Alika wiped the sweat of her brow as she looked over the results of her labor. After hours of working the duster and vacuum cleaner, the apartment was spotless, and she was sweaty and covered with dust.
She checked her phone and saw that it was well past noon. It was a good thing that she'd done all her grocery shopping in advance, or she'd never be able to have dinner ready on time. She would have gotten the cleaning done much sooner if she had any help, but there wasn't really anything they could have done about it. It wasn't anyone's fault that more than half the household was stuck out of town during the holidays.
At least Bayo had been passively helpful during the cleaning, mercifully electing to spend the day curled up in a ball of fur under the Christmas tree, lazily meowing at Alika whenever she walked by in her cleaning frenzy.
Stretching her sore muscles, Alika began breaking down the rest of the day.
"Alright, if I take ten minutes to shower, twenty to make lunch and another twenty to eat it, I should have at least six hours to make dinner before Jo gets home."
Bayo meowed, before rolling over and wedging itself further between the carefully-wrapped presents. The carefully-wrapped boxes would be sitting there until Miranda, Jack and Diana came back home.
One present, however, sat aside from the rest, on top of the living room table. It was a soft bundle wrapped in black velvet paper, with a red ribbon wrapped around it. Alika touched it fitfully, as if to make sure it was really there.
It had taken her a long time to decide on a present for Jo, and even longer to actually acquire it, but she was certain she'd gotten it right. Together with her special Christmas dinner, this night was going to be perfect, and they'd spend a magical evening with the whole house just for themselves.
Jo ran was fast as her legs could take her in pursuit of her mark. The man's screams echoed through the hallways as he raced across the concrete floor. Jo wasn't sure if she should feel offended or proud at how terrified he seemed to be of her.
It wasn't like she had actually done anything to him. After all, his henchman had been the one to stab her. All she did was pull the knife out of her chest and snap the blade against the wall, before launching him out of the window. After that, the man had been so scared he'd dropped his pistol when he tried to draw it, then took off running with Jo hot on his heels.
It was almost like he'd never met an immortal before.
His boss should have warned him to look out for Blackbird.
What he lacked in courage, however, he more than made up in agility, as he began leaping over the guardrails and down the stairs. Jo knew he was heading towards the garage, presumably hoping to make his escape in the car parked just below them.
Jo figured she could probably catch him while he was trying to get the door open.
She could do that, or she could do something a bit more fun.
Instead of running after him, she took the stairs up to the second floor, looking for the right window and peeking out to watch the alleyway below. She was just above the garage exit, just as she knew she would be. Pulling the iron sash up and wedging it in place, Jo perched herself on the windowsill and waited.
Just moments later, she saw a car exiting the garage. With a smile on her face, she jumped and landed hard on top of it, putting a big and ugly dent on the roof.
Another terrified scream followed, and the car suddenly lurched forward to crash against the brick wall of the alleyway, in a cacophony of broken headlights and rapidly-inflating airbags. With nothing to hold on to, Jo herself was launched forwards as well, crashing against the wall with a painful thud.
She rolled off the hood of the car and onto the pavement. As cool as that had been, the way her body complained even as it repaired itself almost made her regret her reckless tactics. Almost.
Jo picked herself off the ground and opened the car door. The man inside was unconscious, his head resting against the airbag. Jo reached into his jacket and pulled out a small external hard drive, the same one he had been so desperately trying to protect.
With her prize in hand, Jo quickly exited the alley by hopping onto a nearby fire escape, making her way to the rooftop. Only there did she allow herself to take a breather.
Staring at the hard drive appraisingly, Jo pulled out an old flip phone and called Jack. The phone rang only twice before he answered.
"How did it go?"
Straight to the point. Not that she really minded. It was business hours, after all.
"I have it! It's gotta be pretty important, since he tried to get it away instead of destroying it. I'll stash it in the usual place and text Lucas to pick it up."
Jack hummed something that sounded like approval.
"I take it you've secured him as well?"
"Airbag knocked him out. I could zip tie him to the steering wheel if you want, just in case."
"Won't be necessary. Miranda will make a phone call and someone will be over to pick him up soon. You just focus on getting that hard drive to Lucas."
"Will do! I'll give you a call once it's there."
"Alright, talk to you later! Oh, and Merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas, Jo."
Jo hug up, and before going on her way, shot her girlfriend a text.
Alika hummed in delight as she chewed on her last piece of grilled cheese sandwich dipped in tomato soup. It was a quick and simple recipe, but it was just as she needed after working all morning, and it warmed her right up in the middle of the cold winter day.
"Alright, Bayo, it's time to get started on dinner!"
