and El were now a thing. Just when hours before he had decided to let El go, to move on, El barged right back in and told him what he needed to hear.

El was beginning to drift off to sleep when she felt something soft and padded pressing into her cheek and another one on her forehead pausing briefly before moving. Even before opening her eyes she knew what just had happened. Paladin had just walked over her face. She opened her eyes to see the cat walking across Mike's chest.

"Pal, you know that you're not allowed on the bed." Mike said without opening his eyes. The cat ignored him of course and stepped on El's arm that was over Mike's waist. The cat turned around a couple of times before settling himself on the part of El's arm that was touching Mike.

El could have sworn that Paladin narrowed his eyes at her before closing them and settling all of his weight on her arm. El got the hint and moved her hand away and curled it up against her own chest. At least Mike was still holding her. She was still allowed to have that small victory against the feline.


When Mike awoke the following morning he was surprised to see that El was still there and she was fast asleep. Her face was half buried into a pillow and her hair somehow managed to cover half her face. El and him were together. It was a bit unbelievable. Mike sat up and noticed that Paladin was asleep on his lap. He gently lifted the cat off and placed him on the bed next to El. Maybe those two would get along one of these days.

Mike had just finished one omelet and was about to pour another one into the frying pan when he felt arms wrapping around his waist and a warm body pressing up against him. "Good morning."

El mumbled something and pushed her lips into Mike's shoulder. "Morning. What are you making?" She peered over Mike's shoulder. "I don't like peppers."

"What?" Mike looked at the tiny pieces of green bell peppers that he had chopped up and placed into the egg mixture.

" I don't like peppers." El repeated matter of factly.

"Really? This is coming from the girl that likes anchovies and pepperoni together on a pizza."

He looked back at El who only looked back at him with her eyes wide trying to look as innocent as possible.

Mike sighed and picked up a spoon. "Fine. I'll pick them out."

El kissed his cheek. "Thank you."

El walked over to the fridge as Mike threw pieces of pepper into the sink. El took the carton of orange juice from the fridge and was about to put it to her lips when Mike yelled at her so loudly that it startled her and she nearly dropped the carton.

"El! Don't you dare drink straight from the carton. Use a glass. They are in the cupboard above you." Mike sounded exasperated as he poured the pepper free mixture into the pan.

"No need to yell. Jeez." El got a glass down from the cupboard.

"I swear sometimes it's like you have had no home training." Mike poked the edge of the omelet with a spatula.

"You sound just like Kali." El poured the juice into the glass.

"Who's Kali?"

The expression El's face told Mike that El didn't really mean to let that little tidbit slip out.

"She's just a girl I know." El spoke hurriedly.

"From where?"

"What's with the Spanish inquisition? Am I not allowed to know people?" El narrowed her eyes at Mike accusingly as if she was about to go off on him.

He didn't want to fight with El the morning after they got together so he held his tongue. He flipped the omelet over in the pan. "I was just asking a question. I didn't think that it would upset you."

Mike waited for a response but when none came he turned around and saw that El was not there. He peeped around the corner and saw that El was now in the living room sitting on the couch with her feet up on the coffee table.

He went back into the kitchen and plated the omelets, wondering what exactly had he gotten himself into.

Chapter Text

Mike didn't know what to expect when he came home that evening following their awkward conversation about Kali that morning.

"I'm home," he called out as he walked into the living room.

Surprisingly El was still there sitting on the couch and Paladin was sitting in the single seater furthest away from the couch.

El turned around. "Hi." El smiled good naturedly at him as if she had forgotten all about the incident that morning. "How was your day?"

"It was fine," Mike responded as he made his way to his bedroom. His client in Brooklyn had stiffed him again and he really didn't feel like discussing it right now.

He placed his bag down against the wall and then unbuttoned his shirt . Before he could finish shrugging it off he felt El's arms around his waist and kisses being pressed into his back. He dropped the shirt on the floor. He would place it in the hamper later. He easily turned around in the loose hold that El held him in. He smiled as his hands rested on El's lower back. "Miss me?"

El hooked her arms behind Mike's neck pulling him down. "Something like that." El's lips were warm and needy. Mike held her tighter as the kiss deepened and El walked backwards to the bed. When her calves butted the bed she turned around so that she could push Mike down on it and then got back on top of him. Her lips immediately reattaching to Mike's. God, she could kiss those lips the entire night.

Her teeth lightly scraped Mike's bottom lip as she released it from between her own lips and trailed some kisses down the column of his neck.

"El..." Mike growled. His hand spanning El's ass, pressing his hips against hers.

"Yeah?" El sounded distracted as her tongue worked it's way down his chest.

"Did you feed Pal?"

El kissed across his rib cage. "What?"

"Did you feed Pal?"

She couldn't believe that Mike was asking her about the cat while she was doing this. "Uh, yes." She moved her lips further down to Mike's belly button .

"Did he eat all of it?"

El licked a flat stripe across the taunt skin. "Yeah he really seemed into it."

"Really? He normally takes his time eating kibble."

El placed another kiss on Mike's body wondering how long this conversation was going to go on for. "It wasn't kibble. It was the wet stuff."

"El!" Mike sat up suddenly causing El to roll off on to the bed. "I told you to feed him the kibble. He's only allowed to have wet food twice a week."

El sat up a bit stunned. She couldn't believe that Mike was actually upset at her over some cat food. "I did pour out the kibble first but he didn't want it. He kept on meowing and looking at me. I figured if he didn't eat and then got sick or something that you would've blamed me for not giving him something else so I put the kibble back and gave him the canned stuff. He likes that." She explained.

Mike groaned and got off the bed. "Of course he does. He would eat it every damn day if you let him." Mike breathed out harshly and slammed his open palm against the wall as he walked through the door. "Next time just feed him as I asked."

"Hey!" El got off the bed and followed him through the door. " What's your problem?" she grabbed Mike's arm as he entered the kitchen. "It's just some cat food."

Mike pulled his arm away and opened the fridge door and took out a bottle of beer. He slammed the door shut, popping the ring on the can as he sat on a stool.

"Mike?" El approached him cautiously. "Are you seriously upset over the cat food?"

He watched as Mike took a long hard drink from the bottle. His adam's apple bobbing up and down as he swallowed. He didn't respond to El as he continued to stare hard at the wall across the hallway from him.

El watched as he took another drink. She couldn't understand Mike freezing her out like this. "Mike?"

He continued to ignore her and it unnerved El more than she cared to admit. She couldn't believe that she was getting the silent treatment all over some cat food. She felt tense and uncomfortable standing there waiting for Mike to speak to her. Should she apologize? But for what? She didn't do anything wrong. She stared at the back of Mike's head willing him to speak to her but to no avail. El became frustrated. She didn't have to take this treatment.

She walked out of the kitchen and grabbed her dried coat from the bedroom. She needed to get out of there. As she walked back through the apartment she wished that Mike would call out to her but as she placed her hand on the doorknob she realized that wasn't going to happen. She opened the door and just started walking.

She just allowed her legs to carry her down the street and then over the road and into the park. In her jeans pockets she found a half empty carton of cigarettes and a lighter. She slumped down on a park bench with a lit cigarette between her index and middle fingers. She didn't like to smoke, she just liked to watch the cigarette burn away. She had already started fucking up even when she was trying extra hard not to. She could never get this relationship thing right. Although she didn't believe that this was entirely her fault. She also didn't really think that the issue was cat food. But Mike wouldn't open up to her and she had a feeling that she couldn't make him either.

She watched the last of the cigarette disappear before she released it into the wind. She really did like Mike. Last night she had sat in the rain thinking about him. There was just something about the man that just appealed to her in a way that no one had ever done before. But as the stars started to appear in the evening sky, she wondered if what appealed to her was real or just some fantasy conjured up in her mind.

The smell of cigarette smoke lingered. It was familiar. Comforting. Something that she was used to. Mike was unfamiliar but she wanted to get used to him too.

About an hour later she was turning the knob on Mike's apartment door. Surprisingly but thankfully it was unlocked. She pushed the door open and stepped inside, closing it behind her. Maybe Mike was expecting her back. She walked softly into the living room and found Mike sitting on the couch with Paladin in his lap. He was mindlessly stroking the cat's back.

El stood a bit away from the couch. Mike turned his head and their eyes met. Mike's expression was softer this time around. The anger that he had displayed earlier was gone. Signs of remorse lingered on his face and El took a chance and sat next to him on the couch.

Paladin rolled over his back with his stomach exposed to Mike who absentmindedly petted him without a second thought, for his eyes were still on El.

"I'm so sorry about earlier," his eyes unwavering from El's face. "I shouldn't have gone off on you like that."

El leaned forward, resting her arms on top of her thighs. "Was it really about the cat food?"

A subtle smile graced Mike's lips as he shook his head. "No."

"Then what's the problem?" She noticed Paladin purring as he playfully swatted Mike's fingers.

Mike sighed. "It's this client I have in Brooklyn."

El eased closer to him. "What about this client?"

So Mike told El the entire story while she listened attentively taking mental notes.

Mike shook his head. "I think that I'm going to let him go next week."

"What about the money that he owes you?"

Mike shrugged. "I guess I'm gonna have to chalk it up as a loss."

El didn't say anything she appeared to be lost in her thoughts. He scooped Paladin from off his lap and placed him on the floor. "Come here." He wrapped his arms around El's waist giving her a sharp tug so that she was on top of him as he slinked down on to his back. He started to kiss El before he was even settled. "I'm sorry that I went off on you earlier." He repeated as he sucked on El's bottom lip for a moment before he released it.

"Yeah don't do that again." El muttered nestling her lips against Mike's.

Mike's response of "I won't." was muffled by their lips fusing together. This was a lot better. Kissing El was way better than fighting with her. His hand slid down El's back to grab her ass, allowing himself a firm squeeze of her butt.

El was placing kisses down Mike's neck until her lips met with the collar of his shirt. She pushed the hem of the shirt up to above Mike's nipples so that she could continue on her exploration of Mike's body. Her lips suckling the soft skin on her way down her lover's torso. Suddenly El stopped. The hair on the back of her neck prickled. She had a distinct feeling of being watched by someone other than Mike.

She turned her head sharply to the right and there was Paladin staring right back at her as if he was in a movie theater.

Mike lifted his head up when he noticed that El had stopped. "Is something wrong?"

"Paladin's watching us."

Mike glanced at the cat and then back at El. "So?"

" So? It's creepy that's what."

"I don't think you have anything he hasn't seen before."

This made El look away from Paladin to stare wide eyed at Mike. "You've screwed in front your cat before?"

"Well it's not like if I did it on purpose. He has walked in several times while it was going on." Mike's tone belied that he didn't really see what the big deal was.

Mike sat up so that El straddled his hips. His index finger tilted El's chin up and he placed a sweet kiss on her lips. "So you're gonna let Pal stop you from going any further?" His tongue licked a spot on El's jawline before sucking the flesh into his mouth. He heard El's breath hitch in her throat and he continue to work the sensitive flesh between his lips and teeth. El grabbed a fistful of his hair yanking his head back up so that she could claim his mouth roughly.


El's eyes were closed and her lips were parted. Some unintelligable noise was seeping out of them as she felt the wet heat of Mike's mouth on her core. Her fingers were laced tightly through his raven hair, keeping Mike in place. Although she really didn't need to because from the enthusiasm that Mike was showing he seemed to be quite content to go down on El all night long.

A shiver ran down El's spine when Mike's tongue circled her clit. She whined and opened her eyes. That was a mistake. The first thing she saw was Paladin sitting up erect on the carpet staring at Mike as he was down on El as if he was almost scared by what Mike was doing.

"Mike?"

Mike looked up at her.

"Paladin's watching us again." El didn't know why she was whispering but it seemed appropriate.

Mike rested on El's legs. "Really El? We are doing this and all you can concentrate on is the cat?"

El just looked back at him.

"Well clearly I will have to distract you harder" Mike lowered his head back between El's thighs. A surprised yelp escaped from El and she tried to buck her hips but Mike's hands were on her thighs and he purposefully pressed down on them so that El's ass remained grounded in the couch.

El was writhing beneath Mike's palms as continued to work sheer magic with his tongue. Her eyes were closed and nonsense tumbled from her lips as Mike brought her to pure ecstasy. She certainly forgot all about that cat as her orgasm crashed over her in waves.


A week later El casually strolled into Mike's apartment. She had heard Mike return home for the evening and she popped in to see what Mike was having for dinner. She found Mike sitting at the breakfast bar nursing a can of soda.

"Hey," El casually slung an arm around Mike's shoulder and kissed his cheek. She then made her way around the counter to the fridge and pulled open the door. "What's for dinner?"

"I think that I might just order in."

"Good." El closed the door and picked up some menus from off the counter flipping through them. "Chinese or Italian?"

When Mike didn't respond, she raised an eyebrow at him as Mike calmly took another sip of his drink. "Well? What's it going to be?"

Mike placed his drink down slowly and crossed his arms in front of his chest. "What did you do El?"

El was puzzled. "What do you mean?"

She could see Mike's jaw line working as he shook his head with disbelief. Mike raised his hip a bit so that he could reach into his back pocket. He pulled out a wad of cash and dropped it on the counter.

El looked down at the cash and then back up at Mike. "Um... I'm not really getting it Mike."

"That client that I told you about last week, gave that to me today." He stared at El knowingly as if he was saying that the gig was up.

But El just shrugged her shoulders. "So Italian it is."

El was reaching for her phone when Mike grabbed her hand. "El." His tone was low and it warned her that Mike was not as calm on the inside as he appeared on the outside.

Honey brown eyes met dark. "Yes?" She responded meekly.

"What did you do?" Mike's words were spoken slowly and measured.

"What makes you think that I had anything to do with him paying you?"

"Oh I don't know, maybe it was the freaked out look on his face. The way how he was looking around as if he was expecting someone to jump out of the bushes at him. Oh and there was something about not sending the lunatic girl and her henchmen back to him."

"Henchmen is a bit much."

Mike was not fooled. He saw the blush on El's cheeks when he repeated what his client had said. "El how could you?"

El sighed and looked down at the counter. "I just wanted to help you. Funshine and Axel didn't mean to shake him up too badly. I just wanted him to give you what he owed."

Mike released El's hand. "El, you can't go around threatening my clients."

"Well technically you said that you were going to drop him so he wasn't really your client." She responded feebily.

Mike resumed crossing his arms and just staring at El.

Tense minutes ticked by and neither said anything and El was growing more uncomfortable by the second. She had fucked up again. But she didn't really mean to. She was honestly trying to help Mike. Maybe she went about it the wrong way but what was the right way? She didn't know.

She decided that it was best if she left. Mike was probably sick of looking at her. She walked around the counter and was heading to the door when a pair of arms ensnared her waist and stopped her in his tracks. From the expression on her face she was clearly befuddled at what was going on.

Mike kissed her temple and rested his forehead against El's. She could feel the breath from Mike's nose fluttering against her skin. One of Mike's hands cupped her face while his thumb gently stroked his cheek. " I have no idea what I'm going to do with you."

Before she could respond a warm kiss went coursing through her veins from her lips all the way to her fingertips. She opened her eyes and felt herself blushing despite not wanting to. Mike wasn't chasing her away. He wanted her here. With him. Even though she had messed up, Mike had forgiven her. That's all that was going through her head as Mike led her back to the kitchen. What did Mike see in her that none of her previous lovers before see? She was used to being yelled and cursed at. It was how she grew up. It was just how life was. This treatment? She couldn't help but to be suspicious that there was some sort of ulterior motive behind it.

Mike smiled at her. "Italian it is." picking up the phone "And Funshine? Really??" shaking his head.



"Where are you off to?"

As soon as Mike had stepped out of his apartment he was greeted by El coming out of hers.

"I'm off to the hairdresser."

"Oh." El pursed her lips as she thought. "Why don't you let me do it?"

Mike looked at her skeptically. "Do what?"

El rolled her eyes. " Let me cut your hair."

"Uh huh." Mike didn't look too convinced.

However El had already grabbed him by the arm and was leading him into her apartment.

"So you have done this before, yeah?" He was pushed down on to the couch by a pair of determined hands while El then headed off to her bedroom.

El came back out a minute later holding a small black bag that he guessed contained scissors.

Mike watched in amusement as El ran around trying to set everything up. She grabbed a stool from the kitchen and placed it near a window where the natural light flooded in. She pulled the coffee table close to the chair so that he could place the black bag on it. El was tapping her fingers against her chest as she looked around the room as if she was trying to remember if she had everything that was needed.

"Oh!" She held a finger up like an exclamation point. "I've got just the thing." She scampered back to her room.

Mike chuckled softly to himself. El was obviously quite excited to be performing this service for him. He could feel the enthusiasm pouring off her. Even though Mike was quite particular about his hair, years of awful mum designed haircuts, he had made up in his mind that even if El did botch it he wouldn't say a thing about it. He got the feeling that El liked doing things for people that she cared about and Mike knew that El cared about him even if she never said it. The incident of El and her friends shaking down his client in Brooklyn came to mind. He didn't think that El did it with the intent to cause harm to Mike's reputation. What happened was that Mike told El about a problem and she tried to fix it the best way that she knew how. Even right now, Mike wanted a hair cut and El had a solution. He couldn't help but to wonder if El's resourcefulness was a result of how she grew up. She hardly talked about it but from little tidbits it seemed as if there wasn't much brightness in her past.

El came back out holding a burgundy cape. The type that barbers' used on their clients.

"Where did you get that?"

El smiled at him. "You ask too many questions."

She looked so happy. El most of the time seemed to be on edge about something. But now she looked completely relaxed and carefree.

Much to El's surprise, Mike grabbed her head between both hands and planted a hard kiss on her lips.

El was stunned. "Wha..."

Mike sat on the stool and grinned. "Come on, let's get to it. I don't have all day."

El secured the cape around Mike's shoulders and then laid out the scissors and various combs that she wanted on the table.

She stood in front of Mike as if she was examining his face. She leaned forward and planted a kiss right in the center of Mike's forehead. Mike could feel the wet impression of the kiss on his skin when El pulled away.

El picked up the scissors. "Let's get started."

About twenty minutes later Mike was holding a hand held mirror gazing at his reflection as he slowly turned his head from side to side. El had done a pretty damn good job. The style was fresh and cut just the way he liked it. Mike smiled at him. "Why do I get the feeling that you've done this before?"

El turned her head to a side so that Mike wouldn't see the blush creeping up her cheek but it was to no avail because Mike still noticed. "The first way I used to make money was I used to cut hair for older kids in the foster homes. I just needed a pair of scissors and for five dollars they could have what they wanted." El's eyes were shining at the memory. " It was a good gig but eventually the foster parents found out and then I became useful but it meant no more money for me."

Mike chest tightened at the mention of foster home, he smiled sadly. "You did a really great job."

El beamed at him. She had finally done something right. She unfastened the cape from around Mike, shaking the clippings on to the floor.

"Let's say after you get this mess cleaned up that I treat you to lunch." Mike suggested.

El nodded. "Sounds good." She looked up at Mike hopefully. "There's this Cheesecake Factory in Long Island that I want to go to."

Now how could Mike tell her no when El was using her perfect doe eyes to their full effect all wide eyed with a cute pout to boot. He knew that there was a pretty good Cheescake Factory just two blocks over. "Fine. We'll go to Long Island."

El whooped in celebration and then grabbed a broom and began sweeping eagerly.


November faded into the first week of December and with it bringing the icy cold. Mike hadn't seen much of El for that week. She always seemed busy and when she did come over she was quiet and stared melancholy into the distance. He had asked her several times what was bugging her but El just shrugged it off and told him nothing or when she got tired of Mike pestering her she got up and left.

Now it was Saturday afternoon and he hadn't seen El all day and he was a bit worried. He tried calling her but she wouldn't pick up and every call had gone to voicemail. He left the door of his apartment cracked open hoping to hear when El returned home but that proved to be futile as well.

Mike stood next to the window in the living room and watched as flurries floated down from the grey skies. He was getting restless on top of being worried. Where was El? His eyes latched on to a particularly large flurry as it sank to the earth. What if El had left him? She did say that she wasn't staying long. Maybe El being so distant with him was her way of breaking up with him without coming out and saying it. Mike shook his head. No. He shouldn't allow these thoughts to take root but what if it was true? What if El was heading down the Jersey turnpike by now and never coming back?

Mike couldn't stay inside the apartment a moment longer. He had to go find El. He threw on his heavy coat and pulled his gloves roughly over his fingers.

"You stay here Pal." The cat regarded him with an air of innocent curiosity from its position on the couch. "I mean it. I don't want you following me in this weather." Paladin narrowed his eyes at him as if he would dare to do such a thing and looked back at the television.

Mike just started walking. As his foot crunched the fresh layer of snow he realized that he didn't know El's hangout spots very well. He only knew about two and he thought that he had a greater chance at the first one that he stopped by.

The warmth of Benny's welcomed Mike inside as he pulled off his gloves and stuffed them into his coat pocket. His keen eyes surveying the patronage. The honey haired waves were nowhere to be seen. Be that as it may Mike still went up to the bartender and inquired as to if he had seen El . No, was the resounding answer. He hadn't seen her since last week.

Mike exhaled an exasperated breath as he forced his gloves back on and trudged back out into the snow. He carefully crossed the ice slicked street as he made his way to the second location. There was still an hour of light left before the sun set, Mike thought as he glanced at the time on his phone. He hoped that she was here.

His heart soared when he spotted the familiar figure sitting on a park bench with bits of snow decorating her hair. El looked surprised to see him when he sat next to her. She gave him a slight nod and then refocused her gaze on the empty field in front of him. "You found me." It was more of an acknowledgement than a question.

"I thought you had left town." Mike confessed.

"Without saying goodbye to you?" El shook her head. "I'm not that much of an asshole."

"Well you did say that whatever we were was just, you know, casual." Mike stopped abruptly when he figured that he was rambling. "I don't really know where I stand." That was a true moment of honesty for him.

El's eyes looked glassy as she observed him. "I think you know that it's more than that."

Mike decided to be brave and slid his gloved hand over El's bare one that was resting on his left thigh. When El didn't pull away, he tightened his grip over it. "El?"

"Hmm?"

"What's going on with you? This whole week you've been acting strange. Well stranger than normal."

He watched as El pulled her bottom lip in with her teeth before releasing it back into the cold. El sighed. Her breath frosting the air momentarily. "Today's my birthday."

"Um, what?" That was one statement Mike did not expect to hear. "Today's your birthday?"

El nodded slowly. "Yeah." Obviously she wasn't exactly thrilled about it.

"Did something happen on your birthday?"

