(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)

Rating: R/MA/18+

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.

Notes: Lyrics from Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim; also not mine.

Elektra's arm jerked back sharply from the force of the shot. She really did rather hate guns; they were so unlike her elegant blades. Guns had all the power and force inside them, and the user just had to hang on and hope it worked. With knives and swords, the wielder had to do the guiding. The power came from within, not without. It was symbiotic, between weapon and human. It was a graceful pas de deux. It was, when done right, beautiful.

There was no beauty in the room that she could see, however. After that first absurd moment, when he'd felt the burning impact and realized what she'd done, there was no artistry in the way he gasped and choked on the floor, his hands pressed futilely to the sucking wound in his chest. "You bitch," he panted, staring up at her. "You bitch. You'll pay for this. You'll—"

Bang! She fired again, aiming higher this time, and he fell back on the gray carpet without another word. There was a moment's silence. Then Sands, who had tried and failed not to jump when the shots had gone off, said "Well, that was somewhat unex—"

There was a noise behind her. She was hitting the floor and rolling over onto her back before the door had fully opened, and the two agents weren't even fully in the room before she had fired again, twice, dropping them both where they stood. Both of them had their guns out, and they flew up and out of their hands as they fell. There was another moment of quiet while Elektra sat, awkwardly half-reclined, on the floor, feeling her heart pounding against her ribs. That didn't usually happen. Then Sands piped up again. "You have some impressive reflexes, I must say." She didn't say anything, just got to her feet, taking deep, slow breaths. I'm sorry. I'm so fucking sorry. She couldn't seem to stop saying it to herself, over and over, whether prayer or punishment she wasn't sure. She was still trying to believe she'd just done it, that the part of the plan she'd refused to admit to herself all day had just come shockingly, noisily true. She stared at Hansen's body on the floor, a dark stain slowly spreading out under him, and tried to remind herself that she had do it. He knew too much about her and he was too dangerous. The rest of it didn't matter. Except, of course, that it does.

"Uh, little help?" Sands said, calling her back to her senses. She looked over at him and saw that he had raised both hands towards her, indicating the handcuffs on both arms, and gave her an expectant look. She shook her head slightly. "Oh. Right." She moved over to him and took out her sai again, and in a moment he was rubbing each wrist in turn. She could see angry red weals on his skin even in the darkness of the room. "Thanks." He got up gingerly, his hand drifting against his side in a way that made her suspect broken ribs. He knelt down on the floor and felt across the carpet until he found Hansen, and he began to go through his pockets with casual efficiency.

"What are you doing?" Elektra demanded, as he pulled his body up at an angle by his loop and retrieved his wallet from his back pocket. He opened it and, after a moment's consideration, shrugged and pulled out a fat wad of cash and stashed it in his own pocket. "Oh, are you kidding?"

"Hey, I just spent a very unpleasant hour with this gentleman here," Sands protested, gesturing briefly at the injuries on his face and body. "Trust me, I earned it, having to listen to him yap on and on about what's-her-name and pontificate about his big, exciting plans for the department and...ugh." He checked his jacket pockets. "It was worse than Sunday-morning radio. Here." He retrieved something small and dark from Hansen's left pocket and tossed it to Elektra, who caught it instinctively. "Anything interesting?"

Elektra turned the object over in her fingers. It was a computer disk in a plastic case. It was labeled; in small, cramped writing, it read 'E.N./S.S., 4/7-11.' She frowned, staring at it—something about it unnerved her, but she couldn't think why. "It's...I don't know," she muttered, thinking. She wasn't sure, since it was usually of no consequence to her, but she was fairly sure it was the eleventh of April that very day... She tucked it into the folds of her clothes, unsure.

Sands' hands were now in Hansen's upper inside pockets, and he pulled out a pair of expensive-looking sunglasses. He gave a short, sharp laugh. "Well, he owes me a pair. I should have known he'd be the sort of douchebag to carry sunglasses at night." He put them on, wincing only slightly as they brushed the cut on the bridge of his nose, and turned towards her. "What do you think?"

She just looked at him in disbelief, at his bloody face and the bruises on his arms and neck. He'd spent much of the last twenty-four hours being beaten and very nearly killed by two different people who had every reason to want him dead, and he was already back to his careless, vain, ridiculous self, trying to amuse her, unaffected by it all. She didn't know whether she wanted to laugh or start pistol-whipping him again. "You look like death warmed over."

"Ah, well." He went back to searching Hansen. "Look better than him, at least."

On a sudden inspiration, she reached into the the folds of the fabric around her middle and pulled out McKean's ring. "Here, put this in his pocket," she said, leaning over and putting it in Sands' hand. He smirked and did so.

