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Shivering

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You shivered as you stared into the distance, cursing your boss for making you stay late at work. Your eyes were irritated from your lack of sleep and your feet throbbed in your tight shoes. You had just missed the last bus, and remembering how far the walk to your apartment was from here (and, simultaneously, how impossibly expensive a taxi was for you) you felt frustrated tears pricking the corners of your eyes. You needed this job; money did not come in easy these days and this one payed better than the ones you forced yourself to work at in the past. But even this was not enough, and despite working grueling shifts you still barely made ends meet. You wondered if it was time to start looking for something else. Taking a deep breath and clutching your purse closer to yourself, you resolved to start the long walk home from here.

The chill late autumn air of Gotham pulled goosebumps from your skin and you picked up the pace of your walk, so over-exhausted that you felt your eyes closing as you tread forward. The streets were bare as it was cold and well past the closing time of most stores in the area, and you pleaded to some unknown force that you would fail to encounter anyone else on your way home. News of attempted assault was not uncommon on the nightly news you watched when you got home, as the riots in Gotham were at an all-time high and the rich were feeling a bit neglected. You knew you were an easy target, walking alone at night on an empty street with little to defend yourself. All you could pray for was a silent walk home, to which you would be rewarded with the warm seclusion of your small bed. You continued on faster yet, thinking of the pleasantries of taking off your makeup and slipping into your pajamas.

You were taken from your thoughts at the sound of a shout, to your deep dismay, directed at you. Your heart sunk in your chest as you felt a cold spot grow within you to match the air around you. You did not care to hear exactly what was spoken, as the voice carried from up the street. There you saw three men, dressed well but not yet sobered by the cold as they held a bottle in a brown paper bag between them. Their hair, clearly slicked back neatly and carefully with gel that morning, grew tussled in the wind and their ties loosened around their neck. You swallowed thickly, knowing too well what position you know found yourself in. The wealthy Wall Street-type guys were most dangerous nowadays, or so you heard. The disrespect they felt from the general public made them take their anger out on those they knew they could overpower. The thought sickened you, and you felt a faint taste of sour bile crawl up the back of your throat.

They stood directly in the path you needed to take to get home. You stood in place, not wanting to proceed forward to face these men but lacking an alternate path home. They saw you searching for a way out in your rapidly moving pupils, and chose to approach you directly themselves. Their voices grew louder as they sauntered closer to you, and you felt yourself unconsciously reaching into your purse and searching with your hand for the pepper spray your coworker advised you to keep at all times. The few kind souls in Gotham knew very well the dangers this city posed, and how these dangers grew each day. All they could do was hope for the best for each other, and you hoped her advice would be of aid to you now.

Your breath caught in your throat as, through your anxiety, the pepper spray was nowhere to be found. Your hand searched more rapidly in your bag, turning over a cold metal compact mirror and a lighter floating loosely amongst your things. One of the men whistled at you, as his companions backed him up with rowdy laughter.

“Having a good night, pretty thing?” One of them spoke at you, clearly displaying the way he glared at you like prey.

You refrained to speak, keeping your head down and trying to walk around the group. As angry as you felt and as much as you wanted to spit fire back at them, you knew the best thing to do would be to get home safely and not cause a scene. Few people here carried mercy.

As you tried to walk through a gap between two of the men, they closed in on you and blocked your escape quickly. “Trying to ignore us, bitch?” Another one guffawed, bringing in a large hand to pet your hair. You shrunk under his touch, attempting to utter a plea but losing your voice. You knew only too well what was about to happen.

“It’d be a damn shame to let such a hot piece of ass like you go. The night is still young, come play with us,” The first one exclaimed as the third went to feel you up under your jeans.

You moved away, telling them you didn’t want trouble and wouldn’t tell anyone about this if they just let you go. They laughed at this attempted compromise, grabbing your purse and spilling its contents onto the dirty sidewalk. Only then were you able to see the pepper spray, as it rolled down the street and into the gutter.

You stood and stared as the items from your bag scattered around your feet and, through your distraction, one of the men grabbed you and held your arms behind your back. Another tried to push you down onto the street. You desperately searched for another soul on the street, screaming in hopes of catching someone’s attention in one of the apartments towering endlessly above you. You felt trapped, constricted by the monotonous grey buildings above you and the filthy hands on you, and your screams were drowned by their laughter at you. You were rendered effectively noiseless and invisible.

You felt them pinning you to the ground, one of the men muffling your mouth with their large hand. You kicked at them, and as your foot connected with the jaw of one you felt a fist connect with your lip at the same time. Warm blood pooled down your face from your split lip and you closed your eyes, hoping you would be able to slip away until this was over and they left you alone on the street to carry your sorry self home.

You attempted to detach yourself from the happenings around you, thinking of yourself in your warm bed and away from the calloused, groping hands and putrid breath of the three men standing over you. You had nearly disassociated yourself fully until you felt a few warm droplets splash across your face suddenly. Your ears rang as you attempted to re-engage with your surroundings, and could not comprehend the high pitch resonating in the air as one, and then another, and then the last men dropped to the ground.

You reached up to touch the splatter of blood on your face, now nearly immune to the pain of your own still flowing from your mouth. No sound could even try to escape your mouth as you rose to sit up numbly. You smelled an acrid smell of smoke mixing with iron, and faintly cheap cologne. In your disorientation, you could only toy with the large rip in the front of your blouse, exposing your stomach.

You could not yet find your voice as a thin hand reached out to help you off the ground. In unabashed consternation you looked at his face, eyes blown wide and shaking like a leaf as he supported your weight on his own. He met your eyes only briefly, and his face was overwhelmingly one of disgust.

After a mutter under his breath about the “fucking monsters” dwelling in this city, he met your gaze once more to ask you where you lived-- undoubtedly, you understood, to take you home under his protective eye. And yet, your address did not come to you. No words did; you felt as though your voice was stuck in your throat and your mind was blocked by some large mass. He asked you again patiently, his voice carrying a soothing lilt that you appreciated despite his intimidating garb. And yet you could not find the words to answer him, and he began walking with you on his arm to support you.

As you make the long journey back to, what you assumed, was this man’s home, he continued to glace down at you every so often. He stopped for a moment as he felt your continued shivering, putting his red jacket around your bare shoulders and resuming his position (without of which, you do not think you would have had the strength to put one foot in front of the other). For the remainder of the course home, he grumbled his disgust of this city and its inhabitants and quietly presented his understanding and sympathy for your situation. You closed your eyes and attempted to focus your mind on the warmth emitting off his body into your side and his soft whispers near your ear.

 

When you arrived at his apartment, he ushered you into what you noticed was the only bedroom in the flat. He informed you that he would take the couch in the living room, and as much as you wanted to protest and thank him for his kindness, the words still could not be found. Your tears only began to flow then, and you saw the nervousness shown in his face as he told you not to worry. He’d be right in the other room next door, gun on the coffee table right next to him. Nothing was going to hurt you while you were there. Underneath the thickly smeared grease paint and aggressive semblance, you could tell someone caring was there. Your heart began to thaw from the hostile cold outside.

You climbed into the bed still in your jeans and your makeup, and shuddered at the sudden warmth that enveloped you. Sleep came somehow easier than you expected. Perhaps it was the pleasant yellow glow of the stained glass lamp sitting on the nightstand near you, or maybe it was the knowledge that your new found protector was on the other side of the thin wall. You searched for the words to thank him when you woke up the next morning, and as you were thinking about it you fell asleep.