The glass in El's eyes started to shine before it collapsed and slithered down her cheek. Mike placed a secure arm around El's waist and pulled her against him. Her body was so cold. He leaned his head against El's and he felt El's fingers tightening around the hand Mike had placed on her thigh.

"It was the day he never came home and it all went wrong."

A shiver ran through Mike that wasn't caused by the cold. "Who didn't?"

"My dad."

A heavy pained breath racked El's body, one that was hitched with wetness. The sound that a person makes when they are holding back tears. Mike pressed his lips against El's temple for a while before he moved them. Even though him and his parents weren't always on the same page, he couldn't begin to imagine a world without them.

"It's so stupid. I don't know why I still get upset about it. It happened when I was nine. That was over fifteen years ago. I should be over it by now right?" Her eyes searched Mike's face seeking an answer that confirmed her thoughts. But Mike didn't know what to tell her.

"I'm so sorry El, truly I am." His words sounded so empty when he actually spoke them.

"No. It's okay. I kinda knew all along it could happen, given his job, he was a cop. It just hurts that it did." Another glass broke in her eye. "I just want to know what I did wrong, because after that there was no one, Why couldn't someone else love me."

It was then that Mike's heart collapsed and broke. It hurt him so much and it made him even more ashamed of himself because he knew that El had to be in more pain that he could ever imagine.

He pulled El tight against him. His hand embracing half of El's face and planted kisses against the tear stained cheek. "You didn't do anything wrong El." He pushed a kiss softly into her face. " You hear me? Not a thing, I promise."

El looked at him as if she wanted to believe him. She wanted to believe that it wasn't her fault but something was just holding her back. Mike kissed her. His lips moving confidently over El's. He sucked them into his mouth warming them up. El didn't kiss him back but she didn't resist him either. She allowed Mike to kiss her, to make her feel needed and Mike was happy to give it to her.

Mike only parted his lips away from El's only when he needed to breathe. El looked so vulnerable in that moment that he wanted to protect her from everything that he could. He used his index finger to gently push a curl away from El's face. "C'mon. Let's go home." El nodded.


El was sitting on his couch with a thick blanket wrapped around her while Mike poured a couple shots of whiskey into two glass tumblers. He took the tumblers back into the living room. Of course El had found some zombie picture to watch. El thanked him as she took the glass and sipped the deep amber liquid.

"Oh it's the good stuff." El remarked.

"Well I thought you deserved it." Mike took his own sip. "It's your birthday after all."

El gave him a strange look and Mike chuckled and to El's suprise, Mike scooped her up blanket and all and placed her on his lap. "Happy birthday El."

The corner of El's mouth twisted up into a grin. "You almost made me spill my whiskey."

Mike placed his own shot glass on the coffee table and then pried El's loose from her fingers and placed that on the table too. The blanket slipped off El's shoulder and Mike gently brought his head down to meet hers. El's lips were soft and sweet with liquor. Her tongue slid easily against Mike's as the kiss mixed with the liquor quickly heated Mike's nether regions.

The blanket eventually fell off completely onto the floor and it was soon followed by their clothes. Mike's lips were tracing down El's neck as his thumbs massaged her hard nipples. El was panting softly as Mike's cock thrust up inside of her. She was still sitting on Mike's lap. Her eyes were heavy and they barely opened to see Mike's dark orbs looking back at her with that same desire filled haze. She gripped Mike's shoulders tightly. She still couldn't believe that it was real that someone like Mike wanted to be with someone like her. She didn't understand what she did to deserve it. The breath from Mike's mouth was tickling her lips and as if on autopilot she kissed him. She couldn't believe that she had someone that wanted her even after what she revealed to him in the park. A part of her that she had kept hidden. That she had convinced herself that she was over. Mike pulled her even closer so that their chests were touching. She pinched her hand hard to make sure that it was real and that she wasn't dreaming. She had Mike and Mike had her and nothing could be better. Absolutely nothing.

El was lying on top of Mike, who was drifting between sleep and awake. El was staring at the last remains of the whiskey in the glass. She never had birthday sex like that before. It was different. A good different. Her eyes drifted down to the floor and smiled to herself when she saw Paladin curled up on the blanket fast asleep.

El wanted to enjoy it. To feel content. But she couldn't. A voice in the back of her head told her that she didn't deserve it. That Mike would be like everyone else and would eventually grow sick of her and leave. She felt Mike's fingers carding through her hair and El kissed Mike's chest. She didn't want Mike to leave her.

Chapter Text

"You should get a christmas tree."

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because those things are messy."

"Then get a fake one."

"I'd rather not."

"Mike!" El whined as her boyfriend got off the bed and pulled on a pair of boxers. "Please."

Mike shook his head. "The last time I had a tree Paladin was only a couple of months old and he tried to climb it and pulled down everything."

El glared at the cat who was licking his paw on the carpet. "You're always ruining things for me."

Paladin continued to wash his paw unbothered about if he was ruining things for El or not.

"Why do you want a tree so bad anyway?" Mike asked as he appreciatively surveyed El's uncovered nude body.

El's eyes drifted downwards to the sheets. "Because," she started. "It's been a long time since I have had one. The foster homes were never interested in the whole christmas thing so never got one, last one was when Dad was alive."

"El..."

Her golden eyes shined as she looked up at Mike. She knew that she had won from the sound of Mike's voice. "So maybe we can pick out one after breakfast?"

Mike sighed "Sure." He could never deny El anything. He had plenty of great christmases as a kid with a huge tree and lots of presents and family and knowing that El didn't get to experience much of that, hurt him a bit.

El sprung up to him and pressed her whole naked form against Mike as she kissed him. "You're the best."

"I spoil you too much." Mike muttered.

El shrugged. "Hey all I did was ask." She picked up a star wars t shirt of Mike's and pulled it on. "Come on. Time for breakfast."


"We should've gotten the black one."

"I was not buying a black christmas tree El."

"But it would've looked so cool." El opinioned as she hung a red ball on a branch.

Mike ignored her and looked for the package of opened tinsel, to his dismay he saw that Paladin had gotten to it and had pulled half of it out and had it scattered all across the floor while he rolled over in it.

"Pal!"

The cat jumped up startled at its owner's voice.

"What are you doing? Get out of the tinsel."

The cat seemed to have understood that he had done something wrong and strolled over to Mike meowing.

"No Paladin. Naughty kitty." Mike stood with his hands on his hips and frowned at the cat.

"Aww, don't yell at him Mike. He's just in the christmas spirit." El knelt down next to the befuddled kitty and careful picked the tinsel off him.

Paladin meowed and nuzzled El's hand much to both El's and Mike's surprise. He was fixing Mike with a look that said that he was quite hurt that he'd yelled at him.

"Did you see that Mike? Paladin touched me!" El sounded quite delighted. She scratched behind the cat's ears and he purred. El's face nearly split in two from how wide her smile was.

Of course he would be the bad guy for not wanting tinsel in every nook and cranny of his house. Of course Paladin would use that opportunity to lure El over to his side.

Mike took up a couple of gold strands and threw them on the tree. "Well you're going to clean the mess that your new buddy created El."

El was still on his knees petting the cat. "Your owner is such a grinch isn't he?" Paladin softly butted his head into El's chest and El looked even more delighted. Mike said nothing. Paladin already had El wrapped around his furry little paw.

Later that night the tree was finished and glowing in its corner of the living room and El had swept up all of the lose tinsel. Mike was in the kitchen with El listening with amusement as El rattled off what she wanted for christmas dinner. He had a feeling that El wasn't even going to eat half of the things that she asked for.

"Hmm." Mike lazily embraced her in his arms and hushed her with a soft kiss. "El are you sure that you can make Christmas?"

She looked puzzled. "Yeah. We can invite over Max and some of your friends and everything. Why?"

One of Mike's fingers glided over the soft skin on the back of El's neck. "Well you did have to bail on Thanksgiving."

Instantly El's face went somber. "Hey, even us criminals don't work on Christmas." There was a few tense seconds between them. "However, on Christmas Eve, I'll be out pretty late."

Mike pulled her in as close as humanly possibly and reaquainted their lips once more. He gently sucked El's bottom lip between his own lips. "Just be careful out there, okay?"

El nodded and kissed Mike back. As Mike continued to plant kisses along her jawline and down her neck, she couldn't remember the last time that someone cared so much about her.


It was early Christmas day, around two in the morning and Mike was still up. He was in bed and his tablet was on. He couldn't sleep. He didn't want to sleep. Not until he knew that El was home safely. The words on the screen didn't mean anything to him. He couldn't help but fear that when El kissed his lips goodbye that evening that it would be the last time that he saw her. He pulled back the curtain next to his bed looking out into dark night. When was he going to see El again?

He didn't know how long he stared out into the blackness. The screen on the tablet had gone black as well. He heard the doorknob on his bedroom door turning and he waited with baited breath for the figure to appear. El came in softly illuminated by the sole bedside lamp that was on. She pulled off her gloves and took off her coat.

"Hi." She said as she removed her clothes.

"Hi." Mike watched as El got undressed.

She stripped down to her bra and panties and then climbed on the bed. "You didn't have to wait up for me."

Mike pulled back the thick blanket and El slid underneath right alongside him. He placed a secure arm around El's shoulders. "I think you know me better than that by now."

El's hand eased up Mike's bare chest as she pressed her lips against her dark haired lover's. The kiss was slow and sweet. Lips lazily unlocking and locking. Tongues effortlessly stroking against each other. El slipped one leg between Mike's so that she was partially on top of him.

Mike could feel the chemistry rippling between them as El kissed his chest and then laid her head there. He wouldn't mind being intimate with El now but she had the right idea. Morning was a couple hours away and he needed rest in order to function later when he had to cook the christmas meal. He tucked the blanket in around them, keeping El in his arms as he finally drifted off to sleep.


After Mike had prepared a glorious christmas breakfast of omelets and eggos with fresh fruit and whipped cream, they were sitting on the couch admiring the Christmas tree drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows. El drained her cup and placed it on the coffee table instead of on the coaster that was available of course.

She stood up smiling. "I'll be right back."

Before Mike could ask her where she was going El had bounded out of the front door. That was all good he supposed, he had a little surprise of his own. By the time El made it back, Mike had already positioned his surprise.

El walked in carrying two christmas gift bags. One was wide and deep and the other was tall and skinny. He handed the wide and deep one to Mike. "Merry Christmas." El's eyes twinkled as Mike took the bag.

"Thank you." He really didn't expect El to get him anything.

El watched as Mike pulled a gift wrapped box out of the bag. " I bought it with my own money too."

Mike laughed. It was nice to know that El wasn't giving him stolen property. He eagerly tore the gift wrapper off. Paladin came to watch and pawed at the torn gift paper. Soon it revealed a beautiful carved wooden box containing limited edition Dungeon and Dragon core rule books.

"Wow. " Mike was genuinely surprised as he took in the expensive looking books and run his hand over the detailing on the wooden box.

"Yeah. I mean I had seen the figures lying around and obviously Paladin..." El mumbled playing with her fingers. "And if you look on the bottom of the box it's numbered and everything." El looked worried. "You don't like it? I'm sorry I should have got.."

"El" Mike said cupping her face gently "This is beyond cool. Thank you."

Mike stood up and went behind the tree. "I got something for you as well."

He handed El the Santa Claus gift bag that had red tissue paper sticking out. El eagerly pulled the tissue paper out casting it on the floor much to Paladin's delight. She pulled out a black box containing a beautiful black and rose gold watch.

"Oh wow, Mike ." El picked it up holding it delicately then turning it round slowly in wonderment. "It's beautiful."

"Put it on. Let me see it on you."

El quickly wrapped the strapped around her delicate wrist.

"That looks great on you." He rested his hands on El's hips.

"Thank you." El's eyes shone with gratitude. She gently kissed Mike's lips. "Best Christmas gift ever."

"It's so you always know when its time to come home to me" Mike said brushing his lips lightly back against hers

They kissed for a couple more minutes before El pulled away eyes glassy. "Before I forget." She picked up the other gift bag and placed it on the floor. "That's for you Paladin."

The cat eyed him curiously.

"Um El, you're going to have to unwrap it because you know Paladin can't." Mike laughed.

"Oh right." El blushed furiously at her gaffe. She pulled a slender box out of the bag and pried it open. "I got you a scratching post Paladin." She attached the flat bottom to the cylindrical post and placed it on the floor. Paladin sniffed it and ran his paws up and down it.

"He likes it!" El beamed.

"It seems that way." Mike agreed.

As Paladin played with his new toy Mike led El towards kitchen. "Come on. You have to help me with the Christmas lunch before the others get here."

"Maybe we should've gotten some of those ugly christmas sweaters. You know the ones with reindeer and Santa Claus all over them." El said as she zipped up her dark blue dress.

Mike shot her a look. "No."

"Oh come on Mike," El whined as she followed Mike out into the kitchen. She watched as Mike picked up the bowl of potato salad and carried to the rarely used dining room table. "It would've been fun and Christmassy."

"No." Mike placed the bowl down next to the other dishes and then smacked El's hand as she was about to pluck a piece of potato from the top. "Those are for the guests El."

El pouted. "No fair. It's just one piece."

Mike laced his fingers through El's and pulled her back to the kitchen. " Come on, you have to help me finish setting the table before everyone gets here."


Max was handing Paladin his Christmas gift while Lucas was admiring El's and Mike's handiwork with the tree. Lunch was over and Dustin was at the table mixing a drink with many different parts of alcohol.

Max pulled out a tiny cat sized red sweater out of a bag that was adorned with snowmen. "Do you like it Pal?" The cat sniffed the coat and then meowed at her.

Mike laughed as he and El were standing with Lucas next to the tree. "I would like to see you get it on him."

"Oh let me help." El volunteered stepping forward. "Paladin likes me now."

"Oh really?" Max looked at her skeptically.

"Yup." El knelt down to hold the cat but Paladin hissed at her and backed away. "Hey! What gives Paladin?"

Max laughed as the cat came back up to her and head butted her knee. El stretched her hand out towards him again and again Paladin hissed at her.

"Mike!" El genuinely looked upset. " What did you do to him?"

Mike chuckled. "I didn't do anything." He opened his arms towards El. "Come here."

El accepted Mike's offer. Mike locked his arms around her waist and kissed her temple as she watched how Paladin easily allowed Max to slip the coat onto him.

"It's not fair," El muttered under her breath.

"Maybe he'll come around by New Year's." Mike kissed El's cheek who was still pouting. He gently swayed them to the soft Christmas music playing in the background. He had his hips flush against El's ass that fit perfectly against his crotch. El was moving with him even if she still had an attitude with Paladin.

"Aww, aren't you two the cutest couple?"

Both of them look around at the gleeful voice and Mike saw that Dustin had picked up his cellphone and was aiming it at them.

"Say mistletoe." Dustin said as he took a picture. He looked at the screen and frowned. "El can you at least attempt to smile next time."

"I don't want to."

"Take the pic Dustin," Mike told him. "I got this."

El glanced up at her boyfriend wondering what Mike had up his sleeve.

"Ready?" Dustin asked.

"Yup." Mike called back.

Suddenly El was doubled over in laughter. Mike was tickling her ribs. Dustin snapped the picture. "No fair Mike. That's cheating."

"Well it worked." Mike said as he relented and El stood back up right and faced him.

El locked her arms around Mike's neck. "I can't stand you."

Mike smiled. "Really?"

El pecked his lips. "Absolutely. You're a horrible person."

Mike gave her a full kiss. "Good."

Neither of them saw the knowing smiles that their friends exchanged behind their backs as they kissed.


Their friends had left a couple of hours ago and Paladin was curled up on the carpet in his new sweater. They had cleaned up the dishes and had put the house back in order. Now they were in Mike's bedroom trying to undress for the night. Trying because the process would have been going by a lot faster if they would stop kissing each other.

El's fingers trailed down Mike's chest. Her touch feather light as damp lips followed the trail. "There's something else that I want for Christmas." She confessed.

Mike unfastened El's dress and pushed it down her slender frame as El stepped out of it. "What?"

El's tongue slowly curled around his nipple. "You."

Mike sighed blissfully as El sucked the nipple into her mouth. "You already have me."

El kissed across his chest to the other nipple. "No I want you." She teased the nipple between her lips. "I want to fuck you."

She felt Mike's hands still on her hips and he looked up at her.

"It's not that," he shook his head. "I just wasn't expecting that."

El's lips glided against Mike's throat and her tongue darted out and licked the sensitive flesh before she kissed it. "I want you Mike, do you trust me." Her voice low and raspy.

Mike felt himself surrendering to El as she finished undressing him. When he was naked, El made him lie down on his back, slowly she straddled herself across Mike's legs. She took Mike's mouth in a deep lip lock as she lowered herself on top of him. Her clothed core settling on top of Mike's naked cock.

Delicately El tied Mike's hands to the posts of his bed lightly restraining him. El then took her time kissing all over Mike's body, enjoying the gasps that she elicted, the whimperings and the moans. By the time that she made it to Mike's inner thighs she could see the clear liquid leaking out of Mike's manhood. She peppered kisses along the delicate flesh up to Mike's crotch before starting on the other side. Mike's hands began to pull at the restraints desperate to run them through her hair, he was calling out her name in a desperate moan that let El know that he wanted more of what she was giving him.

El's tongue flicked over the tight skin of Mike's balls before sucking one into her mouth. Hearing Mike whine above her was an even greater motivator. She tongued and sucked it properly before moving on to the other one and giving it the same treatment.

When he was pressing kisses around the base of Mike's cock he whined even more. "Fuck... El... I just need... baby... fuck!"

El had sucked the tip of Mike's cock into her warm mouth. The warmth permeating rapidly through Mike as he desperately pulled at the ties that bound him. El deep throated his length, her hands gripping Mike's strong thighs as all of her focus was on pleasing him.

"El..." Mike whimpered as he thrashed his head about against the pillow. His whole body was tingling from El's ministrations. It just felt so damn good. He felt worshipped and pleasured from his head down to his feet.

When his cock started to throb, El's nimble tongue slipped into his mouth as she pulled off her panties. Mike whimpered a bit when El's warm core sunk down on to him.

"It's okay baby," El whispered softly. She continued to distract him with her kisses whilst remaining still on his hips . Mike whimpered more and bucked his hips.

"El..." his voice was pleading with him this time.

"What do you want Mike?" El whispered into his ear before she sucked on the earlobe.

"I want you, God I want you." The words came out in breathless pants. "untie me please"

El reclaimed Mike's lips as she slowly loosened the ties. "You have me." She slowly lifted her hips and sunk them back down. "For as long as you want."

Mike exhaled sharply as El's lifted herself of his entire length and then dropped straight back down. El had never felt anything better. Her and Mike together, him deep inside her. It felt as if she belonged there. " Mike's eyes were squeezed shut and a delicious groan left him as his hands moved towards El's hips. Such a beautiful song.

El took her time riding him. She could tell that Mike wasn't used to the pace or lack of control but she wanted to make it as good as possible for both of them. Her face was buried in Mike's neck, licking and kissing the same spot. Leaving a deep red mark on his pale skin.

Mike locked his arms around El's back and with that El's movements got deeper and slower. Her lips eventually found Mike's once more. Kisses were uncoordinated and a bit sloppy but it didn't matter. Mike's name was a soft coo on El's lips while her partner was nearly delirious with the pleasure that he was receiving.

She could feel Mike's thighs trembling against her hips. The tip of her tongue darted out and licked underneath Mike's top lip. "Come with me Mike."

Mike dug his fingers deeper into her thighs as a response.

El could feel her release pooling low in her belly as the pleasure began to wash over her. She closed her eyes and threw her head back as she came, somewhere in the back of her mind she heard Mike cursing as he came as well. She couldn't remember the last time that she came so hard that she nearly blacked out.

She collapsed hapazardly against Mike's chest breathing heavily, knowing they were both messy but neither of them cared.

"Fuck El," Mike spoke first trying to catch his breath.

El could barely nuzzle the hand that was closest to her face as a response.

She knew that she should go clean up. But she wanted to remain a little longer with Mike still inside her and with him holding her in his arms.

Chapter Text

"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."


"El?"

"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.

"How so?"

"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?"

"Yeah."

"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.

Chapter Text

"Have you talked to her yet?"

Mike shook his head. "No."

Dustin sighed and sat on the desk while Mike finished logging off. The office had closed for the day and it was only the two of them remaining.

"Look bro, I got to be honest with you. Man to man." Dustin said fiddling with his tie. "She did warn you. To be fair, El did tell you that she wasn't the relationship type. You did know what she was doing before you decided to get seriously involved with her."

Mike shrugged. "Yeah I knew but back then she wasn't coming home with marks on her."

"I know the cuts and bruises seem bad but she's fine and I'm guessing that this isn't her first rodeo she knows what she's doing."

"It's not fine!" Mike snapped. "Haven't you ever cared about anyone else besides yourself Dustin?"

"Whoa!" Dustin was clearly taken back by Mike's outburst. "Easy there my friend." He shook his head in disbelief. "You know what? I'm going to pretend that I just didn't hear you say that. Because you are clearly upset right now."

Mike slumped on to his desk, his back hunched forward. "Dustin I'm sorry..When is it going to end? Can you tell me that Dustin?"

Dustin folded in his lips, his curly hair swaying left to right. "I'm sorry Mike. I can't."

"One week it's a knife. The next it's a fist. What's next? A gun?" Mike's voice quivered a bit. "Am I going to spend one night waiting for her to come home and she never does? I have no idea who even to go to ask a question to find out what happened. Do I have to wait for the six o' clock news? That is, if they're not too busy covering something else. What am I suppose to do Dustin?"

Mike sounded desperate and almost broken. Dustin had never seen him like this over anyone, not even his ex. He slid closer to Mike and placed his hand on his shoulder in a comforting gesture. Mike's head was in his hands. His face curtained by his hair. "I don't know what to tell you dude."

Mike's head remained in his hands and Dustin eased even closer wrapping his arms around Mike's shoulders. He just felt that Mike needed this right now. They sat in the silence for a while. Neither knowing how much time has passed until Dustin dared to speak. "You aren't going to break up with her are you?"

Mike finally lifted his head up and stared straight ahead at the screen in front of him. "No."

"Well then, it has been two days since you last spoke. I think you better tell her your decision sooner rather than later or else she might think that you're breaking it off for good."

"Yeah your right." Mike stood up and pushed his hair off his face. "I'll tell her tomorrow. I got this damn headache that I need to sleep off first."

"That's good." Dustin stood up as well and picked up his bag. "Well it's getting late. I should be going."

Dustin had turned to leave when Mike called out to him.

"Dustin!"

