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It’s a joke in the halls of the agency that the ICA is an elaborate dating agency for psychopaths and the broken birds who yearn for the love of one. Like most handler jokes, there’s far more truth there than she is comfortable to admit.

The first thing you learn at ICA training is that handlers and agents fucking is considered a rite of passage. The very first thing, or more, after they told you where the toilets and fire escapes were, the grizzled head of the handler programme used those exact words. “You’re stressed, you’re living on a knife edge, you could very well kill the person you’re guiding. Don’t feel bad if you fuck each other after your first mission. If it becomes a problem, let us know, but be aware upfront that we don’t care, don’t feel bad and for god’s sake, don’t be blackmailed over it. If anything, get it out of the way and move on.”

In the freezing cold seminar room the other initiates around Diana, all sitting in their coats, nodded and took down notes. Diana can’t imagine being the kind of person who needs to write down “fuck agent at first opportunity”.

For an agency that claims it doesn’t care who you fuck, they are really, really invested in making sure you know it. There’s a video on the intranet about it. “It's inevitable,” an actress playing a handler says. “It was the best sex of my life. The adrenaline. The forbidden aspects of it. But it ruined everything. We made mistakes on the mission, and he died soon after. The agency was right.” The handbook has three chapters on sex, contact protocol, phone sex. The old rules said they weren’t supposed to ever see each other again after training and assignment, but that was impractical and defeatist. Any history of spy craft in the twentieth century tells you that there’s nothing as compelling as the forbidden. Everyone ends up fucking their agent because the Agency spends the whole time telling them not to bloody think about it.

Diana makes a game out of watching her fellow trainees as they progress and makes bets against herself on who follows the advice and who doesn’t. She keeps a neat, idle record of who fucked during induction, who did it after a mission gone wrong, who did it on a mission gone right. She sits at her desk during downtime over the years, watching the way her fellow handlers touch their hair or look top-left, using her training and her instinct for these things until she works out all the secrets of the seventh floor, the several pairs who have discreetly married, who have children the agent never sees outside of surveillance pictures. Those who broke up, which pairings are hanging by a thread, the tears in the loos that indicated whose recently downed agent was more than just a voice on the end of the phone.

Diana would never have made a good ICA agent. She’s never been good with guns, for one, and there are expectations of female agents that she has never been comfortable with. Other agencies have approached her through the long years of her career and tried to whisper in one ear about Queen and Country while threatening her in the other. They always make the same mistake in trying to leverage her past against her or try and malign the agency, like she doesn’t know all its unseemly secrets. Diana Burnwood is no true believer, not in any institution. People look at her, look at the discoverable version of her life and hear her talk and immediately construct an image of her, and she’s always liked it that way. She’s posh, she’s rich, she’s smart – surely, she’s SIS at the least. She looks like the kind of woman who becomes a dame and publishes mediocre spy thrillers after retiring from high level espionage.

When these grey suited men come to her and try and make their case, she tells them all the same thing – that if they really knew anything about her, they wouldn’t be there. The agency made her what she is, and she’ll always be grateful for that, but don’t confuse that with blind loyalty.

For the ones who continue to push, she always makes a point to peel back an edge of her carefully constructed mask and let them see for a moment the steel she carries under her skin, show them the furious, vengeful teenage girl who killed the men who ruined her life, then overthrew an international arms dealer and built her own assassination ring right under MI5 and the SIS’s nose, and still managed to get a double first from Oxford.

The ICA is flawed and corrupt, but it offered her something she needed when she needed it and never tried to exploit her over it. So she’s happy to be back in Switzerland demonstrating her training in computers and her understanding of the human condition and ready to take on the next stage in her training. They’re pleased with her, appreciative of the solid and dependable knowledge of exploits and database vulnerabilities she has. They proclaim it all a good foundation for what they want from her. They taught her everything they’ve learned themselves, that everything in life is a series of systems that intersect in specific ways that can be exploited, that accents are more than vowels and filler words, that human nature is predictable, that we move like bumblebees along predetermined arcs. She learned quickly that financial manipulations, social engineering and old-fashioned hacking go a long way to making problems go away. They took the self-taught professional and made her exquisite, polished her up to a dazzling shine.

Most of all, they taught her patience. How to sit and watch a single target for hours, days, weeks, without getting bored or your mind wandering. They taught her to fill her mind with him, and only him, and to like it.

Where she took their instruction with greedy ravenous hunger, his training was unnecessary, her 47. She knew the moment she saw him kill all her agents that he was something special, its why she broke protocol for the first time to convince him, buying him a drink and giving him the hard sell, then getting on the phone and telling the agency that she’s coming back from a failed mission with something better. It was a gamble, there was no guarantee that he would do anything but disappear into the night for good. She had a feeling about him, and she was so incredibly pleased when he turned up at the training centre like a long yearned for gift on Christmas morning – perfectly wrapped and ready to go, batteries included.

She got a lot of credit for believing in him and for forcing the agency to take him seriously, even if Soders lost face over it. They were wary of him, saw him like toxic waste – too dangerous to have around, but far too dangerous to let out into the world. Part of the reason they expedited her into the agency was because she showed them the trojan horse they were so wary of was just a single man, flesh and blood. She proved that it was her they needed, even more than him. Soders was keen to point out that maybe she was the invading force, hiding within him.

She was still young then, barely past girlhood, even after everything. She had thought the same of him, that they were two of a kind, that he was some young, mysterious mercenary trying to go semi-legit. Over the years she aged, experimented with her hair, but he always seemed unchanging, even as the resolution of the surveillance got better and better, until it’s twenty years later and the CCTV pictures she sees every day are in HD, and he looks the same as he did the first day she saw him and thought “mine”, said “mine”, and looked all those former agents grown fat from their cut in the eye and laid claim.

She’s seen her file, knows that they’ve tagged her with “daddy issues” and “fear of abandonment” in among all the positives they can’t help but sprinkle through. Deep in the version history she finds a paragraph speculating on her sexuality, how her hair is a sign of lesbianism, how the fact they don’t think she’s fucked her agent yet is a sign of some kind of exploitable weakness, like the cold war never ended, and they’re still convinced that women are dangerous to have in the service.

To the agency he is an angel of death and destruction. He has long hands, pale skin, an unplaceable look, lost in the shadows, blending into the crowd. His file has endless speculation about his sexuality, but it also has endless speculation about every aspect of him.

To her, he’s the closest thing she has to a best friend.

The last stage of their initiation was, paradoxically, to spend time together. A lot of time. They were summoned in the middle of the night and led to a helicopter that then flew for hours, until Diana is holding her breath that the fuel will last long enough to land. There’s a distinct sputtering to the rotors as they struggle to make it this far. As far as the eye can see is densest forest she’s ever seen. Eventually though, a perfect circle appears in the distance cut and smoothed over with tarmac and they both, she realises, breathe out in relief.

She and 47 are near-blindfolded and slowly led to a remote cabin on a ridge by a middle-aged man she never sees again. They’re tied up and locked into the cabin long enough for the helicopter to long depart by the time they’re free.

It takes 47 reassuringly little time to get free from the ropes and untie her in turn, and they then spend an hour of working together to dismantle the security systems and purge the place of every type of bug she was taught about, and some they had made sure to neglect. During the search they find the supplies laid on for them and the relics of previous initiations – the dregs in the bottle of vodka in the recycling and the condoms, dried up and used, expired and very much in date, and the old, well-scratched disk of generic pornography still in the DVD player. There’s not much to the place; a kitchenette with a propane flask, a shower room with astonishingly good water pressure, a small, boxy TV and two beds, side by side. Diana cannot help but notice the deep grooves in the floorboards from where previous partnerships have hurriedly pushed them together.

The cabin is haunted by the spectre of sex and she feels a half-held breath of expectation and inevitability.

