Thanks so much to White Egg, NovemberRose1, AmusingAnomaly, and ToriEvenstar for their helpful reviews. I really appreciate it! I also wanted everybody to know that when I post chapter 3 I'm going to change this story's category to Romance. I'm new to FictionPress and I kind of just picked Action because it was first, but this story will be half Action and half Romance anyway. Once again reviews are very appreciated! Enjoy chapter 2 :)
"Vulcan," Bethany gasped. He knelt down and scrutinized her face. The black mask reached into the whites of his eyes, and his irises were too dark to distinguish from his pupils.
"Have we met?" he asked gently.
She shook her head in a daze. "I just thought it was you. You are Vulcan, aren't you?"
"I am," he assured while shaking ceiling plaster out of his disheveled, black hair. "What's your name?"
"It's Beth, um, Bethany." She was having some trouble moving the words from her brain to her mouth.
"It's nice to meet you Bethany. You're not in danger anymore, so please don't cry."
"What? I'm not crying!" She said much more loudly than she meant to.
Vulcan stood up uncomfortably. "Sorry," he said quickly, "I didn't mean to embarrass you."
Bethany dabbed her eye with the back of her hand and gaped at the tear that slipped out. She felt her cheeks flush hotter than they had at her first ballet class in the city, when she had been the only one not wearing a leotard and tights. "This isn't – no, I'm not scared! I mean of course I'm scared! But I'm not – I – this is from earlier I swear!"
Vulcan looked out the window, but she knew he was laughing. She struggled to fight the blush as he turned back around and said, "I'm glad you're so brave then. But maybe you'd like to get out of here before the ceiling comes down?"
She wobbled back to her feet, very aware the he was eyeing her like she was a newborn about to take a tumble. "What about the bad guys?" she asked.
"Bad guys?" He bit his lip, but it failed to stop his grin.
"I mean the people that gassed the place!" Bethany huffed. "They took all my customers!"
He didn't even bother to hide his laughter that time. "I'm sorry you lost your pay," he said between chuckles, "You might have to find a new employer after this."
"I'm being serious! Those people are in danger!"
"You're absolutely right. And the sooner I can get you somewhere safe, the sooner I'll be able to go help them," he said while taking her hand. Without waiting for a reply, he pulled her into the kitchen and headed for the back elevator.
"Wait a second!" Bethany gasped, dodging the pans that had been scattered across the floor. "What did you do to those other guys back there? Where did they go?"
"They're dangling outside, waiting for a police helicopter," Vulcan answered like it was nothing. He frowned when her mouth fell open and quickly added, "What? My knots are secure."
He hit the down button on the elevator, prompting her to ask, "Are we really just gonna ride down and walk out the door? Won't we get caught?"
"People like these are never very thorough. They'll only be checking the inside of the elevators." The doors spread apart with a happy chime. Vulcan flexed his wrist, causing a wide spike to snap out. It looked every bit as deadly as a knife, making Bethany wonder how many times he had been forced to use it when his fists weren't enough. His black armor covered his skin up to his jaw, and though his movements showed its lightness and flexibility, any part of it could be hiding another weapon. He jammed the spike into the tight space between the inner and outer doors of the elevator and cranked his arm down. The elevator groaned and slipped down out of place so that she could see the dark space above it.
"One second," he said. Then he leapt up, grabbed the top of the elevator, and flipped himself upside down so that he hung from his arms with his feet against the top of the doorway. The elevator slid further down as he straightened his legs until almost half of the open door showed the dark cables and gears.
"Do all y'all flip around like that?" Bethany asked with wide eyes.
"All y'all?" he repeated, hopping back down. "I'm guessing you're from the Buckhead part of Atlanta, and sounds like some family from Louisville?"
"You got all that just from hearing me talk?!"
"I've studied a lot of accent placement," he shrugged. Without warning, he leaned down and wrapped his arm around the back of Bethany's thighs. One arm held onto the top of the elevator while the other effortlessly hoisted her up into the tunnel. By the time she registered what he was doing, he had already set her down on the elevator roof. He tapped the down button again before swooping back up to her. His arm circled around her waist to pull her away from the center cables as they started to churn. The armor had made his body appear slimmer than it actually was. When she realized the size of the muscles in the arm around her, she felt like a spring twig.
"You don't sound like you've been here long," he said as the elevator resumed its descent. "What brought you to New York?"
"Um, well I want to be a dancer. I mean I am a dancer." She stared up at the top of the tunnel where a tiny emergency light was shrinking away. Soon there was nothing left but his voice and his arm that held on like it wanted to remind her that he was there with her.
