For the first time since Dave's arrived on it, the hotel's 40th floor is completely silent. After he'd recovered his dinner jacket and Jade changed back into the sparkling evening gown- apparently a spare since it was suddenly free of bloodstains- the pair went about finding Eridan Ampora once and for all. According to the information he was getting from his shades, the floor had been booked solid as a security measure for the sole occupant, but Jade had received satellite thermal imaging reports confirming the presence of at least five living bodies on the floor as of a few minutes ago. Including them, Vriska, and Equius, that leaves one more- and it sure couldn't be any of the thugs whose innards now decorated the walls and ceiling.
Strider's iPhone chirps a little tritone at him, and reflexively he fishes it out of his jacket pocket where he'd put it only moments before. One new text message, number not in his address book.
8gent D8ve Strider, this will not 8e the last time we meeeeeeeet :::;) -Vriska. He saves the number but chooses not to send it to CQ.
"Is that from your new girlfriend?" teases Jade, though with just a hint of sincerity. Her gorgeous green eyes are on him, eliminating any chance he can get away with lying.
"If you mean international criminal Vriska Serket, number 2 on the FBI's most wanted list of trolls, then yes. She totally wants this," says Dave, an unironic smile threatening to festoon itself upon his perfectly inscrutable face as he gestures at himself, tip to toe.
But Jade's already turned away, looking back and forth from her cell phone to the gold numbers adorning the doors in the hallway. "According to the thermal imaging satellite, there should be someone around… here. But like twenty feet that way." She points a pink digit ahead and to her left of the door they're standing in front of. Now in another corridor free of corpses and chunky troll detritus, the way seems much less encumbered. They begin to walk in the direction she'd pointed.
"I don't know why you're mad. You and that bodybuilder troll with the hair seemed to hit it off pretty well," Strider chides, giving Harley a nudge.
"Ok, first of all, eww! Guy probably doesn't even know what a shower is. Secondly, I don't wanna be racist or whatever, but I don't see myself going out with a troll."
"Woah, there it is. You just took the elephant in the room and put a fancy hat on it. Now everyone can see the elephant. And we're all a little embarrassed for you." Dave's neutral tone doesn't belie a hint of mirth.
"Hey, sorry, man, it's just- by the way, it's this door here- something about their skin. It doesn't feel like people skin. It's different."
"Woah, so trolls aren't people now? And wait, just how much troll skin have you been touching, ma'am?"
"A lady doesn't kiss and tell," replies Jade, uncaptchalouging a shotgun. The blond agent doesn't need his shades to inform him it's a Mossberg 500- the small size and lack of a stock are indication enough. She signals him to kick in the door, nods once, and blasts the card-entry lock. Strider slams the heel of his bloodstained shoe into the door, just to the left of the remains of the lock, and the door flies open. Harley takes a deep breath, charges into the room, drops into a low firing position, and inspects the room, eyes on ironsights. She waves Dave into the room after her, never removing her eyes from their task of sweeping for threats. Dave follows in after her, reliable Walther PPK reloaded with new ammo sent from CQ via captcha.
The main room is dark. Strider's amplified-light sunglasses are helping cut through the blackness- irony alert- and his eyes are immediately drawn to the fluttering of the curtains partially concealing an open window. The moon stares in at them, showing up a contrasting white stain among the agent's field of vision. There's no noise, not even enough breeze to rustle the cloth, but Dave doesn't let his guard down for a second.
Strider and Harley proceed to check the rest of the suite's rooms, but there's no sign of the fishtroll. There are definite signs of having been lived in though: one chair has a purple cape flung across it and there are a few precious-looking rings strewn carelessly across the matching desk. A laptop computer of unfamiliar make sits open but the display is blank.
Satisfied that they're alone, Strider turns to his companion. "What do you make of it?"
Harley scratches her freckled nose contemplatively. "Laptop's still here so he probably didn't bail. Then again, he might be expecting a cleanup crew to come along and destroy the evidence. Still though… I just don't think that's what happened."
"Your little feelings have already saved my life one time tonight; I'm inclined to trust them a second. So do we wait, or do we look somewhere else? Air Force sending you anything?"
