“Ow. Be a little more gentle with me, will you?” Ortega complains as you readjust the arm slung across your shoulders, in an attempt to help him over the threshold of his apartment.
You roll your eyes. As concerned as you had been earlier, you know Ortega is not at any risk now. All he needs to do is rest up and recover—which you will ensure happens—and he’ll be back on his feet in no time. A little rough handling won’t kill him. (But you make a conscious effort not to move in a way that’ll jostle his healing ribs again.)
“Getting frail in your old age?” you taunt, shutting the door behind you with the heel of your foot. You’ll be sure to lock it later.
Ortega huffs. “I nearly died and you’re still acting like a little shit. I shouldn’t be surprised by now.”
“Maybe if you weren’t so dramatic, old man, I wouldn’t be such a little shit,” you say. As if you hadn’t immediately run to his side when the villain of the week was successfully incapacitated, just days ago.
Thankfully, Ortega had been swimming in and out of consciousness, so he has no idea how panicked you’d been. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to live it down for the rest of your life. (Or however long you have until the Farm hunts you down. You push the thought away. Now isn’t the time to obsess over that; let that worry simmer until you’re alone.)
You don’t need to ask where his bedroom is. You’ve done this song and dance before. Really, it’s troubling how often Ortega emerges from fights with broken bones and bruises. Makes you wish you had warned him faster, or gotten him out of the way in time. But even if Ortega no doubt knows your true ability by now, the rest of the Rangers don’t. Neither does the media. You have to keep it that way.
You push the bedroom door open with your foot. You manage to flick the lights on using your elbow. Approaching the immaculately made bed, you ease Ortega down on it.
He hisses through clenched teeth as he settles on the edge of the mattress. “Mind getting the blinds? I can’t sleep without them closed.”
You nod. Walk over to the windows. The sun is setting on Los Diablos, but rays of sunlight still peek through from between the tall buildings. You squint as you pull down the blinds, then draw the curtains shut. The room is darker now, though only marginally.
You turn around, words on the tip of your tongue, only to choke. You quickly forget what you were going to say.
Ortega’s in the middle of slipping his shirt over his head, his back to you. He’s cursing, in Spanish you think, but you can’t be sure. You’re too busy watching the muscles in his back ripple with every movement. He’s badly bruised, and bandaged. And you’ve never seen a more riveting sight.
He sighs as the shirt comes off, then fixes his mussed curls with a tanned arm. Even that casual motion is worthy of being on the cover of a magazine. It’s usually frustrating, how Ortega always looks camera-ready. Right now, however, you’re enraptured.
You can’t help but imagine approaching the bed. Sinking your knees into the mattress, finally find out if it’s as comfortable as it looks. Reaching out and settling your palms along the planes of his back. Ortega would flinch at the touch. Surprised by your action, no doubt. But maybe he’d shiver, too. Maybe he’d turn around, his eyes dark and glittering, and he’d...
He’d what, exactly? Reach out for you? Kiss you?
Your fanciful thoughts come to an abrupt end. You can’t imagine Ricardo Ortega actually reciprocating the feelings you have for him, whatever they even are. He might know you in a way no one else does, but there are still too many walls between you. Walls you can’t get rid of. Not ever.
Your fantasy of having any form of intimacy with Ortega is just that: a fantasy. The butterflies fluttering in your stomach die, one by one.
You struggle to compose yourself when Ortega turns to you. To hide any trace of longing from your features. He can never find out how you feel. (If he did... Would he laugh? Would he pity you? It’s another variable you have no idea of.) So you grit your teeth and avert your gaze.
“Well?” Ortega says. His brow is raised.
Shit. He must’ve said something directed at you. “Well what?” It comes out more defensive than you meant it to.
“Are you gonna slip outside for a bit? Unless you want to stick around and see these pants come off.” He smirks, and it’s not much different from his smiles on TV. Charming, almost seductive.
You scoff loudly. “I’ll get you some water. And lock the front door.” You hope your voice isn’t as shaky as it sounds to your ears.
You head to the door, lips thinning when Ortega chuckles. Asshole. You shut the door firmly behind you. Only then do you let loose a deep sigh. When you close your eyes, all you see is Ortega, his back to you, shirt bunched up around his chest. This time, you’re able to keep the longing at bay.
You need to get this silly crush under control, and soon.
On the other side of the door, Ortega runs a frustrated hand through his hair. “What are you doing, Ortega...” No answer comes to him.