(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.

They stayed at headquarters for a few more hours; Elektra insisted on going through her previous day's paces again and double-checking on the location of her mark's office and the different routes she could take to get there. Sands rather thought she was just determined to drag him around the building as much as possible to emphasize her victory over him—he understood, of course, that she'd fully intended to humiliate him back at the security office, and it had worked quite well. He figured she'd probably slipped out the other door and into the hallway running parallel to the one where he'd been and then waited just around the corner for the right moment to jump out and point out just how helpless he was. He was ostensibly there to be her lookout, but really, she could have done the thing without him; it was he who needed her. At least, that seemed to be her point. It was an unusual experience for him; people who tried to fool him usually didn't get a chance to pull it off all the way. She spoke minimally, only addressing him when she was announcing a new command or plan of action, but every time she spoke he could hear that same smug note in her voice, that aura of triumph, of one-upping someone else. He had no trouble recognizing it, as he sounded like that himself most of the time.

Several hours and a silent cab ride later, they were back at the hotel, and Elektra sank onto the sofa and put on the TV. She really didn't watch it much, ever, but she was so enjoying acting casually nonchalant when he was clearly seething that she thought she'd complete the performance with thoroughly relaxed actions—and if they were ones he himself couldn't do, so much the better. She flipped the channels aimlessly, her emotions flicking from complacently pleased to furious as quickly as the flickering images in front of her. She'd gotten one over on him, to be sure, but still. Who did he think he was, mocking her and acting so goddamn superior when he had let himself to be tricked so entirely and drastically? She'd made mistakes, to be sure, but they were nothing to what he'd done, what he'd allowed to happen...

A great while later, it seemed, Sands, who was in the bedroom, said abruptly "Found everything, did you?"

Elektra started. "Excuse me?"

"You seemed to need an extra run-through today, going all around the place like that again," he said calmly. "I thought you'd figured everything out yesterday, but..." He let her voice trail off delicately, his unfinished sentence saying it all.

She snorted. This was his terrific comeback? "It's called being thorough," she shot back coolly. "Wouldn't want to be unprepared and walk right into a trap. That would just be...oh, unbearably stupid."

Ah, so that's what we're playing. Fine by me. "Indeed it would," he replied, as if he didn't know what she was getting at. "Well, it's not unreasonable." He moved into the sitting room, sitting down slowly in the chair across the room from her, as if sinking onto a throne. He hadn't switched on the light, of course, and he was half-hidden in shadow as the sun sank beyond the window. "I guess you've got to be a little more careful now."

"Excuse me?" she repeated, flaring up again. She knew she was being baited, but she couldn't stop herself. "What do you mean, 'now'?"

He shrugged delicately. "You said yourself last night you 'got a bit too into it' and got careless. I certainly see why you'd want to slow things down a bit after something like that."

"I didn't say—that doesn't mean I—" You motherfucker. "That isn't what I meant," she spat finally, trying to sound as contemptuous as possible, as though he was an idiot for misunderstanding her simple point. "I didn't screw up any assignments or anything, I just...it just wasn't the right way to go about things. For me. Personally."

He gave a derisive snort. "Whatever you say." It couldn't be plainer that he wasn't buying it, though. Really, how hard can it be? He couldn't help but think of El: he hadn't bothered with all this dramatic reconnaissance foolishness, he just got down to it, guns blazing, no questions asked. ...Not that everything had gone really according to plan, but... It was just self-indulgent nonsense, all this creeping around and demanding several days and disguises and all the rest of it. He reached into his pocket and lit a cigarette, the flare of light illuminating his face for a moment. "I just thought you had a bit more experience with this sort of thing."

"I have plenty," she snapped. "For your information, logistically speaking, this is one of the easier jobs I've had in a while." It was almost true; the security system she'd examined was a relatively simple one. Overall, though, the assignment was quite a headache indeed.

"Oh, so it's easy," he echoed. "That does make it sound more respectable."

"Yes, and being my assistant is as dignified as it gets," she volleyed back. "Really. Be proud."

"And clearly the fact that you need an 'assistant' proves how well your reputation precedes you. That was Hansen's idea, not yours."

"Oh, yeah, he's brilliant. I'm just wildly concerned about what he thinks. Amazing judge of character," she replied sarcastically. Trying to insult me by defending him after what he did...!

"No, he's an idiot," Sands said smoothly, "but he actually does have rather a lot of experience in this sort of thing. If he thinks you need a sidekick..." He shrugged again. "Not the biggest vote of confidence, is it? Wouldn't ask him for a letter of recommendation when you're done, is all I'm saying."

