Fourteen

Derek's hand paused abruptly in its journey across the space to meet my own. His eyes narrowed on mine as his fingers curled into a fist to be withdrawn from the offering table. As his glare heated the air around us, I affected my most innocent of smiles. He leaned back, eyeing me critically and I was just starting to think I'd gotten out of the deal when the gym doors burst open admitting yet another buff man. He was dressed in the Squad standard issue black cargo pants, a skin tight dark grey t-shirt and a loaded utility belt.

"What, Paul?" Derek gritted out, not breaking eye contact.

"Everything is in place," the man announced. "The perp is en route. We need to get going."

A sigh left Derek's lips as he made his way to his feet. "I'll meet you in the parking lot in a minute," Derek snapped and as Paul backed out he skewered me with a hard stare. "We'll settle this later," he assured me, backing way slowly. "There will be negotiations."

"Fine by me," I enthused. "I can be pretty stubborn."

His stern face actually cracked a smile at that. "No you're not," he chuckled with a shake of his head. "The only thing you're stubborn about is not sharing your photocopier." And with that small, insignificant insight, he turned and jogged from the gym.

The moment I was alone a tingle of awareness shivered up my spine, causing the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Suddenly feeling self conscious in my skin tight clothing, I wrapped my arms around my torso. My gaze travelled around the room, scrutinising every inch of the space. Someone was watching me but it appeared no one was there. Only one explanation came to mind, but I was hoping it wasn't right.

"Riley, I know you're there," I called loudly. "And what you're doing is creepy even for a creeper. Throw on some clothes on and show yourself."

"How did you know I was here?" came Riley's deep voice from the corner to my right. I turned my head to find him fading back to his usual complexion, starting with his hair, slowing changing from the red of the wall behind him to the natural brown colour. His chest was bare as the colour drifted down to encompass his entire body. It was strange, while I couldn't even see him before I could now perceive an outline of his lower body even though it was still blending with his surroundings. I guess since I knew he was sitting right there it was easier to see.

Unable to look away, I followed the progress of the colour change down his chiselled abs until the very last second before it reached his hips and the section I was definitely not ready to see in flesh colour. "I could feel your eyes on me," I said, staring straight ahead with more diligence than I'd given anything else recently. "And I told you to put some clothes on. It's not appropriate for me to see my boss naked. Plus I'm pretty sure there are cameras in here. This is a security company, in case you've forgotten, and we secure our own building as well."

"Relax, Agent Cooper." His voice dripped with amusement, enticing me to return my attention to him, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I knew that the moment I did, my eyes would be drawn down. It was my natural human curiosity that would not be satisfied until it had seen what was there. "I chose this spot for a reason," he explained. "For a start, it's in a blind spot. None of the cameras in the gym can reach this specific bench. And I was able to cover myself in a towel without it looking conspicuous."

Against my better judgement, I glanced at him, a small puff of relieved air escaping my lungs as I noticed the towel slung around his hips, blending naturally into with the stacks of rolled towels on either side of him. "Right," I acknowledged. "What are you doing creeping on me, anyway?"

"I needed to make sure that Derek character didn't try to pull anything on you," Riley said, standing and adjusting his almost inadequate covering. Those towels were, after all, meant to be used as sweat mops, not cover-ups. As a result I found my concentration wandering idly between the words coming out of his mouth and his pale thighs. The dusting of dark curling hair there stuck out easily and if I stared long enough – which I was totally trying not to do – they created little patterns right before my eyes. I was so distracted by the flesh available to my viewing that I didn't even respond to his statement, though it did seem strange. "I've been reading his file and I have some suspicions about him. Nothing concrete, but I'm looking into them a bit more. In the meantime, I think you should stay away from him."

Wrenching my gaze upward was more difficult that I thought it probably should have been, but I eventually managed it. I had the urge to see his expression, not that the sincere concern I saw there helped the vaguely off feeling in my stomach. Maybe I'd just overdone the physical activity today. "Derek was warning me about you earlier," I murmured, frowning. "Said you were up to something."

"That's what he wants you to think."

"So you're not up to something?" I asked.

