(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's hands were growing raw and red, but she didn't stop scrubbing the bottom of the bathtub. She went over and over the plan in her head as she hunched there, her knees beginning to ache against the hard tiled floor, remembering everything that Hansen had said that morning. She went back and forth with herself: you can't. It's too risky. It wasn't the original plan. She turned on the tap and felt scalding water fleck her face, but she didn't move. You have to. He's too dangerous. You should have done it the very first day. It was simply time for a new plan, whether she liked it or not, and it was already in motion. It was fairly straightforward, in the main—she knew how she was going to handle him, and she had a backup plan if things went south and he surprised her. That part she really wasn't looking forward to, but it might have to be done and that was that. She couldn't believe he was still trusting her; the potential obviousness of what she was planning was what was making her hesitate. How could he not see this coming? Well, that's why he deserves it. That's just this business. It still wasn't as airtight as she would have liked, but for a last-minute improvisation, it wasn't bad. She would just have to focus on the satisfactory part rather than the unsafe, risky, insane part. It wasn't like she hadn't done anything this insane before, anyway. She could handle it. And it was all for the best.
Sands paced the small room, smoking and growing more and more annoyed the more he thought about it. Who did she think she was, trying to order him around like that? 'Humiliating' indeed. What the fuck did she have to be so proud about? They were all the same, each and every one. Whores, agents, assassins, daughters. All the same. He'd thought she was different for a few measly seconds just because, what, she'd done some whorish tongue trick? That didn't mean she wasn't a headstrong, overblown, manipulative bitch. He couldn't believe he'd entertained that stupid little fantasy of them running off together even for a second, even as a joke. "Idiot," he muttered aloud, not sure which one of them he meant. Hadn't he learned his lesson? One romp in the sack and he was doing it all over again, letting his guard down, letting her in, letting himself think she was anything more than a half-decent lay and a pair of knives. What else did he have to lose before he stopped letting them matter? Eva, Elektra...there really wasn't much of a difference. They were all just liars—talented, maybe, in some ways, but reckless and foolhardy and completely untrustworthy, and he had no use for them. But after tonight, he'd never have to think about her again, not unless he wanted to. He was glad he didn't know her face.
She unpacked and repacked her bag a few more times, counting the bills carefully, pausing with a few fat stacks in her hands, feeling their weight. That was all it was about, really. It was just a job, and jobs were for money and nothing more. She was good at it; she could do this and everything would be back to normal, relatively speaking. Only people who had something to lose needed ever to feel afraid, and that wasn't her. She went back into the living room, giving the mini-fridge yet another wipe-down and dropping onto the carpet to check for any last minuscule shards of the glass bowl that had broken. The trash was emptied, the drains cleaned, every surface wiped off. Last, of course, was the light switches, and then the doorknob, both sides—there was no point in cleaning everything off and then leaving evidence in the most obvious places of all. She checked the clock on the bedside table; it was getting late into the evening. She went back into the bedroom and reached into her bag, pulling out a handful of red silk. It was almost time to go.
He threw himself down on the bed. Well, she won't be so proud after tonight, he thought irritably. He knew where he'd heard her name now, of course, and he couldn't believe she hadn't put the pieces together. It would serve her right. She can't see the forest for the trees. He already knew his part in the whole thing; it hadn't even been a question once he'd figured it all out, but really, it almost wasn't worth the effort. There was a perfectly good plan in motion and there was really no good reason to prevent it from playing out exactly as it was meant to. Everyone would get what they deserved and that would be that. Maybe he'd get a little peace that way. But even as he thought it, he knew it couldn't be; he knew what he had to do. He'd decided hours ago. He had to think about the big picture, even if parts of it were extremely irritating to him. That was what he did, it was logic that ruled his life and nothing else. And it just made good sense to jump in where he planned to. He got up and went to the door, listening closely. He had to time this just right.
