When the first one appeared on Sara’s hand she gasped, and suddenly another coughing fit overcame her. It was covered in mucus and a little blood even, but it was white. Pearly white. Good , that meant it had happened somewhere in the past week. Like anything about this could be good.
This was a especially bad time to find her soulmate. At 28, she had finally finished her training; a ten year long training after eighteen of conditioning and regular school - she needed it to know how to blend in with the civilians for future jobs, and she needed the geography, chemistry, biology and physics knowledge that came with common school work.
Everyone knew how this worked. She had actually had classes on this at school. They started having it at eighth grade, together with anatomy classes. Two glands, on each side of your lungs, that were responsible for producing and expelling the cells that looked like flower petals as soon as you laid eyes on the person that you were supposed to be with. There was a bunch of shit involving pheromones, hormones and neurotransmitters that started working once you met that one person that affected you more than everyone else. In all honesty, Sara never really paid much attention to the biological side of it, especially because she knew her fate when it came to this soulmate business.
Sara wasn’t expecting to get it now. She had kinda lost the hope that she would get it since she was relatively past the usual age people got the flowers of damnation as it had been called since the beginning of time. From 12 to 21, every schoolbook had said. Maybe her soulmate had had their removal, or maybe she just wasn’t lucky and hadn’t met them yet. There was also the fact that she had no idea who her parents were. She could very well have been the child of non-soulmates, a pariah, and unable to get the flowers. She wasn’t, though, her parents had been soulmates, if her current predicament was anything to go by.
It didn’t matter though, this couldn’t be happening, that was the truth. The moment the League realized, she was going to be forced to have her removal. That was League procedure, she had known that since she was four and could understand the rules: Number 12 – It’s mandatory that you communicate with Ra’s al Ghul about your flowers and you will immediately be taken to get your removal. Your soulmate will not suffer, will not ever even be aware that your connection was awakened. She could still hear Ra’s voice saying “your mission, your family – the league and most of all, your life is more important than worldly childish notions like romance and love.”
She had heard that same speech every year since she had been seven. She had read and heard those rules twice as much. She knew them both by heart. She knew Ra’s wanted what was best for all of them, she had never doubted that, not even for a second. But also she didn’t really know if this is what she wanted for her life. She was not sure what someone like her, someone who had done more terrible things than any human being would experience in an entire lifetime, could have something outside of this cursed existence, but maybe…
Maybe this was a sign. Maybe this was what would help her figure out if this - what she had always been trained to do, what she had finally achieved, what she was finally doing - was what she was made for; if this was all there was to her existence: death, blood and anguish. She shook her head. There was no point in going down that road. She lived with those thoughts way too often to tarnish this moment with them too. She took a deep breath and started thinking up a plan. If Sara wanted to keep the flowers, at least for now, she was gonna have to have a very, very good plan. And a fast one too. She needed to find out who it was that had awakened them as soon as possible. She had, after all, a death sentence on her hands now.
She tried to remember all the new people she met in the past week, all the places she went, but the problem was that it could’ve been anyone . All she had to have done was lay eyes on them before they did on her. She had pulled three jobs this week, had been to two different coffee shops, and the same grocery store she went to, always. There was also the growing list of one night stands she had since she completed her training and was allowed to get her own apartment. This was not good. She had roughly six months to her death, four till her body started failing, and above all, probably one month or even less till someone on the League realized what was going on. This was fucking terrible.
She jumped when her phone rang. She quickly washed her hands, watching as the white pearly petal went down the drain. She reached her phone just in time for the last ring. A series of numbers and letters were whispered in her ear, and just like that, all her worries about this had to be pushed to the back of her mind because she had another mark.
Sara lazily punched the buttons and got the money from the ATM. Being an assassin with the League did come with its perks - like a limitless bank account in her name - even if she hated basically every other aspect of the job. She stuffed the bills in her coat pocket and turned to the rest of the store.
She walked the isles of the grocery store across the street from her place, absent-mindedly picking up some snacks and whatever she might need to fix up a nice, quick meal for dinner. She hugged her coat a bit closer to herself, trying to stop the shivers that were running through her body. The 6 hours she had to spend out in the freezing cold waiting for the perfect shot were apparently catching up to her. She threw some random tea and honey into her shopping cart too.
