(Written between 2005-2010, completed and revised January 2010)
Fandom/Pairing: Agent Sheldon Jeffrey Sands (Once Upon a Time in Mexico)/Elektra Natchios (Marvel comics)
Timing: Five months after the events in OUuaTiM, after Elektra's Marvel Knights run (#10-22), after Daredevil Vol. 2 #37 and before #76. And before all the Skrull-kidnap stuff.
Disclaimer: Characters are property of Robert Rodriguez and Stan Lee/Marvel; I own nothing.
Elektra jogged along the path by the beach, the ocean crashing beside her. It was already close to sixty degrees out, even though it was early April and only seven in the morning. She didn't know why she hadn't left California as soon as the job was over, but something about the place had made her stay. Her previous job had been in India, and it had required two weeks of reconnaissance before the actual hit; she wondered vaguely why she hadn't sought out somewhere cooler by now. Not that the heat really bothered her all that much—she hadn't been particularly sensitive to temperatures since...well, for a while now. Besides, it was good for her to take breaks, she decided. Pace herself. Break up the flow. It had been two weeks, but she doubted she'd stay much longer. She'd leave as soon as she got bored; never mind the fact that she'd paid three month's rent, in cash, on a small apartment by the beach. Money, at least, was one thing she never needed to worry about.
The cell phone clipped to her hip vibrated suddenly—she had never been able to find a ring that didn't annoy the hell out of her. She stopped on a dime and, glancing around, answered it. "Yeah?"
"Is this Joey's Pizza?" a wary voice asked. She smirked—this was a job, that was the code phrase. She loved thinking up the most asinine phrases possible and listening to the pained way in which clients, who were usually very important businessmen and government leaders, muttered them on a call. If they wanted her, they'd have to work for it. "What can I get you?" she replied wryly, settling down onto a bench.
"Come to 779 Sunset at nine tonight, and we'll work out the details." The voice of the man on the other end now sounded silky and confident, now that he'd gotten that vexing first bit out.
Elektra rolled her eyes. She hated it when clients pulled this cloak-and-dagger shit just because they were hiring an assassin. Usually clients gave her the basic information first, and they met later if in fact she decided to take the job. "You've got me now, just give me the details here," she said irritably.
"This is a very delicate matter, and discussing it over the phone would be imprudent," the man replied, even more smoothly. She considered hanging up right then—a 'delicate matter'? Right, because when dealing with a contract killer, it's usually rather casual. But the man continued, "We intend to make it very worth your while, Ms. Natchios."
"Do you," she replied, saturating her voice with sarcasm. "How worth it?"
"We'll tell you everything you need to know tonight," the man smarmed back. She didn't reply, and apparently seeing the need to sell the idea a little more, he added enticingly, "Have you ever been to Virginia, Ms. Natchios?"
Elektra arched an eyebrow. Well, now, that was moderately interesting. Virginia, as in Langley—as in CIA. She hadn't worked an American government job in nearly a year; they were always just challenging enough to be fun. "Fine, nine tonight," she said shortly into the phone, and hung up without waiting for a reply. It was important to never let the client be entirely in control. Just let them think they are. Elektra got to her feet and set off to finish her run.
Eventually the nastily hot day turned into an unpleasantly humid evening, and Elektra set off for Sunset. She walked, of course—a car, to her, was nothing more than a tracking device for the cops. She'd owned one a few years previously, but it'd gotten very tiresome, changing the license plate every other night. She'd eventually gotten fed up and let it accelerate off a bridge, watching amusedly from a distance as other drivers jumped out of their cars, looking horror-struck into the water below and calling the cops on their cell phones. She was four cities away by the time they pulled it out of the water. If she needed one now, she just stole one and left it behind when she was done.
