A Deeper Shade of Black

Set sometime in the first series. When? Doesn't matter, really!

Disclaimer: Don't own, not making any money off of this.

It happened so fast.

Misaki was used to hearing that phrase from onlookers after the fact, as well as reading it in eyewitness accounts. It was a cliché in police work, a signal that the officer needed to weed out the probable from the confused while working through a crime scenario.

Unfortunately, clichés weren't limited to innocent bystanders. The situation she currently found herself in had played out so many times in the previous months it was also a cliché, at least for members of Section 4.

A contractor was active on the top of a Tokyo skyscraper (what was it about rooftops that attracted contractors, anyway?). A hurried call from Kanami during the rush over revealed that BK-201's star was pulsing brightly. When the squad burst through the door, they interrupted a standoff between BK-201 and two other men Misaki didn't recognize, although she assumed they were also contractors. Members of her squad called out their usual catch phrases ("Freeze!" or "Hands up!" or "You're under arrest!", depending) as they sunk into their stances, pistols leveled at whichever man was closest. BK-201, as he often did when lacking an immediate hostage to hide behind, promptly put his hands up. He was deceptive that way, removing himself as a threat so the police would focus on the ones that didn't surrender, gone by the time anyone remembered to cuff him. Scowling, Misaki kept her weapon on him.

The other two men whipped aside their long coats. One displayed a nasty-looking sawed-off shotgun; the other wielded what looked like an old-fashioned tommy gun.

Completely thrown off by the change in the usual confrontation scenario, Misaki froze in place. She had been prepared for electrical storms, explosive bodily fluids, anti-gravity capabilities. Compared to the supernatural powers usually flung around when contractors crossed paths, mere guns were just mundane.

When the man with the tommy gun swept a deadly arc of bullets across the rooftop, mundane no longer seemed the appropriate word.

She didn't think about dying because (that cliché again, she realized later) there wasn't time to think. Instinct took over, although the instinct of a police officer was different than that of a random passerby, protect rather than survive. Misaki first shoved her left hand to the side, driving the heel of her palm against the shoulder of the squad member next to her. He went sprawling before the stream of bullets reached him, more-or-less safe under the barrage. Misaki drew fire by rolling in the other direction, coming up on one knee with her pistol up, knowing even as she did so she was likely to be bisected by the bullets before she could draw a bead on her target.

When she tried to site down the pistol's barrel, however, black swarmed her vision. It felt as if her upper arm was seized (she never imagined being shot would feel the same as being grabbed) before centrifugal force spun her around, sending her nose-first into the concrete wall. Unrelenting pressure on her back forced air from her lungs. She turned her head, wincing as her cheek scraped against the rough wall. Dust from bullets kicked up in front of her face, approaching fast. Before she could flinch, black covered her vision again. Only this time, "black" was shaped like a hand, slapped flat next to her head as the bullets closed in.

Someone was shielding her. Which was ridiculous; stopping bullets with a human body only worked in movies. In real life, especially at close range, projectiles tore through the flesh of multiple people, only deflected if bone was struck. Judging from what she glimpsed before black took over her sight, this ordinance was powerful enough to blow through bones rather than ricochet off.

Some idiot was going to make the papers tomorrow with a tragic tale of good samaritanism gone wrong.

Misaki felt the person over her grunt as the projectiles hit, the rat-a-tat sound flattening in pitch as the bullets struck flesh instead of concrete. The bullets themselves she felt as sharp points of pressure in a path across her shoulders and back as they hit the man covering her, forcing that part of him into her more heavily for a fraction of a second. She was surprised she wasn't in greater pain. What hurt the most was her nose. She scrunched it up, hoping it wasn't broken, and felt her glasses shift unevenly before tilting off her face.

Incredibly, she was still conscious enough to hear the pitch change again as the bullets swept over them and continued to the concrete on the other side.

The view in front of her eyes changed from black to white, a dull ceramic ping reverberating in her ears. "Ow," grumbled a low voice. Misaki's eyes rounded in astonishment as she stared at the porcelain rim of a mask, dark strands of hair poking around the mask's edges. Neither an innocent bystander nor one of her men; rather, she had been shielded by the most wanted contractor in the constellations. His chin set heavily on her shoulder as his forehead rested against the wall next to her face. Glancing down, Misaki saw the glint of still-smoking spent bullets gathered at their feet. Several were smashed into compacted cylinders, demonstrating that they had struck something. Somehow, he really had blocked the barrage with his body.

She wondered, just for a second, if immortality rather than electricity was BK-201's true contractor ability. It would explain a few things…

"Chief!" shouted Saito in a panicked voice, and her brain began to function normally again.

Exhaling sharply, Misaki drove her left elbow back as hard as she could. There was a sharper grunt from the man covering her as she struck his sternum, his stance easing just enough for her to spin around. The barrel of her pistol struck under his chin, forcing his head back. One squeeze of the trigger, and she'd blow the top of his head off.

