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11th May, 1956.

HYDRA Holding Facility #13


She used to have no concept of time, before him.

It used to be indeterminate periods of time spent in her room, training or sleeping. The only time she would get an idea of it all was on missions. There she would catch glimpses of the world outside; woman in skirts, and then in pants, and then skirts again, buildings and automobiles changing and evolving, the sun or the moon in the heavens, though once it had been neither of them, and a single black expanse of sky.

But apart from those moments, time slipped and stuck by; she was syrup in a jar, sometimes slowly trickling by; other times advancing in leaps and bounds depending on the needs of her superiors. She was four blank walls, electricity, mindless pain and missions.

When he had come, she became something else too, she became the waiting; impatient and patient. She became the watcher, the pacer, the stirring of something that could have been anticipation – but she’d never considered emotion before, so she wasn’t sure.

When he came, she was able to understand that time was there, that the gaps between when she saw him and when she didn’t meant great leaps of time were passing. When she saw him, she knew that there was a mission. When she saw him, she knew that time would start again.

Her room was designed to keep her in – concrete from walls to floor to ceiling, reinforced with metal running a constant electric current, a door with a lock and handle on only one side, a basin with no faucet, and a bunk bed with no railing. It was here she spent every minute not spent on the practice mat or out in the field, alone. It was only after he had come that it began to change.

She stood as the door began to click, the notification that someone was opening it from the other side. She turned – as per her training – and put her hands on the wall above her head in a traditional surrender. The door opened, and there was a stumbling crash the next, and a harsh voice; “выспаться.” Sleep it off.

She waited until the door closed before she turned to look at the person sprawled on her floor. Her partner was still blue-tinged with the frost of the sleep-chamber, his eyes half-shut, limbs weak. It was a familiar sight. The first time he’d been delivered to her like this, she hadn’t known what to do. Now, it was habit to roll her partner onto his back, ignoring his faint attempt to fight her off, and scoop up handful of water and sprinkle it onto his face. It always roused him enough to stop seeing her as a threat, and allow her to bundle him over onto the lower bunk. He would stay in the bed until it was time to leave, leaving her plenty of time to ready herself.

But today, she only made it halfway through her usual stretches when he sat up suddenly. “Deine schulter.” Your shoulder. He said lowly, in German.

She turned to look at him slowly, still folded in half at her waist. “Was ist damit?” What about it? She asked warily. When he had first come, he hadn’t known Russian, but could speak more German than she had. It was still strange, however, that he was speaking it now – let alone the fact he was asking about her shoulder.

“Es ... war – ist verletzt?” It... was – is injured? He asked hesitantly, seemingly even more confused about his sudden line of questioning than she was. She straightened, looking uncomfortably at the door, idly wondering if this was some kind of test.

“Ja. Es war.” Yes. It was. She looked at him properly, noting the faintly hazy look to his normally laser-focussed eyes. It was a little disconcerting. “Aber es wurde behandelt. Du hast es selbst verbunden.” But it was treated. You bandaged it yourself.

They held each other’s gaze for a long moment, both of them unwilling, unable, to look away. Finally though, he slumped back down, eyes shutting as he rolled to face to wall. His breathing evened out not long after, but she remained where she was.

This had never happened before. Not in all the time they’d been together.

There was no time to consider it, as not long after, the door opened again – and her handler entered, affixing her collar and cuffs, and leading her from her room. The door slammed behind her with an air of finality, though she knew she would see him soon.

She didn’t actually see him until the middle of their mission.

Paris was almost as warm as Algeria this time of year, and the streets were bustling. It made things more difficult; considering they had a whole envoy of targets, and the destination was the centre of the city, in broad daylight.

The Algerian Government had deemed it necessary to send the envoy to the Peace Conference, in light of the tragic events and growing civil war – to beg for protection, for reason, for resources. In short, they were sending their best weasels, their richest and brightest – the only ones who truly desired French occupancy within Algeria.

