(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 was out the door within ten minutes of getting up the next morning. For some reason, the room felt unbearably small, the smell of last night's leftovers practically choking her. She pushed herself even harder than usual, adding another few laps around the hotel, punishing herself for her foolishness. It wasn't just the way she'd eaten that bothered her, although that was part of it; she still felt heavy and unbalanced, having not indulged herself that sumptuously in years. No, it was more the fact that she'd played his game, that she'd given in, been so intrigued by the idea of talking to someone like her that she'd just opened right up, blathering on and telling all sorts of things she'd rather have taken to her grave. Her second one, anyway.
Not that he was like her, she reminded herself firmly. They had both taken lives, yes, and perhaps lived under an unusual set of rules, but that was all. They were not the same and she had been an idiot to listen to him and relax her rules for herself. That's how it starts, she scolded herself furiously. It starts with just little slips, just little weaknesses here and there and next thing you know, it's all fallen apart and you're one of them, and everything will have been for nothing. She hated the idea of her voice in his head talking about her life, those things that had happened to her...she hadn't even gone into great detail, but it was enough. It was too much. Her whole life was about moderation, about keeping things low and at bay, and she'd dropped it all because she'd found someone who would listen and not respond with shock. Shock was something she didn't have the right to anymore, and it was strange for her to see that in someone else. Idiot.
And on top of all that, he'd lied to her. One of them had, anyway, or perhaps both. And worse, she'd cared about it. Hansen, Sands...both of them meaningless idiots who would be out of her lives forever in a few days, and yet here she was, letting herself get all worked up over some convoluted story. The anger that had boiled instinctively in her stomach when she'd glanced through the files and found Eva's name was still there, but now it was more towards herself--she shouldn't have looked, she shouldn't have been curious. Wasn't that another rule, maybe the most important one of all? Never ask more than you need to know. It doesn't matter and it only leads to trouble. She repeated it to herself, over and over in her head like a mantra in time with her quiet footfalls on the pavement: it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. Yes, one of them had lied and there was more to the Mexico story than she'd been told. So what? It had no affect on the job. What did it matter who had been sleeping with whom (she was sure Sands wouldn't have had gone so far as to have her number unless he'd gotten something out of it) or who killed whom when? All that mattered was that she finished the job and got paid for it and got out. What was the past, anyway? It was over. ...But what else was he lying about? That was the real question.
She was so lost in her thoughts and renewed promises to herself to keep her head in the game and focus on the sensible things that by the time she glanced at her watch it was ten of eight, time to meet Hansen. She rounded the corner of the hotel, slowed her pace smoothly to a walk and entered the lobby. She got in the elevator and pressed eight, checking her heart rate with two fingers as the doors slid closed. Still under normal. Good.
The door slid back open at the seventh floor, and she was startled to find herself face-to-face with Hansen himself, flanked as always by his two fellow agents. They looked equally surprised to see her, but Hansen arranged his arrogant features into his usual patronizing smile and said "Good morning, Miss Natchios."
"What are you doing here?" she asked, not troubling to make it sound courteous. The two other agents glanced at Hansen before stepping into the elevator with him. He raised his eyebrows slightly in apparent surprise.
"Coming to see you for our morning meeting," he replied. "Was that not the plan?"
"Yes, but..." She frowned. Didn't he remember which floor was hers? Just how many assassins was he boarding in this place? "Well, you're here now."
"And your plan for the day?"
"I'm going to check the security systems more thoroughly," she said, her eyes on the lighted floor numbers above the doors. "I'll need to get into the main control room to see what needs to be done. Depending on what kind of system it is, that'll determine about how much time I'll need overall." She saw him watching her face carefully out of the corner of her eye. "I should be able to give you a more definitive time frame for the job by tomorrow morning. Or tonight, maybe," she added, thinking that this job couldn't be over fast enough.
"Very good," he said again, as though he was her maitre d'. The doors slid open onto the eighth floor. "I leave you here, then."
