Off the Beaten Path


by Jean Kavanaugh
1299370117|%e %b %Y, %H:%M %Z|agohover (updated 1299371271|%e %b %Y, %H:%M %Z|agohover) | 0 comment(s)

Their bikes had been stashed behind a couple of bins beneath the rusting escape stairs, out of direct view of the street. The wards Jean had set upon them would likely be more than sufficient to protect them, which was good, since there was no convenient place to lock them and, in any case, Min wasn't all that keen on immobilising the wheels. “Just in case…” he'd said.

He'd had to do a bit of a wall-run jump to reach the base of the escape ladder that hung only a rung below the lowest of the catwalk landings, which was still more than half-a-storey up. Lacking his preternatural strength and speed, it had taken Jean three tries to accomplish the same thing, and the only reason she'd managed it at all on the last try is because he'd hung down low enough to actually catch her hands as she'd made the leap. His strength then came in handy for pulling her up the rest of the way, whereupon, of course, he made the usual mutters about teaching her the fine art of parkour, so that he wouldn't always be having to play the monkey to get her into the places he could so easily go on his own. Then, she could play the monkey herself.

“Yeahyeahyeah,” she replied, as they climbed the metal staircase to the low-rise rooftop, “Promises, promises.” She was already taking self-defence classes at his insistence — and had been for the last couple of years. Privately, she'd admit she really enjoyed them, but she didn't see a big need to add yet more lessons to her already full curriculum. Full-time studies and two part-time jobs kept her busier than almost anyone else she knew.

It was overcast, the late-afternoon clouds threatening rain overhead. At only a couple of degrees above freezing, it promised to get right miserable if the threat turned into reality. “Remind me again why I agreed to this?” Jean grumbled, turning up the collar of her vintage peacoat against the sudden skiff of wind that cut across her cheek and blew her long red hair flat against the heavy wool.

“Blame it on your insatiable curiosity,” Min replied, scraping his rakish blond hair out if his eyes before shoving his own hands into his overcoat and starting to walk across the rooftop. His coat was lighter than hers, and as usual, he didn't have the muffler she'd given him. Didn't need it, he'd claimed. Being a werewolf had its perks — a body that ran hotter than most everyone else's was one of them.

“You said you had something ace to show me. All I'm seeing is a lot of rain-gutter and roofing tar.”

"Yeah," he said shortly, beckoning her onward. “We need to cross over here, yet.”

“Cross over—?” Jean trotted towards him, to the far corner, hidden behind the roof access door. An old, rusty, aluminium extension ladder was tied between the rooftop they stood upon and the one next to it. “You've got t'be kidding me. And there's a reason we couldn't have just climbed up the side of that building, rather than this one?”

“Yeah. No fire escape.”

“Cute.”

“You know you love me.”

“'S only reason you're still alive.”

“True. Now, c'mon. I won't let you fall.”

“It's not the falling I'm worried about,” Jean replied dryly. She stepped lightly onto the ladder. It creaked ominously. She stepped quickly off. “Right. Sod this.”

“It's the only way, Jean.”

“Yeahyeahyeah. I got that. Hang on bleedin' sec, would you?” She crouched down beside it and peered along its length. Pushing on it, she heard it creak again. She glanced up at him, a flat expression on her face. “You're bleedin' daft, y'know. What do you do when I'm not around? Purposely think up ways to get us killed?”

“It's perfectly safe. I promise. I've crossed it lots of times.”

“Which just proves you're daft. Right, then. Lemme at least try a spell or something on it. I'm not crossing anything that sounds like that.”

He laughed at that. “Suit yourself,” he replied, a big, broad grin on his face that would have confirmed Jean's supposition, if she didn't already know that his actual problem was not thinking about dangers rather than consciously pursuing them. Not, mind, that she hadn't been known to do the same thing on occasion. But, usually, when they were together, it was her job to be the responsible one.

Truthfully, heights didn't particularly bother her — not if they were high enough that she'd be able to cast a levitation spell before she hit bottom, anyway. Ladder-heights, they bothered her. Sometimes. But, six storeys up? Not such a problem. However, that didn't mean she was going to be stupid about it. She touched the edge of the ladder, and the wire that tied it onto the roof. After a moment's thought, she started muttering in Latin. The whisper of magic eased its way out of her, shimmering across the soft metal and crystallising the instant she finished the chant. She examined it for a moment, as the lattice faded to invisibility, and gave a sharp, satisfied nod.

“Done, then?” Min asked, moving forward. He stepped heedlessly around her, skipping lightly to the middle of the makeshift bridge, where he paused briefly to bounce daringly, turn about, and grin at her once more. “C'mon, then, dawdler. You fixed it. Time's a-wasting.”

Jean let out a snort that was half-amusement, half-exasperation. “You're a right git, you know that, wolfboy?” He laughed at her again and held out a playful hand. “A right patronising git,” she retorted. “Shove off, then.” Setting foot on the first rung once more, she tested it. Despite Min's bouncing, the only sound was the rough shifting of the metal against concrete, not the protesting groan of worn metal ready to give way. Moving swiftly, she danced her own way lightly across the span, giving him a light shove as she hit centre to encourage him to complete the crossing. He laughed and stumbled theatrically onward, leaping carelessly onto the edge of the far roof before turning back to assist her.

As she reached the edge the rooftop herself, he caught at her hand and pulled her fully onto its solid surface. She didn't particularly need the help, but she accepted it, nonetheless. “So, exactly what is this place you're taking me to, anyway?”

“I told you. You'll see when we get there.”

“Min…”

“Jean…” He mimicked her tone, mocking her lightly. Laughing, she gave up. He flashed her a boyish grin and gestured toward the long row of grated hvac units that stretched across the middle of the rooftop. “It's just there.”

“The a/c units? What's so special about that?”

“You'll see.”

He led her to a round unit about halfway down the line. Slipping between it and its neighbour, he ran his fingers lightly along the edge of one riveted panel. It slid aside to reveal the interior of the unit…

…which looked nothing like what the interior of an hvac unit should look like.

In the first place, it was hollow, not filled with the machinery that appeared to be there on the outside. In the second, the curved walls weren't sheet-metal. They were smooth red brick, like the interior of some sort of tower. A set of metal, circular stairs started halfway around the far side and descended into depths unseen from Jean's peering vantage point.

“What the bloody hell is this?”

“Brilliant, innit?” Min's face held excitement and a certain roguish challenge lit his bright blue eyes. “Wanna check it out wi' me?”

Jean stared at him for a long moment, her jaw hanging slack. She peered into the strange little chamber again, and then looked back at him. A slow, lopsided grin spread its way across her lips.

“Let's go.”


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