Bright green eyes glowed with raw excitement as she ran, pausing only to peer over the rickety metal framework at the edge of the floor she was on. She tore her eyes away to give her surroundings a final glance. The others were close - scattered throughout the building - and yet she was alone. They liked the high spots. Most were on the roof, but the big cement staircase that ran up the middle didn't reach quite that far, and she just couldn't figure out how they all kept getting up there. No one would tell her, either. Kampret...
She tugged at the bare edges of light, mesh-like fabric by her knees, simultaneously straightening and pulling down the soft, stretchy top of a dress that was getting too small for her.
Little more than a big, square skeleton now, the theory among the oldest was that it had once been an office building. Its walls were almost all window(hole)s. None were actually old enough to remember.
She focused more intently on the small group of foreigners below and stood completely still, listening for the echo of footsteps. Nothing. She didn't want to lose first dibs, or worse: lose track of where they were, down in the sea of tiny figures. So she darted over to the wall, checked her reflection in a piece of broken glass, wiped off a random dirt smudge and tucked a few strands of silky black hair behind her ears, out of her face. Then she vaulted down the stairs, using the hand rails whenever she could to skip several steps at once on every floor, grinning like the little kid she was.
Maybe she'd share the haul. Probably not. Though they were like a family, they weren't. She had none. None of them did. Similar stories: Something really bad happened, they ran away from someplace and were drawn to the others' success. As far as she knew, only she'd fled the foster system.
She rather enjoyed the freedom of the streets. More gleefully than most, she'd taken up the collective profession: pickpocketing.
Suits were always good targets, and she'd spotted a nice one. She studied them more closely on approach. Five to seven people, all well-dressed, mostly in dark blue or black. Lots of dark sunglasses; a briefcase or two. They were having an intense conversation, in an area that was always densely-packed - which worked to her advantage. Cars, bikes, mopeds and street vendors obscured her small frame instantly as she stepped into the fray. She selected just one for now, and dipped into the current of bodies headed his way.
The closer she got to them though, the more her doubts harassed her. They were all rather scary-looking, and they seemed to be planning something sinister... arguing extra-quietly, pointing at places they shouldn't be, shooting each other critical, dubious looks in response to heated statements. The one she'd chosen seemed particularly invested in it all. Middle-aged American-looking guy, with thinning dark brown hair and strong, stern features. His cool, commanding demeanor suggested he was the boss, so... money!
She took a deep breath and went for the suit's side pocket as she passed, skillfully extracting a very nice, real-leather wallet! But that wasn't all there was, she realized, casually tucking away her prize. Her eyes wandered back. She'd felt the cold, smooth edge of something metal - too big to have actually been inside the pocket... Gun! A gun, just under the jacket. She put extra effort into pretending as if she'd not noticed them at all, and slid away.
A strong hand grabbed the back of the dress, so quickly and forcefully that she had to stifle a scream.
"Hey." It was him, of course. She briefly considered pulling the whole thing over her head and running away - perhaps less-briefly than usual, as the others moved in to surround them. But as her thoughts raced, he switched that iron grip to her upper arm anyway. He turned her around with one hand.
She'd been caught before, and she was always very good at talking her way out of it. But for some reason, he wasn't angry. Which scared the everliving crap out of her. Angry was easy. Expected. Plus her English wasn't great at the time. "I _ _ _ that. I'm not _ _ here, and you _ have my _..." The clear, assertive voice trailed off as he peered into her big, soulful eyes. He furrowed his brow.
She froze up. He still wasn't mad, even though she hadn't replied. He seemed... perplexed. He studied her expression for a moment - wide-eyed, full of confusion. She tried to slip some adorable innocence in there too... but she got no reaction from that.
"You're _ _ smarter _ you _, aren't you?" She pretended not to understand at all - until he managed a tight-lipped grin. "_ _ _ smart _ _ alone, (especially?) in a _ like this..."
She stared - trying not to look around. He saw right through her whole 'little kid in big trouble' act. He turned his head towards the others.
They discussed something in low whispers, and he released the arm, absentmindedly. When he turned back she tensed up - but didn't run. "_ _ you _ _ make _(Real? True? Honest. Yes, honest) bucks _ with _ instead?"
Cautiously, she nodded, and smiled back - pretty sure she understood.
(Eventually) they managed to explain to her that they were some sort of international police, and told her what they wanted her to do. She was to go to a nearby building and get as close to some bad guys as possible. That was it. At the first sign of trouble though, she was to run right back to them, and no one else. A very pretty Sulawesi lady replaced the old guy, smiling, and looked at her head for some reason. Carefully, she placed a black-jeweled barrette into the hair above her ear, which was also very pretty, and it made her feel pretty to wear it. Even though she was pretty sure it was a camera.
It was supposed to be easy... for her. She knew exactly how to do it. She waited for the perfect moment, summoned some fake tears and let them redden her face a bit. Then she ran right up to the front desk in the lobby, ignoring the paying customer. "Is my papa here?" she begged, a perfectly-placed sob catching in her throat. "I - I need to see my papa..." The look of sympathy she got back said she'd done well. She was granted access - but not escorted - to that floor.
She made her way through the halls to a suite called Ex-something, sniffling and keeping the tears going all along. Urgently, she knocked, and posed the same question to the door man. He let her right in. Perfect.
"This little girl says she's looking for her dad," he relayed, while she nervously scanned the room. She took a few steps towards the middle; towards all the guys seated at a big long table by a window. But she was quickly intercepted. A tall, skinny guy stood up, adjusted his jacket, and met her halfway there. "Hey, Sweetie..." he started, speaking slowly in broken Palauan. There was a kind smile on his face. "Are you sure that you've got the right place?"