47 says nothing, acts like he doesn’t even notice, and so Diana keeps her mouth shut and decides to wait and see.

It turns out that he doesn’t say much in general.

Instead of talking or fucking, 47 has them run through drills in the snow for hours each day. It feels like he is auditioning her in turn, and so she throws herself into it, climbing hills and learning how to blend into the forest just through the way she holds her body. He’s calm and encouraging while he trains her, praising her when she does well and encouraging her when she fails. After the sardonic and dismissive boarding-school-esque training method used by the ICA institute it is refreshing to be treated like an adult. They learn each other’s quirks and preferences and sleep well at night, beds pushed far apart, but she can feel them growing closer, forming a unit.

There’s a range out behind the cabin. Diana hates firing guns and has ordered her life to be as far away from needing to ever again, but she gets into the habit of spending each morning sitting on the low dry-stone wall at the bottom of the half-wild garden with her terrible instant coffee, watching 47 dead-eye endless targets the way other people put in a solid hour at the gym. Some mornings he goes for the heart, some the head, some just a wounding, a warning shot. He is good, better than any other initiate by miles, but over time he is becoming perfect. The targets flutter in the mountain breeze and yet every time she takes them down and stacks them, its as if they were shot through by a single bullet.

One morning, when they had been there for weeks, she goes outside and there’s another gun sitting on the weathered table.

“Do they teach handlers how to shoot?” 47 asks. His small talk is getting better. A week ago he would have just said “shoot that” and put a gun in her hand and enigmatically nodded.

“They do” she says. “I passed all my tests, as you know”. She tries not to be defensive. It’s hard, considering.

He hands her the spare gun.

“It’s a dangerous world. I will feel better if I know you can look after yourself.” It’s not a question. It’s never a question.

She puts down the coffee and steps up. She reaches for ear protection and he shakes his head. “A single bullet first. If you do it muffled all the time the sound will surprise you, cause you to make mistakes. It’s likely you will only have one shot, it has to count.”

She checks the gun. No silencer, standard grip. Already loaded. She disengages the safety with her thumb and chambers a round. The target is a dark outline, and it’s a breezeless morning, the mountain air cool and sharp. She takes a deep breath, looks down the sight, and shoots. The gun recoils hard as she was taught to expect but 47 was right, the sound, unfiltered, is unfamiliar. The bang of it echoes off the mountains. She startles but is proud that she holds onto the gun in sure hands.

The target has a respectable shoulder wound, which is a passing grade for handlers during their training. Get them down and get out is all they’re supposed to do. If someone is coming after you, you’ve already lost.

“Good”. 47 says, right behind her, and it surprises her as much as the sound of the bullet. He’s close, and she’s not wearing her coat, just a cardigan over her sleepwear for early morning coffee.

“May I?” he says, low and right by her ear. She nods, and he runs a hand down her side, pushing her hip down from where she has tensed it up. His leg slides between hers, nudging her knees apart. He takes her right shoulder in his hand and lifts her elbow, correcting her stance and standing all around her until she relaxes into him, allows him to guide her hands around the gun. He is so warm, radiating heat against her. Her hair tickles his nose, and he huffs to move it away right by her ear, and it sends an almost painful shudder of pleasure down her spine.

With another man this would be a come on. It’s such a cliché, and for someone who has dealt in subverting expectations since was fourteen she hates the idea of it, but still she comes close to giving into it, dropping the gun and just turning around into his arms, kissing him and letting him have her right here in the wide open, watched by the twittering birds and the snipers in the trees.

Instead, he steps away. A moment later the world goes silent as he slides the ear protectors on over her ears. She breathes out, pulls the trigger and shoots the target right through the heart.


They get notice not long after that they are being called to active duty. A week, the message says. She’s lost track of the number of days they’ve been sequestered there. Somewhere close to a month, perhaps.

She knows now that they’re going to be incredible together. They are so perfectly well suited in temperament, in the way they think. They are going to kill a lot of people, they’re going to make the world a better place, in their own way. They’re going to prevent a lot of pain, a lot of hurt, prevent a lot of future ICA agents from being made through trauma and circumstance. Despite the fact she knows this in her bones, she’s also very aware that she’s learned next to nothing about his indulgences. He doesn’t take long showers, he doesn’t have a secret skincare routine, he doesn’t seem to need to shave his head or his face, but he has eyebrows, underarm hair, hair on his arms and legs. He has scars, but nothing identifying, apart from that tattoo, which almost seems a joke for someone so non-descript. She longs to scan it, feel it, hell, even ask him about it, why he hasn’t removed it, even though the answers are well documented in his file. He lacks the drilled in quirks of any of the armed forces she’s studied, he doesn’t talk in his sleep, he never shows any hint of any cultural preferences or even an intriguing lack of knowledge. He knows who Paris Hilton is, what a hanging chad is, and he claims to not care for all sports equally. He cooks like a normal person, salts his eggs, even his condiment tastes are banal. His accent remains unplaceable, the kind of American-ish accent that doesn’t exist outside of the movies.

It’s frustrating, after all the hours and hours of training in teasing out the tells of the scum of the world, to be holed up studying someone so abnormally normal. Medium height, medium build, pale, bald, blue eyed, distinctive tattoo. Put a hat on him and he’d be anyone.

There’s a package along with the message declaring the end of their cohabitation. They’ve been getting weekly supply drops full of food, study materials, weaponry and some creature comforts. The usual ICA supplies she’ll presumably spend the next few decades arranging shipments for to every corner of the world. This one is different though. There’s the usual tinned curry and bags of rice and pasta, but it also contains the tools of seduction. A bottle of vodka, a bottle of single malt and two bottles of red wine. Taper candles in stark white, some long matches, a slab of good dark chocolate and some unseasonably perfect strawberries. There are more condoms in various textures, some discreet and pricey looking lubricant, a copy of the Kama Sutra (translated and illustrated) and most hilariously, a rampant rabbit in all its lurid pink and rotating beaded glory. Finally, nestled in the bottom, wrapped in a cool-pack and some butcher’s paper, a package of good quality steaks.

After all these weeks with no emotional response beyond politeness and formality, Diana watches 47 as he unpacks the supply drop, and right there, in the good late afternoon light, she sees him blush.

They’ve been given five days’ notice of their collection, and so they waste no time. The steaks get eaten, and Diana polishes off the wine over the course of the next few evenings as she reads, and it seems that 47 likes whisky, because the bottle creeps lower by a fingerful each night. He’s stopped having her run up and down mountains, and instead leaves her mostly to her own devices. The agency has sent her a lot of material to read, and it seems like 47 himself spends most of the day shooting things like any leftover ammo is a personal affront. The echoing of shots off the mountains provide a rhythmic backdrop to policy and procedure.

On the last night, a storm rolls in from the north, bringing driving rain and hail and temperatures near freezing. The electricity goes out, which takes away any temptation to just work through this final evening.

Maybe it’s the cabin fever, maybe its some of her old impetuousness coming out, but something in Diana snaps. She throws open the supply box and lays it all out on the table. She opens the vodka, lights the candles and feeds the fire until it is roaring. She gets the last of the chocolate and melts it on the microwave, saving it just before it seizes, and puts the last few strawberries in a bowl. She chips ice out of the lining of the freezer and collects glasses.

47 is sitting silently in the corner, watching her stomp around with his usual detached interest. She drags the little side table down to the end of her bed and puts the vodka down.

“We’re doing this. Come and drink” she instructs him, voice strong, and he does.

They sit knee-to-knee in the gap between their beds, facing each other, passing the bottle back and forth. His legs are warm, and the light from the roaring fire and the flickering candles makes him look cut from marble. She can see herself reflected in his eyes, her hair lit up like the fire. They’re both wearing thick jumpers to keep out the cold.

This is it, she thinks. We’ll get it over with. It’ll be fine. They’re a third of the bottle down. It’s good vodka, but even so, it feels like its ripping her open, made worse now its warmed from their hands and the fire.

