Auset walked slowly into the house and found herself standing in what used to be the front foyer. Directly in front of her were stairs leading up and to her right was a large room that sported a desk and shelves of books. The office, she guessed. Just to the left of the staircase, she noticed, was a badly-lit hallway that presumably led to the back of the house. Auset decided to head that way.
Her tall, self-assured form walked down the hall, blue eyes scanning the shadows and senses pricked to detect anything out of the ordinary. The hallway ended and opened into another large room that was almost completely empty save debris and a tattered couch.
That and the man who was bound to a chair and gagged. Auset stopped abruptly before actually entering the room and stared at the figure slumped in the chair, alarm bells screaming wildly in her head.
The light from the solitary and naked bulb that hung from a wire in the ceiling didn't provide very good light, and so the man's face, which was turned down toward his chest, was not visible to Auset. He wasn't moving, but the steady rise and fall of his chest and shoulders told her that he was at least still alive. She assumed that he was supposed to be the contact.
The dark-haired woman carefully scanned as much of the room as she could from her vantage point, then cautiously moved forward, hand hovering over a pocket that contained a decent-sized combat knife. Just then, the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end and she whirled around to face a dark corner of the room. A body was making its presence known by sauntering out of the shadows so that Auset could see it.
Auset's eyes narrowed into slits and she immediately grabbed the knife out from her pocket and held it loosely in her grip. Cally let loose a dazzling wide smile full of perfect white teeth and giggled.
"Now now, sweety, no need for such drastic measures, I assure you!" she laughed out in a sing-song voice, her eyes full of patronizing glee.
"What are you doing here, Cally?" Auset asked in a completely no-nonsense tone as she took on a bored stance. Her mind was quite the opposite of what her body displayed, however, her thoughts racing over possible reasons as to what exactly her ex-girlfriend was doing here. Nothing good, she assumed.
The platinum blonde walked fluidly over to stand directly behind the man in the chair, her thin but muscled frame hovering over him as she continued grinning.
"My dear Auset, you're so much more intelligent than that. Surely you must have an eensy-weensy clue?" She spoke as if to a five-year-old. When Auset only continued to level a steely gaze at her, she sighed and continued. "Well, I know all about why you're here! It seems that our respective lines of work just keep bringing us together with conflicting goals! This little boy here was sent to give you an advance of the money you're to be paid to dig up dirt on certain executives of whom I happen to have some interest in."
Auset raised an eyebrow at her. "You work for INSTEP now?"
"Well, not exactly," Cally said and cocked her head to one side and looked off at the wall. "Let's just say that I have connections with that company that are very important to me. I can't have you messing any of that up, now can I? But the main reason that I'm here now, I must confess--" at this she looked directly at Auset, her dark brown eyes radiating a seductive sort of anger. "--is simply you. When last we parted ways it was under most dreadful circumstances. I do believe you had me ruined, and if my little old memory serves me right, you personally set fire to my home."
Auset shifted her weight from one leg to the other and just stared menacingly at the woman before her. The hacker's mind was slipping itself into work mode, assessing the situation with cool efficiency and already formulating a plan of attack. Amazing, she thought briefly before giving in fully to her 'professional' mind set, how fast she could go from Average Citizen Auset to Hired Hacker/Gun Hawk.
"I have a score to settle, my pet," Cally drawled with feigned sweetness.
"I think the score was even when I burned your bloody house to the ground," Auset rumbled. "You betrayed me, remember?" Now the taller woman could feel the old familiar dark haze settling over her mind. Her fist clenched tight around the knife.
Cally let loose a high-pitched cackle that fairly shook the old glass in the windows and threw her head back in near-frenzied glee. As her laughter wound down, she looked directly at Auset again, this time her eyes purely psychotic.
"You were out of line, sweety. I had to stop you. It was for your own good! And then how do you thank me? You RUIN my whole fucking LIFE!" she screeched and bared her teeth in an insane grin. "Did you know," she drew out the words. "--that when you turned my house into ashes, that my mother and father also became so much dust?"
