#RunningWilde Ch. 20 | After The Storm
I'll sing it one last time for you
Then we really have to go
You've been the only thing that's right
In all I've done
Aiden pulled into his driveway and pressed the button on his key ring to open his garage door. He would've preferred to return to his apartment in Brixton, but there would have been no inconspicuous way for him to remove Ava from the stolen vehicle. Instead he'd driven the extra forty-five minutes to his suburban residence in Croydon; a two storey semi-detached brownstone that Aiden rarely visited.
His neighbours had long since gone to bed and all the lights in almost every house were off, leaving the street quiet enough for Aiden to hear the occasional whoosh from a motor racing down the more or less empty main road a few streets over. Croydon sat just on the cusp of London; close enough so it still felt like a part of the city but far enough that it was easier to see the stars. He liked living out here. He'd always thought of it as his family home -the place he would retire to once he left the game and settled down with his wife and kids -now he was escaping here to hide himself and his captive from the world.
He'd tainted it.
He pulled up carefully next to his Ducati motorcycle and pressed the button again to close the garage door behind him. As the door lowered the lights flickered on and lit the room, highlighting the millions of dust motes swirling in the air. Aiden got out of the car, careful not to come into contact with the red live wire that dangled under the steering wheel, and went around the back to get Ava. She hadn't made a sound for the whole drive and Aiden had been too on edge to stop and check if she was still alive, but when her bent to pick her up he was relieved to find that she was still warm, though her skin looked paler than usual under the smudges of soot and streaks of dried blood.
Using the connecting door at the back of the room, Aiden walked into the quiet house, entering through the kitchen, gritting his teeth as he cradled Ava against his chest. His adrenaline had worn off on the drive over and now the effects of his injuries and how truly he exhausted he was, were beginning to take their toll on him. He patted his hand against the wall until he felt the knob of the dimmer switch. As he twisted it the spotlights began to brighten, illuminating his large kitchen with its polished pinewood floors and cabinets, dusty blacktop surfaces and spotless chrome fittings. He carried her to the island in the centre of the room, shifted his empty glass fruit bowl to the side and laid her down gently. He promptly drew the curtains behind him that looked out upon his jungle of a garden and the backs of some of his neighbours' homes. Although every window he could see was dark, Aiden didn't want to run the risk of anyone seeing anything they didn't need to. He liked his neighbours and they liked him –well, the man he pretended to be when he was here. It would be a shame if he had to get rid of any of them over a technicality.
He grabbed a tumbler from one of his cabinets and reached under the island for a bottle of scotch, then he plopped himself on one of the stools and poured himself a generous amount. Scotch like this deserved to be served with a cube of ice then sipped slow and savoured, but Aiden didn't care for pleasure, he just wanted to drown out the voice in his head that seemed intent on reminding him that everything had gone to shit. He swallowed it in one go and poured himself another one.
Aiden's looked at Ava's body stretched out before him and for a moment he didn't say or do anything -he just looked. Her lips were swollen, cracked and set in a frown, her long eyelashes seemed shorter, blunt at the ends from being singed by the flames, and her skin had lost its golden glow as if someone had opened her up and blown her candle out. It was starting to blister across the exposed peaks. Ava looked like a sad story; she was a personified metaphor for how Aiden felt. He continued drinking.
After his fourth glass he took her limp hand in his and pressed it to his cheek. She smelt like blood and smoke, a reminder of the chaos he'd revelled in. Although there was such ugliness about everything that happened, Aiden kissed her blackened fingertips and told himself that at least he had something beautiful from it.
He screwed the lid back on his scotch and put it away. He'd definitely had enough for the night. One more glass and the things that he was drinking to suppress would slip past his mental block and attack in an ugly way.
He grabbed his first aid kit from the medicine cupboard and removed his top, slipped off his bullet proof vest, then winced as he slowly pulled his cotton vest away from his clammy skin, taking extra care where the black cotton was stuck to the source of his pain. Getting shot was never fun; although the vest made the effects less lethal, it was still awful. Aiden reminded himself that it could have been much worse than this. There was a seeping lump pulsating just above his hipbone, the injury so aggressive that a vivid shade of red showed up against his deep, dark skin, spread across it like absorbed spilled ink. He applied some TCP to a puff of cotton wool and dabbed at the bulge, gritting his teeth and grunting as the alcohol in the antiseptic made the wound burn where the skin was broken, before getting an icepack from the freezer, placing it on top of the lump and securing it by wrapping a bandage around his stomach as firmly as he could bear.
Aiden was used to cleaning himself up, though he hadn't done it in a while. On his way up in the game -before the Diamond Mafia had made their name, when he was still on the road with his soldiers -he gained a lot of experience in first aid, and then some. They all did. It was risky to turn up at the hospital after an altercation, especially when the police were looking for suspects.
Ash used to tend him too; not because he needed her to, but because that was just what they did –they took care of each other. He wanted to hate her, it seemed like the natural thing to do, but wasn't as simple as that. It's difficult to completely hate someone once you've loved them truly -even if they deserve it. Ash had been with Aiden since they were fifteen, when Aiden saw her getting stepped to by a group of girls from the block. He'd admired how well she'd handled herself and how she'd never given up no matter how many times they knocked her down, so he'd scared them off and taken her on. From that day Ash had been his red haired warrior woman, his Boadicea, and he thought they'd fight side by side for as long forever would allow. He thought that one day she would be the woman he'd share this house with...instead she was reduced to a memory of a good love gone bad.
The image of Ash dead on the ground flashed in his mind and it made his heart constrict. He knew that forever was only a romantic notion and that people were bound lose each other sooner or later, but it always seemed to be sooner –too soon - in the criminal underworld. If they didn't die they ended up behind bars. That's just how it was, so Aiden was used to losing people, but it didn't make it any easier.
