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wherever you go, there you are

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Steve and Sam were off searching all the likely places. They were invested; they had to be methodical about these things. Natasha had no investment, no employer, and all the time in the world. She thought about the places she’d like to hide, given a choice. She ordered them by practicality, and she started at the bottom.

The Winter Soldier was not at the Bolshoi Ballet. Natasha searched it thoroughly. She sat through three full performances, in case Barnes should appear. She watched the ballerinas pirouette and plié and thought of the leotard she’d worn to dance class when she was very small.

Barnes didn’t show, though.

He wasn’t at the sandwich shop in north Seattle, just down the street from the imported statue of Lenin. Natasha ate pesto chicken with roasted red peppers and watched the street, and afterwards she studied the troll under the bridge. Barnes wasn’t there, either.

He wasn’t in the wax museum in Hot Springs. Just to be sure, Natasha stood in the display for hours, watching for him. The lights were hot, and no one knew who she was, although a couple of people guessed Mrs. Peel. She blinked at a little girl, just once. The girl clutched her mother’s hand. Barnes never came.

Natasha paddled a boat out to a ship floating in the middle of Sydney’s Homebush Bay. The ship’s iron hull was red and crusted with salt streaks, and mangroves poured out of the top of it like geraniums overgrowing their planter. The sun was low on the horizon by the time she banged alongside it. She shot an anchor over the top of the hull and hauled herself up. Inside, the planks were all long rotted and gone; she crossed from one bent-rooted mangrove to the next until she reached the iron platform that was what remained of the foredeck. It was barely two people wide, not entirely rusted through.

She sat down next to Barnes, her legs hanging over the side. She saw the knife in his hand, the tension in his shoulders. He’d been waiting since he heard the first splash of her oar. He glanced at her through his hair. “I know you,” he said.

“You shot me,” she agreed. “Shot at me a few other times.”

“How did you find me?”

“I wasn’t really looking.”

He didn’t look like he believed her. That was fine. He didn’t try to slice her open, which she appreciated. He sat very still. “Did you have some kind of plan, coming here?”

“Well,” she said, gripping the edge of the platform. She didn’t entirely trust it not to give way. She was listening for dangerous creaks. She turned away from the sight of Barnes’ knife, still gripped in his fist, and she said, “I thought I might watch the sunset.”

The sky had begun to turn pink.