2/1/12 – I give you no excuses for I've done nothing wrong.
(AN: This episode is meant to happen at random in the middle of the series)
(All characters used belong to the creator of the series. Rifka alone belongs to me)
(Surprised to see her again? You shouldn't be!)
Hei landed silently on the patio outside the targeted building. The window was open, just as expected. He slipped inside, his long coat rustling softly around him. Immediately he knew something had gone wrong, for movement stirred across the room. Another figure dressed in black, and she was holding the file!
She looked sharply in his direction and he tensed, drawing his blade, but there was no red spark, no attack, none of the warning signs he had come to expect from Contractor combat. He waited, and maybe she was waiting too, but in the end she was the one that acted first. Springing into motion, she slung a short knife at him, which he easily jumped back to avoid. When it struck solidly into the floor at his feet, he instantly knew it had been a diversion.
She was speeding past him, and she was fast. With a gasp he watched her dive out the open window, and the moonlight washed over her face, masked but for a strip that left her bewitching dark eyes free to glance back at him. Did he imagine she was smiling?
He launched himself out of the window after her and caught sight of her rushing across the rooftops and pursued. That file was his mission; she could not be allowed to take off with it! He caught up to her quickly and she glanced at him as she dodged his attempts to capture her ankles or wrists in his wire.
"Are you still here?" She called to him, playfully.
"Give me the file!"
"Huh-uh, Sugar, no way!"
He followed her over rooftops and skylights of offices and houses alike. She danced over thin fences and did flips with a reckless assurance he had never witnessed before. It was almost as though things put themselves into her path just so her momentum never had to stop. He wondered how long she could keep it up when she suddenly dug her heels in to stop and spun herself to face him, kicking out a leg to cut her heel at his jaw.
She nearly connected. He had a split second to dodge, coming to a stop to stare at her through his mask. She was only panting slightly, just like he was, and there was a glint in her eyes that drove him mad with curiosity.
"Who are you?" He growled at her.
"Who are any of us, behind our masks?" She asked him in response, her fingertips drifting over the edge of her mask. Her voice was husky and quiet, her tone thoughtful rather than mocking.
"The file; give it to me now!"
"I can't. I was hired to retrieve it."
"Are you authorized to kill for it?"
He noticed a shift in her body at his question; it had put her on her guard. "No."
He had to admire her response time. He sprang at her but with a subtle shift in her powerful legs she had sidestepped him and was spinning sharply in a counter attack. They danced on the rooftops, cutting, swinging, and kicking. They flipped and spun, came together, blocked, and rushed apart. He had never met anyone that could last so long in hand to hand against him.
The next attack they came together again, forearms blocking each other's fists, and she was staring up at him with a ferocious look of excitement in her eyes as their bodies strained against each other. "All right, gorgeous, take the file… But you have to admit, you really enjoyed the chase, didn't you?"
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about whatever's making your heart beat so fast…"
Her body was suddenly pressing against him, her hand over his heart. He felt his sweat chill on his skin, abruptly becoming aware of how hard his heart was pounding, how hot his skin had become. Her body was sleek, powerful, but also soft and inviting. He gasped and felt her lips on his ear through her mask.
"Thanks for the wild night, stranger…" She gave a low, throaty laugh and pushed away from him, springing backward into a series of flips that ended in a dive off the side of the building they were on. He gasped again and rushed to follow her, hearing a soft splash. When he reached the edge, he saw they were near the river, and he couldn't even see the ripples she had made in the water.
Turning around, he saw the file was on the ground and went to pick it up. Tonight had been very, very strange…
The next day, he met with Huang, Mao and Yin in the park. He folded his arms under his head and gazed up at the sky, feeling the subtle spring heat against his skin.
"You're sure it was a woman?" Mao asked again.
Hei's memory flashed back. Illuminated against the city lights, in a black leotard with a cowl, was the clear silhouette. Full, softly curving hips, muscular thighs, a generous bust… And he had chased her over enough rooftops to know her rear end was amazingly tight...
He blinked sharply, realizing he was blushing. Thankfully, the others couldn't see. "It was a woman, I'm sure. But…"
"What, Hei?" Huang said sharply.
"I don't think she was a Contractor. She never used any powers against me."