Auset's mind froze, as did her body. No, it was a lie. Cally lived alone then.
"Ah, yes. You see, they were visiting me then, staying for the weekend. And the night you burned that house, they were sleeping in the guest room. When I got back, I found the blaze out of control, my parents screaming from within. I watched them burn."
Auset felt her stomach turn itself inside out and it was all she could do to prevent herself from keeling over and throwing up everywhere. She hadn't known--Sera had covered her tracks after her night of uninhibited rage and had encouraged her to never look back on the incident. Cally had deserved what she had gotten. But her parents...no, that she had not known, and the shock of this news had her mind spinning.
"I...I didn't know," the hacker managed to whisper.
"I'm sure you didn't," Cally responded sarcastically. "But if it's all the same to you, I'd still like to see you suffer. I want you to know the same pain I've known since that day. I've lived with it for so long now that it's like a good friend, ya know, I can't imagine life without it!"
Auset took a step forward then as the man in the chair moaned and began to come-to. His head lifted, and she gasped as recognition dawned on her. Dade. It was Dade. His face was battered and bruised, sporting a rapidly swelling bruise that covered his cheek and eye and his mouth was bleeding around the gag. Blood trickled from his right ear as well, and she could just make out the clumps of red that tangled his light brown hair. His good eye, dazed as it was, looked on Auset and recognized her in turn. He grunted something unintelligible and sputtered as more blood came from his mouth and coated the gag. Cally looked down at her captive and ran her fingers through his disheveled hair.
"Such a decent-looking young man, don't you think?" she hummed. Auset kept a look of indifference on her face, refusing to let Cally know that she knew this guy. "A pity, really, that he's managed to get himself caught up in this mess. Oh well, he gets to play an important role in my revenge on you!"
At this, the blonde reached back and slid a pistol from its hiding place in between her belt and the small of her back. Dade's good eye grew wide with terror as he saw this and he struggled against his restraints.
"Don't involve anyone in this but you and me. Let him go," Auset reasoned, one hand held palm up in front of her. Cally cocked her head to one side and giggled as she put the gun to the side of Dade's head. Auset's brain rushed to come up with some way to save him, but before she could think, Cally spoke again.
"His death is on your hands, deary," she said coolly and then squeezed the trigger.
Reese sat, leaning back in the seat with her arms resting casually on the steering wheel, and stared idly up at the sky. The writer was lost in thought, considering the rather intense and unsettling feelings that she seemed to have for this woman she had so recently met. She hadn't been able to think of much else ever since the first time she had 'bumped' into Auset at the club and the girl's startlingly blue eyes had burned right into her soul, it seemed. All of it was very new to Reese, and she didn't rightly know what to make of it. Was she attracted to her? Well, duh, that much was obvious. What she couldn't figure out was how exactly she was attracted to Auset. The girl was gorgeous, that was for sure, but was she simply attracted to her as a good friend, or was there something else? Reese had never been drawn to women before as more than friends. She was definitely smitten with the tall, dark-haired hacker as a person--but what really confused her was that she seemed to respond to Auset in another more...ahem...hormonal manner.
She was nervously laughing off that sentiment when she heard the gunshot come from the house.
Immediately, Reese threw open her door and bolted up the front lawn and into the house. She saw light coming from the end of a hallway to her left and dashed onward without thinking about anything except that Auset might be in trouble. Not that Reese thought the girl couldn't take care of herself, of course--she just wanted to get her ass in there and find out what was going on...and maybe beat the crap out of anyone who might be shooting at her new friend.
Reese ran up to stand beside Auset, who had turned at the sound of running footsteps to look at the shorter woman. Her eyes were pleading and full of regret.
"Reese..." she began but trailed off as she saw her friend's face flush white as the sight of the body slumped over in the chair came to her.
