Justice wandered the streets of Washington in no particular direction. He usually didn’t have to go and seek the monsters that lived in the city. They always came to him, by accident of course. They were frequently drunk, too. He shook his head. The damned are always invincible until they come face-to-face with death. His hand slid into his jacket, and he pulled out a smoke bomb. For the most part, Justice preferred using his bare hands to strike down his opponents; weapons appalled him. Of course, putting fear into their hearts right before they died always brought repentance.
A piercing note broke through the silence of the dead metropolis. It came from Justice’s left. Was it a woman? He waited. The shriek came again. Yes, it was a woman. His legs broke into a run. Luckily, years of training and pushing himself had increased his strength and speed. A normal man would’ve taken fifteen minutes to reach the woman in peril, and be out of breath when he reached her. He took seven minutes. The run didn’t faze Justice at all. He knew the city like his own mind. Every street, every turn; all of it was traced meticulously in his memory.
He weaved through all the shortcuts, like a cheetah stalking his prey. In a concrete jungle, the predator has to know what’s going on at all times. If you know everything, then nothing can surprise you. Justice constantly knew everything.
A laugh made Justice stop and duck behind a corner. Two voices spoke. He listened to the conversation taking place. One voice belonged to a desperately pleading girl, probably no older than fourteen judging by the pitch of her voice. The other voice belonged to an older man, maybe in his late thirties. Justice slowly leaned over the edge of the wall and watched the two people talking. He was right about the girl; she was younger than sixteen. The man was big but sober. That meant he knew exactly what he was doing. It also meant that he was absolutely despicable, and Justice would have to move quickly to stop him from hurting the girl.
“Please, please don’t hurt me,” the girl said. Tears were running from her hazel eyes down her face. Her brown hair was across her face and a complete mess. She was almost perpendicular to where Justice was, and almost backed up against the brick wall behind her.
The man laughed again. “Calm down girlie. I’m with the government. I won’t hurt you.” He gave another laugh. Justice crossed to the other side of the alley, still in the shadows and out of both lines of sight. If he chose to step out now, he would be directly behind the girl. He needed to wait just a bit longer. If the man made a run for her before she was against the wall, he would deal with it accordingly. But it would be much safer if his plan worked.
“Please…” the girl gave one final attempt of reasoning. Her back pressed against the wall. It was Justice’s cue. In one fluid motion he stepped from the shadows and stood in front of the girl. He threw his arms out in a protective position.
“No matter what happens,” he whispered in a voice that only the girl could hear, “stay behind me. I’ll shield you.” She let out a whimper. “Don’t worry. I’m the good guy.”
The large man cocked his head. “Who the bloody hell are you?” Justice remained silent. The man came closer. Justice could feel the girl clasp to his back.
Justice’s eyes darted around the alley behind his lenses. It was about ten feet from wall to wall, and cleared out of the usual junk that muddled alleys. A trash can was to his left, acting as a checkpoint between himself and the man. His mind was already finishing his plan. He again addressed the girl. “When he gets close enough that he’s parallel to the trash can, I need you to let go of me. You’ll still be safe. Trust me.” His murmur was meant with a faint ‘okay.’
The man was three feet from the trash can. The girl let go of Justice’s back. Justice himself stood as still as a statue. The man was only a foot from him now. He reached out as if to grab Justice. “I said, who the bloody hell are-¬¬”
He never finished his sentence. Justice grabbed his hand and snapped it back. The man recoiled with a pained gasp. Not missing a beat, Justice threw his right leg out into a roundhouse kick that connected with the side of the man’s head. As soon as his foot landed he spun around and did the same with his other foot. Before the man dropped Justice crouched down and shot his left arm out, palm up, into the man’s nose. A sickening crunch filled the air as the man fell backwards. It happened in a matter of seconds.
Justice straightened himself up and cracked his neck then his knuckles. He turned to the girl, who stood with her hand over her mouth. He didn’t dare go near her. She might run away if he did. What she had just seen was probably very traumatizing. Justice wasn’t used to working with witnesses. And since nothing ever surprised him anymore, trauma wasn’t exactly his specialty. So he didn’t know what to do.
“What’s your name?” he asked with no emotion. She wasn’t paying attention though. Her eyes were still fixated on the dead body behind him. He sighed. “Girl!” She looked up. “What’s your name?” he asked again.
She moved her hand from her mouth. “K-K-Kassie,” she managed to squeak out.
“Where are your parents?” He tried to work some emotion into the words. Justice wasn’t good with emotion, especially compassion.
She looked to him. “I don’t…I don’t have any parents.”