He turned his head. Blue eyes questioning.

"I really am sorry about earlier," Mike apologized. "I shouldn't have said what I did to you. It was wrong and it isn't true." He managed to muster up a small smile. "You're a good friend and I appreciate it."

Dustin gave him a mock salute with his right hand. "Anytime my liege."


Mike had never been so happy in his life to turn the key to his apartment. He wasn't lying when he said that he had a headache. It only seemed to have gotten worse since he left the office. He poured some kibble into Paladin's bowl and headed straight to the shower. It felt as if his head was pounding right behind his eyes and he wanted to do nothing more than take a couple pills and go right to bed.

Paladin rubbed against his legs as he swallowed the pills with a glass of water. "Not tonight Pal. I can't play with you tonight."

Paladin meowed questionly as he followed Mike into his bedroom. He seemed not to understand why Mike wasn't paying him any attention.

Mike pulled the blanket up to his neck as Paladin settled in front of him. He softly stroked the black and white hair. "I have a headache Pal. Just let me get some sleep okay?" Paladin yawned and stretched his paws out. He seemed to have figured that if his owner was making it an early night then so would he.

As Mike closed his eyes he wished that he could feel El curled up behind him. He would give anything to feel El's arms around his waist right now and her lips against his neck. He needed to talk to El and he would've done it tonight but this headache made him feel as if someone was jackhammering his brain. He would talk to El first thing in the morning though. He would invite her over for breakfast and they would work everything out. It sounded like a good plan as Mike uncomfortably drifted off to sleep.

When Mike opened his eyes the following morning the headache was a heavy thud weighing on his brain. His throat felt dry and uncomfortable and his tongue was sticking to the roof of his mouth. He was sick. He sat up in bed and immediately groaned. Apparently the movement had been too much and it made his head spin. He waited until the spinning subsided and slowly made his way out of the bed. He noticed that Paladin was already up and he was on the floor watching him warily.

He slowly made his way to the kitchen to get a drink of water. His muscles ached, his head hurt, he had a sore throat and he was almost certain that he was running a fever.

Opening the fridge door and retrieving the water bottle was a task in itself. The water only irritated his throat as it went down and it tasted awful too. He noticed Paladin in the corner watching him and decided to fill his water and food bowl while he was up. He managed to fill the water bowl as the headache had eased a bit to allow him to open his eyes fully at this time and not feel assaulted by the morning light. However, he was half way filling up the bowl with kibble when he felt an awful lurch in his stomach. He dropped the bag on the floor and moved as fast as he could to his bathroom with his hand covering his mouth. He barely got to the toilet bowl in time as he retched his empty stomach into it. He hadn't even eaten anything in the past twelve hours and he was nauseated. He kept his face over the bowl until his stomach felt raw and he had nothing else to give. He flushed the bowl and staggered to his feet.

He turned on the tap at the sink and splashed some water on his face and rinsed out his mouth. He was definitely in no condition to go to work today. He slowly trudged back to his bedroom and picked up his cellphone as he sat on the bed. He had three clients today. He was quick and to the point with all three of them, hanging up before they could ask him any more questions. He just wanted to close his eyes and crawl underneath his blanket and sleep forever.

Why was his room so damn cold he wondered as he unfolded his comforter along with the blanket. As soon as he was settled in he heard a soft meow. He peered over the side of the bed and saw Paladin looking at him as concerned as a cat could look. He brought his arm out from underneath the covers and lightly traced Paladin's forehead.

"I'm sick Pal." He muttered. Well this morning was a bust. He definitely couldn't talk to El now either.

The cat nuzzled his fingers before licking his fingertips. Mike managed a smile. Paladin was always with him no matter what. The cat had sensed that he was sick and was staying by his side. There was no one more faithful to him than Paladin he thought as he drifted off into a deep slumber.


It would fit that when she finally got a whole week off that her and Mike would be on the outs El mused as she nursed her beer. She was sitting near the darts board in Bennys as she watched one guy lazily throw the darts at the target. She didn't think that she had been wrong in what she said when she told Mike that he needed to make a choice to accept what she did for a living but maybe phrasing it as an ultimatum wasn't the best way to go about it. It was day three and she still hadn't heard from Mike. Maybe this was his way of breaking up with her. She should've known that the relationship was too good to be true and that it wouldn't have lasted anyway. A guy like Mike probably had unlimited options and was probably hit on every day. El on the other hand, the last person in recent memory who had talked to her on the streets had been some crackhead asking for a dollar.

Her and Mike were from two different worlds. It would've never worked. She had been only fooling herself thinking that she had something special. She drank the last bit of her beer. She clicked her tongue and placed the bottle back down disappointed. She still hadn't been able to convince herself. She was missing Mike. Badly. She missed their fun arguments over food and the movies. Sleeping next to him in the bed. How Mike touched her when they were just fooling around or having sex. It wasn't suppose to be like this. She wasn't going to get attached to him. That's what she had told himself when this thing between them started. But now look at her. For the past three days Mike had been the only person on her mind and it made her feel funny on the inside. In a nervous, butterfly filled sort of way that she didn't particularly care for. She propped her head up on her hand and watched as the guy hit the dart board wide. Maybe she would have a turn next.

"Yo Benny! There's a kitty at the door."

Benny Hammond was the owner of Bennys. He had a bald head with a big bushy beard and friendly eyes . "A kitty you say Steve?"

Steve was young with perfectly coiffed hair and a smile that she guessed most girls found charming. "Yeah look. He's scratching at the door."

Benny went up to the front door. "Do you think he's hungry Steve? He looks well fed."

"He could be cold Ben. It's pretty beastly out there."

"Yeah it sure is." Benny opened the door but the cat didn't dart in instead he meowed loudly.

El hadn't really been paying attention to the conversation between Benny and Steve but the sound of the meow brought her immediately back to the present. She looked across the bar to see what was going on. There were only three other patrons inside the bar that afternoon. She saw Benny at the front trying to coax a cat inside.

"Come on in kitty. It's cold out there. You don't want to freeze your little balls off."

"It could be a she Benny." Steve pointed out.

"That is true. Come on in little kitty. I'll get you a nice bowl of hot milk. You'll like that right?"

The cat stared at Benny for a moment and then started howling.

El bolted out of her seat. She'd know that howl anywhere. She grabbed her coat from off the back of her chair and made her way to the front door.

"What the hell did you do it? You upset it." Steve accused Benny.

"I didn't do anything to it. I barely offered it a bowl of milk and it went off on me." Benny turned back to cat. Stretching out his hand. "Come here little kitty. Let's get you inside." The cat hissed at him and Benny quickly pulled his hand back. "Wow. You're a fiesty little thing aren't you?"

El stepped around a table and then he could see everything clearly. "Paladin?"

The cat stopped hissing as soon as he heard El's voice. He bounded into the bar and went straight up to El meowing and butting his head against her legs.

Paladin butted her legs once more and ran to the door, looking back at El expectantly meowing.

"You know this cat El?" El had been at the bar so often that Benny knew her by name.

"Yeah it's my neighbour's cat."

Paladin ran back to her and meowed three times and then ran back to the door.

"He seems to want you to follow him." Steve deduced. "You think something happened to your neighbour?"

A chill ran through El that wasn't caused by the cold wind coming in through the door. Mike would have never let Paladin out of the apartment especially in this weather. She remembered that the first time that they came here together that Paladin had followed them and Mike had nearly freaked out over Paladin crossing the busy streets by himself.

Paladin's meows had an urgent tone to them. Something had to be wrong.

"I hope not." El said as she put on her coat. "I'm going to go see what he wants." she tried to sound as calm as possible. She didn't want to alarm Benny nor Steve.

El stepped outside where Paladin was. The cat was meowing at her as if he was trying to tell her something. But El shook her head. She couldn't understand cat speak. She glanced at the busy intersection in front of them and decided to pick up Paladin and carry him home. It would be faster and safer that way. As she bent down she hoped that Paladin wouldn't scratch the hell out of her.

She was quite surprised when Paladin allowed her to pick him up. His fur was wet and he felt cold. El immediately wrapped part of her coat over the cat to protect him from the elements.

"See that Ben? The cat likes El."

El had quite forgotten that she had an audience. She gave them a nod and set off. Her mind was going ninety miles a minute. What had happened to Mike? Why did Paladin come to get him? Was Mike okay? She tried to chase all the bad thoughts out her head as she walked up the path to the apartment building. But this sickening feeling of dread was filling her up. Mike had to be alright. Hopefully it was just a case of Paladin wandering too far from home. But even she couldn't make herself believe that.

She rushed up the stairs to the second floor, taking them two at a time with Paladin clutched tightly to her chest. The cat meowed softly as they stood in front of Mike's front door as El frantically searched her pocket for the spare key that she had taken. Finally she got it in her fingers and she nervously jammed it in the lock and turned it.

As soon as the door was opened Paladin scrambled down and ran into the apartment. He meowed impatiently at El to come inside. El came in and closed the door behind her. She wanted to take off her shoes because she knew that Mike would yell at her if she tracked the wetness all through his house but the way Paladin was meowing told her that they could wait.

She followed Paladin through the apartment. She saw the spilled bag of kibble on the ground and her stomach flipped. Mike would've never left a mess like that unattended.

She made it to Mike's bedroom and pushed opened the door. She breathed somewhat when she saw a lump underneath the covers.

"Mike? It's me El. Are you awake?"

El quickly made her way to the bed, heart pounding in her chest and fearfully pulled back the covers when she got no response. Mike was asleep but he was sweating profusely all over his forehead.

"Mike?" El shook his shoulder. Mike was so hot. He was burning up underneath the heavy comforter and blanket. She yanked them completely off him while calling Mike's name. "Mike! Come on. Wake up!" She sat on the bed next to Mike and shook him even harder. "Mike! Please! You gotta wake up." El had never been so scared in het life. Mike wasn't responding to her. She started tapping Mike's face with the back of her hand. "Michael! Come on! Wake up!" She looked around the room to see if she could spot a phone, completely forgetting that she had her own in her pocket. She might have to call the ambulance but she didn't want to. If she called them, there would be lots of questions that she would have to answer that she didn't want to.

"Uhhh..."

"Mike!" The sound of Mike groaning was music to El's ears. "It's me Mike."

Mike was slowly turning over at the sound of El's voice. El eased her arm behind Mike's back to prop him up. His skin was sticky and clammy.

Mike managed to get his eyes partially open, taking a while to focus them. "El?"

"Yeah it's me baby." The term of endermeant just rolled off her tongue before she could stop it. But there were more pressing matters at hand.

"I don't feel good." Mike managed to croak out.

"I know baby, I know." El pushed Mike's loose hair that was sticking to his face off his head. "Im going to take care of you okay?"

She pulled Mike up a bit so that he could lean back on her as she placed one arm securely around Mike's waist as she glanced around his bedroom. She had to find Mike's medicine cabinet and see what type of medication he had. Mike was already drifting back to sleep already.

She eased Mike back in to bed so that she could slip off. She made her way to Mike's bathroom. The medicine cabinet was above the sink and El yanked the door nearly off its hinges as she opened it. Mike just had the typical run of the mill drug store stuff. Some Advil and Panadols. Nothing that was nearly strong enough to fight off whatever he had.

She walked back into the bedroom and Paladin was sitting on the rug looking at her expectantly. The cat wanted her to fix his owner. But how could she? She knew she had to. An idea came to mind. She knew that Mike probably wouldn't approve but saving him was top priority.

El eased next to him on the bed, softly stroking his cheek. "Mike?"

Mike rubbed his face against El's fingers. "El?" He sounded as if he was talking in his sleep.

"I've got to go get you some medication okay?" She rubbed her hand up and down Mike's arm wishing that she could make the clammyness go away.

Mike whimpered. "Don't leave me. I need you."

That nearly broke her. She didn't like seeing Mike weak like this. He was stubborn, strong and reliable. He used to pick El up like it was nothing and El had begun to think that nothing could ever bring Mike down. She was so wrong.

She gave Mike's arm a squeeze and pressed her lips against Mike's forehead. "You have a high fever baby. You're really sick and I need to go get meds so that you can get better."

Mike groaned and laid his head partially on El's chest. "I want you to stay." El couldn't help but notice how dry and chapped Mike's lips were. How many days had he been like this? How long had he been sick and El hadn't thought to check on him because she thought that Mike was mad at her? If Paladin hadn't come to Bennys to get her she probably would've gone back to her apartment sulking without even knowing how dreadfully ill Mike was next door. El shook her head. Her stupid pride would always get her in trouble. But now she had a chance to do the right thing.

"I have to go Mike. I'm going to go get you your meds and be right back okay?"

Mike whimpered again in protest and it just about killed El on the inside. She settled Mike back in the bed once more. Mike opened his eyes and looked at her. The dark orbs were now dull with none of their warm sparkle and it just etched another sharp tear into her heart. She kissed Mike's forehead once more. "I'll be back. I promise."

She was surprised when Mike grabbed her fingers as she moved away from the bed. She looked down at their fingers touching giving Mike a reassuring squeeze. Through hell or highwater, she was coming back to him. When Mike's fingers fell away, El's immediate thought was to get back in that bed and hold him but getting that medication was top priority.

As she walked out the bedroom, she pulled her cell phone out of her pocket. She was about to dial a number when she heard Paladin meowing behind her. She turned to look at the cat. "I'm coming back Paladin. I need to go get medication for Mike." The cat followed her to the front door. On the table were the keys to Mike's car. El hesitated for a moment and then picked them up. It would be a lot faster to get what she needed if she had transportation. Paladin meowed as she opened the door. "Go and stay by Mike's side. Can you do that Paladin? Watch him for me until I get back okay?" The cat just meowed as El went through the door.

She closed the door and dialed a number as she headed downstairs to Mike's car. Sometimes it was crucial to know some of the wrong people in the right places.


El made it back to Mike's apartment in about forty five minutes. It was longer than she wanted to take but her supplier had wanted to make certain that she understood the precise amounts of the different types of medication that she had to give Mike. Even though the guy was nice enough to label the bottles to make them look legit. Although it probably wasn't hard considering that the guy did work in a pharmacy at a small hospital.

Once inside Mike's apartment, El filled a glass with water and carried it to Mike's bedroom and sure enough there was Paladin curled up on the foot of the bed while Mike slept.

El placed the glass of water on the bedside table while holding the brown paper bag that had the medication in one hand.

"Mike?" She sat next to him and shook his shoulder. Already it didn't feel as clammy since she took the covers off him. "Mike? It's me. I'm back."

Mike slowly stirred awake and El used her arm to help him sit up a bit. "I got your medication baby."

She dug into the bag and pulled out a small container and shook two tiny pills out of that one. She placed it back in the bag and retrieved a second container and took one large pill out of that one.

"Open." Mike slightly parted his lips and El carefully placed one of the small pills on the tip of Mike's tongue. She then picked up the glass of water and brought it to Mike's lips. "Drink some of this and swallow the pill." Mike did as he was commanded without making too much of a mess. El then repeated the process two more times.

When Mike had finished, El allowed him to lay back down and carried the glass of water and medication back to the kitchen. She placed the glass in the sink and the brown bag on the counter. She removed her shoes and her coat before making her way back to the bedroom.

In the bedroom El undressed until she was in her vest and panties. She climbed into bed and manovered Mike until he was lying partially on top of her.

"You gonna stay El?" Mike's eyes were closed and his head lolled over into the crook of El's neck.

"Yes. I will stay with you." El clasped her arms around Mike's torso feeling the gentle rise and fall of his breath.

"I feel better when you're next to me." Mike admitted.

"I feel better too." Well it was the truth.

"How come?" From the breathy way that Mike spoke El could tell that he was almost out of it. He probably wouldn't remember a thing about this conversation in the morning.

The answer to Mike's question was on the tip of her tongue even though she wanted to deny it or even admit it to herself but her heart and mind both knew and were screaming it at her. She tightened her grip around Mike's waist and kissed his cheek, letting her lips linger longer than necessary. "I'll tell you when you get better."



The first thing that slipped into Mike's consciousness the following morning was that his head was no longer hurting him. Also, his tongue was no longer stuck to the roof of his mouth.

He tried to roll over in the bed and that was when he became aware of the pair of arms holding him. El. Suddenly patches of memories came flooding back to him. He'd barely remembered the previous day. He remembered puking his guts out and cancelling his appointments but everything else after that was so hazy. He recalled El saying something about a fever, and waking him up sometime in the middle of the night, he guessed to take some pills and now it was morning.

He had so many questions. How did El know that he was sick? Did she happen to stop by? Were they still fighting? He didn't know what had caused this turn of events but he was grateful for what ever it was.

He managed to roll over to face El only to find that she was already awake and watching him like he was a newborn baby. Her eyes looked heavy and dark as if she hadn't slept and he couldn't help but notice the relief that had came over her face.

"Hi."

"Hi." Mike's voice sounded so rough and scratchy and unlike his own.

"How are you feeling?"

"A lot better I guess."

"That's good."

One of El's fingers traced the side of his jaw, dipping underneath the curve of his bottom lip. Such an innocent touch that somehow felt sensual to Mike at the same time.

"How did you know that I was sick?"

"I didn't." El responded simply.

"Then how did you know to come here?" Mike was confused.

"Well, Paladin came and got me."

"Pal?" Mike looked skeptical.

"Uh huh." El nodded her head against the pillow and then explained to Mike about how Paladin found her at Bennys and brought her back here.

Mike was stunned. "He did all of that for me?" He sat up in the bed and looked around, spotting the cat curled up on the rug. "Pal! Come here boy." The cat immediately sprang up and jumped on the bed and bounded gleefully towards Mike. The man rubbed him down and made a huge fuss over him. "You're the best cat in the world, aren't you? You knew that I was sick and you tried to save me. Just like how I saved you." Mike's voice dropped a bit as that memory came back. He squeeze the cat against him and Paladin purred appreciatively. "I love you Pal."

"Ahem." El cleared her throat loudly. "Don't mind me. I'm just the girl who looked after you and went and got your meds." El rubbed her fingers against the blanket and then pretended to inspect them. "No big deal."

Mike grinned and threw an arm around El's shoulders. "Jealous much?"

El huffed.

Mike leaned in and brushed his nose against El's neck. "Thank you." He let Paladin rest on his lap and place his other arm around El's waist. "I didn't expect to see you but you came through for me."

Mike pressed a soft kiss into El's neck and it warmed her more than it should. Mike's head was resting on her shoulder and Paladin didn't look as if he was about to attack her. This was good. So naturally she had to go say something that might ruin it.

"So why didn't you call me?" Her fingers pressing slightly harder into Mike's shoulder. "Why didn't you tell me that you were sick?"

"Because I was being stupid." Mike surprisingly admitted. "I was going to talk to you the other evening when I got home but the headache had gotten really bad so I decided to sleep it off and talk to you in the morning. And yesterday, well, you know how that went." Mike paused a bit, focusing his sight on the far corner of the room. "Plus I didn't think that you wanted to hear from me since the last time we were together we were fighting."

"Mike really? It was just a stupid fight. It doesn't matter anymore." El did not want to discuss that matter any further. Circumstances had not changed.

Mike seemed to be content and let the subject drop and remained peacefully in El's embrace for a while.

"El?" He asked timidly after some time had passed.

"Yes baby?" El responded automatically without giving it much thought.

Mike lifted his head off her shoulder. "Since when do you call me baby?"

"Since I felt like it." El responded cockily even though there was a rising blush on her cheeks.

Mike snaked his hand across El's chest. His fingers finding El's nipple underneath her shirt. He smiled when he heard the soft groan that escaped El's mouth when he tweaked the nipple. "I'm hungry."

"You're evil," El responded sitting up in the bed. She looked at Mike in the bed and she could tell that he hadn't fully recovered as yet but the twinkle in his beautiful dark eyes let her know that he was going to be okay. "I guess I could go make us some breakfast."

Mike smiled innocently at her. "It would be greatly appreciated. I haven't eaten since the day before. I need to fuel up."

El sighed as she wandered away from the bed. "Don't be giving me menu requests either. I'm going to cook it and you're going to eat it and that's final."

When El reached the door way Mike called out to her. "Thanks... baby." El could hear the playful smirk in his voice and she tried not to notice the fluttery feeling that it gave her on the inside.

Fifteen minutes later when Mike walked into the kitchen, there were fluffy omelets on two plates, some bacon frying in the pan and what looked like a stack of eggs and whipped cream. El was at the stove tending to the bacon.

"Impressive." Mike noted as he eased up behind El and locked his arms around El's waist.

El relaxed against the coolness of Mike's embrace. "You showered?"

"Yup. It made me feel even better." Mike kissed El's cheek as he turned the heat off under the pan, while pressing his hips into El's behind.

El's eyes widened a bit. "Mike, stop playing. You're still sick."

"That doesn't mean that I don't want you." To illustrate his point, he slid his hand underneath El's vest and placed a hot open mouthed kiss against El's neck.

El bit her bottom lip to hold back a moan and freed herself from her boyfriend's embrace. She pushed Mike towards a bar stool and plopped a plate containing an omelet in front of him. "Eat."

Mike just looked so ridiculously hot sitting there pouting at her, that despite her better judgement she leaned in and pecked Mike's lips. She quickly realized that it was a trap when Mike grasped the back of her head to keep her in place and deepened the kiss. El started to squirm at first but she stopped as soon as Mike parted her legs and pulled her in, holding her at the small of her back. She sighed in defeat and locked her arms around Mike's neck as Mike's tongue slid into her mouth. The dark haired man's lips were a little dry but his tongue was smooth and his technique was still impecable.

El didn't realize how much she had missed this until she caught herself hungrily kissing Mike back. It had been a few days since their last kiss but it felt like a few months to her. When she finally managed to pull away from the kiss, Mike's erection was quite noticeable in his sweat pants and her lips were swollen and bright pink. There was a weird energy vibing between them. She didn't want to look away from Mike and Mike seemed not to be able to look away from her either. She didn't know who made the first move but Mike was kissing her again but it was softer, sweeter this time and it made her feel funny once more on the inside. This was getting way too weird and uncomfortable. She ended the kiss abruptly and walked across the kitchen to plate the bacon. She could feel Mike's eyes on her and a shiver ran through her.

She plastered a fake smile on her face as she turned around holding the plate. "The food is getting cold. Let's eat."

Mike just eyed her a bit suspiciously as he sat on a bar stool and started to shove strips of bacon into his mouth. His mind was racing away as she remembered what she almost told Mike before he had drifted off. It couldn't have been that. She could or would never fall for anyone that quickly. What she was experiencing was just infatuation and not the other word because she didn't think that she could deal if it was the other word.