"You really think he would have hired me for this if he didn't think I could do it without help?" she demanded. She was angled towards him now, fists on her knees. Christ, he was infuriating. "You just make things a little less messy, that's all. Don't flatter yourself."

"Maybe that's just what he's letting you believe, hmm?" He flicked ash off the end of his cigarette a little harder than he meant to. "Letting you think I'm just your lackey when really..." He pretended to search for the right phrase. "I'm the baby-sitter."

"That's not how it works," she scoffed. "I don't have to explain myself to you, of all people. You're hardly an expert."

"Ah, but you already did," he pointed out, leaning back comfortably in the chair. "I think we both know that."

"Did what?"

"You already explained yourself to me, quite well. Don't you remember? Just last night."

"Oh, get over it, Sands," she sneered. "We talked about Broadway and killing stuff for a few minutes. That doesn't mean you know everything about my job. It wasn't really a dear-diary moment." Close enough, though.

"That's true," he said thoughtfully. "We did leave out a few things."

"Imagine that."

"No, really. Quite interesting things, actually."

"What'd we leave out, favorite color? If you still have one, I mean," she added meanly, putting on a smirk to match his.

"That...and the rest of you," he replied, his voice growing even more silkily hypnotic. "I asked you in the car the other day, but you never did say...how does a girl like you get to be a girl like you?"

"'A girl like—' What is that, an Eagles song?" she scoffed. "Really, I don't know why I was even hired; you could off people with your cutting wit alone."

He acted as though she hadn't spoken and said "Go on, tell me: how'd you get into the business?"

"There was a flyer hanging up at my dorm," she said dryly. "'Lucrative career, lots of travel...' I thought it sounded just great."

"Hmm." He acknowledged her joke with a very slight, condescending nod. "Want to hear my theory?"

"Not in the slightest."

"I think it started when you were a kid," he said, again speaking as if he hadn't heard her reply. "Always something interesting about death, wasn't there? Something a bit alluring?"

This time, she didn't reply. This was going in a very bad direction, but she could think of nothing to say that wouldn't just encourage him. She looked away from him, staring unseeingly at the TV, and forced herself not to listen. Don't go there. Don't you fucking dare.

He correctly interpreted her silence as a confirmation, however, and continued. "And from what I understand, you're quite good at all that ninja stuff—" he made a mocking sort of judo-chop gesture with one hand "—so good, in fact, that I can only assume that you've been trained since early childhood. A tough sensei, maybe, up at dawn to do laps..." He paused meaningfully, taking a long drag on the cigarette. "Really, it's hard to believe you just fell into this profession; it sounds more like you were groomed for it. Like destiny."

Elektra looked down and realized her fists were clenched. Don't say anything. Don't fall for it again. She forced herself to take slow, even breaths, like she did when she meditated. It was hard to concentrate, though, with his voice in her ear. She felt hot all over. Focus.

Sands took a careful pause, exhaling smoke through his nose. "And of course, since you carefully avoided any mention of them last night, I can only assume your parents pushed you into this kind of lifestyle. Well—" He held up a hand as if apologizing and corrected, "not this type of lifestyle, of course. I hardly think they raised a contract killer on purpose. You were meant to do something noble with your talents, right?" He paused, but he didn't expect her to respond, and she didn't. "Something good and honorable, but instead you do this...undoubtedly they wouldn't be pleased at all with their little girl, so I'm assuming they don't know. And because you operate under your own name and have a fair degree of fame in this business, I'm further assuming that they don't know because they're dead, yes?"

He posed this last question as unemotionally as though he was theorizing about the next day's weather, but inwardly he was quite enjoying this—he figured this bit out the day before, but he wanted to wait to reveal what he knew until it would bother her the most. Now seemed a good moment, now that she was so sure of herself and her power over him. "But despite this, it's rather hard to ignore the profound Freudian issues at work here, so I'm thinking we're still trying to impress someone...perhaps an older brother? Was I wrong about the only-child thing?" Again, she made no reply, but he knew she was listening; he thought he could hear her shaking breaths. "Or perhaps, more simply, we're just dealing with some pretty severe daddy issues, is that it? It doesn't matter that he's gone, the effect's still there—nothing ever impressed him, did it? Had to be stronger, better...still wasn't pleased with you, though. Maybe it was the brother thing," he considered, waving the cigarette slightly as he thought out loud. "Maybe he only wanted boys, so you worked and worked to prove you could be just as good, but it still wasn't enough. So now you do this, and you're the best of the best, but it's still not enough, so you got a bit too into it..."

"Shut up."