The Los Angeles sky turned to a dull, polluted-looking puce as she finally located the 700 block of Sunset. 773, 775, 777...Florescent pink and green script flashed "GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS" brightly over her head on the next building, and the dingy numbers on the door said, quite clearly, 781. Elektra spent thirty full seconds fuming on the spot and wondering who had tricked her, and who she was going to kill for it, before realizing there was a narrow alleyway between 777 and 781. She slipped between the two building, dryly admitting to herself that any client who would demand a meeting in a seedy neighborhood at nighttime would indeed do the thing properly and find the shadiest little hole in the wall possible in which to meet. Sure enough, there was a worn wooden door in the wall, and she knocked on it twice.
It opened the tiniest crack. "Yeah?" a gravelly voice demanded, and Elektra heard the sound of a gun cocking in preparation. She rolled her eyes, knowing that was entirely meant for her.
"I'm here for..." She cursed to herself, realizing she'd hung up the phone without even getting a name. "I've got a nine o'clock meeting," she finished, annoyed.
There was a pause, and the door opened all the way. Whoever had greeted her at the door, though, had apparently vanished. Elektra stepped through the door, and found herself unconsciously clenching her fists. Not a moment too soon, it turned out, for a split second later the door closed, plunging her into almost complete darkness, and someone grabbed her from behind around the neck.
She was ready, of course, and threw an elbow back into the assailant's face, hard. He stumbled backwards, releasing her, and she spin-kicked him into the wall. She heard another figure approaching from down the opposite end of the hall, and she waited until he grabbed her wrist before dealing a swift roundhouse kick. It caught the man, she gathered, right in the sternum, and she used his gasping curse to direct her in the darkness as she drew a knife from her side and drove him against the wall. Her arm was raised and speeding downwards when another door behind her flew open, bathing the scene in dimly golden light. Elektra whipped her head around, and saw, to her slight surprise, a tall, broad-shouldered man dressed in a suit standing there looking vaguely amused.
"That will do, Ms. Natchios," he said to her, as though addressing a particularly gifted preschooler. "Release him, if you please."
Elektra looked back at the man she was pinning to the wall, whose eyes were fixed in horror upon the hand grasping the knife, which was frozen in midair six inches from his throat. Comprehension dawned on her, and her lip curled in anger. "What is this, a test?" she demanded furiously, without moving. "Are you kidding me with this?"
"We had to make sure it was really you, Ms. Natchios," said the man in the doorway, seeming utterly unperturbed that she still appeared to have every intention of killing the man in front of her. "You understand...there are so many counterfeits out there, and we need the best." He gave her what he clearly thought was a charming smile.
"And you clearly sent your best men to test me, I'm so flattered," she sneered back at him; her captive was nearly in tears for fright now. "Oh, get out of here," she added to him, throwing him contemptuously from her, where he tumbled to a heap on the dirty carpet. "God." She turned back around to face the suited man in the doorway, still holding the knife in her hand. "So what is this?"
"Please, come inside," he replied, stepping aside to reveal the room behind him. She glanced inside, and realized she was in what had once been a motel of some sort. The room looked as though it had been rearranged, the bed pushed off to one side and the desk in the middle of the room, manila folders stacked neatly upon it. A light on the ceiling shone dully, occasionally flickering in a feeble sort of way. Elektra stepped past the man and into the room, glancing warily around. He closed the door behind him; two men in similar suits flanked the door like sentries. She gave them a sarcastic nod and sat down at the desk on the side facing the door, in the bigger chair. The man who had opened the door looked slightly taken aback for a moment—clearly, that had been his seat, and she was meant to take the folding chair opposite, but she never sat with her back to a door. It might not have been that dangerous, considering the laughable 'attack' she'd just fought off, but still, it was habit.
The suited man eased himself into the folding chair, and gave her that same serpentine smile as before. "Ms. Natchios, I'm Agent Hansen, United States Central Intelligence Agency."
He apparently thought this would impress her, or frighten her, or something. It did nothing of the sort; she merely raised an eyebrow and said in a bored voice, "And?"
He chuckled slightly. "And we need your help with something very important."
This was getting ridiculous. "Yeah, figured that much out," she replied. "Let's cut the 'Spy vs. Spy' crap, shall we? Who's the mark?"
