{chapter two}

Reven was sick to fucking death of the looks he got from the staff. Was it his fault the boss's nephew had been sliced like a pineapple in the hotel that night? No-one seemed concerned that there'd obviously been a contract out on him. No, all they seemed to go on about was the fact that Reven had somehow miraculously survived the attack.

There was some hostility there, for he'd been a favourite of the boss since he was picked up. There was some anger, some shock. And maybe some fear. Reven didn't want to be an urban myth or anything - he wanted to get on with his job, but it was suddenly very awkward. Even Hellman had been knocked unconscious - but Reven had seen the guy, fought with the assassin. Yet he'd lived to tell the tale.

Except that there was no tale to tell.

Reven couldn't tell his boss what the guy had looked like. If he had any speech characteristics. If he wore anything distinctive. The assassin had been silent and hidden and totally deadly.

With amazing red hair.

Reven had glimpsed it, even in the dark. It had been such a contrast against the pale skin and the fathomless dark eyes. Death came with red hair.

Even the memory made Reven shiver.

Hellman had put him on suspension - he was off security - kept away from the funeral arrangements and the frenzied investigation into Lucas' death. He wasn't sure what it all meant - if he'd have a job at all in the end, but there wasn't a hell of a lot he could do about it.

So Reven was carrying out his own investigation.

Some of Hellman's guys still welcomed him - some were just that little bit in awe of him since the hit. One of the bookkeepers had a rather unhealthy crush on him it seemed, but it had its uses. The guy proved a fount of knowledge about local crime and its characters. …And the assassins who worked in their own world, alongside their own code, secretive to the point of violent paranoia, and hidden from everyone until their services were needed.

Reven knew the red-haired assassin existed; knew he'd been around for years. He had no name of course - or rather, he had hundreds. No-one knew where he lived - but many knew how to contact him if needed. He'd never been caught - he'd never missed a hit. It was impossible to turn him aside once engaged; it was equally impossible to try to cheat him of his exorbitant fee, else there'd be another body found in a dumpster.

Reven - despite himself - felt a frisson of fascination.

That stupid kid was on his mind.

As the bench press rattled and the barbell was lifted once more with a hissed breath, Inoue frowned. He continued to pump the weights up and down with his arms, beads of sweat trickling down his bare throat and chest, along his inner arms and trailing along the lines of his finely toned, scarred and burnt stomach. He bared his teeth as he went beyond his regular training regimen, continuing to push the heavy metal into the air over and over.

Should’ve killed him… it’s policy to permanently silence any who have seen me and aren’t clients… it’s a shame to my record that he’s still breathing somewhere…

Finally he racked the weights and sat up, and the glistening beads of sweat began new trails down his body towards his waist. Standing, Inoue marched to the shower and turned on a hot spray of water, stepping under it and closing his eyes with a hissed exhale. He didn’t like being annoyed; it interfered with his work.

Clenching his teeth, the redhead slammed his fist into the shower wall, knuckles cracking against marble.

Reven pushed his coffee around the table, making the overcooked liquid last a little longer. Greg was a good bookkeeper - and an even better informant - but Reven couldn't stomach his wide, lustful eyes over the rim of yet another cup.

"Come round to mine," urged the bookish young man. His eyes glinted behind thick spectacles. "I have scrapbooks of cuttings, loads of them - anything to do with the Hellman organization for the last 20 years - and all the other families that he's either dealt with or been pitched against. We can go through them over a drink or two."

"The assassin...?" Reven prompted firmly.

Greg grimaced. "Well, no pictures, of course. No descriptions. But there was that hit last fall, when the whole of the Salasso family was taken out. They say that was him. And that astonishing attack on the Granmercy family, at the girl's wedding, for Christ's sake, when no-one saw how he could have got into the hotel in the first place..."

"Any identifying characteristics at all?"

Greg sighed; pushed the glasses up his nose. He looked longingly at Reven's hand on the table, as if he'd like to stroke it. "Likes a knife best of all, but he uses other weapons too. Incredibly athletic and lithe - moves like a cat, as silently, too. He seems to know exactly where his target will be, what the movements are. Uses darkness a lot; ruthless in wiping out anyone who sees him along the way." Greg seemed to realize what he'd said, and glanced nervously at Reven. "No-one sees him arrive or leave - he's escaped from sealed rooms, from barred windows, from underground basements."