The words burst from her in a harsh, whispered bark before she could even think to stop herself. She was on her feet, although she didn't remembering jumping up, and she realized she was shaking. He had found it, the one thing, the last button he shouldn't push. The thing that started everything, that made her this, the one thing she couldn't think about or she'd break, fall, lose the restraint and the strength she'd worked so furiously, endlessly to uphold.

Even across the now-dark room she could make out his face as he raised his eyebrows superciliously. "Have I touched a nerve?"

"You don't know what the fuck you're talking about," Elektra spat, although she knew she'd just proven quite the opposite. She tried to force her voice to sound mildly exasperated, rather than seethingly full of rage, which was difficult. "You can stop playing your little guessing-game and trying to impress me with your deductive skills, all right? You don't know what you're talking about and it's just pathetic."

"Pathetic?" he repeated, and now his voice was cold, not lightly mocking like a moment before. "Interesting that a person who hates her life, kills for a living without even enjoying it and longs for approval from her dead father would call anyone else pathetic." He paused for effect. "Or was I wrong about all that?"

She snorted. "At least I have a career," she retorted. "At least I'm not still desperately hanging around the big boys' club, pretending I still belong there, refusing to accept that my career and my life are fucked because I screwed up a job. Because I think that's the textbook definition of pathetic."

"A career?" he shot back, with a bark of a laugh, and now he was on his feet too, and they were standing eight feet apart in the shadowy sitting room, as if ready for a shoot-out. "That's what you call it? I think I'd call it being a few degrees above a whore, actually. You give people--men, usually--whatever they need to satisfied them as long as they pay enough, no matter what you have to do to get there, and you're at their mercy. Your body's your weapon, it's all you've got. Without those little ninja skills of yours, you'd be nothing." He flicked the end of his cigarette away with unwonted force and added "And that wouldn't be so bad, really, but the fact that you let yourself get so fucked up over it and still hold onto all your egotistical, little-girl daddy issues after everything and still try to act like this impressive, mystic warrior--well, that's just sad."

"You'd know a thing or two about whores, wouldn't you," she sneered back. "What, didn't Eva want to fuck you anymore?"

She hadn't quite meant to say it, not quite like that, anyway, but the effect was startling and quite satisfying—he hadn't been expecting that; he stiffened and his whole face darkened, and his voice was soft and downright dangerous when he said "Excuse me?"

"Eva. Did you forget about her?" she asked, breathing hard. "I doubt it, since it's her name you're calling out at night. ...Or did you not know?" she added, feigning confusion. He may have figured out her secrets, but she was still armed with everything she'd learned from the files earlier that day. "Because, that's right—she's dead, isn't she? No one's spent the night for a while, then, eh, Sands?"

He took a step towards her, his jaw working, as if he couldn't decide what to throw at her next. She let him agonize over it for a few seconds, and waited until he opened his mouth to reply before jumping in with "What, 'how did I know?' Is that what you're going to ask? I guess that was just me being too thorough again. Just like a girl, right?" She smirked at the unfathomable expression on his face. "Because really, in the pathetic-game, I think the clear winner is the guy who ends up working for the person who held him down and stuck a drill in his face and then killed his girlfriend. I'd say that's about as sad as it gets, wouldn't you?"

A slight crease appeared in the spot between where Sands' dark eyes used to be, but otherwise his expression remained unreadable. "What are you talking about?" he finally said.

"Eva. And Hansen," she replied promptly. "I can read, Sands. It's not that hard to figure out. Someone deleted her files about a month ago. There's nothing there, no history, no previous missions, nothing. No details about her death. Someone edited the incidence report about your little Mexican adventure as well. In as much as you haven't yet mastered walking down a hall on your own yet, I'm fairly sure it wasn't you. Hansen was the one who told me everything and gave me your file, but he didn't mention anything about it being doctored, which means he knew about it. Which means he did it. Which means he was in on it." She was nearly grinning, she was enjoying this so much. It was kind of satisfying to unravel the mysteries. "I'm guessing she was there with you, working the case, and she figured out too much, rather like yourself, and he put her down." She moved closer to him yet again; they were only about a foot apart now. "You weren't supposed to live, were you, Sands," she asked softly, gazing right into his face. "But you got away, and you've known all along what happened to her, because you were there. She went first." She watched him closely for a reaction, but he gave her nothing. "Did he make you watch?" She imitated his fearful, sleep-blurred voice. "'Eva...no, don't, no.' Was that the last thing you ever saw?"

Still, he said nothing. He might have been standing bored at a bus stop, showing no reaction whatsoever to her words. Still, she knew he was listening to every word, and it was driving him mad. She just knew. "Yeah, you got away, and now you've got nothing, and Hansen knows he can blackmail you into doing whatever he wants, and you can't prove a thing. So..." She pretended to think it over. "You're kind of his bitch. And that's kind of like 'whore,' except you don't get paid. So you can play all the games you want and be a dime-store shrink and try to convince yourself that you're not utterly worthless, because I'm not buying it. I don't care enough to buy it. I just think it's all really very...sad."