"No… but we should definitely stay. There's dozens of places to go in a hotel like this: just offhand, he could be at one of three restaurants, the pool, or even at his party with his stupid guests. I don't wanna sound like a creeper, but staying put and waiting to get the drop on him is the right thing to do." She sounds confident, but when she looks at Dave, by her expression it doesn't seem like she's quite made her mind up.
"That's exactly what I think as well. I shall have to remember to draft a nice thank-you letter to the Yankee AF thanking them for sending me a partner of such erudition."
In the amplified-light display of Dave's shades, Jade's blush is obvious. She looks downwards and smiles weakly. "Please… I don't even know what that means…"
"If fact, erudite isn't even close to sufficient to describe you, my dear. After all, to merely compliment your keen instincts and intellect would be a great injustice to your beauty," Dave can't resist continuing, stepping slightly closer to the girl. "Your fair skin, your stunningly green eyes, your charming smile..." She's fidgeting with her fingers nervously. He takes her hands.
"Dave… We're alone in a dark hotel room. I know what you're trying to do." God, those buck teeth are endearing.
Dave leans in until his lips are nearly touching hers. "Then why aren't you trying to get away?"
He releases her hands and they immediately slide to his back, as he wraps his arms around her. Their lips meet in a kiss of passion unrivaled in Dave's memory- and he has a long memory. He strokes her freckled back, her fine shoulders, brings up a hand and tucks a stray lock of jet black hair behind her ear. She's squeezing him so hard it hurts, and he likes it. Acutely aware they may be in danger at any moment only makes the moment that more intense.
Jade's strong, cool hands are everywhere. They trace Dave's jaw, prickling his scratchy 5 o'clock shadow, and bury themselves in his blond hair. He reciprocates by sliding his own calloused hands down Jade's back and settling on the swell of her hips. She reaches a thin arm down and takes one of his hands in hers.
"Dave… There's a time and place for this kind of thing. I want to, I really do… But how about we save it for the celebration? We can do the whole deal- candlelit dinner and everything."
"You'd better stop talking, Harley, everything you say is wonderful I don't think I'm authorized to fall in love with a foreign national."
Jade smiles warmly and looks slightly downwards again, too strong to admit she's embarrassed. Hell, Strider's a bit embarrassed. He's never been a master of his own feelings, especially towards women, but Jade is stirring things up within him he's having approximately no trouble deciphering. Warm, glowing, wonderful feelings. Dave doesn't like them.
Jade nuzzles against his neck, not willing to pull away. Strider strokes the girl's hair, trying not to think about anything and just enjoy the moment. No matter what he feels about it- and really, who cares, sure as hell not him- it's still a good moment. Minutes pass like this.
But as they both knew it would, the moment had to end. Over Jade's soft breathing Dave hears the pat pat pat of footsteps approaching down the carpeted hallway. Reflexively but reluctantly, the two separate and assume their positions. As the footsteps get louder, the sound of Eridan Ampora's muttered voice can be interpreted.
"...Glubbin' Serket, playin' her fucked-up murder games… Vhat's her deal, leavin' a hundred glubbin' corpses in my hallvay, cleanup's goin' to cost a glubbin' fortune… Vhat ze fuck!" He's arrived at the doorway and noticed the snarled twist of brass that was formerly his lock before Harley's Mossberg had its say. Dave can see a little through the door. He sizes the aquatic troll up- about 5'10" before you add 3" for the hair, slight build, admittedly cool purple trousers and vest over a pinstripe shirt, gold cufflinks and watch chain. His bespectacled eyes betray cruelty and malevolence, but mainly a sort of aimless and permanent frustration. So this is Dualscar, the Orphaner.
Before he has the chance to fish- retrieve his cell phone from within his elaborate vest, Jade leaps out from her position behind the door, socks him once right in the nose, and deftly wrenches one of his arms up. She's upcaptchalouging a heavy-duty zip tie to secure his thumbs but before the thing can materialize, Ampora hoists his irregularly-bent arm upwards, sending Jade flying backwards. Dave takes this as a cue to rush into the hallway, leading with his PPK.