Reese blinked and choked at the sight of the mangled body lying dead, still tied to a chair. A gaping wound in the side of the head was spilling blood and other matter onto the floor below. It was a grizzly scene, to say the least, with Cally standing behind him, smoking gun in hand and a pleased smirk on her face. Then Reese saw who the dead man was and her world caved in on her.
Dade. She felt a tight knot build in her stomach and her throat nearly collapsed in on itself. Oh God, Dade. Tears welled up and poured out of her eyes and her stomach cramped up, causing her to double over and stagger backwards a little. Auset reached out a hand to steady her, smoothing the girls' hair back over her forehead.
"I'm so sorry, Reese...I tried to stop her...I..." she began but stopped herself as Reese fell to her knees and sobbed. Something about the sight of Reese in such immense pain sparked off something deep within her, and Auset found her eyes narrowing again and a rage building up until it became white-hot. Her knuckles went white as she gripped the knife in one hand and raised it slightly to point at Cally.
Auset's reaction to the entrance of this little sprite of a girl had not gone unnoticed by Cally. Interesting, she thought.
Reese finally looked up from her grief and glared at the maliciously grinning woman who was standing not far from her, still holding the smoking pistol.
"You BITCH!" she screamed and before even Auset could blink, the smaller blonde was launching her compact and well-muscled body at Cally. They collided and the impact sent them both tumbling to the floor. Cally, caught off-guard by the sudden and rather violent outburst from this seemingly harmless little girl, gathered her wits (crazy as they were) and wrestled the other girl over onto her back and pinned her down. She raised the hand that still gripped her pistol and brought it down hard on the side of the girls skull. Reese groaned and fell limp, knocked nearly unconscious by the blow.
Auset snapped then, launching herself onto Cally and wrenching the gun from her hand. She reared up and punched Cally dead-on in the face, causing blood to spatter out from her nose. Auset then brought the gun up and pressed it into one of the woman's temples and growled.
"Hit a soft spot, did I Auset?" Cally said, strangely cheerful even with the gun to her head. "She is a precious, if highly irritating, little thing."
Fury burned bright in Auset's now fierce and icy blue eyes as her rage carried her closer to pulling the trigger. At that second though, she heard a soft moan issue from Reese and looked down to see green eyes gazing back at her. Reese needed to get that wound checked out right way, and by the look in her eyes, didn't want Auset to shoot Cally either. Before she could completely drown in the forest green, Auset brought the gun back sharply and pistol-whipped Cally into unconsciousness.
Standing and then carefully picking up Reese, Auset made her way out to the car and gently laid the shorter woman in the back seat. So much for that concert, she thought.
Opting to take Reese to a location further away from the scene of the incident, Auset drove the car to her apartment. Cradling the now unconscious girl in her arms, she carefully ascended the stairs up and then entered her place.
After gently lowering Reese onto the mattress she used as a bed, she took stock of the girls injury, to find a good-sized gash along her left temple that went past the hairline. The bleeding had already practically stopped and was clotting, causing the blonde-gold hair to mat and tangle.
Auset went to her kitchen and wet a towel, then retrieved a first aide kit from the bathroom and returned to her wounded guest. As she set to work wiping away the excess blood with the towel, Reese's eyes slowly fluttered open and she winced slightly upon becoming conscious of the pain her head was suffering.
"Ouch," she muttered. Auset gave a lop-sided grin and continued her ministrations.
"You got clocked pretty good."
"Mrph. Uh-huh...I feel like something is trying to escape my head by jack hammering through it," Reese groaned out. As her eyes adjusted to the dark of the room they were in, she was able to start taking in her surroundings. "Where are we?"
"This is my place," Auset replied as she put aside the towel and began applying antiseptic to the gash. "I brought you 'ere cos it's further away from...everything. I didn't want Cally tracking me down at your loft."