"Good thinking. That'll throw them off completely for a good two hours." He sat back in surprise, removing his hands from the body. "Nothing," he said. "No second weapon."

"So?" In the aftermath of all the shouting and gunfire, the building seemed unnaturally quiet, even though that was precisely how she usually wanted it. A siren sounded in the distance.

"So, that means he actually handed his only weapon over to you and said 'shoot,'" he said. "And apparently didn't think you'd blow him away. Why would he be that stupid?"

She sighed. "It's...not done," she said finally. How could she explain the enormity of what she'd done? "It's...for a hitter to turn on a client, it's..." She shook her head. "Bad form."

"It's unheard of, isn't it," he said shrewdly, and she could tell he understood; he was just trying to get her to say it. "If this gets out, you're going to have a damn hard time finding another job. People like to be able to trust the murderous renegade they've hired."

"Look, he was screwing with me," she snapped. "Trust me, he wasn't playing by the rules at all. He was too dangerous. I had to."

Sands dabbed blood from his face with his sleeve. Well, that was true. Did she maybe know more than he thought she did...? "If you say so," he said. Maybe she was playing it close to the vest as well. "I'm hardly complaining, anyway. Do you—"

A distant alarm blared from somewhere in the depths of the building. Sands got to his feet, his face going slack. "Oh, that's not what I wanted to hear," he mumbled. Elektra looked at him sharply.

"I shut down the security systems on this end of the building," she said defensively. "I assure you, there's nobody who saw me tonight who's still breathing."

"I believe you," he said. He hesitated. He was rather hoping they wouldn't have to have this conversation. "But it's not like no one knew you were coming."


He shook his head. "They're telling us too much," he said, more to himself than to her. "No one could possibly know yet." He moved quickly over to the door and knelt down by the other two agents' bodies, feeling around for the guns that they had dropped. "We need to go, now."

"Wait, what is this?" she demanded. Something was extremely wrong. "What do you mean—who knew I was coming?"

He found the guns and stuck one of them in the waistband of his pants. "Look, it's kind of a long story, we don't have time to—"

"What do you mean?" She took a few aggressive steps towards him, and he held up his hands defensively, wincing as the pain in his chest throbbed again. Then he sighed.

"I'm pretty sure he set you up," he said. "I don't think either one of us were supposed to get out of here alive."

A chill spread over Elektra. She felt goosebumps rising on her exposed skin. The noise of the sirens outside increased, and she realized with a thrill of shock that they were meant for her. "That's insane," she said. "He hired me. How is he supposed to get away with—I did the hit. McKean's dead. I—"

There was the sound of running footsteps a few floors below them. "I know this is highly unpleasant to hear, and I imagine you're pretty pissed right now, but could we postpone this conversation, maybe? We have to go." She looked at him for another moment and saw that he was, for once, deadly serious. Her instincts kicked in, overriding her shock and disbelief, and she turned and moved across the room. "These windows—"

"Sealed," he said, shaking his head. "If that alarm's going off, nothing will open them. Bulletproof, too."

"Fuck." This was bad. She thought fast: she had had her exit route planned, but if she had in fact been set up, that exit was no good to her anymore. She could hide for a while—it was a big building; she could evade them for long enough to find a better way out—but that could take all night, and that would only give them time to call in more reinforcements. There was only one thing for it: she had to jump right into the middle of it and cut her way out before they had any more time to trap her. She would have to kill them all. "Okay," she said quietly. She unsheathed both sai from her sides. "I'm heading for the west exit. It's not the closest to here, but it's the most direct, and I can head them off on the stairs." She was talking herself through it, calming herself with a plan. In response, Sands shoved the bodies of the two agents away from the door with his foot and . "All right," he said. "Let's go."

She looked at him in surprise, only just registering his repeated use of the word 'we.' "Wait—what are you doing?" she asked blankly. He gave her an incredulous look.

"I'm leaving," he said slowly. "This party's sort of lame. I haven't had the best evening."

"But—" She looked at the gun in his hand and realized, finally, that he was with her. He understood that the only way out was straight through the barrage of agents now storming along the floor right below theirs, by the sound of it, and he was fully prepared to take them all down. To them he was either a tragic hero or a pathetic wash-up, but he was still an agent. He could have stayed behind and claimed she killed Hansen and tried to kill him, and escaped looking like impossibly brave all over again. Or he could have chained himself to the chair again and claimed to have no idea what had happened. She had no choice, but he did. "Are you sure?" she managed, awkwardly.

He gave an aggrieved sigh. He couldn't believe she was doubting him; he had decided this ages ago. Probably from the first day. "Let's keep going, Thelma," he said sarcastically. "Nothing's going to harm you." He checked the gun for ammo, and then thumbed the hammer back with a click. "Not while I'm around."