By the end of the week, Mike was back to himself. He was cleaning up his room when he accidentally knocked one of the pill containers on to the floor. He picked it up and carefully looked at the bottle for the first time. He noticed that there was no doctor's name on the perscription label and that the pharmacy was from some hospital that he had never been to.

El was sitting on the couch watching television as he approached her.

"What's this?" He asked as he sat on the couch and placed the container with a firm thud on the coffee table.

El raised an eyebrow. "It's your medication." She said slowly as if she was wondering where Mike was going with this.

"Where did you get it?" Mike inquired.

He immediately saw the change in El's body language as a guarded expression came over her. " It says where I got it from right there on the label."

"But I've never been to that hospital El." Mike picked up the bottle and pointed to the label. "There's also no doctor's name on it."

El's eyes became cold as she leaned back against the armrest. "Well what do you expect me to tell you? I think you can figure out by now how I got them."

"El, you know I don't like it when -"

"For fuck's sake Mike spare me the moral highground." El hissed. "I came in here and you were burning up with fever and practically unresponsive. What did you expect me to do? I couldn't take you to a doctor or to a hospital because they would start asking me questions that I can't answer. You were sick and it was up to me to make sure that you got better. So I did what I had to do, okay?"

El stood up and ran her hands through her hair. "So I'm sorry if that's not what you wanted but you didn't see how you looked." El paused as the memories replayed in her head. "It was bad and I didn't want anything to happen to you." She turned and looked down at Mike who was still seated. "I knew that you wouldn't have approved but you didn't have to make that choice but I did." she locked eyes with Mike. "And I'm not sorry." There was a finality in El's voice that let Mike know instinctively that nothing he said could change El's mind.

The tension between them this time was not a pleasant one. Mike's eyes shifted to the ground as he contemplated his next move and El watched him.

Finally he heard El releasing an exasperated sigh. "You know what? It's time that I get ready for work anyway."

Mike looked up and El was already walking to the door. "I thought you had the week off?"

"Week's over." El replied.

Mike opened his mouth about to say something else but El cut him off. " Don't even start."

"But El ..."

"No buts Mike. You know what it is. I told you before. Either you accept it or you don't." El placed her hand on the doorknob backing Mike. She hated this. She hated arguing with Mike over her job. This was who she always was and probably who she would always be. She knew from the time that she had met Mike that he was a clean cut sort of guy but she was thinking with his heart when he persued him. So now he had him and now his brain had finally decided to kick in and point out that he was never good enough to be with him in the first place.

"I have to go." El said quietly as she turned the knob and walked out the door.

Half an hour later, Mike heard El leaving her apartment. He just couldn't shake this feeling that he had told Dustin about. He was worried that something bad was going to happen to El and he wouldn't be able to find out about it.

Mike glanced at the window and saw the snow softly drifting down against the dark night. He couldn't sit idly by and do nothing. He rubbed Paladin's back and then stood up. "I'll be out for a while Pal." Mike quickly put on his thick winter coat and boots and headed outside.

El already had a good headstart on him and Mike barely caught her disappearing figure in the distance. He ran a little to close the gap a bit but not close enough that if El happened to look behind her that she would easily spot him.

He had to know where El was going. What was she doing every night? He trailed El for about two miles in the snow, finding that he was getting tired trudging through it. Maybe some bit of the bug still remained in his system.

They were on a lonely stretch of road now and Mike made sure to keep at least a hundred feet away from El but not once had she turned around. There was big black van parked at the end of the road. He watched as El didn't even hesitate to open the door and get in. That must be her ride, Mike deduced. The van started up and Mike watched as it drove away.

When it had disappeared out of sight, Mike turned around and started walking back home. At least now he knew where El's pick up point was. Tomorrow night he would drive his car and follow them to where ever they went. Mike wanted the answers to the questions that El was unwilling to answer.

Chapter Text

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?"

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.

"Okay."

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?"

Mike nodded.

"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.

"Mike?"

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."


"Jolly Rancher?"

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."

"Uh huh."

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?"

"No!"

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."

Chapter Text

The tension was crackling between Mike and Megan. The air was so tight that El hardly dared to breathe too loudly.

El was standing behind Mike. The tension in Mike's forearms was clear as her eyes followed them down to the fist that was clenched tightly. She could feel the anger radiating off of her boyfriend, which quite frankly unnerved El a bit because she had never experienced Mike being so incensed before.

Megan had her arms crossed in front of her chest with the most offensive smirk plastered across her face. El wanted to slap it off her face for Mike. The nerve of this woman.

"You must be out of your fucking mind." Mike growled out.

"Nope." The smirk turned into a smile now. "You took him from me."

"That's because you left him for dead while you were off trying to make partner!" Mike shouted. But Megan looked more amused by it than anything. In that moment El had never hated anyone so intensely before.

"Actually, it was senior partner." Megan glibly corrected him.

"I don't give a fuck what job it was. His mother was a rotting corpse in your apartment and Paladin was barely alive when I found him. You don't deserve him."

"Paladin? Is that what you named him?" Megan sauntered into the living room as if she was invited. "God, that names sucks."

She spotted Paladin who was sitting on the rug observing her out of curiousity. "Hey little guy." Her voice suddenly taking on a sickenly sweet tone. "Come here." She made a come hither motion with her hand as she stooped down next to the cat.

"Don't you fucking touch him." Mike warned.

"Or what?" Megan dared. "He is a cute little thing." She hovered his hand above Paladin's head as she smirked at Mike. "I think he likes me." She brought her hand down on top of Paladin's head while keeping her eyes locked on Mike. The bitch was enjoying this. El had had enough of this. She made to move from behind Mike but he extended his arm blocking her.

Suddenly El's ears pricked up. That deep warning purr from Paladin that Megan failed to noticed as her attention was on Mike and her hand remained on top of Paladin's head. Without further warning, Paladin hissed . The short hair on his back standing up on end. He sank his claws into Megan's forearms.

"Oh my god!" Megan jumped up screaming, Paladin still hanging on by his claws while the rest of his body swung freely in the air. "Get him off me! Get him off!" She moved towards Mike but the raven haired man stepped back.

"I thought you wanted him." Mike was certainly enjoying this. "You said that he belonged to you."

"Well he obviously doesn't like me." Megan moved her other hand to grab Paladin but the cat hissed at her and sunk his claws in even deeper. Deep, red blood was now running in thin streams down to her hand. There were tears running down Megan's cheeks.

"Go and get Paladin." Mike nodded to El.

She stepped from behind Mike and went up to the snivelling Megan Curtis. All of her bravado gone. El gently cupped Paladin from underneath and instantly the cat let go of Megan's arm and curled up next to El looking up at her with the most innocent expression. El couldn't help but smile. God she loved this cat.

Megan was clutching her arm as Mike walked up to her. "That cat has fucking ruined me. I have a work ball tonight. I can't go looking like this."

"You are still the self centered piece of work that you always were." Mike shook his head in disbelief. "Paladin is mine. I took him to the hospital and saved his life and he came home with me. In the eyes of the law he is mine and I have paperwork to prove it." Mike got close to Megan that even El was suprised. "Now get the fuck out of my house."Mike said slowly through his teeth.

"Fine." Her attempt at being obnoxious again was pathetic.

Mike went to the front door and opened it and Megan walked through it but not without getting in a parting shot. "Keep your stupid cat and your ugly girlfriend. You will never have someone as good as me again. I ..."

Mike slammed the door in Megan's face before she could finish. He was so angry he could've punched the wall in but he knew that in a sick way Megan would've wanted that so that she would enjoy knowing he broke his fingers because of her. He wouldn't fall for it. He learned his lesson with Megan all too well.

When he got back to the living room, El was on the couch playing with Paladin.

"I'm really sorry about that." He said as he sat next to El.

"It's okay. I didn't think that you did it on purpose." El tried to joke. "Besides it's nice to see that Paladin hates someone even more than me."

Mike chuckled softly. "Yeah. Which is strange because Paladin doesn't even know who she is."

"That's never stopped him before."

Mike watched as El stroked Paladin's fur. Something was off. It was just something about El's demeanour that wasn't sitting right with him.

He wrapped his arm around El's shoulder, pulling him against his body. "Something's bothering you. What is it?"

El shook her head but she didn't look up at him. "Nothing. It's silly."

"El, come on. You can talk to me." He pressed his lips against El's temple. "Is it about Megan?"

El sighed. "Not exactly." Her voice trailed off and Mike didn't want to push her. Finally after a few minutes El spoke. "So I'm your ugly girlfriend huh?"

Mike groaned. "El don't listen to that idiot. She was just trying to get at me through you." Mike raked his fingers through El's hair. "You're beautiful." He kissed El's forehead. His mood dropped a bit when he saw that El didn't look convinced. "Hey." His index finger tipped El's chin up so that she had to look at him. "You have no idea how badly I wanted you before I first kissed you." Mike was softly pressing kisses against the side of El's face as he spoke. "Those cute little dimples." Mike kissed El's cheek. "Those very pretty eyes." He kissed the corner of her mouth. "This perfect little mouth." Mike caught the edge of El's plump bottom lip between the edge of his teeth before sucking it into his mouth. He felt El wrapping her arms around his neck. Paladin jumped off of El's lap as El slid down on to her back on the couch and Mike pressed down on top of her. "I was like, God I hope she is into me." Mike ran the tip of his tongue over the inside of El's bottom lip as he kept it trapped between his own lips. Mike ground his hips against El's so that she could feel his arousal. "I mean she has such a nice ass. It would be a shame if she wasn't."

At that, El laughed out loud and Mike grinned. "That's terrible Mike." She remarked as she playfully slapped his shoulder.

Mike just smiled and started placing kisses down El's neck. "It maybe terrible but it's true. You're a hot piece of ass El Hopper."


The weeks passed by quickly. El's time with Brenner in New York came to an end. On the last night Kali gave her a huge bag of fun sized candy. When El brought the bag home and showed Mike, he immediately banned it from the apartment. Apparently, Mike's one weakness was chocolate. This however did not stop El from stashing some in Mike's fridge and in the bowl on the coffee table. Whenever she noticed the supply dwindling, she replenished it with more. Mike would grumble about El making him fat and leaving candy wrappers all over the place. El would just smack her lips together as she munched on a Butterfinger.

One night, El laid in Mike's arms as her boyfriend was snoring softly, fast asleep. Life was good right now. She had a sizeable chunk of cash stashed away ensuring that she didn't have to work for almost a year if she didn't want to. She spent her days making Mike breakfast before work and the rest of the day either at the apartment, or at Benny's, becoming fast friends with both Benny and Steve. Mike had got a couple more new clients. It really felt as if her and Mike were building something together. This was new to her. For the first time in a long time it felt as if she had a future with someone. Someone to go through life with. El's sharp eyes trailed over Mike's sleeping profile. Mike meant a lot to her. She hadn't anticipated on it happening but it just did. Nowadays she thought about things like what they were going to have for dinner, and did she use up the last bit of soap powder? Would Mike be in the mood to watch a ghost story marathon with her? Things she usually only concerned herself with. Almost everything she wanted to do or buy now, she wondered how it might affect Mike and how he would react to it. Which was silly in itself. Mike was the most easy going guy she knew, even if he was a bit anal about a few candy wrappers. As she closed her eyes and snuggled in even closer to Mike, a part of her was waiting for the other shoe to drop so that she could wake up and realize that everything was just a dream, well there was that one thing that could ruin everything but she didn't want to dwell on that.


El stood in front of the mirror looking at her reflection as she got ready to turn in for the night. Mike was already in bed waiting for her. She thought over what had occurred earlier that night. Her and Mike had gone out with Lucas, Dustin and Max to a barcade. Mike had gotten up to go the bathroom. When he was walking back to the table she noticed a rather attractive girl trying to talk to him but Mike brushed her off and kept on walking.

It had triggered the problem that El was having right now as she examined her reflection. Despite what Mike had told her about a month ago now, she wasn't gorgeous in the true sense of the word. She supposed that she turned out okay in the looks department but as far as she was concerned she was no real head turner.

Over the past months she had met a few girls that Mike had dated and they were all drop dead gorgeous. There was Jenny from the mall. That Stacey girl from Bennys. Even his ex Megan Curtis, no matter how much El hated to admit it was extremely beautiful. High cheekbones, full pouty lips, thick hair, nicely dressed. She could probably buy nicer clothes but that was it. Mike had a type and she didn't fit into it. She stuck out like a sore thumb. Maybe she was just fooling himself. Sooner or later some gorgeous model type was going to walk up to her boyfriend just like how that girl did this evening and Mike wouldn't turn her down. El just knew it.

Pretty people dated other pretty people. That was the just the way of the world. That was how it worked. Girls that looked like her don't go out with guys that looked like Mike. Even if they did, it never lasted long.

El splashed some cold water on her face. She was in too deep. She used a hand towel to wipe her face. She knew that she was in love with Mike. She felt as if her karma had finally caught up to her. She had broken a couple of hearts in her time and it was inevitable that hers would now be broken as well.

"Hi." Mike's sleepy voice startled her as his arms encircled El's waist. "What's taking so long?" Mike's nose was nuzzling her neck and then he placed a kiss there.

"Sorry." El apologized. "Was just finishing up. I'm done."

Mike reached one of his hands up and flicked off the bathroom light and then led El towards the bed. "Good. You know I can't go to sleep without you." Mike got on the bed and then pulled El in next to him.

They faced each other and Mike made the move to kiss her first. El savoured the warmth. She didn't deserve this. It was too good to be true. She kissed Mike back. There was so much he didn't know and it was all going to be taken from her and she had to prepare her heart for it.



"Think I can sink this one in the corner pocket?" El cockily leaned against the pool table.

Her cue stick tapping the green felt on the table. Only the eight ball remained.

Mike took a sip of his beer. "I don't see why not. You've been whipping my ass the entire night."

El grinned. She turned around and with a sassy sway of her hips bent over the table, lining up the cue stick behind the white ball. "If I get this, you have to give me a prize."

"Okay," Mike tilted in his head in agreement. "What do you want?"

El smirked as she drew the stick back. "I'll tell you after I win." The stick connected with a hard tap to the white ball and Mike watched as the ball rolled directly to its target causing the black ball to hit the wooden side before spinning and depositing itself in the corner pocket.

El stood up and smiled victorious. She sauntered over to Mike, placing the stick on the table. She thought how extra hot her boyfriend looked tonight messy dark curly hair, his grey t-shirt clad chest and generous fitting jeans. El knew that Mike had been oblivious to the glances that he had been getting all night from both men and women.

She stood in front of Mike and looped one arm around his neck. The universal sign of an intimate relationship. She did that mainly for whomever watching them. Yes, this tall, hunk of a man belonged to this scruffy, average looking girl. Let all of the Megan Curtises in the room seethe with envy. Let them wonder what it was that El had that they didn't.

She took the half finished bottle out of Mike's hand and placed it on the table next to them. She leaned in to whisper in Mike's ear. She could feel the tension crackling around them. Out of the corner of her eye she could see some people blatantly staring at them, while others tried to be polite and not look at them directly but kept glancing in their direction. Although it may have to do with El's very obvious over the top intimacy. "Let's get out of here."

Mike nodded. El smiled at him as she pulled away and Mike pulled out some money and threw it on the table.

Mike zipped up his black jacket as he strolled next to El in the cold night air. Spring was about a week away but it was still barely above zero. The bar was only a few blocks away from the apartment so they had decided to travel by foot.

El grabbed his hand, lacing their fingers together. Mike caught the smirk on her face. El was up to something. He could've sensed it in the bar and now as they walked down the street holding hands. This was new. Holding hands while walking.

They were about half way home when El suddenly pulled him off the sidewalk and down between a damp alley between two buildings. His back hit the brick wall with a resounding thud that he felt down his spine. But before he could adjust his bearings, he felt El's lips on his own. El sucked his lips hard, scraping them with her teeth. He heard the sound of a zipper being pulled down but it was only when he felt El's hands pressing into his chest that he realized that it had been his jacket. El's movements were frantic, erratic. Teeth scraping and nibbling at his neck. Her tongue following to soothe it. A lock of his hair was twisted around El's fingers that she kept a tight tension on. El was rutting her hips against his left thigh. However, he wasn't in the same state.

"El." His girlfriend right now was trying to mark his neck and fuck his thigh at the same time. He placed his hands on El's hips to steady her. "What are you doing?"

El muttered something incomprehensible and pressed hot opened mouth kisses along Mike's neck. Her hands underneath Mike's shirt, cold against his warm skin, making him shudder a bit.

"El."

"I want you." It was a whispered admittance. El licked a broad, flat stripe up the side of Mike's neck to his ear. She shifted her hips a bit so that she was rested on top of Mike's growing hard on. "Want you." A sharp tug on his hair and El's lips were back on his kissing him feverishly. Mike kissed her back but it felt as if there was something more than just passion behind this.

"El," Mike tried to reason between frantic kisses. "We're in public. Suppose someone sees us?"

"Then let them watch." El sealed her lips against Mike's cutting off any further conversation, twisting her tongue around Mike's. "Let the whole world watch. I want them to see that you're mine."

It took a while for Mike to finally figure out what El was actually trying to tell him.

Mike placed his hands firmly on El's hips and pushed him back. " So you just want everyone to see that we're together?"

El nodded. She tried to move back in closer to Mike but his arms forced her to stay at a distance.

"So I'm just something to show off?" The hurt in Mike's voice was evident. He shook his head in disbelief and pushed off the wall. "Is that why you're all over in me in public all of a sudden?"

Mike was taking everything entirely the wrong way. "No!" El shook her head frantically. "I didn't mean it like that." Mike still looked as if he didn't believe her. "I just wanted you that's all."

Mike just shook his head and started walking. He was back on the main sidewalk and El walked quickly to catch up with him. El grabbed his wrist to make Mike look at her. "Mike, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it to come off like that."

"Like what? That you were just parading me around like some sort of a show dog to boost your ego?"

El sucked in her bottom lip and looked away. In a way Mike was right. She was doing it to boost her ego in a way. After all she was certain that lots of people thought that she didn't deserve to be with a guy who looked like Mike, although she couldn't figure out when she started to care about what others thought. Being with Mike was sort of like a fuck you to all the people who didn't think that she deserved someone like that. But instead all she did was hurt Mike instead.

She let go of Mike's wrist and shoved her hands in her jacket pockets. Her eyes focused on the ground. She was just screwing everything up. She shouldn't be surprised, it was the one thing that she was always good at.

They walked the rest of the journey in silence. She made a beeline to her apartment door. She just wanted to collapse on to her bed and wish that this night had never happened.

"El."

Her hand was already on the door knob, about to turn it.

"Where are you going?"

It was her turn to look at Mike confused.

Mike sighed as he unlocked his door and pushed it open. "Look, just because we had a fight it doesn't mean that I don't want you around."

He allowed El to walk into his apartment in front of him. He noticed how fidgety the small girl had become. Her hands were buried deep in her pockets and her eyes darted repeatedly from him, to the wall, to the floor. It was as if El didn't know what to do with herself.

"El, we need to talk."

God she hated that phrase. Nothing good ever came out of needing to talk. She stopped staring at the living room floor and looked up to see Mike resting against the back of the couch looking at her.

She made her way over to Mike to stand in front of him. Feeling like a school girl standing in front of the principal awaiting her punishment. Mike was going to break up with her. She could just feel it in her bones.

"El," she could hear the slowly measured patience in Mike's voice. "What's going on?"

"What do you mean?" Defense tactics was her only option.

Mike sighed and smoothed his palms down his jeans clad thighs. "I mean that these past few weeks you've been different. You've ..." Mike trailed off a bit as he tried to find the right words. "You've been more physical about our relationship in public. I mean I normally don't mind it but it doesn't feel real. It doesn't feel as if you're doing it because you want me. It feels as if you're doing it because you want other people to see it." Mike paused as El chewed her thumb. "And tonight, I'm not going to lie to you El. It felt pretty shitty."

El felt her heart drop to the floor. This was it. Mike was going to break up with her.

"El." She could barely hear Mike's voice above the loud drumming of her heart in her ears. Her palms were suddenly clammy so she wiped them on her jeans.

"Why are you acting like this?"

El managed to lock eyes with Mike. Searching that handsome face for something but she didn't know what exactly. I'm acting like this because I'm an idiot who's in love with your stupid, pretty face. Of course, Mike couldn't hear her thoughts so he still waited for answer.

"I'm so sorry Mike." She released a breath through her lips. "It's just that this," she gestured between her and Mike, "is just so new to me."

She dared to take a step closer to Mike. "I'm just not used to having someone like you." God, she sounded pathetic. "When Megan said..."

"Oh God." Mike grumbled. "Not that asshole again. El, whatever she said wasn't true."

"Actually it was." El interjected. "She was right. Guys like you don't date girls who look like me." She pushed her hands into her front pockets. "I guess in a way I was trying to prove her wrong." El groaned in frustration. "So fucking stupid. God I can't believe that I let her get to me like that."

She didn't even notice that Mike had moved until she felt an arm around her waist. She was bit lost until she felt Mike tipping her chin up. She felt her insides melting as Mike's warm lips covered her own. So soft. So supple. Slow deliberate movements. A clever tongue invading her mouth. Sliding against her own and then taking his time exploring her mouth. Mike was holding her face. She couldn't move even if she wanted to. She was being kissed thoroughly and properly. She wrapped her arms tightly around Mike's neck and returned the kiss. Her heart leapt back up into its correct position.

She felt herself starting to walk backwards with Mike guiding her to the bedroom. They were barely parting for air before reconnecting their lips again. She didn't know how their clothes came off. All she knew was that she was naked on her back and Mike was naked on top of her.

Her body moved on automatic. Her legs locked around Mike's waist, pressing their hips together.

This is what she loved about being intimate with Mike. He was bigger than her. Way bigger. She was covered by him. A warm haze spread across her followed by hands that were currently doing magic to her body. All of this was hers and no one could take it away from her not even fucking Megan Curtis.

She closed her eyes and threw her head back allowing the natural rhythm of their bodies to take over the movements. The push and pull. The up and down. The in and out. The heavy breathing. Messy kisses. Everything was just washing over her like a wave. Her body was there but her mind was somewhere else floating and just feeling the sensations of their love making. Love making. That was what they were doing, wasn't it? She had always loathed and mocked the phrase until now. It just seemed to fit right now at this point. Mike's hips slammed into her. Mike was letting go and so was she. A momentarily blackness washed over her and then her mind came back to her body. Mike was lying on top of her and their fingers were locked together. Perfection. That was what they were together. Perfect.

