Okay so I don’t actually know anything about British law so I left out all the action parts because the important part is the drama anyway.
Earth!Akuliina acts quite different under this sort of physical pressure than Space!Akuliina because even when S!Akuliina (temporarily) loses the Force, she’s still been trained as a warrior. Earth!Akuliina might have great self-defense classes, but she’s never actually had to fight. Also Space!Quinn still wouldn’t yell at Akuliina the way Earth!Quinn does, even after they’re married. This is the sort of thing I find interesting for some reason. : P
I’m probably going to be Akuliina for Hallowe’en. : P
She was tied to a chair in a garbage-littered concrete basement storeroom while half a dozen rough-looking men leered at her and for the first time in her life, she felt real fear crawling in the pit of her stomach. Some of them carried darkening bruises of her handiwork, she hadn’t been completely defenseless, but there had been too many for her to escape from. She should have listened to Quinn this time…
But still she snarled at them with bared teeth, because she would rather die than show fear. They laughed in her face and dirty hands reached out towards her.
The door slammed in with a colossal bang. “No one move!” shouted a familiar voice.
It was hours later that they were released from police questioning. He walked with her to his car – her car was at her home, she’d said she’d come on public transport to remain less conspicuous, not that it had helped truly – and held the door for her. She silently got into the front passenger’s seat, her jacket wrapped tightly around her. He closed it on her and stepped around to the driver’s side.
Their drive was a silent one for the first five minutes. She was lost in her own thoughts, and he was caught up in his, and he didn’t want to disturb her.
What an evening. He’d just been out having a drink after work, when she’d appeared in the same bar, seemingly by chance. Women that attractive, in those well-made fashionable clothes, didn’t just show up at seedy bars in the area where he lived. It was most definitely not by chance.
“What were you thinking? Why were you there alone? Why didn’t you go home when I told you to?” he asked, not bothering to hide the irritation in his voice. “I told you it was a rough part of town. Why did you stay?”
Her shoulders hunched defensively, her normally proud bearing completely shattered. “I know…! I can take care of myself… just not against six at once…!”
“That’s why I wanted you to go home immediately! You could have gotten hurt, or killed! You’re lucky I was still close enough to hear you scream.” And that had been twenty minutes after he told her to go home. What had she been doing? Stalking him?
He’d gotten close enough to see what was going on through a window, called the police, but the thugs had been moving on her before the police were even close to arriving. He’d had to send one of them to the hospital with a bullet in his leg.
“And what were you trying to do afterwards?” She’d been furious when she was released from her bonds, launching herself towards the men while screaming profanities in Russian; the police had had to hold her back as well as her captors. Adrenaline had no doubt been lancing through her veins, her untrained fight or flight instinct still burning hot after her ordeal, but it still betrayed a lack of control that surprised him in her. “I understand you were angry, but they had it in hand! You could have gotten hurt there, too!”
“I know! Just – shut up!” Her voice sounded thick and quivery, and he glanced over at her. Her face was steadfastly turned away from him, and it was dark, he couldn’t even see her face in the reflection of the window, but he was pretty sure she had begun to cry. Iron-willed Miss Volkova was done.
“I’m sorry,” he said finally, and reached over to open the glove compartment to get the tissues. “Here.” Maybe his own self-control was lacking tonight. She wasn’t a soldier under his command. He shouldn’t have raised his voice to her.
She took them without comment, scrubbing at her running eyeliner.
They drove in silence again for a while, before she said very softly: “Don’t take me home yet.”
He glanced at her, but she wasn’t looking at him again. “No?” He would have thought she would want to be home as soon as possible. “Your parents will be worried. They’ll want to know you’re safe.” Surely they’d been informed of developments. As far as he knew, she hadn’t even texted them.
“I…” She huffed, a self-frustrated noise. “I have a great deal of autonomy. I’m expected to take responsibility for my own life, my… mistakes. I will speak to them. Just… not yet.”
He nodded and made a left turn, away from the swank neighbourhood she lived in.
He felt for her. Maybe he shouldn’t have; she was rich and powerful and arrogant and spoiled, she had a myriad of advantages over most other people, and he sometimes wondered how much she bothered to appreciate it. But he liked her – a great deal. Regardless of their respective ties to anything else, she didn’t deserve what had happened, what had almost happened, and he hated how she huddled small and vulnerable in the passenger’s seat now, makeup-stained tissues crumpled in small hands that lay motionless in her lap. What could he do to make this better?
He pulled into a coffee shop parking lot. “I’ll be right back.” She didn’t respond.
It only took him a minute to return with tea – chai for her, Earl Grey for him. She’d cleaned up her face while he was gone, and it was difficult to tell she’d cried at all. There were red marks on her wrists still, he saw as she took the paper cup from him, and he swallowed a shudder of anger at her abductors. Her fingers were cold as they brushed his, and he wanted to kneel down there and fold them between the warm cup and his hands, warm them up faster. But he didn’t. What would he say? It would only be awkward.
He got back in his own side of the car and kept driving.
She seemed to relax under the influence of the tea, her shoulders no longer hunched around her ears, her elbows no longer clamped to her sides. She stared straight ahead instead of away through the side window.
“You might not believe me, but the truth of the matter was… is… I’m lonely.” Her voice was soft as the whisper of leaves. She might have been less tense, but she was still vulnerable. It was not as it should be, and yet… he seized on the opportunity to understand better.