Any moment now and she’ll get the nerve up to say something, something perfect -

“They want us to have sex” he says, interrupting her thoughts.

“Yes”, she replies. “They briefed me, before we left. Made sure I knew that it wasn’t expected of me, but that it’s generally thought best to get it out of the way. The relationship between agent and handler is…intense.”

He necks the bottle and grimaces faintly, “I’m sure they know best”, he says. There’s distant thunder across the mountains, and its impossible not to notice the similarity.

She’s never had a head for spirits; they make her impish and reckless, so she feels emboldened. “Have you before?” she says flirtishly, not even trying to be professional about it, even though her heart is hiccupping from the vodka and heat and the way he blinks ever so deliberately, never looking away. “Had sex”, she finishes lamely, defeated again by his inscrutability. His eyes are so blue, he’s so handsome. He makes her feel so young.

“I assume so. It seems like something I would have got around to doing.”

“I’m surprised there aren’t seminars and competencies in agent training for seduction” she says, and god, if her hair was longer, she’d be twirling it on one finger. She’ll be disgusted with herself in the morning. “How best to leverage the clitoris to get what you want and such”. He shrugs and deflects. “Something like that.” It’s an awful answer. Passive and deflective and lights a fire inside her as wild as the one she built. She gets antsy, itchy, wanting to piss him off.

“What’s your earliest memory?” she says. “Sexually. Wet dreams. Can you get it up? You’re a healthy adult man. Surely you’d remember something. Any kinks I should know about?”

He looks lost, even hurt, if she wanted to project.

“It’s in my file”, he says, and she know she should let it go. Everything is telling her to let it go.

“Tell me” she presses.

He says nothing, but he leans towards there and there might be a smile there, familiar as a foreign country. He blinks long and slow. His secrets look so close in the dark, like he wants her to reach out and take them.

“I’d rather talk about something else”, he murmurs, and there’s a thread there, unravelling. She can almost see it, can just reach out and pull, unravel him completely.

“Seduce me” she whispers through the vodka and the demands of her better angels and leans forward just enough to put her hands on his knees and slide them, slowly and deliberately, down the slope of his thighs.

There was a moment then where it almost happened. She saw him hesitate. Her training said to just keep quiet, let him make the move, and then it’ll go as planned. They’ll shove the beds together and he’ll be the best fuck of her life and the ICA trainers will be right and it’ll be fine, all fine. She is fine with it, more than fine, suddenly aware that she has never wanted anyone so badly as him in that moment. She folds her knees under her to prepare to climb him like the mountains she’s been climbing for a month, everything pointing towards this.

The vodka flowing through her veins didn’t get the message about keeping quiet, and so she keeps talking. “Maybe they’re right, maybe it’s something we have to do. It sounds like you’ll need the practice. It’s like another final exam, I won’t tell, I doubt you’d fail. We might never see each other again, once you are activated, this might be it, our only chance” she realises it’s come out wrong. It’s desperate, awful and needy, mean and cruel.

He looks at her for a long moment, his face back to its blank, shuttered look. Then he gets up, taking the vodka bottle with him and a moment later Diana hears the window in the kitchen open followed by a grunt of him hurling the bottle into the night. He goes into the bathroom and locks the door, and she spends too long sitting on her heels, staring into the fire, trying not to cry.

They’re both horrendously hungover the next day when the handler comes to get them, and Diana breathes through the nausea the whole flight back, desperately trying not to be sick.

They don’t speak of it for nearly twenty years.

They speak every day for the next decade. She sees his face everywhere until she has to fight her brain filling in every tall, bald man with his feline eyes and steady gaze. She works tirelessly to keep their escapades out of the papers. She knows all his official preferences the way the perfect handler must. She knows where to get the ammo he likes in every country in the world, whether through legitimate means or not. She arranges supply jobs to have high protein foods, things to keep him going, but also arranges hotels with sea views and Michelin star restaurants. She knows his measurements well enough to send a casual wardrobe ahead and keeps him in the single malt whisky he likes.

Every time she sees a headline about a mysterious death that they had a hand in, she is proud. She loves her job. They’re changing the world. They’re making a difference.

The day-to-day work of handling is mostly research. They get a mission, and she and her team work long days and nights to learn the nuances. They jump on planes and infiltrate work crews, drop tools and weaponry in hidden corners and try their best to part the chaos enough to get him in and out without collateral damage. If they don’t have a mission, her team scatters and works on their own interests, only to come back again at the start of the next contract.

When they were working low level contracts back at the beginning it was just him and her. The internet helps these days, it is just so much easier to be an anonymous influence in the world with a good proxy and some untraceable encryption. Back in the early 2000s there was a lot more smuggling, a lot of dangerous men with a lot to lose acting as couriers for the right price. They had a lot more contracts abandoned because of these supply lines. For those first few years it was Diana who had to go and sweet talk the secretaries and receptionists for the access codes and the office gossip. She learned how to give a shot and take blood so she could infiltrate doctors’ offices and plant poisons where normal drugs would be. Now, she has her own trusted lieutenants, her own reputation. She has refused promotion, refused to give him up. She’s in it for as long as he is, and if he’s borderline immortal, well, she’ll have to be as well.

At the start she saw him more often, but now, a decade in, it’s been years since they’ve had a conversation in public. Very occasionally, they sit in the same room, two strangers oblivious to each other. Once, near the end, they have a conversation in person, so risky she almost left as soon as she saw him in her peripheral vision. He looked the same as he always did, his suit perfect and a briefcase full of secrets placed carefully between his legs as he sat down. They sat back to back in uncomfortable chairs in an airport they’d both been to hundreds of times, just two ships passing in the night.

They have enemies, of course. The ICA falls a couple of times, 47 almost dies more times than she can count. There are more things swirling around them than either of them knows. They’ve both got mysterious pasts and dubious loyalties, except when it comes to each other. Diana knows that she was right back in the cabin – they are incredible together.

It would have been fine, or at least would have been the framing for a different story, if there hadn’t been the incident in Paris.

They do probably a dozen missions in Paris over the years. There’s something about the city that leads itself to drama and excess – a perfect breeding ground for the kind of person who can afford a contract with the infamous Agent 47. This time it’s Albanian drug dealers, diamonds and designer dogs at stake, and it really should have been a straightforward mission. Diana’s team is small, but they are good. She trained every single one of them herself. They’d spent weeks carefully planning options, hiding ammo and explosives in forgotten closets and corners of the beautiful townhouses that curve in a graceful arc around the arrondissement. There was absolutely no reason anything should go wrong.

They assured her they could handle it.

His heartrate on her screen is elevated but steady. He’s wedged into the space tight, folded up as small as possible to allow the rifle to have the space it needs.

She’s sitting in an anonymous rented apartment half a world away, the rain from a typhoon pelting against the glass like it’s personally coming to get her. When she got off the plane her phone practically vibrated out of her hand with notifications. Everything that could go wrong, and many things that they never would have thought could fail spectacularly failed. They’re lost, and she’s got to fix it. The car that comes to pick her up thankfully has a soundproof back seat, and South Korea does at least have the very best internet speeds in the world, and so through some quick thinking and low latency she salvages the situation somewhat.

By the time she gets into the apartment the situation has come to 47, a sniper rifle, a dozen bodyguards who think they have the high ground, and the target. He’s been chased as high as you can go in Paris, and instead of being in the building across the street, he’s in the target’s own home. He can’t make a noise in the tiny, creaky garret that gives him the best chance at a shot.

The schedule still has the target taking his dogs for a walk in just a few minutes. He’ll leave the house and there should be maybe twenty paces when 47 will have a decent shot.

