It's all the same, only the names will change
Every day, it seems we're wastin' away
Another place where the faces are so cold
I drive all night just to get back home
Wanted Dead or Alive
Aiden entered the small hotel room, murmuring into his new phone and Ava groaned; the light from the hallway shone too bright on her weary eyes. She was glad when he closed the door behind him, dropping them back into comfortable dimness of only one table lamp and all the curtains drawn. The headaches were getting unbearable.
She nuzzled into the white cotton sheets and tried to will herself back to sleep. Staying awake was no longer her forte. She was constantly in a state of fatigue, but she found that she didn’t mind. Sleeping made the time pass and made it easier to deal with starving herself. Sometimes it got so bad- the hunger, the dehydration, the aching…the loss of everything she once knew to be true -that she found herself hoping that one day she wouldn’t wake up. If she didn’t wake up then she wouldn’t have to deal with anything at all.
Sometimes when she woke, Aiden was there and sometimes he wasn’t, though he was always nearby, muttering into his phone.
They’d been in this new place for two days now and all she’d done is slept. She slept so much that she didn’t realise that they’d changed location until one of her recurring nightmares of fire, gunshots, stone angels and electric currents, woke her up in the new bed. This hotel seemed nicer than the last two, though she had no idea where they were or what the room they were in looked like. She didn’t recall moving at all, or the drive. She figured Aiden must’ve carried her from pillar to post with his injured arm -she hoped it hurt.
The knowledge that his hands had been on her made her angry. He wasn’t allowed to touch her anymore. She’d mentally forbidden it. She hated the thought of herself exhausted and weak in his arms, cradle against his chest with his bottomless eyes gazing down at her as if she were still a masterpiece. That’s how he looked at her when she was conscious enough to mistakenly catch his eye. In reality she felt like lurid graffiti on a bathroom stall. Ava was so dehydrated that her lips cracked and bled routinely, so malnourished that her skin looked like she had a vintage Instagram filter built-in, making her looked washed out, and the jut of her cheekbones were getting sharp enough to cut diamonds. The biggest surprise was when her gums began to ache and tufts of her hair fell out to the point that she was too afraid to comb it. She now wore it in two braids that had grown so fuzzy from neglect that the woven pattern was indiscernible.
“I can’t move her,” Aiden said tensely into the handset, “She’s still not eating… No… If we have to make a run for it with her like this, we’ll be caught. She can’t even sit up anymore… You don’t think I’ve tried that? …What else do you expect me to do?” he squeezed his fist. “…Don’t be stupid. That’s not an option…” His tone grew darker, “That’s not for you to decide.” He glanced over his shoulder and saw that Ava was awake. “I’ve gotta go. Holla at me when you know more. Cool.” He hung up and approached the bed with his fist uncurled and his tone softer, “How are you feeling?” He asked her this every time he caught her awake. It was irritating for the both of them because he knew she wasn’t going to answer but he still tried anyway.
Ava closed her eyes. Turning her back to him required more energy than she had to spare.
He crouched down at the side of the bed and stroked her gaunt cheek tentatively, “We have to move again, Ava-Marie.” She flinched away from him. He sighed and withdrew his hand, “If we’re going to survive, you can’t carry on like this. You have to eat something or you’ll get us both killed.”
“Who was that on the phone?”
“Dougie. Why?” Under normal circumstances He would have been hesitant to answer that question, but she was talking. It was such a rare occurrence these days that he didn’t want to do anything that would make her stop. He missed the sound of her voice. Even her scolding him was better than her silence. The silence made him miss her. That was the worst way to miss someone; when they were physically there but emotionally distant. He deserved it, of course he did, he knew that, but knowing it didn’t make it hurt any less that the woman he had fallen for couldn’t stand him. He reasoned that this was his karma, all of this hurt he caused her, it had to catch up with him at some point.
She narrowed her eyes, “What did he say to you?”
Aiden dropped her glare, “To leave you behind.”
“Of course he did.”
“I don’t think he’s over you refusing to save his life.”
“Fuck his life.” This time she turned her back to him.
