Casey Wolfe © 2017
All Rights Reserved
Blood. So much blood. The echo of a gun. The smell of gunpowder. The sharp bite of a bullet. Viscous liquid slipping through his fingers.
Darkness. A voice coming through it. Words he should have recognized. Concerned, though not panicked. Surprisingly warm. Warm like the arms he was pulled into.
Flashing lights. Red. Red seen behind closed eyes. Like the blood on his hands, on the ground.
Cold. Like death.
Shooting up in bed, Ethan’s anguished cry died on his lips. He shook, breath ragged as he wiped away the cold sweat from his brow. More sweat covered his body, making goosebumps break out. His mouth was dry, throat sore from screaming. No doubt the neighbors would be complaining to building management again.
He wasn’t sure how long it took before his brain provided the vital information that he’d been dreaming. Ethan drew in a deep, shaky breath, letting it out slowly. He sat up fully, repeating the process and attempting to calm himself. It was a dream. Just a dream, he reminded himself. You’re safe. You’re alive. Just a dream.
When he felt that he wasn’t about to go into a full-blown panic attack at any moment, Ethan looked at his bedside clock. The glowing blue numbers informed him there wasn’t much point in attempting sleep again. Instead, he switched off the alarm and hauled himself out of bed, trudging toward the bathroom and a cold shower.
He pressed a hand to the tiles, leaning into the spray, head down. As water sloshed off his body, Ethan blew out a breath. He rubbed his free hand over his face before shaking his head as though he could shake out the memories. Sighing, he ran his fingers through his brunet hair. It was looking shabby and in need of a trim, but he couldn’t find it in himself to care.
He was losing some muscle as well. Much of that was due to his recovery after being in the hospital. He hadn’t been able to run with his parkour buddies until recently or do anything remotely resembling a sit-up. Still, becoming a twenty-six-year-old recluse wasn’t doing him any good either.
Ethan wasn’t vain, but he did like to stay in shape. His core was still there, even being as out of sorts as he was. Fingers ran across the small scar to the left of his navel, a reminder of the event months before that continued to shadow his every move.
Shutting the shower off, he grabbed a towel and dried his hair the best he could before wrapping the fabric around his waist. Water dripped onto the floor, but he paid it no mind, stopping at the sink to brush his teeth. He caught his reflection in the mirror, his dark-green eyes looking back, haunted.
It was going to be a long day.
* * *
The walk to work wasn’t far—roughly half a mile—so Ethan never found a point in taking public transport. Besides, the fresh air did him good. Well, as fresh as the air could be in the city. In any case, it was good for him to stretch his legs and clear his head. Unless the weather was poor, he gladly took the extra time to walk, and today was a clear and balmy summer day typical of Washington State.
Perhaps given how his day had started, he should have caught the bus. This was evident the second he looked up and saw a beat cop walking down the sidewalk toward him. Ethan froze momentarily. He tugged at the single strap across his chest, shifting the bag on his back. His eyes darted about, checking traffic and slipping across the street before the cop reached him.
The move must have looked suspicious as Ethan found himself approached by a police cruiser. It paced alongside him, and the officer in the passenger seat called out to him. “Hey, buddy.”
Ethan bit back the I’m not your buddy that was on the tip of his tongue and, instead, ignored him until the officer raised his voice. “Yeah?” he inquired, not stopping.
“Mind if we chat a minute?”
“Yeah, I do,” Ethan answered, turning sideways to slide past some people. “I need to get to work.”
“It’ll just take a minute,” the officer insisted in a tone meant to make him obey.
It was too bad that it didn’t work on someone like Ethan. Having been a cop himself, he knew the tricks. He also knew the law. There was no probable cause for them to detain him, so he needn’t stop at all. “Sorry. Can’t help you.”
The cruiser stopped, the officer getting out and moving into his path. “Sir.” Ethan backpedaled a few steps. He held up an arm, making a barrier between himself and the cop. He noted the man’s partner getting out of the driver’s side, walking to the back of the cruiser, and hovering there.
“Officer,” Ethan spoke as clearly as he could, “my name is Ethan Brant. There are standing orders within the department that any contact with me should be reported into dispatch immediately.” He was attempting to stay calm, but it was difficult as his muscles started to twitch.
The cop stepped forward. “Wait, wait, no…” Ethan began to panic, backing away. He was trying to get out the prepared speech as he was told to say it. Neither of the officers seemed as though they wanted to listen. “You’re not supposed to touch me. You’re supposed to keep your distance and call it in. Please.”
The moment a hand was laid on him, Ethan snapped. He shoved the cop away, taking off at a dead run.
