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       Child-sized hands weakly clenched into shivering fists. He was shaking so hard that he couldn’t even whimper, too focused on trying to get more oxygen supplied to his franticly convulsing muscles. Eyes that were so impossibly dark - blacker than night- starring down the equally dark barrel of a gun. Standing stoically, a hitman with a pale face and hair that hid half of his face like the waning moon held a blank expression. What was hidden inside the shadows of that barrel, he could not completely understand. What was promised behind the length of that terribly, long dark passage - by the mask-like face of a contracted dog- he could not completely comprehend.

       The clansman sighed as he glanced at his watch. “What are you waiting for? Policy’s we can’t have any witnesses and he’s at the age where he’ll remember. Kill him already, I’ll never understand why no-faces like you take your goddamn time with this shit.” V’s grip on the rifle didn’t change in the slightest and the expression on his face remained neutral. The clansman sucked his teeth in annoyance muttering about ‘fuckin’ no-faces’ when he realized he was either getting completely ignored or wouldn’t get a response regardless. Stepping over a few fat smelly corpses, he made his way to retrieve the suitcase filled with clan money and swore. “Ugh, fucking look at that, fat fuckers didn’t even have this case for 24 hours and it’s a quarter empty! Boss is gonna shit bricks he’ll be so mad.” he snorted, “glad I’m not the operations director, haha!” He chuckled to himself and looked back at V to gauge his response but it seemed the dark humor didn’t reach him.

       The little black-eyed boy hadn’t stopped trembling during the exchange, however, the tremors ripping through him seemed to lessen in intensity over time. V remained impassive as snot and tears began gushing out in streams over cheeks still full with baby fat, and the child began to cough softly as if afraid to pull back too much attention to himself yet struggling to breathe. V’s eyes only shifted slowly to look at his tag-along who was clicking the case shut. “Alright, V, I think we’re done for the night. I couldn’t find anything else on those bastards. And kill the kid already, he probably wasn’t in a life worth living in the first place. Don’t even want to know what those fucks were doing to him. Fucking disgusting.” The clansman made a point to stick out his tongue in disgust before heading towards the stairwell, shaking his head all the while. “Well, I’m not gonna stick around to see you kill kids in this fucking filthy apartment so I’ll meet you back in the car. Make it quick, V.”

       As the door clicked shut the room became filled with the too-quick breaths of the frightened boy. Pitiful. That’s the only word that popped into V’s mind when regarding the small, shaking form of this sullied child. Its arms were extremely thin – a sure sign of malnourishment. In no world would this boy survive; shaking in front of a trained hitman with a fully loaded rifle. The tremors lessoned until they turned into unrepressed ripples across that small frame, he was probably wondering why he was still alive.

       Now that V wasn’t technically on the job he began taking in the details he considered insignificant before. For one, the room smelled like intense morning breath and sweat. Dried semen probably covered every inch of the room at some point, which was unsurprising considering what position he had found his recent victim in, now with blood pooling over the grimy linoleum floor. His eyes slid downwards. The kid was shaking in a pool of the late victim’s blood- blood that was rippling with the small aftershocks of the child whose toes were so tiny that they were drenched to the tips.

       His blank blue eyes refocused on black as a small chime-like voice spoke. “… I… want to… live” the boy said between tremors. “Please don’t… kill… me” he sobbed out, voice barely a whisper.

       Ah, V had seen something like this before in a cold place in his past life. Was it a puppy? Maybe a kitten… he’d seen it often. In his icy wasteland, once his home in the most rudimentary of aspects, opportunistic breeders and owners had found a nice place to dispose of their unwanted pets relatively inexpensively and without repercussion. Sometimes V would see the vans and pick-up trucks drop their garbage for his town to deal with. If they came in a box, they were easy to ignore. Tiny, distressed mewls would come out, lessening in frequency until the contents of the box became deathly silent only hours later. In the all too common case where the animals were just unceremoniously dumped into the snow, they would struggle towards the promising light of night lanterns, barking at any of the capricious gods trudging by in the hopes that they would be merciful to them. Sometimes that mercy came in a quick death, and very rarely did that mercy appear in a house and some warm mash for the night.


       

       Once… or once upon a time – he couldn’t remember what was real and what were his young fantastical delusions anymore- he had chanced upon a kitten so black that anyone else may have mistaken it for a patch of oil. It didn’t move towards him, half frozen in the snow as it was, but it mewled louder and more frantically to the sound of his boots moving towards it through the cement snow. He couldn’t remember what became of that kitten- but his memory was always like a roll of movie film flickering on and off as he took a pair of scissors to them…

       In this case, it seems that V was now the capricious god staring down the innocent black eyes of a kitten. It was a nearly imperceptible change in his expression, but the end of V’s lips downturned in the semblance of a frown as he returned from his reverie. While lost in his thoughts, he had relaxed his grip on his rifle, going so far as to turn it down in a neutral position. The black-eyed child must have taken that as a sign that he would live and began to calm, tremors nearly imperceptible, but V had not yet deliberated over such a possibly ruinous decision. True, he may have been unconsciously leaning towards a future in which he didn’t have to kill the child, but he usually ignored them if they got in the way of a clean job.

       Wasting no more time, he thought of his options as he fiddled with the piece of metal covering the trigger. Kill him and that was the end of the story. That was the world where nothing changed aside from an imperceptible subtraction in the human population, already rising so fast. Leave him alive and V would, for only the second or third time in all his years of living, go against the company protocol to risk his credibility or life. And for what? A child who would likely go on to be miserable, to be exploited in every way?

       The safety was flipped on with a barely audible click and V slung his rifle over his shoulder so that it rested against his back. The child still looked terrified but his trembling had turned into hiccups and wispy open-mouthed breathing.

       “Haa…puff… haa… hic! Haa…” the boy’s breath began to even out with small sniffles in between. The child was fixated on him, waiting for something. They weren’t quite imploring like the eyes of the black kitten from so long ago, but were more likely searching for an answer. Maybe looking for a sign in the hitman’s blank expression that he wouldn’t be shot if he ran off. How was a six foot tall hitman with a rifle supposed to look non-threatening to a child who just saw him kill men right in front of him? He’d been asked to do impossible tasks before but this would really test his social training. But what did a child know anyways?

       He knelt down as close to the festering floor as he dared and smiled his most charming smile. It could have been a handsome smile but he was out of practice so that if you looked too closely the sharp edges and stretched-too-thin lips would give him away as an imposter. It must have been genuine enough because he was able to move close enough to put his hands on bare, thin shoulders. He was still wearing his work gloves yet, he was still able to feel how thin they were all bones and strange angles where there should have been fat.

       The shaking stilled as the boy began to relax in his hands. What kind of life did he have to relax at the slightest bit of warmth from a killer?

       “It’s alright now. Sleep and forget everything you saw today.” V soothed in the warmest voice he could muster before swiftly knocking him out with pressure applied to a sleeper point on the neck. Now, what was he going to do with an unconscious child?

       “What the fuck took you so long?” His partner grumbled from the passenger seat as V clipped on his belt.

       Newfound expression on his face he turned to reply, “just some clean-up”, before starting the engine and heading back to the company station.

       “Huh, is that supposed to be a smile? Well, we already hired a cleanup crew, you don’t need ta do that shit. Can’t believe you made me wait for that.” he grumbled.

       V smiled into the rear-view mirror. He quite liked this new expression, it might become useful in future missions after all.