When I first stepped onto 1st Avenue, Seattle was dark, but alive. Small groups of people swarmed all around me, some drunk and bustling with gleeful shouts at each other through pools of yellow light on the sidewalk. And aside from the occasional slurred cat-call hurled my way making me want to spit venom, the atmosphere was warm and inviting enough.
I can't say what possessed me to crawl out of my hole at such a late hour, or where I think I'm going in this unfamiliar city, but the refreshing air brushes against my face and entices me further down the street without regard. I guess staring at nothing but a bedroom wall for a week straight will make anything else appear beautiful and invigorating, even if it's just the city lights twinkling against a moonless sky.
My mind wanders with my feet and before long, I've lost track of how much time I've spent strolling through the streets. When I look up from my sneakers, I'm surprised to find I'm alone. I've strayed from 1st Avenue and the streets are darker. Emptier.
Spooked by my solitude, I turn around to find my way back. Now that I'm actually paying attention to my surroundings, I hear stray cats fighting and glass bottles breaking against each other in a dumpster nearby. My senses are on edge now, and so too are my nerves. My walk shifts to a near-jog and I've almost made it back to the safer street when a whimper through the darkness stops me cold. My neck cranes to the right where two men loom over a woman huddled in an alley.
Before thinking, I shout, “Hey!”
Both men snap their heads around to find me and I immediately regret making myself known. Trying to hide my panic, I feign some aggression and say, “What's your problem?” They don't react. I reach into my pocket only to discover my phone isn't there. I act like I'm grabbing it anyway. Holding up my balled fist and hoping the lighting is dim enough to disguise the fact that there's nothing in it, I shout, “Leave her alone or I'll call the police!”
The taller one starts toward me. The shadows emphasize the sharp contours of his face and as he gets closer, I spot a pistol in his hand. “I'm serious,” I say, waving my fist. “I'm one button away from your ass being chased down by a dozen screaming cop cars.”
Despite my empty threat, he doesn't falter before breaking out into a full on sprint.
“Ah, shit,” I turn around to abort mission, but stumble instead as I'm grabbed around the middle and thrown to the ground. The wind bursts from my lungs in a loud wheeze and two pairs of footsteps echo from the pavement next to my ear. One near me and one rapidly approaching. Gasping and wheezing in pain, I roll onto my side long enough to get some air back in my chest before forcing myself to my feet. My most recent assailant has placed himself between me and the gunman.
“Back off,” he says to my attacker. It has no effect on the psycho with the gun, who doesn't break stride as he runs straight for the unarmed genius in front of me.
The wannabe hero glances back at me for a split second before lunging at the psycho. They collide forcefully. Having built up more momentum than the idiot superhero wannabe, Psycho knocks him on his back but ends up falling right after him. After a brief struggle, they both scramble up and now the gun is in Super Idiot's hands.
I stare in wide-eyed disbelief as he tucks the gun into the back of his pants. Psycho comes at him again and I scramble backward to avoid getting hit. Psycho's wing man stands back opposite of me and chooses to watch dumbly instead of utilizing the gun in his hands.
Super Idiot shoves Psycho, who stumbles backward before regaining his balance. “Ryker,” he says in a strict tone as Psycho glares at me hiding behind him, “Keep this up, and you will have broken our agreement,” Psycho Ryker looks back at him and huffs through his nose like a pissed off bull. “Leave,” Super Idiot warns.
Ryker glances between us, hesitating only for a second before turning sharply and walking off, spitting on the woman still hunched on the ground as he passes. I drop my jaw in disgust and horror at the sight of this but scrounge up enough sense to keep what little breath I have to myself this time. The incompetent wing man inches backward, gun pointed before he finds the courage to lower his weapon and sprint to catch up with his companion.
When both figures disappear around a corner, I start toward the woman in front of us but a hand clamps down on my shoulder and pulls me back. I try to push him off, but my rescuer – I guess he's not as much of an idiot as I pegged him for – holds me still until I stop resisting, then goes to check on the woman himself.
He crouches down as a petite figure steps out from the shadows near him. When she reaches them, the man stands and walks back to me. Behind him, his sidekick stoops to help the victim up before carting her out of sight.
“Was she there the whole time?” I ask as he gets closer. He grabs my arm and forces me to spin around as he pulls me along. We stop under the harsh glow of a streetlamp that casts shadows over his eyes as he looks down at me. He's a few years older than I am – maybe 19 or 20 – with dark brown hair swept loosely upward and a wide mouth pulled taut across his square jaw.
Confused by his bitter expression, I'm not quite sincere when I say, “Sorry.”
“Do you often wander through Pike Place alone at night, picking fights with armed men twice your size?” His voice is condescending.
“I was just trying to help.”
“You weren't helping,” he says matter of factly.
I look away from him, into the gloomy vacant street over his shoulder, not sure what he wants me to say. Maybe a thank you? I look back to him with a shrug. “Gave you something to do though, didn't I?”
“Don't throw yourself into situations you're inept at handling,” he lectures. “You only make yourself into another victim. Don't be just another person in need of saving.”
My eyes narrow. “You think because you just pulled some vigilante superhero bullshit, you can talk down to me? I am not a victim.”
Realizing he's still gripping my bicep, I go to shove him away with my free hand. He grabs hold of it mid-swing.
“What did I just tell you about picking fights with armed men twice your size?” he says. I give him a scathing look and yank both arms out of his light grip before brushing past him. “Hey,” he calls after me, “try not to mediate any gang fights on your way home.”
I roll my eyes and toss a middle finger over my shoulder without looking back.