Author's Note: Much gratitude and love goes out to Ahnkitomi for reading my stories in all different fandoms and for being so very supportive of them all. It means a lot and it keeps me motivated. Thank you!
She could have called the police. She could have left her apartment and made her way to her father's place and told him everything, knowing he would do anything to protect her. She could have simply left town. But Lisa remained seated on her couch, the Browning, in a careful grip, resting in her lap. She was aware of all that Jackson hadn't said—he was coming for her. It was inevitable, and it was merely a matter of time. Maybe it was revenge, or maybe it was just to fulfill the sadistic craving she knew he had somewhere inside of him; whatever the reason, she was prepared. Through dreams she had experienced something like this every night since the red eye, and perhaps, she realized then, in some far part of her, she had known all along that a life without fear was improbable and in fact unattainable.
Seconds ticked by, became minutes; her only movements were the steady rising and falling of her chest and the slow blinking of her eyes. She was clad still in the jeans and tank top she'd worn to the bar, but changing clothes was not an option. Her vigil would go uninterrupted. Her fingers tightened around the Browning's smooth grip almost reflexively; she gained comfort from feeling the familiar grooves, from feeling its weight in her hand. Apprehension danced along her every nerve, but she forced it down, quelled the familiar fear and concentrated solely on gaining calm and clarity. The world had narrowed only to herself and the one that was coming; nothing else mattered. Nothing else could, not if she wanted to survive.
She heard him an immeasurable amount of time later, heard the soft footsteps on the balcony outside her living room window. She had known he wouldn't go for the front door; it was too obvious, too overdone. She watched his shadow move with cautious grace beyond the blinds, watched as he paused at intervals to become absolutely and completely still, listening for a sign—any sign—that he had been noticed. As he reached the door that led from living room to balcony he dropped into a swift crouch, and as she heard the sounds of the latch being manipulated Lisa rose silently and climbed over the couch. On the other side she stood, hefting the Browning steadily while assuming the Weaver stance, one hand over the other. She inhaled deeply as the latch gave with the soft clink of metal and exhaled as the door slid quietly open—
Jackson Rippner stepped into the room.
He didn't see her at first, standing in the shadows with the couch as a barrier before her, the gun in her hand held with a steadiness even a hardened cop would envy. When his eyes, searching every nook, every corner, finally traced a path across the room and alighted on her, she saw for one brief instant a flicker of surprise cross his face. It was gone immediately, leaving his expression unreadable. He said softly, the rasp that tainted his words more pronounced than it was in the club, "What's this?"
Lisa swallowed hard, the only outward sign of her anxiety, before greeting him in an even voice, "Hello, Jack."
"Lisa." He remained still for only a moment longer before he began to move in a slow circling pattern, one foot crossing the other as he continued to face her. He indicated the Browning with a thrust of his chin. "I always thought you'd be more of a Beretta kind of girl."
"A gun is a gun," she told him, pivoting to keep him in her sights.
"True, when all you care about is the difference a bullet can make."
Lisa gave him a thin, tight smile. "You should know better than anyone about bullets."
"Low blow, Lees," he said. He was standing directly in front of her entertainment center, his hands loose at his sides. Everything about his stance indicated he was at complete and total ease, which Lisa didn't doubt, but she also knew that he was ready to act, and could make the transition in half a second. Her aim was centered squarely over his forehead rather than his chest, and he took note of this with a slight twisting of his lips.
"Not taking chances this time?"
"This way I know you'll stay dead."
"Blowing my brains out will ruin your carpet." He told her, his tone mocking in its solemnity.
"But it will make me feel better," she said, and meant it.
He heard the unwavering honesty in her words and smiled; it wasn't a friendly smile. "So why not pull the trigger, Lees? Why let me get this far in?" He began to move again, heading around the easy chair, trying to get behind the furniture just as she was. "You know what will happen if I get too close, don't you?"
He was already too close; she could see the glint in his eye and it swept her suddenly back to the bathroom on the plane when he'd had his hands wrapped around her throat, deliberately and unremorsefully squeezing the life from her … she shook her head to dispel the memory; she couldn't afford to waver in her concentration, not now …
Jackson had rounded the chair and was now directly in front of her; no more than seven feet now separated them. "You haven't answered my question. Why haven't you done it yet? You should have shot me the moment I opened that door-"
He was lunging for her suddenly, exploding into action with a swiftness that was astounding. Time slowed and she found that all that mattered in the world then was what she saw behind the sight of the semiautomatic. As he closed the distance between them, one of his hands tightened into a fist and she knew that he hoped to knock her unconscious, render her helpless—
-Her finger flexed around the trigger once, the thunder of the shot deafening—
-he staggered, the look on his face not only that of shock, but something like satisfaction as well. She vaulted over the couch one handed, refusing to let fall the gun. She landed awkwardly, falling to one knee but whipping around to face him. He was still standing, and in the stunned seconds that followed her eyes found the steadily widening blotch of red on the lower left side of his shirt. He placed both hands on the back of the couch and leaned heavily on them; she could see his arms shaking even from where she crouched. He said thickly, the metallic rasp in his voice now strongly apparent, "I thought you wanted to kill me."
