Laura wasn't sure what she should've thought about having a man leap into her car, covered in blood, gun in hand, and demand that she drive, but she was pretty sure it shouldn't have been he's kinda cute.

Nonetheless, that is what she thought about the man who might bury her in a ditch eventually.

Even worse, she was pretty sure the cuteness has something to do with the blood trailing down one side of his face and oozing from a cut on his lip. Her dating life now made a lot more sense, knowing she had these issues.

"Just so you know," she said, paying a lot of attention to the rules of the road considering the situation she's in, "I'm a foreign aid worker here, I'm actually helping you guys, so if you killed me, that would probably make your country really unpopular and confirm a lot of bad stereotypes people have and really be a little cliché…"

He paused a moment, parsing this—did he speak English? Her Russian was too rusty to say 'oh God, oh God, I don't wanna die.' Then he opened his mouth, displaying blood-stained teeth, what a turn-on: "Do I look Chechen to you?"


"I'm American."

"A white American… this is Chechnya… we're literally in the North Caucasus…"

"We're getting off to a bad start here," he says blandly. "My name's Clint and I'm… very sorry to impose on you like this—" (Here Laura laughed shrilly as the situation briefly caught up with her) "—but I just pissed off some very bad men and they were probably going to kill me if I didn't get a ride right just then."

"Probably… not really an excuse to kidnap someone… maybe you should've taken a chance on…"

"The other possibility was that they would torture me, then kill me."

"Oh. Okay." Laura shook her head, overcompensating for the swell of pity she suddenly felt at the prospect of this guy getting tortured when he already looked like he'd spent the night in the Hanoi Hilton. "And let me guess, I take you 'someplace safe,' then there are a lot more men with guns, I'm put in a shipping container, next thing I know I'm working a brothel in Singapore." Her hands tightened precipitously on the wheel. She could actually see her knuckles whiten, like ice forming. "That's bad enough, but you could at least not lie about it—"

"I'm not going to hurt you," Clint said, in a voice that would probably be soothing if he didn't have to cough up some blood just then. "I promise, I'm… nice. I just need to keep moving. Drive us around for a little bit, I'll get an exfil package set up, we'll part ways. I'm very sorry about getting blood on your seats."

"What?" Laura looked. He was bleeding all over her rich Corinthian leather. "Oh, man! I totally don't believe you're nice. Nice guys never say they're nice!"

"What kind of logic is—c'mon, I know I'm not the handsomest guy in the world, but do I look like a rapist?"

"With the mustache? Kinda."

Clint sighed softly. "It's for my cover. Hold on one sec. And take a left at the next exit."

He dug into one of his pockets—his outfit had a lot of pockets—and took out a phone that could almost be Laura's Motorola, if it didn't also look a bit like a taser. Or a scorpion. He dialed a number, then—shook the phone. It picked up.

"Nat? Hi. Need an ETA on that extraction. Kinda urgent. Nothing major. Intel was just off on how many Serbs with AKs there would be by two, three… fourteen, tops… thirteen hours? Thirteen hours? I could watch all the Lord of the Rings movies in thirteen hours! Extended editions! I am not yelling—hold on." He pressed the phone to his chest. "Change of plans," he said to Laura. "I'm gonna need to crash at your place."

A deep wellspring of outrage revealed itself in Laura, irrational but firm on one point. "No, no, absolutely not, you are not invited to my home!"

He put the phone to his ear again. "She said no. Yeah, I don't think that's going to help. Nat, she's driving. Okay, fine…" He held the phone out to Laura. "She wants to talk to you."

"I'm driving!"

"It's Chechnya. You're about the only person who owns a car."

With a hateful shrug, Laura conceded that it wasn't exactly rush hour. She took the phone. "Hello?" she said, just then feeling she should've said something harsher with more expletives.

"Hi, Laura, right?"

"How did you know my—"

The voice was swift and female, husky like a lounge singer, with a trace of Cyrillic that only Laura's years in the mother country let her detect. "Listen, the guy who is admittedly carjacking you? I promise you, despite the mustache, he's not a rapist or an axe murderer or anything. I'm telling you this woman to woman, sisterhood of feminism, all that."

"How do I know you're not, like, some girl he keeps in a basement pit and for lying to me, he lets you wear my face when he's done with it?

