Friendship Is Murder

March 10, 2017:

A trap is laid for Nerina, but Juno is there to save the day! …Sort of. A couple of hours late.

Gotham - Office, Warehouse

Characters

NPCs: Some Yakuza mooks

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The meeting place checks out.

Discreet though they may be, several men have made visits here over the last two weeks. Men who remain covered from neck to toe - though in the cold of Gotham's winter, who wouldn't? - and who carry themselves in a certain manner. Men in dark suits, one or two among them missing a fingertip.

According to the sign on the door, it's a an accounting firm belonging to a man named Isao Hayaguchi. According to any real digging, the closest Isao Hayaguchi lives two states away and works at Best Buy.

But things have been dropped off here, a little bit at a time. Packages that could be guns, money, drugs. Very little of it has gone back out the doors.

At night, the place is mostly empty save for a pair of men sitting in the office itself, set back from the tiny waiting room. They're not doing any work, unless you count 'being the night watch' as a real job. In the tiny kitchenette, down the hall past them, is a door that remains locked. Past that is a set of stairs that leads down.


Watching the foot traffic and packages pass by from the street, the discretion wasn't quite enough to stop a pattern from emerging. Every corner of Gotham city has eyes if you know who to ask and a certain ninja has learned the right palms to grease since her time moving here.

Beggars sometimes make the best friends.

Eschewing the front door, a dark shadow passes its way across the building, taking a different route. One soundless step at a time, a ninja's padded sandals carry her across the floor of the deserted office one floor above. Finding the spot she wants in its hallway, the thief draws a straight dagger from inside her gi and presses its pointed tip through the floor, creating a narrow hole. A rope passes through it and a moment later the inky black silhouette of her hood follows, contorting her body with all the flexibility of a kitten through an opening only a couple inches wide. Her orange cat-eyes shimmer as they catch a faint trace of light when she pauses halfway in the ceiling to listen. It wouldn't do to land on someone's card table after all.


There's no card table below, thankfully - that seems to be happening in a different room, beyond a locked door. Beyond that, the stairs that lead out of here. Nerina's found herself right above the sweet spot - a room empty of people, but full of /things/. Lockers against one wall are shut but contain several guns apiece (though one holds nothing but katana). Hi-tech chests against the other wall hold everything from plastique to body armor. And a safe in the corner likely contains enough cash to buy a small island.

In the center of the room is a long conference-style table, with folding chairs arranged around it. The flourescent lights overhead are shut off, the enough light spills through the glass inset in the door to keep it from being completely pitch dark. Beyond it, another two men in dark suits relax, a program playing quietly on a small television. Their bodies are oriented toward the stairs - who would ever expect an intruder to just /appear/ in a room with only one entrance?


The thief smiles beneath her facemask as she eases herself the rest of the way down and sets herself feather-light on the table. Her fingers coil up the rope and lose their definition as they stretch and flow back into the ceiling like a dark ink. The ninja's exit pulls itself back into the ceiling before her hand drips back down and reforms where it belongs. The small hole is left behind and precious little more.

Sparing a cautious glance to the two men by the television, the thief steps down and slips into the shadow of one of the lockers as a lock pick peeks out her sleeve.


Nobody seems to have taken notice of her so far. The guards relax in their seats, one of them leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees and laugh at something the show's main character says. No alarm sounds, no motion detector lights up, no camera turns to track her presence. She's all alone in here.

The lockers have very simple locks, the kind lockpicks were absolutely /made/ for - all turned for the same key.

Of course, that's a decoy - the real security measure there is a current of 1000 volts that runs through the locks themselves, which require the flip of a switch in a completely different room to shut off.

Oops…?


There's a tiny and unmistakable flash as the lockpick draws close enough for the over-excited electrons to make the leap from the metal locker and race down their new superhighway towards ground. What follows in the next instant is a tremendous bang and a woody crunch as the thief is flung backwards and lands in a heap on the conference table. There's a macabre black splatter speckling the locker and the pick is left dangling from its perch, now a little scorched at its edges.

There's no immediate reaction from the ninja nor leap for cover. Her eyes are shut and the hand that was holding the lockpick is still letting off black smoke from beneath the long sleeve of her gi.


