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— — — you're better off dead if you haven't yet died — — —

 

Internal Task Force 7812
a.k.a. // The Tribeca-Antioch Incident Investigation

— — —

INITIAL INTERVIEW
Re: Opr. Rhys Proudfoot
Senior Officer Tesh Marionetti
Director, Domestic Protection Division, CIIO Badge #337-090

Interviewed by: FAIRMONT

Polygraph Room 7, Fitzhugh-Bristol Building, Central Chicago City
Administer: Sp.O. Wallace Brickman, CIIO Badge #339-123

— — —

OFFICIAL TRANSCRIPT
→ To be delivered to:
MONICA THOMPSON (D/PICSUS), CIIO Badge #███-███
SHELLEY TURNPIKE (AD/PICSUS), CIIO Badge #338-███
RICHARD FAIRMONT (CHAIR/LEAD, Internal Task Force 7812)
→ CC: Tesh Marionetti, D/DPD

— — —

→ Special Instructions:
SHRED UPON REVIEW
under penalty of law

RICHARD FAIRMONT: Let the record state that the interview with Senior Officer Tesh Marionetti has commenced at 12:03 PM, the eighth of October, 2115. Officer Marionetti, do you confirm the accuracy of this statement?

TESH MARIONETTI: Yes. I do.

FAIRMONT: Officer Marionetti, were you acquainted with Operative Rhys Proudfoot?

MARIONETTI: Yes.

FAIRMONT: For how long did you know him?

MARIONETTI: He joined the DPD as a novice operative four years ago under the supervision of my senior operative Harriet Grimm. After his promotion to Full Operative in 2113, I worked directly with Proudfoot as his senior supervisor on international assignments, and Grimm became his handler.

FAIRMONT: And how would you describe Operative Proudfoot’s relationship with the other employees of the Domestic Protection Division?

MARIONETTI: He was universally liked. Trustworthy. No major incidents of dissent or disobedience among my staff.

FAIRMONT: What about those outside your department?

MARIONETTI: Come on, Richard, you know I can’t speak for them. But to my knowledge, no. Nothing. The guy did his job, did what he was told. If there had been a problem anywhere else, there would have been talk. For an agency all about secrets, there aren’t many of them in the halls. [chuckles]

FAIRMONT: How would you describe Operative Proudfoot’s performance in the field when he worked under your supervision?

MARIONETTI: Proudfoot? Jesus Christ, Proudfoot was the best the CIIO has had in years. Or at least since I was in the field.

FAIRMONT: Let’s stay on topic, Officer Marionetti.

MARIONETTI: You knew him too, Richard. Didn’t you work alongside him in Budapest? He was damn good at what he did. Quick on his feet, smart as a whip, cool under pressure. He was born for this stuff, Rich. Even if he messed up—which was once in a blue moon—he found a way to make it all work. He had a true operative’s common sense, too. And that, as you well know, isn’t easy to find in this business anymore.

FAIRMONT: You mentioned Senior Operative Harriet Grimm acting as his handler after his promotion. Where is Grimm now?

MARIONETTI: I honestly don’t know.

[polygraph beeps]

MARIONETTI: Well, I have my suspicions. But it’s not my business to tell. I haven’t been in contact with Harriet since the incident, after she left her letter of resignation on my desk.

FAIRMONT: Is it true that Senior Operative Grimm was involved in an intimate relationship with Proudfoot’s field partner on the Tribeca-Antioch mission?

MARIONETTI: They were engaged to be married.

FAIRMONT: And his name was?

MARIONETTI: Her name was Elizabeth Liszt. She was a field operative initially brought in to our department because of her dual citizenship with the West German Republic. After her first mission with the DPD, we brought her on-board full time.

FAIRMONT: Is it true that there was some conflict with Proudfoot due to other romantic interests?

MARIONETTI: It was rumored that Grimm and Proudfoot had an affair while Grimm and Liszt were involved, which supposedly caused a rift between all three of them. The gossip was never confirmed. Frankly, I don’t concern myself with the personal lives of my operatives unless their problems interfere with their ability to do their jobs. There was no evidence, to me, of any conflict at all between Proudfoot, Grimm, and Liszt. Business continued as usual, and their duties were met with the same rigor and high standards I demand of them.

FAIRMONT: Forgive me, Officer Marionetti, but this account calls into question your ability to assess your own people. Is it not part of your job description to monitor the mental and emotional health of your employees?

MARIONETTI: It is, it is. But it was all just talk. There was no evidence to support any of the rumors, and as I said, there was no effect on their mission outcomes. Proudfoot and Liszt worked together only occasionally anyway, and it was rare that all three of them were involved in the same assignment leading up to Tribeca-Antioch.

FAIRMONT: Is it possible that this lack of team-building prior to Tribeca-Antioch, whether or not there was romantic friction in the group, contributed to its failure and Operative Liszt’s death?

MARIONETTI: In my opinion, it was absolutely not an operative issue that compromised the mission.

FAIRMONT: How do you know?

MARIONETTI: You’ve been in this business as long as I have, Richard.

FAIRMONT: That doesn’t answer the question, Tesh.

MARIONETTI: No, but I want you to think on that for a minute. Really think on it. We build the personnel in our departments based on their ability to work together. I don’t know about you, but I transfer the ones who don’t fit in with my established team, and that’s pretty easy to figure out. If they don’t work as a novice operative, they’re sure as hell not going overseas with a promotion in my department. I don’t care how good they are. If they clash with my people, they’re out.

FAIRMONT: Your division is particularly sensitive to these kinds of personnel fluctuations. I don’t think I need to throw the numbers at you—you have one of the highest employee turnovers in the CIIO. I also don’t need to tell you that the administration looks at that with a great deal of suspicion.

MARIONETTI: They can question me all they want. The only numbers that count are the successes. The way I run my department is the way it has to be run, not just for the safety of my operatives, but for the safety of the nation we all swore to serve. I make it work, Richard. I think that’s more that can be said for you, or the PICSUS, or anyone else. I have complete faith in my people, which means that the administration should too.

FAIRMONT: There’s no need to get agitated, Tesh. I’m just the messenger.

MARIONETTI: If you really were the messenger, Richard, you wouldn’t be here. I understand that as Proudfoot’s supervisor, I share partial responsibility for Tribeca-Antioch. Formalities and chains of command are how our institution has worked for 168 years. But you and I both know there is more to this than the CIIO is admitting in its official reports from up above. Yeah, let that go on record, I don’t give a damn. Let them know that we know.

FAIRMONT: We don’t need conspiracy theories right now, Tesh. We need real answers.

MARIONETTI: [shakes head] That’s the problem, Richard. We need real answers. And you won’t get them from me, because I don’t have them. A thousand polygraphs won’t get you what you’re looking for. You need information that internal candidates can’t supply, and it seems to me you’re digging for a false mutiny so someone can take the fall and you can go home for dinner or have a beer or whatever the hell else you have that’s more pressing than your real job.

FAIRMONT: That’s ridiculous. It’s not about taking sides.

MARIONETTI: We’ve worked together long enough that I know you know better than this. Of course it’s about taking sides. It’s bureaucratic bullshit all over again.

FAIRMONT: And yet you’re siding with Proudfoot?

MARIONETTI: Operative Proudfoot has my full support.

FAIRMONT: Did you read the reports?

MARIONETTI: Of course I read the reports.

FAIRMONT: Including the autopsy report on Liszt?

MARIONETTI: Are you serious? Yes, for Christ’s sake.

FAIRMONT: [raises voice] And you’re still coming to Proudfoot’s defense!?

MARIONETTI: Is this an interview, or an argument? Or are you trying to persuade me to side with the up-aboves? What are we doing here now, Richard?

FAIRMONT: I’m here to record your perspective on the situation, as well to gather your opinion on Operative Proudfoot’s integrity as a member of this organization.

MARIONETTI:  Well, you’ve got it. Don’t contact me again until you’ve come to your senses, Richard. [points to microphone] And I’m going to want to see that transcript.

 

— — — they always could find us but they never could catch us — — —

 

In 2047, after a hundred years in existence as a government firm, the United States Central Intelligence Agency became the Consolidated International Intelligence Organization.

The transition came about after heavy globalization, government budgetary concerns, and a sudden domestic economic upswing increased pressure on U.S. defense programs to heighten homeland security and protect deep-rooted government secrets.

The new CIIO—nicknamed ‘Double-I’ by former CIA staff and eventually referred to as ‘Double Eye’ in the subsequent decades—was the Democratic Party’s solution to the issues created by the unpredicted shift in United States stature. In spite of its outright and continued success, however, the change was not a universally supported one, and the immediate benefits of the consolidation were soon accompanied by unforeseen pitfalls that threatened to dissolve and render useless the entire operation.

Despite incredible resistance from conservatives at the time of the merger, the Federal Bureau of Investigation lost its status as a freestanding agency, becoming instead a divisional branch under the new CIIO corporate umbrella. Though its primary function remained much the same—leading large-scale criminal investigations within U.S. borders—its other lesser-known responsibilities, such as leading internal and counterintelligence measures, were absorbed by alternate departments, chiefly the existing Domestic Protection Division, or DPD, under a new, separate director with no ties to the previous agency.

Few history books would speak of it, but the 2050s were perhaps the most virulent of the post-transitional years, with furious Republican politicians acting as the source of prominent unrest in the U.S. Congress and the Senate. The primary reason for their outrage was directly related to the introduction of the CIIO and the disincorporation of the FBI. They had previously relied upon the FBI as a key political chess piece against increasingly heavy gun regulation laws, all of which had been pushed by newly-elected Liberals in office. Without their institutionalized leverage—the support of the FBI’s well-liked administration as well as its continual “production” and publication of violent crime evidence—they struggled to get their footing on a slippery downward slope of political opposition.

Agent Gregory Fitzhugh, a known conservative who had been elected director of the CIA’s DPD several years prior to the consolidation, graciously accepted responsibility for portions of FBI duties in order to soothe the burn of transition to this new era in homeland security. But even his best efforts to keep inter-organizational peace were met with backlash, particularly from people who were angry that the DPD remained almost entirely unchanged through the process of integration. Why, they argued, did the CIA subdivisions get to remain the same when others, like the FBI, were stripped of their autonomy and redistributed like scrap parts amongst other sections?

The new CIIO administration, who had initially rebranded the FBI as the Domestic Crime Investigations Branch, quickly backpedaled as soon as conservative mainstream media began to pick up on the dissent. The purpose of their withdrawal was twofold—to manage (and therefore control) media representation to the public, and to appease those in the government making turbulent waves of dissatisfaction. Although there was little any party could do now that the actual consolidation was on the books, the FBI retained its infamous name and earned a new director, who at the time was to be appointed by a committee headed by the Senate Minority Leader, a Republican representative from Ohio named Martin Spelling. Though the move provided more of an illusion of cooperation than actual compromise, it succeeded in quieting the most prominent naysayers until the arrangement became routine and the storm largely blew over.

By the mid-2070s, the majority of personnel who had been involved with the homeland security consolidation had either retired, died, or otherwise left the agency. The same was true of the politicians in office. The CIIO became an unquestioned norm both internally and externally, with new generations of staff perpetuating the change and progress intended by its establishment in the first place.

In 2085, political unrest in Europe prompted a vast expansion of two major CIIO departments. The highest ranking administrators, most of whom were former expert field operatives, belonged to an elite management team known as the Protection of Internal Clandestine Services of the United States, or PICSUS. Modeled after the CIA’s former National Clandestine Services division, PICSUS was a highly secretive group whose general clerical tasks were the only actions visible to anyone outside its ranks, including other members of the CIIO. Their general mission had less to do with gathering information than it did protecting it. Their sole responsibility was to ensure the absolute safety of the United States government’s most sensitive data.

Meanwhile, tensions remained high across the Atlantic. The American government kept everything especially close to the vest, perhaps more so than it ever had. Then-President Joshua Bristol and his cronies believed that the country’s continuous economic growth and relative prosperity would make the nation a target not only for acts of terrorism in light of Europe’s struggles, but also for secrets on how to emulate its affluence. PICSUS agreed, locking down nearly all government travel outside the country and monitoring all communications in to and out of the District of Columbia and all state capitals.

The public reaction was not unlike the Red Scare over a century past in the 1950s, and perhaps with good reason. As a result, the CIIO put through and approved a motion to relocate its main headquarters from the east coast in Langley, Virginia to a landlocked, difficult to access compound in the Midwest. Chicago, known officially since 2061 as Chicago City in light of its rapid suburban expansion, became its new home. Apart from a massive, unmarked construction effort along the shore of Lake Michigan, the relocation was kept relatively quiet, with PICSUS managing to keep the story from hitting the popular news stations and media outlets. After only six months, the new CIIO headquarters was christened the Fitzhugh-Bristol Building.

With PICSUS taking care of things within the U.S. borders, the DPD focused its attention on international espionage. The DPD’s numbers swelled exponentially, with dozens of new field operatives, handlers, and technological masterminds working together under a new hierarchy of senior operatives and two directors, a main and an assistant. With coverage all over Europe, including the more hostile regions of Belgium, northeastern France, and western Germany, the DPD was on top of its game. A select group of undercover agents even foretold the end of the conflicts, delivering news weeks before the official announcement that a new western German republic was forming in response to the 2088 unrest.

In the aftermath, the DPD’s numbers dropped by only a few personnel, with the majority making their departure as a result of departmental transfer. Since then the division had remained the CIIO’s top producing branch, rivaled only by the FBI.

Its success rates and proud history were two of many things that drew a young Rhys Proudfoot to the CIIO training center as an eager student in 2110.

The rest, as cliché told, was history.

 

— — — someone's in trouble somewhere tonight — — —

 

The generic shriek of a cheap motel alarm clock pierced the humid morning. From beneath the threadbare comforter, a reluctant hand emerged to silence the device’s unwelcome cries.

Thick drapes shielded the small, cigarette-scented room from the glare of the half-risen 6 AM sun. From beyond the rickety door, a siren wailed and an angry dog barked. Rhys threw back the stained sheets with a sigh, staring at the ceiling as the reprieve of sleep gave way once more to active thought. Another day. Another twenty-four hours. Another hundred grand.

He dragged himself to his feet and padded to the bathroom, repeating the words under his breath like a groggy mantra. One day. Twenty-four hours. A hundred thousand dollars. Wasting no time in waiting for the shower’s stream of water to warm, he stepped beneath the icy torrent and quickly washed away the previous day’s grime. He didn’t bother to dry himself off before slipping into his clothes—a ragged pair of light denim, a dark cotton t-shirt, and a gray hoodie, nondescript enough to blend in, baggy enough to conceal his supplies.

No amount of caffeine could wipe the tiredness from his system; even with six hours’ sleep, he felt the weight of his perpetual exhaustion weighing down his eyelids and squeezing his heart. It was an affliction no amount of slumber could cure—and lord knew he’d tried. He hadn’t been the same since Tribeca-Antioch, and he doubted he ever would be again. Nevertheless, when the chime of the single-serve coffeemaker sounded, he poured himself a cup and returned to his makeshift desk.

The bluish glow of his laptop screen bathed his sun-bronzed face in an eerie light. As the machine booted up, he traced with his eyes the outline of his reflection in the glassy display. He did not look like a man capable of running this kind of sophisticated technology; as he sat, with his wet tousled hair, ragtag clothing, and dark circles beneath his eyes in a cheap dated motel, he appeared more the type to  steal such equipment than operate it. He offered his reflection a sour smile and repeated the words. One day. Twenty-four hours. Another hundred grand.

Hired by the soon-to-be-victim’s venture partner, Rhys Proudfoot’s target was a suburban businessman named Henri Yankton, a corpulent middle-aged go-getter from North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with a shiny leather briefcase and a thin comb-over. He drove an expensive vintage Mercedes-Benz SUV that he paid for in cash, bought Armani suits that he didn’t bother to have tailored, and drank only bottled water imported from Peru between meals at trendy exotic restaurants. Unfortunately for the lux-loving financial tycoon, Rhys had proven his client’s suspicions to be true—that Mr. Yankton had embezzled upwards of twelve million dollars from his company stockholders, using it to fund not only his own questionable material tastes but also those of the woman with whom he was having an affair—a woman also happened to be Rhys’s client’s wife.

It was not up to Rhys to decide what sort of misdeeds should be punished by murder. No, that was up to his clients—all of whom were willing to pay a pretty penny for a thorough investigation and a quick, smart, expertly-dealt execution. They tracked him down via the internet, navigating a vast, startling network of underground forums and exchange boards known as the Deep Web. This particular level of interconnectedness was available for access only to those who knew how to reach its impressive cyber depths. It was the ultimate virtual black market for goods and services condemned by most nations, with business conducted on a covert, purely anonymous basis with untraceable connections and even, in some instances, digital currency.

If you could break through the limitations of regular net browsing to explore these particular trenches, it was not difficult to find someone, somewhere, willing to sell you what you sought. Street drugs, narcotics, prescription pills; human and animal organ trafficking; medical experimentation and status reports; assassins for hire; and much, much worse—it was all there, lurking in the murky waters of an indisputably fucked-up online community.

Rhys’s first exposure to the deep web had been at Double Eye, where the DPD’s technology specialists and handlers had used its system to track the movement of illegal weapons. Though he was no computer expert, Rhys had been around them long enough to pick up a few tricks, including how to interact with the people who hid behind usernames and to convince them he “wasn’t a fucking cop.” It was a type of field operation without actually venturing into the field, and it took just as much planning and strategizing as any in-person mission in which he’d participated over the years. There may not have been threat of gunfire through a computer screen, but there was risk all the same.

Including the risk of getting himself caught.

But if there was one thing about Rhys Proudfoot that differed from other deep web service providers—and he actually hoped there were many things that set him apart—was that despite his name, he was not at all proud of what he did. He was good at it, yes. He was good at being a hit man, killing people, at eliminating someone from existence, at covering his tracks. He’d learned how to hide at the Double Eye training facility with the best mentors in the business, and he’d put it all into use during his years as a DPD field operative. But as deeply as he already loathed himself, his self-hatred burned a little hotter with each subsequent job carried through to the end—which, strangely enough, only fueled his desire to complete more work.

Taking life garnered absolutely no joy for Rhys. It was a paycheck and nothing more, a means to the substantial amount of money it required for him to maintain his laptop…and keep his connections severed. It was often said that no one could hide from Double Eye forever, but Rhys intended to try—and to do so required continual passport renewal, bi-monthly identity changes, and more travel than he’d ever done as an operative.

There had been no formal charges pressed against him after the Tribeca-Antioch disaster, but his resignation had been an unspoken condition of the investigation, one he had taken in spite of Director Tesh Marionetti’s insistence that he stay. He couldn’t have remained there. All the praise in the world couldn’t get rid of the nightmares or banish the cold midnight sweats; no amount of convincing could ease the burden of guilt from his shoulders. Liza Liszt’s ghost was everywhere in those steely gray halls, and no matter where he went he could feel Harriet Grimm’s piercing glare wishing it was he who had perished in the blast.

 

— — — the steam's in the boiler, the coal's in the fire — — —

[ 12 SEPTEMBER 2115 ]
THREE WEEKS POST-TRIBECA-ANTIOCH INCIDENT
Fitzhugh-Bristol Building (HuBris), Chicago City

 

“Grimm?”

It was Tesh Marionetti’s voice that interrupted her thoughts.

“Harriet.” The director’s voice softened when the senior handler didn’t immediately respond. She looked up from her computer, meeting his dark eyes with her own, her face as startlingly devoid of emotion as Tesh had ever seen her.

She saw him hesitate to continue, and she furrowed her brow. “You don’t have to tread lightly, Tesh. A wrong word isn’t going to trigger the waterworks, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Jesus, Harriet, that’s not it.” Marionetti sighed. “I know you don’t break that easily.”

Didn’t she? Harriet looked down again, her gaze locking on the matte gold shine of the engagement ring sitting unceremoniously on the desk next to her keyboard. She couldn’t bring herself to wear it anymore, yet neither could she let it out of her sight. Grief and anger seized her throat, and she forced herself to relax her hands that had balled into tight fists on her lap.

“Harriet,” Marionetti began again softly.

“Just…out with it, Tesh. Please. I have work to do.”

“Proudfoot’s been discharged. He’s coming in today for questioning.”

She froze. The dark-haired woman’s teeth cut into the inside of her cheek, the bitter, metallic tang of blood washing over her tongue. “Fine,” she said tightly. “Whatever. I don’t care.”

“You [i]do[/i] care, and you know it.”

Her eyes strayed back to the ring. She wanted to touch it, but her hands refused to cooperate.

“You were his handler for three years, and his novice supervisor for two. You care, whether you want to or not. Richard Fairmont alluded to some shit that I’d left alone up until now, but if there’s any truth—”

“You don’t know anything about us,” Harriet snapped, interrupting. She didn’t specify whether it was she and Rhys or she and Liza or all three of them to whom she referred, but it really didn’t matter. They were tangled in this mess together—or at least they had been—and it was impossible to separate one from the other, even in the aftermath.

“I don’t. You’re right. Maybe it’s time you fill me in.” Marionetti’s concern had turned to frustration, and it manifested in his tone as bitter irritation.

“Fuck you, Tesh.”

“I can’t have my personnel keeping secrets from me. I’ve kept my nose out of this until now, but dammit, Grimm, I need to know what’s up.” Tesh shook his head incredulously. “I mean, Christ, Harriet, Liza is dead, Rhys almost didn’t make it, and you still think it’s okay to keep your mouth clamped shut about whatever it is that’s going on?”

“Why don’t you ask Proudfoot?” Harriet shot back, eyes wide and accusatory.

Marionetti pursed his lips. “Fairmont’s gonna have me in a polygraph room any day now, and he’s already asking questions about you three. I sure as hell hope you don’t expect me to cover for you if you’re not willing to read me in.”

Harriet shook her head. When she spoke, her words were a rushed whisper. “I wish I could, but I can’t. I can’t.”

“Harriet?”

She heard Tesh emit a soft gasp, and she looked up in shock. The new voice that spoke her name was barely recognizable—hoarse and low, nothing like the clear, musical baritone to which she’d grown accustomed. His face, too, was the visage of a different man. Though his familiar light blue eyes peered at her through the same veil of long, feminine lashes, the surrounding flesh was swollen, bruised, and marred by half-healed serpentine lacerations. His right arm was suspended in a sling, and when he trudged into the doorway to take his place next to Marionetti, his gait was stiff and he limped on his left foot. Her heart leapt and sank at the same time.

“Harriet, I—”

“Get the fuck away from me!” The outburst was past her lips before she could control herself, with tears welling unbidden in her eyes. Without thinking, she swiped the engagement ring from the desk and threw it at Rhys, knocking her chair to the floor as she flew to her feet.

Proudfoot, in the split second she caught his eye as he retreated, looked hurt and panicked, and she almost—almost—apologized. Instead, she marched to the door and slammed it closed as they backed away, leaving Tesh and Rhys in the corridor while she slid down the wall to the floor in her office and buried her face in her hands.

 

— — — the wind blows away all of yesterday's news — — —

 

The silence after the deafening crash of the slamming door was thick with emotion. Wordlessly, Rhys grimaced, carefully bending down to pick up what Harriet had thrown. Marionetti steadied him as he straightened again, closing his eyes against the spinning room and the pounding in his temples. He didn’t need to look to know what he held in his left fist, but he did anyway, his breath catching in his throat nevertheless at the small gold band in his palm.

Marionetti looked sympathetic, guiding the injured young man down the hall to his office.

“You look like shit,” Rhys croaked as he sat down.

The comment coaxed a surprised laugh from the director, who promptly handed the operative a glass of filtered water. “Well, good thing we’ve got you to class up the joint, then,” Tesh replied.

Rhys didn’t seem to hear him. It was a marvel he was on his feet at all, let alone at HuBris; the doctors had barely agreed to discharge him, signing the papers only when he threatened to leave against medical advice—something Double Eye, particularly PICSUS, would not like. He’d had time to heal in Antioch before the charter had flown him to an American facility in Washington, he’d argued. Nevermind that he’d been in a coma for eight days. And his stay in Chicago City had followed a two day stay in a government hospital in DC. Nearly three weeks in intensive care was quite enough, he reasoned, and in all that time he’d only required two resuscitations, none within the last two weeks. Mostly, he just couldn’t live with himself alone with his thoughts in those hospital rooms.

“You’re an idiot, Proudfoot,” Tesh said, as though reading his mind. “You need at least another five days of observation. What are you doing here?”

Rhys sighed softly, his broken ribs sending a jolt of pain through his torso as his lungs inflated. “The PICSUS task force—”

“—can wait for medical permission to continue the investigation,” Marionetti finished firmly, arching his brows.

“It’s not that simple.” There was a long pause, and Rhys once again opened his palm to study the ring Harriet had thrown so violently at him. “I don’t think she would want me to touch this,” he said pointlessly, absently. “When is Liza’s funeral?”

“It was five days ago.”

“I missed it.”

Marionetti nodded gravely. “It was a beautiful service.”

Rhys said nothing. Like Harriet, he too seemed unable to tear his gaze from the band.

“Looks, Rhys, I know this is hard, but…I need you to read me in on what’s going on with you and Harriet and Elizabeth. Did you and Grimm have an affair?”

“Yes.” The point-blank inquiry did not shock Rhys; indeed, he knew it was only a matter of time before his supervisor stopped conveniently looking the opposite direction and demanded details. However, speaking the answer aloud caused a new pain in his chest unrelated to his injuries, and he winced.

“God damn it, Proudfoot. Did Liza know?”

“Not at the time.”

“Did she ever know?” Tesh arched a brow.

“It came to light in Antioch.”

Tesh’s jaw dropped. “What?” He lowered his voice. “Was…was it a…did she…?”

Rhys looked horrified. “Did she walk into the blast on purpose? Oh God, no. Of course not. Liza Liszt would never commit suicide.” He cringed against the ache in his bones, and he stretched out his good leg in an attempt to alleviate some of the stiffness. “The affair wasn’t the issue. I mean, it was an issue, but that’s not the whole deal.”

“I’m the director of the DPD, Rhys. There’s no way in hell I’d think that was the whole deal.” He rubbed the back of his neck with his palm, leaning back in his office chair. “What were you thinking, man? Harriet isn’t—”

“She’s bisexual, Tesh.”

“That is not what I was going to say.” Marionetti shook his head incredulously. “Harriet was [i]engaged[/i], Rhys. I don’t know what she was thinking either. Liza was a good woman.”

“Neither of us said she wasn’t!” The outburst sent a shock of pain down his spine. “We didn’t mean for it to happen. It just…I don’t know. It just did. Liza was in Tokyo for ten months, and things sort of…changed.”

Tesh stared at Rhys, his expression unreadable. “Liza’s stint in Japan was two years ago.”

“Yeah.”

Christ. That long?” Marionetti pursed his lips. His best operative and handler team had not only committed adultery against another fine agent, they had also developed romantic feelings in spite of being operative and handler—a professional relationship defined by a closeness and trust, yes, but with strict personal parameters. It was frowned upon for that bond to go deeper than friendship. It was simply too risky during sensitive missions. Love clouded judgment, and a spy’s chief weapon in the field was clear-headedness. “This is worse than I thought. Just wait until Fairmont gets word of this—whew, this is not good. Not good at all.”

The wounded operative shifted in his seat. Despite Marionetti’s inquisition, the man was dancing around the worst and most pressing topic—the fact that Operative Elizabeth Marta Liszt was dead, and her blood was on no others’ hands but Rhys Proudfoot’s.

Sensing the shift in atmosphere and Rhys’s heightened discomfort, Tesh lowered his eyes and waited a moment to continue. “You did what you had to do, Proudfoot,” he said finally. “It could have been any of us.”

Emotion welled in Rhys’s throat, and he failed to choke back a sudden sob that rasped forth from his lips. Salty tears rolled from his swollen eyes in thick beads, stinging as they washed over the cuts on his face. He hadn’t cried since the incident, but now, surrounded by the familiar dark walls of the DPD, the confrontation with Harriet, and the appraising stare of Tesh Marionetti, he no longer had the strength to hold it all back. The ring in his hand was of no help, either.

“Put the it on my desk, Proudfoot.”

It was a command, and so Rhys was able to obey. He reached over with a groan and slid the ring across to Marionetti.

“Now pull yourself together.” Tesh cleared his throat. “Your re-entry interview is set for tomorrow at noon. Which is one of the many, many reasons why you’re a fool to discharge yourself from the hospital so soon. They’re already trying to leap down your throat, and you’ve still got stitches in your head. And you and Grimm can’t be in the same room together for longer than, what, five seconds?” The senior officer sighed. “I want to be your friend as well as your supervisor, Rhys, but you’re making it damn hard not just to be your boss.”

“Will you be my boss for much longer?” Rhys asked, clearing his throat. His tone was bleak. “Even if this turns out okay for me, they’re not going to want me working for the DPD anymore. Especially not as an operative.”

“Out of the question,” Marionetti retorted, more forcefully than he’d intended. “I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“It’s going to happen,” Rhys argued. “It’s just a matter of whether or not it’s before or after the task force decides to press charges.”

“I said I’d make sure that doesn’t happen. You’re valuable to this institution, Proudfoot. Double Eye functions on logic, not luck, but damn, were we fortunate to snatch you up. PICSUS knows it, I know it, everyone knows it.”

“That’s the thing,” said Rhys. “You’re only lucky until you’re not. You’re only useful until you’re not. Look at me now.” He arched his swollen brows and lifted his cast-wrapped forearm with a wince. “I was dead [i]twice[/i] in that hospital bed. Twice. I shouldn’t be alive.” And Liza shouldn’t be dead. The unspoken phrase hung unvoiced in the air, rendering the air bitter.

Marionetti was unsure how to break the extended silence that followed. After several minutes, he watched, expressionless, as Rhys hauled himself to his feet and limped out the door, neither man exchanging a word.

It was the last time Tesh would see Rhys.

 

— — — they've locked up their daughters and battened the hatches — — —
[ PRESENT DAY, OCTOBER 2120 ]
Camden, Central Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

 

Henri Yankton climbed out of his SUV with a paper cup of coffee in one hand, his clean-shaven face rosy in the crisp morning air of mid-autumn. The businessman stopped at the high-rise Hilton twice a week to deliver a skim, sugar-free mocha latte to the thin woman at the front desk, an unspoken favor in exchange for keeping her mouth firmly closed in regards his frequent stays with his prominent business partner’s wife.

Rhys Proudfoot watched nonchalantly from a bus stop bench along the sidewalk, his hands buried in the front pockets of his nondescript hoodie. He knew with certainty that if Yankton left the vehicle without his briefcase, he would be very quick to return—which meant quick action was imperative. It was his client’s deadline date, the latest date Rhys had promised by contract that the deed would be done, and he was ready for the charade to be over. Though he’d been on Yankton’s case for only two and a half weeks, he’d already spent three months in Philadelphia, which meant he was overdue for an identity refresh. “Jason Kitchener” was becoming too familiar a face in the metro area.

Yankton disappeared behind the rotating doors. Because he parked half a block from the main entrance (for discretion, most likely), it was easy for Rhys to stride up to the black Mercedes unseen. Because it was a vintage model (expensive, but insecure), overriding the computerized alarm with a transmission jammer was a simple matter of broadening the frequency range and planting the small device in the front wheel well. The rest was a swift series of basic lock-picking maneuvers, and in thirty seconds the operative-turned-assassin was huddling in the spacious leather back seat, awaiting his unsuspecting prey like a hungry leopard crouching in the savannah grass.

Huffing and puffing, the portly Henri Yankton climbed into the driver’s seat in an obvious hurry. Before he could turn the keys in the ignition, however, the assassin struck—sliding one gloved hand around to clamp over his target’s mouth while the other slid a long needle into the pulsing artery in the man’s throat.

Yankton made no sound as he lost consciousness, slipping into a deep slumber from which he would never rouse. Rhys reached forward, tripping the lever that allowed the seat to recline. He slid over to the passenger side in the back seat and leaned over the businessman, surveying the site of the injection. He located it quickly and inserted yet another needle into the same miniscule pockmark; this was the final blow. The solution in the syringe was a strange cocktail of organic and synthetic chemicals, a combination of his own invention that was so convoluted—and virtually unprecedented—that even high-dollar blood analyses came back inconclusive. It had taken several trials to perfect the recipe, which he had cobbled together with pieces of other, similarly successful serums from Double Eye and competing foreign agencies.

Despite its high scores on the blood tests, Rhys’s goal was that such a thorough panel would never be necessary. As long as it stopped the heart and could pass the coroner’s basic preliminary testing, that was good enough. His client’s wishes were that it appear a perfectly natural death—a desire Rhys definitely agreed upon, as bodily disposal was not part of his package—which was, in this case, relatively straightforward. Yankton was a big man who looked at least ten years older than his age, and conveniently, he was a relatively newly diagnosed type-one diabetic. As a man unaccustomed to mandated change who very much liked his expensive chocolate gelato (and disliked heeding anyone’s warnings, let alone a nutritionist’s), it would not require any stretch of the imagination to assume that he administered an incorrect dose of insulin after indulging and subsequently—if accidentally—met his end.

Rhys tugged Yankton’s limp body to the side so that the man’s torso rested on the passenger seat. The assassin climbed over top of him to perch beneath the steering wheel, then slid his legs over the center console out of the way. With the keys in the ignition, it was easy to turn the switch and drive peacefully away, heading toward the man’s house—which Rhys had naturally already located and scoped out. He pulled into the driveway, opened and closed the automatic garage, and repositioned the man to sit slumped over behind the wheel. Behind the closed door, he carefully positioned the syringe of insulin he’d used himself (the same brand as Yankton’s, of course) to look discarded in the cup holder.

The man had felt dizzy at the hotel—surveillance would have seen him come and go with his usual coffee delivery—and quickly drove home, where he never made it out of the car.

There were holes in the story, of course; Rhys did only enough to cover his own tracks, and whatever trail authorities might find would lead only to his client. But with Yankton’s social and medical reputation, he doubted many would question his demise.

Feeling empty, the former field operative departed the Yankton estate and returned to his grungy motel room.

 

— — — someone’s in trouble somewhere tonight — — —

 

How Rhys found himself in this particular situation, he couldn’t say.

“It’s a fine Tuscan vintage,” the dark-haired man was saying, the wrinkles around his mouth stretching into a broad, decidedly menacing smile. “Have a drink. I insist. Truly.”

Rhys released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. “I’m going to have to decline,” he said, his throat tight with concern. It wasn’t wise to insult Murphy Colstorm, a man whose reputation preceded him as a very important, infamously violent advisor to the Vandalays, one of the top-dog mafia families in North America.

Predictably, Colstorm’s expression darkened. “Nonsense. Have a drink.” He reached forward, pushing a crystal chalice roughly across the table.

The dark liquid contents sloshed in the bowl of the glass, and Rhys’s stomach turned. The aged Bordeaux looked far too much like blood. Reluctantly, the curly-haired young man brought the glass to his lips and took a sip. He forced a smile. “You’re right,” he said. “It’s good.”

The chuckled response contained no humor. “Have more.”

Rhys gritted his teeth, bile rising in his throat. It was a requirement of every spy, even former ones, to possess a supreme set of instincts that could do many things—detect untruths, predict future action, judge character, and warn of danger. In this particular case, despite their tranquil surroundings on the balcony of a high-rise New York City penthouse, Rhys Proudfoot’s gut was telling him—no, screaming for him—to run.

With the exception of an occasional twinge of soreness in his knee, he’d been back to full physical function for quite some time. The injuries he had sustained during the Tribeca-Antioch incident in Turkey had taken no lasting toll on his body. But the wounds that continued to plague him were the invisible ones; they were the ghosts of memory and the demons of panic, haunting him beneath every thought, within every dream, behind every move he made. His head pounded with explosions at night, keeping him awake and clammy and shaking; during the day, it was a constant internal war to keep the devils far enough at bay to function. And sometimes—times like these, when he felt just as trapped and cornered as he had during the incident—he wondered how (and why) it was he had survived so long.

Rhys, heart slamming in his ears, tipped the last of the wine into his mouth and swallowed.

“Good lad,” Colstorm said approvingly, traces of an Irish lilt coloring his tone. This stretches a lot farther than this continent, Rhys thought automatically. “At last we can get down to business.” The man cleared his throat. “Your previous client, John Erickson? Oh yes, we know about Henri Yankton.” The mobster had mistaken Rhys’s blanched expression for surprise. “Were it not for the way you handled that particular scenario, you would not be here today. So count yourself lucky, my friend. Yankton was no saint, but neither was Erikson, who referred you to us given your unique…qualifications. It was a test, of sorts, and you were the first of many to pass.”

His smile was filthy, and Rhys pursed his lips, maintaining a neutral expression. He preferred not to know just what had become of those Colstorm hadn’t deemed worthy.

“Our organization is large, Mr. Proudfoot, and I admit, we have men amongst our ranks already who are more than capable of doing the job. But none of them have your background, or your grace, and that is what we want. We need finesse, Mr. Proudfoot. Finesse, dedication, and experience. Which is why we are hiring you.”

Are hiring. Colstorm was presenting it like a choice, but there was no decision to be made in this; Rhys could accept their offer, whatever it may be for whomever it might be, or face consequences he didn’t want to think about having been privy to so much already. He also suspected that matters would not be so simple as Mr. Colstorm presented.

“You will meet with a team downstairs just three floors, in the lower level penthouse,” Colstorm continued, leaning back in his chair and knotting his fingers together over his stomach. “Myron and Dixon will escort you, where your credentials will be assessed by Mr. Vandelay and associates and you will be briefed.” He rose to his feet. “More wine for the road, my friend?”

Rhys shivered at the repeated terms of endearment, then shook his head. “I prefer to be in control of my faculties, sir,” he said robotically.

Colstorm laughed, this time with genuine amusement, and it was unclear which version of his guffaws were worse. “Of course, of course. I will show you to the elevator.”

The electronic silver doors opened once they were inside, and the former operative stepped inside the elevator sandwiched between two tight-lipped, well-dressed bodyguards. As the barriers slid shut, Colstorm waved using just the tips of his fingers from across the room. “Good luck,” he called ominously, and the bell signaled the start of their descent.

 

— — — if you ask how i am, then i’ll just say ‘inspired’ — — —

 

The conference room in which the meeting took place was a long, narrow chamber with tall packed bookshelves and even taller windows. Sunlight streamed in straight geometric beams through the dusty air, the particles sent aflutter as Rhys stood from his chair and strode calmly, if quickly, towards the oversized sculpted wooden doors.

His dismissal really had not come soon enough.

He expected to find the reception area empty. The space was more of an academic study than a waiting room, with a large old-fashioned brick fireplace, rich green oriental carpet over polished wooden floors, and yet more bookshelves filled to capacity. Plush armchairs in crimson and gray sat angled in each corner, their vibrant color dulled somewhat by a thin layer of dust from disuse. Strange, that an organization who claimed to be so technologically progressive would model its meeting chambers after Victorian-era libraries (and in a cold, streamlined contemporary office building to top it all off). Even the air smelled of pipe tobacco and musk.

Rhys pushed his way through the second set of double-doors, catching a sudden and unexpected glimpse of gunmetal black as he stepped over the threshold. He’d barely registered the presence of a firearm before his training kicked in, and he wrapped one hand around its short barrel while the other grabbed its wielder’s forearm. He used her own limb across her body to press her against the oak door as it closed. Clearly, she had anticipated him as much as he had anticipated her—likely the only reason he'd been able to maneuver her out of the way.

He kept his voice low so as not to draw the attention of the men still in the meeting.

“Who are you," he hissed, "and who are you after?”

 

— — — and you're better off dead if you haven't yet died — — —


   
Quote
Requiem
(@requiem)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 842
 
by Requiem
Vandelay blood ran true. Ran pure. The power is in the potency, had been the family’s motto for generations, and that potency was directly correlated with the purity. With the gravity surrounding the Vandelay name, and that it wasn’t to be inherited lightly or wielded without good reason, rules and expectations were firm for everyone—except the only one with the power to twist and change them to suit his own interests and unique circumstances.

That was always the twist with families dealing in organized crime: nobody could break the rules except for the ones who made them. And even then, there were repercussions.

The child was silent in her gaudily adorned cradle, off to the side of the fireplace in her father’s exquisite, Victorian style study—only days old, and already, she slept through the night. Yet while a quiet and healthy newborn would be the greatest pride and relief of any other parent, her agreeable behaviour and placid demeanor only served to push Emilia Vandelay’s ire to the extreme.

The woman’s black high-heels clicked aggressively upon the polished finish of the hardwood floor, scraping and scuffing its dark oaken surface as intentionally as the glare which was directed at her husband. For only twenty-five years old, years of smoking encouraged wrinkles around her eyes which intensified when she grimaced. “I don’t even know what to say. I don’t…” She trailed off, running beige manicured fingers through her shock of blonde hair. “After everything I’ve done—everything I’ve done for you! The medical exams, the expensive fertility treatments that made me throw my guts up, the dietary changes, fucking you by the calendar and by the book to try and get pregnant with your goddamned heir… It’s been five years, and you just… what? Decided Iwas the problem nine months ago? Without even fucking telling me? After everything I did…”

“Darling, my flesh and blood is fast asleep in that cradle, despite your ranting. While I trust that stands as hard evidence that I, for one, was not the ‘problem’, here, I hardly interpret this as an opportunity to assign blame.” Gustave Vandelay, a handsome and charismatic man of thirty-five, tapped the ashes of his cigar into the crystal tray to his right. Imported from Germany, it was one of the many congratulatory gifts sent on behalf of his daughter’s birth from extended family in Europe, and he was not about to let his hot-headed wife’s temper keep him from enjoying them. “Look at it as me absolving you of the burden of pregnancy and childbirth. Like I said, her mother is dead—I would be happy to retrieve the coroner’s report, if it would appease you. The baby will never know her, but she will know and love you, if you will allow it.”

But it would take more than that excuse to appease Emilia Vandelay and assuage her ire. “You lie to me—lie by not telling me for almost a fucking year, go and fuck another bitch to get your heir, and you expect me to mother it? That—” she jabbed her finger in the direction of the cradle, with its Mother of Pearl trim, “—is not my daughter. That is not my flesh and blood. That is not my child, and you cannot expect me to accept any of this.”

“I have a firstborn, Emilia.” The Vandelay crime lord lowered his voice. The soft murmur of his baritone was exponentially more intimidating than Emilia’s screeching, and the woman visibly began to back down. This was the same tone Gustave used before he decreed something very bad was about to happen to someone; and she had already witnessed first-hand those fates which were deemed worse than death. “Her name is Sarena Alexandra Josefine Vandelay, and when I so choose to retire, she will sit where I am sitting. She will lead this branch of the Vandelay organization.”

“She is a girl! When the little slut falls into bed with the right guy, you watch her change her last name and forsake this family.”

“It’s 2093. And we are not a patriarchy: my own mother before me managed this family with capable hands. I see it no differently for my daughter. Besides,” Gustave inhaled another heady mouthful of smoke, and expelled it from his lungs in a perfect ‘O’. “She was born a Vandelay. That is what counts.”

“Was she, though?” Emilia placed her hands flat upon her husband’s oriental mahogany desk and leaned forward. He could smell the red wine on her breath, that half a bottle in which she had indulged in lieu of joining him for supper that evening. “I’m the one with your matching wedding band. My name is next to yours on our marriage certificate. You know this family—and by family I mean your own mother—dictates pure blood. So unless you married that kid’s whore of a mother on the fly and surreptitiously managed to divorce me without my bloody signature, she is only half a Vandelay. Nothing but a little bas—”

The distinct ‘click’ of a firearm dissolved the word in Emilia’s throat. Gustave’s left hand was hidden behind his desk, but she knew for a fact there were at least five different guns cleverly distributed throughout the nooks and crannies of the office. All of them were always loaded, and her husband faltered at no trigger. Not for anyone.
“It’s 10 in the evening, my dear.” Gustave indicated the grandfather clock across the room with a nod of his head. “Aren’t your shows on?”

While far from happy with such patronizing dismissal (and yet ‘we are not a patriarchy’; fucking hypocrite), Emilia Vandelay knew better than to force her husband’s hand to its furthest extent. She had spoken her piece, and nothing would change.
At least, not directly.

Straightening her spine, the wife of New York’s most accomplished crime lord removed her hands from his desk, exhaling to regain an ounce of composure. “Everyone knows,” came her murmured caution, which presented itself as more of a gloat. “And unlike you, everyone else adheres to this family’s traditions. Phylip is more Vandelay than you are; Janet has been undergoing chemotherapy for years, now, and he has not given up on her. He hasn’t taken another wife or some whore, and when she pulls through and the cancer is gone, they will have a legitimate child—”

“The discussion is closed, Emilia. You’re giving me a headache.”

Curling her lip, Gustave’s wife stalked to the heavy double-doors, hand-carved with serpentine designs. “They won’t hate you. They’re not allowed,” she hissed over her shoulder, “but they will hate her. She might be yours, but she is not a Vandelay.”

As soon as the heavy doors opened and slammed shut, three-day-old Sarena Vandelay finally began to cry, tiny hands flailing from her cradle, grasping for an anchor that she would never have.

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There was no point in posting a ‘NO SMOKING’ sign outside a cheap motel on the darker, more forbidden streets of New York City, since the chances of being able to enforce such a rule were even slimmer than the chances of patrons actually abiding it. Even if the room, with its faded mauve paint peeling off the walls hadn’t already reeked of tobacco and marijuana, Sarena wouldn’t have been deterred from lighting the cigarette between her lips and exhaling its contents into the polluted air. Pressing her lips together to hold the cig in place, she the Vandelay daughter hooked her bra mid-back and pulled her underwear over her thighs, and leaned over the bed to retrieve her phone from the pocket of her jeans to check the time.
10:49AM; the day was still young.

“Ouch; checking the time so soon?” A greedy hand traced the soft curve of her bare thigh, stopping at the bend in her knee. Her hook-up, with his neat blonde hair and arrogant smile, studied her face as if he were expecting some sort of reaction. “And here you looked like you couldn’t get enough. Guess I have to step up my game, huh?”

Sarena snorted, lifting her shoulders in a shrug as she stood to pull her jeans on. “Come on. A rich, white boy like yourself, and you take a girl to this dive?” Casting a glance over her shoulder, she raised a dark eyebrow. “Not even dinner. I think I can do better.”

“Ah, baby. You know as well as I do that we’ve both gotta keep low profiles. If my pops found out I’m running around with a Vandelay bitch, my inheritance would be as good as gone.” He shook his head, turning his palms upwards so as to indicate the situation was ‘out of his hands’. Eldest son of a very successful bank owner, Desmond Storne was used to getting what he wanted, all the while getting away with offering little in return. For many women, his alluring blue eyes and the chance to sleep with a rich man was enough.

But while Sarena Vandelay could be easily said to match him in allure and finances, he did have a point. The risk of running around with a banker’s son was just as great, for her. “You’re lucky you’re cute,” the brunette conceded, and tilted the pack of cigarettes toward him. 

“Nah,” Desmond responded with a shaky smile. “Thanks. Got my own, though.” Grabbing a stick from the package with two fingers, he picked up his engraved silver lighter, pressing it to the tip of the cigarette until it glowed red. “Hey, where are you going? You so pissed about the motel you won’t even have a cig with me?”

“Places to go, people to deal with. You know how it is.” Tucking long tresses of dark hair behind her ears, the young woman grabbed her shirt from the floor, expertly pulling it over her head without sullying it with so much as an ash from the stick between her lips. “Oh, by the way,” she said, and tucked the thin cylinder of tobacco temporarily between her fingers, casting another curious look over her shoulder. “How much did she offer you?”

Desmond’s face coloured crimson. Hr brought a hand to his throat. “I don’t… know what you mean.”

“Yeah? So, then, is poisoning the women you sleep with just another hobby to pass the time? Hey, no judgement here: I know how desperate rich people can get when they’re bored.” Resting her free hand in the crook of her elbow, the Vandelay daughter turned to face her most recent conquest. Pretty faces could be so deceiving… He hadn’t even been that good in the sack. “I found the powder last night in your wallet. You coated my cigs, yeah? You were gonna wait for me to drop dead, leave my body here and call Emilia over so she could see you did the job and dish over the cash. Classic ploy.”

“I… but how…” The banker’s son’s face only grew darker. Eyes wide, he sat up, fingers digging into his neck as if they could draw breath from it. “Why aren’t you…” 

The grin that touched Sarena Vandelay’s lips was chilling. Remorseless. “How’re you feeling, Des?” She paused to take another drag on her cig, not once breaking eye contact with the flabbergasted young man. “By the way—I switched the sticks in the packs. Figured you can keep my cigs, since you already had your greasy fingers all over ‘em.”

Not that it needed to be said: Desmond was already gasping for breath, coughing blood and precious air into his palm, staining the floral comforter on top of the bed. The cigarette fell from his fingers and into the bloody mess.

“Don’t take it personally; it’s nothing about you.” Sarena began to pace, crossing the room towards where her purse sat on the chipped, faux-wooden desk. “Emilia just isn’t creative, and after twenty-seven years is somehow convinced I’m still not as smart as her. And that I’m apparently supposed to die easily. Not really a Vandelay, you know? Real Vandelays…” From her silver purse, she drew a sleek, gunmetal pistol. Clean, but not brand new; fingerprints and tarnishes revealed the loving wear and tear of its frequent usage. “We know how to kill.”

Whether Desmond’s words failed him for his astonishment, or the lack of breath he was able to draw past his swollen trachea, was uncertain. But his face betrayed nothing when the femme fatale approached him with the gun, so casually that there was no doubt in his mind the weapon was a familiar prop in her palm. “You’re going to die, Desmond.” Her words were so soft that they could have passed for sympathy and concern. But anyone truly acquainted with Sarena Vandelay knew that wasn’t possible. “It hurts, doesn’t it? I’ve seen that shit before. It’s slow, messy and agonizing. Last person unlucky enough to have it on their tongue writhed on the floor for over an hour. But… I kind of like you. And I can make it quick.” Standing inches before him, cigarette in one hand and firearm in the other, Sarena’s icy blue eyes met her victim’s. “But only if you beg me.”

The Vandelay daughter counted the seconds in her head when her offer was met with a defiant glare. Stupid son of a bitch… As if there was any pride to spare when you were dying, choking on your own damn blood. Even if she left him to suffer, no one would ever find him help in time. The margin of salvation from the toxin was exactly five minutes.
Ultimately, the decision was his. Sarena didn’t care either way.

After a moment passed of Desmond coughing and gasping and glaring down at the ruined bed sheets, she shouldered her purse and turned to leave.

“S…Ssar….” Fragments of her name, struggling out of a throat closing over, reached her ears just as her hand touched the doorknob. “Pl..pl..s…”

Please. It was music to her ears when they begged her.

Turning the gun in her palm, Sarena shifted her body to face the dying man, the safety already off her gun. “Des. I’m so sorry. Your face…” She heaved a sigh and shook her head. “I hate ruining pretty faces. Blood throws off your complexion…”
Index finger activating the trigger, she deposited a bullet expertly between the dying man’s eyes, watching as his form crumpled face-down on the bed. 

In the dark side of New York City, gunshots were as common as the sirens that followed, sometimes even ignored as they’d reached the status of car alarms that cried wolf. There would be no immediate response to the incident in the motel room; Storne’s family would undoubtedly launch an investigation, but would come away empty-handed, and with more questions than answers concerning just why the prim and proper banker’s son was found in the slums. The authorities might have come close in the past, but the truth remained that Vandelays had their ways of squirreling out of the searchlights just in time. At least, Sarena wasn’t concerned; at worst, they’d trace the toxic substance on the cigarette back to foolish Emilia, and wouldn’t it be a plus to have her evil stepmother out of the way once and for all?

“Oh,” and she addressed the corpse, waiting for the tip of her pistol to cool before replacing in her purse, “and, not that it matters anymore, but you fuck like a virgin.”

Desmond Storne had been right: there would be no big, fat inheritance on his part.

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The survival and dominance of the Vandelays in the world of organized crime had everything to do with the fact they had become so established over time that uprooting them was simply impossible. Originally from Sweden, in response to the dangers that accompanied their vast population in a single location, the family branched out to other areas of Asia, Europe and North America in the year 2035, only a little over the decade before the formation of the CIIO—and, arguably, it was their activity that had been the catalyst of such an event. All the same, in spite of the progress world government had made in their augmented security, they remained too rooted, too many, and simply too disperse to apprehend.

Among the boldest sect of the family was the brood of Gloria Vandelay, whose parents had been some of the first to emigrate from Sweden. Matriarch of the family when her husband was killed in a crossfire, the strong and unshakable woman single-handedly raised four children, fifteen years apart in total. Larissa, only daughter and the eldest, mysteriously disappeared just a couple years before Gloria passed away of heart complications in her old age. Gustave, the eldest son and, following Larissa’s disappearance, inheritor of all the status and responsibilities that accompanied the head of the Vandelay household, sired one daughter and heir—Sarena—by a woman whose name only he knew (and who was not his wife, Emilia). His younger brother, Phylip, after supporting his wife, Janet, for the years that she endured chemotherapy to treat her leukemia, finally had a healthy son—Albert—by her, fifteen years following Sarena’s birth. Finally, the youngest of Gloria’s brood, Timmon, sired Caleb and Grace, one and six years Sarena’s junior, in that order, by his wife, Marguerite.

The Vandelays were neither a patriarchy nor a matriarchy, but eldest always assumed final responsibility in looking out for the family and the name—even if that eldest’s blood did not run ‘pure’, a rule recently changed by the current head of the household, much to the disdain of his brothers, their wives, and their children.
Perhaps it came as no surprise, then, that Sarena was despised by the majority of her immediate family. Emilia led the mob against her, and often only one person—Gustave—stood between her and an untimely demise. But while Gustave valued her, protected her and asserted she would one day take his place in the chair of the Victorian study, he did not love her.

That sentiment belonged to someone else.

Sarena ran out of her cigarette long before she made it back to her building at the other side of the city, smoking it down to the very last inch before dropping it onto the road and grinding it into the asphalt with her heel. The less she left behind, the less of her there was to trace, and by the time she stood outside the door of her chic condominium, she no longer smelled like the stale air that had wafted through the motel.
Preferable, considering it wasn’t wise to smell like her last crime scene at the scene that was about to be the site of another crime.

There hadn’t been a fraction of a moment, before and after Desmond Storne’s death, when it had even occurred to the Vandelay daughter to be the least bit stressed—she was far too confident, assured in her skills and in herself for such insecurities. It wasn’t until she took note of her door, and those few centimeters away from the wall that indicated it was not only unlocked, but ajar, that her heart rate picked up for the first time.

Not that fast… they wouldn’t figure it out that quickly. It wasn’t the cops, or any of those stiff collars from the CIIO. They were more discreet than that; whoever was trespassing in her humble abode wanted her to know that they were there. Somehow, that seemed all the more sinister.
Her hand was on her pistol again before she pushed open the door and slammed it behind her with a backward kick, nozzle aimed at the intruder sitting calmly on her clean, white sofa.

The fair face of a twelve-year-old boy stared down the nose of the weapon without fear, hands resting on his knees. “Calm down, Rena.”

“The fuck, Albert.” Sarena hissed, reinstating the safety on her weapon and stuffing it back into her purse. “What are you doing here? How did you get in? You’ve got school, you little shit.”

“The teachers are all in meetings today. And you gave me an extra key, remember? I left the door open a little so you wouldn’t freak out…”

“I don’t give a shit about the key. You need to let me know when you’re going to traipse in while I’m not home. Send me a fucking text message or something.”

“But I can’t.”

Sarena tossed her purse onto the other side of the sofa. “No? Lose your thumbs?”

“That’s not what I mean.” Albert Vandelay pressed his lips together and stared at the shiny floor. “My parents check incoming and outgoing calls and texts on my phone. They think I don’t know, but I’ve caught Mom doing it. They…”

“Let me guess. You’re grounded if they catch you talking to me?” It wasn’t right to smile at the notion, but she did nonetheless. “Well, I don’t blame them. I’m not a role model, kid. Why are you here, anyway?”

Albert picked at a thread in his pants. “I… just wanted to get out, for a while. I didn’t think you’d mind…”

He wasn’t lying; Albert was quite possibly the only Vandelay who wasn’t enamored of the temptation to substitute tale for truth. Instead, he chose to omit the details he didn’t care to discuss. It didn’t matter; either way, the twelve-year-old had too many tells.
“Caleb offered to help my mom out today while Dad’s… attending some business thing.”

“You mean while he’s hiring another red hand with Gustave and Timmon. You’re supposed to be smart; don’t pretend like you don’t know what really goes on.” Sarena’s voice carried from across the hall as she picked up a cleaner shirt from her bed, and then crossed to her ensuite bathroom to wash her face, shedding another layer of the culpability that had followed her from the motel room. “You realize if you don’t start standing up to Timmon’s brats, they’re going to walk all over you for the rest of your life. Just like Gustave steps on everyone’s backs.”

“I know! I know, that’s… that’s why I’m here. They’re way older than me, I can’t just walk up to Caleb and punch him.”

“I’m not going to do it for you.”

“That isn’t what I’m asking!” Albert’s voice had gained the desperate edge of someone tired of being the victim. “I want… can you show me how to use this? Please?”

When Sarena felt sufficiently clean and stepped into the hallway again, she could hardly take in with a straight face the irony of young, passive Albert, with a gun on his lap that he undoubtedly required two hands just to hold. “So…” Brow furrowed, she leaned her hip against the wall and folded her arms. “You plan to shoot your bullies with your father’s gun. That’s your solution?”

“I don’t want to, but… you know Caleb, Sarena. And you said yourself he’ll never leave me alone if I don’t do something.” The sigh Albert expelled was not one of a man who wanted to use the weapon on his lap. “I won’t kill him, just hurt him… I just want to make a point.”

The elder cousin shook her head. “What you’ll be doing is starting a war. One in which you won’t just have Caleb to worry about, but everyone will turn on you.” Her look of amusement drooped into a frown. “You’ll be like me. And I’ll probably be blamed as a bad influence on you. Why are you asking me, anyway?”

“Because you’re the only one I think I can trust. And who’ll listen to me.”

Sarena snorted. “And here I was convinced you were one of the smart ones…”

“Remember when I was little, and I had that really bad ear infection? Like I couldn’t even sit up in bed without getting dizzy and throwing up?”

“How is a memory like that supposed to be remarkable to me?”

“Because you were the only one who noticed me.” Albert said. His voice had lost its edge, but the conviction was still there. “I think I was six. I told Mom I wasn’t feeling well, so she put me to bed early, but she and Dad were fighting somewhere else in the house and didn’t come to check on me. I was miserable and crying and had a fever, and no one was there for me, except when you came into my room. You put a cold cloth on my head and turned on my TV and just… stayed with me. You sat next to my bed and watched TV with me until I fell asleep. I never forgot that… and if you were there for me when no one else was before, I figured you could be, again.”

But the Vandelay daughter had stopped listening to his touching recount before he’d finished speaking. Grabbing her beige trench coat (which had cost more than the sofa upon which it sat), she pulled her slim arms through the sleeves and untucked her long hair from the collar, not so much as casting the boy a glance. “You really must have been sick, if your memory is making me into some kind of a saint for watching television in your bedroom. As much as I wish I had ample time—and don’t we all?—I’ve got other things on the go today.”

“Will you help me?” The words scrambled out of Albert’s mouth, racing Sarena before she could walk out the door. “It doesn’t have to be now. But sometime? Soon? Please, Rena…”

“Kid, I don’t think you realize what you’re asking for.” When the young woman reached for her purse, she narrowed her eyes as her younger cousin. “Think on it, long and hard. Dream about it. Realize what you’re getting yourself into and if you can really deal with the repercussions, and then, we’ll talk. Because if you think you’ll only use that gun once… well, you’re a Vandelay. It never turns out that way for us. You know that.”

Albert swallowed and nodded his head, tucking the gun into his backpack at his feet. “Okay. I want to learn to stick up for myself—I’m not going to change my mind. But I’ll think about it, if that’s what it takes to get you to teach me.” Resting his hands on his knees, his fingertips dug into his jeans. “Can I hang out here for a while? I won’t touch anything, just watch TV or something…”

“Whatever. So long as you don’t mess up my place. Oh—” Hand on the doorknob, Sarena addressed the boy once more. “If anyone asks, then I was with you today, all day, right here. Helping you with math homework, or something. I’ll take the heat from your parents if it comes down to that.”

“You want me to lie? You suck at math… Where are you going?”

“Or dance around the truth. Whatever it takes to convince people you knew where I was all day, I don’t care. Oh, and Albert?” The boy looked up, and the intensity of Sarena’s cold eyes made him shiver. “Never, ever ask questions like that. The less you know, the better for both of us.”

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fuck yeah, give it to me, this is heaven
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what i truly want is innocence lost
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There were many reasons pertaining to why Sarena was so disinclined to instruct Albert in wielding a gun. One of them was simply the fact that the boy’s problem might be solved indirectly by what she was en route to accomplish.
After all, antagonizing his twelve-year-old cousin, the furthest thing from a threat to him, would be the last thing on Caleb Vandelay’s mind once his father was dead.

Well, that hadn’t exactly been the deal on the table when she’d agreed to speak with the stiff collar from the CIIO, but it was his fault for failing to provide strict guidelines.
The only reason they had found her was because she had let them. The government’s hound dogs thought they had mastered the art of stealth and camouflage, but any Vandelay could spot one of them before they themselves were spotted.

This particular guy had been lurking far too close to her father’s expansive home in one of New York’s more prestigious estates. The familiar neighbourhood housed only the wealthiest of citizens, bank owners and lawyers and surgeons, rendering new faces painfully conspicuous. The bold Vandelay daughter confronted him one day before he could confront her father; surprisingly, no pretense emerged, as he offered just as much transparency on his part as she did on hers. Little was said between the two of them in public, but Sarena agreed to speak with him later on, over the phone. To be the only one in her family with the scoop on the CIIO’s interest in them, and the leads they had… How could she pass up such a chance?

“Sounds like you’re kind of making a big deal out of small fish, if you ask me.” Having provided him with the number to a stolen cell phone instead of her direct line, Sarena was so at ease that she held the conversation from the comfort of her Jacuzzi, as casually as though it were nothing more than a friendly chat. Evidently, their interest hadn’t to do with her father at all (at least, in that they didn’t have enough evidence to incriminate him for past legal infringements). It was Timmon they were after, following careless handling of information from a contact in France to whom he was selling firearms that happened to be illegal in their country.

To make a long story short, they wanted him ‘apprehended’, and the going thought was that Sarena—as an insider—could not only lure him into persecution far easier than anyone in the CIIO, but that any collateral damage would also be minimized. 
In theory.

“Look, I’ll do it; I’ve got no real attachment to the man or either of his offspring.” The Vandelay daughter rolled her shoulders back, the steam of the bath relaxing her muscles. “But I don’t dig this whole ‘do what we say and we won’t hurt you’ bullshit. You can’t hurt me because you can’t pin anything on me. So here is how this is going to work.” Pausing to ascertain the man on the other line was listening, she went on. “I’m going to open a temporary bank account. I’ll give you the number, and you’re going to deposit money into it before next week. As soon as I see it in there, I’ll contact you, and I’ll make my move in the twenty-four hours that follow. You’ll know when the deed is done.” The corner of her mouth, unbidden, curved upward in a grin. “I can guarantee you, Timmon will not make this transaction.”

She’d make good on her end of the bargain. It wasn’t her fault the bloke hadn’t specified whether or not he wanted her uncle alive or dead.

Stepping out of the cab in front of her father’s estate, Sarena handed the driver cash without counting it and made her way to the gates, red heels clicking on the cobblestone all the way to the panel off to the side. A retinal scan allowed her entry, and with a loud clank, the gates parted to allow her entry. Today, she knew precisely where Timmon was, and stealth and getaway wouldn’t be a problem in what was essentially her own home; there wouldn’t come a more ideal time to take down her mark.
In the end, even if fingers pointed at her, her father would point them away. For the only daughter of Gustave Vandelay, and the man’s eventual successor to be convicted of familial murder would directly reflect on her father’s competence as a leader. Sarena’s only real danger was, in fact, the man himself; and she hadn’t caught wind of any decisions to assassinate her as of yet.

Though she did look forward to the day when Emilia’s attempts to off her ceased to amuse her, and she brought evidence to the attention of her father. One day…

Taking the elevator to the fourth floor, where negotiations always took place, Serena removed her high heels and tucked them behind one of her father’s gaudy, enormous fake plants. More sensible (and far quieter) flats replaced them on her slim feet before she made her way to the gilded double-doors of a familiar study, sparing a glance at her watch. Five after three in the afternoon… She was just in time. They’d be tying up negotiations with their new hit man, all three Vandelay brothers sitting in their respective places: her father, across from the tall windows at the round, marble table at the center of the room, Phylip in the middle, and Timmon, off to the far left.

And precisely in sight and in range of her pistol, were she to fire straight ahead as soon as the leftmost door opened.

Sarena listened, and she waited. And she listened and waited some more. Her father’s voice resonated off the walls the most frequently, followed by Timmon’s; Phylip rarely said anything, and their current red hand must not have been one for words either. The scrape of chair legs against the floor alerted her to the close of discussion, and with a quick glance in either direction down the corridor, her fingers found the smooth handle of the firearm in her purse.

Then the door opened, and she aimed, prepared to fire—

It happened almost too quickly for her mind to properly register. The man who stepped out wasn’t Timmon or either of the other brothers, but the red hand… One with skill that explained why her family had sought him out as a hitman in the first place.
With her plan foiled, she should have been livid. And yet, the only sentiment that occurred to the Vandelay daughter was that of amusement.

“My name is Sarena,” she drawled, voice equally low so as not to draw any undue attention, “and it doesn’t matter. Because it isn’t you. So, if you don’t mind…”

She didn’t put up a struggle, instead waiting for the man to release her of his own accord before replacing her pistol in her purse as if it was nothing more than a tube of lipstick. “Relax; for a red hand, you act like you don’t expect anyone to be carrying a gun around here. Well, welcome to the Vandelay household.” Sparing a conspiratorial grin, she fished out her pack of cigarettes and tucked one behind her ear before tilting the case towards him. “Be my guest and calm your nerves. Trade you a stick for a light; I left mine back at my place.” With a wink, she added, “I assume you have one because you smell like tobacco. And not the imported German kind that the blokes behind those doors smoke.”

A blatant untruth—Sarena Vandelay depended on cigarettes far too much to ever be without a lighter—, but if it earned her an opportunity to learn something, be in on her father’s ploys for once, then it was well worth the sacrifice of a cigarette.


Re: BETTER OFF DEAD [r. sarah]

Posted: Sat Sep 13, 2014 10:19 pm
by Astrophysicist
Since the dawn of organized crime, government agencies fought uphill battles against those infamous families that flew below the law. Historically, they had been outnumbered, outsmarted, and out-networked by those who made their living from illegal activity; mafia leaders had woven a tapestry of international connections so tight that its threads were nearly imperceptible. Despite a consistent inflow of government funding, organizations like Double Eye and its FBI/CIA precedents had always fallen behind in the silent war waged amidst proverbial shadows.

Double Eye had long ago lowered the priority status for mob-related deeds, settling instead for consistent attention aimed at monitoring rather than persecuting the perpetrators. The DPD in particular had recognized the need to expend company resources elsewhere, focusing on the things they were more likely to be able to stop. Though many parallels existed between street gangs, terrorist groups, and the mob, the latter was by far the most difficult for even the most dedicated CIIO operatives to infiltrate. Because so much of their dealings involved members of blood relation (or the blood relations of others who had proven their loyalty over the generations), getting a stranger on the inside was next to impossible. It was a far more productive use of personnel for surveillance.

Perhaps surprisingly, however, Double Eye’s knowledge of mafia dynamics was extensive. The advancement of digital tracking and computer power had vastly improved their database of information. Large, old lines like the Masters or the Vandelays rarely made a move that was not picked up upon by the technological wizards employed by Tesh Marionetti. They were undeniably powerful and hugely influential, but with such status came an inability to hide—or at least an inability to hide completely. The mafia were aware, of course, of where they stood with the agency; the DPD nurtured no illusions that their operations were entirely covert. It was an act of defiance on the part of the mob that they continued their business in spite of knowing about this scrutiny. It was a gamble they were willing to make.

And wisely so, for the most part. It was difficult to trace lines of communication within such families; listening in on a phone call was one thing, but following orders retroactively from one mouth to the next made it almost impossible to pinpoint an original source. And unless their activity could be tied definitively to action that threatened the welfare of the United States, its allies, or its citizens abroad, they would be left alone.

The unspoken agreement was problematic in more ways than Tesh Marionetti cared to count. Matters of the mafia, in his experienced opinion, should not have been the responsibility of the DPD. If the U.S. government wanted to crack down on such things, then they would need their own separate department. The FBI considered it a matter of international intelligence; the DPD thought it too vast for one division to undertake in addition to its existing duties; the whole thing was a mess from its inception. And it was time, Tesh thought, to make some forward strides.

The Vandelays had been a thorn in his side for years, since his days as a novice operative working missions in Spain. He’d had relatively little direct contact with them since, but now, according to his technicians, there were deep web whisperings of an event for which the Swedish family were supplying weapons or explosives. The details were unclear, and with agency-wide dissent regarding who was responsible for keeping tabs on their progress, Marionetti felt obligated to take charge of the situation. If the rumors were true, then the exchange—beginning with the Vandelays themselves—needed to be stopped.

With Rhys Proudfoot and Harriet Grimm long gone, Tesh had been forced to look for other exceptionally bright stars emerging from the two agency training farms at Quantico, Virginia and Sacramento, California. It was a challenge to start from scratch, and the notoriously hard to please director hired and subsequently dismissed more than a dozen potential operatives before settling on three to keep on board pending any red flags. But none of them, as talented as they may have been at fighting or foreign language or strategy, had what it took to get their feet in the Vandelay door. Hell, it was hard for a Vandelay, if his new informant was to be believed.

The phone conversation with Sarena Vandelay had been abrupt. Though she had ultimately agreed to relay information to the CIIO regarding her family’s movement, her unique position in the intricate hierarchy did not make her the ideal choice. Tesh had reservations regarding her access to the more intimate workings of her father and his cronies, but her usefulness would soon come to light. Luring her first target into a position to be apprehended was the first trial.

During his time with the DPD, Rhys Proudfoot had had no contact at all with the mafia—Vandelays, Masters, Bernsteins, anyone. He had known of their existence, obviously, but his missions had never knowingly included them in the prompts. That was one reason why the former Double Eye operative had been taken by such surprise when Colstorm had reached out to him.

To his knowledge, the Colstorm family had been loyal servants of the Vandelays for more than a century. Their servitude had begun in Belfast, where a pair of twin brothers—Ethan and Harold Colstorm—were adopted by a Vandelay heiress after the accidental death of their father. Swearing to defend their adoptive family with their lives, the bond between unlikely families had only strengthened as their lines, together, grew side by side.

Rhys had heard (or rather, read) Murphy Colstorm’s name more than a few times since his departure from the agency. The man with whom he’d met on the penthouse balcony was middle-aged and aggressive, with broad shoulders, a wide stance, and light eyes that carried a perpetual expression of irritation. Such a countenance likely came with the territory of the job—which was, as far as Rhys could tell, to act as both bodyguard, recruiter, and filter for Gustave Vandelay.

Part of the position description also included a willingness to use a weapon and spill blood, it seemed. Anonymous users lurking on deep web forums were fascinated with violent crime, many of them adept enough with computers to hack into police records to post unreleased photos of bloody scenes on the streets of major cities. The authors also speculated on who may have committed each act, with lively discussions about killing tendencies, conspiracy theories, and patterns or positions failed to be identified by the on-scene officers in the reports. Rhys patrolled these message boards regularly as a matter of personal security. To date, none of his own jobs had appeared there for consumption, but he had, on numerous occasions, witnessed arguments debating the disturbing nuances of Murphy Colstorm’s “murder fashion.” The Irishman was apparently something of an enigma—and a legend as well.

In all honesty, Rhys did not know how he passed his “interview” with the man. It had apparently taken only one solid referral to convince the notorious bodyguard that Rhys was worthy of employment, but nothing he had said or done on that balcony had indicated he was qualified for the position. He had insulted the man’s hospitality by rejecting the fine vintage Bordeaux, first of all. He’d also said only a handful of words, speaking nothing of his own abilities. Yet still he found himself in the grand conference room, dwarfed by massive arched windows and ceiling-high bookcases, receiving details for an assignment—his first of many, apparently—that was to begin in two days’ time.

He was not altogether surprised to meet a gun upon his exit; in a way, he supposed he should have expected it. What he had not anticipated, however, was that the wielder would be so willing to barge into a meeting with her firearm already in the open and Colstorm and his men at such close proximity—since, she’d reassured him, he was not her target.

Slowly, he loosened his grip around the pistol until she jerked it from his hand. He stepped away, far enough to be out of range of a fist or a kick but close enough still to corner her against the wooden doors.

“I was told weapons were stripped at the entrances,” Rhys replied mechanically, his voice surprisingly low and steady for how pale his face had become. He swallowed, studying her. “They were going to give mine back on the way out.” He had not even bothered to carry a firearm to the meeting, opting instead for more close-range weaponry, a switchblade and a high-voltage miniature Taser. How this girl managed to get past security with a gun on her person was absolutely beyond him—and he was both curious and concerned. The men beyond the doors were, after all, his new employers, but he felt no obligation to protect them. He was better served to protect himself instead.

“But they didn’t take my lighter,” he finished, quirking a brow. He glanced toward the exit to the stairway, releasing a sigh. “I’ll take you up on that offer, Sarena. Saves me from having to kill for one, which I’m liable to do any minute now.”

Amusement upturned the corners of his lips, but the expression never quite intensified enough to be classified a smile. He outstretched his hand and slipped a slender white cylinder from her offered pack, rolling it between his fingers for a moment before glancing back to the young woman.

“Hold up," he said, suddenly uneasy at the prospect of idling so near the men beyond the doors. He conjured his cheap red Bic from his pocket and flicked it once in indication. "You didn’t mean lighting up here, did you?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Sep 14, 2014 5:33 pm
by Requiem
He might have been a red hand, a professional killer for hire by her family (and the Vandelays only hired the most reliable when it came to outsourcing their dirty work). For that reason alone, Sarena might have had ample reason to fear him. 
Except, she hadn't been born yesterday, and dangerous or not, he was stepping on her territory.

And, of that, he appeared to be fully cognizant. The Vandelay daughter didn't miss the shade of white that blanketed his otherwise stoic expression, or the bob of his Adam's apple when he swallowed his startled uncertainty. Sure, he'd taken her off guard (the hire never exited the first meeting so quickly; he must have been eager to get out of the presence of her foreboding father and two uncles) but it easily went both ways.
Not that it was at all ill advised to be on your guard at the Vandelay estate. Truth be told, she often found herself holding her breath, knowing Emilia could be around any corner.

Her own family had more to offer in the way of fear than this man. And for that reason, she met his ignorance of the on-grounds weapons policy with a knowing smile. "You were correctly informed," she explained, shrugging the strap of her purse further up her shoulder. "No weaponry is permitted past the front door. But, you see, the rules don't apply to family. Anyway, I'm a young woman in New York City: I think you'll agree it would be ill advised not to carry a gun. And I'm someone who likes to take her protection into her own hands."

He had to agree, that on some level, the logic was sound. Especially when you were involved with (or, more seriously, part of) a crime family, such as hers. Even the police couldn't protect you from people like the Vandelays. If one of the five big men in the study that the red hand had just left wouldn't seek you out and do you in, then a hired mercenary would--if you were lucky.
If not, you might fall victim to one of the children. Even Sarena, next in line to that seat in her father's study, was not immune to the dangers.

At least this new employee had a sense of humor, though, she'd give him that. Snickering at his comment about 'killing' for a cigarette. "Now, I can't say I've ever been that desperate," she grinned, snagging his lighter without another word, cupping her cigarette in her palm and lighting the tip in response to his question regarding smoking so near the doors he had just exited. Frankly, she couldn't care less, but it appeared it did. "Have you smelled this place? The only way they'll ever the smell of tobacco out of the hallway is if the place burns down. It's a smoking friendly zone... but if you're paranoid."

Shrugging her shoulders, she turned down the hallway, the red hand's lighter still clasped in her palm, to ascertain he followed if nothing else. Sarena had never been met with the opportunity to get the inside scoop on what her father was up to; even from her, he kept secrets. "Oh, excuse my rudeness," As if suddenly remembering she had the tiny flammable device that wasn't hers, she turned and handed it back to the hit man as they turned onto an open stone balcony with a wrought-iron table and chairs. It overlooked the expansive swimming pool several stories below that only Albert ever used, these days. "Does this view suit you more than the doors of the study? Mr... I'm sorry, I don't believe I caught your name." 

With the fluid grace of someone who could walk miles in high heels without making it look painful, Sarena took a seat and a puff from her cigarette, cool eyes expectantly searching those of her father's most recent employee. "And, if you don't mind me asking, just what was it that brought you into my father's employ?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Sep 22, 2014 7:06 pm
by Astrophysicist
It was not the smoke itself that Rhys Proudfoot took issue with as the surprising young woman snatched the lighter from his fingertips; rather, it was the proximity to the men beyond the doors that had his frayed nerves singing of danger.

The perfume of tobacco was indeed layered thick in the antediluvian chamber, having permanently permeated the fine upholstery and oriental silks of the furniture and carpets, respectively. It might have been a comfort had it been anywhere else. The scent perpetually clung to the former spy’s wavy hair and clothing anyway, and the goldenrod smudge on his index finger may as well have been tattooed there with how often it reappeared. But here, the aroma was more dense somehow, stifling, even; it reeked not of his preferred cheap tobacco imported from the Southern Province, but rather of the exotic cigars he used to smell at European cafes.

Even the hazy city air was a welcome relief as they pushed through a pair of heavy glass doors to a quaint stone balcony. The space was not unlike the top-level overlook upon which he’d met with Colstorm earlier that morning. Pursing his lips around the slender white cigarette, he took a seat in the wrought-iron chair and surveyed the rest of the surroundings. The view was just as good from this level, but Rhys could see why the Vandelay guard had selected a higher perch. As the tallest structure in the immediate surroundings, the first meeting place was well above the neighboring rooftops, high enough to negatively impact any shooter’s accuracy should any sniper risk being sighted on the lower next-door roofs. Here, however, they overlooked a brilliant aquamarine pool only a handful of stories below, and Rhys’s line of sight aligned perfectly with the stone edges of the adjacent buildings.

Nevertheless, the young woman seemed at ease. Despite himself, he smiled. “Should’ve known you were family,” he commented, flicking the proffered lighter to life and igniting the end of his cigarette. With one steady inhale, the cool rush of nicotine soothed his flaming nerves. Through a curtain of exhaled smoke, he met her gaze. “Sarena Vandelay. I’ve heard your name before.”

From somewhere far below, an antiquated car alarm blasted a steady pulse of horn. He closed his eyes for a moment—a spy’s flinch—and took another, longer drag. “I’m Rhys Proudfoot,” he continued after a moment, filling in where her voice had trailed off in query. "And it wasn’t so much what brought me in as who.” He pressed the ashen end of the cigarette on the edge of the table, leaving behind a smear of gray before lifting it back to his lips for another puff. “Murphy Colstorm isn’t a believer in giving choices, so here I am.”

He chuckled, but there was minimal humor behind the sound. Regardless, he had a feeling that this dark-haired woman wanted more of an answer than what he’d provided. Considering she’d nearly barged through the heavy doors waving a gun at her own father and his cronies, Rhys doubted she was on the best of terms with her family—aside from her disputed place among the ranks, about which Rhys admittedly knew very little. He’d heard Sarena’s name when he’d worked regularly at Double Eye, but as mafia surveillance had nothing to do with his assignments, he’d paid such information very little heed. Now, he wished he had. However terrifying the Vandelay powerhouses might be, this chance encounter was an intriguing development—and one he knew would be unwise to overlook.

“So you weren’t after me, we’ve established,” he went on curiously, his eyes straying to her purse and back again in reference to the firearm she kept in its confines. “Any chance you'll divulge your target to a fellow red hand, as it were?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Sep 23, 2014 11:14 am
by Requiem
That her name appeared to have, at one point, echoed in his ears was neither of concern nor a surprise to Sarena Vandelay. The eldest of her family's offspring she didn't exactly 'play it safe', arguably chasing danger as opposed to avoiding it the way her cousins did. The amount of trouble she was capable of stirring up on a whim never went unnoticed by both local and superior authorities, and sometimes (much to her family's chagrin), those antics were designed with the intent to tantalize the men and women who sought to condemn the Vandelays. Like a clever mouse taunting a cat who was a pace too slow, they never caught her; they never would. 
She wasn't afraid of her name; it was everyone else who had good reason to be.

A grin tugged at the corners of her tight mouth as she tapped the ashes of her cigarette onto the balcony's clean stone floor. "You mean my resemblance to the fat-asses at the meeting you just finished wasn't immediately obvious?" It was a joke gliding on the too-frequent assumptions that she was not, in fact, a blood relation. Likely borne of the fact that she favoured no other Vandelay in appearance whatsoever, her face hearkening back to that mystery woman who had given her life. A name that, to this day, she hadn't succeeded in dragging out of her father. To punctuate her wry sense of humour, she added, a glint of hubris in her blue eyes, "Well, I trust you've only heard good things, at any rate."

Blowing smoke from between her lips, Sarena rolled her shoulders back in a decidedly nonchalant gesture and offered the man her free hand. Twisted though they were, the Vandelays were nothing if not friendly--overtly, at the very least. "Rhys Proudfoot. Now that's a name that packs a lot of confidence. Unless it's an alias, in which case I can assure you, pen names are no line of defense within the walls of the Vandelay estate. Not that you have much to worry about, anyway, if you're working for us and not against us."

Hearing Colstorm's name thrown on the table was exactly what she should have expected, given the deer-in-headlights look in the red hand's wide eyes as she'd take him down the corridor of her father's home. Proudfoot wasn't here out of interest of whatever reward Gustave or his brothers could provide for his services; the man's demeanor wasn't near relaxed enough for that. On the other hand, if he'd caught Colstorm's eye, then something about him had to be remarkable. For that reason, Sarena was in no hurry to antagonize the man.

"Colstorm is a coward--and expendable. I daresay, he should have been more afraid of you than you of him," she remarked, eyes traveling the length of the red hand's form-- a nonverbal gesture that had the potential to come across as promiscuous, but on this occasion, she was simply curious as to whether or not he'd managed to sneak any weaponry past her father's goons. If he had, then it was all well concealed.
And yet, Proudfoot didn't strike her as the sort of man contained to the shadows. Like her, he appeared to be very up-front and relatively transparent about his motives (at least, when cornered, as he now was, so to speak). Perhaps that was why she'd taken a strange sort of liking to him.

Even his persistent prying into her intentions didn't turn her intrigue into suspicion, and the question regarding her motives only made her laugh. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours, Mr. Proudfoot," the young woman drawled, taking another drag on her cigarette and exhaling a perfect 'O'. "Though I can hardly guess as to what my father put you up to, you can at least narrow down my target to three men. God forbid I make you exercise your deductive skills..."

Sarena trailed off as a familiar and unwanted face came traipsing down the corridor, pencil-thin heels clicking audibly. The face to whom they belonged paused on long enough to register the Vandelay daughter with shock laced with deep-seated fury (a look that Sarena met with an overly friendly wave), before resuming their pace, twofold. "Don't mind her," she commented, narrowed eyes following Emilia in her retreat. "She tried to have me killed this morning; I'm guessing the next time she hoped to see me was in a coffin, and not in the context of sharing a cigarette with a good-looking man."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Sep 24, 2014 9:50 pm
by Astrophysicist
Though perhaps rightfully wary of Sarena Vandelay, Rhys was not actually afraid of the young woman. He may have been familiar with her name, but he was grossly uninformed about her role in her family and its misdeeds; he also had little reason to believe she would harm him, as she’d had ample opportunity to carry through an attack from the moment they’d collided in the study. There was something about her that had immediately distinguished her from her father, and it had nothing to do with her resemblance (or lack thereof) to the staunch, aging Gustave who had presided over the conference table—it was rather a particular spiritedness, a sense that she was calculating without immediate judgment. Her youthful attitude was one of carefree autonomy, a far cry from the traditionalist bureaucrats that presided over the Vandelay empire. He felt an immediate connection with her that put him rather at ease, although he was not one to abandon his guard completely.

“He should be afraid of me,” Rhys said in reference to Colstorm, his lips pulling upward in a haughty smile. “The guy’s style is gruesome and sloppy. But that doesn’t mean I want him after me. Or, really, the morons under his command. There’s only one of me and, what, probably hundreds he could organize to hunt me down? No thanks.” He pressed the butt of his cigarette against the edge of the table once again, retracing the circular mark of the previous deposit of ash. “Statistically speaking, even a hoard of novices would tilt the odds against me.”

It was perhaps a misrepresentation of himself to imply that he would be caught if he chose to run; if Rhys had learned nothing else about himself since the Tribeca-Antioch incident and his departure from Double Eye, it was that lying low and remaining undetected was one of his strongest skills. His method was closer to hiding in plain sight than hiding in the shadows, but he had succeeded this far in keeping his whereabouts from the CIIO—whose scope of operations was on par with the Vandelays’, no doubt—and that in itself was an impressive accomplishment. Despite his admittedly fragile mental stability, being discovered was one thing about which he worried less and less with each passing week of successful avoidance. He was good, and he knew he was good. All the evidence was there to support it.

He chuckled at her retort. “Fair point,” he decreed with a smoky exhale. “Although if you’re in such a place as to barge in there with a gun, any one of those men would be unhappy with me spilling the details of their shiny new contract with you. Or anyone.” A shrug lifted and dropped one of his shoulders. “If it helps, the only info I’ve got on the target is a name. They didn’t give me a motive.” He snorted, amused. “I imagine that to them, the less I know, the better.” His tone indicated that he thought otherwise—it was perhaps best for the head honchos to keep their business secrets to themselves, but for an assassin entrusted with eliminating a threat (and doing it discreetly), such bare bones briefings were far more dangerous for all parties involved.

The former field operative leaned back in his chair, exhaling the last of his cigarette with a disappointed sigh. Through the thin veil of white vapor, he caught sight of a startled face framed in the patio window. Sarena waved sarcastically to the woman, whose expression had quickly turned furious, and Rhys quirked a brow.

“No need for her to get jealous. She’s a little old for me,” Rhys drawled, nodding his acknowledgment as the woman sped away, the staccato rhythm of her heels betraying her quickened pace down the corridor inside. If the news regarding the attempt on Sarena’s life fazed him, he did not show it. His curiosity, however, was piqued. “What’s her damage?” he asked, tone light. “I don’t imagine it’s just envy over your staggeringly good-looking male company, although I can't say I'd blame her.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Sep 24, 2014 10:50 pm
by Requiem
Likewise, Sarena Vandelay appeared to be no more rattled by her step-mother's foiled assassination attempt than her conversation partner. The first time had, perhaps, had thrown her for a bit of a loop, with a smidge of a scare--but then, she'd only been thirteen, unaware, unarmed, and before that sly intuition of the Vandelay bloodline had sufficiently matured. After that, the novelty of her father's wife's hatred rapidly began to wear off, to the point that, fourteen years after her first near-death experience (when she'd perfected the art of avoiding death all together), it only struck her as annoying. Just like the click-clackof the woman's noisy pumps on the polished floor.

Dragging casually on her cigarette, the raven-haired dame tapped ashes onto the ground, rubbing them discourteously into the stone with the sole of her shoe. "Malformed uterus, apparently," she responded coyly, pertaining to the question of Emilia's 'damage'. "She couldn't have babies, so my father--her husband--turned elsewhere. Bitch used to leave scratch marks on my cheek whenever I tried to call her 'mom'; guess I tried it one too many times. Now she just wants the 'family abomination' out of the picture."

Perhaps the only Vandelay not conscientious enough to keep her background under wraps, Sarena was proud to explain the source and origins of Emilia's ire and her place in the bizarre family hierarchy. There was nothing to hide when you had that much power, yet untapped, wrapped around your pink finger.

Or, more specifically, sitting in his office, smoking foul-smelling German cigars. Gustave Vandelay's daughter and heir could do no wrong. Though never immune to danger, not even within the walls of her own home, Sarena Vandelay was, on a broader scale, untouchable. 

Even if she was little more than a bastard.

"See, my family has this weird shit about Vandelay blood running true. Good ol' Dad wasn't married to my biological mother--hell, I don't even know the woman's name, let alone who she was. But because Gustave is at the top of the Vandelay food chain, and I'm not only his sole heir, but also the oldest of my cousins, technically that puts me next in line. The only exception to that sacred rule in... well, probably forever.