She better go home soon, take a bath and relax. This had been a truly exhausting day, and she had to count her minutes before she had to be shipped off somewhere around the world to pull a job. She was lucky this one was relatively close to home, to be quite honest, and took her only a few hours instead of a few days.
Sara smiled at the cashier when she paid. She was really cute, maybe Sara should give the girl her phone number. She could definitely use a good lay after this day.
She leaned forward to compliment the cute cashier on her earrings and strike up conversation when some movement outside the store caught her eye. A blonde woman on the other side of the street was looking very fixedly at her. Hair up into a ponytail, casual clothing, leaning against the wall. The moment their eyes met, however, Sara’s throat began to itch, and next thing she knew, another coughing fit overcame her, and then, her hands are full of petals and blood.
The moment she raised her eyes again to look outside, the woman was gone.
Sara looked back at the cashier and the girl was looking at her with both pity and wonderment.
“Do you have something I could clean myself with, by any chance?”
The girl quickly offered her a box of tissues, and Sara cleaned up her hands and threw the tissues in the trashcan near the check out.
“I see you already got your flower” The girl was clearly trying to sound casual, but failing – spectacularly at that, if Sara had any say in it. She sounded nervous, awkward. Anything except casual. Sara hated these sort of conversations, she avoided them like the plague. Well now that you basically have the plague, it’s gonna be hard to dodge them all.
“Yeah, apparently.” Sara gave her a weak smile and a nod and left the grocery store as fast as she could.
It seemed like this day had all the potential of getting fucking worse.
She put down the tea on the little table she had beside the bathtub and slowly sank into the hot water. Her freezing fingers felt as if they were burning in the heat and she rubbed them against her leg.
This whole situation fucking sucked. She had been distracted on the job, took twice as long to properly position the shot, and had lost her window of opportunity once. For a while there she honestly thought she wouldn’t even manage to finish it all up, she even went as far as considering giving up and trying again the following day, punishment be damned.
Sara laid back, put her head against the wall tiles and stretched her legs, letting the water ease her muscles. She was way too wound up- she needed to relax. Her options at the moment were to find someone random to sleep with or to touch herself. None of them sounded particularly appealing at the moment with how tired she was. Maybe she could just get some sleep, but that also sounded way too unsatisfying, and it was not like she had an easy time falling asleep or staying asleep, for that matter.
She grabbed her phone from the table and started randomly browsing dating apps, looking for someone attractive enough – and willing enough - to just invite over. She did some swiping, and next thing she knows some random guy is already messaging her. Sara smiled, typing something back, and soon enough, she has a date in a couple of hours. This was it. At least something good would come out of this fucked up day.
Problem was that now she had two entire hours alone with her brain and nothing to distract her from the impending doom. She still needed to think up a plan, to put some cash away – just in case – to prepare some other accommodation, and, above all, to figure out a way to find her soulmate, which was probably the most urgent part of it all.
Sara had no idea where to even start her search. She just knew she could exclude everyone who worked in any of the places she usually frequented, or the flowers would have appeared much sooner, and any of her kills, because then they wouldn’t even have started. A dead soulmate stopped the flower’s progression - that was common knowledge.
She pulled open a notes file on her phone and made a small list of all the places she had been in the past week. There were also all the people she probably saw on the street, which would incredibly raise the number of possibilities, so she decided to focus on what she realistically could do to find her soulmate. Not like there was anything realistic about finding a person you randomly laid eyes on, on a random day in a random week of your lifetime.
Everything about this situation sounded like such utter bullshit. If she did end up finding the person, then what? She’d have to forcefully fall in love with them, and have them return her feelings or otherwise she was doomed anyway. She scoffed. What a fucking love story, find the person and then force them to be with me so I don’t die. Utter bullshit.
Her throat started itching again, but the warm water seemed to be helping with the coughing. Good to know this shit works pretty much like any other flu I’ve ever had. Well, except for the blood and the flower petals. She sipped some of her tea but put it away quickly, seeing as it was only lukewarm now.
She could have her removal, though. She could just tell the League, get her glands taken out and put an end to this ridiculous predicament. She could kill this connection, kill the possibility of true love in her fucked up existence, but that would mean killing all the possibilities of someone out there finding love, too.