They left the room, her in the lead, pressed against the wall. It wouldn't do to have them come storming down the hall and trap them in the small room. They approached a corner, and she looked around it, using the shiny blade of her sai as a mirror. It looked all clear, and she edged her body around the wall. Before she was clear, however, she saw movement out of the corner of her eye. Someone was moving behind Sands—a man dressed in full protective gear, with his gun out and pointed straight at the back of Sands' head.

There was no time; she knew she couldn't even reach for the shuriken strapped to her thigh or shout a warning or push him out of the way before he got his shot off. She looked past Sands and saw the triumphant expression on the man's face, and fury and regret shot through her like poison—it had all been for nothing, she had thrown everything away and now he was going to die anyway. All in one moment, it seemed, she took in her breath to yell out, Sands jerked his head an inch to the side as he heard the agent moving, and he ducked. The gunshot roared through the small space, impossibly loud, and missed Sands by inched and buried itself in the wall behind him. Sands whipped around in one smooth movement and fired back. The agent's head snapped back and he fell backwards onto the floor. Elektra gaped. Half the members of the Hand didn't have reflexes like that on their best day. He sensed her standing there frozen with shock and smirked again.

"Not bad, eh?" he said, giving the gun a little twirl in his fingers.

She just shook her head. "Come on." They took off down the hall, hearing more agents bursting from the door that the one he'd just shot had presumably used, and they ran towards another corner, Sands' non-gun hand brushing her arm as they went. She checked around the corner and saw half a dozen agents blocking their way. "They're spread out about ten yards down," she breathed to Sands, barely daring to make a sound. "Aim for eleven and two o'clock." He nodded once and, without further ado, leaned around the corner and fired two shots. She heard their shouts of surprise and the sound of two bodies hitting the floor and knew he'd hit his marks again. "Two on the right, three on the left," she said, checking around the corner again.

"Come out with your hands up!" one of agents shouted. "Weapons on the ground! Now!"

"What about our list of demands?" Sands called back, almost laughing. Elektra smacked him admonishingly on the arm. "We want a Hummer limo waiting for us outside. And God help you if the fridge doesn't have any Kit-Kats."

"Knock it off," she hissed. He grinned at her through swollen lips.

"I'm just fucking with them, E.," he told her, as if this was a comfort. "Two on the right?" He whipped around the corner and fired again, but they were ready this time. A volley of gunfire responded, and Sands grabbed his upper arm with a grunt of pain as he leaned back, blood smearing on the wall. "Oh, damn it."

"Let me see it," she said roughly. Blood seeped through his fingers. She moved his hand—it was bleeding freely, but didn't look particularly deep. The bullet had only grazed the skin without going in. She yanked a silk sash from her own arm and wrapped it tightly around the wound several times. "That'll hold for now." She paused. "'E'? Really?" He shrugged.

"I already know an 'El.'" She stared in confusion, and he grinned. "Fuck it. Let's just do this," he said quietly, over the renewed shouts from the men around the corner. More were coming. She didn't have to ask what he meant. She reached down and pulled out three of the throwing stars.

"Stay behind me and aim high," she replied briskly. He pulled the second gun out of his waistband, and they plunged around the corner with Sands firing both guns at once and Elektra, in front of him, dodging their bullets and releasing the shuriken in rapid succession, catching three of them in the throat. With a yell, she threw herself right in the middle of the group and pinned two agents to the wall with her sai through their chests. She twisted and pulled out, turning and slashing as Sands fired past her down the hall, taking down several more who were charging towards them. All was chaos, and the two of them were in their element. They soon lost count.

"Come on," she shouted, when they were momentarily clear, and now they sprinted, heading straight for the stairwell. It was locked, but Sands said "Stand back" and found the lock with one hand and firing into it. She reared back and kicked it open, and they thundered down two flights with stopping until they reached the bottom, where he hastily reloaded before they burst through the door onto the first floor. Another gaggle of guards waited for them there, but they dispatched them quickly, with Sands taking down the first flank with his impeccable aim and Elektra leaping right into the thick of it, a sai in each hand. She leaned towards Sands again as she kicked out sideways at an oncoming agent, her arm hurtling down to catch him in the abdomen with the blade. She felt Sands press his back against hers at the two of them turned on the spot, firing and slicing. Once they were clear again, she grabbed his uninjured arm and they headed straight for the side door, staying close to the wall, away from the windows through which they could see yet more figures running into the building. "Damn, they're serious," he panted, as if surprised. "Don't know when to quit."