Elektra zipped the bag and put it under the window in the bathroom, in case she had to climb up the side of the hotel and retrieve it that way, which seemed likely. Then she looked in the mirror, checking that everything was strapped to where it was supposed to be, although she wasn't bringing much—she had decided that this one would be old-school, simple, no syringes or poisons or explosives or any of it. She didn't have time for all of that, anyway, since she was rushing the end of the job. A few more days and she might have had time to set things up more neatly...but no, it was better this way. The sai pressed to her sides stayed cold; they didn't seem to want to take heat from her body. In her reflection, she could still see the bruises and and marks on her body from the previous night—they almost seemed to stand out even more clearly next to the bright, deep red of the silk. She looked away in disgust, and then she wrapped the long black trench coat around herself and tied the sash, turning off the bathroom light with a gloved hand. She walked out of the bathroom and to the door, wiping the doorknob and switch with a handkerchief. She closed the door and took the elevator down to the lobby, and slipped into the parking lot where she quickly chose a car—silver, standard make, several years old, totally unmemorable—and hot-wired it, pulling out of the lot and into the street within two minutes. There was no need to bother with cabs and all of it now; she knew the way from the past few days' trips, and she only had to sneak back to the hotel once to get her bag. Usually she laid low in the area for a time after every job, but this time it seemed better to just get the hell out of there. Besides, she wanted to be far away before she made that final wrap-up phone call. By the time the domed building loomed over the tree tops and she parked several streets away, night had fallen, a clear, starry darkness, chilly for early April. Elektra set off down the streets towards the building, her footsteps silent.
Sands closed the door quietly, one hand still on the gun in his belt. He listened for a few seconds, and, hearing nothing, moved across the room and sat back down on the couch. He didn't bother with the light; he assumed the room was dark, and that would make a nice surprise later on. It would set the tone nicely and make it clear just who had the upper hand for the time being. He kept the gun hidden down by his side; he'd want to get a few answers straight before pulling the trigger, of course—arrogant people seemed to be fond of revealing their schemes, just to prove how brilliant they were—although he was more than willing to give that up if he had to. It was just more to satisfy his curiosity than anything else; the details beyond what he'd already figured out didn't much matter. He knew fully well that he was dealing with someone clever enough and mistrustful enough to get the drop on him, but that was a risk he'd have to take—he was pretty quick himself, as he'd proven, and he didn't much mind if it was only one of them or neither one who walked out of that room...as long as it was the right one. He was pretty sure he'd have time to get a few shots off no matter what was used on him (and he had a feeling that if things went badly for him, they would do so in a lingering, drawn-out sort of way), and a few shots was all he needed—he was a pretty good aim, after all. On a sudden inspiration, he got up and moved into the other room, searching along the sides of the room. There might be an upside to this after all.
She slipped silently along the side of the building, red silk sashes fluttering behind her; she had removed her coat. There was no need to hide now; anyone who saw her wouldn't be doing so for long at this point. She moved around the corner towards the entrance that she had found the day before, the one closest to the main security room, and crouched in the shadows, watching the lone guard stationed at the door, his high-powered rifle held upright in his arms. Well, this shouldn't be a problem. She looked around, assessing the scene—it was an open space and there was no way to sneak up on him from the side, so she'd have to come at it from another angle. She slunk back around the side of the building and found the lowest window. She took a measured step backwards and then launched herself upwards, her foot finding the very slight indent in the wall's surface. She propelled herself up the side of the wall, moving so fast that it would hardly matter if anyone had been looking out of the windows, even at this hour, and soon pulled herself up onto one of the relatively low roof, glad that this wasn't like her high-rise city jobs, where she often had to wear a parachute just in case a quick escape proved itself especially necessary. These rural jobs were, well, a walk in the park. She crept across the roof, keeping her body low, and positioned herself right above the guard. She calculated the distance quickly in her head, and then, angling herself just so, dropped silently off the side of the building and landed squarely on the guard, crushing him into a heap on the ground. He didn't even have time to make a sound before her hands were grasping his chin and his temple and she wrenched. To her, the sound of a neck snapping always sounded like bubble wrap. He collapsed and was still, and she turned around and entered the code in the keypad by the door, letting herself into the quiet building. She made straight for the control room to shut down the security in the areas she'd need to access. The two night watchmen flanking the door where Sands had stood just the other day had only the soft sound of her silk outfit rustling as a warning before she was upon them.
Sands moved back into the living room, patting his pocket with his free hand and grinning smugly—well, that had just been laziness. At least he got a consolation prize out of the whole thing. He had barely settled back down on the couch before he heard the key in the door, and he tightened his grip on his gun. The door opened, and there was a moment's silence. Then he said, "Fancy meeting you here. You're early."
There was another pause, and then, "You should've done what you were told."
"Well, you know me," he smirked. "I'm a renegade."