Eventually he'd have to face seeing Keegan and Aiden didn't know if he could look at him. He didn't want that image in his head. His imagination provided a bad enough preview of his dismembered baby brother, but he knew the reality would be that much worse.
They were two people that made up a lot of the fragments of his heart, what was left was damaged and in need of healing.
His morbid eyes fell upon Ava again. Damage was their connection, and in that connection was where they'd found some semblance of peace. Aiden hoped that they could continue to find it in the damage to come. They had to. He needed them to.
It was hot, too hot. Sweat dripped from her skin pooling in her ears and making the sheets damp. She clawed at the bedding, the weight of the duvet felt like it was holding her down and she couldn't get out.
It was too hot and she couldn't get out.
Ava snapped awake at the harshness of her own voice. Her eyes were wide and wild as she scurried up to the top of the bed, swatting frantically at her arms to put out the fire that had been there mere moments ago.
She stopped and looked around; gone was the heated metal cage, the sweltering flames, the thick smoke and the dead body...
The last thing she remembered was begging Aiden through the fire to save her, and now she was clean and Ben Wa free, dressed in a white men's shirt, surrounded by simple homely white on white decor, with stinging skin slathered in aloe vera gel, a sore throat and a headache.
The bedroom door burst open and Aiden rushed in, dripping wet and naked, his deep brown skin shimmering under the light of the morning sun and his normally slick waves flicked up into soft ebony curls. "Ava-Marie," he breathed her name like he'd been holding his breath too long, staring at her as if he hadn't believed in miracles until this very moment, "Thank God." He strode quickly over to the bed, fighting not to break into a sprint, and gathered her into his arms. He buried his face in her ragged braids and drew another breath, "Thank God."
Ava could feel his racing heart thumping through his chest so hard as if it too wanted to touch her to make sure that this was real, that she was okay, and the way he embraced her felt like he would never let go of her again. She stiffened at the thought. She had spent enough time under the hold of Aiden Michaels and now that she wasn't at risk of burning to death she would be damned if she spent one second more.
"Get away from me, you murderer," she snarled, bringing her arms up between them and shoving him back with all her might.
Unprepared for such an adverse reaction, Aiden fell to the floor with a heavy thump, landing on his side where the bullet wound still protruded from his skin. He growled lowly through gritted teeth and squeezed his eyes shut, then reopened them in time to see Ava's ringed ankles leaping over him and making a run for the door. Aiden launched himself forward and wrapped his large hand around the fading rope marks, abruptly halting her in her tracks.
"NO," she screamed as she went down and threw her arms out in front of her to break her fall.
Aiden grunted and yanked her back, the fabric of the shirt he'd dressed her in making it so she glided across the laminated floor with ease. He raised his unbridled body off of the ground, enough to pull her under him before he pinned her in place with it.
Ava struggled beneath him, trying not to pay any attention to the warmth of his bare skin pressing against her exposed legs or how his plethora of tattoos stirred over his muscles as he fought to keep her under control. "Get off of me!"
He clamped his hand over her mouth and glared down at her, "Ava-Marie, listen to me –AHHH!" Ava had the rough pale flesh of his palm between her white teeth, biting down as if she was prepared to rip it from his hand. Aiden yanked it out of her mouth and brought it to her throat, his glare darkening further. "You are really testing my patience, little girl. I advise you to quit while you're ahead."
"Fuck you!" She raised her knee and slammed it into his crotch. As Aiden released her to grab himself Ava rolled him off and ran out of the door.
Her bare feet slapped against the ground as she bounded down the hallway with her heart in her throat and her wild eyes darting around every corner in fear of running into a member of the Diamond Mafia. She reached the landing and glanced down to make sure the coast was clear. There were two more doors along the hallway and at the end of it was the front door.
"AVA-MARIE," Aiden's voiced boomed from the back of the house.
Ava gasped at the ferocity of his roar knowing that she had made him angrier than she ever had before and bolted down the stairs as fast as she could. Aiden's footsteps soon thundered after her but she refused to look back. What was in front of her was all that mattered. She didn't have anything with her; no money, no shoes, no real clothing, but it wasn't important; if she could just make it outside at least she would have her freedom.
The gold lock gleamed, beckoning her touch to it and claim liberty, but as her hand reached for it she heard a soft click behind her.
"Back the fuck up," he growled.
Ava turned to see Aiden standing calmly at the stop of the stairs with a gun aimed at her and his black eyes warning her that his affection for her still had a limit. Her heart fell from her throat and into her stomach as she reluctantly dropped her hand. Aiden had tried to kill her once and she knew that he was not above doing it again.
He raised his chin and jerked the barrel of the gun to the left, "Stand against the wall." Ava inched backwards and pressed her back against the wall, holding her breath as he descended and made his way over to her, gloriously naked, armed and dangerous.
He raised his gun hand above her head and rested it against the wall, standing close enough that she could feel the heat from his damp skin, and leant down. "I gave my word that if my brother died, you would too. My brother is dead, Ava-Marie, and has been for some time now. Your father beat him to death, had his men cut him up and then attempt to deliver my mother her baby boy in pieces. He's dead..." Aiden held tighter to the handle of his gun and swallowed, "And yet here you stand. You asked me to save you, so I did. I went against my word –and I never go against my word, but I did..." his glare softened and he brought his other hand up to her face, "...for you." Aiden skimmed the tips of his fingers across her cheek, careful not to disturb the butterfly stitches he'd applied over the wound Ash carved across Ava's cheekbone. He cupped her face and leant in closer, brushing his proud mouth against her trembling one. "You are mine now," he whispered.
Thank you for reading m'luvs. Please let me know what you think of this chapter and how you feel about Aiden so far.
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