He takes his time taking aim. He breathes steadily, but there’s an edge to it. He’s been cramped up too long in this makeshift sniper nest, his every move resonating through the house. The sensors her team planted show how many guards are in place (next time, check whether one of them is having a bloody birthday, amateur stuff.) She can tell from 47’s breathing that he is in pain, he’s uncomfortable, and he’s running entirely on adrenaline and cortisol at this point. To get the shot at this angle he’s pressed into a corner, forcing his mic closer than usual to his mouth, and it feels like her headset is burrowed into her brain.

She’s pacing around the room, watching her readouts and keeping the rest of her team on mute, just talking slowly to him. The guards’ party is getting louder, which is good for 47, but it’s because more men are arriving.

She hears the clock strike four, and time slows down. Time for walkies, and time for the show.

Their breathing is synced now, and she’s stopped pacing. 47 presses himself into the corner even harder and stops everything to take the shot. She can see on the readout how he is controlling his breathing and heartrate, getting ready to shoot between the pumping of his heart for maximum accuracy. Then something happens, a bird fluttering from the rooftop she thinks, and he can’t take the shot. She swears, frustrated, and he breathes her name heavily in warning. She isn’t expecting just how hard that tiny, frustrated chide catches her off guard. She lets out a noise, a tiny pop of surprise, and it takes him by surprise in turn. “Be quiet”, he hisses, and she’s holding her breath.

There are footsteps on the stairs somewhere the floor below, and it all seems lost when a phone rings somewhere downstairs, and around the distant corner the target reappears. He’s forgotten something, but Diana is distracted by 47 as he breathes raggedly into her ear, all adrenaline now, and she can almost feel the warmth from the last-but-one time he touched her and breathed into her ear and said…

“Target down”, the computer says, as she hears the shot and the huge exhale he gives feels like le petit mort for them both. A moment later, her carefully constructed algorithms pop up their markers on her screen –twitter, then France24 reporting gunshots in the 9th arrondissement, her backdoor into the police system showing their scrambled response; exactly as planned. The mission is saved, 47 is still alive, and now he just needs to get to an exit.

She gives him instructions for exit points with a shaking voice, watches as his breathing and heartrate stabilise as he packs up the gun. He climbs down a drainpipe, the rifle strapped to his back. He puts his coat over it, and strides away, just another anonymous man in a black coat. She guides him to ditch the rifle over a garden wall far enough away to defuse any attempt to track his movements, and then it’s just a short walk down a major boulevard and he walks into the metro, and the voice connection garbles, fades and with a pop, is lost.

She’s thrumming with arousal as she rips off the headset. She sends a message to her team that she’ll debrief them tomorrow, and then throws herself down on the neatly made bed and writhes with it. She’s fully dressed in her best suit to play the part of the international businesswoman, and the dress is tight and constricting. Suddenly she feels stupid with need and prickly-hot even in the aggressive Korean air-conditioning. She can’t work out how to get any of it off, can’t face waiting long enough to do so, until she’s face down and wriggling and one knee half up, and she gets her fingers inside the sensible wool tights she wears because planes are always far too cold, and the relief as she touches herself, feels how wet and swollen and hyper-sensitive she is, she groans at the feeling of it. It takes 30 seconds, at most, and she lets herself think about him, about what it would look like if it was his fingers, if she was moaning like a banshee for his ears along in an anonymous high-tech apartment during a typhoon. She imagines the sound of him undoing his belt, can almost hear the heavy clink of the buckle loud in the silent apartment and she comes.

There’s a peculiar desperation about orgasm in an empty hotel room, and she is devastated by it. It doesn’t seem to stop, she’s gasping like she can’t get air, vocalising loudly, coming until her eyes are wet and her throat is choked with emotion for a long moment after, teetering on the edge of crying for real. She is outside her body for a long moment, seeing her left fist in the bedclothes, ring glinting in the low light.

She pulls off her tights and knickers slowly from where they are tangled around her knees, dropping them on the floor as she goes back to put on the headset. The tracker says he’s still underground, heading for the suburbs and the safehouse there, coddled in the confusion of rush hour traffic. There are flights booked out of Orly tomorrow, and the police are still swarming the 9th, but when she puts on the headset there’s a tiny pause like a skipped heartbeat, before the connection breaks into static again.

He’s in Toronto next, a truly uneventful mission this time that ends early when the target takes the wrong door and literally runs into 47’s knife. The snow is bad enough to have grounded all flights out of Pearson, and so they have the evening off. She’s home with for once, running the operation out of London and commuting home to give the dog some home comforts. There’s risotto on the stove demanding her attention and a glass of wine that she has to keep refilling because the risotto can’t have it all.

She’s working late, of course, when the security programme announces that 47’s biostat implant is detecting signs of distress. She pulls up the feed for his room in the airport hotel, expecting to see bodies and blood, mentally trying to remember the clean-up crew they use in Ontario. There is sign of struggle, true, but instead of blood and broken glass, she sees the expanse of 47’s naked back, and all the signs of a woman underneath him, her legs wrapped round his hips, her hands clasped in ecstasy on his shoulders. The framerate is bad and the light is too low, but all indications are that he’s taking his time to drive her wild. The sound quality is crystal clear in that regard.

Diana clicks off and takes a deep breath and rewinds the tracking feed. She finds him an hour earlier in the hotel bar, top buttons undone and no tie, a scotch on the rocks beading with sweat in his left hand. She watches him see his target, go over and make quiet conversation. He’d left his mic in his room, and the angle is wrong for lip reading, but the woman he approaches laughs and looks at him like she can’t really believe her luck. She puts down her white wine and leans in to flirt back.

Half an hour later Diana’s watching the feed of them kissing in the elevator. The bar was dark with mood-lighting like the best hotel bars, but this is bright and mirrored, and even from the grainy security footage she can see every angle, see the way his hands look around her small, pale wrists, how he touches her short, red hair with reverence. The woman is in her early 40s, dressed in a sensible skirt suit and three-inch heels. She looks like a businesswoman from out of town, just another person stuck in the hotel due to the snowstorm. There’s the unmistakable tan line on the fourth finger of her left hand - a ring recently removed.

The couple walks out of shot and Diana clicks back to the live feed of the room, half-relieved to find that the show is over. The lovers are lying under the top sheet, blankets kicked down by their feet, leaning into each other side by side. The woman traces the line of a scar down 47’s chest, and she’s talking softly, a faint burble on the feed. 47 says nothing, but closes his eyes, looks exhausted and human in a way he normally only does after a multi-day mission. They are the picture of post-coital contentment for long, long minutes. The woman eventually gets up and walks nude to the shower, then ten minutes later kisses 47 at the door and leaves. Diana traces her to room 312, and then flicks back, beyond anything but morbid curiosity. The feed shows 47 showered and sitting on the edge of the bed, a towel round his waist. A moment after she reconnects the feed, he looks up and holds her gaze for a long moment, then presses a device hidden in his palm and the feed goes dead.

She’s not him. The ICA would never put two weird loners together, no matter how good she is. Diana a bonefide catch – she’s the Burnwood heir, there’s a title and a Baronetcy and an enormous estate within commuting distance to London just waiting for the right person to come and fill it up. She goes home and walks the grounds most weekends, mostly to visit her family’s graves and walk through the beautiful Burnwood estate. No one lives in the main house these days. Both the National Trust and English Heritage approached her to give it to the nation, but instead Diana leases it to the ICA for a tidy sum. They run it as a conference centre, part of their intelligence gathering services, bugging every arabesque and moulded sconce to squeeze intelligence from the stones. She’s got friends, real friends, living all around the UK, and she keeps in touch with them, the lie of international banking tripping easily off the tongue. She spends hours on the train on her weeks off, and pretends she’s not who she is, day drinking and kissing babies and hugging, lots of hugging. She dates, has flings, even marries, once.