"Right." She could feel his eyes on her back as she stepped out and turned the corner towards her room--she still felt that sensation of tenebrous unease around him; a sort of poorly-hidden sense of danger. It was as though he'd stepped too close, somehow crossed the line of professional decorum, but she couldn't pinpoint how. He'd seemed just a little too un-bothered by that whole punch-in-the-face thing, for one thing. He was playing things close to the vest and she was somehow aware of the presence of deceit--more than was normal, that is. There was of course the vague threat he'd made to her in their first meeting about having her file and being able to expose her, but somehow that wasn't all; there wasn't enough weight to it to worry her. Corrupt and murderous though he might be, he was still too closely tied into the agency to worry her. He couldn't attempt to turn her in without risking everything he had hired her to get. He had too much to lose. It was the renegades, the ones with no real ties anywhere, that were the dangerous ones. Still, there was something about him and what went between them that she didn't like. Really, the job couldn't be finished too soon.
She pushed open the door to find Sands awake and sitting at the table, calmly sipping from a stained white mug from the bathroom. Her anger from the night before rose again at the sight of him, but she pushed it away. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. "Hello there," he said, but she made no reply as she stalked past him into the bathroom. He heard the door close and lock, and he smiled slightly into the cup. She was pissed, of course, and he was glad. He knew what it was about, it wasn't difficult—she'd enjoyed being mysterious and keeping him at arm's length, denying him what he asked and treating him like the help. The way they'd talked the night before was way too personal for her, and she regretted giving what she had to him. She thought she was so strong, so impenetrable and stubborn, and in two days he'd broken her down, at least somewhat. They were all the same; everyone had their weak spot where you could push. He always found it.
He heard the water run and then shut off, and in a few minutes she emerged. He could smell her clean, damp skin and imagined smooth, toned flesh, lean muscles underneath. His fingers absentmindedly slid around the sides of the mug he was still holding, imagining gripping her tightly, her hands pulling his hair, the taste of her mouth...how she'd hate it, but love it, as they all did. He smirked to himself again.
She dressed quickly, putting on the same disguise and the day before, still not looking at him. Doesn't matter. Does not matter. She started mentally running over the details of her day's plan and the various security systems the building might be employing—it always made her feel calmer to think about the technical, mechanical side of things—but was interrupted by Sands saying aloud, "So, what's today's mission?"
"What do you think?" she snapped, unable to stop herself. He raised an eyebrow at her tone, apparently amused.
"The usual," he replied. "Drinks, dancing, maybe rent some jet skis later." Elektra rolled her eyes.
"I'm doing the security today," she said brusquely. "Same as yesterday: we go in, I do my stuff, you don't get in my way."
"Sounds like a gas." She made no reply and forced herself to look anywhere but at him, maintaining her stony silence all the way out of the hotel and into the cab. He could hear her breathing sharply through her nose, as if her jaws were clenched too tightly to allow breath. He imagined her again, leaning as far away from him as she could in the backseat, against the door, arms crossed across her chest, glaring out the window. He tried not to laugh out loud. Really, though, not very business-like, he reflected. It was certainly good fun to play with her as he had done, drawing her out and making her furious at herself, but it didn't say much about her as a professional. It didn't mean anything too good for the job she was meant to do if she was this easily annoyed and distracted...it seemed bizarre that Hansen would choose her for the job and then hand her over to him, Sands, to torment and do what he liked with her. If he hadn't known that Hansen was a preening idiot with the plotting skills and the foresight of an fence post, he might have thought it was all part of a different plan.
They got out of the cab in front of the primly white building once again, and he slid his hand under her arm, taking care to draw out the action as much as possible. Her arm was tense as a wire, as if she was trying to force out her hatred of him like radiation. He drew her towards him ever so slightly, and she shoved him with the other hand, hard. The cab driver stared.
"Shall we?" he asked innocently. She gave a sharp, harsh sigh, as if forcing herself to remain calm, and they went inside. Like the day before, she flashed her badge and heads turned in their direction to watch him, and perhaps her as well. Ignoring them all, she swiftly moved towards the elevators again, but once they were inside, he made no move to select a floor or tell her which one to choose. She glared impatiently for a moment before saying "Well?"
"What do you think—?" She stopped, forcing her voice down to a furious near-whisper. "Where precisely am I going?"
"I couldn't tell you," he answered calmly. "That was never my area. Besides, I was told quite clearly to stay out of your way, so..."
