To put it nicely, it was a complete mess. The building standing in front of them looked aged. From outside, the windows were cracked, some shattered and there were stained on the cracked ones. It was the only building on the street that had this eerie and sinister feeling to it. The paint had worn off and a few cracks coated over it.
"Uh, is this the right place?"
His stare drilled holes into her face, and yet, she wouldn't allow herself to look at him. "You kidding me, right?" Sarcasm, she recognised and supposed she deserved.
Nova stared back at him. "What? Look at this place. It looks empty!" Her voice was pitched high.
"What do you think you were going to see? A large billboard sign that says 'GANG' lives here, or a mansion?"
Irritation struck, slicing right down her backbone and bringing her to brush her hair out of her face casually. "Of course not. I'm not stupid."
He snorted. "Could have fooled me."
If he noticed the annoyance she was giving off, then he chose to ignore it, preferring to divert his attention away from her to guide one of his hands under his seat before he pulled out his gun, checking to see how many bullets he had left before he rose a bit, his hands disappearing behind him to stick the gun in his jeans.
She didn't even bother to remark on his comment, realising that it may drift past to an argument they didn't have time for. Instead, she turned her eyes back on the abandoned building. "We should go check it out."
"Here we go again with the we." He turned, keeping one hand on the wheel. "Let me ask you a simple question. Do you know how to shoot a gun? How to defend yourself? Are you skilled in fighting? If you can do one of those things, then I can accept the we part."
Her lips parted to speak, but he was suddenly cut her off before she could tell him to fuck off, that the second she got inside his car, they were in it together.
"No, not another word out of you. I made the stupid decision to bring you with me, but do not think I'm going to make another by letting you walk in there."
Although sceptical of his intention to keep her out of the loop that had nothing to do with her safety, Nova didn't feel offended but worrisome over a small fact that she conveyed, "What if it's a trap?" she asked with some exasperation, knowing that it wouldn't change anything as Ghost's eyes fixed on her, his brows rising, and she shrugged. "I just don't want your friends to think that I planned this to kill you."
"Did you?" His eyes were too sharp–and so was his smirk.
Her lips didn’t curl from the accusation she knew was harmless. Clearly, she thought, he didn't think her capable. But then, neither was she. "If I were going to kill you, I wouldn't make someone do it. I would look you in the eye and pull the trigger," she gave up with a snort.
"But we both know you won't do that." His voice was a matter of fact. She couldn't read his expression, but she realised from his tone that he genuinely believed what he was saying. Then, he turned to open the door.
"Wait!" Her hand shot out to touch his arm, halting him from getting out the car. "Should you go in?" A sense of worry and unease coloured her voice as she met his gaze. "I mean, we don't know what to expect, and if you die in there, I would like to remember that I at least tried to stop you. Maybe we should call for backup."
"No." He picked her hand from his arm and dropped it. "We're here to check it out, remember?"
Nova couldn't help but grin in amusement. "You said we. You're kind of a hypocrite, Ghost.”
He glared at her. “You aren't allowed to say it. I, on the other hand, can you use it, so shut up and sit tight." He sounded as if his patience was being sorely tried. She could tell he was having a difficult time keeping his annoyance in check. "Try not to do anything stupid. You and your brother have a history of doing stupid shits."
She made an irritated sound under her breath. "Yes, dad."
He grinned. "I'd let you use that in the bedroom." His gaze flicked over her face, touching on her mouth, her cheeks and back on her eyes, which she knew must be wide.
"You're disgusting." She glowered at him—of course, with his back turned, he couldn't see—then gave it up as she watched him get out of the car and shut the door.
Nova watched him go. He ran across the street, checked around him before he disappeared inside the building. She didn’t realise that she had been rubbing her hands quite anxiously, biting her lips and checking the time on her phone.
He had only been gone for a minute, but so many things could happen in a minute. What if he had been found? The idea lurched her stomach. Nova ran her hands through her hair, then rechecked the time. With each passing second, she got more anxious. More terrified. Which was why she decided to say fuck it and follow after him.
The building seemed to shudder in the wind. The front door was closed and got some bullet holes in it. She shouldn't go in, but there was a part of her that wanted to go in—the part of her that feared something had happened or would happen to Ghost. That part of her that thought he might need her help. Damn him. Damn him for making her care about whether he lived or not.