"Yeah, they rarely do." They shot through the door, and another alarm began to wail, but it hardly mattered. Instead of heading to the right, to the front of the building and the main road, where she knew there'd be even more back-up waiting, she pulled him around to the left, towards the trees that framed the edge of the grounds. In the dark, they'd be impossible to see. "We'll cut through here," she said to him, and he followed closely. Soon they were on the edge of the grounds, and she gave him a leg up before vaulting herself over the fence. She ran towards the first car she saw parked along the street and smashed in the left backseat window with the butt of her sai. She reached in and unlocked the doors, and they climbed in. She used the end of her sai to rip off the cover of the ignition tumbler and, after she fumbled with the wires for a moment, the car roared to life and she peeled out of the spot, heading around the back end of the grounds.

"Well," Sands said, leaning back in the seat. "That was fun. I need a cigarette." Elektra rolled her eyes. He found his wrinkled plastic packet and his silver lighter in his pocket; his hands were shaking so badly that it took several tries to light the one he placed between his lips. There was another moment's silence as he exhaled gratefully, and then he said "So you want to fill me in?" at precisely the same moment that she said "Start talking."

He chuckled. "You first."

"Me first? Did you miss what just happened back there? All that fun 'he set you up' stuff?"

"And I just had a gun pointed at my head, and you apparently were supposed to shoot me," he shot back. "You first."

She sighed, irritated, twiddling the wheel more sharply than she intended to. "Fine. He tried to add you to the bill at the last minute, and I wasn't having it. He threw us together because he wanted you dead and he figured you'd annoy me enough that I'd kill you, or I'd do it just to tie up loose ends at the end, or...something."

He nodded, as though this was only reasonable. "Why not just off me himself?"

"Good question," she muttered balefully. "I don't know, it was something about...I think it was, you know, Eva." Somehow, even after she'd spat it at him the night before, she didn't want to say her name. "He was pretty mad about that."

"Yeah, I gathered," Sands said wearily. "He mentioned it during all the..." He made lazy punching gestures in the air. "What, was he banging her?"

She looked over at him in surprise. "You didn't know?"

He shrugged. "I never asked. I don't even know how he knew her, but I'm assuming he was giving her the low soft one if he was that pissed off."

She frowned. "Didn't they work together?"

"No. I told you, she wasn't CIA."

"But—" She had just assumed he'd been lying. "Then how did you know her?"

"She was with the agency down there. Mexico," he added, when she said nothing. "I met her when I was on assignment down there a while back, and I suggested a bit of inter-agency cooperation, and...well, I told you." He took another long drag from the cigarette. "It went badly."

"She betrayed you," she said, avoiding looking at him as she said it, but wanting to confirm her guess. "She was the one who...you know. She was working with Barillo."

"'Working with,'" he muttered. "She was...well, yeah. Let's just say she was right in his inner circle." He didn't clarify beyond that, and she didn't ask. But it still didn't all fit.

"But her files," Elektra protested. She explained briefly about searching through the computer system for her files, and then for anything about Mexico at all, and finding everything wiped. Sands gave a rueful chuckle.

"Well, there's only one person who could've done that, I suppose." He shook his head. "Should have known he'd have a finger in every pie. So to speak. Hell, maybe he's the only reason she ever bothered with me in the first place. Maybe he told her to." He was sure he should feel something about that, but he felt nothing except a heavy sense of understanding. It really did all fit quite logically. He should have known. It made him feel older.

"Hansen," she said, and he nodded. "So if he was involved with...her, and she was involved with everything that happened to you, and he's the one who covered everything up..." She waited for him to fill in the rest, but he said nothing, so she continued. "I'm pretty sure he was involved with the whole president thing down there. The assassination attempt, and all of it."

"That fits," he said, considering. "When he was—" he made the punching gesture again "—he said—well, he said a lot of things; after a while it just sounded like 'blah blah blah Ginger' to me, but he said something like 'you're not getting away this time' or 'you thought you had it easy last time' or...something. Something Bond-villainy like that." He exhaled slowly, absently tapping the gun still in his hand against the passenger door. "I'm guessing I really wasn't supposed to make it out of there."

"He was playing both sides, just like she was," Elektra filled in. "He forged all her files to make her look like she was CIA so he could...pass her information, or whatever, and then when you got involved, he told Barillo to kill you. But he didn't," she added unnecessarily, and Sands gave a quiet snort of laughter. Understatement. "Then when you made it back, he deleted everything so he could take care of you in his own time."

"That's the whole kit and caboodle, I guess," he concluded. "Awful lot of dramatics over a chick, don't you think?"

"That's what people do," she said simply. "If people didn't get insanely jealous and crazy about stupid things, I wouldn't have a job." He chuckled again. "Now, get to the set-up part."