No alarm sounds. No footsteps come rushing down the stairs. It's even a few seconds before the overhead lights come on, and when they do the door swings open. The men who had been watching television enter, guns drawn, unhurried. "<The rat has been caught,>" the shorter one speaks into his cell phone. The taller one has in his other hand a length of nylon rope.

The men exchange glances before going forward to secure her. One works swiftly, tying her wrists securely behind her back, then binding her arms to her sides. It's very precise ropework - just tight enough to stay on the edge of painful, and the knots won't slip. (He has some useful extracurricular activities that he indulges in.)

When Nerina wakes up, it's in a different place altogether - or it seems to be. The interior of a different room, high ceilinged, with no windows. She's tied against something now, a solid and cold presence at her back. Even her thighs and ankles are bound, like a mermaid's tail, straight out in front of her, and it would be enough to make any normal human's hamstrings and back ache. The floor is concrete.

There's a drain in the middle of the room, six or seven feet beyond her toes.

Something moves beyond the field of her vision - behind her. The slow scuff of a man's shoes. The swish of cloth. Something metal clanking softly.

The man that walks into her sight is so indistinct to be completely forgettable, if nobody were to look at his eyes. There's a lack of something there, some essential humanity, some warmth. He smiles, and the contrast is enough to turn the stomach.

"Now, little rat," he says, and lays his briefcase down on the floor by his feet. "I believe there are things we need to discuss, you and I…"


The thief groans weakly as she comes to. Her orange eyes creak open and there's a sharp intake of breath as she squirms in the tight embrace of ropes. Her hood swings from side to side as she takes in the room - unfamiliar, perhaps a basement. The ninja's protest stops when she hears the man beside her.

Her gaze falls on the suitcase, then climbs up to the man's face. There's silence and a faint narrowing of eyes from the shadow above her mask.


He follows her gaze down to the briefcase, and his smile doesn't waver. It doesn't change at all. He looks from it, to her face, and slowly, deliberately, lets his eyes stroll down the length of her body. Mouth, throat, collarbone, sternum, navel, groin, thigh, knee, calf, foot, toes.

There are so many nerve endings in the human body. He knows more than enough of them to make anybody talk - even if she has nothing useful to learn, he'll certainly manage to get her to make noise.

The man goes to one knee next to his briefcase, lying it down on the floor to open it. It's angled in such a way that only he can see what's inside.

The first thing he does is unfold a pair of blue latex gloves, tugging them down over his scarred knuckles with a rubbery sound. Something metallic rattles as he calmly begins to set up his instruments… a selection of thin syringes on a small metal tray, a pair of surgical snips, a scalpel. A small jar full of… something grainy, and dark.

He makes certain that she can see the tray. When it's prepared to his satisfaction, he leans back a bit, surveying his handiwork with the eye of a craftsman laying out of blueprint.

He doesn't speak again.


"Like what?" The ninja eventually answers, holding an even tone as the man bends down to his suitcase. Then its contents come out.

Almost inaudibly, the thief draws in a breath beneath her mask. There's still precious little of her to see beneath the shroud of her black garbs, but her posture straightens just a little beneath her bindings. Her eyes are a little more alert, hanging a little too long on the tools. It's a familiar reaction no doubt; she's preparing herself mentally.

Rusalka's gaze returns to the man's face back under control… almost. To a trained eye, the hint of adrenaline is visible in her look of quiet disdain.


His eyes lift slowly. That smile is still there, still exactly the same - as if he's wearing a cruel mask, or only emotes when he thinks to.

He sees her. Eyes keyed for the faintest of tells, that barely-visible stiffening of her limbs tells him everything he wants to know about her. "First," he says, and uncaps a syringe full of a dull yellow liquid, "We're going to speak about how unfortunate it is that you've been inconveniencing us over and over with your thievery."

Holding the needle up to the light of the single overhead bulb, he eyes the dosage and taps the barrel dispassionately to knock any miniscule air bubbles free of the walls. The plunger is depressed by a thumb, liquid spurting in a thin stream into the air. It patters in a few tiny drops around his shoes. When he's satisfied that the needle is cleared, he advances on her bound form with steady footsteps.

The man grabs her bound wrists in his left hand, heel of his thumb pressing into the soft place beneath the vein until it bulges.