A heavy sigh that Laura felt was unwarranted, given that it seemed like a reasonable possibility to her. It wasn't like she'd accused the two of them of being aliens or anything. "Take the phone away from your ear."

She did. Only the phone wasn't a phone anymore. Well, it was, but the keys and screen and mouthpiece and earpiece were now showing an image, like it was a TV Laura was holding in her hand instead of a phone. She was looking at possibly the most attractive redhead since Mary Jane Watson.

"Laura, look at me. Look at my face. Look at my cheekbones. Look at my very cute haircut." Whatever camera the redhead was using, she shifted it to take in a (very cute) haircut. "Do I look like I live in a basement, helping this dork be a serial killer?"


"No. I'm way better than that. So, with my personal guarantee that he's housebroken, can he stay in your house tonight?"

"Also, death squads," Clint put in. "Keep in mind, roaming death squads, looking for me."

"He'll be on his best behavior," the woman stressed.

"Fine!" Laura cried. "It's not like I have a choice in the matter anyway. I'm assuming he'll still shoot me if I try anything."

"I'll just wing you," Clint promised. "I'm a really good shot."

"He is!" the woman said.

Laura shoved the phone back at Clint. "Tell her it's fine."

Clint took the phone, which was once more a phone. "She's in. Bring her something nice with the extraction team, to make up for the gun and all."

"I'll send her one of my tops, to replace that orange horrible thing she's wearing. That's a monstrosity—"

"I can hear you!" Laura hissed.

"дерьмо! I'm hanging up now. By the way, you didn't tell her your name, did you?"

Clint hung up. "I didn't tell you my name, did I?"

Laura shook her head.

Held hostage and she hadn't even had time to tidy up her apartment first. Even if she died, her mother would still crow about this. 'What would your kidnapper think of your unmade bed, Laura?'

"Nice place," Clint said. "Homey. Knot too tight?"

Laura wiggled her hands. Of course, the cord held tight. "Not really."

"You're sure? I don't want to cut off the circulation. Just can't have you, you know—running to grab a gun and shoot me."

"That's fine. I totally understand."

"You're being sarcastic."


Clint checked the knot around her ankles. "If it helps, know that doing this is probably doing a lot more to help make the world safe for democracy than… teaching kids Dr. Seuss or building Habitat for Humanity, whatever you're into."

"And how do we figure that?"

Certain she was secure, Clint leaned back on his end of the couch, checking the makeshift bandages he'd had on back when he first waved his gun in her face. "You build houses, bad guys blow up houses. I blow up bad guys, you can build all the houses you want."

"That's childishly simplistic."

"So is Dr. Seuss."

The phone rang in Laura's purse, Clint jumping, gun trained on it, body moving to shield Laura from… the ringtone. In a tick, he'd relaxed, settled back into the guitar player kinda stupor she'd thought he'd been in. Underneath that seemingly pharmaceutical Zen, though, he was on a hair trigger.

"Who's that?" he asked Laura.

"How should I know? You think this just happens to be one of those times when someone calls and I was just thinking about them and that's good enough for an intelligence agency?"

"Or you were expecting a call," Clint said, going to her purse and fishing the phone out. He checked the caller ID. "Who's Brad?"

"My boyfriend. He's a huge ex-Marine, eats a lot of red meat—"

"Yeah, I'm sure a lot of them go for the 'Like To Buy The World A Coke' types." Clint pressed Ignore. "He gonna call back?"

"Probably," Laura shrugged.

"And if you don't answer?"

Fed up with dignity in defeat, Laura stuck her tongue out at him.

Clint rolled his eyes. "Please?"

He said it in such a 'I'm trying my best' sort of way that Laura felt a flicker of sorry for him. "We were planning to go out tonight. He'll probably call again."

"And if you still don't answer?"

"He'll say Baby/ Oh baby/ My sweet baby/ You're the one."

Clint had the audacity to grin. "And after that, you think he'll come over here?"

Laura shrugged. "Maybe," she said, with all the sassiness of her teenage years that she'd been too much of a good girl to unleash on her parents.

Clint got down on one knee, arms crossed on his leg, gun hanging limply. "Lady. Look at me. Do you really want—" The phone started ringing after in his other hand. Clint obligingly checked the caller ID, just as dutifully lowered it. "Do you really want him to walk into all this, a situation I can't control, best-case scenario end up tied up right next to you?"