"No! He's my mission too! I'm taking this bastard out myself!" yells Jade, rising to her feet. Never one to ruin someone's cool- and that was a pretty cool thing to say, seriously- Strider lowers his gun but keeps the criminal in clear view. Ampora regards the two of them disinterestedly.
"You two are lucky I have such glubbed-up friends… If I had suspected an ambush you'd both be dead as zose useless fuckin' lowbloods decoratin' the hallvay."
Dave's stony facade threatens to crack upon hearing the fishtroll's eastern-European accent. "Dude, you sound like fucking Dracula."
"Vhatever, Englishman. I assume your organization sent you to kill me and I'm sure you feel very cool. You're not special, I've already killed like tventy hitmans."
"Hitmen. Twenty Hitmen." Dave fixes his shades, not that they needed fixing.
"Vhat ze fuck ever!" Before either agent can stop him, Ampora withdraws a stick from his vest. It's about a foot long, maybe ivory or some pale wood, seems like designs are carved in it. It's- it's a fucking magic wand.
Jade immediately loses it and starts cracking up. "Ha ha ha ha! Is that a magic wand? Dave, get a load of that shit! Avada Kedavra! Ha ha ha ha!" Even Dave has to crack a smile, if only because the troll is getting so visibly pissed.
"Seriously, dude, if we interrupted your LARP night, we're really sorry. We can come back later, after you've slain the dragon and recovered the holy chalice. In fact, can I play? I'm not bad with a sword."
Ampora grits his pointy teeth, all three rows of them, and points the thin stick at the busted door. Splinters of wood and metal cast off from the scorched, twisted hole begin to vibrate and one by one fly up to it and fit themselves into the cavity. The metal shifts organically, washing over itself like ripples in a pond before smoothing out completely. As an afterthought, it spits out a lump of lead at the same velocity it went in. It blasts a hole in the door opposite. Jade twitches at the sound but Dave only gazes on.
"Dude. Does that thing-"
"Yes, it is fuckin' magic. Science, actually, like you fuckvits vould understand. Do you feel now you have made a misconclusion in choosing to fuck vis me?"
"No, I was just wondering if it does blowjobs," replies Dave, cool facade starting to slip. Jade grins, also trying to stifle her cackles but not doing as good a job.
"Vhat did you say." Eridan is practically steaming out of his webby ears now.
"Magic-" Dave snorts, trying so hard not to laugh he's actually crying a little, "-Magic blowjobs." And then he loses it for real.
Standing between the two laughing agents Eridan's gray hands go white clutching his wand and the mask of rage that is his face seems poised to explode. "You first." He turns to Dave, lifts his wand, and starts to walk forward.
"Hey, I was chatting with your mate Feferi earlier. At the risk of a verbal gag, you could call her quite a catch." Dave's trigger finger slides innocuously past the trigger guard, finding the familiar curve of the trigger and staying the fuck put.
"How dare you glubbin' speak her name." Eridan's shitty wand starts crackling with luminescent energy.
"I don't know how you netted a babe like her!" called Jade. Now it's on.
"Yeah, someone bass-ackwards like you." Dave replies… to Jade, practically ignoring Eridan at this point.
"Aww, I think he's a-dory-ble!"
"Please. His expression is making me eel."
"Vould you two unbeciles please shut ze fuck up!"
"Fine. This is going to go down one of two ways, Fins. Either you come with us willingly and unharmed, or I fail to keep my trigger-happy companion here docile long enough for that to be a possibility."
"You sink sreatenin' me vill cause me to simply give up? I'm ze most vanted troll in ze vorld, and I did not get zat vay by surrenderink to fucknuts like you!"
"Suit yourself." Dave quips, leveling his PPK at the fishtroll's knees and firing twice. Energy tears through the wand in Ampora's hand and he whips it downwards. The bullets are deflected mid-route and fly off in different directions, ripping holes in the walls to his left and right.
His maneuver gives Strider enough time to break into a run. Closing the gap between them, he begins to uncaptchalouge his trusty saber. Before it can appear, though, with a strange popping sound it simply fades out.
"I don't sink so," utters the aquatic troll, wand now violently shaking. "It seems my science is simply better zen yours."