"How is that possible, Hei?" asked Mao, "You would surely have taken her down in seconds if she was just a normal human!"
"She was definitely human…" Hei gazed up at the sky again. "But she was definitely not normal…"
When he returned to his apartment, he greeted his landlady and neighbors cheerfully as he went up to his room with his groceries. He got ready to cook but stopped, thoughtfully sliding his hand inside his shirt over his heart.
His memory flashed back again to the chase. Had he really been pursuing the file? Or had he really been trying to catch her? His heart thudded against his fingers and he pulled his hand out quickly, breathing deeply. Calming himself, he prepared his meal and sat down to eat.
When he had finished eating and washing his dishes, he put his coat back on and headed out again. He spent a few hours working at some of his quieter temp jobs, stocking store rooms, shelving books, washing dishes, and as it got dark he decided to go for a walk around the city before going back to the apartment to rest.
He was meandering idly down the sidewalk when he saw it; in a puddle by the road, a specter was watching him, humming gently.
"Yin, is that you?" He approached it and felt her presence, calling him to the meeting place. He hurried back to the park and found the group waiting for him. Huang looked angry – which wasn't saying much, he certainly never looked happy.
"Syndicate says there's a page missing from the file, Hei," the old man growled at him, "you fucked up!"
"Huang, knock it off!" Mao snapped at him, "There's no way he would have known. No one knew what was in the file, how would we know something was missing?"
Hei controlled his anger, not letting it show on his face. "It was that woman. She had been in that room for a long time before I got there, long enough to take a page and hide it. That must be why she gave up so easily – she had what she wanted."
"If that's the case, though…" He thought to himself, "Why did she make me chase her for so long?"
"Syndicate had little to no Intel on this woman, Hei," Mao told him seriously, "Not her real identity, anyway. She's a cat burglar, sometimes for hire, suspected of being behind a series of high-profile thefts. Jewels, statues, paintings, bank security boxes, vaults of any shape and size… If it exists and holds something priceless in it, she's broken into it and stolen it. If the rumors are true, she's the very best at getting into high-security areas."
"That explains how she got into that room before I did…" Hei muttered.
"Exactly… She never leaves a calling card, at least, not one the police have picked up on. The single witness report can only say they saw a figure in black running away across the roof, doing a number of complicated flips."
"That's her M.O. all right. The things she was doing were nuts…"
"The Syndicate is working on a lure, so be ready to collect her when she turns up. And Hei," Mao looked up at him through his blue kitty eyes, "They want this one alive."
"Understood…" He turned away from the group and set out again, fitting his radio bud into his ear. The others would contact him immediately if the woman was spotted. Until then, he was going to continue his walk.
He found his thoughts troubled now, lingering over the strange woman. Was she a contractor? Did her powers have something to do with her amazing gymnastic ability, or was he right and she was just a very talented human? Now the Syndicate was involved and he was going to have to find out – which didn't bode well for the woman at all. They would probably torture her for all the information they could, and then kill her.
He was surprised to realize he didn't want that to happen to her. At least, not until he'd gotten her to explain what she had told him on the rooftop. Why had his heart been beating like that? Had chasing her really been that exciting? Contractors weren't supposed to have emotions…
A figure on the street caught his eye suddenly and he looked up from his thoughts. A woman was standing on the corner looking up at the street signs. Her body was amazing, toned and curvy, hugged by loose, knee-length denim shorts and a vibrantly red tank top. Her long, dark brown hair fluttered around her shoulders in thick curls, but it was her expression that had his attention.
She seemed thoughtful, and looked lost, though at the same time she definitely didn't look bothered by the fact. Curious, he casually approached her, lifting his eyebrows into his "I'm Lee, I'm harmless!" expression. "Hey there… Are you lost?"
She looked down from the sign and up into his eyes. Hers were the color of melted chocolate, liquid and smooth, and her expression was strikingly clear. Her gaze flowed over him slowly and he smiled through it, forcing himself not to blush and noticing there was a scar through her right eyebrow.
"No," she had answered him, "see, I know where I am… My problem is that I'm not sure how to get back to where I was…"
"Oh," he replied in Lee's good-natured voice, "then I understand. Of course, you're not lost at all!" He laughed playfully. "I'm Lee, is there anything I can do to help you?"