El was too spent to even bother to pull the blanket over her body. Mike crawled over her to get to his side of the bed. Immediately he wrapped an arm around El's waist to pull her against his body. God damn. He had never felt so connected to anyone in life like that before. It was an exhilirating feeling that he wondered if he could ever duplicate it again.

El had already relaxed in his arms and was breathing softly. She had drifted off already. Mike remained quiet for several minutes just feeling El's body against his own and watching the gentle rise and fall of her chest. Her hair falling over her face. She was beautiful. He would challenge anyone who dared to say different.

He settled down to sleep, nudging his nose against El's neck, his lips kissing the tender flesh up to her earlobe. "I love you." He whispered into El's ear.

Chapter Text

The warmth from the coffee cup pleasantly heated El's hands. She was staring out of the window in the living room at the ground outside. The snow was gone and the trees were bare. Tiny sprouts of grass were now pushing through the barren looking ground. Spring was here. She took another sip of the coffee as she tuned out the usual morning background noises of Mike in the kitchen. It was french vanilla flavoured.

Mike had bought a new coffee machine and they were trying out a new flavour every day. This one was okay she supposed but nothing beat straight up black in her mind. Her mind continued to wander as she observed the arrival of Spring. Maybe she could convince Mike to put in a pizza oven next. She would really like that. El then began to think about the really cool pizza ovens that were made out of bricks and were outdoors like in a backyard or some place like that. It would mean that her and Mike would probably have to get a house but not in Queens. It would be too expensive. Maybe somewhere out on Long Island where it would be cheaper. Or maybe upper state New York.

El drank the last of her coffee and smiled to herself. She was actually planning a future with someone. She was actually thinking about settling down and getting pizza ovens together. In a couple of months she would've been in New York for a year. Twice as long as she had anticipated. But Mike just came into her life and turned everything upside down so to speak.

An arm slipped around El's waist, holding her close against a tall lean body. Speak of the devil.

"Can I get a kiss goodbye?"

El turned her head so that Mike could plant a kiss on her lips. It had become their morning ritual of sorts as Mike left for the day. One that El was more than happy to indulge in.

Mike smiled as he pulled away from her. It made El smile too. They were two idiots smiling at each other.

Mike ran his hands through El's hair as he walked away. "Have a good day. And remember to give Pal the kibble. He has had enough wet food for the week." Mike opened his mouth as if he was about to say something else but bit his bottom lip and smiled bashfully at El before leaving.

El had turned back to the window but she felt another pair of eyes on her. She glanced over her shoulder and saw Paladin leaning over the arm rest glaring at her. She knew that look.

She went to the kitchen and rinsed out her coffee cup and then poured the kibble into Paladin's food bowl and refilled his water bowl.

She then sat on the couch, flipped the television on and her new favourite show Pawn Stars was on.

Meow.

Paladin was back. And he didn't look too pleased. He meowed several times in an obviously distressed tone. El would've bet anything that if Paladin was a human, he would be cussing her out.

"Paladin you have to eat the kibble. You heard Mike. No more wet food for you."

The cat stopped meowing and then suddenly sprung onto to El's lap. He purred and rolled over. Softly butting his head against El's torso.

"That's not going to work this time." El did admire the cat's gumption. "You have to eat the kibble."

Paladin continued rubbing himself on El for a few more minutes but when El didn't get up, the cat hopped down to the floor as if he was offended. Paladin came upon his own remote on the floor and used his front left paw to press a button. Suddenly the channel changed in front of El's eyes. El looked down at the cat who narrowed his eyes at her and walked off with its head high and tail in the air. El laughed as she changed the channel back. That cat was a diva and she loved it.


"El, it's wet."

"It's just some dew you crybaby."

"I'm not a crybaby. I just don't want to sit on grass."

"That's why I brought a blanket."

"Is that the one that I use at Christmas?"

"What difference does it make?"

"El!"

El giggled as she spread the blanket on the ground underneath a bare oak tree. They were at the park. It was night time and the air was sharp and crisp. The sky was clear and dusted with stars. It was a perfect night. She sat on the blanket and then patted the spot next to her. Mike reluctantly sat next to her but El immediately leaned against his chest and Mike's arm instinctively went around his shoulder.

They remained in the peaceful silence of the night for a while. Quietly inhaling the cold air but being comforted by the warmth of each other's bodies. El was playing with Mike's fingers while she spoke up.

"How come you're in New York?"

"Hmm?" Mike had been gazing heavenwards at the constellations. "What do you mean?"

"I mean," El decided to lace her fingers through the hand that was hanging over her shoulder. "You're not from here originally and you're not dying to be based in Manhatten for work, I mean there are lots of nicer places to live."

"Ummm..." El could hear a slight nervousness in Mike's voice and gave him a chance to speak. "Well let me put it this way. New York was the furthest away from Hawkins that I could afford to go."

"Why did you have to leave?" El turned her head slightly so that she could look at Mike while he spoke.

"Because my family no longer wanted me around." Mike's voice dropped and El could clearly hear the hurt in his voice.

She turned around completely so that her chest was against Mike's and her arm slipped around his waist. Her fingers slipping underneath his t-shirt to touch his bare skin in a comforting gesture. "Why?"

Mike took a deep breath before he started. He allowed the cold air to fill his lungs and it refreshed him a bit. He didn't like talking about his past but El had a to right to know. It was inevitable at some point really.

"I... uh... Went against my parents expectations of me. I knew that I had a very different career plans in mind for myself than what my parents had of me and a big part of me knew that they wouldn't have approved of my choices. So when I graduated I knew that I had to come clean about what it was that I wanted to do with my life." Mike paused for a bit and El kissed his cheek. She wouldn't push him. Just let him get it out in his own time.

Mike slipped his arm down to El's waist and gave her a squeeze. "So I told them the summer after I graduated that I wouldn't be joining the family accounting business that I preferred IT. In the grand scheme of things it didn't strike me as that bigger deal, however my dad told me that I was a disappointment to him and didn't speak to me for the rest of the summer and my mom eventually became cold as well, I think she was exhausted playing buffer between me and my dad. I had been working during the summer so I saved the money and booked a one way ticket to New York and that was it. The only people who still talk to me are my sisters Nancy and Holly."

"Is that their picture that you have on the table near the front door?" El inquired.

"Yeah." Mike nodded his head. "So I came to New York and had enough money to stay in a decent hotel for a week but after that I had no idea what I was going to do. I had one day left when I met Jen at the clothing store and I ended up staying with her and her roommate for a month while I found a job at an IT firm. And I've been in New York ever since."

"So you've never gone back to Hawkins?"

Mike shook his head. "Nope. Nancy and Holly have visited me though a few times. They said that they might come up this year." He rubbed El's side through her jacket. "I would like you to meet them. I think you guys would get along great."

"I think I would like that." El murmurred into Mike's chest.

Mike tugged on El's arm. El lifted her head and Mike kissed her softly. "I want to know about you too El. Why you move around so much. Why you are the way that you are."

El fidgeted a bit, obviously uncomfortable. But eventually she calmed down and nodded. "Okay."

El shifted a bit so that she was completely between Mike's legs, resting right up against him. Her back to Mike's chest but she placed both of Mike's arms around her waist and settled in.

"Well I told you about my dad and I'm sure the irony of him being a cop and me a career criminal isn't lost on you. It might surprise you though that my mom was a secretary at a law firm in downtown Chicago. After dad died mum tried her best. On the outside everything looked nice. Nice house. Nice car. But she used to date so many losers. A lot of them used to deal drugs as well. My mom, she stayed clean until I was like ten. Then she started using and that was it. I was in and out of foster homes only really back with her when she was clean which wasn't often. By the time I was twelve she had lost her job, the house and was driving some piece of shit. We lived in a bad neighbourhood and I had to learn how to survive.

It was okay I guess, until one day when I had been sent back to her she relapsed. I came home and there was nothing no food no water no electricity nothing. I decided that survival required money. I went out that next day and tried to get some money. Unfortunately the guys whose pocket I tried to pick was Brenner." El paused for a bit. She had never told anyone else this, not even Max. But if Mike wanted to know the truth about her, then he had to know. "So instead of handing me over to the cops he drove me home and spoke to my mum, next thing you know he is telling me to pack a bag and we left. My mum didn't even blink. He told me on the way to what would become my home for the next few years that he bought me for $500, told me I would now answer to him and do what he says if I knew what was good for me. So I did and I am still doing it now."

"Oh god El." Mike dipped his head and kissed El's forehead. He had no idea that El's past had been so tainted. "I'm so sorry."

At least he didn't laugh at her , El thought. "It wasn't your fault."

"I know but," Mike planted a kiss on El's temple. "That was so wrong. You shouldn't have to go through that."

"I guess." There were lots of things that she shouldn't have had to go through but when life deals you a shitty hand, all you can do is play and hope for the best. "I thought it might end when I turned 18 but no, he had trained me, ensured I knew how his criminal enterprise ran, he owns me and he doesn't ever stop reminding me."

"Oh El." Mike squeezed her tightly as if he was trying to protect her.

"I mean don't get me wrong I am not the only one, I have certainly been with him the longest but there are others that joined over the years, you know about most of them Mick, Dotty Axel Funshine, Kali. There were others that had been part of his crew but tried to leave, there weren't so lucky" El paused "It wasn't until I was seventeen that I realized how fucked up it was. My mom never got clean and I found out she died shortly after I left. It was then I realised I was on my own. I didn't get to graduate from high school, so I had to make some money however I could." El sighed and threw her hands up in the air. "And that's basically how I am, how I am."

"El, I'm so sorry." Mike cradled her head against his chest. El was a lot stronger than he gave her credit for. "I shouldn't have asked."

"No it's okay. You wanted to know. And I told you." El picked at her jacket.

"But now I'm hurting for you." Mike hoarsely whispered.

El paused. No one had ever hurt for her before. "Why?" Her question sounded timid and uncertain.

Mike kept a firm hold on El as he rested his chin on El's shoulder. "Because I love you."

It felt as if the entire universe stilled in that moment. The wind dropped. The crickets stopped chirping. The only thing El could feel was Mike's breath on her cheek.

El slowly turned her head to look at him. "Do you really mean that?"

Mike's eyes didn't break away from her face. "I do."

El believed him.

"I guess this is the right time to tell you that I'm completely in love with you too." Mike smiled brightly. "Oh god," El grumbled. "Please don't make this into a big deal."

Mike laughed softly. "You're so cute when you're being romantic." He softly pressed his lips against El's. El kissed him back. That was a lot easier than she had expected. It had just felt like the right time and space to tell Mike how she felt about him. It was a relief to know that all of the anxiety she had about it, was all in her head. As the kiss deepened she felt her phone vibrate in his pocket. It was just a text message. She would check it later. Her arm curled around Mike's neck. She was busy right now.


The next day, Mike was at home. El was in the bedroom dressing when she picked up her pants from last night. She remembered that her phone had vibrated and she fished it out of the pocket. It was a text message from Kali.

When Mike walked into the bedroom, he noticed El staring at the phone in her hand but her mind seemed far away.

"Hi. Is everything all right?"

El looked at him as if she didn't recognize him at first. He watched as El forced a smile to a her face. "Um yeah."

She slowly walked towards Mike while keeping her eyes focused on him as if she was trying to memorize him at that point in time. She wrapped her arms around Mike's neck and kissed him deeply much to Mike's surprise. El took her time, sucking on Mike's lips and tongue as if she was savouring the taste. She pulled back from Mike, her fingers still in her boyfriend's silky black hair. Her eyes locked on Mike's brown orbs. "I love you."

Mike seemed a bit puzzled but replied nonetheless. "I love you too."

El shoved the phone into her pocket. "I have to go help Max run an errand. She just text me." She smiled at Mike apologetically as she left the room. "I'll be back."



El was acting strange. Well stranger than usual.

But it wasn't in an obvious way and sometimes Mike wondered if she was just imagining things. El seemed quieter than usual and sometimes Mine would catch her staring and she would quickly look away. Mike would ask her what was the matter but El would just brush him off so Mike decided to let her be even though it did bother him a bit.

Right now he was observing El sitting cross legged on the couch and Paladin was in her lap. She was absentmindedly petting the cat while she watched television. She seemed normal at that moment. In front of her on the coffee table was a plate that held the edge of a crust of a sandwich that El has eaten. He had given up on getting El to use any form of cutlery and just handed her a broom whenever she finished eating to clean up after herself. But lately El seemed to have discovered the use of plates and this concerned Mike. This wasn't his El.

"Hi."

Mike eased on to the couch next her. Paladin immediately sprang from El's lap into Mike's making himself comfortable. El followed suit resting her head on Mike's shoulder as he slid his arm around his girlfriend's waist.

Maybe he just needed to relax. El wasn't doing anything wrong. She was just being a bit quieter and being considerate of her messes. Maybe his El was just growing up a bit.

He felt soft kisses being pressed into his neck. A warm breath tickling his neck. Mischievous fingers underneath his t-shirt, caressing his skin. This was his El. He just needed to relax and go with the flow.

El was sprawled across him and was sound asleep. He had let El take control. Their lovemaking was as intense as usual. El kept on repeating how good he felt inside of her and how perfect he was. It seemed as if El was trying to drill the words into Mike's head. So that they would play forever on repeat in his brain. But then again we all say some intense things in the throws of passion Mike reasoned. However there was just a hint in El's golden eyes, from how she had looked at him, that made Mike think that it had to be more than just endorphins speaking.

Even now while El slept, it felt different. El's head was on his chest. One arm over Mike's shoulder and a leg between Mike's thighs. Nothing about the position itself was unusual but it was how it felt. Normally El's body would be relaxed. Her limbs floppy like rubber. Now he could feel the tension in El's body. She was asleep but it felt as if El was still holding on to something. Or someone. Him.

He could feel El's fingers pressing into his shoulder leaving marks. Her leg firmly planted in between his thighs. It seemed as if El didn't want to let go of him. As if she was afraid of losing him. Mike stroked El's messy hair fondly. He had half a mind to wake her up and tell her that she would never lose him. That he would always be here for her. The love that he had for El was stronger than any love he had for anyone that he had previously dated. El had her annoying tendancies that frustrated him but deep down he knew that it would never break this bond. El was brash, stubborn and impulsive. All qualities that Mike loathed on paper but when embodied by El, he loved them. Endeared him even more to her. But on the other hand, he could completely relax around her. Be free to be himself and to be listened to with an open mind and not be judged. They laughed, ate pizza and fought over what to watch on TV. El was closer to him than anyone had ever been, she was his best friend. But in bed, El was his lover. Mike didn't think that it would ever be possible to be tired of making love to El. No experience was exactly the same as the one before. El kept on finding new spots on his body that seemed so innocent before that turned him on so much whenever El kissed or caressed them.

Mike dipped his head down and pressed his lips to El's forehead. No, El didn't have anything to worry about. He would never leave her. Ever.


A couple days later Mike came home from work and found El sitting on the couch. As soon as El saw him a mischievous smile formed on her lips. Golden eyes twinkling. Mike relaxed. This was El that he was used to.

"What are you up to?" Mike asked as he sat next to El on the couch only for his girlfriend to immediately stretch all over him to kiss his lips.

"Nothing really."

Mike didn't believe her for a second. He eyed her suspiciously. "What do you want?"

El pretended to think about the question but Mike could tell that she already had her answer. "Well, now that you mention it," El was trailing her finger down the front of Mike's chest. "I want to go to Coney Island."

"Really?" Mike definitely didn't see that one coming.

"Yep." El rolled off of him and tugged Mike's hand. "Now go take a shower and get ready."

"But I don't think that the rides start back up yet until next month."

However, it seemed as if El was not listening to him as she pulled him along into the bedroom. "Go get ready. I'll shower at my place."

Before Mike could question El on what had bought this on, she was out of the bedroom. Mike started to strip to prepare for the shower. At least a trip to Coney Island would get them out of the apartment. Even though the last time that they went there it didn't end pleasantly. But maybe this time around, it could be something special.


The brisk sea salt laden air whisked around the couple as they walked holding hands down the boardwalk. Mike inhaled deeply and released it quietly through his lips. As he had said, the rides were still closed for another month and the area had light traffic due to it being a week night. But the night felt fresh and magical as if anything was possible and if you believed, it would come true.

Mike stopped for a moment and leaned against the railing, pulling El towards him. His girlfriend took the hint and pressed her body against Mike, wrapping her arms around his neck. Now this was the kind of public display of affection that felt more natural. More authentic to El.

She tilted her head to the side and Mike kissed her gently on the lips. His fingers locked together resting on El's lower back in a loose embrace.

"So what brought this on?" Mike inquired.

"I don't know," El glanced around before settling her gaze back on Mike's face. "I just wanted to come here I guess."

"Oh. I guess it's kinda surprising since the last time that we were here it didn't go too well."

El bit his bottom lip and gave a nervous laugh. " Um, yeah. That's kinda why I wanted to come here. I... uh..." she glanced up to the night sky as if she was seeking an answer. Her eyes refocused on Mike. "I didn't want to leave it tainted."

Mike raised an eyebrow in curiousity. "Tainted how?"

El exhaled sharply and repositioned herself a bit so that her body was pressing right up against Mike's. "The last time that we were here I just wasn't in a good place. This thing that we had I was… " El's cheeks reddened a bit. "I was feeling it a bit more than I cared to admit and I didn't want that. So I tried to push you away." El's fingers curled into the loose hair at the back of Mike's neck, twirling them around her fingers. "You were getting close to me in a way that no one has ever done before and what made it worse is that I just let you. It messed me up a bit so I had to get away from you. But then I saw you at the bar with that girl and I was so jealous." El's face tightened a bit at the confession. Mike could tell that she was replaying that night in her eyes.

"God Mike!" El's right hand fisted Mike's t-shirt in the center of his chest. Her eyes were hard and full of an emotion that Mike just couldn't put his finger on. "I really really love you. You get that right?" When Mike didn't answer fast enough, El gave his shirt a hard tug almost causing their foreheads to clash. "You get it right?" Her eyes desperately searching her boyfriend's face for an answer.

Mike swallowed a bit. "Yes I get it." El was being really intense right now. But he didn't question it. It seemed as if El needed to get this out of her system and he would let her.

El closed off the distance between them and kissed Mike hard. "You have got to understand that this is a big deal for me. I've never told anyone that I loved them before." A brief smile appeared at the corner of El's lips as he shook his head. "So this is all a bit new to me, so forgive me if I'm not doing this right."

Mike's smile mirrored El's. "It's been perfect so far."

El's smile got bigger and she kissed Mike again but far gentler this time. She rested her forehead against Mike's. "I just want you to know that no matter what happens that I love you with every party of me."

It was Mike this time who made the move and gave El a soft kiss that made her lips tingle a bit even when Mike had pulled away. "And I love you so fucking much that I can't even explain it." He confessed.

"Even if I leave crumbs everywhere?" An impish grin appeared on El's face.

Mike sighed melodramatically. "Yes even if your lazy ass leaves crumbs everywhere." He kissed El's jaw. "But you're still gonna have to clean that up though."


Mike watched El as she slept next to him. Half of El's body was on top of him and the other half was on the bed. She wasn't as tense as she had been lately but she wasn't as fully relaxed either. They had made love twice since they got home from Coney Island that evening. Both times were hot and passionate. God, how he loved it. It was amazing to him after learning about El's background how a woman who was shown so little love growing up tried so hard to show her love for him. El wasn't the typical romance type. She didn't always get it right like going and threatening his clients who wouldn't pay him but her heart was in the right place. That was what mattered most of all to Mike. El's heart was in the right place and Mike's heart was right next to it. He pressed a kiss to the top of El's bare shoulder and secured his arm around his lover's waist. As he drifted off to sleep the one thing that he was certain of was the love that they had for each other.


Some time in the early morning when Mike was barely conscious he felt El moving his arm and placing it on his own body. His first thought was that El was probably going to the bathroom. He rolled over and pulled the blanket up. He was really tired and needed every precious minute of sleep that he could get. He was barely cognizant of the kiss that El placed on top of his head.

When Mike fully woke up a couple hours later, the first thing he realized was that the bed was empty. But that was nothing unusual as El was surprisingly an early riser when she wanted to be and would be in the living room watching television with Paladin.

Mike pulled on a pair of boxers that he found on the bedroom floor and padded out to the living room to see if El was out there. The television was on and the volume was barely up but he only found Paladin curled up on the floor. As soon as the cat spotted him he got up and came towards him meowing as if he was trying to tell him something. He scooped the cat up and petted him as he walked into the kitchen.

"Have you seen El, boy?" Mike asked as he looked around. The coffee machine was still clean. El hadn't even bothered to start the machine. Mike sat on a stool as he glanced around. It was obvious that El wasn't in the apartment. He wondered where she could've possibly gone. He figured that she probably went down to the bodega to get some breakfast which she did occassionally. He would just wait until he got back.

Mike was starting to get a bit worried. Over half an hour had passed and El wasn't back yet. He was trying not to panic but a nervous feeling was fluttering in his stomach. He put Paladin down on the floor and went back into his bedroom to get his cellphone. He tapped the screen and he could feel his heart thumping in his chest as the phone just rang and went to El's voicemail. He sank down on his bed staring at the phone. He was totally panicking and worried now. Where the hell was El?

He called eight more times in the next two hours and all ended with the same result. He left voicemails telling El to call him immediately because he was worried about her. He paced around his apartment, unable to keep still. He was so fucking scared. A feeling of dread was washing over him. He was praying that El hadn't gone and done anything stupid.

By midday, Mike had cancelled all of his appointments for the day and was going stir crazy in his apartment. He had to go look for her. He pulled on a pair of sweatpants and the t-shirt from the night before. He shoved his feet in a pair of sneakers and grabbed his car keys.

As his apartment door closed soundly behind him, Mike stood in front of it wondering where to go. Where the heck would he start looking for El? Geez, he didn't even know where Max lived.

Mike glanced to his left and saw El's apartment door. Fuck, for all he knew his girlfriend could be in her own place fast asleep or something. He went over and knocked on the door and waited but he got no response. He tried the knob and surprisingly it turned easily in his hand. He opened the door and stepped inside. His heart dropped and a huge lump rose in his throat. El didn't have much furniture in her apartment but as he surveyed the scene even that was gone. Every thing was bare. All he could see was empty white walls and a wooden floor.

No, this couldn't be happening. Mike rushed to El's bedroom. The mattress was stripped clean. The sheets were gone. He threw open the closet doors and opened up the drawers. He felt as if his eyes were deceiving him. Everything was gone. All of El's clothing, shoes and personal effects were gone. It was as if she had never even lived there. Mike even searched the bathroom looking for something, anything that said that El was there but not even a toothbrush was left behind.