"That you are." A soft chuckle. "And you still haven't learned." He sensed movement to his right, and his hand jerked, but he hadn't even gotten the gun clear of his pocket before something heavy crashed down over his ear. He dropped, and heard nothing else.
Curtis McKean, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, sighed, staring down at the file on his desk. The meeting hadn't gone well at all, and he didn't know why he was reminding himself of that information by reading the information all over again. It had been a bad few months, and the next several weren't looking much better. Everything seemed to be taking turns in going wrong—if it wasn't technology, it was money, and it wasn't money, it was people. He just wasn't getting the support he'd be hoping for from a few overseas contacts, and then there was those rumors...rumors of worries far more close to home, within his own ranks, amongst the people he'd hired himself. He sighed again, swiveling his desk chair and putting the file away in the cabinet behind him. He didn't want to believe them, and wasn't sure he had reason to be paranoid just yet—they were just whispers so far and nothing more—but he couldn't get around the fact that he'd prefer just about any other enemy in the world to the ones he'd trained himself. He knew what his men were capable of, and he felt they were the best there was; what defense could there be against the best?
He sat back in the chair and glanced out the window into the night—and felt his chest constrict with fear. Reflected in the black glass, standing calmly in his doorway behind him as if waiting for a meeting, was a woman: tall, with long, dark hair, clad in red fabric that showed off her toned, athletic body. She held a long, gleaming blade in each hand, the handles wrapped with what looked like black leather. He sat for a moment without moving, and she looked right back at him, her face expressionless, holding his gaze in the window.
"So," he said finally, somewhat surprised to find that he still had a voice. "It's you. They've picked you. I guess I should be flattered." There could be no doubt about who she was, or why she was there, and he suddenly understand that those rumors had been quite true. He turned very slowly to face her, and as he did so, his eyes flickered for a fraction of a second down to his desk, and the little red button positioned on the underside.
"Don't," she said, and it was her tone more than anything else that told him there was no hope. Her voice was flat, almost bored, as if anything and everything he could think to do to stop her would only annoy her and delay the inevitable by mere seconds. He knew that if she had gotten as far as this, that meant that anyone close enough to respond to the alarm, should he push it, was already dead. He looked back at her. "Hmm," he said, with almost a chuckle. He knew enough about her to knew she never left anyone alive to tell the tale. Hell, he'd thought she was dead, and here she was. "Wouldn't do any good?"
"No," she said, her voice quiet. "It wouldn't." And the final word wasn't out of her mouth before she had crossed the room and was standing behind him, gripping a handful of his hair in one hand and drawing the edge her sai across his throat. His hands clutched pointlessly at his neck and blood flowed over his fingers, and he kicked hard underneath the desk. Elektra stepped back around him and, leaning down slightly, looked into his eyes, as she always did, desperate to know, to understand that which had been denied her. Where are you going? What are you seeing? She doubted that any of her marks would have guess that she was, in that half-second, jealous of them, and the knowledge they would soon have. She'd been there, where they were, been in the ground for months and knew nothing of anywhere else except here. Fate was funny that way. None of her marks ever told her anything, though. There was just that moment, that flare of fear and anger, which drained away like water to be replaced by quiet and—she wasn't sure that she could recognize it, but she guessed—something like peace. And after a moment, he went still and blank, and she sighed, wiping her blade on his sleeve and leaning over to slide the class ring off his hand to give to Hansen as his trophy. She tucked her sai back against her body and walked from the room without looking back. The job itself was done; now she just had to finish the rest of this messy affair. She felt better about the rest of it, though, now that she was working. She felt efficient, confident, back to her old self, the self that hadn't taken a dangerous job and fucked a mark and come up with this insane crack plan to prove who was boss. She was just Elektra now, the most dangerous woman in the world.
She was headed back to the door through which she had come when she felt her phone vibrate against her side. She grabbed it automatically; answering it now would be a bad idea, but it would be quite encouraging to get a new job ninety seconds after finishing the last one. But when she looked at the display, she was shocked to realize she knew the number—it was Hansen. The corridor appeared quite deserted (she had made sure of that), but she concealed herself in a corner before opening the phone and saying very softly "What the hell are you doing, calling me now? I'm not out yet."
"Hello, Ms. Natchios," he said coolly. "Job done?"
"Um, yes," she said, thrown. "But why are you—"
"Is he with you?"