Diana meets Sean when they’re set up by a mutual friend. He’s tall and burly and handsome, with a thick head of hair, an unfashionable for the time beard. She’s 33. They marry in the spring; she doesn’t wear white, doesn’t change her name or title, doesn’t take out her implant. She expects a tall, bald stranger to lurk at the back of the chapel as she says her vows, but 47 is in India strangling cult members at the time, supervised by one of the other handlers, and it’s not like she sent him an engraved invitation.

She travels for work, but so does Sean. As far as she can tell he really does work in international finance, but she doesn’t discount that he might be secret service, she’s always believed in not jeopardising a potential romance by digging too deep. Some of her best sexual encounters have been with men who thought they could get the ICA’s secrets out of her vagina, and the agency has people who monitor these kinds of things. If Sean was a threat, they would have let her know. Or maybe they just trust her.

They’re a handsome pair when they’re together. The sex is electric, but for them absence makes the heart bitter and furious. Over time, it grates enough to make a wound. They get a dog, as proxy for the child he suddenly declares he wants after swearing for years he didn’t even like children. They argue, but the problems really start when they stop. When she is 35, she comes home to the little converted stable on the estate and finds his bundle of keys sitting on the kitchen table; the doors, the cars and their shared lockup all tied together with the ribbon from her bridal bouquet. The dog is asleep in his bed, and there’s a short note, explaining things she already knew. The divorce is as quick as the UK allows – she never sees him again, everything done through solicitors and bank transfers. Maybe the agency tied up that loose end, or maybe he really was just a handsome stockbroker who met the wrong woman. It never really occurs to her to check.

Not long after her divorce she gets the promotion she’s been angling for. She’s officially the youngest TETRA clearance handler in the service. They throw a dinner in her honour.

It all goes downhill from there. A few months later at another promotion dinner she retires to get port and cigars with some of the other TETRA ranks, and an old guard lets slip something, a single code word, assuming she was in on it. It was sloppy on his part, but he was sloppy all over, drunk at a work event and staring at her breasts like he’d never seen a woman before. When the codeword comes out of his mouth before his brain catches up, he clams up, realising what he’s done. She pretends not to notice, but that’s how she finds out about the programme, about the children, about what they’ve been doing with the DNA. With his DNA.

They trained her well. Too well, really. From inside the castle walls it’s easy to destroy a few database tables, transfer some money, and steal the girl.

She prepared everything in advance – passports, visas, property, security. Fake identities, fake itineraries for dozens of covers she’s built over the years, weaving a huge web that needed to be unpicked, by which time she expects to be gone. She books her leave and watches her department close around her. No one suspects anything when she walks confidently into the wing of the mansion, flashes her TETRA clearance, and collects the girl.

Together, she and Victoria glide through Europe, posing as mother and daughter. Victoria is good at it, but Diana is easily tired from the constant vigilance and the pressure of acting every minute of every day. They change their appearance often, and those are the bits Diana enjoys best, helping Victoria change the way she holds herself, making up names and backstories together curled up in bed at night, always touching. It’s fun, and Diana always says that its temporary, they just need to do this until they get somewhere safe.

The mansion in Chicago proves to be a misstep. She loved that mansion and was sure the ICA didn’t know about it. Ironically, she had been looking forward to getting there.

She also knew there would always be a slip up. The corruption in the ICA were never going to let her get away with stealing Victoria. They were never going to let themselves get away with trusting her.

When it comes, she’s in the shower. She hears a noise, and she knows what it means. The ICA is big on dramatic irony – they’d never send anyone but 47 to kill her. Where’s the dramatic irony in sending one of the elite snipers to pick her off across a busy street when they can make her most loyal ally kill her with his bare hands?

There’s a moment when their eyes meet before he pulls the trigger, where she paradoxically feels her body relax of its own accord, the shape of him comforting in some hideous way. He’s here. It’s all going to be alright, her blood says.

And then she almost dies.

Almost, being key. Being shot by a high calibre bullet, while naked, in a hot shower, is never going to be a walk in the park. She manages to stay conscious long enough to tell him enough of the plan before she passes out.

He wrapped her in a towel before he left, which the paramedics say is why she survived. The pressure stopped the blood loss, and if the bullet had been a fraction of an inch anywhere else, she’d have been done for.

They called it luck. Luck that she didn’t die, luck that they misspelled her name on the intake sheet, luck that she stayed in a coma until 47 sorted the whole shitshow out. She woke up months later, and someone was there with discreet agency cufflinks to tell her that they were awfully sorry that this had happened, but it is over now.

The board promoted her after she recovered. They offered her a place with them, away from day-to-day contracts, supply drop orders, cleaning crew organisation, all that blood and viscera, but she declined. They compromised on the equivalence of having her just one step outside of the room, the door ajar. She saved the agency, but she can’t lead it. They know she’s dangerous, that the two of them are dangerous. They want her there, they want 47 on their side, keeping them honest as murderers and thieves can be, because in their line of work, it’s too easy to see the atrocities being done and think as long as you don’t go that far, you’re on the side of good.

He made sure she didn’t die, made sure she would survive. Saved Victoria. Did what was necessary to end the programme, expose the rot. That meant something.

It always meant something.

Over the next six years after Toronto, after Chicago, after the drama, she watches 47 pick up women who could be her cousin, her sister, her mother; women who have red hair or cut-glass accents or tragic backstories witnessing the deaths of their parents. It only takes a small search to identify the thread she shares with them.

It’s not a problem. He has a type. She updates his file. “Agent has a preference for women 10 years younger than him. Caucasian, Thin, Red hair.”

She’s at work and she doesn’t even realise she’s stalking him rather than monitoring him. It’s early evening in Bogota and the mission doesn’t even start for another week. He is more than free to eat churrasco and drink red wine with whoever he wants. The meat looks good from thousands of miles away, pink inside and almost black outside, and the way it disappears between 47’s very white teeth implies things she can’t bear to think about. The woman he is seducing is also uncomfortably familiar, with all the hallmarks of being past 40, an age she never expected to reach. The CCTV in the restaurant is far too high quality for that poor woman’s dignity. Diana can see the line of foundation on her jaw and the hair is the wrong shade, more a brassy, out of the box Clairol than her own carefully-maintained, still mostly-natural auburn. She is talking animatedly, and 47 has a wan smile on his face, like a baby with gas. Diana tilts her head. Is that fondness? Distraction? Or is he just thinking about the mission. Even after all these years it’s so hard to tell.

“Aww. He’s imprinted on you!” the trainee who is shadowing her jokingly interrupts as she places a teacup by Diana’s elbow. “You know, like baby birds, or that werewolf in those godawful films”.

Sophie is young and while Diana doesn’t train handlers routinely, Sophie was assigned directly to her. "We think she’ll have a lot to learn from you", one of the directors says, which is code either for "she's my niece" or for "she's trouble and we've got no idea what to do with her and for some reason that made us think of you."

Sophie's agent is Jean Paul, a stunningly average looking Frenchman who kills like he enjoys it a bit too much. In the past he might have been the type to join a mercenary outfit or the foreign legion, but those type of men come to the ICA these days. He’s good, but she’s better. Word was that there was talk of her transferring across into the Agent programme, but for whatever reason, she stayed a handler. Sophie is sweet and chatty and an absolute dream at gathering dark-web evidence despite the horrendous things one sees when doing so, and Diana dearly doesn’t want to have to fail her. Instead, she pointedly cuts the feed and asks where the biscuit tin has got to.

When Sophie passes probation with the highest handler gun scores ever recorded a few months later, Diana takes her to her very elite, very exclusive gentlewoman’s club in the heart of Knightsbridge and smiles encouragingly as Sophie drinks a little too much and talks about fucking the Frenchman for a month straight in a remote cabin in the densest Scandinavian pine forest she’s ever seen. Sophie gushes about how it was such a learning experience, one that she’s absolutely sure has made her a better handler. She's a good storyteller, she describes the place perfectly down to the grooves in the floor, the good shower and the probably twenty-year-old copy of the Kama Sutra sitting on a shelf. By the time she giggles and says “Gosh, sorry Diana, that got a bit steamy! This is good wine!” Diana is ready for a break.