"A dancer? I bet you're beautiful," he said softly. His voice was easing into a hypnotic hum, and she had to wonder if that too was something he'd studied. "Any upcoming performances?"
She flinched rather obviously. "No," she answered, failing to keep the sourness out of her voice.
His arm loosened a little. "I'm sorry," he began, "I didn't mean to-"
"No, I'm sorry," Bethany shook her head. "I just got the results from my last audition, and then all this happened. It hasn't been a great day."
"Is that why you were crying?" he asked carefully.
She nodded, though he probably couldn't see it. "That makes eight in a row, without even a callback for the ensemble. And now I've only got a few more months to prove to my stupid family that I can do this!"
"What happens then?" His calming voice was doing little now to sedate her.
"Then I either go back to college or they cut me off, and a nineteen year old waitress doesn't have a prayer of paying rent in this city, let alone dance classes." She sighed heavily and curled into herself, willing the tears to die back before she could make even more of a fool of herself. She had no idea why she had suddenly felt like she needed to pour her heart out. His smile was too understanding for his own good, and it somehow made her think she could tell him anything. And now she couldn't stop.
"I know you can't really relate to this, considering your profession and all, but I've always been terrified of leading one of those lives where you live up to everyone's expectations. My parents had this great life all laid out for me, I and went and screwed it up." Bethany leaned against him, hoping his silence was a good thing. Despite the armor, she felt very comfortable. The darkness had swallowed everything up. The entire world had disappeared, leaving just the two of them and their rambling thoughts.
"I'm not doing this to make them mad though," she sighed. "This isn't about them. It's about me. Just me. I need to know that the life I'm leading is the one I chose. And I need to love that life." She paused and took a long, shaky breath, then smiled at him through the darkness. "Maybe you can relate. You chose this life after all."
There was a sudden blink of light as another emergency bulb flashed. It was only for a second, but Vulcan's face hadn't been what she expected. The mask did its part to hide most of his features. It didn't hide his eyes though. They were wide and disbelieving, like she had punched right through his armor into his stomach. Most disturbing of all was the glimpse of fear she caught deep down in his dark, bottomless eyes.
The elevator ground to a halt and jerked him out of his trance. He narrowed his eyes at the sound of rough voices barking commands. Bethany could feel the elevator twitch as heavy feet stomped around inside it. "They're stalling the elevator. They don't want anybody coming back up," Vulcan murmured.
"How are we supposed to get down then?" She looked around at the shadowy elevator shaft, hoping a magic door would pop out at them.
"See that gap over there?" He indicated a two foot space between the side of the elevator box and the tunnel wall. The corners of the box stuck further out and went into the wall on either side of it. In the middle of the space there was a thick, bronze pipe that went straight down.
"You can't be serious," Bethany groaned.
"We're only three stories off the ground. You'll be able to slide down without any help."
"Wait a sec," she fumbled, "where are you going?"
He gave her another grin, but it didn't have the warm effect from earlier, like his spirit had been deflated. "Well, as you mentioned earlier, there are still people in danger. It's time to do what I was trained for." They stood up and Bethany eyed the pipe warily. "This is a service elevator, so it goes straight to the loading garage on the bottom level. It should be swarming with police down there soon."
"And you'll just go after the others by yourself? Isn't that reckless?" She tried to resist his gentle push towards the pipe, but he soon had her reaching out over the gap.
She turned her back to the pipe, determined to make him look her in the eye. He smiled again, and this time it didn't feel empty. But it wasn't happy either. "You've been really brave, Bethany, and I wish we could have met differently. But I have to go now. Promise me you'll get to safety, okay?"
"Wait," she protested weakly.
"Please," he whispered, "I need you to be safe. You have a spotlight waiting for you."
Her arms and face felt numb. She desperately wanted to tell him thank you, and not just for saving her from the gunmen. But all she could do was nod and wrap her arms around the pipe. Vulcan turned his back to her as she started to shimmy down, then the elevator lurched again and she glimpsed his shadowy figure slipping into the lit hallway. There weren't any other sounds, no telling gunfire or angry voices. Bethany stared around miserably when she climbed down beneath the elevator. Her eyes were wet again and she didn't have a free hand to deal with them. She frowned at the blurry red light on the tunnel wall across from her, and blinked several times to get a clear look. The red blur slowly took the shape of glowing numbers. They blinked on the front of a strange box that was drilled into the wall. It was a bomb, and the numbers were decreasing.