Elektra took a breath. This wasn't the plan, or even the backup, exactly. "Yes," she said, her voice steady. She slipped out from her hiding place and began walking swiftly toward her exit—staying in the building any longer than she had to was looking like a bad idea.
"Really," he said. She turned a corner. "Are you sure?"
"Am I—what?" she hissed, playing for time. At that moment, there was movement at the end of the hall, and her sai was out and her arm arched to throw before she realized it was Hansen himself, emerging from a room on the side, still holding his cell phone to his ear and smiling at her in his cold way. She stared at him, astonished. Calling her was one thing, but showing up a few hundred yards from the corpse of a man he'd hired her to murder was suicidally idiotic. "What are you doing here?" she whispered furiously, and then slammed the phone shut in annoyance as she realized the insanity of talking into it when he was feet from her. "Are you insane?" she demanded, looking at him. "This is the last place on Earth you should be right now."
"Come here for a moment," he said, as though he hadn't heard her, and he actually beckoned her with his finger, as though she were a spaniel. She just looked at him in astonishment, torn between shock and indignation, but after a moment she walked towards him—he had to have a reason for being this foolhardy. "What?" she demanded, once she was closer.
"In here, please," he said, ushering her into the darkened room. She stepped inside, and immediately felt her skin crawl. It appeared to be a vacant office, and sitting there, handcuffed to a desk chair and looking thoroughly careworn with new bruises blooming on his face and a bloody lip, was Sands. He seemed to be conscious; his dark glasses were gone, and he was panting slightly, his dark hair hanging in his face. He raised his head slightly when she entered. "Good of you to join us," he said, as though it was a tea party.
She turned back to Hansen. "What is this?" she asked, her voice tight. This was not even the fallback to the emergency backup to the backup plan. Hansen closed the door, and picked up a gun lying on a cabinet. Close to, she could see that he looked rather disheveled—his tie was loose, his sleeves were rolled back, and his normally perfectly-oiled hair was starting to fall over his forehead. And he was, she realized after a moment, also alone, for the first time since she'd known him, without his silent cronies by his side. The overall effect was disarming.
"Perhaps I misunderstood," he said, still in that voice of forced calm, "but I thought we had a deal."
She was caught. There was no way out of it. But she had her reasoning, so she straightened her shoulders and looked him defiantly in the eye. "We did. And you broke it."
"This morning you didn't seem at all averse to changing to plan," he replied. "And I think that's why I agreed to double your fee, if you brought him with you and finished him off right here in this building. Was that not what I told you?"
She couldn't help herself—she glanced sideways at Sands to see what he thought of that piece of information. He frowned slightly (or she thought he did; it was hard to tell on his bruised, shadowed face), but he made no comment. "Yes," she said after a moment. "That's what you said." She put emphasis on the last word to imply that what he said wasn't necessarily what was going to happen, but then had no further reply. She settled for looking stony and matter-of-fact.
"Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I returned to your hotel room for our meeting and found this still lurking around," Hansen continued, gesturing at Sands without looking at him. "I wasn't under the impression you were in the business of going back on your word."
Hotel room? "What?" she said sharply, looking between them again. That wasn't what I... "You went back on yours," she retorted, knowing she was sounding petulant again, but there was nothing else for it. "I decided I didn't want to play games anymore."
Hansen's eyes flashed, and she saw his grip tighten on the gun in his hand. "It's hardly a game," he said, and now she could hear how he was struggling to control himself. "I thought we were in agreement. I thought you understand that...that..." He took a steadying breath. "You know what he is; you know what he can do to...people."
"Oh, for Chrissake, man, you're not still on about that broad, are you?" Sands groaned, sounding exasperated. "Jesus, just suck it up and get a blow-up doll." In response, Hansen crossed him in two strides and hit him across the face with the butt of his gun so viciously that Elektra flinched. He hit him a second time, and Sands' head jerked back, and Hansen leaned down, his hands on the arms of the chair, their faces six inches apart.
"Shut up," he hissed. "You shut your fucking mouth." Sands turned his head primly to the side and spat out blood and what looked like half a molar onto the floor. Then, as if there had been no interruption, continued, "I'm just saying. It would be better in bed and, frankly, better conversation. I think we both know that." Hansen's lip curled, and hit him straight in the middle of the face with the gun. Blood ran from Sands' nose, and he gave a few shallow gasps, leaning his head back and licking the blood from his upper lip. A few drops fell onto his t-shirt ("orgasm donor; ask for your free sample"). "Well, at least my sinuses are clear, thanks. That's better than a Ricola."