Lisa stared at him. She could have killed him. She could have put a bullet through his brain and dropped him on the spot. She could have put an end to the legacy he'd left in her life. But when she'd had to choose, when she'd had only the merest of moments to make to make that choice, she'd aimed only to wound.
He must have found the expression on her face amusing; he began to laugh but it quickly distorted into choking gasps of pain. He clenched at his wound with his right hand and used the left to keep himself upright. When he could breathe freely again he said, "You've got me now, Lees … crippled. One more shot will finish me off …"
She met his eyes over the short barrel of the Browning; there was no fear in his gaze, no beseeching. All that burned there was a fierce, indomitable will, and in light of all that had just happened it shook Lisa to the core. Her finger tightened imperceptibly around the trigger but relaxed a second later. Jackson saw this, and a pained smiled twisted his lips.
"Good," he rasped. "Now that we've gotten your battle of wills out of the way, we can carry on." He straightened with a muted sound of agony, not removing his hand from the wound. When he continued, his voice was stronger. "I'd say we've got … oh, maybe ten minutes before the cops that your concerned neighbours called arrive. Plenty of time for you to hear me out … have a seat, Lees."
Incredulous, dazed, she merely watched as he carefully moved out from behind the couch. She kept the Browning trained on him, and though every instinct she had was screaming at her to condemn him to death another part of her simply could not do it. When he stood near the window again, he said, "Don't want to sit down? I would, but I don't want to bleed all over your nice furniture." He inhaled sharply, wincing, before going on, "I know seeing me again makes you think all sorts of unhappy thoughts, but I didn't show myself for the reasons you're thinking. You see, my … rebirth, if you will, has put me in a bit of a tough spot. My failure to pull off the Keefe ordeal put me in disfavour with my higher-ups, and when your father did what he had to to protect you and thoughtfully put that bullet through my chest, the higher-ups—like you—thought me dead."
"I was stupid, Lees," he continued, leaning back against her window as though it were suddenly too much effort to stand of his own volition. "I thought they'd give me another chance, but I was wrong. To them I'm a liability, and so is anyone who knows I existed. Do you follow?" Lisa nodded slowly. "Good. You see, they want me dead, and I figured that out fast. But now that I'm on the run and they can't find me, I make them nervous. I know too much. But you know too much, too. You know more about me than most people do, which was carelessness on my behalf, I'll admit. So it's not only me they have to take care of anymore, Lees. It's you, too. If I had been dead as everyone believed, there would have been no issue. But I'm not dead, and I have secrets. And like I said, you know a lot about me …"
He trailed off, closing his eyes as his hand fisted over his wound. Watching him, Lisa felt her blood chill at his words. When his eyes opened again, they regarded her intently. "I'm not the one you have to worry about this time, Lees. Someone else has been hired to take your life."
It was a long moment before she could respond. "You're lying."
"Am I? You're a smart girl, Lisa. Put two and two together."
"Then why … why are you here? Why did you come to me?"
"Call it motivated self interest." A smile flickered across his lips. "They want you dead. I want to screw them over, send them a message. By keeping you alive I piss them off. We both win."
"I don't believe this …" Lisa whispered.
"Oh, believe it. You were ready for me, Lisa, but you won't be ready for them. Trust me. They'll find you and they'll make you beg for death before they're done with you."
"So you-" Lisa said angrily, "you're my saviour? Come to redeem yourself?"
"God, no, nothing as trite as that. Like I said, I'm looking out for myself, and for the time being that happens to include being concerned for your welfare as well."
Lisa stared hard at him before shaking her head. "Bullshit."
All traces of amusement faded from him, leaving his expression cold. "Be smarter than this, Lees. We're running out of time."
He spoke the truth; she could see the spasmodic flashing of red and blue lights beyond her window that spoke of approaching police. He moved to the door and slid it open again, but paused before stepping through. "I'll be back tomorrow. Think hard about what I said."
"Why did you let me shoot you?" she demanded just before he stepped across the threshold.
"So you'd believe me. If I'd wanted to kill you tonight, Lisa, I very easily could have. Remember that."
He held her eyes for only an instant longer before stepping out onto the balcony. She watched his shadow as it raced for the railing and leapt over, the movements hindered somewhat by the wound she'd given him. It was only then that she lowered the Browning; slumping forwards, she stared at the gun in her hands and recalled how terrifying it had been to pull the trigger.
Minutes later, when police pounded on her door and concernedly yelled her name, she rose on wooden legs and went to greet them and to tell them a story about a fictional assailant she'd shot and wounded but hadn't had the fortune to kill.