Her cat looked up from his plate at her, licking bits of wet food from his lips. He remained silent, but blinked slowly at her.
"Right! Let's get these veggies chopped up and ready!"
Putting her plate and bowl in the sink, she grabbed a plastic container full of mushrooms from the table, placed it next to her cutting board and took a knife from the block. With her phone at the ready to consult videos and recipes, she got to work.
Since the only other person eating with her would be Jo, she figured she should try making an all-vegetarian Christmas dinner. She'd spent half the previous day looking up recipes and putting together the perfect meal.
This meant she was going to be working with a lot of mushrooms, onions, leafy greens and cheese. She had briefly considered making her own puff pastry as well, but after watching several instructional videos on the subject, she'd elected to just use store-bought. Everyone agreed it was pretty much just as good.
The main dish would be a mushroom Wellington, filled with chopped mushrooms, chestnuts, spinach and goat cheese. She preheated the oven while she worked on the sides. A wild rice pilaf would make for a great side dish, as well as mashed sweet potatoes and a simple tossed salad with a dijon and tarragon dressing. She'd even bought a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne for Jo and her to toast with.
A batch of gingerbread cookies and two cups of hot chocolate would be the perfect end to the night, watching Christmas movies under a warm blanket on the couch.
With that thought in mind, Jo worked diligently for four whole hours.
As she watched the last batch of cookies bake in the oven, she felt her phone begin to vibrate on the kitchen counter. The display indicated that it was Miranda calling. Alika picked up the phone.
"Miranda, how are you? Are Jack and Diana alright?"
"We're all pretty bummed out about not being able to get home in time for Christmas, but we're dealing with it. I was calling to ask the same of you and Jo."
"I'm doing fine. Jo's been out all day, though. She's running some errands for Jack."
Alika knew it was important, but she was still a little sad that Jo couldn't stay at home with her all day. She'd been texting her every time she had the time, though, just to let her know she was alright.
"Yeah, he told me about that. How's dinner coming along?"
"Really well! I'm pretty proud of myself, to be honest."
"That's good to know. We have reservations at this fancy place Jack knows, but I really wish we'd gotten to eat some of your food."
"You'll probably be able to. I think I may have cooked a bit too much, so there'll probably be a lot of leftovers."
Alika looked at the table where the food was laid out, the champagne already in ice, the intimidatingly large bowls of sides surrounding the huge Wellington.
"Can't wait to get home, then. Do you know when Jo will be there? You must be hungry."
"It's alright, I had lunch just a few hours ago. She should be here anytime now."
"Okay, I'll leave you to it, then. Merry Christmas, from Jack and Diana too."
Jo sat playing with her phone, sitting on a padded chair in the waiting room of a specialty shop in their local mall.
She had ordered Alika's present many weeks in advance, but the manufacturing process had been delayed for one reason or another, so she had to wait until late in the day on Christmas to pick it up. She'd be lying if she said she wasn't at all upset about it, but she knew the look on her girlfriend's face when she gave it to her would be worth it.
Jo jumped to her feet when the clerk called her name and walked to the counter. The item was in a box, ready for her inspection. She opened the lid and pulled it out.
It was perfect.
She had felt a little weird going through Alika's belongings to make sure it'd be the right size, but it was for a good cause. The synthetic leather was not mere cheap plastic, but a state of the art material meant to be as strong if not stronger than full grain cow leather. It was lined with a breathable waterproof liner and had many other convenient features. It was a bespoke item of the highest quality.
"Would you like it gift-wrapped, ma'am?"
Just then, Jo heard the noise of glass shattering and people screaming just next door. She vaguely remembered that the store she was in was located just next to a bank.
The moment she turned, she saw a tall man standing just outside the glass door, dressed in a sharp black suit and a balaclava. He was holding a rifle in his hands.
Jo's first instinct was to charge at the man, but she stopped herself. She wasn't in costume and the man could see her face. She raised her hands instead.
The man leveled the rifle at her and started to yell something, but before he could get a word in, the gun went off and a stab of pain shot through Jo's chest.
This was more than inconvenient.
Jo had gotten used to bullets to the point where she could have still rushed the man, but there was at least one civilian present and she couldn't risk being exposed like this, so instead she let her legs go limp under her and collapsed in a whimpering pile on the floor. The girl behind the counter screamed.
She could hear the rifleman shouting expletives and she raised her head to see him looking at his rifle and fiddling with the safety over and over, as if that would do anything. A second man emerged and grabbed him by the shoulder, pulling him away from the shop. The moment the two men were out of sight, the clerk ran to Jo's side and knelt down beside her.