"I don't need science to hand you your ass," replies Dave, holstering his gun and crouching in a Krav Maga stance.
Jade, from beyond his foe, calls out. "Oh please, let me do it!" And without waiting for an answer she leaps at the troll in what can an only be called an acrobatic fucking maneuver.
Dave has a bit of trouble following what happens next. Jade's on the troll in an instant, fists flying at lightning speed. Ampora slashes wildly with his wand, leaving glowing rents in the air which the female agent can't seem to penetrate. She's everywhere, sweeping low kicks following high strikes in a blurringly quick chain, but she just can't land a blow- every strike she attempts is thwarted by the flowing white energy.
With a roar, Eridan draws his wand back and whips it at her. Although nothing physically makes contact with her, Jade flies back like a piece of paper caught in an updraft and slams against the wall, toppling and landing in a heap twenty feet down the hallway. There's a steaming scorch on her chest, angry red against her pale skin.
"Jade!" Calls Strider, accidentally allowing concern to taint the perfectly calm affect of his voice. He can't get to her without passing the troll, now turned to face him. Evenly, slowly, he slides the shades off his face, folds the temples, and puts them in his pocket. "Okay, Ampora, you did it. You pissed me off a little bit."
His red eyes burn.
"You look like a glubbin' freak. I get zat you're supposed to be super cool secret agent fella but like I said before, you're not special! You're not even zat good lookin'."
From the corner of his crimson eye, Dave sees Jade rising to her feet behind Eridan. He's tempted to rejoin the comment, but Dave knows when it's time to speak and when it's time to let your actions speak for you. Without another word, the agent throws himself at the troll, loosing a flurry of strikes. Before he can even make contact, though, Ampora flicks his wand again and Dave's fists find only air- there's an impenetrable resistance that's keeping him from getting too close, a sort of shield he can't pass through. With another flick of the pale stick he sends Dave flying backwards, sprawling in midair and bouncing once on the ground before coming to a stop some thirty feet away. He's up in a flash, but before he can close the gap and attack again, Eridan fires jagged bolts of pure white energy at him from the tip of his wand.
"That's uncomfortably phallic, bro," yells Dave, nimbly dodging the blasts, before drawing his PPK and firing a couple shots of his own. Predictably they hit nothing but ricochet off the troll's shield. The action produces the desired effect, though; Jade's silently poised to strike behind Ampora, and when he draws the wand down in a slashing motion she springs at him from behind, disarming him of the wand and simultaneously bringing a quick elbow to the back of his neck. Unprepared for the assault, he reels forward, and finding the wand suddenly missing, he balls his hands into fists.
"Motherfuckers!" he yells, spinning to face Jade. He assumes a boxer's stance, cracks his neck, and brings up his guard. Upon recognizing his technique, Jade's stance loosens slightly and she draws one arm back slowly, base much wider than before. Dave's seen this before, it must be the wushu she referred to earlier- clearly not a brag. Eridan opens with a speedy lunge and a left jab for the face, which Jade easily avoids, flowing like water around his arm and striking his face with a lightning-fast palm. He shrugs it off and sends his right fist hurtling towards her, but she's much too fast even for him to catch. She easily dodges or blocks every one of his punches, following up with quick strikes that leave him off-balance and disoriented. When he guards his head she attacks his torso, when he drops his guard she batters his face relentlessly. Before long, her whirling strikes and whip-quick attacks meet no resistance- the troll's got no strength left to fight back.
"It's over, motherfucker!" cries Jade, and with a crushing blow to his nose knocks him clean off his feet. He lands face-down, between her and Dave. The girl's pale fists are lightly stained with splatters of purple blood, her breathing still heavy from exertion. After a brief victorious moment, she reaches down to zip-tie his hands like she'd been planning earlier.
Before Dave can even process his movement, the troll is on his feet, one arm around Harley's neck, the other holding a small gold blade to her pale throat. "Zought you'd finished me off zat qvickly? Ha!" He wiggles the knife slightly at her throat and a droplet of scarlet blood wells from her pale skin onto the blade's surface. She doesn't make a sound, her beautiful face betraying surprise, shock maybe, but not fear.