In response, Hansen took the first manila folder off the pile and slid it across to her. She opened it and glanced at the photo within, and felt the faintest trace of surprise. "Curtis McKean?" she said, without needing to glance at the name. "Director of Central Intelligence, well..." She closed the file and looked back at Hansen. "Ballsy."
"Mmm," said Hansen, giving her a slightly mocking nod. "He recently received some incriminating information involving myself and a few colleagues that we had hoped to keep private. We rather think a bit of staffing reshuffling would be prudent."
She nodded. Standard stuff. "What're you into? Drugs, guns, sex?"
"A little of everything," he replied lightly, and she smirked, despite herself. "Anyway, there's too many involved to remedy the situation any other way, so..." He spread his hands, as if helpless.
She shrugged. The details didn't really matter to her. "Well, I charge a bit more for high-end political jobs."
Hansen's smirk widened. "Of course, Ms. Natchios," he said, in a falsely humble tone. He took a pen from his pocket, and leaned across the table to write something on the folder. "This is what we're prepared to offer, overall." She looked at him in confusion for a moment—she had been about to specify just how much she charged for high-end political jobs; it was most uncommon and frankly, a little presumptuous, for a client to suggest their own price. But when she looked down at the folder, she was sorely glad she hadn't voiced this opinion. It was another rule of hers to never, ever, ever look anything other than mildly interested, bordering on bored, in front of a client, no matter what they said, but it was a close thing this time. Elektra forced herself to look disinterested, but it was a close thing. The amount on the paper was more than she'd been paid for her last three jobs combined. "Is this amenable to you?" Hansen asked, knowing fully well that it was.
"It'll do," she said roughly. Then, deciding his current smirk was far too knowing, added, "I'll need half up front. Now, as a matter of fact." She usually didn't demand it five minutes after being hired, but she wanted to test him and see if he'd really go through with such a promie.
He didn't blink, though, and he made a vague motion over his shoulder at one of the goons by the door, who wordlessly picked up a duffel bag from the floor and handed it to Hansen, who never took his eyes off Elektra's face. He passed it to her, and she resisted the urge to bash him across the face with it.
"Fine," she said, trying not to glower. "Anything else?" She started to pick up the file, hoping the meeting was over, but he held up a hand.
"Yes, a bit," he said, once again sounding like a politely stern professor. She waited. "It's important that the hit take place at headquarters, rather than in McKean's home. And as you may have expected, security measures have been tightened significantly in the past few years."
"It's not a problem," she interrupted brusquely. "I've gotten past pretty much everything out there."
"I have no doubt of your skills, Ms. Natchios," he simpered. "But this is state-of-the-art equipment. There are personalized scans and codes required to get anywhere within the grounds of the agency. Therefore, you will have an...escort."
"No," Elektra replied flatly. "I work alone."
"I'm not sure you quite understand—"
Her already simmering temper rising, she stood up so suddenly she saw both men at the door reach instinctively under their jackets. "No, I don't think you understand," she said icily. "This isn't a matter of debate. I work alone. This isn't the fucking A-Team here. You hire me, you get me, that's it." Hansen said nothing, but took a second manila folder from the stack and opened it, pushing it towards her. Her next words vanished in her throat.
Her own face was looking back at her. Clipped besides the photograph was a memo, the words "Possibly Resurfaced" in bold letters across the top. A chill stole over her.
"Apparently, Ms. Natchios, there was a rumor going around for some time that you were dead," Hansen said, his words light, but his tone every bit as dangerous as hers had been. "Needless to say, you had been of great interest to the agency up until that point. But now, as you can see, it appears as though you have...come back to life, somehow." Somewhere under her sick feeling of dread, Elektra felt a ripple of sardonic amusement. Oh, if you only knew. "If you are willing to help us, I assure you this file, and any like it that should ever turn up again, anywhere, will disappear, once my colleagues and I are in a position of power," he continued.
"And if I don't," she cut in, her voice quiet with rage, "it'll suddenly be filled with useful new information about my whereabouts?"