A car slammed its brakes just in time to avoid hitting him, blocking his path. Instinct took over and Ethan slid right across the hood. He could hear the call for backup, but all he wanted was to vanish.
Free running with his friends may have been something he hadn’t done much since his accident, thanks to his long recovery, but muscle memory kicked in, and he let his mind go.
He ran between shops, a dumpster on the lowered backlot catching his eye. He cleared the safety railing without slowing, running across the top of the dumpster. With momentum, Ethan leapt off the other side, flipping before landing lightly on his feet.
He came out of the connecting alley into a shopping plaza, wide open for him to work with. Ethan made to turn left, spotting the cruiser that screamed up onto the sidewalk. In midrun he extended his foot out, springing off a bench and pushing his body in the opposite direction. Using the retaining wall of the decorative plant beds to avoid the crowd, he managed to get distance between them.
Ahead there was a set of stairs going down toward the park, and rather than avoid them, he used the terrain to his advantage. Diving forward, he cleared the stone rail, his palms touching the rail on the opposite side. He tucked his legs, missing both rails as he swung them forward, feet landing lightly on the ground. Despite protesting muscles, he repeated the same move for the next stairway.
As he kept running, he realized where he was. It didn’t matter that another set of cops had come in from the opposite end of the shopping plaza because Ethan wasn’t planning to use the traditional entrance. A brick wall with a switchback of stairs was at his right, and that was his means of escape.
Forgetting the stairs—which would only slow him down—he brought his left foot up to a railing, using it to launch him at the wall. He gripped the ledge above him, bringing his knees up to push with the balls of his feet. Muscling up made him grunt at the pain coursing through his abdomen, a move he shouldn’t have been doing just yet.
Somewhere in the back of his head, he was aware of the cops yelling in disbelief, getting their colleagues on the radio to update them on Ethan’s direction of travel. Ethan didn’t plan on the police being able to find him fast enough before he completely disappeared.
He ran across the street, jumping up and over the wooden bench in his path. Well aware of the laptop in his backpack, rather than simply tucking and rolling, he shifted his weight midair so he would land on his hip and leg, rolling through to his feet.
The entrance to the subway was right there, and he slid down the metal railing in the center of the stairwell.
Ethan’s breathing was ragged. It had been too long since he had a run like that; his muscles burned. He leaned a forearm on a pillar, waiting for the next train to pass through the subway. He just needed to sit, to center himself. A crowded morning train car wasn’t the best place, but he didn’t have much of a choice.
Even the strap of his backpack felt constraining across his chest. He yanked the strap over his head and set the bag onto the ground at his feet. Ethan took a deep lungful of air.
Just as he thought he was safe, someone grabbed his arm. Ethan simply reacted, using his strength to swing the man around to collide with the pillar. It was then Ethan saw his attacker was a cop, but he missed the officer’s partner.
Volts of electricity cascaded through his body, causing Ethan’s legs to buckle, and he went down on the tiled platform. He was helpless to stop the officer who put a knee in his back, grabbing his arms. Panic seeped into every pore. The click of the handcuffs as the cold metal wrapped around his wrist made him struggle. It was in vain; a second shocking jolt was sent through him.
“Get off him!” a man ordered. “Now!” It took Ethan a moment to recognize the smooth cadence and authoritative tone. He craned his neck, tears stinging his eyes, to gaze on Detective Shawn Greyson. When the officers protested, Shawn held up his badge and glowered. “Stand down,” he growled, physically removing them.
“We just chased this kid all over the damn city!” one argued. “Just ’cause yer a detective—”
“I said back off!” Shawn yelled, eyes like fire and his entire presence radiating danger. It was more than enough to have both of them doing as they were told.
Shawn immediately crouched next to Ethan and unhooked the cuffs. Shawn helped him to sit, running his hands up and down Ethan’s arms. “Hey, you’re alright. You’re safe,” Shawn assured him, voice low and easy. Ethan met deep blue-gray eyes, heart-wrenching at the sight of the friendly face. “Just focus on your breathing, okay? I’ve got you.”
Ethan nodded, thankful for the watchful gaze that allowed him to concentrate on centering himself. He listened to Shawn’s steady voice, not even focusing on the words so much as the calming tone. Shawn’s touch was reassuring, hands continuing their path up and down Ethan’s arms before grasping his shoulders.
“That’s it,” Shawn spoke. “There you go.” Ethan took a deep breath, looking at him once more. Shawn smiled encouragingly. “Better?” Ethan gave a slight nod, not trusting his voice just yet. “Okay. Take your time.”