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A Killer's Glance
They stood in silence for a while, sizing each other up, two cold, hostile pairs of eyes locked on each other across the snowy rooftop of the Flanagan Building. Jay's left hand felt the kunai in his jacket pocket, its blade still wet with Lucy's blood, and his grip tightened, almost of its own will, around the katana in his right hand, the one he'd taken from the girl who'd fallen through the window. At the same time, the stranger's hand vanished inside his long black coat.
The tension on the rooftop cranked up a notch.
Less than ten feet separated the two boys, the killer and the avenger. Neither of them moved, only glared, each silently daring the other to make the first move.
Hell, if the situation hadn't made him so angry, the final gunfight theme to THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY would have been echoing in Jay's head. Blondie and Angel Eyes, facing each other in the graveyard, while an unseen Tuco lurked nearby.
The Killer and the Avenger.
Just like old times.
And so it was Jay, righteous anger clouding logical thinking, who broke the silence. "Hello over there," he called, eyes narrowing, "you murderer."
The stranger said nothing, simply withdrew his hand from his coat pocket and produced a cigarette and a tarnished bronze lighter. He lifted the smoke to his lips, lit it, and took a long drag. His face showed no emotion.
Incensed by the boy's cool response, Jay pressed on. "Not tough enough to pick on people your own size, are you? Got to fight girls and little kids now do you?" His voice was spiked with anger and hysteria, getting higher with each word, and he found himself taking small steps toward his adversary.
Still the boy kept silent, just stuck his hands back into his coat pockets.
"I guess you're gonna kill me now, too? Throw one of those little stars at me and kill me like you killed my friend, like you were gonna kill that little boy?" said Jay, his hand tightening on the sword's hilt.
"I should," said the boy softly, the first words he'd uttered since Jay had thrown his partner through the window.
"Well, why don't you? I'm right here. Who's stopping you?"
"That's not my job. It was hers." He pointed at the katana still clutched in Jay's hand.
"And wouldn't you love to finish it."
"No," said the stranger. "Killing...it's not a job I relish anymore."
"Then why do you do it?"
"It's just a job, kid. Nothing more, nothing less. It's just a job."
Another round of silence followed, broken only by the sounds of the traffic from below. Finally the stranger withdrew his hands from his pockets again, this time holding a black bladed shuriken, which he tossed casually from hand to hand.
"Now I got a question for you," he said. "How come you followed me up here?"
"Why do you think?" snapped Jay. "Is it really that hard? You killed my best friend."
"You killed mine."
"Lucy was ten times the person that witch you call your friend was!" roared Jay, taking another step toward the boy. Five feet separated them now. "She was just a kid, just trying to protect another innocent kid!"
The boy stared at him for a second with what looked like regret or sympathy in his blue eyes. "I'm sorry about what happened to your friend," he said, staring deep into Jay's eyes, "but I don't regret it. I had a job to do, and she got in my way. It was unavoidable."
"So what are you going to do now? The boy's gone. He's safe," said Jay. "Whatever it is you wanted from him, it's gone."
The boy shook his head. "He's not safe. Wherever he goes, whatever he does, he'll never be safe. We have twenty people tracking his every move." He winced. "Well, nineteen, now that Janine..." He glared at Jay, and shook his head. "Well, even without her, let's just say he doesn't stand a chance. Almost makes me wish I wasn't a part of it."
"Maybe you don't have to be."
"Yes I do."
His voice cracked, and Jay could sense the tiniest hint of sadness, maybe even fear, as if this were a job that not only didn't please him, but outright scared him. As if he'd seen all of this before, and knew that one day all of it would come back to haunt him.
But it was more than that, Jay saw. There was something else behind it, something this boy wasn't telling him. Something that really made him hate his job.
"So why do you still do it, exactly? Why do you feel the need to end lives just to make a living?" asked Jay. His grip on the katana's handle had almost relaxed completely, and he was actually intrigued in the boy's words.
The boy shook his head. "It's not something I want to talk about." The boy turned and started to walk away, heading back toward the staircase that led back into the Flanagan Building.
