Three years later, March 3rd, Tuesday, New York City…
Plop, plop, plop… The sound of rapidly falling rain. Drumming down against the cement, washing away the blood, and the tears. Things had been going so well. She’d gotten a partner, had… had fallen into some sort of love. She almost loved him. It was stupid, so stupid. How could she do something so foolish?
But he was lovely, even if sometimes she wanted to beat the tar out of him. He never failed to make her laugh, or draw even some unwanted emotion out of her. And they worked brilliantly together. He could watch her no matter what, and she watched him while he slept.
Dari had found her a month after she’d parted ways with her Boys. He’d proposed a partnership. He could keep her safe from the hunters, if she’d lend her knowledge and ‘expertise’ to his own efforts. He wanted her magic, more specifically.
It was a fair trade, as she saw it. And then she saw less the fairness, and more the happiness. Happy. She’d been happy, sometimes, these last few years.
But it was inevitably to end. Eventually, someone put out a contract on her, and her partner took care of it. He took a bullet for her.
The would-be assassin lay staring wide-eyed into his own blood, and the rain was washing it away.
Plop, plop, plop…
She couldn’t stop crying. She hadn’t cried this hard since Lucy…
A hand, larger than hers, lifted. Fingers slid into her hair. “Hey, Kitty,” he whispered softly, looking paler by the minute. “Guess this is it, right?”
She shook her head in denial. “I told you I shouldn’t take a partner,” she replied desperately.
He grinned, flashing perfect teeth behind tanned skin. “Don’t mope in the sewers for me, eh?” he asked, hand sliding down. “I wouldn’t like that.”
“Just rest,” she whispered. “I’ll get help.”
“Don’t leave,” he replied. “I don’t want to stare at an angry sky. Bad luck, that…”
Plop, plop, plop…
“If it’s her, I will sacrifice whatever you deem suitable to the gods of the job board,” a man whispered fervently as he drove through traffic of downtown NYC.
A coughing thin voice whispered back, “We can hope, and yet wish not.”
“Hush. You promised you wouldn’t talk.” He parked the dull brown car next to another beat up looking can on wheels and left the rental behind, ghosting through the silent warehouses. “Warehouses, why is it always the industrial districts?”
A long drawn in breath that rattled.
A low humming sigh.
Clenching his teeth, the mercenary in full assassin gear pressed a button on a different mic and listened. “Clear on my end, yours?”
“Nothing here but metal, rust, and old bones,” Wolf murmured back. “You’re sure your Rookie took this?”
“The job was too much the same as last time. Easy pay and a target he already trumped.” Svorak narrowed his gaze as he visually swept the insides of another empty warehouse. “He’s here somewhere.”
“Along with your Bloody Woman.”
If the deities were laughing, yes; if they were smiling, no.
“You know, I used to have a little sister,” Arana murmured. “She was beautiful. Got married… But she died, in childbirth…”
“Yeah…?” Dari mumbled, trying to fight the pull of the blackness. But even while dying, he didn’t miss the loud shriek, like metal sliding on metal. “Someone’s coming… Protect yourself, Kitty.”
“I wanna die, and go with you,” she replied softly.
“You can’t do that, and we both know it,” he muttered. “Take my gun. You know how to use it?”
She picked up the silencer-muffled weapon from beside him, nodding. “I have some practice. Prefer blades, though…”
He coughed hoarsely, and it was almost a laugh. “I know…” He’d seen her victim.
A low whistle blew over the radio and Svorak jerked his head up, brows furrowed. “Wolf?”
“B09: silent. I have visual on a male body. If it’s her, she lives up to her namesake.”
“Damn. I’m on my way.” Svorak sprinted out of the warehouse and counted the large painted numbers as he ran. B06, B07, B08… B09.
She lifted the gun and aimed it at the door, bracing herself for the kick. She could hear approaching footsteps, and her eyes darkened slightly. She knew they’d check here first. The body lay just outside the warehouse, just outside the closed doors. She’d dragged Dari in here for cover… but they’d find her soon.
“You should stand,” Dari muttered.
“Fuck you,” she retorted.
He chuckled. “Baby, I wish I could.”
The footsteps had stopped.
Rounding the stack of broken boxes of the alley, Svorak nearly plowed into the stationary Wolf at a flat-out run. And nearly pushed them both into the chunks of meat that decorated the warehouse’s doorstep.
“Holy motherfucking SHIT!” Wolf snarled out, just bracing enough to stop them from toppling.
Svorak gulped and cautiously pushed himself off the younger man’s stiff shoulders. “Have you seen her?”
Still edgy, his mission partner gestured sharply at the display. “This is all I’ve got, Tiger. You know her more than I do. Is this her calling card?”
“It’s different,” Svorak frowned, surveying the damage. “Last one I saw was hacked into. This one’s hacked apart.”
“Is it your Bloody Woman or not?” the other merc grumbled. “Because whoever is left, is probably inside.” One black gloved hand waved at the smears.