“Then where do you live?”
Kassie paused. She was obviously trying to think straight. The one thing Justice was good at was patience. He let her take the time to sort her thoughts. “I lived with my aunt for awhile…but she disappeared a few days ago and I…” She didn’t finish. Justice didn’t need her to anyway.
He tried to think of something to say. “Do you need a place to stay?” She looked at him like she hadn’t exactly heard what he had said. He chanced stepping closer. She didn’t run. That was a good sign. “I have some room at my house.” This was a lie of course. Gabriel and Angela could barely move around their own house with ease. Adding another person would be severely uncomfortable.
Kassie stared blankly at him. “You’re offering me a place to stay?”
Justice was beginning to feel awkward. “Give me an answer now or I’ll leave without you. I don’t have time to afford wasting. Are you coming or not?”
She just kept staring. He shook his head and turned around, starting to walk away. What little humanity Justice had in him was shouting that he was doing the wrong thing. His steps slowed as his mind debated whether he should leave the poor and defenseless girl behind, or risk bringing her home with him. Leave her or bring her? He pondered the subject. She’ll likely die out here alone. On the other hand, I might die if Angela has to deal with another person in her house. She can barely put up with me as it is.
“Wait!” He stopped. The girl had caught up with him. She now stood at his side, barely coming up to his shoulder. “I want to come with you. I’d feel…safer with you.” She waited for his response. He didn’t have one. There was no possible way that she was safer with him. But she needed protection, and he could offer it. He nodded, and then turned back to the dead body in the alley street. His feet carried him to the corpse until he was right beside it. Kneeling down, he reached into the dead man’s jacket pocket. He felt around until he found an ID card. His hand quickly recoiled, pulling the card out with it. He quickly got the confirmation he needed. The man had indeed worked for the government. Thinking about this new twist, he pocketed the ID into his jacket.
In the brief time he was with the body, Kassie had come to stand beside Justice. With no warning he scooped her up into his arms, cradling her like a large infant. He began to run again; judging by the silence in the streets it was close to midnight.
“Where do you live?” Kassie asked as they ran. Technically he was the only one running, but he was never one to pick.
“In the heart of the city,” was his reply. Kassie fell silent. The remainder of the trip was spent like that. Neither spoke; there was nothing left to say.
But in his mind, Justice was bursting from his thoughts. He knew that Kassie couldn’t stay with himself and Angela for long. Maybe a night or two, but after that it would be dangerous for her. His thoughts trickled to Jacklyn, who would surely enjoy the extra company. Being alone in that loft was obviously wearing on her.
Kassie clung to his arms like a large lead weight. At any rate, he owed it to her to keep her safe. He started thinking about why he had saved her. Gabriel would have of course. But Justice wouldn’t have gone the extra mile by offering her a place to stay. He would have killed the man while he remained in the shadows, and then follow the girl to make sure she got home safely. Never in a million years would he have shown himself, let alone speak to her.
So why had he?
There was no more time to think about it. He pulled to a stop as the looming sight of his apartment building filled his vision. It had always looked like a ferocious beast to Gabriel. The walls were smooth gray brick, and the windows stared lifelessly from the face of the building. The large metal doors loomed like a mouth, ready to eat anyone who wondered too close by. Like a giant bug with all those eye-like windows, Justice thought with disgust. In the distance he could hear the distant roar of thunder. The rain would follow soon.
Setting Kassie back on her feet, his eyes began darting around to make sure there was no one near them. When he was satisfied that they were alone, he spoke quietly to Kassie. “My apartment number is seventeen on the third floor. You’ll have to walk up there alone; don’t worry,” he added, sensing her distress, “it will be safe in there. When you reach the door, knock four times. Someone will answer it for you.”
Her hazel eyes gained a hint of confusion. “You’re not coming in?”
Under his scarf, Gabriel smiled to himself. “In my…current clothing, it’s wiser for me to go through a window in the side of the building.”
“Oh,” was her reply. And for a brief instant, Gabriel longed to hold this child in his arms. To make her feel safe, warm, loved, like a…Like a parent would, he realized. The thought slightly shocked and scared him, yet it also felt good and made him feel warmer.
Then as quickly as it came, it passed. Justice resurfaced, and the rock mindset and attitude came back. He nudged her forward, towards the door of the apartment complex. She stepped forward slowly. He waited until the doors were opened and closed before he moved.