Diana books her annual holiday when she gets back to her London flat that night, which sends an alert out through her team that they’re going on summer standby. Her team scatters, booking their own holiday and gossiping good naturedly about their plans. 47 disappears to wherever he goes when he's not on call from the agency, and Diana spends some quality time drinking wine on her yacht and working on her rich French Riviera cover story. When she comes back, tanned and relaxed and with a handful of new contacts in the art forger world, she finds that Sophie and her Frenchman disappeared together basically the first chance they got. They took an old copy of the client database and so the rule is that they must be dispensed with. The contract to dispose of them is generated, but somehow fails to propagate through the internal ICA servers. It’s a hard enough life doing what they do with the support of the agency.

Still, Diana can’t help but thinking about Sophie and her Frenchman. Not in the idle daydream way, but in the intrusive thought way. She doesn’t want to think about herself and 47 in their place, lying entangled on ancient thread worn sheets, doesn’t want to think about how they plotted their escape from the ICA, doesn’t like considering whether Sophie spun her web to get Diana to take her leave early in a fit of sexual frustration, whether Soders was right all those years ago and she should have bloody dealt with it before it became a problem.

When she next catches 47 it’s a Sunday. She calls him before checking his tracker, and she can hear the babble of people in the background that indicates he’s just left a church service. They discuss a mission in old familiar code, giving him leave to prepare himself.

The thought of 47 in a church reminds her of the famous ossuary in Milan, the church made of human remains. It’s the way he goes to services as just another man passing through the area, pious and faithful.

Her report on 47’s activities is due, and she suddenly fancies getting poetic, but writing down such nonsense is ludicrous, so she keeps it simple and direct as usual. Thinking a forbidden thought is electric and intoxicating, and she is pretty sure the ICA doesn’t have telepaths, so she allows it for a moment. Allows herself to be gothic and romantic and tragic, to imagine a younger version of herself walking through Italy under an assumed name, running her agent and being his lover, just them against the world. Allows herself to momentarily believe that this is some great romantic love story and not what it is, a psychopath and his line-manager, a rapidly middle-aged divorcee with increasingly dyed hair.

Lucas Grey is the catalyst that ends their enforced distance. Grey himself is alarmingly different from 47 despite their similarities, and in a way Diana struggles to understand it, knowing what she does of what was done to the both of them. Unlike 47 he has a name to replace the number he was given. He has a smile, a social circle of sorts, and a passably human emotional response to stimuli. He is good enough to pass for normal, and after all these years of 47 being a sure thing he wakes something up in her agent, even before they give him the serum. How many times did they wipe 47’s memory to affect the change? Or was he always like that. Grey tells stories about a boy who sounds sweet and mischievous, a troublemaker rather than an automaton.

Just the exposure to secrets is changing 47. He still favours the shadows of the room, but he touches Grey, stands next to him, watches him hungrily, the way her dog does when she’s holding a treat.

Grey is seductive, intense, and he’s given 47 everything he’s ever wanted. There are great answers to great questions, memories of things long forgotten, yes, these are things they’ve both wanted, but the antidote has given him something else, connected some pathway that had long been severed. To say the antidote has given him emotions would be wrong. He’s always had emotions. Their creator realised that a man goes mad if he kills too much even for the greater good. Emotions are important, but too much emotion can expedite the process. So it seems that in his successful clones the connection was kept loose on purpose. The well is full, but the pipes are too small or too congested to allow it to flow cleanly. The serum pours hot water and soda crystals down the pipes, and lets fresh, clean water through.

The memories come first. The name Janus comes easily, and after so many weeks of nothing, they’re back on track. A quick week stateside and they have another breakthrough, and a month to prepare for the next stage.

With a grim sense of inevitability, Diana had been preparing herself for the day she will walk into a room and find 47 and Grey entwined. They’d make a striking pair, hard muscle and those strong aquiline noses, all that alpha testosterone energy channelled against each other. So far, her mental preparations have been for naught. Despite their intenseness and seemingly infinite capacity for standing very near each other looking into each other’s’ eyes, Grey is instead fucking Olivia any chance either of them gets near a flat surface. Neither he or Olivia have an ounce of stoicism in them, whether genetically enhanced or culturally required. Her yelps of pleasure echo off their safe house’s walls night and day, anytime Olivia’s not tracking down holes in the Ark society’s web, or when Grey isn't making threats or friends on the inside of the island. He grunts a lot and Diana, asleep in the next room, is now very aware of how the clones were bred for stamina. Olivia is loud and crass, and her screams highlight how the safe house is not a paragon of German engineering. The place seems to rock, sometimes, and maybe Diana is just imagining that, but it’s entirely possible that it's from a rampant imagination drawn from the boredom of being powerless, the stress of pretending that she hasn’t gone rogue and coming up with reasons she and 47 aren’t taking any contracts, even as special requests are made from the directors. It all wears on her, the closed quarters, the pain of doing normal tasks and remotely managing her team while also planning a mission that will likely ruin everything, but it is the spectre of sex that she blames for reverting to bad habits.

After a week of the steady thump-thump scream of Grey and Olivia's rutting, Diana's had enough and storms outside as they start up again for a late afternoon delight. She’s been sitting in her room, back against the wall as she tries to work. 47’s been left to his own devices and has been quiet now for a few days.

It’s nice to leave the house. They're all supposed to be staying off CCTV, but Diana walks down the long, empty boulevard to the shop on the corner with a clear conscience and makes small talk with the owner of the shop as she buys a carton of cigarettes and a disposable lighter before she loses her nerve. She’d all but forgotten that she used to smoke, but as she strips off the cellophane, grimly ignoring the graphic image on the lid, she remembers how the stress used to melt away, how sometimes breakthroughs only happened after a few long drags. A relic of the early days of handling when it was just her alone. She’s gone soft; all this power and the privilege of unlimited funds has gone to her head. She wants peace and quiet and to not be tormented by a house full of secrets and sex.

She sparks up and closes her eyes as she takes the first dizzying long drag. The sensation fizzles across her nerves, and it’s bliss. The nicotine is like an old friend, wrapping her in its arms and reassuring her, and she feels better immediately.

When she opens them, there’s a pair of angry blue eyes right in front of her, and 47 has the burning tip of her cigarette between his gloved fingers.


He flicks the cigarette from her hands and grinds it under his shiny leather shoe. “Let’s go for a drive”, he says, taking off the gloves and taking the pack from her and guiding her with his other and gets into the car that’s parked haphazardly across the parking restriction lines, hazards blinking in the afternoon sun. He seems furious and agitated. Something's obviously gone wrong.

It’s also the first time he’s touched her in years.

The car is spacious and comfortable, mid-range German engineering chosen so they can blend in just that little bit more with their surroundings. Berlin’s wide avenues and history-encrusted streets pass them in a blur. The only sound between them is the low hush of the climate control, and their own breathing. Diana turns on the radio, then changes her mind as German pop music isn’t what she wants to hear right now. Or ever.

“Has there been news?” She asks. 47 is glaring at the road like it’s personally affronted him. “Have we been made?”

“No. No news. Nothing’s happened” he replies, but the silence echoes. There’s something there.

“Oh”, she says a tiny bit late.

They drive in silence.

Somehow, Diana doesn’t think this is about the cigarettes.

The city gives way to suburbia which gives way to countryside. Germany is green and on the cusp of autumn, a chill in the air you can almost taste.

“Where are we going?” she asks as they pass the turn off for the autobahn and continue on the side roads. She can see that he’s relaxing now they’re out of the city.

“I don’t know. Nowhere. I just needed to get out of the safehouse for a while.”

