A/N: Last chapter ='( Thank you to everyone for your encouraging reviews - I had a ton of fun writing this. I have a couple more ideas percolating in my head; hopefully I'll be able to get another story started soon. Anyway, hope you all enjoy the conclusion:
"Could you just do me one favor," Kirihara asked numbly, "and put your mask back on?" She was going to look him in the eye when he killed her - but she couldn't bear the thought of seeing that eye glowing red in the face she'd known as Li's.
He didn't say anything, just looked at her coldly as he removed his gloves. Then he turned and shrugged off his black trench coat, tossing it over the back of a chair. Next he unbuckled his weapons harness, dropping a frightening array of knives to the table with a clatter.
Kirihara watched, fascinated even in the midst of her fear. She'd thought Li was sexy, in a subtle, adorable way - but Hei was something else altogether. He moved like a black jungle cat, the toned muscles of his back and shoulders sliding smoothly beneath his tight black shirt.
He still had a knife strapped to his leg; but instead of unbuckling it, he drew the sharp thin blade. It made no sound as it left its sheath. He was going to cut her throat, she realized with a shiver, remembering Park's lifeless body lying in a pool of blood.
Kirihara wanted to fight, to struggle to the very end, but there was no point; she was helpless, and it galled. So she was going to stare her fate in the eyes. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction of knowing how terrified she was. As if the panther cared whether the rabbit was afraid before he snapped her neck in his jaws.
The Black Reaper stood over her where she sat bound on the sofa. He'd left his mask off, damn him. Kirihara took a deep breath to steady her nerves, then met his empty black eyes as he leaned forward, knife in hand. He didn't flinch from her gaze.
And then…he leaned past her, arms reaching around behind her back. Her face was pressed softly into his shoulder; he smelled like metal and sweat. Almost gently, he cut the zip tie that bound her hands.
Kirihara stifled a gasp of pain as her arms came free. Hei took two steps back to a chair, where he sat hunched forward, elbows on his knees. He watched silently as she rolled her shoulders and tried to get some life back into her muscles.
Her hands and wrists were stained red with dried blood, she saw, but the cuts themselves had stopped bleeding.
He rose from the chair and walked over to the sink by the door. She couldn't see what he was doing, but he returned with a damp towel, which he handed to her wordlessly before taking his seat again. The kind gesture somehow felt alien, coming from someone like him.
Kirihara cleaned her hands as best she could. She looked at Hei, still staring at her expressionlessly. Except now, she thought he looked…tired.
"I told you to say away from Yin," he said at last.
She was a little taken aback by the rebuke. "I know. And I did - I was. But when I was leaving …your…place, I saw a suspicious-looking man driving away with Yin, and I was worried about her." Why was she trying to justify herself to a contractor? Was he only waiting to kill her until she answered his questions?
"Why? Because she's a sweet girl, who I like to think is my friend! I know you don't feel emotions anymore, but you do remember that other people have them, don't you?"
He ignored the dig. "And now that you know Yin is a doll?"
She didn't understand the question at first, but then she remembered Yin's earlier words, when Huang had stepped out. "I still think of her as my friend," Kirihara said, a touch defiantly.
Hei stared at her for a long moment, considering her answer. Then he said, "I'm going to offer you a deal."
"A deal?" She hadn't thought of that possibility - November 11 had told her how BK-201 had stubbornly refused his offer, despite being trapped. "Ok. We can protect you, if you tell us who-"
"Not with the police," he interrupted sharply, a hint of anger in his voice. "With you."
"Huang wants you taken care of. As far as he knows, you only know what you saw tonight. But if I erase just this night from your memory, you'll still remember Yin. You'll still suspect her of being a doll, and you won't let it go, until we end up right back here."
"Why don't you use ME to just erase Yin from my mind completely?" She didn't really want to forget Yin, and she didn't like the idea of being subjected to ME; but if it kept her alive, she wouldn't argue.
"I can't do that with my ability," Hei explained. His face was still hard and expressionless, but somehow it wasn't as unsettling as before. "We have contacts that can handle that sort of thing, with actual ME technology, but that would compromise Yin. The higher-ups would know how independent she's becoming, and reprogram her. I don't want that."
"Why not?" It seemed to her that Yin would be a liability, the way she was acting out on her own. She hadn't told Huang that Kirihara was following them, after all.
"We're partners." Hei said simply. It was an odd thing for a contractor to say about a doll. He's different from the others, the girl had told her.
