December in Boston was fierce, and Mother Nature had chosen that day to flex a bit of muscle. The blizzard had swept in, cold as any Jo had seen, blanketing the city in white. It muted the outside world, though that was just as likely to be because no one could get out in this mess so they weren’t around to make any noise.
Jo? She liked a bit of noise.
It meant an awful lot of time to do an awful lot of thinking. Where she was, what she was, and what it all was going to mean in a bigger picture. It was too much time, her mind tumbling over details of what might be.
She needed to get better – that was for sure – and so she made up her mind.
Seated at the kitchen table, she was half sprawled over the top of it, staring forlornly out the window into all that nothingness. There was a cup of cocoa at hand, though she had barely touched the steaming mug. Richard had his own mug set before him as he had his head was buried in his paper.
“How did you even get that thing?” The question came out more of a whine than she intended. “It’s been snowing since last night. There’s no way they could have… could have…” she tilted her head, really looking at the paper. “That’s from two days ago, Rich. You can’t tell me you haven’t read that thing already.”
He turned the page, otherwise ignoring her observation.
Jo huffed out a sigh, picking at the edge of the table. “I’m bored.” That was a full on whine, and she didn’t bother trying to hide it.
“You can start shoveling the driveway.”
Ever the helpful sibling. “It’s still snowing,” she grumped.
“Finish your homework.”
“My dog ate it.”
“Clean your room.”
A snort. “Like it was ever messy to begin with.”
“Don’t feel like it.”
“Can’t remember how.”
His paper dropped, and he gave her a scowl so dark, it warmed the cockles of her soul. Oh yes, that certainly helped, but she fought to keep the smile at bay. Her gaze stayed focused on the tabletop as she drew random designs with her fingers. “For pity’s sake, what do you want to do?” The exasperation was clear in his tone.
Her brows came together as she continued her sketch of random designs – this would have been better with water colors. But what did she want to do? “Defensive driving?”
Settling back in his own seat, he studied her for several long moments before issuing a soft sigh. “I’m impressed,” Rich murmured at last. “Have you taken any driving courses as of yet at any of your schools? I should’ve thought of it. Do you even have your permit?” His tongue clicked softly. “I believe Dirk has some experience, too, and I’m sure we can find a class in Boston.” He was speaking to himself, his brain rushing full speed ahead as he worked out options.
Shaking her head, Jo stayed where she was. “Nope. No permit, no driving classes. But really, in defensive driving, isn’t it better to start with a blank slate? That way I learn the way they want me to.”
And suddenly, the train that was her brother’s thoughts came to a full halt as suspicion gleamed in his eyes. “What, precisely, do you consider ‘defensive driving.’?”
“You know, defensive.” She straightened in her seat, hands out as if gripping a steering wheel. “What they do in movies,” she explained as she flung herself left then right, only barely managing to stay in her chair.
“No.” The paper snapped back up and into place to cover his reddened features.
Her muscles went limp, and she drooped dramatically atop the table once more, her arms dangling free at her side as her face slid along the surface. “But, Rich.”
He flipped to the next page. “Go away, Jo.”
So much for that.
* * * * *
Finding Dirk in the den, the mountain of a man was settled comfortably behind the modern desk there. He had been reading more and more lately on all things supernatural. Sure, his son wasn’t exactly ‘normal,’ but this was different. He’d managed to get his hands on some pretty old books, and had locked himself up for hours just pouring over them.
Being stuck inside due to the blizzard was likely giving him some much needed time to focus.
“So….” she drew the one word out since he hadn’t bothered looking up at her when she had come into the room.
Barley a grunt of a response.
She drove her hands into her pockets, bouncing on the balls of her feet. “I was thinking about my training, Dirk. I mean, really, all things considered, I should probably learn how to drive myself. I mean you’re great and all, but you won’t always be there…” she trailed off, going up on her toes.
Not even a grunt this time. He jotted down a note on a yellow pad at his side, the handwriting barley better than chicken-scratch, and entirely illegible.