Aiden sighed and sat on the sofa across the room next to a neat pile of folded sheets and goose down pillows piled on top. Ava refused to have him in the bed with her so he opted for hotels that came with comfortable sofas that wouldn’t make his back feel like he’d been laying on the ground or aggravate his bullet wound any further. He watched the way her chest rose and fell with uncomfortable shallow breaths. She was making herself ill. Starving herself was wreaking havoc on her immune system and she was already weak enough. He didn’t know how much longer he could respect her wishes. She was forcing him to care for a dying thing and after he’d gone to such great lengths to keep her alive, this felt like a slap in the face. She was so ungrateful! No, he wasn’t perfect or ‘good’, he was far from it, but his heart was in the right place, even if his head couldn’t always join it. He was trying to do right by her. He hadn’t meant to. That wasn’t the plan. She was meant to be collateral damage, but instead she’d taken one look at him and embedded herself in his psyche, because Ava wasn’t collateral. She was good, and innocent. She deserved to be saved. She deserved for him to do right by her as much as a man like him could. He was not in the habit of extending any real consideration for the people he hadn’t grown up with, but he did, for her.
His phone vibrated against his thigh. It was a non-descript little black thing as off the market to the point that it had a green screen and not even the courtesy of a polyphonic ringtone. He closed his eyes and picked up, “This can’t be good.”
“What makes you say that, boss?” Mighty’s chipper tone smiled down the phone.
“I just came off the phone with Dougie.”
“Oh. Well…it’s not all bad.”
“What’s the good news?”
“I’ve scored you an extra thirty minutes to get out of there.”
Aiden ran his hand over the creases in his forehead. He didn’t remember them being so deep set. “Who?”
“Seems the hotel clerk put the drop on you. There were rumours you two were up North so your photos have been circulating the news channels again.”
“I’ve scrambled the radio signal of the car that’s on its way to you and those nearby and fiddled with the traffic lights surrounding the area to hold them off a bit longer, so they’re sending a car from further away, but you’re not in a city anymore so backed up traffic isn’t as effective.”
Aiden already had his hand luggage open and was throwing clothes and complimentary toiletries inside of it, “How long in total?”
“About an hour and fifteen…if you’re lucky.”
“No problem. Boss, a word of advice…”
“Maybe do something less attention grabbing with her hair. Pink tips them off easier and you’re not exactly in the most diverse sectors of Britain. Biracial girl with pink hair isn’t discreet, especially one that’s a national fugitive and daughter of a crime lord.”
“I’ve tried. She gets irate if I touch her without it being absolutely necessary,” he rolled his eyes, thinking back to a week ago when he’d tried to get her to shower, something he thought was necessary.
“Another word of advice…”
“Don’t let her get you killed.”
On top of her candyfloss hair, the physical state Ava was in made it hard for them to move around as inconspicuously as he’d like. He often had to check into a place without her first so as not to arouse suspicions, her gaunt features and laboured mobility drawing even more attention, then quickly grab her from the car after he’d secured a room and rush her inside so that the clerk couldn’t get a good look at her. Leaving her outside alone made him nervous. It affected his interactions with the staff because he’d have to mask his impatience. Terrible things ran through his head; she’d make a run for it, a member of the public would spot her and report it, the police would descend, or worse still, the Syndicate. Of course, all of those things were possible when she was by his side, but at least with him she’d have a chance. He needed to fix that.
He roused Ava with a shake. She groaned and wished she had enough energy to swat him off but the rolling over had done it.
“Police. We’ve got to make moves.”
She gritted her teeth. She’d just started to fall asleep again, and now with barely energy to keep her eyes open, she had to get up. She huffed and pushed the warm covers off of her weakened body whilst Aiden zipped around the room, grabbing their shoes and coats from the closet. He threw her stuff to her but by the time he was ready she’d only slipped her foot into one of her shoes. He knelt at her feet and picked up the other one.
She moved her foot out of reach, “I can do it myself.”