Reven was tuning out, he realized. Greg was straying into the world of superhero fantasy here. There'd be mention of Kryptonite soon...

Then something caught his hearing again.

"Red hair?"

Greg nodded. "Others have mentioned it. It's as if he doesn't hide it. As if he wants people to know his signature, though they learn nothing more than that. All anyone ever sees is his eyes - they're dark and cold."

Reven scowled. "His clients, though?" They must see him, to arrange the deal. Maybe not, though. And Reven suspected that they'd be far more afraid of the assassin's retribution if they talked, than anyone else's threats for information. He sighed. Damned guy sounded like a ghost - or a demon.

He was a man, he said to himself, fiercely. That's all. Someone who'd terrified him - who'd outwitted him all the way.

After stretches and his workout, Inoue moved to the entrance and opened the parcel box on the back of his door, finding only three envelopes this time. He tossed one aside and opened two, reading both over. Arching an eyebrow, he dropped a second and kept the third in his hand as he walked into the kitchen and pulled a frying pan down from the rack, setting it on the oven.

The assassin re-read the letter as he tossed noodles into the pan one-handed. He scoffed. What sort of idiot was this man, ordering a multiple-person hit all in the same round? It would be obvious who had ordered the people listed killed; this guy either wanted major publicity, or was a complete fool. Quirking the corner of his mouth, Inoue sighed and turned on a different burner of the stove, lighting the corner of the paper and dropping it in the ashtray as it burned.

Mission accepted, anyhow. He enjoyed a challenge; and, because it was exactly that-- a challenge-- he'd go meet his new client face-to-face and give out a silent threat; we do things my way or not at all. Mess with me and die.

Stirring pieces of chicken into the cooking food, Inoue rummaged through strategies in his mind already as he made his first meal since waking this evening. It was perhaps irony that Hellman was the one ordering this hit? The man obviously didn't even realize that Inoue was the one to have killed his nephew. Nobody was stupid enough to try and seek vengeance against the actual Midnight Assassin himself-- it had to be that the kid he'd spared had kept his trap shut about who had offed Lucas.

Intriguing and disturbing all at once.

As soon as he was finished eating, showering and lacing himself with appropriate weapons and clothing, he'd head over to the Hellman estate.

Reven rose from his narrow bed to go into work. An evening shift: Hellman was arranging another confidential meeting, and needed personal guards.

He was pleased to be back at work, even if he wasn't being called for the major assignments. The boss said he didn't need him for the stuff out in the field - he could be part of the house guard. The boss described it as a further development of Reven's career in the organization. Reven took it as a demotion. But the pay was the same, and the benefits were the same, and if he grit his teeth and half closed his eyes, he could believe that the attitude towards him was the same.

But it wasn't, of course.

The 'Midnight Assassin' had done this to him. Left him neither one thing nor the other - neither blameless employee nor victim. Greg had told him what they called the mysterious creature who arrived without warning, killed as easily as Greg belched after his coffee, and then left as inconspicuously.

Reven wanted to joke about the guy wearing his briefs on the outside of his pants, but he didn't. Something about this guy - even his mere reputation - made him think he didn't take such humor lightly. And if Reven were honest, he still remembered the paralyzing fear of hanging off the side of the hotel building, held by nothing more than a couple of iron digits. No, this assassin was very far from a joke.

Then Greg had made his clumsy move and Reven had tactfully removed himself beyond arm's length. He'd have to find another informant if he continued this quest.

Why am I stirring this up? he wondered to himself. What am I trying to do? He was glad he'd never told anyone in the organization about his unhealthy fascination. Hellman's own men had discovered nothing more about the hit since the day it happened.

He pulled a tight black vest on, buckled on his gun, watching the flex of his muscles as he did, never satisfied with his physical development. He must do more training. He must get stronger. The memory of the vice-like fingers on his ankles would never fade...

He laughed aloud, a little sharply, and left the apartment for his duty.

Getting through the fence and guard outside had been paltry. Getting to the door, far too easy. But after that, Inoue stopped trying. Standing on the entrance stairs in a complete skintight black bodysuit of flexible, rubbery material covering nose to toes, he rang the doorbell-- certain that nobody ever dared do that before. Aside from the bodysuit he wore his boots, gloves, several belts with daggers and throwing knives slipped into them, and a few thigh-holsters. He was armed to the teeth and ready for anything; Inoue waited.