Maybe it was in code…
Giving up on trying to skim the notes, she went flat footed once more, staring at the top of the man’s head. Still, nothing…
Clearing her throat, Jo edged to his other side. “You know, like what you see in the movies. High speed chases, sharp turns, evasion. How to tell if people are following you…” she trailed off, pursing her lips, shifting from foot to foot.
Dirk jotted another note.
* * * * *
Her face kissed the mat.
“So,” she managed, though the air had been knocked from her lungs. She shoved herself to the side, rolling away just as Hunter landed where she was a moment before. “Can you drive?”
“What?” The question was, admittedly, out of left field. “Of course I ca-” Her leg connected with the back of his knee as she spun on the mat, and the man went sprawling, his response cut off.
“Awesome. Want to teach me?” She took advantage of him being down to get back to her own feet. She had learned it was better to fight him upright rather than trying to wrestle him on the mat.
The man was too fast and too strong as it was, and every time she had tried to press what she thought was an advantage, he tended to turn the tables on her far too quickly. She wanted him off-balance, not herself pinned.
“You want me to teach you how to drive?” He pushed slowly to his feet, rolling his shoulders. “That was a good one, by the way,” he added. “Good job at scrambling away. If this were a real fight, this would be where you would run.”
Run? Psh! Clearly, he forgot who he was talking to.
“Yeah. I figure it’s time I learn to drive.”
“My dad drives you everywhere. Or your brother.”
“Right, because they’re going to be doing that for the rest of my life?” Jo snorted, tossing her head. “Besides, what if the bad guys corner me-”
“I’d kick their asses.”
“– and you weren’t there.”
“And I had to hot-wire a car to get away?”
He paused, blinking several times. “I thought you said you wanted to learn to drive.
“‘I’d have to know how to drive the thing after I hot-wired it to start it,” she pointed out. “And if they were shooting, I’d need to do evasive maneuv-”
Her face kissed the mat.
* * * * *
Rich was working on the dishes by late morning, looking very domestic, all told. He stood over the sink, lost in thought as he continued to scrub the same coffee mug over and over again, his eyes unfocused, staring straight ahead into nothingness.
Must have been one dirty mug.
A glance at the clock on the microwave told her she’d been there for a good ten minutes now, and that mug still wasn’t clean. Arms crossed over her chest, Jo leaned shoulder against into the door jam. “So,” and she drew the word out, waiting until he blinked himself back into reality before continuing. “I was thinking.”
“A dangerous prospect, I know,” her brother sang faintly beneath his breath. The mug was rinsed at long last and set neatly in the drain before he grabbed up a towel. Turning towards her, he dried his hands, arching both brows high. He had his mental armor in place, loins girded, as if he expected the ridiculous from her.
It was as if he knew her or something.
“You were thinking?” he repeated, gesturing for her to continue even as he tossed the towel onto the counter.
“Right.” She gave a firm nod, and would have straightened, but decided to keep her arms crossed over her chest instead. See how long it took for him to notice that one. “Parkour.”
He blinked several times, his brain tripping over itself to keep up with this sudden turn. “Did you say-?” he began as if he hadn’t heard her properly.
“Parkour,” she repeated, louder this time, enthusiasm creeping in. Why hadn’t she thought of this before? “Actually, Rich, it’s kinda brilliant if you think about it. I mean, if you don’t want me to do the whole defensive driving thing,” she pointed out, waving a hand. “I’ve been looking into it. It’ll also teach me how to fall, how to get away, how to-”
“No.” The finality rang in his tone as he turned sharply to head back into the dining room, but she followed, fast on his heels.
She had expected him to argue, to tell her all the reasons why it was a bad idea – not simply shoot it down. “Don’t you even-”
“This morning it was stunt driving, and now parkour?” He snorted, glancing down at his empty wrist, and suddenly stopped in his tracks as he realized his watch had been left behind. “No,” he repeated instead, giving up on the watch for the moment and continued on with his retreat.
