Knock, knock, knock.

God, not today.

William Porter the third rolled over on the couch, uttering a small groan under his breath as the lumpy padding shifted under his weight. Maybe if he just ignored it the knocking would go away. Maybe if he pretended it wasn't there he could get in three or six or ten more hours of sleep. He needed that sleep; he needed every second that consciousness was stealing away from him after all the partying he'd been doing only a few hours ago. Tomorrow was Sunday; he needed to take advantage of the rare chance at sleeping in before work. Who in the hell was knocking on his front door and ruining his perfect sleep?

Knock, knock, knock.

Damn.

Giving another moan, Will rolled over, and was surprised to suddenly find himself falling, falling far too fast for his groggy mind to comprehend. By the time his mind caught up with his body, his cheek was grinding uncomfortably against the short and surprisingly abrasive carpet covering his living room floor, the weight of the rest of his upper body weighing down uncomfortably on his grounded head and neck while his lower body stayed planted on the couch. He definitely wasn't going to get any sleep in this position, so he grudgingly moved to place his hands on the floor, shoving his upper body back into the air. He hung his head for a moment, closing his dark blue eyes to try and regain some form of consciousness before he made any attempt at rising.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

The knocking rattled his already aching head, biting into his brain like a toothpick sinking deeper and deeper with each progressive rap. It made him want to get up and strangle whoever was knocking no matter how much the muscles in his legs and arms hurt, but the screeching pain that was making itself known in every part of his body was making a good argument against that. Instead of trying to commit murder anyway, he lifted up his head to give the room around him a look. He'd fallen asleep on the couch, a luxury that he only enjoyed when his parents were out of town, and though the room was deeply shadowed with night, he could see vague outlines and shapes, faintly lit by the streetlamps outside. He could see from the digital clock on the VCR that it was two fifteen.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

"Jesus, who the hell is it?" Will's voice exploded prematurely, hoarse and rough from the way that his throat had coated with mucus while he slept. He took a pause to cough harshly, tasting the bitter stench of alcohol and blood in his mouth, and he retched dryly at the taste. That was definitely going to be the last time he got drunk and agreed to a bet to try to bend his car keys with his teeth. Not only had he lost ten bucks on that, but he was rather sure that he'd also broken one of his back teeth and sliced his tongue open in the process. If the person at the door was one of his idiot friends, he'd get rid of them, sore muscles or no. Dear god did he need to sleep.

Thankfully for Will, the knocking stopped once he spoke. It seemed that whoever was at the door had heard his tone of voice and noticed that he wasn't in the best of moods. The life-form at the door was silent for a short second or two, and then a voice came to him, muffled by the door and rougher than two pieces of sandpaper scraping against each other. "It's me."

"Me who?" The roughness of the voice made the gender all but impossible to tell, and Will wasn't exactly in the best condition to play guessing games as it was. He carefully dragged the remainder of his aching body off of the couch, shakily rising up onto his feet. His limbs didn't want to work; they felt heavy and puffy, like they'd been numbed with novacaine and then tied to deep-sea anchors. Blinking once and then twice, Will raised one clumsy arm to his face and wiped at his eyes. He was still wearing the same clothes that he'd been wearing the day before; khaki pants, a gray long-sleeved shirt with a green t-shirt over it. Suddenly this outfit seemed oppressively close and hot in the pleasantly heated room. Maybe he was getting a fever in addition to everything else. That would be just his luck.

A brief, hacking cough came from outside, and then that strangely rasping voice came again, sounding almost more exhausted than he was. Almost. "Just open the door, Willy."

The use of that name – Willy – at least narrowed down the list of people that could have been waiting outside of his door. Despite the voice, it was definitely a female; he'd never met a guy who would call him something so stupid and pettish as "Willy" unless the guy had a gun pointed at his head. And with that revelation, Will began to stumble towards the door. Females were always welcome in his house, no matter the time or the day, but he would have liked it better if this one had at least waited until morning light.

After knocking his knee painfully on the coffee table and nearly tripping over the edge of the rug on the journey, Will finally reached the door after an ungainly journey, and sent out a hand to grab onto the brass knob. He turned it over, hearing the lock click faintly as it automatically came undone, and then pulled the door open, looking blankly out onto wide concrete porch. At first he saw no one, and wondered if maybe all of that misery had been driven by something from inside his addled brain, driving him around like punishment for letting himself get this bad in one night. Then he saw something shift to the left, and looked to see someone leaning against the wall to the side of the door, hiding in a shadow with their back turned towards him.

Even in this lighting, he could tell who it was. The long, black hair, the oversized black trench coat that hid nearly all bodily definition, the slouched posture, and that stink of gasoline. It was definitely her. He'd met her before, and not just once. He met up with this girl every few months, did transport jobs, taking goods to her in black briefcases and collecting the money that she brought. They worked together through his dad's business, and though he only saw her on those rare occasions every few months, he could still tell the distinctive girl from behind when he saw her. Giving a gentle cough to the side, he spoke her name, roughly pronouncing the single syllable. "Brooke."

The body to his left jerked lightly when he spoke, like she had been expecting him to ignore her calling altogether. She didn't turn towards his voice, though, only continued staring off the left side of his porch at whatever had attracted her attention. In her momentary silence, the boy noticed that she wasn't standing free like she usually did, with that air about her that if she touched anything around her she might contaminate it or be contaminated, but was leaning heavily against the wall with her shoulder. The way that she was leaning caused her body to be set at a roughly sixty-degree angle with the ground, one foot supporting the strange angle, the other lifted faintly into the air, like a wounded dog would do with an injury when surrounded by enemies. Staying in position, she spoke up a few moments later, her head sagging lower down as she did. "Did I wake you?"

"Uh, yeah," Will said gruffly, crossing his arms over his chest. She'd known the answer to the question already; she was just trying to make small talk with him. That wasn't all so curious in itself. The fact that she was here at all was the strange part. Despite all of Will's talk, whatever he might have said to her to urge her to stay with him for a day or two when she visited, she always tried to keep herself detached. Will and Brooke were not involved; he wasn't even sure that he qualified as a friend. "You mind me asking what you're doing here? I just saw you three weeks ago. You're not due back for five more."

"Some things went… awry," she replied, and now that she was speaking more he detected a faint slushy quality to her words, like she was either very drunk or numb in the mouth. He'd never known Brooke to be a drinker, but he was reminded again that he really didn't know her at all. For all he knew she could have spent every weekend getting drunk as a skunk at some sleazy bar and sleeping with any man who'd take a look up her skirt. Still, his instincts told him that it was unlikely for someone as prudish as her to turn skins like that so abruptly. The girl continued, snapping him away from his thoughts. "I need to come in."

"Wait, wait, what are you talking about, awry?" Will was coming more awake little by little, and as he did he grew increasingly concerned with what the reason might have been for Brooke keeping her back to him. In fact, the more aware he became, the more confused he grew with the whole situation. He needed the answer before they continued any further. "You mean with the job?"

Her head slightly moved to the side, just barely baring the skin of her right cheek towards him. In the mottled light coming from the streetlamps yards away, something looked wrong with her face, something about the way the shadows dipped and echoed on her flesh, like the skin was made of clay that had been handled too roughly. A thought flashed through his mind, a memory, from months and months ago, when she'd come to a meeting with her eyes peering like dimes out of swollen bits of bruised and blackened flesh. He'd asked her about it at the time, but she'd declined to answer, mumbling too many excuses for any of them to be true. He wondered if whatever had done that had been work-related too; maybe she'd gotten into a tangle with one of her "employers" again. Or maybe his assumption about the weekend bars had been right.

"I won't be long. I've just got to get cleaned up and then I'll be out again." He could barely see the glint of her right eye peering back at him, and her body shifted in what seemed to be an uncomfortable gesture, her shoulders shrugging higher to shield her face from view once again.

The false suspense was getting annoying. Obviously some physical injury had occurred, and no matter what had happened, Will was dead-set on seeing it. Besides, if she was able to stand around talking to him for minutes at a time, she couldn't possibly be that bad. She was probably just being self-conscious. Plenty of girls were that way; in fact, it was a bit of a relief to find that Brooke was the same. So, still blocking the doorway with his body, Will spoke up, dodging her. "You know, my dad told me I'm not supposed to let you in here. Technically I shouldn't even be seen with you outside of work, you know? Your people aren't too keen on the outside relations, if you catch my drift."

"Willy, I'll take care of it," Brooke said, and he was satisfied to find her voice peevish. So evading the question had worked, and now she'd pick up the pace on this slow conversation. Hopefully it'd be over soon; he wanted to go back to bed. At that time she did what he'd been hoping for but not suspecting, and turned around to face him in the dim lighting on his porch.

Okay, so maybe he'd been wrong in assuming that she wasn't that bad. Her face, the only attractive thing about her that she'd show off and the first thing that he looked to, was almost unrecognizable through a thick accumulation of ash and dirt, like a rat that had been picking through an arsonist's leftovers, or a mudpuppy scooting through a sewer. Her dull gray eyes winked out at him like gravel stones from under blackened lids, one of which had a deep purple tinge beneath the grime; he assumed, correctly, that she had a black eye. Blood, thick and a strangely dark shade of red, was busily dripping from her nostrils and apparently from her eyes, though how close to her eye she must have been cut to make it seem that she was weeping blood was a subject that Will wasn't ready to think on just yet. Her hair, her lovely long hair that she always tried to keep in a semblance of order around her face, was singed and burnt short to a noticeable degree; an area of skin on her cheek appeared to be burnt and roasted as well, which would explain the strange appearance of it. In fact, now that he was aware of it, the strange, sickening stink of burnt flesh seemed to linger all about her. It was making him ill, too. He felt the sudden, overwhelming desire to get her to go away, and to take her stench with her. It wasn't a nice thought, not neighborly at all, but he couldn't find the stomach to care.

"Jesus, Brooke, what the hell are you doing, coming here like this?" Will drew back away from her, recoiling despite all of his self-control, his eyes disbelieving on his third-degree-burn companion. "What'd you do, jump in a fire?"

"Something like that," Brooke muttered, her cracked and bleeding lips drawing back in a small gesture that could have been a grimace or a grin. The action caused that burn mark on the right side of her face to drag open a bit, oozing dark blood out and down her face. Will nearly gagged. Brooke continued on, barely understandable through the slurring softness. "Look, I won't be bugging you long. I just can't go to the bus station looking like this, and you were the closest person I could come to. I'll be in and out before you notice."

