The bolt impacted the wall one meter to her left. The head sparked once, twice, bright firecracker spurts, then an explosion punched through the temple wall and ripped down the crosswalk. Cheshire was already airborne, of her own thrust. The tang of gunpowder stung her nose. The mask couldn't stop that. She landed lightly on her heels and brought her sais to bear.
"Really," she said, "is that any way to treat a lady?"
It was him, of course. She'd known it from the sound of his shot; the snap of his bow was like a distant gunshot. Accurate, but so forceful.
He'd another shot lined up; another trick arrow, no doubt. The moon had gone; the encroaching storm front swallowed it. A certain flickering movement ran through his shoulders. Bared, very tempting. They wanted for a bite. She ran a finger down her blade. Cheshire tensed, gauging the position of his feet, the jut of his thumb at the arrow's fletching, the little tell in his cheek where a muscle flicked.
"Well?" she asked.
He loosed it. Dirt rasped beneath her toe. She dodged to the left, braked and in the same breath lunged lowly for his gut. He brought that wicked, thick bow of his down. Her blade caught on it, and he pushed. Cheshire danced back a step. He'd gone for another arrow. That wouldn't do.
She darted toward him, quickly enough he gave up on the arrow and brought his bow to bear again, but she only spun about him. Dust kicked up around her feet. His chin dipped, just so. Such a silly little trick, the dust, but even the simplest of illusions could be profitable, and she enjoyed coming out of smoke. The storm was at her back now. The moon, peeking out of its cage, was at his.
"No clever lines?" she asked him. She sliced her sai through the air; it whistled nicely. He paced her. "No witty rejoinder?"
He wasn't dull, she thought, only so very serious. She admired seriousness; it was a quality many thought her lacking, but that was part of her game. Oh, but he wasn't fooled. The Red Arrow wouldn't dare leave his guard down around her. His thick shoulders were squared. Those slippery, rough fingers of his were feeling for another arrow shaft. Cheshire closed in on him. He didn't fall for it this time, such a smart boy would never, but he couldn't fire a shot at such close range.
"This isn't a game," he said. "Not to me. Not to you."
"Perhaps not," she agreed. Behind her mask, she smiled. "But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy our work."
"What's there to enjoy in killing people?"
He nocked the bolt. Much good it would do him. His big hand slid down to hold the head steady. Cheshire dropped into a weaving crouch; she swayed erratically. He tracked her; she saw it in the way the arrow twitched in the bow, in his hands, the blunted head moving left then right as she moved left then right. His heels passed into shadow, a long, square shadow cast by the dimming moon. He hadn't noticed. Too busy moralizing.
"You're a killer," he said. "A murderer. A terrorist."
"As if I didn't know," she said, amused. "But you like the hunt, too. You can't tell me you've never found pleasure in bringing your enemies to their knees."
His jaw tightened. He was young, she thought, or at least younger than her; perhaps her sister's age or thereabouts. But there was a reddish hint at the corner of his jaw. Old enough to shave. As if she'd any doubts from the breadth of his shoulders, the width of his hands, the muscle so thick in his thighs.
Down, girl, she thought. She sank lower in her crouch. Those muscles so very thick through his thighs tensed, compensating for the weight he put on his toes. She lashed out with her left sai, and he stepped to the right. Good boy. The bow swung toward her, but the arrow stayed. The shadow came over her now.
"If I wanted for stoicism, I'd fight the Bat," she said.
"I hate to disappoint you," he said. The bow lowered, only slightly. Enough.
"Oh, good!" said Cheshire. She flicked her sais at her side. Even in the darkness they glinted. "And I was beginning to think you only spoke in moralities."
"Better than having no morals," he said.
She rolled her eyes.
"And who said I had no morals? I have so many. For example--"
His back struck the outlying wall. The little domino mask he wore over his eyes couldn't hide the way his mouth fell open in the moment before he snapped his teeth together. When he hit the wall, cornered, Cheshire pounced. She came out of her crouch; her sais pressed one to his throat, the other in the sweet spot in his chest. His heart, his jugular, each a simple thrust away. He could not push forward without spearing himself, and the bow had fallen so he could not push it against her.
Cheshire fitted herself to him, too close, perhaps, but she wanted his breath on her mask if not her face. She wanted to feel the delicate shivers coursing through his body as she touched her steel to his ruddy skin.
