(Document Manager is still busted… apologies if the formatting is funked!)

Vertical


You howl and listen,
listen and wait for the
echos of angels who wont return.

Chase exhales the wide breath he'd been holding in his lungs as he steps into the dark parking lot of the hospital. For all his nausea and general panic, his mother had been fine. He'd had to run up three flights of stairs because Alek doesn't do elevators, and, panting his lungs out of his chest, he'd thrown the door to her room open. Much to his surprise, however, Heather Michaels had been sitting up perkily in her bed, a spoon full of ice-creme between her smiling lips.

He understands that three weeks is a long time to go without a single visit to his hospitalized mother, but he still can't believe the audacity of the two women in his immediate family. How can they be so cruel? Tricking him into thinking his mother was dying or something, just to get him to visit. How can they be so sweet and helpful one minute, and then notorious deviants the next? And tricking Alek too. The youngest of the three of them. The one who's most affected by it. Chase hadn't had it in him to ask, but he wonders how Alek felt, seeing their dad again in that room.

But, despite all that, it really had been nice to have the whole family together.

He unlocks the door to his car and slides in. Before he can start it, though, his phone vibrates in his pocket.

"Hello?" He says, leaning back in his seat.

"Hey, it's Nick."

Chase sits back up, smiling a little. "Oh, hey. What's goin' on?"

"Ha," he laughs, "That's my line. Are you okay? You left the pool without even looking at me."

Feeling a swell of guilt storm over him, Chase says, "I'm fine. Sorry…"

"No worries. It was your mom, right? She okay too?"

"Yeah, she's fine." He grips his phone tighter. "Thanks."

"Told you already, no worries," Nick says, voice light and airy, "Anyway, that Adam kid is at the pool."

Chase feels his chest thump. "Did you meet him?"

"Yup."

He waits for more, and when there isn't any says, "Is he… well, good for the job?"

"Good like how?"

"Alek said he's crazy or something… did he seem crazy to you?"

Nick pauses. Then, "I wouldn't say crazy, no. But he didn't seem very intelligent."

"What, you think he's stupid?" Chase isn't sure whether to be worried or find this fact hilarious.

"He just nodded at everything I said like a robot… "

Like a robot. Robots are better than insane people, he decides, and his heart stops pounding. "Alright," he says, then something suddenly strikes him. It must be because he's in such good mood after being with his whole family, but it doesn't really matter. He shouldn't try to make excuses for having nice thoughts. "Did he bring anything to sleep on?"

"What?" Nick says, likely taken aback by the random display of concern for a complete stranger. "I… I don't think so. Why?"

Following the question is an idea that strikes Chase just as suddenly, but all he says is, "Ah, no reason."

"You sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine, I'm fine." He laughs lightly against his phone. "I'll see you at work tomorrow."

"If you say so."

"Goodbye Nick," Chase replies, trying to hide the smile on his lips. He shuts his phone before the other guy can say anything to keep him on the line. Then he starts his car, pulling out of the hospital's parking lot.

The drive home is about twenty minutes, which means he'll get there around eleven-thirty. He has to be up at five-thirty for work tomorrow morning, but it's only a three minute walk to the pool from where he lives. If Adam really is a bit off his rocker like Alek had said, then it's probably a good idea to be at least decent to him, and anyway he's still doing work for Chase. It wouldn't start their boss-employee relationship off very well if he let him sleep on a cold floor. It's not really a lot of trouble, either.

So, when Chase pulls into his driveway half an hour later, he heads straight for the kitchen. He grabs a black garbage bag from under the sink and, with a slightly out-of-place determined grin, he moves towards the closet in the hallway. It must be the change in his life, the fact that he's finally fighting back, no matter how lightly, against The Bols, making him so excited. He feels all the guilt run off him. Hope replaces it, because maybe now he can sleep better at night, knowing someone's there watching. And that has to be the reason he's doing this.

He snatches a waterproof blue foam mat, a pillow, and a sleeping back from the floor of the closet, and tosses them into the garbage bag. Then, throwing it over his shoulder, he starts for his work place.

The summer night sky is clear. Chase looks above him, and a warm breeze flicks around his shoulders, up and under the back of his neck. After years of vandalism, threats, and drive-by shootings, he's finally doing something. And he can't help it, his checks tighten and he's smiling like a fool for the third time tonight. Just the thought of having someone between him and that stupid gang is enough to break his usual formal composure and make him look as eager as he feels. He doesn't want to get this excited or be this expectant, this hopeful, but he truly and honestly can't help himself.

When he gets to the pool he's surprised to find that the lights are still on. Maybe Nick forgot to tell Adam how to work them? It doesn't matter. He chucks the full garbage bag over the tall black fence, knowing the gate is locked because Nick would never forget that, not in this crazy city. Next, he grabs the vertical bars, one in each hand, and starts to climb. The fence is twice his height. Chase's muscles are used to pushing against water, too, so it's difficult. But he makes it to the top, glad for the flat black surface that lines the crest of the fence, and falls down the other side, onto the deck.

He looks around, but sees nothing that isn't always there. Certainly no other person.

Chase picks up the bag and walks around the pool towards the shack, thinking Adam's probably there. He pulls the heavy cement door open and steps in. No one.

Then something solid and round presses into the back of his head.

"Who the fuck're you?" Comes an insistent, hard voice, followed by the click of a cocked gun.

Having grown up in city with an appalling amount of crime, Chase is not one to freak out in situations like this. He's a lifeguard furthermore, and that comes with its own set of stress and responsibility. So, he drops the bag on the floor and doesn't panic in the slightest - at least not outwardly.