"Of course not," said Hansen, and for the first time, the predatory look was gone from his eyes. He appeared to thinking the very same thing she was—that if was thinking about blackmailing her, he and his two buddies would be dead in less than a minute, and she would be out of the country in less than a day. "It will simply go back where we found it. You can always disappear, but..." He shrugged delicately. "We're offering total immunity and protection. It's in your best interest."
She thought fast. Yes, she could disappear, she rather had a knack for it...but it would be so much easier, knowing she was safe from at least one country's government. And it really was a fucking boatload of money. She allowed a long moment to pass before saying, entirely tonelessly, "What do you mean by 'escort'?"
Hansen seemed to take this as acquiescence, but this time he didn't smirk. He passed a third file to her and, sitting back down slowly, she opened it. A man looked back at her—or rather, sneered back at her. He looked as if the photographer had just done something extraordinarily stupid before hitting the shutter. Dark brown eyes peered lazily from a chiseled face, surrounded by carelessly messy brown hair. Twisted smile, more of a smirk, really.
Before she could ask, Hansen was speaking again. "Sheldon Jeffrey Sands," he said, as if reading lines from a cue card. "Joined the agency in '85, after being hand-picked from his class at Princeton by Edward Gray." Gray, Elektra knew, was the former Director, before McKean.
"Top of his class, was he?"
"Hardly," Hansen said, and now the smirk was back. "He was on the verge of being thrown out. Brilliant student, but slight problem with authority." He paused. "And generally getting along with others."
She glanced back at the file, lifting the photograph to look at the pages beneath. Phrases jumped out at her: College roommate alleges Sands set his bed on fire...Dean of students alleges Sands was caught on school property behaving lewdly with dean's wife...high school principal alleges Sands caused extensive damage to school's pottery closet with a fire ax... She fought the urge to snicker. "And this is the sort of guy you want joining up, is it?"
"Once we saw the way he shot a gun, yes," Hansen replied dryly. "No one could get on the inside the way he could. The drug dealers, the mob bosses, the dictators, they all...just seemed to trust him, for some reason."
"Mm, I'll bet," she said contemptuously. Then she looked up at him. "Wait, what do you mean, 'the way he could'? What happened to him?"
"Well, it's in the file, but..." This was clearly the part of the story Hansen was dying to tell himself, so she just looked at him expectantly. He stretched back luxuriously, as much as he could in a folding chair, and continued, "Few months ago, we discovered a plan to hit the Mexican president. We knew there'd be all sorts of characters involved, so we sent Sands."
"What'd he do?" Elektra asked, intrigued despite herself.
"Gave his reinforcements the slip two days in, and got himself mixed up with the Barillo cartel," he replied. Elektra gave a derisive chuckle - she knew them, all right, had even done a job for Barillo himself once. Last time she'd had a job in Mexico, though, she'd gotten in their way and ended up having to take a month off to recover. She'd missed three potential jobs, and her shoulder still ached sometimes. "What'd they do to him?"
"Took his eyes out with a power drill, no anesthetic," Hansen said with relish.
Jesus Christ. Guess a torn rotator cuff isn't so bad. "Wow," she said blithely. "Sucks."
"And managed to take out nearly all of Barillo's men after that," he continued, sounding like a ten-year-old reciting the plot of his favorite comic. "By the time it was all over, Barillo was dead, most of his men were dead, and the President was alive. Sands came out of it looking like a hero in a Greek myth."
"Well, once we got him back and he was in the hospital, we had a chance to look through some of his personal belongings. Looks like he'd had as many extracurriculars as we had, although not quite as creative. Still, enough."
"Enough to what?"
"Enough to convince us that he could be an asset to us, and enough to convince that it would be wise for him to rethink his loyalties—not that he really ever had any—and to assist us. He was rather easy to convince, frankly."
"He was—assist you—wait a minute," Elektra snarled, finally understanding what he was driving at. "This guy? This is my 'escort'? This, this..." She pounded the table furiously as she searched for the word, making the men at the door jump. "You're trying to tell me I've got to work with this fucking blind sociopath? Are you kidding me with this?" Without letting him reply, she barreled on, "Why is he even still working for you? Shouldn't you just have handed him a big fat check, thanked him for serving his country and sent him on his way?"