“You’re doing it too slow,” he grabbed it back, “We have just over an hour to get as far away from here as we can.” He rose up, tugged her to her feet and put her coat on while she leant against him for support, “And when we do, you are going to fucking eat something. You’re slowing us down.” He set her back down on the bed and pulled disinfectant wipes from his bag, frantically wiping their prints from everything they touched and glancing at his watch. These days it felt like time was racing against them, and when every passing second was the difference between freedom and incarceration (or worse) it wasn’t a great feeling to have on top of everything else.
Once he was done, he pulled on their baseball caps and sunglasses he’d picked up at a petrol station, checked his guns were loaded and slotted them into his holster. He held his hand out to her, “Let’s go.”
Ava’s eyelids lolled and her head rolled. She was so tired and once again they had to run, but this time she really didn’t know if she could. She tried to stand without his assistance but her knees quaked and she flopped back onto the bed.
“Just take my hand.”
“No!” she thumped her fist weakly against the mattress, “I’m done, Aiden. I don’t want to run anymore.”
“I know, baby,” he crouched before her, “But the police will be here soon. You remember what they did to us, don’t you?”
She looked away, blinking back tears as visions of her and Aiden laying on the cold, hard ground outside of St George’s hospital, while corrupt police tasered them within inches of their lives, “Yes.”
“If they catch us again things will be much worse, so we have to keep moving.”
“We’re always moving. Always running, always hiding, pretending to be someone else. I need it to stop.” She met his eyes and a lone tear fell.
He wiped it away, “Soon. I have a plan to get us far, far away from here. I’m just waiting for the right time.” He held out his hand, “I made you a promise and I’ll do whatever I have to, to keep it, you know that, but you have to work with me.”
She grimaced as she put her hand in his and wobbled to her feet. Aiden slipped one arm around her waist and grabbed their hand luggage with the other. She leant into the strong, warm solidity of his frame and forced down the feeling of her skin crawling at having him so close. Whether she liked it or not, this was her only option...for now. “Okay.”
They move towards the door and Aiden’s phone rang again.
“The traffic lights aren’t holding them off as well as I thought, boss,” Mighty’s voice shook. Mighty’s voice never shook, but then again, they’d never been in shit this deep before.
Aiden swallowed, “How long?”
“The cars, thirty minutes…at best. The helicopter…”
His eyes bulged, “Helicopter?”
“I know! Dramatic much? I’m toying with their co-ordinates but I can only do that for the next three to five minutes before they realise and switch to an encrypted channel. Get out of there now!”
Aiden hung up and yanked the door open so hard that the hinges split the wood where they were screwed in. With Ava in one hand and their duffle bag in the other he walked briskly down the hallway, trying to move them as fast as he could without looking too suspicious.
“Aiden…slow down…” she panted, stumbling over her feet.
They turned the corner when Aiden forced them back, “Shit!” he hissed. Hotel security were on their way to their room with tasers in their sweaty grips. They wouldn’t be a problem to deal with but Aiden wanted to get out with as little disturbance as possible. He pulled his pistol from his holster and screwed on the silencer.
Ava’s eyes widened, “What are you_”
He clamped his hand over her mouth, “Shut up and stay here.”
Then he was off, sweeping around the corner with his gun drawn. Bullets whistled through the air and three bodies collapsed on top of each other. He returned to her, “C’mon.”
“You…killed them,” she gasped at the pile of bodies bleeding out onto the hallway carpet.
“Would you rather I let them use those tasers on us?” he gestured with his gun at their discarded weapons as he stepped over them.
Ava clutched at her skin remembering the way it burned from within the last time, “No…but you…can’t keep…killing people.”
He rolled his eyes, “So what do you suggest I do?”
She tugged her arm out of his grabbed a taser from the ground and handed it to him.
“Fine. You hold onto it.”
She sighed and pocketed it.
He pounded his thumb against the single lift the hotel had but it was stuck on the fifth floor and every second they stood there waiting was another second lost. He growled and dragged her to the stairwell.
“Are you…kidding me?” she eyed the winding flights. The swirling pattern from four floors up looked like an optical illusion and her headache grew stronger. She pressed her fingers to her temples.
They started down one flight but by the third turn she collapsed into the wall, “I can’t.”