There was no hesitation on her side, only amazing reflexes on his. Fingers wrapped around her wrist, altering the trajectory by the fraction needed. When her own fingers tightened in involuntarily response, the shot scraped past his head. Powder burns marked the bullet's path, a light tracing against the white mask that went from cheek to the corner of his eye. He pressed just so, forcing her hand open. Misaki's regulation pistol clattered to the ground.

Although it happened so fast was a cliché in police work, so was everything happened in slow motion. Time stopped as they stood frozen in position, Misaki shoved against the wall and smashed against BK-201's chest, his right arm still braced next to her head, his left out to the side as he restrained her weapon hand. Misaki's neck craned painfully back as she tried to look into the face of the man holding her. There was only the featureless mask and a brief glint of reflected light behind the mask's blank eye sockets before BK-201's head turned to the side.

"Look out, he has a hostage!"

What? thought Misaki in astonishment. Who? One of her men, an unlucky civilian? She attempted to free herself, trying to turn BK-201's grasp on her into a judo throw. Hampered because of the limited space available for maneuvering, she could do little more than grab the loose fabric under his collar.

BK-201 slid his hand from her wrist to her arm, dropping it to her waist. His arm looped around her. He tugged up experimentally right as Misaki twined her leg around his, trying to topple him so she could see what was happening and evaluate the hostage situation. What little purchase she obtained evaporated as his arm tightened, pulling her off her feet. His other arm shot out to the side. A low metallic click was followed by a peculiar slithering sound, then she was flying sideways as the mechanism hidden in his sleeve activated. Suddenly the rooftop was sliding away, shouts and yells compressed and distant. A hasty glance over her shoulder showed the other two criminals down, covered by her men, Saito at the roof's edge staring after her in horror. "Don't shoot, you'll hit the hostage! Chief! Chief!"

It took an instant to realize Saito meant her.

Somehow BK-201 manipulated his wire to bend around a building, and the rooftop could no longer be seen. Still in mid-air he calmly detached the wire and sent out another in a different direction, down and to the side. It felt as if her body paused before acknowledging the sharp change in direction.

BK-201 casually detached that wire as well, shooting out a new one that took them in yet another direction. He's being random, so they can't track from his last trajectory, Misaki realized. It was working. She knew Tokyo well, but not from ten stories up. She had no idea where the original building was, and no way to know where they were going.

One thing she did know was that a kidnapping victim had a much slimmer chance of survival once transported away from the scene.

She dropped her head back and snapped it forward with as much force as she could manage, aiming for the soft tissue of his throat. It felt lower, perhaps where his collarbones met, but it still startled him into releasing the wire before he meant to. They were briefly in free-fall as he retracted the wire.

"I'm going to drop you," BK-201 bit out. It sounded more like a warning than a threat. Misaki snarled and tried to strike him again. His hand shifted from her waist to fold over her back, fingers spread against the nape of her neck to force her still. He flipped suddenly, straightening so his legs pointed towards the distant ground, plummeting directly down. Misaki let out a yelp that was not (she told herself) a scream. They were far too high up to survive this. She tightened her grip around his shoulders and squeezed her eyes shut, burying her face against his chest. There was a jarring thud. The top of her head bumped under his chin, clicking his teeth together forcefully. "Ow," he muttered for the second time.

Misaki opened first one eye, and then the other. She was alive. When she looked up to try and see where she was, the white of the mask swam over her. She blinked.

BK-201 knelt on the ground, one arm behind her shoulders with the other underneath her knees, cradling her against his chest.

And her arms were free.

Misaki pulled her elbow back, flattened her hand, and struck him as hard as she could in the middle of his chest. BK-201 went sprawling. She scrambled off him, hand instinctively grasping for her gun, only to come up empty-handed as her fingertips brushed an empty holster. Sinking into a defensive stance, she put her elbows out and her hands in front of her, ready to fend him off as best she could.

Grimly, Misaki acknowledged the futility. Even so, she wasn't going down without a fight. She cast determined glances to either side, trying to see the terrain. A park, she thought, dark and shrubby, city lights an unhelpful, distant glow that cast no illumination. She could discern nothing other than fuzzy outlines and deeper shades of black.

BK-201 propped himself up on his elbows. The mask stared up at her (or so it seemed). It was the most distinct thing in this dark place. After a long pause, he rose smoothly to his feet. Was he leaning in her direction?

"Stay back," Misaki warned.

He held up his hands in a placating gesture, his posture curiously defensive. Something in the way he stood sparked a synapse in the back of her brain. Then his hands dropped, the black fabric of his coat settled around him, and what-ever-it-was vaporized as he became one with the dark. The expressionless white mask appeared to float in midair.

It was an eerie effect, especially without her glasses.