He shook his head, his gaze flickering once and again to my chest area, an appreciative little half smile. My self-consciousness raised its little head again and had me searching for a way to cover my chest with my arms while still appearing normal. I settled for scratching the side of my neck with the opposite hand, the other gripping my elbow so I was mostly covered.

"I'm just trying to make sure this company doesn't collapse at the hands of a nefarious employee," he proclaimed confidently as he closed the space between us. I scrambled to my feet in order to avoid being eye to eye with his crotch area and made sure there was at least two feet between at all times. I couldn't trust my actions if he got close enough for me to touch. "I'm not going to hurt you, Beatrix," he said in an amused tone, watching me back away. "In fact, I'm trying to do the exact opposite. Derek is not what he appears. You can't go around showing him your new drug induced talents willy-nilly."

My eyebrows drew together as his words drifted through my ears. "Drug induced?" Was he implying that my ability to do back flips and touch my toes was because of what the drug trial had given me?

His face lit up and he took yet another step towards me; the wall pressed into my back as I tried to maintain the safe distance. "Tell me you don't think it's strange that you can suddenly do all these things when a few days ago you couldn't even walk down the street without incident."

"Of course it's not strange," I said automatically, and I was pretty sure I actually believed it, though a small part of my brain was protesting just a little. The back flips. My flexibility. The way I'd flipped Kurtis on his back first time. That tiny, doubtful voice inside me was telling me it wasn't possible. It was quickly squashed down by the majority, however, as I remembered how natural it had felt to tumble through the air. And hadn't Riley flat out informed me that his chameleon abilities were thanks to his own drug trial drugs? What's to say that I couldn't get better gross motor skills from the pills?

"Not strange?" Incredulity cross his face and he stepped back, allowing me room to breathe. "You're prepared to blindly accept what's happened?"

I shrugged. "Why not? You change colour, I can do stuff from watching others doing it. It's all relative, I guess."

"We should keep this between us," Riley murmured, maintaining constant eye contact like he was ensuring I was listening and understanding. "Others wouldn't understand. Especially Derek. He'll use it to his advantage and I can't risk his actions bringing about a bad name for my company."

I pictured Derek in my mind, his arrogant grin and volatile temper. It didn't surprise me in the least that he was less than honourable toward Walk Safe Security. He walked around like he owned the place and had the audacity to accuse me and the other office staff of excluding him and his elitist group from office. Riley was right, he'd probably use my talents for evil rather than good.

Evil and good? When had this become the ultimate battle? My thoughts were cut off, though as the door to the gym opened once more, admitting a few lanky looking men I recognised from the marketing department. I watched them carefully, expecting them to notice the boss in a too small towel. But they barely spared us a glance as they made their way to the treadmills lined along the wall.

"Shouldn't they be at least a little curious as to why you're standing in front of me in a towel while I'm back against the wall?" I asked, returning my attention to... the thin air before me. Confused, I drifted my gaze down to the floor where the discarded towel lay crumpled in a heap. "That is so gross," I sighed, moving to step over the cloth and make my way to the locker room. It was already midday and I hadn't even made it to my desk yet. It's a good thing the boss was part of the reason or I might not have a job to do at that desk anymore.

My foot came down, met with a slightly squishy surface that I assumed for the first millisecond was the blue mat, but when I glanced down, I realised that the surface my foot was on didn't quite match up with the floor beside it. In fact, my toes hung over the edge, creating a shadow on the actual mat. Riley was laid out on the floor, naked, in order to escape the scrutiny of his employees. I wonder how creeped out they would be if they knew they were exercising in the same room as their unclad boss.

"Leave the locker room door propped open," Riley's voice instructed hoarsely. "I have to move slowly to avoid drawing attention to myself."

I'd just sat down at my – lonely, Dodge-less – desk in order to start sorting through the copy requests from the last two days when Emily appeared directly in front of me. She didn't say anything, as was her custom, just stood there staring at me like she was trying to work something out. If it weren't for the fact that her stare pretty much burned into my face and her presence cast a slight shadow over my desk I may not have known she was there.

"Emily?" I said uncertainly, confused as to how she couldn't possibly be there, since she was supposed to be over at The Innovation Station.