He still said nothing. She could just see herself reflected faintly twice in the stupid sunglasses he was still wearing, her face alight with malice. He just stood there for a several moments, considering everything she had said. She was still breathing hard, the excitement of revealing her lascivious findings apparently getting her quite worked up. She hadn't been this animated in the three days he'd known her. Investigative little thing, aren't you. The corners of his mouth quirked upwards. She just waited, satisfied, knowing he had nothing to say in reply. Then, moving faster than she would have guessed possible, his hand flew up and slapped her, with astonishing strength, right across the face. She staggered, reeling, momentarily unable to react.

She had never in her life been hit by a man like that. Struck, certainly, with quite as much fervor and more, but with fists, with weapons, with anything and everything in reach. Punched, shoved, kicked, yes. Shot, sliced, skewered—but never slapped, with an open hand, as though she were a willful housewife. The contempt in the action could not have been more clear, the disrespect—and in that one moment, all of her rules and her obsessively maintained control and everything she was forcing herself to be vanished like smoke. She saw him, clearly, and rage broke over her like boiling water. She hauled back, her face livid, and hit him right in the jaw with all the strength she could muster.

He stumbled backwards and his dark glasses went flying, and it was, most unmistakably, on. She lunged forward again, but he was ready for her, grabbing hold of her outstretched arm and twisting it around behind her, shoving her up against the wall dividing the sitting room and the bedroom. "Now, don't be like that," he said silkily, his mouth very close to her ear, pressing her cheek against the wall. "I'm sure we can—"

She broke free of his grip with a vicious wrench, elbowing him across the face and catching him on the shoulder with a side kick. He fell again, this time hitting the coffee table and shoving it several feet across the carpet. His arm flew out and he found the decorative glass bowl filled with dried flowers sitting pointlessly atop the table, and he waited for her to move in again before grabbing her ankle with one hand and smashing the bowl into her kneecap with the other. She gave a snarl of pain and dropped to the carpet, and he leapt on her. Then they were tussling around on the carpet, a few dried flowers crushing beneath them, one of his hands around her throat. She managed to get a leg up and kicked him away, jumping back to her feet and darting into the next room, reaching for the knife still stored under the pillow on the bed—she was going to finish this, the right way—but somehow he knew exactly what she was thinking and was behind her in a second, throwing an arm around her neck again. She threw him off and spun around to face him, and he was ready with a right hook, which she only just blocked. She delivered an open-handed blow to his chest and knocked the wind out of him, and when he bent over, she seized the back of his shirt and brought her knee up, hard. He fell back, bringing a hand to his bloodied face, but dove at her when she stepped closer, catching her around the middle and slamming her hard into the dresser, which rattled loudly against the wall. Her head and shoulders collided hard with the mirror mounted on the top, which broke, raining a few shards of glass over her.

It should have been over in about ten seconds, all things considered. There was no comparing the two of them when it came to fighting skills. But that was just it: he was fighting her. He had started it, and he was daring to fight back. It infuriated her out of her senses; he thought he had a chance? The others were never this foolish, this arrogant to even try. Oh, they always tried for a moment or two, certainly; most everyone will fight for their life even once they realize it is too late, but if it lasted more than a few seconds, there was always the moment of understanding, of resignation to that which they could not help and, often, had been expecting. He should have been begging at her feet, pleading for his pointless life, but he wouldn't. He, this worthless spook, this mangled freak, had the audacity to go up against her, and hit her, again and again, and act like he was anything compared to her, and it was making her so angry she couldn't think straight. And that, of course, made all the difference.

Something tickled her hand, and she looked down to see blood running down her arm, a piece of glass from the mirror embedded in her flesh above the elbow. She ripped it out in annoyance, and he aimed another punch at her face, which she caught in her open hand. She forced his arm away and grabbed him by the back of his hair and tried to slam him to the floor again, but he twisted free of her grasp and aimed another strike at her nose with his elbow, and she had to release him to avoid it. She darted right and across the room to her bed, where she snatched the knife from under her pillow and hurled at him. He heard her grunt of effort and ducked, and it flew across the room and caught the shade of the lamp sitting on the dresser. It wobbled for a moment before the whole thing tumbled off the edge and smashed, plunging the already-dim room into darkness, the only light in the room now filtering in through the gap in the curtains from the yellowish streetlight outside, and flickering against the far wall from the TV in the other room. She heard him give a quiet laugh, as if he thought he'd just gained an advantage over her, and the sound only made her more angry.

