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Shipping & Handling

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This is the first installment in the Fallen Star series, written in collaboration with lolgirl607 (tumblr) and starrycontractor/loremipsxm (tumblr/fanfiction.net).

The story takes place just after the OVA episode, which we placed chronologically as after episode 17/18.

I do not own Darker than Black.

 

19 March, 2007 - 22:31

Hei sighed and dragged a small hand towel across his face, wiping the last drops of water from it. He was leaning over the sink in his kitchen, naked, his clothes hanging on the curtain rod just inside his window. He wanted to hang them outside and let the warm spring air dry them instead, but he couldn’t risk displaying the black material in the open like that. Instead, he’d make do with opening the window just a crack and hoping it was enough to make a difference; he wasn’t sure if he could stand the smell of them for much longer, though.

Hei dabbed the towel over his chest, catching a few beads of water that he had missed, as he mulled over the events of that evening. He had been facing off against the officers of Section 4 - something he wouldn’t normally do unless the circumstances were dire; and as far as Hei had been concerned, they had been.

One of the officers had managed to connect the Reaper to a face - his face - all because he had inadvertently saved her life about a week ago.

He made the decision at the time to leave her memory intact; he didn’t think she had seen anything particularly incriminating. It was just another attack by the Black Reaper, BK-201, with no leads and no trail to follow. Hei had made sure the scene was cleared of any evidence before leaving the unconscious woman by the bus stop.

Yet somehow, she had managed to find him just a day later, taking up an excruciatingly obvious position on his street corner as she staked out his apartment. He initially suspected there to be other cops nearby, but a quick glance outside had been enough to convince him otherwise.

He found it hard to believe a trained police officer would be stupid enough to tail a contractor as dangerous as he was on her own; yet she had. Even worse, she had posted a physical description of him on some online community, further endangering his cover. That was when Huang had decided enough was enough.

Usually, killing a police officer was strictly against his code. Not that Hei lived by any sort of code, moral or otherwise; he usually stuck to a basic if it gets you noticed and gets you killed, don’t do it philosophy. Killing cops was a pretty sure way to get him noticed. As it was, Section 4 was already following his star’s movements and patterns. He didn’t need to give them another reason to come after him. Cops were notoriously protective of their own, and killing this woman would have just shaken the hornets’ nest further. But the Syndicate wouldn’t allow a cop to get away with his identity, either; he had needed to bite the bullet and deal with the fallout later.

Hei didn’t quite count on the other members of Section 4 coming to her rescue, though. Thinking about it now, that was stupid of him. He should never have assumed she was alone without making sure of it first.

It had caught him off guard when a female officer had pulled the girl into her vehicle to make their getaway, but Hei recovered his upper hand quickly enough; later, he even managed to catch his wire around one of the officers - Saitou, he remembered. He had initially met the man a couple weeks ago while working undercover at a hotel that was owned by the Chinese mafia. Come to think of it, he had met the second female cop there as well.

Misaki Kirihara.

Hei frowned. He had dismissed her before, back at the hotel. She was just another cop, filled with delusions of some Grand Justice that was impossible to achieve in reality. Her observational skills however were quite good. She had been able to recognize him as BK-201 in the mall before, just from his back. Thankfully, the moment she saw him as Li, she forgot the contractor he was supposed to be and replaced him with the charming student he was playing.

He’d like to say it was because of his acting, his practice at pretending to be something he wasn’t. Hei knew he had just gotten lucky; he could hardly believe he had gotten lucky tonight as well.

He had assumed that the girl had told Saitou and Kirihara his identity, which meant they had to be eliminated as well. But when Kirihara’s bullet tore through his cable, snapping the wire back and into his mask, he couldn’t mistake the shock on Kirihara’s face upon seeing his own. He remembered the pain in her voice when she said his name, that look of utter betrayal she wore. It was a look he knew well.

Hei pushed himself away from the counter, tossing the filthy towel in the sink basin as he did. He strode into the main room and grabbed a clean pair of shorts from the closet, slipping them on quickly; he brought his wrist up to his face and sniffed lightly, then grimaced. For some reason, the smell was familiar to him, but he hadn’t been able to place it yet that night.

Whatever had been in that vial seemed hell bent on sticking to his skin, no matter how many times he had scrubbed himself raw. Usually he didn’t mind not having a tub or shower in his apartment - a quick wash with a rag at the sink was enough for him most nights - but what he wouldn’t give to be able to soak in something other than this sickeningly sweet stench, the same stench that covered his gear and stuck to his hair. He had washed both in the sink as well, but like with his skin, the smell didn’t want to leave his clothes either. It seeped into everything it touched - it was going to take days to get rid of it.

Hei frowned again as he realized what it reminded him of. Death. The smell of week old corpses and the rot they held; it was a very familiar stench. He’d have to remember to kick Mao for dropping the thing when they met in the morning.

Although, his mistake did seem be the source of his luck that night. The moment the vial dropped and the vapor was released, the three officers fell to the ground, completely knocked out. Hei didn’t question it; he grabbed Mao and pulled himself up to higher ground, not wanting to risk further exposure to the potentially harmful substance. The two of them hid behind the tarp and steel of the building above, waiting for the cops to wake. Hei had seen enough to know they were still alive, and he didn’t want to leave until either they were dead or it was safe enough to finish them off himself.