He sighed again. "He...well, I think we know he's good at playing both sides by now," he began. "And while I assume he hired you for McKean because you're the best hitter out there and he genuinely wanted him out of the way, I'm...thinking there was a second part to that plan that he didn't mention. Third, I guess, if you include the fun little footnote about me."

"Which was?"

He lowered the window and flicked his cigarette butt out of it, and then said, "To make himself look really, really nifty and clever by bringing you in, or killing you. He was after you. For a long time. He was kind of in charge of the hunt."

"What?" She turned sharply to look at him, and in her agitation she jerked the wheel hard to the side, and the car swerved. Sands reached out instinctively to grab the dashboard, and winced as pain tore through the bullet wound in his arm. "Whoa," he said, as a passing car blared its horn angrily. "Not that I'm offering to take over, but could you try to avoid killing us, maybe? I don't think I could stand the irony." Deciding that this conversation now deserved her full attention, she pulled up beside a diner on the side of the road and parked in the almost-empty lot. "There," she said. "Start at the beginning."

"I don't know the beginning," he said hastily. "A few years back, we were all briefed on you at a general meeting, and then he was picked to put together a task force to get you. He didn't pick me. I wonder why," he added sarcastically. "We all knew it was sort of a thing with him—he was really intent about bagging you, but everyone thought it was sort of a joke." He pulled out another cigarette and lit it, and she lowered her window in annoyance. "I mean, I don't want to pump any sunshine up your skirt here, but the stories we heard...hardly anyone believed you could be real. You were like an urban legend or something. And then there was a rumor a while back that you were dead, but he wouldn't believe it..." He waved a hand impatiently. "Anyway. He had a real hard-on for you for a while—not that I blame him—and I'm guessing he thought it'd be fun to have you do all his dirty work and then put one in your head and come off looking like Wile E. Coyote finally catching the roadrunner."

"And all this time you knew he was after me?" she demanded furiously. "Any reason you didn't mention it?"

"I only put it together today," he protested. "I wasn't on his team. I didn't get it until you, uh, mentioned your name." He heard her shifting uncomfortably and imagined she was blushing. "I'm not great with faces these days—how was I supposed to know?" He paused, and then couldn't resist adding, "The red outfit, right?" He clicked his tongue and reached over to stroke the silk laying against her thigh, but she swatted him away angrily.

"But he hired me," she repeated. "I mean, he paid me. I did the hit. We met several times—how was he supposed to get away with...?" She trailed off, thinking, remembering everything he'd said. "You," she said, after a beat. "He was going to pin it all on you, like I said. All that crap about how your key code could be anyone's...he's got a trail of evidence a mile long. That's why he wanted me to kill you in the office. He would say you hired me and he was too late to save McKean, but he found us and killed you and captured me, or killed us both...that's why he always had those guys with him. He didn't want to be alone with me, because he didn't trust me at all. So when they heard the shots..." She replayed the scene in her head, remembering how they'd burst in with their guns draw a second after she'd shot Hansen. "That was the signal. They thought I'd shot you, and..."

He was nodding. "Pretty sneaky, sis," he said. Then he frowned. "Kill me in the office? Why'd you tell me to go back to my apartment, then?" She squirmed. Busted. He grinned. "You weren't going to do it, were you. You said you would, but you never planned to."

"I told you, he wasn't playing by the rules," she shot back roughly. "I heard him—he just assumed I'd do you for free. Shut up," she added quickly, seeing him open his mouth to gleefully reply to that. "He wasn't going to pay me the rest of the original fee if I didn't. He only tried to officially 'hire' me for it and pay extra once I called him out on it. And he was never actually going to pay me the rest anyway, was he."

"But you didn't know that," he observed. "You didn't know he was after you. You just weren't gonna do it." He couldn't help but be highly amused at this turn of events. "Aw, honey, that's sweet. What were you going to do, call me afterwards and say 'run, Forrest, run for your life'?"

"It wasn't like that," she snapped, and he knew it was, exactly. "I just...it wasn't how the job works. I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction. I thought I'd, you know, show him how it was supposed to be done. So I just told you to get out of the way and—wait a minute." She had just remembered something else he'd said. "You didn't go back to your apartment. He said he found you in the hotel room. What's that about?"

Now it was Sands' turn to look uncomfortable. "You read my file. I don't follow directions well."

"Yeah. Nice try. Where did you go when you left?"

He huffed in frustration, like a teenager caught in a lie. Eventually he said, "Broke into the room next door. I listened for you to leave, and when you did, I went back in."

"Any reason other than sheer contrariness?"

"Well, I knew he was after you, didn't I? And I figured you'd come back to the room to lie low or clean up and get your stuff or whatever, but I figured he'd be there waiting for you. So I thought I'd stay there and get him before he got you."

She stared in disbelief. "What do you care if he got me? You didn't know he was after you, too."