Refusing to be intimidated, Misaki went into full interrogation mode. "What was that all about?" she demanded. "Who were those men?"

His voice was pitched unnaturally low, timbre further disguised by the smothering mask. "Emissaries from a rival, with an offer. They weren't contractors. However, they saw me protect you, which means they may try to convince me by threatening you."

Misaki's eyes narrowed, partially to help her think, mostly a squint to try and pick up something from his body language that could offer a clue as to his mood and intent. It would help if she could actually see some part of his body… "They don't know how contractors work, then. There's no rational reason for you to protect me."

"No," agreed BK-201, "which means they probably assume an irrational one exists." The floating white mask skewed to one side. Although intellectually Misaki knew the man wearing it merely tilted his head, it was still a creepy sight. "By now whoever was observing the fight knows who you are, where you work, and probably has developed a working hypothesis as to why your unit has been so ineffectual at capturing me over the past year."

Misaki's scowl deepened. BK-201's continued freedom was hardly her fault, or the fault of her men. Preternatural powers gave him a distinct (and unfair) advantage. The rest of his comment she dismissed with a snort. "They'll think I'm having an affair with you? That's absurd. Anyone who knows me knows I don't have time to date, let alone carry on a clandestine affair with the most wanted contractor in Tokyo."

The mask skewed in the other direction. "Or perhaps they would hypothesize you don't have time for a social life because you're carrying on a clandestine affair. I've heard they can be time-consuming."

BK-201 was passing judgment on her personal life? That stung. "I have a social life!" Misaki said indignantly. "I go to lunch with my men, and I go to the mall with Kanami, and – " she started to mention Li-kun before catching herself, realizing she sounded pathetic. Besides, helping Li-kun pick out underwear for another woman didn't really fit neatly under "evidence of acceptable social activities."

BK-201 chuckled, the sound muffled behind the mask.

Misaki lost her temper. She closed the gap between then, hands reaching for the edge of the mask. He grabbed her by the wrist, grip vice-like rather than painful. "No peeking."

Misaki glared at the gloved fingers, so wide they encompassed nearly half of her forearm. There was a pale glimmer of skin where his coat slid down his arm. Staring at the thin strip of flesh instead of the disorienting mask made him more solid, less ephemeral. "I'm tired of holding a conversation with a mask!"

"It's for your own protection," he said unexpectedly. "People who associate my designation with a face end up dead."

"According to you, your employer's rival thinks I've seen considerably more than your face!"

"True. A shame to waste that, isn't it?"

"What–?" she started before she was spun around. For the second time that night her back pressed against his front. He kept his grip on her wrist, twisting her arm behind her waist to restrict her movements. It wasn't painful (at least, not yet). There was a flash of white by her shoulder before something pushed against her stomach. Looking down, she was startled to see the mask staring up at her. How did he do that? she wondered before squinting enough to visually trace the fingertip-shaped shadows at the mask's edges.

His mask was off.

His mask was off.

The heel of his left hand was pressed into her stomach to hold her still, the mask staring up at her as he held it scissored between his fingers, which meant all she had to do was tilt her chin up and roll her eyes back and she would see him.

She took in a calming breath to steady her nerves. Before she could do more, however, his hair brushed against the side of her face. Warm breath washed over her neck, a cool nose nudged her jaw.

"What are you doing?" demanded Misaki. Her voice came out strangely husky, not the high-pitched squeak she expected.

"Hmmm?" His hum was noncommittal, although Misaki thought what do you think I'm doing? was somehow encoded into the single syllable.

She really should be panicking, fighting, screaming her lungs out. Instead her muscles were slowly relaxing, melting her into the male body supporting her weight. "Contractors aren't supposed to –"

"Aren't supposed to what? Feel?" The hand on her stomach flexed to push her more firmly against him, making Misaki very aware that whatever else BK-201 was feeling, lust was high on the list. "We've been playing this game for so long. Aren't you tired of it?" His voice was calm, composed, logical. "Enough chasing. I'll meet with you, Section-Chief Misaki Kirihara."

Misaki desperately tried to grasp her quickly fading common sense. "You'll give yourself up?"

An amused chuckle was smothered against her neck. She shuddered.

"If you want to call it that, that's fine with me," he murmured. "I'll surrender to you, Section-Chief Misaki Kirihara. There are a few rules. Only at night. Only in the dark. None of your friends around. If they are, I'll know." His breath ghosted against her neck, the rhythm calm and steady. "I won't answer any questions. I won't ask any questions. Other than that, I'll do whatever you want."

Only a contractor could propose an illicit tryst between enemies in a manner that made it appear rational.

Crazy, she thought. He's a contractor. This is impossible. This would be meaningless to him. It would be meaningless to me. It's crazy.

His mouth touched her skin, just above the so-stiff collar of her uniform. "Take a step outside reality, Section-Chief Misaki Kirihara."

"Yes," she breathed.