Chloe Beale knows better. Knows this town like the back of her hand. Knows the quickest route to the theatre just like she knows when to avoid fifty-fifth. Just like she knows not to venture down back alleys after dark. Or before dark for that matter. This part of town was pretty sketch no matter the time of day.
So, when she hears a low whistle bouncing off the damp brick of the alley walls, her hand freezes where it's searching for her keys in her bag and for an instant, her eyes flutter shut.
“Looks like we're getting delivery tonight, boys.” When she looks up, she finds that there are four of them in total, all tall and scruffy. A heavy, sick feeling sends her heart sinking towards her stomach, but she gathers her confidence as her fingertips finally graze the metal of a keyring and she pulls them out of her bag, letting it fall to sway by its strap alongside her hip. “I should warn you though,” this directed at Chloe, who closes her hand around her keys and levels her gaze at the man, “we don't tip.”
“No worries.” Although her voice trembles slightly, she's impressed by how sure of herself she sounds. “You couldn't afford me anyway.” He doesn't seem to appreciate her sentiment. His mouth twists into a snarl and neither he nor the men around him waste any time in advancing on her.Thunder rumbles over head and the heavens open to drip fat drops of rain against cracked cement.
The tendrils of fear working their way through her with chilly unease tighten around her muscles, making it difficult for her to move, and she almost trips backwards when she tries to turn and run, only to find her way blocked by one of the men. He grins down at her, the sickly orange-yellow floodlight shining down on them from the building opposite illuminating the stains on his teeth.
“Look, just,” she offers her bag to him, bare arms slick with rain and t-shirt starting to steadily soak through, “you can have everything in here. I don't want any trouble.” He reaches towards her and she feels adrenaline race along her spine.
“I don't need your permission.” He growls. “If I want something, I take it.” His fingers, boney and dirty, snake around the strap of her bag and tug. Chloe's expression hardens in the blink of an eye and as he tugs, so does she, pulling him into her. She digs the point of her car key into his stomach as she drives a knee into his groin. He drops like a sack of bricks, hitting the ground and sending water flying as he lands face first in a puddle that had started to form. She feels a rush of air at her back, like someone running at her, and spins in time to see the man who'd first spoken to her doing just that.
But he doesn't make it to her.
His arms are still reaching forwards when he's yanked back violently away from Chloe, who watches as he sails through the air and crashes into the side of a large metal garbage can sitting at the back door of Ling Foo's Chinese restaurant. He hits it so hard that the metal dents and he falls into an unconscious, crumpled heap at the foot of it. The two goons still standing stare at their fallen comrade, but Chloe can tell they still haven't caught on to what's happening.
But she has.
And so, she waits for it.
Sinewy, almost iridescent strands of what can only be described as webbing catch the raindrops as they shoot out from one shadowy corner of the buildings bracketing the alley, sending a thrill through Chloe, wild and vibrant. And in that instant, she knows she's safe. Knows, without a doubt, that she's going to be okay. The web, each silky strand coalescing into one impossibly strong length of something like rope, fans out at the end and stickily covers the tallest man's face. His hands go up to try and tear the substance from his skin, but Chloe spies a movement overhead and despite her situation, her lips curve into a smirk. She watches as the lithe body flips off the side of one building, throwing out a free arm and shooting a second web, anchoring them to the opposite side and pulling their body over. Meanwhile the other hand, still holding one end of the web attached to the man's face, rides the tailwind of their body and tugs the man half way along the wet street before a flick of both hands sends him somersaulting up, then down hard into the ground. That's when the last man is finally brought up to speed and he makes a break from the mouth of the alley, spraying Chloe's lower half with rain water as he whips by her.
Above and behind her, something lands lightly against the fire exit walkway of the building and she looks back to find a figure of shadowed red and blue perched on the railing, forearm poised, aiming their hand.
“Oh, no you don't.” The now familiar voice carries over the rain that's pounding hard against the pavement, and with one final 'thwip' the retreating coward finds himself snared by first one, then two separate lines of webbing. Chloe watches, riveted, as her masked saviour wraps an end around each hand once for added leverage, then leaps high into the air. Taking the man up with them, the costumed hero plants a foot against the brick facade of the building opposite and then pushes off towards Chloe's side again. The man shrieks as he's held in midair, while the hero takes their time fastening the web ends to a long length of wire stretched between the buildings, before back-flipping off the wall, twirling legs sending raindrops in all directions and letting him fall. “Take five.” He screams and it catches painfully when the web unexpectedly pulls taught to leave him hanging.
Chloe watches the figure land in the middle of the alley, sees them spare a glance at the man still groaning and clutching his groin before spitting out three balls of webbing that trap his hands, feet and muffle his cries. Then they're aiming high above Chloe, shooting with both hands and then launching themselves up into the shadows. She cranes her head back, blinking against the rain and slowly turning on the spot, searching the darkness.