"But you think Emilia gives two shits about our family traditions?" Sarena snorted and blew a puff of smoke into the outdoor breeze, tresses of dark hair dancing around her face. "She's just pissed Gustave managed to justify fucking another woman. Killing me is, in her mind, the only fair way to get back at him. Trouble is, she's running out of creative ways to do me in without getting blood under her acrylic nails."
Pivoting to face him, the Vandelay daughter spared Rhys a curious smile, the corner of her mouth curling upward as her eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. "So, you've got my life story. What's yours, Rhys Proudfoot? And what's that name those bitter old men gave you?" Leaning towards him ever so slightly, she added for good measure, "Don't worry. I'm part of a family who harbors hideous secrets--I know how to keep them."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Sep 26, 2014 7:11 pm
by Astrophysicist
Though the young woman’s delivery of an otherwise tragic chapter in her family history was casual, it was nevertheless an intriguingly melancholy narrative. Rhys, recognizing that under any other circumstance the backstory would be considered a tragic one, listened with growing amusement nevertheless. It was in part due to Sarena’s complete nonchalance as she alternated speaking and slyly pursing her lips to exhale smoke; the other cause of his unusual mirth was imagining myriad situations in which the feisty Vandelay daughter thwarted ill-planned assassination attempts by her wicked stepmother. It was a twisted Cinderella tale—minus the damsel’s trapped distress, of course.

Despite himself, his lips twisted into a wry smile. Comparatively, his own family history was uncomplicated. To involve himself in such an intricately-woven clan of ill-reputed criminals was not entirely unprecedented in the former spy’s career, if not his personal life; he’d been tasked with finding a place in similar hierarchies before. But never had he been employed by one such group without the pretense of reporting information or derailing political plotlines on behalf of the CIIO; since his departure and subsequent disappearance from Double Eye’s radar, he had more or less operated solo. This was a change of pace more akin to his days of espionage—only this time around, he found himself on the other side of the law/law-breaker divide.

“How come she didn’t just smother you with a pillow in the dead of night when your father brought you home?” Rhys rolled his spent cigarette between his fingertips, studying the movement before looking up to meet the young woman’s gaze. “I imagine it’s a lot easier to kill off a baby than a fully-functioning adult who grew up around red hands, strategy, and guns.” He turned his face into the breeze, which contained a distinctive urban perfume of spring’s blossoming trees and automobile exhaust from below. Between the conversation, the fresh air, and the nicotine, Rhys felt a sense of calm returning to his frazzled system.

“Hard to follow a story like that,” he commented, leaning into the wrought-iron chair until its sharp pattern bit into his spine. “I’m afraid there’s not a lot to tell about me. I don’t have any family. Not anymore, anyway.” He shrugged dismissively, though an internal twinge of wistful pain prompted his heart to skip a beat. “I got into a bad accident at work, then got laid off when I got out of the hospital.” He pushed away a stray lock of wavy hair and pointed to his left eye, where a small scar trailed from above his eyebrow to his cheekbone. It was a tiny, almost imperceptible line that traversed the edge of his temple—one of the few visible pieces of evidence of his near-fatal injuries from Tribeca-Antioch. “Since my recovery, I’ve mostly been doing small-scale jobs for internet clients,” he went on generically, although it was quite clear what kind of ‘jobs’ he referred to. “Apparently my previous employer was so impressed that he thought he’d pass my name along to Colstorm. And here I sit.”

He leaned toward her over the table, mirroring her gesture as he clasped his hands together in front of him. “I’m not giving you that name,” he said seriously, although his words were followed with a chuckle. “For my own protection, though. Not for your father’s, or your family’s, or even the target’s. Especially the target’s, given their fate.” The assassin rose to his feet, crushing his cigarette beneath his shoe. “Besides,” he drawled, his tone playful, “maybe the name they gave me is yours.” He laughed. “Care to walk me out? I really should be on my way.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 11:33 am
by Requiem
Anyone else--even within the twisted tapestry of her family--might have taken offense to such a comment on the facility of taking their life when they were only newborn. Sarena wasn't anyone else; she simply lowered the cigarette from her full lips and laughed. "Sadly, Emilia isn't that stupid. You don't marry into a family like ours if you're stupid." Turning her palms upwards, as if the answer to his question should be obvious, she proceeded to respond, anyway. "My step-mother--if that's really how you'd describe her, though I feel like the definition changes when the child's a bastard--made it too obvious at the time that she hated me. Which, I suppose, is pretty damn stupid, considering how it foiled her hopes to off me for over a fucking decade after the fact."

'Tragic' was not the word she would have used to describe her childhood; 'tedious', on the other hand, fit the bill perfectly. "My father had me heavily watched until I was about five, and reduced it to a single bodyguard when I turned thirteen--I'm willing to bet I had more fucking security than the President's daughter. And not just because some bitch of a stepmother wanted to end my life." All for which, given her unique relationship with her father's wife, she should have been grateful. But the though only pursed her lips into a firm frown. "I suppose somehow, in the interim, Emilia managed to convince him she'd seen the light, or some other bullshit. Whatever it was, he believed her. She plays nice when he's in the room, and so do I... And no one would ever suspect how badly we'd love to see one another's blood stain this nice floor."

Inhaling on her cigarette, the Vandelay daughter's sly blue eyes trailed to the cirrus clouds skirting the sky, with almost a wistful countenance. "I'll kill her, someday. Shouldn't be difficult; her survival instinct isn't as keen as mine, and clearly she doesn't know how to hire the right people to off me. But right now... well, did you just see the look on her face?" Sarena smirked, turning back to her conversation partner. "That is way too satisfying to give up just yet. When I get bored of her reactions, I suppose I'll reconsider keeping my hands away from her throat."

As Proudfoot proceeded to go on with his own story, Sarena found keen interest diminish, just a little bit. His tale was not a unique one, perhaps, but as she leaned in to more closely examine that scar, her mind drifted to the ways in which he could have contracted such a wound. Especially considering the event was enough to drive him to kill... "Far be it from me to pry for that name any further," The young woman shrugged, resolving to interrogate him about his past at a more opportune moment, "but, Mr. Proudfoot, I do hope for your sake that name isn't mine. Turn on the Channel 5 this evening for eventual coverage on the incident on Carroway Avenue this morning..." Leaning across the table, enough that they could smell the tobacco on one another's breath, she dropped her voice to a hum. "That's what happens to people to try to do me in. It isn't pretty. Anyway, shall we?"

The young woman rose to her feet, wrought-iron chair scraping the stone balcony floor at an ear-splitting pitch as she offered him her arm--the inverse of gender customs, and to make a point. He was on her turf, meaning every second he remained within the walls of the Vandelay estate, she had him in check.
And she loved every second of it. "I do hope to see you again, Mr. Proudfoot," the raven-haired dame drawled, covering his hand on her arm with lithe fingers after disposing of her cigarette in a nearby ashtray. For someone who handled a gun so frequently, her hands were surprisingly soft. "In an amicable context, of course--for both of our sakes, yours in particular."

Waving off the two tall, broad-shouldered men standing to either side of the front door, she took her brazen fingers from his hand and traced the scar at his temple. "You're a breath of fresh air in this stinking place. Next time--" With her opposite hand, she withdrew her own engraved pewter lighter from an inner pocket of her trench coat. The very lighter she'd had on her, all along. "--I'll provide the light."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 6:16 pm
by Astrophysicist
The former spy’s brows arched high onto his forehead in amusement at the mention of the media reports on Channel 5, and a chuckle shook his shoulders as they rose to depart. “Conversely, mytargets never make the news,” he retorted matter-of-factly. There was no hint of enmity or challenge in his voice, and the expression in his light blue eyes was thoughtful. “But hey, if that’s your style, who am I to judge? It’s clearly working for you.”

Rhys took the dark-haired woman’s arm tentatively, narrowing his eyes in surprise as she placed her warm hand over his own. It was a bizarrely intimate gesture for someone he had known less than half an hour, but the manner in which she moved and spoke indicated that she posed no immediate threat to his safety. His guard remained firmly intact, however, because even if he believed Sarena Vandelay meant him no present harm, he did not afford her family or their affiliates the same confidence. Even accompanied by the controversial heiress herself, his suspicions were not thwarted as they re-entered the building and made their way to the spacious lobby below. Sarena had made no secret of her own role as a target, after all.

“My sake in particular? I wouldn’t be so sure,” the wavy-haired man said smoothly, and not without a hint of mirth—or truth. He wasn’t directly familiar with her skills of self-defense, but he did know his own—and they were, as his coworkers at Double Eye had often proclaimed, rather impeccable. Were they anything less than exceptional, there would not be breath left in his lungs. Still, he wanted no place in a fight with this woman. Or any Vandelay, really. If he could keep the peace by maintaining employment, then he was content to lie low. Rhys offered her a smile, which faded somewhat as she turned toward him near the exit and ran her tender fingertip down the curved length of his faint facial scar.

One of the broad-shouldered guards she had dismissed from his doorside perch approached Rhys as Sarena’s hand fell away, returning a small knapsack to the former CIIO agent. Rhys slung it over his shoulder without acknowledging the man, choosing instead not to break his locked gaze with the young woman. He reached into a side pocket in his bag, producing a pack of blue-label Southern cigarettes that he held up with a smirk. “And I will provide the smokes,” he offered, shaking his head incredulously. “Until we meet again, Ms. Vandelay. I’ll look forward to it.”

He strode out the door with a farewell nod and a crooked smile, a shiver running down the length of his spine as the crisp spring air caressed his face. His left knee ached against the sudden temperature change, and he picked up his pace. With several blocks between himself and the towering Vandelay building, he hailed a taxicab and sped off in a blur of goldenrod and chrome.

The assassin’s hotel room was several shades grander than the roach-infested dive he’d temporarily called home in Philadelphia. Tossing a few crumpled bills in the disgruntled driver’s direction, Rhys quickly exited the car beneath the valet awning and returned to his own quarters on the twenty-fifth floor. As soon as the thick wooden door snapped closed, he lowered himself to the edge of the plush bed and buried his face in his hands. His complexion, which had regained much of its color after his smoke with Sarena, had returned to a ghostly pallor that accompanied a racing heart and rapid breathing.

He swore under his breath and subconsciously clutched his knee. This was no time to give in to anxiety, despite the significant events of the day; he had research to do. If Gustave Vandelay demanded the job be done before two days’ time, then it would be wise to get started. Holding his breath and willing his pulse to slow, Rhys retrieved his state-of-the-art laptop and began to dig. Mateo Fisher, known by several other names—Matthew, Matt, Mathieu and Fischels, Fisk, Fillmore[/i], in any combination—was apparently a longtime associate of Gustave’s, high enough in the chain to organize international arms trades to New York City, but not high enough to be particularly well-known or in the loop. The man was middle-aged and sloppy, leaving electronic trails that Rhys easily traced through his aliases on both regular and deep web internet networks.

From what the hit man could gather, Mateo Fisher was the sort who wore his desperation on his sleeve in the form of over-ambition. His official criminal record was decorated with small crimes, and no amount of searching on forensics forums produced evidence of violent action or murder. Rhys knew better than to take a lack of information as a good sign; sometimes, as was the case with his own personal resume, the best practitioners were virtually invisible. Nevertheless, even with high-profile men like Murphy Colstorm—the type low-level mafia cronies like Mateo strived to emulate and to be—there was always something to be found. And if Rhys Proudfoot couldn’t dig it up, then perhaps the man had simply not yet made a significant move. And perhaps that was why Gustave Vandelay wanted him out of the picture.

He could only guess at the motive. Either way, he was contractually obligated to follow through; he had, after all, done more with less and still emerged successful. The tailing would begin tonight, followed by a strike the following evening.

Mateo Fisher would never see it coming.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Sep 28, 2014 2:23 am
by Requiem
"My targets never make the news..." Sarena repeated snidely, wrinkling her nose when the red hand took his leave. The nerve. On a breath, she murmured, "The difference between us, Mr. Proudfoot, is that you can't have your marks make the news. I want mine to."
Ignoring the curious glances from her father's broad-shouldered security, the young woman turned her shoulder to the door and made for the elevators. The ride back up felt far less tense, minus a certain Rhys Proudfoot, yet infinitely more stifling. 

After all, what if--by some horrible anomaly, some sick turn of events, perhaps inspired by Emilia, who had known her last plan would fail--her name was the one Proudfoot had received?

She needed to know. And she needed to know now.

The Vandelay daughter stepped out of the elevator as soon as it reached the floor she had just tread, walking heel-to-toe as quietly as possible down the sleek wooden corridor. Her footsteps slowed, and she held her breath, heart beating in her throat as soon as she approached the doors of her father's study. The three men continued to discuss their affairs in the red hand's absence, each of their voices distinctive, and their comments predictable. Most of which (among Gustave and Timmon, at least) was idle, egotistical banter, until Phylip broke through his brothers' powertripping with his typical quiet, disinterested lilt: "So, if you're through gushing over this installment, what do you think are the chances Proudfoot will not only succeed in offing Fisher, but walk away unscathed? I don't care how good Colstorm assured us the guy is: seems too much like we're hoping to hit a bullseye in a dark room."

The fuck...?
There was the potential that she was making assumptions out of context... if you ignored the fact Rhys Proudfoot still appeared to be part of the conversation. And there was only one 'Fisher' with whom she was acquainted was the sloppy, middle-aged goon that had worked for her father for a number of years. And while she'd never been particularly interested in the man, nor fond of him (to this day, he spelled her name 'Serena'), she certainly hadn't pegged the man as ever making it onto Gustave's shit-list. Perhaps, of late, she hadn't been paying much attention...

"Don't you know eavesdropping is shitty manne--fuck, take it easy, cuz. Make love, not war, and all that shit, hm?"

Sarena's hand was on her gun, the safety off and weapon pointed menacingly at the source of the voice as soon as she picked up on Caleb's presence. The young man, only a year her junior, didn't even raise his hands. "If you're gonna kill me, I don't suggest you do it right outside the room my father's standing in. What's with all the cloak and dagger, anyway?"

"My father's in that room, too. I could splatter your brains all over this wall right now, in front of your daddy, and there isn't a fucking thing he could do about it." True though that might have been, however, it would cause an inevitable stir with which she didn't have time to deal. Putting the safety back on her weapon, Sarena casually replaced it in her purse and changed the subject. "Have you been giving the kid a hard time again?"

The way Caleb's smirk twitched answered her question before he opened his mouth. "So you want to get into my business, too?"

"It's sad when the only individual you feel you can exert power over is a twelve-year-old boy." Eyes narrowing imperceptibly, she leaned in. "Leave him the fuck alone. Or I'll fuck up your sister's face just in time for her university graduate photos."

Without giving him pause to respond, the raven-haired femme turned on her heel and made for the elevator again in long, quick strides. If Timmon Vandelay's oldest son uttered any form of a comeback, it was drowned out by the white noise in her head.
And the ringing of her cell phone--or, not hers, in particular, but the one she'd reserved for correspondence with Tesh Marrionnetti. Who, apparently, had impeccable timing (depending on your definition of 'impeccable'...)

The Vandelay daughter let the phone continue to ring, and let the sound die away until she'd exited her father's estate. Gauging how far she was, as soon as she was convinced the conversation would be out of range of any of her father's bugs (human or electronic), she returned the call. "You're going to have to keep your pants on for a little bit longer. I didn't manage to... apprehend Timmon. The opportunity didn't turn out to be so ideal."

Whatever the CIIO agent whined on the other line fell deaf on her ears, as they rang with two names: Mateo Fisher, and Rhys Proudfoot, the ma hired to kill him. "Look, I'm going to need to be a little more careful. There's a new red hand--oh, pardon the terminology. There's a new 'hit man' in our... well, in my father's employ. He got in the way just before I was ready to put my own plan into action..." Sarena furrowed her eyebrows as she was rudely interrupted by the man on the other end of the line. "What does it matter who he is? The name he gave me was Proudfoot. For all I know it could be an... Yeah. Rhys. Rhys Proudfoot. What, you after him too? Because our agreement was..."

The Vandelay daughter stopped dead in the middle of the crosswalk, almost dropping the phone from between her shoulder and cheek. The honking of cars as she held up late afternoon traffic was what brought her back to reality, and got her feet moving again. "You're bullshitting me." The young woman hissed into the phone's receiver. "He was actually one of you assholes? Look, I just met the guy, and he's pretty fucking secretive. You want details, get in touch with him yourself. I'll call you when I find a better opportunity to do what I said I would... Take note, I said I'll call you. Take it or leave it, but don't fucking bother me."

The call ended without much closure, and Sarena now had more on her mind (and on her plate) than before. It still made no sense that Mateo Fisher was assigned as the red hand's mark, but that was now the least of her concern, along with her uncle Phylip.
Because she wasn't convinced Rhys Proudfoot was, as Marionnetti claimed, 'no longer in affiliation with the CIIO'. And if that was the case, then the red hand's mark might not be Fisher at all, but any one of the three men who'd hired him to take the goon out.

Double-dipping was frowned upon in the Vandelay household, sometimes punishable by death. And if this son of a bitch was a double agent, then it might already be too late to warn her father. Regardaless, it warranted immediate investigation, and a close eye kept on her household.

As soon as the sun rose the next morning, Sarena was on it.
She couldn't determine whether it was much to her dismay or relief that, contrary to her suspicions, the red hand's behaviour was no more or less suspicious than what she would predict from someone of his occupation and background. Given that the man's target was found near her father's estate eighty percent of the time, it wasn't difficult to trail Rhys Proudfoot, knowing Gustave's land the way she did, and it wasn't like the red hand did much moving around on his part. He lurked just beyond the premises, waiting for something (or someone) who, as it turned out, happened to be Mateo Fisher until the man left for the evening, driving away in his shiny blue sports car.

Proudfoot must have known where he was going, having perhaps bugged the vehicle beforehand. His nonchalance almost made Sarena uncomfortable, how easily he hailed a cab moments after the fact, but the Vandelay daughter was but another ride behind. Persuading the services of one of her father's chauffeurs, she was quick to hop in the back of the nondescript black vehicle, instructing the man to follow the taxi without providing explanation. Fisher was the first to park, outside of a pub he attended regularly on Friday evenings; predictably, Proudfoot's cab parked not too far behind, at which point she hastily told her own driver to pull over to the dub, despite the stream of traffic in their wake. Brushing off the man's questions with a reassuring heap of crisp bills, Sarena kept her distance, but kept Proudfoot well within her sight.

Double-agent or not, she still wanted answers, and wouldn't let him slip away so easily this time without explaining himself.

What she should have foreseen was that pre-CIIO sixth sense for being followed, however. No sooner had her ride pulled away that she stepped onto the sidewalk and turned the corner around which Proudfoot had disappeared just seconds ago.
She almost wasn't quick enough, drawing her own weapon as she met the red hand, barrel to barrel at the back of one of New York's finest pub eateries.

"I'm not going to shoot you," she said, but couldn't speak for him. No attempt was made to lower her weapon. "But I'd like some answers. It appears we didn't speak long enough the other day for you to divulge your history with Double Eye, Mr. Proudfoot." Brazenly closing the distance by only a foot, Sarena didn't take her eyes from the sharp blue irises of the red hand. "So, is it true? Are you really finished with them? Or do you plan to take out anyone a little closer to my heart, so to speak, when you're through with Mateo Fisher?" The corner of her mouth drew upward in a grin, but only briefly. "You know, if you'd just given me that name to begin with, this situation might not be as damned tense as it is right now."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Sep 28, 2014 4:25 pm
by Astrophysicist
The longer Rhys Proudfoot watched his target, the more he realized the mob man was even sloppier in person than he was on the internet. So careless was he, in fact, that the former spy began to wonder if the entire setup was an elaborate joke—or a trap. After Colstorm’s scrupulous assessment on the high-rise balcony, Rhys had operated under the assumption that everything henceforth would be strict, professional, and (frankly) difficult. If it was true that the Vandelay family had gone through several unfortunate candidates before reaching out to the former spy, then what, exactly, had been their deal-breaking qualities? Had they all been tasked with ridding the world of Mateo Fisher and failed?

If that was the case, then there was something about the bumbling scotch-loving man that Rhys was simply not seeing. The prospect that he could be missing vital pieces of information made him uncomfortable, and not just with moving forward with the mission—it also made him question his own evidence-based judgments, the likes of which had never failed him previously. Had the bull’s eye been painted on Fisher’s back by any other client than the Vandelay family, he never would have second-guessed his ability to follow through; in fact, the man would likely already have been dead.

Instead, the new-hire red hand deemed it wise to bide his time. Two days was not a significant window in which to research and survey to the fullest, but it was a frame he could work with nevertheless. They had, after all, offered a very generous paycheck for successful completion of the job. And since he’d rather not imagine the consequences of disappointing one of the most influential crime clans in the world, exercising caution—and taking advantage of the time given, however short—was absolutely mandatory to emerge with a victory.

The miniscule listening and tracking device he’d placed behind the rear-view mirror of Mateo Fisher’s unceremonious cerulean vehicle had made it easy to follow the man’s movement without any physical location on Rhy’s part. Not that Fisher had made it particularly challenging in the first place; the man barked on his cellular phone so loudly it was a wonder Gustave kept the man under his employ at all, and his driver—who turned out to be his brother-in-law, a twenty-something college dropout with a heroin problem—was so reckless Rhys was prompted to look up whether or not the kid had a driver’s license at all (it was suspended, as it turned out). At the rate Fisher got shuttled around, his death was more likely to come via automobile accident than the former spy’s bullet.

“Fucker up there’s got a death wish, huh?” the cab driver mused, glancing in his mirror at the blue-eyed passenger in the back seat.

“Mmm,” Rhys hummed in return, although it was unclear whether or not the response was an agreement or merely an acknowledgment. He’d had his eyes trained on those tail lights since they’d departed the curb. He had not informed the cabbie that his intention was to follow the small blue car; rather, he had simply named an address just up the block from the well-reputed eatery where Fisher was bound for the evening. Considering they both traveled the same main avenue, and considering Mateo’s driver demonstrated little by way of stealth, it was safe to assume that he could realistically keep an eye on his target without revealing his intentions to a third party.

Though paying in bills had long ago gone out of style in favor of electronic transactions from mobile phones, it was still the most reliable means of untraceable payment to date. Paper money was kept around and in circulation more for nostalgia’s sake than any real convenience, but Rhys always made a point of carrying cash—much to taxi drivers’ chagrin whenever he tossed the blue-green paper their direction. This instance was no exception, and he darted from the back seat before he heard his temporary chauffeur’s grunt of annoyance.

The moment the soles of his shoes touched the sidewalk, however, he felt the atmosphere around him shift, and the fine hairs on the back of his neck stood suddenly on end. Burying his hands in his pockets, he forced his pace to remain steady and casual despite the intangible pushing sensation of eyes trained on his back. It was a sixth sense, to be sure, a characteristic that manifested acutely in all spies as a requirement for mere survival. But Rhys’s hypersensitivity—based upon a keen eye for observation and detail—was an exception to the general rule. Such inklings, however small, had saved his skin on more than one occasion in the field, and it loaned him yet another layer of insurance upon his already refined craft as a hit man.

A botched assassination attempt was simply not an option, not least of which because of the crowdedness of the location. Muffled chatter punctuated with occasional cheers drifted on the nighttime breeze from the corner establishment, which meant any missteps had the potential to be witnessed by dozens of unsuspecting patrons. His brows furrowed. Looking over his shoulder to identify the tail would do nothing but betray himself, so it was best in this case to confront the follower directly—directly, but discreetly, and away from any possible onlookers. Inhaling slowly, he turned the corner at the rear of the pub, slipping out of the eatery’s pink neon glow at the façade and into the cover of dingy alleyway shadows.

His firearm was drawn, aimed, and ready to fire as soon as the subtle crunch of underfoot gravel confirmed that he did, indeed, have a follower. But the figure at the other end of his sleek black Beretta was perhaps the last person he had expected to see in the filtered orange of the back-alley street lamp as he spun around in confrontation.

Even so, Sarena’s familiar face was not enough to inspire relaxation. Particularly because her own gun was drawn and pointed right back at him in an instant.

Still as stone, he glared at her down the barrel of his weapon, refusing to move even when she dared to step forward. He would make no such promises as not to fire, and his irritation—mixed now with frustration—grew exponentially the more she divulged. It was unwise to threaten him, particularly when he was primed for a hit, but he had the distinct feeling that warning her away would do no good. Sarena Vandelay did what she pleased. She’d made that clear already.

“I don’t owe you an explanation. You got your name; you didn't need me for that,” he responded, his voice low and even. His icy tone was perhaps the only indicator that she had struck a nerve with the mention of Double Eye. “What business is my history of yours?” And how did you find out? Bristling, he arched a brow in angry suspicion. If Gustave or Colstorm had made no mention of his former relationship with the agency, then exactly how had Sarena managed to unearth that particular chapter of his biography? He narrowed his eyes, unsure whether or not to acknowledge the truth in her accusatory words. “What, exactly, did you hope to prove with this, with following me here?” he demanded quietly, slowly. “Do you really think I’d be standing here if I had any ties left with Double Eye? It's not a secret that murder…” He drew out the word, tightening the grip on his Beretta before lowering it carefully to his side. “…isn’t exactly condoned by the agency. Not even for the sake of a mission.”

He raised his chin and rolled back his shoulders. "Now, if you've finished your useless interrogation," he drawled, voice relaxing somewhat, "I have a job to do." Without waiting for her to lower her weapon, he brazenly pushed past her, purposely bumping against her shoulder as he headed back to the pub.

There would be time later for Sarena. Now, his eyes were only for Mateo Fisher.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Sep 28, 2014 6:05 pm
by Requiem
What struck the Vandelay daughter as particularly curious was the nature of the red hand's ire. The angry glint in his striking blue eyes had little to do with the fact that he'd been tailed, but as soon as she had mentioned Double Eye, he'd drawn tension into his shoulders and straightened his spine. Not the reaction of someone comfortable so much as talking about the CIIO--and certainly not that of someone who was, currently, still employed by them. His body language was too primal to be that of an act.
She'd struck a nerve, along with snatching the reassurance she'd needed. But he wasn't giving her a moment more to interrogate, instead brushing past her with an intention shove to the shoulder.

Sarena couldn't help but grin. The man had balls, and he had her intrigued. And she was rather interested in watching this go down.

Courteously allowing the assassin a moment to get a head start, the young woman lowered her firearm and replaced it at her hip beneath her trench coat, then proceeded to follow her target of interest inside the pub known simply as Tides.

Among the throng of people, all wealthy and self-indulgent (and you'd have to be, if you were willing to pay forty dollars minimum for a tray of appetizers), she spotted Fisher first, in his garish forest-green blazer withe the gold buttons. He had already taken a seat at the bar, the glow from the ultramodern stools casting a blue sheen to his face that made him appear far less appealing than he already was.
Predictably, Proudfoot took a seat at the opposite end, slipping onto the stool with enough grace that there was no question he knew how to fit in. Part of what made a good hit man was that very ability to camouflage; to Rhys, it seemingly came naturally.

"Shall I find you a seat, miss?" The polite hostess smiled as she approached her, hands folded nearly in front of her chic black blouse. "Or are you meeting someone?"

Sarena couldn't hold back her smirk. "Oh, I definitely did not come here alone. And I can seat myself." As entertaining as it would be to crash Rhys' party, the red hand did have a job to do--and, left unaccomplished or, worse, deemed a failure, he would have to answer to her father. That was a fate she'd only ever wished on a few people, Emilia among them.

So when the dark-haired femme fatale took a seat, it was not next to Rhys or Fisher, but instead a ways away with a good view of them both. For the sake of her own curiosity (and because she had taken the time and money to follow him down here), the least reward she could glean from the endeavour was at least witnessing how this all unfolded. Every red hand had their own strategies; she wanted to know what Rhys' were, if for no other reason than her own protection down the road.
Not that the daughter of Gustave Vandelay had much to worry about. No one acquainted with the man would dare lay a direct finger on his offspring, unless a deathwish was part of their mens rea.

Proudfoot wasn't her only object of interest, either. Sarena kept a close eye on Fisher as she sipped a glass of water one of the waiters had provided in passing. Exactly what had the man done to piss off her father, and why had the man hired a grade A assassin to do him in? Mateo Fisher was reckless and transparent, hardly worthy of any special attention. This would be childsplay, certainly no challenge for the likes of Rhys Proudfoot.
Across the room, her keen eyes caught the red hand rising from his seat and moving, taking a brazen opportunity to pass Fisher as the man was engaged in conversation with a man next to him. For a split second, the hit man's hand almost imperceptibly passed over the glass of gin and tonic that her father's goon had been sipping, before he reached further to grab a drink menu. All one motion, fluid, and flawless.

Minutes passed, however, and Fisher did not pick up his drink again. Concluding his conversation with the other man, he stood, adjusting his blazer just enough for Sarena to catch a glimpse of something black strapped to his belt.
It wasn't uncommon for the Vandelays or the people working for them to go anywhere unarmed. What struck her as suspicious, however, was that Fisher's conversation partner also saw the weapon, gave a nod, and waved as Mateo took his leave out the back door, likely with the excuse that he needed a smoke.

Proudfoot was quick to follow, but did not go undetected. As soon as Sarena saw the way Fisher's friend turned his head in Rhys' direction, she knew what was up.
The other man almost had his foot out the back door before Sarena was up in his business, and before he knew what was going on, the young woman pistol-whipped him unconscious. His heavy body hit the floor with a loud thud, taking a bar stool down with it.

This was not a mission, and Fisher was not a target; it was a set-up, and Rhys was in danger.

"Proudfoot!" The Vandelay daughter called, long legs carrying her out the back door just in time to see Rhys surrounded by four other men, all armed. Fisher was among them, and smirking.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Sep 28, 2014 7:53 pm
by Astrophysicist
A trap.

A fucking trap.

It had been a set-up all along. And Rhys had waltzed straight into it, stepping artfully to the beat of his own arrogance.

His delivery of the poison was flawless. Sarena wasn’t wrong in her assessment that blending in came naturally to the former Double Eye operative; he was a chameleon in both looks and personality, in demeanor and language. He’d even dressed the part for his role as a believable patron at the uppity, wealth-frequented Tides, with polished black shoes, pleated khaki trousers, and a starch-stiff button-down topped off with an exquisite black blazer. The drink he’d ordered was prim and expensive, and his interaction with the bartending wait staff was curt and formal. No one would ever suspect him for what he was. No one would mistake the purpose of his attendance for anything but a Friday night cocktail to socialize with his peers.

The only way the assassin could have been detected was if the man he targeted had already known the identity of Rhys Proudfoot. And the only way that could have happened was if Mateo Fisher had been part of the plan from its inception, corroborating with Gustave Vandelay and Murphy Colstorm. Unlike Fisher, Rhys was never sloppy, and that was his only real consolation as what should have been a quick, easy job spiraled into a life-threatening scenario for the opposite party. This mission was no trial run, it was no test—it was an ambush with a goal of slaughter, a ganging-up of forces on an unsuspecting hire for an unknown end.

The former spy wanted nothing more than to blast a hole in the sleazy, smirking visage of Mateo Fisher, who stood now with a pistol in-hand as his cronies surrounded Rhys. In the sodium light of the alley, his already sallow skin was further jaundiced, rendering him cartoonishly villainous in his garish green and gold blazer. He was already surrounded by the time Sarena sounded her warning, but Rhys did not hear her over the sound of his own thundering heartbeat.

“Rhys Proudfoot,” Fisher slurred, beady eyes narrowed. “In the flesh. What a privilege.” He stepped forward, and without losing momentum, raised his gun to Rhys’s forehead.

The spy reacted before the tip of the barrel could touch his flesh. He grabbed the man’s gun and ripped his arm downward with the entire weight of his body, dropping to his knees as Mateo’s elbow snapped audibly out of joint. He barely heard the man’s screams as he kicked the goon’s legs from beneath him, sending him crashing hard to the gravel. At the same instant, with his free hand, Rhys produced his Beretta from the concealed holster in the pocket of his dress slacks.

He fired once, twice, thrice—and two bullets found their mark, striking two of the other men in the thigh and hip, respectively. They fell, giving Rhys time to leap to his feet with the grace of one versed in martial arts. The third man’s fist collided with the red hand’s face, but he did not fall—instead, he raised his pistol and fired straight into his assailant’s broad neck. The heavy man fell forward in shock, staggering against Rhys, who dodged the bulk of the body but not the thick spray of hot crimson blood. An unceremonious thud left the man dead at his feet.

As he paused, Proudfoot’s heavy breaths were made visible as billowing clouds in the chilly spring air. But the fight was not yet over. Mateo, whimpering on the gravel, struggled to stand, his uninjured left arm flailing his pistol as he waved for balance. One carefully-placed shot between the man’s eyes took care of that. Rhys swiveled his arm as another man dressed in white limped towards him from behind, the uneven drag of his gait a giveaway of his approach. A quick fist to the jaw knocked him to his knees, where the former spy wrapped one arm around his neck and twisted violently.

As he set his sights on the last man, the one whose hip had been the recipient of Rhys’s bullet, another gunshot resounded in the alley—one that did not originate from his own trigger finger. The bastard fell backward as if in slow-motion, cinematically revealing a familiar figure silhouetted against the restaurant’s back door.

Stooped forward and panting, bleeding freely from his nose, lip, and multiple cuts on the palm he’d used to catch his weight, Proudfoot straightened with a grimace. Drenched in scarlet amongst a pile of bodies at his shoes, Rhys met the Vandelay daughter’s gaze. And despite himself, despite everything, he grinned.

“Well, that was more than I bargained for,” he said hoarsely, his Beretta still in his hand at his side. The ordeal had lasted seconds, perhaps a minute—but he knew it would not be long before the wail of police sirens heralded the arrival of angry law enforcement. He stepped over a tangle of limbs and stumbled, catching himself on the rail of the back stoop. “Any chance you’ve got a trustworthy driver on speed-dial?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Sep 29, 2014 1:31 am
by Requiem
She couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

As a Vandelay, Sarena had not only been responsible for a disproportionate amount of murders in the twenty-seven years she’d walked the earth, but had born witness to more than she could imagine. Some right in front of her eyes, others in the aftermath; some slow, some quick; some human and relatively painless, others that were fit for a horror movie.

Something she had never witnessed to date—at least, not until now—was a single man, taking on four goddamned assailants, all armed with pistols, and coming away alive. And relatively unharmed.

What she saw was akin to a choreographed fight you’d see in a film, all precise movements and perfect timing down to the millisecond. Bones snapped as if they were made of dry spaghetti, Fisher and his goons were disarmed in a matter of seconds, knocked unconscious and then killed as quickly as time and circumstances permitted. Proudfoot wasn’t a mercenary; the man was practically a god of death, dealing it out like candy to all who surrounded him. The Vandelay daughter, instinctively knowing that it would be in her better interests to lend the man a hand, found herself frozen and captivated by the scene as it unfolded before her, almost afraid that taking another step would draw her directly into Proudfoot’s line of fire.

The injured man limping towards the red hand was what woke the raven-haired dame up from the spell Rhys’ capabilities had cast. It certainly wasn’t for the man’s lack of competence that she raised her gunmetal pistol and fired at the back of the final assailant’s head, the bullet finding its mark like the center of a bull’s-eye; rather, she feared what it might do to her reputation not to react to the violence.
At the end of the day, Proudfoot couldn’t say she didn’t lend a hand.

“Fuck this bullshit…” Sarena spat the words, staggering away from the doorway, which had garnered its fair share of frightened onlookers. She was way ahead of the red hand’s request, drawing her phone out of her coat pocket and dialing the ride she’d caught down. One look at the red hand, and all of the driver’s questions would be answered.

Closing the distance between her and the hit man, she wiped the worst of the blood from his face with her hand, which she then shoved into a pocket where the stain wouldn’t be seen. “Come on. Plug your nose and don’t tilt your goddamned head back.” Taking him by the arm, she led him away from the scene, cutting through a narrow alley to avoid walking into mainstream traffic. Her ride, obediently having taken into consideration the urgency in her tone on the phone, pulled up only seconds after they emerged on a less frequented road.

Throwing one of the back doors open, Sarena shoved Rhys into the vehicle, barely managing to climb in herself and slam the door shut before the driver pulled away. “The fuck, Sarena… not gonna ask what I’m looking at, but where am I taking you?”

“My place. And no one knows about this, understand?” The young woman caught her driver’s eyes in the rear view mirror and quirked a brow. “You know there’s always extra compensation for your cooperation, Walsh. I always come through.”

The driver only shook his head and muttered something about the day when he would learn a bit of cash wasn’t worth his life, but there was no hesitation as he took to the back roads, a longer but safer route to the condominiums where the dark-haired femme resided. That he knew to pull up towards the back, to the door where maintenance men entered and exited so as to stay out of sight and out of mind of the rich tenants, suggested it was far from the first time he’d abided Sarena Vandelay’s request. “If your old dad calls shit on me, you’re stepping in in my defense, got it?”

“You know it.” Gustave’s daughter grinned, sly but reassuring as she helped her guest out of the car and watched it peel away with the squeal of rubber on asphalt.

Her fingers never left the crook of Rhys’ arm as she threw open the door, pulling him up the stairs two at a time—a long, laborious and strenuous climb, all the way to her midpoint floor, but taking the elevator was not an option. The fewer people who saw her, accompanied by a bleeding man, the better.

Fumbling with her keycard, as soon as the green light flashed above the doorknob, she shoved the red hand into her private apartment. The door closed and locked in a single motion. “Take off your shirt—what, you some kind of bashful goldenboy? I’m going to get the blood out of the fabric. And don’t even think of touching anything.” Standing with her arm outstretched, Sarena exerted what little patience she had for Proudfoot to comply. As soon as he relinquished his soiled garment, she took it to the kitchen, filled the sink with water and bleach. Lucky for him, white was the easiest colour from which to lift stains.

“It’s gonna need to soak. I’ll throw it in the drier before I let you out of here.” Shoving a wad of facial tissue towards his bloodied face, she met his eyes with a curiosity that was not void of a certain awe that couldn’t be explained. “Welcome to employment by my family. I think your interview is officially over.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Sep 30, 2014 7:17 pm
by Astrophysicist
The red hand’s title certainly fit his current description. As he climbed into the backseat of the unmarked black car at Sarena’s command, he caught a glimpse of himself in the rear view mirror behind the wide eyes of her compliant driver. The spattering of crimson on Proudfoot’s face and clothes was so dramatic and pronounced that it looked more like he’d just exited a movie set than run from a scene of quadruple-murder. But Rhys, more than anyone, was aware of what had just occurred. His nose still leaked thick droplets of his own blood, and his head throbbed deeply from his temples to his jaw.

He leaned his head back against the head rest as the car sped from the curb, his eyelids fluttering closed while he gathered his racing thoughts. The warmth of his victims’ blood against his skin was an unwelcome sensation that made him feel claustrophobic and weighted down. His scraped wrist and palm, too, had begun to sting. Swallowing, he angled his hand toward the window, and in the passing flashes of light he made out gravel still trapped within the shallow wounds. He inhaled slowly, a hiss through clenched teeth.

It was nothing short of a miracle that he had survived at all, let alone with such minor injuries. Against four armed, trained men who had known all along of their intentions, any lesser experienced target would have perished with the first carefully-timed bullet. It had been a long time since Rhys had been in a situation quite that dire; nevertheless, his training and experience as a field operative came through for his survival. Skills of close combat had become second nature after having been forced to rely on them overseas, particularly in situations where carrying a gun would have been inappropriate. That was what Mateo Fisher and his men—even Gustave Vandelay himself—had not anticipated. Their unpreparedness had likely been his saving grace, for despite Rhys’s talents, he wouldn’t have been able to defend himself against much more of an attack.

He said nothing as they pulled up to the dark rear service entrance of a high-rise apartment complex, climbing out of the back seat with a wince and allowing Sarena to haul him quickly up the stairwell. He understood her discretion without requiring an explanation, and without complaint he followed her two-at-a-time lead until they reached the proper floor.

“Right,” he said hoarsely, at last breaking his silence to acknowledge her instruction not to touch anything. “Got it.” Without hesitation, he unbuttoned his brightly stained shirt and draped it over her outstretched arm. The gentle hiss of water from a high-pressure faucet indicated she was laundering his garment in the kitchen sink. In her absence, he took the opportunity to survey his new surroundings—something he did automatically, without thought, and especially after the ambush at the eatery. While it was unlikely someone who wanted him killed would let him survive a four-assailant attack and then cart him back to her private living quarters only to off him on her own turf, he couldn’t help but be wary.

“You know, on second thought, maybe this job’s not for me,” he quipped, meeting Sarena’s gaze as she reappeared in the doorway. He offered her a small, drained smile as he took the proffered tissues. “Mind if I use your bathroom for this?” he asked, gesturing to his blood-coated face with his equally blood-coated, cut-up palm. He stepped towards the small door nearest the entryway when she nodded in its direction, nudging the door open with his foot.

Gritting his teeth against the sting of washing the dirt from his hand, he met his own blue eyes in the mirror. Behind the mask of drying blood, his skin had paled. He hadn’t been exposed to so much lifeblood since he was found barely-conscious in a deep puddle of his own near-fatal exsanguination, and the memory—distant, but vivid—was enough to send a shiver down his spine. Quickly, he splashed water over his face and wiped it clean with the tissue, tossing the small cloths in the toilet for easy disposal.

When he emerged, he looked far cleaner—although still decidedly wide-eyed and spooked. “Thanks, uh, for the warning back there,” said Rhys. “And the ride. Do you think there’s a polite way to tell your father ‘thanks-but-no-thanks’?” He smiled faintly. “Assuming that really was some kind of test and not just, you know, a way to rid the world generally of a competing hit man.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Sep 30, 2014 8:26 pm
by Requiem
"The job's not for you?" Sarena's dark eyebrows shot upward a good inch, suspicion mirrored in her blue eyes as they narrowed. "Now, I call bullshit on that one, Mr. Proudfoot. Someone who used to be one of Double Eye's bitches, and a little tiny ambush like that is enough to spook you? Sorry, I don't buy that--and neither will my father." Tilting her head, she angled her chin towards the bathroom in consent, watching with curiosity as the red hand wandered away to make use of her sink. "Take my word for it, Rhys: if my father wants you to work for him, it is a compliment. And you already know too much to walk away... I don't imagine I need to fill in any more blanks."

Every other red hand to be subjected to one of her father's 'tests' (and to walk away alive) was perceived as an asset--and a threat, if there appeared the slightest chance they might turn their skills on the wrong person; the wrong Vandelay. Those who served their purpose were handsomely rewarded and held in high regard. 
Such a shame, that so many talented bearers of death in the past had turned out to endorse treacherous motives. Sarena hoped Rhys Proudfoot did not turn out to be one of those unfortunate few to fall to her father's hand. If nothing else, the man was interesting, and provided entertaining company.

The Vandelay daughter's gaze fell to the assassin's scraped hands when he emerged, far less bloodied, but no less shaken. "It was a test; I should have anticipated it, really. He wants to test the skills and loyalty of new hires before he sends them along for the purpose he really has planned. Here, let me see."Having retrieved a couple of square bandages from her purse, she took the man's hands, one at a time, and pressed patches to the scratched and torn flesh, smoothing them over in a peculiarly gentle motion to secure the adhesive. It wouldn't do for him to touch something and leave blood evidence; who knew it if could turn out to be incriminating?

"It's like this: you cop out, and it won't be like standing up to a handful of goons with guns." The Vandelay daughter went on, shrugging her trench coat from her shoulders and draping it over the back of her sofa. "Gustave will have you killed, and as impressive as your moves were tonight, nothing would prepare you for whatever he'd have in mind. Even I couldn't help you; wouldn't want to even try, to be painfully honest with you. I'd just get caught in the crossfire.

"So if you want my advice, Rhys, laugh it off and congratulate yourself. Hearing what happened back at that restaurant, I think my father will be very satisfied. And he does have the potential to be generous when he's satisfied." Flipping he dark hair over one shoulder, Sarena's eyes trailed down the red hand's torso, taking in the sight of scars, some jagged and pink, others careful and straight, like surgical incisions. Though they were nowhere near new, and she was no expert, it looked highly unlikely he'd suffered them as a child, or even a teenager, for that matter.
There was a saying about what didn't kill you only making you stronger. She wondered if some close caress of death was responsible for Proudfoot's uncanny skills.

Taking a seat on the couch, she angled her head towards the left side of his torso, towards the imperfections on his otherwise smooth skin. "That looks like it hurt." Began her self-invitation to pry. At least she had the courtesy to meet his eyes when she asked, "From when you were working for Double Eye, am I right? You said there was an accident that made you leave your work. Call it a hunch, but I'm going to guess it has something to do with all that nice pink on your peachy skin." Wholly unable to hold it back, her rosy lips curled into a grin. "You really are the full, deluxe package, aren't you? Good looks, impeccable skills, and the bad-ass scars to tie it all together. It's as if people like you are just... born to kill."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Sep 30, 2014 9:39 pm
by Astrophysicist
“Well, thanks for passing along that insight and sparing me all that trouble,” he retorted. Despite the sarcasm buried in his tone, his eyes betrayed amusement. The moment he’d met with Murphy Colstorm on that drafty high-rise balcony—no, the moment he’d successfully rid the world of the gluttonous, adulterous Henri Yankton—he had sealed his fate with the mafia clan. Unknowingly, he had ignited a chain of events whose momentum was impossible to escape. Events needed to run their course, and the former CIIO agent knew better than to fight the friction.

But it wasn’t all bad, at least not yet. The more Rhys interacted with the enigmatic Vandelay daughter, the more fascinated he became with the dark-haired heiress. It wasn’t just her unorthodox role in the vast crime family she called her own that intrigued him, it was also her demeanor—at once carefree and vigilant, impassioned yet detached. It dawned on him then that her familiarity struck close to the vest; she reminded the former spy of himself. But unlike Rhys, it hadn’t taken a tragedy like Tribeca-Antioch to conjure such intensity to the surface—and also unlike him, she suffered none of the psychological strings attached to such darkness. What trauma had sculpted of him, she naturally was. And the thought both frightened and attracted him, a moth to her flame.

Even her touch was contradictory, featherlight and tender as she cradled his scratched hands and bound the cuts with soft gauze. He watched her expressionlessly as she wrapped the lacerations, his eyes not on the bandage but rather on her face. “I may be dumb enough to walk into an ambush like that—though I would not call it small, exactly—but I’m definitely not dumb enough to cross your father,” he informed her, quirking a brow. “This isn’t my first trip around the block. But I appreciate the advice, I do.”

He backed up, checking the state of his slacks before lowering himself into a cushioned armchair opposite the sofa. They were dirty from the scuffle on the ground, but the fabric had avoided the dire fate of his heavily bloodstained shirt, and he deemed it safe to sit. Prior to Sarena’s once-over and subsequent comments regarding his bodily scars, he had not been self-conscious about his bare torso; now, under more direct scrutiny, he wasn’t sure how to feel. It wasn’t shyness or embarrassment, no, this was something deeper to which the scars were only physical gateways.

That looks like it hurt. “It did,” Rhys confirmed. He looked down, his expression guarded, his posture changing infinitesimally. “And it was. From the accident.” He swallowed, trying not to let his discomfort show. It would be easy to mistake his shift in body language for one of hostility rather than mental unease, in part because it was true. Surprising even himself, he heard a bark of a laugh escape his lips. “Born to kill,” he repeated, chuckling with a darkness born of its truth an the pain of fated memory, “that sounds about right.” The brief beat of silence that followed was swollen with unspoken regret. “And with these good looks, there’s a fine line between breaking hearts and stopping them altogether,” he continued teasingly, covering up the painful nostalgia with another chuckle. He shook his head and met her gaze. “It’s actually a secret weapon of mine.”

Clearing his throat, he changed the subject. “You know any of those fuckwads back there?” he asked, relaxing a little.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Sep 30, 2014 10:19 pm
by Requiem
The question and concept of her father's new red hand as a born killer was clever, although it hadn't struck Sarena as particularly funny. And yet, the man was erupting in laughter, like she'd suggested he go volunteer at the local Baptist church to bake pies, or something equally ridiculous. 
But the finer details were far from past her attention. He didn't find it funny; no, there was nothing particularly humorous about the way he was laughing. If anything, the dark-haired mafia daughter would have described it as painful. Laughter that was just a few decibels and abdominal contractions away from screaming or crying. She'd hit a nerve, without even realizing it.

"Well, I won't break your heart if you won't break mine. That goes for stopping it, too." Sarena tossed him a playful wink, eyes returning to his scars one more time. "Born killer or not, you're sure as hell a refreshing sight in my household full of morons. Good company is s hard to find... I like to hang on to it for a while before I let it go." 
Turning her shoulder, she ventured back into the kitchen to check on the progress of his shirt. Beneath the bloodied rose-tinted water, the garment stood out, crisp and white. A quick rinse to rid it of caustic chemicals, and she threw it over her bare forearm again and returned to the living room, holding the article of clothing up by the shoulders for him to inspect.

Her grin was full of self-satisfaction. "What do you think? Not bad, for a little self-made remedy for blood on clothes. No one will ever guess you just killed four people behind a restaurant." When she turned to press her hand against the adjacent wall, it moved with her bodily motion to reveal an industrial washer and dryer. No one with the money behind her name wanted it to be obvious they did their own laundry, but since no one could be trusted to handle her garments, all that was left was to hide the 'dirty work' behind secret walls. "The dryer will take care of the wrinkles. You can walk out of here looking almost as pristine as you did walking into Tides."

Sarena tossed the shirt into the machine and set the cycle for twenty minutes on high, then slid the wall back into place to hide the evident of lifting a finger as the dryer silently went about its duty, out of sight and out of mind. "You mean the rats flanking Fisher? No, I didn't recognize any of them. My guess is that they were temporary hires; that's usually Gustave's way when he's testing a brand new hit man. It isn't like he's going to go to the trouble to put a bunch of his long-term trustees at risk for someone he isn't even sure will be worth his time or money. Sorry I didn't warn you sooner, but... well, that's what you get for leaving a lady in your dust."

As conversations usually did, all of the talking struck her with a nicotine craving, and she reached for her cigarettes in her purse without thinking much about it. "I know you promised to provides the sticks last time, but I'll be nice and cut you a little slack." After cupping her hand around her own cigarette to coax the flame from her lighter, she handed both the pack and the light to Rhys, catching the alluring blue of his eyes and the faint scar above his brow. It wasn't often her father's new hires struck her with such interest, yet she felt like she couldn't learn enough about Rhys Proudfoot. Even if there was nothing to gain by knowing his story, despite that Sarena Vandelay was all about gain.

Puffing a perfect 'O' from her lips, she settled herself across from him, half-seated on the arm of the sofa's matching chair. "I don't suppose you'll tell me about the accident that gave you those scars?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 12:39 am
by Astrophysicist
“Fair enough,” he responded to their impromptu deal regarding heartbreak and murder—a combination that seemed strangely not strange in the bizarre context in which they found themselves. Despite their only previous interaction being a casual shared cigarette break, each was now in possession of one (or more) of the other’s incriminating secrets barely forty-eight hours later. Their happenstance camaraderie included an unspoken but mutually understood agreement to keep such knowledge in confidence, not least because they now shared this particular less-than-legal escapade.

When the young woman disappeared back into the kitchen, Rhys’s well-practiced mask of stoicism faltered. A lump lodged itself in his throat that he futilely attempted to swallow. The adrenaline of the evening’s events had finally begun to ebb, and in its absence came something equally potent but far more debilitating. Anxiety crawled like cold spiders up and down his spine, running in sudden, quick chills despite the comfortable interior temperature of Sarena’s apartment. Despite the lingering stinging pain of the cuts on his hand, he reached up to the silver chain around his neck, righting its small copper charm that had become twisted in his haste to undress. It had been some time since he’d been involved in a fight like that, and minor physical injuries aside, it was beginning to take its psychological toll.

Her soft footsteps prompted him to turn around, replacing his uneasy expression with one of genuine approval. His shirt was once again a swatch of stark white, damp and wrinkled slung over her arm. “Bravo,” he commented with a nod, fingers unconsciously gripping the smooth bead suspended around his neck. “I usually just burn the blood-stained stuff. But that one was expensive, so I appreciate the thorough laundry service.” He pursed his lips against a smile. “Plus, walking the streets shirtless would draw too much attention, don’t you think?”

He took the offered pack of smokes and lighter graciously, humming his satisfaction as he placed a white cylinder between his lips and exhaled his first cloud of toiling smoke. His anxiousness quelled by the sensation of nicotine and the comfort of the routine, his shoulders relaxed and he sank further into the chair. Sarena’s abode smelled lightly of tobacco, entirely unlike the overpowering, overly-masculine odor that clung to all susceptible surfaces in the rooms Gustave Vandelay frequented. In many ways, the former Double Eye agent did not doubt she was her father’s daughter—but even in the short time Rhys had known her, he couldn’t help but wonder just how much the heiress took after her unknown mother. 

Like Sarena’s fascination with the red hand, so too was Rhys transfixed by the young woman. Since working for Double Eye, he had made it a point never to interact face-to-face with his clients. The reason was twofold, although primarily the anonymity offered the highest level of protection for both parties of the bargain; the other part was that it removed the humanism from both the interaction and the deed itself. Now that Proudfoot had an employer rather than any given individual client, his days of impersonal freelance hits were perhaps over—and that implied a broader scope of personal connections that would need to be made. To start these working relationships with the Vandelay daughter as his catalyst was both serendipitous and anomalous, lucky in that he had an insider’s view and unusual in that that view was Sarena’s.

“Would you believe me if I told you that information was classified?” he said, dodging the question with a tone he hoped was playful. “Actually,” he went on, a little more seriously, “it isclassified. I don’t work for them anymore, so I shouldn’t—and don’t—really give a shit about the confidentiality status. But it could jeopardize some of the people still tied to the ordeal.” He took a puff on his cigarette, thoughtful, but his pale face gave away his nerves. “What I want to know is,” he drawled, “how you came across that little piece of my history when not even your father mentioned it to me.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 12:09 pm
by Requiem
Sarena tilted her head back to laugh at his coy joke. No wonder she liked this guy so much; it sounded exactly like something she would have said. "I imagine running around without a shirt would draw all sorts of attention, good and bad. Though if I were you, I'd charge for every pair of eyes that looks up and likes what they see." He was in no way shy to verbally flaunt what genetics and luck had blessed him with; why should she disagree? "Though if you ask me, I feel as though I've more than compensated for the nice view, between your quick getaway and my efficient stain removal methods." Just in case he hadn't already figured it out: he owed her.

Apparently, he wasn't willing to pay off his debt with answers.
It came as no surprise when the red hand explicitly refused to divulge the details of the accident that his yielded the scarring on his body. The tightness around his eyes as he strived to keep his tone casual and conversation betrayed that she'd hit a real nerve. "Keeping others safe by keeping your mouth shut, huh?" Exhaling a thin stream of smoke from between puckered lips, the Vandelay daughter shrugged her shoulders in resignation not to pry further. After all, she always got what she want, be it information or something more tangible. And there was always a way to get it; it needn't be from him, exclusively.

"So you're still trying to be one of the good guys. That's uncommon for someone of your particular profession." she commented, more amused than intrigued, at this point. "Though since you still see fit to be so tight-lipped around me, I don't see why I should be divulging my sources to you. After all, it might jeopardize the people involved." Parroting his own excuse back to him, Sarena held a perfect poker face for almost a solid minute before her resolve crumbled, and the straight line of her mouth gave way to a chuckle. "No, that's actually bullshit. Like I give half a fuck about shit like that... If you ask me, you're sparing the safety of people who would probably turn on you in a heartbeat, anyway. But that's none of my business."

Tapping the tip of her cigarette on the crystal ashtray on the darkwood coffee table, the ebony-haired woman leaned forward. "Here's the thing. I've had my own run-ins with Double Eye and, well, let's just say that recent events have led to my temporary cooperation with them working in my favour. Let's just say your name happened to come up... Apparently it wasn't so unfamiliar to a Tesh Marionetti. He seemed pretty interested in you and pried for more information--relax, sweetheart, I didn't give him the details he wanted. He's paying me for another task that just happens to mutually benefit us, and unless he's wiling to make the number sitting in my bank account even bigger, I don't do extra favours for the slimy scum at Double Eye.

"No offense, of course; your dissociation with them absolves you of your identity as slimy scum, I think." A trinket dangling between his collar bones caught the young woman's attention just as she was about to go on with sly reassurances. Without asking permission (and when did she ever?) her finger caught the trinket from where it hung on its chain. "Now, this is pretty. Kinda bold for you to wear, though; if you're not careful, it might get caught in something." To illustrate her point, she gave it a gentle tug, urging him forward by about an inch. "Personal value, I take it? Not often people make pretty jewelry from shards of scrap metal."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 9:11 pm
by Astrophysicist
Rhys maintained his composure well, but small tells would always betray his anxiety to those who knew what to look for—a blanched complexion, smiles that came a little too quickly and not quite genuine enough, the way he held his shoulders to appear relaxed. Overcompensation was the only way he knew how to suppress the feelings, to do as the common saying went by faking it until he made it. If he could focus on his bodily presentation, then he could better ignore how his heartbeat increased its pulsing tempo; he could pretend his palms were not glistening with sweat and that his tongue was cotton dry. If he could make someone else believe him to be fine, then perhaps he could believe it too.

It was not a simple task with Sarena Vandelay, whose lifestyle had honed her skills of observation to a degree on par with any spy Rhys had ever worked with. He would have bet any sum of money that she recognized his discomfort despite his efforts; fortunately, she had the courtesy not to point them out directly. He was not fooled, however, into thinking her curiosity had been sated. There would be more questions, more prying. She had already peered into his general past, and he had a feeling it was only a matter of time before the darker specifics of his too-recent history came into the glare of her blinding searchlight. But there were things to which not even Double Eye had been privy, things he had never told another soul. Those, he would carry to his grave, just as he would the reminder scars on his flesh.

“I’m not one of the good guys,” he responded lightly, shaking his head. “Hell, I don’t even know if the people I’m protecting are still alive.” He lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug, thinking primarily of his former handler and lover at Double Eye. Sarena was right, in part. Wherever Harriet Grimm was now, if she had not already met her end, she was in no position to turn on him—and even if she wanted to (and likely she did), she had no information in regards to his activities or whereabouts. “So I’m not so uncommon after all,” he concluded, taking a slow, steady inhale on his cigarette.

When he exhaled, however, it came out with a cough, the reaction spurned by Sarena’s sudden confession of ties to the CIIO. Immediately, he sat up straighter, forcing his hands to remain where they were rather than reach for the firearm in his pocket. Tesh Marionetti’s name rang in his ears like a clap of thunder, or a gunshot, and all his efforts to compose himself were reversed in a sudden torrent of active fury.

He barely heard the remainder of her words, and her mild attempt to calm him down only served to intensify his irritation. “You told him about me!?” he snapped, blue eyes flashing dangerously as he searched her expression. “You told him I was here, in the city!” Reaching up, he wrapped his non-bandaged hand around her wrist and tore her grip away from his necklace, flying to his feet with his fists clenched at his sides. Blood began to seep through the gauze in a dark, gradual stain. After five years of careful and successful concealment from Double Eye’s all-seeing gaze, his status and location had been betrayed in passing mention by an unsuspecting Sarena Vandelay.

“Do you know what you’ve undone?” he hissed, turning away from her for a moment before deeming it unwise. “You’re not a fool, Sarena. Surely you picked up on how bad Tesh Marionetti wants me back in Double Eye’s clutches.” Rhys knew Marionetti almost as well as he knew himself. In the world of covert international espionage, maintaining close working relationships with the agency’s chain of command was mandatory for safety and success. Proudfoot and Tesh had not been in contact since his wordless departure five years prior, and for all the DPD director knew until Sarena’s revelation, Rhys was dead and gone. The man would want more information, and he would be willing to pay—and Sarena, Rhys feared, would be only too happy to oblige.

With his fingers once again gripping the necklace between his collar bones, he strode to the concealed door where the Vandelay heiress kept her washer and dryer. “I’m leaving,” he announced furiously, shrugging on the still-damp shirt and buttoning it hastily as he emerged from the room. “Thanks for the ride and the smoke. But I need to go.”

He bitterly turned toward the door and stormed down the corridor to the back stairwell they’d previously ascended. Whether or not the young woman would follow, he could only guess. But what he did know was that he needed to get away from her—before she could coax more information from him, before she could drag him back to Double Eye for a proud reward.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 9:50 pm
by Requiem
"Hey--hey, relax," the young woman frowned, crossing one leg over the other as she raised a hand, palm forward, in emphasis. "I gave him a name, yes; hell, up until just then, I was convinced you'd only given me an alias. I didn't think it would matter, and it never crossed my mind that you might have been one of those very scumbags, at one point in your life." The panic in Rhys' blue eyes indicated that her reassurances were falling flat, however, so she lowered her voice to a tone that was less confrontational and more nonchalant. "Listen, I don't know what went down between you and Double Eye, but something tells me they've got bigger fish to fry than some has-been. Bigger fish, as in, my family."

Too late; he was already lost.
Sarena almost flinched when he tore her hand away from his necklace as if she'd burned him, the fury in his eyes unlike anything she would have expected from someone with such a soulful gaze. Then again, it was those very gazes that purportedly saw all too much. Apparently more than he was willing to divulge. "Calm the hell down, Proudfoot!" She snapped, disposing of her cigarette in the ashtray and rising to her feet. "This Tesh guy wanted to get into contact with you--that's all I know. And did I give him your contact information? Did I tell him where he could find you and who you were supposed to be taking out for my father? No; I told him to go fuck himself. What would I have to gain in getting the CIIO on your ass?"

The mafia daughter watched with mild irritation as the red hand pushed back the faux wall to retrieve his shirt from the dryer. It was still damp and creased with wrinkles; frankly, he would have looked better, walking out with it dry and still covered in blood. "Oh, what? The date is over because I gave your name to the wrong person?" Sarena folded her arms and glared at his bare back as he pulled the shirt over his head. "If you're so fucking sensitive about it, then maybe you should be doing what ever other goddamn hit man on this planet does and go by an alias. If I had known he cared so damn much, then hell, I'd have made something up."

Leave it to a man to make a fuss over something so trivial, Sarena thought as he stormed out of her apartment. Naturally, she had to follow; if any of this jeopardized Proudfoot's agreement with her father, she didn't want her fingerprints all over the red hand's early resignation from Vandelay employ. "Hey! Will you listen to me?" Without even a chance to grab a pair of shoes or her coat, the devious young woman hurried after him, catching him by the arm down one of the stairwells. It didn't slow him, but she wasn't about to let him shake her. "What are you so afraid of? Listen, Rhys, if you want protection from Double Eye, then that basically comes with the benefits of your working for my family. We've kept them off of our backs for a hell of a long time; you don't think we can keep this Marionetti guy out of your business?"

The stairs were cold and uncomfortable beneath her bare feet, and Rhys wasn't slowing. Lips curving into a frown, she tightened her hold on his arm and leaned towards his ear. "Look, I don't really give a fuck about what happened between you and Double Eye, but this can't affect your deal with my father. You resign, and not only is your ass on the line, but mine as well, if he finds out I've had any affiliation whatsoever with the assholes at the CIIO." And he would find out, if he saw fit. Nothing remained secret from Gustave Vandelay forever, and even if she broke her agreement with Double Eye to save face in her father's eyes, then she'd have Marionetti to worry about, and her unofficial immunity to arrest would be nullified.

Much like Rhys, Sarena found herself between a rock and a hard place. More than he could know.

"Will you slow down? At least let me call my ride to get you out of here." She sighed, when it didn't appear he would change his mind and lower his shackles. "Safer than any taxi around here, I can assure you of that. You know how many cabbies have turned out to be cops in dis..."
The word died in Sarena's throat the moment they exited through the back door, encountering the shadow of a man she wholeheartedly had not expected to see. It planted a seed of apprehension deep in her gut.
Costorm didn't like her much more than she liked him. And without Gustave around, there was no necessity to make nice.

"Colstorm," the Vandelay daughter sneered, releasing Rhys' arm. Unarmed though she was, she couldn't let on her defenselessness without her gun. Showing weakness to a wolf only made you prey. "The hell do you think you're doing here?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 11:04 pm
by Astrophysicist
Had Rhys Proudfoot been in the proper state of mind to listen to the words the young woman spoke, he may have heeded them. There was truth in what she said, stronger truth than he could ever deny, even in anger. She had wronged him, albeit unintentionally, and the former CIIO agent knew better than to assume he was completely safe from rediscovery by the same government organization who’d thrown him to the proverbial wolves at Tribeca-Antioch. He’d seen its inner workings and knew just how thorough its surveillance of mafia activity could be. Just because they left the Vandelays well enough alone did not mean they would extend the same courtesy to Rhys.

He wouldn’t slow down, couldn’t slow down. His damp shirt clung uncomfortably to his skin as he continued his rapid descent, dragging Sarena along with him without his pace faltering. It wasn’t just his name that was the issue; the Vandelays would have discovered his true identity regardless of what name he’d given them. Typically, he did go by an alias when dealing with internet clients, giving a name (a false one) only when a deal could not move forward without it. But Murphy Colstorm had made it clear to him upon his intake interview that any falsehood would weigh heavily against him, and Rhys had deemed it too risky to call a bluff. A wise choice, it seemed, given the night’s earlier events, but he’d had no way to foresee a working connection with Double Eye hidden amongst the family’s ranks. And he’d especially not anticipated being important enough to have his name reported back.

The door had barely closed behind them when the familiar silhouette stepped forward, backlit ominously by the yellowish street lamp above.

The distinct hollow click of a cocked pistol hammer pierced the tranquil alley air like a needle through soft flesh, and the shadow that sprawled across the black asphalt loomed dangerously as the figure began its approach.

Rhys recognized the sound immediately, tensing beneath Sarena’s grip on his arm.

“Well, this is certainly a fascinating interaction,” Colstorm drawled, the faint trace of an Irish lilt managing to make his tone jovial, unnervingly so. “Sarena Vandelay and Rhys Proudfoot. A handsome couple. Unconventional, perhaps, but handsome.”

Rhys bristled, stepping forward instinctively to angle his body between Sarena and the mafia advisor. As soon as he moved, Colstorm’s hand raised, the barrel of his large pistol centered square at Proudfoot’s chest. Rhys slowly held up two open palms, one of which had bled through its bandages. Warm droplets escaped to run down his wrist, once again staining the cuff of his shirtsleeve.

Colstorm laughed, noticing the blood. “Impressive work back there at Tides. I did not expect the opportunity to say that to you in person,” the Irishman said, sneering. “Or anything to you in person. You outperformed, Proudfoot, which is unfortunate. In any other situation, congratulations would be in order.”

There was not opportunity to ask Sarena for insight as to what was going on, to inquire about precedent procedure for her father’s new hires. Judging by her startled initial reaction, however, he had a feeling this was out of the ordinary.

“What’s this about?” Rhys demanded, his tone harsher than he’d intended. His gun remained loaded and ready in his pocket, but reaching for it now would be a death trap.

“This is about you.” Colstorm swiveled his weapon from the red hand to the Vandelay heiress over Rhy’s shoulder. “And now, apparently, you, Sarena. I’m afraid I can’t allow either of you to leave here tonight unscathed. Terribly sorry. It’s business, you understand. Gustave's orders.”

 

   
ReplyQuote
Requiem
(@requiem)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 842
 
by Requiem
She had no more idea as to what was going on than did Rhys; and for that, Sarena began to recognize the harbingers of panic as it gripped her gradually accelerating heart. Fisher hadn't been a difficult case to catch onto; in fact, she should have prevised it from the start, but between her anomalous fascination with Rhys Proudfoot and his previous association with Double Eye (not to mention the dirty work she'd agreed to do for Marionetti, which, for the time being, would appear to have to take a back seat), the pattern that was so typically her father's had revealed itself to her quickly enough.

Certainly, the incident at Tides had left her a little rattled, but there was no dealing with the unknown, and no crisis had emerged from it. But this--Murphy Colstorm, holding the two of them at gunpoint outside her apartment building, and claiming it was all part of her own father's orders--was unexpected, unwarranted, and downright unnerving. If the incident at the back of the restaurant with Fisher and his hired goons had been a test for Rhys, then what in all hell was this, that faced the two of them right now?

Positioned as she suddenly was behind Rhys was probably the safest place to be; at least, it would have been, if Colstorm hadn't also pointed the barrel of his weapon in her direction, indicating her involvement in whatever the hell 'this' was. That he claimed she was part of this at all raised her suspicions. Even if, for whatever reason, Gustave had sent him to eliminate Rhys (which was entirely possible--perhaps he'd caught wind of the red hand's history with the CIIO, and had deemed him too great a threat to be of service to the family), she knew her father well enough to be assured he would never leave her for collateral damage.

Colstorm either had to be insane or lying. And the two weren't necessarily mutually exclusive.

The realization was enough to foster the gall to boldly step in front of the red hand, putting herself in the direct path of the gun that she was certain would no go off. "You're either completely off your rocker, or you're a bigger fucking liar than my father's aware of." Holding the man's gaze, Sarena kept her spine and shoulders straight, not betraying in the slightest the seedling of apprehension that grew in her gut. "Mr. Proudfoot here might be more uninformed, but I'm not an idiot. I know what happened back at Tides was one of Dad's ridiculous little 'tests', but do you actually expect me to believe he'd off a potential employee because they were too good?"

The more she thought about it, the more she believed Colstorm was trying to pull one on her. Narrowing her eyes, she went on. "But, okay; let's say I humour you, and believe that, just for a second. Even if that is the case, how the fuck do you expect me to believe he'd be perfectly all right with putting a bullet through me to get to him? The same man who wouldn't let me go take a piss without a body guard nearby until I was thirteen, about to let you off me because I'm in the way?" With a smirk, the Vandelay daughter spread her arms, leaving her core unguarded, undefended. "You're a bold son of a bitch, Colstorm, but I know bullshit when I smell it."

"You think so, huh?" Not only did Colstorm appear unperturbed, but his expression betrayed amusement. And amusement never accompanied a lack of confidence. "I've worked for your family for a long time, Sarena; before you were even a thought in your father's mind. Our relationship has been the same for almost thirty years: I do his bidding, and he pays me handsomely for it. Now, why would I dare mess up such a strong and faithful rapport for the sake of stepping out of line?" 

His mouth curled into a smirk as he uttered the words that made Sarena's blood run cold: "There's nothing indispensable about a bastard child. I think he's finally come to realize this."

The Vandelay daughter finally understood what people meant when they claimed to be 'frozen with fear'; even as she witnessed Colstorm's finger apply pressure to the trigger, she couldn't move, couldn't will herself to dodge out of the way. 
Whether or not he intended to kill her, he was going to shoot her. And all she could do was stand there and let it happen.

The ear-splitting pop of a bullet pierced through the city's white noise--but it was too close to her ear, and there was no smoke leaking from Colstorm's gun. Before her eyes, the man made to clutch for his heart, but his hand never reached its destination before he hit the ground, dead before his face became acquainted with the pavement.
Only on glancing to her right, to Rhys Proudfoot's outstretched arm, did it all come together. Exhaling a shaky sigh, the mafia daughter raked a hand through her long locks. "Nice," she commended the red hand, fighting to filter her nervousness out of her voice. "Very nice. You have no idea how long I've hated that asshole."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Oct 05, 2014 11:33 pm
by Astrophysicist
Had Sarena Vandelay not verbally engaged with the dangerous mafia man glaring at them down the barrel of a loaded pistol, Rhys would have immediately objected to her stepping forward. Despite the somewhat fragile condition of his psyche, and despite the fact that he had watched himself transform from moral Double Eye operative to a man with the capacity to pull a trigger without a thought, he still harbored an instinct to protect. The likely reason was twofold: one was to make up, on some plane, for the lives he had stolen since Tribeca-Antioch that contributed to the death of the old Rhys Proudfoot. The other was to place himself strategically in the line of fire so as to put his own life at risk. 

It was reckless behavior born of deep-rooted internal misery, a point of view he was wholly incapable of glimpsing for himself. However, as the Vandelay daughter planted her feet and shoulders square, confidently facing off with Murphy Colstorm, the former spy was completely aware of the foolishness of the gesture. Her arrogance was perhaps born of information and experience he himself did not possess, but he was not completely ignorant; he had seen what this broad-shouldered bastard could do, what he was capable of with a weapon in his hand and a perpetual carte blanche from Gustave Vandelay. What Rhys knew from years in the field was how to identify the look in a man’s eye before he buried a bullet in your brain—the terrifying gleam that was at once brilliant and predatory, the universal tells of holding the ultimate power of life and death quite literally against one’s palm.

That was precisely the look that illuminated their adversary’s eyes beneath the glow of the alley street lamp. And, unbeknownst to Rhys Proudfoot, precisely the expression in the bright blue of his own focused stare.

It happened as though in slow motion—Sarena spread her arms, a sarcastic open invitation that at once declared her familial dominance and left her completely vulnerable to Colstorm’s wiles—and he knew the moment it dawned on her that her efforts, however clever, were to no avail. He saw her freeze, he saw Colstorm’s eyes narrow; he saw the minute flinch of forearm the split second before the thug’s finger muscles tugged on the pistol’s trigger.

But it was Rhys who fired.

The explosion of the bullet from his Beretta sent a shockwave through his arm, which remained steadily extended above Sarena’s shoulder as he watched Colstorm fall. In the silence that descended after the reverberation of the gunshot died into the night, the former spy held his breath.

Though he’d not heard what she said, it was the sound of Sarena’s voice that brought him back, and when at last he inhaled again, it was a fast, aching hiss through tightly clenched teeth. His breaths came swiftly thereafter, quicker and quicker until stars flittered around the edges of his vision. Hyperventilating, his heart slammed deafeningly in his ears and temples alike, and he lowered his gun to his side while stumbled backward like a delayed reaction to its initial fire. He stopped only when his back scraped the rough brick of the building’s first floor foundation, eyes wide as they latched on to the vision of Colstorm’s crumpled body.

His chest burned beneath the weight of the sudden overwhelming urge to flee, and yet he could no longer move—his muscles would not obey his command. With an unceremonious clatter, his Beretta slipped from his grasp and fell to the cracked asphalt. His hands were not his own when he reached up to grip either side of his skull, burying his fingers in his wavy hair as though somehow, some way, his palms could contain the torrent of fear and dread that had infiltrated his blood stream and wreaked havoc anew with each rough beat of his heart. He squeezed his eyes closed, fingernails digging painfully into his scalp.

“No,” he heard himself choke out, responding to sudden pressure on his shoulders as he gasped for air. He did not immediately recognize the female face that stared back at him when he opened his eyes, and for a the moment, her dark hair made him think of Harriet Grimm. Bile burned the back of his throat, and he lashed out, shoving her—Harriet, he thought—backward and away, imagining somehow that she were there seeking vengeance.

“Leave me the fuck alone!” he shouted, beads of sweat glistening on his temples as he stepped away from the wall and into the light. “I can’t do this again!”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 12:22 am
by Requiem
A peculiar transformation was taking place, before Sarena even turned around to congratulate her deadly companion on his impressive aim and impeccable timing. Standing there is pressed dress pants and a damp, white cotton shirt, was Rhys Proudfoot: assassin, former CIIO agent, and an intriguing conversationalist with whom she had already shared more than one cigarette--on the surface, at least. But unlike the steel resolve the man had exhibited a couple of hours ago at Tides, hardly batting an eyelash as he felled several men with only minimal aid on her part, the heiress witnessed something quite the opposite as he stood there, back against her condominium complex.

Whatever the man's story, all the parts that he chose to keep to himself, she finally understood why it would never be a topic of conversation over a couple of cigarettes. Certainly, this assassin packed baggage--that was to be expected, for didn't they all? Few people woke up one fine morning and decided such a career change leading a perilous way of life was a sound idea; there was always a turning point, a trigger, some significant event that flipped the switch in their brain that rationalized human life was worth a couple grand here and there. Yet not once, in all the hit men she had ever encountered, that her father had ever hired, had she witnessed the artefacts of such events weighing on the killers.

Had Gustave realized this prime candidate was damaged and unraveling, he might have reconsidered the hire.

"What's the matter?" The young woman flinched when the Beretta hit the ground, quickly bending to scoop it up and restore its safety before tucking it into the waistband of her skirt. "Relax--this asshole just tried to kill me. Even if he was one of Dad's favourites, a stunt like that is unforgivable. You won't be held accountable, especially not with me as an alibi... Are you listening to me? Rhys--"

She's only reached out to touch his shoulders, soft palms on either side of his rigid neck, when the hit man shoved her backward with enough force that she nearly fell off balance, and onto the bleeding cadaver behind her. The fine-turned balance of her own bare feet, free of damaging high heels and flats without skid resistance, kept her upright. "Rhys..." Her mouth formed his name again the second it dawned on her that he wasn't listening--no, worse. He wasn't hearing her. He wasn't even seeing her, let alone processing the unique alto lilt of her voice. Wherever Rhys Proudfoot thought he was standing, it was not in the same world as her; whoever he thought he was seeing, was not her. 

And if he continued to crumble here at the back of the building after that damning gunshot, he was going to get the both of them caught.

"For fuck's sake..." Inhaling through clenched teeth, the brunette took a daring chance and closed the distance between them again, seizing the shoulders of the hit man as he helplessly submitted to a panic that she couldn't even venture to understand. "Get it together, Proudfoot! Look at me--look at me!" And when he wouldn't meet her eyes, that was when Sarena's hands moved from his shoulders to either side of his face as she brought hers forward, until there wasn't a breath of space between the union of their lips. It was not a chaste kiss, not a shy caress of flirting strangers; her gesture was hard, demanding, all encompassing as her fingers dug into the back of his neck to ascertain he felt every inch of it. Some would say she had a kiss to kill for; others called it killer. So long as it reached some part of Proudfoot's consciousness, she couldn't care less what he thought of it.

Reassured, Sarena pulled away as soon as she felt the tremors in his tense shoulders dissipate, only to bring her lips dangerously close to his ear. "Did you feel that?" Her words were a low hiss on the breeze, loud enough to contend with the pounding of his heart in his ears. "That's what reality feels like. And reality is where you are, Proudfoot; right here, right now. Do you understand me?"
Pulling away to meet his eyes, she noticed the panic in his wide azure eyes began to yield to exhaustion, confusion. Compliance enough for her to take him by the arm and lead him back inside without a word, leaving Murphy Colstorm's lifeless body to grow cold on the asphalt.

"Come on. We have to get the hell out of here." One hand on his arm, and the other on the small of his back, the Vandelay daughter forewent the stairs and led him to the elevator, mercifully not encountering another soul as the lift deposited them safely back on her floor. She secured this safety by hauling him back into her apartment, closing and locking the door behind her.

"Still with me, Proudfoot?" She ventured, sitting him on the sofa as she pressed her hands to his shoulders. Gone was the berserker spouting nonsense about his limitations, having made way for the hit man she was coming to know better, albeit a very tired version of him. "I'm not giving you your weapon back until you can promise me you're not gonna pull it on me in some manic loss of sanity. What the hell happened to you out there?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 8:38 pm
by Astrophysicist
She pushed him back to the wall, her fingernails digging into the tender flesh at the back of his neck. Rhys watched as though he were not rooted in his body, instead hovering just above their heads near the source of the yellowish light above the back steel door. Through the wild flurry of disconnected thoughts racing in the forefront of his brain, there was a part of his mind that remained tranquil, detached somehow from the panic toiling beneath the skin of his physical body. It was that piece of him that existed independently, free of the crushing weight of sudden anxiety; it was the piece of him that, despite the haze through which he mistakenly saw Harriet’s face, watched as Sarena Vandelay pressed her mouth to his.

If his attack of Colstorm had been the trigger for its onslaught, then the dark-haired woman’s ardent kiss was the switch that powered down the smothering panic. Steadily, coaxed forth by the movement of her mouth, the sensations of reality returned. The pressure on his lips brought him back to her, back to the expanse of black asphalt behind the high rise. He could feel the sticky dampness of his white button-down on his back; he could smell the perfume of the chilly spring night mingling with the sweet, tobacco-scented breath of the Vandelay heiress. Even the sweat on his brow felt suddenly chilly against the breeze.

And then, all at once, he was kissing her back. Where his hands had previously reached out to her shoulders to shove in defense, this time he held on—his grip perhaps a little too tight, a little too dependent, but an improvement nevertheless over pushing her away. Awaking fully to the bite of her nails into his flesh, he pulled away, his breathing ragged as the spell faltered. Sarena’s words at last registered as her whisper brushed against his ear, her distinctive alto undeniably her own; he nodded, meeting her gaze as the hallucination fell. “I got it,” he murmured softly, defeated. “I got it. I’m here.” He bowed his head as the familiar sting of post-attack shame settled in. 

Grateful as he was for her presence in calming him, he was doubly mortified that she’d borne witness to his momentary mania—but it was better her than a passerby, who would have undoubtedly called the police rather than involve themselves in helping a gun-toting man in hysterics. So too had she acted as his wisdom when he was incapable of reason; repercussions were the last thing on his racing mind, despite knowing full well that outside a multi-story dwelling complex, someone would have heard his shot.

Exhaustion cloaked his bones as the panic ebbed. Sarena threaded her arm through his and led him quickly back to her apartment, but the relocation was a blur—he was drained and weak, a shadow of the man who had just saved a mafia heiress and murdered Gustave Vandelay’s most feared, most ruthless lackey. He swallowed another wave of bile at the thought of Colstorm’s bleeding body lying outside, giving in to Sarena as she guided him to the sofa. “Yeah, yeah,” he breathed, nodding once, curtly, as the nausea passed. “Still here. I am.” Despite his reassurances, lightheadedness prompted him to recline. He lowered himself sideways over the cushions until his eyes studied the ceiling, and he draped a hand over his clammy forehead as though the touch might keep the invasive thoughts at bay.

“Hold on to it,” he responded as the young woman announced her possession of his gun. “You probably wouldn't be the one in danger, but I don’t want it. Not right now.” He moved his hand from his brow to his eyes, covering them for several moments as the room ceased its relentless rotation. “It hasn’t been this bad for a long time,” he went on quietly, more to himself than to his curious company. “It was too much, too fast. I should have read the signs. Sometimes, I…since the accident…” He trailed off and gritted his teeth, hesitant to continue much further for fear of relapse.

“Do you have any whiskey?” he asked tiredly instead, hauling himself upright to look at her. “I think I need it. And a shower, too.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Oct 06, 2014 10:51 pm
by Requiem
Sarena Vandelay had never worried for anyone but herself in her entire life. So to say that the pallor of the hit man's face, the dazed glaze of his eyes, the rapid beating of his heart and the shallow breaths that passed his lips 'worried' the mafia daughter would, perhaps, be inaccurate. As to what prompted her to take his shoulders as he laid back on her pristine sofa, carefully assisting his recline for fear that he might faint... well, there really was nothing to explain it, and frankly, the young woman wouldn't have bothered to make an excuse, were she asked.
In the end, she might choose to chalk up her unexpected tenderness and hospitality to the fact to the man had, for all intents and purposes, saved her life.

"Post traumatic stress, huh." The brunette took a seat at the edge of the couch, inches away from the dirty soles of the shoes he wore. On any other occasion, she'd have slapped someone for so much as touching her furniture without properly taking off their footwear at the door. "I had a feeling. I've seen it before in some of Dad's temporaries; but never in his permanents. And never in the heat of the moment..." She didn't need to warn him to keep it to himself, or at least as far from her father's ears as possible. Never in his permanents... Gustave Vandelay didn't hold onto red hands or any employee, for that matter, who had the potential to crack under pressure. He preferred instead to put them out of their misery, before a simple interrogation from the wrong adversary forced them to spill that they knew and jeopardize the Vandelay family and everything they'd worked for.

From the moment she'd met those sky blue eyes, there was something about Rhys Proudfoot that Sarena was certain he was adamant to hide. She'd thought, at first, it might have had something to do with his affiliation with Double Eye; she'd been wrong.
Tucking her dark hair behind her ears, she stood as the man sat up, appearing gradually more composted as he came down from the adrenaline rush that had, frankly, frightened the both of them. "You know where the bathroom is," she said, with a nonchalant gesture. "Throw your clothes in the hamper, I'll wash them tonight; there's a robe in there you can use in the meantime." One that might not fall to his knees, but beggars couldn't be choosers. "Hey, it's not like I can let you leave tonight with the possibility of cops prowling around the crime scene we just created. And you can have your whiskey when you're more human than animal."

She turned away, then, allowing the red hand access to her facilities as she placed his Berertta safely in the drawer of a decorative end table. He wasn't going to shoot her; he could try, and he might succeed, but he wasn't going to. Odd as it was, Sarena couldn't remember the last time she'd fancied herself so.... safe around someone with such deadly potential. So why, then, did her heart continue to race after her life was spared from danger?
Two fingertips deftly rose to press against her lips, and just for a moment--just for a second, a fraction of a memory--she revisited the scene she'd just evaded. And then decided she didn't want to dwell on what had her so damned affected.

As the shower ran, the Vandelay daughter took the opportunity to dispose of her skirt and blouse, surrendering it to the washing machine behind the faux wall in favor of a far more comfortable short-sleeved T-shirt and a pair of dark yoga pants that served well enough as night wear. The evening's events had drained her; her unexpected guest must, then, have been downright exhausted himself, and she didn't really expect much opposition to the impromptu sleepover.
The whiskey, gleaming in the dim yellow of the evening lights from its crystal glass, was in her hand the moment Rhys stepped out of the bathroom, smelling less of sweat, fear and determination, and more of cleanliness with a faint floral fragrance.

"Feeling as good as you look?" The smirk tugged shamelessly at the corners of her full mouth, and Sarena passed him the requested beverage, teasingly meeting his eyes for a moment. "Go have a seat and calm your nerves. I don't hand out this kind of hospitality like candy, so you damned well better appreciate it."
Passing him to gather the sweaty clothes from her hamper, something shiny caught the heiress' attention in her peripheral vision. And without so much giving it a second's thought, she pocketed the unique piece of jewelry sitting on the glass counter, without really knowing why. Something about it spoke to her, begging for mercy and promising it could be useful, sooner or later.

Sooner than later, she imagined.
"I don't suppose you want to talk about it?" She went on casually, the assassin's clothes over her arm as she met him back in the living room. "Whatever it was that made you like... that. Just you, me, and these walls, if you're wondering about confidentiality. I heard it's supposed to help to talk about shit like that."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Oct 07, 2014 9:07 pm
by Astrophysicist
The moment the bathroom door closed behind him, his resolve fell—or at least what little he could do to put on a strong front for Sarena after she’d witnessed him at his most fragile. His shoulders slumped tiredly forward, and his expression transitioned rapidly from one of weary apathy to a look of utter crestfallen defeat. As was typical of the pattern in the aftermath of these attacks, his entire body trembled as though shivering with cold; his fingertips shook so violently that under any other circumstance the effect might have been comical. That, at least, he had been able to hide from his present company.

It wasn’t even that he was particularly concerned about what the Vandelay heiress thought of him—although realistically he should have been, considering that her influential crime lord father was putty in his daughter’s slender hands—but admitting such a profound weakness to a relative stranger was a scratch to his already-wounded pride. He was ashamed. And at the hands of his own self-perceived disgrace. he only sunk further into the smothering clutches of his condition. He ran his hands through his wavy hair and clasped his fingers at his neck in frustration, releasing the clasp that held together the chain of his necklace.

Though the mirror above the sink stretched nearly the entirety of the wall, the former Double Eye operative did his best to avoid his reflection. He knew the man he would see staring back at him: a drained shell of who he’d once been, his skin pale and glistening with cold sweat, his blue eyes watery and bright against red-rimmed, exhausted lids. Quickly, he stripped of his damp shirt and gravel-stained trousers, all of which suddenly felt too heavy and too close to his flesh, and he discarded them in the hamper with a shiver. Despite Sarena’s surprising hospitality, he felt out of place in the large, well-furnished bathroom—reinforcing yet again that he was quite far removed from his new employer’s standards of living, that he did not quite belong amongst the ranks to which he had apparently just appointed himself. 

As was his routine, he did not wait for the spray of the luxury shower to warm before stepping beneath its torrent; he allowed the icy stream to drench him outright, saturating his hair and coating his body before scalding hot water took its place. For several minutes, he stood completely still, head tilted upward toward the showerhead; the force of the droplets assaulted his face and hair in a violent but healing pummel.

Showers generally provided a reliable and welcome escape from his thoughts, functioning to cleanse him of his distress both physically and metaphorically. But this time, despite the momentousness of the day’s events and the particularly rough bout of panic he’d suffered after Colstorm’s death, the cascade of swollen drops and the clouds of rising steam failed to erase an uneasiness that had haunted him since returning to Sarena’s apartment. It was a discomfort that he suspected had little to do with the evening’s bloodshed and everything to do with his current dark-haired hostess…

Gritting his teeth in confusion, he leaned forward and braced himself against the shower wall with his palms. As the searing water worked at his upper back and shoulders, his mind replayed the scene—not the crushing anxiety or the blistering panic, but rather the moment of calm that had cut through the tremendous chaos. He had begun to relax the moment her lips had united with his, even if it had taken some time for the rest of him to catch up—and it was not, as he’d first assumed, simply the shock of the gesture that had brought him back. It was something else, something that had been inherent in their infant camaraderie from the moment he’d stopped her entering her father’s meeting chamber.

Before he could dwell on it any further, he abruptly switched off the shower and retrieved a thick white towel from the shelf above the toilet. He dried himself swiftly and wrapped the cloth around his waist, heaving a deep but far lighter sigh before re-emerging in the living room.

