Nat awoke to bass thumping through the floor. Multicoloured lights turned the room into a kaleidoscope. A muscular smudge blocked the window and Nat stood, sheets falling back on the bed, to stand beside him.

"You look like a man needing a cigarette," she said.

"I don't smoke," said the man who called himself Mark. She knew his real name but respected him enough to call him by his current alias, even mentally.

"Yet you still seem to need one. Let me get something from the nightstand. I promise it's not another knife." She backed towards the bed again, aware of the light show on her breasts, belly and thighs. Her intention wasn't (entirely) to titillate; just because she slept with him, didn't mean she trusted him with her back.

"I really don't---"

Nat produced a bag of liquorice ropes from the nightstand. Mark's eyebrows arched.

"Sometimes I smoke, sometimes I don't. I carry a bag of this or the strawberry stuff to control the oral fixation when I find myself needing cigarette."

Mark stared, at her and the bag, before taking the proffered candy. He twisted the candy rope between his fingers. "I can't remember the last time I had one of these."

"It's as good as you don't remember."

He laughed. The sound scratched his throat. "I don't... What we did tonight... I don't usually do this."


Mark blinked.

"Improvise shivs using tiki lamps and beer cans?"

"Actually, you'd be surprised how often that happens."

"Then it must be calling a truce. Far as I know, Treadstone doesn't do truce."

His lips thinned. The romance was definitely gone.

Nat pulled on her clothes. "Or maybe it was fucking after we called a truce 'cause we got tired of trying to stab each other with our improvised shivs."

Mark glared at her through his lashes. He'd twisted the liquorice rope around his index fingers, like a garrote. It would be ineffective considering the material but still Nat gripped a handful of bedsheets, useful as both a defensive and offensive weapon.

"I can't let you leave knowing about me," said Mark.

"And I can't leave you leave without accepting my offer. SHIELD needs a better excuse than 'no.'"

"Hell no."

"We're willing to negotiate the terms of your--"

"No. I won't work for the government again."

"Technically, you won't."

"That's not exactly a point in your favour."

"Not even if we can guarantee that you'll disappear?"

"I'm already dead. You don't have leverage."

"There are ways to raise a man from the dead," said Nat. "We can make sure they can't do that either."


"Just meet the team."


Standing, the bed sheet still in her fist, Nat said, "You'll be running forever. You'll be looking behind your back for the rest of your life. You'll move every time you feel yourself putting down roots until every city feels like the last one and your brain goes numb trying to dumb itself down for the kind of jobs that don't ask for too much commitment. You'll go to bed exhausted every night but never get enough sleep because every little sound could be someone aiming for your head. And you'll never, ever get a chance to get over her."

"Maybe I don't want to," snapped Mark.

"Maybe you're a stubborn dickhead," she retorted. Outside, the music throbbed even louder, the light showing going heavy on the strobes. Her black work clothes absorbed the light, shadowing his face even as greens and blues outlined his bare torso. It was the perfect time to escape back into anonymity had the mission gone as planned. Nat hated to leave a mission unfinished; she refused to consider it failed. "You have my card."

"I threw it away."

"You'll find it again."

"That sounds like a threat."

She shrugged. The sheet, now twisted double, worked well as a rope. She flung it out the window. "I'll be seeing you, Jason."

The crowd swallowed her before Jason Bourne could follow.


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