“You're really good at getting into trouble, you know that?” With a gasp that carries over half the statement, Chloe spins to find herself face to face with her rescuer. Lithe indeed, but shorter than she'd expected, body toned and tiny. Even when danging upside down.
“And you are an exceptionally skilled stalker.” The hands clenched the length of webbing shift and grasp without reason at the teasing accusation. The material of the costume looks like it would be soft to touch and a stylized black spider stretches across an ample bosom that rises and falls with little exertion. The white eyes of the mask don't give much away in regard to the eyes that lie underneath, but whenever Chloe looks at them, she knows that they're always looking back.
“Dude, no. I was just, I was in the neighbourhood.” Even from fifty feet up. She can always feel them on her. “Seriously though, I think you should start considering just staying home. Order in. Watch some trashy T.V.” Chloe grins and pushes wet curls back from her face.
“But then how would I get to see you?” The masked head before her tilts to one side and Chloe bites her lip, because she'd love to see the expression being aimed at her right now. And she wonders if this town's resident superhero gets this a lot, the playful flirting, because every time they run into one another it's right there. As easy as it was the last time and just waiting to be picked back up.
“Maybe I could start making house calls.” The voice is muffled by the mask, but Chloe loves the sound of it regardless. The snark and sarcastic edge to it.
“You'd do that for lil' old me?” She wrinkles her nose as she asks, a single drop of rain running along the length of it and then leaping from the tip. Her hero shrugs and the motion looks odd upside down. Chloe wonders how long she can hold the positioning for, feet looped around the web she's grasping with both hands.
“Just because everyone around here thinks I'm an asshole, that doesn't mean I actually am one.” Chloe furrows her brow and takes a step forward, conscious of the splash her foot makes against the puddles that are slowly converging into a small river.
“I think you're amazing.” She does and she'll tell anyone who dares try to say otherwise. Because the low, derisive hum that leaves the woman who has just saved Chloe's life makes the redhead feel desperately sad.
“Glad I've got someone on my side.” And the quiet note of gratitude in the voice breaks her heart. “Thank you.”
And this isn't the first time they've been somewhere like this, together. This isn't the first time that the 'Masked Menace' has saved her life. Isn't the first time Chloe's felt this irrefutable pull to a person she barely even knows and yet feels so undeniably connected to. Feels like she understands, like she 'gets'. And Chloe finds it easy to talk to almost anyone, with the exception of the idiots strewn about the alley around her and similar such scumbags, but – and this isn't the first time she's thought this – she's sure that it shouldn't be this easy to talk to a perfect stranger with a penchant for wearing tights, who keeps saving her life. Yet somehow, it is.
She steps closer and lifts her hands towards the masked marvel who's developing a habit of swinging into her dreams.
“Do I get to say thank you this time?” And she smiles as her fingers find the seam where the mask meets the neck of the costume and slips beneath. A sharp inhale serves as her answer and pulls anticipation through her like a needle weaving thread. Slowly, pale skin is revealed, smooth and soft looking. Then the line of a jaw and the rounded edge of earlobes. The curve of a mouth that parts in surprise.
“Wait...” Chloe pauses, pulling in one shallow breath after another as she watches that mouth move for the first time. Watches the way it forms the letters and brings the word to life. She sees dark hair tucked into the back of the costume and feels her fingers itch to touch it. Her own lips shift into a smirk.
“I promise I'll be gentle.” Instead she presses the heels of her hands to the sides of her hero's face and leans in to catch lips that are damp from the rain but warm from the mask. And Chloe sighs so heavily into the kiss that she hears it echoed.
All around them, the sky sheds its tears as thunders rolls, and Chloe parts the other woman's lips as lightning streaks through the clouds. Her fingertips brush along the column of a neck as her tongue is met stroke for lazy stroke and her heart hammers inside her chest. Unable to contain her growing smile, Chloe's teeth graze a full lip and she almost stumbles backward when her dangling hero's grip slips and she slides down an inch or two.
“Jesus.” She barks, but she's chuckling, albeit a little ruefully. Chloe steps away with her fingers pressed to her lips as the other woman tugs her mask back into place with a shake of her head. “You are... something else.” Chloe feels giddy at the sound of her voice; heavy and breathless, pitted with disbelieving humour.
With another flick of her wrist and a second hastily shot web, the woman is pulling herself skyward and out of Chloe's reach.
And Chloe is laughing towards the blackened sky as rain dances off her skin and slides over her lips.
“Thank you!” She calls out, beaming like she isn't soaked to the bone.
Then, after a handful of seconds.
“You're welcome!” It's more distant, maybe coming from the rooftop this time. “Now go home!”
Chloe laughs again.
She really can't wait for that home visit.