A heavy weight filled Mike's chest as he dragged his feet back to the living room looking around, his body was actually quivering in disbelief and he wrapped his arms around himself to stop the shaking. His eyes became glassy and tears threatened to spill over his eyelashes. Every thing was gone and so was El.



Mike dry heaved as his hand wiped his face again for the umpteenth time. He couldn't believe that he still had tears running down his face. It was late afternoon and he was still in shock. El had left him. So many questions ran through him and no one could answer them for him. Paladin was resting his head on his left thigh and he looked as melancholy as Mike felt. He knew that his master upset and he had stayed right next to him from the time that he had returned from El's empty apartment.

The only person that Mike had managed to call was Dustin. He had barely managed to blurt out that El had left him before Dustin promised to be over as soon as he was finished with his client.

What had he done? Did El get into trouble? Why would El leave without telling him good bye? He remembered the night that he found El in the park. It had been her birthday. He had joked about El leaving him without telling him and El had told him that she would never do that. That she wasn't an asshole. It was a goddamn lie. It just hurt so damn much. There was this dull ache in the middle of his chest as if something had been snatched out of his body leaving him incomplete. The only thing or person rather who could fill it was El. Mike would've given anything to see her walking through that door. To have her back monopolizing the couch and television and leaving her crumbs all over the place. It just hurt so fucking much to know that he wasn't even worth a goodbye. That El could've just up and leave and not even call him to explain. Just yesterday he would've sworn that El had truly loved him but today he couldn't help but to think that everything that happened between them wasn't more than a giant con. Mike shook his head. No. El loved him. She couldn't fake that emotion that she had in his eyes for him whenever they were close or made love. El was in love with him. Then how the fuck could she leave him just like that?

"Hi Mike."

Mike didn't even hear when Dustin had come in. He had left the door unlocked.

Dustin sat next to him on the couch and immediately Mike's head was on Dustin's shoulder and Dustin gave him a hug.

"I'm so sorry. What happened?"

So Mike told him about waking up and not seeing El, to calling her and finally discovering that her apartment was empty.

"That's so messed up." Dustin rubbed Mike's shoulder in a comforting motion. "She probably moved all of her stuff out when you were at work so that you wouldn't notice."

Mike hadn't even considered that and he felt a new hurt rising in his chest and an uncomfortable lump in his throat. El looked him in his face day after day and told him that she loved him when all the while she was making her plans to leave him.

"I'm such an idiot." Mike mumbled into his hands.

"No Mike. Don't blame yourself. You couldn't have seen this coming and to be honest neither did I. She really had me fooled. I didn't think that she would ever hurt you." Dustin paused for a bit. "Maybe something came up and she had to leave town." Dustin tried to sound hopeful.

"If she had to leave then she could at least have told me goodbye. Don't I deserve at least that much?" Mike was shouting but not really at Dustin. He was getting angry. It hurt him so much to be so callously treated like a piece of trash by the woman who had captured Mike's heart like no other. He had never asked El for much. Only for some respect and in the end she couldn't even give him that.

"You deserve that and more." Dustin said ruffling his hair. "You're a great guy Mike and if I was into guys, you would be at the top of my list."

For the first time during this long, horrible day, Mike cracked a smile.


When Mike woke up the following morning he immediately turn to his side expecting to see El but of course she wasn't there. He ran his palm over the empty space, the sheets cool beneath his skin. El was gone. He was still processing it. He felt as if he was physically ill. His throat hurt, his eyes felt weary, his stomach was queasy. He just wanted to go back underneath the covers and shut out the rest of the world.

Just as he was about to do that he smelled something like food wafting in through his bedroom door. It smelled like scrambled eggs and bacon. As soon as his brain identified the scent, his stomach growled. He then realized that he hadn't eaten anything at all yesterday.

So resisting his basic urge to remain in bed he shuffled out his bedroom in his rumpled sweatpants. In his kitchen he found Dustin turning off the heat under the pan of bacon. His hair was a mess and his clothes looked slept in. Well of course they were. He knew that Dustin wouldn't have left him after the state he was in yesterday. Dustin was truly his friend in every since of the word.

"Hey!"

Dustin jumped a bit when he felt Mike's arms wrap around him and his day old beard prickling his shoulder. "What gives dude?"

"You're a great friend Dustin. I really mean that."

Dustin tried to shrug as he plated the food. " Don't mention it. It's just what friends do."

"No it's what great friends do." Mike corrected him.

"Well since I'm such a great friend then I think you should get a better couch. I think my neck is crooked now."

Mike laughed and immediately it felt like such a long time since he had done that. He grabbed one of the plates Dustin had made up and sat next to him at the bar so that they could eat together. It felt nice having someone there for him but still it couldn't fix the void that El had left behind. He needed some answers.


Dustin would kill him if he knew where he was right now. Mike pulled up the collar of his coat around his neck as he eyed the townhouse across the street. Central Park behind him. Brenner's place. He had followed El here the first night that he had tailed her and now he was hoping to get some answers. It was after one o' clock in the morning and the familiar black van had driven into the underground parking lot about half an hour ago. Mike was hiding behind a tree across the street. His own car was parked further down the street. Yes Dustin would certainly wring his neck if he knew what he was up to.

Finally, the girl whom he had been waiting on had appeared. It was the girl that used to pick El up and did the drop offs with her. Mike darted out from behind the tree and sprinted across the street. He just felt that the reason that El had left had something to do with Brenner.

The girl had already started to walk down the street when Mike caught up to her. "Kali!"

Immediately the girl turned around, narrowing her eyes at Mike. She was way more intimudating up close. Taller than El with dark eyes that felt like they pierced right through you.
"Do I know you? Why are you yelling my name?"

Mike walked right up to Kali, shoulders hunched forward. "Sorry." He apologized but Kali remained unmoved. "My name's Mike. I am El's...well, I was her...uh..."

"You were El's dude?" Kali finished the sentence for him.

"Yeah." Mike was a bit embarrassed. He didn't know why he found it so hard to say what he was to El just now.

"Oh Jesus." Kali sighed and shook her head. "El always said that you had more looks than brains." Kali crossed her arms. "What are you doing here? Are you trying to get yourself killed?"

"I'm not dumb." Mike was a bit offended that El would describe him that way. While it was true that he was a bit implusive, he didn't do it irrationally.

"Didn't say you were." Kali cocked her head to a side as if she was already getting bored of this conversation.

Mike was beginning to feel a bit nervous as he spoke to Kali, hoping that she was a reasonable he continued . "El left yesterday. She took all her stuff and …" Mike could feel his throat starting to choke up but he'd be dammed if he was going to cry in front of Kali. " … and she didn't even say goodbye. I just woke up and she was gone. No note or anything and she won't answer her phone. I just need to know what happened. Why did she leave me?"

"Oh Jesus." That seemed to be Kali's favourite expression. She glanced behind them and then tilted her head. "Let's go talk this out in the park. It isn't safe to be talking like this out in the open."

Mike nodded. They quickly crossed the empty street and made their way into the park. They found a bench and Kali sat on one end and Mike on the other.

"So do you know why El left?" Mike couldn't wait for an answer. He needed to know everything now.

"Kind of." Kali stared off into the dark distance. "El always works for Brenner under contracts, has done since she was young. One of the terms of the contract is that when the job is over, El has to leave town. It's how Brenner has remained undetected by the police for so long. No one works for him long enough in one place for the cops to build a case to connect the person to him."

She glanced at Mike and in that moment she saw how broken the man was over El's abandonment. " Look, El didn't really say it in so many words but she really was into you. She asked Brenner to extend her contract so that she could remain in New York and I knew that she was doing it just so that she could stay with you. She then tried for a second extension but Brenner didn't give it to her, so El should've left town. But she didn't." Kali was looking directly at Mike this time as she spoke. "I guess that she was trying to keep a low profile out in Queens but Brenner has eyes everywhere and I guess he found out that El was still in town. To cut a long story short, to say Brenner was furious was an understatement. In all the time El has worked for him. She has never once broken the rules. Brenner is not a guy you cross. He was going to send a couple guys out to rough her up a bit and scare her out of town and if that didn't work, well..."

Kali didn't have to finish the sentence. Mike knew where it was going. He swallowed hard around the lump in his throat. "How did El find out?"

"I told her. I'm loyal to Brenner but I considered El my friend so I warned her."

"So that's why she left? Because of what Brenner would've done to her? She could've told me and we would've worked something out." Mike tried to sound hopeful.

"You don't get it. Brenner's men wouldn't have just attacked El . Brenner knew that El was seeing someone and she was probably still staying because of that person. They would've gone after you too." Kali hated having to spell it out to him but Mike had to understand the gravity of the situation.

A shiver ran down Mike's spine. Brenner would've come after him even though he was essentially an innocent party in all of this. "So El left to protect me?"

"That's what I'm thinking."

"But why didn't she tell me? We could've gotten through it together. Why did she keep it to herself?" The questions just kept pouring out of him. So many whys and no solid answers.

Kali shook her head regretfully. "I'm afraid that I can't answer that but be honest with yourself would you have let her leave."

"Do you at least know where she is?"

"Nope."

Mike didn't quite buy it. "Are you telling me the truth?"

Kali immediately took offence. "Why would I lie to you now after I just told all of that?" Kali got up from the bench. "Look, I'm sorry that El left you. I truly am. But I already told you too much already. So I'd appreciate not getting called a liar."

Mike instantly rethought what he had just said. That had definitely been a bad move on his part. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

"You're right you shouldn't."

Mike let her have that. "You didn't have to tell me anything but I'm grateful that you did." Mike got up and dusted off his jeans. "Thank you. At least I have some answers now."

Mike nodded politely at her and walked away. Kali remained watching his retreating figure. She pulled her cellphone out of her backpocket and tapped the screen a couple of times before putting it up to her ear. The operator immediately clicked in and told him that the number she dialed was no longer in service. "Fuck, El! ." Kali ended the call.


Three weeks later

Life had returned to pretty much what it had been before El had arrived in his life. Although every evening when he turned the knob on the door, he hoped that he would walk in and find El sitting on the couch watching television but of course that didn't happen.

As Mike walked in, he did his usual thing of scratching Paladin behind the ears and then going into the bedroom to put down his bag. He missed El terribly. Hardly a minute of the day went by when he didn't think of her in some way. He missed talking to her. Kissing her. Holding her. Making love to her. He just missed El being El. So many times he replayed their sex over in his head. He had never had it better then when he was with El. That final night at Coney Island. It was only now that he realized that El was telling him goodbye in her own way. But a part of Mike was still angry about it. It didn't have to go down like that. They could've worked something out even if it had to be long distance for a while. But just to leave him coldly like that was possibly the worst way that El could've hurt him.

Mike changed into comfortable old shorts and a t shirt . Just as he was about to sit on the couch the doorbell rang. It was probably either Dustin or Lucas.

However much to his surprise when he opened the door he found Jenny Hayes standing on the other side.

"Jenny! What are you doing here?" Mike definitely hadn't expected to see his old friend.

" Hey Hot Wheels, I ran into Dustin in the mall today. He told me what happened." He could see Jenny examining his face. "I had to come and see if you were alright."

"I'm doing okay J."

"I don't believe that Mikey." She said tenderly. Jenny stepped inside the apartment and closed the door.

Just from the way that Jenny was looking at him, Mike felt the strong facade crumbling. "She left me J. I should've listened to you."

"Hey it's okay." Jenny embraced him and Mike's arms tightened around her waist. "You didn't know that she would do this."

Mike heaved heavily. His breath shuddering as he desperately tried to keep the tears from running down his face. " Sorry. I thought that I was done getting upset by now."

"It's okay Mikey." Jennykissed his cheek as she rubbed Mike's back gently. "Let it all out. I'm here for you."

"You promise that you won't leave me too?"

Jenny's heart nearly broke for him. "Of course not Mike. I will always be here for you."

"Promise?"

Jenny pulled back so that Mike could see her face and see how serious she was. "I promise."

Chapter Text

Two years later

"Is that the best you got?"

Mike pushed the hair off his face that was obscuring his vision to see El's mocking face. She was talking an awful lot for someone who was naked underneath him.

He lifted El's left leg over his shoulder, changing the angle up a bit. "You know you definitely talk too much" Mike pulled out a bit and then snapped his hips back in as El moaned and squeezed her eyes shut. "Well that seemed to shut you up, didn't it?" Mike grinned as he continued to take El at this new angle.

"Oh my god..Mike." El's arms were reaching up for him blindly as her eyes remained closed.

Mike allowed her to pull him down against her body. El's skin was damp with sweat and it stuck to his. El held Mike's head between her hands and turned it so that she could kiss him. It was wet, sloppy. Sometimes she was just panting opened mouth against Mike's lips as sighs and whimpers escaped.

"It feels so good Mike." El was gripping him so tightly that he couldn't move even if he wanted to.

He kissed down El's neck as he heard El's breath start to come out in shudders. "Oh god... mmm...!" Mike looked up to see El biting her bottom lip so hard that it was losing its colour. "That's it... fuck!"

Mike felt El's release but it barely registered as El's core clamped down on his dick and then he was following El. He groaned as his seed filled El's channel.

El pulled his hair and Mike looked up at her. He understood what she wanted and pressed their lips together. El was still panting but she kissed him with enthusiasm. They were wrapped so tightly together.

El sucked hard on Mike's bottom lip before releasing it. "I love you so much." Her honey eyes searching Mike's face. "You know that right?"

Mike nodded. "Yes I do." He locked his lips over El's once more. "I love you too."

He's had that dream several times over the past two years and it still left him aching in his trousers and in his heart every time. That was the last time that they had sex. When they had come home from Coney Island. When El had said that no matter what happens that she loved him. And each time when Mike woke up he always had the same question. If El had truly loved him, then why did she leave him the way that she did?

Mike reached for his phone from off of the nightstand. It had taken a year but he had finally changed the screensaver from the picture of him and El taken at Christmas. It was hard accepting the truth that El was never coming back. Fuck, she hadn't even called him. Not once. He didn't know if El was alive or dead. But he had to move on with his life. It didn't stop him from thinking about her most of the time, but El was his past and he had to leave her there.

"Hey, you're up."

Mike smiled as Jenny came towards him. He watched as she got on the bed and crawled on all fours up to him. "I was just coming to wake you."

Mike sat up as Jenny got closer. "Beat you to it."

Jenny grinned and leaned in and kissed him. Mike immediately returned the simple peck.

Those first few months after El had left he had been a complete mess and Jenny had been there helping him pick up the pieces and get his life back on track. Dustin and Lucas had been there as well but it was Jenny who spent nights with him when he confessed that he didn't like sleeping alone. She was the one who spent time almost every morning convincing him to get up and go to work when he didn't feel like it.

Then one evening around six months ago, he had gotten home from work and he saw Jenny straightening up his apartment after he had refused to even look at it, he had grabbed her and kissed her. It had felt good kissing Jenny and even better with Jenny kissing him back. Jenny was a bit vain of course but she was nothing like El. She was considerate. She cleaned up after herself. She let Mike know how she was feeling and let him be open with his feelings and didn't make him feel any less for it. He thought he loved her. But if so it was a quiet sort of love. Not the loud, passionate, blood rushing sort of love that he had for El that had nearly suffocated him. No, being with Jenny was a lot simpler and easy. It was the sort of relationship that he could learn to be content with.

He held Jenny's face between his hands observing the shy smile on her her face. His heart didn't flutter or skip a beat when they kissed but that was okay. Because experiencing that sort of love for one time in his life with El was enough for him. He didn't need to go through that again. Jenny was safe.

Mike kissed Jenny softly. Taking his time moving his lips over her plump ones. It's not as if their relationship lacked passion but it wasn't an all consuming one and he was grateful for that. His tongue curled around Jenny's one last time before ending the kiss.

Jenny got off the bed and grabbed his hand. "Come on. I made breakfast."

Mike allowed her to pull him out of bed and into the kitchen. Jenny practically lived there now. She was over almost every single day and spent the nights with him. He supposed that he could ask her to move in with him. Just make it official and be done with it. Half of Jenny's clothes and makeup were over here already anyway.

Mike grabbed the huge glass of smoothie that Jenny had made for him and decided to to have it in the living room. Paladin was already out there watching the Home Shopping channel it seemed. Mike took up his remote and changed it to the morning news. He could feel Paladin glaring at him but he ignored it. The cat truly acted as if he owned the damn place.

He was almost finished with his drink when an interesting piece of news came on. Major crime syndicate boss Martin Brenner had finally been captured by the FBI thanks to a five year sting operation. Mike nearly dropped his glass on the floor when Kali appeared on the screen in a grey business suit standing up next to the Bureau chief as she gave a brief rundown of the case.

Holy fucking shit. Kali had been a cop. All this time Kali had been working undercover and El had been clueless to it all or had she?! Kali could've turned her in but she made damn sure that El not only got out but got out alive. El had been potentially been a lot closer to being in jail than neither her nor Mike had recognize right?

Mike only realized that Jenny was next to him when she took the glass out of his hand and placed it on the coffee table.

He turned to face her. Mouth gaping open. So many thoughts and emotions rushing through him. Jenny didn't say anything but she knew what or better yet whom he was thinking about. When it came to El, Jenny never pushed him to forget about her. She just never mentioned her although Mike suspected that Jenny knew that he had never stopped thinking about El.

Jenny kissed Mike's cheek and gave his hand a squeeze. "I'm off to work. See you when I get back."

Mike merely managed to nod as Jenny walked away.


"Dude, I'm telling you. Sex is best with a nerd chick."

Dustin was waving his shrimp that had been dipped in barbecue sauce at Mike. He had decided to try dating the girl Suzie whom. He had previously engaged with and it had been three months now, a record in Dustin's case. "You should try it sometime." Dustin chomped down on the shrimp leaving only the tail between his fingertips.

Mike laughed and looked around the bar. "I don't really think that nerdy chicks are my thing."

Dustin waved him off. "Whatever." He took a big gulp of his beer. " I mean sure she has the tendacy to recite entire episodes of battlestar but ya know," he shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. " Reciting lines back to her just makes the sex even more awesome."

"Uh huh." Mike twirled his straw around in his drink. "Yeah I think one that was too much information and two I will just stick to Jenny. I don't need any crazies in my life."

Dustin looked at him suspiciously and wiped his mouth clean with a paper napkin. "Okay, spill it."

Mike was a bit lost. "Spill what?"

"There's obviously something on your mind." Dustin crossed his arms in front of his chest and leaned back in the chair and waited.

Mike sighed. "It's nothing."

Dustin waited.

Mike exhaled loudly through his lips. "That Brenner guy that El used to work for got arrested a couple days ago."

"And?"

"And..." Mike teetered a bit. He knew that Dustin was going to yell at him. "I was wondering if El knew."

"Why the hell would you care if she knows or not?" Already he could hear Dustin becoming defensive.

"It's just that El left to get away from Brenner and now that he's locked up -"

"You're hoping that she comes back." Dustin finished for him.

Mike just looked at him sheepishly.

"Oh for fuck's sake!" Dustin moaned and rolled his eyes. "Mike no!"

"But there are still some things that have to be cleared up." Mike tried to reason.

"There is nothing that has to be cleared up." Dustin leaned across the table. "She left you. She left you high and dry without even leaving a note. There is nothing that she can say that can make that shit right."

"I know." Mike bowed his head. "It's not that I would take her back. It's just that I want to know why she did it that way."

"It doesn't matter why she did it that way. The point is she did and she hurt you." Dustin dropped his voice. "A lot." He reached across the table and grabbed Mike's shoulder. "I don't want to see you like that ever again." Mike proffered a weak smile. "She hurt you too much Mikey. Honestly I'm not sure what I would say if I ever laid eyes on her."

"My knight in shining armour." Mike tried to tease lightheartedly to change the mood.

But Dustin's face remained somber. His hand still clutching Mike's shoulder. "I'm serious. You didn't deserve that."

Mike nodded slowly in agreement. "I know."

"Besides, you have Jenny now. She loves you and is good to you right?"

Mike exhaled softly as he stared at the condensation on the side of his glass. "I guess."

Dustin continued to hold on to Mike's shoulder. He watched as Mike seemed to mulling over something or someone.

"Your still in love with her aren't you?" It was said in the least accusatory tone that Dustin could muster up.

Mike lifted his head slowly to lock eyes with Dustin. "I've never stopped."


Mike did concede that Dustin did have a point. El did leave him without even looking back at him for two years. He would be a fool to even think that El would come back just because Brenner was in jail.

He was lying down on his stomach in his bed with his arm hanging off the side, fingers scratching Paladin's fur. "You tried to warn me didn't you boy? You never took to her like you do to everyone else. You knew that she was no good for me didn't you?" Paladin purred and then continued licking his paw.

Even though he was still angry at how El left him, a large part of him still missed her. He missed seeing her, hearing her, sleeping next to her. Her messy golden hair, the twinkling eyes and cute dimples. God, he just missed El and he hated himself for it. He never got that closure from how that relationship ended. He hated how he was treated but yet he couldn't bring himself to hate the woman behind the treatment. El left him like yesterday's garbage. Her proclamation of love was nothing more than sweet nothings whispered on a spring night.

This was pathetic. He was certain that El had moved on where ever she was without him. Living her life. Seeing as many men to her heart's content, having long forgotten about Mike and New York. So he should do the same thing. Forget about the Chicago native named El Hopper.

"Hey baby."

He suddenly felt Jenny pressed up against him. He didn't even know when she had walked into the room and gotten on the bed. He felt a finger softly stroking his cheek

"Why so sad baby?" Jenny kissed his shoulder and curled up behind to hold him in her arms.

" It's nothing. Don't worry about it." Mike hoped that Jenny would just let it drop.

"You know that you can talk to me about anything right?"

"Yeah." Mike just stared at the wall in front of him.

He felt another kiss at the nape of his neck. "Don't shut me out Hot Wheels. I love you."

Mike slid his hand down and covered Jenny's that was around his waist. Dustin was right. Jenny was a good woman who loved him. He needed to stop living in the past and enjoy his present before he lost it. "I know J." He rolled over to face her. Jenny's face was as immaculate as ever. Not a hair out of place. Mike pushed away that nagging thought that wished that he could mess it up and leaned in and kissed her gently on her full lips.

Jenny threaded her fingers lightly through the front of Mike's hair. "So I guess I can't convince you to come out with me?"

Mike groaned. "J, you know it makes me uncomfortable."

"I don't see why fabulous clubs make you so uncomfortable. They are awesome and the place to be seen!" Jenny said her eyes sparkling.

"It isn't the clubs that bother me. It's the patrons. I'm tired of fake people who are overly nice because they think my wallet might be their golden ticket."

