The Road Between

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Chapter 3: The Trade Off

Liam's POV

The full moon hung overhead, in the rare cloudless sky, and cast a ghostly light over the ocean waves crashing against the docks to our left. The only other light came from a single street lamp about two feet in front of us. The frigid, salty air was almost overwhelmed by an insistent odor of burnt oil and rusty machinery. The strong breeze rustled my shaggy, blonde hair into my eyes.

The urge to leave grew the longer I tapped my foot in anticipation of the Falcons’ arrival. Adam and Ian, on either side of me, waited impatiently as well. I mulled over the thought of this exchange. Am I doing the right thing? Was James misled? What if I was taking her away from a good home?

Logically, I knew if it was a good home, the father wouldn't consider offering her. Especially with the reputation I inherited from my father, he wouldn't make the offer to someone with my particular skill set. I stuffed my hands into my pockets, looked around, and absently wondered where Asher was perched.

I remembered the meeting I attended a couple of years ago. A sniper had shot and killed one of the yakuza members. I assumed I would be blamed but Akihiko raised his gaze to the rooftops, grinning cynically. Something in his expression revealed he had been looking forward to this. He licked his lips excitedly, thoroughly unsettling me.

“Wait here. I’ll be back, young master.” He mumbled before walking off.

Akihiko was about my father’s age, but short with greying hair and dark brown eyes. He may have been used to people following his orders, but I had never been the type to respect authority. Of course, as he stalked into a nearby building, I followed him discreetly.

His path led me inside, and up the stairwell. He exited a metal door at the top. A few moments after he exited, I managed to open the door to expose Akihiko standing over a man a couple years older than me. He had put up a good fight but quickly lost.

He appeared muscular but in a subtle way with pale skin and short black hair. His build wasn’t one of a one on one fighter unlike Akihiko, so I was unsurprised that he had lost. However there was a determination in his face that made me think that he wasn’t done trying.

“You should have taken the shot, kid.” Akihiko had chuckled, leveling his gun at the man’s face.

He bared his teeth, spit at Akihiko’s polished shoes, and snarled back, “I’m not a kid. I have a name.”

“Oh, yes. Asher Drake, you must be so proud of your dear daddy.” Akihiko purred.

While I wondered why the last name was familiar, Asher was moving again. He jumped up and lunged forward, quickly being thrown aside. He rolled closer to the edge but stopped.

“Don’t you dare talk about him!” Asher spat angrily, his green eyes burning with rage.

Akihiko chuckled before raising his gun again. “It’s been fun but boss gets mad every time you kill one of my men. Frankly, I don’t want to deal with the lectures anymore.”

Even on his hands and knees, bleeding, the anger and ferocity in Asher's face were too familiar. I couldn’t just walk away. He reminded me too much of my own reflection.

“Drop it.” I snapped raising my weapon.

Akihiko glared at me before spitting his response. “Are you really willing to start a war over this, young prince?”

“I have been itching for some real action for a while,” I retorted, cocking my pistol, “Try me.”
“You will regret this.” Akihiko snarled, angrily.

Later, when I learned about his amazing skill with firearms, I asked Asher why he hadn’t killed Akihiko that day. I knew from their conversation on the roof, Akihiko was the intended target. Ash wasn’t one to kill for fun, so I couldn’t understand him purposefully killing a random stranger. It would have been an easy shot to take out Akihiko.

“I wanted to be able to see the light fade from his eyes.” Asher had looked up with so much pain in his own eyes, my frozen heart threatened to beat. “I thought I could beat him hand to hand.” He turned back down to the gun he was cleaning.

I had grown to trust Asher as much as Adam and Ian, and he was now one of the few in my inner circle.

Another icy breeze ripped through the docks, snapping me back into the present. I clenched my jaw against the cold. Ash was fortunate, being able to lay flat on the edge of a roof, out of this horrific wind. He preferred to be out of sight, out of mind. Unless he was needed.

If he wanted to, Ash could hit his mark from a thousand yards, ninety-nine percent of the time. He was good at what he did, no doubt. He was so quiet and mysterious, it had taken a long time to trust him. All I could say now was I was glad he was watching my back, as opposed to targeting it.