"Miss Petrov! Are you okay, can you hear me? Are you breathing alright? Oh no, oh no..."
"It's alright, I'm fine, I'm going to be okay, it's just a scratch."
"But there's so much blood, oh my god, so much blood."
It still felt strange having to calm down a civilian while she was the one bleeding on the ground, but it wasn't the first time it had happened. She was pretty sure the bullet had gone through her lung, probably bouncing off the metal counter after her body had absorbed most of its energy. The wound had closed already, but her clothes and the floor was still stained with blood.
"I need to call an ambulance, the police, someone..."
"I'm fine, it barely scratched me, really!"
It wasn't working. The poor girl was nearly in tears.
"Listen, there's a pharmacy just up the stairs to the right. They probably have no problem giving you some first aid supplies if you tell them one of your customers got shot. Why don't you go ask them? I'll wait right here."
"Right, first aid, pharmacy, right. I'll be right back!"
The woman jumped to her feet and stumbled out of the shop. Without missing a beat, Jo got to her feet, grabbed the present and ran out the doors as well, heading straight for the emergency exit.
She ran down the empty hallway as she heard the distant sound of police sirens. Jo took off her hoodie, rolled it up and carried it under her arm, hoping no one would notice the bloodstains. At least she'd put on a dark red shirt that day, so the blood on it wasn't too noticeable. She eventually reached the exit, walking out onto a back alley and making her way back to the street.
And right in the middle of the alley was parked a nondescript white sedan with tinted windows. The driver's window was rolled down and she could see an arm holding a cigarette. An arm clad in a sharp black suit.
She really should just walk the other way and go the long way home. It would be the safest and quickest option overall, since the rest of the bank robbers would arrive at their getaway vehicle anytime now, and running into them would just cause more trouble.
But one of them had put a bullet through her and nearly given that nice clerk a panic attack, and she was still angry about that.
She put the hoodie on again, tucked her hair under the hood and pulled it down to conceal her eyes, then walked to the driver's side.
The man inside jumped when he noticed her. He dropped the cigarette and reached for the weapon on the passenger's seat, a pistol with a suppressor already attached.
Before he could reach it, Jo's hand grabbed him tightly by the hair and pulled his head down, smashing it hard onto the car door. The man grunted and tried to reach for the gun again, but Jo hit his head down against the door two more times and he stopped moving.
The driver dealt with, Jo quickly knelt down next to the car and pulled out a pocket knife. She made a cut into the base of the valve stem on the rear tire, deep enough for her to hear the air starting to leak out.
"Who robs a bank on Christmas, anyway?"
Looking both ways to make sure she wasn't spotted, Jo ran back the other way, waiting until she was out of the alley before pulling her hood down again.
Alika sat alone at home, the dinner table already set for two, with her carefully-prepared dishes lavishly presented before her.
Her girlfriend was not home yet.
She had told her she'd be back before seven, but it was nearly eight and she hadn't shown. Her texts claimed she was on her way, but hadn't provided a lot of details.
Suddenly, Bayo perked up from his spot under the tree, and a moment later, the door to their apartment opened.
Alika stood up and walked to meet her girlfriend at the door.
"Jo! There you are! Why are you not wearing your hoodie? Aren't you cold?"
"A little, but I'll be fine. Sorry I took so long, had to wait for the bus to be empty enough so that nobody would smell the blood."
"It's a long story. It doesn't matter just..."
Before she could continue, Alika pulled her into a hug and pressed a gentle kiss against her lips, only breaking it to pull back and look softly into her eyes.
"It's alright, I'm just happy you're finally home. I love you."
"Alika... I love you too."
It was all they needed to say. Jo smiled and Alika smiled back, squeezing her in her strong arms.
"I hope you're hungry, because there's lots of food to eat, and I can hardly wait."
"Yay, it smells delicious! Uh, can I just go get changed out of these clothes real quick? It's just the... blood."
"Oh, right, that's probably a good idea."
Hours later, Jo and Alika lay together on the same corner of the sofa, Jo sitting on Alika’s lap, both bundled up in a blanket and nursing a cup of hot chocolate each. Alika’s legs were hanging out from underneath the blanket, clad in her new pair of fancy stomping boots. Jo was wearing her new red alpaca wool scarf. A tray of fresh gingerbread cookies sat on the table beside them, half of them already gone. On the television screen, Belle was teaching the Beast how to ice skate.
The lights of the fireworks illuminated their faces through the window. Suddenly, there was a crescendo of explosions in the sky. Alika checked her phone and confirmed that it was midnight. She pressed a loving kiss on her girlfriend's cheek.
"Merry Christmas, Bambi."
"Merry Christmas, Alika.