Jenny giggled and kissed him lightly on the lips. "If you stopped being so rich and beautiful then maybe they won't." She sat up and patted Mike on the arm. "But I understand. Come on. I want you to help make me a snack that won't smudge my lipstick I have to meet the girls soon."

Mike smiled and shook his head as he followed Jenny into the kitchen. Yes life was good with Jenny as he watched his longtime friend grab things from the cupboard. He was glad that he had walked into that store ten years ago where Jenny had been working. It had to have been fate.

He had convinced Jenny to drink one of her protein shakes so that she could sip it through a straw. He was washing the cups used up in the sink when the doorbell rang. Jenny was in the bedroom getting ready. So Mike dried his hands on the hand towel that was hung on the rack next to the sink.

When he opened the door, his mind went completely blank. He couldn't process what he was seeing. Standing there in a simple black vest showcasing her tanned slender arms. Hair cut shorter and lighter as if bleached by the sun, with her unforgettable dimpled smile shining at him was his ex-girlfriend. El Hopper.



El.

After two long years, there she was standing right in front of him grinning. Grinning as if she had just gone to the store and had taken the scenic route coming back.

El.

A woman that he missed and loved so much that on occasion he had cried himself to sleep when it became too much. A woman that he couldn't stop thinking about every single day since he last saw her in one form or fashion.

And now she was standing right in front of him and it felt as if every thing in his body had frozen and he could only stare at her. Not believing what was standing right in front of him was real. It had to be a mirage. The real El couldn't just pop right back up in his life grinning as if every thing was okay. She couldn't. She wouldn't dare.

El's smile faltered a bit. "Mike?" She waved her hand in front of Mike's face. "It's me. El."

Mike blinked a couple of times as if he was now coming to his senses. "Yeah. I know who you are."

The cold, impersonal sound of Mike's voice wiped all of the merriment from off of El's face.

He noticed El wiping her hands on her jeans but he knew her well enough to know that they were not sweaty. Just one of her nervous habits. "Um, do you think er.. If it's possible.. That er...we could talk?"

Mike nodded his head slowly. "Uh, yeah." He stepped to a side so that El could enter the apartment. El was just staring at him with a bit of uncertainty and he was sure that the same expression was mirrored on his face.

"Hey Mikey! I'm leaving now."

Suddenly Jenny came into view and the tension in the apartment shot through the roof. Jenny was holding her handbag in one hand and looking at El as if she had seen a ghost. Meanwhile El swept Jenny with a glare from top to bottom, crossing her arms in front of her chest.

"You're the girl from the mall." El couldn't keep the slight sneer out of het voice.

"It's Jenny." The smaller girl pointed out although she had a feeling that El knew her name quite well.

El wore the most unfriendly expression that said loud and clear that she didn't give a damn what Jenny's name was.

Jenny swallowed hard and turned to Mike. The fear in her eyes was plain to see. She wasn't afraid of El's attitude. No she was scared that now El was back in the picture that she would reclaim the man that she had fallen in love with over the past two years.

"Um, I really have to go." She slipped her hand into Mike's who held on to it tight. It brought her a little comfort.

Mike lowered his head and placed a chaste kiss on Jenny's lips. "Okay, have fun."

Jenny nodded. Letting her fingers linger in Mike's hand until the last possible second until she had to walk away. She glanced between the two people standing in the hallway and then hurried out of the apartment closing the door behind her.

"So you and mall girl?" El inquired breaking the silence.

"Her name is Jenny." Mike corrected her as he led El into the living room.

Before El could respond her old nemesis ran up to her meowing a storm.

"Paladin!" El seemed instantly delighted as the cat meowed at her as if he was trying to have a conversation with her.

El stooped down and tried to pet him but the cat stepped back and hissed at her. El giggled and shook her head. "Same old Paladin."

Mike was sitting on the couch staring at her in amazement. How could El just waltz right back into his life, his apartment and act as if every thing was normal?

El got up off the floor smiling and sank down the other end of the couch. "He hasn't changed, has he?"

"l guess not."

Mike's tone was so cold and so unusual to her. El pulled her feet up up onto the couch and hugged her knees. "I get the feeling that you're not happy to see me?"

And there she went, pushing the lid off the anger that Mike was trying so hard to keep at bay. Mike swallowed hard as he clenched and unclenched his fists as a coping strategy. "Well it's kinda hard to be happy to see someone who took off in the middle of the night without so much as a goodbye note."

"Yes," El nodded her head slowly. "I guess that wasn't the best thing to do looking back at it, abut it felt like right thing to do at the time."

Mike just shook his head. El didn't even have to common courtesy to apologize for what she did to him. He couldn't look at her. He just stared at a spot on the floor as he spoke. "You had two fucking years El. Two years! And during all of that time I wasn't even worth a damn phone call?" El started to speak but Mike cut her off. "Do you know how many nights I didn't sleep because I was worried about you? I didn't even know if you were alive or dead. Do you know what that does to a person?" This time Mike was looking right at her. His deep brown eyes blazing. "Do you even care?"

"Of course I care Mike. It's why I came back." She dared to ease an inch closer to Mike on the couch.

"So you came back and that's suppose to make everything all right?" Mike couldn't believe her audacity sometimes.

"Mike, I did what I had to do in order to protect you first and foremost, there is a lot of other stuff to explain but your safety was my priority." El's voice was firm and resolute in that response.

"Protect me? From who? Brenner? Because he was after you?"

El seemed shocked that Mike knew that much. "How did you know?"

"I went to see Kali."

"You did what?" El looked completely unhinged and a bit scared at the thought of Mike looking for Kali.

"Oh I'm sorry but what the fuck did you expect me to do? You were gone without a trace. The woman that I thought loved me, took all of her shit and high tailed it out of New York and left me. I needed answers." He didn't want to fight with El but damn it felt good to get out all of his pent up frustrations and anger and direct it towards the right person.

" I...I... I did... I mean I do love you." El spoke softly, a bit nervous. Tapping her fingers against her collarbone as if she was waiting for something to end.

"Yeah well you've got a funny way of showing it."

"Don't say that!" Mike found himself face to face with El as she desperately gripped his shoulders tightly. "You know that I love you."

"If you had really loved me you wouldn't have left me like that. You wouldn't have hurt me like that. Love doesn't hurt people like that." Mike grabbed El's arms and pushed them off him.

El sat back on her end of the couch and she somehow managed to look completely devastated by what Mike had said. How could she do that? How could she just turn it around and make it seem as if Mike was the bad guy?

A tense silence fell between them. Both of them were hurting. Mike didn't even think that seeing El for the first time in years, would have ended with both of them being angry at each other. After spending countless hours wishing that El would walk back into his life, there she was sitting next to him on the couch and Mike didn't know what to do.

He glanced at her, she had gotten slimmer. Her skin looked clear and fresh. Whatever she had been doing during the time that she had left was working for her. But he couldn't even enjoy it. He couldn't enjoy it because El was being El and being obstinate and refusing to recognize the problem no matter how often Mike pointed it out to her.

Part of him wanted to reach across the couch and grab her by her black vest, pull her up against him and kiss her like there was no tomorrow. But another part of him told him to hold out. That he at least deserved an apology and an explanation. He didn't think that he was asking for too much and of course there was Jenny.

El sighed loudly. "Mike?"

The man in question looked at her with an eyebrow slightly raised.

"I'm sorry about the way I left."

Good, Mike thought at least they were making some progress.

"But I did it to protect you and there was things I couldn't explain but mainly I didn't want you to get hurt."

She was doing so well and then she had to go and ruin it.

"So what exactly did you think would happen when I woke up and found that you were gone? You thought that I was just going to shrug my shoulders and go about my day?"

"I don't know. I really didn't think about that part." El admitted.

"You leaving me has hurt me more than whatever Brenner would've done to me." Mike had to do it. He had to go there. He had to make El understand how terrible it felt when she left him.

"Really Mike?" El's eyes actually dared to look watery. "Don't say that."

"Say what? The truth. You hurt me badly El." His eyes were fixed on Paladin who was watching both of them with rapt attention. "And I don't know how you would expect me to just get over it. You know full well if the shoe was on the other foot that you wouldn't forgive me for leaving you. You would've hated my guts. I don't think that you would even speak to me. So the fact that I actually let you back into my house is already more than what you would've done." Mike felt a shudder rack through his body. He was trying so damn hard to hold back tears but they were going to come but these were tears of frustration and resentment because even after these two years had passed El was still clueless to the effect that she had on him.

"You had promised me El. You had promised that you wouldn't leave without saying goodbye. But you did. You told me that you loved me and then you just left. Who the fuck does that?" his voice cracked.

"I'm sorry Mike. I did tell you that I always mess relationships up." El was watching him as she chewed nervously on her bottom lip.

"That's no excuse." Mike wouldn't accept that now. "You could've told me what was happening. We could've come up with a plan. We could've done something. But you didn't even give us a chance."

He felt El moving closer to him and then a warm hand on his thigh. It had been two years since El had last touch him. Her touch shouldn't have felt so familiar and so comforting but it was. El moved herself up against his side. Her body heat spreading through his own. Mike turned his face slightly to the right and there El's was right in front of him. Those big doe eyes deep with regret. The hand on his thigh slid further up until it reached Mike's own hand and pried her fingers inbetween Mike's. He didn't mean to do it volunteerily but he squeezed her fingers between his. He wasn't going to let go now that he had found her again. He closed his eyes when El's face came closer to his own. When her nose brushed across his cheek and he could feel her gentle breath on his skin. His heart was beating so quickly. Only El could make him feel like this. Like his entire world would end if he didn't have her right this minute. A warm pair of lips pressed hard against his cheek. An "I love you Mike." breathed into his ear. Then El pulled away. Away from Mike's body and unraveled their fingers.

Mike opened his eyes in disbelief as El stood up and reached into her jean backpocket and pulled out a card. She placed the card on the coffee table.

"That's the hotel where I'm staying. I have my cell number on the back."

Mike swallowed hard. "How long are you staying in town?"

"As long as it takes," was the answer. Mike didn't feel as if he could will his feet to move as he watched El walk to the door. He felt numb from that little physical contact that he had with her. El had sparked something in him and as soon as he had moved away it died.

He stared at the small, rectangular white card on the table. He wanted closure from El but he was beginning to realize that El might not be able to give it to him.

Chapter Text

"Have you called her yet?"

"Nope."

"How long has it been?"

"A couple of days." Mike said stirring his coffee.

"So you don't want to talk it out with her?" Lucas asked as Mike placed his mug on his desk. They were the last ones in the office for the night.

"I don't know." Mike shook his head. His thoughts were just so jumbled when they came to El that he didn't know where to start.

"I don't why you're pressuring Mike to talk to her anyway." Dustin said swivelling in his chair. "She's the one that needs to come to Mike."

"Does it really matter?" Lucas asked.

"Of course it does. She is the one that walked out on Mike. She's the one that needs to be begging for Mike to talk. If Mike goes to her, she's going to think that what she did was okay."

"Sounds a bit like playing games." Lucas opinioned.

"Well sometimes you have to play games to see what a person is really about." Dustin advised. "If she really wants Mike she'll come and get him."

Mike was carefully listening to Dustin. He did have a point. If El really wanted him, she needed to make more of an effort. Just saying that she did it to protect Mike wasn't good enough.

Dustin placed his hand on Mike's shoulder. "For the last six months you have had a good thing going with Jenny. You have to consider that as well."

Mike nodded. He didn't want to hurt Jenny when she had been nothing but loving and supportive towards him.

"But Mike doesn't love Jenny though."

Both Mike and Dustin looked at Lucas in shock. "What did you just say?" Mike managed to splurt out. "I care about Jenny."

Lucas shrugged. "Well sure you care about her. But you don't love her like you do El."

"What makes you say that?"

"Mike, come on. You're the kinda guy that wears his heart on his sleeve. It's pretty obvious." Lucas crossed his arms. "Dustin knows it too."

Dustin rolled his eyes. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Dude please. You know that Mike is still feeling a way for El. That's why you don't want him to go to her first. Because you know that he would forgive her too easily instead of talking shit out."

Dustin kept his eyes focused on the ceiling. "Well maybe. But you see how Mikey is. He's so soft."

"Um, hello. I'm still here." Mike interjected.

"Yeah just a minute. Lucas and I are talking here." Dustin dismissed him with a wave.

"I know the guy is soft but you can't be hard all the time but I do also see what you're saying. She did do Mike pretty bad."

"Pretty bad is an understatement. After what she did, she doesn't deserve a guy like a Mike."

"That is true. I don't."

The three men turn around to see El leaning up against the door frame. Hands pushed into the front pockets of worn blue jeans. A slow walk as she approached the small group. "Mike deserves the best but I still want him."

El's eyes lingering on Mike's face as she said the last part.

"Oh hell no!"

Before Mike could stop him, Dustin marched right up to El "You have some audacity showing up here after all you have done!! Do you know how long it took us to get him back to himself? Months!! That's how long. He was broken El, broken, you broke him. If you think you would be welcomed back with open arms then you were very clearly mistaken" Dustin spat.

El stumbled back clearly upset by Dustin's harsh words

"El.. " Mike immediately placed himself in a protective stance between the two of them with El shielded behind him "What did you do that for?" He yelled at his curly haired friend.

Dustin merely sighed as he walked off. "She had to hear the truth."

Mike stared in disbelief as Dustin walked away.

"I'm gonna go and check on him." Lucas ran off behind Dustin.

El was breathing heavily, silent tears running down her face.

"I can't believe that he yelled at you." Mike was still in shock. "I mean he did say that if he ever saw you again he would let you have it, but I didn't think that he would actually do it."

El stepped slowly round Mike. "Well I guess I did have it coming." She scrutinized Mike a bit in his jacket, shirt and slacks. "Are you done for the day? I was hoping that we could go somewhere and talk."

"Uh yeah." Mike looked around the room. "Wait here while I go get my bag."

Mike started to walk off but then he quickly turned on his heel. "You might want to stay out of Dustin's sight. You're not his favourite person right now."

El winced a bit from the memory of their most recent interaction and she tried to smile. "Yeah I kind of picked up on that."


The setting sun bathed the street in colours of orange and pink as Mike and El walked side by side on the sidewalk with their arms swinging between them.

"You didn't call." El said. Her eyes fixed ahead of her.

"I didn't know what to say." El's hair was glowing gold in the sunset. Casting a warm glow upon her face, rendering her so beautiful in that moment, that Mike lost his train of thought and forgot what else he was going to say.

"Well I didn't hear much." El stopped to cross the street. The walk sign came on and they crossed the street together. "But I guess Dustin did have a point. I don't deserve a guy like you and truth is I should have been coming to you and not expecting you to come to me."

Well score another point for Dustin, Mike thought.

"Because I'm the one who messed up but I messed up long before you even entered my life and I need you to understand it all."

It was only when a guy walking a golden retreiver on a blue leash passed by them that it registered to Mike that El had led them to the park.

"I'm glad that you could admit that but I am confused as to what you mean by the rest of it." Mike said as he sat on a bench placing his bag between them.

"Well I had some time over the last few days to think about what you had said and you were right." El lazily pushed her boot through the grass. "I didn't think about how my leaving would've affected you."

"But how couldn't you?" That had been the hard part for Mike. How could El just leave without even considering the effect that her sudden disappearance would've had on him.

El sighed, placing her left arm on top of Mike's bag as if it were a cushion. "I need to take you back to make you understand. You already knew I worked for Brenner ever since he took me off my mum's hands" Mike nodded as he remembered how El had recounted her upbringing to him his heart aching at the memory. "Well my mantra became be bad or be dead and while life sucked, death didn't feel like the best option. I had friends and money was good. Then about three years ago I got the shock of my life when I over heard a conversation between Kali and her FBI handler. I liked Kali but I was so surprised, she seemed so loyal to Brenner from the beginning so I confronted her and a deal was made that inevitably led me to where I am now"

"I'm still confused El.."

"I know, I'm sorry bear with me, I wanted out from underneath Brenner and Kali knew this. Whilst she was building a case against Brenner she wasn't privvy to the information that would really get him sent down, information that I had, had access to since I was a teenager. I agreed to become her informant. The condition of this deal was I disappear when the time was right and testify at his trial, I would be on probation but avoid jail.

"You mean you knew Kali was a Fed, I mean you were working for them..oh El why didn't you say anything" Mike sighed running his hands across his face.

"You know it's not that straight forward Mike, too much was at stake and our plan had been working fine until New York and you."

"What do you mean"

"I mean here with you in New York, was the first time I had felt at home since my dad had died and I didn't want to let you or that feeling go. I don't know what Kali told you but my work for Brenner in the various cities was always time specific. I had managed to extend this contract as long as possible but I was already running out of time as you and me were getting more serious. Brenner was also getting more paranoid, which was rightfully so..." El paused and ran her fingers through her hair

"When he found out I still hadnt left town he put out a hit on me. I had already told you when people went against him or tried to leave they were very rarely seen again. He had also made it clear that it didn't matter if there was any collateral damage I knew too much for him to take any chances.

"But Kali said he was only going to get some guys to rough you up" Mike whispered the colour draining from his face.

"I guess she was trying to make you feel less concerned but Brenner doesn't just rough people up, he likes to ensure the message is received by everyone in his organisation, you don't go against him. It was Kali that gave me the heads up about the hit and said to go lay low and it would be over soon"

"Wow" Mike shook his head.

"I guess with all of this going on and being so focused on protecting you from Brenner, not to mention Max and even Dustin, Lucas, Benny and Steve. I mean even Paladin" she added, a small grin appearing on her face "that I didn't stop to think how my leaving would make you feel. I just sorta figured that you would've understood."

Mike mulled El's words over carefully, whilst trying to process the information download. The sun was slowly dipping below the horizon and a gorgeous deep purple sky was appearing. "I was really scared those first few hours. I thought that you had gone to do a job for Brenner and had gotten hurt. When you didn't answer your phone I was besides myself. I was so scared for you."

"I'm so very sorry. I didn't mean to put you through that." When spoken, her words seemed so light weight, as the gravity of Mike's feelings sunk in. She hadn't meant to antagonize and cause Mike undue stress but that was exactly what she had done. And to make matters worse, she hadn't even contacted him for two years leaving Mike unsure about what had happened to her.

"And then when I went to your apartment and I saw that every thing was gone, it hit me." Mike paused. Eyes staring into the distance, focusing on nothing in particular. "You were gone and it hurt so fucking much."

The raw pain was still very much evident in Mike's voice and a lump rose in El's throat. She had hurt him. She did it by herself. She could try to blame Brenner but it wasn't really his fault her bad choices had started all this a long time ago and ended with her not even saying goodbye to the man that she had claimed to love.

El lifted up the bag from between them and placed it on the other side of her. She slid right up to Mike and took his right hand into her own. Her thumb smoothed over Mike's knuckles slowly in a back and forth motion.

A slightly chill breeze whipped around them before disappearing. The sky was almost a deep blue purple now. The Evening Star making its appearance low on the horizon.

"Mike," she began, keeping her focus on what she was holding. "I know I sound like a broken record but I'm so sorry. I … I really didn't mean to hurt you. You must believe that."

Mike wet his lips lightly with the tip of his tongue before speaking as he turned his head towards his ex girlfriend. "Then why didn't you at least call me?"

"Because..." El's voice trailed off. She didn't really know what to say. She had kept that truth at a distance. She had shoved it to the back of her mind and tried not to think about it. Or she justified it by saying it was for the good of the trial but there would have been a way to contact him and now it was time to face that truth.

"I didn't know how to say goodbye to you." She answered quietly.

El's thumb made it's way up Mike's index finger.

"I don't understand."

El exhaled sharply, squeezing Mike's hand hard until they were staring at each other.

Slowly, El found her voice. "I didn't know how to say goodbye to you." Mike's eyes narrowed a bit in confusion. That was okay. El was a bit muddled up herself but she tried to unravel it. "I didn't know how to look you in the eye and tell you that I had to leave you."

El shifted her hand underneath Mike's and laced their fingers together. "I think, if I had tried to tell you that I had to leave that I wouldn't have gone. Because you would've asked me to stay and ..." El laughed nervously breaking up the solemn mood. " God, this is going to sound stupid but I think deep down I knew that I wouldn't be able to tell you no. And then Brenner would've probably gotten to us and I didn't want live with the guilt of putting you in harm's way, not to mention if we had somehow survived Brenner the jail time I would have had to do as Kali would have been pissed that I jeopardised her case."

"So you left me because you couldn't say good bye to me?" There was a note of disbelief in Mike's voice and El didn't blame him for it.

"I told you that it would sound stupid." El huffed. She pulled Mike's hand onto his lap. "I did think about calling you. Almost every single minute of every day. I had picked up the phone to call you but I didn't know what to say to you. Part of me had hoped that you had forgotten about me and moved on and another part of me thought that if you did hear from me that you would write me off and I didn't want you to forget me."

Mike kept his hand on El's lap. It felt at home there. "So where were you all of this time?"

"Texas."

"Texas? What were you doing all the way down in Texas?"

"Well I wanted to get as far away from Brenner as possible with the hit still out on me, it just so happens to be one of the few states that he doesn't have any contacts in."

"So where were you? Dallas?"

"No. Austin."

"What did you do down there?"

"Lots of odd jobs."

She picked up on the tension in Mike's arm. "Nothing illegal." She soothed him "Mostly bar work".

A thought planted itself in Mike's mind. He should've dismissed it as soon as it came but it had taken root and now he couldn't shake it. "I know I don't really have the right to ask but were you seeing anyone?"

El slouched down a bit on the bench. "I saw plenty of people. Every single day." A knowing smirk appeared on her lips when Mike playfully tugged her hand for the smart ass answer. "Nothing serious."

El brought the back of Mike's hand up to her lips. She pressed the hand against her lips, holding it there. That shiver that ran down Mike's spine was as sharp as it ever was. Only El could do that.

El's finger drew circles on Mike's palm as she kept the hand pressed against her lips. "How long have you and mall girl been together?"

"Just under six months." Mike was trying to keep his breathing level but he was getting flustered by El's ministrations and he had the sneaking suspicion that El knew that as well.

El's cool breath on his hand caused Mikes breath to catch in his throat. El noticed and kissed the back of his hand. "Do you love her?"

Mike locked eyes with El's. Her golden eyes were narrowed and suspicious as she turned Mike's palm towards her mouth and kissed it.

"In a way.. yeah." It came out in a shuddered breath. Mike was losing his cool and quickly

El kissed the palm again.

"El." Her name came out like a moan despite Mike's resolve.