The wind kicked up and rustled his exposed hair on his shoulders, left unbound for now since this was a business meeting rather than a mission. He waited, until finally the door opened.

A servant stared up at him with a little horror, and a trace of agitation. Inoue waited, until the woman stammered that she'd escort him to see Mr. Hellman at once, and could he please follow her?

The redhead followed indeed, moving soundlessly and causing the woman to look back every few moments and make sure he was really still there. Violet eyes flicked over everything he saw as they passed down hallways and entered elevators; if he ever had to come back here for a hit, he had things memorized.

Finally they stood before a set of large doors, and the woman bowed at the waist. "Through here, sir," she squeaked before running off on her stiletto shoed feet. It must be horrible to work as a servant in such skimpy clothing and tall, spiked heels, Inoue thought mildly as he pushed open the room doors with a quick flick of his wrists, waking inside with his senses on high alert. Though, I must say, it would be interesting if a young man were put in the same corset and stockings...

He pushed his years-repressed sexual intrigue to the side and strode into the room, right up to the desk the grand Hellman sat at with bodyguards on either side. Inoue's gaze flickered over to the familiar raven-haired boy to the left immediately, and he near barked a growl but kept that in as well, looking at Hellman once more.

The visitor was nodding sharply to Hellman - the boss was on his feet, staking his territory in return. They were appraising each other from the first moment.

Reven looked at the tall, lithe figure in black and saw nothing but his own shock. He felt as if he'd been punched in the gut. His breath seeped away like water through a sieve - his heart seized.

Didn't they see who it was?

Reven felt the blood rush away from his already pale face, as the dark eyes flickered over him. How could he have forgotten those eyes? Still - cold - unemotional. They pierced into him like the knife the man had carried that night.

And the red hair...loose, thick, curling. Almost beautiful, if it hadn't been the badge of blood that this man wore so arrogantly.

Reven felt his legs shake a little and he made a supreme effort to pull himself together. The man mustn't know he recognized him - unless he already did?

Fuck, he thought ruefully. I search for this Midnight Assassin for weeks, and then he comes right up to the front door to call on me. He shivered, and hoped his colleagues didn't see.

Some kind of irony, eh?

It'd be amusing if it wasn't so shocking.

"You're punctual, exactly as I was told," Hellman said slowly, looking Inoue over several times. The assassin didn't let it escape him that the man's gaze settled on Inoue's cock for several long seconds before he looked back into violet eyes once more. "I barely sent that letter out a few hours ago, and here we are. Well; there are things to discuss, obviously. First off, let's start with the basics-- you know my name, what am I to address you as?"

Inoue said nothing, staring blandly at the man and resting one hand on his defined hip, thumbing the hilt of a throwing knife idly. Hellman's left eye twitched, and anger flashed on his face for a brief moment before he collected himself once more and cleared his throat. "Fine then. No name; you had many according to the men I spoke with. For now we'll just stick with Assassin, because its simplest. Listen. I want every person on that letter I sent you dead. Now." He sneered smugly, knowing he was giving the redhead an impossible challenge.

Inoue, however, knew his own limits, and this was well within it. Stepping up to the desk, he picked up Hellman's pen and a piece of paper without asking, and wrote in easy script, '500K for the first, 250K per head after that. 48 hours total.' Nothing more, nothing less. He slid the paper across the desk and put the pen down, and as Hellman read over what had been written and was distracted by thinking over the offer, Inoue's gaze flicked over to the kid again.

Now here was a ripe chance to kill the little brat; he could easily work the kid into his deal with Hellman, he was sure. The way the kid was looking at him was a little off though... most who knew they were to die by his hand had pure horror in their faces.

Certainly there was that in the kid's expression, but there was also intrigue, and was that fascination? What was this kid, some sort of masochist, or suicidal idiot? Inoue looked back to Hellman as the man parted his lips to speak.

Hellman never even considered he was out of his league. He'd set a ridiculous challenge - he knew he was dealing death to half the families of the city. But his own arrogance demanded he do this - and the assassin appeared to match him in it.

He was the one calling the shots, wasn't he?

He mused over the man's paper, feeling the excitement of a plan coming to fruition. A ludicrous sum, of course - but he could afford it. And for him, it would be worth every dollar.