He didn’t expect them to have forgotten their encounter entirely. Maybe the vial was something like portable ME? It didn’t matter to Hei now; the job was a failure, and somehow he and Mao had escaped unharmed. He glanced at his still-reeking clothes. Well, mostly unharmed.

Hei pulled his futon out from the closet and rolled it onto the floor, mentally preparing himself for the mission debrief tomorrow morning. Huang would be angry, but that wasn’t new. At least this job would be over with; he was sick of it. He hated just waiting around while Mao tried to find the thing, and it had been worse with that officer keeping tabs on his apartment, limiting his mobility.

But, Hei thought as he lay himself out on the mat, once again he got lucky. The mission was over, the officers forgot his face, and he didn’t have to kill any cops.

Now to just get the smell out of his apartment.

-(0)-

Misaki groaned, trying to shield her eyes from the bright fluorescents of her office. She vaguely registered Kouno’s voice in the background, the low monotone surprisingly soothing to her ringing headache.

“So we lost the item, we lost BK-201, and we have no more leads on this case.” There was a soft fwump as Kouno dropped a file on top of his desk. “Great. That’s the fourth one this month.”

“Look, it isn’t our fault,” Saitou protested, his voice coming out thick from behind a swollen lip.

“Right,” Kouno drawled. “Because you guys can’t remember anything from the last few days. Honestly, that’s a stretch, even by our standards.”

Matsumoto closed his eyes and shook his head. “I’d say it was another contractor, but there weren’t any stars active last night in that area. Not even BK-201’s, according to reports.”

Saitou slammed his paper towel-wrapped ice pack on his desk. Misaki flinched when a small ice crystal landed on the exposed skin of her hand. “BK-201 was there, I remember that much!” He brought the pack back up to his damaged face, but Misaki saw his hand briefly linger by his shirt collar.

Whatever had happened the night before had left Saitou with the brunt of the damage. Split lip, two black eyes, a gash in his left cheek, and a very distinctive set of ligature marks around his neck; those marks were more than enough to convince Misaki that he was telling the truth.

Yet no matter how many times she went over it in her head, she couldn’t recall the events of last night. The most she could say for sure was that Ootsuka had been in immediate danger, and she and Saitou had gone to save her. Otherwise, nothing. She hadn’t even been able to remember the majority of their current case notes; it had taken Matsumoto and Kouno together to walk her and the others through the case again. This was definitely not the highlight of Misaki’s career.

“If BK-201 really was there last night, why did he let us go?” Misaki’s subordinates turned their attention to her. “On top of that, why was Saitou the only one to come away with any real injuries? Why not the rest of us?”

“Because we obviously had him outnumbered,” Saitou said.

Misaki shook her head. “A contractor like him would have been able to take out all three of us easily, especially if we really had been knocked out. And the more I look at it, the more likely that seems – something happened last night to knock all three of us unconscious and wipe our memories.”

Matsumoto shrugged. “Unauthorized use of ME? It’s been done before.”

Misaki frowned, her brow furrowing in frustration. The movement shifted her glasses forward slightly, but not enough to warrant readjustment. “No, ME would have been more efficient… We still have pieces of our memories; we just don’t have anything concrete.”

“Maybe BK-201 did it?” Saitou suggested darkly. The eye that wasn’t hidden by the ice pack took a harsher glint to it, one Misaki wasn’t used to seeing in the otherwise gentle man. “He could have knocked us out with his power and done something to us. He was just toying with us, the damn bastard.”

“But that isn’t possible,” interrupted Ootsuka, speaking up for the first time that morning. “Like Kouno said, BK-201 wasn’t even active last night. There isn’t any star activity from him.” She held up a small packet of papers for emphasis. “I know Matsumoto said that he was after me, but I don’t think he was the one who knocked us out.”

Misaki sighed. “Then until we find out what did happen last night, I want this case held open,” she said.

Her subordinates nodded, taking that as an order to return to work.

Misaki glanced at Ootsuka as she sat down across from her at her own desk. Out of the three of them, Ootsuka seemed to have gotten away with the least physical damage – only a small bruise on her knee from when she had fallen. Misaki wasn’t badly hurt either; she had a small scratch on her wrist that she assumed was from the concrete, as well as a welt on the back of her head that must have been formed when she hit the ground. That welt was the source of her headache this morning, she was sure.

“Ootsuka, are you sure that you’re all right?” Misaki asked, forcing her voice to take a more gentle tone than she was used to.

Ootsuka looked up in surprise, then she smiled brightly. “Yeah, I’m sure, chief. If anything, I actually feel great today. I haven’t had an allergy attack at all either, which is a plus. Usually my allergies are horrible this late into March.”

“Careful saying things like that,” Saitou warned. “You’ll just get an even worse attack later.”

Misaki glanced at the office clock hanging on the wall. “It’s nearly noon, Ootsuka,” Misaki said, interrupting the light-hearted bickering before it got any worse. “Why don’t you take off a little early and get some rest before heading over to the observatory.”

“Sure, chief,” Ootsuka beamed. “Thank you.”

As her youngest subordinate gathered her things to prepare for the afternoon, Misaki started jotting down her own to-do list for later that day. She stopped when she reached the bottom – ‘Take car to body shop.’

Misaki groaned. That was not a trip she was looking forward to.