She gave an angry scoff. "You're useless." She figured he probably did in fact know exactly where the main control office was located, even if he didn't need to know it—he was the sort that would need to know every detail, just in case—but was refusing to help since she was clearly so scornful of his assistance. Well, fine. Fuck that, I won't beg. She punched the button for the second floor, not wanting to get out again on the ground floor and draw attention from the guard who'd seen them go in, and stepped out so quickly when the doors opened that his hand fell from her arm and he had to jump out of the elevator awkwardly to catch up with her. She pretended not to notice and instead fixed her eyes on the directory hanging on the wall. He let a moment pass in silence before leaning in and, imitating her annoyed tone from a moment before, whispered "Well?"
"Give me a goddamn second," she hissed back, glancing around to make sure they weren't being overheard. "It's not exactly listed like 'break-ins and assassinations, room nine-thirteen.'" He almost laughed at that. She stood silently for another few moments, and a few people moved past them down the corridor. She watched them pass out of the corner of her eye, thinking hard. After a few beats, she grabbed his elbow and said softly "Come on."
"Had a brainwave?"
"No," she said back, so quietly he could barely hear. She appeared to be leading the way. "I'm following someone."
"Of course," he replied, his voiced lilted with amused sarcasm. "I do find people here to be helpful that way. Is he holding a sign for you, like at the airport?"
"Shut up," she muttered angrily. He was going to blow the whole fucking plan with his inane quips. Figuring it was the only way to shut him up, she said "I'm following someone who's not wearing a suit and has a flash drive on his belt."
"By the looks of it, it's about a hundred and twenty-eight gig," she said, still almost inaudible. She rounded a corner, making sure to stay a good thirty feet behind the man, her sharp eyes never leaving him. Sands frowned.
"They don't make bigger than sixty-four," he informed her. Then he gave a rueful chuckle. "Unless, of course—"
"—you're a technician at the Central Intelligence Agency," she finished confidently. "Wherever he's going is probably where he need to be."
"Nice work, Nancy Drew."
"Oh, thank you. That really means a ton."
They followed their unknowing docent down several winding hallways and up two floors before he stopped before a door, scanning his fingers and eyes before entering, the door closing behind him with a very secure-sounding click. Elektra glanced at the sign on the door that confirmed they were in the right place, and then glanced around again; the area was empty aside from them for the time being. "That's where I need to go," she said briskly, her voice low.
Sands made a soft, slightly derisive sound. "Well, then, you might want to know first that there's a door on the other side, leading to another hallway," he informed her snidely. "All the main offices are laid out that way so there's always an escape."
"I know that," she shot back, not missing his point in the slightest. Yesterday he's bitching at me for being detail-obsessed and now he's trying to tell me how it's really done? Fucker. She stepped to the side so they were huddled by the wall and leaned close to the door, listening. She heard voices within and waited, keeping quite still and silent for several minutes until she heard the second figure in the room moving away and then exiting through the door on the other side. Knowing she didn't have much time (she knew it was unlikely for such an important room to be manned by one person at a time for very long), she turned back to Sands. "OK, I'm going in there. Come here." Her voice was tough. "And once I'm in there, let me know if someone comes."
"'Let you know'?" he repeated, still highly disdainful. "And do we have a secret clubhouse knock?"
"Oh, you'll figure it out," she sneered, knowing how much he'd hate it. He'd have to alert her if someone came along or risk getting himself caught alongside a mass murderer, but it was an embarrassingly sidekick-y task, and she thought it put him in his place quite nicely. She glanced up and down the hallway one more time, and then dragged him over to the door, where he scanned his prints and she entered the temporary code; she'd memorized it the day before. He moved off to the side, the door clicked open, and she slid inside. Conveniently, the agent they'd followed was sitting in front of a wall of monitors and keypads with his back to her. He turned at the sound of the door opening, but she was across the room and jabbing one hand against just the right spot on his neck before he'd registered a thing. He slumped forward, unconscious—she didn't finish anyone off until the hit itself. It would call way too much attention to herself. It meant, however, that she only had a few minutes to get everything done before he regained consciousness or someone else came in, so she turfed him off the chair onto the floor and sat, pulling on her skintight gloves again as she did so.