Hansen outright laughed at that. "We probably should have," he mused. "But some of us felt...well, I felt, that he might prove useful sometime in the future. He's still a brilliant agent." He paused, grinning rather idiotically. "Blind sociopath though he might be."
"So…what, I'm supposed to baby-sit him? Keep him out of your way?" she sneered at him, still boiling. This was so not how it worked.
"Hardly. You see, as I said, the security measures have been tightened. To get into many of the areas at headquarters, one needs to get past a fingerprint scan and—" he actually looked like he was going to giggle "—a retinal scan."
Elektra clenched her teeth, not sure if she wanted to keep shouting at him or laugh herself. It was too sick, too funny. She closed her eyes briefly to compose herself and then said, very evenly, "So?"
"So, after Sands' little...accident..." (he really looked close to hysterics now) "Sands was given a temporary pass code. Instead of the scan, he just enters a number, along with the codes for the individual buildings. However, it's just a generic code, not a personalized one. His fingerprints register as his own, of course, but the code could be combined with anyone's prints."
"Somehow I doubt mine will suffice. Besides, as I said, I can get past those systems."
"I'm sure you could," he said, still in that maddeningly polite way. "And you'll need to when you actually intend to do that hit. But I presume you intend to do some reconnaissance beforehand?" She nodded shortly. "Well, then, Sands will accompany you to headquarters during the day so that you can do whatever background work you need to do so that no breaches in security are registered. Then when you perform the hit, you'll use his access code and then override the fingerprint requirement with your—" he made a deferential gesture "—own talents. By the time the breach is discovered, you'll be long gone."
She considered him. It made sense, to a degree, and it would make things marginally easier, but it seemed overly complicated and risky on his end. "It'll be obvious that I had inside help," she pointed out. "If I use his code."
"True," he agreed. "That serves our purposes as well." He didn't clarify more than that, but she didn't press the matter. She didn't much like the idea of skulking around the headquarters of the CIA with an agent by her side—she'd be disguised, of course, as a precaution, but having someone else with her would make it harder for her to slip around unnoticed. Then again, perhaps having him by her side was the perfect disguise. It was a new challenge, anyway. He watched her for another moment, and then said, "So, Ms. Natchios, do you find this agreeable?"
She scoffed, still not loving the idea. Still…the vision of all those zeros shimmered tantalizingly before her eyes. And unless he was lying, which he didn't appear to be (she was very good at deducting that sort of thing), this would be one of the easiest jobs she'd ever worked. It wasn't often a client virtually handed her a key to the mark's front door. And Director of Intelligence...that was pretty big. Might it lead to better jobs, higher prices? It was just too tempting.
"Fine," she said, trying not to sound as grudging as she felt. "But this guy had better not get in my way." She punctuated this statement with her steeliest glare, and he got the message.
"Excellent," Hansen replied smoothly. He produced an envelope from the inside of his jacket and placed it on the table. "Your boarding pass," he said, in response to her blank look. "Leaves at 12:45 tomorrow afternoon from LAX. Gate 47." She raised her eyebrows. Clients occasionally provided transportation, but not often. It was a surprising perk, especially on top of the absurdly inflated salary he was offering. She gave him an approving nod to acknowledge the generosity and picked up the envelope. For good measure, she picked up Sands' file as well. "Just want to have another brief look at this," she said, imitating Hansen's oily tone. He just looked evenly at her and said "Mind you don't lose it, now."
"Oh, I won't." She stood up to leave. "That all?"
He gave a mock-courteous nod. "We'll pick you up at the airport in Langley, information's all in there," He gestured pointlessly to the envelope. She returned his nod and started to leave, but Hansen, standing too, spoke again. "I rather thought you would have enjoyed the company of a blind man, Ms. Natchios. Rumor also has it you have some experience there."
She turned to face him, her anger rising like mercury again. He was wearing his most self-satisfied smirk yet. It was partially because of this, she guessed, that it made such a satisfactory sound when her fist connected squarely with his teeth.