Could she really do that to some other human? She already had so much blood on her hands, so much misery she had inflicted, could she, really, kill the possibility of someone else achieving true happiness? But then again, the fact that she would be responsible for someone else’s happy ending was a scary thought in itself. It was quite ironic, actually, if she stopped and thought about it. A killer, an assassin, responsible for someone’s happiness. What sort of human would fate pair up with someone as fucked up as her? Who could even find happiness with such a dark and damaged person?
Sara wasn’t really sure she herself could ever find such things. To be quite honest, she couldn’t even remember the last time she felt happy. Content, yes, satisfied, definitely, but happy? Had she ever even felt happiness? Her life had been a constant drilling of strength, toughness, the necessity of compartmentalization and the incompatibility of feelings with her very existence as a League member. Even negative feelings, at that. Strong emotions were not something that assets were supposed to feel. She would even go as far as to say assets weren’t supposed to feel at all, except for loyalty to Ra’s Al Ghul and the mission.
She didn’t really see that as a problem, though. The League had given her shelter, food, a warm bed, and, yes, a family. They had taught her all the life skills she had; she was almost certain she could survive pretty much any situation, and she was not sure how many people could really say that. Overall, she lived a good - even luxurious, some would say – life. With a side of killing and ruining other people’s lives, but that was the price she paid.
So, that was the crossroads she found herself at, now. Should she, really, make someone else go through this? Through the pain that would surely come from loving her, through the danger, the sorrow?
No, she shouldn’t. She couldn’t, this was one step too far. Yes, she wanted an out from this life, she didn’t know if she could keep going like this, but fucking up someone else this deeply, by having to be her soulmate? This, she couldn’t do.
She was gonna go to the League about it and get her flower removed.
The water was starting to get cold now, and she decided getting out and getting ready for her guest was probably the best way to go if she didn’t want the cold to make her start to have a coughing fit and have to cancel it all.
Sara laid on her bed, bored out of her mind. A week had passed with no news. She expected something to change, anything, for her to be overcome by emotion, become more gentle and caring, see colors differently, feel the urge to adopt a pet or have kids… anything. But besides her feeling way more cold than normal and having to spend twice as much on heating, and even then having to still wear warm clothes, everything was pretty much the same.
She had also started taking better care of her health in general: making herself three proper meals a day, with snacks in between, actually hydrating herself properly and trying to get a decent amount of sleep. It had been relatively easy since she hadn’t been called for any jobs in the past week, which was quite uncommon, but not anything to be alarmed by, it had already happened more than once before. They did have quite an impressive amount of assets active at the moment, a good enough number that they could give her a rest.
The fact that she hadn’t had any jobs also meant that she hadn’t found the best moment to tell the League about her flower, yet. She had a review of her position and her rankings within the League every 10 jobs she successfully closed, and right now, she was at 9. She needed her next mark so she could announce it on her review.
Or so she kept telling herself, actually. Because in all truth she could’ve just as well asked for an official meeting at any point in the past seven days, but she didn’t. She was stalling and she knew it. The removal was such a final, crucial decision and she was not sure if she was ready for it. She kept spiraling between self-hatred and hope, never really settling on either, so she was currently in this limbo, with her mind at war with itself.
Sara still had a few coughing fits, once every few days now that she was properly taking care of her body. For the second half of the week, however, they had started to be more frequent, once a day even. However, it was still just the usual: a handful of petals, phlegm and blood. It seemed like a small price to pay for all the possibilities that might open up to her, at least for now.
At the moment, however, absolutely nothing was happening, and it was starting to get on her nerves.
She had already run out of things to do, which was making her mind restless. She had tried puzzles, working her body to exhaustion, reading, watching TV, and nothing more was working, to the point where her sleep was being affected. Which is why Sara was there, on her bed, awake, at 3 AM, considering everything that had happened in the week since she got her flower.
She had started to consider traveling, doing some sort of outdoor activity, maybe staying in nature for a couple of days, if this kept going, even if it was against League rules. Not only that, but the chill air of mid February was for sure gonna worsen her coughing. Damn I’m really fucking desperate if I’m considering coughing my lungs out for something to do.
Before she could entertain any more stupid ideas to take herself out of this tedious sameness, her burner phone rang, and the seemingly random numbers and letters were pulling her to her next job, which was apparently across the country. Fucking finally.