Of course she followed. “Oh, c’mon, Rich! It makes all the sense in the world. How many times have bad guys already tried to chase me down since I got to Boston? Maybe instead of training me to fight-” Which she loved. “-we should train me to just get away?”
Her breaks didn’t work quite as well as she wanted as he wheeled about, and she ran smack dab into his chest just as his hands closed about her shoulders. More, though, she was so caught up in the idea that she hadn’t paid attention when he had stopped. “No,” he corrected, his tone softened. “You want an excuse to jump from rooftop to rooftop. And I will not be responsible for encouraging that.”
Maybe he really did know her…
“So,” Jo drew out the one word by several beats as she crept into the garage where Dirk had taken himself. The hood of the black SUV was popped open as if he had been looking at the engine, but at the moment, the vehicle was propped up on jacks, and the huge man had somehow maneuvered to be halfway under the thing, his legs sticking out. “I had an idea.”
The fellow was directly responsible for her well-being. It was quite literally his job, so maybe she could talk him into it.
There was a faint clang from beneath the vehicle, and one foot stopped tapping to the ’80s music blaring over the radio. That meant he was listening, right?
“Ever hear of free running?” she asked as she squatted down by his legs. His other foot stopped tapping, and she could’ve sworn she heard an exasperated sigh, thought it was hard to say with how loud the music was. “Not that I don’t want to do the driving,” she added quickly. “But, I mean, really, what if I can’t get to a car fast enough? And I was all alone, and all that? Parkour is kinda, you know, perfect for that.”
The song changed, and his feet began to dance once more.
She wrapped her arms about her knees as she squatted there, trying desperately to peer beneath the undercarriage to get a read on him, but the space was too cramped, and he was too large. “I mean, it seems like a legit Plan B, don’t you think? Use what you and Kippy have been showing me, then run like hell. Free run,” she corrected. “No way anyone could follow me. Right? Thinking, like… climbing… and running… and jumping…”
That time, it was definitely a sigh she heard, and a moment later, he slid out from beneath the vehicle to stare blankly up at her.
“Is that a no?” she asked in a small voice.
He grabbed up a wrench, and disappeared beneath the vehicle once more.
“Ah, you’re, um, busy. Maybe we can talk about it later then…”
His feet began to bob.
* * * * *
Her face kissed the mat.
“So I was thinking.” She twisted, rolling the opposite direction from before to avoid his pounce. “Again,” she squeezed out as she took a swipe at his legs. Where she had felled him earlier, this time he caught her leg. “You ever hear of free-running?”
She barely had time to ask the question before she was lifted up, and her back hit the wall, air whooshing from her lungs. Not to be cowed, she dropped down before his forearm could lock her throat, and she would be pinned. A punch to the floating rib had him shying backwards.
She tried to avoid his more delicate regions while sparring.
“‘course.” He wasn’t even close to being out of breath, and had barely broken a sweat. He took a couple more steps back, giving her a bit of breathing room.
Even the gesture seriously irked her.
“Well, I was thinkin’…” She launched forward, her shoulder slamming into his stomach in a tackle.
It was like hitting a brick wall – he didn’t so much as grunt at the impact.
Her face kissed the mat.
“About free-running?” he mused, circling around to the side and giving her the chance to actually find her feet.
She was getting faster at it, her hands coming up as her foot slid back into stance. She circled the opposite direction from him, watching, waiting for her opening… “Yeah. I want you to teach me.”
His hands dropped, and he straightened to blink at her. “You want me to-” he cut himself off, laughing and shaking his head. “Are you nuts? I’ll pass on getting shot by your brother.”
“You’d get better.”
“It’d still hurt.” He snorted, hands coming back up. “’sides, Dong-Gu would kick my ass.”
“He’s smaller than you.” It seemed like the most ridiculous argument, coming from her of all people. “Why do you even listen to him?”
“Little people scare me,” and he gave her a wink.