"No way. If you come in here and get blood all over the place and make the whole place stink like dead dogs, I'm gonna have hell the pay," Will protested. He inched himself away from her minutely, wishing to keep that aforementioned stink from embedding itself into his hair and his clothes. He wasn't even sure how much he could rely on her word that she'd leave soon; sure, she kept her word to him on deals and payments, but that was because he controlled her supply. He didn't have anything to lord over her and keep control of her with in this personal sort of situation.

"Willy, c-co… co…" The slushiness in her mouth seemed to grow too much to bear, and she whipped her fine head to the side, pulling her lip back in a grimace. A hard gag sounded from her throat, and Will froze, wondering with a disgusted pang of cold fear in his muscles if she was going to throw up on his porch; but a second later she spat instead. Will's eyes followed, and he saw her little present hit the nice, pristine concrete, marking it up with a small pool of thick blood and flesh. Rooted directly in the center of the red clump he saw the off-white edge of a rear tooth.

Will couldn't keep himself there any longer; the nausea was getting too bad to resist. He turned and abandoned the door, not allowing her to finish her sentence, and moved a distance away from the girl, trying to escape the smell of death and fire that surrounded her. As he went, he waved a hand in the air, using the other to wipe anxiously at his mouth and nose. "Fine, go ahead. Just don't touch any of the meds in there, they're not mine."

"Can do." Brooke seemed relieved, and came in after him. He could hear a pronounced limp in her heavy step as she went, unusually heavy for her, since she was rather scrawny and tended to step lightly. He could hear her walking while he flopped down onto the couch again, and heard the sound stop when she must have reached the bathroom. The reflection of the bathroom light shone at him in the television screen, and he watched it quietly while he sat there on the couch, blinking his eyes over and over in an attempt to wake up. He wasn't done drilling her for information, not by a long shot.

Ten minutes passed. By that time he was wide awake and had turned on the television set, and had occupied himself with watching the latest of late-night talk shows play before the night's programming would begin to rerun. A top-ten list of something or other had caught his attention, and while he waited he busied himself trying to figure out what it was all about. It seemed like it had something to do with the pope. He wasn't quite sure. They kept making references to hats and God, though.

Twenty minutes more. He had been right in assuming that the list had been about the pope, but he wasn't sure what, exactly, about him they were poking fun at. By this time he couldn't find the heart to care. The light in the bathroom was still on, and Brooke had been in there an awfully long time. She'd looked awful when she showed up, what if she'd up and died right there in his bathroom? That would have been just like her, to be inconsiderate enough to die in his bathroom. What a problem that would cause.

Five more minutes. Now he was really getting worried, if whatever he was feeling could really be called that. Turning around on the couch to lay his arm across the back, he called out uncertainly, "You okay in there?"

"Yeah." Her voice reassured him immediately, letting his muscles relax, his mind moving off of that obsessive sort of thinking. She paused for a second, and he could hear a faint clicking noise of metal on porcelain, and then spoke again. "Do you have a shirt I could borrow?"

"Sure." Will looked around the living room, searching for anything that he might have left out. He really wasn't in the mood to go running up the stairs to his room and searching for a clean shirt right now, and he knew that Brooke wouldn't mind getting a dirty one. Hell, the clothes she wore always looked like she'd yanked them off of a dead body in a dumpster. Finding nothing handy on the floor, he compromised, and reached down to grab the hem of his green t-shirt, yanking it up and over his head. Once it was off he felt quite a bit cooler than he had been when he'd woken up; if he had a fever, it must have been on the downswing. At least some things were looking up.

He heard the lumbering footsteps approach from behind, and a moment later Brooke quietly grabbed the shirt away from him, hiding her face behind her hair as she did so, rendering him unable to see if she'd been able to fix herself up or not. To the bathroom she went, retreating off to change, but this time it was only a minute or two before she came back out, wearing his shirt and her own black pants. Her shirt had apparently been left back in the bathroom; her long black overcoat rested in her arms, clutched close against her like her last link to safety. Her footsteps were still noticeable in that stumbling, limping way, but it had been lessened; he was just able to hear her over the din of the television as she made her way over and slumped onto the couch beside him.

When his eyes were able to catch onto her face, he was relieved to find a being much more similar to the Brooke that he knew. The stained and dirtied face was gone, replaced by the fair-skinned girl he knew, the one he'd met before, the one he'd joked around with and hit on more than a few times. The blood on her face was gone, and the same with the dirt and ash, but that ugly bruise still remained clear around her dull gray eye. The burn mark on her cheek was still there as well, but she'd cleaned it up a bit, so it looked quite a bit less serious than it had when the folds and cracks had been underlined in blood and blackened soot. However, now that the dirt was gone and her scorched hair was brushed tamely around her head, he could see that the mark continued down to her neck, where it stretched further in towards the center of her throat, vaguely shaped like Florida turned on its side. Her arms, bared by the t-shirt that she wore, were also burnt, speckled with reddened blisters and blackened areas that she didn't seem to have bothered with.

The important thing was that her awful stink was gone. The smell of burnt flesh and hair had been washed away and had apparently been latched to the destroyed shirt that she'd been wearing. The smell still slightly remained on her skin and hair and probably in that raggedy old coat that she held in her arms, but it wasn't as disgustingly strong as it had been when she'd been looming around on his stoop. If she'd still stunk after all that time in the other room, he would've had to ask her to leave; his mother would kill him if the house smelled like a crematorium when she got back.

"So what happened? You look like crap," Will remarked flatly, still none too pleased over having been woken up at this time of night. Now that he was awake, it was going to be pretty difficult to get back to sleep again. It looked like he could kiss his twelve hours of sleep goodbye. What a night for this to happen.

Brooke's gray eyes moved over to him quickly, and just as quickly moved back to the television set, looking over the talk show host blankly. She watched the television for a minute or two as if she hadn't heard Will, then cracked a slight grin towards the host and turned her eyes back to Will. "I got too up close and personal with my work. It's a job hazard."

Will cocked an eyebrow towards her, leaning back into a half-reclining position against one of the couch's throw pillows. "Aren't you usually outside when the major action goes down? I know you like watching, but I mean, how close do you have to be to come here looking like a fried chicken?"

"I was inside," she grunted, rolling her eyes a little. "It was going perfect, I was just about to go, when who should show up but the black-and-whites. Awful building for dodging around, too, just a dead end on my side and an itty bitty alleyway on the other, I don't know why I accepted the stupid job. So I had to run back inside before they saw me and hide."

"Jesus." Will gave her an incredulous look, leaning forward to sit and look at her again. "It's a one in a million chance that shack didn't cave in on you, you know that, right? You're lucky as hell you're even alive to be barging in on my steps."

"Just a naturally lucky girl, I guess," Brooke agreed. She then rolled off of the couch, walking over to the easy chair that stood at a right angle from the couch. Sitting down, she pulled her knees up to her chest and leaned to the side, burying her face against the worn-out plush exterior of the chair. Grumbling quietly in her throat, she murmured out, "Look, I'll just sleep here. I'll probably be gone before you wake up."

"No rush," Will dryly added, leaning back to lie down on the couch again and rub at his sleepy, aching eyes. After all, his parents weren't going to be home for a few days, and it wasn't like he was having parties every night. Maybe a little company wouldn't be so bad, even if it was his business partner who he was sharing the room with. Who knew; maybe he could finally convince her to take their quaint little relationship a step further.

With that prude? Yeah, right.

"Thanks again, Willy." Her voice was quieter, drowsier, teetering on the very edge of consciousness. Will felt his own mind traveling in that direction, his eyelids growing heavy and tired, his brain lulling into concentration over how very soft and comfortable the pillow under his head was. There were no problems, no problems at all; he and his partner were just taking a short nap, and then everything would go back to normal. It would be no problem at all.

Soon enough, the both of them had drifted off, and the only sound was the canned laughter emanating from the sadly ignored television.

--

When Will awoke the next day, his burnt and bruised companion was no longer asleep in his father's favorite chair. In fact, she wasn't anywhere in the room. For a moment after he had opened his eyes, Will simply lie there, wondering with a mixed sense of relief and worry if his new burden had left already. She'd said that she just needed to get cleaned up before going to the station, right? She'd been cleaned up when she'd gone to sleep.

Hopefully she hadn't taken his shirt. It was a good one.

But then he heard the noise. Footsteps. Light ones alternating with heavy, faltering ones. It sounded like somebody walking with a limp. Somebody light, probably, say, one hundred pounds, give or take a pound or ten. Brooke weighed about a hundred and ten at last count, and she'd obviously hurt her leg the night before, so it would be a logical guess that it was she who was wandering around his house. The question was, what was she doing? For all he knew, she was searching around in his mother's glass cabinets, taking her nice candlesticks and her good silverware. That stuff could get a good price, right?

No matter how good-looking she was or how good of a client she happened to be, Will wasn't about to let Brooke steal from his house. So, resigning himself to movement, he lurched to the side and swung his feet onto the floor, rising up a bit too fast for his sleep-dulled head and hangover to deal with. He ignored the pain and rounded the couch, making his way over to the kitchen, where all of that noise was coming from. Maybe she was looking for money. Plenty of people tended to keep their money in the kitchen, after all.

But when he came around the side of the wall, expecting to find the burnt girl rummaging in the counter drawers, he instead found her with her head buried in the refrigerator, still wearing his shirt, her feet lacking shoes but clothed in a pair of white socks stained with dirt and blood. She hadn't heard him or spotted him just yet, but he waited a moment before he spoke, asking her brightly, "Looking for something?"

Brooke visibly jumped, startled by his speech, her head whipping around to look at him with widened eyes. She seemed to be expecting him to strike her, and froze like a rabbit in the face of an approaching cat, her muscles seizing up. Will just gave her a strange look and moved over behind her, craning his neck to peer in over shoulder though she squirmed a bit beneath the near-contact. Peering into the fridge from that position gave him a rather good view, but since he was a fair amount taller than her and she tended to slouch, he did have to bend a bit disagreeably to do so. Still, he ignored her obvious unease and instead said, "We've got plenty for breakfast, if that's what you're looking for. Eggs, donuts, cereal, the works. Leftover pizza looks good for me."