“Beg your pardon?”
“Why I’ve been seeking you out. Why I didn’t go back.”
He thought for a while about that one, making a right turn into the parking lot of a public park. It was inadequately lit even for its small size, but he thought darkness might give her some privacy if her self-control failed again. Though this time it wouldn’t be because of his ill judgement.
It was difficult to believe. She was constantly surrounded by people, people she had previously informed him she had some attachment for: she was rather close to her parents, and her maid Vette, and the tabloids frequently mentioned her name in the same breath as Jaesa Willsaam. Even if the other people in her life and work were nothing to her, even if she dropped boyfriends like hot potatoes – and it was obvious she had severe trust issues, if you read between certain lines – she had friends.
And yet, not many friends. Too, it was a popular belief that rich and powerful people were lonely. Perhaps it was true. In which case… he was sorry for her. And somewhat flattered she wanted to reach out to him.
“Why me?” And don’t say it’s about my looks.
“You’re fascinating,” she said, speaking slowly, unwilling or unable to allow herself to truly express her thoughts, even in the dusk. He figured she was still shaken up inside, that she would be guarding herself extra-carefully after the events earlier. But it was important for him to know.
And she knew it. “You keep so much to yourself. So serious, so stoic… but what little you show is so… enticing. Your manners. Your patience. Your… kindness.” It sounded almost rehearsed, that she’d prepared the list in case he ever asked. She muttered even more quietly: “And I like when you gloat.”
He blinked at her in confusion. What an odd point of attraction. Did she mean when he allowed himself to openly express confidence instead of impassiveness? Confidence was sexy, after all. It was one reason he was attracted to her. Though she also found it endlessly amusing to fluster him as well.
“Kindness?” he asked. Had he ever actually truly shown kindness to her? Surely she didn’t mean just in speaking with her whenever they ran into each other, did she? That seemed far too self-deprecating for her. Speaking with Miss Volkova was a privilege. The tea, maybe?
Her gaze shifted back to the side. “You didn’t have to come for me tonight. It wasn’t any of your business. But you risked your life for me, you told the police you broke in early so they wouldn’t… touch me.”
“I would never leave anyone in trouble like that.”
“Even though I made you angry by coming to see you in the first place, and then disregarding your suggestions.”
Good to know his urgent directives were only suggestions to her. No, he couldn’t be sarcastic now. “I would certainly never leave you in trouble like that. Not even if you truly upset me.” He hesitated before reaching out to her, putting his left hand awkwardly on her shoulder.
She froze at his touch, and he was afraid he’d upset her, reminded her of her attackers somehow, but then she leaned into it a little. “I’m grateful.” Her tone was funereal. Maybe a little bitter.
“You are… upset to have needed saving in the first place?” he asked carefully. The shift stick was slightly annoying in its placement; she was a little closer, now, he could slide his arm around her shoulders, but he couldn’t properly tug her over to lean into his side. He was surprised once again when she leaned over anyway, her white head almost nestled against his shoulder, leaning her elbow on the seat divider. It couldn’t have been terribly comfortable for her.
She paused for a long time. “Yes.” She paused again. “If I’d been in the military like you, I wouldn’t have needed saving.” It was muttered under her breath, barely audible.
“You don’t know that. You don’t have to join the military.”
Her shoulders hunched, tense again. “Maybe I do! You’ve done so much, within it and after it, and I… I’m – useless in comparison.”
He looked down at the top of her head. For a moment he couldn’t find the right words, and drank his tea while he tried to put them in the right order. They probably still weren’t the right words. “…Do you have something to prove?”
“Life is something to prove,” she muttered, still tense. “I ought to be stronger than this.”
“You are strong,” he said immediately, squeezing her shoulder. “There should be no doubt of that in your mind. When you speak, people listen. You have power and you wield it with judgement.”
“I need to be the other kind of strong, too,” she retorted.
“I saw their bruises. I know you can defend yourself. But you might allow me to defend you, too.”
Her head tilted as if to glance up at him. “Are you offering to come work for me?” Her voice was mostly innocently curious, but he thought he detected a sly undertone.
He hesitated. “I’m afraid I cannot. I owe Mr. Baras too much to simply quit out of the blue.”
“I’ll pay you double.”
He half-chuckled. “I know.”
Although he couldn’t see her face from this angle, he could imagine her pout. “Fine, you win. For now. I’ll allow you to take me home, however.”
‘My place or yours?‘ popped into his head and he quashed it firmly. “As you wish.” But she was still leaning against his arm. “I’m afraid it will be difficult to drive like this.”
“Should I sit on your lap instead?”
Oh god. At least she was feeling better. “Please do up your seatbelt, Miss Volkova. I gather you like to drive quickly.”
As she withdrew from his proximity – and he missed her warmth – she turned towards him for the first time since she’d got in the car, and her eyes were gleaming. “Step on it, Quinn.”
“Ah, Mr. Quinn.” Mr. Baras welcomed him into his office the next morning, part of his daily routine. “I heard you had a little adventure last night! Well done on rescuing the Volkova girl.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Good PR, and now Volkov might owe us a favour if we ask for it right. Nothing new for you today; anything to report?”
As Quinn left the office, he couldn’t help a strange feeling that Mr. Baras had been somehow… disappointed?