“He’s bigger than me, and you don’t seem terribly scared right now…” A different tactic this time, she closed the distance in a couple of sliding steps, then snapped forward with a kick aimed at his closest knee. She knew it wasn’t going to hit, but it brought her inside his guard, and at the same time, she twisted with her body, swinging with her elbow rather than her fist, aiming for his solar plexus.
Her face kissed the mat…
* * * * *
Sprawled in the middle of the floor, Jo stared up at the arched ceiling. The hardwood was cool against her back, and the firm surface helped to ease the aching muscles. Perhaps sparring twice in one day with Hunter wasn’t the best idea she’d ever had.
It certainly wasn’t the worst by any means, but not the best.
The snow had stopped – at last! – and she could hear the snow trucks on the street just outside. The sun had set, the house had grown mostly quiet except for the soft hum of the furnace.
Who was she kidding? It had been quiet all day! That just wouldn’t do.
And she had an idea…
Struggling to her feet, her muscles voiced their displeasure, but she had her mission, and by golly, she would see it through. Stretching arms as high over her head as they would go, she went up onto her toes, listening to her back crack with satisfying pops. Ah, that was better.
It was Rich’s turn to be in the den, sitting at the desk. He was rocked back in the chair, his feet propped up on the desk itself, legs crossed at the ankles. One arm was draped over his eyes, and his chest rose and feel with the regular rhythm of a restful sleep.
At least someone was able to take a nap.
The door was open just enough for her to peek through. “So, uh, Rich, do we-”
There was no sleep to his voice as he interrupted her, as if he had been waiting for her to speak. Scowling, she leaned her shoulder against the frame, swinging the door itself a little further open then towards her once more. “You don’t even know what I was going to say,” she pointed out sullenly.
His arm slid back to prop behind his head, and he arched a dark brow in her direction. “Rich, can I do a running of the bulls? It’ll help me get faster and avoid a stampede.” His voice had gone higher pitched, almost nasally. “Rich, what about swimming with the sharks? Rich, how about training with police dogs? It’ll train me how to take a hit not to mention learn how to deal with an angry, attacking dog. Rich, can we go to a firing range while I wear your Kevlar vest?”
“I don’t sound like that,” Jo sniffed indignantly. “And I haven’t asked to do anything like that.” Though those last two had some merit…
“You do,” Rich shot back in his normal voice. “And it might as well all be ‘stuff like that.’” She could practically hear the air quotes.
“Actually, I had a different kind of question,” she sniffed indignantly.
His lips twisted in a faint smirk. “You realize we haven’t actually been ‘stuck’ at home that long, right? It’s been two days – two days – and the roads are already starting to clear.” He expelled a sigh, closing his eyes as he settled his head back. “It generally takes longer for cabin fever to kick in,” he muttered darkly beneath his breath, pointedly ignoring her.
That was certainly one approach he could take. She cleared her throat again, hedging closer. “So… do we have a Taser in the house?”
She ducked back behind the door as stack of Post-its went sailing through the air in the direction of her head.
The most amazing aromas were starting to drift from the kitchen, and Jo was unsurprised to find Dirk having taken up residence there. The man was a wonder when it came to food – an added bonus. He was distracted at the moment, however, stirring a bubbling pan of sauce slowly as he stared at his phone, flipping through screens with the occasional tap. He was frowning to himself, paying no attention to what he was actually doing.
Was it something about their kitchen? Or maybe just being snowed in and cut off from the rest of the world that was doing it.
“Dirk?” she ventured tentatively. She had no desire to spook the mountain of a man. He glanced up from his phone, brows arching high in askance. Good enough! She put on her sweetest smile, clasping her hands before her. “Do we happen to have a Taser in the house?”
He blinked slowly back at her, mind churning over the possibility of just what she could be wanting with that.
Clearing her throat again, she took another step forward, both hands lifted. “Hear me out. I’m not a masochist or anything – you put that brow down right now, mister! I was just thinking that, well, I know I zotted the Doc a few months back, but I’ve never actually been tazed. Shocker, I know.” She paused, letting her pun sink in, but at another slow blink, she figured it was likely lost on the man. “Right. So I was thinking, what with everything going on, maybe I should know what it feels like? Make it more effective… in case… the… future…. And you just walked away.”