Why was she so uncomfortable? Will wondered momentarily, but soon answered his own question. Brooke was always this weird, especially around men, though Will didn't know why and didn't really want to. She especially seemed to hate when men came on to her, an unfortunate fact for someone passably attractive like herself, not beautiful to the point of being intimidating to approach but pretty enough to draw moderate interest. Will had seen her overreactions to those types of situations many times, more than half of those times aimed towards himself. Still, that fact could make for some fun times, just seeing how far he could go with her before she'd blow a gasket and start yelling at him, most of the time while he was laughing his ass off.

Taking advantage of the current situation, Will leaned in further against her extremely stiff and rigid body, pressing his side against her back, his right hand creeping over to grab her at the waist easily and hold her in place. Moving his head a bit, he nuzzled his face in against her neck, mumbling into her hair, which smelled so strongly of burnt and dead things that he almost wanted to gag. "You know, Brooke, most girls couldn't pull off that whole crematorium smell you've got going on, but on you it's got a certain-"

"Christ, Willy, get your grabby paws off of me," Brooke snapped, twisting her body away from him at the same time that she elbowed him sharply in the stomach. Will took it in stride, ignoring the pain to turn on her completely, throwing his arms around her and effectively pinning her arms to her sides. Brooke wasn't quite weak by female standards but she wasn't as strong as Will was, so he had little trouble restraining her when she began to fuss and swear in his arms, howling out, "Willy, you worthless piece of shit! Get off of me!"

"Sorry, babe, I'm a slave to my instincts." Will grinned widely and coarsely shifted her to face him, her front side against his, his face down to look at hers. She was rather small compared to most of the girls he had dated, not so much in her height as in her fragile frame and her tiny disposition, but now she was all piss and vinegar, glaring back at him indignantly as she yanked in vain at her pinned arms. Will's grin spread wolfishly, and he craned his head in further, his face coming inches from hers, enough that he could smell her burnt skin and her musty, dirty, outdoors scent, not a bad smell but a distinctive one. Lowering his voice to a husky murmur, he purred out, "This certainly is a convenient position, don't you think?"

"Yes, it is," Brooke replied, but her voice wasn't that resentful snap that it had been before; now she sounded almost willing. Her stony eyes had lightened up a bit, the corners of her mouth curling up in a prim little smirk, a little bit bold and suggestive for her, and it took Will off his guard. This was a first. She'd fought and argued and threatened over his suggestions and advances before, but this was the first time that she had actually seemed to go along with it. Maybe things were turning up. Maybe he was finally starting to grow on her. Maybe he would finally get lucky after all this time.

Then, she kneed him in the groin.

As he hit the floor, cursing violently and clutching at his injured privates, Will could hear Brooke reach back into the fridge and grab something, then slam the door shut behind her. She paid him no mind, and when he opened his eyes to look up from his fetal position, he saw her step over him, pleasantly speaking up as if nothing had happened at all. "I think I'll take your suggestion on the cereal. Would you like some, too?"

With a disgruntled whimper of pain, Will nodded. He closed his eyes again, concentrating on getting some semblance of relief to his injured area, listening as his burnt attacker moved around the kitchen. He heard the clattering of glass bowls, the shuffling of drawers as she searched for the silverware drawer, the clashing of metal on metal when she finally did and retrieved what she needed. There was a vague rustling, presumably from the cereal boxes, and the cheerful ringing of cereal falling into two separate bowls. After a minute or two he detected that musty scent again and the close heat of a body near his, and, opening his eyes, he found Brooke crouched down beside him, peering at his face.

"Quit whining and get up. Cereal's ready," was all that she said.

Grumbling under his breath, Will did as he was told, shifting to get to his knees and then up to his feet. His stomach felt like it had dropped out, but he tried to remedy that, gingerly rubbing at his maimed junk without a care for how discreet he was. Brooke didn't seem too concerned, just gave him a disapproving glance and then pointed towards a prepared bowl of cereal sitting on the counter. She was already eating hers, holding the bowl in one hand, leaning on her hip against the counter near the sink. Will sent her back a look of his own and awkwardly moved to his food, pulling up a spoonful to take a bite out of it. It helped a little; he hadn't eaten since the afternoon before, and the newfound hunger was taking his mind off of his pains.

"You know, there was a nice way to respond to that situation," Will said with an indignant sniff, and then grabbed his bowl to lift it up and more easily begin eating at a ravenous pace. Brooke hadn't put quite enough milk in the cereal for his tastes, but now wasn't the time to go nitpicking over that.

Brooke just snorted at him, pointing with the end of her spoon. "I don't call trying to molest me in your own kitchen particularly nice, Porter. Don't you have some poor girlfriend to vent that out on?"

Willy smiled at her sweetly, batting his eyelashes like a young girl, a bit of a return to his formerly bold attitude with her, but not enough to warrant another strike to his poor privates. He could be a little cheeky; she usually tolerated that. "Not at all, my sweet. I'm keeping myself free for the day you come around."

"Then you're going to be free until your dying day, buddy-boy," Brooke replied dryly, taking another bite out of her breakfast. She took the time to chew and swallow before she spoke again, another one of her polite habits, strangely polite for someone who seemed to live on the streets like she did. "The day I come around is the day I shit dollar bills."

"That's what you say now," Will said with a self-satisfied smirk, speaking around his food instead of chewing and swallowing first. "You just wait a while. My effect on the fairer sex is undeniable."

Brooke just rolled her eyes in response. The rest of the meal went in relative silence; Will hazily drifting into a sort of stupor as he mechanically ate his food, his small companion glancing around the room every so often as if they were in an enemy fortress and had just taken a stop during an important mission for some Cheerios. She finished quickly, her bowl empty by the time Will's had decreased to half its original load, and went to leave the room, but stopped before she reached the doorway. Glancing back at Will, Brooke asked rather hesitantly, "Hey, Willy?"

"Uh huh?" Much as it was a bit of an irritating pet name, it was a little pleasant to hear the ice queen girl call him such a name. She might not have been falling head over heels in love with him, but she still wasn't quite as emotionless as she made herself out to be. His eyes came up to meet her face, her expression seeming rather anxious, like she was going to ask for something that he was certainly going to deny.

"Do you mind if I stay here a while? Just a day or two?" Brooke's eyes diverted away from him, down to the floor. Already her tone had grown more apprehensive with a twinge of defensiveness to it, like he'd started barraging her with questions already when he hadn't said a word. She continued quickly, crossing her arms over her chest as she spoke, her eyes glued to the refrigerator. "I mean, I know it's an imposition and all, but I can pay you back for it later. I've just got some things going on, and I need to be staying in a place while I work things out, and I've never asked you for anything before, so-"

"Brooke, would you calm down?" Will interrupted, setting his bowl and spoon back down on the counter. He came forward to her again, watching as she shrunk back away from his approach a bit, but didn't hesitate, just moved up to stop in front of her and look down at the top of her declined head. He spoke at it anyway, not really too concerned over whether she looked at him while he spoke or not. She had her queer habits, and honestly, this was one of the lesser of them. "You can stay for a bit. Just don't steal my shit, don't break anything, and try not to burn down the house."

"Thanks." Her voice was nothing but grateful this time, and she finally looked up, her eyes so plain and naïve and open with appreciation that it endeared the rather jaded Will to no end. He had to grin at her; he couldn't help himself. She, however, took the grin as something else, probably something of a suggestive nature judging by what she thought of him already, and her eyes went bland with her usual closed demeanor, her voice becoming gruff and sarcastic when she said, "As much as I hate to say it, I guess I owe you one."

Will just let his smile grow wider and raised a hand to set it on top of her head, ruffling her neatly combed hair up unceremoniously. He smiled despite her rapidly souring expression, smiled his most winning smile, the one that had gotten him out of detentions and into dates more times than he could count. "How could I refuse my favorite lady?"

Before she could deliver the swat that she was obviously intending for his head, Will swooped in to give her a quick kiss on the cheek, then used his strategically located hand on her head to shove her safely out of range. As he exited the room and moved towards the door, hooking his jacket off of its position on the floor behind the couch, he called back, "I'm going out to work. I'll be back around five or so. Make yourself at home."

There was no reply, but really, considering who was on the other end of the conversation, he wasn't expecting one. Instead he busied himself with putting on his coat and shuffling into the pocket for his car keys, finding them quickly and letting himself out the front door. As he moved off of the porch and onto the walkway to the drive, however, he halted, and turned back to look at his house, the two-story, dark brown house with white accents and the two-car garage to the side. It was a nice house, average in this place, this nice little neighborhood that was such a perfect place for the moderately successful to live and breed.

Hopefully, it would still be standing when he got back.

--

In fact, when William Porter returned to his house at five-thirty that afternoon, still wearing his work clothes and carrying a bag of groceries in the passenger's seat, his house was indeed still standing. It wasn't even scorched at the edges. It looked exactly as it had when he'd left, right down to the last number tacked on the door. There was nothing out of place, no burn marks or holes, no graffiti, no nothing. It seemed that his small guest had been a perfect prisoner all day long. Even as he got out of the car, groceries in one hand and jacket in the other, he couldn't hear a sound out of place. It was dead quiet outside but for the barking of the dog across the street, the quiet wind whispering in the tree branches around him, the sound of a car roaring down a road somewhere far away.

It was rather unnerving. Will had been expecting a number of things, from defacing to total destruction, but he hadn't been expecting quiet. Brooke was one of those people who, despite seeming polite and compliant on the outside, gave off a certain air that was worthy of suspicion, an air that something bad was coming soon and could not be warded off. She always seemed to have orders that she wouldn't speak of, things that she knew but could not tell. Will could not quell his own suspicions over what that girl may have done, and so he moved up to the steps, walking fast.

But when he entered the house, ready to find her waiting for him, covered in blood with dead bodies at her feet, he instead found her sitting on his couch, as placid as could be, the coffee table cleared and pulled up in front of her. She had been busy setting up a line of dominos when he had burst in through the door, but when he came in so huffed up and tensed, she looked up, her fingers halting on their newest domino right then and there. The two of them stared at each other for a second, Will staring in disbelief and breathing rather loudly through his nose, Brooke watching him with a raised and questioning brow, before Brooke finally broke the eye contact, looking back down to her work and setting her domino up behind the last, speaking up casually to ask, "Home already?"

"Uh… Yeah." Her words snapped him out of it a bit, and he tried to loosen up, tossing his jacket over onto the floor near the door. Still, his eyes traced about the room, looking for anything significantly out of place, something that might have gone missing since he'd left. He couldn't find anything wrong. Had she just been playing with dominos all day long while he'd been out?