If they were going to bring toys into this, he figured he had better catch up, and made a move for his gun, which he knew he had left lying on the chair next to the table when he had gone into the living room to taunt her. She moved fast, though, and expertly clotheslined him with an outstretched arm, causing him to fall back. He hit the ground and rolled back onto his feet, reaching out and grabbing the chair and yanking it over, so that his gun slid onto the floor. He grabbed it and jumped up, and she aimed a roundhouse kick at his hand, which only narrowly missed; he felt the breeze of it against his face. He fired off a silenced shot right where her chest should be, but she had leapt away, seeing it in his hand, and the bullet hit the wall behind her. He heard a clank of metal to his right and knew she was going for her bag where the rest of her weaponry was, and thumbed back the hammer, cocking his head to listen and preparing to fire again, but she was on him in a second, slamming the heavy blunt end of her sai into his wrist and causing him to drop the gun. She means business, he thought, if she's brought out her favorite little knives.

Sands jumped back as she slashed furiously at him with the sharp end this time, and she just barely caught him, cutting a razor-thin slice in his T-shirt. He took a few more steps back to avoid her, feeling around for the dropped Glock with his foot, and then faked to the left and dropped quickly to grab it, bringing it up fast and hitting her across the face with it. She slashed at him again, and he grabbed her arm with his free hand and forced it away, shoving her back several paces and banging the gun into the back of her head as he seized a handful of her hair in the same hand and tried to bash her head against the table. She moved her leg between his and stamped hard on his instep, and his grip slacked and she yanked away, kicking him hard in the stomach. He fell back, and she leaped around him into the open space beside the doorway between the two rooms, not wanting to be confined in the space by the table and gripped her sai, preparing to stab, but he surprised her again, half-tackling her and shoving her hard up against the wall. His hand encircled her wrist and he slammed her hand against the plaster, cracking it slightly and causing her to drop her sai. She still had the other one, however, and she stuck it right against his throat at the same moment that he pressed the muzzle of the gun he'd managed to hold onto up against her temple.

They both stood there for a moment, breathing hard, their faces mere inches apart. She could see right into his sockets; in the dark of the room they were deep shadows in his face. He pressed hard against her, trapping her against the wall, his knee between hers. She pressed the point of the blade harder under his chin, and a droplet of blood shivered against the silver. "Didn't...anyone ever tell you?" he panted, giving a cruel grin. There was blood on his teeth. "Never bring a knife to a gun fight." He tapped the gun against her head. "Stick that little sword of yours wherever you like, but I pull this and you're done before you can say 'karate kid.'"

She spat into his face. "I'm in no hurry," she snarled. "You can die as slowly as you'd like. It'd really be wiser to let me do it, though—" she jerked her shoulders, and he pressed harder against her, his hips right against hers "—because you kill me, and I assure you, the people who come after you won't be nearly as nice as I am. You'll be begging to be back in Mexico by the time they're done with you." He chuckled at this, and she turned her wrist, twisting the blade against his skin. "When I kill you, though--I'm just finishing the job they didn't get right last time."

There was a moment's pause, and then he leaned even closer to her, apparently ignoring the blade in his neck, and whispered "Then what are you waiting for?"

"What about you, Quick Draw?" she breathed back. "Why don't you show me how fast you are with that little tool of yours?" She nudged her head against the gun still pressed against her temple. "If you've got the balls."

There was another, pulsating silence. Nothing happened for a moment. Then his hand holding the gun twitched, and she slid the the sai's point a few inches to the right, as if deciding on the best spot. Then he lunged forward, closing the the gap between their faces so violently that her head slammed against the wall with a thud. For one bewildered half-second she thought he was trying to head-butt her, and then realized that his mouth was pressed hard to hers, slightly open, biting her lower lip.

She was so shocked that it happened for a few seconds before she reacted, but react she did, reversing her grip on the sai and hitting him hard on the jaw with it with an impact that made her own teeth rattle. "What the fuck are you--" she gasped.

He leaned into her again, and this time she felt his tongue against her lips, and his hand slid from her throat down into the V-neck of her shirt. This time, even she had no trouble telling what he was after. She twisted her face away, now shoving her free hand between them and trying to push him away. "Get the fuck off me," she growled, pressing her hand hard into his solar plexus. "I said, get off—no—" She hit him, hard, and he took a half step back, but then grabbed her throat and pushed her head against the wall again, forcing her face around to meet his. She felt the warm blood from his face on her own skin. She hit him across in the face, twice, a third time, but it was as if she hadn't bothered, for all the notice he took--his mouth was on hers again, then on her neck, and felt his teeth as well as his tongue against her skin. His hand slid from her neck down her side and onto her thigh. She shoved against him and he pushed back, his belt buckle against her stomach, his leg between hers. And all the while, he kept his gun pressed to the side of her head.