Jo wrinkled her nose at the still bubbling sauce and moved closer to it to take a sniff. Maybe she’d bypass asking Hunter this time, but it was time to rack her brain for something else. Maybe there was some merit to the Kevlar vest idea Rich spouted off with.
Lifting the abandoned spoon, she risked a taste, straightening immediately with a happy smile. Oh yes, dinner was going to be-
Her body suddenly seized, her back arching, and black and red splotches danced over her vision. The spoon fell from fingers, and she tried to open her mouth to scream or at least say something witty, but her jaw was locked, even as the pain raced through her system.
“I can’t believe you tazed my sister.” Richard’s hand smoothed back through her hair. “C’mon, Josie. Open your eyes.”
He was worried.
Jo tried to move, but her limbs were still not listening to her, and instead she could only emit a low moan. She was stretched out on the floor, and while the coursing pain had stopped, her muscles were still spasming.
“It’ll help her,” Dirk rumbled. “Long term. A little pain now means she’ll better be able to defend herself in the future.”
“Seriously?” it was a snarl from directly overhead, and she felt Rich’s hand flexing against the top of her head.
“Holy shit, what happened to Jo?”
“Your father tazed her.”
Dirk sighed. “She asked me to.”
“Damn. What’d she do?”
“No. She literally asked me to.”
“… why the hell would you listen to Jo?”
“Thank you, Hunter! That’s what I’ve been saying.”
She tried to speak again, but once more, she was rewarded with a low groan. While not actual words, it was a fine start to a ghost impersonation.
“What, are you going to teach her free-running next?”
“Actually, yes. And the driving,” Dirk mused.
“What?” from both of the other men in shocked unison.
Not nearly as shocked as she was.
“Let her sleep it off,” he instructed. “But we need to ramp up her training, and frankly, I think she’s ready.
“She’s not a soldier,” Richard growled.
“But she is a warrior. She’s not going to stop getting into trouble, Mr. Rider.”
“Not like this she won’t.”
“She also needs to understand her own limitations.”
Silence fell between the three of them, and she lost track of how much time must have passed. It felt like hours, but it was more likely only a few minutes. “She’s my baby sister.”
“I know. And we all want to protect her.”
“You tazed her, Dad.”
“Not helping, Kip.”
“He’s helping me.”
“Mr. Rider,” Dirk repeated more firmly. “We were sent here to protect you. Protect both of you. You chose to keep us here just as we chose to stay. To help you, to watch over you. To train her.” There was a pause, and some of the tension drained from her brother’s form. “You’re fine with the hand to hand?”
“Yes,” Richard murmured. “But that’s different.”
“It’s all kind of the same.”
Silence again for several beats, and this time, it was Richard’s turn to sigh. “You may have a point.”
“It happens sometimes,” Dirk mused faintly. “Let’s let her sleep it off. She’ll come out of it soon enough. And we’ll be sure to put boundaries into place.”
“What boundaries? You already tazed her.”
“Hush, Kippy. Go wash up for dinner.”
“Please stop calling me that, Dad…” But his voice was growing distant as he headed off to do just that.
Their voices were getting fuzzier as sleep tugged at her consciousness.
“Is she really going to be alright, Dirk?”
“It was a low-level-”
“That’s not what I mean.”
Another long pause. “She will,” the larger man said at last. “I have an idea for a few other things to start working with her on. Self-control being a major component of that.”
“She doesn’t have any.”
“Hence my point. She’ll learn, of that you have my word.”
“This is ridiculous…” But Richard stood. “I think I need a drink,” and their footsteps receded. “Can we start with regular driving and not stunts?”
“I was more thinking actual defensive driving,” Dirk mused. “Making sure she’s not being followed, how to lose a tail when there is one. Things like that.”
It didn’t matter – none of it mattered. She got the one thing she actually set her mind to at the start of the day…
She was going to get to learn parkour!