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For Reed


"This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified."

~ Martin Luther

The night is clear and crisp, the brisk autumn wind whipping down the sidewalk, a discarded plastic bag swirling in its wake. A homeless man stares up at her with wide, glassy eyes, curling himself into a tight ball when she passes. Leaves crunch under the thick rubber soles of her boots as she hugs the shadows, alert and focused. Ready.

The cool air makes the suit stiff. Tighter than usual. It chafes and pulls, leaves her skin raw. She likes it. Likes the pain. It's a reminder. Tangible evidence of why she does what she does. Why she's chosen this path.

Why it's worth it.

She can feel the weight of the weapon strapped to her back, the blade perfectly weighted and balanced; an extension of her body. It was awkward at first, learning how to handle it, training her fingers into a tighter hold, adjusting to the feel of fabric against her skin rather than metal. She almost gave up on it after weeks of practice; blisters on her palms, deep slices on her limbs, jagged tears in all her clothes. She stuck with it, determined to master this just as she'd mastered every other challenge she'd set for herself in life. She likes the symbolism. The sharp edge of a knife put an end to her innocence. It's only right that she metes out her own brand of justice with the deft slice of a sword.

This is her life now. Living on the fringes, in the shadows. Hiding. She's heard herself called a hero but she knows the truth. She's a coward. Broken and beaten, she'd walked away. Ran away. Gave it all up for this. Dedicated herself to fighting an unwinnable war in a quest for peace she'll never find.

Headlights flash in her periphery and she rounds the corner quickly, pulling the cloak of darkness back around herself. She's playing with fire in her continued haunting of this neighborhood. The local patrol cops have almost caught her twice in the past month. Her knowledge of the area, the hidden alcoves and busted windows, will only take her so far. She needs to move on. Needs to work in another part of the city for a little while. Needs to let the whispers die down.

But she can't. For some reason, she can't make herself leave this place. This neighborhood - dangerous by day, damn near deadly at night - calls to her. The drugs and the theft, the gangs and the pimps; it's a never ending battle. She fights it night after night, never gaining any real ground. The tiny victories - a drug deal stopped, stolen goods destroyed - they all add up to nothing. Yet she stays.

Fights.

Skirting along the side of a truck, she listens. Waits. The patrol unit passes by and she runs to the other end of the alley, slipping through a gap in the chain link fence. The streets are quiet tonight. It makes her uneasy. Quiet is never good. Not in this neighborhood.

A muffled thump followed by a groan catches her attention. She stops. Listens. The sound of rubber scrabbling against concrete floats on the air and she takes off, heading back in the opposite direction. Rounding the corner, she slows, stares through the darkness, seeking. She spots them halfway up the block. Two gangbangers, white t-shirts cast yellow in the dank light of the street lamps, dance in a doorway, throwing punches and aiming kicks at a bulky body huddled against the wall.

Skipping along on the balls of her feet, she approaches silently, evaluating the scene. The bigger one, obviously the senior member, laughs as he directs the action, mocking the muffled grunts and groans of his victim.

"This woulda gone smoother for you if you'da just handed over the wallet," he says, his fist connecting with the man's ribs. "Cuz now we gotta fuck you up."

She skitters closer, her body flush with the rough brick fa├žade of the building. The smaller one notices her first, directing his next punch at his partner's shoulder and nodding in her direction. She can see the hesitation on their faces, the internal debate about whether it's worth their pride to stay and fight. She knows her reputation. They think she's crazy. Reckless. More dangerous than they are.

They're right.

They make a run for it when she raises her right arm, reaching for the hilt of her sword. The leather wallet hits the concrete with a damp slap. The man pushes himself off the wall and groans, bending over to pick it up. He looks in her direction, eyes going wide. A cut on his forehead leaks blood across his cheek and she watches with mild fascination as it follows the curve of his jaw before dripping onto the collar of his white dress shirt.

"It's you," he says, grinning at her with a split lip. He starts to limp toward her, favoring his left leg. "I've been looking for you."

She watches him come closer. He's still grinning at her and she takes a step back, shrouding herself in shadows once more. "Get out."

The man stops, his mouth dropping open in surprise. "You're a woman. Lone Vengeance is woman. I never thought of that." He starts moving forward again, grimacing as he puts more weight on his bad leg. "That makes it even more awesome."

Fuck.

This is why she never speaks.

Turning on her heel, she sprints away. Dodging a stray cat, she darts into the next alley, hears him calling out after her.

"Wait! At least tell me your name!"

She doesn't have a name anymore.


Thoughts?