It was a sign of vast improvement that his first reaction to Sarena’s quip was a smile. “Mostly recovered, I’d say,” he said smoothly, although fatigue still laced his syllables. He took the proffered glass of amber whiskey gratefully and eased himself back onto the sofa. “And I’m appreciative. I truly am. But I’m tired.”

So tired, he thought, indulging in a long swig of alcohol in place of another sigh. “I don’t think I could talk about it even if I wanted to,” he continued quietly. “And I’m not referring to confidentiality, exactly, although I really wasn’t lying before.” He shrugged, this time with no pretense of feigning nonchalance. “I almost died. I think I was dead a few times, actually, but the defibrillator brought me back.” By the bitterness of his tone, it was clear that he harbored not an ounce of gratitude for the machine’s efforts.

“There was an explosion. My left side got it the worst,” he continued, looking down at the scars she’d inquired about prior to Colstorm’s appearance. “I was lucky to avoid most of the burns. There’s a patch here…” He leaned forward and bowed his head, pushing away his wet hair from his neck to show her a small, irregular patch of healed-over skin made rough by the touch of fire. “And on my side and my leg. I also took shrapnel from flying debris here, here, and here,” he went on, gesturing to his shoulder, chest, and the large, jagged mark on his knee. “The metal shard in my chest pierced my lung, which is why the scar is so clean; they removed it surgically. There was apparently a lot of internal bleeding from crush injuries, too, which is what almost did me in. I don’t remember a lot of the aftermath in the hospital, though.” He downed the rest of his drink with a cringe as the liquid burned his throat. “Just, you know, being trapped under that beam until someone found me. Is there any more whiskey?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Oct 07, 2014 10:01 pm
by Requiem
He didn't need to say it; while the shower did wonders for his circulation, restoring a flush to his cheeks and injected blood back into his fair complexion, it was plain enough by the way he carried himself back to the couch that the red hand was exhausted. Not just physically, either, and there was more to the little episode that had sparked the onset of his PTSD than the young woman had expected.

Sarena's eyes didn't leave him from the moment he began to explain, listening more attentively than you could pay anyone to hear out your woes. Without context, it was difficult to envision the situation in which he had found himself: what had caused the explosion? Why had he been there? It must have been on some job put up by Double Eye, or else his abhorrence to his former employer would not resonate so vividly. Without him to willingly fill in the broad blanks his story drew, Sarena was at a loss but to divine the direct correlation between his injuries and his hatred for the CIIO, as well as his motivation towards venturing to the darker world of hit men and mafias. 

But at least he was talking, at all. It was a start.

"Well, that's a little rough. Can't really say I can relate," at last she sighed, and took a seat across from her guest after depositing his clothes in the washing machine. "About the almost dying, I mean. Sure, my life's been in danger--hell, I don't think there's been a moment when it hasn't been in danger since I was born. Emilila's probably already killed me a million times, in her own head. But that's not exactly the same thing." After all, even for someone who had never had the luxury of stepping outside of danger's shadow, the Vandelay daughter hadn't exactly feared for her life since she was a small girl. And where there was no fear, there was no feeling; just annoyance and bored, agitated apathy.

Not that any different could be expected from the likes of her, and her lack of empathetic response was not limited to the symptoms and suffering of PTSD, or to the trauma of a near-death experience. But if that had been enough to repeal Rhys Proudfoot, then he'd already be out the door. "I can't even compete with my meager amount of scars; you've got me beat on both fronts, red hand. I mean, when I was twelve, I did get an appendectomy because my appendix became so inflamed it put me in the hospital for a few days, but..." Slender fingers reached for the hem of her grey shirt lifting it to expose the pale expanse of her abdomen. In the low lighting of her apartment, the small, surgical scar not far from her navel was barely perceptible. Only a slightly whiter shade of pale, as thick as a fat thread. "Somehow, I don't think that counts. You've got something real to show for."

Letting the cotton-spandex fall from her fingertips, the heiress leaned forward all of a sudden and took it upon herself to examine his scars up close. "Something real to show for..." Soft fingertips traced the scar at his temple, following the trail towards the new skin that formed in the wake of his burn injury. They didn't stop there, pressing tenderly against the raised skin of the surgical scar spanning vertically down his chest, to the pinker, less tidy blemishes of tissue down his side, where shrapnel had been removed. Her hand finally came to rest on his knee, atop a V-shaped scar that stood out to her as, oddly, aesthetically pleasing in its form, at which point her fascinated blue eyes met his in their similar hue. 

"We're born with the skin we're in; we don't have much choice about it. Not its colour, its texture, how healthy it looks or how frail it is," she began, a lilt to her characteristic alto that hadn't yet been present in its cadence, in all the verbal exchanges they'd made to date. "We don't get to choose how it starts, but we can choose how it ends, and every little impression makes us who we are. You know, you might not have chosen to be around during that explosion, but you made choices that led up to it. And it rewarded you with a few scars." Closing the distance further, by less than an inch, Sarena searched his eyes for understanding. "If you died and came back, Rhys Proudfoot, then you have been reborn. Not everyone gets that chance; you might just not have discovered how significant it is. Each one of those scars is an opportunity you just haven't come upon or taken advantage of, yet."

Without another word, the dark-haired hostess took the empty highball glass from his hand and headed for the glass cabinet at the other side of the room, behind the couch upon which he sat. With two or more selections of every hard liquor known to man, one might have formed the assumption that she was a frequent drinker. Truth be told, it was other substances in which Sarena Vandelay chose to lose herself, during those times when she desired a temporary escape from reality. Having booze on hand simply facilitated situations such as this; when you couldn't offer comfort (or simply didn't care to), then alcohol was the next best thing.

Filling the glass halfway with liquid amber, she returned to the hit man's company, but did not relinquish the glass quite so quickly when his fingers closed around it. "I'm not going to ask what it was about shooting Colstorm that set you off like a madman," she promised and arched a dark eyebrow. "And I don't suppose a shower, a couple of drinks and laundry service settles a life debt. But If this happens again, then you're going to talk to me a little more." Though her voice was a purr, it wasn't a request.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Oct 07, 2014 11:10 pm
by Astrophysicist
Though he hardly imagined his meager explanations were enough to sate Sarena’s lust for detail, Rhys was grateful that the dark-haired hostess had the decency to relinquish the pressure before the force became too much to bear. He was not delicate enough to break over again, but even the strongest of supports eventually yielded to repeated stress. If he could quell her curiosity even for the remainder of the night, then it was worth the tight-lipped revelations; the scars that painted his flesh in streaks of silver and peach were not so fresh as to reopen anew with the prodding of old memories, however sore they might remain.

But the feather-light brush of her gentle fingertips against the diverse imperfections upon his skin did not return sensations of pain, even of the emotional sort. Just as she had bandaged his scraped palm after the scuffle at Tides, her touch was soothing—startlingly so. It struck him then that ever since their chance encounter in her father’s smoky antediluvian study, Sarena Vandelay’s unexpected presence in his life had continually proven to be of use in grounding him, in reassuring him, in steadying anxieties she had not previously known he’d possessed. From their first shared smoke on the Manhattan balcony, to the care she’d taken in tending to his cuts after Tides, to the kiss—the kiss—in the alley, the dark-haired, light-eyed woman had not once ceased to surprise—and captivate—him. 

A shiver traveled down his spine as she traced the V-shaped scar on his knee, but his gaze never once strayed from her lightly freckled face as she studied the linear markings. Whether it was the fatigue or the booze that softened his inhibition and dissolved his caution was of no consequence; what did matter was that it prompted him to reach out, draping his calloused hand overtop of her own and giving it a firm squeeze. It was not a signal that her initiative of physical contact was unwelcome; rather, it was a gesture of appreciation, of recognition. He met her gaze and held it, listening expressionlessly as she spoke. Though he made no effort to nod, comprehension shone in the azure depths of his stare; her wise words, however unforeseen, resonated with the parts of himself that doubted his right to be alive—just not the part that was inclined to agree with her assessment.

He smiled sadly. “I wish I could believe that,” he confessed as she stood and strode to the liquor cabinet, rifling through an extensive collection of bottles. “But the world’s tried too many times to get rid of me to believe that my purpose here has much significance beyond taking care of others’ fates, so be euphemistic.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and knitting his fingers together. “And after tonight, my hopes aren’t high for the rest of my time.” 

When she approached with his refill, he wrapped his fingers around the thick glass, pausing mid-gesture when she did not give up her hold. From their shared grasp, their fingertips grazed. He quirked a brow curiously at her thinly-veiled demand, pulling the drink from her hand. “That may not be wise,” he warned her candidly, bringing the rim to his mouth for a slow sip. “Frankly, I can’t promise you I’ll be ready for that.” He took another drink, this one quicker, a pointed reaction to the possibility of opening up. "A little at a time. Maybe.

“But what I want to know is what you’re up to with Double Eye. No, I’m not going to freak out again, don’t look at me like that.” He pursed his lips. “You’re sure it has nothing to do with me?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Oct 07, 2014 11:49 pm
by Requiem
An audible chuckle shook the heiress' shoulders at the red hand's blatant cynicism towards his life and purpose. It appeared he hadn't given it much thought beyond nihilistic musings that he would kill until the day he became the mark of some other hit man; a rather tragic, despondent fate to which to resign oneself. Frankly, Sarena didn't buy it. He had too much potential, too much of a survival instinct... Hell, even the fits spurned by his post traumatic stress disorder had something of an adaptive quality to them: when your vision wasn't clear enough to discern friend from foe, then lashing out at everyone and everything was the easiest route to survival. 

"I don't know if you're trying to be funny, or just downright melodramatic." She shook her head and combed her fingers through the dark tresses that cascaded like sleek, ebony waterfalls down her shoulder. "The rest of your time? I'm sorry, but you defend too well to convince me you're going to submit to the barrel of a gun anytime soon. And like I already said... well, you probably weren't listening while you were losing your mind, back there, but you've got nothing to fear from my father. Because there is no way in hell he would ever give instructions that were not null and void in the event that I would be in danger." At least, she certainly hoped her father hadn't had a sudden change of heart. But he hadn't in twenty-seven years, so the possibility of it occurring now seemed slim...

Sitting back, as relaxed as if their lives hadn't been threatened less than an hour past, Sarena's pink lips pulled into that trademark grin again. "To be frank, it would be safer for you to go to my father than have him drag you into his office, by some means. Explain what happened, and I can guarantee as soon as my name comes up, you'll be completely off the hook for killing one of his oldest and indefinitely loyal employees. Though, if you ask me," she angled her head thoughtfully towards the ceiling, her chest rising and falling in a quiet sigh. "I don't think my father even liked him as much as he let on. I've heard him refer to Colstorm as 'that nimrod' behind his back, more than once. Don't write yourself off so quickly, Proudfoot."

The easy silence into which she lapsed must have offered the hit man a cue to do some more prying of his own--and on the very topic that had set him storming out of her apartment in the first place, and right into Colstorm's trap. And although he had enough wits about him not to jump to some ludicrous conclusion that she was working for those sons of bitches at Double Eye, just to drag him back to them kicking and screaming, she was only about as willing to offer him fragments of her own ploy as he was to convey his disjointed story about his scars. Two could play at this game, and if Sarena was getting short-changed, then so would he.

For the sole purpose of buying pregnant moments without conversation, allowing him to to stew on his own question, the Vandelay Daughter languidly rose from her seat to return to the crystalline liquor cabinet. It sparkled like diamond in the fractured yellow light of the post-modern chandelier dangling from the high ceiling, a unique accent to the vivid arrangement of coloured bottles and glasses that sat upon and within it, spelling out the woman's expensive taste in layman terms. "Rhys, I agreed to do this stint for Double Eye a week and a half before you even came to my father's attention," she reassured her guest at last, with a demure glance over her shoulder. "I assure you, if you've got anything to fear from them, then it's not because of me or my family."

Returning to sit across from the blue-eyed assassin, the brunette stretched her legs out in front of her, crossing her heels next to Rhys on an adjacent sofa cushion. The cocktail she'd fixed for herself glimmered like a polished sapphire as she lowered the glass to one of her thighs. "There's someone working in my father's estate this Marionetti guy wants me to take care of. The only reasons I agreed is because I don't want those assholes prowling around Vandelay property like a fucking pack of wolves, and also because I don't happen to be very fond of the person in question to begin with. Life would be just a bit easier with them gone." Bringing the rim of her glass to her lips, Sarena tilted some of the sapphire concoction onto her tongue with a smile. "Needless to say, that person most certainly is not you."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Oct 08, 2014 8:04 pm
by Astrophysicist
As was the case with every member of humankind, Rhys was completely oblivious to his role in the grander scheme of life. Since the incident, he rarely considered his future past basic month-to-month survival, choosing instead to mark the passage of time with identity changes in his flight from Double Eye. It had been an exhausting five and a half years of refreshing his persona every month, if not more often; it was a tricky process that required careful planning, reliable underground connections, and a hefty anonymous bank account that Rhys kept fed with contractual hits in-between changes. Each reinvention was a new benchmark, a chance to start anew, and yet it always functioned as stale routine—a repeated waste of situational potential.

With the Vandelays, however, his lack of choice in the matter of employment meant that he had nowhere to hide. The alias he had assumed to kill Henri Yankton in Philadelphia would’ve held no bearing against the world’s most prolific crime family, and he had not even wanted to try. He’d given Colstorm his real name straight from the gates, fully aware that whether or not he lied to the mob man’s face, they would discover who he was sooner or later. There was simply no use in covering it up. Even his involvement with Double Eye was not a deliberately kept secret; it was only a lie by omission if it was a falsehood at all.

The CIIO had also never been privy to his medical records post-discharge; he had departed the organization too quickly for any sort of agency-sanctioned follow-up appointments. They had no knowledge or record of his Post Traumatic Stress; they were, and always had been, oblivious to the invisible damage Tribeca-Antioch’s events had inflicted upon the former operative. As long as Sarena kept her mouth shut—and it seemed that she would, if only because it amused her to watch her father struggle—he was in the clear when it came to what Rhys assumed would be a veryextensive background check. The fact that he’d formerly worked for Double Eye only made him a stronger asset with an insider’s past, mental health aside.

Rhys’s brow creased in a frown, but his expression was contemplative. “I’m not trying to be melodramatic,” he said. “I just don’t harbor any high hopes. Besides, there aren’t exactly any guarantees in this line of work.” He shrugged, the tension in his shoulders sending a spike of pain through his shoulder and neck. “But I guess it helps my chances if Gustave’s not going to punish me for shooting his right-hand man.” Shaking his head, he propped up one leg on the armchair cushion occupied by Sarena, mirroring her pose. “He won’t be dragging me in to his office, though, that’s for sure.” He sighed, gesturing generally with his uninjured hand. “I imagine there’ll be time for that tomorrow, after all this mess has died down.”

Though his throat tightened as the conversation shifted to the agency, Rhys felt mostly tired apathy now. The whiskey was likely the reason for his lack of frustration with Sarena—that, and the news that her intentions through the CIIO seemed genuine enough. “Tesh Marionetti’s a cocky son of a bitch, but he’s not an idiot,” he informed her. “I know him well. He’s been trying to track me down ever since I quit working for Double Eye; he didn’t agree that I should resign. I don’t think he’ll leave this alone, not if he’s caught word of my name. He didn’t even know I was still alive until now.” Despite himself, he laughed, but it was little more than a bitter chuckle.

His eyes wandered back to the Vandelay heiress, however, and the intensity of his gaze softened. “I never would have pegged you as the type to be turned informant by Double Eye,” he mused, idly swirling the last of his whiskey in his glass. “I don’t know whether to be scared or impressed. A little of both, maybe.” This time, his amusement was genuine. “Marionetti has no idea what he’s gotten himself into, does he?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Oct 08, 2014 8:40 pm
by Requiem
"I wouldn't exactly call Colstorm his right-hand man," the heiress mused thoughtfully, taking another long, contemplative sip of the liquid sapphire in her egg-shaped crystal glass. "Personal value, when it comes to working for my family, doesn't all equal length of employment, or even loyalty. That guy did little more than sit on his ass and smirk at people like you who end up doing all the dirty work; just a necessary middle-man between my father and his employees, which, if you ask me, is kind of useless, since they all get dragged into that stinky office in the end, anyway." All of those about which the three Vandelay brothers felt the most strongly about, that is. Although she had her doubts that Rhys would consider himself 'lucky' in light of recent events, even if he did pass the test--or two.

Offering a mild shrug, she sipped another mouthful of sparkling cobalt liquid before fixing her curious eyes on her altogether curious guest. "Like you said; take a breather, sort it out tomorrow. You think my father isn't used to having his goons kills off? It comes with the job description. He likes to call it 'early retirement'--the kind that he doesn't have to pay for." The best kind, Gustave would say behind closed doors. Never in the presence of those whose paychecks he wrote.

Had Sarena realized how large a can of words she'd be opening by mentioning Proudfoot's name to the CIIO operative, even the striking, conscience-less heiress would have kept her mouth shut. If for no other reason than because it jeopardized the red hand's safety, forcing him to lay lower than he would have preferred, but it had certainly put a dent in their early rapport. She hoped it wasn't just the whiskey that caused the man to emanate apathetic forgiveness for her slip-up. "Well, in the end, it might be to your benefit that I'm in correspondence with the son of a bitch," she offered, arching an angled eyebrow. "I'm his only informant, as far as I know; if he starts to pry too much, I'll tell him you hijacked a spaceship and took off to Mars, if it'll give you peace of mind. 

"At the very least, I think I can mislead him long enough for you to do the deed my father hired you for." On that note, the mafia daughter's voice took a surprisingly despondent turn. Because it was--foolishly enough--the first time she realized that her company might only be temporary. That as soon as Rhys offed whoever Gustave had next on his hit list, the assassin would take to the streets again, and venture to the other side of the world, for all she knew. He was too smart for any hope that he might offer a means of future contact: just like every other hit man, if he wasn't killed off, his job would be done, and he would be gone.
Suddenly, she could taste too much of the bitter vodka in her visually appealing cocktail, and placed the glass on the end table next to her with the loss of her thirst for a hard drink.

"Hey, now, sir." Her tone picked up on a somewhat mock-warning lilt, its lack of severity only betrayed by her smile as Sarena wrinkled her nose. "Don't you for even a second 'peg me' as some fucking CIIO lapdog. I told you why I'm doing it--and you're damned right you should be scared."
Leaning over her seat, the brunette fished around in her open black purse until her fingertips brushed against two familiar paper packets. Without a word for permission, she reached for Rhys' free hand, covered his scratched and inflamed palm with a fresh bandage. "And," she added, smoothing over dressing tenderly with her fingertips, "you should most definitely also be impressed."

With his glass near empty, she took it from his other hand to offer the injured palm the same careful attention, before picking up his glass and returning to the cabinet to fill it only a quarter of the way with the same amber substance that succeeded in soothing his nerves. "Here; a little more of this, and you'll look almost human again," Sarena flashed a teasing grin. As soon as he took the glass from her, both of her slender hands enveloped his, around the cool crystal of his glass. "Don't take me as ignorant to what your job entails, Proudfoot," she stated, matter-of-fact and self-assured as she met his eyes. "It's no excuse not to look beyond it to more hopeful endeavours--and for god's sake, take care of yourself."

Releasing his hands, the heiress collapsed with grace into the armchair again, a look of weariness colouring her freckled features that hadn't been there before. "That need becomes more urgent when you realize that no one else will do it for you. But I gather you know that, already."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Oct 08, 2014 11:06 pm
by Astrophysicist
“ ‘Early retirement’?” Rhys repeated, arching a skeptical brow. “That’s pretty morbid.” His bare shoulders shook gently with a chuckle. He reached up to rake his non-injured fingers through his drying hair, which was rapidly returning to its typical state of unruly waves. “But also exactly what I would expect from a man like your father. He’s not the first of his type I’ve dealt with. The most notorious, maybe, but you should have seen this goon I had to befriend in Moscow for Double Eye. I wish I could have seen Tesh’s face when I confronted him. All I got was his angry voice in my ear.” Tipping his glass upward, he allowed the flat amber whiskey to wash slowly over his tongue, burning a path down his esophagus. The warmth of two strong drinks pumped through his tired veins, loaning color to his complexion and adding weight to his eyelids.

“Don’t be so quick to judge,” he went on, pursing his lips in mock disapproval. “I was a CIIO lapdog for a long time, you know. Look how I turned out.” The statement was so ludicrous that Rhys could not form his lips around them without a silly grin, one that he was sure to share with the Vandelay heiress. “The agency has its merits. As much as I’d like to never hear its name again, it wasn’t all bad. I’m just not sure the good outweighs the corruption anymore.” His tone had taken a darker turn, and he cleared his throat as though to shake the affect from his vocal cords. “When you’re on the inside long enough, you start to pick up on discrepancies. And you can’t escape it, even when you’re the best.”

He leaned further back into the sofa, tilting his head back against the upholstery to rest his stare upon the surface of the tall white ceiling. It was the corruption within the organization that had prompted his initial involvement with Liza and Harriet, and together they had meant to discover just what operations lurked beneath Double Eye’s steely Good-Samaritan surface. What they had stumbled upon instead were continuous pathways to dead-ends, and repeated avenues to nonexistent destinations—and they had learned through difficult means that an absence of clues on its own was enough to indicate damning evidence. The power of omission was not a force beyond the mighty governing PICSUS, after all.

“If you could mislead Marionetti long enough for me to finish up business here, that would be ideal,” he admitted. “I’d rather he not know I was alive at all, but those words can’t be unsaid.” He met Sarena’s gaze, but his expression lacked any trace of hostility. When she reached out to take his wounded hand, he kept his eyes steady. “If he hasn’t found me by now, it’s not likely he’ll catch wind of me again after this. And maybe he’ll finally get the hint that I don’t want to be found.”

The former spy inspected his freshly-bandaged palm when she withdrew her tender touch, inspecting the new gauze idly. When she returned to stand before him, a third drink in hand, he raised his eyebrows and couldn’t help but return her smile. Her fingers once again encircled his hand, this time the one lacking the scrapes and dressing, and his eyes traced the outline of her digits against his own skin. It was a strange sensation, her touch; yet for someone so unaccustomed to regular human contact, he felt completely at ease with the sudden, unabashed connection.

“I would never take you for ignorant,” he returned softly, meeting her intelligent eyes, “particularly about something like this. If you’re alluding to being concerned about me, I’m flattered, really, I am.” He grinned, nudging her foot with his. “Maybe you should practice what you preach, Ms. Vandelay. You look how I feel.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Thu Oct 09, 2014 12:42 am
by Requiem
The red hand's mention of subterranean corruption beneath the shiny and squeaky-clean reputation of the CIIO was enough to warrant a blatant roll of the eyes, accompanied by a shake of the young woman's brunette head. "You don't need to see its guts to know crime fighting of that caliber is rotten at its core," Sarena mentioned, like it was common knowledge. "You wanna know the irony, here? They harrow in on people like me--people like my family, known for putting unforgivable dents in PICSUS' perfect system--and completely overlook that it takes one to know one. Pretty sure there's still that statistic floating around that correlates rates of domestic violence to police and military involvement. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?" Head tilted thoughtfully toward the ceiling, a sigh escaping the part in her lips. "Who are the real bad guys? Or do the good guys even exist in the first place?"

Returning her attention to the assassin, captivated by the way his damp hair began to dry in thin ringlets around his face, the Vandelay daughter flashed him as genuine a smile as anyone was fortunate enough to receive from the likes of her sly countenance. "Rest assured, this Marionetti guy won't pick up on your scent trail. And if he does, I'll lead him right off the rails; I will personally make sure of it. You have my word." Which was not something she offered lightly (if at all). Rhys had no idea the value in her sincerity, and for his gradually inebriated state, she didn't think its significance would be clear to him even if she put it in plain words.
Maybe another time, when he accepted her 'concern', as he deemed it, without the social lubricant that was alcohol.

Taken aback by the sudden downy quality in his tone--not what you'd expect from a guy with pectorals and abs that looked like they could have been carved out of soapstone--the sly mafia daughter bore witness to her guest's own moment of sincerity. He could play a lot of parts, take on a lot of roles, but nothing could ever remain hidden in those expressive blue eyes. It made her wonder if he was even aware, and if so, if he saw his own soul on a daily basis, every time he looked in the mirror; beautiful in a broken way, like shards of glass glittering in the sun after it shattered the moment it united with the ground.

While she could have taken offense to Rhys' assessment of how she looked (or even gone on the defense about it), Sarena was nothing, if not someone with a sense of humour. And the red hand meant no harm. "Are you actually insinuating that I look anything but beautiful?" Sarena laughed and winked a blue eyes, rising to her feet for the last time without taking her eyes off her company. "I do take care of myself, incidentally; but I was about as close to meeting death tonight as I have been in a very long time. I don't like the feeling... gives me the creeps." Rubbing her bare arms for emphasis (which did, incidentally, sport goosebumps) she returned the nudge from where she stood, her pointed toe grazing his ankle as softly as her fingertips. "Look at it this way: you just earned my concern--to an extent. Call it a 'thank you' for putting a bullet through Murphy Colstorm's chest before he could put one through mine."

Leaving her unfinished drink as part of tomorrow's tidy-up, the mafia heiress picked up her purse and slung it over her shoulder. "You did say you were scared and impressed, hm? Well, I'll also accept a little gratitude on the side, for the hospitality. You're welcome, by the way." A chuckle resonated low in her throat, and when the opportunity to place her hands on his shoulders presented itself when she ventured behind the elegant sofa, she was hopeless to resist it. "I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted. I'm going to turn in before I fancy following you into any more danger, Mr. Proudfoot."

Lithe fingers gave his shoulders a gentle squeeze; she was astounded by the taught ropes of muscle beneath her fingertips. If this really was the hit man at his most relaxed, then the life he led had taken a greater toll on him than she'd initially intuited. "Whiskey is in the cabinet behind you, if you want more. And the guest bedroom is right across from the master bedroom. Though if you do get a little too cold, with lack of proper attire, and all... You know where to find me."
The brunette's smile was rapt with tease and triumph as she left her father's new employee to finish his drink. However he chose to interpret the invitation--a joke or a serious offer--was up to him. Either way, she would indulge.

There was just something about him. In his presence, she felt safe. He intrigued her, surprised her, astounded her--and she still hardly knew him. Even if it required some careful orchestration, it was the Vandelay daughter's intent to keep Rhys Proudfoot within reach of her piano fingers. He was too useful an ally to lose, and too.... well, interesting to let go of, so soon.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Oct 12, 2014 2:39 pm
by Astrophysicist
The tired red hand shrugged into the sensation of Sarena’s hands on his shoulders, a response of acknowledgement to the light pressure of her fingertips against his bare collarbones. “You have my gratitude,” he told her sincerely, leaning his head back against the sofa cushion to peer up at the young woman’s face hovering above. “Thank you, Ms. Vandelay. I’d take your company over Murphy Colstorm’s any day. It was as much a favor to myself as it was to you, putting a bullet in the bastard’s heart. I’m not sure I could have suffered through another meeting with the guy.” He smiled crookedly, teasingly, and leaned forward to meet her eyes as she strode to the end of the couch.

Though his heart had at last settled back into a restful rhythm, his pulse had noticeably skipped a beat as her hands had tightened around his muscles—a sensation that lingered even after she broke contact and moved toward her bedroom. More curious than bothered by the persisting impression she’d made, Rhys searched her expression with words on the tip of his tongue that his lips could not quite form. The whiskey he’d consumed ran hot in his bloodstream, but the warmth inspired by her touch and presence—which he only fully noticed when she departed the room, leaving him alone to his dangerous thoughts—had little to do with the alcohol in his belly and everything to do with the intriguing Vandelay heiress herself.

In the dwindling aftermath of his panic attacks, his senses were often heightened in the wake of waning adrenaline. He was used to this, and he had taught himself how to cope with the magnified tactile and audial input from his strained, hypervigilant perceptions. But what he hadn’t prepared for was an instance where such enhancement brought him something besides further terror, further stress. The effect this time was quite the opposite, in fact. For several minutes after Sarena disappeared into her chambers, her ambiguous offer of company still hanging in the perfumed air, the reassuring ghost of her palms upon his shoulders kept him frozen in place, his eyes dark with contemplation. And what was even more unexpected was the recent memory of her kiss in the alleyway, replaying in his mind so vividly that the force of her lips was practically palpable upon his own.

Even with the promise of more whiskey, the empty living room felt suddenly too hollow, too isolated. He lowered himself across the sofa cushions with a sigh. Weary as he was, he was too aware of the void created by Sarena’s absence to settle into slumber; for someone so accustomed to being alone, whose lifestyle depended upon an ability to endure long periods of solitude, it was unusually maddening to know a warm, breathing companion rested beyond a barrier as simple as a closed door. What was becoming of him? Was it solely the lasting impression of her generous assistance that had him feeling so…attached? He might have saved her life before Colstorm’s loaded pistol, but was it a sense of debt of his own that kept him tethered?

A cold sweat broke out upon his brow. Frowning, he swung his legs to the side of the sofa and rested his elbows on his knees. Any spy, former or active, needed to know how to analyze himself, and Rhys Proudfoot was no exception; even given his mental shift since Tribeca-Antioch, he had learned how to read his own symptoms, to recognize and identify his personal indicators of current or future distress. But what had him perplexed now—and what was inspiring additional concern unrelated to the day’s events—was his inability to categorize or control what he felt in the presence of the Vandelay heiress. Combined with the added uncertainty of his future employment with her prolific family…well, that was enough to rob him of sleep’s reprieve.

Regardless, being on the brink of anxiety, he knew it was unwise to be alone when he had the option not to be. She might have been simultaneously the cause and the relief to his confusion, but the contradiction did not stop him from rising to his feet and padding quietly to the entrance to her bedroom. He hesitated only a moment before twisting the lever doorknob and silently entering the darkened space, making no sound as he stepped to the edge of the bed.

Before he could talk himself out of action, he deftly lowered himself to the edge of the mattress, lying prostrate atop the downy comforter on the very edge of the roomy bed. The assassin said nothing, and whether or not he had woken the young woman, he could not say; either way, the regular pattern of her breathing gave him something to focus on, and he stared at the black ceiling until at last his eyelids grew too heavy to hold open.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Oct 12, 2014 6:54 pm
by Requiem
It was not a common occurrence for such an invitation, put forth by the likes of Sarena Vandelay, to go unheeded. Aside from being a recognizably attractive young woman (and one who was intensely self-aware of the face), the cunning blood the circulated in her veins incited powers of persuasion which--different from the likes of the heavy-handed Gustave Vandelay--seldom required a threat, let alone a weapon. In fact, the mafia daughter was hard-pressed to recall a time when the opportunity for her intimate company had been passed-over or rejected. Even foolish Desmond Storne, slipped a good hand of money under the table by Evelyn to kill off the Vandelay scion, had been helpless but to fall for her sleek charm and subtle coaxing beyond his wall of defenses.

This was perhaps the very first time Sarena anticipated the offer would fall flat, and did not expect to find her father's most recent red hand lying next to her on her down-filled comforter, before or after succumbing to sleep. The young woman listened with care as she stretched her body prostrate beneath the Egyptian cotton bed sheets, primed for the sound of footsteps, or the quiet creak of the sofa cushions as they were relived from the weight of a body. Of course, there was no sign that Proudfoot had as much as left the living room, and she couldn't expect any different; not from someone with defenses so guarded that all it took was a one-off with an unexpected opponent to render him undone.

The clock on the nearby wall displayed twenty after eleven at night by the time she closed her eyes. It felt like only a moment, nothing more but a blink, when the two hands suddenly registered a quarter to three in the morning.
And the quiet breathing, drifting in sighs on the still air of the night, did not belong solely to her.

Sarena took care not to disturb the sheets or mattress any more than what was possible as she turned her lithe body to the left. It required little effort for her blue eyes, already accustomed to the darkness from sleep, sought and discovered a second form lying atop the covers just a few feet away from her. Rhys Proudfoot was either fast asleep, or wholly uninterested in paying her any heed when she propped herself up on an elbow, fully betraying her consciousness as she leaned in to more closely examine his face. Eyes closed, head tilted to the side with one hand draped over his bare chest; he was fast asleep. No more interested in intimacy than he was in getting cornered by the likes of Murphy Colstorm.

And yet, his mere presence warmed her core from the inside out. Still the best company she'd kept in a very long time.

Although her apartment was sufficiently heated and provided adequate shelter against the chill of early spring, the assassin's form--so exposed, as literally as it was figuratively--sported goosebumps on his shoulders and his shins, visible even in the dim pool of moonlight that spilled in through the window in streaks. Knowing full well that catching a chill would render him useless and a liability in the eyes of her father, the dark-haired heiress leaned forward to grab the hand-woven afghan at the foot of her bed, draping it generously over her unlikely bedside companion. He didn't so much as flinch, his brow relaxed and lips slightly parted in the merciful embrace of sleep. Sarena thought of those lips, the way they'd moved against hers earlier that evening; she thought about feeling them again, desperate yet so assured, but just as quickly purged them from her mind. A kiss was a kiss, and she'd experienced plenty in her twenty-seven years of life. So what was it about Rhys Proudfoot that made such a lasting impression, following her impulsive gesture just outside of her condominium complex?

Ultimately, she settled for sating the urge of her fingertips to reach for the texture of his hair, the subtle tug and give of a curl near his face. He was just another man... And yet, he hadn't woken her for the opportunity for a fling, or even taken advantage of her sleeping state. What was it about him? She knew enough men to feel assured that such innate honour was no more than a fairy tale. "What do you dream about, Rhys Proudfoot?" Her whisper was soft, barely audible in the stillness of her master bedroom. She continued to wonder on the question long after she lowered her form back onto the mattress and fell asleep. The last thing registered in her fuzzy night vision prior to closing her eyes was the red hand's still form, at peace in the land of the unconscious in a way that he could never achieve while awake.

The sun rose too quickly when dawn broke, spilling blinding orange and pink through the Vandelay daughter's and across her hard-wood floor. It pierced her eyes through her closed lids, until she was no longer able to ignore it, and rose to the hands on the clock reading six fifty-one. A glance in Rhys' direction, with his back to her window, was assurance enough that he remained unaffected by the sunrise. Probably for the better; given how drained he must have been from the night before, she was whole disinclined to disrupt his slumber. 
Rising slowly to avoid disturbing the mattress, Sarena drew her curtains to extinguish the intrusive morning light, and adjusted the afghan around her company's bare feet, casting him a final pensive glance prior to exiting the room with a smile she wasn't aware her lips betrayed, and made for the kitchen. He struck her as being a coffee drinker, and if he wasn't, well, she was still in need of a morning pick-me-up.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Oct 12, 2014 8:02 pm
by Astrophysicist
It wasn’t often that Rhys Proudfoot was blessed with dreamless slumber.

The sleep into which the former field operative descended was a cool, deep void, an all-enveloping blackness that gave his troubled mind the peace it needed to recover from the previous day’s trials. In the five years since Tribeca-Antioch, he could recall only a handful of times when blood-painted dreams and ear-splitting screams did not haunt his subconscious upon nightfall. Even when the nightmares left him alone, there were times when the heaviness of the sheets over his chest was enough to transport him back beneath the rubble and debris where he’d nearly met his end, and he would struggle to breathe against the imagined crushing weight of the traumatic memory.

But this time, with the warmth at his side of someone he likely shouldn’t have trusted but did nevertheless, he was temporarily free of the vicious maw of his gnawing past. It wasn’t solely the exhaustion that provided the reprieve; he had known far worse weariness and sat long hours awake, heart pounding relentlessly in his ears, bile burning away the back of his throat. Nor was it the simple difference of having company; he had made numerous attempts over the years to soothe with intimacy the incessant ache that had settled in the root of his bones, but in the aftermath he was perpetually left feeling more isolated, more different, than if he had lain in bed alone with his nostalgia. No, this comfort was peculiar; this sensation of grounded reassurance was undeniably exclusive to the dark-haired heiress to his right.

Though he would question its happening once dawn broke the next morning, he had lightly awoken to a touch, a feather-light brush of fingertips against his unruly hair—and the image of Sarena Vandelay’s face haloed by the ethereal glow of the moonlight through the curtains. But he had quickly drifted back to sleep, the impression lost to the haze of groggy slumber as though it had never occurred at all.

The faint sounds of stirring in the kitchen roused Rhys slowly back to consciousness. Lying perfectly still beneath the downy embrace of a knitted blanket (one that he could not recall draping over himself), he held his breath until the realization of where he was—and who he was with—washed over his sluggish mind. The bedroom had brightened considerably with the coming of the new day despite the drawn curtains, and the spy rubbed one eye at a time with his uninjured fist as the aroma of brewing coffee drifted through the half-open door.

Feeling unusually calm, the red hand rose to a sitting position and bunched the striped blanket over his bare shoulders against the residual chill of the night. He rose to his feet, secured the towel that still hung from his waist, and languidly strode into the kitchen. Raking his fingers through his wild mane of wavy curls—making it stand further on end rather than settling the locks—he arched his brows at the sight of Sarena Vandelay pouring two matching mugs of steaming java. He paused in the doorway, hoping not to startle her. 

“Please tell me one of those is mine,” he said at last, voice low and gruff with disuse. A hint of a smile flickered in his blue eyes that was soon mirrored by one corner of his mouth. “I need it after you kept me up all night snoring like a truck driver.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Oct 12, 2014 10:21 pm
by Requiem
Sarena hadn't an inkling of an idea as to when the red hand would awaken. While the likes of her required little more than six full hours of restful sleep in order to put in a day as a functional and productive human being, she hadn't been the one who'd suffered such a shocking and delusional attack. Nor did she suffer from the perpetual ails of post-traumatic stress, and although she couldn't even come close to the dregs of empathy for such suffering, she had wit enough to understand the toll it took on trauma victims. From past observation alone, that toll always seemed to require a little more sleep than the average human being.

Needless to say, her surprise was written in the crease of her brow when she glanced over her shoulder, hot carafe full of freshly brewed coffee in hand. She hadn't been up for more than ten minutes, but she'd been almost certain he'd been fast asleep when the door had quietly closed behind her. "Didn't wake you up, I hope," Sarena's tone was casual and conversational, with the 'hope' of having not awoken him missing in the cadence of her statement as she held out one of the two matching blue mugs. The same shade as her eyes--and as his. "Fortunately, you struck me as a coffee drinker, so I made a little more than usual. And might I point out that if my 'snoring like a truck driver' really kept you awake, there was an empty room right across the hall. Snore-free."

It hadn't been her intention to pry--not right away, not to soon after he'd almost lost himself completely to his own mind. But seeing as the assassin opened that can of worms all on his own, the mafia heiress was helpless but to indulge her insatiable curiosity. "You know, whenever I offer a man a little nighttime company, they usually expect more than the chance to fall asleep next to a warm body." It wasn't a judgement, or even a criticism; Sarena's conversational tone never deviated towards anything confrontational. Taking her mug in both hands, the Vandelay daughter crossed the kitchen to the small dining table situated next to broad, sunlit windows. For all her covert tendencies, she was not fond of her apartment succumbing to darkness.

"Of course, you're perfectly welcome to your preferences," she went on, softening the edge on the off chance that the red hand took offense. "It was a pretty open-ended invitation. I guess I'm just curious as to what made you want to take me up on it if you weren't just looking to lose yourself in fifteen minutes of a rather detached thrill ride."

Sarena was no more abashed with the frankness of the root of her curiosity than Proudfoot was, walking around in no more than a towel. For someone who lived on the edge, the flux and flow of her daily (and nightly) life tendencies could be disappointingly predictable. It had never crossed her mind not to be transparent; it was easy to be made of glass when you believed yourself invincible, untouchable unless you permitted the touched.
After that near brush with death, down the barrel of Colstorm's gun, however, her steadfast certainty might have been a bit shaken.

"Oh--help yourself to some milk and cream, by the way. Sugar and honey are in the cupboard above the stove, if you fancy it." She shrugged her shoulders with a sheepish smile, bringing her own ceramic mug to her lips. "I just assumed you were a man that took it black."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Oct 14, 2014 10:25 pm
by Astrophysicist
“Well, you don’t have to look so happy to see me,” Rhys quipped, amusement setting a twinkle in the blue depths of his eyes. The subtle crease between the young woman’s brows had not gone unnoticed by the former spy, and he chuckled as he accepted the steaming mug of coffee with his non-injured hand. Though he had been acquainted with Sarena Vandelay for barely forty-eight hours, he knew that had it been true dissatisfaction that colored her features, she would not presently be informing him of the location of sugar and honey in the well-equipped kitchen.

True to her assumptions, however, he was the sort that preferred his coffee black. With the knitted afghan from her bedroom still tucked around his bare shoulders, he took his seat at the breakfast table across from the young woman, the sun streaming through the broad window to warm his chilly skin. He held his mug hovering near his lips for several moments, studying his companion through small clouds of steam sent swirling by his exhales. The shift in his demeanor was drastic; he wore well the benefits of a rare good night’s sleep, with his shoulders thrown confidently back and his mouth curved upward in a relaxed half-smile. Had the Vandelay heiress not borne witness to the previous evening’s meltdown, she would be hard pressed to find evidence of the instability that dwelled beneath the casual visage.

With the shift in conversation topic, however, his languid expression grew contemplative. He took a sip of coffee—a good, strong brew, just like he preferred it—and leaned back in his chair. “Honestly? The fifteen minute thrill usually isn’t worth the nausea that hits when you get off the ride,” he said, meeting her cerulean gaze directly. The former Double Eye operative lifted his left shoulder in a half-shrug, the morning light catching one of the jagged silvery scars that decorated the naked flesh. “I wasn’t in any shape for that kind of roller coaster. Didn’t meet the height requirements, something like that.” He grinned, arching a brow. “I take it you’re disappointed?”

Teasing aside, Rhys sobered up quickly before moving on to address the heart of her inquiry. “Last night was one of the worst…” He faltered and cleared his throat, then began again after another drink of coffee. “I was already on edge from what went down at Tides. I held it together, like I do most times, but Colstorm showing up just…pushed me over. That was one of the worst episodes I’ve had in a long time,” he admitted frankly, the seriousness of his tone reinforcing the honesty of his statement. “I shouldn’t have been alone. Especially not if I had the option not to be, which, in this case, I was lucky to have a choice. I hope you didn’t mind…” He trailed off, more thoughtful than embarrassed, and glanced out the window against the bright glow of the infant day.

“But I’d be lying to you, and kidding myself, to leave out the fact that I’ve taken a liking to you, Sarena Vandelay,” he went on genially, shifting his attention back to the dark-haired woman opposite the table. Reaching out, he lifted his mug upward in a gesture of acknowledgment. “And you can make a good cup of coffee, so I guess that’s a bonus.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Oct 14, 2014 11:55 pm
by Requiem
"Disappointed?" The Vandelay daughter had to hide her broad smile behind her mug, yet the corners of her eyes betrayed her amusement--that, along with the faint flush of pink that bloomed in her fair, lightly freckled complexion. Was she disappointed? Sarena was certainly no stranger to waking up next to someone she hadn't known for forty-eight hours; it didn't bother her in the slightest, considering the majority of the time, it had been her choice. Yet the lack of nocturnal activity with her new companion did not leave her feeling strange or wanting--and it was certainly not for not wanting him, or at least, toying with the idea of wanting him. She was no less content this morning to have spent the entire night sleeping than she'd have been, had slumber been overridden with passion... And yet, she had no idea why.

More and more, she was coming to realize that in the presence of Rhys Proudfoot, what she felt was not entirely clear to her.

And that, he didn't need to know. "You lend yourself far too much too much credit, Mr. Proudfoot," she said instead, shoulders shaking with a subdued chuckle. "I can't be disappointed if I don't know what I missed, now, can I? On the other hand, I should have mentioned that not every thrill ride needs to be fast and nauseating. Apologies if the invitation intimidated you." As if the word were even part of the red hand's lexicon. And while Sarena Vandelay wasn't entirely beyond intimidating, it had little to nothing to do with how she came across between the sheets.

It appeared, though, that there was more to the teasing angle of his words than he was willing to admit--which, considering his open transparency, was rather significant. The corners of Sarena's mouth, curled upward in their usual grin, flattened until hardly a hint of a smile remained. Coming from a family of cons, murderers and liars (and the apple didn't fall far from the tree), the heiress wasn't exactly accustomed to the truth; all the same, she didn't fear it. That Rhys felt inclined to bestow her with his own truth wasn't what agitated that snide calm that served as such a loyal wall of defense, but the rawness of his words as they played out on his face. She hadn't been prepared, and as a result, she hardly knew what to say.

"Sounds to me like you've gotten yourself into the wrong line of work." A story like his probably warranted sympathetic reassurance; unfortunately, he'd never find it in someone like Sarena. But the assassin was likely already well aware, and if it bothered him, then he likely wouldn't be around this bright morning, wearing one of her bath towels and drinking her coffee. "But I suppose there's no point in telling you that now. One foot in is all it takes, and while it seems simple enough to leave the lifestyle, I've met enough red hands to know that the lifestyle never really leaves you.

"But you're lucky; I've taken a liking to you, as well. Trust me when I say that's of no small significance when you work for my family." Tipping her mug against her lips, Sarena drained the remainder of her coffee and stood, fingertips still warm from the hot ceramic when they grazed his shoulder. "And I don't know what exactly my father will have you do, but whatever it is, and whenever it's supposed to take place, I want you to tell me." The brunette met his eyes with the same seriousness his tone betrayed, blue irises sharp and without permitting an inch for argument. "Because if a few close encounters is all it takes to set you off, I can guarantee that any job that had Gustave Vandelay hire a hit man of your caliber won't be any less stressful than what you faced last night... And I won't have you alone, losing your head and becoming a liability."

Arm dropping to her side, Sarena picked up the carafe and topped up her guest's mug with the remainder of the coffee, coy grin slowly returning to lend mischief to her expression. "Your clothes are washed and dried, by the way. But if you're comfortable enough in that towel... you won't hear any objections, on my part."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Oct 27, 2014 10:50 pm
by Astrophysicist
“No,” he confirmed gruffly, all trace of amusement vanishing from his blue eyes, “the lifestyle never really leaves you.” The bright golden dawn filtering through the window only served to emphasize the sudden darkness in his expression. He looked down into his mug, swirling the black liquid against the blue porcelain with a small rotation of his uninjured hand. Just as his experience in espionage had permanently altered his demeanor and his perception of the world, so too had his venture into the world of killers-for-hire changed his outlook. Once one’s foot slipped past that threshold, there was no hope to cross back over it and into the light; the shadows would forever cling to his skin like tattooed souvenirs from an unwanted detour.

He hadn’t had an option in his employment by the Vandelay family. One fated job had been all it took to connect him with the notorious international clan; he had unknowingly sealed his own interview with the elimination of the portly businessman in Philadelphia. From there, his autonomy had still remained in check; had he not passed Colstorm’s test at Tides, his only alternative was to die in the ambush to a soundtrack of distant bass and sleazy chuckles. And furthermore, had he not passed Gustave’s secondary test, it would have been Rhys bleeding out onto the asphalt instead of the mobster’s main muscleman.

As transparent as the former Double Eye operative strived to be, there were cases in which honesty was perhaps not the best policy. For the sake of his own survival, it was imperative that Gustave Vandelay remain oblivious to Rhys’s fragile mental condition—and yet no one in the chain of connections had once stopped to ask, not even figuratively. His weakness would condemn him, a punishment over which he had no control, and as such he would suffer dire consequences that were, unsurprisingly, not terribly difficult for him to imagine. It was not fair, and yet a protest would never leave the damaged red hand’s lips; he would get by, he was certain, and the unexpected presence of Sarena in his life made that seem easier, somehow.

He met her gaze and furrowed his brow, but his look was more curious than agitated. “I told you, I’ve been better lately. Last night was…an anomaly.” Nevertheless, a sigh passed his lips, and he responded by swallowing the last of his coffee. With a little too much force, he set his mug back on the table. “If seeing me at my worst doesn’t turn you off,” he drawled, tone relaxing along with the muscles in his shoulders against the brush of her warm touch, “then maybe there’s hope after all, huh?”

A brow arched high onto his forehead, and he rose to his feet, adjusting the towel on his waist. “I’ve done worse,” the curly-haired assassin went on, a little more seriously. “I can handle myself. There was just something about last night…” He trailed off. In lieu of completing his thought, he headed to the concealed laundry room and dressed quickly behind its doors, emerging fully clothed in pristine, expensive cloth—a drastic change from a low-slung white towel, but stylish nevertheless. With his wild mane of wavy, unkempt bed-head, it appeared more that he’d spent a night of wild passion than an evening of bloodshed and a subsequent midnight breakdown.

“I appreciate it, though,” he admitted, stepping up to her and placing a strong hand on her slender shoulder, giving it a squeeze that was perhaps too firm. “Your camaraderie, I mean. And everything else.” His touch lingered perhaps a beat too long before he withdrew, glancing toward the door. “I need to talk to your father today, and it’d probably be better to go in sooner than later,” he said, not without a hint of wariness. “Any tips for dealing with him, besides dropping your name?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Oct 28, 2014 1:12 am
by Requiem
"Anomaly or not, Rhys, you completely lost yourself while being held at gunpoint." Sarena pointed out, arching a shaped eyebrow at the facility of his dismissal over his own panic attack. He'd suffered the worst of it; she'd seen it in the lines and pallor of his face the night before, the way he welcomed alcohol into his bloodstream like it would drown out the memory. How could he pass off something so extreme as an 'anomaly' when it was clearly a deep-seated condition? "I don't know what set you off, and--let's face it--neither do you. 'Something about last night' doesn't cut it, and whatever triggered your little lapse of sanity, you can bet that where it comes to working for my family, you'll encounter it again. And when you do, what will save you next time? Or, rather, who?"

The crease of concern between her brows smoothed in synchrony with her lips as they curled at either corner of her mouth, a flicker of mischief in her eyes as they caught the sunlight filtering in through the kitchen window. "You can trust me, you know. Yeah, a weird thing to hear from the daughter of a crime family, right? But I mean it. Anyway, I'm only a 'half-blood', according to my father's bitch of a wife. I've got my own agenda, and it doesn't always involve them and their best interests. Besides..." The heiress made no attempt to camouflage her scrutinizing gaze, that traveled from the tips of his toes to the top of his head. Nor did she make any attempt to disguise the fact she very much liked what she saw. "With abs like those, it'll take more than a temporary lapse in sanity to turn me off."

Sarena stood aside as the red hand got to his feet and made for the living room, where he retrieved his clothing and shed the towel in favour of them (yet, a shame, not for her eyes to see), and made to collect the two glasses from the night before, one still smelling of whiskey, and the other smelling of something unmistakably fruity. No sooner had she brought them to the dishwasher and returned that her father's new hit man looked as spic and span as he had the night before at Tides, before the first of the trials her father saw fit to put him through. No one would ever so much as guess blood had ever come into contact with the crisp fabric of his pristine white shirt.

"Very nice. None even 10am, and already, you outshine me," the brunette teased him, shrugging her shoulders at her own attire, which still consisted of the tank top and yoga pants she'd slept in. Sarena was a woman who was not a fan of morning rushes, preferring to take her time to wake up and enjoy the early hours of the day. That said, the morning was running later than usual for her; the presence of a certain someone sleeping beside her the night before had preoccupied her mind from such tasks as changing out of her loungewear. "Not a bad job i did on your shirt, either. Well salvaged; you're welcome, by the way."

She hadn't expected that jovial affirmation of the miracles of her laundry salvaging to be rewarded with genuine appreciation, however, any more than she'd expected the hit man to step forward and lay his hand on her shoulder. Far from an unwelcome gesture, she reached with her nearest hand, covering his warm knuckles with her hand. For the very first time, she took close notice at the size discrepancy between their extremities, the way her palm hardly covered half his hand. "Believe me, Mr. Proudfoot," the young woman drawled with a warm yet wanting smile, "The pleasure is all mine. I'm happy to be of service, however you might need it.

"And, speaking of which..." Reluctantly breaking away from their point of contact, Sarena crossed the living room to retrieve a pewter pen, as much an ornament as the tiny pewter vase that contained a number of other sparkling writing utensils that saw far less paper than any pen should. "Take your time; my father is most approachable between one and two-o-clock PM. He likes to follow up his lunch with a cigar, and I can guarantee he'll be in a better mood. The man is not a morning person. Explain what happened: tell him what he needs to know, but only what he needs to know. Don't elaborate unless asked... and I'd suggest not mentioning you spent the night here." Without a word of request, the heiress took Rhys' uninjured hand and brought the tip of the pen to the soft flesh of his palm. "Ask him what he wants, and be calm about it. But if red alarms start going off in your head--and I'll trust your judgement, since you're so quick to act--call this number. Put it in your phone on speed-dial." In the wake of the pen that she set aside was a phone number, scrawled in slanted numbers in the middle of his palm. As if there was any confusion as to whom the number belonged, she added, "You saved me, last night. If the kitchen starts to get hot, I will be the diversion you need. Do you understand?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Thu Oct 30, 2014 11:18 pm
by Astrophysicist
“It wasn’t at gunpoint,” he said, almost testily, but the relaxed nature of his posture spoke more of weariness than agitation. “I lost it after I buried that bullet in Colstorm’s chest.” Rhys Proudfoot raked his fingers through his untidy hair and heaved a heavy sigh, his brows knitting together in a frown. His perplexity was not with Sarena, nor was it with the words she spoke; rather, it was with himself, and the truth to which she unknowingly alluded. He gritted his teeth against memories he’d rather forget—the ghost of Liza Liszt, for one, and the heated glare of the grieving Harriet Grimm—and shook his head. “I know, I know. There’s not really a difference.”

While he’d claimed to Sarena that he could hold it together in the future, they both know—and Rhys in particular—that there were no guarantees with what lied ahead. Whether or not he could rein in his anxieties under the immense pressure of the Vandelay family remained to be seen. And though he had managed quite well until that point on his own, all things considered, he had not anticipated losing his grasp when faced with Colstorm’s pistol.

It was not the first time Rhys Proudfoot had been on the dangerous end of a handgun’s sights, and it was certainly not the first time he’d been taken by surprise in a dark alley; so what it was that triggered his temporary mania was a mystery to him. And that’s what made his situation so delicate. If he could not narrow down what had sent him over the edge the previous evening, then he was liable to stumble again, falling over that drop-off into a hazy, exhausting, terrifying abyss of his own madness from which it was difficult to surface. He could not prepare for something he couldn’t identify. An unexploded bomb was what he was—fragile, with no method to predict when the powder might ignite behind an otherwise unobtrusive façade.

Gritting his teeth against the thoughts, he turned back to Sarena, meeting her gaze. All he had to do was keep it together during his meeting with Gustave, and from there, he would figure it out along the way—assuming, of course, that the man would forgive him for robbing him of Murphy Colstorm. If the Vandelay heiress was right, then her father had not been quite as attached to the bastard as everyone else seemed to think, including the dead man himself. There was some hope, it seemed, and Rhys learned long ago to take what he could get when it came to good fortune.

“I used to like the mornings,” he mused suddenly, voice light. The seriousness did not quite leave his eyes, but his shoulders relaxed as the young woman took his hand and pressed a pen to his palm. “They’ve lost their charm, though. I think I saw too many sunrises after sleepless nights.” A dry chuckle shook his shoulders, and he examined the oblique numerals sprawled across his calloused skin. He fished his phone from his pocket and punched in the number. Adding her name to his contacts list was satisfying in a way he couldn’t quite put words to. His lips twitched into a half-smile, and his thumb playfully selected dial.

He maintained a straight face as the buzz from his call resonated from the kitchen counter. When she answered, he spoke before she could hang up, his live voice repeating itself with a split-second delay as he spoke into the receiver.
“I’m not one for fancy imported cigars, but breakfast always puts me in a better mood,” he said into the phone. “Care to join me? I know a great little place on 77th. More grease than food, probably, but that’s sort of the beauty of breakfast food.” The former field operative arched a brow, his gaze at last genuinely amused as he hung up the playful call. “You can save that number, too. If you agree to tag along for breakfast, that is. Otherwise, I’ll just ditch this phone for a different one and you’ll be S.O.L. when you need someone to come freak out in your alley and drink half your whiskey.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Oct 31, 2014 2:07 am
by Requiem
"Rhys, nobody likes mornings," Sarena picked up on the light tone his recently somber voice had taken on and pursued the opportunity to tease him. "That's just plain weird. If I had it my way, I'd wake up in the afternoon every day, wear loungewear all day long and stay up until I knew I couldn't avoid sunrise. Besides, sunset is where it's at. But," With a prolonged sigh, Serena finished scrawling the numbers across the hit man's palm and returned the utensil to its decorative holder, "alas, life doesn't seem to be that simple, does it? When you don't mark an end to an evening with bloodshed, you seem to start a morning with one... Just because I'm not a red hand doesn't mean I haven't experienced my fair share of it. You and I, we aren't all that different, Mr. Proudfoot."

The heiress cast her guest a curious glance when her cell phone began to buzz audibly against the counter in the kitchen, just seconds after Rhys appeared to punch her number into his. Frowning, she noted the unfamiliar number as soon as she retrieved it from the kitchen, but knew without a doubt who it was before she swiped left for 'answer' to lightly admonish the man in the other room for senseless use of technology. Not that she was unhappy to have a rather coveted number to add to her extensive address book, but when it came to conversations with a man like Rhys Proudfoot, she preferred to seize the opportunity to unabashedly take in his attractive face.

So, while she obliged him in his silly gesture, she returned to the living room to do just that. "You know, I've had men dial my cell phone for any number of reasons," the young woman mused, crossing the room to place her phone in her purse. "To demand or even offer money, to make plans to do either of the aforementioned, threatening my life and/or my family's, or begging me to persuade my father to have mercy on them for whatever they did to piss him off, even crying on the phone because I up and left their company before they woke up--incidentally, one of the benefits of agreeing to spend the night on my territory is I don't tend to do that." Sarena arched a shapely brow as she turned back to Rhys, mouth quirking into a grin arms folded casually at her elbows. "This is the first time I've ever been invited out for breakfast. You've got a deal; and, in fact, you're still welcome to my whiskey, on the condition that you keep me company."

It was almost too good to be true; that her father's brand new, grade A red hand not only turned out to be as intriguing as he was handsome, but that he was offering her the opportunity to find out more about him... Perhaps enough to unravel the mystery behind his strange nocturnal attack. Not to mention, there was no safer place to be, than in the company of a man whose instinct to kill was so strong that nothing and no one could be more of a danger than he was.
But he wouldn't harm her, of that she was certain. But this ease she felt in his presence had to do with more than the fact her father would see that he ceased to draw breath, if he so much as bruised her.

There were few things of which Sarena Vandelay could claim with certainty; but one of those things was that she was safe, with Rhys Proudfoot.

"Hold on, then; I suppose this means I need to change." The brunette sighed with heavy dramatic flair. "I mean, don't expect me to wear my eveningwear to a greasy breakfast joint or anything. I'll let you stand out like a weirdo for the both of us."
Flashing him a playful smirk, she disappeared into her bedroom to trade her tank top and yoga pants for slimming jeans and a fitted blue sweater; both of the expensive sort, but not enough to hold a flame to the dress pants and blazer her date wore. "This time, we take the front door." She suggested, looping her purse over one elbow looping the other through Rhys' arm. "The back is probably a crime scene, at the moment. I've already called one of my usual cabs; if we leave right now, I can guarantee he'll be pulling up the second we reach the lobby. I really hope this place on 77th makes good waffles."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Nov 01, 2014 9:39 pm
by Astrophysicist
The elevator descended rapidly past the lower floors of the high-rise until its musical chime announced their arrival at the lobby. The sanctity of the quietly calm chamber shattered as soon as its thick doors slide open to allow them passage; the scene beyond its mirrored barrier was bustling and active, with the clashing cacophony of police radios and muffled conversations filling an open, lavishly decorated but modern atrium. Uniformed cops and black-suited investigators were gathered in small groups on the perimeter, their attention focused on their own discussions with occasional glances toward the back of the building.

With Sarena’s arm hooked in his, they strolled casually toward the revolving front doors, earning only a few passing, disinterested glances from their law enforcement company. He placed his bandaged hand carefully in the pocket of his black blazer. Though the former Double Eye operative remained completely at ease in their presence—having been in New York for such a short time, they knew neither his face nor his reputation, after all—he was nevertheless thankful for his expensive, respectable attire. He paid them no obvious heed. Sarena, too, walked at his side with an air of nonchalance, and together, they pushed their way outside unimpeded.

After giving the young woman’s driver the intersection nearest the diner, Rhys settled in to the back seat and watched pensively as the urban scenery whirred by through the tinted glass windows. In the thick of the city, where streets and structures alike blurred together into a monotone grid of concrete and glass, the red hand took comfort in the density and the anonymity that accompanied its predictable system. Despite the fact that he was currently dressed to stand out, he had been trained from his late teens to blend in to a crowd—and he didn’t mind being just another face among them.

“Here we are,” he announced when they exited the cab, gesturing with a grand sweep of his arm to a narrow façade in dire need of a fresh coat of paint. The sign above the weathered maroon awning read Mel’s in faded gold script. An old-fashioned flashing neon open sign greeted them from the window as they approached.

The hostess seated them in a narrow booth along a red wall decorated with framed stock photos of pastries and fruit. Rhys arched his brows as the Vandelay heiress slid in opposite him. “I haven’t been here in years,” he said, sliding her a laminated menu he’d retrieved from behind the salt shaker and stack of jelly packets. “But it’s exactly the same. Right down to the typo on the front of the menu.” He reached across to point the misspelling. Mel’s on 77th—The Best Breakfest You’ve Never Heard Of, since 2008. “Trust me, they’re much better with waffles than they are with words.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Nov 01, 2014 10:56 pm
by Requiem
For a woman with Sarena's taste, all sapphire cocktails, expensive condominiums and pens tipped with crystals on the caps, Mel's was not at all where anyone would expect to find such a character. Expensive taste, however, was not the only trademark of a crime family. When you needed to hide intentions and felonies, it required a certain flexible adaptability when it came to taste and comfort. And while the mafia heiress might have much preferred her first 'date' with the handsome red hand take place somewhere where walking in wearing formal attire wouldn't be quite so great an anomaly, she still slid into the resin booth with its chipped paint and table with cigarette burns as casually as if she frequented the place every week.

In any case, the shoddier restaurants always gave you a bigger bang for you buck, when it came to portion size.
"I was born and raised in this city," the brunette mused, picking up a menu, despite that she already knew what she wanted to order. "I've driven down this street more times than I can remember, and not once did I ever notice this place, before. Then again, they do say that all the best places to eat are secrets in plain sight."

When a waitress finally approached the table to take their orders, Sarena didn't even give the older woman a chance to ask what they wanted before folding her menu close and setting it down. "Waffles with strawberries and maple syrup--no whipped cream-- à la mode. Strawberry ice cream, preferably, but I'll also accept vanilla."

"Ah... we offer waffles, but not with ice cream, hon." The woman with pin-curls styled tight against her head arched an eyebrow. "If it's not on the menu, I can't help you."

"Surely," Sarena leaned her lithe frame across the table, pale blue eyes locked on the waitress' gaze like a hawk's on its prey, "you can make one little exception?"
For half a moment, the woman rose to the challenge, a look crossing her face that spoke of her disdain for the city higher-ups that thought their shit didn't stink when they waltzed into the restaurant. But there was something about Sarena's unwavering stare the commanded compliance, and it didn't appear to be the sort of battle that she wished to fight, with the rest of a workday ahead of her.

"And for you, hon?" At last the waitress turned to Rhys and scribbled down his order of bacon, eggs and pancakes, before wandering off to likely complain to the kitchen staff of the 'city slickers' invading their quaint diner atmosphere again.
Satisfied, Sarena sat back with a smile. "What? I get what I want," came her laissez-faire explanation, as if it should already be obvious. "She'll just take the passive aggressive route and charge me more. But anyway... Rhys Proudfoot." She annunciated his name, as if her tongue were forming its shape for the first time, and folded her hands expectantly under her chin. "How much can I possibly persuade you to tell me about yourself? I'll let you choose what you want to share, but you can't take a girl out to breakfast without some willingness to divulge just a little."

 

   
ReplyQuote
Requiem
(@requiem)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 842
 
by Astrophysicist
Rhys had not been kidding when he’d admitted to being a morning person. Prior to Tribeca-Antioch, he had often reveled in the quiet moments following the dawn, rising early on his missions to explore new terrain and familiarize himself with new cities before the buzz of the new day. The sunrise had lots its charm upon greeting him after too many sleepless nights, but the bitterness was not quite strong enough to eliminate a fond nostalgia for the crisp, magical atmosphere as night came to its close.

Though it was after ten thirty, hardly an hour to be called early by any technical standard, the Vandelay family’s new red hand couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction at the prospect of starting a day well-rested and well-fed. Rhys Proudfoot had lived many lives in his three decades on the earth; from decadence and splendor to rough streets and squalor, his experience as a field operative had afforded him the opportunity to see through many pairs of eyes from many points of view. But of all the places he’d frequented over the years, the hidden, unpretentious gems like Mel’s were by far his preferred establishments—for the terrible greatness of greasy bacon and burgers, yes, but also for the outright blasé attitude of its patrons and staff. The waitress’s irritation was a reassurance rather than a bother; no one, from the cook flipping the eggs to the elderly man in the front window with the newspaper, cared at all who he was or from whence he had come, and no one would remember Rhys or Sarena as anyone except the city slicker couple who ordered ice cream for breakfast.

“I’m sure that’s not the weirdest thing they’ve gotten over the years,” he mused, leaning back into the stiff vinyl cushion with his arms folded across his chest. “If they didn’t want to serve people, they wouldn’t have kept their doors open this long. That doesn’t mean they won’t do it without complaining, but hey, you still get food out of the deal.”

As if on cue, the waitress sped by to deposit a glass of orange juice in front of Rhys, her gesture so unceremonious that the pulpy liquid sloshed over the side and onto the table. Unperturbed, the wavy-haired assassin picked it up and took a long, thoughtful drink. “Sarena Vandelay,” he said at last with a crooked smile, the words equally punctuated as the way her tongue had formed his name. “Haven’t you figured out by now that I’m quite the sensitive fellow?” A chuckle shook his shoulders, his words playful.

“Most people would probably want to know if their date was a murderer,” he drawled, quirking a brow, “or if he had a dark, mysterious past. On the bright side, you know the answer to both of those things.” He grinned. “How many of those secrets you can coax from my arsenal remains to be seen. Believe me, though, it’s quite the collection, at least from where I stand.” He took another sip of juice. “What, exactly, do you want to know?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Nov 02, 2014 1:18 pm
by Requiem
"Sensitive?" It wasn't a particularly funny trait, certainly not enough to warrant a laugh, and especially not while Sarena knew well that there might be some truth to it. But that was just what his comment elicited in the mafia heiress, loud enough that her shoulders shook. "Rhys," she drawled, drawing a deep breath to steady the convulsions of her diaphragm, "I regret to tell you that you are keeping the wrong company if you're concerned about your feelings. If that was my first concern, I wouldn't have asked in the first place." Jovial though her tone might have been, he had no idea the extend of truth behind her words. It made her wonder if and when he would catch on, and whether it would affect his desire to be in her company.

Unperturbed that the waitress had completely neglected to bring her a beverage along with Rhys' orange juice, the brunette rolled her shoulders back and settled against the vinyl seat cushion, unconsciously mimicking her companion's relaxed pose. "'Murderer' is such a subjective term, but I won't ask and you don't have to tell." She smiled, winking playfully. "As for your mysterious past, I only know as much as you've been willing to tell me, since you're bent on 'protecting' the people involved. Though I suppose I should credit you for being honourable about that; it's more than I would do."

Gleaning answers from the hit man felt akin to squeezing water from a stone. What she wanted to know most--what had led this man towards a profession that, at his very core, she detected he despised almost as much as he had working for Double Eye--was decidedly out of the question. That is, when she demanded it outright... But sometimes the most conducive way to find out what you want is to ask around it until the information came full circle, and all that was left was to assemble the fragments.

"How about this: I can honour a good trade. A question for a question. It's not like I've got anything to hide." Sarena proposed, leaning forward just enough to fold her hands on the table in front of her. "Anything you want to know about me or my family that you feel might make your job and experience working with my father a little easier, I'll be happy to divulge... within reason, of course. But I'm sure you won't be surprised to know that not even I am privy to everything that goes down in my father's estate. I'm only an heir; precious details won't belong to me until I've got the throne.

"So." The young woman's eyes thoughtfully searched his face, contemplating what questions would lead to answers that played to her whims. "Who are you, really? I don't mean your name or occupation, and I'm fairly confident you haven't given me an alias. What I want to know is who is Rhys Proudfoot when his attention isn't on his gun? Who are you at your core, when you go to sleep at night? When you sit down and have a cigarette?" One of her hands shifted to trace a burn atop the table from where someone had previously extinguished a cigarette. "Who are you now, compared to who you were before?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Nov 03, 2014 12:02 am
by Astrophysicist
Sarena’s boisterous laugh was contagious, and Rhys found himself chuckling along until she was able to sober up with a breath. “I am anything but naïve, Ms. Vandelay,” he responded, not quite capable of erasing the grin from his face. “If my feelings—or anyone’s feelings, for that matter—were some sort of priority for you, then my guess is you wouldn’t have survived so long in this twisted world of ours.” He reached up and combed his fingers through his unruly hair, exhaling in an amused hiss through his teeth.

Concern for the feelings of others—or even their well being generally—was simply not an option for people like Rhys and Sarena. Even while employed by Double Eye, the spy had learned quickly that there was neither time nor energy to spare for such considerations. To be overly empathetic was to weaken one’s own defenses, slowing response times and often clouding judgment to a fatal degree. It was one thing to care for and protect one’s operating partner; that was part of the job. But it was another thing entirely to worry on their behalf about personal problems, or to imagine that they might take offense to a phrase or action. The relationships they formed were built on absolute trust in the other’s skills, abilities, and utter independence to take care of their own shit.

At her mention of his protecting the others involved in his story, his smile wavered somewhat. “They’re probably dead, to be honest,” he admitted. “Some of them are, for a fact. But I have to protect myself, too—more from my own heavy mental shit than anything else, which shouldn’t be a stretch of your imagination after last night—and I’m not sure this is the place to get into that.” He shrugged lightly, but his nonchalance was partially feigned. “So you could say my reasons are selfish.”

He took another swig of orange juice, meeting Sarena’s gaze over the rim of his glass. “Asking without asking, huh?” he said, amusement returning to his blue eyes as he searched her face for clues to her endgame. “Your answers might help me in my ventures with your family, but I don’t see how anything I could tell you could possibly benefit you in a similar way. But I’ll play, sure. A question for a question.” Following the movement of her lithe fingers over the cigarette burn on the scuffed table, he reached out without thought, tracing her knuckles gently with the pad of his index finger.

“I have more aliases in my track record than I could name off-hand, but no, ridiculous as it is, ‘Rhys Proudfoot’ is not one of them,” he confirmed. His voice, though conversational, had softened somewhat, as though the element of physical touch had worked to calm him even when he had not recognized his own beneath-the-surface agitation. “I’m not the same guy I was before I got the scars you saw last night,” he went on. “But honestly, looking back, I think I was already headed down the path. The person I am now”—he placed his bandaged hand over his chest—“or the potential for him, was always there. And I used to be scared of him.”

The sigh that escaped his lips was strangely apathetic. “I’m a man of purpose, I guess, but I don’t always know what that purpose is. I take on others’ convictions instead. If I choose to, or if I’m paid well enough, that is.” He withdrew his touch and leaned back, folding his arms pensively across his chest. “My head’s the clearest when I’ve been up all night and watch the sunrise. There’s a quiet to the world at that hour, and your mind’s too tired and your body too exhausted to do much more than take it in and lift a cigarette to your lips. I don’t do much sleeping, these days.” 

He smiled crookedly, distantly. “If you want particulars, you might have to get more specific with your questions,” he said. “I could talk philosophy all day, but I don’t get the impression my own self-analysis is what you’re after.” He cleared his throat. “Right. So. Before we get into your family, what I want to know is…” The words trailed off, and he paused thoughtfully, narrowing his eyes. “What do you fear the most in the world, Sarena Vandelay?” He cocked his head to one side, the gesture comically innocent in juxtaposition to the seriousness of his inquiry. “What keeps you awake at night? Or are you truly as fearless as you tell the world?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Nov 03, 2014 12:43 pm
by Requiem
Sarena's gaze strayed from the blue eyes of her companion to the top of her hand, where his callused fingers traced intricate patterns across her knuckles. The unexpected urge to take that hand and weave her lithe fingers between his struck her as soon as the corporeal contact was established; and, on any other occasion, she might even have on it. But the red hand was beginning to divulge, vague though it his words might have been (befitting for a particularly vague question, she supposed). But something vast and open-ended allowed him the freedom relax and to answer in any way he might see fit, and she was loathe to interrupt.

So the heiress kept her mouth shut and exercised her keen listening skills, watching the subtleties of his body language as he explained. And the more he spoke, the more convinced she became that Rhys Proudfoot had no solid answer to her question. He had been a different person, before he'd chosen to spend his days exchanging lives for money; simultaneously, it sounded as though he had been the same person, now and always. As a child, she'd often heard her father say that you had to be born to handle a weapon with the intent to kill. She'd believed it, up until a few days ago when she'd seen Phylip Vandelay's heavy pistol in her younger cousin's small hands. Albert wasn't a born killer, despite being a Vandelay. Rhys, on the other hand, appeared to have been destined to such a fate. The world was a confusing place.

"We all have purpose, Rhys," the brunette dared to comment when her companion entered a thoughtful pause. "Several, in fact. The purpose that we choose, and the purpose that is imposed onto us by others. Not to psychoanalyze, but to me, it sounds as though you're distracting yourself with the latter so as to avoid thinking about the former." She thought back to his panic attack the following night, how he'd nearly lost himself after staring down the barrel of a gun. It hadn't been about the gun; it hadn't even been about Colstorm, or that moment the man had put his life in jeopardy. And she came to the conclusion that the man sitting across from her had endorsed other peoples' purposes for a very long time; and now, left to his own devices, life for him wasn't much different. If she were to think too hard on it, the young woman worried it might even make her feel melancholy.

But she wasn't presented with a long enough moment to dissect Rhys Proudfoot through his words, and only felt slightly closer to the truths she sought when suddenly, the spotlight was turned onto her. And the question was far from what she had expected him to ask. "You want to know what scares me?" Sarena's eyebrows shot up in surprise, before she had a chance to temper the bewilderment that accompanied his inquiry. She'd agreed to answer questions about the Vandelay name as a whole, perhaps no deeper than her own role in it. Had she anticipated that her own game would corner her into responding to something so invasive, she might have rethought her particular wording when making the proposition.

The worst part was, she wasn't even sure she had an answer.
But the question had her thinking before she even realized she was considering it, her mind turning over the last times she'd felt even vaguely frightened. Emilia and her ploys didn't make her worry for her life; she'd been outsmarting the woman since she was thirteen years old. She didn't yield to any of the popular phobias that plagued humankind, spiders and heights not fazing her in the slightest. But then that image returned to her mind... Albert, holding his father's gun, with a face that was hardly determined to use it. She imagined the outcome if he were to threaten Caleb with it directly, knowing full well that he would only seek to threaten, and not to kill...

She stopped the thought in its tracks as soon as she felt the blood drain from her face, and noticed she'd pulled her hand into her lap, index finger no longer tracing the pattern of burns in the table. Clearing her throat, she recollected her thoughts. "That's a curious question. Not one I'd expect to hear from someone who wouldn't use it against me." Arching a brow to convey her suspicion, the Vandelay daughter rolled her shoulders back, feeling the tension drain from them. "I'm sorry to tell you that I don't really have an answer, though; not because I'm fearless, surely, but because I just don't know. I, personally, don't lose many nights of sleep. I suppose I was fairly frightened when I realized Colstorm was prepared to kill me, and there is always that looming possibility that Double Eye will shut my family down one day, once and for all. But nothing that you wouldn't already expect."

To her great relief, their food arrived when he mind ran out of possible excuses to placate his sense of curiosity, without entirely forfeiting her end of the bargain. Sarena didn't speak again until she'd downed several mouthfuls of warm waffle and chilled ice cream. "You're right; their waffles are better than their spelling." She grinned, taking a long sip of the water that the waitress finally saw fit to bring to her. "Now, it's my turn again: if you could take something back, do something differently--anything at all--where would you be now? Who would you be?" Delicious though the waffles were, nothing as more satisfying than unraveling the enigma that was Rhys Proudfoot. "You're clearly a man with many regrets. What would it take for you to sleep better at night, Rhys Proudfoot?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Nov 03, 2014 10:06 pm
by Astrophysicist
o.o.c. :: I AM OUT OF CONTROL I AM SO SORRY

He wished he could say that never in the rocky uncertainty of his childhood had he imagined one day taking comfort in the wielding of a deadly weapon. He wished he could say it had taken him by surprise, that circumstances had forced his hand, that the tragedy of Tribeca-Antioch had driven him to temporary madness. But while he had spoken the truth to Sarena at the prompt of her question, it was perhaps not the only truth that explained his personal evolution. The Rhys Proudfoot that sat opposite the dark-haired heiress was not the same man who had joined Double Eye’s forces all those years ago. But what he feared—and loathed—was the secret knowledge that he’d possessed the capacity for such fatal force all along. He’d fought it for years until his near-death encounter proved there was no point in delaying the inevitable—and besides, had he not already demonstrated precisely what he was capable of?

The former spy quirked a brow as Sarena spoke, nodding along to the cadence of her words. “You’re probably right,” he admitted openly, lifting one shoulder in a half-shrug. “I’ve been a pawn in a lot of other people’s games. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve played my own part too; it’s not that I abandoned my own integrity for the sake of orders. Tesh Marionetti would back me up on that point, and probably threaten to throttle me for all the headaches I gave him back at the agency. But…it’s a matter of finding something, you know? And honestly, it scares the hell out of me. I don’t like to be stationary, I don’t like to be stuck. So you’re right. I let myself be molded for others’ purposes. I admit that freely.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the edge of the table. “It also freaks me out that my next step is to be taking on your family’s purposes, in particular. But we’ll get to that, I’m sure.”

He smiled, and the expression was surprisingly genuine. He had spent a lot of years in the thick of conflict, throwing himself headfirst into his work for Double Eye. Risking his life for the sake of distant missions and complex intelligence, the spy had traveled the world and faced all manner of different foes—seen and unseen, foreign and domestic, quiet and loud. He had been wounded, imprisoned, tortured; he was fortunate even to have been alive for Tribeca-Antioch, let alone in its aftermath. There were many to thank for his ultimate successes, but not even in modesty could he deny that it was his own quick-thinking and performance under pressure that kept breath in his lungs. Rhys hadn’t earned his reputation in the department for nothing.

It was not until his promotion to Full Operative that he had been granted clearance to carry an agency-sanctioned firearm on his missions, yet he had already been responsible for the deaths of three enemy men. With a gun at his disposal, the fact that he had the potential and instinct to kill became even more clear. And it had frightened him, particularly when those with whom he worked did not seem to carry the same gene. It was part of who he was, part of what had made him such a valued spy, employee, and partner; it was also what made him dangerous.

He had not expected Sarena’s posture to shift so suddenly, or for her complexion to blanch—if only infinitesimally—at his question. The change only served to further pique his curiosity, and he listened with interest that showed plainly on his face. He barely acknowledged the steaming plate of food the waitress placed before him. He watched her through the rising steam as she once again returned to the Sarena Vandelay he had known so far, her shoulders confident but relaxed, her tongue quick to retort.

“Now, why would I want to use something against you? I like you. I try not to paint targets on the backs of people I like. Members of that particular club are hard to come by, and I certainly don’t want to be the one endangering their species.” He sliced a small morsel of pancake with his fork, dipping it in the ramekin of hot syrup. “It’s a danger and a benefit not to know the scope of your fears, Sarena Vandelay. Beneficial, obviously, because you’re not limited physically or mentally in what you can accomplish. But it’s also risky, because you can’t predict when you might freeze up.” He gestured with the bite of pancake before popping it into his mouth and chewing thoughtfully.

He was not naïve enough to believe she had given him the full extent of her true answer, but it was part of the game. Her question in turn did not strike him as out of place or unreasonable, but as he calmly sprinkled salt and pepper across his scrambled eggs, possible answers flew like a whirlwind through his mind. He had already proclaimed his desire for transparency, but it was easier said than done to erase years of training in regards to fabricating an alternate self. Particularly when the real answer she sought was one he was not yet willing to divulge.

“Hard drugs,” he replied with a chuckle. “That’s what it would take to get me to sleep at night.” He cleared his throat, tone becoming serious. He couldn’t speak about Tribeca-Antioch with any sort of stability—not yet, anyway—but that didn’t mean he couldn’t come close. “I would have steered clear of some of my coworkers at Double Eye,” he went on between bites, using the small pauses to choose his words. “I would have followed instructions a little more faithfully. And that includes instructions regarding interpersonal relationships within the department I worked for.” Harriet Grimm’s piercing brown eyes came to mind, but he focused instead on Sarena’s crisp blue stare. “Yeah, fell into that trap, like a fuckin’ movie. But when you work that closely with someone, you develop a level of intimacy in your relationship that’s hard to find anywhere else. A handler has to know their operative, and vice versa. It can be hard to ignore, in some cases, but it’s impossible to function in the field without some kind of chemistry.

“I’d have a lot fewer scars, that’s for sure, if I’d have let things alone,” Rhys continued, rotating his left shoulder backward in acknowledgment of the ghosts of his old physical wounds. “I’d probably still be at the agency, actually. Maybe we would have run into each other that way. Maybe you were always meant to get stuck with me for breakfast company.” A grin curved his lips upward. “Which brings me to your family. Just what is your role in their ranks?” He took another bite. “I know you’re the heir, yeah, but what do you do? Do you have your own specific tasks? And are they…sanctioned? Because I don’t believe for a second you’re just Gustave’s beloved princess.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Nov 04, 2014 12:03 am
by Requiem
It wasn't the first time he'd told her he liked her. Regardless, Sarena would never get tired of hearing it, for whatever reason the words brought her such unprecedented pleasure. Perhaps it was that she didn't hear them often enough: she'd been desired, certainly. Loved, unlikely (although Gustave would argue semantics). But never outright told that she was liked or even likeable for any reason. Perhaps that was why she was so inclined to believe the hit man when he assured her he wouldn't hold anything against her; for all he was a mean who deserved to be feared, there was no reason for her to fear him.

And it just so happened that she liked him, as well. But he already knew as much, or they wouldn't be having breakfast together.

"Well, what I don't know about myself, I can't expect others to exploit." The heiress said, waving off the notion of her unknown fears as if the matter weren't as worrisome as she knew it was, at the back of her mind. "But I won't deny that you're right: maybe someday I'll find myself on the producing end of a meltdown, similar to what you went through last night. Though..." With a smirk, she reached across the table with her fork to stab at a piece of bacon on her companion's plate. "You never know: maybe, if that day comes, I'll have you to help me come to my senses. Just like you had me."

As the brunette listened on, contemplatively picking at her waffles and ice cream as it melted onto the hot, fried batter, a twinge of jealousy put off her appetite enough for her to lower her fork back to her plate before another bite of waffle could pass her lips. "Well, you know what they say about love: it bites. It's a weakness, and it fucks you up beyond recognition. I take it you've learned since how stupid it is to think it's worth investing in anyone so intimately." There was no good reason for the envy that stirred her stomach. There was no good reason for her to think that he'd never spared a glance at another woman, or any reason for her to care, considering there was nothing between them but some camaraderie of convenience: he wanted a confidante and an in on her family. She wanted company that wasn't too dangerous for her to keep. Beyond that, what lingered between them was speculative, or had yet to manifest as anything more but amicable acquaintances.

"I can't offer drugs to remedy that kind of stupidity," she sighed, sweeping the remnants of catty jealousy under the rug before they threatened to ruin this casual breakfast. "But I do have a thing or two that could help you sleep at night; all you need to do is ask. Though I must say, you looked pretty peaceful this morning... Maybe a little whiskey and a sleeping next to a beautiful woman is all you need to get let the stress run dry." Chuckling at her own terrible self-reference, Sarena winked. "Again--you only need to ask. And for what its worth, I happen to like your scars. They're unique, like fingerprints. Maybe they were meant to be, as much as this breakfast was."

Sopping up the remainder of the ice cream with another bite of pancake, the mafia daughter thought on his next question, one that was far less jarring than the last. "I suppose it all depends on who you ask," she said after a thought. "If you were to ask my father, he wouldn't tell you much, because he's still hesitant to let me in on the know of everything that goes down in my family. I don't know all that I do because he's told me everything I need to know: I gained that knowledge all on my own. Which, I suppose, leads me to my next point." Laying her fork on her now empty plate, she sat back in her booth with pondering ease. "My family is not my top priority; I've got too many enemies on the inside to know I can rely on them to survive. In a way, I think my father knows this, for the very lack of 'specific tasks' I've got. So long as I outlive him, I don't think he really cares what I do; and I don't think I'll be privy to the full extent of my family's secrets until he stops drawing breath.

"Nevermind I've actively led more prying authorities--Marionetti included--astray to protect the Vandelay name than anyone else in my immediate family. I don't get to take personal credit for actually being useful until I'm no longer just a piece of Gustave's shadow. Fortunately, I don't really care." Sarena emphasized the finality of her opinion with a shrug of the shoulders. "Trust me--my family might be notorious, but they're a lot less interesting than you might imagine. Which brings me to my last question." It was her turn to reach across the table and rest her fingertips atop the red hand's wrist, meeting his blue eyes with sincere interest when he looked up. "What are your blood ties? Or do you have any? Is there anything that Rhys Proudfoot remains tied to, in one form or another, in this cruel and unpredictable world?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Nov 10, 2014 1:10 pm
by Astrophysicist
Rhys shrugged playfully. “I’ve slept next to a lot of beautiful women and had a lot more to drink than that, and neither ever seemed to solve my problems,” he proclaimed, meeting her blue eyes with his own. “No, I think it must specifically be you. Or, you know, maybe it was your hundred-thousand thread count sheets after hiding out in a whole series of terrible roach-infested roadside motels in Philly.” He stuffed his mouth full of the last of his pancakes and shook his head, amused.

If it was possible to convey nonchalance and seriousness at once, Rhys Proudfoot managed to do so. It was perhaps his spy’s training that allowed his eyes to tell a different story than the rest of his expression, to reinforce or contradict the dialect spoken by his body and posture. Personally vulnerable moments aside (when he could hardly control anything, let alone the minutia of outer expression), he was about as adept at controlling the look in his eyes as a person could be, having learned to command even the smallest shifts in the muscles surrounding his eyes and mouth. He could lie—or lie about lying—with nothing more than the look in his gaze; he could manipulate an unsuspecting conversant without so much as mouthing an untruth. It was as much a talent as it was an art form, and it would be dishonest to say that his mastery of the craft had played a large role in his being alive today.

But now, sitting opposite the intriguing dark-haired mafia daughter, he doubted he could have fooled her even if he’d wanted to. She was incredibly astute, yes, but that was not what had him convinced of his inability; he had faced far older-and-wiser international foes than Sarena and emerged successful. No, this was an effect upon him that was undeniably hers. Perhaps it was simply that she had witnessed him at a low moment; perhaps it was that she had become his unlikely friend when he’d gone nearly six years without a companion whose interaction lasted longer than a span of days. Tease as he might, he couldn’t lie to her. And what was perhaps more puzzling was that he didn’t want to.

He hadn’t had that with Harriet Grimm. Even when their relationship progressed from handler and operative to a romantic affair, Harriet had never been privy to much of Rhys’s inner workings—though in all her self-importance she’d certainly thought she was. It was rare that he could get away with lying to her directly, since they did share an uncanny chemistry when it came to reasoning and work, but lying through omission had never come difficult for him when confronting his handler-turned-lover. Moreover, he had never felt so strongly against dishonesty. It was quite the opposite sensation when speaking to Sarena Vandelay, whose thinly-veiled questions actually made him consider opening up, despite being fully aware that her queries were meant to gather information about his past.

The former Double Eye agent sat back in the booth, placing his utensils across his empty plate with a small clatter. “A spy within your own family, simultaneously working for and against them,” he declared, pursing his lips. “Impressive, because that’s not an easy role to play. Balancing your own safety, and that of your family—which is sort of an extension of yourself, in a way—when you know it’s exactly them who could turn on you at any moment? Sounds kind of familiar, actually. Maybe Double Eye should consider teaming up with the Vandelays rather than cracking down on them.” He tilted his head thoughtfully, glancing down and then back up again when he felt her gentle touch against his wrist. 

“The people I worked with at Double Eye were the closest thing to family I had,” he admitted candidly, shrugging his shoulders. “When you work at a place like that, doing what we did, you don’t really have a choice. I shed my fair share of blood for them over the years, but when it comes to family…” He lifted his hand from beneath her fingers and flipped over her palm, placing two fingers to the warm, steady pulse on the inside of her wrist. “I don’t have any blood ties left. No family. And definitely no international familial empire.” A grin curved his lips. “We Proudfoots are an endangered species. You should count yourself lucky to know the last of my kind.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Nov 10, 2014 2:43 pm
by Requiem
The heiress couldn't help but laugh at his insights into the comfort he'd found the following night; not because it was funny, per se, but because it pleased her to hear it. "No, I think it must specifically be you." Suddenly, she really couldn't care less about the number of woman with whom he'd shared a bed in the past; obviously none of them could do for him what she could. And that was as much a compliment as it was a boost to her already inflated self-confidence and self-esteem. Not to mention a very promising prognosis of what their instantaneous camaraderie might bring.