This was wrong, this wasn't her, she wasn't the girl who had to struggle, who had to yell. There was nothing lying between what she wanted and what she got, what she gave; she was better than that. She was never out of control, it was always her and then everyone else, separate, above, adrift. This should be over. But it wasn't, she was still here, twisting under his tight grip, and she could hear herself repeating no. He ran a single finger down her throat. "Who are you talking to?" he said, very softly, right in her ear.

"Get off!" she said again, and her voice rose almost to a yell as she jerked away. "I'll kill you," she snarled, now pressing the length of the blade across his throat to prevent him getting in close to her. "I swear to God I'll kill you."

"Then kill me," he panted quietly, dragging the muzzle of the gun down across her cheek and pressing it to her bruised lips. "Go on, then."

She jerked her arm up and smacked the gun away, and it tumbled to the floor—either because she surprised him or because he let it go, she couldn't tell—and he pulled the arm holding the sai away from his neck and pressed against her again. Now! a voice in her mind roared. Think! He's disarmed—go for his throat; go for the femoral if he's got your arm trapped; just reach around his back and put it right in his lung...! This is textbook, she thought desperately. Just do it—

But something was wrong. She couldn't think straight. Her mind was fogging over; suddenly she couldn't remember her most basic moves and couldn't get the right grip to force him away (he has no weapon and you do; what are you doing; hit him in the head with it if you can't manage anything else) and she tried to force her mind to focus on arteries and choke holds and pressure points, but she was distracted; it seemed she could be aware of nothing but the heat of his hand now pushing between her legs and the way he was pulling her hair and biting at her throat—she knew it was 'no,' it had to be, it was always 'no,' but quite suddenly, she couldn't remember why. She hated him, hated him, wanted him dead, knew he deserved nothing more than to die like a mad dog—and yet, somehow, that didn't seem to be very terribly relevant.

"Don't," Elektra said, but it came out half a groan, and she heard a distant, dull clank as her sai hit the floor (how did he get it from you? never let your weapon go; finish the job, that's the rule) and she realized she was no longer pushing him, but pulling him, one hand clutching a fistful of T-shirt, the other arm tight around his neck. She was pressing back against him, her lips parting, and she tasted him, smoky, and salty too, from where she'd bitten him (or he'd bitten her? she couldn't tell the difference). Her fingers dragged down his neck, her short nails digging into his skin, and his hands were at her throat and in her hair again. It made no sense, it was ridiculous...and yet, what wasn't? Everything between them was absurd. She'd had both life and death and didn't know the difference anymore; he had had the chance for everything and lost it all, and hadn't realized he cared about any of it until it was too late, and as hard as they'd both tried to win the fight they'd just had, because winning was all they knew, secretly both of them would have been just as content with the result of a loss.

He dropped both hands abruptly to her waist, and he tightened his grip so hard it seemed as though he was going to lift her right off her feet, but he just slid both hands straight up, pressing against her ribs and under her arms, lifting them both above her head, and she—let him, her head rolling back against the wall, her chest heaving. He pinned both her wrists with his forearm, and then grabbed at her again with his other hand, undoing the fly on her black trousers with one hand and pulling them open, exposing her sharp hips. He pulled on her shirt, yanking it up to her throat, and running a hand down her shivering body. He gave a slight, approving nod; yes, she was everything he had been expecting. His hair fell into his face as he began to fumble with his belt, still leaning into her with his arm still trapping hers above her head. She watched him at it for a moment, her mind still falling away, unable to think anything at all, really, until finally one odd thought managed to push through the fog: he's not going to have all the fun.

Quite suddenly, she wrenched her arms down and yanked her shirt the rest of the way over her head, and then grabbed his shirtfront again, this time with both hands. His eyebrows shot up in a look of comical surprise, but he didn't say a word. She forced him to step backwards several paces until the edge of the table caught him right under the ass and he fell back, and she shoved him right onto it onto his back and slid astride him, her knees crushing his sides. His expression of impressed surprise increased. His arm knocked against the mug still sitting on the table's surface and it fell to the floor and cracked. She grabbed at the thin tear she'd made in his shirt with her sai and yanked, tearing it right down the middle (it really was a very stupid shirt) and then leaned forward, pulling him up by the shoulders to meet her. His hands found her hips and gripped hard. Her mouth sought his again, and she pulled him to her violently, tasting blood again. His hand slid up her back and unsnapped her bra in one quick, clearly practiced movement. His torn shirt fell aside as his chest rose and fell unsteadily, and she saw a faded tattoo over his heart; she had to lean in to read it in the dark room. It was a skull and crossbones, with the words "death is certain." She gave a low, short laugh—it was certainly what?