Suddenly, four people appeared in the street lamp’s glow. The two individuals in the back of the pack were both men; one was about my age, twenty-six years old, with ash blonde hair. The other, a few years older, had striking, sapphire blue hair, styled in a messy crew cut. Something in the way his lips curled over his teeth, and how his eyes burning as he watched the woman in front of him, sent chills down my spine.

A sinister chuckle from the largest of the two in front drew my attention. He was the oldest, and clearly the leader. This insidious man had black hair and dark eyes with ghostly, white skin. The contrast made him look skeletal and demonic at the same time.

The sight of the young woman next to him caused my blood to boil. Rage began to fill my chest, making my foot stop tapping and my knuckles whiten as I clenched my fists. I clenched my jaw, fighting to hide my shock. She stood almost a whole foot shorter than all of them. I could see the bones protruding from her joints with every move she made. I expected her to be terrified and cowering, but she was the complete opposite; shoulders back and head held high, despite her short stature.

This poor woman stopped next to her grotesque father, crossing her arms tightly across her chest. The most guarded expression I had ever seen was set firmly on her porcelain face. I could almost hear her knuckles cracking under the pressure as her hands balled into tight fists. Her long, dark auburn hair was matted with blood and dirt. Her piercing, green eyes were clouded with the pain she was obviously trying to hide.

Despite the mid-January Seattle chill, she was sparsely dressed and visibly shivering. She moved as if every breath was pure agony. With so many shades of bruising accenting her pale skin, it was obvious she had suffered many assaults in the last several weeks.

“Quite an offering,” I stated apathetically, trying to mask anger as I pushed my shaking hands deeper into my pockets.

“She’s yours to do with as you please.” Dan bowed stiffly, never taking his eyes off of me.

With being so feared by rival gangs, I was familiar with this behavior. It was nice to know that even if my own weren’t as afraid of me as they had been my father, everyone else was.

“I don’t belong to anyone.” The woman snapped. I reacted, surprised, before I could stop myself.

Her voice had forced strength, despite sounding rough and hoarse. I wondered, suddenly, when the last time she had a drink of water was. Her eyes burned with a ferocity that both intrigued and infuriated me. I had to admire her strength despite the monster within me raging at the disrespect.

Dan reached out, backhanding her hard enough to knock her to the ground. The blue-haired demon laughed cruelly, obviously thrilled by the sight of her pain.

I raised one finger, a silent signal, and instantly a shot rang out. The man who had laughed shouted enraged. As he grabbed his arm tightly, blood oozed out from between his fingers, dripping onto the snow-dusted asphalt. He glared menacingly at the rooftops, searching for the origin of the shot.

I knew even if he found it, Ash would be moving to a new perch by now. Still, I was surprised by his lack of response to the pain. He just seemed pissed. On the other hand, Dan whimpered, jumping and glancing around.

“That was a warning. She is my property now. You lay one more hand on her, you’ll lose it.” I growled in a low, husky voice.

Dan bowed respectfully as he and the blond started backing away slowly. “Of course. My apologies, Mr. Bly. We will take our leave now. Good luck, Ana.” Dan smirked wickedly at his daughter.

Then with one last glance at the rooftops, the two men retreated quickly. The wounded man hesitated. He scowled begrudgingly at the woman for another minute. His eyes lustfully wandered over her as she fought to get back on her hands and knees. Eventually, he groaned loudly in displeasure before storming off.

Meanwhile, the woman was struggling to stand back up. Adam took a few cautious steps forward, trying not to make her feel threatened. He bent down gently, lifting her to her feet. As careful as he was, she still whimpered, so quietly it was barely noticeable. It was as if his very touch agonized her.

“I don’t need help. I’m fine. Don’t touch me.” She gasped as she attempted to remain standing, noticeably unstable.

Despite her protest, Adam removed his jacket and draped it around her shoulders. She didn’t thank him, but she didn’t shrug it off, either.

“Let’s go,” I ordered, fighting to hide my amazement.

“I’m not going anywhere with you.” She glared, crossing her arms, swaying more the longer she stood.

Ian chuckled beside me, “I like her.”

I rolled my eyes, scowling, “You’re coming, whether you like it or not.”

Her body stiffened, those emerald eyes boring into mine. She raised an eyebrow as if daring me to make her.