She quickly fixed herself an overnight bag, not expecting to stay there more than a couple of days. Her flight left in an hour, and Sara estimated something close to six hours for the travel, leaving her with an entire afternoon of daylight to find her mark, kill them probably during the darker hours of the night, and then just catch a flight back. Case closed.
During her flight – first class, one of the League’s many perks – she started looking up her mark. That’s how it worked: she got a social security number and coordinates. She just had to get most of their information and find the best and least disruptive way to kill them.
Every League asset specialized in a different type of assassination: accidental deaths, natural deaths, close range weapons, medium and long-range weapons, and so on. The last two were Sara’s specialty. She had started with knives and knife throwing, to then go on to compound bows and lately, her preferred method was the sniper rifle that was currently in the cargo compartment of the plane. It took quite some time to properly set and to find the perfect shot, but it was also impersonal and meant that she didn’t have to spend hours under the shower to wash away all the blood from her hair and clothes. She very much preferred it like that.
Sara opened up a special software that gave her the information she needed with the social security number and typed it in. She asked for a glass of whiskey from the flight attendant while she waited, but before she could get it, the usual ping from the program, letting her know it had the information she needed, sounded. She froze up the moment the picture showed up on the screen.
It was a kid. No more than 12 years old.
She had never killed a child before. Actually, she had been dreading the day the League asked something like this from her. She knew it would come because it wasn’t an uncommon job, some of the other assassins were even specialized on this type of kill, but she wasn’t sure this was a step she was willing to take. Sure, she had killed her fair share of people, but all of them were people with either very questionable life choices or downright terrible human beings. She tried to justify them all to herself, and she usually managed to, and with her training the compartmentalization was manageable.
But a kid was something else.
She started browsing all the files on the girl that she had access to: school transcripts, medical history, and also family relations. So, apparently she was the daughter of some big guy from California’s criminal underworld. And that, of course, meant that there was someone out there willing to pay big money to kill her.
Sara felt sick to her stomach. This was what she had become. Where had she gone wrong, what had she done that led her to a moment in her life where she was getting paid to kill children?
The flight attendant came back with her whiskey and Sara downed it in one go and asked for two more shots. She knew she could handle her alcohol and that she was not going to arrive drunk at the job, but she needed something to numb her brain, even if just a little, if she was gonna manage to even consider doing this.
The next 4 hours of her flight were a restless mess. She searched for every last drop of information she could find on the girl and drank way too much for a job day. She already hadn’t slept in more than 24 hours and hadn’t eaten in close to 12 hours. Sara couldn’t properly concentrate, her leg was bouncing up and down nonstop, and she kept fidgeting with her hands while reading. This day was finally catching up with her.
It was a miracle, really, that she hadn’t been coughing her lungs out with how stressful this was turning out to be. That and the alcohol. She had been feeling her throat itching for the past hour, but she refused to let the coughs come, she didn’t need to remember her death sentence on top of this shit.
She got off the plane, took her handbag, the suitcase with her rifle and rushed off from the airport. Sara usually would stop at a motel nearby to leave her things, but she decided that if she was going to pull this job, it would be now or never. Before the liquid courage left her system and her conscience came back.
She caught the first taxi she managed to flag down on the street and gave the driver an address that was a couple of blocks away from the mark’s home address. Sara closed her eyes for a second, and next thing she knows, the driver was shaking her awake.
They were in a nice, family neighborhood. One of those fancy, open gated communities, where you could see children playing on the street and housewives talking to their neighbors about senseless things like what to cook for dinner or how to best shape their backyard tree the next time the gardener came over.
It all felt very calm for how out of sorts Sara was feeling. She didn’t stick out, she had made sure to dress nicely enough to fit in, if you didn’t pay enough attention to the bags under her eyes or how bloodshot they were. Some people even greeted her, trying to be friendly. She nodded at them all, trying not to sound too rushed or like she had just gotten off a plane after a 6-hour flight and drank half a bottle of whiskey while on it.
She walked to the house of her mark, at the end of the block, and just looked at it for a moment. She could hear the voices coming from it, noises of a house well lived in. And all these people around had no idea a criminal was living amongst them. They also have no idea an assassin has just arrived. They don’t realize a lot of things around here, it seems.