"Egyptian cotton does allow for a comfortable rest," she agreed, tracing the rim of her glass of water with the tip of a finger. "Though I do like to think I had a hand in it, as well." Perhaps he merely sought to flatter her so as to cement his place in her good graces; he wouldn't be the first, nor would he be the last to earn the respect of a Vandelay. But the mafia daughter had her doubts about his potential for dishonesty. There was little reason to take everything he told her as truth, for the fact that his past with Double-Eye had likely trained him to be as skilled a liar as her, if not moreso, and his current profession was not without good reason to fabricate falsehoods for his own survival. It was only her gut feeling, that he feared her as little as she feared him, that suspected his answers to be as honest as her own curiosity.

And that, in turn, sharply dissuaded her from weaving her own lies. Even at the expense of her own safety. And if that was his true design, in the end, then she was a victim to her own propensity to gamble.

"Hey, I'm only temporarily a double agent within my own family." the dark-haired woman clarified with a quirk of her lips. "I want someone gone; so does Double-Eye. It's a win-win situation, and in the end, I think it'll make those slimy bastards less likely to pester my family down the road. Whether they'd like to believe it or not, I'm actually doing my family a favour. It just happens to be at the expense of one--as far as I'm concerned--insignificant member. But Double-Eye can continue to think whatever they want about me and my bloodline, because contrary to popular belief, Mr. Proudfoot," Sarena paused until his eyes met hers again, "I might have the blood in my veins, but I live for myself, and myself alone. My family is not an extension of me; whether or not that changes when I take over for my father remains to be seen. But for now, I'm just the shadow that picks and chooses what family associations work in my favour."

She was no more opposed to admitting the implications of her relatively selfish nature than was he about admitting to his PTSD; it was too transparent to hide, and even the best of liars found it difficult to feign a conscience. Being part of a family did not necessarily guarantee attachment of any kind; something with which the red hand was apparently familiar, she soon came to find.

Watching as he positioned his fingers on the pale underside of her wrist, atop the blue veins visible beneath the surface of her skin, Sarena's smile mimicked his in response, unaware as to the way her pulse quickened almost indiscriminately at his point of contact. "That's pretty shitty, I'll admit, if the only people you could ever call family was Double-Eye. But it's still more than I've got; I mean, at least you weren't looking over your shoulder every hour, knowing that one of them would leap at the chance to kill you." There was no more self-pity in her tone than there had been compassion for his lack of relatives; both were simply facts of life, to which she and the hit man had become accustomed. "You might be endangered, but you're also relieved of the burden of worry for others. I mean, if you don't care about anyone because you have no one to care about, then that's one less the the world can hold against you."

Which was only one of the man reasons for Sarena's self-centered lack of compassion; when you're too busy attending to your own survival, you had no time for anyone else. At least, that was what she had been telling herself for more than half her life.
Pushing her empty plate away from her, the Vandelay daughter slid her hand out from under his to sift through the contents of her purse. "So many answers, and yet I still don't feel as though I know much about you, Rhys. We'll have to do this again sometime; I don't rest as easily when my curiosity is starved." Raising her arm, she waved at their unimpressed waitress to indicate they wanted their bill, before returning her attention to her companion across the table. "This one's on me. You know, just a little thank you for making sure I didn't take a bullet, last night; I hate feeling indebted to people."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Thu Nov 13, 2014 4:43 pm
by Astrophysicist
“Nothing is ever win-win with Double Eye,” Rhys said. “With Marionetti, maybe. He’s a decent man, and he’s always willing to compromise. The DPD is probably the most honest division in that goddamn place. But the agency at large?” The former agent pulled a face, then shook his head. “They want to win, and they care just enough about the other side of negotiations to want them to lose. Or at least not win as much as they do.” Rolling his eyes, the wavy-haired man downed the last of his orange juice and heaved an exasperated sigh. “That’s the state of today’s bureaucracy. Everything’s a competition. It’s cutthroat, literally and figuratively.”

He shrugged, expression brightening as the mafia daughter continued her explanation of her familial stance. “I would expect nothing different from you,” he responded, grinning. “It’s a good position to be in. Out for yourself, yet with resources at your disposal. The downside, as you pointed out, is that you’re liable to be murdered in your bed, so to speak.” He arched a brow. “I can’t say those people at Double Eye wouldn’t kill me now if they had the chance, but you’re right. At the time, they were family, and we literally killed for each other in the field. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t appreciated that, or that we didn’t have a good thing going back then, or that I hadn’t enjoyed their presence in my life. It’s different now, of course…” He reached reflexively to drape his right hand across his left bicep, subconsciously covering the scars that marked the termination of their departmental relationships. “But I’m grateful I had it, all the same.”

Listening to Sarena’s tale, the former field operative felt little by way of pity; while the spy was not characteristically heartless, neither was he one to experience sympathy for another’s plights. Too much emotional involvement, he’d been taught, not only jeopardized complex and sensitive missions, but also endangered one’s own safety. Thankfully, that sort of detachment came naturally to Rhys, in large part because he had spent a fair amount of his formative years more or less in isolation. Introspection had been his key to survival then, and it had proven just as beneficial throughout his adult career. He’d also had enough of a taste of the world to know that its bitter flavor laced all aspects of life, regardless of social stature or circumstance—in other words, everyone had their own troubles with which to preoccupy themselves, and there was no use in complicating your own with another’s.

The waitress, painted red lips pursed with tight annoyance, deposited their grease-stained bill on the table and stacked their empty plates in her arms. Rhys, murmuring a thank-you, was not swift enough to retrieve the slip of paper before Sarena declared her intent to pay for their morning banquet. “Oh, yeah?” he said, not without a hint of a smirk. “Well, if you want to pay off your debt in breakfast food, then it’s going to take a lot more than a single meal to break even. It seems neither of us are ones to forget an I.O.U.” He tossed her a wink. It was an invitation, albeit a subtle one, for yet another get-together. Judging by her expression in reaction, she had decoded his intentions immediately, and he smiled broadly.

“But now for my last question,” he declared as they rose, tossing a few crisp dollar bills on the table. They made their way back outside, where the cool spring air greeted them along with a curtain of warm sunshine. “What are your ambitions, exactly? I ask purely out of curiosity. Because I can’t see you in Gustave’s seat any more than I could see myself in Marionetti’s.” The thought of himself as the leader of the DPD was so ludicrous that he stifled a chuckle, however bitter it might have been. “If you could do anything, anything in the world, would taking over the Vandelay empire really be at the top of your list? How tightly does your birthright tie your hands?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Thu Nov 13, 2014 7:01 pm
by Requiem
Rhys' comment regarding the weight of a single meal against that of a life spared coaxed a laugh from the mafia heiress, and her shoulders shook in the beige trench coat that warded off the early spring chill. The more the two interacted, the more she was coming to realize how synchronized were their thought processes. "Lucky for me, I don't have a problem paying off a debt gradually," she drawled as she grabbed the grease-stained bill and sauntered over to the cash register. "Assuming you're not going to tag on any interest, that is. Though I'd be a liar to claim I'd mind negotiating that little bit of extra, if you're feeling particularly selfish. "

With the meals paid, Sarena turned and held the door for the hit man, satisfactorily sated on food and information as the two exited the diner. His final inquiry earned him a curious sidelong glance, chin tilting upward ever so slightly to indicate surprise. "Really? I thought we were all done with that game." Whether her comment stood as an observational statement, or an indication that a final question struck her as inconvenient, remained unclear. Regardless, she was not in a favourable position to deny the man an answer, even if it struck her as yet another that would leave a bitter taste on her tongue.

Returning her gaze to the sidewalk, the Vandelay daughter shoved her hands into the pockets of her coat, the corner of her mouth pulling into a tight, thoughtful half-grin as she contemplated what to tell the red hand. "The problem with your question is a matter of how you measure time," she began, withdrawing a cigarette from one of her pockets, followed by a lighter. Cupping her hand around the tip of the tobacco stick, she took her time to contemplate how to elaborate on an answer that caused her more anxiety than it reasonably should. "You're a past, present, and future kind of man; that's already abundantly obvious. Your past has led to your present state of affairs, which in turn have painted you a very uncertain future. Correct me if I'm wrong; I'm only speculating."

The invitation to confirm was, however, only a formality. Enigmatic as Rhys Proudfoot might be, what little openness she had coaxed from him thus far was more than enough to lend credence to her suspicion. Taking another drag on her cigarette, she continued. "You can't live like that, in a family like mine. How do you plan in years when you could wake up dead tomorrow? How do you aspire to have ambitions when everything you've come to work for can come crashing down because one person leaked the information to the wrong person? Projecting yourself to the future will only give you anxiety, in my opinion. And I don't live that way.

"But if you want an answer, then I can say this much." Realizing suddenly that she was the only one smoking, her hands were quick to offer the pack of cigarettes to Rhys before her mind even had time to register the gesture. It struck her as strange an unsettling, so she chose not to dwell on her unsolicited gesture of what could be perceived as kindness. "I aspire to wake up tomorrow morning, alive. And the next day, and the day after that. Maybe, sometime this very month, I'll be rid of a particular family member who we'd all be better off without. But I'm not going to be so stupid as to try and plan beyond a month and picture myself in my father's shoes, when the day might come that the idiot finally realizes they won't fit me. I can't prepare for the unexpected; but I can expect it."

Tapping ashes onto the sidewalk, Sarena tucked a breezy tress of hair behind her ear as they approached a stoplight at a crosswalk. "Those people that biologically comprise my family mean nothing to me. Between you and me, I'd take the money and run. Never look back, figure things out from there... Maybe someday, I will. But I know my father, and I know better than to get my hopes up. And, speaking of the devil himself, I believe you're due for a few words with him." The dark-haired crime daughter stepped in front of her uncertain companion and placed her hands on his shoulders. "Dial me if the kitchen gets too hot. Regardless, I'll be in contact with you later. We've got to figure out this issue of my life debt, after all." With a final grin tugging at her full lips, she released him and turned towards the corner of the next block. Before disappearing completely, Sarena left him with the final words: "Good luck; if you believe in it."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Nov 14, 2014 1:16 am
by Astrophysicist
Though Rhys did not miss the flicker of unease that flashed momentarily across Sarena’s face at his question, he chose not to acknowledge it, instead stuffing his hands in his blazer pockets and pursing his lips in contemplation. She was not wrong in her assessment of him; he was indeed a man of timelines, traveling through live in defined segments that were eventually categorized in past, present, and future. There were also two distinct eras in his life—pre- and post-Tribeca-Antioch—that he considered a further division. It was sequential; it made sense; it was a logic born from years of operating under careful schedule.

To be a spy was to be a master of timing. From catching the correct train to catching the right person on the telephone, every action in the field required an innate sense of time’s passage. There was no such thing as luck or coincidence for an agent of the CIIO; an operative had to be in constant control of circumstance, manipulating systems and situations alike for their own purposes, all while keeping their true motives under wraps. There was power in sequence, dominance in succession. They had be sure of the proverbial stars’ alignment, acting as the middlemen in the tug-of-water between manipulation and fate.

He took the offered cigarette and placed it between his lips, inhaling deeply. The more he got to know the Vandelay clan, the better Rhys understood how Sarena’s perception of time and future was so different from his own. She lived in an entirely different world, a world within a world, and had learned through trial and error and observation how to survive its tribulations. Proudfoot knew what it was like not to count on a particular future, but the benefit to his profession (however dangerous) was that there was always an endgame, always a final goal to achieve. To keep one’s sights set on that purpose meant that a future was possible, that there was perpetually a next step to take—and not getting there was simply not an option. Conversely, for Sarena, each day presented itself as a mystery, with the only target being that of waking, alive, the following morning.

Cradling the cigarette between his lips, he quirked a brow as the young woman concluded her response and stepped before him, stopping him with her hands square on his shoulders. “And here I thought I could get away with not going,” he said with a teasing grin, the smoking white cylinder bobbing as he spoke. He reached up after one final puff, tossing the ashes to the ground and extinguishing it beneath his polished shoe. “At least I look presentable, yeah?” He spread his arms. For a moment, with her hands still propped upon his shoulders and much to his surprise, he had to fight the urge to wrap her in a friendly embrace. Instead, he reached up to run his fingers through his hair, smoothing the unruly locks and heaving a more serious sigh.

“Thanks. I’ll let you know how it goes,” he promised, lifting his bandaged hand in a single curt wave. He took a few backward steps in the opposite direction, continuing to face her as she wished him luck. “If I live to tell the tale,” the spy added lightly, at last turning around when Sarena disappeared around the corner at the end of the block. Suddenly alone with his thoughts and uncertainties—normal, he reasoned, for having to meet with the notorious head of an international crime operation after killing a good number of his men—he picked up his pace, hailing a generic canary cab at the end of the block and speeding off to the Vandelay headquarters.

Neither of the guards at the lobby door seemed to be expecting him. They were the same men from the day he’d had his first meeting with Colstorm and Gustave, he noted, and it was clear that they recognized Rhys; their shocked faces were simultaneously a comfort and a concern. Checking his Beretta at the door, the former field operative slipped into the elevator and returned once more to the stuffy, antiquated office chambers on the penthouse level.

“The name is Proudfoot,” Rhys said at the desk, before the frail, bored-looking secretary could demand his information.

“I don’t believe Mr. Vandelay is expecting you,” the woman said, narrowing her eyes as she looked up from her filing. “He doesn’t have any appoint—”

“No,” the red hand confirmed icily, the leftover frustration from the previous night’s ambush finding him again. “I don’t believe he would be.” He cleared his throat, choosing his approach carefully. “But please let him know I’m here, if you would. I will wait.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Nov 14, 2014 12:42 pm
by Requiem
And wait, he did.

With a sour look, the thin secretary pursed her lips, index finger pressing a button on her desk to alert Gustave over intercom that an impromptu appointment awaited him. The man did not acknowledge, leaving both Rhys and the confused woman to wonder if he would allow his new red hand the time of day on such short notice. The occasional bout of boistrous laughter from behind a closed door indicated his presence and current engagement in what was likely a phone call, considering that no one had come and gone from his office in over an hour.

Which was as long as the red hand was kept waiting, until a speaker embedded in the admin assistant's desk buzzed. The woman raised her penciled eyebrows in a look of bewilderment, before turning her attention to Proudfoot. "Guess you caught him on a good day," she muttered, and returned her attention to the computer screen. "Well, potentially, at least. Go on in; we'll see how far his tolerance stretches by whether or not you come out again." By the deadpan quality of her bored voice, she didn't appear to be joking. But the hit man likely already suspected as much, given Sarena's cautionary words, and invitation to call her if he began to panic.

"Go on. Door's unlocked," the secretary prompted, though Rhys likely knew better than to keep the man in the other room waiting. Sure enough, the head of the infamous New York Vandelay sect sat behind his expansive mahogany desk, appearing relatively unoccupied and available for an impromptu visit from a not-so-unexpected guest. Though late into his 50s, Gustave's hair remained predominantly free of grey, medium brown tresses accented with white only at his temples. Had Rhys not known what the man was capable of, his relaxed posture and easy smile might have made him come across as a kind and approachable grandfather type.
But, again, the red hand knew better.

"Afternoon, Mr. Proudfoot." he greeted, gesturing for his newest employee to take a seat across from him. "How very nice to see you. Apologies for the wait; by all means, have a seat." The invitation seemed casual and nonthreatening, until the door closed and locked behind Rhys, either by some automatic mechanism or by the hand of the secretary. Regardless, Gustave was seemingly all too willing to talk, and reluctant to have the man leave before he personally declared the close of their pending conversation.

Whether or not it was to the red hand's surprise, as soon as he took a seat, the powerful leader of the Vandelay family, and the father of Rhys' coy new companion began the exchange, without no inquiry into the hit man's visitation. He'd been expecting him.
"I am not being facetious, by the way; I am very pleased to see you alive and intact. All of that confrontation, and you only come away with a scraped palm... I am impressed, Mr. Proudfoot."

Picking up a lit cigar that had been balancing on the edge of a crystalline ashtray, the Vandelay leader inhaled on it deeply before setting it back down. Already, the glaring differences between the man and his heir were apparent: although the two seemed to share the same easy confidence (feigned or otherwise), Gustave held a cigar like he recognized and enjoyed its luxury. Sarena's fingers fumbled for and held a cigarette like she didn't know what else to do, and was, without them, at a loss. "You're a smart man, Proudfoot. I suppose I don't need to tell you that everything you encountered last evening was a move on my part. Don't take offense; I simply needed to know if you were worth the investment.

"And, sure enough, you did not disappoint." A grin, qualitatively different from his daughter's coy, trademark smile, tugged on his thin lips. "Fischer was a pawn, and an idiot. His incompetence has been getting on my nerves, and I figured it would serve me well to kill two birds with one stone. Now he's out of my way, and I'm convinced you know what you're doing. Now, Colstorm, on the other hand..." Gustave paused, belting out a terse laugh at the twitch of discomfort that crossed Rhys' face at the mention of the very man who'd hired him. "Relax, my good man. Colstorm was only the other half of this little test. Certainly, he was loyal and reliable, but I've come to realize that he knew too much, even for a man of his stature. Even in my best employees, I can't risk them knowing all that I know, so I've been contemplating his replacement for a while. Which brings me back to you..."

Tapping ashes and embers into the ashtray, Gustave's dark eyes settled on the red hand with curiosity and satisfaction. "We don't know each other very well, and I still find myself hesitant to confide too much in you, Mr. Proudfoot. But some sources have alerted me to the fact that my daughter was caught up in your shenanigans last night, and that I have reason to believe she still draws breath, thanks to you." The man's smile turned temporarily uneasy, likely at the thought of what might have happened, had his new hit man not reacted in time. But the uneasiness was gone as soon as it registered on his face, and he leaned forward, clasping his hands on the broad expanse of his expensive desk. Close enough that Rhys could smell the faint fragrance of cologne on his collar. "Let me be frank and save us both time: I am almost convinced that I can trust you, Mr. Proudfoot. And if it turns out that I can, I would like to offer you Colstorm's position. But there is one last thing that I need you to do for me before I can be convinced that you are the right person for the job."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Nov 15, 2014 12:45 am
by Astrophysicist
Rhys was not bothered by waiting. While it was often dangerous to be alone with one’s thoughts before a meeting of any intensity, the former field operative knew exactly how to occupy his mind in order to keep worry at bay. It was a technique he often used to battle his anxieties in the long aftermath of Tribeca-Antioch, one that he’d learned through the agency as a way to keep his focus in check. It was all about analyzing the mission—or, in this case, the treatment and survival of a meeting with arguably the world’s most influential crime lord—running scenarios through his head on repeat in order to be prepared for anything the interview might bring.

Compared to his mental state prior to meeting with Murphy Colstorm, Rhys Proudfoot was a different man. Where he’d been jumpy and pale and on high alert before his tentative hire, this time around—when the stakes were higher, even—he showed little outward sign of distress. Impeccably dressed, briefed by the man’s own daughter, and armed with the irritation of Gustave’s cruel tests, the red hand was the quintessential picture of calm. Even his posture, with his thrown-back shoulders and folded hands, spun a tale of absolute confidence. No one would ever have suspected his meltdown the previous evening. And that was precisely how he needed it to be.

Rhys needed no additional prompting when the automated door system clicked open and allowed him entry; the birdlike secretary returned to her computer with disinterest, and her repeated words fell on deaf ears. He was greeted with a sight entirely like what he had expected: the well-kempt man tucked behind a vast expanse of antique desk, his walls lined with towering bookshelves to match the conference room. The air was thick and perfumed with musk and cigar smoke; the afternoon sun pierced through the suspended haze in majestic beams to the plush oriental carpet.

“Mr. Vandelay,” he greeted in response, his tone steely and businesslike, but not altogether unpleasant. With his anxiety in check, he lowered himself to one of the plush armchairs opposite the mafia emperor. For the time being, he was back at ease as the operative he had been prior to the incident; every mode of his own presentation was calculated, considered. “I confess that I am also pleased to see you, considering my alternative.” He smiled lightly, mirroring the dark-haired man’s expression. “I knew it had to be a higher orchestration than what Fischer and his men were capable of. They were more happy to have a trigger at their disposal than they were actually trigger-happy, if you know what I mean.”

The former spy’s smile faded, however, as Sarena’s father continued. To his dismay, the man laughed good-naturedly at Rhy’s reaction of unease. “That’s not exactly the response I thought I’d get from a man whose right-hand serviceman just bled out from the bullet wound I put in his chest,” he admitted, narrowing his eyes with suspicion. Gustave continued to smile, however, and the former spy relaxed. “Not that he gave me much choice. The troubling thing is that it didn’t seem to matter that your daughter was in his line of fire.” Rhys sighed as easily as though they were discussing unfavorable weather. “Maybe it’s for the best that he suffered the consequences,” he added coolly.

It was, of course, for the best—for all parties involved, with the exception of the departed. Even factoring in his episode, it had afforded Rhys the opportunity to spend time with Sarena (neither event of which would be mentioned to Gustave, of course), and as an added bonus, the planet was rid of a despicable, bloodthirsty mob thug that apparently no one wanted around anyway, despite his reputation. What the former operative had not anticipated was the hint at a job offer to replace the fellow who had so recently fallen. Rhys managed to crack a smile despite the growing seed of discomfort in his gut, and he swallowed away the lump in his throat.

“Assuring you that I’m trustworthy won’t do much to ease your mind, I know,” he said smoothly, his cadence perfectly casual. “So I won’t waste your time. But I can promise you I will do my best to fulfill whatever duties you might choose to assign me.” He spread his hands. “All you have to do is read me in.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Nov 15, 2014 1:34 am
by Requiem
"Excellent. I thought you'd see it that way." Gustave Vandelay reclined slightly in his chair, tapping more ashes into the small crystal dish to his right. "And before it crosses your mind--and perhaps it already has--allow me to reassure you that, no, I don't simply do away with everyone who's ever taken a position such as Colstorm's. I had a feeling about him, I guess you could say. And considering he was ready and willing to kill my own daughter and likely try to make it out as an accident, well... If that doesn't emphasize the power of a gut feeling, then I don't know what does.

"But I can guarantee you, Mr. Proudfoot, that if your loyalties do not grow strings which might ultimately attach to other ideal and designs, then you'll find the protection of the Vandelay sect to be far beyond satisfactory. Keep that in mind, and I think you'd become quite comfortable in this new position." Although Rhys was likely already aware, the tone of the crime leader's voice indicated that the offer was, in and of itself, rhetorical. Gustave was not offering him a job; he wasn't even handing it to him. As soon as that bullet had entered Colstorm's heart not twenty-four hours ago, the man's position had been forced upon the red hand before he'd even realized it. The man across the desk wasn't even prepared for him to decline, because he knew Rhys wasn't stupid enough to do so.

Without a word of warning, the broad-shouldered man stood and made his way to the other end of the expansive office, towards a buffet-style cabinet with clean, crystalline glasses, and bottles of amber liquid. "Whiskey? You strike me as a whiskey type of man." Again, it wasn't an question. A tumbler glass half-filled with strong hard liquor was placed in his hands before he had time to reply. "Anyway. Before we move a little too fast, here, there is one small issue I'd like you to take care of before we sort out the paperwork. Probably for the best; it would be bad form to officially replace Muprhy before rigor mortis has set in, hm?"

Suddenly, it was as if the air in the room had gone from lukewarm to cold. As soon as Gustave took a seat, posture rigid and eyes determined, Rhys could bet that he wouldn't be seeing the man so much as smirk until he spoke his piece. "Here's the thing, Mr. Proudfoot; I've lied to you. Fischer was not your mark, and I led you to believe that you could trust Colstorm. But the assignment I gave you was not fabricated. I have caught wind of the possibility that there's a rat among us, particularly one with access to this very estate. Apparently the CIIO has been keeping a close eye on my youngest brother, and they've gotten their hands on details that no one who isn't an insider should have access to. I think you can appreciate why this is a concern; sometimes, all it takes is apprehending one pawn, and suddenly every move we make puts us in check. 

"So I trust I need not elaborate on the severity of this matter. I don't care what you have to do, who you have to kill, or how many. Do you understand, Mr. Proudfoot?" Gustave's eyes, hard and determined, never once broke contact with Rhys'. The man meant business in the most dire of ways. "For all I know, this rat could have Vandelay blood in their veins; and I don't care. If it comes to that, and means keeping the rest of us safe, then I am giving you leave to do what you need to do; no hesitation, no exceptions. Is this perfectly clear?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Nov 15, 2014 7:02 pm
by Astrophysicist
The whiskey burned a smooth path down his throat as he tipped back the crystal glass.

I have caught wind that there is a rat among us.

All the fine amber scotch in the world could do nothing to ease the fist of horror that suddenly clenched the red hand’s heart.

If Gustave had done his research—and Rhys could be certain that he, or at least someone under his employ, had—then the man was fully aware of his new hire’s past involvement with Double Eye. With his impeccable record as a gun-for-hire and his extensive background in espionage, the wavy-haired young man was the perfect candidate to weed out an informant amongst the Vandelay ranks. Gustave had struck proverbial gold in his discovery of Rhys Proudfoot, and in turn, Rhys should have found comfort, honor, and excitement in such a challenge. The mafia man was absolutely right to put his faith in the former spy.

Because Rhys already knew exactly who he sought.

Calmly, he finished off the last of the fine whiskey and arched his brows at the Vandelay leader. “Understood,” he confirmed with a curt nod, leaning forward to place his empty glass on the desk between them. The red hand was all cool business on the exterior, but his mind was aflame with the shock of the man’s words. “I will treat this situation with the utmost care. I trust I am to operate under the guise of Colstorm’s temporary replacement, so as not to make the double agent—or anyone else in your ranks—suspicious?” He lifted his shoulders in a shrug, expression serious. “I will take on whatever role makes the most sense to explain my presence to your employees. That part won’t be a problem.”

He pursed his lips, willing his pulse to slow as it throbbed painfully against his temples. “This may take some time to complete, as I’m sure you already realize. The CIIO chooses its agents carefully, and obviously one of the criteria is a propensity to keep secrets under pressure.” Rhys sighed lightly, as though annoyed by the agency’s policies. “But I will do what it takes. At your command.”

When Gustave rose to his feet and reached across the desk to offer Rhys his hand, the former spy clasped it tightly with his uninjured palm. “We will be in touch,” he confirmed, smiling crookedly as he met the older man’s gaze. There was confidence in the mobster’s eyes—self-assurance, naturally, but also a faith in Rhys that the young man had not witnessed since working with Marionetti. Unnerved, he nodded to mask his unease and left through the electronic wooden doors.

As soon as he stepped out of the antediluvian office and into the equally antiquated corridor, his living footfalls on the carpet sealed his unspoken contract with the inner circle of Vandelays. The weight of what had transpired hit him all at once, and he gulped in several deep breaths of fresh spring air as soon as he retrieved his gun and departed the Vandelay tower. With it came a new wave of anxiety, one that had not been present in his meeting until Gustave defined his mission. He climbed into the back seat of his hailed cab and reached up between his collar bones—skin unexpectedly meeting skin where an irregularly-shaped brass necklace normally hung on a silver chain. His heart skipped a beat with sudden distress.

Sarena. It had to be in her bathroom, resting on the marble beside the sink.

Focusing on the necklace, even temporarily, meant that he could ignore the promises he’d made to Gustave. His fingers dialed Sarena’s number as the taxi pulled up to his hotel, and he tossed a handful of bills at the driver while the fluttering tone of a ringing phone echoed in his ear.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Nov 15, 2014 7:59 pm
by Requiem
"I knew I was not making a mistake to invest in you, Mr. Proudfoot." Gustave chuckled, rising from his seat. "You are correct in your assumption. To the rest of the estate, my family included--well, my family, especially--Colstorm is as good as replaced. Play your cards right, and we won't have to keep it up as a guise for very long. After all, I can't go about my business without someone reliable to fill a position such as what he'd possessed. Keep me in the know regarding your progress; you know how to contact me, and for the time being, my door is wide open to you. No need to make an appointment... although it appears as though appointments really aren't you style, anyway."

With a steady smirk downed the amber liquid in the tumbler at his fingertips, and stood from his leather desk chair. "I'll let you get on with your assignment." Stretching his arm across the expanse of his desk, Gustave clasped Rhys' hand, his grip too firm to come across as friendly. "One thing, though, Mr. Proudfoot. While you succeeded to pass my little trials, you are still very much in the midst of a probationary period, in terms of where you stand among my ranks. Try not to get too comfortable, quite yet."

Releasing the young man's grasp, he watched with amusement as his premium new red hand maintained a very convincing air of confidence and nonchalance as he took his leave of the office. There was more to him than he was clearly willing to divulge, and he had a hunch that something less durable lay behind his deadpan, rough-skinned exterior.
Rhys could only be left to hope that Gustave Vandelay never discovered the pressure points to which he strived not to draw attention. And about which the man's daughter was already very much aware.

---

Two hours, and no phone call. 
There was no way to interpret Sarena's lack of correspondence with her father's new red hand, from the moment they'd parted earlier in the day. She had no way of knowing how quickly he made it to speak with Gustave, whether he'd taken a bullet to the brain too fast to speed-dial her cell, or whether he was still negotiating with the infamous mafia leader. All the heiress was at liberty to do was wait, which didn't sit well with an impatient personality such as her own.

She was halfway through a glass of white wine, lying horizontal on a settee up against the grandest window in her living room with a journal and pen hovering above her face when the cell phone buzzed against the hard wood floors.

Forgetting her activity almost immediately, Sarena flung the book and pen underneath the settee, nearly upsetting the crystal glass on the arm of the expensive sofa. "Rhys?" Five seconds; that was how long she decided to give him to respond. If no reply came, then she had to assume he'd dialed her out of desperation and for fear of his life. To her relief, the hit man's familiar tenor filled the airwaves to her eardrum, expelling a breath from her lungs that she hadn't realized she was holding.

To the "Sarena?" that echoed simultaneously with her articulation of his name, she replied, "Yes; not the one and only, but the most remarkable, I can guarantee." Her words hinted at the smile that tugged at the corners of her mouth. "I take it all went well with his Majesty? Considering you're not de--what? Oh..." Before she realized what she was doing, the Vandelay daughter's fingers reached down the collar of her shirt, coming into contact with a charm and a chain. "Yeah, you left it here. A little careless for someone who's a spy, if you ask me. It could--"

The red hand's frantic voice interrupted her again. On any other occasion, and with any other person, she'd have been indignant and offended. But as a special opportunity unfolded before her, her spirits brightened a bit. "You can't come by the building; the cops are still here, and visitors aren't allowed until tomorrow, when the crime scene's all processed and cleaned up," she told him, at his curiously strong desire to retrieve his lost necklace right away. "I'd go meet you, somewhere, but I was just about to take a nap. Nothing personal, but I think I'd like a night free of the rollercoaster that is your life, Rhys Proudfoot.

"But... if your schedule tomorrow evening happens to be clear, I might be able to arrange something." Sitting up, the brunette raked her fingers through her long locks. "Are you familiar with Reflections Cabaret? It's only a five minute drive from my place, on 12th. Once a month they throw very nice, exclusive parties by invitation only. Patrons are allowed one guest; how about I give them your name, and you can meet me there. The cocktails at the bar are to die for."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Nov 15, 2014 9:22 pm
by Astrophysicist
“Former spy,” Rhys shot back over the phone, cradling the device between his ear and shoulder as he dug for his wallet and retrieved the key card that granted him access to his hotel room. He heaved a great sigh as the light on the reader flashed red. He tried again, this time more slowly. 

“I shouldn’t have to remind you that last night was pretty unusual,” he continued once he was safely behind the thick closed door. Contrary to the cool ease to his tone in Gustave’s office, the former operative’s voice was terse now, his enunciated syllables laced with desperation that would not go unnoticed by Sarena. It was not solely the absence of his necklace that inspired his agitation, but it was the most convenient thing with which to be angry—something simple, something easily remedied. He could not back out of Gustave’s offer, or even the man’s trial-run test that mandated he kill the very woman with whom he spoke on the telephone presently.

Gritting his teeth, he placed his bandaged hand over his sternum, where the odd piece of jewelry typically hung hidden beneath the fabric of his clothing. Running his fingertips over its cool, irregular surface was a habit of his he had developed since the day he threaded the silver chain through the strange, half-melted piece of metal and suspended it around his neck. When anxiety threatened or panic lurked, its perpetual presence provided just enough of a tactile distraction to keep the worst of the effects at bay until he could ground himself with something else. He didn’t even think about it anymore; the moment his pulse quickened or his palms began to sweat, he would reach for it.

It was strange to find comfort in a piece of shrapnel, particularly one from the remains of a blast that had taken dozens of innocent lives, including that of his close field partner. When his injuries had healed enough to be unnoticeable, he had flown back to Antakya to revisit the scene, dodging Turkish security and posing as an Australian photographer to document the ruins. Though the worst of the destruction and the largest segments of concrete and rebar had been cleared, the two-block stretch of damage remained an obliterated ghost town, with thick dust and rubble coating bare foundations, collapsed basements, and a charred street. Only with the assistance of prescription medication had he been able to conjure the strength to face it again. But he returned not with closure, as he’d hoped, but rather with a profoundly deepened sorrow—and a piece of shrapnel to wear around his neck as a reminder and a symbol.

“Can’t you just meet me tomorrow somewhere?” he asked, exasperated. He shrugged off his blazer and unbuttoned the stiff white shirt, tossing both garments on the extravagant bed. Sinking to the edge of the mattress at her flagrant response, he covered his eyes with his uninjured hand and shook his head to himself. “All right, all right. Fine.” His acquiescence was due in part to stress, but also entirely because he could hear it in her voice that she would not take no for an answer. He didn’t know her well, but he knew her well enough to recognize that he could not win, if he wanted his necklace back. “I will meet you outside Reflections tomorrow night at nine. Outside,” he repeated firmly. “Don’t bother giving them my name. Clubs like that aren’t really my thing.”

He hung up after she bid a snide, playful farewell, groaning aloud as he tossed his phone to the pillow. This time around, it seemed, his anxiety was manifesting not in fear but rather in attitude. Instead of confronting the roots of his discomfort, when he would be in danger of pushing his worries to full-on panic, he would avoid those particular thoughts altogether—dwelling on the things he could change. Even if it happened to involve the very woman he’d just been hired to slay…

“No,” he said aloud to himself, balling his fists. There had to be another way, another method, another answer. Unless, of course, there wasn’t.

Fail the mission and face dire consequences. Complete the mission and face dire consequences. Kill a budding friend who had proven a valuable resource, then also possibly be killed because it was his employer’s only daughter and heir? Rhys was not opposed to ridding the world of people with whom he had been acquainted; part of his job as an operative for Double Eye had involved befriending targets for potentially lethal action later. But those people had never placed their lips atop his to calm him down during an attack; they had not offered him room and board and coffee; they had not bought him breakfast the next morning over witty banter and philosophical introspection.

He supposed he could kill Sarena Vandelay—as in, he was capable. He was far more skilled than any of the lackeys sent by her stepmother-in-denial, and he’d already been offered a glimpse into her personal life and routine that was likely not afforded to Emilia. It would not be easy, per se, but he was confident he could pull it off. Hell, he had her phone number; he had her address. He could take care of it tonight if he wanted to.

But did he want to? 

As it stood, the answer was definitively no. Annoyed as he was that she refused to return his necklace at any other establishment at any other time, the pleasure he had taken in her company far outweighed the petty games. Then again, to be employed by a man like Gustave Vandelay—or any black-market, deep-web client, for that matter—was to forego his own wants and morals in favor of those belonging to the person behind the cash. To be a red hand was to provide a specific service for unspecific clientele, and he was in no position, especially now, to refuse.

He barely slept that night. Tossing and turning against invasive what-ifs and what-if-nots that alternated with strong pangs of anxiety, his mood was not improved the next morning. When it came time to depart for his meeting with Sarena, nerves exploded in his torso—it would be the first time he’d seen her since the knowledge that she was indeed, after all their teasing, the one for whom his sights searched. Guilt and conflict racked his system as he dressed, donning a pair of denim jeans so dark they could have been black, a deep sapphire cotton button-down, and a well-tailored double-breasted vest.

When he reached the hotel atrium and crossed the lobby, a tall, lanky man stood near the revolving doors with a sign bearing the name R. Proudfoot. He stopped in his tracks. “What’s this about?” he demanded.

“Ms. Vandelay instructed me to drive you to Reflections Cabaret, sir,” the fellow said with a bow so hasty and awkward that Rhys’s testy mood almost gave way to a bitter laugh. Instead, he cleared his throat and frowned.

“Right,” he said curtly. “Let’s go, then.”

He spotted her walking toward the entrance as soon as the driver pulled up to Reflections. "I will be back at midnight to retrieve you and Sa—" the chauffeur said, but the former spy was already exiting the vehicle.

Rhys emerged from the sleek black Mercedes at the curb of the club, where a roped-off queue of hopefuls had already formed outside the door. Several young women in sparkles and heels watched him with interest as he strode over Sarena, who had beaten him only by a handful of seconds.

“The necklace, please,” he said stiffly, narrowing his eyes. “Then you can go off and have as good a time as you want.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Nov 15, 2014 11:31 pm
by Requiem
"Fine, fine. Outside.." The mafia daughter agreed with a chuckle. "Meet me there tomorrow night, I'll bring your pretty necklace, and I promise you'll walk away with it, safe and sound."
What she had not mentioned, however, was when the red hand would be departing with his property. But for now, she decided to let him believe he wouldn't be taking part in drinks and dancing under psychedelic blacklighting and strobe. Once again, Sarena Vandelay was accustomed to getting what she wanted. And tomorrow night, she wanted to dance with her father's fascinating new employee. Hell, it would probably be to the former spy's benefit to get out and let loose.

A thought that she articulated, just before he hung up. "I hope you'll reconsider your stance on clubs. I think it'd be good for you to see it from the inside; you know that dancing releases serotonin, right? Good for people who suffer from anxiety... anyway. I'll let you think on it. Hope you don't feel too lonely tonight."
Blowing a playful, audible kiss into her phone's receiver, Sarena hung up, feeling the lightness of victory as she reclined on her couch, the contents of her wine glass warming her down to her fingertips as she downed the remainder of expensive white wine.

Not uncommon for most women, the crime daughter spent no small amount of time preparing herself to grace the public at Reflections Cabaret the next evening. Smoothing her hair with merciless brush strokes to have it all silky and straight down her back, accenting her eyes with mascara and her lips with a matte red balm that would only come off with harsh exfoliation, she was determined to give the red hand incentive to stay and enjoy the party with her. Not that she intended to allow him to walk away with his necklace in hand so easily, but if she held him there against his will, the least she could do was make her soft appearance even easier on the eyes.
The man might have had issues, but it wasn't as though he couldn't appreciate good aesthetics. 

Hours after darkness fell, Sarena had a cab sent to the hit man's hotel, as a gesture of good faith that she'd make it easy on him so long as he didn't break his promise. Only on pain of death did men stand Sarena Vandelay up; and Rhys was smarter than that.
Catching her own cab just a few blocks down, the heiress--clad in red from her lipstick, to her trendy spaghetti-strapped dress to her high heels--was quick to scan the crowd of people gathered between the red ropes, as well as those standing off to the side. No sign of her favourite red hand yet, and considering she hadn't exactly given him a time, she hoped he hadn't arrived early and left, feeling stood up, himself.

"Don't take off until you see me go inside," she instructed her cab driver, before climbing out the back of the vehicle and making her way to Reflections' doors. 
Her heeled feet stopped in their tracks when she spotted a familiar form, all clad in shades of blue that accentuated his eyes.

A grin helplessly tugged at the corner of her mouth as she sauntered towards him, tugging at a white scarf around her neck. "What's the rush? Nice to see you too, by the way." The scarf came away in her hands, to reveal the red hand's necklace, its charm sitting perfectly in the dip between her clavicles. "I promised you'd get your necklace back. I just didn't say when. Indulge me a little, will you? I'll even buy you a drink."
Before he had a chance to reply, the devilish brunette laced her fingers through Rhys', and gently tugged him towards the doorway. As soon as the bouncers saw her face, neither of them was met with any resistance when they cut the line and stepped out of the chill of the early spring evening.

Reflections was aglow with whites and blues and pinks, decorated sparsely save for its entrancing show of colour and light. It caught the whites of the tiny pearl studs, adorning Sarena's ears, as she flashed her companion a reassuring grin on their way to the bar, after checking her coat and scarf at a designated spot for outerwear. Tricks of texture and light made the shiny surface appear as though it were not solid, but instead, a gently rippling stream.

"Relax, Proudfoot," the heiress leaned in to speak over the music and into Rhys' ear. "Why don't you attempt something wild and actually enjoy yourself? I think you deserve to celebrate that big, fat promotion you just got." Before flagging down the bartender, she added, "Word travels fast--when you know how to pick up on it. Though my father seemed pretty eager to announce you're in training to be Colstorm's replacement."
By her nonchalant and overall relaxed demeanor, what she didn't appear to know is the very nature of Rhys' training. Or that his promotion hinged on her own death.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Nov 19, 2014 10:45 pm
by Astrophysicist
The loud music and the strobe lights were not what Rhys Proudfoot was opposed to when he claimed his dislike of the club environment. He had always been fond of music, with his tastes spanning the full melodic gamut; music had always been a part of his life. In the years since Tribeca-Antioch, he had also used it regularly to keep his anxieties in check, self-medicating with ear-shattering tunes that forced him to focus on the melodies and rhythms instead of his own swelling panic. The audial beat conflicted with his heartbeat until his pulse gave in to the steady march of the external meter, calming him—or at least keeping the physiological response of his attack from intensifying.

No, what the former spy did not like were the memories. European clubs, particularly those in the Eastern region of the continent, had gained popularity amongst both upper and lower class citizens during Rhys’s multiple stints there with Double Eye. The bizarre divide in social stature manifested not as it did in the United States or even in Western Europe, where upscale establishments like Reflections Cabaret catered to the wealthy while grimier businesses in less desirable districts served the poor; rather, members of both tribes attended the very same premises. The extreme disconnect created a fascinating environment for an observer, but an incredibly difficult scenario for a spy, who was unable to find footing on the middle ground without giving himself away to either side. Rhys had had a number of close calls in those clubs, but it was not any particular trauma that had turned him off of the places. Mostly he was just tired of navigating the social strata. That, and it was exhausting to be on one’s guard in such crowded, overstimulating, and unpredictable territory.

So when the former field operative found himself being dragged past the door-tenders and deep into the bowels of the modern bar, he pursed his lips and heaved a sigh, ignoring the mean looks of envy from those left standing outside. He took a seat next to Sarena at the bar, masking a frown of discontent as she perched on the stool next to him. She looked stunning, he realized then; clad head to toe in crimson, complete with her lips in a scarlet smirk, and she practically shimmered in the expensive ethereal lighting that streamed in shifting torrents from the lights behind the bar. Despite himself, he cracked a crooked smile—one that was, at its core, laced with conflict. It was at once appropriate and painfully ironic that she should have chosen such a color that night, when the promotion she claimed to be celebrating on his behalf was contingent on her own demise—red, like so much blood, like the stains she’d taken out of his starch white button-down, like the droplets that had spattered across his face in the alley when he sealed his fate as Colstorm’s replacement.

“Maybe I’ll leave the ‘enjoying’ bit to you,” he said, wrapping his fingers around a short glass of amber scotch that the bartender dropped off. He watched her gaze, noted when she looked away and where—there, in the three seconds she focused on the bartender striding past. Poison in the glass, undetectable, untraceable. She would never see, never suspect. The thought troubled him more than it should have for a man tasked with actually completing such an action. He cleared his throat, angling his shoulders toward her as he swirled the ice cubes against the crystal. “Right now, I just want to drink. And get my necklace back, by the way.”

He reached out, the motion slow enough so as not to lead her to believe he would actually take it, his fingers gently brushing the skin between her collarbones as he picked up the small bead of shrapnel. Her neck, slender and exposed, was vulnerable then—an easy target for his hands to wrap around, for a quick motion of his arms to rotate her skull quickly and violently enough to snap her spine. She had let him in; she would never expect it. Expressionlessly, his hand still cradling the necklace, he looked up to meet her blue eyes, unaware that he had leaned in quite close to her, and that she had mirrored his gesture. Her perfume drifted to his nostrils. One quick slash to her carotid with a broken piece of glass…

“You know what?” he said suddenly, sitting upright and taking the rest of his scotch in one large swallow. His hand dropped back to his lap, making no attempt to take the piece of jewelry from her neck. “Maybe I could use some fun.” He sighed quietly, the exhale lost in the thump of the music that only seemed to be increasing in volume. What he could use was a distraction—something to keep his thoughts from ways he could murder her. Something to keep him from thinking like the assassin that he had become.

“But we’re going to need a lot more booze than this,” he qualified, expression lightening somewhat. Countering his next point, he smiled. “If you’re up for the challenge of getting me to have a good time, then be my guest, Ms. Vandelay. Just be prepared for the I-told-you-so when we leave here and I’m still frowning.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Nov 19, 2014 11:39 pm
by Requiem
Determined though he might have been to remain in a sour state of mind, Sarena didn't buy it for a second. Sure, he might have been perturbed due to her reluctance to relinquish his necklace the other day, when he'd first noticed it was missing--but he wasn't the toughest egg she'd ever cracked, and a little but of alcohol could go a long way. Were she privy to the true nature of the thoughts that were drawing creased on his forehead and his mouth into the tightest of smiles, however, she might not have been so laissez-faire about returning the property that was rightfully his. 

"You'll get your necklace back; I promise. It's not really my preferred style of jewelry, anyway." The heiress assured him, leaning back the moment his hand withdrew from the peculiar bead hanging in the hollow between her collarbones. Its absence left her feeling curiously cold. "Just indulge me, won't you? As soon as you walk out of here, every creeper this side of the city will be trying to buy me drinks. You're safe here, with me, and I'm safer with you." If only she had any clue as to the twisted nature of that very belief, given the possibility that--ironically--the presence of her father's best hit man wasn't what would keep her safe tonight.

But, whether he intended it or not, Rhys' smile was encouraging. And the crime daughter was more than happy too oblige. "Here's a tip: no one ever walks away, frowning, after partying me me, Mr. Proudfoot." Gesturing for the bartender to refill her companion's glass, she leaned across the bar to seemingly order something for herself; a couple of shots, by the looks of it, though there was something about the way the bartender's fingers were curled around one of the cups, that suggest the transaction included more than met the eye. "Ever try your hand at tequila? It's my drink of choice if it's a buss I'm looking for."

Sliding one of the shot glasses his way, Sarena raised her own to him in acknowledgement before downing its contents in a single mouthful--and, impressively, without a chaser. "Look; we could sit here for hours trying to 'have a good time' because alcohol is diluting our judgement. If you want my advice, the best way to enjoy yourself isn't by dulling your frontal lobes." To clarify the direction she was taking the conversation, the brunette leaned in closer and opened her palm atop the bar, situating her body at such an angle that only Rhys could see the two tiny, blue pills that sat innocently atop the pale pink of her unmarred flesh.

"You just have to ask for the right stuff at the bar; and be the right person," she continued, arching a brow as she watched the red hand frown at her generous offer. "Relax--the stuff here is clean, I promise. I've walked away more fucked up by alcohol than their off the menu items." To prove the goods were safe, Sarena took one of the identical blue pills and placed it on her tongue. It was gone, dissolved or swallowed, by the time she spoke again. "Loosen up, Proudfoot; I promised you 'fun', didn't I?"

Her crimson smile stretched into a contented grin when her company relented and took the last pill from her palm. Whatever was eating him today must have been critical, considering how little convincing it had taken. Then again, it wasn't rare for someone with a panic condition as enhanced as his to already be acquainted with self-medicating.
"Come on. This stuff is wasted if all you do is sit around." Without asking, the Vandelay heiress lowered herself from the bar stool and took him by the hand, urging him to follow suit. The preliminary effects of the drug were already evident in the sparkling of her blue eyes. "I want to dance."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Nov 21, 2014 9:00 pm
by Astrophysicist
“Really, Sarena?” he pronounced with mock incredulity, his expression indicating that he was not at all surprised to see two round blue pills in the young woman’s palm. He watched as she tossed back the tequila and popped the capsule in her mouth. Hesitating—because all he could think was, what if it’s a bad pill that kills her?, not even that he himself might be at risk as well—he took a beat before scooping up the drug and throwing it to the back of his throat. With his opposite hand, still sore but no longer bandaged, he washed the recreational substance down in one fell swoop of potent tequila. “I’m no stranger to tequila,” he said, his face remarkably relaxed in the burning aftermath of the shot. “I could keep going all night.”

An exaggeration, perhaps, but not by much—he was a practiced enough drinker that even the hardest of liquors took time and quantity to have the desired effect. Neither was he a stranger to recreational drugs; sometimes it was all he could do to obtain a temporary reprieve from his troubles, when his anxieties ran so strong that he wondered if he were legitimately going mad. That said, it had been some time since his PTSD had forced his hand to such extreme methods, and as such he was almost surprised at how quickly the pill was doing its job. As he eased himself from the stool and allowed his companion to lead him to the dance floor, his footsteps grew lighter, softer, until he was not striding alongside the mafia daughter but rather floating ahead, he leading her as he repositioned his hand within her slender fingers.

While the bar side of Reflections Cabaret had comprised mostly of people sitting and talking and drinking, the opposite end of the establishment was reserved for dancing. They passed through the archway that marked the divide, and they collided with a wall of deafening sound that was almost visible with the assistance of the blue pill. The DJ stood on a platform like a king above a writhing mass of subjects, his fortress consisting of towers of expensive amplifiers that were decked in splatters of glowing paint under the ultraviolet backdrop. Lights suspended from the ceiling flashed and swirled to the beat, while pink, orange, and blue lasers swiveled from platforms mounted to the walls.

Rhys, his blue eyes twinkling wildly in the flashes of the strobe, gave Sarena a pointed wink before he dove into the crowd with the mafia daughter in tow. The scent of perfume was thick in the air, and the heat of other bodies surrounded them like an embrace. He turned around suddenly to face his companion, who was already succumbing to the steady, thunderous bass that vibrated the very molecules of the air.

The spy stood still for a long moment. He could feel the music infiltrating his blood stream in warm, syrupy tendrils of treble, sweetening and relaxing muscles that were so often used for violence. And soon enough, with the transition of the song, he was moving with her, his limbs animated by the sound in ways that had nothing to do with fights or self-defense—purely for the sake of movement, for spontaneity, for entertainment.

They danced together with increasing fervor, flashing smiles and smirks in successions as quick as the blinding flashes of strobe above. They swayed together and apart and together again with the pull of the electronic melodies, and Rhys wrapped her in his arms for several beats before relinquishing her to her own wiles once more.

The night had only just begun, and already Rhys was already as lost as he’d hoped to be…and lost, no less, with the only person with whom he wanted to be lost.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Nov 21, 2014 9:46 pm
by Requiem
Skilled as she was at reading people, even Sarena Vandelay made mistakes. By the tone of the red hand's voice on the phone the other day, she'd been half-convinced that he wouldn't show at all; and, when he did, she'd expected resistance as she'd dragged him all the way to the bar. Instead, her endeavour had only earned her a frown and the most passive of petulance on Rhys' part. And he'd been so quick to cave to her mechanisms, on one hand, she couldn't help but wonder if he was playing to an ulterior motive.
But he couldn't be; he wouldn't dare plot against her when he was to become a permanent employee in her father's estate. Rhys was too intelligent for that.

Although, there was always the potential that his 'ulterior motive' had nothing to do with wanting to do her harm. Just as it appeared to have little to do with getting that coveted necklace back, a task on which he had given up far more quickly than she'd have thought.

The contents of the little blue capsule had just begun to take effect when the mafia heiress noticed that she was no longer dragging her hard-to-please companion towards the dance floor, and as instead on the far end of their two-person chain. Scarlet lips curling into an elated grin, she went willingly with the flow and allowed her body to be led to a spot central to the dj, among the throng of writing and undulating bodies, souls already surrendered to the lights and sounds of this visceral escapism. Too crowded to stand out like a sore thumb in light of any danger, Sarena was quick (perhaps foolishly, so) to give her body over to the music like the rest of Reflections' crowd, relishing the feeling of her senses coming more and more alive, one second at a time.

He had never struck her as the type to party in this way; hell, he'd said so much, himself, expressing his dislike for the club scene. And yet, the more time mafia daughter spent around this enigma of a hit man, the more she got to know him, the more she realized how little she knew about him. And wondered if the man knew just as little about himself.

Regardless, Rhys Proudfoot knew how to move on the dance floor as solidly as he knew how to move in a 4-on-1 fight with highly trained men. His sway was synchronous to the beat, movements so fluid that she was prepared to ask him if he'd ever studied dance.
Instead, all the passed her red lips as she tiled her head back was a delighted laugh. Not that anything struck her as particularly amusing, but that the tiny blue capsule had finally opened to the door to that sourceless, endless deluge of bliss. And, once opened, it would only close as soon as her eyes closed for a night of rest.

Sleep, however, was the last thing on her mind. No sooner did she feel the warmth of Rhys Proudfoot's body that Sarena's hands (and mind) let go of whatever inhibition was left, and her fingers wove through the wavy tresses of his thick hair. Perhaps it was just music's beat, pulsing through the floor, climbing into her feet and circulating through her veins, all amplified by the drugs circulating through her system, but as soon as the connection was established, she was loathe to let go. She could feel his heartbeat through his ribcage, only marginally out of sync with the rapid pace of the music, and it drew her closer, close enough that the pale irises of his deep-set eyes struck her. Close enough that she could feel the warmth of his breath only inches away from her face, close enough that she seized an opportunity that she refused to pass up.

Without a second's hesitation, Sarena Vandelay drew her new favourite family employee into her own personal space (provided she harbored such a thing, which was debatable) and her matte, red lips sought his as their bodies swayed in sync--because she could, and no other reason. He wasn't panicking, and maybe she didn't have the right. The thing about those magical blue capsules, though... they made everything right.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Nov 22, 2014 9:18 pm
by Astrophysicist
Rhys was laughing. The giggles escaped his grin in a cascade of uncontrollable merriment, and despite the deep breaths he took as a result of dancing’s physical exertion, he could not seem to stop. The throb of the music’s bass had replaced the rhythm of his heartbeat, and he had become the environment—absorbed by the sweltering heat of ecstatic bodies, drowning in a stream of melodic momentum. He had no choice but to move along with it, letting it inspire him, allowing it to control him in a way even his tremendous anxiety could not afford. Never did he give in to panic without a fight; it was a feeling he refused to please, a sensation he battled claw and tooth to keep at bay. Here, however, with Sarena moving so freely next to him in a sea of light and dark and hard and soft, her cherry smile liquid in its smooth brilliance, he waved that white flag as wildly as he wove his limbs through the fog-filled air. He was free.

He wrapped her in his arms again, and together they swayed in perfect synchronicity to the beat, their bodies aligning from knees to shoulders. To anyone in observation, the two moved in such perfect harmony that they would never guess the strange couple had become first acquainted only a handful of days ago, or that barely forty-eight hours prior, they’d been sprayed with blood in back alleys. No, the former spy thought nothing of that; they were hazy, distant memories too far from his mind to grasp. He was too far gone for that, precisely as he’d hoped he would be upon swallowing that little blue pill—and precisely what Sarena had longed to coax from him.

The mafia daughter's eyes were only inches away from his own, and they sparkled with a knowing, hungry gleam in their lovely cerulean depths; it was an expression that spoke of danger and adventure and knowledge, of flushing and secrets and wild, passionate nights. He rolled his head backward against her palm as her fingers wound their way through his wavy hair, moving his neck and shoulders to the music while his hands cradled the small of her back. And when her lips found his—as they had once before—he fell completely still…

…and kissed her back hard, with passion, with all the lingering fire of the past week’s dangers running hot in his blood. With their bodies on pause, he moved his mouth against hers without mercy, without inhibition, and his strong hands pulled her tighter against his chest. Where his veins had been pumped full of adrenaline during their last similar exchange over Colstorm’s exsanguinated corpse, this time it was neither fight nor flight that put the tremor in his fingertips or the rosy blush to his cheeks. This time it was the true influence of Sarena Vandelay—a long-felt physical manifestation of the connection they’d mutually forged from the very first cigarette shared on the balcony.

Had he not needed to resurface for air, Rhys would not have pulled away so quickly. But the music seized him once again as soon as their lips parted, and he found himself laughing again, blue eyes flashing as they caught and held Sarena’s equally wild stare. He might have said something then, or perhaps it was only a thought, but it was lost to the deafening sound to which they moved…and he found instead a better use for his lips—pressing small, staccato kisses to her neck beneath her jaw, planting one anew each time their steps brought them close enough to reach. Her perfume, as alive and palpable and intoxicating as the music, bewitched him as magically as the drug he had ingested.

They were actions and realizations he never would have committed or admitted without the aid of an external substance, and had he the presence of mind to analyze it, he would bet it was the same with the dark-haired heiress. Despite a desire for transparency that they shared, there was always a divide between what was socially acceptable and what should remain private. But with no conscience and little better judgment—and a good chance neither would remember anything concrete the following morning—there was no telling what might happen, and they were already taking advantage of the unhindered bliss.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Nov 23, 2014 2:28 pm
by Requiem
The room, the people, the world fell away as soon as Sarena's ardent kisses were returned, and she found herself engulfed by the heat emanating from the red hand's body, pressed so tightly against her own. The mafia daughter's fingers tightened in his hair, traveled down his neck and squeezed his taut shoulders, consumed as they were with the rampant, wild electricity sparked from the heady chemical reaction between the deadly young woman and the even deadlier man. She'd known the urge was in him, from the moment he'd seized her at the door of her father's study, pistol in hand to exterminate Timmon. Alcohol and mysterious pills didn't change a person; if the predisposition to act wasn't already there, it could not create it out of the blue. Somewhere, deep inside him, past depths that he refused to acknowledged, Rhys Proudfoot yearned for her lips as desperately as she yearned for his.

After all, why else would it have pulled him out of his moment of all-consuming panic? She was willing to bet not just any kiss would have brought him back to reality so effectively.

Backpedaling for air as soon as he did, Rhys' laughter cut through her like a hot knife, sharp but undeniably pleasant, senses not only amplified but wholly attuned to him, down to his very heartbeat. His body had become the music, a contagious phenomena that soon touched her and coaxed her to sway in tandem with her companion. Fingers still hooked meaningfully behind his neck, it was all she could do to fight the way her knees went liquified as she felt his lips on her throat, along her jaw, coaxing a sound caught somewhere between a moan and a sigh to pass her lips. Every kiss was electric, energizing her with pulses that she felt all the way to her fingertips. There was no difference between him and the music, at this point: she'd surrendered herself helplessly to both, and had no inclination to fight either.

Head tilted back, with the hit man still firmly in her grasp, Sarena let the electricity build until it stirred in her until its intensity seized her to a point where she couldn't resist. Hands on the former spy's shoulders, Sarena shoved him backward, against a nearby pillar that glowed like a tall, psychedelic totem pole. The electrons borne of this intoxicating synesthesia calmed only temporarily as her lips sought his again, trailing from his mouth to his neck, where she tugged his collar aside to feel his pulse against her lips. Even his heartbeat had become the music, firm and strong in its rhythm as she pressed her chest to his, feeling it hammer against his ribcage. Perhaps it was that she couldn't tell the music from his pulse from her own pulse, but at that moment she could have sworn their hearts had reached synchrony.

Sarena's kisses trailed from his neck then, finding the palm of his healing hand as she took it in her own, hips still pressing him firm to the psychedelic pillar. That hand, which had suffered injury and yet still pulled the trigger of the gun that saved her life. There was something more meaningful about that than she could ponder, her thoughts surrendered to visceral feelings as they currently were, but a warmth spread to her as her red lips--she had to give credit to the brand of lipstick, which hadn't smeared in the least--gently grazed the healing flesh. It would leave another scar, faint yet remarkable. A scar she had witnessed, that would define another moment in the red hand's life, another marker to define him as he rebuilt his identity, day by day.

And Sarena Vandelay, for whatever reason, wanted to become a part of that identity. Or, at least, she wanted to have an impact on it.

Letting the hand fall gently back to his side, the crime daughter brought her mouth to his ear, murmuring an utterance that her lips failed to communicate to her brain. Whether or not Rhys could hear past the music or was listening at all was beyond her; and, given the high that consumed her mind, it was likely nothing of consequence. Brushing curls away from his forehead, Sarena used the height advantage her red heels lent her and placed a kiss along the scar on his forehead, trailing attention to it down to where it reached his eye. It had fascinated her before, but here--in the music, the light, the energy and the electricity--it struck her as beautiful. Everything about him was beautiful, and she wanted it. She wanted it all.

And there and now, among the throng of undulating bodies and music that cut through her very being in such a way that it existed in the very perspiration that gathered on their skin, given their intimate proximity, nothing could stop her from taking what she wanted. And that was the red hand's undivided attention: everything about him from head to toe, or as far as her lips could claim as her hands grasped his hips, swaying with him at the persuasion of the melody that permeated the air, and her skin, and her very being.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Nov 23, 2014 11:01 pm
by Astrophysicist
Since the first time he set foot across the threshold of Double Eye’s training academy, Rhys Proudfoot had been constantly on his guard, every nanosecond of every day. It was a feeling that came with the territory of the occupation; to be involved in espionage was to become a living embodiment of paranoia, expecting the worst at every possible moment, plotting ways to defend oneself against any manifestation of a threat. Despite his familiarity with self-medication in the wake of his post-traumatic stress disorder, never had he relinquished control so sublimely as he had tonight—never had he allowed himself the freedom to drop all the habits he’d acquired and be more like the man he perhaps could have been in another field.

He squeezed Sarena’s hand as she pushed him against the pillar, and his laughs gave way to a silent, panting smirk as he gazed into her soulful eyes. Receiving each of her increasingly charged touches with an electric shock across the surface of his skin, he found her scarlet mouth again greedily. Whatever shouted taunts might have been thrown their way from jealous onlookers fell on completely deaf ears; Rhys firmly grasped his companion’s shoulders and spun her around, reversing their positions and pressing the crime daughter’s back where his had rested only seconds before. It was his turn to run fingertips through lustrous hair; he combed his uninjured hand through her silky tresses until his palm cradled the back of her skull, and he pulled her closer once again, burying his face against her tender neck as the music swelled on in the background.

The notes of the DJ’s mix pumped through his bloodstream, and he moved against her, mirroring the undulation of her hips and torso. They broke from the temporary pause of the supporting column when the music crested and dropped and sent them into a wild frenzy of movement, pushed apart and pulled back together again with the writhing, otherworldly shift of the crowd surrounding them. Rhys, whose thoughts and presence of mind had been replaced with the raw, carnal sensation of electric melody and rhythm, tugged Sarena’s arm until they broke free of their dance floor comrades, their bubbling laughter lost in the exterior sound as they stumbled toward the archway that led to the exit.

He didn’t remember pushing through the doors, or even the first breath of midnight’s chilly air against his glistening skin, but the sensation of the Vandelay heiress’s lips upon his own sent a new wave of untamed energy through his limbs. The city’s late night chatter became their new soundscape, an unpredictable, feral clash of tires on pavement and grumbling automobile engines and dogs barking from somewhere in the concrete labyrinth. The lifeblood of the city was now synonymous with his own, and he pulled Sarena toward him until his back collided with rough brick.

“Wait,” he might have said, glancing over her shoulder with vibrant, fever-bright blue eyes. “Isn’t that our…?” But it was, and he knew that it was, because he could feel its pistons and sparks driving his heart, could feel the gasoline flooding his veins in a deluge of explosive potential. It was the same black car that had dropped him so reluctantly off at Reflections earlier that evening. The former spy, however astute when he was sober, was in no state now to notice the lanky driver’s embarrassed expression as he opened the back passenger door, unsure whether or not to expect his inebriated charges to climb inside.

Fortunately, the Vandelay chauffeur did not need to prompt his dazed subjects; Sarena looped her fingers in the collar of Proudfoot’s shirt and pulled him eagerly toward the ride, and he tumbled into the back seat after her in a fit of laughter that was only quelled by a kiss to the pulse in her neck.

 

   
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Requiem
(@requiem)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 842
 
by Requiem
There came a point at last, when the drug in her veins reached its peak, that Sarena could no longer discern the source or nature of the sensations flooding her system. The music, the pressure of Rhys' body so close to hers as it moved synchronously with the music, his hands in her hair, his kisses on her mouth... It all spelled one thing, and that was bliss. The bliss brought on by the music, by the pill, by the thrill of the company of a man that amused her, intrigued her, and to whom she begrudgingly owed her life. Every inch of her was so entranced, that she hardly recognized their change in surroundings until the chill of the night air drew goosebumps on her bare arms and shoulders, at which point she sought the red hand's proximity more than ever.

"Yes," the heiress laughed, hands trailing up to the hit man's neck until they looped into the stiff fabric of his collar. With giggles bubbling up from her core, she hauled Rhys forward as she opened the back door of the familiar dark vehicle, her giggles evolving into full out laughter as he practically fell in next to her. The pressure of his lips on her neck was all that could calm the spasming of her diaphragm then and there, and the two lapsed into temporary silence until the young woman spoke up again. "Back to my place, Kristoff. And just a friendly reminder that no one has to know."

"As per the usual, Ms. Vandelay." The driver replied in monotone and shook his head, tires screeching as he pulled away from the curb and swung an illegal U-turn to track the quickest route back to Sarena's condominium complex.

Reclining in the back seat, the Vandelay daughter grinned, glancing sidelong at her companion who mirrored her smile. "What was all that bullshit about not being surprised if you left with a frown?" She teased, raising an arm to trace his lips with a soft fingertip. "'Cause that's a smile, if ever I've seen one. admit it, Mr. Proudfoot, I know how to have fun. And I know how to make certain that my company has just as much fun. Tell me I'm wrong."
It was a rhetorical challenge, of course, as the red hand's glee was written all over his glowing face. 

Not five minutes later, the car pulled up alongside her apartment with another screech of the tires. Seizing Rhys' sleeve, Sarena tugged him out the other side of the back, laughing as the two of them barely caught their footing in time. Her grin now sporting a more faded shade of red lipstick, she guided him in through the front doors, foregoing the staircase in favour of the elevators, for both their sakes. No sooner did the sleek, post-modern doors close that she seized the former spy by the shoulders, capturing his lips in a kiss that lasted until the musical ding indicated they'd reached their floor.

The shiny, red heels on Sarena's feet were forgotten at the door as soon as they made it inside, after she turned to lock it with a final giggle. "I can't tell... if I'm exhausted, or if I want to dance some more." Her blue eyes glittered with mischief as she turned her full attention to her guest, as her lips murmured: "Let's find out."

Grasping the lapels of his fine white shirt, Sarena guided him fifteen paces into her bedroom, refusing to relinquish her hold even as she lowered herself onto her bed, causing him to lose his footing and stumble after her. "So tell me, Rhys," the young woman murmured, lips grazing his jawline, "Are we tired, or should I show you more fun?"
Before he could answer, her lips sought his for the nth time that night--slower, not as desperately as before, both a sign of the energy they had expended they evening, and that the mafia daughter had no intention to make haste in the time she spent with the enigmatic hit man.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Dec 01, 2014 7:51 pm
by Astrophysicist
“It is not a smile,” the red hand insisted, pursing his lips. His indignation shattered to a bright smile as quickly as he’d suppressed the previous grin, and he leaned into his companion playfully with his shoulder as the car took a sharp left turn. “I never smile!”

To his perceptions, which remained blissfully altered with the lingering assistance of the blue pill’s effects, the car was flying rather than rolling down the pavement; the nighttime cityscape outside the tinted window was nothing more than a blur, a stream of hazy lights that could have belonged to any city, anywhere in the world. For the moment, he was not Rhys Proudfoot, or at least not the man he had become; he was someone else, somewhere else, living a life of carefree decadence that had never known worry. With his relaxed posture, easy expression, and warm gleam to his blue eyes, he played the role better than he ever would have imagined sober—to a point where he never would have recognized himself.

Though the full strength of the drug had peaked just prior to their departure from the club, and though his head still swum with residual euphoria as they pulled up to Sarena’s apartment building, he could feel himself coming back to his own body one nerve at a time. As they stumbled out of the black vehicle and pushed through the gilded revolving door, the physical sensations of his limbs returned. He remained suspended in the ecstasy of that middle ground, existing in the strange limbo between inebriation and sobriety—a position held and enhanced by the insistent silken lips of Sarena Vandelay, moving against his own until the elevator’s musical chime interrupted their tactile reverie.

It was under very different circumstances this time that they entered the mafia heiress’s high-rise apartment. With the door latched closed behind them, it took no measure of force to coerce the former spy to the bedroom—even if he, too, had difficulty deciphering whether he wanted to collapse or increase the volume. Despite the remaining influence of the pill, he caught himself with a natural grace akin to the feline fluidity of his dancing as Sarena pulled him to the mattress. He grinned against her mouth as their lips united once more. “I think your turn is over, Ms. Vandelay,” he purred in her ear, relocating his kisses to her neck. “Maybe it’s time I showed you some fun.”

His breaths dissolved to chuckles, but his pace did not increase; rather, they eased together into a calmer, slower rhythm. He positioned himself over her, his left hand once again trailing through her dark tresses, sighing softly against the perfume of her skin as her deft fingers unbuttoned his shirt and vest. And somewhere between the feel of her gentle touch against his skin, the soft brush of her lips, and the fading effects of the drug, his eyelids grew too heavy—and together, just as they had ventured into the night’s sweet ecstasy, they ventured into the night’s sweet slumber.

The eerie vermillion tendrils of a blood red sunrise streamed through the bedroom window, piercing air as still and cold as a mountain lake in the dead of winter. His breaths, steady and even, came in thick white clouds in the subzero chill. For several minutes, he did not move; he simply stood, feet locked on the frost-tipped carpet. The figure in bed was hardly distinguishable from the pile of blankets on the mattress; buried beneath downy quilts and luxurious feather pillows, the only indication that the layered fabric housed a human life was the soft, barely noticeable rise and fall of the sewn squares.

From some other level of awareness, he knew it was unusual to approach his target so brazenly. Open scenes such as this belonged on the silver screen, not in a spy’s repertoire; it was hardly the style of Rhys Proudfoot, who prided himself on his subtlety, on his craft—if murder could be considered as such. Yet here he was, unperturbed. It was his job to follow through, and failure had yet to mar his impeccable record.

The familiar metal suddenly against his palm was bitterly cold, the sensation biting through his bare skin like thousands of needles. The numbness only served to steady his hand, however. He lifted his Beretta, took careful, mechanical aim, and fired…

Once.

The explosion shattered the glass of the window. He watched as the cracks spread in slow motion, painting a spiderweb pattern across the surface before the pieces fell free. A shrieking wind rushed through, polar and raw against his skin.

Twice.

White feathers took flight in a cartoonish whirl as the bullets ripped through the comforter. His target screamed, and the down on the air was misted with red.

Thrice.

The woman, her breaths rattling, threw back her covers and tried in vain to sit upright. Down the short barrel of his pistol, Rhys met familiar blue eyes—blue eyes that were shocked, hurt, pleading, and somehow reassured, all at once. They were Sarena’s eyes. Crimson blood steamed in the frigid air as it seeped from her wounds and trickled from the corner of her mouth. He said nothing, did nothing, just watched as the scarlet stain blossomed from her chest.

A fourth and final shot stole the last clutches of life from her feeble grasp, leaving the steam of his breath to mingle with the final heat of her exsanguinated heart.

He did not wake for what felt like hours—his dream-presence standing over Sarena’s lifeless body, his gun still raised as if to fire again, his soles locked to the floor in robotic, emotionless posture. A voice drew him back to consciousness, unintelligible but feminine. When he opened his eyes, that same cerulean stare greeted him in the dimness—and he was seized with a brief moment of panic before the realization struck that Sarena was alive, well, and at his side. He shivered against the air upon his clammy skin.

"What time is it?" he choked out hoarsely, clenching his eyes closed once more.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Dec 02, 2014 12:28 am
by Requiem
Sarena Vandelay was accustomed to the good quality drugs available at Reflections Cabaret, down to the point where she learned it was best not to search the divide between reality and the sensations her mind struggled to decipher. It was simply more fun not to know (and, more importantly, not to care) about your surroundings and the nature of them as you rode the waves of bliss, up and down until at last they diminished to calm waters and carried you off to blissful slumber. Surely Rhys Proudfoot could understand and appreciate the need to exist in an otherwhere for a short period of time: a portal where Gustave Vandelay and Double Eye didn't matter, didn't even exist. The only entities in the mafia daughter's frame of reference, currently, happened to be that of her own existence, and that of Rhys Proudfoot's.

And in those handful of hours, the combination of drugs, alcohol and company drove her to a high she was convinced she'd never experienced so intensely.

The red hand's purr in her ear directed shivers straight down her spine, a low moan resonating deep in her chest as his electric kisses drove her heart to racing. "Is that a promise?" was all the heiress had time to murmur, before their lips met once again, and her fingers found the buttons of his sharp vest, his crisp, white shirt, the smooth, firm expanse of his shoulders as she eased the garments down his arms... And as firm, warm hands grazed the skin of her thighs, her waist, her ribcage, she began to feel the heavy pull of the drug's finale in her veins, pulling her under the weight of soothing sleep, with Rhys Proudfoot's image burned into the backs of her eyelids as the fan of her dark lashes brushed her cheeks at last.

Contrary to her bedside companion, Sarena's slumber was relatively uneventful. Deeper than usual, certainly, as per one of the many side-effects of the illegal narcotics, but the vibrant dreams the little pill delivered were hardly more than flashes of images without cohesion, like her mind was a television and her subconscious couldn't decide what channel on which to rest. Except the sound--one long, enduring sound, like someone gasping for breath, and it wouldn't stop. It wasn't coming from her; Sarena was as calm and apathetic as the aftermath of the drugs allowed. But this enduring secondary breathing grew louder, more prominent, until it pulled her from the deep slumber of the fractured world of her subconscious mind, and into the darkness of what gradually began to manifest before her half-open eyes as her bedroom.

The stirring of a body next to hers caught her attention, and the brunette turned her head on its pillow to glance at her deadly companion, stirring frantically until his ow blue eyes open, and he stared, uncomprehending, into her own for a solid moment before speaking up. "Rhys... Rhys, wake up. You're dreaming..." Was he ever, and it must have been painting an absolutely horrible picture in his mind's eye. Sweat glistened on his brow, and goosebumps had risen on his naked shoulders, haloed by the eerie blue moonlight that flooded the room from the French doors that led to her outside balcony. "It's early. Too early," came her groggy reply to his question, and she strained to prop herself up on her elbows to glance at the glowing numbers of a clock on her bedside table. "4:13 in the morning... why are we even having a conversation right now."

Pressing a mildly irritated sigh from her lungs, the crime daughter eased herself back onto the firm mattress, hauling the comforter over her own bare shoulders, clammy in the cool of night. Somewhere in their lazy act of passion left incomplete, her red dress had found a place on the floor not far from his vest and shirt, though there was otherwise no evidence of garments shed. "Relax... go back to sleep." Sarena murmured, following her own advice and allowing her heavy lids to drop before she completed her utterance. "No need to be so guarded... not here. This is my domain." 

And she said nothing more; not for three full minutes, at the very least, suggesting a slip back into merciful unconsciousness, until she added, "You're safe... Bad things don't happen, here..." Perhaps it was, in fact, a matter of her sleepy mind voicing thoughts and feelings she otherwise would never utter, in that stage between pure slumber and wakefulness. But there was something distinctly jarring about the innocent comment, considering the nightmare that had rattled the assassin into wakefulness. 

Jarring, and profusely ironic, that Sarena Vandelay so easily fell asleep next to her very own, would-be murderer, who dreamed how easy it would be to annihilate her in her own, supposedly safe haven.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Dec 13, 2014 11:09 pm
by Astrophysicist
He reached up with a groan low in his throat, placing his thumb and forefinger over his eyes as he waited for his breathing to calm. With the safety and security of consciousness slowly draping over his thoughts, he swallowed the lump in his throat and sat up slightly. The red glow of the clock’s blocky digits revealed the time just as Sarena spoke it out loud. He collapsed back into the pillows and stared at the ceiling, his muscles tight. Any playful response he might have uttered was lost on his tongue in the aftermath of lingering stress, so instead he said nothing, keeping his eyes open against the replay of violent imagery that surely lurked behind his eyelids.

He also did not want to look at her; if he did, he knew all he would see was the panicked confusion in her bright blue eyes as crimson blossomed on the white sheets behind her chest—which made the words she sleepily murmured all the more painful. Her consolations had meant to ease his discomfort, yet to his ears they were barbed and venomous, infecting him with the poisons of his own mind. The man he’d been in the dream was not so far from reality that he could take any breed of solace from its conclusion; he had not sent bullets ripping through the mafia daughter’s chest, but that did not mean he was incapable of pulling that trigger. His subconscious had shown him that.

But it had also shown him that he did not want to be that man. The adrenaline coursing through his veins, the trembling in his fingertips, the gooseflesh texture on his clammy skin—that was not the physiological response of a man proud of his actions, a man ready to spring forward and fulfill the heartless deed purported by his mind.

No need to be so guarded. This is my domain. The former spy’s breath caught in his throat, and he pulled the fine down-filled comforter up to his chest as a shiver traversed his spine. Her groggy voice spoke lazy words that filled him with unbridled dread. You’re safe. Bad things don’t happen here.

You’re right, he wanted to say, his eyes clenching closed as the rhythmic pattern of her breathing indicated she had succumbed to slumber. You’re right, because I won’t let it happen. Turning slightly to one side, he slid his arm behind her neck and wrapped his hand around her shoulder, pulling her gently but firmly to his side. The scent of her hair and her skin, a perfume he recalled distantly from their close dancing at Reflections, filled his nostrils, and the assassin rested his cheek softly against her head. He was the very man—perhaps the only man—who was capable of stealing her life in her own self-proclaimed sanctuary, and yet she seemed to trust him not to even more than he trusted himself. 

He fell asleep at last with Sarena in his tight embrace. His slumber was not quite so tumultuous this time around, and when at last he stirred, it was not at the annoyed prompt of his companion. The bright tendrils of late morning’s golden light spilled through the gaps in the curtains, illuminating a bedroom that bore no signs of the violence or disruption that painted his nightmares. The mafia heiress lay peacefully against his side, unharmed, her cheek nestled against his shoulder and her arm draped across his abdomen.

“Hey,” he whispered groggily, squeezing her shoulder. His head felt heavy—a side effect of the pill he had ingested, no doubt—and he squinted his eyes against the light. “Is it normal to feel so…” In place of an adjective, he made a sound caught somewhere between a groan and a sigh, indicating general discontent rather than pain. “…after sampling Reflections’ oh-so-special menu?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Dec 14, 2014 12:00 am
by Requiem
Sarena Vandelay was not one to lose sleep over petty insecurities, or in the aftermath of nightmares. What little stress that had ever prevented her from achieving restful shut-eye had always been overpowered by the flood of alcohol in her veins, or a little something such as the pill she'd shared with Rhys at the rave. That said, it was difficult to claim anything coaxed sleep to approach her more freely, given that losing it wasn't a problem. But something about feeling the warmth go the hit man's skin so close to her own, the speed of his heartbeat that subtly vibrated the comforter they shared, was so comforting, lending her heavy reassurance that was not typically part of her mental nocturnal routine.

Too exhausted to think on it, she was quick to succumb to this easy slumber, dreaming nothing of consequence, yet nothing unpleasant as the hours passed. And the next time she opened her eyes, it was prompted by the muffled sound of a familiar voice, one that she had come to associate with a myriad of positive sentiments. The crime daughter felt her tired lips, still stained faintly crimson in the wake of their energized evening, pull into a small smile before she cracked open her azure eyes.

"Hm...?" Pausing to stretch luxuriously beneath the weight of her down-filled comforter, the Vandelay heiress trailed her hand from his abdomen unabashedly to his hipbone as she readjusted her position next to him, freeing the arm that had been caught beneath her, and was thus plagued with pins and needles. "Oh... right. No need to worry; you're just not used to it. Party with me more often, and I can promise fewer side-effects." Raking a hand through her tresses of ebony hair, Sarena forced herself into a sitting position, reaching behind her neck to massage a cramped muscle. "Wait here. I've got just the thing to take the edge off."

Feeling and circulation now returned to her arm, the deadly young woman pushed back her blankets and stood, crossing the room to grab a silk house coat, just a few shades removed from the cerulean of her eyes, that was draped over an armchair. Pulling her arms through the sleeves, she left it open, as if a thought for the decency of closing it never crossed her mind. More likely, however, was that she didn't care. And didn't imagine Rhys would mind, in any case. The brilliance of the morning light, undeterred from the white sheer curtains across the top of her balcony's French doors, caught the sheen of the house coat's fabric, revealing a sheer, golden iridescence before she set out, barefoot, into the hallway.

Moments later, Sarena returned with a mug of steaming hot beverage, opposite hand cradling three new pills. At his brief hesitation when she offered, the crime daughter could only laugh. "Relax. It's enteric-coated aspirin and some herbal tea; easy on your stomach, but enough to dull pain. Over the counter and one-hundred percent legal, I assure you. I'm guessing you feel like someone took a hammer and hit you here, here, and here." At the final three words of her utterance, she tapped her index finger between his eyebrows, and on either one of his temples, before handing him the pills and the beverage. "That's where it hit me the first few times I indulged. You build a tolerance to it, eventually." As to how many times Sarena had surrendered to the allure of illegal substances remained unspecified, but for all that she seemed largely unaffected, the connotation might not have come as a surprise.

Not that she appeared wholly immune. As soon as the red hand had taken her proffered remedies, she pressed two fingertips to one of her own temples and resumed her comfortable position next to him, closing her blue eyes against the sunlight. "Don't tell me you're that out of sorts after a little fun," the heiress couldn't help but tease, cracking her lids open a second later. "I wouldn't even call it an entirely accomplished night. If it were, neither of us would be wearing any clothes, right now." Smirking, she reached out and ran a playful hand through his slightly damp curls, not surprised that the textured tresses felt as good between her fingers now as they had the night before, with the pill amplifying all five of her senses. "Oh, and the tea is called 'Spearmint Detox'; probably just a load of bullshit, but makes me feel better, regardless, after indulging a little."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Dec 14, 2014 12:35 am
by Astrophysicist
How was it that the very person who had spurned macabre daydreams and horrible nightmares could simultaneously be the presence that soothed his anxieties, his apprehensions? Where normally his instincts would have told him to flee, to put geographical space between himself and his prospective target, they whispered instead to stay, to keep close the woman to whom he had grown quite attached in recent days. Even his usual reasoning—to remain near in order to better position himself for a hit—was inapplicable in this instance; no, he lingered because he wanted to linger, because for the first time in a very long while, none of his affection was the result of an act.

With nothing more than a somewhat pained chuckle, the former spy shifted positions alongside Sarena as she climbed from bed and donned a robe. He rearranged the pillows behind him to prop up his back, his eyes following the young woman’s slender form as she sauntered gracefully out of the room and down the corridor. The shimmering azure of her silken house coat fluttered behind her in her wake like ripples on still water, and he caught himself wearing a small, sleepy half-smile on his lips. Never mind that the luxurious blue fabric blocked the persistent memory of the previous night’s dream terror, banishing all thoughts of red; it also served to remind him of her vibrance, to call back instead remembrances of flashing lights and pulsing music and hungry lips.

Shaking the feeling back into his right arm, he stretched beneath the comforter and sat up as straight as he could muster when she re-entered the room and climbed across the bed. He greeted her with arched brows and a smile as she passed him the steaming mug of tea, tossing back the comforter unabashedly to allow her re-entry. Just as Sarena sported little by way of clothing, so too were Rhys’s garments pooled on the floor beside the bed. He seemed not to notice—or rather, not to care—about his state of undress, even as the sheets revealed it to the open air. “It’s not bad. Really, it’s more of a…pressure…than a pain,” he admitted, bowing his head slightly against her touches. “It’s like I need to release the valve before my skull explodes.” He repositioned the blanket back overtop of them both as she settled back in, her head resting on his upper arm and shoulder.

“Maybe we should just dive straight back into the whole ‘building up a tolerance’ thing,” he suggested, voice cracking with a chuckle. “Forget aspirin. Just go straight back to the good stuff.” Though he was teasing in this instance, his history of self-medication had dictated just such an action on previous occasions, long before he had made Sarena’s acquaintance. To demonstrate his compliance, he threw the pills to the back of his throat and swallowed them with a mouthful of scalding spearmint tea.

Inhaling the scented steam of his herbal beverage, he laughed at her comment, shaking his head—and therefore his unruly hair—against her touch. “We got pretty close, though, to a not-wearing-clothes state of affairs,” he said, pulling back the comforter just far enough in indication to reveal the top of his abdominal muscles. After a sip of tea, he reached out, running a single fingertip along her collar bone and down across her sternum, where her open robe revealed creamy skin. “Here, take a drink of this,” he offered, handing her the cup. “I’ll share. I didn’t miss that day of kindergarten.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Dec 14, 2014 1:15 am
by Requiem
"Rest assured, I promise your skull will not explode." His description of the current aliments prompted by side-effects actually drew a laugh from Sarena's lungs; pleasant, but apparently too soon, as the sound of her own escalated voice brought her fingers deftly back to her temples, where she massaged gently. "The best remedy is to walk it off and flush whatever's left in your bloodstream out of your system. Tea is always my favourite method; admittedly, I haven't attempted hair of the dog. I'm not sure it works the same way with pills as it does alcohol..."

Any residual thoughts on the matter were stolen from her mind as soon as the warmth of Rhys' fingers touched her skin. A shiver made its way down her spine before she could think to repress it, her eyes drifting to focus on Rhys once again. She almost didn't hear him offer the mug of steaming tea, not catching on to the thoughtful gesture until she felt the hot ceramic against her palms. "Mm. Thanks," came her murmured reply, bringing the rim to her lips and sipping thoughtfully. In lieu of simply handing it back to him, however, she reached across his reclined form to set it on an end table. She wanted her hands free; she wanted his hands free, as well.

"You know what else I heard is a great remedy for headaches?" Sarena brought her mouth to his ear, the sultry intonation of her alto implying enough that she needn't answer her own question. Without waiting for his answer, the mafia daughter slid a hand behind his neck, capturing his lips with hers as she maneuvered her body so that one knee sank into the mattress on either side of his prone form. Just because fatigue had taken the remainder of potential fun out of their night didn't give them reason not to resume; and, anyway, she preferred intimacy without the influence of drugs. It was enough for her to get drunk on the fact that her companion remained interested, long after the special pills no longer coated his surroundings and interactions in magic.

Just as the Vandelay daughter's lips trailed from his neck to his chest, their mutual silence, accentuated only by soft, intermittent breathing, the irritating, electric ring of a cell phone shattered the atmosphere, darkening Sarena's mood as she knew full well it couldn't (or, at least, shouldn't) be ignored. Tucking her hair behind her ear, the mafia heiress reached into the small pile of clothes to her right, where Rhys' cell phone was tucked into his discarded pants. Whoever was calling, the number was protected, as was the caller's identity. "Whoever it is, tell them they'd better watch their back," she mumbled, shoulders drooping in defeat as she handed him the phone and resumed her previous place at his side, "I don't take kindly to getting cock-blocked by cell phones."

Had she known the identity of the caller, she'd have eaten her words before she uttered them. "Good morning, Mr. Proudfoot," Gustave Vandelay's confident voice spoke into the red hand's ear. "Hope I didn't wake you, though I thought I'd give you a heads up as to this evening's festivities. I saw fit to celebrating your new... promotion, as it were, and wondered if you'd be so kind as to arrive as a guest of honour to a soiree this evening. Nine-o-clock sharp, but I'll allow you ten minutes of flexibility to be 'fashionably late', if you'd like." A pause, and then the mafia leader continued: "Just to clarify: this is not a request, Mr. Proudfoot. I am sure you understand."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Dec 14, 2014 10:23 pm
by Astrophysicist
When Sarena swung a leg over his lap and positioned herself overtop of him, Rhys sat up straight from the angled pillows he’d arranged against the headboard. With his spine straight and shoulders back, their torsos met skin-to-skin as magnetically as their insistent lips. “You know, we must have read the same article about those remedies,” he purred, inclining his head over her shoulder to whisper playfully in her ear. He reached up and placed a hand at the nape of her neck, threading his fingers through her dark hair. “But I don’t get the feeling either of us are the type to blindly believe everything we read. Maybe…” His lips found hers once more, stealing a long kiss before he resurfaced to finish his thought. “…maybe we should give it a try ourselves.”

Mischievous laughter resonated deep from his chest, and when he met her lips again, it was with a smile. The pressure within his skull, though still present, was pushed to the background in light of welcome distraction. Or so it was until the monotone electronic beep of his ringtone sliced through the late morning air, throwing an unexpected damper on a situation whose heat and momentum he was reluctant to lose.