"No, I didn't," he admitted. "But I thought about it, and..." He shrugged. "I did a cost-benefit analysis, and I figured if one of you had to go, it should be him. You're a world-class killer, you don't work for anyone but yourself, and you're far better in bed. Wasn't a hard choice."

"But if you knew he was coming there to wait for me to capture me or kill me or whatever his plan was, didn't you think he'd just kill you first if you were in the way? What possible reason could he have for leaving you alive?"

"I thought of that. I figured I could get him before he got me—I'm a pretty good shot, you know," he said smugly. "But, you know, whatever."

"'But, you know, whatever?'" she repeated, starting to laugh. "I don't know, Sands, sounds like a bit of a risk to me. Sounds like it would have been a lot smarter to just go to your place and get out of the way, huh? You must have had a pretty good reason to stay there and risk your neck with a guy like that."

"Don't flatter yourself," he fired back. He couldn't have explained it if he wanted to, how he just couldn't let it happen, how it just somehow mattered to him that she was in the world. He couldn't have put into words how the past few days, as he'd bantered with her, fought with her, fucked with her, watched her work, taken her bullshit, given her some in return, figured out a mystery and hatched a plan, and finally busted his way out of that fucking place with her by his side, leaving a trail of all those sneering, mocking, pitying jackholes in their wake—they'd been the first times in which he was glad he hadn't died on that hot street in Mexico. "You're one to talk, anyway, Double-Crossing Debbie. Didn't he tell you he'd pay you quite a bit to off me? I don't think you thought he was still going to hand it over once he realized you'd told me to skedaddle. And as you said, I don't think capping him is going to make you look very good to your next employers. I don't think you're getting a letter of recommendation out of this job."

"Yeah, well," she muttered. "I have my principles." And she'd sooner have killed him and then herself right there in that parking lot before she'd admit it, but her principles included not killing people who said things like "if you're good enough not to get caught, then you deserve to continue." He understood. She had never met anyone like him, and she couldn't take the risk that she'd find another one like him out there somewhere. "Besides, it's not like I'm strapped for cash, I hardly needed—shit!" She pounded the steering wheel in sudden anger. "Damn it, the money!"

"What money?"

"The money he already gave me—the money in my bag—in the room," she burst out furiously. "We can't go back there. If he was after me, there's no way that place isn't on lockdown right now. Son of a bitch." She hit the steering column again; it was certainly true that would have been more than set for life if she never worked another job again, but the idea of walking away from this job not a penny richer than she'd been a week before was positively maddening. "All my stuff is in there, too. My DNA is all over everything in that suitcase. God damn it."

"Mine's not," he jumped in cheerily. "Since you cleaned everything and all. That was a pretty smart move."

"Your blood's all over that room at HQ," she shot back. "And in the hall where you were dumb enough to get hit." She hesitated—that was another part of it. "I hope you're not planning to go back to the office on Monday, by the way, because I don't think you're exactly their golden boy anymore." It was over, she realized. Her whole job involved being invisible and hiding, but he was now a fugitive. His career, shady and disloyal as it may have been, was over as soon as he'd put a bullet in that first agent's head.

As if she'd voiced this last part, he just chuckled wryly and said "That was a done deal several months ago, wouldn't you say? I've been thinking about taking up crochet anyway, and that'll really take up all of my time, so." Then he remembered something else. "And as far as your financial issues go, there's a bit of good news." He gingerly reached down and dug around in the front of his pants and pulled out several bound stacks of bills. "Ta-da. And don't be like that, it's not like you haven't been in there," he added, feeling her recoil.

"What...is this mine?" she asked, picking up one of the stacks. Then she realized, "Wait, you stole this from my bag?!"

"It's just a few thousand!" he protested, snickering and holding up an arm to shield himself from her furious strikes. "Come on, if I actually made it out of there, I was going to need something to escape with. Either way, I was going down for this, either because of you or Hansen or someone. You just left it lying there, anyway."

"You're an asshole," she snapped, grabbing the stacks off of the cup holders between the seats and stuffing it in the pocket on her door. "Well, great, I just made a thousandth of my usual fee to off a government head, a middle-ranking agent and about twenty others. That's just lovely."

"Oh well, we had a few laughs, didn't we?" he offered. "It was like a wacky vacation story. I wish I had photos for my scrapbook."

Photos...that was something else. "There's still something I don't get," she said suddenly. "What was that whole 'I want to watch' thing about?"

"Yeah, that was weird," he agreed, the smile fading from his face to be replaced by a furrowed brow. "That was a little porny even for me."