“I know the feeling” Diana says, shifting in her seat slightly. “Is it getting to you? I have to say it’s getting to me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Grey and Olivia. I should say something, but, well. It’s nice for them I suppose. Even if it’s driving me crazy.”

“It’s complicated” he says, but his knuckles are turning white on the steering wheel. The car revs and makes a small sound as he exceeds the speed limit. Gently, she reaches over and puts her hand on his.

“Maybe we should pull over. And talk.”

There’s discreet layby a kilometre on, and 47 parks neatly, turns off the engine and then surprises her by putting his head back against the headrest and sighs deeply, an expression of frustrated relief she hadn't realised was in his emotional arsenal.

“It’s so easy for him,” 47 grates out a moment later, unbidden, “Grey’s always known what happened, why it happened, never had his memory wiped and taken away from him. It comes back, but none of it is exactly happy shining memories. I wanted to talk about it with him, especially today, but he’s with her. I don’t want to interrupt. He deserves to be happy.”

“So do you.” Diana says, softly. “You’ve spent a very long time not having to deal with this, for it all to come out now, when we don’t have the capacity to do anything about it, it can’t be easy.”

“Hearing them, all the time. It feels like a mockery. Difficult, cumbersome emotional responses. I understand. It feels like I know the practice, but the theory is eluding me.”

He's not talking about the serum. “Maybe we should have done it, all those years ago”. Diana hears herself say. Up close, she can finally see the way the passing of time has embedded itself on his skin in a delicate creping around the eyes and a scar by his ear that didn’t heal smooth. His tattoo is still perfect, not blurry round the edges like the one on her ankle was before she had it removed. “In the cabin in Sweden. It might have made this less difficult. Less mythologised”.

“I don’t think it would have made this easier.” He looks at her and she’s seen that face before. She realises it’s the face of a man who wants something desperately but has spent so long denying himself it he doesn’t know what he’d do if he got it. It’s the way he looks at Grey – like a saviour, like water in the desert. Like an answer to a question neither of them ever thought they’d get the answer to.

A look she last saw twenty years ago in a Swedish cabin.

She reaches out and touches the barcode on the back of his head. He leans his head into her hand, cool and smooth.

She keeps her thumb on the back of his head but turns back to look out of the suddenly rain-drenched window. She hears a click of a seatbelt unbuckling, and then he’s climbing over the handbrake and the gearshift and settling over her. She still has her hand against the back of his head, and their faces are very close. She can feel the tremble in his thighs as he holds himself above her, maybe concerned about his weight on hers or about how his strength will affect her, or maybe just terrified to violate some internal law. She knows everything about him – his body fat percentage, his recent small weight-loss, the amount he benches. She knows her own vital statistics; bone density, the results of her latest smear, her iron levels. They’re both fine, in the peak of health. They’re already rogue, already in too deep. The ICA will have their heads for the operation, but this is nothing; the agency already has their concerns about how devoted they are to each other, but already thinks they’re fucking, thinks they’ve been fucking for years, having missed how dangerous it was that they weren’t.

47 and Diana - they’ve saved the world and each other a hundred times over twenty years, they’re here, there’s no reason not to do this. And, yet, he still won’t fully touch her.

It is such a small distance to cross, but it feels like a chasm. She’s a good handler, so she handles him; pushes her thumb against the back of his head as a warning, before leaning up just the tiniest distance and kisses him.

She had imagined this so many times, under so many circumstances, and it is exactly as good as she imagined. He is a coiled spring unwinding all at once, all this deadly energy focused only on her. They think he is built for murder, but they’re wrong, he was built for pleasure, built to feel, and then told to pursue neither. She clutches him as they kiss in long slow strokes, taking their time, perfectly in sync. The kiss breaks at a natural place with them heavily breathing into each other's mouths, and so she indulges herself, strokes his head, kisses his ears and neck for long moment and is rewarded as he makes a tiny sound before he takes her mouth again fiercely, her silent assassin so undone he can no longer stay quiet.

The car is warm and humid now, just from a kiss. The rain drives against the windscreen. The hum of the heater and their breathing drowns out the roar and patter of the rain.

Their kissing is moving into a different stage. Desperate and nasty, teeth and noises and hands clenching in shirts. He undoes her seatbelt and pulls the lever on the seat and the world flips back. Her skirt is easily pushed up, his hands pulling down her sensible underwear without looking as their hands tangle as she reaches down. Her fingers are clumsy as they fumble against the catch of his belt, the leather warm and solid in her hand as she pulls it free of the loops, the waist of his trousers slipping down, but there's not enough time to think about that, because she's raising her right leg up just enough and bracing her foot against the glovebox so he can slide inside her shockingly fast. They barely kissed thirty seconds before and yet now he has put himself inside her, and she sees herself in the rear-view window, mouth gaping open, eyes heavy with lust, shocked like she can't believe it’s happening. It’s all too quick, her chest feels tight, and Diana finds herself not quite able to catch a full breath from the sensations, panting shallowly likely contributing to the dreamlike quickening, riding back against him as he grunts with every roll of his hips. She holds on for dear life, her mouth sucking anywhere she can reach, his ear, his neck, that strong jaw. The press and fuck of his hips hurt in some arcane, confusing way, just enough to render her senseless, she's not twenty anymore, primed and ready and used to fucking beautiful men who can barely control themselves.

He screws into her on instinct alone, rutting animalia, that famous control long lost. Too much too quick, he burns up. He chokes his orgasm out, leaves her wet and full, just this side of gross and shakes apart, lost somewhere between coming, crying and laughing, just emotion, nerves misfiring unprepared for the feeling, the result of twenty years of longing and about two minutes of exquisite loss of control.

He presses the lever and they're back to sitting, and wastes no time in climbing off her and starting the car. She hasn’t got her breath back, and she’s hyper-aroused, every nerve singing. He looks rumpled but she looks ruined, her tights laddered and miserable in the footwell and her skirt still hiked up around her hips. A glance in the mirror reveals her swollen lips, thankfully lipstickless for a quick errand, but her hair is everywhere. She looks well fucked and deeply confused.

She smooths her skirt down her hips best she can, and then does her seatbelt again. There’s the quick sound of his flies, and then it seems like that might be it. He goes to put the car into gear, and then suddenly she realises what he’s going to do, just indicate right, head back to the safehouse and that'll be that, they'll never speak of it. They don’t have another twenty years in them to play at protocol and propriety.

“Wait, 47” she says, and puts her hand on his thigh.

He turns to look at her and he still looks like he did twenty years earlier, still uncertain and worried even as his semen dries on her thigh and the leather of the seat. “Don't take us back into the city. Not the safehouse, find us a hotel. I need to be able to take my time with you” she says, low and intense and this time it’s the right thing to say. 47 shudders, a full body shudder dispersing out through a shake of the shoulders. He indicates left, and floors it.

Diana spends a few minutes on her phone, and then prepares to attach her phone to the GPS, and then thinks better of it. For the next 45 minutes she acts as sat-nav, guiding 47 through the winding back roads until they reach the nearest large town. By the time they’re there, 47 is visibly sweating, just from her directing him.

She gets a room, her German clean and clear after these few weeks of immersion, while 47 stares menacingly at the international newspapers, but he re-joins her as soon as he hears the click of her heels on the marble. They get in the elevator together. The building is tall, famed for its views, and they are alone. She’s reminded of the first doppelganger she saw him fuck and catches his eye in the mirrored walls. He is the one who kisses her this time, gropes her a little, and she loses the breath in her lungs as his fingers begin sliding up under her skirt as the numbers of the floor creep higher.

They make it to the room, and then its real. They’re up high, the rain beating against the windows, the famous view hidden by dense cloud. Somewhere out there are all the answers. Somewhere, out there, there are all the questions too.