She laughed too, and it was a sweet, appreciative sound that he found pleasing to the ears. She looked up at him again. "Hi Lee, I'm Rifka. Well, seeing as how you understand my situation, maybe you can help me. I'm staying at this huge, fancy hotel on 1st Street, but I can't seem to remember how to get back there."
"What, the Kaiser? Oh, I know where that is! I've worked there a few times. Come on, I'll show you."
"Really, you've worked there?" She fell into step beside him as he started down the sidewalk, strolling easily with his hands in his pockets and his shoulders rolled slightly forward. Lee did not have the straight, powerful lines of Hei, did not move with purpose or self-direction, and was most certainly not a walking killing machine.
"It's true. I worked on the wait staff, but I get terrible hunger pains when I don't eat enough… So they had to put me in the kitchen washing dishes to stop me from annoying the guests."
She stared up him. "That's hard to believe, Lee, you seem like such a quiet…"
Her words were interrupted by a tremendously loud growl from Lee's stomach. He grinned bashfully and she stared at him again. "Fellow… All right, I believe it! Come on, get me back to my hotel room and we can order room service. One of everything how does that sound?"
He waved his hands at her, laughing. "No, no, that's not necessary! I wouldn't want to put you out of all that money, not when you're new to the city…"
"Psh, don't worry about it. I'm actually here on a business trip, and part of my business includes spending the money I was given on a brand new credit card. The shops I use it on are completely up to me, so long as I pick five or six of them."
"That sounds like a wonderful job to have!" Lee exclaimed.
"It is blissfully easy to do," he noticed quickly that she was no longer smiling, "but it's hard to live on the go all the time. I never get to stay very long in the places they send me… And sometimes they send me out again the next day after I've just come home."
Lee's smile faded, too, and he looked at her sympathetically. "Oh… I'm so sorry to hear that, Rifka."
There was a quiet sadness to her features for a moment, and then she shook her head and cast a warm smile up at him. "Oh well, it's not a problem now. Let's go get some food on the boss's dime, shall we?"
The smile remained on her face as they walked to the hotel, but Hei noticed something about her as she moved. She had folded her arms behind her head and was gazing up at the sky, her back slightly arched. A normal person would assume this was an innocent, care-free woman out for a walk with a friend, but because he was very good at pretending, he could see the signs.
She was pretending too.
He didn't know what she was hiding, and for now it wasn't important, but he made a note to keep an eye on her.
The hotel room was a spacious suite, luxurious and pretentious. He could see from the look on Rifka's face that she had never seen a nicer one, but the joy and wonder of it had been spoiled for her. She sat down on the couch, laughed a little as she sank into the plush cushions, then took out a slender laptop and began typing up notes. She finished quickly and grinned at Lee, moving to the table where the phone was situated beside a large 3-ring binder. She flipped it open.
It was the menu. She let out a low whistle, her fingertip skimming down the laminated pages, flipping them slowly just to get a view of the selection.
"Hey Lee, are you still hungry?"
A loud, desperate growl answered her from Lee's stomach and he blushed, closing his eyes with a sheepish grin. She laughed and he opened his eyes to watch her, amazed by the sound and the way it changed her expression. She wasn't pretending anymore when she laughed like that. He continued to watch her as she picked up the phone, dialed room service, and began to order items from every category.
When the food arrived there was so much of it the stewards had to bring extra tables. Then they left the two of them alone with the spread.
They tore into it with gusto, sampling everything. She had brought a spiral notebook to the table with her, and he could see it had boxes for notes and lists to check off. After each sample she would check a box, sometimes more than one, then scribble a line or two of notes.
"So what's better? Short notes, or long notes?"
"Hmm?" She looked up at him and blushed when she realized he had asked her a question and she hadn't heard him. "Oh! I suppose long notes are better. The less I have to say, the less impressed I am, I guess you could say. I'm paid to be thorough though, so I try to be in-depth with every review."
She sighed, and her expression, her mask, slipped a little. For a second, he saw the face of a woman that hated her job - and then it was gone, brushed away with a soft movement of her hand. "You don't know the half of it." She shook her head and drew in a breath, pulling her shoulders back. Exhaling, she smiled at him and lifted her glass. "Cheers, to an interesting meal shared in good company, for a change."