Dave's got his PPK trained at the base of Ampora's zigzag horn, ready at a millisecond's notice to divide his head into fractions. But he's unable to make the shot- hurting Jade would be unthinkable and the seizing wrench of his enemy's death could result in her dying too. "Strider! Ergh- Shoot him!" yells the girl. "I'll be fine!"
The scenario plays out a hundred times in the agent's head. He shoots the troll, the girl lives. He shoots the troll, the girl dies immediately. He shoots the troll, troll cuts her bad, he gets her to the hospital as fast as he can and she makes it. She smiles weakly at him, green eyes a bit dull but still open, still curious and thirsty for life. Or she doesn't, and he clutches her smooth hand as her life seeps away. He shoots at the troll and misses, he slices her neck, blood and she can't scream, God no, it's too painful-
He gives up. This troll, just like Serket, has too much pride- too much to just kill her after Dave's dropped his gun. Above all, she's the one who must survive the night. In this mission she's the star. It's her.
Strider lifts his hands and twirls the PPK to dangle by its trigger guard from his trigger finger. "Ok, Ampora. Let the girl go and I'll do what you say."
"Zat's more like it. Now, keep your glubbin' fronds in ze air," he's loosened his grip on the girl, lowering a hand to dig into his waistband for a gold revolver. "like zat, and turn around. Toss avay your gun."
He's mixing a cocktail of time and probability equations, instinct, gut feeling. A little math, a little luck- actually quite a bit of luck- will yield the perfect result. The only acceptable result. He's Senior Agent Dave Strider, and his performance is impeccable. Same every time, like a scratched record.
"Walk." Eridan Ampora commands, the W slightly wavering. He raises the gun, draws back the hammer. He loosens the girl just that little bit more. Dave's PPK lies on the ground. One of the light fixtures on the wall is flickering, electronics probably damaged by Eridan's sciency magic beams. In perfect rhythm it flashes slightly brighter in the hallway. Giving Dave a beat to follow was a mistake. Five. Six. Five six seven eight.
One. Jade yells "Now!" and ducks out of Ampora's grasp, rolls to the side, springs up to her feet.
Two. Dave whips around, dives for his PPK and snatches it in a perfect roll.
Three. Eridan grits his rows of jagged shark teeth and with a resounding Crack fires his revolver at Dave. A plume of flame precedes the slug out of the barrel, and it spins towards him many times faster than he can even think. It slams into the ground an inch to his left.
Four. He stops in a crouched firing stance, aims, fires. three shots. Three hits, shoulder bicep hip.
Five. Jade dashes behind him, sparkling dress flowing behind her movements like a living shadow. She begins to uncaptchalouge a military issue M9.
Six. Shock rips through the Troll as rich purple blood sprays from his wounds. He drops his revolver and slumps forward, landing on his knees. Dave's got his gun trained right on the trolls thinkpan. With a groan, he holds his wounded right arm with his left hand. Jade's holding her M9 to his temple.
Seven. "...Fuck you," he mumbles, just before Jade brings the butt of her handgun down on the crown of his head. He falls forward, unconscious.
Eight. Dave withdraws his shades from his pocket, flicks the temples open, and slides them on.
Clouds draw across the night sky, hazily reflecting the glowing city lights below. The moon is bright and crescent-shaped, and a light breeze rustles the agents' hair as they stand on the roof, watching a USAF helicopter carrying the unconscious troll away, arms around waists. Jade's head is resting on Dave's shoulder, but suddenly she raises it and faces him.
The two agents look at each other for a moment. Jade begins. "You saved-"
"Don't mention it. If anything, we're even," Replies Dave.
She gingerly reaches up and takes his sunglasses off. "Your eyes are beautiful. I've never seen-"
Dave cuts her off. "Jade. Do you get any leave time after missions?" Without even knowing why, he's trying once more to be nonchalant. It doesn't take. He's simply overflowing with affection for this girl, this amazing woman who's as sharp and deadly as she is beautiful.
"I can take leave, if that's what you mean," She replies, a half-smile drawing across her freckled face.
"Then take some motherfucking leave." He draws her close, breathing in her gunpowder scent.
"Roger that, commander. Now then, do you know any good bars around here? I believe you owe me a drink."