"You have no history of fighting or defence," she announced abruptly, her brows furrowing. "I've been all through your file, even borrowed the databases to do a full background check on you and I couldn't find even the slightest hint of a mention of you being able to, or even interested in, martial arts and the like. On top of that, I've known you for three years and you've always been completely uncoordinated."

"Thanks," I said drily, trying not to roll my eyes. I was about to ask what the meaning of this info splurge was when my mind seized on part of what she'd told me. "You did a full background check on me?" I asked, shocked.

She sent me her practiced innocent smile. "I really liked your ninth grade school photo," she assured me, with just a hint of teasing in her voice. "And yes. I felt it was necessary."

"Why?"

"Because between Dodge's ramblings all morning about your apparent spontaneous ability to perform perfect back flips in a limited space and the phone call Derek made to Eric half an hour requesting you be transferred to the Squad based on your performance in the gym this morning – which I will require a full recount of over dinner tonight, btw – I felt the need to make sure you were who you said you were and not some imposter posing as Beatrix Imogen Cooper in order to infiltrate the computer systems of Walk Safe Security."

I understood her reasoning – I myself had thought for just a moment that maybe my body had been replaced by that of a gymnast or ninja – but the fact that she'd felt the need to act on such suspicions before confronting me about them hurt just a little. "You got all that in the last half an hour?" I questioned, in an attempt to get past my petty teenage-drama-esque feelings. "And you needed to come over here and tell me? You know there's these things known as phones, right?"

She shook her head in that way that told me she had other stuff happening up in there and wasn't fully listening to me. It was just one of the many hazards of being Emily. With the amount of information constantly flowing into her ear and past her eyes, it was inevitable that she would be distracted by it on occasion. The best way to deal with it was to wait for her to come back to the conversation. Thankfully it didn't take so long today.

"I'd already started the search and was on my way over here when I got the transcript of the conversation," she informed me. "Riley isn't happy about you hanging out with Derek."

"Derek isn't too pleased that I'm spending time with Riley either," I put out there, dumping the files that had been left on my desk in my absence into my photocopy basket and making my way to the copy room.

As I expected, Emily fell into step beside me, her eyes glued to her PDA. "Just how much time are you spending with our boss?" she asked curiously as I set the basket down and started up the first job. "He seems pretty obsessed with you if his emails and conversations with Eric are anything to go by."

"I told you how he was at the drug trial and his apparent chameleon abilities from it?" She nodded agreement and continued flicking along the screen. "Well he seems to think my extra ninja skills are from my experimental drug, which we only figured out this morning, so I guess he's been hanging around to figure out what it would be?"

"I don't trust him," Emily informed me. "He's sneaky and manipulative and up to something. You need to steer clear of him." She glanced up from her PDA to look me straight in the eye. "You know I wouldn't say this if it wasn't be best option for you, but I think you should stick close to Derek."

Suddenly, I felt like a see-saw. Trust Derek. Don't trust Derek. Trust Derek. I wasn't sure what to think anymore. I didn't like Derek, but even I had to admit that Riley was creepy – hello! He pervs on me while he's naked! – and there was something up with these side effects. It just didn't seem natural.

Emily was eyeing me carefully as I thought over my morning. I wondered if she could read my thoughts as easily as I'd performed the flip kick earlier. Finally, she seemed to come to some sort of decision and snatched the permanent marker from the table with one hand, while grasping my hand with the other. The next thing I knew, she was stepping away and I had DEREK written in bold letters across the back of my hand.

"What's this?" I asked, confused and just a little annoyed.

"You're very adaptable at the moment. You'll believe anything. The aliens, the zombies, the indecision between Riley and Derek." She pointed to my hand. "That's a reminder to side with Derek over Riley in all things."

"So I should join the Squad?"

"It would be beneficial." And with that she was gone, leaving behind a slight muttering about meeting with the Jarvis people after work.


To answer some questions: Yes, I reached 50, 000 words within NaNoWriMo (actually I finished three days early). And yes, I intend of finishing the story. It may take a while, but certain people won't allow me to not finish, so it will be.