She and her partner had vastly different roles; he was to be controlling the explosion that would flip and hopefully destroy the limousine the weasels were travelling in, whilst she would be responsible for stopping their hearts before the crash. They didn’t have any room for error – if one survived the explosion, then it was a failed mission.

Which was why she had been curled in the admittedly large trunk of the limousine, mourning the lack of fresh air, counting seconds in her head, as her partner intermittently grunted out street names as the limousine continued its journey. From a crack above the bumper, she could see the blue lights of the police escort that followed the envoy closely. It was likely that they would be affected by the explosion.

“Avenue de l’Europe.”

She rolled, phasing into nothing – through the car seat, through two bodies, until she had a spot to crouch on, right in the centre of the limousine. Around her, the men – only men, though that was no surprise – were laughing, notes discarded, ties loosened, hands clutching champagne glasses, looking careless. They were careless.

“Пару минут.” Two minutes .

Her partner drawled a warning, and she snapped into action without another thought. She reached for the man nearest her, intangible and invisible – hand disappearing into his chest, until she found what she was looking for.

Consider; the sensation of arm wrestling – the way you squeeze against the firm fleshiness of your opponent’s hand, feeling the way their muscles move as you attempt to slam their hand down.

Squeezing the life out of a human heart felt much the same. She had to strain, but only just – fingers tightening a deadly vice around the wet throbbing organ. There was; as always, the faint flip of nausea she only got when ending a life like this. It was different, somehow, to using a gun, a knife, a garrotte. Being so close, feeling the pulse of human life, and directly stopping it – watching their eyes as fear drained away to horrible understanding and then to nothing as the life left them.

She was already moving to the next man, before they realised their colleague wasn’t simply slumping in his seat – reaching through the side of his rib-cage, clutching at his heart and stilling it. The limousine erupted into chaos in the next minute, and the sudden flare of noise and movement startled her, even in the grey-drained world of her invisible intangibility. It made it even harder to stay hidden, and for a moment, she caught a glimpse of herself in another man’s irises; ghoulish mask glowing unnervingly. He didn’t have time to scream.

When she would give her report, she would say that it happened quickly and methodically. She would say that she exerted control over the situation and made it to the rendezvous point on time.

She wouldn’t mention the exhaustion that set in, the way she had to grapple with two of them, one foot on the steering wheel to keep the car steady. She wouldn’t mention slamming her face into one of them until he stopped moving, thermal goggles so splattered with blood she could only feel her way around to the last of them – putting her hands around his fat neck and squeezing until he was dead. She wouldn’t say that she had to put all her energy into phasing out of the car just as the explosion flipped and destroyed the limousine – shockwaves sending her flying. She wouldn’t mention her pathetic crawl out of sight and off the road, praying that the chaos was enough to hide her figure as she dragged herself into the bushes of the hotel garden that overlooked the street.

She lay there, panting, trembling. Everything ached, and her head throbbed under her mask. Suddenly, her uniform was far too heavy, and even the prospect of sitting upright seemed an impossibility. New sirens were approaching the scene, and she could hear voices, bystanders and law-enforcement alike, far too close for comfort.

She rolled over, bringing up her hand to wipe away the blood that was beginning to congeal over her goggle ports. Her gloves were still wet with the slick bright arterial blood of her target’s hearts, and she only managed to clear some of the gore. At least she had more range of vision. Her own breath was loud in her ears, and it was only after she focussed on regulating it did she realise the other audial anomaly; the faint hum of her broken communication unit.

Her head felt as foggy as her goggles, and it took her longer than it should have to fall back into protocol. Where was the rendezvous point?

She still had time. She had to have time.

They were supposed to monitor the scene and report from the rendezvous until the next dawn. 06:14. Yes, she still had time. She levered herself upright and, sticking low to the ground, broke into a stumbling run away from the sirens. Parc Balbi was almost a straight line directly south from her current position. She could only hope she wasn’t seen. She wasn’t sure she had the energy to hide herself.