Since his apartment was on the third floor, he had to scale the side of the building to reach his home. He ducked into the back alley to the left of the apartments and pressed himself against the cold concrete. It felt almost as cold as Justice himself was. He shook his head and grabbed on to an overhang a few feet above his head. Pulling all his weight up with him, he heaved himself onto the ledge. He looked up. The fire escape waited where it always did, hanging three feet above his head. Judging his footing, he slowly took a jump and grabbed onto the third rung of the ladder on the escape. He climbed the ladder two rungs at a time, reaching the top in four steps. The hardest part was over, and the rest just consisted of getting to his window. It was the third from the far left side of the building.
Gabriel reached it and climbed in seconds before the rain started pouring. The window was connected to Gabriel and Angela’s bedroom. Angela wasn’t in bed, which meant she had waited up for him. That was usually a bad sign. He slowly removed his boots, gloves, trench coat, hat, scarf, and sunglasses; in the closet there was a special secret spot just for the outfit. He stretched then took off his shirt. The mirror beside him reflected his image, and he briefly glanced into it.
He had never really cared much that the physical training had worked muscle into his torso and arms. But he could always acknowledge the idea of looking strong. In fact, he kind of liked it. In the mirror his black hair contrasted his blue eyes, almost the way Justice contrasted Gabriel. With a laugh he shook his head and threw on a T-shirt. He then changed into a pair of old blue jeans. The door was directly to the right of the mirror, and Gabriel knew it was inevitable to confront Angela. He winced in reluctance, and opened the door slowly to step into their apartment’s living room.
It was a tiny space, much smaller than Jacklyn’s loft. The walls were a dark green, and the carpet on the ground was a faded white. There was a small kitchenette off to the left, and a TV to the right. In the middle of the space occupied a white couch, where Angela was curled up asleep under an afghan. Gabriel was always struck by how beautiful she was. Her dark brown hair rested softly on her sleeping face. Her lips were pressed together in a smile; no doubt she was dreaming of a happier time. He let out a sigh. She deserved so much better than him, yet she always stuck by his side through the worst of times. They loved each other of course, but that didn’t stop Gabriel from wishing he could do more for the angel that was sleeping on his couch.
He walked softly over and kissed her forehead then brushed her hair out of her eyes. She sighed in her sleep and rolled over. Then she rolled back and opened her sharp brown eyes. They met Gabriel’s blue ones. She yawned. “Where have you been?” she asked in a worried and slightly angry tone.
He tried to explain himself. “I came across…a slight catch in my plans.” Before Angela could ask what that was, four knocks came at the door. She froze. He didn’t. Moving from Angela to the doorknob, Gabriel swung the door open to a shy Kassie.
“No…no, no, no,” he heard Angela say from behind him. “Gabriel…how could you do this?”
He ushered Kassie in and turned back to Angela. “Before you decide I’ll be sleeping on the couch, hear me out. She will only be staying here for a night or two.” Angela was about to protest but he held up a hand pleadingly. “If I hadn’t saved her, she would’ve been killed by a government official. She has nowhere to go; her parents are dead and her aunt disappeared. I’m just asking for one night. If not for me, then do it for her.” There was a brief moment of pause. The silence hung in the air for a good two minutes. Then Angela’s eyes softened.
She turned to Kassie. “What’s your name, dear?” she asked in a sweet voice. Kassie gave her name and Angela sighed. “One night, Gabriel. Then where does she go?”
“With any luck, Jacklyn. She could use the company anyway,” he answered. He could tell that Angela thought this was best for Jacklyn and Kassie too.
Angela smiled. “Okay Kassie, I’ll get you set up in here. You can sleep on the couch. It’s fairly comfortable.” She took the afghan off of her and swung her legs over the front of the couch. Gabriel suddenly descended on her and caught her up into his arms. She started laughing. “What are you doing?”
“You need some sleep,” he said in a playfully stern voice. “I’ll make up her bed, and then I’ll be in for some sleep too.” She didn’t object, but continued giggling as he carried her into their room and placed her in their bed. She only stopped when he gave her a quick kiss and promised to be back soon.
When he closed the door behind him, he saw Kassie watching him, with a slight smile on her face. “What?” he asked her.
“Nothing,” she said. “It’s just that I didn’t expect you to be so human.”
He smiled. “What do you mean?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. But you’re married, you live in an apartment, and you’re life seems perfect. Why would you want to risk losing it all by being Justice?”
His expression took on a slightly serious tone. “I’ll tell you in the morning. You need to sleep now.” She didn’t object. He led her to the couch and laid her down onto it, then covered her up with the afghan. For another small moment the longing to comfort her came back, but was lost again as he tucked in the afghan. “Goodnight, Kassie,” he said softly.
She yawned as she said, “Goodnight.” Then she closed her eyes and drifted off to her dreams.
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