Andrew Kozlow is a man of contact involved in the local underground web of crime and growing his influence.
Val Vasiliev-Novaković, also known as V, is a shapeshifter and a petty thief. V could stand for anything you want her to be: vendetta, vigilante, villain.
After meeting while he was out of town, Andrew offers to sponsor her to live in his city in return for regular favours and assistance. Things go smoothly for a while, but all they ever do is con and lie and all that misdeed is bound to have someone gunning for their backs. There's a downside to not being able to fight when you never had to.
(The music player works. Good luck finding the button lmao.)
Val's days dredged on, minutes into hours, hours into days, and eventually they all began to blend together. Though her monotonous daily life was far from a nine-to-five, Val had sunk deep into her routine. New faces, taps on the shoulder, deft fingers slithering without detection.
Admittedly, she'd grown complacent. Val had never gotten caught, and if it ever came close she'd just adopt a new face and shrink into the crowds. She had a roof over her head, ate comfortably, and had plenty of dirty money stored in hidden crevices in her apartment. What more could she need?
Val bit her lip, noticing the light of dawn shine through the slats of her window. Even with what she had, something continued to coax her out of bed with each rising of the sun. An insurance policy, maybe. Or ensuring Val could live out the rest of her days lavishly. Truthfully the female wasn't sure of her motivation. As she sat up, her gaze settled on the reflection covering the wall, staring back. Were her eyes always that deep of a brown?
Tearing away her eyes, Val soon found herself outside, wandering about. A few wallets should be enough. It was simply the matter of spotting those who were too oblivious to notice her. Typically, it was those who had their belongings nearly dangling out of their pockets or bags.
Val acted as though she was either occupied by a phone or sightseeing, though her eyes flickered about, monitoring. A man in his 40s, approximately. She stopped in her path, allowing him to stride past, her hand clutching onto his wallet stuffed haphazardly into his jean pocket.
It'd become easy, with how long Val had been doing it. Not yet feeling the heat of someone's suspicious gaze on her back, she continued onward. Being in her trade for as long as she had been, that sensation one gets that they're being watched was heightened in necessity for survival. Val only made it this far by remaining elusive. Getting caught by authorities would surely spell her demise.
Strolling down the sidewalk, she spotted a male about her age, dressed in a suede jacket. They were walking in opposite directions, so this could be a nice time to try a more distracting technique. As they came closer, Val jerked her head to look at a store, bumping straight into the male. "Oh! I'm so sorry. I should really pay more attention to where I'm going!" Val smiled apologetically, her tone nearly saccharine.
Then she began walking beside him, continuing in the direction she was going originally. Val's hand moved to slide into the pocket of his jacket.
Andrew liked this city, and he doesn't really like much.
The place itself was incredibly pretty and it's not often that he gets to fly across the country for a job he's maybe a little bit overqualified to do. But the connections are worth a lot more than whatever he's being paid for basically stalking someone. A paranoid corporate target, not knowing said target had a superpowered bodyguard detail.
So Andrew had spent the last few hours weaving in and out of an unfamiliar city after barely getting away, one empty needle on his person. Maybe he should charge a penalty.
Hopefully the rest of the day would be more forgiving. Find an inconspicuous cafe to rendezvous with the client, leave the motel by the end of it.
He had a call to arrange when he bumped into someone sauntering down the street. It wasn't too rough and Andrew managed to brace the impact, but whoever walked into him also seemed to have done the same.
"Oh! I'm so sorry. I should really pay more attention to where I'm going!" A female voice, too sweet to the ear.
Not this. Why now?
Immediately, Andrew counted off every opening he gave: unawareness, an unzipped pocket, a phone in his hand nowhere ready for confrontation. Carelessness born from fatigue.
"No, my mistake," he said, a little softer than he'd like.
"Hey—" Too late, she slipped away from his grip with his wallet in tow. Fuck.
If there was any witnesses, the whole interaction was already incriminating— it wouldn't matter if he looked suspicious now. So Andrew groaned and followed suit.
Admittedly, Val had a grin creep up on her face as she shoved the wallet deep into her own pockets, regardless of her attempts to suppress it. A quick glance in one of the well-polished slabs of glass adorning a building's wall alerted Val that she was being tailed, however, and the grin quickly fell, replaced with a determined facade.
Her interest was piqued. No one ever followed her in a silent manner, if they had even discovered she'd stolen their wallet to begin with. On the rare occasion that her skills were haphazard at best, the victim would scream, cry, point fingers. Anything other than stalk her. Val, as she ducked purposefully between crowds of people and through excessive turns, couldn't place a finger on his intentions -- other than that she didn't want to know what they were.
Shrewd glances in reflective surfaces or over her shoulder made Val increasingly anxious to lose the male. Any lay person would've been long behind her, stranded in a city they didn't know. But he wasn't. He kept up with her. And Val wasn't hoping for a challenge. Using her abilities crossed her mind, but it wasn't a viable option. Her clothes would remain the same, and worse, she could feel his eyes trained on her. He'd see.