Finally, she made it – scaring a group of pigeons as she emerged from a bush. There was a park bench that looked tempting, but a burst of laughter from a group of women walking across the lake made her change course.

The public bathroom stunk; even through her air-filtration system. But it was dark and quiet, and with the last of her energy, she slammed the door shut, jamming the handle shut as best as she could. She lent back against the wall, and focussed on her breathing. She was tired.

Far away, she could still hear the sirens, could hear the chirping of birds, the wet noises of the plumbing and lake. The stall opposite her was tiled in green, and through the mess of her mask, she could just make out a line of the black scrawled graffiti. Nourrir les sans-abri. Feed the homeless.

The sound of the handle jiggling made her startle, heart kicking back into high gear as the door creaked ominously. She propelled herself forwards and into the stall, clambering up onto the seat as the door opened. It was almost painful to disappear, like dancing upon broken toes and strained muscles. She held her position, held her invisibility as footsteps approached her position.

In the grey world of her invisibility, her vision was even further impeded – and for a moment, she didn’t recognise the hulking figure that had paused at the mirrors, just in front of her stall. It was the dull gleam of his fingers as he turned slightly – almost as if hearing something. She let out her breath in something like relief, and his movement was just as sudden, masked eyes staring unseeingly at her position.

For a second she panicked, unable to reappear – like a muscle cramped in one painful position. She pushed, and as she came back into being – making her partner twitch in faint surprise – she began to fall forwards out of her crouch.

He was already underneath her, saving her from faceplanting, and the sudden gravity shift made her head swim again.

“Вы не были ясны.” You weren’t clear. It wasn’t a question. He sat her down beside the sink, pushing her head back to rest against the wall.

“Я видел?” Was I seen? She asked quietly. He had turned on the faucet, and was unzipping the small first aid kit.

He turned back to her, holding a wet bandage. “Нет. Твой костюм.” No. Your suit. He said by way of explanation, and for the first time since the explosion, she became aware of the faint air-flow against her knees and thighs. Her collision with the ground must have scraped right through the tough leather. The touch of the bandage to her exposed flesh made her grit her teeth. It stung, and he wasn’t gentle as he dug out the dirt and gravel that had collected in and on her skin. “Что случилось?” What happened?

“Я-” I-

She hesitated.

They couldn’t see each other’s faces – and for that she was glad. She knew the face of the man behind his mask, just as he knew hers – and yet the physical distance between them had never been so small, or so evident as it was now – in the light of her failure. If she told him, actually told him, that she’d felt so weak that she’d resorted to messy violence, that she had barely made it out, that she had jeopardised their mission with her own shortcomings – there was nothing to say that he wouldn’t report it directly to their superiors.

They were weapons, and a faulty weapon had no place in an arsenal.

“Мы в безопасности.” We’re secure. It was a phrase she’d heard from him many times, had said herself on almost every mission. They were safe, they were out of range, they were successful. Now – she thought it might have meant that they were alone, that this… this was private.

Her uniform made a faint creaking noise as she raised her head slightly to align her goggles with the dark glass of his mask’s eyes. “Я не мог удержать это.” I couldn’t hold it. He said nothing, but after a moment, he lifted the now red stained bandage to her goggles and began to clear off the glass. “Я был слабым.” I was weak.

“Не слабость. Они просят слишком много.” Not weakness. They ask too much.

They both stilled, and she felt her eyes go wide, muscles tensing as if anticipating a blow. That was insubordination, and they both knew it. Slowly, he lowered his hand, and she tracked its movement to the knife at his hip. He was just as wary as she was. She’d never heard him say such a thing, had never even considered thinking such a thing. It had always been made clear to her, for as long as she could remember; what was commanded was to be done, what was desired was to be given. There were no exceptions, no excuses, and no exclusions.

“Мы в безопасности.” We’re secure. She parroted him quietly. There was another long silence, before he nodded once, almost imperceptibly.

Over his shoulder, she could make out another line of graffiti.

Seulement ensemble nous sommes forts.

Only together we are strong.