The last time he met Arana near a hit, she hadn’t been walking either. Maybe it was her.
“I can’t hear what they’re saying,” Dari mumbled, barely able to keep his eyes open.
She shook her head. “Me neither… but I can fix that.” She drew a breath, and exhaled. “Ampliphicare.”
Her hearing sharpened, magic boosted by the dead wrong-doer outside, even without the ritual. Shifting, someone noting the blood trail from Dari’s body–Dammit, I knew it!–and a grunt of assent. And then… a familiar voice.
“It’s them,” she whispered, eyes widening.
“Your knights?” he murmured.
“My boys,” she replied with a faint smile. “Dari, I’m going to save you.” She pulled her finger off the trigger, but didn’t lower the gun. “Kiddo!” she called, raising her voice slightly.
“Lady?” There was a thump on the door, and then it was screeching open. “Shit, woman.”
The mercenary in black dropped to his knees by her side and glanced quickly down at the man on the floor. The other stockier man at the door took everything in at a blink and thumbed his mic as he walked back out the door. “Clear, injured extra, need Medic, stretcher, B09.”
The man kneeling peeled back his mask and gave her a weak smile. “Here we go again,” Svorak said in greeting.
“Least it’s not me this time,” she replied with a wan smile. “Dari, Svorak. Svorak, Dari.”
“Yo,” Dari said weakly. “I’d shake your hand, but I think I might contaminate you.”
The brunette woman snorted. “Rest, stupid. We’ll take care of you now. You’re gonna be fine.”
Svorak’s radio crackled to life. “Tiger. Injured status?”
“Gunshot, chest, bleeding out.”
“Strip him. Block the holes. ETA twenty.”
“I don’t usually do this on a first date, Dari,” Svorak muttered, pulling out a knife, “but I’m going to have to strip off your top.” Medic wasn’t talking minutes, he was talking seconds. The black man’s skin was forfeit if he didn’t follow direct orders.
“Damn. There goes my chastity,” the Arab replied, chuckling, and started coughing.
Arana’s expression warped into one of worry. “Breathe, Dari. Carefully, okay? Stop talking,” she murmured fretfully.
The fabric split in a swift clean slice and his torso was laid bare, the wound weeping for a bare second before Svorak pressed a hand down mercilessly. Glancing over at her face, the merc’s lips twisted. “Good luck telling a partner to shut up,” he told her wryly.
There were footsteps at the door, and then other men were jogging through the door. The ex-military man had a moment to sigh in relief before Medic took control.
Three seconds later, Svorak was shunted aside to watch as the prone man was moved to the stretcher.
“Better move it girl or you’re going to miss the ambulance ride,” he said, glancing over at Arana.
She shook her head. “I have something else to do.”
Dari grimaced. “I can understand not going into the hospital, Kitty, but what–” He caught her scowl, and almost sat up. “Shit. Don’t let that stubborn bitch go!”
Shaking his head, Svorak rolled to his feet. “Not a civ hospital. Our own. So you–” He looked at the lone woman. “–have no reason not to follow.”
Arana smiled at them. “Calm down, I’m not doing that, Dari. I’m not stupid, and anyway, the guy that shot you’s dead already.” She shook her head tiredly. “I’m going back to the room to get our stuff, that’s all.”
Dari was glaring at her suspiciously. “So you won’t mind someone coming with you, eh?”
Respecting the growl from Medic, Svorak huffed a sigh. “Fine, I’m tagging along.” He looked at the injured man, holding up both hands. “Not interested in funny business at all,” he vowed.
Wolf at one end, Medic at the other, the stretcher rose smoothly and was hustled towards the door.
“I’m not worried,” Dari called. “She thinks of you as a child!”
‘She’ scowled. “Bah, bastard,” she scoffed, and then they were out the door. She turned to Svorak. “Hotel room, mm? C’mon. You’ll be happy to note that Dari’s forced me to expand my clothing selection.”
“A child, huh?” the man mused. “Well, that’s a sure-fire way to emasculate a man.” He chuckled, pressing on the mic. “Goldie, we found her. She’s good.”
There was a long gusty breath. “Gods demand brandy,” Christoph whispered softly, carefully.
“Name the brand,” Svorak replied smiling faintly.
“Mmm, golden,” Arana murmured, walking cat-like to the door and peeking out. She completely ignored the chunks of human at first, then paused and glanced down at them. “Mm. Pent-up rage really is bad for my skin…”
Following behind her, the last male shrugged. “Good thing it’s raining then. So, hotel?”
She nodded and lead him around it, into the back where a very conspicuous car sat, collecting rainwater. Conspicuous in that cherry-red Camaro way. She dug some keys from her pocket and clicked, auto-unlocking the car. “C’mon then.”
Svorak blinked, frowned, sighed, and slid into the passenger seat. At least it wasn’t lime green.