"Your place..." the shorter woman trailed off as she observed the apartment. Though it was dark, she could make out the Nest, the computer's screensaver displaying a scene from a Bruce Lee movie. The wall to one side, she noticed, was covered in various martial arts weapons. Though the place was sparsely furnished, it was (minus the Nest) impeccably clean. Very simple.
Another thought crossed Reese's mind then, causing her eyes to water and her stomach to curl back into a tight knot.
"Dade's dead, isn't he?" she said quietly as Auset applied a bandage of gauze and medical tape. The dark-haired woman merely frowned slightly and focused her attention more fully on the bandaging process. Reese watched her jaw muscles clench and unclench as she finished up the bandage. Auset sat back and stared at her hands for so long that Reese was sure she wasn't going to answer the question, but finally she looked up and spoke.
"I'm sorry, Reese," Auset practically whispered, her voice full of pain that she was desperately trying to restrain.
"For what? You didn't kill him."
"I might as well have. I was the one Cally wanted and Dade never would have been in that situation if it weren't for me. I didn't know--" her voice wavered and blue eyes turned away, refusing to meet the steady green ones that faced her.
"Cally. That was her name? Auset," Reese said, raising up a hand to grasp the other woman's arm. "Look at me. That was NOT your fault, OK? That Cally bitch pulled the trigger and you tried to stop her."
Auset removed her arm from Reese's grasp and stood up to stalk over to the chair in front of the computer.
"I'm sorry you got messed up with all of this, Reese. I never wanted you to see any of this...I shouldn't have asked you to take me there tonight." Reese made to object then, but Auset held up a hand and continued. "No, you don't understand. I'm not always proud of what I do, but it's my job. I'm good at it and I've done it for a long time. I've done some really shitty things, stuff I hoped you'd never have to know about, and that's a big part of who I am and always will be. I'm not the nicest person you'll ever meet."
At this, Auset's voice got very quiet and she sighed deeply. Reese hefted herself up on her elbows and stared intently at the troubled woman across the room from her.
"I don't care what you might have done in the past, Auset. You didn't kill Dade. You did nothing wrong."
"Do you know why I was at that place tonight?" the hacker asked seriously. "I was picking up an advance payment for a job I was to do that involved corporate espionage and retrieval of information that would most-likely lead to the death of a number of individuals."
Reese blinked, but did not say anything.
"I don't want to lie to you; I don't want you to think I'm someone that I'm not. I've killed people, Reese, and I've been directly linked to the deaths of countless others. I'm not a very good person, and for your own safety I think it's best if maybe we didn't see each other again. You've already been hurt on account of me--I couldn't live with myself if anything else bad happened to you because of me."
"You listen to me, Auset," Reese sat up fully, ignoring the sharp pain in her head. "I'm not going anywhere. Remember when I said that I was already involved, and that I wasn't going to sit by while people tried to hurt you? I meant that, so I'm not going anywhere. You're stuck with me, got it?" Auset just stared in amazement. "And as for things you've done that weren't so great, well, we've all got regrets about our past but what matters is what you do in the now and future. You're a good person, Auset, whether you believe it or not.
"And I can take care of myself if anyone tries anything, OK?" she finished, continuing to lock eyes with Auset.
After a good stretch of time where they merely stared at one another, two very strong wills battling it out, Auset finally caved in and let out a long breath.
"You're a tenacious little thing, aren't you?" Auset chuckled.
"Was that a crack about my height?" Reese asked with mock-indigence. Auset rewarded her with a dazzling full smile and shook her head, still chuckling.
"You want some aspirin or something?"
"Ah, yeah, my head is killing me," Reese replied, gently placing fingers to the bandaged wound on her temple. Auset got up and went into her bathroom again, then came back out with a small bottle of pills and a glass of water which Reese took gladly.
"There are still a lot of problems to be dealt with, you know," Auset said quietly as she took a seat on the mattress next to Reese.
"I know. We can deal with them...together."