The thief's eyes live on the syringe more than they live on the man himself as she grits her teeth, out of sight beneath her cloth mask. "What's in that?" she presses warily. Behind her back, the ninja's hands ball into fists and she tugs again at her bindings.

When the man moves out of sight and she feels his thumb against her wrist, Rusalka freezes. Her skintight suit offers a last layer of protection, passing seamlessly up from her fingertips, but it's smooth oil-like surface feels neither ribbed nor densely-woven; it won't stop a knife, much less a sharp needle.

"Touch me with that and I'll kill you, Yaponskiy," Rusalka promises in a moment of cold clarity.


He seems to ignore her; vein found, he slips the needle in. Coolness trickles into her veins, and as the chemical spreads so does a feeling of weakness. Her muscles will still respond - he wants her able to speak and breathe - but Nerina will find her coordination leaving her. Neurons are firing, but missing their marks; signals in her brain are disjointed, rerouted. Moving takes concentration, and it feels like trying to swim through syrup.

If it offers any consolation, the effect doesn't particularly hurt.

"I don't believe you'll be killing anyone tonight," he remarks at length, watching her fingers go numb and lax. "I believe you'll be entertaining me until I begin to feel curious."


The needle doesn't quite find its intended purchase. As its hair-thick point parts the fibers of her suit and seeks its way through the barrier of her skin, there's no pause of resistance, no momentary *pop* as dermis springs back into place around it. The needle falls into the ninja without any pause at all…

And out comes an inky black expanse. Losing its form and shape, Rusalka's arm rushes up the man's hand like an angry flood and her head turns impossibly far around to guide it - slipping beyond the bounds of a human neck to peer sideways around the beam she's tied to.

Like the legs of a dieing witch curling out of sight, the ninja's feet quietly shrivel and flow up her pants as the flood intensifies and aims for the man's face. It's a dark, grasping water with the eerie warmth of a living body.


He'd thought her abilities had been neutralized. Why else would she remain bound, at the mercy of a strange man?

Hideo Nagatani is a cruel man… but he is not a very smart one.

He chokes on her, gasping for breath and gagging - half at the sensation of being waterboarded, and half at the sight of her neck twisting so inhumanly. And if she doesn't let him breathe soon, he'll no longer be a living man as well. Air bubbles obscenely through her liquid form as he fights and tries to scream for aid, no longer able to hold his breath.

Beyond the single door comes a muffled BANG, like a chair hitting the floor with all four legs at once, like a door being kicked open, like small arms fire.

The door slams open, another man in a black suit barreling through it with a pistol drawn. He stops just inside the room and shouts, "Aniki! Sono onna-" His voice breaks. "aa-"

He clutches at his chest, wide-eyed and trembling.

Jerks.

And falls forward onto his face, gun clattering away from a limp hand. Behind him is that girl - the ghost from days ago.

Her right hand glistens faintly red.

Juno lifts it over her head and waves, beaming. "<Hi! I came to save you!>"


Hideo is barely given a chance. Once she finds his head, the naiad's watery grip doesn't let go. The only consolation, if it could be called one, is the pitch-black tomb blocks out the view to follow - of everything in fact. Even hearing is stuffed by a rapid and ear-popping rush of water.

Standing up *out of and through* her gi and bindings, Rusalka rises out the neck and sleeve of her clothes and jerks the man against her former resting place with a sharp metallic clang. She sneers openly, her body a disquieting silhouette that neatly and intricately outlines human form as if in mockery only to collapse into abyssal mass around Hideo's head. Even the ninja's mouth isn't fully present, rippling in and out of a featureless oil slick as she binds him in her grip.

The syringe is wrenched from the struggling torture's hand and thrust into his chest. Its tip strikes a rib and bends, entering messily before disgorging its contents.

The ninja starts and her head whips around when the door bursts open, reforming her human body in a rush of water. She stares at the entrance and quickly but quietly, her 'suit' flows back up her face, creating the false impression of a tight covering over skin. Tragically, her palm has yet to solidify; beneath her fingers, Hideo's airway hasn't been released.


He writhes, grasping uselessly at the limb that's slowly drowning him. There is emotion there now, though Nerina may be unable to see it - shock, primal terror, the certain knowledge that he is going to die… and there is nothing he can do to stop it.

Juno has seen that expression many, many times.