Her options began to run thin. All her typical actions couldn't shake him. Biding her time, though growing frantic, Val had to wait for the right moment, and with a large tourist group presented itself her opportunity. She sped up her pace, so that they'd pass each other whilst at a small side street. She squeezed through them, garnering a few irritated glares and comments, swiftly diverting to the left. A triumphant feeling settled over Val, immediately lowering her guard unintentionally. There wasn't a chance in hell he'd find her here — there was very little people who could trace that movement.
Val became aware of her pounding heart echoing in her ears, ducking down beside a staircase that would block her from vision if someone happened to glance down the alley. She closed her eyes and steadied her breathing. Too close. She did silently curse herself under her breath, that she shouldn't be so clumsy. And should figure out some better escape plans. Then again, this had almost never happened before — she was always too deceptive, too silent, too dexterous. But now she was aware she had to be better than that.
Andrew has done his fair share of pickpocketing back in the day, a fresh runaway off his father's radar. Let's just say he wasn't the worst at it— obviously his sleight of hand got more refined over the years but he never leaned into it.
This girl however, was a professional. The subtle glances to her surrounding reflections indicated an awareness, it's acutely mutual. Cat and mouse from here on out but she wasn't prey, just a little detour. He can't afford to be too distracted.
The chase, so generously put, went on for a while. She was determined to shake him off her tail and Andrew speed-walked to keep pace. Really they should've wandered into a corner any minute— she made a move, dove into a thicker sea of people and for a moment, he almost lost her.
Raking his eyes through the crowd, the reddish hue of her blouse betrayed her and he watched the tail end of the fabric turn left into an alleyway. He would've played his countermeasure eventually, he just needed her to follow the criminal logic.
Andrew turned to the nearby cafe, glanced once at the menu but pressed forward to the bathrooms at the back of the building. Leaving the door and window unlocked, he curled his fist. What little residue of the drug was numbing and he dissipated into gray. Matter seeped out of the small opening and floods the road as he looked for her hiding spot. He found her tucked by a staircase and decided to flair some theatrics.
A smoke, initially appearing like an odd floor-fog phenomena rose up into a wall and enveloped the scene. If there were any cameras nearby, they were obscured as his figure siphoned right in front of her.
He paused before he spoke, letting the smoke fully form and the silence turn thick. He peered at the girl closely, took note of her facial features.
"Excuse me," he said, voice permeating into existence as he came back all human. The difference between a husky growl and his ordinary deep-gravel tone. "You have something that belongs to me."
Andrew outstretched his palm and a steady expectant gaze for its return. When she finally handed it back to him, he dusts it off and checked the inside.
"You do this often huh?" he asked, small talk. "You're good."
His fake ID was still there, so was the money. And something just occurred to him.
"Say," he began, admittedly, a little tired from his powers but a wicked smile played on his lips. "How about we get some coffee? My treat. For the trouble."
If this were any other situation, she probably thought he was hitting on her. But the question was loaded with a threat and hopefully, she'll go along with it.
Calmness began to settle over Val, and she swiftly decided she'd retreat back to the comfort of her home. A quick skim through the wallet she'd just grabbed informed her it'd be just fine to retire for the day.
However, the momentary stillness was ephemeral, dissipating in a cloud of smoke. Seemingly creeping up through crevices in the concrete, eerily growing into the figure of a man. And there he was, the male she'd desperately tried to lose, peering down in front of her. Well, shit. He just had to be some powered individual. Perhaps, if any other person, she'd curse the world for her luck. But if she believed in karma, she sure had a large loan of bad debts to repay; this may be the first of many. The silence enveloped them, its existence being an all too accurate definition of this interaction, charged with potential. Silence could be anything.
Val was reluctant to hand over the wallet, her thumb running over its leather once. A simple understanding of human interaction would inform anyone that they didn't want to go against the male's threat. A slight scoff escaped her mouth as she placed his belongings back in his grasp. Returning home wasn't an option any longer, nor was using this face. At least until he was gone. And if he didn't turn her in. Val would not be placed in the hand of authorities. Ever, if she has it her way.
For the trouble. Those words felt like a loaded gun, tucked in the folds of a sheep's clothing; the wolf inside ready to strike. The male couldn't have made himself clearer. A tense, reluctant smile managed to force its way upon her face, her eyes hardly reflecting the sentiment — instead, there was a pure flame of suspicion burning behind her gaze. If Val needed to escape, evading him clearly wasn't going to work. It didn't once.
"Sure. I know a place or two," Val's voice came slower, the words thoughtfully chosen. If someone had ever caught her, Val would've never expected this was how it play out. Cornered in an alley, sure. Being asked to just 'get some coffee' — it was so odd that Val honestly, couldn't even begin to comprehend the intentions behind the offer. Though, she was vaguely aware this was someone she wanted to avoid upsetting again. She didn't know who he was, or what else he was capable of.
Val strode out of the side street, leading the way. They passed by the cafe just near where they were, and she simply shook her head, "Not there." A few more moments passed, Val throwing glances in the way of her male companion. She couldn't help her mind from moving a mile a minute, a thought never getting the chance to be fully considered before another found its way to the forefront of her mind. Was she afraid? No. She wouldn't dare let something happen.
She soon paused in front of another store, the kind of cafe you'd probably miss on the corner, but equally as beautiful as they'd all evolved to become. Val looked pointedly at the male, raising an eyebrow in suggestion.