He looked up at the Assassin again. "They say you can do the impossible," he said, more of a challenge than a question. "They say you can do it quickly, and will never be caught. There must be no trail back to me - no single person on this list left surviving, to lead back to me." The man stared back at him, almost as if he was bored, and Hellman felt the annoyance rising inside him. If he'd had the people himself, he'd never have called on this freak. But he knew he didn't. He looked quickly round at his best men. All of them adequate - but not of this caliber. Reven... his eyes lingered. He had high hopes of Reven, but tonight the boy looked pale and young. Maybe he didn't have the stomach for this kind of business after all. The business with Lucas had been a horrible shock, and Reven's involvement rather surprising.

No, he had to use this man to achieve it all.

"I'll pay it," he said, magnanimously. "A down payment now, and the balance after 48 hours, after evidence of success. In every case."

The assassin seemed a little distracted, though he assumed it was his way. Hellman tried not to stare, but there was something about the man that unnerved him, even allowing for his occupation. His eyes were so cold... his movements strangely familiar.

Now that the business was concluded, he wanted him out of this house. Now!

Reven felt the eyes like brands, but the man made no move to denounce him, or turn against him. The business with Hellman was a sick, mad plan, but it wasn't for him to challenge the boss, was it?

Neither did the Assassin, yet he must have seen what lunacy the mission was. Take out all those guys, it'd be obvious that the only one left standing was Hellman himself - the only one who had a vested interest in organizing the strikes.

The retribution would be swift and bloody. Reven hoped he'd be the fuck out of the way when it started.

If the Assassin didn't get him first.

He stared at the guy, as he faced Hellman. It was some kind of horrified fascination, he supposed, because the last thing he should be doing was drawing attention to himself. The hair was superb, the features strong but striking. The man's body was tight with controlled muscle and strength. Reven's eyes were drawn to his hands, gloved at his sides, but with the long slender fingers that he knew had held him so tightly.

What was this man really like? What drove him? Why had he been sent to kill Lucas? Someone like Hellman had hired him, of course. The deals went on behind the scenes, and Reven had just been dragged in as a bystander. Otherwise he would never have seen this man in the first place, never felt him, never feared him.

The man's eyes flashed back to him.

He didn't know what made him do it - but he swallowed his nerves and he stared back.
Fuck you, he wanted his eyes to say, though he feared they were still too disturbed to be that steady. Fuck you, you won't scare me. You've shaken up my life and ripped apart my work, and you come and go like a filthy black shadow. Tell me why you do what you do. Tell me what you see when you look at me in that cold way.

Tell me why you didn't kill me.
The man paused for a second, then withdrew his gaze again.

I'll find out! Reven felt the fury rising in him from being dismissed like that.
I'll find out about you, assassin. One way or another.

In turn, when the man was done talking, Inoue took the paper once more and casually wrote his bank account number on it. Momentarily his mind wandered back to the District Attorney that had tried to bring him down by interfering with a monetary deposit being made to that account.

That man had been dead before the day was out. No other lawyers admitted Inoue existed after that; he could shout his account number from the rooftops if he wanted and nobody would dare touch it. The police knew about him, and others of his trade; they kept their mouths shut as well, for the most part-- after all, they used his services themselves once or twice a year anyhow.

After the number had been given, Inoue paused, and held the pen on the paper still, his gaze flicking over to the boy as he debated asking for the kid's life as a gratuity. No... not yet. He didn't seem so much a threat any more, the way he stared back-- scared but defiant, pale and with trembling hands he was trying to hide. What was he, a fanatic? An assassin fetishist? He'd met a few of those; men who put their own name up as hits so they could get off seeing an assassin enter their bedroom in the dark of the night.

He put the pen down and turned his back to them, walking out of the room calmly. Inoue could feel both Hellman's and the kid's eyes burning the back of his neck, but he paid it no mind, and headed down the hall and towards the exit.

Kill the kid later; he's barely a minnow among big fish. There wasn't any need to worry about him; he's nothing, he thought idly as he left the estate grounds and got on his bike.

Somebody was following him. The redhead didn't look back. If that Hellman idiot wanted to get himself killed, this was a fast way to do it, sending somebody to stalk the assassin. He rode away from home and into the city, then parked his bike in a dark alley and began a casual midnight stroll around the area.


[end chapter two]