Diana cranks the heating and 47 checks the room for bugs, more out of nervous habit than the risk someone would know that two people who haven’t been fucking for twenty years are suddenly going to do so in some mid-tier provincial city’s Hilton suite and prepared accordingly. They do their individual routines, until there’s nothing else. The bedside lamps are on, and the sun is setting in the distance.

They’re both nervous. The frenzied passion of earlier has settled. She almost loses her nerve, but then he smiles and loosens his tie.

She’s watched him undress for years, quick and perfunctory in the back rooms and stolen corners where someone could come in at any time. Watched him undress corpses with care, stash them in a cupboard and walk out in a dead man’s clothes.

She’s never seen him take his time. His clothes are perfectly tailored for his beautiful body. She wants to watch him strip, maybe put on a show for her, but as soon as he loosens his tie and moves to undo his shirt, she throws herself into his arms and goes about finishing the job for him.

He’s strong, so strong, voracious and passionate and built for her, however deeply denied. She knows they’ll be as brilliant as this as everything else.

“He’s loyal”, she hears in her Sophie’s voice as he falls to his knees to help her skirt down her legs, kissing each foot as it emerges. “He’s imprinted on you”, she remembers, as he kisses, slowly, achingly slowly, up her calf, knee, thigh. “He’s been practicing for this day” her own mind supplies, as she moans when his mouth finally, finally finds her clit.

She wants everything – to roll him over and pin him down, trace every bit of his body with her mouth. She wants to live every fantasy she’s ever had; from fucking him in the Nordic wilderness on a crisp autumn morning, to a frenzied, bloodlust, half-closed screw in that Parisian garret she’s never seen with her own eyes, to the first intrusive thought she had about him all those years ago, of her bent over that metal table in the training facility, one-way mirror hiding her superiors as this young-gun exerts his dominance and proves his humanity by fucking her until she screams.

Instead she closes her eyes and lives in the bloody moment that is actually happening, which is that 47 is eating her out like a ripe peach.

She’s frantic by the time she pulls him off her, drags him up until he’s sitting against the headboard. His prick is perfect; he’s so aroused and the fat head huge and inviting and it takes just a moment for her to climb on, her own thighs shaking as she slides down onto him, her hands on his face, kissing him to keep him from flying apart.

It's the little things though that she admires as she rocks and rides him. They've still yet to undress. He's in the rumpled remains of his suit below her, the pearl buttons glinting in the low light, the red slash of his tie and the trousers tangled mid-thigh. She undoes her blouse and finishes undressing while riding him, and the look on his face when she takes off her bra is even more beautiful than before. He is undone by her hand. His eyes are dark and intense, the last thing so many of the world's most evil men and women ever see, but for her, he stays where he's put.

His hands are huge. Diana's never been small, per se, she's a studiously average woman for her age and nationality, five five and nine stone, but his hands make her feel like another woman. He knows what he's doing. He's warm, solid, hard, like marble or granite, but at the same time so alive, not cold stone, and it is delicious.

Diana worries what will happen when they're satisfied, but that doesn't seem to be anywhere near happening. He comes in her again, and then spends a blissful, impossible near hour licking her empty, dragging another three orgasms out of her, and then filling her up again. There never seems to be a point where they're done with each other, caught seemingly forever in a feedback loop of pleasure.

With any other man it would have been frantic and brief; twenty years of foreplay, sexual tension, fantasy and proxy-fucks finally consummated in a brief rut. Instead, it’s her who is on a hair-trigger, squirming and coming within minutes of finally getting him inside her, and then again, and again. When he comes again it’s been long enough that she’s sore and begging and frantic, her hands on his face saying all the dirtiest, filthiest things she’s ever thought, how she loves him, how she wants him everywhere, how she’s fantasised about having him like this since the first day she saw him, until he finally groans, pushes her back onto the soft duvet, buries his face between her breasts and loses himself, pumping so hard she can feel it in her bones.

Somewhere, outside, the rain stops. The night is velvety dark, and the room is warm. They lie there awake with nothing but the sound of each other’s breathing, and for a night, everything is just so. No promises, no need to swear fidelity, that was sworn long ago.

They sleep, eventually. In the cold light of day, she opens her eyes and sees him smile, soft and secret and she can't help it, however sore and rubbed raw she feels. He moves inside her softly, a mere stirring of the hips, his thumb riding her clit so softly until she mewls her orgasm into his panting mouth.

There are twelve messages from Lucas on her phone when she eventually looks at it. The constant has been identified. Covers have been arranged. The time has to be now.

47 is uncharacteristically dozing as the morning sun stripes across the bed, as she gathers up their clothes, folding them and smoothing them. She considers telling Grey that they’re unavailable for another 24 hours, passing their clothes to the laundry and spending another day in bed.

Instead she passes 47 her phone to read the briefing, and then takes her time dressing him. Smooths cotton down each limb carefully, takes time with every button, every crease. Finishes by tying the tie achingly slowly. Over, under, through.

She dresses herself with his help, and she presses the button on her phone to call Lucas back to give their eta. It takes seconds to confirm and then 47 growls, picks her up and undoes her hard work. Rips her knickers off, undoes his fly, and fucks her hard against the wall, kissing her and grunting with the effort and because he knows she loves it, until he needs more leverage, and throws her back down onto the ruined bedclothes.

They’re disturbed by the knock of cleaning staff. They make it to the car before the line of his semen reaches her hemline, but it's a close thing.


It should be hard after twenty years of being defined by the absence of this to adjust to the new normal. Not having him was important, it was part of the sacrifice, part of the service. Now once again the agency is corrupted, she’s rogue, and she’s done the one thing she never really thought she’d do.

Nevertheless, the mission goes off without a hitch. Soon enough they have the constant in their safe house, new leads, and Diana and Olivia are planning a new itinerary to New York and the Maldives.

Eventually, it’ll end. She is in no doubt that she’ll save the ICA again, and this time they’ll make sure she joins the board. Or they’ll have someone else kill her. It’s 50/50 at this point, even if they are successful. Maybe she should stop fighting the inevitable rot that waits to take the agency. Maybe she should lead it, lead by example, or just give in. Again, 50/50.

When this is all over will she go back to her office and be one of those women who tuck their hair behind her ear and pretend nothing happened? Will she be fodder for another observant woman who thinks she’s beyond human nature? Was this just inevitable?

Will it hurt more now when the time comes that he misjudges a corner and takes a bullet even he can’t recover from?

She knows that in reality they can't be together. Or more, that they could very easily be together. They've both done twenty years, they can retire and never lift a finger again. They'd get new identities, immunity from being designated targets, protection for life. No one would bat an eyelid. Good for them, they'd say. Always kept it professional. We didn’t have a clue.

That's not what this is about. This isn't normal defying of the odds. This isn't a quiet Italian wedding, church on Sunday and being deliciously bored in a Tuscan villa. This isn't starting a mysterious trust and becoming a contract anyway when it all goes wrong. Diana has never seen herself retiring. People like her die in post. She's got ambition running through her blood, opportunities unfolding all the time, planned for the moment 47's luck runs out for good and this half-held breath of a life finally runs out.

When they get back, she’s definitely going to take a holiday, and while there's a pamphlet for Haven on her desk and memories of Malta and Corfu tempting her, when the time comes, she goes home.

She walks the grounds in the driving rain, letting it sink right down to her skin until she’s shivering and half-worried about hypothermia. She leaves flowers for her parents and little James and let's herself in through the kitchen door where there's a glow of candlelight flickering against the wintry dark.

“I hope you put a cloth down” she says. “That table’s 400 years old.”

"I thought this would be a better place to clean my guns than the banquet hall" 47 says as greeting. His sleeves are rolled up and there's black smudges of gun oil on his fingers. He's seated, looking up at her, and its domesticity, of a kind.

She smiles at him and takes off her coat. "Why don't you come to bed, 47. It’s getting late."

There's a clatter of metal on wood as he drops the gun and follows.