My breath curled out in foggy tendrils as I waited for the man to come.
The night was bitterly cold, putting needle-like pricks into my exposed fingers and face.
But I couldn't back out now. I'd come so far.
There was movement down in the front of the alleyway, a silhouette against the light of the street. I pressed my self against the wall behind the dumpster, hoping my protruding stomach wouldn't stick out anywhere. Him noticing me was the first step to getting killed. Probably. This was the first time I'd done anything like this.
Footsteps echoed against the towering walls on either side of me. When their approach was just a few feet from my location, I sucked in a quiet, slow breath.
It was time.
As soon as the man's figure moved past me, I stepped away from the dumpster and went to grab him, my fingers dug into his jacket as I lifted a switch blade and plunged it into his back. But something went wrong. The blade snapped off as it went in, and then slid away from my intended target under the rib cage, instead digging upwards, on top of the bones there.
The man gave a startled cry, and yanked himself free before taking off down the alley. I was shocked, the cold fear leaching itself into my system.
I should have expected this.
Should have foreseen how easily I could fail at a task so few were willing to do.
The sudden realization that it wasn't just willingness that determined your ability to do this job. There was some amount of knowledge involved as well.
After those few seconds of self-reflection I took off after him. I didn't know if he'd seen my face- I didn't think he did- but I couldn't be too careful. What kind of career would I have if my first job ended with me getting thrown in prison.
My mind chewed on the thought of how I'd go about finishing him off as I moved. The footsteps were fading as more distance was put between us. I had to hurry, but even the adrenaline running rampant in my system couldn't keep my weak body going for that much longer, and I was slowing.
Still though I pursued the shadow of the man, the echo of his footsteps. He the corner into the back part of the alley and I followed, fumbling a bit with the sharp maneuver, and went to continue after him and stopped dead. The relative quiet after the frantic chase was deafening. There was only a gentle sound, like a guitar string getting pulled taught.
Before me, the man, the target, was still.
A light behind him again silhouetted the scene to me. I was frozen in place as I struggled to process it. It wasn't until he dropped to the ground I fully understood. His breathing had stopped. Where his outline had once stood, there was now a new outline. A much thinner outline, with what I could identify as lean muscle.
I started to step back, recognizing I had walked into something I should never have seen. I didn't care if it didn't make sense, that there was no reason for me to be hired to kill someone somebody else had been hired to kill.
There was one word that seemed to hold in my mind: run.
I turned to do exactly that, just to feel a hand grab the back of my jacket and drag me back. The air left my lungs as I was thrown against a wall and felt a sharp line across my throat. My fingers grasped at the line, but I couldn't find the knife. Only the impression in my skin. Then my fingers hit something coming out of my neck, a sharp line that extended from his fists on either side of me. A wire. The kind they used in movies. I looped my fingers around it and pulled, but it did little to lessen the pain in my neck and only added more to my fingers.
The handle of the switchblade clattered to the ground, eerily loud in the quiet alley.
A mask hung around my face, concealing all of the facial features of my attacker, replacing them with a single white line, horizontal across the black. Even if I got out of this, I would be at a disadvantage.
Despite the wire, I could manage tiny, almost useless breaths, but I still felt myself slipping into unconsciousness. The moment felt much too long. Like he was toying with my life, debating if he should kill me with some other means.
The wire loosened and a new breath was sucked into my lungs, leaving an icy relief in its wake.
"Who are you?" came a low voice, filled with unpleasantness.
"I'm... just..." I pushed against the wire, trying to get air in. "Me." Even in the situation, I felt my face turn hot from embarrassment.
Yes. I am me.
The wire pressed into my neck and this time my breath stopped, not even the small breaths I'd managed before came and I felt my vision going, black spots swarming in, my head tipped back against the wall.
The pressure lifted. I fell to the ground and coughed up a wad of foamy saliva. By the time I looked up, the other assassin was gone. I let my stomach rise and fall as I breathed and after several moments pushed myself to my feet. My legs shook as I walked out of the alley. I glanced around, but no one seemed to notice me. There were only a couple people in the area. One was smoking on the steps of a building, the other was digging through garbage. I hurried out of the neighborhood, and pulled my hood over my face.
I felt sick to my stomach on the subway. My hands were still shaking as I looked down at them in the grim lighting. Then I dropped my face into them and tried to pull myself back together.
There was nothing about what had just happened that I'd been ready for.