I couldn’t decide whether I was more impressed or annoyed with her stubborn determination. Who was this girl to stand up to me? Nobody dared talk to me like that and survived.

Amazement and surprise covered Ian’s face; he was loving this. Meanwhile, Adam remained close to the wobbling girl, ready to catch her. He looked incredibly concerned for her. I realized our biggest threats right now were time and cold. We had to leave before her condition deteriorated.

“You want to play that way? Fine. Adam, grab her.” I grumbled as I met her glare with my annoyed expression.

“Uh, Liam-” Adam started, his eyebrows furrowed with concern.

“Now.” I interrupted.

“Sorry.” Adam sighed, reaching out cautiously to pick her up.

Suddenly, Adam was doubled over, clutching his groin as a strained groan escaped him.

I stared, dumbfounded, as Adam squeaked, “Ouch.”

The woman continued to glower at me. She seemed to have remained in the same position she'd been in. The only inclination she moved was her gasping breath as she attempted to hide a pained grimace. I struggled to understand how she could have any fight left. I admired her strength.

Ian burst out laughing, drawing her attention away from my gaze and towards him. I watched as hints of shock, fear, then confusion flashed across her cautious, green eyes. Everything about her intrigued me; I forced my expression to remain stoic and uninterested.

“I really like her.” Ian cackled, becoming more entertained with every stubborn action this little fighter made.

“Then you carry her if you like her so much!” Adam snapped, still slightly incapacitated. He took a step back, remaining close enough to catch her, but out of range.

“Nope, I’m good. I gotta keep the boys in working order. We have a playdate tonight.” Ian winked at her.

Fear, real fear, flooded her expression for a split second before her glare returned. A threatening growl escaped her perfectly heart-shaped lips. Ian didn’t seem to notice, let alone be in the least bit intimidated.

“God, must I do everything?” I marched forward, ripping my belt off, hearing it snap, as my six-foot, four-inch stature approached her. I towered over her tiny frame while carefully wrapping the belt around her wrists. She didn’t flinch at all even though fear showed in her eyes. I quickly scooped her up, not giving her a chance to react.

She let out a pained cry before it cut off as suddenly as it began. I could hear her labored breathing and soft whimpering, as I carried her to the car. I tried to ignore the guilt in the pit of my stomach by telling myself it was her fault for fighting me.

As I started towards my black 2020 Fisker Karma, I could see Ian’s motorcycle lights turn on, and speed off.

“Damn it!” Ian exclaimed, “Ash took my bike again!”

The short walk across the parking lot seemed to take a lifetime. When we got to the end of the lot, Ian stared at the skid marks on the asphalt, sulking.

“Maybe you should just give him a key. You have to be sick of fixing the ignition every time he hotwires it.” Adam snickered.

“Fuck you…” Ian muttered, pouting. He continued to stare off, as if he was waiting for Asher to return.

“You can have shotgun.” Adam offered, elbowing Ian playfully.

I lowered the woman down, into the back seat of the car, as gently as I could. Even so, her jaw clenched, a single tear running down her cheek as she squeezed her eyes shut.

“Adam, have Jay meet us at the house as soon as he can,” I ordered, trying to mask my concern.

Up close, the woman looked beaten half to death. I was surprised she had stayed conscious as long as she had. But by the looks of it, she wouldn’t be much longer.

Adam nodded, all business as he slid into the seat next to her, “On it, boss.”

Ian slid into the passenger seat, still grumbling about how he was going to kill Ash for stealing his motorcycle. This was old and recurring news. Ian would yell while Ash completely ignored him. In the end, Ash would sigh, say a few cutting words, then walk away. Once again winning the argument with ten words or less. It was no doubt impressive, but repetitive by now.

I rounded the car, climbing into the driver’s seat, and headed to the main road with a strange sense of urgency. I felt a weird knot in my gut but I couldn’t put a name to the feeling. I looked at her face in the rearview mirror, battered and bruised. I remembered the strength she had shown, even with the pain. My blood seemed to boil in my veins, in a rage I knew all too well.

“Jay is out of town, but he will come first thing tomorrow,” Adam said.

I sighed, pushing down harder on the gas pedal, “Great.” I mumbled as I pulled out onto the main road.
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