Hansen raised his arm yet again, but Elektra barked "Knock it off, will you? God." Hansen turned to look at her, and she saw the same demented gleam in his eye that had been there in the morning when they had discussed Sands, increased tenfold now that he had his prey right in front of him. He looked insane, and was nearly panting with excitement. "You can't leave him alive," he told her, and there was a note of desperation in his voice, as if he was trying to convince her rather than command her. "He'll ruin everything for you. He always does. Mexico, he—he wasn't supposed to—that didn't..." He could barely string two words together; he was practically shaking. He gave a laugh that was supposed to be a derisive chuckle, but it came out wild. "He destroyed everything."
"Oh, that's good, Tommy, very dramatic," Sands said appraisingly, and it took a few seconds for Elektra to realize who he meant. "Now stomp your foot and say 'and I'd have got away with it, too, if it weren't for that meddlin' kid!'"
Hansen spun on his heel away from Elektra and this time, slugged Sands right in the gut with a fist. He lurched forward, coughing, and Hansen pressed the muzzle of the gun to his head and pushed him back against the chair. He thumbed the hammer back and twitched his hand to the side so that he was aiming straight into his left eye socket. Sands' chest heaved a few times as he got his breath back, and when Hansen did nothing, he lifted his chin defiantly so that the gun pressed harder into his flesh. "I don't have all goddamn day," he said coldly. "You going to do it or not?"
Elektra stood, frozen, watching them both—Hansen, unraveling, his smooth, arrogant demeanor completely gone as he savaged the person he hated most, and Sands, facing death yet again, fearless and obstinate to the very last. It was too bizarre. They stood like that for a few seconds, Elektra bracing herself for the shot and yet knowing she should act, and then Hansen dropped his arm.
"No," he said, and his voice was eerily calm again. "I'm not." Sands looked baffled. Hansen turned back to Elektra and held out the gun, handle first. "You do the honors."
"What?" She stared at him, an expression of astonishment on her face, but she had known this was coming, known from the first second she entered the room and saw Sands there, injured but alive, waiting for her. If Hansen had just wanted him dead, he would have killed him as soon as he saw that she hadn't done the job and saved himself the money. This was something else entirely. She looked down at the gun in his hand, but didn't reach out for it.
"Take it," he said. "You're here now. Do it."
"I—you do it," she shot back, immediately hating herself for how stupid it sounded, and knowing he wouldn't. "You're here too."
"No," he said, and he took a step closer to her, eyes gleaming. "I want it to be you. I want to watch."
"You want to watch?" Elektra repeated haltingly. Behind him, Sands' eyebrows shot up on his forehead and he mouthed "wow," clearly knowing as well as Elektra did how insane that was. People who hired assassins didn't want to watch. It made no sense. It was perfectly counter-intuitive. They hired people like her so that they could distance themselves from it, not so they could get a front row seat. It went against everything her professions stood for. "He's nuts," Sands stage-whispered to Elektra, tilting his head slightly and raising his cuffed hand an inch or two from the arm of the chair to make the international sign for 'crazy' with one finger. This time, Hansen didn't even turn around. He just continued to stare fixedly at Elektra with that hungry expression on his face.
"I hired you," he told her. "It's what I want. Do it."
Everything was going wrong. This wasn't how it was supposed to have gone at all. And yet, somehow, it was as though this very scene had been decided from the start, from the minute she took the job, the minute she saw him and knew he had to die. It wasn't what she wanted, but it was what was going to happen and, she reminded herself, what you wanted didn't matter. There was only what was and what wasn't.
You know what you have to do.
She reached out and took the gun from Hansen's sweating hand. He smiled, pleased, and leaned back against the cabinet. She felt the weight of it in her palm; so unlike her elegant blades. It was heavy and hot, and she could smell the metal. She closed her gloved fingers around it. "I'm sorry," she muttered quietly. She couldn't remember the last time she'd spoken those words aloud. They tasted unnatural in her mouth. Then she squared her shoulders, took careful aim, and fired.
She had to admit, the look of shock on his face, momentary though it was, was a thing of beauty.