Sands stood in the hallway, leaning against the wall and listening to her rapid keystrokes as she figured out how she planned to break down the highest level of building security in the country as casually if she was shopping on eBay. Another time he might have found the situation amusing or maybe even impressive, but he just felt irritated; the fun he'd been having that morning with the way she'd played into his hands seemed to have been replaced with annoyance. Who was she, to laugh at him and order him around, when she couldn't even handle a bit of psychological warfare shared over a thai pad? It was undignified, that's what it was. She wasn't putting the job first at all. Stupid headstrong broad, getting all pushed out of shape and over-emotional, claiming to be this impressive warrior and then falling right into his trap...she should have known better. She should have seen it coming and acted accordingly. Some professional.
Elektra studied the screens closely, watching the code scroll across the page and memorizing rapidly. Pretty standard stuff, really—a few highly useful hacking codes and the system would jam, scrambling the electronic signals zipping around the whole headquarters and giving her ample time to get in and do the job and get out with only a minimal amount of trouble. There was no need to get dramatic about it and shut down the whole place, that would only draw attention. No, just in and out. Yesterday's tour had told her just where she needed to go and where the mark would be at different parts of the day; it was just a matter of timing. This was old hat, really. Once again, just a bit of careful planning and everything would fall into place. She was almost disappointed; she'd expected more of a challenge. But at this point, nothing's new anymore, she admitted to herself. Everything's standard. It's all just systems, really. It was getting a bit boring.
Another computer screen caught her eye and she glanced over: the man she'd followed had been sorting through an agent's file on another monitor when she'd come in. Curiosity stole over her, and she closed down the mainframe she'd been studying and rolled over to the other screen, hesitating only slightly before minimizing the window and opening another, typing "Sheldon Sands" into the prompt window.
His file popped up almost immediately, and it appeared to be the same as the one Hansen had given her. She clicked around a bit until she found the incident report on the Mexico debacle, expecting to find the full story that he'd left out of the folder--but it wasn't there. Just the notes about the attack on Sands, how he'd gone out "post-procedure." Elektra frowned. Surely there was a much more detailed report somewhere, but shouldn't it have been attached...? She scrolled down, and once again there was just that mysterious single line: "Agent Eva Ajedrez. COD: single GSW to abdomen."And that was it, no linked pages or addition files.
Her frown deepening, she went back a few pages and typed "Eva Ajedrez" into the search box. It seemed to take an extra few seconds to come up with her file, but then it appeared. The photograph showed an attractive Latina woman, her highlighted hair flowing over her shoulders, and her expression, if it was possible, even more contemptuous than Sands' was in his file. She was undeniable attractive, with large, dark eyes and full lips. She even had a stupid little beauty mark on her cheek, like she was a goddamn perfume model instead of a federal agent. Indeed, she was dressed in a conservative suit jacket in the photo, but it looked oddly out-of-place on her, and Elektra somehow thought she'd look more appropriate in something tight and black and possibly ripped. She wasn't sure why, but she found herself scowling slightly as she observed the image. After a second she looked away from the picture and looked over her details: name, birthdate, location of birth, credentials...but that, once again, was it. Elektra hit the 'down' arrow on the keypad a few times in annoyance, thinking the page might have frozen, but no. There was simply nothing else--no details of her assignments or her training or even her death. Just the same line again: "GSW to abdomen" and the date of the coup in Mexico, the day she died. A tiny icon appeared beside the line, signifying the existence of a file, and Elektra clicked eagerly, but "ERROR" flashed back at her instantly.
"Oh, come on," she muttered under her breath. She leaned closer. "This file has been damaged or moved," the dialogue box informed her, unhelpfully. She went back a few pages again and instead searched for the incidence report, using the dates from Sands' file, and received an error again. She went back to Sands' file and tried to find it that way—nothing. On a whim, she searched for Hansen's file and did a phrase search—nothing. No mention of Mexico whatsoever. Suspicion was flooding her in waves now. Her "it doesn't matter" mantra thoroughly forgotten, she glanced over at the agent still slumped on the floor, and, knowing her time was running out, hurriedly went to Sands' file again and searched its properties, looking for 'date modified.' She found it after a moment, and saw a date some four weeks previous. She clicked the code number in the box, knowing it stood for whomever had authorized the changes, and got another "ERROR."