He groaned his annoyance loudly as Sarena climbed from her position, mirroring her irritated sentiments with a venomous expression of his own as she passed the sleek device to his outstretched hand. “Whoever it is clearly has no idea who they’re dealing with,” he grumbled, glancing down at the screen. Restricted read across the glossy display in nondescript white text. The former spy’s blood ran cold.

As soon as he slid his thumb across the interface to answer the call, it was a complete transformation. Prior to the rhythmic beep’s unwanted interruption, Rhys Proudfoot had been every ounce a slightly hungover, slightly feisty mess who had barely banished the sleep from his voice for the day. As soon as he brought the device to his ear and greeted the person on the other end of the call, however, it was as though someone had flipped a switch—he was all business, his voice deepening to mask the grogginess in his throat, and his responses were short and direct. Even his posture had changed to match the new character whose role he had adopted—himself, in a more awakened state. It was just who he’d expected. Gustave Vandelay.

“No, of course you didn’t wake me. I make it a point never to take anything as a request,” Rhys said curtly. Given the simplicity of the exchange, it was not difficult to discern the nature of the arrangement being discussed. For the sake of present company, the former spy made a point of speaking the caller’s name aloud. “Of course. Understood, Mr. Vandelay. Count on my being there at nine o’clock.”

The whirlwind call was concluded without so much as a formal farewell. Rhys resurfaced from the call by dropping the phone to the mattress and heaving a sigh laden with further indignation. He collapsed back into the pillows and turned to look at Sarena, doing his best to ignore the ice in his veins and the lump in his throat.

“Still wanting to seek revenge on the caller?” he asked. A scowl creased his brow, but it didn’t last; instead, he stretched his neck to plant a delicate kiss on top of her head. “What are your feelings on accompanying red hands to fancy soirees?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Dec 15, 2014 1:01 am
by Requiem
Sarena had spent enough time around her father, around his employees, and witnessing his business habits in general that the moment Rhys' annoyed expression shifted from annoyance to a stoic sort of alarm, she knew it had to be Gustave on the other line. Blowing a puff of air between her lips, the crime daughter slumped down onto the pillows next to the red hand, resenting her father for--among other things--his poor taste in timing. If she didn't know him as well as she did, she might have suspected the man knew precisely where she'd been last night, what she'd been doing, with whom, down to the miniscule detail of what she'd been about to do with that person, prompting a conveniently-timed phone call.

Which, of course, would have been over-thinking it. But coming from a mafia family, on top of already having a history of being watched, Sarena's mind also wasn't entirely in the wrong for toying with such possibilities.

Wearing the pout of a spoiled child (not a persona far removed from the very fabric of her being, mind you), the heiress' mood lightened a bit at the gentle pressure of Rhys' lips on her forehead. "I've had it out for that particular caller for a while," she drawled, rolling her eyes. "This is just the icing on the cake. Unfortunately, he is probably the only person on this planet that I can't touch, even if he'd never see it coming from his own daughter." Whether or not she was speaking hypothetically was always difficult to tell with Sarena, even when it came down to her own father. Though the safest bet was always to take her literally. Because it was those few times when people assumed otherwise that they came to wish they hadn't.

"Let me guess: Dad wants to make a big deal of your speedy promotion with a party, am I right? Well, I don't know what you did you get on his good side so quickly, but it's definitely worth celebrating. Congrats." Grinning, she took him by the arm to draw him closer, and planted a kiss on his cheek. "And I don't make a habit of going anywhere with hit men, actually. They're not usually a breed I find I can trust. Needless to say... I feel like you're worth the exception. And I'd love to accompany the honoured guest to a party thrown in his celebration." 

Gathering her silky robe about her form, Sarena turned to lean over the side of the bed and reach for her purse, to check and see if she'd missed any calls or text messages between now and the rave the night before. Just as she was about to wrap her fingers around the black clutch, something sparkling in the heap of red fabric that was her dress caught the mafia daughter's eye. Her face registered a look of confusion, until her fingertips found the object, and familiarity blossomed, along with the memory and significance of the almost-forgotten necklace that was suddenly dangling from her fingertips, sunlight catching in the shrapnel's fractured indents as she sat upright.

"I suppose a promise is a promise... and what's yours is yours, whatever odd sentimental value it might have." Reaching behind Rhys' neck, she linked the jewelry's lobster-claw clasp onto the end of the chain, arranging the asymmetrical charm so that it sat neatly in the in the hollow between the red hand's collarbones. "...I didn't want to give this back. It was my ticket to seeing you again, and giving you incentive to see me. Because I didn't think anything less of holding something precious of yours hostage would convince you to keep me company. So..." Looking up form the charm settled against his chest, the young woman's blue eyes sought the red hand's, in a strange, vulnerable moment of sincerity that was completely void of snark or sarcasm. "Am I wrong? Or should I start looking for other excuses?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Dec 15, 2014 11:45 pm
by Astrophysicist
Not unlike Sarena, it was always best to interpret Rhys Proudfoot in a literal fashion, taking him at face value for his word. He was anything but predictable, it was true, but on the rare occasion when he stated precisely what he intended to do, there was seldom a chance of hyperbole. It was risky to operate under any other method of assumption; there was a stark sort of beauty in absolute truth, in the raw, undressed words of determination. It was yet another something that the unlikely pair shared—and both seemed to recognize it instinctively in the other. The former spy had no doubt of the Vandelay heiress’s words. In fact, they coaxed a soft, knowing smile from his lips.

The expression lasted only a moment before it fell, knocked from its emotional pedestal at the strangely warm congratulations that left Sarena’s lips. Thankfully, from her position at his side, she was sheltered from the falter in his look. He held his breath against a barrage of imagery leftover from his dream, where spreading crimson stained the pristine white sheets upon which they currently lounged. Fighting the wave of discomfort, he reached over to place a hand on her shoulder, steading her as she reached over the side of the bed to retrieve her phone.

“That’s probably a wise mindset,” he admitted, his sudden mental unease completely absent from his steady tenor. “You’d be throwing your lot in with an assassin who also happens to be a world-class former spy. I hear he’s a ruthless bastard who’d use his steak knife to carve a throat as readily as his filet mignon if he saw enough zeros on the check. Trusting that type seems a little careless of you.” As she sat back up and scanned her phone screen, he leaned over and caught her lips with his own, depositing a kiss loaded with more meaning than he had anticipated. He resurfaced with a smile despite himself. “I hear he’s quite the charmer, too,” he added, nudging her with his shoulder. “And…”

He paused, bemusement flashing in his eyes as the mafia daughter dangled a familiar trinket before his face. “Ah,” he said, voice solemn. “Thanks for making good on that.” He bowed his head, allowing her to fasten the lobster clasp at the nape of his neck. The cool metal of the chain and weight of the strange piece of jewelry against the dip between his clavicles was familiar and reassuring, and without thinking, his fingers automatically sought its smooth surface as though to make up for lost opportunity. At the same time, his blue eyes caught hers, and he was taken aback by the sincerity he discovered in their cerulean depths while she spoke.

“Sarena,” he heard himself say, half-murmur and half-scold. Pursing his lips, he tilted his head to one side and regarded her open expression, his own look unreadable. “Is that really the conclusion you want to draw from me asking you out?” Unable to help himself, he chuckled—and then promptly repositioned himself so that one hand supported his torso on either side of her waist. Holding his face just inches from her own, he arched his brows and locked eyes once more. “You know, if you wanted,” he purred, playful but soft in typical contradictory fashion, “you could even think of it as, what, our third date? Fourth, if you count the smoke on the balcony?” Leaning in, he ventured the short distance between their mouths, leaving a kiss that wordlessly elaborated his sentiment.

“So what do you say?” He quirked a brow. “Can you stand another of your father’s functions?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Dec 16, 2014 12:36 am
by Requiem
"I might be a spoiled, amoral, cut-throat bitch," Sarena drawled, as casually as if she were describing the coal-dark ebony of her hair, or the smoky azure of her eyes, "but I'm a spoiled, amoral, cut-throat bitch who makes good on her promises--eventually. Usually. Frankly, I feel like it was a little careless of you not to call me on it sooner, though..." The corner of her mouth quirked into a mischievous grin as the crime daughter leaned towards the red hand as if it whisper in his ear. But instead of soft words measured in air pressure to his ear drum, the dangerous young woman took his earlobe gently, albeit playfully, between her teeth. "...I guess I can't blame you, if I kept you a little distracted. Sorry... except, I'm not."

It was easy to make light of her vices and the attributes that he listed as being less favourable to his persona, when something very serious hung in the air between them. Something that Sarena feared had come loose of her deeper thoughts without proper introspection, that could have essentially been used as a weapon against her, should he choose, ill-advised though it might have been. The Vandelay daughter didn't even realize she was holding her own breath hostage, deep in her lungs as she awaited the red hand's answer until spots began to form before her perfect vision, and she exhaled slowly, blinking them away with her heart practically in her throat.

But before she knew it, she wasn't looking down at her father's favourite new employee, but up at him, searching his eyes for validation in the words he uttered. She thought back to the last man she'd spent the night with, and his ill-fated attempt to steal her life; here, she was in the company of a man who was, above all others, likely the most capable of putting out her flame indefinitely. But fear and uncertainty did not come to mind when her eyes met Rhys' cerulean irises. Quite the opposite, she'd never felt safer, and more assured of his intentions.
And never happier that she needn't devise further strategies to lure him into her company, or, moreover, her arms.

"Oh, good," The mafia heiress grinned, reaching up to feel the texture of his curls between her fingers. A sensation of which she felt she could never tire. "Let's go with that; fourth date it is, then. Makes me feel more like a lady and less like a hussy that I got you in your underwear by date number three as opposed to date number two." Giving herself over to the kiss--this one oddly heavier with meaning and connotation, despite being devoid of the hunger and possession (and, sometimes, poison--though not when it came to Rhys Proudfoot) that typically characterized Sarena Vandelay's kisses.

Gently pressing the ball of her hand to his sternum, the crime daughter (reluctantly, mind you) put enough distance between the two of them to sit up and throw her legs over the side of the bed. "Finish your tea and feel free to shower, if you like; if Dad is throwing a party, then by default, I'm expected to be there with the rest of my beloved family hours prior to guests arriving." Her tonality alone was enough to suggest the dark-haired dame was less than thrilled at the prospect, which she then ventured to clarify, with a sultry glance over her shoulder, "If I didn't need to get my shit together and try to look presentable for later, I'd love to help you with that headache. Keep me in mind, maybe, next time you have one?"

Unable to repress a chuckle at her own shameless humour, Sarena caught the door frame on her way out, as a single thought prompted one last pause. "If you do decide to cut out my heart with a steak knife, though, just do me a favour and be careful with it." Hardly realizing the striking coincidence of her words and his dream that was entirely lost on her, she winked playfully in his direction, and teased; "But, on the other hand, you could just ask for it politely. It could save you a lot of time, effort, and a mess to clean up, in the end."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Dec 21, 2014 8:21 pm
by Astrophysicist
As soon as Rhys Proudfoot bid his adieus and departed the mafia daughter’s luxurious apartment, two waves of conflicting sensations assaulted his mind. On one hand, as he climbed into the jet black car Sarena had called for him, he felt a strange calm. It was a liberation born not only of the alleviation of the worst of his anxieties, but the freedom that accompanied the decision he had made—the conscious choice that, despite the bloody daydreams and nightmares, he had no intention of slaying the dark-haired heiress.

But being freed of that particular conflict, however, sparked yet another flame of concern in the core of his being. As a former spy, he had been taught to find the balance between extreme measures of self-preservation and the follow-through of any particular mission. Taking risks with the potential of sacrificing one’s life was almost literally a daily occurrence for an active operative in the field, but at the same time, there was always the question of whether or not his own demise could be weighed against the possible intelligence gain. In those cases, he was less of a person than a set of skills, less a human life than a vessel for delivery—a bargaining chip, a measure of success, a tool controlled by a distant craftsman.

In the years since Tribeca-Antioch, Rhys had rebelled against that feeling, against the instinct that was never innate but rather programmed into him by a cruel, cutthroat organization who had used him as a puppet for their gain. Combined with his depression and post-traumatic stress created yet another internal juxtaposition, one that kept him operating as an assassin with a spotless record while at the same time allowing him to be reckless with—or rather, completely apathetic of—his own life. It had been a long time since Rhys had felt a genuine pang of fear for his own wellbeing. But now, facing a massive crime network with the intention of deliberately disobeying his sole orders, he could feel the seed of uncertain fear taking root in his gut.

The car pulled up to his hotel with an abrupt stop, and the former spy climbed out with a distracted thank-you to the patient driver. After a night of surprising ease (with the assistance of Reflections’ hidden menu), Rhys noticed tension in his steps as he made his way back to his suite. It seemed the momentary solace from confidently deciding that murdering Sarena Vandelay was out of the question had been replaced with bitter discomfort. Whether it was simply the notion of ignoring an order (which, admittedly, he’d done plenty of at Double Eye to Marionetti’s chagrin) or something deeper—like the idea that this young woman with whom he’d developed a startling rapport was oblivious to the danger she was in, be that threat from Rhys or someone else—he could not say, but his uneasiness did not bode well for the upcoming socialization that would be expected of him at his—his—soiree that evening.

At seven o’clock, the arrival of a tuxedo accompanied by a note that simply stated ‘—G.’ (as if giving some poor nervous lackey his measurements over the phone that morning would indicate any other source but his new employer) prompted him to bite his tongue and get ready. The exquisite suit spared no expense; its silk blend was like water against his fingertips, and the subtly textured fabric was a deep, shimmering black. He clicked his tongue in approval as he towel-dried his curls. 

He combed his hair straight back, taming the explosion of brown waves that typically hovered near his scalp, and dressed quickly. Foregoing Gustave’s chosen bright white vest and shirt, he opted for his own garments in matte black to complement the sheen in the black coat and trousers. The shirt he left open at the top button, styling the collars to flare outward in lieu of a bowtie, and slid into exquisitely polished black shoes that caught the light as he walked. Rhys Proudfoot had been to more black-tie engagements than he cared to count; he knew how to look and act the part, mental insecurities or no. With one final appraising glance in the mirror—and a few pats to double check that his weapons were in place—he tucked his necklace behind his collar and made his way to the car outside.

A light spring drizzle had drenched the streets in dew, and the fine mist projected gossamer halos around each golden street lamp as they passed. They pulled up to a stout building with carved columns constructed of pinkish swirling marble, joining a long line of dark unmarked cars that each took their turn at a brightly glowing entryway. A man with an umbrella greeted Rhys as he exited the vehicle, walking him along a sopping wet carpet to the tall gilded doors.

“This way, monsieur,” said a gesturing man with a heavy accent as he stepped past the breezeway. “The ballroom is this way.”

“Merci,” Rhys replied with a polite, calculated smile. He followed the man’s wave and lined up with several other couples, each taking their time in sauntering into the large room. Muffled chatter punctuated with bursts of happy laughter filled the narrow corridor. Rhys held his breath and donned an expression of quiet dignity as he finally stepped into the thick of the party.

He hovered at the door for some moments like a black-clad shadow, habitually scanning the crowd and environment alike for any sign of trouble. The gathering was in his honor, he knew, but he preferred a more subtle entrance—at least for now, while he acclimated to the first large-scale occasion he’d attended since Tribeca-Antioch and the onset of his anxiety. If luck would have it, he would soon spot his date among the unfamiliar faces.

Taking matters into his own hands, he ducked back into the chilly corridor where the attendants and caterers rushed back and forth from the kitchens to the niches. He pressed himself against the wall out of the way and retrieved his phone from his pocket. Standing me up? he typed, hesitating only a moment before his thumb pressed Send to the only person whose company might make the night more bearable.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Dec 21, 2014 11:30 pm
by Requiem
Sleek. red, and enticing was what Sarena Vandelay reserved for clubs and bars alone. It was for the fun-loving, spontaneous Sarena who defined herself apart from her name, her heritage, and her pedigree. But the Sarena who was expected to save face for her family and live up to how they thought they'd crafted her could not present herself as such. For all she laid claim to being a defiant rebel, a person of her own to the point where she was actively working with the one and only organization that could fell the Vandelay name forever, even the infamous daughter of Gustave Vandelay knew better than to break convention when he came to her father's soirees.

This Sarena, as a result, was clad from head to toe in deep aquamarine, the neckline of her dress stretching straight across her collarbone in a perfect boat neck. To compensate for a cut that, in her opinion, was all too conservative, the shimmering material fell to her waist at the back, leaving her shoulder blades exposed to the chill of the air conditioner that her father always kept on too high a setting. Her earlobes were likewise adorned in pale sapphires, exposed and sparkling in the light streaming from candelabras, and her thick locks of ebony hair were intricately styled in a french braid that fell over one shoulder. Striking, elegant, and sharp--the epitome of a Vandelay, with a touch of flare that turned heads, no matter how engaged one might be in a conversation.

While her father, stepmother, aunts, uncles and cousins, arranged their presences early in the ballroom, as soon as catering was set up and prepared, however, Sarena chose to be fashionably late: something that Gustave had come to expect, if not entirely approve of. He'd have to forgive her this, however; it was, after all, rude to socialize and indulge without her date. Who she, two, left waiting, if only to keep him wanting.

Traversing the long hallway of her father's estate, the heiress' cell phone buzzed as soon as she stepped out of the elevator: Standing me up?, came the text from a familiar number. The corner of Sarena's mouth curled into a grin as she contemplated a reply, but ultimately decided to let him wait and wonder for the two minutes that it would take her to reach the ballroom. Familiar sentries nodded their respect as she approached the gilded doors, in front of which a handsome figure stood, staring at the blue light emanating from the screen of his cell phone. Presumably in wait of the text message that he'd never receive.

Sauntering as quietly as she could in her matching aquamarine heels, the crime daughter made her way up behind her father's new red hand, and rested her hands atop his shoulders as she brought her mouth to his ear. "Did you honestly think I'd pass up the chance to attend the city's most exclusive party with you?" Sarena purred before stepping in front of him, her mischievous blue eyes taking in his physique from head to tow. "Well. Don't you look perfectly up to my father's standards. He doesn't tend to keep many employees who can't pull off a suit... Needless to say, I think you're safe."

Gladly taking the hit man's arm when he offered it to her, Sarena angled her head towards the doors. "Shall we? Your party awaits you."
With a single glance from Gustave's infamous, controversial daugther, they opened the heavy gilded doors, where approximately a hundred people fraternized in a lavishly decorated room, cocktails and hor d'oeuvres in hand. Gustave himself was sharing a chuckle with an employee, cigar in hand when his sharp eyes caught sight of the duo. For a moment, he appeared slightly taken aback, but recovered quickly enough. Nothing shook Gustave Vandelay for too long.

"Ladies and gentleman! May I have your attention," his authoritarian voice boomed, quieting the room. "I would like to introduce our newest employee, the man who will fill the shoes of our late Mr. Colstorm. Please welcome Rhys Proudfoot as a permanent part of the Vandelay estate."

There was, of course, applause, mostly contrived as many had gathered at the party simply to sample the luxuries that the Vandelay crime lord had to offered, with little thought as to the meaning behind the party. Hand comfortably on Rhys' arm, Sarena led him to the dangerous mafia leader, head cocked coyly to the side. "Really, father? No introduction for me?"

"Your presence speaks for itself, my dear." Gustave reassured her, touching her cheek the way you'd touch the shiny gleam of a brand new car: all possessive admiration, with little sentiment. "Why don't you retrieve some champagne for Mr. Proudfoot, here? Can't have a man not drink at his own party."

"Of course. My pleasure," the young woman replied, in a tone that evoked anything but pleasure in having to take her arm from the sleeve of her date. The click of her heels punctuated her ill-concealed annoyance as she drifted away from the pair.

Gustave watched her retreat for a beat, tapping the ashes from his cigar into an ashtray as he turned to his new hit man. "Lovely, isn't she? Sharp like a knife, and just as shining." There was, of course, no question as to whom he was referring. "Shiny things are mighty enticing--trust me, I know. But not all that glitters is gold, if you know what I mean." At Rhys' lack of response, the crime lord raised his eyebrows and leaned in. "She'll play you like an instrument, if you let her, my boy. But her tunes always end on broken cords. Don't get too ensnared in her spiderweb, not when you have a very important task on your hands. Am I clear?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 12:53 am
by Astrophysicist
The young woman’s aquamarine heels on the solid marble floor were not quite silent enough to catch the former spy off guard. He looked up just as she approached, depositing his phone back in his jacket pocket with an expression that was equal parts relief and mischief. Her hands upon his shoulders were a welcome pressure (one that he quickly realized he had missed), and he offered her a lopsided, charming smile as her lips whispered in his ear.

“No,” Rhys responded honestly, his eyes narrowing with mirth. It was the beauty of their fledgling relationship—an innate trust that neither could deny, that neither could resist. Had he truthfully believed Sarena to be ditching him at her father’s own party, his communication with her likely would have halted outright in fury—or, perhaps worse, in bitter apathy. Instead, a chuckle shook his shoulders. “Not only do I believe you would not stand me up at my own function, I know you wouldn’t dare defy your father’s strict attendance policy.” Gustave had granted him leeway to be fashionably late—and somehow, Rhys imagined the crime lord had warmed up to the idea of trendy tardiness at his daughter’s influence over the years.

“Well, you know, Gustave is exactly who I was trying to floor with my good looks tonight,” Proudfoot drawled sarcastically. He outstretched his arms slightly at his sides as her scrutinizing gaze swept from his neatly-kempt hair to his polished black shoes. At the same time, he took the opportunity to appraise Sarena’s new attire—a shimmering blue gown as dazzling as her eyes, her sleek dark hair plaited aside to reveal a plunging back that showed off her shoulder blades. The former spy quirked a brow in approval. “Somehow, I don’t believe the attendees will be looking at me.”

He extended his arm, which Sarena took without question, and together they made their entrance—properly this time, to Gustave’s booming announcement and a subsequent wall of polite applause. Rhys smiled despite the ice reforming in his veins as they approached the mafia man, clasping the leader’s outstretched hand in a firm shake. “Thank you, Mr. Vandelay,” he said, his tone casual. “I assure you all this was not necessary on my behalf. But I appreciate the gesture nevertheless. Truly.” The smile he donned must have been convincingly genuine, for Gustave made a dismissive gesture with his cigar and laughed.

The amusement, however, was soon replaced with something more serious as Sarena reluctantly departed for champagne at her father’s prompt. Rhys, his expression somber, listened intently as the crime lord spoke. The chill in his bloodstream soon hardened to ice, but he nodded. “Understood, of course,” the red hand responded coolly. “Asking you outright to trust me is perhaps premature at this stage in the game, but I will assure you that I have no intention of relinquishing control.” He grinned—another act to cover the sudden pressure of anxiety behind his chest wall—and continued. “I can handle sharp. I do have tricks of my own, you see.”

As if on cue, Sarena returned, slender flutes of fine champagne in hand. Rhys took his gratefully, bringing the crystal to his lips for a cool sip to mask his relief. He resurfaced with yet another soft smile, and opened his mouth to speak again when another booming voice pierced through the idle chatter of the room. The first round of appetizers would soon be served.

The guests still milling about the open ballroom floor shuffled lazily to a gathering of round tables decked in shimmering white cloth, each adorned with a bouquet of white calla lilies. Rhys pulled out a chair for Sarena next to her father as protocol dictated, then took his place on the opposite side of her. Despite her close presence, his throat felt thick; no amount of the fine champagne’s carbonation could alleviate the tension. She sat between the man who unknowingly wanted her dead and the man who had been hired to end her life—a fact that had not escaped Rhys’s attention from the moment he had glimpsed the gold-foil nametags of the seating arrangement.

Thankfully, the others that shared their table—a few that Rhys recognized from his own internet sleuthing—filled in the conversation. The red hand caught Sarena’s eye and held it for a beat, reassured at least for that moment that he could get through the remainder of the night.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 1:37 am
by Requiem
"Relax, Proudfoot." Sarena murmured her reassurances as her father moved to take his seat, along with his guests. The lavishly adorned table at the center of the room was reserved for family and the honoured guest, and the seating arrangements never changed. Whomever sat to her left Gustave didn't care a wink about, so long as he managed to have the two significant women in his life at either side of him. Emilia, Gustave's wife and Sarena's stepmother, sat to her husband's right; he couldn't very well have the two women beside one another, for all the animosity between them. "Don't mind her," the Vandelay heiress mentioned, noting the scowl Emilia wore as Rhys took a seat beside her least favourite person. "That's my dear stepmother. She gives the stinkeye to anyone who appreciates my company. Especially if it's someone capable of stopping her from slitting my throat."

As they took their seats, waiters retrieved the empty champagne flutes, setting wine glasses in their place. No sooner had Rhys taken a seat that he was asked about his preference; the family, on the other hand, had already long established their choices of beverage, and needn't be asked. There was, therefore, no excuse for the glass of honey-coloured liquid to be sat before Sarena, who in the past had had no reservations about making herself clear. "Excuse me," she interrupted the waiter before he could set the crystal glass before her, brows knitting together in puzzlement. "I prefer red. I've always preferred red... This should not come as a surprise or anyone, and frankly, I don't understand the mistake."

"It's too early in the evening for a scene, Sarena," Gustave admonished, and shook his head at the waiter. "Angus, will you please exchange this for a glass of red?"

"Certainly. My apologies, Miss. Sir. " Embarrassed, the waiter hastily retrieve the glass of dry white, but not before he and the blonde woman sitting to Gustave's right shared a curious look. Emilia Vandelay seemed to share the briefest of conspiratorial smiles with the young man before he left to correct his mistake. It could have meant any number of things, of course. But given the woman's history with Sarena, the uncalled-for mistake that seemed to intrigue her, prospects did not exactly sit in the crime daughter's favour.

"And here you said it wouldn't be you people are looking at," Sarena nudged Rhys teasingly, the silent exchange between her step-mother and the waiter entirely lost on her. "They're so mesmerized by you that they're forgetting what I like. Keep it up and you'll make Angus' boyfriend jealous. Among other people." Vague though the insinuation might have been, it all returned to Sarena got what she wanted, whether it was a glass of wine or the man sitting to her left. At the same time, if she truly thought the waiter stood in her way as an obstacle, she'd have him fired immediately.

Ironically, perhaps termination of Angus' employment in the Vandelay estate was not so far off.

"Terribly sorry, Miss Vandelay," he expressed when he returned some moments later, with a glass of wine so dark it could have been black. 

"About time." Sarena commented, reaching to take the glass by it's stem. "I can't toast to our guest with empty hands, now, can I?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Jan 06, 2015 9:23 pm
by Astrophysicist
Had Rhys Proudfoot not lived this precise scenario a dozen times over in his career as an international operative for Double Eye, he might have dismissed what he witnessed as the product of his own delusions. He might have watched, idle but for his thoughts, convincing himself that the undeniable tells—the exchanged glances, the purposeful mistake—were simply the fruit of an overactive imagination and subsequent paranoia.

But they were not. And Rhys knew better.

For a moment, he was transported back a handful of years to his services at the CIIO. More than one mission he had spent being the thankless watchman for dangers such as this, working undercover amongst high-ranking militants and ambassadors to protect their lives without the VIPs ever realizing they stood in the spotlight of danger. But here, where he sat amidst company that knew him not as some fabricated identity but rather as Rhys Proudfoot, the man he truly was—the stakes were higher, the targets closer, and the effects were personal. 

Nevertheless, a knowing pain stabbed through his chest. On the job, these attempted assassination attempts had been expected. There was always some manner of intelligence alluding to a potential risk. But not here, where he was the most dangerous man in the room; not here, where by all accounts it should have been Rhys doing the killing. The tides had turned and then turned yet again, ebbing from one drought-ravaged shore to flood another saturated beach and reaping disaster twofold in its wake. It was Emilia, now, who was taking aim at the bull’s eye on Sarena’s back—and in truth, he probably should have been thanking her. Should Gustave’s spouse be responsible for her stepdaughter’s death, she would simultaneously be relieving Rhys of the pressures of his orders.

But if the crime daughter’s life in jeopardy wasn’t enough to coax forth pangs of anxiety, then the notion of doing nothing to prevent Emilia’s attack was sure to push him over that too-familiar edge. He had to act quickly, not just to save his new companion’s life but also to keep his own cool—a vital performance for his own well-being beneath Gustave Vandelay’s critical eye. With no opportunity to pull Sarena from the table of her family, and with all eyes on their group as the guests prepared for the toast, there was little left to do but play into the limelight.

He watched from his peripheral vision as the young woman reached for the glass proffered by the conspiring waiter. It was now or never. With a surge of adrenaline, he rose to his feet just as her fingers brushed the crystal, conveniently bumping the waiter’s elbow as he relinquished his hold. Startled, the young man withdrew, and the glass plummeted to the polished marble. If the honored guest’s sudden shift in position wasn’t enough to draw eyes, the musical shattering of the spilled chalice certainly captured their attention. Rhys, glancing downward at the puddle of deep red on the floor, looked back up with perfectly feigned amusement. Making light of his purposeful clumsiness was the best way to proceed.

“Surely a simple tapping of the glass would have been sufficient to begin this toast,” he said warmly, his tenor resonating through the quieted ballroom. A chuckle swept the crowd—they bought it. Reaching down to sweep up his own glass of wine, he raised it up and looked to Gustave. “Forgive me, sir,” he said genially. “As you know, I am no great lover of the spotlight. To be the guest of the evening is quite enough for me.” He turned back to the crowd, beaming. They responded with smiles in return as he met several of their gazes. “So I would like to redirect the toast to the man kind enough to allow me the honor of serving his family. To Mr. Gustave Vandelay!”

The ballroom echoed with the repeated declaration, followed by the staccato celebratory chime of glasses gently colliding. Cheers and polite applause erupted, and Rhys lowered himself back to his seat, taking a long drink of his own dry chardonnay.

To any regular onlooker, there was no indication that the former Double Eye operative was experiencing mental distress. His posture, expression, and gestures were well within the realm of what was expected. But to those who had witnessed the darkness he harbored behind that calculated façade, subtle signs pointed to his unease. A thin sheen of sweat had coated his brow at his hairline, and he pressed the palm not occupied with a wine glass tightly to his knee, out of sight of anyone not seated directly adjacent.

Feeling Sarena’s eyes on him, he shifted his attention back to the Vandelay heiress, arching his brows. “Sorry about that,” he said nonchalantly, leaning in closer to her as several other waitstaff knelt beside them to mop up the crimson at their feet. His blue eyes had darkened. "At least there's no shortage of the stuff."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 2:01 am
by Requiem
Sarena had lived with Emilia and all of her hate for over a quarter of a decade. Since the first time the woman had legitimately made an attempt on her life, when the heiress had barely hit puberty, she had made a note to carefully assess each and every assassination attempt lodged by the woman who she was supposed to call her mother. Emilia was clever enough never to try to extinguish the flame of her 'daughter's' life by her own hand; Gustave was always too close by, and she doubted her ability to cover her own footsteps or erase her own fingerprints in the aftermath. 

That much taught Sarena, at a fairly young age, to be wary of anyone and everyone, friend, family member and stranger alike. Over the years, Emilia had attempted to have her shot, stabbed, poisoned, to be run off the road towards certain demise, smothered in her sleep, among many other creative ways to kill a person. Poison by some means, the crime daughter had come to realize, was one of Emilia's favourite methods, and one for which she kept an eye out almost constantly.

That said, the mafia heiress had no excuse for failing to detect something awry about the conduct of her father's staff. Perhaps she was simply distracted; Rhys' company was really the only company for whom she'd come to this gathering, and despite that it happened to take place in the presence of her loathsome and dangerous family, the idea that this counted as yet another 'date' continued to ring in her ears.
Or, perhaps it was just that she'd dared to let her guard down in the presence of her father's favourite new employee. Because there was no need to be guarded when you were sitting beside the second most dangerous man in the room; second only to Gustave himself.

Regardless of her carelessness, Sarena found herself just as started as everyone else when her glass of wine went toppling to the floor, shattering with a splash of red on the hard marble. The tension in the room was only broken by Proudfoot's smooth tongue, making a joke that likely only further endeared him to Gustave, saving the man from the embarrassment of what appeared to be incompetent serving staff. The head of the Vandelay estate simply offered a demure smile, raising a hand at the toast as if it were not at all necessary, yet appreciating it all the same. "No need for such gestures to endear yourself to me, Mr. Porudfoot," Gustave joked, nudging the red hand with his elbow. "Any greater a promotion that what I've given you, and you'd have my job."

Sarena watched the casual banter between her father and her new companion, eyes carefully trained on the latter's demeanor. He didn't appear to be anxious or upset, but something about what had just happened felt... off. Waiting until he turned to speak to her, the thin sheen of sweat that glistened on his brow, and the darkness that settled in his eyes confirmed that not all was well. "No. There certainly isn't," she returned, concerning his comment about no shortage of wine at the Vandelay estate. "By all means, let me know if there is anything else we can get you. Considering how incompetent our staff seem to be today, I can personally see to it, myself." There was hardly any disguise in her roundabout offer to help. The dangerous brunette held the hit man's gaze with a severity that suggested not only that she knew he was off, detecting those first signs that he might completely lose it again--just as he had after killing Colstorm--but that she was willing and capable of getting him out of the fire before it started. 

Coming from Sarena, though, it wasn't so much an offer as it was an order. Because one panic attack in front of this table full of sharks would be, both literally and figuratively, suicide for the Vandelays' newest employee.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 5:16 pm
by Astrophysicist
As the guests’ attention dispersed back to their individual tables, the sharply dressed waitstaff—minus the young man whose plans Rhys had thwarted—filed into the ballroom with trays of savory-scented appetizers. The volume of chatter had risen considerably as the attendees gushed over the square plates placed before them, and the flurry of activity from the servers (all of whom seemed more on edge after their coworkers’ perceived clumsiness) ensured a delighted buzz from the crowd as their drinks were refilled and their palates satiated.

Rhys, however convincing his façade, had to force himself to eat. Despite what was undoubtedly a crew of five-star chefs behind the scenes, each morsel fell dry and tasteless on his tongue. What would normally have been a routine derailment of an assassination attempt had the gesture been on Double Eye’s behalf—something that, unlike his own elimination of Colstorm two nights prior, was so tame and uneventful that it bordered on commonplace in his former profession—was suddenly overwhelming. Perhaps it was simply the reality of his situation sinking in at last, and the truth that he could not, under any circumstances, allow the heiress to perish under his watch—as much for his own sake as for hers.

Because for all his missions and all his travels, all the lives he’d ever saved or taken, he suddenly could not imagine a world without Sarena Vandelay in it.

In the context of dimmed chandeliers, cold marble floors beneath polished shoes, silk white tablecloths, and people clad in high-end suits and gowns no layman’s salary could ever afford, the former spy’s senses, and therefore his reactions, were heightened. This time the stimulation came not from a little blue pill, but from the fuel of anxiety that dwelled perpetually in his gut. Fear rather than ecstasy set his feelings ablaze, and it was taking every ounce of willpower he possessed to keep the fire at bay. He downed his second glass of chardonnay and quickly ordered another (with a smile and a thank-you, of course), before he turned to the dark-haired young woman at his side and caught her stare.

Under her knowing scrutiny, Rhys could feel his composure betraying his underlying tempest of panic; he could see it in her eyes that she knew something was wrong, that she was too smart and too observant and too informed to fall for his act of togetherness. His heart pounded in his ears so loudly over dessert he would have been frightened the others at the table could hear it if he didn’t know better. Sarena may as well have, though, and strangely it was comforting to know that while he might have been suffering in silence, he was not quite alone in the trial. But that didn’t stop his throat from tightening. Nor did it quell the sheen of sweat across his brow or still the subtle trembling in his hands. He was quick to put down his fork as soon as he had devoured the decadent cake served as the meal’s last course.

Music soon began to play, and tipsy, well-fed couples took to the dance floor in laughing droves as they finished their sweets. Feeling as though he might crumble at any moment, Rhys rose to his feet as casually as he could manage. “Since you were so kind as to see me inside,” he drawled to Sarena, just loud enough for Gustave to hear, “perhaps you would like to accompany me for a dance as well?” He cast the crime lord a knowing glance vis-à-vis the man’s previous warning, and placed his hand on Sarena’s shoulder. What Gustave could not detect, however, was the desperation behind the touch, the clammy grip that was too firm, too pleading. Coupled with the knowing glances she’d cast him throughout the meal, Rhys knew she would get the message.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 9:21 pm
by Requiem
Sarena had attended awkward and precarious dinners in her day. Usually they involved tentative and fragile relations with other crime lords, with the taste of top-notch, exquisite food spoiled by the tension that choked the room. It was not an unfamiliar atmosphere to her, one that she could pick out with ease, based on the tone of conversational banter, down to the temperature in the air. It was not the sort of atmosphere that she expected to detect tonight, of all nights; not over a simple dinner (or perhaps 'simple' was the wrong word; her father prided himself in his ability to throw a good party) thrown in light of the speedy promotion of a new employee. The tension and the vibes... they didn't make sense.

Nor did the signs of anxiety on Rhys skin, in his eyes, and in the tension of his muscles make any sense. It wasn't uncommon for people to be ill at ease around her father; unless that person happened to be Rhys Proudfoot whom, she was certain, had dealt with worse. He had worked for the CIIO, after all, the only place where the Vandelay daughter was aware worse men than her father existed. They could talk all the talk they wanted, but in the end, a goal was a goal, and it was not as though men like Marionnetti wouldn't put away a few casualties, with the excuse that the end justified the means. Men like that seldom thought contrariwise.

It only dawned on her when some of the serving staff hurriedly set forth to clean up the broken glass and spilled wine: Vandelay waiters were not careless. They'd not have been hired, if they were too incompetent to remember the drink of choice of Gustave Vandelay's very heir. And Emilia, for all she felt the world owed her eternity and more, never had such a propensity to frown during one of her husband's entertaining events. Something... There had been something about the staff, the wine, and Emilia's suddenly foul mood.

Poison.

A chilly wave of terror, the type you experience in hindsight after only narrowly avoiding certain danger or doom, swept over Sarena and penetrated her skin, down to her bones. Altogether, her appetite evaporated with whatever air illusion of safety she'd assumed. And the more she watched the red hand out of the corner of her eye, the more his composure began to crumble, starting with the thin sheen of sweat on his brow, to the subtle, almost imperceptible tremor in his hands as he lifted his fork and knife, quickly downing a second glass of wine likely in an attempt to soothe his nerves. The bottom line of it was, he was headed downhill, and fast. And it wouldn't be long before her father took notice, sitting at his other side.

Sarena was just about to propose a diversion when Rhys spoke up, the edges of his facade just beginning to lift in the way he gripped her shoulder--gripped, not patted or caressed. They needed to blend in before he shattered entirely and stood out. "You don't even need to ask. Excuse us, father, won't you?" Placing a hand firmly on the small of his back, Sarena was the one to lead Rhys off to the other side of the ballroom, at which point she did not hesitate to wrap her arms around his neck and brush her lips against his ear. "The wine. She tried to poison me... it was the wine, wasn't it?" For what was perhaps the first time, there was urgency in Sarena Vandelay's typically calm tone. A realization that she had come too close to brushing hands with death. "You saved my life, Proudfoot. Again... maybe it's my own fault for letting my guard down. You make me feel too safe."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Thu Jan 08, 2015 11:02 pm
by Astrophysicist
On one hand, the major advantage to having endured countless prior episodes of panic was that he recognized the symptoms immediately for what they were. While he had yet to master shutting them down completely—hence his real, ongoing struggle with post-traumatic stress—he was nevertheless adept at delaying the worst of their onset should he catch them early in their progression. With Colstorm, it struck too hard and too fast to duck out of anxiety’s trajectory; now, though the experience was no more pleasant, it was at least the product of a far slower, far more easily detected swell.

But he couldn’t hold it off forever. He knew it, and so did Sarena, whose probing glances throughout the two courses of dinner and dessert betrayed her concern. Ever perceptive, her gracious acceptance of his offer to dance was followed by a swift departure steered by her hand—guidance he was grateful for. They meandered to the opposite end of the dance floor near a moderately elevated stage, where an unassuming three-piece band armed with a couple of keyboards, auxiliary percussion, and a vocalist, began to play as soon as most of the tables had been cleared. Despite their proximity, Rhys could barely hear them over the hammering rhythm of his own heartbeat.

Sarena could not drape her arms around his neck quickly enough, and neither could he bow his head above her shoulder and take her in his own embrace. There was desperation and fear in his gesture, both of which manifested in a way that was at once protective and in search of reassurance for himself. He hooked his hands together at the small of her back, gripping his own fingers tightly as he pulled her close with the pressure of his arms. The urgency of her voice in his ear did nothing to ease his distress.

“It was the wine,” he confirmed, his voice barely a whisper in her ear. It was several moments before his tight throat allowed him to speak again, paralyzed all over again at hearing the words out loud. She was here, alive, in the security of his arms, and yet all he could think about was how close things had come to turning out very differently. A vision of the previous night’s dream—a flash of white sheets painted in blossoming scarlet, the sight of her pleading blue eyes, so shocked yet so trusting—rendered him unable to breathe, and he leaned into Sarena as a wave of dizziness swept over him. 

“You are safe, always,” he murmured at last, when the shock of remembrance lifted and he was once again able to inhale the soft perfume of her hair and skin. “But I’m…I’m not sure I am. Not like this. Not right now.” The spy pursed his lips and leaned his head against hers, an action that was commonplace enough to an outside eye, but that the heiress would understand to be a plea for assistance. “Help me, Sarena,” he whispered, hoarse. “I don’t know if I can fight this by myself…”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Jan 09, 2015 1:24 am
by Requiem
Safe. The word held so many connotations, and was so relative to one's unique disposition that it was almost debatable. What was it about Rhys Proudfoot, specifically, that made her safe, and from whom? Emilia couldn't touch her; she could try, but the red hand was too sharp and attuned to such veiled assaults. The CIIO couldn't touch her; Proudfoot knew the insides and outsides of the organization, in such detail that Sarena wondered if he still carried the disposition of a spy on the side of the law (and not necessarily morality). Hell, her own father likely couldn't lay a finger on her in Rhys' presence, despite that he was arguably the most powerful in the room.

The moment they'd entered the soiree together, Sarena Vandelay had believed herself untouchable, all thanks to her new companion. And such was probably true; but if Rhys was truly the wall that stood between her body and certain peril, she couldn't neglect the fact that any wall, even on crafted of diamond and not easily scratched, was not indestructible. And under the right circumstances, in the wrong moment, the faint, spiderweb cracks in Rhys Proudfoots resolve could crumble him under the slightest pressure. At which point that alluring daydream that was 'safety' would dissolve for the both of them.

Those fine cracks were branching out, before her blue eyes, and it was only a matter of time before her father's newest (and new favourite) employee crumbled. At which point Gustave would sweep the pieces of him under the rug.

"Shh. You're in control, Proudfoot." The mafia heiress murmured, moving her hands to cradle either side of his face. "You've got this. It's a party, people are having fun, everyone's too drunk on expensive booze to give a shit about either of us--Emilia is likely off sulking." Though a weak attempt, she figured that drawing his attention to how banal the situation was would sooth his building anxiety; just a party with a bunch of high-class, expensive drunks, and they'd dodged a bullet. Even Emilia, for all she hated her, knew better than to risk striking twice in the same night, let alone the same hour. But the panic bubbling to the hit man's surface had already taken on a life of its own, one that surpassed mundane reality. In his head, he had already convinced himself he was living a nightmare. 

There were no questionable blue pills to relax him this time. And as he crumbled in her arms, Sarena Vandelay suddenly--frighteningly--realized that, at that moment, it was she who served as the wall between Rhys and certain peril. He was her best means of protection; and she was all he had to count on to hold him up.

"I showed you how to have fun, remember? It wasn't that long ago." Her mouth brushed his ear again as she held him tight against her torso. Any onlookers likely thought nothing of it--it wasn't uncommon for a bright-eyed sap to end up in the arms of Sarena Vandelay on the dance floor, after all. "This is a party. We can still have fun here--that's what parties are for. Let me remind you."
And without another word, she seized his lips in a hungry kiss, one that allowed for no negotiation or room for question. She kissed him like she had outside her apartment complex, after he'd lashed out at her following Colstorm's assassination; if it had helped him regain his autonomy over his thoughts and feelings before, grounded him back in the reality that they both occupied, then it was worth a desperate shot.

"You're safe," she murmured breathlessly, in-between fervent kisses. "You've got this. I've got your back."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Jan 09, 2015 2:02 am
by Astrophysicist
He could have let it happen. He could have watched as the waiter placed the poisoned chalice before Sarena; he could have raised a toast and observed as she consumed it, allowing the deadly substance to make its way past her tongue and down her throat, where it would wreak its irreversible havoc. He even could have stood by as she collapsed and struggled to breathe, as her system succumbed to the planted toxin—and he could have walked away, his hired duty done, the blame for Gustave’s daughter’s death on the shoulders of the man’s own wife, the red hand’s own job and safety secure for the foreseeable future.

But as convenient or practical as it might have been for any other cold-blooded assassin on the Vandelay payroll, Rhys Proudfoot was no Murphy Colstorm. It wasn’t solely his state of mind that separated him from the man he murdered in the alley, nor was it his past as a government agent. But in any other circumstance, Rhys might have acted precisely like the man he’d replaced at Gustave’s side—ready and willing to pull a trigger, to do what would push moral men over the proverbial edge, to abandon morality in favor of progress. The former spy did not like to admit the similarity, but it was there all the same, and it was likely that unease—that thought that he was capable of doing exactly as Colstorm would in this situation—that fueled his panic.

I’m no better than the men I killed, he thought, pursing his lips against the pressure of his panic. His anxiety crescendoed, but he clung to Sarena’s voice in his ear, using her words as a lifeline to tether him to a reality in which it was vital to maintain his composure. He knew very well that Emilia would not strike again that night; nothing about the timing was correct, and someone that desperate never recovered quickly enough from the embarrassment of their failure to organize a well-considered second take. But that didn’t stop him from feeling threatened, from experiencing the residual vibrations of the first venomous strike. His panic needed time to run its course.

He held his breath for several long moments as Sarena spoke, then released the pent air in a long, slow exhale. The rush of fear began to plateau. I showed you how to have fun, remember? It wasn’t that long ago. What was likely gentle sarcasm regarding their timeline sparked unexpected remembrance in him that lit a path back to the present. During his attacks, time often disappeared, and his consciousness existed outside any logical or linear realm; inserting such a benchmark forced him to connect back to reality’s forward flow. He drew another shaky breath, nodding to himself until the gesture was interrupted with a kiss…

The connection of their lips tugged him yet closer to actuality. He pulled away only when he needed a breath, pressing his clammy forehead to Sarena’s as they swayed slowly to the haunting melody saturating the air. Given the dense inebriated crowd surrounding them, the chances of anyone important noticing their intimacy were slim. “I warned you, didn’t I?” he whispered at last, untying his knitted fingers and placing his palms gently against her waist. The faintest trace of an exhausted smile flickered over his pallid expression. “To be prepared for an I-told-you-so if I leave with a frown.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Jan 09, 2015 5:19 pm
by Requiem
What Sarena kept concealed behind her kisses, behind the languid drawl of her voice and the casual way she knotted her fingers in Rhys' curls, was that she had no inkling of certainty that this would even work. Beyond reassurance, she couldn't keep him safe, not from the scrutinizing eyes of her father, or all of the other vipers within and without her family. One slip up, a moment of weakness, and Gustave would question everything--namely if he had made a mistake in both confiding in and promoting Rhys.
She couldn't let that happen. And some strange, mal-adaptive urge threatened to push her to put her own life in danger, before Rhys succumbed to his own terror and self-loathing.

It wasn't instantaneous, and did not unfold as quickly as before, but the heiress gradually felt the tension in her dance partner's muscles diminish. A smile of relief touched the corners of her lips as Rhys relaxed into her embrace, descending the wave of panic and returning to the man she had greeted at the door."If you do happen to leave with a frown--which is unlikely, but I'll humour the idea," she whispered back, gently taking his earlobe between her teeth and tugging playfully, "then I guess I'll just have to find a way to make up for it later tonight. One way or another, I'm a woman who keeps her promises."

"God, Sarena. Can't you behave, even in front of your own father?" The voice that temporarily shattered their briefly intimate moment was light and feminine, with the haughty lilt of a girl with prestige. Sarena didn't need to turn her head to take into account the disapproving form of Grace Vandelay, her second youngest cousin. Glad predictably in a shimmering salmon colour, the glass of wine in her hand and the faint flush to her cheeks and nose was evidence enough as to why she saw fit so so openly express her opinion. Hardly anyone of the Vandelay bloodline could hold their tongue under the influence of alcohol.

Regardless, Sarena wasn't about to let it get to her. "Charming cut-in, Grace." she smirked, making no attempt to put distance between herself and Rhys. "Rhys, this is my little cousin, Grace. Grace, meet Rhys Proudfoot. If you don't know who he is, you shouldn't even be here."

"Leave it to you to take the class out of 'classy'." Taking another sip of the red wine, the younger woman eyed Rhys up and down, before settling her disapproving gaze on Sarena once again. "If I were you, I'd get out of whatever you're planning, before she slits your throat in your sleep." Although she spoke to Rhys, her eyes didn't leave Sarena's face. "Don't think I didn't catch wind of that banker's son last week. You're really a piece of work."

The last two clauses, before Grace turned her back and walked away, were, obviously, directed at Sarena. Not that Gustave's daughter and heir cared a hint for what Grace knew or didn't know. "She's just a nobody who think she's somebody," she commented, straightening Rhys' lapels, which had wrinkled in their moment of passion. "No one here, save for my own father, can trump anything that I might have to say. It's a hierarchy for a reason. Anyway, I can get us out of here, if you'd prefer." With a demure grin, she added, "I promise I won't slit your throat in your sleep. Grace is exaggerating; that only happened a couple of times. I already owe you a couple of lives for saving mine."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Jan 09, 2015 8:10 pm
by Astrophysicist
From his fingertips to his toes, his whole body quivered against her small frame. But he was emerging on the other side of his terror, and the quick, tiny shakes that continued to wrack his frame were trembles of relief. A slower onset often meant a lingering descent, but it was a small price to pay for maintaining some semblance of control. The light at the end of the tunnel shone bright and clear ahead, and all he had to do to reach it was waltz—literally and figuratively, at the moment—hand-in-hand with Sarena.

The relief that he detected in her expression when she pulled away was both heartening and heartbreaking; a pang of humiliation resonated through him, and while he absolutely had her to thank for his successful navigation of the attack, he did not like that she had been distressed. Since Tribeca-Antioch and his severance from Double Eye, Rhys Proudfoot had generally ceased to care about such trivialities; to mind what others thought was a waste of attention. But Sarena Vandelay was different in more ways than the former spy could accurately list, and in the scant handful of days he had spent with her, she had already managed to conjure parts of him he’d long ago dismissed as losses.

“You do keep your promises, I’ll give you that,” he responded, a low murmur in her ear. They swayed slowly to the mellow beat. “Maybe I’ll give you a rain check on that smile. Cash it in a little later, as you say.” Another soft, fleeting smile crossed his features, one that vanished as swiftly as it had appeared as soon as a shrill voice cut through their hushed conversation.

A young woman in floor-length gown stood hardly an arm’s reach away. Rhys recognized her almost immediately—if not by name, then by her features, which carried a distinct similarity to those carried by the Vandelay bloodline. Though certainly striking, Grace did not possess the same physical beauty as her cousin. Confident enough now to pull away from Sarena—only enough to greet the inebriated woman—he smiled politely at the other Vandelay girl and turned on the same charm that had kept so many others fooled already that night.

“A red hand never sleeps,” he returned smoothly, arching his brows. “Nice to meet you, too, by the way.” The haughty cousin paid him no heed; instead, she pushed forth what words she could manage before sauntering away, leaving Sarena smirking in her wake.

“Just how, exactly, do you plan on smuggling out the whole reason for the party?” He quirked an eyebrow, his complexion still ashen but his eyes brighter. “Won’t your father notice my absence? And yours, for that matter?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Jan 09, 2015 9:16 pm
by Requiem
Rhys' question was, of course, returned with a knowing smile, and a glimmer of mischief in Sarena's blue eyes. "You know, it cute that you still think that pulling the wool over my father's eyes is some great feat for me," she drawled, tracing his jawline with a delicate fingertip. "Don't forget, Rhys--I'm Sarena Vandelay. And I always get what I want, because I know just the means to get it. Now, do me a favour, and... try to look unsteady." Given that he'd just recovered from a near panic attack, she figured it wouldn't be difficult.

Planting a chaste kiss on his cheek, the mafia daughter crossed the room to her father, who stood with a cigar in his hand, chatting two two other like-aged men, too immersed in their exclusive conversation to pay any heed to the other guests. With a hand on his forearm, Sarena leaned in to get his attention, in that personally-endearing way that a daughter did when she sought to appeal to her old man. Gustave paused long enough to hear her out, then cast his gaze across the room to Rhys. Murmuring something back to her with a nod, he then flagged down one of the waiters, as Sarena made her way back to her dance partner.

"I told him you're having a reaction to the white wine," she murmured, slipping an arm around his waist, as if to guide him out. "And that you mentioned this to the waiter--the one that tried to poison me, incidentally--but he kept fucking up and refilling your glass with the same stuff. But, of course, you're too polite not to drink it. So I'm to take you home." Pausing in step, she added, "On the condition that I--get this?--behave. The funny part is, I think he actually believed I would listen."

With the assurance that the waiter in cahoots with Emilia would likely be fired by the end of the night, and the relief that accompanied Rhys narrowly avoiding exposing the delicacy of his anxiety, Sarena exited the ball room with her date; who, incidentally, did leave with a smile on his face. Just as promised. "Wait here, I'm going to arrange for a ride away from this gilded hellhole. Is it just me, or does that fucking cigar smoke make it feel more stifling in this place than it actually is?"

Heading down the length of the corridor in her heels, Sarena turned the corner, leaving Rhys completely alone--or so she'd thought. As soon as she was out of sight, the familiar click of a pistol broke the silence behind him. And it wasn't any employee of Gustave's or Emilia's, or even the CIIO, for that matter. The person holding the gun was, in fact, a twelve-year old boy.

"I know." He began, voice shaking with conviction. "I know why you're here. And I know who you're going to kill and, I won't let you! I won't let you hurt Sarena."

 

   
ReplyQuote
Requiem
(@requiem)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 842
 
by Astrophysicist
Just as Sarena had presumed, it was not at all difficult for the red hand to appear unsteady on his feet. In fact, as the slender young woman sauntered dutifully away, he had to steady himself on the edge of the stage to keep himself upright without the support of another body. It was evident even in the chandeliers’ dim light that color had not yet returned to his cheeks, and with the ballroom pitching on the edges of his vision, he was precisely the picture the heiress painted for her father—whose appraising stare he could feel from across the room.

At the very least, Rhys could breathe easier now that the worst of his anxiety had subsided. The residual effects would take longer to disperse, but he was grateful that the episode had been relatively short-lived. Sarena had once again come to his rescue just as he had come to hers; their give-and-take equilibrium was keeping them both alive in a tricky, deceptive world that would not look back should either of them stumble.

He took Sarena’s arm when she returned, allowing her to assist him out of the spotlight and into the surrounding corridors. On this side of the ballroom, the halls were vacant; the kitchens were located on the opposite end, where most of the staff ran to and fro in frantic searches for beverage refills and fresh hors d’oeuvres. “I would have liked to have seen Grace’s face if she heard that,” Rhys said. Though his voice was weak, it was a positive sign of improvement that his sense of humor was returning. “Or saw us leave together. I think she’s just jealous. And understandably so, I should add.”

At her prompt, the former operative waited near the west-side doors, squinting through the reflective glass at the mist and drizzle outside. He saw the glimmer of movement just as he heard the telltale sound. The hollow click of the cocked pistol did not have a chance to finish before his hand was inside his blazer and he whirled around, the barrel of his Beretta staring down an entirely unexpected threat: a young boy, his expression determined and his hands trembling.

There was a beat of silence before the boy spoke. Rhys, alert and bristling but not anxious, tightened his grip on the gun despite the words he heard. “Put it down,” Proudfoot said icily, his gaze not once leaving the boy’s. “You don’t know what you’re saying.” He inched slowly forward, holding the twelve-year-old’s attention with his unwavering stare. “Put it down.”

Without warning—and banking on the boy’s inexperience—Rhys reached out, wrapping one strong hand around the short handgun’s barrel and twisting it downward and to the side at once. It slipped from the boy’s grasp easily into the red hand’s, and before Albert could mutter a word, Rhys had pinned him to the wall with his forearm across his shoulders.

“Quiet,” Rhys ordered in a harsh whisper, bending down to look straight into the boy’s frightened eyes. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” He drew a hard breath. “You don’t want to kill me, son. You don’t even want to try.” The boy struggled against Proudfoot’s grasp. “Look, kid, I just saved Sarena’s life back there. It’s not me you should be threatening with that.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Jan 10, 2015 12:04 am
by Requiem
Albert, in all this twelve years of existence, had seen enough guns to know the ins and outs better than any twelve-year-old should. He knew how to hold them, how to prep them, and recently--though he'd had to do some reading up on this bit--how to position himself to avoid kickback, something to take into consideration when you were a thin young boy. He knew how to aim, not to mention where to aim, depending on whether you were going for a kill or simply wished to injure someone.
What he didn't know, however, was how to pull the trigger; or, at least, he'd had yet to pull one. And now that the moment had presented itself, he'd paused for just a hint too long.

One moment he was holding his father's gun; the next, it was on the floor, and his shoulder blades were digging into the wall. "Let me go!" Albert demanded, only to be silenced by Rhys' harsh whisper as he struggled in vain against the man's strength. "I know why you're really here. You're here to sniff out a rat, and I know Sarena is that rat--I pay attention when people think I don't know what they're talking about... Why should I believe you saved her life, huh? You're a hit man. You don't save lives, you take them!"

"The hell is going on?" Just as she'd promised, Sarena hadn't been long to secure a ride out and away from the Vandelay estate. Cerulean gown shimmering as she closed the distance between them with long strides, she was quick to grasp Rhys by the shoulder; and, for the first time, it wasn't an amicable gesture. "Let him go, Rhys," she demanded, a trace of panic in her voice to witness a gun being trained on perhaps the only Vandelay who couldn't figure back. "Let him go... Albert, what the fuck do you think you're doing? Is that your father's gun?"

"I was afraid for you." Even after Rhys let him go, Albert didn't move a muscle, searching Sarena's eyes as if to will her to understand. "He was going to kill you. That's why he's here, Rena, not for... for whatever reason your father said he was. He was hired to kill a rat. And... you're the rat."

The mafia daughter didn't hesitate. Fury bubbled beneath the surface of her usual smooth, calm resolve, and before Albert could say anything more, the palm of her hand met the side of his face in an audible slap. "What did I tell you, Albert? What the fuck did I tell you!" Leaning forward, she grasped the lapels of her younger cousin's shirt. "You don't point a gun at anyone unless you know you can kill them! Had this been anyone but Rhys, you'd be dead on the floor right now."

Whether from the slap, or from overwhelming emotion, Albert's eyes welled with tears as he straightened his posture. "I couldn't take a chance... Sarena, if you died..."

"Go home, Albert. Right now." The mafia heiress ordered, picking up the gun and clicking the safety into place. "If I ever see you touch a gun again, before you're ready, then I'll give you a reason to pull the fucking trigger. Do you understand?"

Her younger cousin, at a loss for words at this point, wiped his eyes on his sleeve and turned to dash down the hallway. The sting of Sarena's palm was nothing compared to what she felt, making the kid cry. "He's biting off more than he can chew," she muttered dismissively. "Come on. There's a car waiting for us outside."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Jan 10, 2015 12:45 am
by Astrophysicist
Though his heart thundered once more in his ears, it was not anxiety this time that fueled the pulses. Rhys relinquished his hold on the boy at the prompt of Sarena’s sharp fingertips in his shoulder, and he stepped back, hesitant to lower his gun. Without knowing exactly who this boy was—although, like Grace Vandelay, the family resemblance was by no means subtle—he was not keen on the idea of letting down his guard in the presence of the woman he wanted and needed to protect. 

It was soon obvious that his companion had control of the situation, however, and the former spy tucked his loaded weapon back inside the front of his sleek black blazer. Even though he’d known the crime family personally for only a handful of days, he knew enough not to underestimate any of them, not even the members still in the throes of youth. The slap of Sarena’s palm against Albert’s tender cheek was enough to convince him that he had made the right move in holstering his own pistol; witnessing the confrontation, and the plain fear on the young boy’s face, made it clear that his intentions had been genuine—if absolutely foolhardy.

After they watched Albert disappear down the long hallway, his hasty footsteps slapping the cold marble, Rhys heaved a heavy sigh. The former spy was not unused to being on the receiving end of a loaded firearm, nor was it the first time he’d been threatened by someone no more than a boy. The chill that settled in his bones, therefore, had nothing to do with the dreary weather and everything to do with the Vandelay cousin’s words—an open confession of the secret behind Rhys’s hire, a true vocalization of the nightmares and daydreams that had plagued him since his meeting with Gustave.

A well-dressed man with an umbrella tapped thrice on the glass door, greeting them with an umbrella against the spring drizzle as they splashed their way to the shelter of the automobile’s luxury interior. The spy remained utterly silent throughout the ride, his preoccupied gaze focused out the window at the passing halos of mist-clouded street lamps. When they arrived at Sarena’s apartment building and stepped inside the elevator, Rhys closed his eyes and reached for the young woman’s hand, squeezing it in his own until she had to unlock the door. 

“He was right, Sarena,” he whispered as soon as the door closed, trembling returning to his fingertips. Collapsing on the sofa, he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and staring at the carpet beneath his polished shoes. His temples throbbed with sudden pain, and he threaded his fingers through his hair until his palms cradled his skull on either side. “About all of it. I had no idea what I was getting into. And I…I didn’t have a choice. I had to nod, I had to smile and accept it, like he’d just given me the keys to an empire. I won’t do it, Sarena, I can’t…don’t you see?” He looked up at last, searching for the familiar cerulean of her gaze. "Say something. Please, anything..."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Jan 10, 2015 1:05 pm
by Requiem
The silence in the car on the way back was a decidedly uneasy one, even in the presence of good company, Sarena found. Not unlike Rhys, her muscles were taut with apprehension, but for an entirely different reason. Albert's face continually flashed in her mind, the wide-blue eyes against his pale complexion, and the words that repeated over and over, like a taunting mantra: I was afraid for you... As if the boy had taken up the responsibility of being her bodyguard, even at the cost of his own life. It was too much to digest, and she never again wanted to think about those small hands coming into contact with gunmetal ever again.

Unfortunately, for a Vandelay, if you weren't holding the gun, you were on the receiving end of the barrel. But Albert Vandelay was too young to be concerned with firearms yet.

Tipping the driver, Sarena kept Rhys close to her person as they made the way back up to her apartment, fingers woven together, yet with something heavy and unspoken hanging over their heads and weighing on their shoulders. And without it being said, the mafia daughter was well aware that she and the red hand were thinking about the exact same thing.

Rhys brought it to the surface before she had a chance.
Listening as he spoke, the Vandelay daughter crossed the room to her mini bar, where she poured half a tumbler full of the hit man's favourite amber drink. Without a word, or any inquiry as to whether or not he wanted any, she placed it in his trembling hands. "Relax," she sighed, pulling the elastic from her hair and allowing the taut tresses to unwind from their plait all on her their own. "Have a drink, and go lie down. I... I need to go grab a shower."

Without waiting for a response, Sarena made for the bathroom, where she couldn't strip out of her dress and step into the torrent of how water fast enough. Despite the warmth permeating her skin, the Vandelay daughter shook from head to two. All this time, and she'd let Rhys Proudfoot into her personal space. She'd kissed him, held him, fallen asleep next to him, never once suspecting the agenda that had been forced upon him. Gustave had no idea that he had hired one of the most notable hit men ever to grace Vandelay employment to kill his own daughter.
All this time, and Rhys hadn't told her. And, on the other hand, he'd likewise never seized the opportunity to kill her.

When her skin was pink and tender from the rush of scalding water, the heiress stepped out and dried herself, before folding her thin blue robe around her body and making her way back through the living room, towards her bedroom. Proudfoot had heeded her advice and was already lying down, staring up at the ceiling with eyes that didn't appear to be looking at anything in particular. After only a brief hesitation, she stretched her lithe form out next to him, pulling her damp, dark hair over her shoulder, to prevent dampening the sheets. "He'll kill you, you know." The crime daughter's voice was quiet, and lacking its typical spoiled-princess bravado. "If you don't follow through... it's my life or yours, Rhys Proudfoot." Closing her eyes, she pressed a slow exhale from her lungs. "If you impress my father, you'd never want for anything, ever again. He takes good care of his own... and, I suppose, if I had to be killed by anyone, I'd much rather it be you. To take the wind out of Emilia's sails, if nothing else."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Jan 10, 2015 7:04 pm
by Astrophysicist
Rhys Proudfoot had never been the sort of man to follow orders blindly. Despite having worked in an environment based on strict hierarchy, he’d been notorious among DPD operatives for deviating from scheduled plans. Tesh Marionetti had not approved of such autonomy in the field; it endangered his fellow agents and handlers, he’d argued, and threatened to jeopardize the ultimate goals of any particular mission. But Rhys, however stubborn in his methods, had always prioritized the agency’s endgame. An accomplished mission was the ultimate definition of success in the business, and the mindset held through even after diverting his career path to be a recluse assassin. It didn’t matter how he eliminated his targets; it only mattered that he finished the job.

For the first time in a very long while, Proudfoot was forced to abandon the pattern of thought that had gotten him safely through myriad situations in the past. The methodical philosophy that had motivated him for years was not so failsafe anymore. But how could he communicate that to Sarena? How could he say that what had driven him to underground prestige and ultimately Gustave's employ was no longer relevant, no longer an option for consideration? She knew the mindset as well as he did; it was commonplace amongst those on the lesser side of the law, a technique of cutthroats and spies and every other job description between. And there was nothing save the fact that he had not yet made an attempt on her life to assure her of his intentions.

He downed the glass of amber whiskey that Sarena had deposited hastily in his grasp, cringing against the familiar burn as the unforgiving liquid traveled down his throat. Heaving a sigh that did little to ease the tension in his muscles, he rose to his feet and made his way to the bedroom, where crisp white sheets beckoned his exhausted system to their warm embrace. He shrugged off his blazer and lowered himself to the mattress, knotting his fingers together across his abdomen as he stared, unblinking, at the ceiling.

Sarena took her place next to him some moments later, and a thick silence filled the air as the two mulled over their thoughts. Rhys’s eyes fluttered closed when the heiress at last shattered the quiet. “I know he will,” the former spy responded, his breaths deep and even. “He’ll kill me if I don’t follow through, and he’ll kill me twice over if I do.”

But it was her next words that sent a stab of pain through his heart. If I had to be killed by anyone, I’d much rather it be you. He tightened his jaw and shook his head to himself, his blue eyes darkening as they continued to gaze at the patterns in the ceiling. “Sarena…” Faltering, Rhys paused, formulating his syllables carefully. “I know you heard what I said to Albert. I meant it. It’s not me he should be threatening. Or maybe he should…but not for the reasons he thinks.”

He suddenly turned to lie on his side, facing her. “I’ve hardly slept a night in the last five years without a whole string of terrible dreams playing out behind my eyelids like…like some kind of sick movie that just won’t come to the end of its reel. I’m sure that doesn’t come as a surprise to learn. But I’ve had nightmares, Sarena. I’ve had nightmares every night this past week… And I’ve never felt this kind of fear.” He reached out slowly, but withdrew his hand before his touch could graze her shoulder. “And it’s not my life I’m scared for. You should already know that I can’t do this. Won’t do this.” He searched for her gaze pleadingly. “You do know that, don’t you?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Jan 10, 2015 11:38 pm
by Requiem
Sarena knew. Perhaps the thought that Rhys Proudfoot might kill her had never crossed her mind, because it had never been a threat to begin with. Just as that sense of ease around him, the blissful illusion that no one could touch her and nothing could hurt her, he had never quite presented as a double-edged blade that would strike at her the moment she turned her back. Even now, under her father's orders, and with the possibility of living well and luxuriously for the rest of his life, assassinating her was not something he could do. Something surpassed his survival instinct that urged him to keep her intact, such that were Gustave himself to threaten his life, it wouldn't change his mind.

This was a sentiment, a disposition that Sarena Vandelay did not deserve, from him or from anyone else. But it was not her decision to make, any more than she could dictate Rhys' feelings towards her. No more than she could deny her feelings towards him.

"I am not someone you should lose sleep over." Sarena smiled and traced his jawline with her finger tip, though her smile didn't reach her eyes. "I've killed a lot of people, like you. Sometimes without remorse... I highly expect karma to catch up to me eventually. Far better people than me could end up getting hurt over this fiasco, if it remains unaddressed." People such as young Albert. She couldn't even begin to articulate the way her heart broke on seeing him with the pistol at his feet, determine to kill to ensure her safety. She didn't deserve his protection. And she certainly didn't deserve Rhys' protection.

Yet she had it anyway. And she was loathe to turn it away.

Catching the hand that had only barely grazed her shoulder, the mafia heiress threaded her fingers through Rhys'. "I'm not really afraid for me life, either, to tell you the truth. Not in that I think I'm not a target to be killed--that would be stupid, and you already know otherwise--but in that I don't really fear death. There are a lot more things you can be afraid of..." 

The topic of fear brought her mind back to the back-and-forth that she and Rhys had shared over breakfast at the greasy spoon diner. When he had asked her what she was most afraid of, and she hadn't given him an answer. Perhaps, after saving her life on two separate occasions, she owed him the truth. "Remember when you asked me what I was the most afraid of? And I told you I didn't know?" She asked, her cerulean eyes searching his in the silver moonlight. "That was a lie. What I fear most... what I saw tonight is what I fear most. I first picked up a gun when I was twelve years old. And seeing Albert follow that same trajectory... I don't want him to have any part in this. He isn't safe, not even with his own family, and my greatest fear is that it is going to get him killed. Just as I know it will one day get me killed."

Pressing her lips together, the crime daughter closed her eyes. "I'm not a particularly sympathetic person. Most people I meet, my family included, can go to hell in a hand basket for all I care about them. But Albert... the kid is smart. He doesn't have to be some fucking pawn that perpetuates my family's bullshit. If I knew how to get him out of it, I would, but we're both too tightly woven into the Vandelay tapestry that I could never take him and run. If my father didn't get to me first, the CIIO would... and either way, I'd lose."

Pressing a sigh from her lungs, she pulled her knees to her chest to stave off the encroaching chill of the night. "We're not so different, you and I, you know that? We're both in over our heads in shitty situations, and there's no hope of reaching the surface for air."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Jan 11, 2015 9:50 pm
by Astrophysicist
“What?” An exhausted smile touched his eyes. “Bilâkis, güzelim—on the contrary, my dear. If I’m going to lose sleep anyway, it may as well be over you.” Seeing his companion shudder against the temperature with her damp tresses, he moved closer to her, tucking his arm behind her neck and pulling her close against his form. Despite the delicate humor in his tone and his gaze, the weight of the situation—and the strange shock relief of brutal honesty—still hung heavy in the chilly air. He gripped her opposite shoulder tightly, protectively, and allowed another soft sigh to raise and lower his chest.

Preoccupied and present at once, he hadn’t noticed the Turkish slip from his tongue; under the influence of exhaustion and ebbing anxieties, it flowed as smoothly as the English that followed the declaration. What Sarena did not know—but could likely intuit, even given his abbreviated recount of the events that had shattered his former self—was that he hadn’t uttered a word of the language since the explosion that nearly cost him his life.

To speak it aloud was to reconnect with a past he preferred to leave behind. Historically, acknowledging those memories had always doomed him to a violent mental confrontation of remembrance and reality. Yet here, with Sarena Vandelay nestled against his side, not only could he bear it, he could almost accept it. The dark-haired heiress was an unexpected companion who cared about rather than pretended not to see scars both physical and psychological—she saw him for who he had become, not someone for whom she had to act as atlas to correct his divergence. She had seen him kill, she had seen him threaten, and she had seen him break down, all without dismissing him, and all divulging the secrets of his hidden shortcomings.

The openness of their discussion, however, did little to alleviate the stress accompanying the revelation, nor did the added complexities of young Albert’s involvement in the confession. But knowing that she was there, unwavering; knowing that her doubts as to his intentions hadn’t swayed her presence in his life; knowing that in spite of it all, she still chose to confide—it was a powerful notion, one Rhys might not have believed if it weren’t playing out in real time. Having witnessed the look in Albert’s eyes himself—down the barrel of a gun, no less—Sarena’s expression of fear in regards to the boy’s familial fate did not come with much surprise. The mutual strength of their bond (coupled with the volatile environment in which it had been fostered) was evident even in that short, charged interaction behind the scenes of the soiree.

“I’ve never had that with anyone,” he admitted, reaching out slowly to tuck a stray strand of damp hair behind her ear. The glint of silver moonlight caught the blue of her eyes, capturing the vulnerability in her stare that was normally kept buried away. “I’ve never had to fear for anyone like that. All my friends, all the people I ever considered family…they’ve always been in too deep, and they got that way long before I ever had a chance to stop them.” He paused, tucking his lower lip behind his top teeth in contemplation. “Albert has something no one else does, Sarena. He has you. And what’s more, he has the bond you two share. Hell, he was prepared to shoot me to keep you safe, consequences be damned.”

The spy shook his head slowly. “Something he and I have in common, come to think of it,” he said, the words light but his tone serious. “Which means he has an ally in me, whether he wants to believe it or not. Whether he wants to like it or not.” And though the red hand would never admit it aloud, Rhys was a powerful ally to have, as was Sarena. Albert, however rattled by the night’s encounter, was probably too young to recognize how fortunate he was not to have carried through with pulling that trigger—and as the crime daughter had already pointed out, that he had not threatened anyone but Rhys.

“It’s not like me to be optimistic,” the spy went on, closing his eyes, “but if any two people were to find a way out of this shit-storm, I’d say we have slightly-better-than-average odds.” He might have chuckled if he’d had the energy, but the truth in his words was too thick to bother. “We’re both insiders on either side of the divide. Maybe it's not a breath of air that we need. Maybe it's a deeper dive.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Jan 12, 2015 2:04 am
by Requiem
A grin tugged at the corner of Sarena's mouth as she settled into the red hand's embrace. Even in light of a very serious discussion, where she laid herself so bare she practically felt skinned, Rhys' humour and reassurance was enough to bring to light the optimism that was ever present in any situation, no matter how dark. And where many might have jumped at the chance to seize the myriad opportunities that presented themselves with the heiress' show of vulnerability, she only felt comfortable to divulge because of the fact she trusted Rhys only to listen, and nothing more. If he'd wanted to kill her, without a doubt, she'd already be dead.

"'Having me' is no advantage. Trust me." Sarena murmured, closing her eyes as she pressed her forehead to the hit man's shoulder. "I have too many enemies. Anyone allying with me vicariously inherits the hostility and danger that's meant for me... Grace's brother has been out to get me almost as long as Emilia, but his motivations are more sadistic in nature. It's in his personal interests to one day see me suffer; hence why I harbour no guilt for planning to turn his father into double eye. Much as I can't stand your--well, who used to be your kind, I suppose I do have my own selfish motivations for wanting to be rid of Timmon Vandelay. Caleb and Grace certainly won't be holding their heads so high... And they might let up on causing Albert so much grief."

Of course, there was always the possibility that as soon as Timmon was in the hands of legal authority, that it would be the straw that broke Caleb's back and unleashed his fury tenfold on her and Albert. The difference was, Sarena had twenty-seven odd years worth of thick skin and tedious strategy to fend off such blows. Albert was still innocent, unmarred, not yet a part of the violence that was an inevitable trait of his tragic bloodline. What Sarena could withstand, he could not. And it killed her that she couldn't better shield him and buffer the damage that would, sooner or later, find him.

"Consider yourself lucky, having not a soul to worry for," she commented, with a hint of despondence in her voice. "Remember when you asked me what I really wanted? If I wasn't bound to my family's shackles? Well, I think I've changed my might slightly." Opening her eyes, the crime daughter stretched her arm until her fingers cupped the back of Rhys' neck. "I still want to run away and leave it all behind, knowing that Albert would be safe. But I'd want to run with you... can you imagine? Freedom, with nothing tying us down. We could have the world, and more... I think we'd make a good team.

"But that is my daydreaming to the fullest," she admitted with a grin. "What? Never took me to be a dreamer, Proudfoot? When you're as financially secure as I am, and not as busy as you'd like to be, it kills the duller hours... But what about you, hit man?" Seeking his eyes, she besought; "What do you dream of? A man like is is made of more than just nightmares... otherwise, I'd never be able to coax a smile out of you." To prove her point, she traced the subtle curve of his lips with a fingertip.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Jan 13, 2015 1:20 am
by Astrophysicist
“Of course having you is an advantage,” Rhys countered, sliding his arm from beneath her neck to face her on his side. He quirked a brow. “These…” He leaned forward and planted a single light kiss on her lips, then another. “…these, for example, are advantageous to me.” Pulling back, he cleared his throat and studied her expression in the moonlight. “But I don’t think I’d be here right now if it weren’t for you. And no, I don’t just mean here, in your bedroom. I mean I’m not sure I’d have made it much further than ‘prospective’ in your father’s ranks after losing my mind with Colstorm.”

He heaved a heavy sigh. “So no, there’s no such thing as a perfect ally. You certainly don’t have to tell that to a former spy,” the red hand continued, amusement briefly flickering across his face. “Still, I’d much rather have you with me than against me.” It was the closest to an admission of gratitude that he was liable to get, but he was sure she understood the sentiment. And it went both ways, if her tally of thwarted assassination attempts meant anything at all beyond keeping track of the debt.

And it appeared that it did. Her soft-spoken confession caught him off-guard in a potently bittersweet way, his tired heart skipping a beat as her outstretched touch grazed the back of his neck. The corners of his lips twitched upward, but it was not quite a smile. He felt raw with sudden longing, as though the missing pieces to a lifetime’s worth of puzzles were at last in sight, just beyond arm’s reach. “We would make an excellent team,” he confirmed quietly. “Believe me, I’ve worked on plenty of them. We would be…unstoppable.” A wistful sigh breezed past parted lips. They had found one another bleeding in shark-infested waters; as content as they might have felt in one another’s embrace, the predators would continue to circle.

He smiled softly against her fingertip as it traced the swell of his lip, once again making true her claim to be able to coax forth the expression. “I want freedom,” he said at last, puckering his lips to plant a kiss against her touch. “I want the world. To travel it, consume it, breathe it. I’ve seen just enough of it to realize how much more it has to offer, and I would spend every last hour until the day I died trying to make good on its promises.” The blue-eyed hit man paused in thought. “I wouldn’t mind freedom of the mind, either,” he murmured at last, lowering his gaze. “Just…to have some peace every once in awhile. And I know, I know, it might get better in time; it probably will get better in time. Hell, I’ve come a long way already. But it can’t be fast enough.

“Unless,” the red hand finished, a grin softening the solemn look in his eyes, “it means I don’t get any more of those reality checks you specialize in.” To demonstrate, he craned his neck forward and kissed her deeply, slowly, until both of them had to resurface for a gulp of air. “Better keep those up, just in case.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Jan 13, 2015 2:30 am
by Requiem
"Unstoppable... I like it." Sarena murmured, smiling at the thought of the two of them paving the way for their own futures, exclusive from any outside influences or ties or debt. It painted attractive, albeit dreamlike pictures in her mind, behind closed eyelids. It painted an imagine in her mind of the possibility of enjoying a sunset, without the fear of letting your guard down for too long, or for sleeping in late simply because it felt safe. Unfortunately, dreams were called dreams for a reason. And as much as she wished such a future were attainable, she feared disappointment too much to hope for it.

Still smiling from the ghost of Rhys' kiss, the mafia heiress pulled herself close, seeking his warmth in light of the chill of her still-damp, dark tresses. "Trust me, Proudfoot: I am nothing if not a solid reminder of harsh reality," she teased, draping an arm across his waist. "I'll keep the reality checks up for as long as you need them. But, you know... You don't need to make excuses. I know it can be hard to get enough of me." The last clause was, of course, merely in humour, but the message remained: she sought his proximity perhaps just as much, if not more, as he sought hers. If he had no shame in the confession, then neither did she.

"If you get a phone call from my father regarding... this, pass it on to me. He has so little faith invested in me that I'm anything more than a player, that he won't be surprised, and will be quick to forgive," she murmured, in addition, just before she began to drift off. "Though if he calls again while we're... preoccupied with each other, I'll be tempted to turn him in to double eye, never mind his moron of a brother." Then again, it wasn't the first time she'd contemplated treachery towards her family. Were it not for Albert, who largely depended on her for his own safety, and who would otherwise be jeopardized were the Vandelay clan to crumble, she might have acted on it years ago.

As it turned out, it was not Gustave Vandelay to incite an early awakening the following morning. The shrill beeping from Sarena's purse at approximately nine a.m. roused the crime daughter, and were it not for her recognition of the person behind the ringtone, she'd have let it go. But this was important.

"I thought I told you not to call me." Sarena muttered, barely opening her eyes as she pressed her phone to her eat, the voice of Tesh Marionetti on the other line. "I'm going to need a little more time. As it turns out, my agreeing to help you has jeopardized my own safety... Hah. Fuck that. I'd rather have my life endangered than accept protection from you lot..." A pause. The brunette finally opened her eyes. "No, I haven't seen him. I don't think Proudfoot trusted my father enough to remain employed... as far as I know, he left the city days ago. Anyway, you just interrupted my sleep. So kindly fuck off and be patient. I'll get you who you want, eventually."

Sarena hung up and dropped her phone back into her purse, before rolling over and pressing her cheek against the red hand's shoulder with a groan. "Your ex-employer is really fucking annoying, you know that?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Jan 14, 2015 10:14 pm
by Astrophysicist
Rhys did not know what time he fell asleep at last; by the time they had rearranged themselves beneath the luxurious down comforter, with Sarena nestled cozy and warm at his side, it was already well into the early morning hours. His black button-down and expensive tuxedo blazer lay in a clumsy heap at the foot of the bed, with his tailored slacks tossed over the back of the chair on the other side of the room. From any outside perspective, it appeared that their night had yielded a far more thrilling conclusion than emotional midnight confessions and warm, if bittersweet, caresses in the moonlight. But for two people for whom the excitement of lustful relations was more often a temporary distraction than a proclamation of true affection, the exhausted pattern into which they fell was arguably even more intimate.

The shriek of Sarena’s ringtone roused him from a mercifully dreamless slumber, starting him awake only to be assaulted twofold by the bright stream of sunshine filtering through the large window and the sudden absence of the young woman’s warmth against his form. He groaned audibly and rolled over, pulling the sheets over his head in a futile escape from the morning. “Your father better have a good excuse for—” he grumbled, but was immediately halted in his complaint by the unanticipated shift in the mafia daughter’s tone. It was not the typical, sarcastic but playful intonation of a daughter toying with her overprotective father. No, this was a different manner of irritation—one that he didn’t quite recognize, but felt familiar all the same.

He removed the blankets from his face and propped himself up on his elbow, frowning as he watched her expression. He could just barely make out the faint, muffled sounds of an urgent male voice on the other end of the line. It was no struggle to put two and two together then—and as it dawned on him just to whom she was speaking, the meaning and inflection of what she said into the receiver made perfect sense. A pang of uneasiness stung his chest. Double Eye.

His eyes widened with annoyance, his expression transitioning from indignation to concern and then back to vexation when she spoke his name. No one else would have asked after him; it was unquestionably Tesh Marionetti. Rhys pursed his lips. Sarena’s lie was smooth and easy, but the elite director of the DPD would know better than to dismiss the inquiry on the nonchalant word of an informant. Rhys was too valuable to the department—and a former friend, besides—to be dismissed after five years of total silence to a point of being presumed dead.

“My former employer, your current employer,” the spy responded when Sarena ended the call. His words were light, but his expression was grave. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders as she pressed up against him once more, then heaved a sigh. “They do have a tendency to get in the way of a lot of things at once. If Marionetti is taking time out of his precious daytime schedule to call you personally—and trust me, he does think his time is that valuable—then he must have some new piece of evidence that’s making him eager to get his hands on your uncle.” The former operative shook his head to himself before resting his cheek atop Sarena’s dark hair. “Which means you might be at even greater risk than you know. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they know Gustave hired someone to take out his rat. Maybe you’re not the only one entrenched in this shit-storm.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Thu Jan 15, 2015 1:12 am
by Requiem
"'Employer' is such a... definitive word," the mafia heiress murmured against his shoulder, lips turning downward at the thought that she was employed to Tesh Marionetti (or any double-eye agent, for that matter) in any way."He's a contact. And only because our agreement just so happens to be mutually beneficial... As soon as Timmon is out of the way, I'm ditching that cell phone and losing his number so fast he'll wonder if he dreamed my cooperation in all of this. The nerve of the guy, calling me--early morning, no less--after I tell him to fuck off and wait for me to contact him... I don't give a shit how valuable his thinks his time is."

Rhys did have a point, though. Double-eye was largely counting on her cooperation, in this undercover take-down of a Vandelay superior, such that Marionetti likely wasn't one to risk pissing her off and jeopardizing their verbal contract. To knowingly go against her request not to call her cell meant that double-eye was more desperate than ever to get their hands on her uncle. It made her wonder just what careless information the moron had let slip recently to provide the CIIO with such evidence. Perhaps she should have taken it upon herself to ask.

"As far as I know, the fact he's hired to sniff out a rat isn't common knowledge, not even among the family," the crime daughter commented, suppressing a yawn. "If my father wants something to be kept under wraps, it can be more difficult to dig up than a treasure map. Hell, even I didn't know the real reason you were 'promoted' so quickly... and I've got my nose in almost everything my father does." It still struck her as eerie that, all this time (at least, since Colstorm's untimely demise), Rhys had known she was his target. And while he hadn't acted on it, he also hadn't told her.

Propping her head up in the palm of her hand, Sarena's cerulean eyes took in relaxed features of the red hand's still sleepy face. "So... how long were you going to wait, before you told me what my father really wanted you for?" The elephant in the room needed to be called on sooner or later, she figured, and now that the cat was out of the bag, she wanted all the animals conspiring against their camaraderie and affections out of the room. "Were you waiting for the a romantic sunset and a glass of wine, so that I wouldn't lash out? You know I'd have understood, Rhys... I know what kind of man my father is. He's the kind of man who'd spill the blood of his own bloodline."

Then again, so was she, insomuch as she had no qualms about turning in her uncle to the legal authorities. They did say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree... Given what she knew and admitted about the notoriety of her very nature, it often made her wonder if her mother--her real mother, whoever she was, not the blonde bitch married to her father--was or had been just as despicable.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Thu Jan 15, 2015 8:27 pm
by Astrophysicist
While it was possible that the agency to whom Rhys had devoted a decade of his life had changed drastically in the five years since Tribeca-Antioch, it was highly improbable that the DPD under the direction of Tesh Marionetti had made any drastic overhauls in operation. New agents, new handlers, and new technicians were a given; even a few changes in official protocol after the havoc wreaked by Rhys, Harriet, and Liza wouldn’t have been surprising. But the fundamental point of operation, the hard and fast system of surveying and gathering intelligence—that part would be loathe to change, especially if Tesh had anything to say about the progression.

Sarena had a point; not even the crime lord’s beloved daughter had had any idea as to Rhys’s true purpose with his new post. It was unlikely, then, that Double Eye had any inkling either, at least nothing definitive. Paranoia was always a prerequisite for that kind of agency work, and Marionetti would be a fool not to operate under the constant assumption that the opposition was one step ahead. Frequently, that was exactly the case. Knowing Tesh, the man had a plan of action for every possible angle of attack (and defense); it provided him an advantage in preparedness, but not necessarily in terms of immediate strategy. Rhys had criticized the man’s methods on more than one occasion to no avail, and if Marionetti could be counted on for one thing, it was his stubbornness.

It took time to sort through next-moves and probable cases—not much time, but time nevertheless—a fact that Rhys fully intended to use in his own favor should any level of confrontation come about between his past and his present. Despite Sarena’s current standings on the Double Eye payroll, Proudfoot was the one with the true advantage—frankly, an advantage he wished he did not possess—having amassed years of knowledge regarding bureaucratic policy and personal tendencies of its staff. But even in spite of his reluctance, he could recognize the value in the role he held…just as the CIIO would recognize the threat he posed by simply being alive, let alone in cahoots with the Vandelay clan. Personal friendship aside, it was no wonder Marionetti was so keen on reeling in the former operative.

He sighed, eyelids fluttering closed as the weight of her attention settled upon him. “How long?” he repeated, voice weary despite the relatively sound sleep he’d experienced the previous night. “I don’t know. Honestly, in a perfect world, I might never have told you if it meant I could figure out a way around it.” The spy opened his eyes, startled to find a hint of hurt—disappointment?—in her now-familiar gaze. He shifted positions and furrowed his brow in confusion. “You might not have needed to know. Keeping it from you was…protecting you, in a way. But secrecy wouldn’t have lasted for long, because you and I both know just how imperfect this fucking world of ours is.”