"Nice uniform," the girl noted belatedly, grabbing another domino out of the box to set it up carefully beside the last one. Her line was at least twenty strong across the coffee table, maybe even thirty, and it made a decent curve to bend back around parallel to itself at one end. Right now it looked kind of like a capital letter "J" from where Will stood.

"Huh? Oh, right." Will glanced down at himself and his shirt, an ugly and rather dorky red t-shirt that he was mandated to wear when he subjected himself to something like his work hours. It had been lying in his car for a few weeks without a washing before today, and wearing it certainly hadn't made it smell any better; in fact, he could smell it even as he wore it, now that he wasn't occupied with customers. Wrinkling his nose in disgust, Will dropped the groceries on the floor and then grabbed the shirt by the bottom and yanked it off, tossing it onto the floor with his coat. After a quick casting about he found one of his t-shirts in the bathroom, a brown one with a silver compact disc design on the front, and pulled it on, walking back to where Brooke sat on the couch. He collapsed down beside her with a bit of a groan as his tired muscles fell into place – he hadn't gotten nearly enough sleep the night before, and her visit hadn't been a help.

"I'm dead beat and it's all your fault," he grunted out, and moved his arm up to rest it over his aching and bloodshot eyes. He could hear her, however, and there wasn't a single break in the pattern of her dominos being so carefully set to the table, not even a twinge of concern seeming to arise out of her. How inconsiderate.

"Maybe you ought to try getting more sleep," she suggested blandly, and then the muffled clicking stopped, the room falling silent except for what he could hear of the both of them breathing. Lifting his arm from his eyes, Will looked down to see her peering at the "U"-shaped line of black rectangles that she had made, checking it over, apparently for perfection. Then she moved, slapping the first domino in the line closest to her, sending off the chain reaction that sent the rectangles falling one after the other until the final one fell clear off the table and clattered onto the hardwood floor beneath. The whole thing took less than three seconds, but Brooke made no move to pick them up, just watching the fallen dominos with a rather dissatisfied look on her face.

"Maybe I could, dearest girl, if certain burnt-up ladies of the night wouldn't come knocking on my doorstep at all hours of the night." Will shifted his position, swinging his torso onto the seat and his legs onto the arm of the couch simultaneously. The back of his head landed soundly on Brooke's thigh, and he peered up into the bottom of her face, watching as her face turned down to meet him, slit-eyed and frowning. She evidently was not too pleased with his choice of positions, but before she could open her mouth to threaten him, he asked her, "So why are you here?"

The burnt girl just stared at him for a second, her lips pursed and her stony eyes seeming a little confused, before she reached down to roughly grab him by the longer hair at the top of his head. She jerked his head up and out of her lap, forcing his body to follow him into a sitting position as he made a loud and disagreeable noise, and further moved her hand to shove him away by his head, sending him unsteadily sprawling against the arm of the couch. As he looked back to her, a protest coming fast, she looked back at him and snapped out, "What's it matter to you?"

The tone of her response made Will stop for a second, but only for that one second and no more than that. He'd been refused before, not only by Brooke but by many girls, and he knew that with a bit of careful negotiation and a little raw persuasion, he could usually get what he wanted no matter how strong the initial opposition. He had done it with other girls, and he had very few doubts that he could do so with this girl who thought she was so much bigger and braver than she really was.

"It matters a lot to me," he told her, though in all actuality it didn't; he was just a little curious about what had motivated her to show up here instead of running back to those people she worked for, that mafia or mob of whatever it was that called him every so often to place an order and sent the money directly, always in cash. Still, he was using his sincere voice and his concerned face, both practiced to perfection, so there was no reason for her to pick up on him. While she could sometimes catch him in a lie, most of the time she wasn't all too quick on such things. "I wonder about you sometimes, you know, with all of this. You must think I was born yesterday if you think I believe you got a black eye and a broken tooth from getting stuck in a burning building."

"A beam fell on me, you idiot." Brooke sent him another distrustful glare and then looked into the blank screen of the television, swinging out her feet to clomp her feet and dirty socks noisily onto the table. Dominos scattered everywhere, and she continued on, her voice bitter and growing more heated with every word. "It's not even your business. You get the order, you produce the explosives, and you keep your big ugly nose out of it while I do what I like with them. That's the extent of our dealings, and that's exactly where it ends."

It was funny that she would say such a thing, considering what she had done here and what she had so reluctantly asked of him earlier. Of course, even after his limited dealings with Brooke, he knew enough to realize that when she got upset, she tended to contradict herself a bit, as if repeating the words that someone else had set out for her, words that she didn't quite believe in. Will didn't pay attention to her tough exterior veneer, only moved forward to her, sliding obtrusively far across the couch cushions to invade fully the outer edge of Brooke's personal space. He saw her shrink away a little, much like she had before, but he didn't stop, not until he was touching her, his hip against hers. Then he put on the clincher, the thing that he knew would make her break; turning over to her while using one elbow to brace himself against the back of the couch, he rested his other hand on the arm of the couch at her side, effectively trapping her in a prison of flesh, cloth, and couch.

Brooke tried to get away one second too late, shifting herself and scooting to the side, but she ran into his arm and was forced to draw back. Her eyes flicked down to her lap, the thought seeming to come across her that she could slither to the floor under him, but Will caught in and broke that idea quickly, crossing one leg over the other to bar the route with his ankle and foot. Finally the girl was caught, face to face with a man, and of all the men in the world it was Willy. Her face gave everything away, the panic that she was starting to go into because of how she'd been trapped, the dread and the resentment and the confusion all fighting for a spot. Will just smiled.

"Don't be mad at me, Brooke," Will murmured, lowering his voice to a pleasantly confidential tone, the kind of tone he might use to endear a girl with a warmer disposition than hers. He was leaning in quite close now, close enough that he could feel her breathing, her quick, upset breaths breaking against the skin of his neck. He was quite sure that she could feel him breathing on her as well, slow and steady, quite used to a situation like this one. He wanted to tell her to calm down, but he knew that she would just get more upset if he did, so instead went on in that tone. "You're the one who changed this relationship. You're the one who showed up asking for shelter."

"I didn't mean like this!" She shouted in his face quite suddenly, loud and close enough that he had to wince painfully. But she didn't put up a physical fight just yet; rather, she seemed to favor sitting there like a rabbit caught under the gaze of an enemy, waiting with paralyzed muscles and terrorized heart for inevitable death. After her exclamation she fell quite silent, her eyes darting everywhere but into his face, like he'd turn her into stone with his eyes like the Medusa if she let him. This was not so unusual for her, but this situation had amplified her behavior to a ridiculous degree.

"Calm down. Relax." Will tried to make his voice as soothing as possible, as futile as it was, moving forward a bit to press his forehead against hers. He saw her eyes narrow tightly, her mouth draw back in a tough grimace, but she didn't move an inch. It seemed that anger and annoyance were replacing her fear and anxiety every second, and he would have to work fast to take advantage of what was left of that fear, to get her to start talking. Once she had started, it wouldn't be hard to get her to continue. "Now tell me why you didn't go running home. You've never come here before, and I know this isn't the first time you've gotten hurt on a job. Tell me why."

Brooke was silent for a long few seconds, seeming repulsed or almost burnt by the bodily contact that he was making with her, but soon enough she spoke, to mumble in a highly irritated tone, "If I tell you will you get the hell off of me?"

"Of course, love," he replied cheerfully, smiling widely into her face. He didn't draw away just yet, however; when she delivered on her side of the agreement, he would deliver on his. If he hadn't kept it that way, it was quite likely that she would have slipped away at the first possible second, leaving him in the dark. He had seen enough of her dealings before to know that this was true.

Giving a short sigh, the girl seemed to resign to her fate, reluctantly beginning to speak in a rather defensive tone. She couldn't seem to phrase it at first, but with a little patience on Will's part, finally it was exposed, and finally it came out. "I'm getting away."

True to his word, Will did back up, separating his forehead from hers, though he left his arms in place. However, his retraction was more in confusion than in earnest, and words immediately followed. "How's that?"

"I'm going to skip town on the next train west. I just had to stay here to get myself cleaned up. I told you all that. Are you happy now?" Irritation finally won, and Brooke sat up, shoving Will's arm off of the arm of the couch and out of her way. He had been leaning a fair amount of weight onto that arm, so when she removed it so forcibly, he wobbled and nearly fell face-first into the seat cushions. It wouldn't have done much harm even if he had; by the time he had steadied himself again, Brooke was up and pacing the floor, her hands up and lacing through her thick hair in some sort of concentrated worrying motion.

"I thought you said they had people out. Wouldn't they catch you?" Will raised a brow at her, moving into the spot that she had occupied on the couch, taking advantage of the warm spot that she had left behind. He leaned his elbow back onto the arm of the couch and his head on his hand, watching as she paced, watching further as she moved towards the door in a bothered sort of way, grabbing her shoes off of their place on the mat and then walking back to sit on the floor. When she began to put them on without speaking he spoke again instead, a new idea coming to him. "Don't you think they'd have their people here, of all places? My dad told me before I took over as your dealer that you weren't allowed to come here, and I don't think it was because he was worried about me bringing you to dinner on leftovers night. Your bosses don't want you here, remember?"

"What do you mean? You don't think they would have posted people here, do you?" Brooke suddenly whipped around as if one of the aforementioned people were standing right behind her, and he saw her hands drag back into her hair again, yanking at it roughly. Her tone grew a bit worried and lowered, obviously speaking to herself, her back hunching up a little, like she was protecting her head and neck from a blow. "Oh, shit. No. No, I didn't think of that at all. No, they wouldn't have. No."

"Well, uh, maybe they didn't. I mean, I haven't seen anything fishy," Will said uneasily, rather wishing that he hadn't brought up the subject at all. He'd seen Brooke angry plenty of times, and two or three times he had actually seen her in a more contented mood, but this was probably the first time that he had actually seen her in an anxious panic. It was unsettling. Maybe he should have taken her up on her offer when she'd told him to go make a sandwich.