He sat up against her now and slid both hands around her ribcage, and this time he did lift her, with surprising strength yet again, and she clung to him tightly, her legs around his waist, letting it happen. He took her over to the bed--not her bed, which was right beside the table, but his, a few feet away--and spread her upon it, shrugging his shirt off and casting it aside. He slid both hands up her leg, rather as he had done in the car just days before, and slowly unzipped her knee-high boot and slid it off, one, then the other. He seemed to be in no hurry whatsoever now that the fight had ended. He reached for his belt again and removed it, then slid forward on the bed and eased her chinos down her long legs and off. There was an air of businesslike sensuality to his everything he did--it was neat and orderly, one thing and then the next, and yet she could feel the hard pressure of his hands and the pleasure he was taking in doing things his way, doing whatever he liked. She leaned back against the headboard, watching him, her mouth tight shut against the cry fighting to get out of her, refusing to let herself reveal just how badly she wanted, wanted, wanted.

He leaned over her, quite as naked as she was now, and slid his hands under her thighs, pushing her up further onto the bed, into the positions he liked. She was half sitting up now, her hair falling in tangles to her elbows. He slipped back down and slid his shoulders under her legs and tossed his hair off his face. Without preamble he ducked down and pressed his tongue to her clit, and now she shuddered, her hands gripping the edges of the sheet. His hand slid up over her abdomen, quite languidly, until his fingers found her scar, and he lifted his head, intrigued. He then moved his mouth straight up, over her taut stomach to the raised, uneven area of flesh, and bit her lightly. He heard her soft gasps of pleasure, or perhaps pain; he was never quite sure of the difference. She leaned her head back and lost track of where he was; she felt mouth, fingers, tongue everywhere. He still seemed in no hurry to get the main event; he took his time, spending time on every inch. His mouth skimmed over the gash on her arm from the broken mirror, his tongue running along the thin, sticky stream down to her wrist, while two (and then three) fingers were sliding in the heat between her legs. She found herself gripping his hair as she moved against him, and she felt him pressing against the inside of her leg, hard, ready, and yet still he roamed over her, almost curiously, as if wanting to get the full picture before zeroing in.

Overall, she had to admit he wasn't like she expected him to be--not that she had expected anything at all, of course; it had never even entered her mind. She would have guessed he was one of those overly-macho types: fast, brutal, showing off, desperate to show how strong he was. Given his appetite for violence and his ruthlessness during their battle, not to mention his wildly egotistical nature, it seemed to follow that he would be just as full of bravado at this, holding her down, hissing obscenities in her ear, telling her to say that she liked it and all of that other nonsense. He had attained what he wanted, what she hadn't seemed to want to give, and she would have thought he'd be savoring his victory as much as possible. But no, he was quite different; he was neither gentle nor rough, neither focused entirely on himself or particularly invested in doing what she liked, he simply--was there, without rushing or fumbling, just practiced and assured. It was the way he did everything else, really. That was who he was.

Rather suddenly, it seemed, he grasped her hips and pulled her forward, down on the bed towards him so that her head lay flat on the pillow, and he angled himself just so and she felt him push all the way inside in one smooth movement. She shuddered and took in her breath sharply, but made no other sound. He took hold of her left knee, curious to see just how far this ninja-gymnast thing would go, and pushed her leg up towards her head, sliding her calf over his shoulder as he did so. In response, she pulled him up against her, so his chest was right over hers, and slid her other leg around his waist, gripping him tightly with both arms. He pushed into her—rolling his hips, in a way, rather than shoving--and she moved against him, arms and legs tangled everywhere. There was no sound, nothing except for the sound of their skin on the sheets, of flesh on flesh and their ragged breathing.

It wasn't as though this was something new for him. He'd kept his bed (floor, table, shower, backseat, whatever) well-populated for as long as he could remember, and there really hadn't been a decline since Mexico—hell, there wasn't even a decline in Mexico. He wouldn't soon forget that final night in the hospital, lying there trying to figure out how to sneak a smoke in the bathroom and hearing the last voice he would ever expect from the doorway. "So, it is true, what they're saying about you." And after that, the feeling of those strong hands, that willing, hot mouth...That was a memorable one, to be sure. And not a lot changed when he got back to Langley, either, at least not in that area--he wasn't about to let something like that stop him, and it didn't, he just altered his approach ever so slightly. Eva had never been the only one, no reason for anything to change now that she had gone. People still responded to him the same way as ever, drawn in by the sensual danger he seemed to exude, all of them seeming to know better and yet not care. And once they realized what was under the dark glasses (or rather, what wasn't), that usually didn't change things; they were shocked and yet intrigued, unnerved and yet always wanting to hear the story. Some of them had heard about him in the papers, of course, and it amused him for a while, hearing their hushed, impressed tones and sensing their pity, all thinking he was some tragic hero.