So, she went in, slow and silent. It was eerily quiet. Empty. The inside looked better than the outside; cream painted walls and concrete floors. Her footsteps echoed throughout the empty halls. Flickering lights illuminated just enough to see. No doors were separating the rooms on the ground floor, and no furniture; only empty rooms. The barrenness of the whole thing sat on her back, an unnecessary pressure.
Surging forward, she continued to hear no sounds. One deep breath in, she walked up the stairs with the worn, beaten bannister. The second floor was just the same as the first floor; the once colourful paint was in many shades now, and the doors were still missing. She couldn’t put her finger on the mystery around the place. If this was a gang hideout, why was it empty? Why was there nothing that served as proof that people lived here? But at the same time, if this was an abandoned building, there should have been dust all over everything that proved it had been untouched for so long. It was clean. Too clean, and the air didn’t feel coated with dust and dryness. It was fresh, clean.
And where was Ghost?
Nova turned to walk outside the empty room she was in, hoping to find him. He was right. She must have gotten played. There was nothing here for them. The disappointment didn’t take over her form when she was relieved that neither of them made the stupid decision to go in without back up. The sudden sound of movements alerted her that she needed to get out of here before Ghost found out she hadn’t listened to him.
She walked out, only to come face to face with him. Except, it was the wrong him. She sucked in a breath, any movements stilling as the man stared back at her, wide-eyed. It took him a moment to wipe away the surprise of seeing her before it morphed into anger. He was suddenly sneering at Nova, his long frame and built ready to crush her. She took a step back; he took another.
"I can explain," she blurted out. No, she couldn’t. The real reason would get her killed, and at the same time, not saying anything might get her killed.
The man advanced towards her, like a feral animal and she shrieked, reacting in the most surprising way when her back hits the wall; she closed her eyes and accepted that she was going to die. But nothing came except a smacking sound, then a thud before she pried her eyes open. The man was lying on the ground, unconscious. Her lips parted open before her eyes moved up to meet Ghost's blazing eyes.
"I thought I told you to stay in the car!"
She winced, not only at his booming voice that rang loud in the room but the board that he let slip from his hand and down to the floor. The board he must have hit the man with.
Nova looked at him as he stood there, blazing in his glorious anger. "Do you want to talk about this now," she said, and there was the slightest tremor in her voice, "or find a way to deal with this problem?”
Ghost clenched his jaw, furious. "There is no problem. I'm taking him with me." He looked down at the unconscious man and kicked him a little. He didn't move.
"So, we are kidnapping now?" she questioned, and his look penetrated. It was lightning, filled with a warning. She ducked her head a little and corrected, "I mean, you're kidnapping people now?”
He stood over her, crowding her as a muscle spasm in his cheek. "This is business, doll, and I just got myself a prize."
She bit her lip, managing not to flinch when he took another hard step to her. "What are you going to do to him?"
"Interrogate him. If he talks, I will make his death quick."
"But you don't know who he is! You can't just go around kidnapping people without being sure of who they are.”
"Take a look around. It's empty. It means they got out before we got here. And here—" He squatted in front of the body and lifted his shirt up; right in his abdomen was a snake tattoo in a circle. "This is Vipers tattoo." There was so much malice in his words.
"Did they know we were coming?"
"Of course, they knew we were coming. This was my only chance..." His expression changed, his mouth settling into a hard, ruthless line. "But never mind that. I will make him talk."
Nova shivered at his words. "Okay, let us get out now before there are any more surprises." She started to walk away.
Ghost reached down and swung her up in front of him. "Do not test me again, Nova," he warned, and at the deadly sound of his voice, Nova ceased to protest or say anything. She went very still until he let go of her and lifted the man, throwing him on his shoulders before drifting past her.
Tension reared, her heart began thundering. He was angry, very, very angry— which made a lot of sense. She hadn't listened to him. And why would she? She thought he might have needed help, and she didn't regret her decision. She would still do it again. Still ignore his warnings.
He said not one word to her, and the ride was quiet. When they reached the warehouse, Screw and Bullet were waiting for them at the entrance. They got the man out of the trunk and carried him inside. Ghost gripped on her elbow and pulled her inside with him as if he thought she was going to do something she wasn't supposed to do again. They followed Screw and Bullet down a hall and into an empty room that looked like a torture room; windowless, a single chair in the middle and a table full of torture weapons.
She turned to look at him. He stared, only at her, unsmiling, his gaze dangerous. Looking away, she watched Screw tie ropes around the Viper member’s body, legs and arms. The man's head hung back, still unconscious.
"Should I wake him up?"
