“Need a light?”
Tanim whirled around, grabbing desperately again for the gun and aiming at a shadow by the balcony door which he had most certainly checked just a moment ago. From its depths a figure stepped, clad in a long black coat with a hood which concealed the wearer’s face. Tanim scowled, leveling the revolver toward the hidden visage. “Fucking assassins. Can’t you people use the front door for once?” The figure chuckled, but it was not a kind laugh. Nor was it an unfamiliar one. Before Tanim could speak the name burning his lips, two pale hands rose to fold back the hood and he found himself staring into eyes as dark and hard as the shadows which had just obscured them. He swallowed, fighting to keep the hand holding the revolver from trembling noticeably. “So. They finally sent you.”
Daren shrugged languidly, his expression unreadable. “You’ve managed to kill the last three, and they were not novices. What did you expect?” A smile flickered over his thin lips. “But of course, you did expect this. Why else the fear? The paranoia? Those emotions are not becoming to someone so high in the Templar ranks.”
“Skulking in the shadows is certainly becoming to you,” Tanim spat. “Did they send you because they think I can’t harm you? I can. I will, if I have to. If you make me.”
“If you recall, I am the only one who can make you do anything,” The assassin moved forward with a slow, easy stride, hands loose at his sides as if this were nothing more than an old lovers’ spat. “And you so enjoyed the things I had you do…” He chuckled lowly as Tanim backed away, edging toward the open bedroom door in an attempt to keep as much distance between himself and Daren as possible. That Daren had not made a grab for the revolver yet was no comfort; Tanim had little hope he could hit him even at this distance, as fast as Daren was – not to mention the man would sense his intention before he ever fired and likely throw off his aim. He had to get out of the confines of the apartment. “I remember you rather enjoying them as well,” Tanim quipped back, buying time as he came in line with the doorway. “And yet, here we are.”
“Yes,” The wry twist to Daren’s mouth could not quite be called a smile. “Here we are.” Without another word the assassin shot forward. Tanim fired rapidly; when he felt Daren’s hand knock the revolver from his grip, he turned to flee toward the back of the apartment. Daren’s cold laughter followed him as he burst through the private roof access door, though Daren himself did not seem to be in pursuit. He climbed the stairs two at a time, throwing open the heavy metal door at the top and stepping out into the chill night. Perhaps he could jump down to one of the adjacent roofs, or–
“Come, Tanim, this farce makes fools of us both. Stop running from your own desire,” Tanim whirled around. Framed against the city lights, Daren’s silhouette stood like a scrap of darkness atop the roof ledge. The assassin had not donned the iconic hood again, though Tanim found himself wishing he had; it was easier to fight back when his opponent was just another faceless enemy. Yet there could be no denying the history between them, and when Tanim spoke his voice lacked vehemence. “Desire?” He managed a bitter laugh. “Yes, this is what I want; to die at the hands of someone who once loved me and now hunts me like an animal.”
Daren held his hands out, encompassing the whole of their stage. “And yet you ran up to the roof, from whence there is no escape, instead of down to the street.” Tanim had no snide response to that; turning his back to Daren, he surveyed the glittering city skyline and tried to ignore the accuracy of Daren’s observation. An inexplicable weariness settled over him and the urge to flee numbed to a dull ache of regret.
“Aren’t you tired of running, Tanim?” Daren’s voice issued from directly behind him, though Tanim had not even heard the assassin step down from the ledge. “They will never cease hunting you. Better that it be myself who does the deed, don’t you think? You know I will be quick.” Tanim shuddered at the familiar sensation of warm breath against his neck but refused to glance back. Instead, he closed his eyes and shook his head ruefully. “I suppose it was always going to come to this end, wasn’t it.”
“We are what we are,” Daren replied, and Tanim imagined he could almost hear a note of remorse in the words. He squeezed his eyes shut tighter as cool fingers slid along the line of his jaw, hesitating over but never quite touching his lips. It was all he could do not to lean back into Daren’s embrace, let alone pull away or manage a struggle. He wondered if things might have been different, had they not been driven apart by this ancient enmity. Somehow, he doubted it, and that thought gave him a queer comfort.
When the assassin spoke next, his voice was a low murmur against Tanim’s ear. “Requiescat in pace, frater.” Daren’s hidden blade made no sound as it slid from its sheath against his arm, nor as he drew it across Tanim’s neck in a single swift movement.
[ For those of you who have started following my blog since the summer solstice – hello! welcome! you might regret this! – you can read the solstice myth to understand better why my characters murder each other so gosh darn frequently. ]