The man on the floor stirred. She leaned forward once more and went back to Eva's file, performing the same search. Same date of modification, same untraceable authorization key. She stared at the screen for a few more seconds, and she slowly began to understand. What the files said, and didn't say, and what Hansen had said, and what Sands had let slip... So that's what this is. That is completely and utterly pathetic.
Out in the hallway, Sands was lost in his irritable musings and almost didn't hear the footsteps approaching until whoever it was was was just around the corner. He quickly slid a hand into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone, holding it up to his ear and pretending to be engrossed in whatever he was hearing, while at the same time quietly knocking shave-and-a-haircut against the wall with his other hand. Surely she'd figure it out.
The footsteps came closer and then stopped. "Agent Sands," the man said, sounding somewhat taken aback. Shit. He didn't recognize the voice right away, but it wasn't surprising; he hadn't bothered to remember too many unnecessary people before, and there were an awful lot of those. "Sir," he replied, figuring that would do well enough (either sarcastically or not), still pantomiming his phone call.
"Good to see you back," the man continued, and Sands seethed inwardly for a moment before closing the phone and giving what he thought was something like an appreciative smile back. There was an awkward pause. He drummed his fingers against the wall again, slightly more insistently. Where was she? Two more seconds and he'd go in there and it'd all be over. The other man didn't move. "Waiting for someone?" he asked, and Sands knew exactly what was making his tone so moronically awkward: it wasn't exactly standard procedure for an agent to be hanging around the main control room alone, doing nothing and looking highly suspicious, but he mostly likely couldn't think of a way to tell tragic, heroic, helpless Agent Sands to get the hell out. Still, it was most decidedly frowned upon. This guy was plainly someone above him or someone on his level or below who was something of a suck-up; for neither of which did Sands have any patience. "Something like that," he replied vaguely, listening as hard as he could for movement within the room. Couldn't she hear their voices?
"So have they given you any new cases yet?" Apparently he was determined to drive him away with with mindless drivel, which actually would have worked pretty well in the past. But that was then. "I've got a few balls in the air," Sands said dryly.
"That's good," the other man said vaguely. A few more seconds passed in painfully hesitant silence as the agent studied Sands' t-shirt ("All in favor of Viagra, please rise") and Sands grew more irritated with both he and the still-absent Elektra. Then: "Well, We should be getting on with it, eh?" He drummed his briskly hands on his legs in a that-settles-that sort of way, but Sands said nothing. He felt distinctly hot around the ears and neck and just stood there, teeth clenched. Of course he couldn't fucking get on with it. He hadn't the faintest clue how to get out of there; he'd hardly ever been in that area before, and even he couldn't have memorized that speedy path they'd taken there that quickly. He could think of a number of plausible lies as to why he was there, but that, of course, was secondary. He was, quite simply, fucked.
That simp was still standing there, and seemed to arrive belatedly at the same conclusion, and said "Oh—sorry, did you need a—"
"There you are." Elektra came striding around the corner—apparently she had slipped out the door on the other side of the room and into the hall on the other side. "I was wondering where you'd gotten to." There was a most unconvincing sweetness to her voice; he knew immediately that it had all been quite on purpose. The fact that she was letting the other agent see her face and hear her voice showed just how far she was willing to go to screw him.
The other agent looked at her in surprise. "Oh," he said again. "Never mind, then." He looked torn between pity and awe: this beautiful woman was here with him? "Take care, then."
Elektra gave him a demure smile, and then said "Let's go" to Sands, who continued to say nothing, his face still burning with angry embarrassment. Her fingers closed around his arm, but now her grip was firm, controlling, not angry and resentful like earlier. She was also no longer walking in the stealthy, quiet, sneaking way she had before; now she was almost strutting with confidence. As they sped away, he heard her give a very small, wry laugh under her breath, and he imagined her smirking in satisfaction. He didn't need to ask; he knew what she was so pleased about. She knew exactly what had just happened, and she was glad of it. Whatever had happened the night before, it was clear to them both that in the space of the hour, she'd managed to win this round.