Auset went over that word again and again in her mind, marveling at it. Together. She had been on her own for so long...the concept was almost totally foreign--but not unwelcome. She nodded, still amazed, and glanced over at Reese who was eyeing her with a look of being truly pleased. Why this crazy girl was actually happy about getting involved in the not-so-great problems of her daily existence, Auset did not know. But who was she to question these things?
"What time is it?" Reese asked with a yawn.
"It's about 9:30."
"Damnit, we missed the show," she grumbled and tried to stand up. Auset noticed the extreme wobbling that Reese was doing and jumped up to steady her and then lower her back onto the bed.
"You're in no shape to be moving around. That's a nasty cut, and I won't know until morning if it needs more attention."
Reese pondered this, smiling inwardly that Auset had basically just said that'd she'd be spending the night there.
"I've got some stuff I wanna take care of on the computer, so you just go ahead and get some rest," the hacker finished and playfully nudged Reese back to lie down. The stress of the day and the pain of her wound finally overcame Reese's stubborn will to stay up and she relented, snuggling down on the mattress and yawning again. Auset smiled ever-so slightly and tucked the smaller woman in before standing and going over to sit at her computer. She turned her head to look at Reese again as the machine booted up and smiled visibly at the sight of the girl already fast asleep.
Sighing out a gust of air that tousled the hair above her forehead, she went to work sorting through the days emails and other business--especially that of contacting Sera to let him know about the events that had transpired that day. If Cally was back and on the rampage, things would get more interesting from here on out. All she wanted was to keep her new friend out of her psychotic ex-girlfriends warpath. As Auset's nimble fingers flew over the keyboard, she couldn't help her thoughts turning to the knowledge that Cally's parents had died in that fire. She didn't want to believe it was true, but unfortunately, even though she was crazy, Cally was not a liar. After checking archived obituaries she knew for sure; Mr. and Mrs. Kriton (Cally's parents) had died when the house they were staying in, that of their daughter, had burned down. No foul play was suspected.
Of course not, Auset thought wryly. She had been very careful about making it look like a wire had short-circuited.
After a few hours, she finally tired out and decided to hit the sack. Turning towards the bed, she noticed that Reese had curled up on her side and was up against the wall. Well, I guess if I stay on the other side, we'll be OK, she reasoned. Careful so as to not wake her slumbering guest, Auset crawled into the bed and rolled onto her side so that she was facing away from Reese. She scooted to the very edge of the bed, wanting to make sure that the blonde girl did not feel uncomfortable about the sleeping arrangements if she woke up. Eventually, after some restlessness, Auset drifted off to a fitful sleep.
The first rays of morning sunlight found their way into the apartment and discovered one of its tenants already up and about. Auset, strangely enough being someone who rarely slept in passed nine though she was usually up well-past midnight, was awake and starting her daily exercise routine. She was in mid-stretch when a knock came at the door. The sound of the incessant thumping caused Reese to grumpily awake and she rolled over to glare in the direction of the offending noise.
Auset looked up at the door, then over at her friend who was grumbling something about "no one having respect for sleep time anymore". She grinned faintly and remembered, with not a small touch of embarrassment, waking up to find a blonde-head snuggled up firmly to the crook of her shoulder and an errant arm tossed across her midsection. It was definitely not the worse way to wake up, she had thought, but for fear of Reese being put-off by it all if she were to wake up then, Auset had carefully extracted herself from the girl's grip and gotten out of bed.
Brought back to the present by the knocking at the door, which had grown quite urgent, Auset stood and approached the portal with some trepidation. Who on earth...? She glanced up at her monitor to see a man in a suit knocking at the door, backed by two men in uniforms...police uniforms.
Not much she could do but open the door at that point. She hadn't done anything terribly illegal in weeks.
After undoing the locks, Auset pulled the door open and peered out.
"Can I help you?" she asked coolly. The suited man stepped forward slightly and glanced behind her before speaking.