“Aiden…I can’t. I’m…tired and everything…hurts. I need to…stop. Please.”
“Listen to me,” he grabbed her face between both hands, forcing her to look at him, “I know you’re tired, and I know you’re scared. So am I, but you know we can’t stop yet.”
“Then just…leave me…here.”
“Aiden…we’re not going to…make it…out of this…alive, so what’s…the point?”
“Because we will.” With renewed determination he flung their bag down the centre of the spiralling staircase then bent down and hoisted Ava onto his good shoulder. His pace slowed and his footsteps thundered down the steps, but he didn’t stop until they hit the ground floor. He set her back down and wiped her face of tears then dabbed at the bead of sweat dripping down his forehead
“Stop crying. We’re almost out. All we have to do is get out of that lobby and into the car, okay? That’s it. Can you do that?”
She nodded and swiped her arm under her running nose.
They approached the reception desk to hand in their room key, Ava trying her best to stand up straight. All they had to do was get out of the glass double doors without a hitch and they could get away. The clerk, a young pimply boy, sat scrolling through his phone while a middle-aged couple argued about where they’d parked the car, and a group of elderly women in velour sweat suits and huge visors chatted excitedly about their outing.
They all turned to look at Ava and Aiden. The chatter subsided. Aiden hoped it was the usual reason people this far away from the big cities looked at them and not because they knew who they were.
The clerk perked up and quickly pushed his phone under the counter, “Good afternoon, sir.”
“Afternoon,” Aiden said coolly as he slid the room key on the counter, watching the people watching them out of the corner of his eye. “We’re checking out.”
“Okay sir, let me just bring up your details.” He took the key and typed the room number into the system, “Okay, Mr…Stone…” The clerk’s face changed and his eyes flicked up to the couple. A strained smile stretched the corners of his mouth. “Just a moment please, sir.” He rose out of his seat walked briskly through the door leading to the back office.
“Let’s go.” They hustled to the exit. Aiden tugged the door handle but it didn’t budge. He tried again and the same thing happened. He groaned, “I was trying to be peaceful.” He let go of Ava, “Wait here. Be ready to go when I say so.”
He took off with faux calm towards the reception desk, then with the grace of an elk he launched himself over the counter with his good arm.
“Aiden,” she hissed. Now the other guests were watching hem even harder.
He didn’t reply. He pushed through the door that led to the back.
The young hotel clerk’s scream was swiftly heard afterwards, pleading, “Please don’t kill me!”
Aiden marched him back out to the front with the barrel of his gun settled in the small of the boy’s back. “Open the fucking door.”
“Okay, okay.” His sweaty fingers fumbled under the desk.
An alarm screeched at a deafening volume.
Aiden rolled his eyes and shifted the gun to his temple, “For someone who doesn’t want to die, you’re not going the right way about it.”
“Don’t!” Ava shrieked. “He’s a kid.”
“He’s an idiot.” Aiden pivoted the gun in his grip and bucked the boy in the back of his head. He dropped to the floor. The old women screamed and the husband stood in front of his wife. Aiden turned his gun on them, “Everybody lie on the ground with your hands above your heads and count to a thousand. NOW!” he boomed.
They all trembled to the ground.
He walked back around to the other side of the desk, “I don’t hear you counting.”
Quaking murmurs stuttered through numbers.
“If I see anybody move, I will not hesitate to shoot you.” Ava looked at them empathetically wishing that none of them, herself included, had to go through this. If only the clerk had done as he was told. Aiden was right, he was an idiot.
“Stand back,” he nudged her away from the door and picked up a small table with brochures on it. Ava shuffled farther away and Aiden raised it into the air. Just as he was about to swing she detected movement to her right. She looked over to see the husband reaching into his pocket for his phone. She glanced at Aiden -he hadn’t noticed. She could still save this man from himself.
“Don’t,” she mouthed at him, shaking her head frantically. The man froze, his clammy fingers wrapped around his handset.
Aiden swung around. He’d caught Ava’s translucent reflection in the window warning the man not to tempt fate. “I meant what I said.” He extended his gun, but just as he was about to shoot, Ava’s arm shot out, taser in hand.