He lifted his glass to toast with her. The moment was interrupted by the sound of a cellphone going off. She looked up, surprised, and got up from the table, crossing to the couch where she'd left her purse. She fished around and drew out her phone, bringing it to her ear. "Hello?" Her mouth fell open and she stuttered slightly, turning away from Lee, but he didn't need to see her face, her body language spoke volumes. "Boss! This is a surprise, you don't normally check in. Yes sir, I'm at the hotel now. Of course I have it! I just started - What? Already? No sir, of course not, I'm ready to go. Yes sir. Right away, sir."
A buzzing dial tone emanated from the phone and she slowly hung up and let her hand fall, dropping her phone apathetically back into her purse. She didn't move or say anything for so long, Hei became concerned. He got up, reaching out to touch her shoulder gently.
"They're sending me back out," she explained, her voice distant, "I have to leave. Immediately." Her hands drew up into fists and her body shook. "I don't even get to go home first." She began to gather her things back together, walking into the bedroom and returning with a small suitcase on wheels. Hei was surprised.
"Wow, you really mean right now? There's not something wrong, is there?"
She shrugged, and he watched her double check to make sure she hadn't left anything behind. "If they're calling me back just to fire me, I won't know until I get there." She stopped to smile at him. "The room's only booked for one night, stay and finish the food if you want. I'm sorry I won't get to enjoy it all." She wheeled her suitcase to the door and paused before leaving, looking at him over her shoulder. "It was nice meeting you, Lee. Maybe we'll meet again, eh?"
"Of course we will. I'm sure of it."
She smiled wistfully, then lifted a hand and walked away. From the window, Lee watched her exit the hotel and stop at the curb to hail a cab. As she did, a sleek, black company car pulled up in front of her. He couldn't see the people inside, but the window in the backseat slowly rolled down, and the light glinted off the barrel of a gun.
"Rifka, get down!" He pulled the window open, shouting a warning, and jumped down from the balcony as shots rang out. Showing remarkable reflexes, Rifka dove to the ground and the bullets whizzed by her by the slenderest of margins. The car's wheels screeched as it suddenly took off. "Rifka, are you okay?" Hei knelt beside her, turning her over gently.
"Who... who was that...?" She looked confused, gazing up at him. "Lee... What's going on?"
"I don't know, but we have to get you someplace safe."
She nodded and he helped her to her feet. She collected her suitcase and he took her hand. Sharing a glance, they began to run.
Using her own cash, Rifka paid for a new hotel room on a darkened street. They hurried inside and turned off the lights, ducking down onto the floor behind the bed. Carefully, Lee got up and crept to the window, peering out cautiously. Rifka gazed moodily at the wall, her gaze going distant. How could this have happened? Why was this happening? What had she done wrong? In the darkness she looked down at her hands, shaking her head. She didn't know... She didn't...
A manilla folder floated up in her mind and she looked up sharply, her hands clenching. She had been betrayed! All of this had started with that last job she'd agreed to take. A mysterious, blank file folder, locked away in a penthouse office in the middle of the city. Getting the folder had been easy, until she'd been discovered by the Masked Contractor. She'd heard the stories, that he killed anyone that crossed him. She'd played with fire and gotten away, but now all this... Maybe she had gotten burned, after all...
"I think we're safe," Lee's voice startled her out of her thoughts and she looked up as he sat down onto the floor beside her. She closed her eyes, shaking her head slightly.
"For the moment, maybe. We should probably try to rest while we can." She paused, then looked at him. Light from the streetlamps filtered in through the blinds, showing him a dim shadow of her face. Her expression seemed serious. "You should leave, Lee. If they're after me then you're only putting yourself in danger if you stay."
"Leave? What kind of person would I be if I left you to face those guys alone? They tried to kill you!"
"Are you kidding? That's exactly my point! If I get killed, at least it will be just me instead of both of us! Lee, you don't owe me anything, you hardly even know me!
"What?" She was startled by his sharp tone, staring at him in the darkness. Up until now he'd been soft-spoken, but now there was a force to his voice that imparted a strong conviction.
"You're alive," he told her again, "and you deserve to stay that way."