"I mean, he thought I was just going to kill you in the room, either right before I did the hit or when I came back or something," she reasoned. "Once I found out about everything, that's when he told me to take you with me on the hit and kill you there, and then he'd kill me once I got back to the room, as you said..." She removed the scarf from around her head, letting her hair fall loose and running her fingers through it distractedly. "Why would he bother coming to headquarters? That was insanely risky. Why not just kill me in the room and get to you later? Why was it so important that I..."

"You said it was something to do with—her," Sands said. Now that he knew even more of her treachery, he wanted to say Eva's name aloud even less. "You said it was because he was all hacked off about that."

"Yeah, he said—when I found out this morning about the whole thing with you, he said it'd be fitting for me to kill you because of what you did to her. Because we're...I guess we're similar in some ways, I don't know."

"Not that similar," he assured her. "But that still doesn't fit. If he wanted to watch you off me—and frankly, I get the appeal—how would he do that if you just did it in the room or right after McKean? He wouldn't be there."

"No, he wouldn't." She put her forehead against the wheel, her brain aching from the effort of unraveling all of this nonsense. I want to watch, it's what I want...she wants to. It's obvious, just look at that...And then her hand flew to waist and she gasped. "Holy shit."


She fumbled in the folds of silk around her waist and pulled out the disk Sands had found on Hansen's body. 'E.N./S.S., 4/7-11.' "Sands," she choked, staring at it in her hand, shock enveloping her in waves. "He bugged us. He recorded everything. It's all right here."

"What?" She put the disk in his hand, and his eyebrows shot up in surprise. "It has our initials on it and this week's dates," she told him. "That was going to be his proof. He has hours of us in the room, together, all of it—"

"What, audio recordings? That would never work." He shook his head. "There's no way they could prove it was us."

"No," she breathed. "Not audio." She realized now, it all made sense—it had been right in front of her from the start. The workman who had been in the hotel room when they first arrived—he addressed Hansen, called him by name, because he knew him. Hansen had hired him to bug the room. She hadn't noticed what passed between them after that because Sands had panicked at the sound of the drill and she'd dragged him into the next room. And earlier that day... "They were watching it. When I came in, they were watching it," she murmured in disbelief. That hadn't been any black-and-white movie on the TV when she'd burst into Hansen's hotel room. They had been watching the footage of her room, hers and Sands', and...

"Came in where?" Sands demanding, breaking into her reverie, and she realized she'd left that part out.

"His hotel room. Hansen's. When I found him this morning, he was—"

"He had a room at the hotel? Our hotel?"

"Yes," she said impatiently. "I was running, and I got out on the wrong floor, and I heard them talking and I knew it had to been him and I listened at the door and I heard them talking about me—about us—and how he wasn't going to pay me unless I killed you, and I ran in and they were watching it, but they turned it off and I didn't see—he must have seen me throw you out and knew I had gone back on what I said and wasn't taking you with me, and then you went back in—"

"What d'you mean, the wrong floor?" he demanded, cutting across her babbling. "What floor? Where was his room?"

"I don't know," she exclaimed, but then realized that she did. "No, wait—it was the seventh floor." She forced herself to see the room's door in her mind's eye. "Room seven-six-one."

"Oh, fuck me," Sands groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. "Yeah, OK, he was taping us."

"Why? What does that mean? How do you know?"

"We were in eight sixty-one," he said tiredly. "He was in seven sixty-one. He was right below us. If he wanted to tape us, he needed to be nearby. He was only a few feet away, straight down." He pointed to illustrate the point. "It'd be no problem to run a wire straight through the floorboards and get a clear signal. And I assume he had all of HQ wired up as all. I know you said you took care of all the security stuff," he added, before she could jump in. "But let's face it, he probably had an override on your override from the start. I'm sure that whole lovely scene is on file somewhere." He scoffed. "If I haven't said it already, good job capping him. That was definitely the right call." Then, slowly, an evil smile took over his face. "Wait. But if he was recording everything..."

Elektra's skin seemed to crawl with horror as she realized what he was saying. "No," she said, although she didn't know what should could be disputing. "No, no, he couldn't—it can't have been—"

"Oh, man, that is superb," he burst out, with another bark of laughter. "That's exquisite. He's sitting there watching and hoping you'll stick your little sword in me any minute, and instead I'm the one who—"

"No," she repeated wildly, as he laughed. "He couldn't have seen it. He didn't have time. And—and the lights," she added desperately. "The lights were off. I knocked over the lamp when I threw the sai at you. It was black-and-white, he couldn't have—it didn't have night-vision..." She trailed off, her brain whirling, trying to remember everything she'd heard. She wants to. Look at that. That was just a taste; she'll finish it. "He saw us fight," she said, clinging to the idea. "He saw us fight, and then I knocked over the lamp and he thought I killed you. And he heard us crashing around through the floor as well." They had, she knew, been surprisingly quiet in bed. There had been no need for any more theatrics once they got down to it. "He thought I killed you, and that's why he looked at you like that this morning when he was at the door."