But after a while, he realized something was different after all. He'd never had a problem paying for it when that took his fancy, but it was starting to be more of a necessity these days, it seemed. And they weren't just curious and fascinated anymore, they were unnerved, even afraid. And at first that had been fairly amusing as well, sensing their discomfort and knowing they had no choice; he was a customer and that was that...but after a while, that lost its fun too. He could feel them shying away from the scars on his body, sensed their revulsion at his mutilated face, and to his surprise, it angered him—who were they to act like he was anything to be disgusted by? They were nothing, useless street trash; they belonged to him for that moment, their bodies and their lives didn't even belong to them. It made him more edgy than usual; one girl had laughed as she told him that his socks were different colors as she knelt before him, and he hadn't realized his hands were around her neck until it was too late, and then he'd had that to deal with on top of everything else. It wasn't that he wasn't used people being disturbed by him, it was that he was used to being in control of it. On impulse, he took his hand off her thigh and touched her face, which was right below his. Her eyes were open.

She had stopped worrying by now, stopped thinking about how insane it all was and how she shouldn't and how it was wrong and stupid. She wasn't aware of thinking anything at all, really, and it was strangely blissful not to be planning or waiting or watching. She had been on autopilot for so long, just doing whatever made perfect sense and nothing more, and she had thoroughly forgotten what it felt like to have nothing but feelings, to do what she truly wanted without logic or reason. It felt...dangerous, and it felt so strange, almost laughable, to even think of the word--everything she did was dangerous, she herself was the most dangerous woman around, or so they kept saying—how could she think of anything as being that way when it was all she knew? It was her default, that which most scared the hell out of most people bored her, and yet somehow, this seemed thrilling and precarious, and it excited her more than anything had done in years. It was insane, and she didn't mind that. She liked it.

He was moving a bit faster now, his grip tightening on her side. Once again she was visited by the desire to take hold of the moment, like when she'd pushed him onto the table, and quite suddenly she reared up, sitting up against him. He slid both legs under her so she was astride him, legs wrapped around his hips, and she swiveled her hips against him, her arm draped over his shoulder. His hand sought her breast, and she felt his hair and his hot breath against her face as he panted, thrusting up against her, and she waited until she could tell he was about to finish before she reached around, gripping a handful of his hair and bringing her lips to his face again, this time starting at his mouth and sliding up until her tongue slid in, against the soft scars where his dark, clever eyes used to be, one and then the other.

He gave a violent shudder that almost unseated her, giving a soft, involuntary gasp that was almost a cry and gripping her painfully tight. She kept one hand tangled in his hair and pressed the other against his shoulder, sliding up and down against him, and she could feel her heart thudding and all the air seemed to be crushing, tightening out of her as she spiraled higher and higher until finally everything fell down, and in that one mindless moment she understood, faintly, like a shout from a distance, that it didn't matter what you wanted. There was no space between what you wanted and what you finally got, because want was an illusion in your head; the only thing that lasted was what you did and what was. Everything else was vapor.

When they finally rolled apart and lay side-by-side on the bed, not touching, Elektra found herself pressing a hand to her chest, trying to catch her breath. It was as though every nerve in her body was firing off at once, and she couldn't remember how to focus it so that it was manageable, the way she did when she was fighting so that she didn't feel it and it didn't hurt. And it wasn't that everything hurt, precisely, it was just that she was aware of every inch of herself at once, and it was too much. Sands, on the other hand, lay still. She could barely even hear him breathing.

After a few minutes, she gathered herself and got up, taking a few unsteady steps back to her own bed. He made no move to stop her, he simply rolled over and gathered the tangled sheets over himself. She lay down on her own bed, sliding under the covers, her mind still struggling to process any of what had just happened. Neither of them spoke; neither had said a word in quite some time. There was really only one thing left to say, and it came out of her mouth before she was aware of deciding to say it: "Elektra."

She heard him shift slightly on his bed. "What?"

"My name." She pulled the sheets up over her shoulder. "It's Elektra."

He didn't reply, and she said nothing more. He dropped off to sleep in a few minutes' time, and it was the deepest sleep he'd had in a while. He didn't dream a thing. Elektra, on the other hand, did.