She tilts her head, ponytail swaying with the motion, and watches Nerina reform her body and 'skin' while she methodically murders her would-be torturer. "<Oh!>" she exclaims, hand lowering to her side. "<You were fine after all.>"

Hideo's struggles are growing weaker, though he spasms one more time, mouth opening in a silent wail as the hypodermic jams against his rib. He scrabbles at it weakly, hands missing the barrel by larger and larger increments as the seconds tick by.

Juno untilts her head and draws her pistol, opening the magazine to see how many bullets are left. Stolen guns and their mysteries…! "<Are you ready to go?>" she asks, sliding the rounds home.


Rusalka isn't quite content with 'drowning' as she pulls the syringe back out, heedless of the man's attempts to stop her. Its tip is thrust home again, and again, and again…

The ninja grunts with rising fervor until the bent needle glances off a rib and snaps. Orange fire is Hideo's last sight, pure murderous intent in two slitted eyes glaring hatred at him. In a cruel twist the man hasn't been allowed to drown; Rusalka's water, her 'body', has held itself only as deep as his mouth as best it could, unwilling to share itself any further. Hideo has simply run out of air.


He struggles. He suffers. And soon, drowned or not, Hideo dies to the haunting sight of those unnatural eyes.

Juno watches with the air of someone waiting patiently. "<That's cool! Are you always made of water or are you only sometimes? I saw them carrying you into a car and followed! I'm sorry you got tied up. Are you okay?>"

All this in the span of a few breaths, Juno's voice carrying a curious lilt. She doesn't spare the bodies another glance.


Rusalka doesn't drop the man as much as allows him to fall, limp and lifeless onto the ground. An inky outline of the inside of Hideo's mouth hangs in the air before it's sucked back into the ninja's palm.

"<I'm fine,>" the black-suited thief snaps as she clenches a fist and gives the man's corpse a spiteful kick in the head, muttering a derisive slur. "<That's what he gets for not listening to me…>"

Looking Juno's way for a moment, Rusalka moves back to her clothes and untangles them from her bindings. Despite how she exited, she gets dressed like a normal person. "<What the are you doing here?>" She asks, more collected, now just confused.


Juno lets the gun hang at her side, finger outside the trigger guard. Despite her apparent willingness to kill, she at least seems to have good trigger discipline. As Nerina gets dressed, she occasionally looks around, eyeing the room for other access points, and listening to the door behind her for footsteps.

It's quiet, though. Nobody comes for them.

"<I was watching one of their safehouses and saw them carry you out to a car behind the building.>" It hadn't been hard to follow them. "<And since you were inside, and I thought they might do bad stuff to you, I decided to liquidate the facility.>"

Juno doesn't mention that she had to wait for permission.


"<That's very helpful,>" Rusalka murmurs as she straightens her gi and flips her hood back up. The ninja dresses quickly. "<First at the docks, now this.>" Her orange eyes flit to Juno's as she walks over.

"<I think I like you.>"


She holds her gun loosely, the grip with one hand and the barrel in the palm of the other. The metal of her pistol is still warm. Juno likes it, because that sensation, the smell of gunpowder, have come to mean good things to her. "<You're welcome~>" she chirps, because being called helpful is pretty much the same as being told thanks. It counts!

This close, the petite assassin's face is smattered with a light coating of freckles. She looks like she just strolled in off of the street - they should probably move quickly before someone realizes that something is wrong. "<I like you too,>" Juno beams, sunny smile completely out of place in such a dark place. "<Have you got everything?>"

She motions to the door she came out of with the muzzle of her pistol. "<We have eight minutes left before the police are called.>"


The ninja looks down at herself for a moment then nods. "<Everything I came with. Let's go.>"


"<O-kay~>" Juno lilts, turning to lead Nerina out through the maze of rooms. "<The closest exit is this way!>"

She moves as if she's completely familiar with the layout of the building. And when they find the first body, her familiarity begins to make sense. It seems that Miss Juno made several detours on her little trip to fetch Nerina…

But they reach a door quickly, one that's closed and the electronic lock armed. Juno swipes her hand through the numberpad, which spazzes out and unlocks. Oh, good! Sometimes they spazz out and lock even harder, and then they would've had to go the long way~

Juno does not mention this to her new friend. Kicking the door open because it makes her feel cool, Juno clatters down a set of steps to a dark parking lot somewhere in an office park.