And Jay almost let him go. But then he felt the cold kunai in his pocket, liquid Lucy starting to crust over the icy metal. He remembered her surprised, shocked expression as the kunai buried itself in the small of her back, falling into Jay's arms, a final tear trickling down her pale cheek as she looked into his face, and her last smile frozen on her face as her hand slipped out of his. A cold fire ignited in Jay's heart, and he realized that he wasn't quite done with this stranger yet.
"I see. So you're scared," he growled. "Scared of these people, whoever they are, scared of whatever they're going to do to you if you back out."
"I'm not scared of anything," said the boy over his shoulder without turning around.
"Well, there's another lie," snarled Jay. "I should have known it the second you set your eyes on that kid. You're just a coward."
At these words, the boy stopped dead in his tracks and turned slowly to face Jay. His face, at first a mask of cool indifference, now carried traces of rage.
"I am not a coward," said the boy in a cold near-whisper. "You have no idea what I have to live with each day. Every single morning, waking up and knowing that I have to take a life today, going to bed each night knowing that someone's life is over... because of me."
The stranger fixed his gaze back on Jay, anger brimming in his eyes. "You have no idea what it's like to live through that."
And Jay realized he did, he had known what it was like to be a killer ever since the first shard of glass had broken in the window and Janine had fallen through. And he found himself wondering: did she have friends, a family? A mom who's still wondering when she'll be home for dinner, a boyfriend waiting for her at a movie theater or a restaurant, waiting for a date that will never come?
They stood in silence for a long time, still at odds, but not as much as they had been before. Jay still remembered Lucy's death, knew there was no way he could ever forget what happened, no way he could ever forgive her killer.
But... there was no way they could really hate each other, either.
Finally, the stranger spoke. "I'm sorry about... Lucy," he said. "Was she your... was she special?"
Jay nodded. "She was like a little sister, a mom, and a dog all rolled into one. Was she my girlfriend? No. She might have been, if she'd lived." He sighed. "But I guess we'll never know, will we?"
A pause. Then: "Was Janine yours?" asked Jay.
"Just a partner."
Another pause. Then the boy walked over to the staircase, opened the door, and stepped inside. Before he closed the door, though, he said, "This isn't the last time we'll meet. You killed Janine, and I can't let that go in a hurry. I'm letting you go today, but I can assure you this: if you're ever my assignment, I promise you I'll make it slow."
His tone was cold and forbidding, and Jay would have been intimidated if he hadn't had a score of his own to settle. "Bring it on," he replied with equal frostiness, brandishing the katana. "I'll be ready."
The boy gave him what might have been the ghost of a smile. "You'll be waiting for me, huh? Maybe I was wrong about you. I might make it quick after all."
The door snapped shut, and Jay was left alone on the roof. The snow blew against his skin, and again Lucy's kunai burned cold in his pocket, and her death glared fresh in his mind. He thought about opening the door and sprinting after the stranger and running him through with Janine's sword.
But he held it in. He'd already taken one life. Lucy wouldn't want him to take another.
Instead he took the kunai from his jacket pocket. Lucy's blood had crusted over the black steel, dark and rough on the smooth metal. It was all Jay had left to remember her by: if Janine had been telling the truth in their fight, their old home had been burned to the ground, and all their old friends, Matt, Charlie, Justin, Sparks, Taylor, and Jade, were dead.
This was all there was left of any of his friends.
That was when he noticed the rooftop garden, a flowerbed covered with snow. A single red rose sprouted from the white snow, its color still bright and vivid despite the cold.
Jay didn't have to think very long to know what to do. It saddened him to know that he'd never see her beautiful smile, hear her tinkling laugh, smile at her colorful, sometimes vulgar jokes. But he knew it was better this way. She was gone, and there was nothing he could do to change that.
Slowly, Jay scooped up a handful of snow and soil from the flowerbed. He dropped the kunai into the hole and- reluctantly- covered it up with the snow and dirt. He stared down at the patch freshly turned frost, and a tear slid down his cheek, splattering on the snow.
"Rest in peace, Luce," he whispered, picking up the rose and placing it on the patch.
He was silent for a little while, running his fingers through the loose white snow, the way he had with Lucy's hair when she was feeling sad or scared, holding her warmly and telling her everything was going to be okay.
A lie he'd never have to tell again.
He gave his friend's remains one last smile, then opened the door to the stairwell, stepped inside, and closed it behind him.
Closed it on the last real friend he ever had.