"It's tempting. I'm not feeling very gracious at the moment."

Clint held out the phone to her. "How's this: get rid of him, I'll untie your hands, you can at least scratch your nose."

Laura stared daggers at him. The phone continued to ring.

Clint raised it like a gavel. "Going once, going twice…"


He pressed answer, holding the phone to Laura's ear, pressing it on the other side like they were dancing cheek to cheek.

"Laura? Babe, where are you? You were supposed to meet me like half an hour ago."

Laura's dreams of being a Hollywood actress, realized. "Donald, hey, I'm so sorry, my sister called, she's a mess, Mom had some kind of fall and she's in the hospital, so I'm just waiting by the phone, I'm getting calls from my brothers, my dad, my grandparents, everybody—"

"A fall? Is it serious?"

"No, I don't think so, just a little touch and go for a while, but she's talking and breathing on her own and stuff…"

Donald's voice shifted, gaining a register. "So… your mom falls down… good enough reason to cancel our date without telling me? We've been planning this for two weeks, I thought this was important to you—"

"Don, it is important to me, I just wouldn't be good company right now anyway. And I've been glued to the phone, getting… third-hand what the doctors are saying…"

"And so you couldn't spare five seconds to think of me, call me, tell me there's an emergency and I might as well have not even bothered clearing my schedule? I know your work is so important, Laura, but I have a life too, you know."

"You're right, I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking, but can I please clear the line, someone might be trying to call me right now?"

"Okay, so if I call your sister, right now, she's gonna tell me she's with your mom, in the hospital, right now?"

Laura looked horrorstruck at Clint. He made the most succinct 'yeesh' face she'd ever seen. Amusing, but unhelpful.

"I mean, yeah, if you wanna be a jerk about it…"

"I'm the jerk? You're clearly making up a story to get out of this date that you wanted, talking about shoring up our relationship, you can't even bother to show up, you can't even bother to cancel?"

"So I want a rain-check, okay, what's the big deal?"

"The big deal is I'm giving it my all, trying to make you the best you that you can be, but I don't think you're meeting me and I don't think you even care about making me the best me I can be. You know, Laura, more and more you feel like the right person at the wrong time."

"What's that even mean? Is that some buzzword from some online guide about breaking up with me?"

"I'm not saying I want to break up, I'm saying I would like to focus on me, a little, for once. And, even better, maybe we could do that without you being a total bitch about it, as—"

Clint was standing up suddenly. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Alright, now we're calling our girlfriend a bitch, what's that?"

Donald's voice rang out so loud Laura could hear it even with the phone off her ear. "Who's this?"

"Who's this?" Clint retorted. "The guy who complains about his girlfriend's mom, his future mother-in-law, being in the hospital on date night? Is that who this is? Okay, let's say for a second she does want to bail on your date, which you shouldn't even be thinking because it's your girlfriend and you should trust her. But, for the sake of argument, she's flaking out on you. Maybe there's some other issues with the relationship and here you can be looking inward and wondering what exactly you're bringing to the table, good and bad, before you look at your girlfriend, who is lovely, and kind, and funny, and would've loved to go on a date with you even though you were willing to snap her head off at a moment's notice just so you could feel like a hotshot. Newsflash, buddy, it's not all about you! Do you even know what an 0-8-4 is? Can you imagine a rogue Nazi deep science organization flash-frying the Earth, or a pissed off Russian turning Times Square into a mosh pit? No, you can't, because there are more important things than you and your ego, so maybe if you want to keep being in a relationship with a beautiful girl, you should get some perspective before a giant green rage-man steps on you just because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time!" Clint hung up and tossed the phone aside. "Asshole. You can do so much better."

"Yes," Laura said. Somewhat stunned. "I'm getting that."

"Well, thanks for trying." Quick-drawing a KA-BAR, he slit her wrist bindings and returned the blade to its sheath before she even had time to be scared of so much sharp, shiny metal in her vicinity. "Admit it, though—getting kidnapped, not such a close second to date night with that guy?"

Laura wiggled her legs, still bound at the ankles. "I do get to play a mermaid. There's something."

"That's the spirit. You got a TV? You can pick what we watch, I just need something to keep me up so this concussion doesn't get me."

"In the den," Laura said, and abruptly she was being picked up.

It didn't seem like much of an effort for him.

"So," she ventured politely, "how long until you get extracted?"