Rusalka follows quickly behind the ghost, her sandalfalls not so quiet on the way out. Her eyes sweep the corridors as they pass, trying to gain her bearings while she moves. The ninja pauses at the door for Juno and a smile stretches her mask a little as it's quickly unlocked.

"<Where are we going?>" She asks mid-stride down the stairs.


"<I have no idea!>" is the cheerful answer.

After a moment, Juno amends this, looking over her shoulder. "<Or really, I don't have any idea where you're going. But you shouldn't have too much trouble as long as you're leaving here within…>" Juno tilts her head, as if listening for something. "<…Six minutes.>" Juno stretches her arms above her head, stolen gun still in her possession, 'mmf'-ing as her back pops. "<But it was nice to see you again! Be careful, okay?>" And she waves. Like they just went out for a walk, or tea, or something!!


The ninja raises an eyebrow and glances to a Casio watch on her wrist, although it shows more in her eyes than her black-on-black brow. The watch is black too, she seems to like that color. "<Do you have time to talk somewhere?>"


Black is an excellent color! Juno likes it, but she likes a lot of other colors as well. She looks like she's going to say something, but pauses in the middle of opening her mouth, eyes panning to one side. "<…No, I don't,>" she corrects herself, mouth relaxing into a small frown. "<I have to go home. But we'll run into each other again, won't we?>" It's happened twice alaready now!


Juno's frown is mirrored as the ninja thinks for a moment. "<Then one… two… /three/ things,>" she reaches. Reaching into her jacket, Rusalka pulls out the sharp metal edge of a jian.

"<First: may I have a little hair to remember you by?>"


Juno's eyes, for all their cheerfulness, watch Rusalka closely as she draws her blade.

Three things? Who could want three whole things? Even if they seem to only be 'answers'… Or in this case, hair. Even a rootless hair can provide mitochondrial DNA evidence, Juno understands. "<I can't give you that,>" she shakes her head, though she would like to - even if she doesn't understand the other girl's desire. "<What're the last two things?>"


The sword slides partway back into the jacket. "<Why not?>" the ninja asks, momentarily flummoxed.


See? This is why Juno wanted to say yes, because saying no often just brings more questions! "<Because it's evidence,>" she explains. Maybe this girl doesn't have to worry about it, because she's water? Water is everywhere and nobody thinks twice about it. "<Nobody should have it.>"


"<Then you can give it to me somewhere else, away from here,>" Rusalka reasons simply as she allows her blade to disappear from sight.

"<If not now, I would like to talk more later… when and where?>" She asks directly. "<That's second.>"


Well, she can at least volunteer to meet Nerina, maybe, and—

The voice in her ear speaks again. Juno looks disappointed - an actual emotion besides mindless cheer, for maybe the first time. "<I can't do that, either.>" But… maybe she can do the third thing? People get upset if you say no too often. She would be sad if Nerina became angry with her.


Rusalka pauses and her mask creases, though her eyes tell the displeasure enough. "<You want to see *me* again, yes?>" The ninja asks guardedly, giving another question instead of an answer.


See?! She is getting upset!

But how does she say that her life is not her own? She could tell the Winter Soldier because of course he would understand the endless wait for direction and orders, but… she doesn't think that this girl has a master, or an owner, and people that don't have those things don't seem to understand people who do. "<I want to,>" she explains quickly, before her handler can speak to her again. She can't break an order she hasn't yet received… sort of. "<But I can't meet you. I'm sorry.>"

That answer should be enough to satisfy her handler, right? She doesn't want to get in trouble…! Outwardly, Juno's look of dismay is edging toward mild panic. "<I… IhavetogoI'msorry!>"

She turns on her heel and runs before Nerina can ask another question, before she has to say no again. Before she can earn a punishment.


The ninja's ink-colored hand reaches out as she takes a pointless half-step after the ghost and grits her teeth. "<Tell anyone about me and we'll never meet again!>" she shouts in warning.

The hand falls limply to Rusalka's side as Juno's sweater disappears from sight and with it, her eyes fall despondently.

Two felt-padded sandals turn and run the other way. Six minutes was longer before she started talking.

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