He reached out to tuck a stray strand of hair gently behind her ear. “I couldn’t have kept it up much longer. The strain of it was eating away at me. The nightmares, the anxiety…it wasn’t something I could keep to myself, not when the one person I wanted to stay open with was the one staring down potential danger.” He shook his head slowly, the briefest of smiles upturning the corners of his lips. “On second thought, you caught me. I was waiting for the wine and the romantic sunset on a rooftop somewhere.” He interrupted himself with a laugh. “The perfect setting for telling your date that you were actually hired to kill her. And then I’d have pushed you off the roof, obviously.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Thu Jan 15, 2015 10:29 pm
by Requiem
Sarena had no clue into the workings of the CIIO. She knew as much about how they operated as anyone in her family, which was to say, barely the skeleton of the pesky operation. But it wasn't immediately important to her, at least not where she stood, and frankly, she didn't really care. Certainly, they had their reasons for wanting to take her family down: having living, breathe, proliferating crime in one of the world's most noted cities made them look bad. Worse, than bad: incompetent. As to why they lent a care to the face one of their ex-agents was back in town was lost on her, beyond the interest they'd take in the fact he was working for her family. She was sure Rhys knew, however, but that was something she figured she'd let him divulge when the time was right.

In any case, it was not her primary concern. Certainly not at the moment.

"Right. Perfect world." The crime daughter repeated, exhaling slowly. "In a perfect world, I'd never have to know. Because not knowing who is pegged to kill me has really benefited me in the past, right? Because it's not like people have already made multiple attempts on my life for multiple reasons, or that bothering to pay attention to the microsignals that people betray in their body language is the reason I'm alive right now. Surely, the one and only time I am not in the know, not telling me is the best way to keep me protected."

The air suddenly changed in the room as the crime daughter's mood tinted a darker shade. Pushing herself into a sitting position, her ebony hair fell over her shoulders, as if to compensate for the lack of fabric clothing her form, save undergarments (it appeared that neither of them had appropriate dressed for bed the previous night). Before Rhys could part his lips to protest, she was on him--literally on him, knees on either side of his waist, hands and fingers digging into his shoulders as her eyes smouldered with blue fire that had nothing to do with passion.

"Let me make something perfectly clear." She began, the pink in her cheeks escalating to rouge, along with her building frustration. "If someone--anyone, my own father, double-eye, whatever--has designs to kill me, regardless of who they're getting to do it, you fucking tell me! Because do you know what would have happened if I'd had to learn it from Albert, Rhys? Do you have any fucking idea?" Sucking in air through clenched teeth, she dug her fingernails into his shoulders and lowered her mouth to his ear. "I'd have had to take his word for it, because the kid doesn't lie to me, and I can't take a chance. And then... I would have had to kill you. And if you think I couldn't, then you're not doing yourself any favours, hit man."

The young woman's bare shoulders shook with the tension of her muscles as she straightened up to look him in the eye again, where sadness and fury warred in her her own optic blues, with fury eventually winning out. "This is it, do you understand? This is the extent of my tolerance. Because I'm a selfish bitch, Rhys, and first and foremost, I'm looking out for myself. Just like I have since I was thirteen, when Emilia tried to have me sniped at the park." It wasn't an easy thing to say, but this was not something he could bury with humour. Sarena was alive because, up until she'd averted her attention to a true romantic interest, she'd always been one step ahead of her enemies.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Jan 16, 2015 12:08 am
by Astrophysicist
Until that point in time, Rhys Proudfoot and Sarena Vandelay had been perfectly attuned to one another’s wavelengths. The dark-haired heiress had sensed when something was amiss in her new companion; the red hand had detected unrest around the young woman and prevented it from escalating. The bond they forged and shared from the get-go could be denied by neither party. They had already had moments in their budding relationship that were so unexpectedly good—hell, even something as normal as grabbing a bite of breakfast in a greasy spoon diner—that the former spy found himself wallowing less and less in the dark troubles of his own psyche.

A large part of their success, Rhys realized now, was the policy of brutal honesty abided by each of them. Apart from his reluctance to share details about the more sensitive eras of his past, he had never lied to Sarena, and he doubted that she had deceived him in return. Refusing to divulge painful memories was one thing; blatant omission was another. He recognized his mistake (whether or not he had realized he chose to make it) far too late in the game, however, and as Sarena rounded on him with fury he hadn’t seen her display before, he braced himself for the worst.

She might have had him pinned against the pillows, but Rhys wouldn’t have moved even if she’d allowed it. His own sleepy countenance darkened as she berated him, his cerulean gaze clouding to a wintry cobalt as the muscles in his neck tightened. “Don’t make this something it isn’t,” he shot back, his tone urgent but volume comparably low to hers. “Yeah, okay, sure, it was shitty of me not to tell you—but what would you have done? This isn’t some crazy familial scheme, and last time I checked, my name wasn’t Emilia Vandelay. Whether you knew about or not, I wasn’t going to follow through with it. And last night you said you believed it.”

He paused, the only hint of anger in his otherwise icy expression being his lightly knitted brow. “You want the whole truth?” he asked quietly. “The whole truth is that I considered it, at first. I considered giving in to your father’s demands in spite of it all. But there was no chance in hell I would have been able to follow through, and I knew I couldn’t have talked myself into it even if I’d tried.” With a hiss, he drew a sharp intake of air through gritted teeth. When he spoke again, his tone had changed—and not necessarily for the better. “You’ve been clear from the very beginning that you’re only out for yourself, and god knows I understand why and expect no differently. So if you want to kill me, then kill me, Sarena. Go ahead. Apparently there’s nothing I can do to stop it.”

He shook his head, the backs of his shoulders stinging where her nails had bit into his flesh. “But answer me this,” he said finally, inclining his head so that their faces were merely inches apart, “would someone without your best interest in mind keep saving your ass when their job was to put a bullet in your skull?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Jan 16, 2015 12:34 am
by Requiem
She could have killed him. Had she seen it as necessary, Sarena could have lured him in just like all of the other men she's offed--ones who, like Rhys, had been contracted out to kill her--and struck when he least expected it. But the truth was, had the thought crossed her mind, the heiress' anger wouldn't have escalated as it did. She wouldn't be berating him right now if she thought offing him was the best course of action, because just as he'd articulated, he had her best interests in mind. If she didn't believe as much, he would be dead already--or, on the other hand, maybe she would be the one lying dead on the ground, somewhere.

The only other person who had ever suffered the lash of the mafia daughter's fury was Albert. Rhys himself had witnessed it, when she caught him holding a gun; it wasn't the first time, and it wouldn't be the last that she'd yell at him, strike him, berate him until he cowered. And she did it because she cared for him, and there was no other way she could think to express this care, but to sharpen it like a knife and leave it lasting on the recipient like a scar. Not so unlike the way she was treating Rhys right now; he'd hurt her, by not confiding in her, and she wanted him to know why it hurt. And, maybe just a little, she wanted to hurt him right back.

"Of course you considered it." Sarena's fingers loosened on his shoulders, until they slid from his skin all together. "Because a man like my father asked you to do it. Because there'd have been good money in it for you. And because it would have been easy, right? Because I've had my guard down around you since I met you, so thoroughly that I didn't even think to consider the 'mistake' with the wine last night was yet another go at my life. You'd have been an idiot not to consider it; and you might be a lot of things, but an idiot isn't one of them."

Raking a hand through her hair, her mind warred with the idea of kissing him and forgetting about it. But he was right: she, in all her paranoia, was making this out to be something it wasn't. Her mind was a jumble, and she hardly knew what to do with herself.
Shifting positions, the mafia daughter slid both legs to one side of the bed and stood, not bothering to grab her silk robe on the way out of her bedroom. "Coffee's ready to be brewed, if you want some. Just press the button on the percolator."

Without another word, she made a beeline for the bathroom, where she sought the scalding hot rush of the shower. It calmed her down, yet simultaneously brought emotion to the surface of her psyche, just as it coaxed bloodflow beneath the surface of her skin. Would someone without your best interest in mind keep saving your ass when their job was to put a bullet in your skull?
For the first time in her life, she realized what it meant to have someone looking out for her--unconditionally, with no strings attached. The thought made her sinuses burn and built pressure in her eyes, but if she shed any tears, they were just as quickly washed away by the torrent of hot water.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Jan 16, 2015 1:12 am
by Astrophysicist
The tired resignation in Sarena’s voice almost startled him more than her outburst of rage. However furious she was with him for withholding outside information, it seemed that she, too, felt something she either did not wish to express, or simply could not express—an internal battle that Rhys was familiar with as well. There was a reason why both of them were alive, why they were together now; there was a reason why the crime daughter had coaxed him back to reality and why the red hand had saved her life. And it had nothing to do with settling a debt or notching tally marks on a nonexistent record.

Yet despite their combined intelligence, and despite the fact that each possessed a worldliness beyond their years, neither could find the words to describe the root of their dissent. Where Sarena lashed out with fingers and phrases, Rhys withdrew. Where the red hand was infuriatingly stoic and cold, the dark-haired heiress was hot and expressive; so extreme and opposite were their reactions that there was little hope in establishing a peaceful middle ground. At least, not until the dust of their mutual anger settled.

Rhys said nothing as Sarena departed for the bathroom, his eyes on the bright window rather than on her retreating form. Thoroughly awake now, he tossed back the sheets and swung his legs to the side of the mattress where his bare toes met plush chenille carpet. The distant hiss of the shower filled the gap of silence in the young woman’s absence, and Rhys heaved a solemn sigh. This was the first time their connection had experienced any sort of interference, and he couldn’t get the ring of the static out of his ears.

He made his way to the kitchen and initiated the percolator’s brew cycle. He retrieved two mugs from the cupboard above the sink and placed them at the ready next to the silver unit. Rhys had never in his life been an impatient man, but now, restless and bothered by the whirling onslaught thoughts and emotions, he could not simply stand and wait for the coffee to finish. Meandering to the living room, he perched on the arm of the sofa, his left hand subconsciously toying with the necklace that perpetually hung between his collarbones. His gaze wandered to the luxurious settee near the large bay window, where a small black book was wedged unceremoniously behind one of the legs.

Putting his antsy hands to use, he knelt down to pick it up and was halfway to returning it to a side table before he caught sight of dark, sprawling handwriting on a creased piece of paper jutting from the volume’s fore-edge. He opened the journal to where the makeshift bookmark led, oblivious to the coffeemaker’s beeping signal that it had finished their breakfast blend.

It was poetry—all poetry. And judging by the number of blank pages still at the end, it was a work in progress by Sarena herself. At last tuning in to the alert resonating from the kitchen, he snapped the pages closed and ventured out to pour both mugs full of joe, one of which he left on the counter for Sarena. The book beckoned him back, however, and he gave in to the insatiable curiosity—so much so that he did not hear its author exit the bathroom until it was too late to cover up his intrusion.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Jan 16, 2015 2:57 am
by Requiem
Though she'd already been fairly clean on entering the bathroom (she'd showered just before attending her father's gala), Sarena wasn't standing under the rush of hot water from the stainless-steel showerhead to wash the night from her body. She stood for almost a good half hour in hopes that the water would wash her feelings away, would level her head, would erase the remainder of the fury that had coaxed her to turn on and berate Rhys that morning. The results, in the end, were questionable, though the burn on her shoulder blades stung enough to refocus her mind on an alternate discomfort. It would have to do, if she thought she could face the red hand again that morning.

Realizing a little too late that she'd forgotten to retrieve her robe, the heiress sighed her annoyance and grabbed a plush white towel, wrapping it around her still-damp body as she exited the bathroom and made straight for the kitchen. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Rhys had found the coffee, but realized she needed some of the java coursing through her veins, as well, before she would be able to initiate coherent conversation with him. It wasn't until she fixed the drink and made to sit across from him in the living room that she noticed he was holding something strikingly familiar in his hands.

Before she knew what she was doing, Sarena put her mug of coffee down on the low table in front of her and snatched the book from his hand. If she could have burned it at that moment, destroying any and all evidence of its existence, she would have. "If you want to read trash, I've got plenty of tabloids you can take a look at. I'm even in a few of them; I can't get enough of the stories the press dreams up about my family."

Shoving the small book underneath the cushion upon which she sat (almost as if she were afraid the red hand would attempt to snatch it back from her), the mafia daughter picked up her coffee and proceeded to take a long drink. Anyone would think, seeing the two of them lounging in towels and undergarments, that they were a couple of maybe a few years, if not married. Such was spoken by the comfort of the air between them, now that Sarena had turned her heat down, and Rhys had defrosted after their rather passionate exchange not even an hour ago. Though still far from willing to apologize, if she tackled him again, then it would be driven by a very different manifestation of passion.

"Anyway. Double-eye's asking after you; I guess this means you'd better keep your head down for a while. I told them you'd left the city." She figured the best was to change the topic was to not-so-subtly segue right back into business. "And I've gotta find another way to let those sleaze-bags get their hands on my uncle. Killing him would be the easiest way; they can't grill him for information, in that case. Problem is, I've got to do it before he realizes the CIIO is hot on his tail. Seems like we've both got predicaments to deal with."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Jan 20, 2015 11:51 pm
by Astrophysicist
If the Vandelay heiress had snatched the book from his fingers in hopes that he’d not had enough time to peruse its contents, then she was sorely mistaken. The former Double Eye operative had already finished one mug of coffee and was nursing the start of a second by the time she sauntered through the kitchen and into the living room. He had worked his way to the present from a randomly-selected page near the middle, devouring the elegantly slanted script as though the words themselves could be chewed and swallowed and digested.

Rather than annoyance at the abrupt interruption, and far, far from any expression of glib amusement, he looked up to meet her startled cerulean gaze with a look of poignant contemplation. Despite her attempt to brush off the book’s discovery with a jab to nosy tabloids, Rhys remained unfazed by her attempt to derail the subject. Nevertheless, when she tucked the journal under her seat cushion—a gesture that, had they not just battled with scorching heat and bitter ice, would have had him teasing her about the childishly defensive move—he repositioned himself on the sofa and faced her without immediate comment.

“Laying low is the plan, unless your father has some high-profile hit planned for me in the near future,” he drawled, his tone warm and lazy. She would get no direct apologies out of the wavy-haired hit man, but the change in his demeanor was certainly a positive sign that he had put their argument behind him. “Last night’s shindig was the most attention I’ve had in…” He pursed his lips and glanced to the ceiling as if for guidance. “Probably my whole life, to tell you the truth. Celebrity status isn’t exactly beneficial for espionage, as I’m sure you could guess.”

His crooked smile faded to something more thoughtful. “I don’t doubt Double Eye has a spare junior agent or two generally canvassing this city for some sign of me after you dropped my name to Marionetti. But we do have distance on our side, considering Tesh is stationed at HuBris.” Rhys paused. “The Fitzhugh-Bristol building,” he clarified. “In Chicago City. The place is a fortress, and being director of the DPD comes with the perk of a big office, bulletproof glass, and concrete walls six feet thick all around.”

A shrug lifted and dropped his bare shoulders. “Getting rid of your uncle would really piss off Marionetti,” he went on, his tone indicating that he saw no problem with that particular fact. “Double Eye is definitely going to want to grill Timmon for intel, especially if what they’ve got so far inspired them to contact you like they did. But hey, it’s no skin off my nose either way. I could probably help you whichever route you decided to take.”

He took another gulp of coffee, cradling the warm mug between his palms. Despite their talk of business, the words of her poetry continued to marinate in his mind. “Don’t think you’re off the hook about that book,” he said casually, nodding downward to the cushion beneath her that protected the volume. “Who knew the steely resolve of Sarena Vandelay hid such deep emotional insight?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Jan 21, 2015 12:58 am
by Requiem
"I suppose we should have warned you, celebrity status is a given, when you are well-liked by my family," the young woman drawled, pulling her damp hair over her shoulder, leaning forward a she crossed one knee over the other. "If you're at all worried that Marionetti's little puppies in training will sniff out your scent, you go go extreme and die your hair blonde, shave off your mustache and don some shades until I give the man what he wants. I could even pierce your other ear if, you want to go full-out incognito. I put my own holes in with a darting needle that I sterilized on the stove element when I was thirteen. Because my father was a fucking idiot to think I'd follow the rules and wait until I was sixteen."

Given the early morning phone call--a harsh reminder that, drugs and dancing aside, they were continually faced with harsh reality--the Vandelay heiress wouldn't have guessed that Rhys' attention would return to the book that was now out of sight. Apparently, shoving it childishly underneath a couch cushion didn't put it out of mind. "And since when was I ever on the hook about it? That's private property, Proudfoot; and by private I mean you don't fucking go and read a girl's journal. What gives you the right to indulge yourself in stupid words that come into my head and make it onto paper from time to time?"

She had nothing for which to apologize, however the exposure of some of her deeper thoughts left Sarena faintly pink in the cheeks with embarrassment. She rose and walked behind the couch, back towards her bedroom before full-on blushing could set in. "You should already know well that I don't hide anything. If I want to kick your ass, I'll kick your ass. If I want to kiss you, then I'll do just that; who the hell has time for pretenses in this day and age? Though you certainly are not off the hook for not minding your own business, regardless."

And, just because she was so bold, as she turned the corner towards her bedroom, she tore her towel away from her body and flung it at Rhys, where it landed almost expertly into his lap. A few minutes and the loud whistling of a hair dryer later, the heiress re-emerged, in a pale blue blouse and pencil skirt. "My own father scares me more than Tesh Marionetti; he might get pissed if I off Timmon, but I didn't go into the details as to how I'm going to apprehend him, and he didn't ask me to elaborate. Pretty damned sloppy for an agent carrying status such as his. What he wants is the removal of this threat, and for it to be in the name of Double-Eye. Which works for me, considering it wouldn't sit well with my family to have my name written all over his death.

"Anyway... you're welcome to lay low, here. My father more than likely knows I'm keeping you company, but if he had a real problem with it, he'd already be calling you in for some trite reason. Probably just feels bad for you, assuming I'm breaking your heart." Sarena's mouth quirked into a grin, and without any prior warning, she placed her hands on the hit man's bare shoulders and leaned down to kiss him. Perhaps her preference at that given moment was something slow and almost chaste, but there was something distinctly apologetic in the way her lips brushed his with care, void of that selfish want that characterized the young woman. As she pulled away, her breath was still on his lips when she murmured, "Am I? Breaking your heart, that is. I can't always tell."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Jan 21, 2015 1:39 am
by Astrophysicist
“You’re telling me how to be incognito?” the former spy returned, smirking. “Double Eye might be a bunch of sniveling bureaucrat-slaves with technology fetishes and death wishes, but they doknow how to raise their own to wear a disguise.” He quirked a brow sharply, his azure gaze alight with amusement. “Too bad keeping a photo album is a bit of a faux pas for an operative, huh? Would you believe I had a full head of terrible white-boy dreadlocks once? Yeah, I know, it was hilarious. And terrible, believe me.”

Twisting his lips, he nodded at Sarena’s incredulous look. “And I’ve been blond. Bald once, too, or at least buzzed really close.” He reached up and ran his fingers through his curls, as though reassuring himself they were still attached to his scalp. “Sometimes you forget what you really look like, if you’re in deep enough. Does the term ‘method acting’ still apply if your survival depends on you pulling it off instead of a paycheck?” he mused.

It was true—of all things Rhys Proudfoot could have used a lesson in, maintaining a low-key presence and a suitable act to throw off suspicion was not one of them. The unconventional path he had trodden to Gustave Vandelay’s high-status employment was due in large part to his ability to navigate a far seedier, far less connected criminal underworld—the trash-clogged gutters to Sarena’s family’s ritzy boulevard. Getting caught was simply not an option, and so far, his track record was spotless—and now insured by a powerful interconnected network with myriad resources at his disposal. Rhys had far more pressing things on his mind than Marionetti’s puppies, as Sarena called them.

“I don’t know why you’re getting so flustered about your journal,” he said, his tone conspiratorially aloof. “First of all, it was in plain sight. If I’d picked open your safe and took it from there, then sure, I get it, not fair game. Second of all, you realize I was a spy for like a decade and a half, right?” He raised his eyebrows and flashed a crooked smile. “It’s in my nature. Information beckons me—!” The last syllable of his sentence was cut off by a fluffy white towel soaring into his lap, nearly slapping him in the face in its flight path. Appropriate, he figured; Sarena would have approved.

He downed the last of his coffee and placed the empty mug on the low table just in time for the young woman to emerge, polished and dry and dressed. Despite himself, he smiled up at her as she approached. But her hands were on his shoulders and her lips gently brushing his before he had a chance to respond to her assessment of Marionetti’s operation. His mouth moved against hers with the same soft, almost apologetic rhythm, leaning in to rest his forehead against hers as she pulled slightly away to speak. “Breaking my heart?” he murmured in return, shaking his head infinitesimally. “You could. I think you could.” A pause, a whisper of a sigh. “But right now—Sarena, you’re fixing it.”

Leaning in for yet another kiss, this one a little more urgent, he reached up to place his hands on her slender waist and slowly rose to his feet. “I’m feeling a little underdressed suddenly,” he said, a hint of playfulness dispelling the palpable emotion that had permeated the air. "Don't go anywhere." He entered the bedroom to dress, donning once again his tailored black trousers and black button-down. Foregoing the tuxedo jacket for the sake of being casual, he re-emerged with a determined look. "Because we're not done talking about what I just read."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Jan 21, 2015 6:08 pm
by Requiem
"Well excuse me if I happened you allot you the benefit of the doubt that you wouldn't invite yourself to pick up and inspect any of my personal possessions," Sarena sighed, visibly rolling her eyes at the red hand. "Spy or not, unless you have reasons to suspect me for some reason--and I suppose I'm not saying you don't--then I'd advise you not to abuse my hospitality and get nosy when it comes to shit that I do consider personal. Which, for me, is very rare, considering I pride myself in being pretty open about everything, but hey. Everyone's entitled to a little bit of privacy. 

"So do I need to start locking my underwear drawer, too?" She called playfully, as Rhys rose and took his turn to retreat to her room and change into clothes. "If you're curious, you know, all you have to do is ask. That goes for the colour of my underwear and the stupid shit I write in that book." As to how much she might choose to divulge regarding the latter, however, would largely depend on her mood at the time. Then again, if she was to talk to anyone about those thoughts and sentiments which she only got off her chest through writing, then Rhys Proudfoot was about the only person she'd trust with that information. Currently, he was the only person other than herself who had an inkling into what she feared, and overall, who she was.

When he reemerged wearing the same outfit he'd donned the night before, the mafia heiress saw the perfect opportunity to, once again, derail his stubborn topic of conversation and settle onto one which was far more comfortable for her to discuss. "This is going to be a problem," she commented, stepping up to him and straightening the wrinkles out of his shirt collar--while taking the liberty to undue a second button for the sake of a more casual appearance. "You can't strut around looking like you just came from a funeral, wearing all black; and I'll be damned if I have to was this shirt every day. Come on, hit man; I hope you don't have anything scheduled for today."

Picking up her cell phone, which she'd brought into the living room and set upon the coffee table on returning from changing, Sarena dialed the number of her usual chauffeur. "I'd like a pick-up at my place in five minutes, if that's not too much trouble--no, it's not an emergency. Well..." Looking Rhys up and down, she twisted her mouth to the side in a small grimace. "It's not a matter of life or death, at least. Just be here in five."

Hanging up, she left the red hand temporarily to retrieve her purse from her bedroom, which she slung securely over her shoulder and into which she shoved her phone. "When was the last time you paid a visit to the fashion district here in New York?" The question was rhetorical, given that she realized Rhys had only been in the city for about a week, if that, and she was willing to bet that most of his time had been allocated to navigating the finicky customs of the Vandelay family--along for looking out for his own life, as well as hers for that matter. "After last night, I think we both deserve a little shopping spree. It's on me; consider it as a payment towards this tab for saving my life that I've apparently started with you."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Thu Feb 05, 2015 9:35 pm
by Astrophysicist
The red hand quirked a brow as he followed her gaze, angling his chin to study the silken black button-down clothing his torso and the expensive black slacks that fell in a single fine pleat to the tops of his feet. He reached up to smooth the small wrinkles at his chest with the warmth of his palms, but the gesture was quickly interrupted by Sarena’s welcome proximity. A grin found its way to his lips, and he moved his fingertips to brush over the backs of her knuckles as she straightened his collar. “It’s rough having a trophy boyfriend, huh?” His broad smile slackened to a crooked smirk, and he leaned down, planting a short, affectionate kiss on the tip of her nose. “We’re pretty high maintenance.”

The chuckles that shook his shoulders were rooted in the sheer ridiculousness of the statement. Apart from the care he needed (and most often did not receive) in regard to his mental health, Rhys Proudfoot was capable of surviving on very little. Since his employment with Double Eye had necessitated a knack for disguise and a talent for acting, he was no stranger to squalor and poverty. On the opposite end of the spectrum, neither was he unfamiliar with wealth and luxury—and that was a lifestyle he was not entirely opposed to taking advantage of while he had the chance. Especially not now that he was out of the CIIO’s clutches, relying on his own wiles and financial resources to get by in the underground.

At her discerning glance over the phone with her driver, he narrowed his eyes in mock offense and folded his arms tightly across his chest. “I think you know the answer to that,” he retorted to her question about the frequency of his New York shopping. The former spy broke his feigned annoyance with a smile, however, and he followed the crime daughter into the bedroom. While she retrieved her phone and purse, he opened the nightstand drawer to reclaim his Beretta. “Like you don’t have one stashed in that bag of yours,” he commented as he slid back into his blazer, leaving it open for the sake of casual dress. He slid the handgun inside the concealed pocket and followed her to the door.

With the current prosperous state of the American economy and its growing urban upper class (with some thanks to big-name, high-dollar families like the Vandelays), New York City’s famed shopping districts had been elevated to an all-new level of glamor and finery. From the exquisite goods carried by top-of-the-line designers and entrepreneurs to the gilded and sculpted facades of the buildings that housed them, the avenue down which the unlikely couple strolled was a bustling center of high fashion and international trend. Rhys found himself silently thankful he sported the previous night’s attire—with the subtle wrinkles hidden by his overcoat, its expensive look fit right in with the passersby.

“I don’t have a clue where to start. This whole district is a bit…” He paused, biting his lip as he searched for the right word. “…over-stimulating?” he admitted, staring through their reflections into a vibrant window display of leather satchels and shimmering ball gowns—a combination that struck him as oddly contradictory. He threaded his fingers through hers, giving her hand a squeeze as he shook his head with incredulity. “I like to think I’ve got an eye for what I can pull off, but you’re at least going to have to narrow down the scope with what's on trend in New York.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Feb 07, 2015 1:08 am
by Requiem
"That's why you have me," The heiress grinned when the car pulled over, and she stepped out first, reversing gender role expectations and holding the door open for her companion. "Between the two of us, I think we can narrow something down. Come on, I know just the place."
Squeezing Rhys' hand in return, Sarena led the red hand down the sidewalk. This district of the city was unlike the road upon which sat Mels' Diner, chalk full of pot holes and smelling like pollution. The city kept up appearances wherever the elite tread, and it was only the elite that could afford the the three to five-digit price tags on the apparel displayed on finely chiseled mannequins in this neck of the woods.

Ever a fan of fine fashion, the occasional piece of exquisite attire caught the crime daughter's blue eyes through the spotless, crystalline windows, enough that she would pause in step before remembering why she was there. Not to shop for herself, but for the handsome man attached to her hand. Keeping a mental note on a lilac purse in the window of one of the city's local fashion designers, Couture Blanc, she averted her distracted gaze from the windows and headed towards one of her father's favourite tailors. "This is the place for one-stop shopping, for a busy man with a lot of money," she told Rhys, as two well-dressed greeters opened the glass doors for them. "Or, you know. A man who happens to know a woman with a lot of money who happens to be very fond of him. Does this make me a sugar-mama?"

Sarena chuckled as she led the hit man into the expansive, four-story shop, each floor dedicated to a different aspect of a rich man's life: from the bottom to the top, casual wear, formal wear and suits, athletic apparel, with night wear and undergarments at the very top. A third of each floor was dedicated to high-end dressing rooms, each twice the size of a walk-in closet. "Might as well start from the bottom to the top; though I think it's more casual chic that you're in need of, given your wide array of fine suits and crisp shirts," the dark-haired dame suggested. Her critical eyes scanned for colour and style, keeping in mind the stature of the red hand's body, along with his complexion, and the colour of his eyes. Sarena Vandelay was no one if she didn't know how to dress herself--and everyone else.

"Here, give me your arm," she instructed, taking some shirts from their racks, not even bothering to glance at the price tags as she hung them over his arm. She'd frequented this place enough as a child, when her father would take her with him on those days when he feared she might give her bodyguards the slip, the little shit that had been; that she still was, in a lot of ways. Regardless, she could practically price the clothes by looking at them, and in any case, this tailor gave a special discount to her family--either for fear of them or appreciation of their business, she wasn't sure. "You man enough to try wearing salmon? I think you could pull it off. Oh, and azure... blue is supposed to induce a calm mind. You won't come across as threatening to people." She added with a wink, draping two more shirts of the aforementioned colour over his arm.

As soon as a substantial amount of of fabric had consumed Rhys' arm, enough that it had probably begun to grow heavy, Sarena placed her hands thoughtfully on her hips as she looked over their selection. "All right. To the dressing room with you. Let's see what fits best." Placing a guiding hand between his shoulder blades, Sarena escorted the hit man to one of the vacant dressing rooms. The attendant standing to the side, recognizing the crime daughter's face, decided not to take issue with the amount of clothing that Rhys was going to try on. "But I get to see you in everything, understand? I don't care if you think something looks stupid." Leaning in, her lips brushed his ear as she murmured, "You might have better aim than me with a handgun, but I've got exquisite taste in fashion, hit man."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Feb 15, 2015 12:24 am
by Astrophysicist
Their shopping excursion was precisely as the red hand anticipated. With Sarena Vandelay leading the way in both reputation and fashion sense, Rhys felt himself being whisked away into a world with which he was entirely unfamiliar. The former spy had traveled the globe, hopping country to country, embassy to embassy, agency to agency, and yet never once had he found himself in quite this situation. For all the luxury he’d been exposed to in patches throughout his career with Double Eye, he had never been the center of anyone’s doting attention. He would be lying to himself to say he was not enjoying the warmth of this particular spotlight.

“If you think for a moment I harbor any shame or embarrassment about looking silly, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed.” Rhys grinned, looking over his shoulder as her slender hand pushed him gently toward the dressing room. “Consider me your living model. I’m in no place to complain.” With arms full of expensive apparel in more colors and textures and styles than he could count, he obediently hung each garment on the long chrome-plated bars. Duty done, he turned around abruptly, planting both hands on either of the crime daughter’s shoulders and pinning her gently to the mirror.

When he spoke, his lips were mere fingerbreadths from hers, and his blue eyes sparkled with a smile. “You know,” he drawled, his voice a low growl in his throat, “you made this seem like it wasn’t going to be a lot of work.” He made to lean in to meet her mouth in a kiss, but pulled away teasingly at the last moment before their lips could connect. A taunting laugh shook his shoulders, and he held up his hands. “Hey, don’t pretend like you’re not loving this too,” he teased, shrugging off his coat and unbuttoning his lightly wrinkled black shirt. “The view from the bleachers ain’t half bad. Consider the clothing your admission price and you got yourself a deal.”

He grinned and ushered her outside, sliding the heavy privacy curtain closed. Outfit after outfit, Rhys modeled the fine clothing for his dark-haired companion, earning a wide range of reactions from purrs of approval to raucous shared laughter.

“I told you!” he exclaimed from behind the draped fabric. “I am completely shameless.” With a flick of his arm, the barrier slid back, and he appeared before Sarena in an ill-fitting salmon shirt with gray trousers that were far too tight. “You might be more embarrassed to be seen with me on the street in this than I would be wearing it.” Pursing his lips, he jutted out one hip and examined his reflection in the three-way mirror outside. “Color’s okay. The rest? Not so much. I don’t think even your father’s best tailor could right this horrible wrong.” Shaking his head, he reached up to start unfastening the buttons, not bothering to return to the dressing room. “Or is that your goal? Dress me in something so terrible that it gives you a reason to rip it off and have your way with me?”

 

   
ReplyQuote
Requiem
(@requiem)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 842
 
by Requiem
"If it is admission I am paying, then you'd better damn well give me a show, hit man," the heiress demanded, wrinkling her nose at the tease of a kiss that never came to be. Folding her arms, she waited patiently for him to change into on of the dozen outfits they'd selected together. As soon as he walked out in pale grey and bright salmon, she had to bite down on her knuckles to keep from roaring with laughter. "Damn. So you've discovered my ulterior motive," she sighed, shaking her head as she closed the distance between them, enveloping her hands over his as they unfastened the buttons. "Just bear in mind that you don't get to tease me and get away with it, red hand. What I don't get by virtue of simply being me, I take... I hope you're prepared for that."

Those last words were murmured with her lips, in turn, dangerously close to his face, such that he could smell the faint, floral scent of shampoo on her hair. "Put on that charcoal shirt and the black slacks. I think you'll find a better fit with those." Reluctantly giving him the time and the space that he required to change out of the ill-fitting get-up and into something else, Sarena stood back, arms folded expectantly as she awaited his emergence from the changing room yet again. This time, as he stepped out with that suave smile, the surprise was a lot less comical; and, given their shared approving looks, it appeared as though they'd at least found something that wouldn't make him an embarrassment to himself and everyone in his presence.

"Now that... that is what I'm talking about." The crime daughter whistled her approval, stepping forward to straighten the starched collar of his shirt. "This one's a keeper, although I don't know if I want you strutting the streets in it, to be honest... Might capture too much female attention, and let me tell you, I have a vile and poisonous jealous streak." The corner of her red-tinted lips quirked into a smile, and she ran her fingertips down the front of the sleek, gunmetal cotton. "It's a keeper. Now go try on something else; I never thought I'd enjoy shopping for clothes that aren't for me, so much. This is way more entertaining than when my father used to drag me here while he got his suits tailored."

About a dozen outfits later, they approximately half were declared keepers, and Sarena didn't even bat an eyelash when she brought them to the counter and the price eeked into a four-digit range. There was no such thing as sticker shock for someone who had never had to work out a budget. As to whether the act was selfless or simply careless, however, was purely a matter of opinion.

"Amazing how much success you can have at one store," the mafia daughter grinned as they left, each carrying a large back in the crook of each of their elbows. "So; how did the retail therapy work for you? I'm usually a big fan. Sometimes all it takes to feel a little bit better is to look a little bit better. You're now allowed to have a bad day with a couple thousand dollars wort of new threads, hm?" The corner of her mouth quirked into a smirk as she turned to him, angling her head. "Of course, you're one of those lucks sons of bitches who could pull off a ratty old graphic tee and sweat pants and still look like you belong on the goddamn runway. I don't know whether I want to punch you or kiss you."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Thu Feb 26, 2015 11:16 pm
by Astrophysicist
They were in agreement the moment he stepped out in the ensemble she’d instructed him to don. The fine charcoal gray shirt, its pinstripe pattern so subtle it may as well not have been part of the fabric’s weave, gave a stormy tint of cobalt to Rhys Proudfoot’s bright blue eyes. The dark slacks, too, accentuated his slender physique and provided the illusion that another inch or two was tacked on to his above-average height. Slinging on a charming smile that was as much a fashion statement as the clothing itself, he burst through the heavy changing room curtains and quirked a brow at the fashionista waiting on the other side.

“I like dark colors,” the former spy professed breathily, deepening his voice and holding the back of a hand comically to his forehead. “They match my dark, brooding, highly modest demeanor.” He slinked up to the waiting crime daughter, his footsteps more eerily silent than usual with his stockinged feet on the plush fitting room carpet. “What woman will want me when there are so many gaping interior wounds to stitch shut?”

The light, teasing air to his tone fell out suddenly as the rhetorical question left his lips. Meant to be a joke, an act, part of a persona to coax an annoyed laugh from Sarena, the absolute truth of the statement struck him breathless like a blow to the stomach. He cleared his throat, knowing full well she was too smart and perceptive for the comment to be lost on her, and turned instead to the mirror. The smile he put on then did not shine quite so bright, but there still remained a trace of humor shining in his eyes.

Thankfully, the Vandelay heiress lost no time in distracting him, holding at bay all the creeping darkness but the shades in the clothing he wore. He leaned into her touch as she ran her hands up and down his chest, and he craned his head forward until their foreheads brushed. The now-familiar perfume of her shampoo was soothing as he inhaled. It reminded him of her embrace, of her apartment, of her surprising and unexpected compassion—and he realized all over again just how lucky he was, a sense that had nothing to do with the generous benefaction of an expensive wardrobe and everything to do with what no amount of money in the world could purchase.

The crisp spring air caressed their faces as they exited the department store, each of them toting several large bags filled with the afternoon’s retail bounty. “You know, I think there’s a good chance my nightmares will now be replaced by haunting images of that salmon get-up,” he quipped, his grin and subsequent chuckle bittersweet. There was no sense in playing around his underlying turmoils, not in front of Sarena.

He transferred a bag to the crook of his opposite elbow, using his free hand to seek the dark-haired woman’s upper arm. As she delivered her praise for his ability to pull off even the laziest of outfits, he tugged her gently backward, stopping both of them in their tracks. “I’d prefer the kiss, honestly,” Rhys said softly, leaning in to press his lips to hers before she could speak. He pulled away just enough to meet her blue eyes with his own, then reached up to brush away a strand of her hair the wind had seen fit to blow across her cheek. The way he spoke next made it obvious he was not responding to her comment, but rather to the entirety of their relationship thus far—an expression of genuine gratitude that transcended the shopping, transcended the inside voice that had guided his initial steps through her father's organization. “Thank you, Sarena. I mean it. Thank you.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Feb 27, 2015 8:23 pm
by Requiem
The crime daughter accepted the kiss without resistance, the smile tugging at the corners of her mouth indicating that she, too, preferred it to connecting her fist with the red hand's jaw. In truth, she'd expected it--unlike what happened next, which threw her entirely off guard. That tender gesture, brushing a stray tress of ebony from her cheek, might have appeared insignificant to any onlooker. But there was something intimate in that gentle brush of his fingertips, even more so than the kiss itself. The sincerity of the words that followed only weighed more heavily on her, like led in her chest, and she needed to crack the tension before the gravity cracked her like cheap china.

"Enough with the groveling, Proudfoot," she teased, nudging him with her hip as she balanced the heavy bags in the crooks of her elbows. Flipping her hair out of her face as the wind blew it into her eyes, she speed-dialed her usual ride with a swipe of her thumb, before moving to stand behind a wrought-iron bench to await her chauffeur's arrival. "Just because I'm a selfish, materialistic brat doesn't mean I can't share the joy of materialism with others. Besides, who says I didn't get you the clothes for the sake of my own eye candy?" She arched a finely shaped eyebrow in a look that suggested there certainly had been some incentive of the like, but her smirk softened when she added, "Besides, you can't put a price on life. And you've saved mine twice, already."

When the sleek black town car pulled onto the shoulder, Sarena opened the door for Rhys first, and climbed into the roomy vehicle after him, leaving the bags at her feet. Several beats of silence passed, as the driver pulled into heavy traffic, and when they found themselves stuck for behind a long line of cars at a red light, the mafia daughter reached for her companion. It was a light gesture, gently resting her hand atop of his, and one for which she provided no explanation, even when she saw fit to break the silence again. "Aside from when I was young, and my father dragged me with him almost everywhere... I've never gone shopping with anyone." While the comment might have seemed strange and out of place, it weighed heavily on the context of their outing. Especially considering Rhys had changed that running record of her solo escapades into retail therapy. It felt different, with someone else, for someone else. Better.

Due to an accident at a major intersection that involved the collision of three different vehicles, what should have been a fifteen-minute trip took well over an hour. Long enough that the secretive tender and vulnerable side of the Vandelay heiress gave way to the typical cold, impatient tendency what characterized her. "The hell is going on out there?" She called to the driver, leaning towards the front seats.

"Accident, Miss," replied the chauffeur, with a heavy sigh. "The cops are only letting one car out at a time, and only every so often. Can't do anything about it."

Huffing her indignation, Sarena sank back into the seat, casting a sly eye on Rhys before she leaned in to whisper, "This isn't exactly how I'd prefer to spend an hour in a car, with you, if I could help it." Letting that thought hang tantalizingly in the stifling air of the back seat, she waited the remainder of the ride out with relative patience, until at last--and it was nearing supper time, at that point--the car pulled up to her building. "About fucking time," she sighed, climbing out of the vehicle with such relief, one would think she'd been stuck in traffic for longer than an hour and a half.

"Sorry the end of our trip was such a damper," she mentioned to the hit man as they took the elevator up to her floor, fighting to pass through the doors with the massive bags in the crooks of their elbows. "Are you hungry at all? I'll see if I can whip something up. I just can't guarantee it will be good. Or even palatable." There was more truth to that statement than her joking tone led him to believe. The kitchen had never been Sarena's favourite room, and food had never been her biggest concern. But for the sake of a good evening, she was willing to try her hand at one of the domestic skills she'd never actually developed.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Feb 28, 2015 9:51 pm
by Astrophysicist
He smiled at her playful shove, but the sentiment of his gratitude still hung between them—a velvet, unspoken softness that no amount of mischievous exchanging of glances could erase. When she dialed the car and repocketed her cell phone, he quickly snatched up the free fingers with his own, squeezing them firmly as they strolled toward the corner.

For as many reasons as they could be considered an unconventional pair, there were just as many that qualified them to be a regular couple. It was a realization that struck Rhys as humorous, given their respective histories. Apart from the obvious display of wealth (the many shopping bags at their elbows were branded with high-end names), they walked hand-in-hand like any other twosome, exchanging laughs and sarcasm and gibes accompanied by countless and often subconscious displays of affection. A stolen kiss, a playful slap on the shoulder, a mock frown—the chemistry was there for the world to see, existing both because and in spite of their turbulent backgrounds.

Few onlookers would have suspected that they walked so casually with loaded concealed weapons on their persons; even fewer would have guessed they had used them, much less used them as recently as they had. They were killers, wolves in fine sheep’s clothing, predators disguised. It was a powerful feeling, particularly when experienced together as a singular force. Sarena Vandelay and Rhys Proudfoot were two of the same breed, and that mutual understanding was what made the world more tolerable.

“So, we both deserve to grovel and be groveled to,” the red hand commented, nudging her playfully before pulling her back towards him with their connected hands. “Honestly, I don’t think that’s such a bad balance.” When the spotless black Mercedes pulled up to the curb, he slipped into the back seat at Sarena’s prompt, leaving her to arrange the bags at her feet. The car sped away, leaving the strange world of luxury retail behind (apart from the hefty fraction they’d taken with them, of course), and Rhys found himself feeling strangely relaxed. Perhaps there wasmore to this ‘retail therapy’ thing than he’d initially imagined. But really, he knew it was not the outing itself so much as the company at his side, a fact confirmed when his companion brushed her fingertips against the knuckles on the back of his hand.

He tugged her closer to him and draped an arm across her shoulders, gazing out the window at the city’s glass and steel and concrete tableau beyond their vehicle. They had come to a standstill in traffic, but the red hand hardly paid it any heed. He didn’t share in Sarena’s annoyance until a good forty-five minutes had passed with very little progress to their destination, when even his stomach had begun to protest the delay.

“No need to apologize,” he said when they finally pulled up to her apartment building. “It's not like you clogged up traffic on purpose. But damn, I’m starving. At this point, I wouldn’t even care if what you made was palatable, so long as it’s digestible.” He flashed her a grin and a wink, lowering the stuffed bags to the floor as soon as they crossed the threshold into her penthouse. “Maybe if you impress me, we can make up for that lost time in the car with some more...exciting...activities after dinner."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 12:12 am
by Requiem
"Well, I hadn't thought we'd spend as long trying on clothes... and by we, I mean you," Sarena teased, struggling to unlock her door with the weight of the bags hooked on the bend in her elbows. "I'd planned to grab us some lunch, but that was before that massive fucking traffic jam. Then I just got too pissed off to bother thinking of food. But now that you've mentioned it..." Her stomach began to twist with hunger pangs at the very thought of eating, something that had been lost to her conscious train of thoughts in the midst of excitement, watching the red hand don the chosen clothes, and then in her frustration being stuck in traffic.

Dropping the bags in the doorway as soon as she entered her apartment, the heiress stretched her sore arms and bumped the door closed with her hip. "Is that a challenge, or an incentive?" She arched a brow at Rhys' suggestion for after dinner activities, though--admittedly, all of a sudden--the thought of spending some time in the kitchen was not as unappealing to her as it usually was. "Either way--you're on, hit man. You'll soon come to realize that there is nothing I can't do to impress. Comes with the territory of generally getting what you want.

"Have a seat, help yourself to a drink or two," Sarena suggested, sliding the tips of her fingers across his shoulders as she passed him to make her way into the kitchen. "The more you drink, the better anything that I make will taste. What are you craving? I've been known to be able to sautee chicken breast without rendering it completely unpalatable." And, just her luck, she had taken some out of her freezer to thaw in her fridge the day before. When the red hand called his consent to go ahead with the meal, she grabbed her phone from her purse and began to search for a simple recipe; one that someone who spent a maximum of five minutes in the kitchen per day could follow.

After several minutes of searching, she finally settled on one that looked as though it required minimal skill and ingredients, and went about preparing her work surface to prepare a meal that she knew, in her core, was still beyond her culinary capabilities. Not that she had a mind to give up right away; after preparing the produce and spices the way the recipe instructed, she turned up the head on the skillet and placed the raw meat on the pan. It steamed immediately, the smell of lemongrass and thyme instantly filling the kitchen, but for the temperature the pan was set at, the chicken appeared to be cooking too quickly. By the time it cooked on the inside, the outside would be overdone.

"What the actual fuck." The crime daughter hissed, retracing the steps of the recipe on her phone. "It doesn't say anything about it steaming so much... goddamnit, how the hell do I screw up cooking chicken?" Frustrated and at a loss, she stepped out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron as she found the red hand relaxing with a glass of amber liquor in his hand. "Okay, so I hate to take you away from relaxing... But I have no fucking clue what I'm doing, and if we want to eat tonight, I think we'll need to make this a team effort."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 1:10 am
by Astrophysicist
The red hand, lips twisted in a half smile, swirled amber liquid between sips in lazy circles around the inside of a crystal glass. As practiced a drinker as he was, the intoxicating effects of scotch whiskey were magnified twofold on his desperately empty stomach. The spreading warmth was welcome, however, and he found himself relaxing further and further into the plush upholstery of the sofa as the contents of his glass diminished. He leaned his head back to rest on the top of the cushions, closing his eyes to the muffled sounds of Sarena bustling in the kitchen and the distant sizzle of food in a skillet.

The crime daughter’s sudden summons from the kitchen prompted his eyelids to flutter open reluctantly. He looked up with a grin that only broadened at the sight of her flushed cheeks and frustrated grimace—the sight of her made the interruption worth every moment of lost relaxation. “Uh-huh,” he drawled skeptically, rising to his feet and slinking to the young woman. “Luckily for you, I happen to be a red hand in the kitchen, too. Whatever that means.” Wrapping one arm around her shoulders, he laughed and steered her back into the kitchen to face the self-proclaimed damage. “What’s up?”

He stepped up to the stove and immediately reached for the dial beneath the burners. He leaned down to gaze below the silver grates, twisting the knob that controlled the gas and watching as the small ring of blue flames lowered to a barely-perceptible glow. The pan’s glass lid, resting unused on the pot rack above the sink, soon found its place atop the frying chicken and clouded up with rising steam.

“Too hot,” he declared matter-of-factly, meeting Sarena’s blue eyes with his own. “If you sear it too quickly, the middle will still be cold and the outside will burn, and on top of that it’ll get dry. It has to be a gradual heat-up, on low flame. See?” The former spy wet his lips with his tongue and set his whiskey on the counter. It was a sign that he meant business, and the mischievous gleam in his azure gaze only served to reinforce his determination. “It’s salvageable, but it’ll need more than seasoning if we’re going to keep any of the moisture. Let’s see what else you’ve got.”

Without waiting for a response, he began methodically opening cabinets until he found her stash of spices. Pulling out dried oregano, onion powder, cumin, and allspice, he combined a strange ratio of the varied flavors in a mixing bowl pulled from beneath the sink. Temporarily turning off the stove, he poured the sliced pieces of chicken into the powder, letting the condensation from the steam drain in with it. “Toss this around,” he instructed Sarena, hopping over to the fridge. With yet more ingredients in hand, he whipped together an improvised sauce consisting of sour cream, vegetable stock, and minced garlic. He poured it over the bowl of chicken and stirred it up with the spices, the mixture of which produced a simmer sauce reminiscent of not one particular culture’s cuisine, but many.

“I think you can take over now,” he told her cheerfully, pouring all the contents back into the skillet and re-lighting the burner. “The sauce will keep it from drying out, and it’ll cook more evenly now. Should be good with the lemongrass you already added, too. I take it you don’t have a lot of ground sumac lying around to enhance the citrus?” The red hand nudged the young woman with his elbow and handed her the spatula with mock authority. He leaned against the counter and resumed the consumption of his whiskey, narrowing his eyes. “So, what do you think? Tolerable?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 12:26 pm
by Requiem
Sarena was more than willing to relinquish control of the kitchen to Rhys; and, considering his borderline tipsy state from drinking on an empty stomach, he didn't to too bad a job salvaging the chicken from its steaming pan. "Well why didn't the goddamn recipe tell me any of this?" The heiress hissed the words, shutting off her phone with a frown as she retreated to the corner to frown and blush at her own incompetence. It wasn't her fault she had no culinary prowess; the extent of the company she brought back to her not-so-humble abode was Albert, who was content to just watch television and eat frozen pizzas, like pretty much any almost-thirteen-year-old boy. You didn't learn to cater or be a good hostess when the extent of the people you trusted to take home were your kid cousin, and a hit man who already well knew how to take care of himself.

Watching over his shoulder, the dark-haired young woman attempted to take in his technique as he raided her cupboards and fridge for the correct ingredients. In a matter of minutes, the kitchen had gone from smelling like seared chicken to the spices and herbs he'd mixed into the sour-cream based sauce. "How the hell does someone who kills for a living learn culinary skills of that calibre?" She teased, taking over the pan to tend to the chicken as he picked up his glass of whiskey again. "If you wanted to retire from your current profession, I'm sure you could make a damn good living as a chef somewhere. Maybe I'd hire you on as a personal one."

Winking, she left the chicken temporarily to return her attention to the vegetables in a separate pan to season them with some herbs (they still looked okay; at least she wasn't a complete failure in the kichen). "Go relax. I'll bug you again if I manage to set something on fire." Watching the stove like a hawk, Sarena didn't move from her spot until everything appeared sufficiently cooked without being overcooked. Carefully dividing the portions onto two plates, she cleared the table of everything but a simple, glass rose centerpiece, before leaning around the corner to catch the attention of the red hand. "You're going to be passed out inebriated before you get to eat anything if you keep at the whiskey at that rate," the Vandelay daughter teased. "Come on. Our combined efforts have paid off. You look like you could use something to eat."

Taking a seat across from him at the table, she took a curious bite of the salvaged meal, which had turned into nothing like the the original recipe she'd selected. Not that she minded; the explosion of flavour on her tongue was more than she could ever have hoped for to come from her own cooking, unaided. "Damnit, Proudfoot. Maybe you are just as much a killer in the kitchen as you are out on the field." The compliment was nothing short of rare from someone like Sarena Vandelay who, in all truth, was far more difficult to please than one would expect. "Maybe I shouldhire you to be my own personal chef, when my father's done with you. Whenever that might be."

Sipping thoughtfully on a glass of wine that she'd poured, the crime daughter turned her head to glance out the window at a sudden rush of rainfall, with thunder in the distance. "Huh. Guess it was probably a good thing that we got back home when we did," she commented, standing to close the windows as water poured from the sky as if on a faucet. "It would have been a damn shame to get all of your brand new clothes wrinkly and wet so soon..." No sooner did she place her empty plate in the dishwasher, however, that the power began to flicker, stopping her in her tracks following another crash of thunder, followed by lightning so bright it illuminated the apartment wherever the light reached. "Are you kidding me? The power had better not--" Another flicker, and then another, and, finally, darkness throughout. Sarena's form reduced to a darker shadow against the already dark backdrop, she heaved a heavy sigh. "Fantastic. Whatever. I've got candles; hopefully this won't last long."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Mar 03, 2015 10:13 pm
by Astrophysicist
By the time the chicken had cooked and the vegetables had been properly sautéed, the former spy was appropriately famished. As the curse of the kitchen always went, it was torturous being wooed by the savory aroma of simmering spices while one’s belly ran empty. Rhys’s stomach growled its protests as they sat down at the table, and he hardly possessed the self control to wait for Sarena to sit down before piercing a piece of chicken with his fork and popping it into his watering mouth.

The explosion of flavor on his tongue was well worth the wait, however. It had been some time since the red hand had had the provisions or accommodations to prepare such a meal. On contract jobs, he was too busy moving between shady motel rooms to find an adequate kitchen for personal use, and it was rare anymore that his black market missions allowed for so elaborate a cover as a chef. He had forgotten how much he enjoyed cooking—however unusual a hobby it might have been for a man of his current profession. Despite being out of practice (and perhaps slightly tipsy), it was liberating to be behind the culinary wheel again after so many years as passenger.

“I’m glad you approve. It’s been a long time,” he confessed between bites, washing down his words with a large swallow of ice water. With nutrition re-entering his system, the whiskey’s buzz was beginning to dull. “I’m a little rusty, I admit. But like I said earlier, as long as it’s technically edible, I’m so hungry that it doesn’t matter. It’s hard to get worse than a Turkish prison, regardless.” He grinned, despite the gravity of the stories behind his words. “Anyway, I wouldn’t be opposed to being your trophy boyfriend and your trophy cook. I’ve been known to be able to multi-task.”

He tossed her a wink precisely at the same time as a flicker of lightning illuminated the parlor. He wasn’t sure until the distant rumble of thunder reached his ears that what he’d seen had indeed been the product of a storm and not simply his hypoglycemic imagination. His smile broadened at the sound. “To answer your question,” he drawled, continuing, “I got into cooking by accident. Or coincidence, maybe. I didn’t think I was capable of boiling water until Double Eye sent me to Milan under the guise of a garçon de cuisine on one of my earliest missions. Had to do a lot of learning on my feet for that one. Started as a kitchen boy, wound up getting promoted to junior sous-chef, considered staying there and never going back to the CIIO. But, alas…” He heaved a melodramatic, wistful sigh, swirling the wine in his glass. “I kept at it when I had the chance, in my limited free time. It wound up coming in handy later on, with poisons and all that.”

Following Sarena with his empty plate into the kitchen, he quirked a brow as the lights flickered and the thunder crescendoed. He laughed out loud when the room went black, amused more by the crime daughter’s curses from the darkness than the power outage itself. “Relax, güzelim,” he murmured, catching her by the arm and pulling her into an embrace from behind. He clasped his hands around her middle and rested his chin on her shoulder, the perfume of her hair mingling with the scent of lingering spices. “Nothing we can do about it,” he whispered softly in her ear, “I never had to take on a mission as an electrician, so I’m afraid I’m not going to be terribly useful in that arena.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Mar 04, 2015 1:03 am
by Requiem
"Really? You mean there's actually something that ex-CIIO, Rhys Proudfoot, can't do?" The heiress teased, although while the red hand was lackadaisical in his appraisal of the power outage, Sarena was annoyed. It was something beyond her control, beyond his control, and control was something that the crime daughter did not like to relinquish. Or to admit that she didn't have, at any given moment. "Well, we're on a pretty good grid, here. At worst, they'll have it back up in an hour or so. Give me a minute and I'll get some light back in here."

While she was loathe to actually put to use some of the hand-carved candles that decorated her coffee tables, bannisters and window sills, the sun was quickly setting, and if she wanted to illuminate her apartment before it was too dark to see what she was doing, she had to act fast. Within ten minutes, approximately twenty different candles, all of various colours, shapes, sizes and scents were lit throughout her single-level abode. The smell of wax, char, along with a aroma of about a dozen different types of flora permeated the air, painting the place in shades of orange, yellow, and shadow. While it still did comparatively little to provide an adequate sense of heat, the Vandelay daughter had to admit it certainly promoted a calming atmosphere. Enough to make her wonder why she didn't light candles more often.

"You sure you don't want to try your hand at a electrician's job, the jack of all trades that you are?" Sarena joked when she reunited with Rhys in the parlor, taking a seat next to him on a plush loveseat. "Most of them are scented candles; this place is going to smell like a fucking flower shop if they don't tend to the grid soon." Then again, as the rain poured in buckets outside, she realized there were places she could be that were far less appealing than the comfort of her own home, and with preferred company, no less. In fact, the longer she gazed at Rhys' profile in the flickering yellow light, and the way it sparkled off of that necklace that he held so dear, the more she realized how she took comfort in that teasing, reassuring smile, and in the depths of those clear blue eyes.

Although having contemplated pouring herself a glass of wine or mixing a sweet cocktail, Sarena suddenly found that all she wanted was the company and proximity of a certain hit man--and not in the usual way that she desired male company. With anyone else--literally every other person with a Y chromosome that had come and gone from her life--it was about power relations and maintaining control. It was about having an agenda and seeing that that agenda was followed, goals met. Perhaps, like every other romantic interest she'd ever set her blue eyes on, it hadn't been all too different with Rhys, in the beginning; she'd seen something she wanted and, like a predator, had pursued it. Now, it felt different. Everything felt different, and she didn't know what to make of it.

Unbidden, her hand sought the curve of his cheekbone, and as soon as he turned to face her, Sarena's lips found their place, pressed gently against his in a kiss that wanted to be so much more. Noting the dull hint of confusion in his eyes at the seemingly abrupt display of affection, Sarena heard herself murmur the words before they'd even formed in her mind, leaving her perhaps more baffled than him. "Rhys," she breathed his name as their lips barely parted, searching his face for an understanding that she wasn't sure she would find. "Show me something real. Please..." After all, she only lived her life as a lie second to the hit man who could don different identities as easily as different hats. Not a single aspect of her waking life, tied to her mafia family, was without deceit or ulterior motives. No aspect except that of Rhys Proudfoot, who revealed the light and the dark of what it meant to be real, raw. Two negatives didn't make a positive, but in their unique case, two lies could shed light on long sought-after truth.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Thu Mar 05, 2015 6:53 pm
by Astrophysicist
As the fierce spring storm moved ever closer, the superb view of the city from the apartment’s exceptional height became shrouded in swollen, moisture-laden clouds. The blue-white flashes of lightning were blinding in their proximity, and the subsequent crashes of thunder rattled even the well-insulated windowpanes of the penthouse. Rain spilled in curtains from the sky, thrashing noisily against the windows as the wind accelerated to steady gusts.

Rhys lowered himself into the plush loveseat slowly, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the warm flickering glow of candlelight. He raised his arm when Sarena approached, draping it over her shoulders as she nestled in next to him. “You know, we probably didn’t need to light all of the candles,” he teased, squeezing her upper arm affectionately. “But I can appreciate good mood lighting, even if it means we’re going to smell like an exploded perfumery for the next couple of months.” His shoulders shook with a chuckle. They lapsed into a comfortable silence, one that neither of them felt the need to fill, each drinking in the presence of the other as the spring thunderstorm raged furiously outside.

It had been a long while since the red hand had been so at ease in the company of another. Like Sarena, he had done his fair share of cavorting with members of the opposite sex in the years since his employment at Double Eye, but it was never like this—those escapades had been temporary distractions, quick fixes for his much deeper problems. Physical pleasure had acted much akin to the blue pill Sarena had given him several nights prior; his depression, his anxiety, his post-traumatic stress had been masked by altering the inner components of his body. But his issues always returned, often leaving him worse for wear after tumbling from the high.

Sarena Vandelay was the first person he’d met who could sooth his mind as well as his body. When their lips united in a fervent kiss, the impact was amplified by a coincidental spark of lightning and a deafening crash of thunder. He could feel the urgency in her gestures, see the passion gleaming in her pleading eyes. And yet, despite his surprise at the sudden intensity, he understood precisely the source from which those feelings poured—and it made him long for her empathetic touch all the more.

His name on her lips prompted his heart to accelerate. His hands, which had already found her waist and neck, gripped her firmly and pulled her towards him until she straddled his lap, her torso pressed tightly to his. Something real… After living a life of espionage, of deceit and disguise, he had never felt more profoundly like Rhys Proudfoot than he did in the embrace of the Vandelay heiress. What he had found with the dark-haired young woman was perhaps the most real thing he had ever experienced—more real than the torture, the missions, the assassinations, even the explosion at Tribeca-Antioch that had decimated the groundwork of his life.

The former spy moved his hands to the small of her back, supporting her slender frame as he rose to his feet. He lowered her gently to the sofa beneath him and leaned in, his mouth brushing the tender flesh of her collarbones. His kisses trailed progressively downward as his fingers nimbly unfastened the buttons of her blouse.

“Sarena.” It was barely a whisper that he spoke her name, his lips hardly daring to part from hers more than a moment. The dancing candlelight caught the soft blue of her eyes, and he caught her azure gaze with his own in a profound, wordless exchange of meaning and desire.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Thu Mar 05, 2015 11:35 pm
by Requiem
It hadn't occurred to the crime daughter that her plaintive and humble request--eyes half-lidded with a humble air of desire that was wholly uncharacteristic to her persona--might not come across as clear. As her lips murmured the words, she wasn't entirely sure she knew what they meant, or precisely what she was asking. The flickering comfort of candlelight, paired with the inexplicably kind, blue eyes of one of the most dangerous men she had ever met, was gradually drawing something out of her; something she wasn't entirely certain she could identify.
And yet, Rhys understood. He understood what she wanted, what she needed, even while she herself could not grasp at her own desires.

Without shame or need for explanation, Sarena captured the red hand's mouth with her lips, until the opportunity was taken from her as she found her body supported by the soft cushions of her sofa. She found her breath caught in her throat at the soft brush of Rhys' lips down her neck, across her collar bones, and downward as her cotton blouse fell away from her rib cage. A shiver traveled the length of her spine, bringing goose bumps to the surface of her flesh, which had nothing to do with shedding a layer of thin fabric, or from the humid damp that accompanied the thunder storm, and everything to do with the light but fervent touches of the red hand's lips against her bare skin.

Wordlessly meeting Rhys' eyes in wordless acknowledgement, the Vandelay heiress found his waist with her fingertips, sliding her hands beneath the hem of his shirt, before bunching the fabric in her hands. Sitting upright, she pushed the fabric upward, easing it over his head and shoulders, until it fell to the ground into the discarded pile, started by her unfastened blouse. It certainly was not the first time the hit man had been partially (or, in truth, mostly) bared to her, without a hint of bashfulness in light of the exposure. And although any prior instance had left Sarena appreciative of the eye candy, the feeling in her chest--expanding and swelling with the need for his proximity--had never been so prominently fixed in her consciousness.

Fingers trailing up his sides and past his shoulders to hook behind the back of his neck, she lowered her body back to the couch and pulled him down with her, warmed from the heat of Rhys' bare torso against her own as she drew him into a fervent series of kisses. Rhys... She almost spoke his name, but like her breath, it was caught in her throat--and perhaps for the better. Finding words for what she felt and what she wanted to feel meant that she had to be able to identify it, which was still beyond her framework of understanding. It wasn't the first time she'd felt lips on her neck and the give of taut muscle beneath her fingertips--far from it, in fact. But something about the fact that is was Rhys' Proudfoot allowing her such intimate proximity made it different. And it made her want him closer.

Thoughts entirely divorced from her body, the crime daughter's hands slid down his shoulders and the length of his body, reaching the waistband of his pants--at which time, she finally paused to reground herself in reality. In any other similar situation, Sarena was inclined to take what she wanted, without a second thought. With Rhys, however, it was not simply 'any other situation', because Rhys wasn't just any person. He was someone who understood what it was to feel damaged, what it was to not feel 'real', and as such she couldn't treat him like any other individual she'd used for her own purposes of distraction. Hands pausing at his hips, she met the hit man's azure eyes in a silent query, ascertaining the two of them were on the exact same page before proceeding any further.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Mar 07, 2015 6:17 pm
by Astrophysicist
They had engaged intimately before. From stolen kisses to their heated argument to the times each had swooped in for the other in rescue, the red hand and the Vandelay daughter were strangers only in the sense that they’d known one another only a few weeks. Even the drug-fueled dancing at the night club rave had proven raw and carnal and personal. He had placed hesitant trust in her judgment; he’d thrown himself over to her, having forgotten until then how to indulge in spontaneity for the sake of the senses. She’d guided him through the beginning twists of his new role’s labyrinth, and in turn he had done his best to ensure her safety and comfort—a well-being that was threatened and protected at once by his very presence in her life.

From the very moment he’d accidentally intercepted her outside her father’s conference room, the two had never stopped moving closer to one another, both literally and figuratively. It was culminating now in a tempestuous catharsis. So strong was the rush of feeling that Rhys Proudfoot wondered if it was storming outside at all, if the thunder and the lightning was not surging instead from within. Sarena’s kisses were ravenous but tender, and he met those beckoning lips with an insistent hunger of his own.

The burning candles that surrounded them cast irregular shadows across their bodies. Instead of fading to the background, the former spy found his senses instead amplified—despite the mixed floral aroma drifting from their analog light sources, all he could smell was Sarena’s hair, her skin, her perfume. The light blazed gold, warm and alive. As his eyes peered into the depths of her gaze, even the bright blue of her irises glowed cerulean as a summer sea; the waves of captured illumination swallowed him whole and sent him plunging helplessly deeper into the clutches of his affection.

At the young woman’s pause at his waistband, Rhys held her stare, responding not with words but rather by wrapping a hand gently around her wrist, urging her onward to unfasten the barriers of buttons and zips. The query for permission took him by moderate surprise, but it struck him too as a profoundly meaningful event—from a woman who had likely never in her life hesitated to seize what she desired, the compassion and respect implicated in the gesture left him awestruck and moved almost to the point of discomfort. He didn’t know whether it was the thunder or his pulse that subsequently boomed in his ears—an aural symptom of panic he’d learned to recognize in its early stages—but he was also certain that anxiety was not what powered this reaction.

It was adoration—pure, unadulterated adoration. It was a level of mutual understanding that was enough, for the first time in five long years, to make him grateful for the heartbeat in his chest and the breath that filled his lungs.

With his nerves ablaze, the sensation of cool air on freshly exposed skin was enough to send a shiver of ecstasy up his spine. His slacks and other accompanying garments found their way to the floor in a heap, joining his shirt, Sarena’s blouse, and soon, the rest of the young woman’s clothing as well. He pressed his mouth to her neck beneath her jaw, inhaling deeply against the maddening heat of her tender flesh. Their bodies, clothed now in nothing but the candlelight, moved together like melody and harmony, parallel but synchronous. The electricity of their physical contact, the friction of their gleaming united bodies loathe to part, was enough to rival the clouds’ impressive display beyond the walls and windows.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Mar 07, 2015 11:53 pm
by Requiem
The smouldering consent that she found in the depths of his azure eyes was enough to quell any fear that the meaningful surge of passion was not mutual. Rhys' body and mind shared a wavelength with the crime daughters, and with his hands on her wrists, buttons and zippers released at her mere touch, the red hand's slacks falling away like a layer of unnecessary skin, allowing for new and vibrant cells to drink in the oxygen and feeling that they so craved. His skin under her fingertips sent another chill down her spine with the realization that he was laid just as bare and vulnerable to her as she was to him. 
For the first time in her life, the intimate act of passion was not framed by a matter of power positions. And the notion frightened her, almost as much as it enticed her.

Rhys didn't give her a chance to push her dress pants over her hips, as his hands seized the waistband of the garment and the one beneath, easing them down her legs in a fluid motion and depositing them on the discard pile on the floor. There was no opportunity for the mild chill on the damp air to reach her skin, not with the warmth of the hit man's body so close, his mouth on her neck and hands on her waist. Flashbacks from the club surfaced in her mind, with the proximity of their warm bodies following them back to her apartment, before they had both succumbed to exhaustion before achieving any more than kissing and fondling--and it suddenly became clear to her why this was so different from any time before.

From the day they'd shared a conversation over cigarettes at her father's estate, Sarena and Rhys had garnered a connection. A type that could not be contrived. Not even by a master of manipulation like Sarena Vandelay.

All thoughts and considerations were lost to her when he began to move, and the mafia heiress arched her body in response, breathing an audible sigh as their torsos met, nothing, not even the air between them. She tilted her head in response to the kisses along her jaw, and if it had been possible to open herself up even more, to expose her vulnerabilities as easily as she exposed her body, and to have those vulnerabilities and insecurities assuaged by free distribution of his kisses. But there was no possible way to present herself as any more raw; whether he realized it or not, he wasn't only seeing past a layer of chintzy clothes, but every layer she'd ever built for her own protection suddenly dissolved in the wake of this passionate embrace.

"Rhys..." His name fell from her lips in a quiet moan, and completely unbidden as she accommodated their rhythm with her own harmonious movements, her ankles brushing the smooth skin at the small of his back. The red hand wouldn't have such a frame of reference, but names meant as little to her in the heat of passion as did the person to whom they belonged--which was, pretty much, everyone. She didn't bother with them when she engaged in any such acts of intimacy, because more often than not, her conquests were underwhelming, and her mind was many miles away from the task at hand. If ever she derived enjoyment from the act, it was not physical or emotional, but connected solely to the power of her manipulation...

...which was certainly not the case with Rhys. He hadn't been manipulated; she'd sought his intimate touch for other reasons, many which were beyond her own frame of reference. But whatever they were, they allowed her to relax into the couch cushions, without the typical panicked desire to fight for the top. She didn't tolerate his touch, but responded to it with hitches in her breath and the small sounds their combined ministrations incited. It wasn't just pleasure; it was something more, something that surpassed banal gratification. Something that she'd never experienced with anyone but Rhys Proudfoot, the only man who, other than her father, could cut her life short without breaking a sweat. Instead, he was allowing her to experience life, in a way that she had never felt possible.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Mar 15, 2015 9:38 pm
by Astrophysicist
The only manipulation Rhys had endured to arrive at this point of engagement was unrelated to the typical powers of seduction, and it far transcended any of the usual innate desires for intimacy. Rather, he felt suddenly as though every tear he’d ever shed, every stitch through bleeding flesh, every searing moment of physical or emotional torture had led to this moment—as though a twisted, cruel, but ultimately just destiny had at last played out to its rewarding finish. There was no pretension, no expectation; what the kindred spirits sought in one another was not temporary reprieve, but rather a cure for ailments both diagnosed and long-suffered, silent and known.

For the anxiety-prone red hand, Sarena Vandelay was the pill that cut through the chaos. The beauty of their connection, and indeed what had drawn Rhys to her from the start, was that the young woman did not make him forget about the tragedies of his past. She had never tried, not once, to erase or invalidate his experiences. She had instead prodded the gaping wounds, bloodying her curious hands and forcing him instead to relentlessly remember. The heiress shone her light into corners of remembrance he’d long ago shrouded purposely in darkness, and in peering into those black depths, she acknowledged the ghosts that dwelled there as part of him rather than specters in need of banishment.

It was not that she made him feel worse—that was far, far from the truth of things. But she did make him feel; she made him confront the pieces of himself he did not particularly care for, and even in her curious inquiries there had always been an unspoken tenderness there to soften the emotional blow of her interest. She made him feel accepted rather than alienated, and never, not once, had he felt the need to don any of his usual guises to perpetuate their unconventional relationship. She had pursued his company in spite of all of it, in spite of the fact that she could take her pick from a slew of less dangerous, more stable, and likely more handsome men with more to offer than panic attacks and defensiveness, she was here, now, with him—and everything was vastly, gloriously right.

As their bodies moved together, bare skin brushing bare skin, there was nothing to hide—and nothing the former spy wanted to hide. He was naked before her in both body and mind, with memory and emotion laid raw for her examination. She had asked for something real, and she had received it—whether or not she had anticipated the intensity of what her words would conjure between the two of them. The red hand could sense that the wordless exchange did not simply flow from his side; her reciprocation was just as powerful as, and far more poignant than, his own. Though they had both constructed barriers around the most sensitive parts of their psyches, the crime daughter’s were of an entirely different architecture. To see her, to experience her, without those keen stylized walls…well, it was an honor that meant more to him than he could say with words.

So he settled instead for actions, allowing his body to communicate what his mouth was unable to form. The rain beat against the windowpanes in increasing fervency, paralleling the build in passion and sensation that blossomed between heavy breaths and soft moans of pleasure. When at last they succumbed to blissful exhaustion, his lips left trails of soft kisses up her neck and along her jaw, and he met her mouth tenderly while easing himself to her side.

He propped his head up with his hand. “Sarena,” he murmured, blue eyes half-lidded as he gazed at her. He reached out, trailing a single finger down the side of her face. In the candlelight, her glistening skin looked smooth as marble, her slender body rendered as perfectly as an old masters painting. A rumble of thunder shook the windows. “Maybe we should have rationed the candles,” he commented breathily, a small smile illuminating his face. “The storm doesn’t seem to be letting up much.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Mar 15, 2015 11:37 pm
by Requiem
When Sarena shed her clothes before another, it typically served as a cue to turn off her mind. She'd allow her body to take over, in all of its ministrations and subtle reactions to her partner's gestures, but she--the part of herself that made the crime daughter inherently who she was--was never truly a part of that tango. Instead, she would allow her mind to drift to better places, better times, better people than what the situation before her offered. She knew the act of intimacy well enough to feign her interest without really realizing what was going on, and as soon as it was over, it was not satisfaction that came over her like a warm blanket, but relief. And then, when all as done, Sarena Vandelay would return to herself, feeling just a little bit more tainted than before.

Such was not the case with Rhys. Not that Sarena hadn't been tentative at first; she'd revealed herself to the red hand in small segments, like a striptease of gradual familiarity and comfort, shedding one garment strategically at a time until there was nothing left of her guise.
Sarena had been naked before Rhys long before she'd piled her clothes in a heap on the floor. He'd seen more of her in his glimpses at her ridiculous collection of poetry, to the whispers they'd shared in the dead of night and in the early hours of morning. And with all bare and nothing left to hide, she wanted--needed--to be reassured that it could be okay to stand before someone without a shred of pretense or disguise. And that maybe, just maybe, it would make her realize that there might be something beautiful beneath her layers of apathy and amorality.

Gripping his shoulders, the dark-haired mafia daughter's blue eyes fell shut, her chest swelling with the intense amalgamation of feelings and sensations that the proximity and movement of Rhys' body in and against hers prompted. On one hand, it frightened her; she was losing control--no, she was completely out of control of her body and mind--like she never had been before. And for a brief moment, a handful of precious seconds, she very nearly pushed him away in a keen desire to reclaim control of herself and of the situation. It felt too akin to some outside force manipulating her, some phantom drive to actually stay in her own head, for once... But the opportunity very quickly passed, and before she knew what she was doing, their mutual passion peaked, and she thought she heard herself sigh, the half moons of her fingernails leaving marks in the soft flesh of Rhys' shoulders.

They came down from it together, one second at a time, and all she could do was stare at her high, white ceiling until she caught her breath. The dull ache in the aftermath of their intimate encounter was quick to fade, just as quick as the crime daughter was to return to her usual, cocky self. Any self-consciousness was at this point thrown to the wind for the both of them, it would seem; a fact she as grateful for. The way the firelight accentuated the curves and crevices of the hit man's body was almost hypnotic, and she could have looked on for hours, cherishing a moment that, unlike any other she'd experienced was real. Not only real, but safe. Cathartic. 

"Mmm... no, it's just the right amount of candles," Sarena argued, propping herself up on an elbow. With her opposite hand, she reached towards her deadly companion and toyed with the tiny piece of shrapnel hanging from his neck. In the yellow light of about ten candles, it looked more precious than gold. "Let the storm rage. I'm all for seizing the moment. Worst case scenario, I don't get to throw the dishes in the dishwasher until tomorrow." Drunk on his presence and on the genuine rarity of the moment, she hooked an arm around Rhys' neck and pulled him towards her again. "Someday, when they least suspect it... I'm going to run away. From New York, and my family, forever. They'll never find me... I'll finally be able to become someone else. New name, new identity... maybe I'll even go to college." Through half-lidded eyes, the azure turned green in the candlelight, the corner of her mouth quirked into a smile. "Promise you'll find me. We can meet all over again, no danger, no ulterior motives. Just a couple of people getting to no each other. What do you say?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Thu May 07, 2015 2:21 pm
by Astrophysicist
There was much to be said for the way the events leading to this moment had played out.

An unlikely meeting, a chance encounter—whether it was fate, destiny, or sheer dumb luck, the meeting of heiress and assassin felt as natural as the rain. From the very beginning, beyond her knowledge and beyond his notice, Sarena Vandelay had kick-started a process that Rhys Proudfoot had all but forgotten how to begin. Sweating and anxious after his initial confrontation with the late Colstorm and the rest of the Vandelay empire’s top dogs, the former spy had been calmed by the dark-haired woman’s cigarette and conversation. It commenced a pattern that had yet to cease even still.

In many ways, she was the calm to his storm. She was the embodiment of precisely what he had lost at Tribeca-Antioch, reminding him not of the horrors of his past, but rather of the exhilaration that used to be. Different though they were in background, they complemented one another in the same way the visual flash of lightning accompanied the auditory blast of thunder—a lit fuse, a freefall, a chain reaction. Were his thoughts not in a whirlwind, caught in the heat of their shared passion, he might have recognized that for the first time in years—for the first time since he’d resigned himself to Death in the Turkish rubble—he was not alone. And more than that, he was safe; safe not only from the threat of outside danger, but from his own internal enemies as well.

So poignant was their intimate union for the hit man that the time it had taken them to arrive at the moment suddenly melted away, clicking into an order of cause and effect that made the reward of their unintentional restraint all the more intense. For a man who had been trained from late adolescence to think like a spy, analyzing every happening for possible consequence and outcome, the logic of it was as satisfying as it was maddening. Because it had never been like that with Sarena, not once; apart from the threat her own family unknowingly posed, long-term outcomes with the crime daughter were not something he had considered. He didn’t want to play a game of what-ifs with her; the game was far more than win or lose, survive or perish. They made their choices together. And they had from the very start.

Their descent from climax was slow and steady, their ecstasy gradually ebbing like the reluctant withdrawal of a tide from the soft shoreline. Rhys, his taut muscles glistening in the firelight, smiled as the dark-haired woman pulled him closer yet again, his hair a wild curly halo about his scalp. He planted several small kisses at her neck as she spoke, humming his approval at her daydream vocalized. 

“I happen to know a guy who’s pretty good with the ‘new identity’ thing,” he drawled languidly, still drunk on her proximity and the warmth of her skin. “He’s got great hair and dashing blue eyes. He’ll give you a good deal.” The red hand moved his kisses upward, meeting her lips before pulling teasingly away. “I also happen to be very good at finding people,” he continued, the playfulness in his tone replaced now by wistful sincerity. “Hell, maybe I’ll go to college too. This time not under any sort of guise.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and pulled her into a firm embrace. “No danger, no ulterior motives,” he repeated quietly. “No families, no agencies, no tragedies. Just me asking you to dinner. Maybe drinks, too.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Thu May 07, 2015 11:02 pm
by Requiem
Sarena relished in the kisses on her neck, sighing and moaning her pleasure, a smirk playing on her lips at Rhys' suggestion of a guy who was good with the 'new identity' thing. That he played so easily into her daydream, weaving it with his own colourful threads into her fanciful tapestry, delighted her, even if he was only humouring her. Dreaming alone was one thing, and often, it was no fun; having someone share it not only made it meaningful, but it made it seem possible.
For all she knew, with an ally--more than an ally, a friend, a lover--like Rhys Proudfoot, it was possible.

"Does he also happen to have a big ego?" The heiress teased, stealing a kiss from the assassin's tempting lips. "Because if he is who I think he is, then hook me up. Oh, wait... I guess that already happened."
Chuckling at her own joke, Sarena wrapped her arms around the hit man's bare waist, reassured by the firm pressure of his muscles against her soft flesh. Often, when all had been said and done and the passion simmered to a stop, she wanted nothing more than to put distance between herself, the other party, and the deed in which she'd participated, feeling unclean in the aftermath. With Rhys, it was different; with Rhys, it was real.

"What would you take in college?" She asked, drawing a lazy line with her finger across his jawline and down his clavicle. "I think I'd go for fashion design. I mean, you have to admit, I have a knack for what looks good on people." Her smug grin was short-lived, softening into the genuine smile of a daydreamer. The part of herself that she took care not to show to anyone. Rhys was the first. "Not gonna lie, since I was a little girl watching New York Fashion Week every year on TV, I've always wanted to design a clothing line for women that makes them feel empowered. I don't mean suits and Oxford shirts, either, but... more feminine. I don't think women should have to dress like men to be taken seriously, you know? Like hell I've ever put on a three-piece suit, and I still know how to get what I want."

It would perhaps come as a shock that someone like Sarena Vandelay would aspire to such a progressive dream, but the fact of the matter was, she was a bit of an anomaly when it came to Vandelay women. With the exception of her grandmother (who she only knew through her father's stories), most women in her family, both Emilia and her cousin Grace included, were in their own way passive and subservient to the men in their lives, whether it be a father, a lover, or even a brother. Sarena had, in fact, gone out of her way not to fall victim to that trend. And while she could put on a good enough show at dinner parties, in the end, she'd sooner turn in her own father than bow to his whims.
She was not a princess; Sarena Vandelay was, exclusively, queen material, and she bowed to no one. 

"So... say we were to meet again, as different people, with different names," the mafia daughter went on, gaze temporarily distracted by the candle light. "Where would we meet? Or... where would we go? If we... I don't know. If, by chance, it were possible to assume brand new identities together? You've undoubtedly seen more of the world than I have... Any idea where we could lay low?" With a lazy grin, she added, "I'd just avoid Europe, though, if we can help it. Too many Vandelays scattered throughout. I want nothing to do with any of them, direct family or otherwise."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Aug 07, 2015 11:16 pm
by Astrophysicist
“A big ego?” he rasped between soft chuckles, reaching up to brush a strand of dark hair from the young woman’s forehead. The candlelight loaned her skin a radiant golden cast, and his quiet smile broadened. “Wherever would you get that idea?” he teased, wrinkling his nose. “Surely nothing I’ve ever said…”

His voice trailed off as the crime daughter’s arms snaked around his bare waist. Like flame meeting fuel, the delicate contact of their gleaming flesh ignited a sensation that traveled through his limbs with all the passionate intensity of a lightning strike. It was almost magnetic, the way neither could keep their touch from the other; Sarena’s tight embrace at his torso was only one gesture of countless since their acquaintance, as was the motion of his fingertips brushing featherlight against the elegant angle of her collarbone. Life may have shattered each of them in vastly different ways, but together, the sharp individual shards of past wrongdoing snapped together with all the certainty and satisfaction of puzzle pieces at last united.

“Fashion design would suit you,” he agreed, willingly submerging himself in the Vandelay heir’s world of college fantasy. “I can see it. Strutting around campus, thinking you’re better than everyone else. Which, of course, you would be.” He lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug, looking contemplative. “Honestly, I’d feel a little sorry for your classmates. You do know how to get what you want, and I think it’s admirable—if a little self-absorbed—to want to fill the world with more of you.” Lips curling in a half-smile, Rhys leaned in to close the gap between their lips and planted a playful kiss on her mouth. “Seriously, though. You should do it. I can’t think of anyone better to make something like that a reality.”

It was true—the dark-haired woman was a force to rival mother nature’s fiercest tempest. She possessed qualities Rhys himself wished could be his own. Her determination, her resilience, and even her compassion, however guarded that particular trait might have been, were all things that contributed to Sarena’s extraordinary whole. While it may have come as a surprise to others, it did not shock Rhys to learn that she held goals that exemplified that hidden solicitude. She was powerful, and teaching others to tap into that same potential in themselves—well, the red hand would have expected nothing less.

“I could see myself studying language or literature,” he went on, leaning back to look at the ceiling and rest his cheek against her hair. “Not foreign relations, and definitely not political science. I’ve had enough of that bullshit. That was never a real draw for me when I joined Double Eye, just a side effect. No, I want stories. Human experience, not negotiation, you know? Perspectives.” He paused. “But I could also see myself going to culinary school. And not the crappy crash course I had to train for the mission I told you about. I’m talking full-immersion, with screaming chefs and all. The only thing that explodes is the flavor on your tongue. Plus, I’d get to cook for you.”

He smiled. “That’s how we’d meet. You’d be in Milan, debuting a fashion line, having a business lunch with Stefano Sassi as he tries in vain to talk you into selling rights to Valentino. He tries to impress you by calling out the chef to complain about the doneness of his dish. I catch your eye when I come to your table. I don’t apologize to the guy; instead, I point out exactly why he’s mistaken, because I simply don’t make mistakes. I take his plate anyway and he assumes I’ll be returning with a replacement. To his dismay, I come back with a plate of tiramisu and place it in front of you with a wink.” A laugh escaped his throat at the sheer ridiculousness of the hypothetical situation. “One bite of that tiramisu, you fall madly in love with me, and then we run away to start our lives over outside of our individual fame and fortune. How do you feel about South America?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Aug 10, 2015 2:08 am
by Requiem
"Language and literature..." The heiress drawled, contemplating the words as she traced a line down Rhys' sternum with the tip of her finger. "I mean, I pegged you as smart, hit man. But I never thought you might be such a colossal nerd." Her red lips stretched into a teasing grin, one that reached the sapphires that were her eyes. "You mean to say I'd have to put up with you rambling on about articles and narratives? Will you get a pair of thick-framed glasses and a pocket protector to go along with your new identity, as well? Really, Rhys; if we're going to meet again in our second lives, I don't want you to have me embarrassed just to be around you. People attending fashion school can be catty, you know. Although, that other option..."

Sarena shut her mouth long enough to listen to Rhys elaborate on their fateful '"first" romantic encounter, going so far as to close her eyes to envision it as it unfolded. It was so farfetched and fantastic that, given the outrageous circumstances of the lives they both led, it simultaneously seemed plausible. A haughty fashion designer with high heels as thin and sharp as knives, and a proud chef, so certain of his unyielding talent that he was never in the wrong. The very sort of confidence that had attracted the Vandelay daughter in the first place, and the same confidence that would continue to maintain her interest and affections, for as long as they both existed.

Chuckling, she shifted in the red hand's arms, tucking a tress of hair behind his ear. "I really, really like the idea of you cooking for me on a regular basis," she purred. "Mainly because it means that I won't have to do it. I hope the restaurant in Milan that you end up working at is keen on home delivery... And that you'll double as a delivery boy. I have a hunch that my fashion business will take off and leave me in the position to tip very, very well. If you know what I mean." She was already an unspoken princess in New York; how hard could it be to claim a similar crown in Italy?

That was the thing about dreams. Everything seemed possible because everything simply was possible, all the more when it was shared with another. Contemplating a life in South America, the crime daughter furrowed her brow. "Not really my choice of venue, I'll admit, but Europe and North America are sort of off limits... Though I've always wanted to visit Argentina. You might have to help me brush up on a few foreign languages before I make the move, though. I don't want to show up and make a total ass of myself, and if you think for a second that I'm going to trust you to translate everything for me, then let me assure you right now that you're wrong." Her lips pursed in a pout. "Just because I find myself strongly attracted to do doesn't mean I'll trust you to not feed me the wrong words on purpose and make me look like a complete idiot in public--wipe that smirk off your face! I know you would do it."

But Rhys' smirk was infectious, contagious, and it tore laughter from her lungs. Was it crazy to be planning an alternate life for the both of them in such fine detail? To talk as though it wouldhappen, as opposed to might happen? The only thing more absurd than a fashionista and a Cordon Bleu chef meeting and falling in love in Italy was a mafia daughter falling for the hit man that her very own father had (unknowingly) hired to kill her.
Which had already come to pass. And if that was possible... then anything else, above and beyond, was as well.

"Fashion school, cooking school, and Argentina..." Sarena murmured, closing her eyes, enveloped in the dream just as securely as she was in Rhys' arms. "Let's make it happen. We don't need dreams if we can make it happen."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Aug 16, 2015 9:09 pm
by Astrophysicist
The crime daughter’s laughter was as contagious as his smirk, and their chuckles wound together in merry harmony as the storm continued to thrash outside the penthouse. Their hypothetical encounters in alternate universes were precisely as ludicrous as their amusement suggested. Yet somehow, despite the teasing, despite the ridiculousness, the gleam in each pair of eyes was laced with longing—a feathered vignette of dark bitterness fringing the edges of attempted humor.

It didn’t matter how silly the scenarios were; whatever they concocted could do little to alter the current reality they now faced together. Nor could their hopeful fantasies rework their respective histories; Sarena was still the daughter and heir of the country’s most dangerous crime lord, and Rhys was still a man haunted by past misfortune that had prompted his shift in professions. The damage was already done. And unfortunately, the healing process was not so simple as plotting a new direction for their entwining paths—and even reinventing oneself under a new identity carried consequences for individuals of their current stations.

