It was unfortunate. Had he been slower, the bullet would have surely killed him. But 47 was the best, it was just a question of degrees really, and angles. In this case two seconds too quick and a bad angle, corrected instantly. The bullet missed his chest and punched into his left shoulder, a second sharp pain glancing along his left forearm and punching into his arm just above the elbow. A less focused man would have been thrown off by the projectile tearing viciously through skin and flesh and the accompanying pain which followed swiftly behind like a wolf on the scent of prey.

47's focus was never off. This was not a job, this one was personal. To guarantee success his focus was more complete than ever.

He fired. Twice.

The lucky adversary's luck ran out, and he folded up like a half-empty sack.

"I told you to leave her alone." 47 snarled quietly. Only someone thoroughly familiar with the assassin would have remarked upon the tiny hitch in his breathing. How the eyelids flickered twice as he knelt to remove the man's rifle and then straightened up.

He tidied the evidence away. Carefully. Conserving his energy. Injuries would slow him, but time was of the essence. Nika.

The woman whose life he had put before his own. He had saved her, and spared her life.

Leaving her on the train was hard. Every step that carried him away from her an unaccustomed pain in something he would have supposed he would call his soul. Had his soul not already been beaten out of him.

It had come back to him. Little by little, as he studied her from a distance.

He finished tidying, and left the area. He needed to move now, to get to Nika before another foolish attempt on her life. He needed to deal with his injuries and take stock of the situation.

His black overcoat and suit jacket were containing the bleeding, but he could sense the pain crowding in on the edge of his consciousness. He needed to fix the wounds sufficiently and stop the bleeding until he could move Nika. No time for more than a cursory patch up.

He achieved this in the relative privacy of the car. Two field dressings to the shoulder wound, through but no through the bullet was lodged. Nothing to be done now, he packed it as tightly as he could. Working one handed was awkward, but he reinforced his work with enough tape to hold until he could get treatment. The track along his forearm was nothing more than a shallow gash. He cleaned it easily, taped the edges together, put some dressings over it. Not a problem. The wound just above the elbow joint was sore, again through but no though. Shallow penetration, something was off.

He pulled his ruined jacket back on, easing it carefully over the heavily packed dressings on his shoulder. The jacket was beyond repair and stained with blood, but he needed the extra pressure to hold the dressings. It also concealed his shirt.

He drove, she was less than twenty minutes away, he tried not to think about how that made him feel. Feelings were not part of the game.

Yet he had spared her.


Nika Boronina poured herself a glass of wine, and walked out onto the patio. The sun had long since gone down, but the evenings were cool.

It was in moments like these that she liked to remember him best. Remember the promise that he made her. That he would find her.

That they would be together, she had written that part in her head. Taken it from the look in his clear dark brown eyes.

She had heard that he was dead. But Nika knew better. He would return. He would come for her as he had promised.

Five months later that promise would have seemed a little more hollow, only she wouldn't let herself believe it. Tonight would be the night, unwilling to accept how much she wanted it to be true. She sipped a little wine, savoring the flavor. He would call her name, and she would run to him.

"Nika." His voice, the soft caress that she preferred, like the warmth of his brown eyes when they looked upon her and lightened. Softened from the cold empty darkness of the stone-cold killer stripped back to pure instinct. Raw and cold and devoid of life.

"Nika." A little louder, and a lot closer, and she turned.

It really was him, and she ran to him then, until her body collided with his, her hands went to his shoulders, and his arms closed around her. Exactly as she had dreamed every day and night for so long. But something was off. The left shoulder beneath her hand seemed wrong somehow, something sticky beneath her hand. She lifted it to stare in disbelief at the blood smeared on her fingers.

"Your shoulder." Fear then, as she took in the movement of his left arm, and knew there was more. "You're wounded." Fear wound her voice uptight, held the lid on the explosion she was sure was building. He had left her for almost nine months.

Eight months, seventeen days, four hours and thirty-one minutes. Give or take. But what were minutes between friends, as she tried to guide him back into the house.

"No time." He shook his head, and taking her arm steered her towards the car. She went willingly. This was 47. His Audi. The open road. Beyond that a tiny dream of what might be. But only if she had the strength to get in the car.

They bypassed the trunk, which made her smile in spite of the knot of fear in her stomach. As she settled in to her seat she stole a sidelong glance at him. He was too pale.

This was 47. He was stronger, fitter, smarter and kinder than anyone that she had ever known.

The first few miles she tried to think of something to say. Remembering his rant on annoying, talkative little girls, and the amused look he'd shot her at her quick-witted response. Remembering those all too brief moments of tenderness on the train, when he had kissed the top of her head as she dozed against his shoulder.

"Talk to me." His voice was quiet again. Too quiet. There was an edge of something else in there.

"About what?"

"Anything." And she recognized that he needed the distraction, something to focus on besides the road ahead and the pain in his arm.

There was pain, she realized that. She had spent enough time with him to know him. Perhaps not in a biblical sense, but to know the vague and subtle signs that he gave out.

So she began to tell him of her vineyard, and the elderly couple who looked after her, and would care for her house while she was gone.

He drove, and she talked. Suddenly there was no fear, they were together.