"For example," she said softly, "I could have cut your head off the moment you broke my barrier. That red head of yours is quite the liability. It stands out even in the dark."
He swallowed. His throat paled around her blade. Did he falter beneath his mask, or did he, like her, stare unblinking?
"So why didn't you?" He gritted it out.
"It would be such a waste of such a pretty head," she said, and then she did a thing; she did a very stupid thing. Cheshire turned the sai at his throat over and very gently ghosted the tip up his throat to his jaw; she touched it to his mouth. Oh, that mouth.
His hand closed around her wrist. The arrow made a tapping sound against his bow and then was still. She made to jab her other sai into his chest, not deeply, just enough to remind him she could very easily cut his heart out. Then he said,
"What do you want from me?"
"Where do you want me to start?"
"You're the one who called me here," he said. "I traced the signal."
"Your little friends traced the signal," she corrected. She held her sais steady, one at his chest, one pricking his lip. "But please, go on."
And he was an obliging boy.
"This temple's deserted. Has been for ten years."
"Twelve years," she said. "But perhaps someone's using it to hide, and I, the immoral assassin, have come to kill them."
He shook his head then stopped. Blood began slowly to well on his lip. It showed red on her blade, red like his hair, red like his gaudy costume.
"I checked. Surveillance," he said. "There's no one here. There's no target."
"Is that so?" she murmured.
She opened her hand, the one at his face. Her sai fell, and he jerked back. His hand loosened, and then he grabbed at her wrist again, but by then she'd already done what she wanted. Her mask fell, too. It wobbled in the dirt. Thunder rumbled at her back. Cheshire smiled. He drew in a breath.
"Or perhaps," she said, "I wanted the mouse to come to me."
The blood on his lip glinted. His tongue moved. Cheshire slid her remaining sai down his chest, caressing, and then she rose on to her toes and kissed him. His mouth was still, but his belly had tensed; his shoulders had curved toward his chest. She slicked her tongue across the nick in his lip and then she bit the cut.
The bow clattered. His hand came up her thigh to her hip. Cheshire pushed into him, then, and his mouth opened, his wet, hot, red mouth. His tongue was thick. His blood was sweet. Cheshire pulled at him and he bowed to her. Oh, how wet his mouth.
The hand on her hip moved to cup her ass. Cheshire pushed back against his fingers. He bent again, closer still. If the sai at his chest needled him, he did not show it. She slipped the blade back into its holster and curled her hands in his padded tunic. He'd a crooked incisor. She traced the shape of it with her tongue.
"You set all of this up--"
Arrow broke off. She'd nipped at his lip again. He kissed like he plucked his bow, rough fingers pulling the string so it snapped like a shot. Cheshire hooked her hand behind his head and pulled him closer.
"All of this," he said, "just--to get me--"
His thumb bruised her hip. Cheshire fought him for control in the kiss, and when he relented, his lips gone soft, she took advantage of that little weakness and hooked first her right leg then her left about his waist and hoisted herself up. He staggered back and turned, balancing. He pushed her into the wall, and Cheshire laughed. She smiled down at him. He was flushed, his mouth swollen and streaked there at the corner with blood. His nose had wrinkled; he'd that awfully serious look again. How many times had they fought? Often enough she could see precisely how his nose wrinkled, how his brow furrowed, without looking at him.
"You aren't much of a detective," she said fondly. She stroked a finger and another through his hair, cropped so short. It rasped against her skin. She'd meant the touch to be seductive, but instead it was-- She set her hand on his shoulder.
"What game did you think we played?" she asked. "And don't start with that terrorist stuff again."
He frowned, and she laughed again. Cheshire rolled her hips shallowly against his; the heat, the weight, of his hardened cock pressed against her. She rolled her hips again. His hands tightened at her thigh, the small of her back. He kissed her again, and that, too, was strange. She could not place it. Her heart skipped then settled.
"You're far too easy to read," she said into his mouth.
"What about you?" he demanded. He pulled, abortively, away. Her hand at his neck stopped him. She nuzzled his brow, so thick, so dour. The wind pushed at them, and it brought the smell of rain with it.
"Tell me," she said.
"A game," he said.
His hands were so steady on her. He smelled of sweat and dirt and faintly of smoke; unpleasant, but she didn't mind. His hips pushed into her. If she adjusted her hold on his neck, she could snap it so easily. He didn't trust her, and yet he left such openings.
"Always," she said, and she bent to him.