She didn't know what to say, so she let herself freeze up... genuinely scared. But he read this, and seemed to understand. Gently, he placed a hand onto her shoulder - just past the edge of the collar. He turned her around to face the door, chiding "I don't think that you do."
She shuffled her feet apprehensively, glancing backwards to follow some of his - and the door guard's - distracted, uncertain glances.
They kept looking to one in particular for approval. One who was seated at the head of the table, directly facing them - and whose appearance had her instantly captivated. Piercing, wicked grin that stretched the deep, matching scars apart on both sides of his lips. Eyes that could burn through steel, a greenish blue. Hair the color of bright, smoldering embers and a sharp-featured, angular face that frightened her on a deep, instinctive level. His stare in particular exuded something off... something distinctly evil. When he finally released her from it, it was to lift his chin up from behind long, folded fingers at the man. An unspoken acknowledgement.
The hand moved towards her back and added pressure, guiding her away more quickly. But at the same time, she heard the crisp fabric of his suit rustle. His other hand had left his pocket. Then there was a strange, sickening, fleshy kind of sound... like raw meat being manipulated, re-formed. When she tried to turn and see it, something hit her, hard - pain. Stinging, pulling pain in her upper back. It was excruciating, starting right where he'd touched. She felt it tear through fabric, skin and flesh...
The shocked expression on the crime-hardened giant of a doorman's face told her exactly what had happened. She tried to cry out between gasps, but the other hand was already pressed tightly over her mouth. He spoke to her softly; so sweetly. "None of us here have a daughter."
She couldn't breathe. Pain and panic flooded her thoughts. She fell forward to the floor, out of his hands. Then, with one hard-earned breath, she summoned a loud, shrieking scream. With neither pity nor hesitation he grabbed her again, and stabbed her halfway through it.
Suddenly there was lots more screaming, and yelling - incoherent. Loud bangs and frantic movements shook the room. With overwhelming speed he yanked her backwards, holding her to him with a firm, blood-coated hand pressed to her chest.
She faded in and out of consciousness. Lots of big guns were pointed at him now.
"Oh, but I don't think you want that," he taunted. The Sulawesi lady translated. "Because then I'd have to drop her. Not good..." A few of them inched forward, yelling. "Not another step," he warned, shaking his head. She heard that fleshy sound again. He leaned down to check her face. "You may still be able to save her..."
So much pain... Every time she was able to claw her way back out of the blissful darkness, she regretted it. She wanted to just let go. Her head lowered lifelessly down over his hand, she fell asleep, watching her own tears carve paths through the all blood.
But their words - she could still hear them. Full of force, and desperate passion. Someone really cared. Enough to fight all these guys to save her. So she tried to fight hard, too. She opened her eyes just long enough to gaze helplessly into those of a nearby armed policeman.
Determined to get to her, the man took a barely-detectable, perhaps subconscious step forward. But her captor saw the movement. He stabbed her again, then dropped her, and shamelessly fled.
Before she even realized it there were people all around her, touching her. They were trying to get her attention - but she couldn't stop convulsing; lost control. Her frail form circled the drain, taking her mind along with it.
Someone lifted her up, way too fast... making her hurt even more. Their hasty movements jostled her burning limbs... seemed like forever. The next thing she knew she was on a flat surface again.
"No... Nonono -"
"_!" Some sort of curse-word. "This wasn't (Allowed? Expected? Supposed to. It wasn't supposed to) happen!"
"_ were all unarmed! No (Lucys? What -)! Zero risk!"
"What _ _ _ _ _ a little girl? _ didn't - " Her voice cracked. She was trying to hide her emotions. "Couldn't have _ known _ _ a camera..."
That one wrapped a warm, soft hand around the wrist she could still feel, her dark eyes welling up despite the effort. She looked up, to someone else, then closed them and moved her thumb soothingly across the back of her hand instead.
She tried to pull away. She didn't know them. Didn't know what they were doing, or what she had done wrong... They spoke just the same way he had...
"Can you save her?"
"Sir, I... I'm _ not _... There's _ _ _ to - " The lady paused and looked up at her face, a spark of intelligent fervor in her eyes. "We - "
"Can you save her!" Yelling. Always yelling. But not that one; not until now.
The one who'd been stuttering pressed her lips together. "We can _ _ her _ for _." They parted slightly as she thought for a moment. "_!" It was a demand for something... something handed to her quickly in a needle. Now she was scared of that, too! She squirmed and made weak sounds of protest.
The man who'd done so noticed. "Shhh..." he placated, stroking her hair. Trying to comfort her. She turned her head away. Didn't want it. There was nothing to not be afraid of, and no one would ever, ever convince her otherwise...
With the needle still inches from her skin, the fight just... left her body, all at once. The grown ups' movements hastened. Trying to stop it... the darkness... from growing. Ragged, diminishing breaths echoed in her head.
She let them touch her, frantically, because she couldn't get away. She flinched at each set of hands, because she couldn't see them coming... saw only the darkness, as a tingling, terrifying cold took all the rest.
Surprisingly, her last feeling wasn't fear. It was sadness. At the fact that of all things, this was her end. Stupid.
But she didn't die. She woke up. In a brightly-lit hospital of sorts, where that woman and a man in white told her that they'd just barely managed to get her there. They'd even hunted down most of the guys. They thanked her; praised her bravery. They said they'd saved her life... with a new, experimental artificial replacement for the half of her heart that she'd lost. Hearing that again always jolted her back awake.