"They wouldn't. They couldn't waste sentries on a spot like this. It's way too open and ritzy for them." Still talking to herself, of course, but her hands were relaxing in her hair. She wasn't yanking and pulling anymore, but rather combing her hair back with her fingers, straightening it out from how she'd mussed it in her momentary panic. A moment later she turned back around to face Will, her eyebrows creased and drawn together in a slight bit of worry, but she seemed to be under control, and here she dropped her hands back to her sides. "Anyway, even if they've spotted me, by the time they get orders on what to do about it, I'll be long gone. I don't have to report to anybody, not anymore."

"Don't you work for the mob or something?" Will turned his torso to cross his arms over the arm of the couch and hunched over to lean his head on his hands, watching the girl wearing his shirt move around the room, still pacing even though she seemed to be calming. Her eyes were flickering about the room as she went, but when he spoke she stopped to look at him, blinking once as if surprised at his presence.

"It's more like a cult," was all she said, before she began to pace again.

"Still. They've got their trackers too." He felt that he ought to warn her, because for all the planning that she must have thought she'd done, her "plan" sounded far too simplistic to ever be pulled off. She hadn't thought of anyone coming after her, but from what he'd heard his dad tell him about her employers, they most certainly would send at least somebody to look for her when she turned up missing. His dad was the one who had actually met her employers face-to-face, and he knew far more than Will could ever have hoped to learn about the strange, faceless people who sent this girl out with dynamite and matches and let her loose on unsuspecting cities. Bill had told his son many things about them, and from the sound of things, Brooke's underdeveloped plan would not get far without some serious alterations. If it wasn't too late for her to slip away already, then her window of time was shrinking, and shrinking fast.

Brooke was only now realizing this. Will could see it in her eyes when she looked back at him again, halting in her tracks, that look like a rat caught in a corner showing all over her face. She was caught in a bind but she didn't want to acknowledge it and accept defeat, not after she'd come this far already, and here Will was, shoving everything back in her face. He felt a little bad for doing it; after all, Brooke didn't seem to get excited about much but the explosives that he brought her on deals, and that alone seemed to indicate a rather pitiful existence indeed. He reminded himself that he was just telling her the truth and nothing else, however, and that thought alleviated his discomfort a bit. She needed to know what she was doing if she was really going through with this.

Trying to end it altogether, he began again, on a new and hopefully less uncomfortable topic. "Why are you running, anyway? I thought they treated you fine. You get to go and destroy things, just like you love. You get to burn buildings down and play with high explosives, and the rest of the time is pure vacation. What are you so eager to get away from?"

There was silence again from the girl as she simply stood and stared, but he could see that it wasn't that bewildered, hopeless silence of before; a certain tension was rising in her eyes, an anger that hadn't been there before. Not just the annoyance that she usually displayed, but a pure rage that Will had never seen in her face before, twisting her mouth into a snarling grimace and her eyes down into slitted pits. Her silence lasted only for a second, and then she cut off any retraction Will might have made of his statement, snapping out, "Just shut up! You've never been there! You couldn't possibly know what it's like unless you've been there!"

Now things were getting uncomfortable. Sure, Will didn't know what her life was like with those employers of hers, but he was becoming more and more convinced every minute that he really didn't want to. He didn't want to get involved in her problems, and he definitely didn't want to risk his own skin trying to help her out of them. If she wanted to run from a cult, that was fine, but Will wasn't too eager to die for her just yet. So he tried to calm her down instead, raising up his hands as if he were being arrested and saying in as calm a voice as he could, "Okay, okay, just calm down. I'm sorry, all right? I guess it's not the way I thought it was. I'm just saying, you probably should have thought the whole thing through a little more before you actually started."

"There's no time. I don't have any time." Brooke's expression did grow a bit less enraged, however, and her stance eased up a little, her feet setting into motion again, taking her off towards the kitchen. As she went she barked out a rough laugh, and hooked out a hand to grab the wall to one side of the kitchen's entrance, swinging herself in a childishly carefree way. He heard the kitchen swing open and, after another moment or two, her voice, calling back in an almost joyous tone. "Can you tell that I thought this up on the fly?"

"Just a little," Will replied dryly, and turned back around on the couch to stare at the blank television screen. All these mood swings and crazy ideas of hers were indicating to him that maybe it was better that he hadn't interacted with her in the past much more than he did; she appeared to be just a little off-balanced, to say the extreme least. It could just have been the situation stressing her out. That could have been it. That was what Will wanted to believe, anyway.

"A last-minute epiphany, I guess." There was the distinct noise of the fridge closing and then the clattering of plates. So Brooke had decided to take a break from her fretting and planning to go and make herself a snack. Just wonderful. Not only was she possibly putting his life at risk for her own sake, but she was eating him out of house and home, too.

Will rolled his eyes a bit and leaned back into the couch. He fully intended on sleeping here tonight; as for what Brooke did, he wasn't too worried. She would stay or she would go, but soon enough, she had to come to her senses. She seemed sensible the rest of the time. This was probably just some momentary lapse in her normal demeanor, sparked by a near-death experience. She'd snap out of it soon enough, and then she'd leave without a fuss, and life would return to normal.

So far as Will was concerned, that couldn't happen soon enough.

After a minute or two of silence the burnt girl reemerged from the kitchen, walking over to the lounge chair where she'd slept the night before with a bowl in her hand. Plopping herself down into the seat, she curled up with her knees to her chest and her feet on the cushion, despite the fact that her shoes could not have been dirtier had she been traipsing around in a forest after a heavy rain. Will was concerned, concerned with what his mother would think when she found footprints on the cushion, concerned with what Brooke was bringing down on him, concerned with how he was going to get through this, and all of that concern made him none too friendly, so despite his desires and ideas for Brooke, he found himself flatly asking, "What, were you raised in a fucking barn? Get your damn dirty-ass shoes off my dad's chair."

Brooke just looked at him, staring with a rather startled expression, forgetting the spoonful of ice cream that she'd been bringing to her mouth halfway through its trip. Her eyes were genuinely confused, almost just asking him why he had said that and what she had done to inspire such an angry tone from him. She was just as upset as he was in the situation, and he knew deep down that she really hadn't meant to use him like she was. He was just the only person outside of her cult that she could trust. She hadn't known what else to do.

So Will tried to fix himself just a minute too late, and finished in a kinder, more gentle tone, "…Princess."

The shock fell out of Brooke's face, and she rolled her eyes at him, shaking her head dismissively. Still, she did straighten out her legs and remove her feet from the seat, letting her shoes hang out over the floor. After a few minutes she was halfway through her bowl of dessert, and spoke up, asking him with a certain bit of exhaustion in her voice, "So what are you doing for work now?"

Small talk was perfectly fine with Will, at least opposed to what he had been subjected to with her earlier, so he picked up the line cheerfully enough, sending out his feet to rest them on top of the dominos scattered across the table. "Many things, in fact, my young ward. Part of the time I stock shelves at the clothes store downtown. That would be where that moron uniform comes from. Some of the time I serve you in your efforts to commit mass arson and property damage. The rest of the time…"

His pause perked her interest, and Brooke looked up from staring down into the mushy mess in her bowl, raising an eyebrow at him. "The rest of the time?"

"Well, let's just say that I'm an actor and a director the rest of the time," Will said with a sly grin, linking his hands together behind his head to form a sort of pillow for himself. Brooke was curious, he knew, and with that sort of dangling end to the sentence, he knew that she couldn't help but bite. True, he could have just told her flat-out, but the exposure wouldn't have been half as fun had she not been paying her utmost attention.

"Oh, really? In what? Indie films about sneakers and skateboards?" Brooke snorted a bit of a laugh through her nose and scooped a spoonful of ice cream for herself, peering at him over the edge of the bowl. Still, despite her dismissive words, he could see the curiosity rising in her eyes, like a cat watching a piece of string trailed in front of it, waiting for that last twitch so that it could pounce.

"I believe you'd call it a skin flick," Will said with a smile, and shifted his feet, clomping one sneaker hard down over his opposite ankle. He could only smile more when he saw the way her face fell, the confusion and slight bewilderment that sprang up, the way her gray eyes widened and rounded out just a little at the edges. She was just mildly mortified, from the looks of it, and so he continued. "However, the general masses would call it a porno."

"You make skin flicks?" Brooke couldn't have looked more surprised if she'd tried, and she flung her hand to the side, setting her bowl and spoon down on the table to her side with barely a second glance. She blinked once at him, then again, unable to wrap her mind around the concept, and then her expression turned incredulous, her throat coughing out another laugh. "You act in your own skin flicks?"

"It's the only way to go, baby." Turning to the side, Will slid out to lay down, sprawled across the couch cushions much as he had been before she'd come calling the night before. He stretched out his arms and back quickly, then returned to gazing at her with a slight grin, a grin that turned into a wolfish smirk a second later when he came upon something else. Brooke was laughing now, but if he could only shift things a bit, he could soon be laughing too. So he spoke up, his voice nothing but suggestion, watching her through the strands of hair that fell before his eyes. "How'd you like to make an appearance?"

That didn't shut her up quite like he'd thought it would; it only seemed to make her laugh all the more. Her head bent downward, and she snickered almost soundlessly, shaking her head quickly back and forth. When she looked back up her dead eyes seemed to be almost open again, like they had been back when she'd been so scared and afraid, when she'd been grateful even before that. Then she laughed again, out loud, not a barking one like the former but a real laugh. "Me? In a porno? What'll that one be called, Virgin Street Queen? Wild Willy and the Icy Cunt?"

"Hey, that second one's got a ring to it." Will found himself chuckling too, though he was a little surprised by her behavior. Either fear had loosened her up a bit or she had put something more in her ice cream, but whatever it was, it was making her a lot less inhibited than usual. Usually she would have bitten his head off for such a comment, or at least thrown what remained of her ice cream at him. Maybe it was the absurdity of the whole situation that was getting to her. Either way, things were looking good for his libido. "You could make some big money in the movies, princess. You'd break hearts in a dominatrix get-up."

"Yeah, I'm sure guys would pay big to see my scrawny ass," Brooke said sarcastically, but there was still a smile on her face and a bit of a dying giggle in her voice. Her hand strayed out, and she took up her ice cream into hand again, taking a mouthful of what little half-formed dessert was left for her to eat. When she swallowed that she spoke up again, pointing her spoon at him again, like she had that morning with her cereal spoon. "I'd be better behind the camera."