"Are you Auset Passaris?" he asked.
"Yes, that'd be me."
Holding up a badge, the man continued. "You're under arrest for the murder of Dade Peterson," at this, the uniformed men moved in to handcuff her. She merely stood there and let them, not willing to show any emotion. "You have the right to remain silent..." he rambled off the Miranda Rights as the other men began hauling her out of the apartment. Reese had watched all of this transpire with mouth agape, and now stood to rush over to the man reading Auset her rights.
"What the hell is going on?" she demanded. The suited man looked at her, his face showing an unamused man who had encountered much more threatening scenes than this disheveled little blonde who was now facing off with him.
"Ma'am, don't get in my way. It is too early and I have not had my coffee. If you'd like to know more about this, come down to the station, but I don't have time right now to explain anything. Now if you'll excuse me," he finished and pushed past the now fuming Reese and out the door to follow the uniformed men who held Auset in their grasps. The dark-haired woman shot Reese a calm glance and nodded her head reassuringly.
"Take care of my plants," she said. Reese stood, fixed to the spot, and nodded automatically as she watched her friend being dragged down the stairs, apparently perfectly at ease with what was happening. All three men and Auset exited the building, and Reese was left still standing in shock in the now very quiet apartment. Without thinking, she reached out a slightly trembling hand and closed the door.
A jangle of keys, someone coughing, metal sliding open and then closed with a deafening clang.
Caged. This must be something like Hell.
Auset went to the back of the cramped and dirty cell and sat down heavily on a metal bench. She rested her head back against the cement wall and stared at the buzzing florescent light on the ceiling. Already the tall, black-haired woman's palms were sweaty and one half of her brain was screaming to be let out of the confined space in an attempt to override the more controlling side--which was convinced that she deserved to be right where she was.
Currently she was in a cell by herself; one of the holding cells located in the police station where they kept arrested suspects until their initial hearings. On the ride over and then during processing, she had been informed that she was the prime suspect, with loads of evidence to convict her, in the murder of Dade Peterson. Auset assumed that Cally had simply gone to the police, blamed her, and then was able to back it up by the fact that the hacker's fingerprints were all over the murder weapon. At that realization, Auset felt like kicking herself for being so careless.
And Reese, the poor woman was caught up in all of this crap now, and her boyfriend was dead. Because of you, she thought.
The frustration and anger that had been building steadily finally surfaced and Auset slammed her fist into the wall, at the same time letting loose a loud growl. When the pain of that first blow did nothing to quell her need to lash out, she repeated the action several times, eventually causing her knuckles to split open and bleed before a guard came to the bars and shouted at her to stop.
"Cut it out, lady!"
The hacker leveled a steely gaze at him, her face rigid.
"I'll stop, but don't ever call me 'lady' again," she said in a low rumble without flinching. Unable to hold the woman's intense stare, the guard averted his eyes and swallowed.
"Whatever, just cut it out," he replied half-heartedly before collecting himself and leaving Auset to herself again.
Calmed a bit for the moment, she reclined back on the bench so that her back was to the wall and her eyes were facing straight ahead. She looked down at her now-bleeding hand.
Someone clearing their throat made her glance up. A man, dressed in an impeccably tailored black suit with a dark blue, silk tie stood just outside of her cell. He was relatively tall and well-built, his hair was short and black and styled in that I-just-got-out-of-bed-and-I-still-have-great-hair fashion. A goatee clung stylishly to his well-chiseled cheeks and jaw and deep brown eyes stared directly into her own azure.
Something in the back of her mind jumped at seeing this man and told Auset that somehow, she knew him.
She stood and walked to the centre of the room, placed a hand on each hip, and returned his stare with the same force. For a moment, the two just stared at one another, but then the man broke into a rakish grin and shook his head knowingly.
"Auset," he said, devilishly happy.
The hacker allowed a wry half-smile of her own and narrowed her eyes a little.
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