"Lee..." She hadn't expected him to want to stay. For the first time in her life, she was at a loss. She lifted her hands, trying to think of a valid argument, but the words didn't come. She let her hands drop into her lap. "Thank you. I don't know why that's enough for you... but thank you. It's a little less frightening, knowing that I'm not alone."
She leaned toward him, looking down. "You've been very kind to me, Lee... I don't know how to thank you for that." She pressed against him, and before he knew what to do, she had closed her eyes and kissed him. At a loss, he slid his arms around her.
"Wow, that put a different expression on your face..." She grinned up at him when she leaned away and began to giggle. He was flustered and looking at her with surprise. She slid her hand over his chest and smiled again. "You're heart's really pounding, too…"
"You caught me of guard…" He stared into her eyes, aware of the pounding in his chest and the rise in his body temperature. When he became aware of that, he realized her temperature had risen also.
"I take it that doesn't happen to you very often…" Her body slid against him and he couldn't help it anymore, he tightened his arms around her. He accepted her next kiss much easier, and had to pant to catch his breath when they parted.
"You're right, though I have to admit, it's been happening a lot, lately…"
She grinned at him and her hands slid up his chest, toying with the buttons on his shirt. He saw her expression change slightly when she felt his toned, muscular frame. "Wow, Lee… your body's amazing! Why do you wear such loose clothes? You would look so much better if…"
"Rifka," he said her name again quickly, bringing her attention back up to his eyes, "you should get some rest, but if I'm gone when you wake up, will you forgive me?"
"I'm not your keeper, Lee…" She grinned again. "Yes, I'll forgive you."
He had to keep her from remembering. He was Lee, the harmless local Temp, unassuming and friendly, with bad posture and a ravenous appetite. He certainly wasn't hiding a powerful body, masterfully trained for fighting, under his baggy clothes. And so he did the only thing he could.
He kissed her hard and fast, appearing to give in to the demands of their bodies. Her quick intake of breath was all he heard before she surrendered to him, her fingers in his hair and her body arching toward him. And then he sent a current of his power through her and she gasped, seizing in his arms. When she lost consciousness, he gently picked her up and placed her on the bed.
He wiped her memory of their time together; replacing it with the suggestion that she go home immediately. It was safer for her that way – and safer for him. He couldn't risk her telling anyone that he was more than he appeared. He tucked the blankets around her, then quickly and carefully left the hotel room. Should he spot any of the black cars sharking around, he would eliminate them.
Days had passed. From a distance, Hei had made sure Rifka boarded a plane back home. He hadn't seen any more suspicious cars following her, either. He relaxed slightly, and let his attention focus on his current contract.
Their Intel said the thief had taken the Syndicate's bait, so Hei was in place, with Huang, Yin and Mao in strategic places keeping watch. So far, none of them had seen her approach the building where she was being sent to break into a safe.
"She must have caught wind of the trap," Hei muttered to the others.
"Well, I am pretty clever." He heard her land behind him a moment before she spoke, and whirled to face her. Her eyes were surprised to see him – surprised and delighted. "Oh, so we meet again, Masked Contractor! I guess this means your Boss discovered the missing page…"
He lunged at her swiftly and she dodged. "Wait, can't we talk about this?!" He stared at her and she inhaled sharply. "Guess not!" She turned and ran.
He was prepared for her speed this time. Just like the first time, he chased her over the city's rooftops, but began running parallel to her, waiting for his chance. At the corner of a water tower he spotted it, and cut across her path, making her change directions. She skidded and turned, taking off again without missing a beat, but it was enough of an opening for him.
He whipped his dagger out and as it sank into the beam of the tower. The weighted end wrapped around her wrists and tied her securely to the pole. Her back smacked against it and she let out a startled gasp, looking up at him as she struggled to get free.
"I don't have the page anymore," she cried, "but I can steal it back for you! If it's still in town it's not too late!"
"That's not what I want to talk about right now."
Maybe it was the calm tone of his voice, or the way he was pulling his ear bud out, but she settled down and stared up at him. "What, then?"
He removed his mask and gazed at her calmly. Her mouth fell open. "Lee! I mean, no, I didn't see your face!" She closed her eyes tightly. "I don't know who you are! Your identity's safe, you don't have to kill me!"