"Don't knock it 'til you've tried it, Brooke my dear. You're right to my tastes, after all." Will turned onto his side, giving her a dreamy-eyed look that many girls before her had received, supporting his head on one hand and his elbow on the seat cushion. He just had to maneuver carefully here, skim around the rocks and maybe push a little bit, and he was certain he could get her right where he wanted her. He skimmed around it for the moment, cocking his head to the side and giving her an examining look. "I'm set for a filming on Tuesday night. If you want to stay a little longer, I bet I could find you a place, so to speak."

"Two feet to the left of the lens view, you mean." Brooke's grin had died down to a calm, pleasant, yet slightly anxious expression, as if someone had yelled at her to quit egging him on from another room. However, there was no one here, and Will had certainly not been the one to quiet her. She looked back down, taking another bite out of her ice cream, then fell to stirring the liquid mess that remained with the end of her spoon, seeming more distracted now. A minute later she glanced up, a bit of her wry grin reemerging, but it was a self-satisfied grin this time, a chilled grin at his expense. "And Willy, if you think that you can trick me into sleeping with you, then you've got a lot to learn."

The persuasive grin dropped off of Will's face and shattered to the floor. So she'd seen him all along and she'd just been playing along and goading him on so that she could disappoint him with this once he got all fired up. He had to admit, unhappily enough, that he had been getting a bit heated, but that was all gone now, and he was deflated like a badly tied balloon. Flopping back onto his back and crossing his arms over his chest, Willy grudgingly told the ceiling, "You're only a year older than me. I could show you a thing or two."

"Yeah, I know what thing you could show me, and I'm not interested," Brooke replied dryly, and he heard her set her bowl down on the table once more, this time for good. What time was it now? They'd been talking for a while, hadn't they? Will turned his head to glance out through the curtained window to the side of the door, and found it dusky and dark outside, the last of the sunlight receding for the night. He had intended to check on her and then go out again, maybe visit with some friends, but now it looked like he'd missed that boat entirely. It was probably better to stay with her, anyway. Who knew what she would do to his house if she were left alone in it overnight.

"You're such a virgin," Will sighed, closing his eyes to shut out the lights that lit his room. All this dealing with such a nervy girl as Brooke had tuckered him out; trying to talk to her when she was in this kind of a mood swing was like trying to hold a panicked horse in one place alone. Maybe she'd leave before he woke up tomorrow morning, like she had promised the day before. It was all that he could hope for.

Still, he found himself thinking before he drifted into sleep, it wouldn't so bad if she stayed until Tuesday. That wouldn't be so bad at all.

--

When Will awoke on his third day of visitation, he was not alone. In his makeshift bed, perhaps he was, but in the room he was not. The small girl he had been homing for this past day and a half was curled up in the lounge chair, her cheek pressed into the arm of the chair, her eyes lightly shut and her face slackened. Her overlong hair was disheveled and draped about her body, some of it hanging over the side of the chair, long enough to just barely brush the ground from where she lay. In such a lax position, with her face so bare and peaceful, she looked almost childlike, so unlike what Will had come to think of her as in his mind. This was the girl who burned down buildings with families inside; this was the girl who blew up corporate offices with high-powered explosives and then stayed to admire the aftermath. She seemed too innocent to be that girl in her slumber, and Will sat up, watching her lips move slightly, her throat mumbling out inarticulate words in a nearly silent tone.

She actually could have been described as pretty cute when she was asleep. Will smiled a little and pushed himself up off of the couch, moving quietly towards her chair, his footsteps careful and nearly silent. He was only three or so feet away when her right eye opened, her dilated pupil focusing on him as it rapidly contracted against the morning light, and she spoke then, her voice louder but still just as groggy as it had been only a moment ago.

"Whatever you're thinking, think twice, Willy."

Will started a little but tried his best to look innocent, straightening out his back and stretching his arms up above his head. Peering back down at her as he moved his hands to link them behind his head, he informed her in an affectionate tone, "Why Brooklyn, I was just thinking of how absolutely stunning you look in this lighting. You really ought to consider going into underwear modeling."

That dank gray eye just stared at him for a minute longer, and then she turned over in her chair, facing her back to him and draping her legs over the side of the chair. Her voice emerged a moment later, muffled by the thick hair blanketing over her face, only to say, "Don't call me that."

"For someone with such a lovely name, you sure do your best to make it as ugly as possible." Will sniffed melodramatically, but there was no reply from the lump of flesh and cloth in his father's recliner. Brooke was either asleep or ignoring him. Either way, he was getting hungry, and as his stomach loudly grumbled he lumbered off towards the kitchen, fully intent on a bite to eat. As he stumbled in and opened the refrigerator door and glance inside for a suitable breakfast, he chanced a glance at the digital clock on the microwave. His eyes were bleary on the glaring green numbers, but he could still make out the time. It read five minutes after eight.

It was Monday.

"Shit. SHIT!"

In a flash Will was out of the kitchen, swinging around the banister's edge to sprint up the stairs to the second story, the sneakers that he had failed to remove the night before hammering loudly on the hardwood steps. Dashing into the first room on the right, his bedroom, he looked around wildly, searching for anything to wear, anything but the dirty, smelly crap that he was wearing now. A pair of khakis that he hadn't worn since Monday were lying on his bed, and he snatched those up, along with a clean-looking gray shirt off the floor. For another second he halted, look around. There was no time to look for underwear, not if he wanted to get to school on time.

Well, no one was going to be checking his underwear. He'd just make do.

So Will took off, racing back down the steps. He grappled off his shirt as he went, tossing it over behind the couch as he clattered to the bottom of the steps, right on top of some of his other accumulated articles of clothing. He noticed Brooke then, wide awake by now, sitting up and staring with a bewildered look on her face. She seemed ready to bolt like a rabbit in the face of an attacker, all muscles tensed and just waiting for that stimulus. Will ignored her surprise in favor of tossing his clean clothes on the couch and wrestling with the fly of his pants.

"What's going on?" Brooke's voice was blatantly anxious, and nervous fear was all over her face. She seemed to think that there was some danger afoot other than Will possible being late for school and having to pay for it, but a moment later her voice grew less nervous and more flat, asking him, "What are you doing with your pants?"

By that time Will had wriggled out of his pants and tossed them into the pile of dirty clothes behind the couch. He stopped to send Brooke a glance and a dirty grin while he fumbled for his khakis on the couch. At that moment he was clothed in nothing but a pair of red boxer shorts and a silver chain that dangled around his neck, a situation that would have been convenient had he not been rushing to save his ass. "Sorry, sweetheart, no time to fool around right now. I've got to get to class."

"You ought to run. You could stand to lose a few," Brooke mumbled, rubbing a hand over her eyes and leaning back in her seat. Will just sent her a half-hearted glare. Just because she was a scrawny little stick didn't mean that everybody had to be one. Sure, maybe he was one or two pounds over his fittest, but he was still trim enough. The other girls sure weren't complaining.

Still, the comment had bruised his ego, so as he jerked his khakis on over his underwear, Will gave her a dramatically upset look and yelped out, "After all I've done for you, you go and call me fat? See if I ever offer you a spot in my feature porno again!"

"Oh no, I'm crushed," Brooke lamented blandly, sending a distracted glance towards the kitchen. Will ignored her and grabbed his shirt, yanking it on over his head on his way to the door. Grabbing his green hooded sweatshirt off of the coat rack beside the door, he turned back to wave once to Brooke.

"I'll give you that goodbye kiss when I get back!" Will called, dragging open the door behind him. "And if you're a good girl, maybe more!"

Before she could even start to respond he was gone, dashing across the yard and into his junker of a car. He dove inside and twisted the key into the ignition before his seat belt was even on, backing out of the driveway in a crazy half-circle, and then he was off, racing the clock. He barely even noticed the rusted blue sedan that he cut off turning a corner three streets over, or the deathly glare that the auburn-haired girl inside sent him as he sped away.

--

The day went surprisingly well for how rough its beginnings had been. Will had arrived at school only halfway through his first class, and had not only been able to take advantage of his position as the son of a friend of the nurse to get himself out of being counted absent from homeroom, but had also miraculously had the good fortune to be late on the best day that his math teacher must have ever had. The teacher had only given him a joking scold in reference to tardiness before letting him sit. Will had proceeded to sleep through the rest of the class.

Not only that, but he'd found out that his cheating ex-girlfriend had skipped a period, most likely due to her newest bareback buck of a boyfriend. If that wasn't poetic justice, then what was?

Now he was on his way home again, back to see his client, back to work at breaking through her rough outer shell to get to the soft meat beneath. It had become a sort of new objective him, a new hobby with which to waste his excess time, to attempt at cracking through her icy cover and find out what lay inside, what issues and tiny imperfections made her up, what he could take advantage of and what he couldn't. He had seen glimpses of it throughout her stay with him, in her innocent gratitude, in her amusement at his semi-serious offer the night before, in her fear and frustration when she'd told him about her plans. Will had never been one to get very occupied with specific women, but Brooke wasn't so much another woman to him as she was a curiosity with certain aspects shared with womankind.

In any case, he felt he was getting closer to at least uncovering the little teenaged girl hidden underneath the sarcastic, fussy, and moody exterior that Brooke always put up with him. Even if the end result didn't involve the same sexual aspects that he'd been hoping for, it would satisfy some of his curiosity, at the very least. He could live with that. For now.

Will contemplated over it all as he pulled close up the street towards his home, his wreck of a car trundling along at a moderate volume. However, as he began to approach his driveway, he noticed something that wiped all plans and wonderings from his mind. That thing was a car, parked in his driveway, blocking him from entering. It was a small car, its wheel wells marred and eaten away by rust, dark blue paint chipped and peeling from age and abuse. Its tires looked pretty run down as well, as if they'd been running on rough surfaces without a proper change for far too long. Making a disgruntled face, Will veered over to park along the curb in front of his house, turning off the car soon after. He did not exit just yet, however, for he was too busy staring at the car with a growing sense of wariness in his mind.

Maybe he'd been more right than he'd realized the other night. Maybe Brooke's people really had sent trackers here, and now they'd come to collect their property. If that were the case, it would be better for him to wait out here until everything was through. He didn't really want to get involved in a cult's private business, especially when that cult blew up buildings for fun. He would be safer out here.

But on the other hand, Brooke was his friend… sort of. Well, she was a good client, anyway. Whichever she was, he didn't really want her dead. She could be fun to talk with when she was comfortable in a situation, and teasing her was good no matter how comfortable or uncomfortable she was. Besides, if she was dead, his dealership in explosives was effectively terminated.