"Chase," he says, carefully but with confidence, "You're Adam, right?" He tries to turn around, but feels the gun push further forward and he stops. A little less sure he adds, "D-Did Alek give you that?"

The reply has a deep crack to it. "If you were Chase, you'd know."

"How?" He asks. Alek was right, this guy is nuts. "This is the first time we've met."

"Shut up smartass." Chase stiffens as he shoves the gun into the soft spot at the base of his skull, just over the back of his neck. "What's in the bag?"

But he keeps his voice as placid as he can. "Look for yourself."

Adam drags the gun across his head until its poking into his cheek. Chase takes a quick glance as he comes around his right side. He doesn't look particularly insane. A little shorter than him with a grumpy face and red hair, though he can only see tufts of it peeking out around his ears under a dark blue beanie. His arms have lean muscles; Chase watches them flex as he dumps out the stuff from the bag.

"Were you planin' to stay the night?" Adam says more than asks. The snarky tone is still there, but he seems to know something is off.

Chase shakes his head. "They're for you. Nick told me you didn't bring anything."

Yet the gun still stays ridged against his cheek, and Adam walks Chase against the wall. His temple slams into it and he wonders what possessed his little brother to hire a maniac. The redhead grabs his shoulder and flips him around. Chase gets an eyeful of riled green.

"You don't look a thing like Alek, you liar."

He rubs his back against the wall, trying to null the pain of being slammed into it. "He's adopted." This seems to make Adam think. "You can call him and ask. He's awake."

Apparently the suggestion had been enough though, because the redhead pulls the nine-millimetre away from Chase and shoves in it his pocket. He's about to relax, to take a deep breath, but Adam's opens his jaw, growling like some old dog.

"Are you an idiot?"

Chase's eyes widen at the outright insult. "What?"

"You hire me to look out for gang members and then come sneaking in here at night - what the hell did you think would happen?"

He can't make out his expression in the dark very well, but Chase smirks a little. "Well, I definitely didn't think you'd have a gun."

"I didn't know what to bring," Adam says, placing a hand on it, "Your 'buddy' didn't explain a damn thing to me. I have no fucking clue what I'm doing, and then you hopped the fence and pranced over here - "

"You mean Nick?" Chase asks, walking over to sit in his chair. His clothes from yesterday are still on it, draped over the cushion.

Adam leans against a wall. "Whatever his name is."

"He didn't tell you anything?"

"No," he starts waving his hands around, making motions with his angry words, "He just told me where shit was and then left." He stops, resting his arms at his sides. There's a beat of thick silence. It almost grows awkward, but Adam turns his head and, evidently irritated, says, "What do you even need me for?"

Chase thinks for a second. He isn't convinced that telling all the politics involved in his predicament is a smart thing to do, not to a guy he'd just met. He doesn't want to lie either, so he opts to tell him part of the truth. They have to work together for the whole summer, after all. "Basically to make me feel better," he says, "Too many bad things've happened here at night, and I think they'd stop happening if someone was here."

"That's it?" The maniac with the gun doesn't sound pleased.

"Yeah."

"So, what. You want me to just be here?" Adam asks, obviously disbelieving, suspecting. He probably thinks Chase is an idiot.

But what can he do? It's pretty much the truth. It's the more important part of it, anyway. "Yeah. That's it. Look," he starts, standing up, "I've gotta be up in five hours. We can go over the rest tomorrow."

"What the fuck, no!" It's that barking tone again. "That's not an explanation. You just scared the shit outta me. The least you could do is tell me what the fuck I'm supposed to do if they show up. Do you want me to fight them, chase them, kill them? What?"

"Kill them?" He's crazy. What the heck was his brother thinking? How is Chase going to deal with a bloodthirsty lunatic for an entire four months? "Of course I don't want you to kill anyone!"

"Then what the hell do I do?"

"I don't know…"

"You don't know?"

Chase rubs his eyes. "I haven't thought that far ahead yet, okay?"

He can hardly believe the level of heat in Adam's words as he replies. "Fuck!" The redhead pushes himself off the wall and walks over to Chase, standing with his his arms folded, looking down at him. "Then why I am even here? You fuckin' city people are all the same - " he narrows bright eyes on him, " - controlling, power-hungry bastards! Did it ever even cross your mind that I might not want to be here? To be doing this? And now you're telling me you don't even really know what 'this' is!" Chase feels his blood pressure rise; Adam's voice only gets louder. "What the hell d'you mean you haven't thought that far ahead yet! Why would you ask for a bodyguard - or whatever the fuck I am - if you don't know what you need one for!"

By the time he's finished screaming he's out of breath.

Chase looks up at him, confounded, bewildered. He's hasn't been so thoroughly yelled at since he was about seven.

"Look, I…" he starts, trying to fight off the shyness he can feel coming on. "I just can't think about it right now. We'll go over it in the morning."

For a second the redhead stares at him, looking entirely ready to scream again. But Chase stands up and heads for the door, pushing it open. He's been awake since five in the morning, and he has to wake up again in five hours; he's not in the mood to deal with a psychopath.

"Yeah, whatever," Adam says, leaning against the wall again. For someone who'd just flown off the planet with rage, he sure calms down quickly. "Go get your fuckin' beauty sleep, princess, and I'll guard your castle."

Though, Chase notes dryly as he exits the building, the sarcasm stays.


…oh my gosh that was fun.

Review please!
And thank you for stickin' with me this far!!
Inso.