The man cried blue murder, his wife even louder watching her husbands body twitch and jolt violently next to her as Ava filled his bones with volts of electricity, watching in horror as she did what was necessary to keep him alive.
“GET US OUT OF HERE!” she yelled over the screams and tears.
Aiden was taken aback. This was the last thing he expected sweet, young Ava-Marie to do. He shook it off and smashed through the glass doors with all of his strength.
She released the trigger and gasped, the offensive weapon falling from her grasp, “Oh god! Is he okay?”
“Brian? Brian, talk to me,” his wife sobbed throwing her body over his to contain the tremors.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t want him to die. I_”
“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?”
“I didn’t want to…He would have killed him.” Couldn’t this lady see that she’d done her a favour? She’d stopped Aiden from taking her husband’s life away. She’d done a good thing…hadn’t she? He was in shock, but he was ali_
A bullet to the skull. A husband’s blood splattered across his wife’s face.
“On the ground. Face down. Hands above your head. Count to a thousand. And don’t. Fucking. Move.” Aiden’s charcoal eyes burned as he watched his hostages down the barrel of his smoking gun.
“BRIANNNNN!” she screamed.
“Now lady, or you join him.”
Crying and shaking as if the taser was now on her, the wife lay next to her dead husband.
Aiden dragged Ava through the jagged exit he’d smashed through the doors.
“You didn’t have to kill him!”
“Shut up and get in the car, Ava-Marie,” he said as he pushed her towards the passenger side.
She slapped him across his cheek, right where his mother had left that ugly scar.
Aiden gave her a warning look, “Behave yourself, Ava-Marie. I’m really not in the mood,” he said darkly.
She glared up at him, her adrenaline rush overlooking her fear and fuelling her hatred, “He was trying to protect his wife.”
“And I was trying to protect mine,” he stepped closer to her, “Now get in the fucking car.”
They took off down the road in a flash of smoking tires and the smell of burning rubber.
“I had it under control.”
Aiden rolled his eyes, “You didn’t have shit under control. You showed weakness.”
“I showed mercy.”
“You made us vulnerable, and I can’t have that. If we’re going to survive you have to be on my side, just like I’m on yours. You want this to stop, don’t you?”
“Then let me do what I have to do. This isn’t your version of the world anymore, Ava-Marie, this is mine, and here, the rules are different. Like, if I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it. In my world, empty threats make you a look like a bitch, and looking like a bitch will get you killed in these streets.”
“We’re not in ‘these streets’, Aiden, we were in a hotel. They were innocent people. You can’t keep killing people like their lives mean nothing.”
“I let the kid live, didn’t I?”
Ava threw up her hands, “You killed that poor woman’s husband. Right in front of her. His blood was in her mouth. That woman is going to relive that moment for the rest of her life. You didn’t even stop to think about if they had kids…grandkids…nothing.”
“That woman is not my problem.”
“Wow.” She folded her arms and looked out of the window.
He waited for her to continue to berate him but it seemed she was falling back into silence. He didn’t want silence. He sighed, “So what do you suggest I do, Ava-Marie?”
“Talk?” he scoffed, “People are hunting us.”
“You, Aiden. People are hunting you.”
He pinched the bridge of his nose. She still hadn’t grasped the fact that the world no longer saw her as some innocent victim. She was the daughter of the UK’s most powerful mob boss, wrapped up in the centre of the biggest drug war London had ever seen, keeping the company of another drug lord with a notoriety for unspeakable crimes. She was also in line for an wonderous inheritance that others wanted to protect, more than they wanted to protect her.
“People are hunting us! We’re way past the point of talking. Talking is an expense that we can no longer afford. Action is a lot less expensive, and I’m sorry if you don’t like it, but that’s the way things have to be.” He slipped onto the motorway, his car blending in to the other hundreds that lined the road, racing away from the sirens and the flashing lights and the clacking of helicopter blades. “You’re welcome, by the way.”
“For what?” Ava’s head lolled against the window and she sunk down into the seat, her outrage with him taking what remained of her energy out of her.