After all, his father had really put him in charge of the less-than-legal division of Porter Demolitions to accommodate to Brooke. It was a small division, limited to probably three or four clients other than that girl at any given time, but its real pay and best sales came out of that cult and its tool of a girl. His father had to deal with the rest of the company, a definite distraction, so Will had been brought in, a young man who could devote his attentions to Brooke and few others. With her gone, whether she was out of commission or dead, the purpose of Will's division would he gone as well, and he would be out of his highest-paying job.

That settled it. Will pushed open his car door and got out, kicking it carelessly shut behind him, and then began to walk, step after step, towards the front door of his house. He tried to ready himself as he took the steps up onto the porch, tried to be prepared for whatever he might come upon. Whatever he was going to find, he was sure that it wasn't going to be too greatly in Brooke's favor. From how she'd described her home life, it sounded like she'd be in it deep for going against protocol to visit him, and especially for having the audacity to even contemplate running away.

After an eternity, he finally reached the door. He contemplated knocking first, but quickly decided that it would be better to have the element of surprise on his side and banished the idea completely. Instead, he simply opened the door as naturally as could be and came inside.

The sight that met him was not exactly the one that he had been expecting, to say the least. Brooke was there, of course; he had been expecting that. However, she was not dead. In fact, she didn't even look physically injured at all. She was sitting on the couch, hunched over with her elbows on her knees, and her head was newly jerked upward to look at his placid entrance. Her face was what stopped him at the door, her expression, a mixture somewhere between fear, confusion, and dismay. She seemed about to say something, though what she would have said Will couldn't have guessed, when another voice cut her off.

"Who's there?"

That had to be the tracker, or even the retriever. It sounded like a girl, though, which jibed nicely with what he knew of Brooke's cult. Will had expected himself to do something heroic when faced with this situation, maybe to grab Brooke and run, or even to face down the enemy in a fight to the death, but all that he really found himself able to do was stand there, dumbstruck in front of the open door. It was like his orders had gotten lost somewhere between his brain and the rest of his body, because the only part that could move was his eyes, turning towards the area that the voice had come from – the kitchen.

And just as he looked, so too did the retriever. His own blue eyes met with a pair of green ones just as empty and dead as Brooke's own, a pair of eyes situated in a pale oval of a face, framed by auburn hair just as strangely familiar as that blue crapbox of a car in his driveway. When those eyes spotted him and seemed to recognize him in turn, they narrowed sharply, the eyebrow twitching downward into a dark grimace. Suddenly the rest of the girl's body came into view, and most noticeably her left hand, the hand that held a dully metallic gun, pointed straight towards his face.

"Katsi!" Will faintly heard Brooke yelp from the couch. "Put that down! It's just my dealer!"

The auburn-haired girl, apparently named Katsi, ignored Brooke's plea for mercy and instead gestured towards the door a slight amount with the end of her gun. Her voice was low and measured when she spoke, as if she were a cop talking to a man about to throw himself off of a building. "Close the door."

Maybe staying in the car would have been a better choice. Still, there was nothing that Will could do about it now, and so he decided that for the moment, following directions was the best way to go. Moving slowly enough for the girl to follow, Will moved out his arm to close the door, feeling it ease into place until it finally clicked into its closed position. Staying quiet and easy, he lifted up his hands, showing that there was nothing inside of them, and then spoke in the most soothing tone that he could muster. "Let's not get too hasty, here. I'm sure Brooke has told you all about my credentials as a nice guy, so let's just sit down and talk it out-"

"Willy, shut up." It was Brooke who spoke, her voice suddenly demanding, and Will's eyes snapped to her. Her expression still held some of that fearful dismay, but now there was a certain headstrong quality in it, her mouth set and eyes unforgiving. She wouldn't be reasoned with, not now, so Will did as he was told, closing his mouth. The smaller girl then looked to Katsi, snapping just as angrily at her. "Put the damn gun away, Katsi. He's no danger to anybody."

Katsi sent Brooke a silencing look, and then looked back to Will, seeming to size him up for a moment or two. When she was done considering him she motioned towards the recliner with the nozzle of her gun. "Sit down."

Will moved forward, going slowly enough to satisfy the armed girl but fast enough for himself, until he was able to take a seat in the recliner that Brooke had been occupying for the last few days. Once he was seated, however, he was surprised to find that the girl took Brooke's command, moving her gun back into the pocket of the denim jacket that she wore. The girl then moved forward, coming to lean on the side of the couch, disregarding Will entirely save for a watchful glance in his direction every so often. She was keeping tabs, but she evidently didn't think him much of a threat.

"Brooke, I'm telling you, they're looking for you," Katsi said towards the smaller girl. As she spoke she moved her hands up to her hair, starting to twist her nearly waist-length locks into a messy bun, her attitude careless but her eyes sharp.

Brooke just gave Willy a dead look, warning him to keep his mouth shut with her eyes, and then lowered her face into her hands, letting her own dark hair fall to curtain about her face. "I won't go back. I'm almost gone. Once I go, they can never catch me. Tell them that I died in a fire or something, I don't care."

"Like they'll believe that." Katsi snorted a bit in a wry sort of laugh, tying her hair into place, and pulled herself up to sit on the arm of the couch. She moved her leg up to rest a dirty boot on the beige fabric, but Will didn't bother to speak. He had bigger problems than the furniture right now. "It's not too late to go back, girl. The city patrol's just starting to look for you, and they're still looking for an injured deconstruction worker, not a runaway. If I bring you back, they'll never know you were here to begin with."

"I won't, Katsi. Seriously, I'm not putting up with all of the bullshit that I'm supposed to do back there. You want me to go back to being a slave again? You know what it's like. What would you say to me if I asked you the same, when you were so close to getting away?" Brooke's voice had grown a bit angry and guttural, her head coming up to glare at the auburn-haired girl through stray pieces of hair. Will was really far too disconnected from their mutual cult to fully understand what was going on, but he did get the general jist. It wasn't particularly interesting, but he couldn't very well move, not with a girl with a gun in the room who had specifically told him to sit.

Katsi sighed, raising up a hand to push a few stray hairs out of her face, and then settled a tired gaze on Brooke's angry face. She didn't seem to want to participate in this argument any more than Will wanted to listen to it, but she had a duty to get Brooke out of here that she couldn't deny. "I'd tell you that you were nuts. But Brooke, if you want to run away, you really can't just do it spur of the moment like this. Look how easy I found you. Do you really want Meghan to be the one banging on the door at your next hiding place?"

That name, that implication, seemed to drive a certain strike of fear into Brooke, for she flinched a little and then moved forward, whipping her hair out of her face with a fast motion of her hand. She sent Katsi a deathly glare and hissed at her, "Don't you fucking threaten me with that! Where do you get off-"

"It's not my fault you didn't plan this all out the way you should've, but now you've got everybody looking for you, and you haven't got enough of a lead on them to shake them off your tail." Katsi sent Brooke a knowing look that silenced the girl immediately, and then continued on, crossing her arms over her chest. She looked to Will as if she could've been quite a looker if she had cleaned up a bit and put on some proper clothes, but she was better dressed than Brooke, that was for sure. "If you get away next time and I can't track you, then power to you, girl. I'm just giving you the facts for this situation. You will be caught, and when they catch you this time, you will be killed."

Killed? Now it was interesting. Will turned his head to look to Brooke, catching the look of dismay that came over her face, but when she found him looking she smothered it under a bland, dismal dissatisfaction, that icy veneer coming up again to shield herself from his prying eyes. She was risking death here? He had imagined some sort of reprimand for her, and death had even been a distant thought, but he hadn't really considered it for real.

Will smirked a bit, unable to stop himself from doing what came next. He'd always had rather bad self-control, after all. Of course this had the risk of death, but really, was that such a problem when he could make a good joke on the way? So, as came naturally, he spoke. "Well, Brooklyn, my lady dear, if death is what you're facing, maybe I could make your final earthly hours a little more enjoyable for you. Katsi? You mind leaving us alone for… oh, say, twenty minutes?"

While the auburn-haired girl gave Will a rather amused but tired look, Brooke turned on him, her eyes ablaze but no sound coming from her. After a tense second or so it was Katsi who broke the silence, yawning and then leaning it to peer closely at Will's face and his shaggy hair. "Your dealer's quite a character, Brookis. Cute, too."

Will just gave the looker a wider smile, flashing his teeth a bit in her direction, his eyes intent on her green irises as dead as tepid seawater. "On second thought, you can stay."

"Okay, right, whatever, you two go bang or something, I'm going to go get some cereal," Brooke informed them blandly, scooting herself up on top of the couch to swing up over the back. She landed rather clumsily on the floor beyond and began to walk off towards the kitchen. Will wasn't really watching her so much as he was watching her friend, the Katsi girl who seemed rather enticed by all of this. She seemed a little easier than Brooke, a lot more mellow and laid-back, without all of Brooke's worrying and fussing. Maybe he couldn't get to Brooke, but things were looking good for getting to her friend within the hour.

And then, in one fluid motion, Katsi took the gun from her pocket, swiveled around, and shot Brooke once in the back.

Brooke squealed, a high-pitched yelp somewhere between pain and surprise, and fell to the floor with a resonant thud, disappearing from Will's sight behind the back of the couch. Katsi, on the other hand, simply turned back to Will with a placid smile on her face, then brought the nose of the gun over in front of her face, blowing lightly on the end. Will had been rather startled by the abrupt shot, but not as much as he was dreading the thought that Brooke had been murdered and was currently bleeding all over his floor, messing up his carpet and the hardwood floor, leaving a stain that he was sure his mother would notice. His mother would kill him for that, even if she somehow didn't notice the crematorium smell that he was sure Brooke was going to leave behind. He was dead meat whether this psycho decided to shoot him or not.

Katsi didn't seem too concerned with it, only settled him with a wink of one eye and slid herself off the couch, straightening out her jacket with one hand. "Your name's Willy, right? Come on over here and help me out a second, Willy-boy."

Will didn't move, too busy thinking about how horrible it would be if a murder took place in his house, right in front of his eyes. He was too busy imagining the cleaning he'd have to do, the loss of his job, the loss of a fairly attractive and fairly entertaining friend, the adjustments that he'd have to make and all of the things that went with such complications. He didn't want to have to go back to working full time to pay for his car's repairs and his film equipment, working the same damn monotonous job until he got old enough that he had to take over his father's business, a job possibly even more monotonous than the part-time one that he had now. He didn't want to lose Brooke, not when he'd been so close to getting in, not now of all times when they'd actually been becoming friends. He didn't want any of it.