"Not yet," Ghost answered without looking at Screw. "Come, Nova." He doesn't wait for her to say anything before he was walking her out of the torture room.
"Where are you taking me?"
"Where you belong."
His idea of where she belonged was the lounge room. He sat her down on the couch, turned on the tv and handed her the remote. When he stood above her and leaned down, she fought to control the pace of her breathing, which had become shallow. It was as if he knew exactly how much his nearness bothered her.
"Are you comfortable?"
A frisson swept her, a combination of thrill and something else unidentifiable. She felt the charge of some powerful emotion that she didn't try to hide, even as she lets out a sarcastic response, "With you hovering around me, how can I not be?"
His fine nostrils flared. "You're comfortable? Good. You're not? I don't care. You won't get up from the couch until I say so," he said shortly, eyes piercing.
"I had no idea this was a hostage situation."
"I'm not keeping you hostage."
Her gaze swept over his face. At the tiny bit of bruise on his nose she wanted to touch. "No? Then, do you have a better name for it?"
Ghost raked her back with his deepening gaze as he caught her wrist in a hold. As if he decided to prolong her torment, he leaned over her more deeply. “I'm keeping you out of my business,” he declared flatly.
"So much for being part of the fam, huh?" she tossed back with equal flatness, tugging her wrist to free herself.
For ten minutes, she bothered herself with watching TV as he had asked. Stayed put on the couch without having any thoughts of leaving her position. Until she had felt thirsty and found that she couldn’t hold it in.
Then she moved.
The hallway was just as quiet as it always were. She didn’t hear anything; even when she walked down, it was so quiet. There was an office that had a fridge just down the hall that Screw takes her to sometimes. As she came close to the door, she heard noises coming from the end of the hall. It was the place where Ghost was holding the member of the Vipers.
Her eyes drifted to the office, then back at the hall. Everything in her was telling her to leave it alone. It was none of her business. But Nova found herself drifting away from the office. The closer she gets to the room, the louder she could hear the voices were getting. The door was closed, but not all the way. It was enough for her eyes to peek inside.
Ghost was silently chuckling as he began to walk in front of the man, waving a bat up and down. The two of them were the only people she could see. “Are you going to tell me what I want to know, or do you want to lose a fucking hand?"
The man’s face and nose were bleeding profusely as he stared up at Ghost before spatting on his face. "Fuck you."
Nova held in her gasp, her eyes going round.
Ghost wiped the spit from his face with a chuckle. "You think that's wise?" He was smiling, so charmingly, it was hard to believe it was him. Hard to believe someone could spat on his face and only get a chuckle out of him.
"I ain't telling you shit." The man roared, struggling against his bound. “I would rather watch you squirm in fear because we both know what's coming. It's the end of your reign and the beginning of Vipers; a brand new order. It's only a matter of time before you're swiped under the rug; your kingdom, your men, everything you've built, everything you think is safe, isn't. And if you're lucky or if you asked nicely, Batman will show mercy and let you live."
She was holding her breath. Batman? Who was he? The leader of Vipers?
Ghost took a few steps toward him, his bat still casually draped across his left shoulder. "Oh, do you know what that sounds like? A fucking dream, and I'm the guy who likes crushing dreams. I'm the guy who will knock on your door and piss on your shit because you know why? Because I own this city.”
He brought the bat down to his side as he switched it to his other hand before bringing it under his face, taunting him with it, and smiled slowly again. He bent slightly down to look at him more closely. “You know, I used to love baseball when I was a kid. My Pops used to take me to games every Sunday. He was the one who taught me how to play, except, I was a shitty ass—"
"Is there a point to your story besides boring the fuck out of me?"
Nova blinked. Wrong move, she thought.
Ghost twirled his bat around. "You're right. Less talking, more action."
"Vicious, no!" someone exclaimed in the room, the booming sound startling her.
But Ghost was already bringing down the bat in a violent blow onto the member of the Viper’s head. It was at that moment, her breath seized in a petrifying hold at the scene in front of her. Blood ran down his forehead as Ghost kept bringing the bat down over and over again on his head. The sound was sickening. It was something that would hunt her for as long as she knew. Inked permanently in her mind.
So shocked, Nova stumbled away from the door and crashed back into the wall. She tried to breathe in but found herself unable to, mouth and throat quivering in the desperate need to draw in oxygen.
Her heart raced, and she could breathe again, air filling and burning her lungs each gulp full at a time as she turned and ran down the hall, getting far away from the room as possible. Far away from the man she knew.