He stepped up to her and drew a fingertip along her throat until he found the edge of her mask, feeling her shiver in response to his touch. While her eyes were still closed, he pulled her mask up and off. There it was – perfect confirmation. He slid his thumb gently over the white scar through her eyebrow, and watched her eyes open to stare up at him.
"Please tell me what you're thinking about…" her voice was a whisper, her body trembling.
"I wanted to find out… why my heart beats like this when I'm around you… It did this back in the hotel room, too… That's how I knew it was you, the whole time…" Bending his head down to her, he slowly pressed his lips to hers.
He could feel her heart pounding in her chest as he pressed against her, feel her lips moving against his. She was kissing him back eagerly and he slid his hand into her hair, tilting her face up to him as he released her hands from his wires.
Once she was freed, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and he felt a rush of excitement through his veins. It was almost as though someone had just used his own power against him. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her against him more tightly.
When they came up for air their faces were flushed and their chests were heaving slightly as they panted for breath. He stared down into her eyes, watching her as she gazed up at him. There was that wild glimmer in her eyes, just like on that first night.
"You're supposed to be on a plane out of here!" He accused her mildly.
"I was really tempted to go... but I think I really wanted to know who you are, too." She smiled slightly. "But more than that, I wanted you to know who I am, too."
"You're completely crazy," he told her quietly, "you know that, right?"
She grinned up at him fearlessly and he couldn't help but grin back at her. "And the next thing you're going to tell me is that it's contagious, isn't it?"
"I certainly seem to have lost my mind…" He gave his head a little shake. "Rifka, you have to listen to me. The Syndicate wants you taken alive. You know who they are, right?" At her terse nod, he continued. "Getting out of town might not be enough this time, do you understand? You have to get out of the country. They will find you, and I can't even tell you if it's really about that missing page or not."
"It's not, Lee, I know it isn't." She laid her hands on his chest, looking into his eyes. "They're tired of waiting, you see."
"Waiting for what?"
She looked upward. "They've been waiting for my star to be born. All these things I can do, but I seem to still be human. I've hit snags with the Syndicate before - I'm pretty sure that gunman in the black car was sent by them - but so far I've managed to dodge them. Usually by skipping town, like you said… But…" She looked at him again. "We're evolving, Lee. Have you noticed? More of us are rising with better control, with less obvious Prices and less obvious powers… The Syndicate is trying to stop it; you know that, don't you? What happens to Contractors that don't want to work for them? Have you ever heard of one?"
He stared at her. "They never seem to last very long…"
"Exactly… Don't trust them, not even for a second." She stood on her toes and kissed him, passionately, fleetingly, her body pressing against him in a flash of need, desire, and just a bit of panic. She let out a nervous laugh against his lips, clutching him, and he held her tightly, bending his face over the top of her head, feeling her cheek against his chest. "Oh God, Lee, I didn't think I would be this scared. I won't say goodbye, because I want to see you again…"
"You will! Go now, Rifka, run. RUN!"
She looked up at him. "I'm sorry to leave you like this, Lee." He was caught off guard by her last words, just before pain blossomed through his body. He dropped to the ground, his brain processing that she had put a knife through the top of his foot and pinned him to the roof. He grabbed for the hilt and looked up to see her running for the edge of the rooftop.
"Oi," He called after her. "My name is Hei!"
"Hei," she was poised on the edge and turned back, pulling her cowl back down over her head, "thank you for the hotel room… I'll never forget you."
He stared as she leapt off the roof and onto the next, flipping and spinning until she was out of sight. Then he slowly pulled the knife from his foot.
It was then that he saw Yin's specter on the water tower, watching him. He stood up and limped over to the specter carefully. "Yin… Listen very carefully. The thief didn't fall for the trap, she was prepared. She found me where I was waiting for her, and attacked me. I may have wounded her, I can't say for sure, and I didn't see which way she went – and neither did you. Tell Huang and Mao, if they're there."
The specter shimmered, and then faded from sight. Nodding, Hei took off to meet up with the gang. Rifka's information would have to be their secret; for if she was right, eventually they too, would all become targets. For now, they would all have to pretend.
A man looking for answers only asks more questions,
While a woman wishing for a home leaves town.