Nevertheless, it couldn’t stop Rhys from longing for a different truth, a fresh start, and almost believing it was possible. “Delivery boy is definitely not part of a head chef’s job description,” he chuffed. “But it hardly counts as delivery when I’m making your meals in our own kitchen. That said…” He trailed off suggestively, brushing her cheek with a featherlight peck. “I would still accept tips, if you know what I mean.” In case there was any doubt—which he was certain there was not—he closed one eye swiftly in a wink before leaning in for a deeper kiss.

“I’ve never been to South America,” he went on, pursing his lips in thought as they separated once more. “In all my travels for Double Eye, they never sent me there, not even once. I always wanted to see Machu Picchu, but abandoned cities don’t make for many juicy missions.” He shook his head with playful disappointment. “I was mostly in eastern Europe, parts of the Middle East, and Russia. We’d need to stay away from Turkey. Greece, too, probably, just to be safe. And Belarus.” A laugh shook his shoulders. “So if western Europe’s out for you, and eastern Europe’s out for me…maybe Argentina would be good neutral ground for both of us. To start over. Besides, we could brush up on our Spanish together.”

She was absolutely right, of course. Fond as he was of the dark-haired young woman, he would not have hesitated to make the occasional mistake in translation—accidentally-on-purpose—and he laughed again at the thought. “It actually might be wise not to trust me with my español. It has been awhile. But I pick up languages fast, so you’re in luck." The red hand shifted positions, reaching up to cradle the back of his head with his free hand against the sofa cushion. "Now we just need new names. I wouldn't recommend letting the passport manufacturer choose. Any suggestions?" He grinned wickedly. "You look like you could be a Gertrude.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Aug 19, 2015 10:42 pm
by Requiem
"Sweetheart, you want a tip, all you need to do is ask... provided " Sarena laughed only briefly before succumbing to Rhys' kiss, drinking in the red hand's attention as if it might be the first and the last time it might be accessible to her. For despite their talk of dreams and new beginnings, with new identities in a brand new place where no one would find them, at the end of the day, she was still Sarena Alexandra Josephine Vandelay, daughter of Gustave Vandelay, the most notorious crime lord in the country. And he was Rhys Proudfoot, former Double Eye agent, present assassin in her father's hire.
And he was still supposed to kill her.

Unless they could put a rush on making their dreams come true. 
With a hint of reluctance, the crime daughter disentangled herself from the hit man's arms, pushing herself into a sitting position and unabashedly brushing her long locks of ebony over her bare shoulder. "Let's make a plan." Her eyes sparkled like that of a child who fully intended to get into mischief. "If you're as serious as your words, and as ambitious, then we can do it. I can make it possible; I know all of the ins and outs of my father's routines and tendencies. I know his goons and where they hide, and how fast they move. Getting out of the country would be difficult... but not impossible."

Sarena was well aware that her father kept loose tabs on her, and Emilia paid even closer attention. Not down to the detail that he knew what she ate for breakfast, or the thoughts that she scribbled carelessly into her journal, embedded in amateur poetry, but Gustave had his ways of infringing on the privacy of his own family, and justifying it as a means of 'safety'. At this point in her life, as an independent adult who could easily hold her own, she was no longer convinced that it was not in part for paranoia and mistrust.

In a crime family, no one was ever truly void of suspicion for one another. She had been lucky enough to fly under her father's radar for quite a while. But she had always known that it was only a matter of time before he became wise to her deceit, and his hiring Rhys emphasized that the time was drawing near. Just like she could only outwit her family (namely her father and his bitch of a wife) for so long, Rhys could only pretend he hadn't found the suspect he had been hired to sniff out and annihilate for a limited time, before his employer caught on. By stalling, he had officially put himself in just as vulnerable a position as Sarena. Sooner than later, Gustave would no longer see fit to keep such an employee under his wing, if his work was not prompt enough.

"So what do you say, Rhys Proudfoot?" Sarena's azure eyes met those of the red hand, searching, imploring, testing the waters of her own trust. "Would you take your life in your hands, and risk everything to run away with me?" Although that might have been the articulated question, it was not, in fact, the query. What Sarena Vandelay was truly asking the hit man, sitting next to him on the couch, naked and vulnerable, was much more simple: Am I worth the risk?


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Aug 25, 2015 3:19 pm
by Astrophysicist
There was no need—and surely Sarena knew it—to question the former spy’s ambition. Rhys Proudfoot had been one of Double Eye’s most prized employees for more years than he cared to look back on, and he knew how to disappear, to erase one’s current existence in favor of a new identity. He’d learned it on the job, when he’d been expected to be able to adopt new personas on command and without schedule; he had to learn entire lifetimes of false family histories, often with only a few hours of preparation, to be able to act whatever part was thrown his direction.

His life had depended on the quality and convincingness of his performance then, and it was just as true now—only with the advantage of being in charge of his own backstory. Hell, he’d managed to fly beneath Double Eye’s radar and carve out a new (illegal) living right under their noses, and not once since he’d dismissed himself from the agency had they caught on to his games. Even using his own given name for the Vandelay family hadn’t reached his former employer’s ears…

That was, until Sarena had casually uttered it to Tesh Marionetti over the phone.

The thought was enough to tighten his muscles with anger, although his irritation was directed more at the idea of confirming his living status to Double Eye than for Sarena’s unintentional transgression. But rather than ruin their intimate moment and see the mischievous spark fade from the young woman’s bright eyes, he pushed the notion from his head and took a deep, grounding breath, inhaling the perfume of her hair as it mixed with the blended scents of the many candles’ melting wax pillars. Once they were out of the country, it wouldn’t matter that Marionetti was aware of his survival. Tesh would know he stood little chance of thwarting his prized former agent.

“You’re talking to a man who has basically made a career out of reinventing himself, remember?” He grinned. “Until your father tracked me down, everyone in the world who’d ever known my name thought I was dead, including the world’s most notorious government intelligence agency. You might not guess it, with the big hair and all, but I’m pretty good at being invisible.” He swung his legs to the side of the sofa and sat up, following her example. “And I can teach you,” he went on with a wry smile, nudging her arm with his elbow. “Besides, something tells me there’s very little Sarena Vandelay can’t do well. With you handling familial logistics and me handling the exit strategy, we’ll be golden before they can light their next cigarette and pick up a phone to dial us.”

Just in case his enthusiasm wasn’t enough to answer to her unspoken question, he reached over and delicately tucked a strand of her dark hair behind her ear. The affection in his blue eyes as they met hers was unmistakable—as was the glimmer of excitement that dwelled there. He’d done crazier things for far less, and more reckless acts with less premeditation. If any duo could pull off an escape of this magnitude, it was Rhys Proudfoot and Sarena Vandelay. Between them, with knowledge of both the criminal underworld and those who tried to stop it, they would find a way. 

“We could be on the red-eye to Buenos Aires as early as tomorrow night,” he said quietly, a hint of a smile upturning one corner of his lips. “Say the word, and I’ll make it happen.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Sep 01, 2015 12:33 pm
by Requiem
"I don't know about your invisibility cloak, hit man. You certainly caught my attention." The heiress, ever hungry for his undivided attention, slipped her fingers into the thick locks of his hair and pulled the former Double Eye agent against her already kiss-swollen lips. The day had evolved from something pleasant to downright surreal with the turn of events and their conversation, such that the paranoid and suspicious fabric of her very being almost considered that this might all be some crafty ploy, to get her to let her guard down.

Except that if that had been Rhys Proudfoot's intention, then he'd already succeeded, and long ago. Long before this promise of escape, of reinvention, and rebirth.

All teasing aside, the atmosphere in the room void of electricity, and accented by the fragrant ambiance of candles, grew serious. Say the word, and I'll make it happen. With possibility and opportunity presenting itself before her on a silver platter, there was no way in Heaven, Hell or the In-Between that Sarena Vandelay was going to pass it up. "I hope you realize what it is you're offering," the crime daughter murmured, pulling away with only a fraction of an inch between them. "And I hope you know that I'm going to make you come good on it, if you're serious. Because I'd have been out of this place years ago, if someone--anyone--had made it seem as fucking plausible to me as you have."

Her assertion warranted another stolen kiss, but this one was cut short with impatience borne of excitement. "If you can work your magic, hit man, then I can and will work mine. I might not have mastered invisibility to the same extent that you have, by I have my own ways of getting around unwanted attention." A smirk playing on her lips, she traced his jawline, from his temple to his chin, with the soft tip of her manicured finger. "Leave my father and every other Vandelay and associate to me. I'll leave the logistics to you. Buenos Aires is no New York, but to be honest... You can only really take so much pollution before you need to get the fuck out." And she wasn't just talking the cans and candy wrappers that littered the streets.

After all, there was no place on earth quite as toxic as her father's tobacco-scented study.

Although the power flickered back on hours later, neither the Vandelay daughter nor the red hand made it to the bedroom that night. Commiserating over plans and probabilities, they eventually dozed off in one another's arms, crammed for space on the heiress's luxurious settee. Sarena slept soundly, nonetheless, until she was awoken the next morning by the sound of incessant beeping. Still bleary-eyed with sleep, Sarena sat up and reached for her purse, fumbling for her cell phone. Fortunately, it wasn't a call, but merely an alarm; a reminder that there would be no lazy morning with her favourite hit man.
Those were moments to be had later--preferably when they were both out of the country.

Standing reluctantly from the sofa, Sarena stretched her stiff muscles and picked her clothes up from off of the floor, bemoaning the early time of day. Although she made an effort not to disturb the sleeping hit man whose unclothed form still occupied the settee, Rhys was too light a sleeper, and appeared to awaken, anyway. "Daddy dearest is interviewing potential new serving staff today. And I happen to be on the interview panel," she explained, her tone of voice about as far from enthusiastic as it could possibly get. "I think I'd rather swallow Amelia's poison than pretend to give a fuck for four hours. Who knows; if she's there, it might be an option."

Pulling on the dress pants and blouse she had worn just yesterday, the crime daughter put herself together in seconds, smoothing her fingers through her hair and stretching the wrinkles out of her blouse. It took skill to literally jump out of bed and be ready for the day in seconds. "If our deal is still on... I'll take care of family logistics today. You nab us the tickets for that red-eye flight, and I'll contact you as soon as I can. We'll meet at the airport." Leaning forward, Sarena placed her hands on the hit man's shoulders and lowered herself enough to steal a kiss. "Be there, Proudfoot. I'm counting on you."

With no time or words left to spare, the Vandelay daughter grabbed her purse and high heels, and was out the door in a whisper of silk and ebony hair.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Sep 08, 2015 11:07 pm
by Astrophysicist
Despite the lack of power coursing through the wires tucked away in the walls of Sarena’s penthouse apartment, the electricity of whispered plans and unspoken emotion saturated the air, warm and sparkling as the candles’ flames that lit the space. The former spy could not remember the last time he had ever allowed himself to be so physically vulnerable—body exhausted and unclothed, weapons out of reach, guard completely lowered in a relatively unfamiliar environment—nor could he recall another instance in which he had been so absolutely reassured in the company of another, at ease to a point beyond self-recognition.

The young woman’s proximity was intoxicating, and this time he felt no inclination to remain in control of his faculties—not for his safety, not for his sanity, and certainly not for his newfound job description. He’d already given himself over to her long before this moment, before their shared passion beneath the shelter of the storm. He may have accepted employment with her infamous father, but the red hand’s real contract resided in the heart of the crime lord’s daughter. It didn’t erase his past or his flaws; Rhys Proudfoot would always be Rhys Proudfoot, with a backstory as complicated as they come, but Sarena Vandelay made him feel new again. The possibility of starting completely afresh at her side was too tempting to ignore.

“Anything is plausible,” he said quietly in response, trailing his fingertips softly across her upper back. Plausible did not mean easy, however. Exit strategies under the best of circumstances were never as simple as buying a ticket and hopping on a plane; the expedited nature of their current mission would also prove to be a challenge. But you didn’t devote your life to Double Eye without making some underground alliances—and you didn’t work the deep web as a hired assassin without finding out which ones of those connections were the real deal.

“Consider it done,” he said smoothly, settling back against the cushion with the heiress nestled into his shoulder. His eyelids fluttered closed, and he breathed in the perfume of her hair as he surrendered himself to the call of restful slumber.

The storm abated as they slept, the torrential rain diminishing to a soft drizzle before tapering off altogether and leaving the city damp and humid. The power came back on, too; Rhys momentarily awoke when the sudden hum of the air handler kicked on, and then he drifted back to dreamless sleep with the lull of the white noise and the rhythmic sighs of Sarena’s breathing at his side. What seemed like minutes later, the shrill electronic alarm brought him rudely back to reality.

He swung his legs to the side to rest his feet on the floor, watching with a wry grin as she transformed herself from stiff and sleepy to poised and alert right before his very eyes. “Like I said,” he drawled smoothly, “consider it done. If you can handle your people, I can reach out to mine. Don’t be too hard on those interviewees, yeah?” He met her lips with a kiss and tapped her teasingly on the arm as she strode away, a shiver of excitement racing down his bare spine. “And Sarena?” he called, turning to face her as she paused at the door. A warm, mischievous smile curled his lips. “See you tonight.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Sep 11, 2015 2:21 am
by Requiem
If only their plan had come to fruition a day earlier, the red hand and the crime daughter's scheme might have had the potential to truly come to fruition. But fate was neither an ally to either of them, and while Rhys' destination might have been the airport that evening, Sarena's was not. And, in all her excitement for the potential to escape her current life and identity, the Vandelay heiress made the fatal mistake of letting her guard down. 
And she never saw it coming.

The sun eventually yielded to night's heavy presence, and as the hours unfolded one by one, planes came and went from New York's International Airport. With a clear and mild spring temperature, the arrivals and departures glowing on electric billboards did not once feature the words delayed or canceled. Every gate was sufficiently packed with families, rich businessmen and their rich trophy wives, and other travelers with a need to sate their wanderlust. Not so crowded that two people couldn't find one another, but not so barren as to draw unnecessary attention.It was as if the earth had suddenly decided to turn in favour of Sarena Vandelay and Rhys Proudfoot.

Except for the fact that Sarena Vandelay was not, and would not be present to partake in the clear skies and first class seats of the red eye flight that the hit man had surreptitiously booked for the two of them.

He had texted her cell phone with the details earlier that day. The flight left at 11PM, sharp. They were to rendez vous at the airport no later than 10PM. Neither of them were ever seconds shy of prudent when it came to times and deadlines, so it likely didn't take long for Rhys to suspect something was wrong. Minutes past, and then a half hour. Finally, a mere ten minutes to departure, with no word or response from Sarena Vandelay, and it was clear that she would not be arriving. What could not be deduced, however, was the reason why. After all, the crime daughter was just as apt to stand a man up as she was to run away with him, and there was just no telling.

"Hey... hey, hold on!"
The voice from behind Rhys was a familiar one--but it wasn't Sarena's. As the agitated and worried red hand turned to see who was addressing him, none other than young Albert Vandelay came rushing toward him, cheeks flushed and out of breath from his pace. Panic and relief swam in his clear blue eyes, along with a moment's hesitation when he finally came face to face with Rhys Proudfoot. But this time, he did not have his father's gun.

"They took her," he rasped, leaning his hands against his knees to catch his breath. "You've gotta help... he took her! Caleb took her..."
Fumbling in his pocket, Albert showed the red hand Sarena's cell phone, the screen cracked and gone black, looking as though it had been purposely smashed against something hard and heavy. "I got to check her texts before this thing finally died... it's the only reason I knew where to find you. Please..." The young man gripped the broken device, white knuckled with trepidation and urgency. "I don't know where he took her, but Grace will know. You can make her talk, can't you? Please, Sarena's the only person I can trust... whatever you want, money or information, I can get it to you. Just please help me get her back before it's too late...!"


   
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Requiem
(@requiem)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 842
 
Posted: Fri Sep 18, 2015 12:05 am
by Astrophysicist
He dressed quickly in Sarena’s absence, rifling through the previous day’s shopping spoils until he found the most nondescript pieces of clothing to compile into a low-key outfit. A simple ivory button-down and a pair of dark denim jeans would do well to loan him credibility while he bought a new set of burner phones; the ensemble would not, however, afford him any advantage when he crossed into the shadows for the rest of what they needed. It wasn’t necessarily that he would stand out; the underworld through which Rhys had grown accustomed to navigating welcomed all manner of people, from the poverty-stricken to the fabulously wealthy. Money was money; it wasn’t often that services were refused when stacks of bills or digital dollar signs were offered up without contest.

The couple Rhys intended to contact were master forgers. Had they all walked another life, they may have been friends; indeed, they were the closest such people could be in either line of work. In the case of the red hand, his business had been so reliable—in other words, his payments were always up front, in full, and on time—that he had earned a place in some kind of twisted, unspoken loyalty program. 

Since leaving Double Eye, Rhys Proudfoot had completed his fair share of contracts in New York City and the surrounding urban sprawl. Each job required a total shift in identity, an entirely new package, and the couple he contacted to manufacture the paperwork were thrilled for his repeated successes…and therefore repeated patronage. His requests were shuffled to the top of the proverbial stack—something he was counting on for this occasion especially—and, most importantly of all, they never asked any damning questions.

Punching in the number he’d long since memorized, Rhys lifted the first of his burner phones to his ear and waited for the familiar answer on the other end.

“Breckenridge Surplus,” a gravelly male voice said. “Marvin speaking.”

“Hi,” the red hand replied casually, glancing over his shoulder before crossing the bustling street to hail a cab. “Do you stock spare parts for refrigerators?”

“Uh, yeah, we do…What kind are we talking here? Residential grade? Commercial grade?” The man sounded bored, but Rhys was familiar enough with the act that he knew the man’s heart rate was picking up in hopes of hearing the ‘correct’ answer.

“Commercial grade,” Rhys responded, climbing into the back of the taxi and signaling the exasperated driver to wait. “I need two water inlet valves and a heater assembly for a Maytag, model XT-1300.”

“We should have what you need on hand,” the man said in monotone. “We’re open until seven tonight.”

Concluding his call, Rhys instructed the cab driver to take him to Breckenridge Surplus, a small store packed wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling with odds and ends, government throwaway equipment, and an impressive collection of outdated electronics and appliance parts. The business was something of a curiosity in the West End district; it was known for its eclectically curated collection of offerings, rapid turnaround of goods, and quirky employees who built sculptures from the unclaimed leftover junk and displayed them in neighborhood parks. What it was not known for, however, was its owners’ shady basement operation. Their stock provided all the backup parts and equipment a counterfeiter needed, all without arousing suspicion. Essentially, they hid in plain sight.

The red hand had, of course, arranged his visit in code. Most customers in seek of commercial-grade machinery parts reached out to specialty distributors, but it wasn’t unheard of for local businesses to seek cheaper, used, or older options to save time and cash. An inquiry such as the one Rhys had made was both logical enough to thwart outsider suspicion and just rare enough to alert Marvin of its potential true meaning. If the rest of the language didn’t match up, then they could be sure the person on the other end of the phone was simply a repairman doing their job. If it did line up…then the wheels were set in motion.

The inlet valves were code for passports; mentioning the heater assembly meant it was a rush order. The model number was the time he would arrive on the premises—one o’clock that afternoon—and ‘XT’ indicated that he expected the full package. The Breckenridges dealt not only in passports, but specialized in entire identity renewals. They hunted proactively for lives they could formulate and put on hold for the perfect buyer. Over the years they had built an impressive archive of made-up persons, each with complex histories that, though largely fabricated, would seem legitimate against any questioning inquiry.

Stored in beat-up metal cabinets, each file waited patiently on standby for the ideal taker. All that it took to finalize the packages was the skillful addition of a photo, the art of which had been perfected by Marvin’s wife, Anita.

The jingle of a suspended bell announced his arrival as Rhys strode through the grimy front doors. Marvin, the middle-aged man nose-deep in what appeared to be an outdated newspaper, only looked up from behind the register when the hit man cleared his throat. Brief though it was, the former spy recognized the flicker of recognition in the shop-owner’s eyes before it was carefully masked.

“Help you, sir?” 

“Yeah, uh, I called earlier about some parts for my fridge,” said Rhys. “The Maytag. Think you could show me where they are? This place is a little…”

“Messy,” Marvin filled in, rising leisurely to his feet. “Disorganized, I think is the word you’re looking for.”

Rhys chuckled. “Hey, as long as you know where stuff is, right?”

He followed the shop-owner through the labyrinthine aisles until they reached a roped-off staircase labeled with a handwritten sign reading Employees Only in faded magenta. Marvin nonchalantly unclipped the fraying rope and gestured for Rhys to descend first. The route was a familiar one, and the routine even more so—after about two minutes, Marvin appeared on the landing with Anita.

“James!” she crooned, cheeks flushed and curly hair wild. “Marv didn’t say you’d called!”

“It was pretty last-minute,” Rhys admitted, shaking her small hand firmly. “I’ll make it worth your while.”

“You always do, Robert.” Marvin chuckled. The couple didn’t know Rhys’s real name, so they had taken it upon themselves to guess. It had become their running joke ever since to call him by as many different names as possible, as the red hand was not about to confirm or deny any of their attempts. “You said you needed two packages this time?”

Rhys nodded. “One for me, one for my client. Late twenties, female, Caucasian.” He fished in his pocket for his phone and quickly unlocked a snapshot he had taken of Sarena’s passport portrait that morning.

“We can work with that,” Anita said. “Can you send—”

“Already in your inbox. And mine as well.”

Anita beamed. “You’ve still got it, Andrew.” She sat down in front of an enormous monitor, her pale face tinted blue from its impressive glow. “Marvin? If you’ll fetch the files…”

It was not typical for the Breckenridges’ clients to wait while their orders were processed, but Rhys had never been one for the rules. At first, he’d stayed ensure they were doing their job right and doing it well. Having worked so long with all the infinite resources of Double Eye, he had to be certain the quality was up to his impeccable standards. Once he’d quelled his inner critic, he stayed for the experience; it could never hurt to know more about the construction of the documents he was entrusting with his life, after all. Keeping on this couple’s good side was a place he wanted to remain. And by then, they had developed a mutually beneficial rapport.

“Do you mind traveling as a couple?” Marvin’s voice was muffled behind a stack of file cabinets.

“Whatever gets us through customs,” Rhys replied, lifting one shoulder in a half-shrug. He was too much of a professional to let it show, but the thought of them traveling not just together, but together—it stirred a whirlwind of eager butterflies in his belly.

A few minutes later, Marvin emerged from the stacks with two green folders. “These two aren’t married, but our backstory says they’re involved,” he reported, tossing the files on a rickety card table in the center of the room. “If you’re gearing up for international travel, you can corroborate. It’s like…it’s like an insurance policy. But you won’t be legally bound, so you can go your separate ways without putting up any red flags. Be a happy couple, be a fighting couple…it really doesn’t matter. Whatever sets you up right, you know, Mickey?”

This wasn’t the first time the red hand had crossed borders as one half of a fictional couple. Rhys nodded knowingly and sat down across from Marvin, quirking a brow. “Mickey? Really?”

“Whatever you say, Thomas.” The portly shop-owner laughed. “I should probably start calling you Johnny, eh?” He slid over a cheap photocopy of the passport-to-be and a summarized dossier of the character’s life history.

“John Mitchell Ogilvie,” Rhys read aloud, scanning the information. “Thirty years old, originally from Indianapolis, lives in Albany. Works at a community college as an adjunct professor of…Russian studies?” He groaned. “Bol’shoye spasibo, thank you so much,” he added sarcastically. “I hope no one asks me to put my money where my mouth is.”

“What? You said you spoke a lot of languages. Just say something in German and no one will know the difference. That was German, right?” Marvin, unfazed, passed Sarena’s dossier next. “Your significant other,” he announced. “Ms. Annabel Doyle, no middle name, from Boston. Works for an insurance company, pretty standard. Everything your client needs to know is in here. She should read it before you go. Anita, did you get all that?”

“Opening the files as we speak. Images are almost prepped. Hope your girlfriend doesn’t mind if I give her a bit of a hair cut.” The thin woman giggled. “You, too, actually.”

———

With passports, social security cards, driver’s licenses, and two first-class tickets to Buenos Aires loaded on his burner phone, Rhys arrived at the airport terminal well at nine o’clock, before the time he was to meet Sarena. He carried only a backpack slung over one shoulder, packed with nothing but the very essentials. They were starting over; there was no need to drag along too much baggage—be it physical or emotional.

He found a seat halfway between the security queue and the terminal’s main public entrance, pulling his baseball cap tighter over his curls. Perhaps Anita was right, he thought. He could use a thorough grooming.

Having worked as a spy for over a decade, he had honed the skill of reading his own gut instincts. It was a prerequisite for field operatives to possess keen intuition; with the right level of natural talent, Double Eye specialized in polishing and perfecting the invaluable ability to read a person or a situation. So when the clock neared ten and Sarena Vandelay still had not made her appearance, Rhys Proudfoot knew something was amiss.

Forcing himself to remain outwardly calm, he struggled against a strengthening onslaught of emotion that ranged from concern to fury and back again. Five past ten. Fifteen. Twenty. Then a full half hour. Sarena… Had she played him? Was this her way of losing him now that she knew her father wanted her dead at Rhys’s hand? Casually, he surveyed the other milling patrons in the vicinity. Had she sent her father’s henchmen for him, setting him up to become the target himself? The airport, for one, was an extremely poor choice of location if Sarena’s intentions were impure. None of the signs were there; none of the symptoms added up. And that, he sensed, could only mean he’d missed something—or that he’d been played for a fool.

Disappointment was a complicated feeling, a nasty hybrid of sadness and anger that was relentless in its hold. The former spy rose to his feet, chest tight, and turned toward the security line. If Sarena didn’t want to show, then he would go on his own, and—

Hey! Hey, hold on!

Rhys froze in his tracks and turned sharply, nearly colliding with none other than Albert Vandelay. The red hand narrowed his eyes. The last time he’d seen the boy it had been down the barrel of a loaded pistol. But whatever contempt he felt for Albert dissipated instantly upon hearing the boy’s pleading voice, the words taking a moment to sink in. Rhys gripped his arm tightly, the only betrayal of alarm.

“Caleb what?” he demanded, his voice low so as not to draw any more attention than Albert’s cries and running footsteps had already garnered. “He took her?” The red hand’s pulse skyrocketed and his throat tightened. “Let’s go. Now. I can get Grace to talk. I will get Grace to talk…”

The unlikely pair walked swiftly from the terminal and climbed into the back seat of a waiting cab. “Albert,” Rhys said, his voice velvety smooth and eerily calm. The boy's face paled. “Please give the driver the address, would you?” The red hand cleared his throat and addressed the driver. “And, sir, I’ll triple your fare if you get us there in fifteen minutes.”

The lights of the city flashed by outside the windows, blurring together into one continuous streak of color that left Rhys feeling disoriented. “Albert,” the former spy said again. “I’m going to need you to tell me everything you know about Caleb. Anything that might be relevant to finding Sarena, or to getting information from Grace. Weaknesses, sensitive topics, something that might be important to them?” He paused, lowering his voice to a whisper. “Do you still have your father’s gun?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Sep 20, 2015 10:56 pm
by Requiem
There was nothing about Albert Vandelay's language, nonverbal or otherwise, that suggested he was at all comfortable with the situation that was unfolding. He climbed into the cab, relayed Grace's address to the driver, and sat about as far from the red hand as possible. Of course, it likely came as no surprise that the young man was reluctant to trust Rhys. This was very much a truce of conditions and circumstance. He couldn't save his cousin on his own, and he happened to know just the person who could. It didn't mean he had to like him, or vice versa.
Sarena really was the center of all of this, and the glue that would lead to their otherwise unlikely cooperation.

"The guy has given me a hard time from the day I was born," Albert murmured, pale gaze locked on the urban scenery that passed them by in a blur as the taxi driver picked up speed. "You think if he had any weaknesses, I wouldn't have tried to find a way to exploit them already? The guy is remorseless psychopath. But he's also second in line to Gustave's throne, if you know what I mean... he just needs Sarena out of the way. And he... he finally caught her at a moment of weakness."

Rhys had to give him credit. Swallowing a lump in his throat, shoulders rigid and mouth set in a frown, Albert looked as though he was struggling to keep it together. To not cry, to not show any more fear than his tense shoulders already betrayed. Not when there was simply no time to be weak. "Sarena was acting... different when I saw her today. Like on edge, yet still totally calm, if that makes any sense. I didn't know at the time it was because she planned to leave with you, tonight." 'You' was dealt a flat tone, further confirming the boy's suspicion of the red hand. "So I followed her after she got out of the interview panel... And I saw... Caleb snagged her before she even made it out of the building. And left with her out an unguarded door. She was unconscious... apparently she wasn't the only one with some pre-determined plan."

Wringing his hands, he drew a deep breath, and finally turned his head to look Rhys in the eye. "Of course I have the gun. After seeing someone as untouchable as Sarena get carted off, I wasn't going to go anywhere without a weapon," he replied. "We might need it, we might not. Grace is a stubborn little princess, but she doesn't want to die. And she's never been watched like a hawk the same way Rena was... but if anyone knows where Caleb took Sarena or what he plans to do, then it'll be her. He makes her cover for him all the time. I guess... it will honestly all come down to whether or not she's more afraid of Caleb, or of you."

Twenty minutes later, the taxi cab pulled up along front of a posh apartment complex, not so different from Sarena's. There would be no stuffy dorm rooms for Timmon Vandelay's promising and aspiring undergraduate. Albert's legs felt unstable as he climbed out of the cab, watching it drive off after the astonished driver pocketed the handful of bills that Rhys handed to him without even bothering to count. 
They were lucky enough that someone was leaving the heavily secured building, foolishly holding the door open for the two of them, both for the foyer and to access the apartments inside. Albert was relieved they had been granted that small mercy; there was no way Grace would let them in, otherwise.

"Apartment 338, third floor," he told Rhys, who was already bound for the elevator. "I hope you're good at picking locks. She never leaves her door unlocked."

Fate had granted them yet another mercy, however, in light of Sarena Vandelay's jeopardized life. No sooner had they stepped out of the elevator and rounded the corner that Grace Vandelay opened the door of her apartment, dolled up with a shimmering silver purse hooked on her elbow, evidently on her way to have an evening on the town. She froze in her doorway the moment she saw her youngest cousin and the red hand, together. "What are you doing here? And what the hell is he doing here?" She demanded, looking from Albert to Rhys, and then back. "How did you even get in?"

"Where did Caleb take Sarena?" Albert didn't waste any time, aware that every second that they didn't know of Sarena's whereabouts was critical. "What did her do with her? I know that you, Grace; you need to tell us."

"Or what? I don't know anything about my brother or Sarena, so you're wasting your time," Grace scoffed, rolling her eyes, glitter falling from one of her lids and onto her cheek. "Go home and don't miss your bed time, Albert. You don't scare me. And you," she turned her furious gaze to Rhys, "can fuck right off. And don't think I won't tell Gustave that his favourite new employee is harassing his own family."

Just as she made to close the door, Albert thought quickly enough to wedge his foot between the wood and the frame. His blue eyes were a shockingly uncharacteristic and unnerving mix of fury and desperation. He might have been young, but he was still a Vandelay, and therefore capable of anything. "I know I don't scare you. But I know that Caleb does. And I can guarantee that he will, too," he motioned to Rhys, "if you don't cooperate."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Sep 25, 2015 11:08 pm
by Astrophysicist
It will honestly come down to whether she’s more afraid of Caleb, or of you.

The young Vandelay boy’s words sent a shiver down the red hand’s spine, a tremble of equal parts dread and anticipation. Grace may have been Caleb’s long-term confidante, but Rhys was unpredictable and new—and more dangerous than Albert had any right to know. Even Sarena, who had learned more about Rhys Proudfoot in their short time of acquaintance than anyone else, only knew an abbreviated truth of what the former spy was capable of. In his control…well, the girl would quickly forget any familial allegiance to Sarena’s malicious kidnapper.

“I want you to give me that gun,” the assassin instructed calmly, sliding his gaze to lock eyes with the reluctant teenager. “I’ll give it back. I don’t expect my word to mean anything to you, but you have it all the same.” He reached into his jacket pocket, pulling out a tiny knife from a concealed panel—the longest blade airport security would allow beyond its checkpoint. “You shouldn’t be without a weapon,” he said, offering the pocketknife to Albert, a sort of peace offering for the trade. “You’d be surprised the damage this can do. No one ever sees the little ones coming.”

The elevator doors closed after a tense moment’s pause, leaving the unlikely duo standing on opposite sides of the confined space as the machinery whirred above them. It occurred to Rhys that what he’d said was true not just of the blade, but also of the young lad in his company. The boy had been ready to do anything to protect Serena before anything bad had even happened; now that she was in peril, he wondered how else Albert might surprise him. It didn’t take a spy to sense Albert’s distrust, but he couldn’t really blame the kid; their previous encounter had not exactly forged an early bond of friendship. But few things could erase enmity like a mutual goal—the enemy of his enemy was his friend, and all that—and Rhys wasn’t about to underestimate the boy who confronted Colstorm’s replacement with a stolen firearm just strides away from Gustave Vandelay himself. 

“I am very good at picking locks,” the red hand reassured Albert, casting him a critical sidelong glance that might have been amusing had the circumstance of their conversation not been so dire. Caleb may have been the thing that went bump in the night, but Rhys was the silent threat whose approach went undetected

Grace’s coincidental exit from Apartment 338 was perhaps the first positive surprise of the evening. Immediately drawing the gun tucked in his jacket was not a good option, tempting though it was; there was nothing to stop the young woman from screaming, and even so, he wasn’t about to discharge the firearm within earshot of hundreds of building residents without a clean escape route first. Killing her was not an option yet, but as any spy—and any member of a family like the Vandelay clan—knew, things far worse than death could be inflicted upon a helpless victim.

“He should scare you,” Rhys growled in reference to Albert, his voice vibrating deep and predatory in his throat. “But right now, you should be more afraid of me.” With his words having barely departed his tongue, the former spy leapt forward, wrapping one strong hand around Grace’s slender, glittered throat. Her petite frame slammed backwards into the door, which flew open thanks to Albert’s quick-thinking stop with his foot, and they stumbled inside before any nosy neighbors checked on the hallway commotion.

Her squeak of surprise turned to a choking gurgle. Rhys, shifting to trap her in a chokehold with the crook of his elbow, dragged a sleek dining chair to the middle of the luxury living room. He shoved her into the seat, which nearly tipped backwards from the force of his push. Gun drawn and trained on the coughing girl, the red hand looked to Albert—who, though decidedly pale, stood steadily upright at the threshold of the kitchen.

“Albert,” Rhys addressed, his voice as dulcet and calm as it had been in the taxi, “please find me some plastic wrap from the kitchen. Duct tape would be ideal, but I doubt this princess keeps that kind of stuff here, hmm?” He narrowed his eyes at Grace, whose complexion had gone from beet red to gray and clammy as she fearfully met his gaze. “If you tell us what you know about Caleb and Sarena, then there will be no need to restrain you,” he told the young woman, voice in monotone. “And in turn, there will be no need to take drastic measures…Hey, Albert? Bring in the kitchen knives, too, would you?” He looked back to Grace. “I’ll bet a princess like you has some very sharp cutlery. Only the finest, am I right?”

When Albert returned with the supplies, Rhys wasted no time in wrapping Grace’s torso tightly in plastic wrap to adhere her to the chair. With one hand pressing the gun to her forehead to ensure she stayed still, he passed the cylinder around to Albert, who in turn passed it to the front. Around and around it went until the young woman could no longer move her arms or her chest.

“Albert, you want to take care of her feet? You may want to wrap around her lap, too.” Based on tone alone, he may as well have been conversing lightly over a social meal, or discussing the weather with people he’d just met. He drew a knife from the block Albert had fetched from the kitchen, allowing the light to reflect against its smooth, folded texture. “Are you going to tell us what you know?” he asked, returning the gun to his pocket in favor of the chef’s knife. “Because it’d be a shame to send you out on the town with blood on your dress and two missing front teeth.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Sep 27, 2015 6:09 pm
by Requiem
Grace Vandelay didn't have to time to contemplate just what had hit her. Unceremoniously thrust into her apartment, the young woman clutched her throat as she succumbed to a violent fit of coughing, barely able to find her voice. "W-what th... y-you can't... can't do this to me!" Her words were strained and hoarse, and punctuated with coughs and spasms from her wind pipe. "Albert, come on, you're going to... to trust this professional murderer over your own family?"

"Coming from a family of professional murderers? Yeah, I am." The young man's pale eyes were cold--not unlike Sarena's--as he offered the knife block to Rhys with one hand. In the other, he clutched heavy duty plastic cling wrap. "Just tell us where Caleb took Sarena, Grace. I know that you know. Tell us what we want, and we'll get out of your hair."

Yet even faced with knives and a gun, Grace's obstinacy shone through the otherwise terrified pallor of her face. "Like I said," she began, slow, quiet and deliberate, "I don't fucking know. You think I have time to be a full time college student, part time party girl and to keep up with everything my brother is doing? Or every beef he has with every enemy? I can't help you, Albert." Grace shook her head slowly. "Whatever mess Caleb and Sarena are tangled up in... it's their own damn funerals. Tomorrow's obituary might be more useful to you."

That was when something in Albert snapped, leaving dire consequences in its wake.

He hadn't let go of the knife that Rhys had given him in exchange for his father's gun. In fact, he had forgotten he'd been holding it at all, up until that moment. He couldn't claim it to be an accident, because it wasn't one. The action was deliberate and purposeful, and not a flicker of remorse glinted in his blue eyes when he whipped the tip of the blade across Grace's pale face. The Vandelay daughter cried out, tears welling in her eyes as she immediately brought a hand to her cheek, fingers trembling when they came away sticky and warm with her own blood. The consequence of an action that she would have been someone like Albert Vandelay would be the last to take.

"Do you think I'm stupid?" The boy snapped, shoulders so tense the tendons in his neck were visible above the collar of his pressed shirt. "You think I don't know what goes on in this messed up family? Don't mess with me, Grace. I might not be in college, but I'm still a goddamned Vandelay, and I notice things. More than you would think." Pressing his lips into a line, the fist clutching Rhys' knife began to tremble. "I know Caleb. I know you. And I know he makes you his alibi whenever it's convenient for him."

Sobbing quietly, Grace Vandelay's tough front was slowly beginning to wane, though she didn't dare stand up from the chair. "You little shit." She hissed, mascara and eyeliner beginning to pool in the corners of her eyes. "You don't know anything about me."

"No? Well then I guess I don't know that you wear heavy make-up to cover the bruises you get from your own brother," Albert retorted, low and angry and knowing. "Or that your 'sensitive stomach' that you say keeps you from eating full meals is actually just anorexia, because your weight is the only thing in your pathetic life that you can control. When was the last time you went a day without going to the gym for 3 hours? Or checking your waistline when you think no one's paying attention? Oh, but wait; I don't know anything about that, do I?" His glare could pierce skin. "I'm just some stupid kid."

And that was the end of Grace Vandelay's stone exterior. Her walls came crashing down in a flood of tears and sobs that wracked her body, hit as it had been in all of its most vulnerable places. Albert Vandelay might have been little more than a child; he still sported no facial hair, and his voice only hovered on the precipice of deepening with the onset of puberty. But he was right; age aside, he was still a Vandelay. And there wasn't a Vandelay in existence who had not been born with the ability to inflict deep, cutting harm.
Perhaps this marked his christening his ranks in the long line of criminals and killers from which he had come.

"I can't help you. You know I can't help you." Grace wept in a broken voice, terrified eyes darting between Albert and Rhys. "You know I can't... he'll kill me, Albert. He will, and you know it."

"And if you don't tell us where Sarena is, then Rhys will kill you right now." The young man retorted, anger swimming in his eyes. "And I'll help him."

Finding herself between a rock and a hard place, Grace's gaze darted from the knife to the gun, and realized the futility of her situation. Tears mingled with the blood and streaked her cheek as one, the salt stinging the open cut that had just barely missed her left eye. "The... the old train station. Just west of the inner city..." She whispered, as if afraid someone else might hear. "He took her there. Said he was going to make it look like a... a 'tragic accident'. He didn't give me details. I swear, that's all he told me, I swear, Albert..."

The young man swallowed, the hot anger coursing through his veins beginning to run thin. "You'd better not be lying, Gracie," he threatened, "or you're going to wish Caleb killed you." That was all the attention that he felt necessary to allot to his treacherous cousin. Turning to Rhys, he said, "I think I know the train station. It's been out of commission for two decades or something... A lot of inner city kids hang out there and smoke up. It's a twenty minute drive west of this city."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Nov 17, 2015 10:35 pm
by Astrophysicist
The crimson slice across Grace’s porcelain cheek—the line Albert sketched lightning-quick upon his cousin’s face with the tip of the knife blade—practically glowed in the dim light of the penthouse living room. Small droplets of blood beaded along the wound and streaked scarlet trails down her jaw. For how eerily motionless he stood, Rhys Proudfoot may well have been sculpted from stone; he watched through narrowed eyes as the young woman quivered—trembling not just before the professional assassin with the pistol trained on her forehead, but before the boy with a simple knife who was proving that Vandelay blood ran through his veins.

She was right to be terrified. Albert was stepping up to the plate in a game he was far too young to play, but his concern for Sarena was such that it was forcing him to swing the bat—and with that effort came desperation. Rhys had not known Albert long; in fact, they had turned guns on one another in lieu of proper introduction. But there was something in the boy’s demeanor that rang disturbingly familiar. The former spy had initially presumed it was a resemblance to Sarena, but it wasn’t until that moment, as the knife marred Grace’s flesh, that it dawned on Rhys that Albert reminded him of himself.

The realization was startling, and with it came an unfamiliar, unsettling sensation—pride. How could he be so deplorable as to feel proud of a boy who so readily committed physical violence against his own kin? How could he be proud to see Albert behaving like him, a beaten, desperate man who had learned to kill without so much as a blink? To see this boy rise and bloom in his newfound darkness where so many others would rightfully wilt and crumble?

And yet, with the adrenaline coursing through his veins, and with his own demons freshly freed from their carefully crafted cages, the red hand was utterly numb to any pangs of guilt that might otherwise have plagued him. The Vandelay boy and Rhys—much like Rhys and Sarena—shared a similar patch of blackness in their souls, a virus that could spread like an internal contagion if left unchecked. It was too late for the red hand; its roots were too deep, its spindles too tightly entwined with his essence. But Albert...it didn't have to be too late for him.

Nevertheless, as if on cue, the young Vandelay's words rang hot and true with anger. If you don’t tell us where Sarena is, then Rhys will kill you right now. And I’ll help him.

“Enough, Albert,” the hit man interjected at last, breaking his icy silence. “She knows. Or at least she should.” He stepped forward, pressing the tip of the gun to the girl’s temple as she spoke. She coughed at the cold gunmetal against her skin, the sound caught somewhere between a sob and a gasp interrupting her sputtered confession. When she was through, he pursed his lips and leaned into the gun. “I might just kill you anyway.” Though his voice was hardly more than a whisper, the cruel sincerity of his tone left no room for misinterpretation—he would pull the trigger, and he would do it without hesitation.

But there was no time to waste, and leaving behind a mess of blood and brain matter was simply not an option if they were to reach Sarena before it was too late. Where the typical method of one of Gustave’s thugs might have been to leave destruction in their wake as a statement of power and intimidation, Rhys was still too much a spy to be so reckless. Instead, he tucked the gun into his jacket pocket and leaned over Grace, bracing one hand on each of the arm rests to which her wrists were bound.

“There are worse fates than death, Grace,” he murmured, capturing and holding her teary gaze with such intensity that she couldn't look away. The woman flinched as he spoke her name, and flinched again as he slid the blade under the tape holding her hand to the chair. “Take my advice and figure out where your real allegiance lies. I assure you…there is a right answer.” In one swift motion, he cut through the film, freeing her left arm and bringing the knife back to her throat. “Your life depends on it.”

Without another word, he planted his hand on Albert’s shoulder and steered him swiftly to the hallway, tossing the knife to the ground near the threshold. “She’ll be able to cut the rest of her bonds with a little bit of effort,” he told him quietly as the elevator doors closed. “But it’ll take her awhile.”

They walked through the building lobby as casually as they could manage, with Albert looking as pale white as the floor over which they tread. As the red hand suspected, there was an idling black town car waiting beneath the awning outside—Grace’s ride to whatever glittery clubs she’d planned to attend that night. It was the path of least resistance to Sarena; stealing a car would take valuable time, robbing a driver at gunpoint would bring too much attention, and no amount of money could guarantee a cabbie's silence. This way, at least, the driver was a Vandelay hire sworn to discretion under pain of death, and he likely knew the meaning of urgency.

Rhys nudged Albert forward, and they climbed in the back seat to the chauffeur’s surprise and confusion. 

“There’s been a change of plans, sir. Grace isn’t feeling well, unfortunately,” Rhys said, flashing an alarmingly convincing smile to the man in the front seat. “Albert, the directions, please?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Jan 29, 2016 1:25 pm
by Requiem
The hit man and his unlikely accomplice knew that they were going in the right direction as soon as they smelled the smoke.

Albert had directed the baffled driver through the dilapidated outskirts of New York city, where old shops and rundown houses had been vacant and decaying for years. He sat, rigid and practically holding his breath at the back of the vehicle, keen eyes staring straight ahead, not missing a trick. Vandelay eyes... Even Sarena, despite her best efforts, could not shield the young man from the destiny of his heritage. The fact that he was in the presence of New York's possibly most notorious hit man, and on a mission that without a doubt put his young life at risk, was evidence enough that the same blood that ran through Sarena's veins pumped from his frantic heart muscle, energizing and buzzing through his limbs. And when that dark cloud overhead made itself visible in the distance, he all but jumped from his seat and leaned between the driver and passenger's seat. "Here. Stop. Just up ahead... that's where she is. That smoke..."

"The hell is going on?" The baffled driver, eyes wide, pulled the vehicle to an abrupt, screeching halt, though the smell of burnt rubber was no match for the black smog in the air. "That place on fire? You can't seriously be--hey, hey! What the hell, kid!"

Albert did not wait for the driver's permission, or Rhys's, for that matter. Shrugging off his sweater, he sprung out of the car, and pressed the expensive silk-merino mix to his nose and mouth. "She's in there. She's in there and he's trying to kill her." A pre-pubescent catch found its way into the youth's panicked voice as he turned to the hit man with wide eyes. The warehouse before them, seemingly out of use for decades, spewed a black miasma from every opening, every cracked window and unhinged door, accompanied by unmistakable heat waves that rippled the evening air like stones skipping across a pond. "There'll be no proof, no fingerprints... nothing. H-He'll get away and she'll be--"

"Bravo. The little shit's got a brain after all, behind that whiny, snot-nosed face."

He stood behind them, smiling. Smirking, was more like it, his smug mouth pulled to the side, hands tucked into the pockets of his bombed jacket. "Fancy seeing you here, though," Caleb Vandelay nodded to Rhys, casually taking a cigarette from his pocket. "Noble, but too late. This place is toast--literally. And so is she. Extra crispy."

"Gustave will find out." Albert hissed, but the pallor of his face stole whatever resolve he conveyed. "This is suicide for you."

"I could say the same for both of you. You could try to prove it, but, see... you'll have been the last one at the scene of the crime. Don't think I can't write up my own convincing stories. Here." Caleb flicked the unlit cigarette towards the hit man. It landed inches in front of his feet. "I'd offer you a light, but... well." Lifting his shoulders in a shrug, he hopped into the vehicle that had delivered the two wannabe heroes to their destination. "Have fun playing fireman. But she's as good as dead."

Shouting to the driver, the Vandelay son drew a pistol from his jacket and aimed it at the driver. Unsurprisingly, the car pulled out and away in a hurry, leaving the hit man and young crime son alone at the scene of what was orchestrated to be Sarena's death.

But Albert had not yet given up. "We need to try," he breathed, pressing his sweater closer to his face. "If she's still alive... no, I know she is still alive. Sarena is indestructible." Without so much as a glance in Rhys's direction, the young man's faith and resolve carried his feet directly towards the door of the burning building. He didn't have a plan--but he knew Rhys would.

Everything hurt. From her fingertips to her toes, Sarena was barely cognizant of more than the pain, and the burning sensation in her lungs. Bound at the ankles and wrists with duct tape, along with the strip across her mouth, the crime daughter felt the flames around her, not yet licking her skin, but it was only a matter of time. Caleb had taken care to put her out of reach, atop a stack of heavy crates, the bottom row entirely aflame. The smell of gasoline burned her nose as much as the smoke, and she needn't open her stinging eyes to know that every piece of flammable material in that building was aflame, and everything fire resistant had been dosed with the gasoline; Caleb had been intent in seeing the entire, abandoned edifice turn to ask by morning.

She was bleeding, from how many places, she couldn't guess. But blood, half caked by now, coated one side of her face from her forehead to cheek, and her right thigh throbbed with the bullet from her cousin's pistol, his means of rendering her escape useless before he had taken that pistol to her face and knocked her out for hours. I can't win this. What was left of logic in her smoke and pain-addled mind had accepted defeat... and she was helpless to fight it, when all she wanted was sleep. Maybe death wouldn't be so bad; hell, maybe it really was the only means of distancing herself from such a dysfunctional family.

You can't escape the blood in your veins. You can't escape the people to whom that toxic blood ties you. Either you live with it, or you die by it.

Yet, try though she might, she could not escape the weight of possibilities gone by. What it might have felt like to climb on that airplane, and leave New York behind forever. What might have come of her decision to acquire a formal education, with her name--a brand new name, not one that she inherited--on a piece of paper in regal font, spelling out her accomplishments in Latin, framed with gold and mahogany. Or what would have unfolded, living with the red hand, both of them forever running from something that would never cease to haunt them. 

But the last thing on her mind, as the smoke choked her into unconsciousness, was regret. Regret, and Rhys's face. Don't hate me, Proudfoot... for once in my life, I wanted to follow through on my promise.

The pain mercifully faded with the coming of a night that only Sarena could see, as blackness descended on her like a blanket. Peaceful... warm.

Don't hate me...


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Feb 13, 2016 12:11 am
by Astrophysicist
Sarena was not indestructible.

Albert’s hopeful words stung like a knife straight through the red hand’s heart. The boy’s veins pulsed Vandelay blood, but in his youth he still knew the warm glimmer of hope—and of happy endings.

Rhys, however, knew better.

He gripped Albert’s shoulder so tightly that the Vandelay boy’s face paled, too frightened to attempt to pull away. “Listen to me,” Rhys said, leaning down to speak directly into his ear. “You are not going to follow me. If you do, you’ll die. And so will Sarena. Do exactly what I say, or all three of us will end up in the ashes of that building. Do you understand?”

Albert nodded.

“We can’t wait for help to get here. That’s why I’m going in. And if we get out—if, Albert, okay? You need to be prepared—if Sarena and I get out of there alive, we’re going to be in bad shape. We can’t wait for help then, either. They need to be here. Call 911 right now. If they ask how you got here, tell them you were out with your friends and you went to investigate the smoke. They left you behind as part of a prank, but you saw someone go inside—you don’t know about Sarena inside, not when you make the first call. You have to be a bystander and nothing more right now, got it?”

Rhys spoke so quickly he had to pause to catch his breath. “Like I said, I don’t know what kind of shape we’ll be in if we get out…so tell the paramedics to take us to Dr. Melody Christian at Good Samaritan City Hospital. If they ask you why…” He stopped again, pulling off his hoodie and t-shirt before he continued. He knelt down, bare skin already glistening with nervous sweat in the dim glow of the street lamps, and dragged the cloth through the dirty puddles that remained from the previous night’s storm. “They probably won’t ask you why, but if they do—tell them…tell them that Dr. Christian treated one of your family members.”

He slung the dripping hoodie over his shoulders and zipped it to the chin, bringing the sopping hood up over his curls. Gray-brown droplets ran down his forehead; he wiped them away with his fingertips. “Stay as far back as you can. And call. Now.” he instructed. Sarena might have recognized the eerie calm in his voice as a symptom of a coming spell of anxiety, but to Albert, who couldn’t know any better, the red hand was collected and in control. Better for him, Rhys thought, swallowing hard. In all likelihood, this wasn’t going to end well. At least his faith in the former spy could delay that grief, if only for a moment.

Rhys folded the saturated t-shirt in half and tied the damp cloth around his mouth and nose. He gave the young man’s shoulder one final squeeze before he took off, disappearing through the dilapidated doors and into the smoke-filled interior without looking back.

The fire had not yet engulfed the warehouse in its entirety, but the ravenous flames were well on their way to finishing their meal of half-rotted wood and steel. The air was thick with dark smoke. If it weren’t for the blaze itself glowing across the vacant expanse of floor, he wouldn’t have been able to see a thing.

He dropped to his knees below the worst of the cloud and crawled toward the blaze, focusing on his breathing. Neither he nor Sarena had the luxury of time in this scenario; he could not afford to take a pause to formulate a solid plan. He just knew he had to keep moving.

Having known many minds as cruel and disturbed as Caleb Vandelay’s in his international career as a Double Eye operative, it was simple to deduce Sarena’s location: she would be wherever the flames were burning thickest. And after a storm like the one that had interrupted the penthouse power, a fire in an old wooden warehouse would not spread so quickly without some kind of catalyst. That fuel was gasoline, if the odor of the smoke was any indicator.

He was getting close, and he couldn’t stop…

...he couldn’t stop, not even for a second…

Rhys inhaled as deeply as he dared from his low position, then launched forward at a sprint into the worst of the inferno. A tower of something—crates, perhaps; he couldn’t tell—seemed to lie at the heart of the dancing orange chaos, and he maneuvered towards it while circumventing patches of burning floor. The structure was a deliberate, out-of-place arrangement, which indicated that the configuration was not simply a remnant of whatever business had been housed in these walls previously. It was Caleb’s doing. There was no shred of uncertainty.

The power-drunk Vandelay cousin had intended the fire to destroy any access to the pile’s makeshift top platform, therefore rendering his prisoner completely unreachable even in the best of circumstances. What he hadn’t counted on, however, was Albert’s quick-thinking and Rhys Proudfoot’s determination—defined by the red hand’s utter devotion to the one kindred spirit he had found in this world, and his unflinching willingness to sacrifice his own life to make sure she still walked it.

The first level of boxes was almost fully engulfed by the time he reached it, but enough material had given way to form a haphazard, smoldering staircase to climb upward. The spy charged forward, scrambling over the live sparks and into the gray abyss above.

The breath he had held was giving way, and his lungs screamed for oxygen—a request the current environment could not fulfill. Behind his damp t-shirt mask, he gasped for air, and coughed violently when nothing but fumes and soot filled his airway. His head began to swim, and his eyes were watering so profusely that he could barely see…

But she was there.

He couldn’t speak, couldn’t call out to her, couldn’t shout her name and tell her he was there for her, that even if it wasn’t going to be okay, he would gladly die by her side…

He couldn’t even tell if she was conscious, or if she was breathing, or if she was already gone…

The lingering humidity from the storm was perhaps the only reason Sarena was still alive—why the hungry vermillion flames had not already turned her flesh to ash, and why the boxes beneath his weight were not already too brittle to support him. Rhys pulled the small knife from his pocket, the same blade that had sliced Grace’s porcelain cheek at Albert’s hand less than an hour ago, and he sawed desperately through the duct tape that bound Sarena’s hands and ankles. He couldn’t see the damage that had already been done to her; he had no concept of her condition other than the fact that she was limp in his arms as he lifted her from the ceiling support and cradled her in his embrace.

Rhys cried out, soundless, against the effort it took to hoist her over his shoulder and make his way back to the ground, cried out against the impossible sting of smoke in his eyes as he forced them open to navigate this hell, cried out against the injustice and the timing and the horror of it all. He might have screamed with the anguish of his own burning flesh, but he could no longer fully feel his body; were those sparks he was seeing, or were those tiny flashing lights a product of his dizziness? 

He stumbled out of the wall of fire into a clear patch, crashing to one knee as his strength began to give in to the strain and shock and lack of oxygen. Blind to a sea of watery haze and smoke, he did not know that he was just steps from the door where he’d entered the warehouse—so close that the flashing lights of fire rescue flickered across his filthy, tear-streaked face.

Hacking, struggling to breathe, he did not know where he was…

His chest was tight, he was surrounded by blackness, and all he could hear was the terrifying roar of the fire…muffled voices…panic…

Was that the ringing in his ears, or were they sirens? Did it matter?

The explosion…

…but I’m not in Turkey anymore…am I? I can’t be…Sarena…

On the brink of unconsciousness, he didn’t feel the oxygen mask pressed against his face; he didn’t feel the hands of the paramedics. All he could feel was the pressure against his sternum, the slow beating of his heart, and a sense of loss so overwhelming it propelled him into the black embrace of injured sleep.

Sarena, forgive me…I tried…

————————

“Jesus Christ, what happened in that fucking place?” The ambulance driver buckled his belt, hit the siren, and took off from the curb with a roar from the engine. “Did the girl have duct tape on her mouth?”

The team of EMTs in the back of the ambulance worked furiously, shouting orders and vital stats to one another rather than answering the incredulous driver. The patient was unrecognizable as Rhys Proudfoot. Ash clung to his damp, matted curls, painting the auburn locks gray—the same shade as his face, which was covered in soot. Serpentine trails marked the paths of tears leaking from his watering eyes. A beeping heart monitor kept audible record of his pulse which, for now, was stable.

“Did this guy…did he do that to her?”

“No,” a middle-aged medic said, running her fingers through her hair. “It wasn’t him. He was pulling her out. Playing hero.”

As though the woman’s words were what brought him around in protest, Rhys groaned, his swollen eyes opening to narrow slits.

“Sir?” one of the medics implored. “Sir, sir, you were in a fire. Can you hear me, sir? Can you tell me your name?”

The steady tempo of the heart monitor began to shriek, and with one more croak from his throat, his body began to shake violently.

“He’s seizing. He’s seizing! Shit! Joe, how far out are we?”

“Five minutes,” the driver called back. “Traffic’s clear. Second bus is just ahead.”

Rhys's seizure had resolved by the time they pulled into the ambulance bay at Good Samaritan City Hospital, but little else had spun in his favor. The frenzied crews rushed him into the emergency room just behind Sarena, where two teams of trauma surgeons awaited their arrival.

“John Doe and Jane Doe,” someone shouted, rattling off vital signs as the gowned medical staff surrounded each gurney.

The paramedics relinquished the reins to the resident Good Samaritan medical staff, and as they reconvened, they whispered to each other out of earshot of the doctors. “Fire in the Warehouse District. We don’t know what happened yet. Some kid called it in.” The driver, Joe, shook his head. “Lots of homeless folk live in those kinds of places. We might never know who these people are.”

“It’s so fucked up. Fuck this job, man.” One of the younger male EMTs leaned his head back and sighed. 

The middle-aged woman chuckled humorlessly. “Wanna know something? You get used to it.”

They all hummed and nodded their agreement, then headed back to their rig to await the next call.

You get used to it.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Feb 15, 2016 7:50 pm
by Requiem
Rhys knew best; and for better or worse, Albert Vandelay had already made the decision to trust him, when he had sought of him out to be Sarena's hero. Because he knew that his own efforts would just not be enough.
The young man did not realize that he was holding his breath until the red hand had disappeared into the dilapidated, flame-engulfed edifice, and it was from that point that everything blurred together. The wait, the rapid thrumming of his heart, the words coming out of his mouth to the operator on the phone as he rambled the approximate address and recounted the tall tale that Rhys had instructed him to convey. The woman with the patient voice on the other end of the phone began to ask for more details, but the young man hung up before he was forced to make up anything that might break the credibility of his story.

In all actuality, the sound of sirens wailing through the night air did not take long to reach his ears--a few moments, at most--but it felt as though a day and a night had already gone by when at last the ambulance, fire truck and police cars screeched their tires as the pulled off of the road, the paramedics jumping out of the large, white van just in time for the hit man to stumble out of the building, barely able to stand, with Sarena over his shoulder.

While the paramedics dealt with the near-collapsed red hand and the unconscious woman over his shoulder (at least, Albert hoped that she was merely unconscious), the police pressed Albert for details, all of which he parroted off like a broken record, word for word what Rhys had told him. Watching Sarena be carted into one of the ambulances, strapped onto a stretcher and her mouth covered with a mask, he wanted nothing more than to run onto that ambulance and grab her hand. He wanted to be with her, for fear that if she was not already gone, it could be the last time that he saw her, for one reason or another.
But he was not stupid. Albert Vandelay knew the importance of sticking to a story, and if he claimed relation to Sarena, then he would only be probed with more questions. So it was with a heavy heart that he stood behind and watched as the paramedics finalized preparations to transport the man and woman to the hospital--and that was when he remembered a very important detail.

"Excuse me," he said to the middle-aged police officer, who raised her eyebrows in his general direction as the youth rushed off to the paramedics who had taken in Sarena. "Dr. Meolody Christian," he rasped, grabbing the blue-clad medic's arm. "She... she's treated my family before. I trust her, she's good, and these guys... right now, they need good'." And then, because he could not help himself, he ventured in a padded tone, "S... the woman. She's... is she..."

"She's alive, but not if you delay us," the man snapped, before he slammed the doors just inches before Albert's face. Whether or not he even took him seriously in his request that they be seen by a specific doctor was an unknown, as much as was Sarena and Rhys's fate.

"Just don't let her die..." He breathed, eyes stinging from the smoke that the firetrucks hurried to extinguish, as the cops pulled him aside again to finish giving his statement. Sarena is indestructible... she has to be. Or else, there's no hope for me.

______.______

Hope had yet to diminish. At least, it was not gone completely.

Though Albert would perhaps never know, just before the paramedics surrendered the unconscious bodies of the John and Jane Doe to the medical authorities, the man who had spoken to Albert suffered a moment of weakness that no paramedic should ever let themselves feel: pity. Sympathy for the pained, worried look the the kid's eyes... the least he could do was mention the damned name. "Hey--there a doctor Melody Christian here?" He called, only to be met with the stern look of an older woman, silver hair pulled into a ponytail and a stethoscope draped around her neck.

"That depends who is asking. What are..." As soon as her grey eyes traveled to the two unconscious individuals on the gurneys, Dr. Melody Christian understood in a fraction of a second. "I see. Thank you; I'll take these two, from here."

Four grueling hours later was when Rhys Proudfoot opened his eyes; and, likely to his great relief, it was the familiar face of a deep web associate standing to the side, reading the heart monitor that gathered data of his vitals from electrodes stuck fast to his chest. "Welcome back to the world of the living," came her disinterested drawl, as she pressed a few buttons on the monitor. "You're one lucky son of a gun, John Doe. Only a few minimal second degree burns on your arms and legs, and mild damage to your respiratory system. Not uncommon injuries for someone in your line of work, I suppose, but police reports are telling me you ran into a burning building... for her, I'm guessing."

Angling her head, she indicated the unconscious patient in the bed next to him. Sarena was hooked up to so many machines she might well have been an android, with her heart rate monitored by the same means as Rhys's, an IV in her hand and one in the crook of her elbow, and a mask that covered her nose and mouth. She was alive: unconscious, and looking to have seen better days, but alive. And that was something. "Miss Jane, here, wasn't quite so lucky. I've yet to order a bronchoscopy to determine the extent of the damage to her lungs because she wasn't breathing when we got her on the table. Fortunately, she's been stable for a while, but I'm going to keep her intubated just a little longer, so she'll stay sedated until then. Only a few burns on her legs that might requite some skin grafts, though preliminary examinations revealed what looked like some head trauma that occurred prior to the smoke inhalation... so I can't guarantee what sort of mental state she might be in when she comes to. We're not sure how long her brain was deprived of oxygen. I am curious, though..."

Taking a seat at the edge of his bed, she pushed back some of the singed curls at his forehead to assess the colouration of his skin. "She someone you were required to bring in alive? Or does she owe you something? Saving lives doesn't seem to be a regular part of your job description." A wry grin pulled one corner of her straight mouth into an arch. "You don't need to answer now; in fact, I don't suggest you say a damn thing until your throat doesn't feel like you swallowed razors. But you will owe me, for this, and we're going to start with some answers. I need to know how I'm going to cover my own ass if the cops come snooping around for your treatment files."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Mar 06, 2016 12:34 pm
by Astrophysicist
Melody Christian had seen a lot in her line of work.

After nearly thirty years on the job, she had ceased to be surprised by the cases that came in to New York City emergency rooms.

The unpredictability of emergency departments was precisely what had drawn her to specialize in trauma—and indeed, one of a handful of things that had attracted her to medicine in the first place. You simply never knew what was going to walk through those doors, and that meant you had to be prepared for anything and everything.

Though no one had ever questioned her capacity for compassion, the need to heal had never been a driving force behind her professional advancement. Her act was convincing. With an insatiable natural curiosity and a near-sociopathic degree matter-of-factness, she had carved out a unique career personalized to a very specific interest: Death.

Dying was a definitive end; it fascinated her that something as abstract and complex as human life and consciousness could simply stop, all with the failure of the body that housed it. And as an ER physician, she was able to explore the limits and extremes of the human vessel firsthand.

Though her job as a medical professional was to save lives—a job she did very, very well in the confines of her hospital—the darker side of Melody’s obsession had guided her down a vastly different road after-hours. She’d taken her first exploratory dive into the gritty corners of the deep web during the first years of her residency, where she made connections with people all over the world who shared her morbid interests. Her anonymous, digital confidantes fueled her unconventional passion and encouraged further action, eventually driving her to utilize her hard-won medical degree for tasks beyond the traditional scope of the Hippocratic oath. It was an inevitable overlap, a fated collision of worlds…and now, decades later, it was how she had come to know Rhys Proudfoot.

Of course, she did not know that was his name. Nor did she know he had once worked for the CIIO, or that he was now under the employ of the notorious Gustave Vandelay. Apart from his current occupation and the reputation that surrounded his underground resume, she knew very little about the curly-haired hit man with whom she’d done repeat business over the past several years. Supplying him with special, proprietary concoctions of various drugs and poisons…he wasn’t her only customer, but he was her favorite. And her most reliable.

Her strange affinity for John Doe was evident in the wry smile that curled her lips as she departed the hospital room, leaving him to rest at the mercy of intravenous narcotics. Whoever the woman was in the bed next to his—and whatever the reason behind allegedly risking his life to save her—Melody hoped the outcome would be in his favor…if only because she would miss his blue eyes, his unconventional chemical requirements, and his cash (she couldn’t deny that) should everything go to hell on his end.

—————

Little did the doctor know that all had already gone to hell.

Rhys couldn’t have answered Dr. Christian’s questions at that moment even if he’d wanted to. He watched her helplessly through eyes still stinging and swollen from the smoke, his mind fuzzy from the drugs that coursed through his system to keep him sedated. Even his thoughts were sluggish and far away. It was unlikely he would remember the one-sided conversation at all.

But what he did understand was that Sarena was alive—and so, as it turned out, was he.

The physical pain he experienced was minimal; he’d been through much worse from a corporeal standpoint. Mentally, however…for all the panic attacks and all the crippling anxiety that stemmed from his PTSD, nothing could have prepared him for the brand new sting of anguish that came from waiting. Waiting, and not knowing.

As the days passed and his own physical condition improved, he could only sit helplessly by Sarena’s bedside as she sauntered the line between stable and critical.

“They paying you extra for your vigilance?”

Rhys turned sharply to see Dr. Christian leaning against the door, arms folded casually across her chest.

“If you aren’t careful, someone might mistake your dedication for something other than professional follow-through,” the doctor drawled, stepping up to Sarena’s monitor. She pressed a series of buttons and clicked her tongue with approval, watching the jagged peaks and valleys of the crime daughter’s pulse.

Rhys said nothing, but the ice in his silence was palpable in the sterile air.

“Good. You’re resting your voice,” she continued, nonchalant. “Your Jane Doe has been fully weaned off the ventilator, and she made it through the night. Her airway is healing nicely. I suspect she’ll regain consciousness soon, and then we can check for any neural deficits. I was going to say you should make your departure while you can, but considering I discharged you three days ago and you’re still here…” The doctor trailed off, concluding with a chuckle. “I’ll make sure no one bothers you. Have the nurse page me directly when…if…she comes to.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Mar 13, 2016 7:23 pm
by Requiem
Sarena Vandelay had been dead to the world (more literally than figuratively) for days, even long after her saviour had been discharged from Good Samaritan City Hospital.

Dr. Melody Christian had given Rhys the lowdown, step by step as she and her team endeavored to hasten the crime daughter's recovery. The moderate damage to her bronchioles had kept her on a ventilator since her arrival; her throat had burned so intensely that intubation had been required to maintain her airway and prevent the passage from closing up completely, while intravenous medications aided in reducing the swelling. The burns on her skin had been treated with salves and minor grafts, and when at last she had been declared relatively stable, the only wildcard remaining was that of her cognitive functions upon waking...
And still, Rhys Proudfoot had stayed, knowing full well that she might not be the woman he had known when she opened her eyes.

It wasn't more than a handful of hours following Dr. Christian's exit from her private hospital room (for Rhys wouldn't have had it any other way, for either of them) that the beeping on Sarena's monitors spiked. The steady rhythm that it had maintained for the past handful of days was disrupted so suddenly by a loud acceleration that it startled the red hand awake, from where he had begun to doze off in his chair.
The patient--not yet discharged, as he had been--had beat him to it, sitting upright in her hospital bed, eyes wide and confused as she scanned her surroundings. "Where... what's..." Her vocal chords, which had also sustained damaged, only allowed a broken wheeze that somehow managed to be shaped into barely comprehensible words. At least she had not lost the capacity to talk, or to understand.

Unsurprisingly, the sudden change in her vitals and her state of consciousness was quick to alert the nurse, who had been wandering in periodically to to check the machines, refill the fluid in the IVs and change her catheter bag when need be. But the poor girl, no older than in her early twenties, was not prepared for what Sarena was capable of, even after a coma that had lasted for days. "Oh my god... oh my god, she's awake," she breathed, hurrying to Sarena's bedside. "Hey hon, take it easy. You're going--"

"Get... away...!" With an acerbic hiss, and a shove that was not void of strength in spite of days of bedrest, the Vandelay heiress managed to propel the poor nurse backwards so hard that she fell into a trolley of bedroom supplies, landing upon the hard, cold floor amid clean towels and wash basins. It all happened so fast that it left her stunned for several seconds, until she noticed that Sarena was ripping every IV and electrode from her body.

"Stop! What are you doing?" She gasped, pulling herself shakily to her feet. "You need to calm--"

"I said... get away!" The dark-haired crime daughter seethed, and her look alone was enough to keep the nurse at a distance. Small trickles of blood seeped from the crooks of her elbows and the tops of her hands, and she had cast aside the mask that had ensured her lungs were taking in ample oxygen. "I'm not... staying... here. Get the... fuck away..."

"She's crazy," the young nurse whimpered, wholeheartedly unprepared for a violent patient. The years she had spent during her residence could never have properly prepared her for someone like Sarena Vandelay; but she knew who could handle this situation.
With no further hesitation, the nurse darted from the private room, shouting into the corridors, "Dr. Christian... someone get Dr. Christian, immediately! The woman in R17 is awake, and she's violent!"

Damn right I'm violent, Sarena thought, her head and heart racing as she stood up from the hospital bed on barely stable legs.
Just before she caught a glimpse of a very surprised familiar face.

"...Rhys..." He was here. He was alive. He was all right. But he was... here. Even after she had let him down, failing to arrive at the airport as planned, he was still here.
Perhaps he had never left her in the first place.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Mar 13, 2016 11:17 pm
by Astrophysicist
Had Rhys not witnessed Sarena’s sudden conscious charge against the young nurse, he would not have thought the feat were possible. With adrenaline coursing through her veins, and what was likely a combination of drug side effects and disorientation, the crime daughter had ripped out her IV and launched to her feet before he could properly register what was happening. She’s awake, was all he could think, his heart pounding in his throat, until the clatter of the toppled medical cart brought him back to the scene.

“Sarena!” he exclaimed in alarm, meeting her frantic gaze as he tore around to the opposite side of the hospital bed. He gripped her upper arms, pinning them to her sides, and lowered his face until it was inches from her own. “Sarena…Sarena, stop,” the hit man ordered, giving her a gentle but insistent shake. “It’s okay. It’s okay…shhh…Sarena, it’s me.”

He realized only as he helped to lower her to the edge of the thin mattress that he was trembling—in part from his own dose of startled adrenaline, and in part from relief. She was awake and she was strong…and, most importantly of all, bright cerulean recognition shone in her wild gaze.

She knew him. She knew who he was.

“Sarena,” he whispered. Rhys wrapped his arms around her, pulling her tight to his chest. Her already lean frame felt bony and frail in his embrace despite her sudden display of strength, and it struck him anew that he had nearly lost her forever. A swell of emotion surged inside of him then, a sensation so entirely different than the panic to which he was accustomed that he was powerless to halt its procession. Tears of solace welled unbidden behind his tightly-closed lids, beading against his long lashes before spilling serpentine paths down his stubbled cheeks. She’s alive. She’s okay. She’s going to be okay.

“Step away from the patient, Mr. Doe.” Melody Christian breezed into the room, two young medical residents close behind. “We’re going to need to increase her sedation.”

Rhys pulled away from Sarena to face the doctor, keeping one hand planted protectively on the crime daughter’s shoulder. “That won’t be necessary,” he declared, standing up and straightening his posture.

“She attacked one of my nurses,” Dr. Christian retorted icily. “Her dosage clearly needs to be altered.”

“No.” Rather than weaken the impact of his argument, the slight redness in the hit man’s eyes only served to make him more intimidating. “She deserves to know what’s going on. No more sedatives. Not yet.” Rhys knew firsthand the terrors of confusion when emerging from lengthy unconsciousness. To have no concept of day or time or location, to be in unexplained physical pain, to drift in and out of sleep at the mercy of intravenous narcotics...he would wish that experience on no one, least of all Sarena Vandelay. 

Melody Christian had always known the man was dangerous, but she had never actively feared him; she was, after all, quite the threatening mastermind in her own right, and as a big city ER physician, she was no stranger to combative patients. But to see him take such a protective stance, to watch how he angled himself between the young woman and the two residents…Melody had no difficulty believing he, too, would use force without hesitation to keep them at bay. Favors or no favors.

But she knew better than to make her wariness obvious. Instead, she planted her already-gloved hands on her hips. “It’s important that she remain calm,” the doctor explained. “For our safety, yes, but also for her own. Her system has been through a tremendous amount of trauma. Too much strain too fast and we’ll reverse all the progress we’ve made.” Melody peered past the curly-haired man, making eye contact with Sarena for the first time. Her gaze softened somewhat. “Jane Doe,” she addressed. “Can you get back into bed, please? Or will we have to restrain you?” She glanced to Rhys, who nodded acknowledgement. "Your bodyguard can stay to supervise, although I imagine we'd have a hard time kicking him out even if we wanted to. How about it?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Mar 20, 2016 7:19 pm
by Requiem
He was saying her name.

He was saying her name like it still mattered--like she still mattered--and there was little else but concern and relief to be detected in his voice, and in his embrace, despite the strength of his arms that restrained her own. Any further urge to struggle or fight melted along with the strength in her knees as Sarena Vandelay relaxed into the hit man's arms, while he quietly shed tears over... what? Out of pain? Betrayal? Had she really hurt him so deeply, in failing to maintain their plans to flee together, that he was practically crumbling in on himself, with her at the nucleus of this unanticipated breakdown?

It's okay... don't cry. Please don't cry. Hypocritical though the thought was, she prepared to form those words on her lips, to murmur the reassurances to him that he might have otherwise uttered to her, when they were suddenly no longer alone in the room. And instead of painstakingly voicing reassurances, Sarena's body went rigid as she once more assumed a combative stance. Sedatives? Restraints? Breaking a finger hurts just as much as breaking an arm. Her body might not have had the strength or the energy to take on the surly doctor and her two residents, but if she went down, one of those bitches, at the very least, would be admitting herself to the ER with only one functional hand.

It fortunately did not come to that, when Rhys stepped in on her behalf, insisting that she be allowed to remain conscious, aware and informed. Whatever power the red hand seemed to mysteriously have over this medical professional, in the end, appeared to be sufficient, as she backed off just enough to put the ball back in Sarena's park. But the crime daughter was not yet obliged to follow compliance--if even she ever really was.
"Let me... I want to..." Every word felt like razors, and there was a weight on her chest from the very attempt just to speak, but Sarena Vandelay would be damned if she did not have her voice heard. "I want to speak... to him... alone."

She waited with trepidation to see whether or not the medical staff would defy both her wishes and Rhys's in favour of their own agenda, or if they would grant her the space that she so desperately needed at that given time. And, when at last they conceded (though the doctor insisted sh have not more than five minutes, since she was still in their care), the heiress could have deflated with the relief she felt.
No sooner were the two of them alone, two of the potentially most dangerous people in New York, that Sarena made to grab for a pad of paper and a pen on the stand next to her bed, where one of the nurses had been keeping notes about her condition. Discarding that particular piece of paper, she gripped the writing utensil with a shaky hand, and began to offer Rhys the explanation he deserved:

Caleb made his move the night I was supposed to leave with you. I don't know how he found out or if he knew... I am so stupid. He saw a weakness and an opportunity and he took it. I let my guard down and I let you down. I had no way of letting you know, but you should have just gotten on that fucking plane and gotten the hell out of this hell hole. I wanted to go with you. I did and I still do. I fucked up. I'm sorry I fucked up and that I put you through this and you shouldn't have bothered with me...

Her handwriting had grown shaky and far less legible after the first sentence, but about halfway through, the pen ink began to run as tiny droplets of water mottled the page. When the notepad finally fell from her grasp, Sarena was helpless to the tears that streaked her pale face and the sobs that wracked her damaged chest, every intake of breath sharp and painful. Why was Rhys still standing here, looking out for her well-being? Why had he bothered to save her when he could have gotten away?
She didn't deserve it. She didn't deserve to be saved. And Rhys did not deserve to still be in danger because of her. Because something told her that Caleb was still out there, alive and well, and when he found out his master plan had been botched, there would be hell to pay from which even Rhys Proudfoot could not run.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Mar 25, 2017 10:52 pm
by Astrophysicist
Had it not been for the determination he saw in Sarena’s features, Rhys might have stopped her efforts to scrape the pen shakily across the stark hospital notepad. He would have wrapped her in a mighty embrace instead, sliding his arms around her frail shoulders and holding her tightly to his chest. And there he might have remained for some time, holding her, cherishing the feel of her breathing against his grasp—she was alive—and reminding himself that the warmth against his skin was the fire within her soul, not the very real flames that had nearly robbed both of them of their existences.

It wasn’t Buenos Aires, but the relief that Rhys Proudfoot felt upon the crime daughter’s waking had momentarily rendered the hospital room a paradise of their own—substitute salty ocean waves for saline drips; swap crystal glasses of cocktails for antiseptic alcohol in brightly-labeled plastic dispensers; trade the melodies of tropical birds for the rhythmic chirp of a heart monitor and they had their happily ever after. If he closed his eyes, he could imagine the sea breeze against his face; he could ignore the ache in his lungs and breathe it deep. And he could almostbelieve that all would be well…almost.

But the daydream could not stifle the fear. The fire may have been extinguished, but the horror of what had spurned it—Sarena’s hateful, vengeful cousin and all he stood for—lingered in the air like the thick black smoke that had made a mess of their lungs. And as the Vandelay heiress’ words sprawled across the paper, punctuated with unbridled teardrops, Rhys felt grief and his anxiety spike together in his chest.

“No, no.” He heard himself murmuring that syllable over and over, his own deluge of tears threatening to overflow. The red hand pressed his forehead to hers, squeezing his eyes closed. “Sarena, no…I could never leave without you. I could never leave you. I should have gotten to you sooner.” He simply couldn’t imagine having boarded the plane in her absence—their escape plan had been just that…theirs. Departing without her company had never been an option. He placed his hands gently on either side of her face, wiping at the streaks of tears on her cheeks with his thumbs.

And suddenly, despite everything, he smiled.

“You’re alive,” he whispered incredulously. “I was so fucking scared…” A sniffle broke his words, but the relief in his eyes remained bright. “You are not to blame for any of this. He failed. He failed. You didn’t let him win this.” And just as quickly as the smile had appeared, his expression shifted to one of dark, icy rage. “I will kill him for this, Sarena. Caleb…” He stammered over the villain’s name, recoiling at the bitter taste it left in the back of his throat. “Caleb, well…he’s as good as dead.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Mar 29, 2017 3:47 pm
by Requiem
Sarena Vandelay had not been raised to lean on anyone in a time of need; namely because there had been no one she'd ever been able to trust to the extent that she trusted the red hand. But in the relative privacy of the hospital room, with only Rhys as her company, the crime heiress allowed her sore and shaken body to rest against Proudfoot's secure pillar of a form. Coming to with such a start, after... how long had she been unconscious? It was wrought with shock and wonder and fear, almost like being born all over again. Except, of course, for the memories.

The trauma to her head, which throbbed as though the injury were new; Caleb's voice, cruel, confident, satisfied. The bite of the cord that bound her hands too tightly, the burn of the smoke that invaded her lungs, from which she lost consciousness long before feeling the heat of the wild flames...

With shaky hands, she covered Rhys's with her palms, warm against his cool skin, and struggled to stay the tears that flowed so mercilessly down her pale face. "N-no. Not... yet. We can't be hasty." Despite the discomfort, Sarena sought her voice and pulled away just enough to seek Rhys's gaze, determined that pen and paper simply would not suffice. Not with the gravity of the situation. "Give it... time. He's smart. Let him think... think he succeeded. Let him--" A cough cut her short, one that shook her shoulders, but she went on. "Let him taste the victory... the power that he wants. Then, when he thinks he has it all... then we end that fantasy."

In a strange and twisted way, this entire ordeal--barring the near-death experience and hospitalization--was something of a blessing in disguise. They wanted to disappear; well, what better way than playing dead? Making the Vandelay family think they had nothing and no one to search for? It could be perfect... They could book the tickets and board that plane just as they had intended, as soon as she was released from the hospital. Nobody would be the wiser; Caleb would have what he wanted, and wouldn't bother to put the time or effort into double-checking. It might appear as suspicious when no traces of human bodies were found among the ashes of the incinerated building, but then again, what was precisely what he had been hoping for: kill his rival and destroy all evidence. It would be as if his plan had carried out precisely as he had hoped and intended. And, meanwhile, she and Rhys could remake themselves. New names and identities, in some place far, far away, with absolutely no ties to her family. In theory, these circumstances offered the opportunity for everyone to get precisely what they wanted.

Except, of course, for one thing: revenge. A craving that perhaps Rhys could yield, but not her. Because at the end of the day, whether or not she chose to associate with then, Sarena was a Vandelay. And a Vandelay never let an enemy get the last laugh.

"I need to get out of here." The crime daughter turned from the red hand, frantic blue eyes scanning the private room for anything that might belong to her: clothes, jewelry, a cell phone... She couldn't even recall what had been in her possession at the time she was kidnapped. Perhaps it was for the better. They can trace a cell phone, credit cards... let it all stay where it is. Let them think I'm dead. "I'm alive, I'm fine, I just... need to go. Somewhere safe and... quieter." Unsure of whether or not he would agree, she took her chances and gripped Rhy's shoulder. "You got me in here... can you get me out?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Aug 21, 2017 11:48 pm
by Astrophysicist
Though circumstance had rendered the spy a killer by trade and reputation, Rhys Proudfoot knew when enough was enough—or at least when it was best to let patience prevail. Hasty bravado and rash aggression were no match for cunning and calculation. There was no doubt Sarena was right; biding their time was their wisest move. And as much as the red hand would have relished a chance at the murderous Caleb Vandelay, he knew he was in no physical condition to challenge a healthy, well-protected member of the city’s most notorious crime clan.

Sarena and Rhys may not have held the upper hand from their sterile hospital room, but certainly letting Caleb believe his plans had been a success built the foundation for an even more catastrophic fall. The higher the pedestal, the greater the illusion of victory and power—and if the former spy had learned anything from his years of political espionage, it was that those with the furthest view always had the most distance to plummet.

They were already playing this dangerous game with an advantage, and it wasn’t only that Caleb believed his fire had turned Sarena to ash. The red hand held as esteemed a position within their organization as an outsider could hope to achieve; as someone who possessed not a single drop of Vandelay blood, and a former government agent besides, Rhys could be a powerful double-agent within the family. He was certainly capable of the act, and it wouldn’t be the first time he’d risked his life playing for both sides of a conflict…but it was the first time having someone like Sarena on his team.

Rhys squeezed the young woman’s hand, perhaps a little too tightly, and nodded quickly at her request to leave. Departing against medical advice at this stage of healing was a calculated risk—not ideal, of course, but necessary nonetheless. Rhys had already lingered too long in those stark white corridors and claustrophobic blue-gray rooms, and every minute they remained increased the likelihood of being recognized, or worse, targeted.

When he pressed the small red call button on Sarena’s bedside remote, it was not a nurse to answered the page, but Dr. Melody Christian herself. “Leaving so soon?” she queried, arching a slender brow. Where most doctors would have blanched at the thought of discharging a patient as ill as Sarena, Dr. Christian could only cross her arms and smile expectantly. “I thought this might be the case. Ms. Doe, if I may have a listen?” The woman positioned her stethoscope in her ears and looked to her scowling patient.

“I still don’t like the sound of those lungs, but I know you won’t listen if I advise you to stay another twenty-four hours for observation,” she said, draping the stethoscope back around her neck. Rhys’s expression confirmed the doctor’s suspicions. “Still, it’s my job to inform you that if you go now, you risk all manner of fatal complications. Understood?”

“Thank you, Dr. Christian, but we understand,” Rhys responded curtly, rising to his feet with only the slightest of winces. “And I’m sure you understand that staying here could prove just as fatal.”

“Ah, yes, win-win, then,” the doctor replied, exchanging a knowing glance with the red hand as she disconnected Sarena’s IV and placed a patch of gauze over the site on her hand. “Well, it wouldn’t be the first time, would it? I’ll be right back.”

Moments later, Dr. Christian returned with a wheelchair in tow, a folded pair of scrubs draped over the back. “If you could just…take care to leave these scrubs and this wheelchair alone, I would appreciate it,” the woman drawled, reaching into her lab coat pockets to retrieve several amber vials that rattled when she placed them on the foot of the bed. “Certainly don’t take the exit near the ambulance bay,” she went on, tone indicating that that was precisely the exit they should choose. “I hear that’s where the desperate taxis line up, hoping for overflow customers from the main ER entrance. People coming and going all the time…it’s a zoo.”

Rhys nodded. “Thank you,” he said. “I owe you one.”

Dr. Christian chuckled. “I look forward to settling the score, then,” she said with a wink. “Good luck to you both. You can’t pay back a favor if you’re dead.” 

The moment the door clicked closed, the red hand sprang into action. He stripped of his clothes and dressed in the provided scrubs, then wet his hands at the sink and ran his fingers through his hair to tame the wild waves. Dressing the part was all it took; a medical professional wheeling his patient to the vehicle loading zone was commonplace even in the middle of the night, and they would look no more out of the ordinary than any others being discharged from urgent or emergency care. If it was truly as bustling as the doctor claimed, all the better for escaping notice. He, too, was weak, but playing this part would be the easiest thing he'd done in quite some time.

“Tell me if you need me to stop,” he told Sarena, voice soft. “How are you feeling? Are you ready?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Aug 23, 2017 10:59 pm
by Requiem
Sarena frowned as the red hand reached for the call button that wound undoubtedly summon the very medical personnel whom she wished to avoid. That frown only deepened when that familiar doctor responded to the call, a expectant look on her overly-confident face. Reluctant to aggravate her voice, for fear that it would betray the fragility of her physical state, she merely shot Dr. Christian a look that bespoke, Do I really have a choice in the matter? Her question was answered when the woman pressed the cold flat of her stethoscope to her back without waiting for a response.
And, of course, the medical professional was not wrong. Every breath that the crime daughter drew into her damaged lungs felt as if they were filled with sand; the intake of precious oxygen was never quite enough, leaving a perpetual feeling of light-headedness. Like if she were to move too quickly, to suddenly, she might faint.

But she hadn't grown up a Vandelay without realizing when it was necessary not to stay put. Rhys was right; the longer they remained in one place, the more likely they were to be found. The more likely Caleb would come to realize that his nefarious plan had not panned out as planned. She was a dead woman, now; and dead people did not linger in the public eye.

Fortunately, she and Rhys were on the very same page, and the hit man was able to speak her very thoughts on her behalf. Gingerly rubbing the gauze over the bruised site where the IV had been embedded in her hand for who knew how long, Sarena waited patiently for the doctor to return, half-expecting her not to follow through with whatever agreement she and Rhys seemed to have worked out. To her relief, the woman did not lead the wolves that were the authorities directly to them, but merely the means of escape that they would need.

No sooner did Dr. Christian depart with her own form of well-wishing that Sarena eased herself into the wheelchair, while Rhys donned the guise of one of the many medical personnel in the building. Neither of them would stand out in a busy and frantic hospital in the middle of the night dressed as they were.
"I'm fine," she lied, without making much effort to hide the fact, but they both knew that this could very well be their only opportunity of escape. Time was precious; and if her death had not been confirmed as of yet, then she was willing to bet her father had already dispatched his most trusted and capable of goons to pinpoint her whereabouts. Dead or alive, Gustave Vandelay would want his daughter back. "Let's go."