"Do you…care about her?" Kirihara asked in surprise.
Hei flicked his eyes away from hers, and his shoulders hunched a little. For the first time that night, he looked almost human. "Now that she's starting to regain her emotions and her memories…she might have a second chance. A real life. I don't want to take that away from her," he said quietly.
Does he wish for a second chance too? Kirihara wondered. She'd never heard a contractor talk like this before.
"Alright," she said. "I don't want that either. So what's your solution?"
He gave her a steady look. "I don't kill you, or erase your memories. And in return, you forget, on your own, that you ever met Yin. You forget everything you saw and heard tonight. You stay away from Li."
That last hurt; she knew in her head that Li wasn't a real person, but her heart ached a little to be reminded of it. Li was kind, and funny, and selfless…
"I have one question first," Kirihara said. She had a hundred, but she wasn't going to push her luck.
"When you were hit by KV-464's ability…Officer Asano gave the same story as you. KV-464 really didn't know you were there. You could have just watched him kill Park and Asano, and then taken him out. Why did you risk yourself and step in?"
He didn't answer for a long time, but instead sat staring at the floor near her feet. She started to think he wasn't going to answer at all. Then he raised his eyes to meet hers. "I knew you would be hurt if another officer was killed."
Kirihara stared at him, speechless. He cared about her feelings? Contractors didn't risk themselves for emotional reasons like that, especially not contractors like BK-201. It had to be a lie…but when she looked into his eyes (why had she thought they were black? They were blue, a deep, dark blue), he looked so vulnerable, so human…and she believed him.
"Ok," she said, suddenly decided. "I'll agree to your offer. But what about Huang? What happens when he finds out you didn't kill me?"
Hei gave an offhand shrug, lithe and feline and completely unlike Li. "He told me to deal with you, not kill you. I'll tell him and Mao that I wiped the last few hours from your memory. Huang doesn't know you've met Yin before, and if Mao knows, he won't care, so long as it doesn't threaten him in any way. Keep to your end of the deal: forget Yin, forget 'Li's' connection to BK-201, and you'll be safe."
She couldn't keep the uncertainty from her face. Hei saw her expression, and added quietly, "I owe you for saving my life, remember?"
That eased her mind a little. She found herself smiling for the first time in hours. "Right. But if I run into the Black Reaper on the street, I won't hesitate to shoot."
The corners of Hei's mouth twitched up slightly. "I'd expect nothing less."
"So…what happens next?"
He stood, and looked down at her evenly. "I'm going to have to knock you out."
"What?" At his words, she felt the old fear resurfacing: BK-201 trapping her against his chest, hand around her throat. "Why?"
"Someone's probably looking for you by now," he said, standing over her. "How will you explain your hands? Your broken phone? It has to look real - it's the rational thing to do."
No, killing me outright instead of trusting me is the rational thing to do…
Kirihara stood to face him, gazing directly into his dark eyes.
"Can I trust you, Hei?"
His eyes widened slightly in surprise. She realized suddenly that that was the first time she'd called him by that name. And that they were standing bare inches apart; Kirihara felt the heat rising in her cheeks.
Then his eyes softened. "Yes, Misaki."
She didn't know what made her do it - the depth of truth in his eyes, the sound of her name on his lips, perhaps - but without thinking, she leaned forward and kissed him.
At first he didn't react, startled; but then his arms wrapped protectively around her, and he kissed her back with a hunger that caught her completely off guard. Her mouth opened beneath his as he deepened the kiss, sending shivers down her spine. She leaned into his embrace, reaching up to tangle her fingers in his hair.
When they finally broke apart, breathless, she rested her head in the crook of his neck. His skin was warm on her cheek. "Do I have to forget that, too?" she murmured, fingers tracing the outlines of the firm muscles in his back.
He reached up to tuck a stray lock of hair behind her ear, stroking her cheekbone with his thumb. "Do you want to?" His voice was low and husky; not Li's voice, but not the cold and lifeless voice he'd been using all night either. His own voice.
He held her tight against his chest. The heat from his body had burned away all her lingering fear. "Good. Neither do I." He brushed her forehead with his lips. "Keep your eyes closed."
She obeyed, shuddering sweetly as his hand traced up the nape of her neck to cradle her head. As he tenderly took her lips in his own, a blue glow shone against her eyelids, soft and gentle as starlight.