Someone came out of the house, and Sara tried not to jump. Instead, she just turned around and crossed the street. She went around the house across from the one that belonged to her mark, left her bags close to the back door, making sure to keep her handgun inside her coat pocket, well hidden, and then came back to the front. She knocked on the door and waited for someone. Or no one, which would make her job so much easier.
An old woman, probably around seventy years old, opened the door and gave her the biggest smile. Sara answered with the best smile she could muster.
“Hello ma’am. I am visiting my sister, she lives across the street, and she asked me to come here and ask you for some sugar?”
“Oh, you’re Tilly’s sister? I didn’t even know she had a sister! Come in, come in, child, let’s go get that sugar”
She followed the woman into the house, and the moment the door was closed, Sara decked her on the back of the head with the butt of her gun, with just enough force to knock her out. She held the woman so she wouldn’t hit the floor, and gently laid her there. Sara stepped over her and went to the back door to get her bags.
She came back to the living room and drugged the woman to make sure she wouldn’t wake up while Sara was there, and also so she wouldn’t remember any of this once she did.
Sara then found a nice room on the second floor with a big window and nice curtains, enough for her to carefully hide the rifle and also stay hidden while having a good view of the rooms in the other house.
She set up the gun, pulled whatever could work as a chair – which ended up being a nightstand - and sat down. The next half an hour was spent with her brain completely on automatic mode, adjusting to the wind, the height of the girl’s room in the other house and all the materials her bullet would have to go through.
Her job was made twice as hard by the fact that her hands kept shivering nonstop. She stuffed a couple of chocolate bars that she had in her handbag into her mouth and hoped the calories would work fast enough that she could pull this.
While she waited for it to take effect, she decided to look around the neighborhood, watch the people, make sure no one was going to end up screwing up her plan. Her eyes quickly found one of the women who had greeted her earlier. She was jogging up the street, from the same side Sara had come from. She looked like the typical suburban housewife, wearing sports clothes, blonde hair up in a ponytail. She somehow looked familiar, but if Sara was being honest, pretty much everyone in this place looked right out of a movie, so it didn’t surprise her at all.
Before she could keep observing everything, another coughing fit overcame her, way more violent than any other she had had so far. Her hands flailed and they slammed against the rifle, making a huge noise when it touched the window glass. Sara barely registered this, however, as more blood, mucus and flowers petals, that now were a slightly pink tone, were coming out and she couldn’t stop it.
The moment she managed to get herself under control, she went close to the window to look outside, and Sara saw the blonde woman pointing at the window. The moment she looked up, and their eyes met, Sara knew why she had looked so familiar.
Shit. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
It was the same woman she had seen in the grocery store a week ago, and that now, seeing her more clearly, she could tell was the woman who almost ran her over at the entrance of her favorite coffee shop almost three weeks ago.
Fuck. This was bad. There was only one reason why she’d meet someone this many times, and it was the absolute worst thing that could happen to her now: she had been made. She had no idea how, when she had become this careless, when she became the asset that gets discovered on the job, but apparently this was her now.
She looked outside again and the woman and four other men had guns drawn and were running towards the house.
Sara had never sobered up this fast in her life. Her heart felt like it was gonna come out of her mouth. She grabbed only her handbag and ran towards the back of the house, exiting through the second floor window onto the roof, and slowly walking towards the edge. She heard the two doors of the house being kicked in and the woman and the four men – who apparently were federal agents – screaming their credentials. Sara was so fucked.
Sara looked back at the house just in time to see the woman arrive at the second floor. She was screaming instructions, starting to look at the room Sara came from. She was soon gonna find her rifle and suitcase. At least they can’t trace it back to you. You’ve done one thing right.
On the other hand, Sara had also just left behind all her weapons. She currently only had the handgun in her pocket and the knives in her handbag. Shit.
Another cough came, a small one this time, only one petal coming out. But it was enough for the woman to turn around and see her. Their eyes met, and from this up close, Sara could even try to figure out their color. It was a moment of stasis in the middle of the chaos that was suddenly taking over her life.
It probably only lasted a second, but it was more than enough for Sara to know this situation was gonna be the end of her.
And then, the woman started screaming for the agents to come up. Shit.
Sara turned around, climbed down the side of the house, and ran through the backyards in front of her, not even looking back.