Through the white and blue corridors lit by sickly fluorescent lights, in the elevators and on towards the ambulance bay, no one paid any heed to the doctor and his patient in a wheelchair, even as they neared the exit. Their window of opportunity was a short one, between leaving the wheelchair behind and making it out the door unnoticed; the paramedics were too preoccupied restocking one of the ambulance's medical supplies to pay attention to who was entering or exiting the building. Sarena seized that opportunity to hurriedly find her footing, and with fortune and experience on their side, the pair were up and gone before one of the nurses came noticed the empty wheelchair by the exit door.

The cool night air was both a blessing and a curse to the Vandelay heiress's ravaged lungs as she ventured to take a breath. The headrush that accompanied fresh air was countered by the slow burn of the cooler temperature, enough that Sarena near doubled over in a painful coughing fit. "I'm okay," she tried to assure the concerned red hand, whilst grabbing his arm to steady herself. "We need... normal clothes."

Scanning the area for possibilities, the young woman didn't bother explaining as she took Rhys by the hand and tugged him down the quieting street, towards a late-night pizza joint with windows that betrayed the presence of a coat hanger for patrons to hang their belongings. A few coats appeared to be hanging from its wooden arms... This would be tight, risky, but wandering the streets in scrubs and a hospital gown could turn too many heads. She said nothing to Rhys, simply signaled that he stay put, as she approached the glass doors. Mustering what was left of her adrenaline rush, no sooner did the crime daughter open the door on an inch to squeeze her slim arm in without upsetting the bell that alerted the owners to customers, that she pulled away with two coats in her hand. The one she tossed in Rhys's direction was made of a thick flannel with a woodsy checkered pattern; it smelled like smoke, as as if it hadn't been washed in quite some time. The other, a faux-leather biker jacket, smaller but long enough to reach Sarena mid-thigh, smelled even worse. "We need a motel..." She wheezed, every step she took feeling more and more laborious, like she was getting heavier as she moved. "Somewhere cheap... where we wouldn't be expected to stay."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Thu Aug 24, 2017 10:46 pm
by Astrophysicist
It had been days since Rhys had breathed air that wasn’t perfumed by blood and disinfectant. The cool midnight breeze was a welcome sensation on his skin, reminding him just how fortunate he was to be feeling it at all.

His body ached. Although he had been discharged days prior, he was far from fully healed; his lungs protested any movement more strenuous than a moderate walk, and the burns on his legs were still raw and tender beneath the bandages. Compared to his companion’s condition, however, he had little room to complain.

The red hand had been driven to prayer only a handful of times in his rough and complicated life, but sitting helplessly at Sarena’s bedside had been enough to inspire a one-sided dialogue with whatever supernatural force was willing to listen at the time. As someone who had witnessed all manner of atrocities—and, indeed, someone who had performed as many with his very own hands—Rhys suffered no delusions…he had no clout with a higher power. Still, that hadn’t stopped the anxious wishes from his thoughts. Do it for her, not for me, he’d argued, knowing even that was perhaps a stretch.

But here they were, escaping the confines of the hospital, both worse for wear but very much alive. The relief was staggering all over again, but he didn’t have time to give in to it; they were on the move by necessity, and holding composure in public was likely going to sap both of their limited supplies of strength.

Rhys slipped on the stolen overcoat, buttoning it quickly to hide his costume of scrubs from passersby on the street. The scent of cigarette smoke made his stomach churn all over again with the vivid memory of the fire. “A motel,” he repeated, gritting his teeth. He was familiar with this particular district of the inner city; he’d made his fair share of visits to Good Samaritan Hospital thanks to Dr. Christian’s presence there, and he’d often stayed in precisely the types of seedy establishments to which Sarena referred.

The neighborhood surrounding the medical campus left a lot to be desired, characterized by crumbling facades, high crime, and low median income. “Cheap” was an overly-kind adjective to describe the dilapidated motels that existed every handful of blocks, serving as private segmented havens for drug-users, prostitutes, and those who did not care to be found. Rhys knew it was only a matter of steps before they stumbled upon of them…but by the sound of Sarena’s uneven, creaky breaths, she wouldn’t make it that far on her own.

They paused at the end of block, shrouded in the darkness of a broken street lamp. Under any other circumstance, Sarena Vandelay’s presence at such a corner—a shadowed, broken, pungent intersection in one of the poorest parts of town—would have been laughable. But now, doing his best to keep his own labored breathing under control, Rhys was thankful for the protection of the desolation…and the neighborhood’s less-than-stellar reputation.

“You’re not going to make it yourself,” he told her quietly, wrapping one arm around her shoulders for support. “I’m going to lift you, okay? And you’re going to let me.”

The sight of a woman in a man’s arms would be nothing out of the ordinary on these particular streets, where overdoses were so commonplace that it was no longer something of spectacle. Even given the proximity of Good Samaritan, there were always those too frightened of arrest to seek the medical care they desperately needed.

In one swift movement, Rhys swept Sarena’s feet from under her, supporting her back with his right arm while his left held her knees. He was weak, but he was in better condition than his companion—and this was going to have to work. As quickly as he could manage, he trod towards the distant flicker of pink neon several blocks ahead, which held, strangely, the promise of solace.

The sign outside the lobby buzzed with every flash of the letters V C N C Y, the glass remnants of broken vowels crunching underfoot as Rhys stumbled across the threshold. Despite the sound of a twentieth-century sitcom blaring from an ancient TV in the corner, no employee was there to welcome them. Rhys wasted no time; with Sarena still in his arms, he stepped around the chipped veneer desk and slipped a keycard from the outdated slots on the wall. Room 19 was theirs at no charge…which was fortunate, considering neither of them had any way to pay for their stay.

He scanned the card at the door reader, which granted them entry with a flat chirp.

“Is it safe to say no one would expect us to be holed up here?” the former spy said breathily, his own voice hoarse as he deposited Sarena on the bed. He lowered himself to the foot of the mattress after locking the door and drawing the stained curtains. He felt heavy…exhausted. “How are you feeling?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Thu Aug 24, 2017 11:29 pm
by Requiem
For all her pride, Sarena knew better than to challenge her already critical condition by hastening any further on her weak legs. The crime daughter put up no fight as Rhys hoisted her into his arms, closing her eyes against the dizzying play of streetlights as they assaulted their vision. She forewent asking the red hand if he had any idea where they were headed, not only for the fact that her lungs were scarcely permitting even intakes of breath, but because she had a hunch that Rhys harboured some familiarity for this dump-like nook of the city. She was too well bred to ever find herself in a place like this... which was exactly why that place was precisely where she needed to be, for now.

Opening her eyes when the wind on her face seemed to die down, that everpresent attitude--that of being the spoiled only-child of a rich man--revealed itself in a grimace and sneer. The lobby of the run-down shack smelled like dust and mildew and old cigarette butts; and little wonder as to why, given the absence of anyone at the main desk. How is this place still functional... she nearly voiced aloud, but thought better of it for the rawness of her throat.

Though uncertain that the key or the rooms still had a functioning lock mechanism at all, Sarena watched as Rhys swiped a keycard that corresponded to room 19, and held it flat against the room's censor. Some celestial being must have taken pity on them, then and there, for to her surprise, the piece of plastic admitted them entry on the first try. 

The room was only slightly less dingy than the lobby, and only because it appeared less disturbed, having waited quite some time since its last occupant. The faded green comforter on the bed was askew, and Rhy's boots left footprints on the layer of dust that had settled upon the peeling faux-wood paneling, but she considered them lucky with the state of their accommodations: for a place like this, dust could very well be the least of your concern. She was determined not to look too hard at anything, lest she spot a suspicious stain that would keep her up for the remainder of the night...

Taking a moment to collect herself before she dared to move, Sarena finally sat up on the bed, absently rubbing at a bandaged burn on her arm, that had begun to itch beneath the gauze. "Either it's the first place they'll look for us..." She began, taking slow breaths to combat the dizziness of their rush in the night, "or it'll be the last place... and I'm fine. Just... tired." How long had it been, anyway? How many days--or if not days, weeks, since she'd found herself in that burning warehouse? More than the pain and the exhaustion, what irked he crime daughter most was the obliviousness to which she had been subjected while kept in that medical coma. She didn't know what had happened, what was happening... and she didn't like not knowing. Knowing was how you stayed alive.

"The TV... see if you can get it to work." She asked Rhys, knowing he'd sooner do it himself than have her move more than she already had since leaving the hospital. It was an ancient model, and the chances of it turning on, let alone still receiving any sort of signal, were slim, but if there was a chance that she didn't have to be left in the dark any longer...
After the red hand struggled and cursed for a few moments, his efforts seemed to pay off, as the blue-white glow from the discoloured screen illuminated the room. "Good... good. Check the channels. I need the news..."

It wasn't a long shot. Although people went missing in the city ever day, multiple times a day, and people died more often than what was reported, no news station would be fool enough not to catch wind of the missing heiress of a very rich man. Particularly a man who had most of the city under his thumb. That, and given the circumstances following her disappearance...

"There. Stop." Moving to the foot of the bed, Sarena leaned in, straining to listen through the crackling audio, as she could made out a rather blurry image of her photograph on the screen.

...still maintains there is hope that his daughter is alive, despite accounts that suggest she was a victim of the warehouse fire. Gustave Vandelay refuses to call off the search until forensics can confirm her remains among the ashes in the dilapidated building. While police and investigators have yet to confirm any suspects, they are not ruling out the possibility of either attempted--or successful--homicide. Police continue to ask that anyone with information...

Pressing her fingers to her temples, Sarena sighed and shook her head. "Turn it off," she requested, sounding less than enthused at the news. "We're not safe... not if Gustave hasn't given up. Either we stay in hiding... or we get the hell out of dodge." The corner of her pale lips turned upward as she met Rhy's eyes. "Sunofabitch... you saved me too well. Should've... let me burn a little. Give them... that forensic evidence they need, so I'd be dead to 'em."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Aug 26, 2017 11:30 pm
by Astrophysicist
While the blood that ran through Sarena’s veins was as close to that of royalty as modern-day breeding might allow, Rhys Proudfoot could claim no such genetic legacy. Even discounting his lower-middle-class upbringing, his career of choice had not exactly guaranteed five-star hotels and Armani suits…at least not right away. His early missions for Double Eye had run the gamut, from dodging government agents in the slums of the Indian subcontinent to keeping surveillance on international low-lives in neighborhoods not much different than the one in which they found themselves now.

He’d worked his way up thanks to his skill in the field, eventually infiltrating the inner circles of Turkish high society—and, unbeknownst to him, setting the wheels in motion for the Tribeca-Antioch assignment that would end in disaster and send him back to the very streets whence he’d come.

His months and years in hiding after his departure from the CIIO had acquainted him with motels very much like this one; the stench of cigarettes, the stains on the sheets, the ancient televisions chained crudely to their broken stands…it was familiar. And, bizarrely, a comfort. He’d become immune to the oft-repugnant faults of places like this; these rooms, all more or less identical to one another, had become temporary safehouses in volatile times.

He was quick to oblige when Sarena asked to see the news, swearing under his breath until its shaky glow lit up the dingy room. The fact that her photograph was sprawled all over the local stations was no great surprise to either of them. Rhys sighed as deeply as his lungs would allow, reaching over to switch off the set before lowering himself to the uneven mattress at the crime daughter’s side.

“Too well, huh? I could always cut off a finger for you,” he suggested, turning on his side to face her. Meeting her eyes, however exhausted they both must have looked, spurned a small smile. “Maybe a couple of toes, if you want to be less obvious…?”

The humor faded from his eyes as quickly as it had appeared. “You know, your father will be looking for me, too,” the red hand pointed out. “If I don’t get in touch with him soon, I’m afraid he’ll start drawing the wrong conclusions.” The red hand reached out, running a curved finger over Sarena’s cheek. “You can hide. You could run. You could run and never look back. If I…if I stay here, continue the ruse of searching for you…”

He trailed off, weary. “This is your family, Sarena. And what we do…what I do…well, it all depends on what you want to happen next.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Aug 27, 2017 12:03 am
by Requiem
With that lopsided grin widening ever so slightly, the crime daughter elbowed Rhys in the ribs, in lieu of laughing at his poor attempt a humour. She wasn't certain that her lungs would so much as allow as anything even vaguely akin to laughter, when merely drawing breath was a labour. "Little too late for that." She commented, glancing down at her pale hands and fingers, which appeared bonier from her stay in the hospital. "Anyway... you must understand my family. They personally make sure that... that people lose fingers and toes all the time. For ransom, to get information... they'd know better." Slowly returning to herself, with the shock of awakening from a medical coma and the danger she had been in wearing down, Sarena caressed the hit man's cheek bone, her knuckles soft against the wiry bristles of the stubble. Judging by how he'd let it grow, she had to guess that, at the very least, she must have been in the hospital for almost a week.

"Sadly... nothing short of ripping out my heart, and leaving it on Gustave's desk, will be enough to convince him I'm dead." She sighed, softly, yet dramatically. "Though I feel like, if you wanted to destroy my heart, Red Hand... you'd have done it already. Ample enough opportunities, and all."

She wanted to turn back the clock to a week ago; when they had been lying together, in the darkness of her condo after a power outage, planning their grand escape together. A new home, new identities, but most importantly, one another. But Rhys was quick to return her focus to the reality at hand, one that very much still involved her father--and, as he pointed out, him. "You're half right, Proudfoot. If you don't make yourself known... you'll be in hot water. Probably, you already are. I'll hide, because I have no choice. But know this..." In emphasis, Sarena grabbed a fist full of the V-neck scrubs that Rhys still donned. "I'm not running without you. Nowhere far. When this is settled... we still have a plane to catch. If, of course... you're still interested in erasing the chalkboard. Starting over..." With me.

The Vandelay heiress loosened her grip on Rhys's shirt when she realized her hand was shaking. However much she wanted to bounce back, it seemed she still had a ways to go before she'd recovered. It only served to further fuel the frustration she felt with regard to the situation. "You could go back to my father... tell him you took a hit from someone who gave you trouble, and were laying low until you healed up. I'd offer to rough you up a bit... just enough to warrant stitches." And again, that trademark smirk. "Sadly, I am hardly in any position to do that. Sleep on it; we'll figure something out. But, Rhys..."

That smirk faded, returning to all seriousness as something akin to fire gleamed in her sapphire eyes. "Whatever happens next... you're gonna need to accept that I refuse not to be involved. Understood?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Feb 26, 2018 10:20 pm
by Astrophysicist
“I wouldn’t dream of not involving you,” the hit man said, his lips twisting to mirror her smirk. “As if I could deny you the pleasure of watching the light drain from your cousin’s eyes.” His chuckle turned into a cough, and the tickle in his throat reminded him once again of the flames. He sobered up quickly, brows knitting together in a deep furrow. 

“I’ll get in touch with your father in the morning. It’s been a week. What’s a few more hours?” The former spy might have laughed again, but thoughts of morning—and all that was to come when dawn broke—reminded him just how tired his body was. His shoulders sagged forward.

Exhaustion typically affected the red hand’s mentality in one of two ways. He either lost his grip on his emotional reins and allowed his past trauma to sit in the driver’s seat, sending him careening down a perilous road that left him susceptible to spiraling panic…or something like the opposite, where he relinquished all ties to feeling altogether, succumbing instead to a deep, tired numbness that left him ruthlessly stoic. Now, with the recent strain and injury on his body as well as his mind, he found himself in the latter category—a dangerous limbo in which decisions came too easily down to logic and action.

Rhys Proudfoot may not have entered the world a killer, but he had been born with all the necessary skills to become one. A part of him might always have known that, and yet another part refused to believe that what he’d turned out to be had been written in his stars all along. He’d made a career out of lying and scheming, justifying his misdeeds with the fact that it was government-sanctioned and for the greater good. He knew better now; those delusions held power over the red hand no longer. Double Eye hadn’t made him what he was—it had simply acted catalyst for the inevitable.

Maybe it was time to show Tesh Marionetti just what had become of the man’s prize hire.

“Sarena,” Rhys whispered. The lingering effects of smoke inhalation still crackled in his voice. “Sarena, I think it’s time to call on a mutual acquaintance of ours.” He turned to look at her, his expression hard. I don’t like this any more than you’re going to, he thought grimly. The red hand gritted his teeth and continued. “What ever happened with your Double Eye deal? With Tesh Marionetti?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Feb 28, 2018 4:53 pm
by Requiem
"Normally, I'd argue that it is best to get in touch with Gustave before he finds a way to reach you," Sarena mentioned, knowing that while her father had the propensity for patience, he was selective as to when he decided it best to exercise that virtue. And with his daughter missing, she was willing to bet that patience was not high priority. "I'm frankly surprised that he has not found some means to contact you, yet. But... you're going to pull off a better cover for yourself when you're not burning the candle at both ends. Both of us will."

In emphasis of her point, the crime daughter sucked up whatever dignity she had left, tried to envision that the bed was likely not older than her, nor covered with dust, and she laid fetal-like upon the top of the mattress, pulling her knees to her chest. Burning the candle at both ends was an understatement; they were burnt-out, entirely. Should her father show up at that very moment, she wasn't sure she'd have it in her to confront him, or to protect herself against retaliation for her treachery. Sarena Vandelay had never felt so vulnerable and spent in her entire life: and Caleb would pay for rendering her so damned incapacitated. "I won't forgive this." She murmured, quietly to herself--though audibly, nonetheless. "Vandelays don't forgive. We get even... Caleb won't walk away from this."

The palms of her hands stung, and to her astonishment, the Vandelay heiress noticed she had been digging her fingernails into the soft, pliant flesh to such an extent that she'd begun to draw blood. Uncurling her rigid fingers, she folded her hands in front of her knees and dared to close her eyes. Fortunately, exhaustion did not discriminate its surroundings, and had she been any less tired, any less spent, she could not imagine in a million years that she'd have successfully fallen asleep on the filthy, questionable mattress. This was your choice. She had to remind herself, over and over. Better than the hospital? Maybe not; but this was your choice.

It wasn't difficult to ignore that mocking inner-voice as she drifted off, feeling her body grow heavier, hurrying towards sleep... until a single name from Rhys' lips interrupted that peaceful process. All of a sudden, Sarena found herself very awake, and very startled.
Tesh Marionetti? "

The crime daughter sat up, her blue eyes wide with alarm, looking upon Rhys as though the smoke inhalation had inflicted permanent brain damage. "You're... serious?" She breathed, feeling her chest grow tight all over again. "You want to involve fucking Double Eye in this bullshit? That's insane, Proudfoot. As it stands, I'm on neutral grounds with them right now. If they find out what happened with Caleb... If they catch me like I am now, compromised, unable to fight back--then that gives those assholes a leg up on me. I won't be in negotiation with them, I'd be owing them. Tell me, Rhys, how exactly does it pan out when someone is indebted to those fuckers?"

Emotions running high, Sarena turned her head and unleashed a coughing fit into the sleeve of her 'borrowed' jacket. When it subsided, some moments later, she turned to Rhys, looking defeated. "I haven't spoken to Marionetti since that last time he called. Ignored his calls ever since because, frankly, I... we had bigger fish to fry. I didn't think anything of it; after all, we were supposed to have boarded a plane and been out of this place, for good... You think if we contact him now--even ifhe puts all of his ignored phone calls in the past--do you think he will agree to help us?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Mar 05, 2018 7:35 pm
by Astrophysicist
Will he agree to help us?

Even after all the years Rhys had spent faithfully serving under Tesh Marionetti's leadership at Double Eye, the red hand could not be certain of the answer.

He sighed heavily, tension tying knots in his shoulder blades. With a wince, he lowered himself next to Sarena on the bed, reclining against the stiff pillow. The faint perfume of stale cigarettes wafted to his nostrils from the grimy cloth, and although he knew it was probably the worst thing he could do for his poor wounded lungs, he suddenly craved a smoke.

"Who the fuck knows," he sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Marionetti has been looking for me since the day I walked out of his office. He's a stubborn bastard. He won't have given up on finding me. Especially not since you dropped my name and confirmed I was still alive." The words came without accusation; he knew the crime heiress had had no way of knowing about his past life. "Tesh would take your call, Sarena. He knows this business isn't as simple as picking up whenever your phone buzzes. It's rarely that convenient." Rhys blinked at the ceiling, tracing the cracks in the drywall with his gaze. When he spoke again, his voice was icy. "But I know he'd take my call."

He turned to his side to face the Vandelay daughter. "As to whether or not he'd help us…nothing Double Eye agrees to do is simple. There will be strings attached. But they also have resources…and we might need an ally in this fight. 'Enemy of your enemy' and all that."

Rhys had certainly forged his fair share of unlikely partnerships under that very policy. In this case, the former spy was in the unique position of having connections on all sides of the battle line-the relative trust of Gustave Vandelay, a strong history with Double Eye, and the startling affection of the young woman at the center of the chaos. And Sarena had the advantage of being dead-at least to the would-be assassins who loathed her existence so vehemently-which added a rare card to an already-powerful hand. 

"Marionetti is smart and experienced. As much as I don't want anything to do with him, he might have some idea how we can sort out this shit-storm." He reached out, running a curved finger gently across Sarena's cheek. "But let's deal with that in the morning. I can't keep my fucking eyes open."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Mar 06, 2018 5:25 am
by Requiem
Too exhausted to argue or fight the point, Sarena dipped her head in a defeated nod. She wasn't an idiot, and understood the severity of the situation in which they found themselves. Gustave would not be happy, not knowing their whereabouts, and not knowing the status of his daughter's existence among the living. And that was above and beyond what sort of mood Tesh Marionetti might be in, given that she had ignored each and every subsequent call from that worm since the day she had accidentally confirmed Rhys's presence to him. She was aware the red hand did not blame her for that, but it weighed heavily on her shoulders that she had given him away, nonetheless. 

And now, that worm could likely be the key to getting out of his mess. The whole situation stunk more than this musty motel room...

"Well... then I guess you will have some phone calls to make, in the morning." The crime daughter sighed, laying her head back upon the mattress after Rhys reclined. "I still don't like it... Being in hot water with my father is one thing, and hell, it isn't good. But negotiating with a worm like Marionetti seems just as dangerous. There are always strings attached when it comes to my family, as well... don't get me wrong. The difference is, at least I know well enough to see those strings so that they aren't invisible." Resting her cool fingers upon the side of his neck, Sarena's bright, azure eyes met Rhys's. And, for perhaps the first time, genuine fear and concern stirred in them. "I can't see Double Eye's strings, Rhys; I'm not in deep enough. Only you can do that. So, if we're going to do this, then I need you to be my eyes for them... all right?"

She wasn't sure how much he actually heard, for just seconds after she finished speaking, Sarena could feel the slow inhale and exhale of Rhys's breath, already falling fast asleep. And she wasn't far behind him, as soon as she allowed her eyes to close.

When Rhys awoke the next morning, he was greeted by the high-keening pitch of the ancient CRT television screen. Sarena was already awake, knees pulled to her chest as she focused intently on the local news, which, as of now, was not airing anything of consequence, or anything remotely helpful. Circles like bruises contrasted the bright blue of her eyes, and despite her exhaustion the night before, it was questionable as to just how much sleep she had gotten. Her slender hands were clenched into fists, and her mouth was set in a grim line. "Nothing. No coverage about me or the fire at the warehouse for hours." She informed the red hand, sensing he had roused from his slumber when the bed creaked as he sat up. "Either I'm watching at the wrong time, or... my father has gotten to the media. Which means he wants it quiet, so he can take the situation into his own hands... and if that is the case, then we have run out of time for planning."

Looking over her shoulder, she looked positively averse to what she was about to say, but there was no helping it. "Do you have a phone on you? If not--which might be better, we don't want to be tracked... but if not, let's grab a coffee and find a pay phone. Call my father, first. Say something to slow him down. Then... then, we'll deal with that Double Eye worm. See what he can do for us--if anything." Pinching the bridge of her nose, she stood from the bed with a groan. "And then, we're getting coffee. This shitstorm is giving me a migraine."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Mar 06, 2018 9:49 pm
by Astrophysicist
It wasn’t often that Rhys Proudfoot was able to find sleep after little more than closing his eyes. He’d grown used to fighting—as he seemed to do for everything else—for fitful, short-lived spells of rest punctuated by long spells of anxious insomnia. But after the fire, after his own body’s trauma, after waiting to learn if Sarena would survive the attempt on her life, after carrying the dark-haired woman to their current abode…his body had little choice but to surrender consciousness to the flat, stained motel mattress that had seen its fair share of occupants.

If he’d heard Sarena’s tired plea, he would have reassured her that he could be their eyes. When it came to Double Eye, Rhys had been taken advantage of by the organization enough times to know when they were up to no good…which, frankly, was most of the time. Double Eye may have credited itself with protecting the country from threats both international and domestic, but the price of that safety was one paid by people like Rhys, like Harriet…even Tesh. The men and women in Double Eye’s employ did all the heavy lifting—the dirty, dangerous duties dictated by a desk-bound board—and, if they were lucky enough to walk away at all, bore the scars to show for their service.

Rhys was no exception. He trusted the CIIO as much as he trusted Gustave Vandelay. Perhaps less. Everything Double Eye did would have strings attached; the trick was untangling the threads to find what they attached to. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, but then, their options were limited. If the former spy could exploit his complicated past and even more complicated relationship with Marionetti for a far better end than the last time, then he could justify those means. For Sarena, it was worth a shot.

He awoke after having slept more deeply than he had in months, which was nothing short of miraculous considering their current predicament. The steady whine of the ancient television joined the stench of stale cigarettes in the air. He took a deep breath anyway, grateful that the ache in his lungs was gradually fading.

“I ditched my phone before I went after you,” the red hand said. He stretched his neck side to side with a pair of satisfying cracks. “A pay phone is just as well. If we can find one that still works. On this side of town…” A shrug lifted and dropped his shoulders. “It’s a crap-shoot.”

After a pause, he swung his legs to the side of the mattress and reached out, wrapping his fingers tenderly around Sarena’s forearm as she paced. “Hey,” he murmured, tugging her closer. “Come here. How are you feeling?” A vertical line appeared between his furrowed brows. “Promise me you’ll take it easy. Physically. While you heal. I know what it’s like, leaving a hospital before your body’s really ready…” He trailed off, giving her arm an affectionate squeeze before releasing his grip. “Coffee’s not off-limits, though. Come on, let’s get out of this hell-hole. Lean on me if you need to, yeah?”

It had rained sometime overnight. The air was thick with moisture, which only served to amplify the stench of wet carpet and rotting gutter slime as they stepped out of the stuffy room and into the equally-stuffy morning.

Daylight did no favors for this particular cityscape. Discarded paper cups and crushed plastic bottles bobbed on stagnant puddles at the street corners; buildings that could pass as charming under a street lamp looked grimy and abandoned in the light of day. It was a far cry from the glass-clad condominiums and sleek steel of the Vandelay districts, but Rhys was just glad to be on the move—to feel his heart thrumming against his sternum, to feel his blood circulating again after far too long confined to a hospital.

It was several long blocks before they came across a string of occupied storefronts. Only the faint aroma of roasting coffee beans announced its presence; otherwise, the small neighborhood café was virtually unmarked. Condensation dripped down the clouded front window. A handwritten sign declaring No Public Restrooms in shaky scrawl on the door was the only indicator from the outside that this was a place of business. For a moment, Rhys wasn’t sure if it was. But a bell jingled as they shuffled inside, and none of the few young patrons already inside looked up from their business.

“Want to order for me?” Rhys prompted, taking a seat near the door. “I’ve gotta go make some calls."

 

   
ReplyQuote
Requiem
(@requiem)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 842
 
by Requiem
Was she all right? In all of the panic, mayhem, and contingency planning, Sarena hadn't taken her health or wellness much into consideration. She was tired, of course; aching, weaker than usual. Her throat was sore, and she couldn't remember what it felt to catch her breath. But neither of them had the luxury to stop and rest. Not when time had already begun to advance to their detriment, and work against them. "I'll be fine." She reassured the hit man, cupping the side of his face. "But not unless I get some coffee--soon. Or else I'm just going to be an inconsolable bitch, and that won't help either of us."

With a grin, she pulled her coat close to her body, and smiled and left as quietly with Rhys as they had arrived. It wasn't difficult to stand or walk, thankfully, but she had underestimated how winded a simple walk down the street made her. On more than one occasion, she took the red hand up on his offer and leaned on his shoulder when she felt her heart begin to race. But with the resolution that coffee would make her feel more alive (since smoking was likely out of the question, given the circumstances), she pushed on, until they found the shoddy outline of a cafe. It was small and relatively unoccupied, save for a few local patrons during engrossed in the local newspaper's crossword puzzle, or mulling over their coffee, taking pleasure in the simple things--not that there was much else to admire in this neighborhood.

Taking a secluded seat in the corner, away from everyone else, they surveyed the potential threat of the atmosphere; but the place really was as dead as it looked. "Don't be long." She urged Rhys, grabbing his wrist before he could walk away. "If you're not back in 10 minutes, I'm going to look for you. Leave all of the heavy talking for when you see the devils in person."

Reluctantly loosening her grip, the crime daughter watched her paramour vanish through the front door. It must have been dumb luck that when she reached into the pocket of the stale-smelling, borrowed jacket, her fingers came in contact with cool, circular surfaces of coins. A couple of bucks; just enough for a couple of coffees. It seemed as though some things were just meant to be.
Stepping up to the counter, she ordered a couple of medium roasts, milk and sugar on the side, and brought the two chipped, ceramic mugs back to their chosen seat. The first sip felt like agony on her throat; it burned, made her cringe and cough and reconsider her choice of beverages. But the second sip was much better, and each subsequent mouthful of caffeinated beverage made her feel more alive, and less like an animated corpse.

As refreshing as the beverage was, Sarena felt anything but relaxed; on the contrary, her heart raced more than before, setting her all the more on edge. Every time the door jingled, she startled, eyes darting to the door, expecting to see someone she recognized: one of her father's men, Gustave himself, or worse, someone sent by Caleb to finish the job. But the patrons simply traded change for coffee and stale pastries, and were on their way. Yet each and every time, she could feel her nerves grow a little more frayed, and when someone suddenly took a seat across from her, she almost jumped out of her skin. Fortunately, her coffee mug was empty, by then, and nothing spilled when the porcelain toppled on its side. "Fuck, Proudfoot." She swore under her breath, righting her mug, but her shoulders still didn't relax. There was a time and place for stealth, and while it might have been just the right time and place, she was severely underprepared for it. "You took long enough. I'm not sure you're coffee is warm anymore."

Exhaling a slow, shaky breath, she ran a hand through her dark hair. "So. What's the news?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Mar 10, 2018 7:46 pm
by Astrophysicist
Rhys didn’t have high hopes as he approached the pay phone across the street. The decades-old half-booth was drenched in graffiti, with half of its Plexiglas shield missing completely. He wasn’t surprised to find that the receiver was smashed in, stripped down to its plastic housing and a few shards of sheet metal.

Landlines were few and far between these days; there weren’t many buildings still equipped with the wiring to support the outdated technology. But this part of town wasn’t privy to frequent updates to infrastructure—as evidenced by the ragged streets and uneven sidewalks alone—and hard-wired telephones were cheap to buy and use, perfect for small businesses in lacking districts. If Rhys had to venture a guess, he would say a phone awaited him in the unassuming neighborhood grocer on the opposite corner.

It was probably for the best—even if the establishment had a surveillance system, getting caught making a call on camera was not the worst idea. He wasn’t going to lie about where he was in the city if he was asked; besides, his Double Eye training had taught him that the best lies were those born of the truth. He was already risking Gustave Vandelay’s wrath with having vanished for the better part of two weeks. It couldn’t hurt to stock up on hard evidence to support the red hand’s story.

He ran a hand through his curls—he really did need a haircut, and a shave—and entered the shop. It was less a grocer than a convenience store; its narrow aisles were flanked with tall shelves stocked with chips and Twinkies. A wall of glass-front coolers hummed against the back wall. 

“Help you find somethin’?” The middle-aged woman behind the register didn’t even look up from her magazine. 

There was no use in pretending to browse. Rhys tossed on his most charming smile and casually placed both his hands on the edge of the counter—see, I have no weapons, the gesture said. From the woman’s nonchalance, she wasn’t expecting to be robbed anyway, but a show of submission definitely couldn’t hurt. “You wouldn’t happen to have a landline here, would you?” he asked cheerfully. “My phone’s totally dead.”

She looked up at last, clearly annoyed. “We don’t usually let customers use our phone.”

Rhys feigned a grimace. “Can you make an exception? Promise I’ll make it quick. Seriously. I live right up the street—I just need to call my boss and let him know my phone isn’t working.” He pursed his lips. “I really can’t afford to get fired right now. My girlfriend and I—”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever, okay, as long as you make it fast.” The woman handed him a cordless device with numbers so worn they were barely readable. He smiled his thanks and turned his back to the employee, who had already resumed ignoring him. The red hand took a deep breath and dialed one of the several numbers Gustave had had him commit to memory.

To anyone else, the former spy’s conversation was exactly what one would expect from someone calling his employer to report a broken phone.

“Hey, Mr. G. Yeah, yeah, it’s Rhys. No. No, everything’s fine. My phone’s fucked, though. I’ll tell you the whole story later…yeah, yes, I’ll be in for my shift on Wednesday. Noon, right? I won’t be late, sir. No, sir. Thanks.”

Gustave was smart enough to get the gist—to know that his red hand wasn’t in a position to elaborate—and the irritation in the dangerous man’s tone had been clear. But Rhys also thought he’d detected a hint of relief that his new hire wasn’t dead, or worse, that he hadn’t committed mutiny and bolted. Report to me as soon as you’re able, he’d said tersely. There have been some…disturbing developments. Meaning Sarena, surely. But since he’d kept the entire situation from the media, Rhys couldn’t let on that he knew everything…more than the Vandelay leader did himself.

Rhys was a powerful weapon to have on the Vandelays’ side. He hadn’t wanted to push his luck and risk angering Gustave to the point of deadly consequence, but the spy knew how to leverage his own value. Four days wasn’t much time to sort out his and Sarena’s next steps, but it was better than nothing.

After thanking the cashier, he stuffed his hands in his pockets and headed back to the café, sliding in to the seat opposite Sarena. When she jumped, he couldn’t help but smile.

“Sorry. I forget to turn it off sometimes,” he said, amusement fading. He reached out to drape a reassuring hand over her forearm. “It went well. Pay phone was broken, so I stopped in the corner store. Had to keep it light, that way. Your father knows that drill.” Rhys met her gaze. “I have to report to him at noon on Wednesday. That gives us four days to get our shit together. We can pick up a couple of burner phones and call…Tesh.”

He made a face and took a sip of lukewarm coffee, washing the foul taste of that particular name off his tongue. “Sarena, I think we should get you to a safe house. Just for now. I’ve got a guy...it’ll be better than that motel room, at least.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sat Mar 10, 2018 9:12 pm
by Requiem
"A safe house." The word rolled off of her tongue like something foreign. She wrinkled her nose in distaste. "And you 'know a guy'. Rhys, have you considered the situation we're in? Are we really in a position to trust anyone, even your 'guy'?" The crime daughter ran a hand through her hair and took a deep breath. She was tired, sore, worked-up and justifiably paranoid. But, realistically, they were stranded, as is. Neither of them had anywhere to go. This 'safe house'... it might be a start.

Resting her hand atop Rhys's, she nodded. "Okay. Say we consider this. That might cover my ass, for a little while. Help me lay low. But what about you? What are you going to tell my father?" She lowered her voice and leaned in. Nobody appeared to be paying them any heed, but she wasn't about to take any chances. "He's going to want details. Like where you've been staying... and it can't be where I'm at." Pressing her lips together, she traced the rim of her coffee mug pensively, brows knitting into a thoughtful furrow. "We have 'safe houses'--the Vandelays, that is. My father has them all around the city for people who work for him. Because you can bet that if you're working for him... you're going to need to lay low, now and then. I can get you access. Discreetly.

"But... we're going to need more than safe housing."

Looking up from the table, she eyed up the patrons of the cafe. Not a particularly promising bunch; an older woman with a quilted jacket and a toque with holes in it. A kid, maybe sixteen, with the stub of a cigarette between his lips, half asleep to whatever tune was feeding from his headphones. A skinny man with a restless leg that wouldn't stop fidgeting as he read the paper; he hadn't touched his cup of coffee or muffin since they'd arrived. His faux leather jacket was hanging on the back of his chair. 
It was a slim shot, but it was the best they had.

Flashing Rhys an apologetic smile, she reached across the table for his coffee. "Sorry, but I'm going to need this... I'll make it up to you."

Picking up the half-full mug, Sarena stood and crossed the cafe, towards the skinny man with graying hair and the inability to sit still. He was sitting near the sugar and creamers available for coffee; it allowed her the perfect excuse to reach over his table, for a packet of sugar, and tip the mug just enough for the contents to spill onto the man's lap, paper and all.

"What the fuck, man!" The exasperated patron stood and glared. "You got a problem, or something?"

"Sorry. I'm so sorry... can I grab you a napkin? Let me make it up to you, I'll grab you a coffee--on me..."

But the man had stopped listening, and was already making his way towards the washroom to clean up. Heaving a dramatic sigh, she shot the woman at the counter an apologetic look. "Sorry--really sorry. I've got this." Grabbing a handful of napkins, she knelt to mop up the spilt coffee on the table and chair... and ever so discreetly reached into the pocket of the man's jacket. Concealing the wallet she found in the wad of napkins, she returned to her seat, wearing a mask of embarrassment for her clumsiness. "Let's go." She mouthed to Rhys, shoving the napkins and wallet into her pocket. Just as nonchalantly as they arrived, they pushed through the doors.

When they had walked a safe handful of blocks away, Sarena ditched the pocket full of napkins, and perused the wallet that she had snatched. "Good. We've got about fifty bucks in cash, by the looks of it... he's got a couple of credit cards, too. Might be good for a last resort of we use them wisely... what?" She glanced sidelong at Rhys and wrinkled her nose. "Don't act so shocked. You think just because I had the world on a silver platter growing up, I didn't learn a couple of useful tricks? We've got nothing on us; emergency cash is a necessity. Anyway, 'Raymond Coppel' won't be missing the crap in his wallet, too much." She flashed the man's driver's license. "It's been expired for 5 years. Maybe now he'll get a valid one."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Mar 11, 2018 2:41 pm
by Astrophysicist
Rhys watched with thinly-veiled amusement as Sarena “spilled” an entire mug of coffee on an unsuspecting man reading the newspaper. At least the liquid was more or less room temperature; the startled patron would have been far less likely to let the crime daughter get away with her misstep if he’d been scalded in the process. The red hand watched, impressed, as her quick hands almost imperceptibly reached into the pocket of the man’s coat. Sometimes a good distraction was all it took.

They took off from the café as swiftly as they’d entered it. He allowed Sarena to set the pace—which was brisk, considering her body’s current state—and grinned wide when she produced the wallet from her pocket.

“That’s exactly what I thought,” he confessed, not quite able to suppress the pride from his eyes. “That you were too spoiled for that kind of thing. Although I guess even rich kids get bored, huh?” He nudged her with his elbow. “Think I can pass for Raymond, if anyone asks?”

The question, of course, was ridiculous, but with Rhys’s current appearance—hair wild and long, reddish scruff blanketing his jaw—anyone would be hard-pressed to challenge his identity against the clean-cut photo on the expired license. The scrubs he wore under his stolen jacket loaned him an authority that contrasted his state of grooming disarray, at least.

Most residents of this neighborhood couldn’t afford vehicles; instead, they walked dangerous streets to unreliable public transit. So when Rhys and Sarena happened upon an out-of-place gas station whose neon sign in the window blinked OPEN, the red hand breathed a small sigh of relief. “I can grab a burner in there,” he said, gesturing for his companion to hand over the cash she’d lifted from the café. “Better let me go in alone. Can’t risk you getting caught on surveillance…if there’s pumps, there are definitely cameras.”

He disappeared inside before she could protest, and when he returned, he sported three new activated phones with twenty bucks to spare. “Guy in front of me bought four,” Rhys said, incredulous. “I cleaned out the rest. Here, take this one.” He pocketed the other two, then wrapped an arm around Sarena’s shoulder. “I’ll call in the safe house for you. Then we can give our mutual…friend…a call.” He gritted his teeth, remembering his last meeting with Marionetti. “Think you can get the details on a Vandelay safe house? The faster we move, the better.”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Mar 11, 2018 3:15 pm
by Requiem
"I think you can pass as whomever the hell you want. Anyone could lose their job and their wife and turn out looking the exact opposite of their ID." Sarena joked, the corner of her mouth turning upward to a smile. They made tracks toward the nearest gas station, and though Sarena's lungs protested, she did not let up for a second--not if it risked them getting caught. By the time they reached their destination, however, she was visibly out of breath, and glad to stop for a while. Without realizing it, she had begun to lean on Rhy's arm. The red hand was kind enough to allow her to do so until she stand on her own without the threat of fainting.

"Don't max out the credit cards," she cautioned, handing over the wallet, which looked far less suspicious in a man's possession, anyway. "I want clothes that actually fit me and that don't smell like moth balls, sooner than later. And don't be long." The last part was a given, just as she had said to him in the cafe. For one, she worried for his safety, getting caught up in all of this. Vandelays had eyes everywhere; even being seen at a gas station or a cafe was a substantial risk. But, on a more personal and selfish note...
Even more than their safety, she feared being alone.

But the crime daughter waited patiently, stationed outside of the gas station's public washroom, which was, understandably, locked. Not that locked doors had ever stopped either of them before, and they would need a private place to make a the call.

A sharp pain assaulted her lungs and sent her into a coughing fit when at last Rhys returned, with three unidentified phones in hand. She couldn't discern the source of the pain until she realized that she had literally been holding her breath, awaiting his return. When at last her coughing subsided, she brushed off his look of concern and took the phone. "I'm fine," she assured him with a shrug. "Where's the wallet? Raymond's invalid ID is gonna come in handy, after all."

The bathroom was only locked by a bolt, and anything flat and skinny that could fit into the tiny slot at the center of the knob would do. Frankly, she'd had more trouble breaking into her own family's locked doors. A few dexterous turns later, and the bolt slid out of place. The door to the bathroom swung open. "Shouldn't be any cameras in here." She mentioned, but it didn't hurt for the two of them to check, anyway. When the room looked clear, the closed the door behind them. At the very least, the public restroom must have been cleaned that morning. Turning to Rhys, she looked him in the eyes. "Are you sure you want to make the call?"

Sarena wasn't asking whether or not it was a good idea; it was an inevitable necessity. But he had told her what he'd been through with Double Eye, and she had seen his panic manifest. It wouldn't do any good to tear open old wounds. "It's not like he hasn't heard my voice before--and the asshole's got no baggage over my head. If I tell him you're with me... I'm sure he'll be inclined to hear me out. We'll figure out the Vandelay safe house, afterwards... and I might know someone who can help us with that."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Mar 28, 2018 9:31 pm
by Astrophysicist
Like old hat, Rhys stood with his back to Sarena as she wrangled the deadbolt of the gas station bathroom, eyes scanning the decrepit city block for anyone—from either of their complicated pasts—who might impede them. 

Their partnership felt as natural as breathing; they could fall into stride with one another instinctually, each anticipating the other’s actions and needs as though their own, without question and without having to announce an intention. Rhys had worked with a great many partners throughout his past life, placing his life in another teammate’s hands—be the relationship that of operative and handler, or field partners working on joint missions across foreign borders. He knew what bad matches felt like, but he had also known great ones…and what he had with Sarena was rare.

A true partnership was more than just a give-and-take agreement, more than a mutual responsibility for another’s life. It was never so black and white. The transactions were always some varying shade of gray, and it was up to both parties to interpret the gradient between them. But with Sarena, Rhys Proudfoot saw a spectrum of vivid color—hues that glowed bright and saturated, from furious reds to sensuous violets. It was no fireworks display, with dazzling sparks that died as quickly as they burst to life; no, this was a constant, pulsing current, a prism as sure as the rhythm that still cadenced in his chest. 

Of course, just as it took a deluge to coax such a display from nature’s brush, so too had their stormy lives brought them to each other. And although it seemed there would be no reprieve from the tempest, at least not yet, Rhys couldn’t imagine another soul with whom he would rather drown.

He barely heard the lock slide open over the thunder of his heartbeat in his ears. He slipped inside behind the crime daughter, locked the deadbolt behind them, and leaned his back against the cool metal of the door. Despite the humid air, he shivered.

In truth, he wasn’t sure he wanted to make the call. The thought of willingly dialing the man complicit in Double Eye’s government-sanctioned treachery, the man who had sent his loyal operatives blindly into a slaughter…Rhys’s chest tightened. But it’s our best option, he thought bitterly. They would be absolute fools not to reach out to the only resource powerful enough to aid them, especially if the only reason was the red hand’s grudge. More than a grudge. Rhys gritted his teeth, his jaw clenching with an audible click. He had nearly died. And Liza did die, he reminded himself.

His pulse rose in his ears once again. This time, it wasn’t anxiety that accelerated his heartbeat…it was fury.

He looked to Sarena and nodded slowly, his blue eyes filled not with fear, but with determination. His fingers, the muscle memory burned into them, punched an irregular set of numbers on one of the burner phones. Ten seconds later, the trill of the ringing phone line was interrupted by a familiar voice.

“This is Marionetti.”

Rhys’s face paled, then flushed crimson with rage at the sound of the man’s voice. For a moment, he couldn’t bring himself to respond.

“Marionetti,” the voice repeated, sounding exasperated.

When the red hand spoke, his voice was steely and even. “The corner of 153rd and Jade Avenue North, 22:00.” A beat. “Come alone.”

Silence. An audible breath. Disbelief. “Proudfoot?”

“Alone,” Rhys repeated, then abruptly ended the call.

A long sigh escaped his chapped lips, but he was far from being able to relax. Nevertheless, he was able to keep his panic at bay…in part thanks to his anger, but mostly due to the steadfast presence of Sarena Vandelay. He reached out, finding her hand, and gave her fingers a squeeze—more for himself than for her.

“We have about twelve hours until we meet him.” He swallowed. “That’ll give us time to get your safe house arranged. How are you holding up?”


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Mar 30, 2018 4:27 pm
by Requiem
The tension in Rhys's body and voice was palpable, the moment they set foot in the small gas station bathroom and shut the doors behind them. This move, what they were about to do, was as close to facing his fear as he could possibly come, and they had both gone into it knowing that it would be difficult, but faced with the dire situation in which they found themselves, she hadn't thought he would hesitate to such an extent. The crime daughter watched as the assassin held the phone in his hand, and stared at it like it was his one and only true enemy. Like calling Tesh Marionetti was the last thing he wanted to do, and the one and only thing he had promised himself he would never do.

Sarena wasn't crazy about the idea, either. But even less enthralling were the consequences to not seeking help when they knew they needed it.

"Rhys." Sarena spoke his name, her voice soft but firm. It captured his attention and he met his eyes. Her pools of blue bespoke understanding and compassion towards whatever thoughts were flitting through his troubled mind. But they also shone with determination and fear. You need to do this. For us, they said, without her lips moving to speak a single word. She noted acknowledgement in his own eyes. Moments later, she heard a familiar voice faintly speak from the earpiece of the phone, which Rhys held an inch away from his ear. As if he was afraid that pressing the device to his skin would allow Tesh Marionetti to infiltrate his mind and thoughts. He didn't even trust the man from miles away, on the other end of another cell phone.

The red hand hesitated once again, like an enraged deer in the headlights. Someone with too much to say, and yet nothing to say at all. Having second thoughts, reconsidering his plan of action, while knowing full well that there was no going back on this. Even with the GPS turned off on their burner phone, Marionetti could no doubt find a way to track it and find out who had called, not to mention where they were. As soon as he had dialed that number, they were all in with no way out.

Sarena's hand found his, and she gave a reassuring, desperate squeeze. "Rhys." She whispered again. Wondered if he could even hear her through the ringing in his ears. Wondered if she should take the phone from him and do it all herself, in hopes that Marionetti would take her seriously enough to make any sort of arrangements.
Fortunately, it did not come to that. She watched the muscles in his jaw tense, the vein in his temple throb. But he went through with it; short and sweet, he made the arrangements, and the dreaded call was over as soon as it had begun. Rhys squeezed her hand harder than she had squeezed his, long enough to let that miasma of panic pass over him. It worried her, to see him so undone at the mere sound of a familiar voice over the phone. If he could hardly hole himself together for a phone call... how would he fare, facing the man against whom he had harbored a grudge for so many years, in the flesh?

If I have to be strong enough for the both of us, I will be. She thought to herself, as she wordlessly rose onto her toes and pressed her lips against his. I'll hold us both up, if you need me to. "I'll be fine." She told him, falling back to the flats of her feet. "Let's grab a cab. We shouldn't be seen walking around in the open too much." 

Rhys dialed for a taxi, still visibly shaken from his previous call, but impressively kept himself together. It was a skill he'd have had to learned, she figured; functioning when you didn't really have the capacity to be functional. Years of practice and training, and he had mastered it, save for the panic attacks, which were a more recent phenomenon. "Hey." She spoke up, as the two of them exited the bathroom, and stepped back into the grey light of the overcast morning. Finding his hand one more time, she laced her fingers between his, and didn't let go. "It's going to be all right. I promise."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Fri Mar 30, 2018 10:15 pm
by Astrophysicist
Sarena was right; Rhys had long ago vowed never to speak to Tesh Marionetti again, and especially never to associate with the despicable likes of the CIIO. To dial the man willingly—and indeed, out of necessity—was a blow not only to the red hand's pride, but to the walls he had so meticulously crafted around his past. It seemed the ghosts of memory were undeterred by the barriers he'd built, passing all too easily and all too willingly through to the present.

But only fools refused to learn from history. The specters of his past life whispered clairvoyant warnings, reminding him that he was no longer so naïve. While he might once have been deceived — and had nearly paid the ultimate price for his blindness — his eyes were now wide open to the shadows that lurked within Double Eye's fortress. This time he would be armed with much more than a gun or a syringe full of toxins. He was a weapon of a different sort now.

The sky that greeted them as they slipped from their momentary sanctuary was flat and gray. It could be difficult to get a cab in this sector of the city, but their relative proximity to the busy county hospital worked in their favor. Rhys squeezed Sarena's fingers, tugging her gently toward the idling taxi. Apart from the slight pallor of her features and the unusual clamminess to her palm, the Vandelay heiress looked remarkably good for someone who had just narrowly escaped a fiery death. Still, he knew she was putting on a brave face — not even Sarena, with all the stubbornness in the world, could last much longer without rest in her body's current state. It couldn't hurt either of them to gather their strength before the meeting that night.

"10392 X Avenue South," Rhys drawled to the middle-aged cab driver, who punched the address into a grimy GPS with large, swollen fingers. They took off at a leisurely pace — probably as fast as the old vehicle could safely travel on roads as beat up as these — passing by blocks upon blocks of empty storefronts and crumbling tenements.

Reluctantly, he pulled his fingers from Sarena's grip, pulling out the third burner phone from his jacket pocket. "I'll text John that we're on our way," he told her conversationally, as if she knew exactly who he was talking about, as if they were simply off to meet up with a friend. He typed out a single message, tilting the screen for the young woman to read: Your Pizza Palace order is on its way. ETA: 45 minutes. Credit card purchases require valid ID and signature.

To any onlooker, or any phone service interceptor, it was nothing more than an innocuous automated text from a takeout delivery driver. Not all coded messages required complex cryptography; the simple text in this case notified Rhys's house provider who to expect (via the restaurant name), his arrival time, that John could expect handsome payment for his troubles (credit card purchases), and that he would exclusively interface with the man himself (valid ID). Signature indicated that they would require a stock of basic supplies.

The cab eventually slowed outside an old but relatively well-kept brick apartment building, not bothering to pull to the curb on the empty street. "Thanks, man," Rhys said to the driver, his cheerful tone surprisingly convincing. "Have a good one!" He tossed a wad of cash to the front seat, which was acknowledged only with a grunt.

He climbed out after Sarena, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. "This way," he instructed softly, leading her up the cracked concrete stoop to the locked building entrance. He buzzed the operator with a press of a button.

"Can I help you?" asked a man's voice, surprisingly crisp over the ancient intercom.

"Pizza Palace," Rhys responded. He made a point of looking into the beady eye of a state-of-the-art surveillance camera, hidden behind a yellowed plastic dome designed to disguise the expensive equipment. All part of the illusion — the vintage intercom system, the uneven stairs, the rickety storm door with the rusty iron bars.

"I'll buzz you in!" the voice said enthusiastically.

A series of soft clicks was the only indicator that the door had been unlocked. Rhys pushed through after the fifth snap, holding the outer door while Sarena stepped inside. The entryway was nothing remarkable; in fact, apart from the immaculately clean carpet beneath their shoes, the corridor was entirely ordinary, right down to the traditional apartment mailboxes bursting with bills and junk mail. John was a stickler for detail.

Around the corner, a door opened and closed. Soft footsteps preceded the appearance of a slender, surprisingly young man, dressed in skinny jeans and a paint-splattered t-shirt. "Pizza Palace," greeted the same voice from the intercom, his ear-to-ear smile revealing a flash of straight white teeth.

"John Smith," Rhys replied. He returned a smile with significantly less enthusiasm.

"Long time, no see," John said, hardly sparing Sarena a glance. He didn't ask; he knew he wouldn't get an answer. "Business has been a little slow. I figured you must have died before you could write my glowing Yelp review. Follow me, please."

Rhys snorted. John made a point of staying in the dark about his clients' true professions; the brash jokes and pseudonyms were his own brand of self-made humor.

"I appreciate the faith," the red hand said stoically, taking Sarena's hand as they ascended the stairs. It was a purposeful gesture that John didn't miss, as Rhys knew he wouldn't — ultimately, a warning. Despite the friendly demeanor, John was terrified of his best-paying customer…rightly so, of course, even if the lad didn't know exactly why. From the way he kept them both in the corner of his eye, he wasn't exactly trusting of Sarena, either, by association.

"Here you go," John said, pausing outside an unmarked door. Although it had been painted to look like stained wood, Rhys knew it was actually heavy steel. Bulletproof. John had to lean his scant weight behind his arm to push it open to reveal the simple furnished room beyond. "I'll leave you to it. You know the drill, Pizza Palace."

"Thanks." 

Rhys waited for John to descend the stairs before he entered the room, holding one arm slightly outstretched to keep Sarena behind him. Had an intruder been present, there admittedly wasn't much he could have done to keep them at bay — tired as he was, and unarmed, feeling all too light without his gun. But the unit was predictably empty. Small, but comfortable.

"Hey," the red hand murmured. Concern washed over his features as he stepped close to the crime daughter and met her gaze.

With the three-inch-thick door locked thrice over behind them, he released the tension in his own shoulders and placed his hands tenderly on her upper arms. "You should sit down," whispered Rhys, bowing his head down to plant a lingering kiss on her forehead. "Come on." He pulled her to the modest sofa and they eased onto the cushions together, sinking into fabric that smelled of detergent rather than cigarettes. He sighed deeply as she leaned into him, and he pulled her snug to his chest. For a moment, all he could do was listen to her soft breathing — breathing that had nearly ceased for good in the aftermath of the warehouse fire.

"We've made it this far," he sighed into her hair, resting his cheek softly against the top of her head. "Maybe we will be okay. I'm just…I'm just so glad you're here."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Apr 01, 2018 3:28 pm
by Requiem
Perhaps one of the better reasons that Serena and Rhys made such a functional and strong team was the fact that both of them were well aware of where their areas of expertise began and ended. As soon as they hailed a cab, the crime daughter fell into silence, and let the red hand take over. She asked no questions as he sent an innocent looking text to a number that he must have trusted. The two sat in silence during the duration of the ride, stoic and laid back in appearance, when in reality, they were both on edge and tense as strung wires. Fortunately, Rhys was well versed in putting on a facade; practically an award winning actor. It was enough to deflect any suspicion, and the cab driver seemed none the wiser as he dropped them off at their destination and drove away.

She said nothing as Rhys exchanged greeting with his familiar, who glanced at her with a suspicious eye; a look which she returned, in kind. If the red hand thought him safe, then she invested her trust in him--and at the moment, they did not have the luxury of being picky. 
Following the two men to the unit John presented to Rhys, the Vandelay heiress asked no questions as he was cautiously opened the door. When it appeared they were in the clear, the two moved in and shut the door behind them. Stowed away from the world, and safe... for now.

"So. This is "home" , for a while, I assume." Serena wasn't too far gone to not be critical of her accommodations. While it was an immense improvement on the grimy motel where they had spent the night, it was far from the spooled crime daughter's taste. "Well. I suppose we can try to make it work."

Moving toward the couch, she let her body be pulled next to Rhys's, reveling in his warmth and proximity. "I'm not going anywhere." She reassured him, the corner of her mouth turning upward in a grin. "Not without you." Bravado was both her greatest strength and her most prominent flaw, however, and the longer she spent holding it together, the more it was beginning to show. Pale, with dark circles under her eyes, and increasingly laboured intakes of breath, it was beginning to seem as though leaving the hospital so soon had been an unwise decision. But what was done, was done, and now they could only move forward. 

Taking the burner phone he had given her from her jacket pocket, she began to punch in a number and draft a text. "I have a connection. You'll need to trust me." She said to Rhys, struggling to keep her eyes open as her thumbs navigated the phone's keyboard. "She'll be here in a few hours. You'll know it when you see her; our mutual passcode is 'Versace'."

No sooner did the crime daughter hit "send" that Serena all but dropped the phone from her hands, and leaned her head back against the sofa. "I feel like crap, Proudfoot. So much of this sucks. All of it." She closed her eyes and took a breath so deep it looked like it hurt. "Give me a few hours. I want to feel rested enough to have my wits about me when we meet your Double Eye friend." Just minutes later, she was out, her body limp and resting heavily against the hit man's. She didn't stir for hours.

Not even when there was a knock at the door sometime later, or when Rhys stood up to answer. John informed him that there was someone requesting to be let him. He seemed suspicious, as the visitor, who he described as a tall, Asian woman, was not looking for him, but rather, his dark-haired female companion. He had not let her inside, yet, deciding it might be best for Rhys to make the decision. He accompanied him back to the front door, where, sure enough, a well-dressed woman around Sarena's age stood, with several heavy shopping bags in her arms. "Relax. I'm not armed and not bugged; though you're welcome to see for yourself, if you don't believe me." She raised an eyebrow, and held up the shopping bags, which looked like they had come from exclusively expensive boutiques. "My best girl texted me with a fashion crisis a few hours ago. Said she was in dire need of a little Versace."

There it was : the passcode that Sarena had informed him of. This was the contact she had mentioned. The woman waited patiently while Rhys deliberated, and finally, she added, "She also mentioned a good friend of hers was in need of access to safe house. Feel free to turn me away, but I certainly would not want to risk invoking the wrath of my dear friend. I think you know what I mean."

When at last he let her inside, and up the stairs, heels clicking audibly on the floor the entire way, she offered a smile to her gracious host. "I'm assuming you're not bad news if Sarena trusts you," She mentioned thoughtfully. "For now, you can call me Bridget."

Sarena was still fast asleep when Rhys let their visitor inside. She stirred from her slumber when the door shut and locked, bleary eyes coming in to focus on the red hand, and the visitor she had been expecting. "Bridget Song." The crime daughter grinned and sat up. "You're a life saver."

"You know I'd do anything for you, girl." Bridget grinned, but wrinkled her nose at the sight of her friend. "You look like he'll."

"That's why I need you. Anything good in those bags?" 

"Of course. And I'm sure you'll pay me back for all of it."

"Naturally. I'm a woman of my word." Reaching forward, she took one of the bags from Bridget and stood up. "I've been wearing this crap for too long. My skin is crawling. She's good, Rhys. We can trust her. I'm going to shower, then we can commiserate."

Taking the bag of luxury clothes into the bathroom and shutting the door, she left Rhys and Bridget in the living without further explanation. Wordlessly, Bridget handed the other bag on her arms to Rhys. "She told me she wasn't the only one having a fashion crisis," She informed him. "You'll find something else casual and something fancy. She said you were in need of both." Smiling, she took a seat on the plain sofa, tucking her short, dark hair behind her ears and smoothing her skirt over her knees. "To put your mind at ease--I don't work for the Vandelays. I work for Sarena, exclusively. I'm her... well, whatever she needs me to be. I don't know exactly what's going on, and I won't ask. But I'll remain involved as long as she needs me to be. Here, try on the suit. I had to guess your size, but it should fit well enough."

Bridget waited patiently as Rhys disappeared into the bedroom to try on his goods, and looked particularly pleased with herself at the accuracy of her estimated measurements. "Well don't you look sharp." She grinned. "I think Sarena will approve, too. Well, I won't intrude any longer. Sarena knows how to reach me when she needs me. I'll just let her know I'm leaving."

Standing, she moved toward the bathroom door, the sound of a running shower rushing steadily behind it. "I'm off, Sarena. My parents need me at the restaurant tonight. You know how to find me if you need me." She waited, but there was no answer. Frowning, she knocked. "Sarena? I said I'm heading out. I assume I'm good to go?"

Again, no answer. Bridget's brows furrowed in concern, and she tried the doorknob, which wasn't locked, fortunately. She drew a sharp intake of breath at the sight behind the steam-filled bathroom, with the Vandelay daughter's unconscious body leaning helplessly against the shower frame. "Don't just stand there!" Bridget hissed at Rhys, not waiting for him to follow before rushing into the shower, turning off the water and wrapping Sarena's body in a towel. "Help me get her out."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Apr 01, 2018 9:11 pm
by Astrophysicist
Versace.

It was a code word entirely befitting the Vandelay heiress; Rhys might have laughed had their lives not hung so precariously in the balance. But when the word passed the tall woman's lips, however matter-of-factly, the former spy felt nothing akin to humor.

John looked on from the adjacent hall, his bright eyes darkening between narrowed, heavy-lashed lids. While Rhys stood stoic, unreadable as a statue, the safehouse-keeper wore his suspicion like a brooch. He didn't much like people showing up unannounced. If it were anyone but Pizza Palace, whose haggard appearance suggested outside help might not be the worst idea, he would have had no choice but to initiate safeguard protocols…which were neither convenient, nor pretty. For the time being, he would settle for observing behind his curly-haired guest.

If the slight Asian woman at the door noticed John's disapproving glare, she paid him no heed. John didn't look like much, admittedly, but Rhys knew the young man couldn't have survived this long in this particular game if he couldn't hold his own. The red hand met John's gaze for a fleeting moment, offering him an infinitesimal nod. Reluctantly, he disappeared back into his study, leaving his guests to head back upstairs.

Rhys made certain the woman ascended in front of him. Sarena may have trusted this stranger, but whatever accord the two women shared did not include the red hand in its protections. Furthermore, Sarena was physically vulnerable — and Rhys wasn't running at full strength, either. But as they had discussed the previous night, it would be more foolish not to accept help than to scrape by outgunned. Part of accepting that help meant relying on others…others who could or could not be trusted. The concept was simple, albeit high-stakes. It was a gamble with their lives either way.

"I could say the same of you," Rhys replied stonily. "Sarena's trust isn't easily won, as I suppose you know." He paused outside the door and searched Bridget's gaze. "I'm Rhys."

For what it was worth, the strange young woman did not seem to pose an immediate threat. Her shopping bags were filled with precisely what she claimed: silk and cashmere, leather and suede. For how exhausted she was, Sarena's genuinely warm greeting spoke volumes in favor of Bridget Song — but still, Rhys was cautious. He quirked a brow when she stood back, her dark eyes running up and down his form. "Fashion crisis?" he repeated, one corner of his lips curving in amusement. He still sported the stolen scrubs, the ankles dark with grime. "Can't argue there." Distantly, he heard the shower spray to life. It reminded him how desperately he needed a shower of his own.

Bridget thrust a neat stack of folded fabric into his arms. He changed into the first of the two outfits quickly, unenthused about letting the newcomer out of his eyesight, even if only for a moment. He was too preoccupied to think much about the cuts of his new garments — anything was better than what he had — but an approving smile greeted him when he re-entered the room. He must have passed the test.

"We share an ally in Sarena," he told her as she appraised him. "As long as you're not here to make her life harder, we'll get along just fine. Thanks for the clothes. And for your discretion. I'll walk you out. I insist."

He followed Bridget to the door, pausing outside the bathroom as she bid Sarena farewell. When both the woman's goodbye and subsequent knock went unanswered, Rhys felt his heart leap into his throat.

He burst into the bathroom behind Bridget, momentarily blinded by a cloud of thick steam. The mist parted quickly as the cool air from the living room flooded in, and the sudden sight of the crime daughter's lifeless figure collapsed against the shower frame sent a bolt of terror rocketing through him. "Move!" he cried, nearly knocking Bridget off her feet as he dashed forward.

After a week in the hospital recovering from trauma that had nearly taken her life, Sarena's already-slender frame had been rendered positively skeletal. Rhys scooped her up from the floor as though she weighed nothing. He pressed her tightly to his chest, maneuvering out of the small bathroom and over to the sofa. He placed her gently on the cushions and pressed two fingers to her neck. Relief flooded him when the gentle rhythm of her heartbeat thumped against his touch.

"She's got a pulse," he breathed, looking up to Bridget, who stood over them, pale and dripping. "She's breathing. Sarena! Sarena, can you hear me?" He tapped gently on her cheek with the palm of his hand. "Wake up, Sarena. Come back to me."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Mon Apr 02, 2018 6:45 pm
by Requiem
"She'd better be okay. She had better be alive." Bridget, who was visibly upset by the sudden turn of events, muttered something angrily in Mandarin as she made way for Rhys to retrieve the crime daughter and bring her small frame, wrapped in a soaked, white towel, to the sofa. Something akin to anger and trepidation flickered in her dark eyes. "Wake up, Sarena. You don't get to fucking use me and cop out like that."

It took a moment, of coaxing and cursing and slapping her pale face, but Sarena groaned and gasped, stirring on the sofa, her blue eyes flickering open. They fixed on Rhys's face with confusion. "I just... went to take a shower," She drawled, her voice hoarse and bewildered. "What is... what happened?"

"I'd like to know, too." Bridget spoke up. She stood to the side, now, arms folded tightly around her skinny body. "I want to know what the hell you've gotten me into, Sarena. You call me and I find you dressed like a homeless person. Then you faint in the shower. What am I missing, here? What am I wrapped up in? You know I'll help you. I have no choice. But we--I can't afford to be in any kind of shit. You know that."

Shaking her head, the Vandelay heiress sat up with Rhys's help, clutching the towel around her body. "Since when are you at liberty to ask questions, Yixin Song?" Though tired and weak, there was no denying the layers of danger in Sarena's voice. The woman's Chinese name was like a threat on her tongue, and her eyes were full of challenge. "I ask for favors, you comply, and no one questions the success of your illegal parents' shitty restaurant. Have we been out of touch for so long that you've forgotten?"

"I get to ask questions when your face shows up on the news as a missing person." Bridget countered, her jaw set and tense. "Or on the occasion that there is clearly something wrong with you, and I don't want to be tied to your untimely death. So tell me; what am I getting into?" 

Sighing, the crime daughter rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands. Not defeated, just annoyed. "The long and short of it is my cousin tried to kill me. I inhaled a lot of smoke from fire and busted out of the hospital last night. Keeping on the down low, for now. It's better for people to think I'm dead. And now, here we are."

"You left the hospital." Bridget's eye roll could practically be felt from across the room. "You need help. I don't know what you're planning, but you're in no shape to even hold your own right now."

"Which is why I am going to need your help, for the next little while. Trust me; we've got this under control. Play your cards carefully--and I know you always do--then no one will suspect you of anything. Now," She smiled sweetly. "Keep your cell phone close, and we'll be in touch. I'd love to catch up at some point, when I'm not in a towel. I'll be contacting you shortly about setting Rhys, here, up in one of my family's safehouses."

The Asian woman frowned, conflicted and exasperated, yet knew full well that she did not hold weight in this conversation. Pressing her thin lips together, she dropped her arms to her sides, and turned toward the door. Before she left, she paused, looking over her shoulder at the compromised crime daughter, and her (presumably) equally dangerous friend. "I appreciate everything you've done for me, Sarena," she mentioned, a very loud yet unspoken 'however hanging in the air between the two clauses. "Don't make me regret helping you. I can see myself out."

Sarena waited for the door to shut, and for the telltale 'clack-clack' of receding footsteps, before she let out a long breath. "She's fine," she assured Rhys, sensing his suspicion like he wore it as neon colors in the night. "She and her family run a successful business under the radar because of me. She owes me more than she can possibly repay, and she knows it. She also knows that I have to power to unravel all of it with as little as access to the internet." Sitting up, she tightened the towel around her body. Her limbs trembled, either from he chill or from her fainting episode, but she shook it off. "She's a smart girl. Got her degree in engineering; she acts stupid to deflect attention. It's more dangerous for her to double-cross us than to comply, because that means she'll have my family and the authorities on her before she knows it. We can trust her." Running her fingers through her still damp hair, she flashed the red hand an enticing smile. "Be a doll and grab me that bag of clothes? I don't want to look like a wreck for our meeting with your dear friend, tonight."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Apr 03, 2018 10:53 pm
by Astrophysicist
Rhys dropped his head when Sarena spoke, relief staunching the adrenaline in his veins. He looked up to meet her eyes and brought a hand up to brush the wet hair from her forehead. "Jesus fucking Christ," he breathed.

But before he could ask if she was okay, their strange guest interjected. Rhys's brow furrowed slightly. Bridget's concern was genuine enough; there seemed to be real fear in her dark eyes, and her abrupt shift in demeanor suggested to the red hand that she had less control over her emotions than she wanted to believe. But what began as worry had quickly darkened to anger, and while Rhys couldn't fault her for frustration at being kept in the dark, he was intrigued by the new, harsh flavor to the interaction between the two women.

He helped Sarena sit up as their exchange intensified. The tension in the room was as palpable as the humidity from the crime daughter's searing shower, but Rhys felt more curious than threatened. He'd gleaned a number of things about Ms. Song now—her real name, that the only connection to the Vandelay clan was Sarena, she was the daughter of immigrant parents, and she evidently spoke Mandarin well enough to mutter it like a curse under her breath. The young woman was becoming more interesting the longer he was in her presence.

That wasn't to say he was about to trust her, at least not more than he had to. Whatever hold Sarena had over Bridget only masqueraded as friendship; the true binding factor was a business arrangement he didn't yet understand, and probably never would. So rather than play mediator, he remained silent, absorbing details to a larger picture of which he was not a part.

With her heels heralding her departure, Rhys was sure John would see her safely—and watchfully—out the door.

The red hand locked the door behind her and turned back to Sarena, his amusement more a grimace than a smile. "At least she didn't try to kill either of us," he quipped. "I'll give her that for now. But you…You scared me practically to death—back to death. You know that?" He leaned down, planting a soft kiss on her damp hair. "Try not to do it again."

A sigh lifted and dropped his shoulders, and he lowered himself next to her on the couch. "So, Bridget?" he prompted. Sarena filled him in with enough to placate his curiosity for the time being, and he nodded along. "A friendship built on threats? I'm guessing that between the two of us collectively, we could write the book on those." He looked amused, but suspicion echoed thick in his voice. It was only when Sarena mentioned his Double Eye friend that he dropped all semblance of humor, immediately shaking his head.

"You are absolutely not coming with me to meet Marionetti." His tone hardened. "Five minutes ago, you were out cold in the shower. I don't know what we're walking into, and I won't put you in danger, too. Not when you can't defend yourself at full strength." He had a feeling he was fighting a losing battle, but that wouldn't stop him from a valiant effort. "The best thing you can do is rest," he went on as he stood, passing her one of the boutique shopping bags that sat in the armchair. "Because I don't think I could stand it if Caleb got his way after all."


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Wed Apr 04, 2018 6:35 pm
by Requiem
"No, she isn't really the killing sort. At least, she isn't willing to take that chance." Sarena commented, well after Bridget had left. "I've paid some lawyers very handsomely to keep their mouths shut and make her and her family appear as 'legal' on paper as possible. But, well, you know this city; you never just pay once. Occasionally, I'll slip them a nice little Christmas bonus in mid July, to remind them just how devastated this city would be if it were to lose Song's True Asian Eatery. They do have some of the best dim sum around, I'll give them that."

Smiling when he tossed her the bag of clothes, she sighed deeply in relief when a sleek, black dress with tiny sequins along the hem and the straight neckline, that spanned to the tips of the shoulders. "And she does have taste. She knows what I like. Not to mention, she's fun as hell when she's drunk. When this shit show is all over, I'll invite her over for some wine. You'll see; she's great." The crime daughter paused, then, holding the garment thoughtfully as a thought crossed her mind. For a moment, it almost seemed to bother her, but she brushed it aside quickly enough and distracted herself with the remainder of the contents of the boutique bag. "People like you and I don't have the luxury of making real friends." 

It wasn't a criticism or a judgement: just a statement, as factual as if she were pointing out the sky was blue. Whatever emotion it seemed to dredge up, she had dampened quickly and efficiently. "There is always a reason, isn't there? Always strings attached. Always an established give and take before niceties. I met Bridget when we were both teenagers... I think, had I been anybody else but myself, we probably could have been real friends."

Vulnerability wasn't something that Sarena wore well, and even when confiding those tiny points in her life where she might have wished things had gone differently, she let the sentiments flow over her like oil. Never dwelling on it or sitting on what could have been. There was no point, when the only direction to move was forward. Without another thought, she dropped the towel and pulled the dress over her skinny form. It fit well enough, and hopefully after a few good meals, she would fill out the empty spaces. "Not bad. She even got me a pair of heels to match. She knows me so well."

But when Rhys insisted that she sit out their rendez-vous that evening, the lightness she'd injected into her tone changed. She paused, putting the pair of simple, black pumps on the floor to deal with later. "You're kidding." She deadpanned, turning and meeting his eyes. "I'm going to pretend your kidding, because otherwise I'm going to throw a spoiled rich-girl type of fit. Believe me when I say you haven't seen me at my worst." Folding her arms across her chest like an indignant teenager, she moved closed the distance between them. Although she was at least a foot shorter than the red hand, she might as well have been standing eye-to-eye with him. "I... was stupid, all right? There's no fan in that bathroom; the steam got to me. It was an oversight, it won't happen again. I don't want you to show up and face that shark alone."

Reaching up, Sarena hooked her hands around the hit man's neck. "We're a team. And I can hold my own. I'll rest when this is over, tonight--I promise." Her expression softened, and she pressed her lips gently against Rhys's. It felt like not so long ago that these moments presented themselves aplenty; that they could enjoy and cherish one another's company. Now, these moments felt stolen. Like they were both holding their breath, and waiting for the worst to happen...
She wanted those moments back--the long, drawn out moments that put time on hold and revealed infinite possibilities for the future. But that was precisely what they were fighting for.


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Sun Apr 08, 2018 9:26 pm
by Astrophysicist
Evening approached slowly, with each minute dragging longer than the next. Rhys practically buzzed with apprehension, his emotions a complex blend of anger and fear. He'd given up arguing with Sarena hours ago; instead, he let her sleep, their compromise being that she get as much rest as possible prior to leaving for the meeting. He paused outside the half-closed bedroom door and listened to her even breaths. Thankfully, she was upholding her end of the bargain.

Satisfied, the red hand resumed pacing the floor, gnawing at the inside of his lip until the metallic taste of blood washed over his tongue. His anxiety wasn't unreasonable. It had been nearly six years since he had seen Tesh Marionetti, and their parting hadn't exactly been amicable. The red hand had spent considerable amounts of effort avoiding the all-seeing gaze of Double Eye…and he was one of very few capable of flying below their powerful radar. Marionetti knew it—hell, he'd had a hand in it. Nevertheless, and futile though the pursuit may have been, Rhys knew very well that the man had never given up the search for his department's former operative. If Sarena hadn't inadvertently dropped the red hand's name during a routine touch-base call a handful of weeks ago, Rhys Proudfoot would continue to be as good as dead to Tesh Marionetti.

It was amazing how quickly years of meticulous invisibility could crumble. But the man Tesh thought he'd known all those years ago was not the same man who would appear from the shadows later that night. Rhys would never wear that mask again, not for anyone.

As the sky gradually darkened, he took his nervous energy to the shower, where he slipped out of his new clothes and stepped beneath the stream before it even had a chance to get hot. He released a hiss through clenched teeth as the icy water assaulted his tired muscles, then relaxed slowly as the temperature warmed to a more bearable degree. The torrent of water and a good lather were simultaneously calming and invigorating; when he stepped out, dripping, a nascent determination pulsed in his chest.

He ran a towel over the foggy mirror, examining his reflection through lingering drops of condensation. Though he was clean, he had no intention of further grooming—not for Marionetti's sake. He ran a comb through his wet hair, directing the damp curls straight backward. It was better to be seen this way: hardened, older, more difficult to read, and entirely different than the facade he wore for the Vandelays. The more mixed messages they could send to Double Eye, the weaker the organization's hold in the long run. It was an intelligence agency, after all. Every little detail communicated something. Marionetti knew that…but so did Rhys.

Wrapping a towel around his waist, the red hand padded into the bedroom, where he took a seat on the foot of the bed next to Sarena's slumbering form. "Hey," he prompted quietly, placing a gentle hand on her arm. "It's almost time to go." When she opened her eyes and met his gaze, he smiled. "I mean, I suppose I should get dressed first, but I wanted to see how you were doing." He brought her hand to his lips and planted a kiss on her knuckles. "You should eat something. We should eat something," he said, although he doubted there was much his anxious stomach would allow. Nevertheless, they needed all the strength they could get…just in case. In case of a trap. Or worse.

"Too bad 'Pizza Palace' isn't a real place, huh?" Reluctantly, he rose to his feet. "I'll go get dressed. Want to check out what's stocked in the kitchen?"


Re: [r.] BETTER OFF DEAD

Posted: Tue Apr 10, 2018 8:08 pm
by Requiem
Rhys must have known Sarena well enough to realize that arguing with her when she had already made up her mind about something was a futile, losing battle. Again and again, he had told her that she should not come with him that evening; he had given her reason after reason as to why it was a bad idea, and why he would still be safe without her. And yet, the crime daughter had a counterpoint for every point he made. She called him on his bullshit, and when he had run out of ideas, he had at last conceded to allow her to join him in meeting up with Marionetti, on the condition that she get some rest beforehand. Well, she was not opposed to that idea, and in fact might have fallen asleep in the interim even without that compromise.

The bedroom was as plain as the rest of the apartment; simple, practical, no flare or style or personal flavor. Which, she supposed, was part of what made it safe. Anyone could have been taking up residence there; well, anyone but a Vandelay heiress with expensive and particular taste. And for that reason, this probably was the safest place for Sarena to be.
No sooner had she lowered her body onto the casual, grey comforter--black dress, heels, and all--that she closed her eyes and almost immediately began to drift.

It was a heavy, dreamless slumber, the type that she hadn't experienced since prior to being kidnapped. Perhaps being kept sedated at the hospital was the closest thing she had experienced, if you could honestly classify being under the influence of heavy drugs as 'rest'. Truth be told, she could have likely slept for the remainder of the day and all night long, had the red hand not gently shaken her out of that slumber. At the back of her mind, she was mildly disappointed; there was a small part of her, the part that wanted to rest and recover, that wished the hit man hadn't given in to her strong will. But a much larger, more prominent part--the part that made her Sarena Vandelay--that knew she would never forgive herself if she let Rhys do this alone.

Stretching her limbs, she let out a soft groan and rubbed the residual sleep from her eyes. "That time already?" She sighed, her voice groggy and slightly raspy. She cleared her throat to sound more awake, and less like someone who was not fit to leave in their current physical state. "Time does fly when you are dead to the world--figuratively speaking. Sorry; too soon, I know." She grinned a little at the terrible pun. After all, who was she if she couldn't make light of her own near-death experience. "Don't put clothes on, on my behalf. I like the view..." Sitting up, she teasingly pressed her fingers against the taut muscles of his chest, feeling his strong pulse beneath warm skin. "Next time you stroll in, straight from the shower in nothing but a towel... do it at a time when we can make something of it, hm? Being a tease doesn't suit you, Proudfoot." 

A devilish grin playing at the corner of her lips, she drew him into a kiss that ended far sooner than she would have liked. They had priorities; sadly, fooling around wasn't one of them. "I certainly hope that there's something here that doesn't require cooking. Otherwise, unless you can make something, a mythical pizza place would still be a better option to anything I might make."

Leaving Rhys to dress, the crime daughter ventured into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Underwhelmed with what little was in there (of course, it would make sense to keep perishable items to a minimum in a place like this), she went for the cupboards, instead. The majority of their contents consisted of canned goods, with a few boxes of crackers and some cereal. Enough to keep someone going for a week or two, but without the selection that someone of Sarena's tastes might have preferred.

"It looks like our options are canned soups, dry cereal, or instant ramen. Oh--wait, look at that. We've got almond milk for the cereal." He couldn't see the look of disgust on her face from across the apartment, but it was heavily indicated in her voice. "Personally, I think I'll settle for the ramen. Canned soup makes me feel bloated, and that would be an insult to the lovely dress Bridget brought me." Searching for a pot in the warming oven beneath the stove, Sarena let out a low whistle when she stood up again to the sight of the smartly-dressed red hand. A look of triumph, accompanied by a broad smile, lit up her features. "Well. I was bang-on with your sizing." She commented, sounding as proud of herself as she felt. "Can't go wrong with the color, either. I like the gunmetal grey. It brings out your eyes." 

Dumping the hard, uncooked noodles into a pot of water that hadn't yet begun to boil (and if Rhys caught the horrendous culinary folly, she would quickly blame her absolutely pathetic ineptitude on her exhaustion), she glanced at the clock on the microwave. "We've got an hour. And let's not show up early; you know he'll be there. Make a point to make him wait."

 

   
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astrophysicist
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Rhys arched a brow and leaned into the pressure of Sarena’s hand on his bare chest. “Of course being a tease suits me,” he protested. To prove his point, he shook his head rapidly back and forth, sending his long damp curls flying melodramatically away from his face. “But that’s a rain check I’ll gladly take,” he drawled, “if you think you can wait that lo—”

She cut him off with a kiss that he returned fervently. The danger they were both in—and the dire fate each of them had narrowly escaped—made these stolen moments all the more meaningful. The hunger behind their fingertips, hands desperately seeking a brush of the other’s skin, was one born of the realization that nothing was permanent, that it could all be stolen away in a moment.

With a reluctance he was almost too weary to fight, the red hand pulled back, greeting the crime daughter’s disappointed pout with a smile. “Rain check, remember?” he told her, chuckling as she left to check out the safe house kitchenette. “I’m going to hold you to it.”

He dressed quickly in the well-tailored clothing Sarena’s friend Bridget had provided. He might have preferred something a little less polished for their meeting with Marionetti, but he certainly had no right to complain—the fine, tapered black trousers and deep, gunmetal gray button-down were a far cry from the stained and grimy scrubs he’d stolen from the hospital. And it wasn’t as though Tesh were oblivious to Rhys’s new connection with the Vandelays; it was only through Sarena that the Double Eye lackey had even learned he was alive, after all. The more mixed messages they could send, the better.

After running a comb through his hair and slicking the drying waves straight back from his forehead, the red hand emerged from the bedroom looking like a new man entirely. “Well,” he said, approaching Sarena just in time to witness her dump an entire pat of dry noodles into a pot of tepid water, “if you need a culinary tip, I wouldn’t recommend using the almond milk in the ramen. Which you wouldn’t think I would have to say, but…” He glanced down at the uncooked ramen, which had sunk unceremoniously to the bottom of the pot, and burst out laughing. As if in apology, he wrapped his arms around the young woman from behind and pulled her frail form tightly against his. “You could probably use the protein, though,” he teased, resting his cheek against her dark hair.

He looked to the digital clock on the microwave when she announced the time, and he sighed deeply, relinquishing his hold on Sarena to sit at the small dining table. “Marionetti would wait there until the sun exploded if it meant a chance of seeing me again,” the former spy said darkly. “But we will absolutely be letting him squirm.”

The hour couldn’t pass quickly enough—and yet each minute that ticked by filled him with such dread and fury that his stomach began to churn. Even when Sarena unceremoniously deposited the ramen on the table in front of him, he could barely bring himself to eat more than a few bites. He’d meant what he said about needing to regain strength…but in this case, his nerves had intervened with a little too much vehemence.

“No offense to your gourmet cooking,” he said wearily, “but unless you want me to vomit on Marionetti, I think that’s all I can take right now.” A small, hollow smile upturned his lips. “Not an effective tactic, in my experience.” He cleared his throat, serious again. “He’ll come unarmed. He won’t risk this meeting not happening. It’s been too long coming.” The red hand clenched his fists at his side. “But I still don’t trust him. And that means I want you in the shadows…he doesn’t even have to know you’re there. Will you do that for me?” He reached across the table, resting his fingers on her arm. "Be my backup?"


   
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Requiem
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True to her reckless and impulsive nature, Sarena was ready and willing to forego that “rain check” the moment her lips met Rhys’s, for a number of reasons. Beyond the desire that stirred and made itself known at the sight of the red hand draped in only a towel, all of the urgency that had built up to this point, and the uncertainty of what lay ahead, made her crave this touch for the fact that nothing was certain, and there was nothing to say that they would have another chance. She had learned that the day that her plans to run away with Proudfoot, to start anew a chapter of their own, had been violated and thwarted entirely. Nothing was destined, however much they might have wished it so.

 

But in addition to that, the crime daughter found herself in dire need of a distraction, however ill-advised the moment might be. While she alluded little to how the events of the past couple of weeks had affected her, it had left her shaken, to the point where she wasn't even quite ready to acknowledge it. To acknowledge that she had almost died; that she might still be presumed dead, and that they now saw the necessity to meet and make deals with a man who stirred up the demons of Rhys’s past. She wanted to forget about all of it, just for a moment. Pretend that everything was all right, just like that stormy night in her condominium, when they had made their dreams into plans…

 

Rhys, however, had the good sense to keep their focus on the task at hand, and pulled away before their intimate moment escalated. The Vandelay heiress nonetheless made no effort to hide her disappointment, folding her arms across her chest and lifting her chin. “Fine. But don’t keep me waiting too long.” She warned, as the red hand wandered off to dress. “I’m not a pleasant person when I don't get what I want; and I'd rather you not see my ugly side.”

 

She did have to admit, Bridget had a good sense of size and measurements, she realized, when Rhys stepped back into the room, dressed smartly in gunmetal grey. Now the both of them were all dressed-up with nowhere to go but to meet in the dark of night with a man whom neither of them really cared to see. At least it would make a statement; that while the two of them had been beaten and battered by the events of the past couple of weeks, it had not defeated them. Nothing would cramp Sarena Vandelay’s style; and, by association, nothing would sully Rhys’s image, either.

 

The hit man’s comments with regard to culinary failure didn't even faze the crime daughter, and she expelled a sigh when his arms encircled her too-thin waist from behind. “I have the luxury of blaming my ineptitude on the fact I was unconscious in the hospital for over a week,” She pointed out, but quickly followed up with, “but you know me too well to buy into that. I did warn you that anything I make might well kill you.”

 

Perhaps he took the warning seriously, foTh he, like her, could only stomach a few bites before she found herself merely spinning the instant noodles around on her fork. She barely acknowledged the hit man’s apology, merely waving it off with a hand gesture and smiling. “I don't take many insults lightly,” She teased, “but I will never blame you for opting not to eat anything I might dare to make, Rhys. It hasn't exactly stirred my appetite, either. I’ll text Bridget to grab us a few instant meals the next time she swings by. At least then we’ll know we’re getting some semblance nutrition.”

 

The Vandelay heiress’s lazy smile faded as her paramour began to explain his plan, and his desire for her part in it. The unrest in her azure eyes said more about displeasure than her words. She glanced at his fingers on her bare forearm. “If this is what it takes for you to agree to have me come, then I’ll agree to it.” Yet everything about her posture and expression conveyed her reluctance. “But the second something seems off, I will be emerging from those shadows, and I will be Marionnetti’s worst nightmare, if circumstances demand it. And I won’t hold back.”

 

Those compromises were the best understanding that the two would come to, and with both of them acutely aware of one another’s stubbornness, Rhys made the call for the ride that would take them to the agreed-upon meeting place. When the non-descript car sidled up to the side of the side of the secure building, they were quick to climb in, and soon embarked on so silent a drive that Sarena could have sworn she could hear the racing of both of their hearts. It wasn’t a long drive, either; in minutes, they had pulled up just a couple of blocks from Jade Avenue, mere footfalls from where they’d agreed to meet with Marionnetti. Rhys emerged from the vehicle, stiff as a board, after instructing the driver to hover on standby for the next thirty minutes. Sarena was no more at ease when she followed him.

 

“I’m staying within range,” She informed him, so that he could be sure he would be watching and listening intently. “I won't wait for your signal if things look suspicious; that is the condition of having a Vandelay watch your back: we shoot first. And if it doesn’t suit us,” her red lips turned upward in a sinister smile, “we don't ask questions.”


   
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