"Like what?" he asked, still laughing. "Like 'excellent score, bro'?"

"No, like he'd seen a ghost," she said acidly, remembering the momentary look of shock and anger that had flickered across his face when he saw Sands stroll out of the bedroom behind her. "He saw us fight. That's it. Just fight." Somehow, it felt necessary to say it several times to will it into truth. "He would have said something about it to me or to you sometime today, but he didn't. He doesn't know. And we've got it right here," she added, leaning over and tapping the disk still in his hands. "We've got all the evidence right here. So, it's...fine."

"Whatever you have to tell yourself," he told her patronizingly. "I'm quite sure he didn't make any copies at all, and he was carrying the only evidence around in his pocket. And I'm sure in the entire Central Intelligence Agency there's no one technologically advanced enough to clean this up. I mean, the lights were out." He shook his head in mock solemnity. "That footage is gone. It's the eighteen minutes on the Watergate tapes." He patted the disk in his hand fondly. "At least we've got this one. I think I'm gonna sell it on the internet and make a fortune. 'One Night in Greece.'"

"Oh, fuck you," she snapped. She massaged her forehead—he was, of course, right. There was no way to know what Hansen had seen or what he'd done with the tapes, or if he'd already sent them elsewhere. He had, however, proven himself to be exceedingly shrewd and good at planning ahead (although he had admittedly walked into a room with an assassin and handed her his only weapon, so it was hard to say). She knew one thing, though: she had to get out of that town as soon as possible, that very night. She started the car again. "Well, that settles it."

"Where to?" he asked, settling back into the seat again. "Going to scour every adult video store in the state?"

"Airport," she said. "I've got to leave."

"Probably a good idea," he agreed soberly. "Where will you go?"

"I'm not sure." She chewed her lip, thinking. "Far. Japan, maybe. I have a friend who's living out there, I think."

"You have friends?"

"A few." She glanced sideways at him. "You should probably think about putting some distance between yourself and here as well, you know. And you can't really go home to pack first, either."

"Yes, I figured as much," he said, half amused and half annoyed at the way she kept forgetting he had some experience in these things as well. "Any suggestions?"

"Not Mexico," she said slyly, and he chuckled softly. "Anywhere. Just...somewhere you can blend in."

"And...far away from you," he said, as if testing her. "As far as possible, perhaps. If you're going to Japan, I should go to Brazil; that the idea?"

"Well—yes, that's probably best," she said hesitantly. She hadn't really thought of it that way, but it did made sense. "They'll certainly be coming after us both. Staying together would just make it easier for them."

"We do stand out a bit," he agreed. "Besides, we've got a bit of an 'Odd Couple' thing going on. I think I'd kill you after a few days."

"Not if I killed you first." They were silent for a few moments, and she turned onto the highway. "Well, at least we have a bit of cash."

"Yeah, thanks to my forward-thinking cleverness." He grinned. "'We'? Does that mean you're going to throw me a few shekels to get out of Dodge?"

"Well, I can't have you hanging around outside the airport panhandling for airfare," she shot back dryly. "They'd catch you in ten minutes. And you'd probably give me up in the next five."

"Probably." He nodded. "So that's settled."

"Right. We definitely can't stick together." Just like when she was reassuring herself about the tapes from the hotel room, she seemed to need to say it aloud a few times. "That'd be insane."

"It surely would," he said lightly. "We'll go our separate ways and stay on opposite sides of the globe, and I'll get the kids every other weekend and Thanksgiving, all right?"

She snorted. "Yeah. Good plan."

It was very early morning by now, and the darkness seemed to be at its richest depth. She could just make out faint stars out above them, fading and disappearing as the green-tinged lights of the Dulles airport came into view off in the distance. She didn't usually bother noticing stupid things like stars when she was on the job, but it seemed the sort of thing to do now, now that she was in a new place, not in the middle of a job or planning the next one, not just existing and waiting for something to happen. There weren't many cars on the highway at this hour, and it was quiet except for the sound of the wheels thrumming against the asphalt, the wind whistling through the broken window in the back and the soft sound of Sands smoking his third or fourth cigarette. She cracked the window again and made a mental note to hide his stash as soon as she got a chance, whenever and wherever they landed. Neither of them felt the need to acknowledge the lie they'd just spun for themselves; it was just another one of those things that didn't need to be said. At this point, there was no reason to pretend they could outrun each other, because they were in the same place and always had been—neither here nor there, neither dead nor quite alive, neither entirely light or entirely dark. Just in the middle.