“For me saving your life, again.” He reached across her lap to the glove compartment and grabbed the box of Nakd bars he kept nearby. He dropped them into her lap, “Eat.”
She turned her head.
“FOR FUCKS SAKE, AVA!” There it was again for the second time in her knowing him. Ava. He was definitely pissed now. He grabbed the box from her lap and tore it open making the bars scatter. He grabbed one that had fallen in the gear box and ripped it open with his teeth. He thrust the bar in her face
He pushed it closer to her mouth, “Fucking eat it!”
“Leave me alone!” She lifted her hand to push it away. She could smell the perfect blend of pressed fruit and nuts. It travelled up her sinuses and down into her empty stomach, exciting the gurgling acid in her belly that gnawed at her insides. Her mouth filled with saliva and her teeth sunk into her sore lips, the scent making her hungry enough to devour herself. She turned her head further away.
They came to a stoplight. Aiden grabbed her face and squeeze her cheeks together with his rough hands, prying her mouth open. As soon as he got the opportunity, he stuffed the bar into her mouth.
Ava squirmed and made childish noises but she couldn’t ignore how good it tasted.
“I don’t give a fuck if you don’t talk to me anymore. You better eat or I will pull this car over and you won’t like it.”
The flavours were on her tongue now and the acidic splashing in her stomach grew fiercer. She bit into it and the detrimental stubbornness disappeared. She aborted her mission and scoffed it down.
Aiden smiled, relieved.
They continued their journey; Aiden checking his rear-view mirror every mile or so while Ava scoffed down water and every edible thing they had on hand.
It felt so good to eat again that she decided she’d continue giving him the silent treatment, but would make sure she kept herself healthy, because if she was going to get her revenge on those who had wronged her, she’d need all the strength she could get.
The sun had set when Aiden decided the tank was dangerously low enough to stop for petrol. From what Ava could deduce, they had outrun the police again and Aiden was back to his usual level of paranoia and watchfulness. He refilled the tank all the way to the top, his black eyes flitting everywhere, even when he went to the window to pay. It was too soon to feel safe. When he returned Ava had a strange expression on her face like shed seen something worse than a ghost. He immediately stood on guard, his hand reaching beneath his jacket for his gun.
“What is it?”
Her face passed rose gold and went straight to scarlet.
“Ava-Marie, what’s wrong?”
“My period.” She’d never considered experiencing this sort of embarrassment.
He rolled his eyes and relaxed his stance. “What do you need, pads or tampons?”
She furrowed her brow at his casualness, “Umm, both.”
“Any particular brand?”
Her stomach felt like it was prying apart and falling away. She sat on her hip and pressed her thighs together, grateful that the Diamond Mafia colours were black, “I don’t care, just get them,” she shrieked as one of those god awful globs slipped out of her.
Aiden returned to the mini mart and strolled up and down the personal hygiene section examining different types of sanitation products, picking them up and putting them back down. There were so many types. He clutched his head -why did women need so many types?! This would have been so much simpler if she’d said exactly what she wanted. God, she was so annoying sometimes. Women.
Ava furrowed her brow at him. Gang warfare, he was totally comfortable with but picking out sanitary products freaked him out.
He returned with two carrier bags worth of products that looked like they were enough to last Ava the rest of the year. He thrusted them at her, “I didn’t know if you were regular or super…or super plus, or if you wanted wings or the ones with the applicators…or scented ones, or the ones that form to your body, or the night time ones…There are a lot of…stuff so I just got you one of everything.”
I can see that, she thought as she rooted through the bag for what she needed. She opened her mouth to thank him then decided not to waste manners on him because if he’d never kidnapped her in the first place she could get her own array of products like a normal person. “I’m going to the bathroom.”
She slammed the door shut.
His focus stayed on the bathroom door just in case she wanted to use this opportunity o get away from him, because her hatred of him mixed with PMS didn’t seem like it would make her the most rational. His focus was so hard that for the first time since leaving London, Aiden wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings…
Or the silver Honda that pulled up at the pump behind him.