Then he heard a quiet noise, rising up to become louder, a sigh that turned into a whining groan, coming from somewhere low to the ground. That was what made Will move, springing him up to his feet to look over the back of the couch and spot the lump of flesh lying facedown on the floor that was Brooke. A hole was evident in the back of her shirt – his shirt, actually – but it looked only a little bloody, like she'd only been nicked instead of shot. She was moving, however, her arms sprawled out ahead, and her knees coming under her to push herself up onto all fours. She was starting to move forward a bit slowly, but she didn't see Katsi coming up behind her, gun at her side and her steps calm.

By the time Brooke finally did spot the auburn-haired girl, it was too late to do much of anything at all. The smaller girl tried to scuttle away faster, pushing up to try to get to her feet, but Katsi was on her already, lifting up one dirty blue sneaker to set it on Brooke's shoulder and shove her onto her back. Brooke didn't really have the best balance, and now that she was apparently injured in some way, it didn't help matters any. She collapsed onto her back on the floor, and of course began to struggle, but she halted immediately when Katsi bent down and pressed the end of the gun against her face, right between her eyes.

Maybe she just had blanks in there, or some kind of fake bullets. What could she have been loaded with to make a mark in Brooke's shirt but only make her bleed a teaspoon's amount? It was boggling Will's mind, but he quickly pushed that away, deciding that whatever it was, even if it wasn't bullets, he still didn't want to get shot by it. It looked like it had hurt.

The sound of speech pulled him out of contemplation, and he came back to himself just in time to make out Katsi's words. "Look, kiddo, I'm sorry that it has to be this way. But you have to understand, it's for your own good."

"Fuck you," Brooke spat, but she stayed where she was, evidently not wanting to get shot with whatever was in that gun. Her eyes were afire, alive again with unbridled emotion, that bored and sarcastic front gone entirely. She didn't bother trying to hide the way she felt or thought, instead letting it all out on her face, her features twisting in nothing but hatred, her eyes narrowed to glaring slits, her lips drawn back to bare her small, flat teeth. She looked almost like a feral dog taken down in a fight but not quite done biting, and, considering both that and the other girl's gun, Will wisely kept himself next to the chair, well out of striking range.

"It'll only hurt for a little while," Katsi told the girl, ignoring her cursing, and quickly moved herself upward to loom over Brooke, removing the gun from the other girl's head. Brooke began to struggle again, but Katsi quelled that momentarily by stomping down onto the smaller girl's stomach. As Brooke cringed and clutched into her belly, Katsi looked over to Will, gesturing with her gun. "Willy-boy, this is where you come in handy. You're going to hold Brooke's hands."

"For comfort?" Will asked with growing unease, but he moved forward as directed by the barrel of the gun. Circling wide around the armed woman, he came around to Brooke's head, and crouched down above her head at Katsi's gesture. Then came the hard part. Katsi made a significant nod towards Brooke's hands, still busy holding and shielding her injured belly from harm. She wanted him to force it?

It was all for everybody's own good. He just had to keep telling himself that. If he didn't help here, Brooke would get killed, and he would be out of work. If he helped, she would live and apparently not be too badly punished, and he would still have work to do for some time into the future. It would benefit everyone. Brooke just didn't understand that right now. She'd understand when it was over. He was just trying to make the best of a bad situation.

So he did as indicated, and reached over Brooke's body, grabbing her small wrists in his hands and pulling them up away from her stomach. She seemed disoriented for a minute, too confused or pained to respond, but when she finally came to enough to notice what he was doing she began to jerk and writhe, pulling at her arms and howling up at him indignantly. "Let me go, you big walking cock! Get the hell off of me!"

Will didn't respond just yet, in favor of pinning her hands up above her head rather easily for how much she struggled. When he had her arms safely out of the way he looked back down into her glowering eyes, watching her face snarl in indescribable rage, exposed to him for one more time, most likely the last. He watched her for a second or two, as she prepared to speak, and interrupted her before she could, to say with what little humor he could muster, "You know, this would make a great scene for my next movie."

"Movie? What kind of movie?" With Brooke thus restrained, Katsi had been able to move to a better position for whatever she intended to do, and was now balanced rather precariously with her feet on Brooke's ankles. The sensation that must have resulted was enough to silence Brooke, and she seemed rather occupied with pulling at her feet in an effort to unbalance the armed girl, so she wasn't doing the talking. It was Katsi who had spoken, and as Will looked up, she spared him only a glance before going back to looking down the sight of her gun. She appeared to be aiming, straight for Brooke's body.

"Porno," Will replied, the word falling out of his mouth. He wasn't sure what he'd been thinking that Katsi would do, but it hadn't included firing anymore. Maybe he'd thought that she'd beat Brooke up a bit while he held her down, just to make her hiding a little more believable, like she was too hurt to travel on her own. He hadn't been expecting her to fire, though. Had she been lying the whole time, and now she was just going to kill Brooke instead? Will decided to chance a question. "Hey, you're not going to fire that thing, are-"

Two loud bangs and a shriek cut off the end of Will's sentence, and by the time he was able to comprehend what had happened, it was done. Katsi moved off of Brooke's ankles, pocketing her gun again, peering down at her victim with a more exhausted expression than before. The victim, meanwhile, pulled her knees up towards her body, trying to curl into a fetal position, her shriek keening down into a loud whine of agony, her head tilted back to dig her scalp against the hardwood floor. A quick glance over her body showed him two holes in the front of her shirt, and beyond that, what looked like two twin holes in the skin of her abdomen. But where was all of the blood?

"What'd you do? She's not bleeding." Will heard his own voice but felt strangely detached from it, and he quickly moved his hands from Brooke's wrists, letting her hands fly to her abdomen and clutch into the area where she'd been shot. However, by the time he'd done that, her eyes were open and glaring up at him wordlessly, her face masked by pain but still displaying a clear sense of hatred below that. He could only stare back, more puzzled than fearful for whatever reason, too placidly disconnected to feel much of it.

"She's sick," was all that Katsi said, and then the girl began to move quickly. She knelt down beside Brooke's feet and grabbed the girl by the ankles, lifting them up a bit from them floor, and then looked to Will. "You're going to get her top half. But do me a favor and get her coat first, Willy-boy. She'll kill me if I leave that stinking piece of trash here."

"Uh, right." Will snapped out of his daze quickly, hopping to his feet and moving back over to his dad's recliner. Brooke had taken to leaving her beloved jacket to the right side of that chair, for whatever reason, and he was able to snatch it up quickly before he went back to stand beside Brooke's head. The coat smelled, to be sure, but it smelled a little less than it had when she had first arrived; she must have washed it at some point while he'd been out. He discarded that thought and slung it over his shoulder, then knelt down, grabbing Brooke under her arms and hoisting her up into the air.

It didn't take long for Katsi and him to shuffle Brooke outside, especially since whenever the small girl went to fight them, her wounds would jar and she would wince and yelp in pain. With her inherent sense of fight out of commission, she was much less of a challenge to deal with. Within ten minutes they were loading her into the back of the rusted blue car, allowing her to lie down as would be most comfortable. As Katsi dug around in her pocket a few feet away, presumably for her car keys, Will knelt down beside Brooke's feet, peering in at her face at the other end of the car.

The injured girl could not have looked more pitiable if she had tried. Her face was a glowering mask of anger, hateful and deathly on his face, but her eyes showed something different, something that made Will feel a lot worse. In her eyes, no anger reigned, but instead, fear and betrayal fought for control. She had trusted him, and he had let her down. He had helped to send her back to the place that she had trusted him to get her away from.

It was all for the best. He just had to remember that. If he hadn't helped, she would have been facing death, and he would have been out of a job. It was just that simple.

Will took her jacket off of his shoulder, leaning in a bit to place it carefully in her lap, not saying anything for the moment. He wanted to say something, maybe to apologize or at least reason with her, because she so obviously didn't understand the necessity of what he had done. It wasn't like he would have done that to her if he had thought that she had even the slightest chance of getting away. This way, she would live. He tried to reason, crouching down again to peer around her leg and up to her face, his voice more serious than he had intended. "I'm just trying to do what's right."

Brooke said nothing, only narrowed her eyes and glared back at him, her eyes cold and guarded once again. Then, before he could jump away, she pulled back her foot and kicked him in the face.

The yelp of pain drew Katsi soon enough, and she came over just in time to shove Will back onto his rear in the grass, slamming the car door shut at the same time. She then turned and leaned against the vehicle, peering down at him in a rather unconcerned way. At some point she had lit up a cigarette, and as she examined him, she took in a slow drag. After a moment or so of her staring and Will rubbing his face, she spoke up, smoking blowing out of her mouth with her words. "I don't see a reason why anybody has to know that she was here at all. It wouldn't do well for any of us. So you'll be keeping your trap shut, of course."

"Of course." Will let out a sigh, rubbing his nose one last time. Nothing felt broken, so he supposed that he was all right. Pulling his knees to his chest, he looked up to Katsi, and gave her a bit of a smirk. "I wouldn't mind seeing you again, though."

"Save it, small fry," Katsi said, but there was a bit of a grin on her face. She shook her head once, and then turned back to the car, opening the driver's door. "I've heard all about you."

"Good things, I hope."

"Every last one." Then Katsi got in the car, slamming the door shut behind her, and a minute later, the motor revved up to a start. The motor sounded just as bad as the car looked, but the car managed to pull out, carefully turning about in the street. Then it began to drive forward, off down the street, and within seconds it was gone from Will's view, disappearing past the house next door.

It had been the right thing to do.

Still, he sat on the lawn for a long while, feeling the pain in his face fade away to almost nothing, watching down the street in the direction in which the car had gone. She was gone, and things were back to normal. Just like he had wanted. She would live, he would still have his job, and everything would be the same. Just like he had wanted. Everything would be okay.

It had been right.

Finally he forced himself to let it go, shifting around to push himself up onto his feet again, discreetly wiping the grass and dirt off of the rear of his pants. Everything was okay; that was all that he had to know. That was all that Brooke had to understand, and that strange friend of hers could no doubt take care of that problem. His part in all of it was done, at least until the next meeting. In the meantime, he had a skin flick to set up for.