El's eyes glimmered in the faint light. " Does she make you feel the way that I do?"

"What are you getting at?"

El placed Mike's back in her lap. "I want you back Mike."

Mike.

He had always loved the way how El said his name. Mike.

It always did something to him and what it did right now was to cause his hand to slip to inside of El's thigh dangerously close to her centre. His teeth bit the inside of his lip as he moved his hand slowly up and down her thigh. God. It had been way too long.

His eyes caught El's whose eyes had widen and dilated at the way Mike was caressing her leg. Mike gave her leg a squeeze through her jeans which caused El to inhale sharply, he couldn't deny the noise pleased him.

Mike began to lean in as El. They were in the middle of a public park. They shouldn't be doing this but consequences be damned. His hand slid along El's cheek and cupped her face her breath fanning lightly across his lips however the next question El asked him made him pause.

"Does this mean you will take me back Mike?"



Of course El would pick this moment to ask him something like that. Were they back together? The fuck if he knew. El's hands were on his shoulders, his were on her face. Their lips millimetres apart, his adrenaline was pumping. It had been two years and that chemistry between them hadn't died a bit. He would give anything right now to be covering El's lips with his own. But what would that solve? They still had problems that needed to be worked on.

"Mike?"

"I don't know." Mike moved his hand from her face and placed them back on his knees instead. He looked around. Night had fallen. Everything was nearly pitch black with shadows. Streetlights illuminating the pathways in the distance.

"You still want me?" El questioned and Mike moaned involuntarily.

"That's not fair." He could see the gleam in those doe eyes. "I've never not wanted you." Mike said gently "But sex was never our problem."

A hush fell between them. Both of them thinking about the situation. El rested one hand on the back of Mike's neck as her fingers dipped into the curls at the base of his neck. El was so close to him. He could smell her faint perfume, see her chest rise and fall even in the darkness. Her lips were so close that he could just take them in his own and kiss her until the sunrise.

But her eyes told him that her mind was faraway thinking about something important and that Mike shouldn't interrupt her train of thought.

El took a breath. "I thought about you every single day, I wondered what you were doing. What Paladin was doing. Did the cat even miss me?" A soft laugh from Mike. "It hurt so damn much be away from you. But I kept on telling myself that it was necessary to keep you safe. That you knew that I was in a dangerous profession and that you would understand."

El took another deep breath. When she released it, the air brushed past Mike's lips. "You understanding was the only thing that I was holding on to in the hopes that you wouldn't hate me for leaving." Her thumb brushed down Mike's cheek. "I didn't want you to hate me Mike." Her eyes finally drifting up to meet Mike's. "I hope you don't hate me."

The question hung in the air for a bit. The hand on El's knee squeezed her a bit. "I could never hate you."

El smiled. "I missed us Mike. I missed being with you. And when Brenner's sentencing was complete, I just dropped everything and came back here. I didn't even know if you were still in the city, or if you had moved. I was just hoping that you were still there at the apartment." El's fingers twitched in her lap.

"I need you Mike but I am not going to be the other girl. I can't say it hasn't hurt to see you moved on but I can't say I'm surprised given how I left things but you know everything now, no more secrets, nothing more to come between us but you need to work out what you want."

Mike could tell that El was being sincere. He felt every single word that she was saying to him. He'd also missed being with El terribly. But was that enough for them to get back together?

"Mike." His name a hushed questioning whisper escaping El's lips. Yet the longing was evident. What he had been praying for during the last two years was sitting right in front of him. Dustin and Lucas were right. He was soft.

"I need you too." The confession was barely out of his mouth before El stood up.

"You have to get home." El turned towards him, regret in her eyes.

"You are right I need to talk to Jenny. I mean I don't want to hurt her. She's been good to me El and I can't string her along. She doesn't deserve that."

Ell tried to swallow down the jealousy rising in her throat. Of course she had been good to him, after she had bailed on him and left him with a broken heart.

"Do what you need to do Mike I am staying, like I said for as long as it takes. "


Mike racked his brain over and over but there was no easy way to say what he was about to say. He closed the front door behind him and walked into the living room. Jenny turned around and was about to greet him when she saw the expression on his face.

Mike's grip on his bag handles tightened as he felt the electricity crack in the air between them. Jenny got off the couch and walked slowly towards him. He could tell that Jenny was searching his face and he saw a sadness fall across hers as she crossed her arms in front of her chest. "You were with her, weren't you?"

It sounded like half a question and half a statement. Jenny merely wanted confirmation to what she already knew.

Mike nodded his head slowly. His bag suddenly feeling quite heavy in his hand. "Yeah."

He hated to see the hurt overtaking Jenny's face as she glanced away from him. "I see."

Jenny turned and walked towards the bedroom. Mike felt an uneasy feeling in his stomach and went after her. "J!"

By the time he had reached the bedroom, Jenny was pulling out her empty gym bag as Mike dropped his bag on the floor. He watched as Jenny opened the closet door and started taking her clothes off the hangers.

"J, what are you doing?"

Jenny kept her back to him. "What does it look like I'm doing?"

Mike watched as she folded the clothes hapazardly and dropped them in the bag.

"You're leaving J?" Mike walked up behind her.

" Michael, please." He could hear sniffling. "Don't act like this wasn't coming. As soon as you saw El, you knew that you wanted her back."

Mike lightly placed his hands on Jenny's hips. "J..."

"Mike." Jenny closed her eyes momentarily. " Don't make this harder than it already is."

Mike pulled her into a hug which Jenny sank into. Mike rested his cheek on the top of her head. " I didn't want to do this to you."

"But you are." Jenny muffled into his chest. " You're breaking my heart Hot Wheels."

Mike's lips curled up slightly in a smile at the silly nickname. Jenny didn't deserve this. "How are you so certain that I'm breaking up with you?"

"Because I know you and have done for a long time." She replied matter-of-factly. "And I also know for sure that El's the love of your life. As much as I wish that it was me, I know better."

"J..." Mike looked down at her and placed a small kiss on her forehead. There was a bittersweet feeling about it. It was only then that it hit him that it was hurting him too, to break up with Jenny. Yes he was very much in love with El but Jenny had been there through some of the darkest times in his life and to break her heart as deliberately as he was doing, didn't sit too well with him, she had always been his friend.

He tightened his grip around Jenny. "You know that you'll always have a special place in my heart, right?"

He pulled her back in time to see a wayward tear fall down her cheek. "Just so you know," Jenny began, "you're doing this entire breakup thing wrong. At this point I'm supposed to be yelling and screaming at you and telling you to go to hell."

Mike gently brushed the tear away. "You can still do that if you want."

Jenny giggled softly and shook her head as more tears fell. "Fuck Mike. You're making this so damn hard."

"I didn't want to hurt you J." Mike said brushing his thumb down her cheek. "You are so good to me."

Jenny sniffled as she wiped her face with the back of her hand. "But not good enough apparently."

Mike groaned. "J," He really felt bad about this. It wasn't fair to Jenny but his friends were right. He didn't love her how he loved El and Jenny deserved someone who could do that for her as a minimum. "You deserve better than this. I wish that I could give it to you but I can't."

Mike walked backwards, taking Jenny with him until his legs butted the bed. He laid down on the mattress and then pulled Jenny on top of him. Jenny's head resting on his chest, one leg between his thighs.

Mike just held on to the blonde as he felt the tears wetting his shirt. He had to do this for Jenny. It was the least he could do with all things considered.

He had never been through a breakup like this before and he didn't think that Jenny had either. They had been good friends for years before they had become an item and Mike hoped that they could still at least remain friends after this but he knew that right now he had no right to ask that of Jenny. He hated to think of Jenny as being a rebound she had stuck through so much of his heartbreak over El. Offered so many words of encouragement. Held him just like this on so many countless nights. And how did Mike repay her? By breaking her heart by reuniting with the same woman that had caused him the pain. It had to be a tough pill to swallow on Jenny's end.

"J?"

The teary eyed blonde looked up at him innocently.

Mike shifted a bit and placed a gentle kiss on her nose "thank you" and then gently rested his forehead against hers

When they had finally parted, they just stared at each other for a while. Nothing had to be said. They both knew the sentiment behind his actions"



When Mike woke up the next morning, Jenny was curled up by his side fast asleep. She looked so peaceful and content next to him that it did tug at his heart a little. He hated doing this, after all she had done to help him to get on his feet when he first came to New York. His loyal friend through out the years. If it had been anyone else but El he would've told them to take a hike, that he was committed to Jenny. But El just held that part of him that no one else could reach.

Mike eased slowly out of the bed, resting Jenny's head on the pillow and then pulling the blanket over her. As he made his way to the kitchen, he wondered if their friendship would survive this breakup. Even though it might be considered selfish of him, he really hoped that it would.

Jenny found him in the kitchen half an hour later turning over some bacon in the frying pan. "You're making breakfast?" She seemed surprised as she sat on one of the bar stools.

"Yeah," Mike poked the crisping bacon with the edge of the spatula. "It's the least I could do, you know, considering everything."

He glanced behind him at Jenny who was just watching him with a somewhat remorseful expression. He turned back to the frying pan and turned off the heat underneath it. Breakups were always miserable things.

He plated the food and brought it over to Jenny along with some toasted bagels. The meal was quiet. Mike watched as Jenny picked at the food. He couldn't really blame her if she didn't have much of an appetite.

After ten minutes Jenny pushed away the plate and got off the stool and went back into the bedroom without saying a word to Mike. So much for making it seem as normal as possible. Although he really couldn't fault her for feeling how she did, he thought as he cleaned up the breakfast remains. She was basically told last night that she wasn't good enough anymore. A sort of extended replacement until El returned, if you will.

When Mike finished in the kitchen he decided to watch some television and give Jenny some space. As soon as he sat down on the couch, Paladin jumped in his lap and curled right up, purring pleasantly. Mike scratched the furry tummy and the cat purred even more contentedly. If only it was this easy to apease humans, Mike thought.

"Well, I'm leaving."

It was an hour later and Jenny was standing in the corridor holding a gym bag in one hand and a roll-on bag by it's handle in the other. Hair slicked back into a pony tail, in a white v-neck t-shirt and skinny fit jeans. She looked immaculate, as usual. Her eyes kept on meeting Mike's and then dropping to the floor.

Mike got off the couch and went to her. Mike wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her into a tight hug.

At first Jenny was tense in his arms but eventually she relaxed to the point that Mike was supporting most of her weight. There they remained, for how long, neither knew. He heard Jenny gasp a couple of times and a couple of times he felt wetness where her head rested but he said nothing. They needed this. This was an emotional closure of some sort.

Finally Jenny took a step back from the embrace, wiping her face with his hand. "Um, I had called a friend to come and pick me up. She's probably outside waiting."

Mike nodded slowly. "Okay." He watched as Jenny picked back up her bags. " J?"

Jenny looked at him waiting.

" I know that I probably have no right to even ask or suggest such a thing but do you think that we can still be friends?" His voice came across a bit too hopeful and eager but fuck it, he didn't want to lose Jenny completely, even if it was a bit selfish.

Jenny seemed to be considering the proposition carefully. "Just give me some time, okay?" She took in the crestfallen look on Mike's face. "I'm not saying no, it's just that this is a lot of heavy shit to process."

"No I get it. It's a lot of me to ask but I don't want you out of my life completely."

Jenny shuffled a bit uncomfortably. "It really is a lot to ask."

"I know.. " Mike didn't want to push her. That would be the worst thing to do at this point.

Jenny nodded. "Okay." She tightened her grip on her bags and continued to walk to the door. Mike watched as she opened the door and walked over the threshold. Jenny waved goodbye to him and he waved back. Then the door closed and Jenny was gone.


The sound of his front door startled Mike from the daze he had been in, he hadn't even noticed that dusk had fallen, was Jenny back?

"Is it safe to come home?" El's voice asked meekly from the hallway.

Mike rushed to the door "El, how did you.. I mean I meant to message you.."

"Its ok Mike I never returned my key and apparently you didn't change your locks...are you ok?"

"It's been a long 24 hours but I feel better now you are here." He cupped El's jaw gently. His hand easily taking up half of El's face. "I've missed you."

As soon as the words had left his mouth, El had reached up on her tiptoes and covered Mike's lips with her own.

The kiss burned his lips and went straight to his core. All of his senses were on fire as he grabbed the back of El's head and kept it in place as he kissed her back with urgency. Her lips, tongue, mouth taste. He had to memorize everything. It had been too long. Way too long. She tasted so good. Way better than he had remembered.

He didn't know how long they remained in that liplock. But his jaw was a bit sore by time that they had separated. El smiled at him and he smiled back.

El gently kissed his lips once more. "We'll make it work this time Mike I promise."

Mike nodded slowly. "We have to."

Still standing in his hallway, El laced the fingers of her left hand through the fingers of Mike's right hand into a tight grip. She had Mike again. She didn't deserve it but here they were. She had never loved someone like this in her life and she knew for certain she wouldn't again. This was it for her.

Mike smiled as he placed one arm around El's waist and led her to the couch. Paladin was curled up on the single seater despite Mike telling him that it was off limits and putting him on the floor more times than he cared to remember. The cat narrowed his eyes in an unfriendly manner at El and then turned his head in the opposite direction.

"I've missed you." El kissed Mike's cheek while one hand made it's way underneath his shirt to touch the warm skin, while she snuggled the rest of herself into his side

El planted kisses down Mike's jaw and his neck, while her hand pushed his shirt even further up. Fingers becoming familiar once again with Mike's skin.

"El," Mike placed his hands on El's hips, sighing a bit. It felt so good to be holding on to her like this again. "We need to talk."

"About what?" El gently placed a kiss to Mike's throat. Mike's eyes closed and he moaned. El always knew how to make things difficult for him.

"About us."

" What about us?"

"El," Mike put some authority in his tone whilst trying to regain his composure. "I'm serious. Look I need to be honest with you okay?"

He noticed El's throat tighten as she swallowed hard. "Okay."

Mike exhaled sharply through his mouth. "I love you so much El and I really want us to work this time." He took one of El's clenched hands into his own. "You want that too right?"

El looked down at her hand that Mike was holding and slowly released her fingers. "Yes, very much so."

"I think what we need to do is to be more open and honest with each other. No more secrets." Mike looked pointedly in El's eyes as he spoke. "No more making big decisions without informing the other person, regardless of the potential consequences."

"Mike!" El whined. " I don't know how much more I can apologise."

"I know El, I know. It's just I'm not sure I can take that much pain again. You are it for me. Just no keeping things from each other." He drew El's face close to his own. "Okay?" A little bit more and his lips would brush El's.

"Okay."

Tiny sparks of chemistry were already prickling Mike's skin and he could tell from the way that El was looking at him that she felt them as well. Both sets of eyes flickering down to each other's lips. And with a hitch of breath that neither knew who made, their lips touched. Mike pulled El right up against him as the kiss deepened. This kiss signified the start of something new for both of them.

When after long last, they decided to break for air, El posed a question to Mike. "You ever thought about moving out west?"

That was definitely out of nowhere. "You mean like Montana, when I said I wanted to runaway with you?"

El shook his head. "Not quite so uncivilized."

Mike was curious. "Then where? Texas?"

"Nope. I was thinking more along the lines of Nevada?"

"Nevada?" Mike was confused. "Why?"

"Well actually I'm aiming more for Vegas."

"Vegas? Las Vegas?"

El grinned. "Yeah I think it would be perfect for us, you know fresh start and all."

"El, I don't know. I have to give it a lot of thought. I have a life here."

"I understand that truly I do, but it's nothing that you can't rebuild. You're an IT consultant Mike. You can work anywhere."

"I guess that's the easy bit, but my friends ." Mike thought about his friends, especially Dustin and Lucas and to be honest the clients that he had become attached to he would have to start all over again, brand new.

"Thats what frequent flyer miles are for" El days smiling shyly

"Well I guess it won't hurt to take a flight down there to see what it's all about."

El smiled. Half the battle was already won.

Chapter Text

Epilogue

Ten months later

"Pal, get down from there!"

El stood with her hands on her hips frustrated. This was the third time this week. They had rented a nice house with a backyard on the outskirts of the city. It was a nice location at first but however Paladin had taken to climbing the tree in the backyard but couldn't get himself back down.

The cat drew back from the branch until it reached the trunk of the tree and meowed down at El. Each time he did this Mike insisted that El be the one to go and fetch him down. It was a part of the trust building exercise that was needed for them to bond. Mike got that gibberish from the pet therapist whose website he had consulted on before they had left New York. Mike had said that he was tired of El and Paladin not getting along and that he had wanted them to resolve their issues. At first El had thought that Mike had been joking when he mentioned the therapist. It wasn't until Mike had pulled out this guy's card, El realized that he had been serious. She had been adament about not following the advice because she found it silly, well that was until Mike told her that it would mean a lot to him if she and Paladin got along. And well, El wasn't one to deny Mike anything especially when it was followed by puppy dog eyes and a sweet kiss.

El sighed and kicked off her shoes. She grabbed the first branch and hauled herself up until she reached the cat. She was just thankful that the tree wasn't that tall. She picked up Paladin who latched on to her vest. His tiny claws ripping through the material and pricking his skin.

"Hey, not so tight."

Paladin meowed in response as El held him in one arm and began her descent.

"I have a feeling that you do this on purpose."

Paladin meowed again and El took it as confirmation. As soon as her bare feet touched the grass, the cat scampered down and ran inside the house.

El carefully lit the candles that she had arranged around the sunken jacuzzi. It was on the deck outside of their bedroom overlooking the now twilight infused backyard. She wasn't really good at the romantic thing. That was more of Mike's forte. However, somehow to her, tonight felt good for some romance.

The week that they had come down to check out Las Vegas, Mike had made some enquiries and immediately found there was plenty of work, so much so that he was able to start his own consultancy practice. From top hotels to companies that were based in LA, apparently Mike had the experience and credentials they were looking for and other than a little tired when he was travelling he seemed to be happy with how things were working out. His success made her chest feel warm.

She lit the last candle and admired the pretty, soft flickering flames glowing against the dark wood of the floor. The temperature had dipped significantly as it tended to in a desert and El could feel the coolness circulating in the air.

"There you are."

El stood up, smiling bashfully as Mike joined her on the deck.

"What's all of this?" Mike folded his arms and cocked his head to a side smirking at El.

"I...uh..." El found herself being surprisingly shy and tousling her hair. "I just wanted to do something nice...for you." She sheepishly glanced up at Mike and then back down to the ground.

She heard Mike stepping closer to her and then his arms pulling her in close. Her own arms locking around Mike's waist. Her head resting on her boyfriend's chest. Fingers gently raked through her unruly hair and a kiss being pressed to her crown.

It was then that El realized that this was what she needed the most. Mike's approval. The comfort in knowing that what she did, as little as it was, didn't go unappreciated. It had taken some long talks and leaps of faith on both of their parts to bring them to where they are now. She could feel the constant rise and fall of Mike's chest against her own and it brought with it a serenity that she hadn't know in her life before and she wanted to keep it as long as possible.


"So Dustin, Lucas and Max are flying in next week." Mike said as he placed his wine glass down on the decking.

The shadows from the flames were flickering across El's face as she sat at the opposite end of the jacuzzi. That messy hair almost obscuring one golden eye. A warm glow on healthy tanned skin. Lips tinted a rosier colour from the wine. El was everything that he had ever wanted. The darkness of the night was their backdrop.

He watched as she flicked the water with her slender fingers. "So you think Dustin has fully forgiven me yet?"

Mike laughed softly. "I think so." He stretched his fingers through the water to meet El's. He gave her a slight tug and instinctively his girlfriend moved closer until she was straddling Mike's lap.

He admired the way how the soapy water slid over El's chest and flat stomach. El had taken to running in the surrounding desert and it was doing amazing things to her body. Mike leaned in, inhaling the fresh scent of the bubbles as he planted a kiss on El's collarbone. He let his lips linger there as he spoke to El. "Or is there something else on your mind?"

Trust Mike to know that there was something else. Her fingers twisted through a strand of his dark hair as she contemplated her answer. "I'm sorry that I haven't been able to find a permanent job. It's kinda hard out there when there is literally nothing that you can put on your resume."

Mike's arm circled El's back. " Hey, it's okay. I make more than enough to support both of us. You'll figure something out."

"I just feel like such a mooch." El sighed and Mike kissed her softly.

"Hey none of that talk. You used all what you had saved in supporting us when we first moved out here and towards the down payment on this place. Now it's my turn. I don't want you to do anything that you're not comfortable with just to make some money." Mike moved one hand underneath the water to cup El's ass. "I love you too much for that."

It had never ceased to amaze Mike how a simple kiss from El could send tingles straight down his spine. How the natural symphony of their lips and tongues moving to an ingrained rhythm turned him on beyond belief. The press of El's thumb against his collar bone and her naked self sat across his lap helped as well.

His tongue flicked over El's nipple as his first finger entered her. The honey haired girl moaned so loudly that Paladin scampered out on to the deck to see what was the matter. When he saw what the two were up to, he curled up in a corner of the deck and watched with rapt attention. That cat was always too nosy for its own good Mike thought as he continued to work his fingers into El.

She was marking his neck with her lips and teeth as Mike continued to work her. He could feel his cock pulsing underwater as he removed his fingers. He needed to be inside of her at this very moment. Instinctively El positioned herself without stopping her assault on Mike's neck and shoulder. Mike pressed the head of his cock against El's entrance and pushed it in slowly.

El's moan of pleasure as Mike entered her sent a jolt down Mike's spine. Her eyes closed. She panted hotly against Mike's neck as her fingers fought for purchase on the slippery skin.

"Fuck!" The way how El said it as Mike started to pump his hips into her turned him on even more. But El was giving it as good as she got as she rotated her hips on Mike's cock and kept their lips locked together.

This was the very essence of them. Mike and El. The push and the pull. The heavy and the light. The tension and chemistry. They were okay apart but together they were everything. They were friends, lovers and some would even say soulmates. They drew on each other's strengths and covered the other's weaknesses. Their lips tore apart as they came together, unable to keep the momentum bottled up inside. They panted into each other's mouths as they tried to steady their racing hearts.

El was looking at him through half opened hazy eyes and Mike grabbed the back of her head to keep it steady.

"Through sickness and health, for richer or poorer." His eyes locked with El's. "Remember, we're going to saying that for real next week." El nodded her head in understanding. "I mean every single word of that."

The haze left the golden eyes and they became clear and bright once more. She loved the man whose lap that she was still sitting on more than life itself and it no longer scared her like it used to. Instead she embraced it and looked forward to having the family she had always wanted. She rubbed her thumb over Mike's bottom lip. "Me too, always."

Paladin yawned.