DISCLAIMER: This is Olivia/Alex from SVU, but please do mind the following caveats:

If you find displeasure, discomfort, or disinterest in any of these elements, please find something else to read. If you decide to continue: I find the Alex/Olivia dynamic from SVU, though largely imagined by eager fans, to be strong enough to transport into an uber-verse. I don't think a disclaimer is needed as the characters depicted below are hardly anything NBC would recognize, much less lay claim to. And so, mix an archetypal pair of tough chicks with Kink and a dash of Historical Backdrop (thanks for that notion, MantaRay) ... and there you go.

PLACE & TIME: Romania 1967


Uber-Alex In Romania
By Canna


It was a Friday, 8 pm, and the popular tavern at the Han Gradina was as busy as usual. Olivia Anglescu returned to the bar stretched along one wall of the tavern and deposited yet another tray of empty bottles and glasses on the old wooden counter. She signalled to her co-worker, Svetlana, shouting over the din of conversation in the bustling establishment.

"Five minute break, I'll be right back."

Svetlana nodded, looking harried, and returned to her task of refilling drink orders for impatient customers.

Olivia passed through the kitchen where Eno the cook and his assistant Sorin were hard at work, then stepped out the back door into the darkness of the Gradina's small garden.

Taking a deep breath, she savored the quiet and the cool night air. At length, she pulled a pack of Russian cigarettes from the pocket of her skirt and lit one with a match. She took a deep drag, contaminating the fresh air in her lungs, then let it out through her nostrils. Russian cigarettes: pure crap, but they were cheap.

"Pure crap" pretty much summarized Olivia's opinion of Russians in general. Tonight, the tavern had again been invaded by another round of Russian soldiers on leave from the barracks in the nearby village of Tulcea. Her own town, Sulina, wasn't a metropolis by any means, but it was bigger than the backwater of Tulcea and offered easy access to the Black Sea coast. The Han Gradina was really a small inn, offering a handful of rooms to seaside travellers, mostly from the nearby Ukrainian Republic. But most of the establishment's revenue came from the popular tavern on the ground floor. Olivia had spent her entire life in Sulina, and at the Han Gradina in particular. The place was owned by her uncle and she'd worked there in various capacities since her early teens. Her aging uncle had been instructing her in the administrative end of the business for some years and had steadily handed over more and more of his responsibilities, anticipating his retirement. He still manned the inn's front desk, but Olivia pretty much ran the place nowadays. She took pride in the quality of the lunch and dinner fare they offered, and took special care to ensure that the bar was always supplied with the best brands available. The Han Gradina was the only place for many kilometers where one could obtain the coveted Stolichnaya vodka, and as often as she could manage it, they offered beer-on-tap imported all the way from Czechoslovakia, or even East Germany. It was not uncommon for residents of villages many kilometers distant to appear at the Gradina on the weekends, ready and willing to spend their meager paychecks on the tavern's fine fare. Olivia had noted that the weekend patrons from out-of-town were rarely accompanied by their wives. She had long ago accepted that the tavern provided a needed service: a place of shared camaraderie for many, yes, but a place of escape for others. She was well-known to all the locals and to the regulars from the nearby villages, and she enjoyed interacting with them every evening, trading news, stories, and jokes. All in all, it was a good place to work.

But on nights like this when they were descended upon by Russian soldiers ... well, the job could become a bit tiresome. Arrogant bastards, every one of them. She and Svetlana had tried for years to figure out the rotation schedule at the barracks but they'd never obtained any useful information. So the soldiers just descended on Sulina at seemingly random intervals, generally making a nuisance of themselves as they sought the pleasures they had been denied for their many months of duty: vodka and women.

Olivia took another drag on her cigarette. It was only 8 pm, but some of the soldiers had already swallowed enough vodka that the ass-grabbing and lurid solicitations had begun. She was a good-looking woman, with dark eyes and olive skin that bespoke her gypsy heritage from two generations back. The fierce independence of that hardy, nomadic race also coursed through her veins. She despised the arrogant behaviour of the Russian soldiers who invaded her tavern whenever they liked, and who treated her countrymen like possessions to be toyed with.

It was that fierce independence that got her through nights like these. She refused to fall prey to the fear that plagued many of her countrymen and staunchly refused the advances of the alcohol-soaked soldiers that descended upon the Gradina like locusts. Svetlana found it more difficult and was usually exhausted at the end of such evenings. Once the crowd thinned an hour or two before midnight, Olivia often told her just to go home. She could handle a pile of drunken Russians on her own.

Of course, one did have to accept reality, and not push them too far. She had no illusions about exactly how few rights her people had, in practice, and how easily one could end up in serious trouble. She had indeed stepped over the line a few times, and had learned the hard way that the Russians had few qualms about taking an insolent peasant from the provinces 'out back' to teach her a lesson in respect. It had happened twice, and it was an experience she did not care to repeat. But she refused to give in to fear and let them treat her like a possession that was simply there for their convenience.

Olivia took one last drag from her cigarette, then stubbed it out in the sand-filled cannister next to the door. Back into the fray.

Nine pm and the tavern was still busy. At least they'd managed to rid themselves of one group of enlisted men: they'd bought a couple of bottles of cheap vodka for the road and had left in search of the red-light district several streets away. The enlisted men were usually the worst and she was glad to be rid of some of them, at least. But this evening, they had a table of officers who were uncharacteristically annoying her more than the rest. A Major, a Captain, and three Lieutenants. Naturally, they had taken the best table, the one closest to the roaring fireplace. She recognized one of the Lieutenants from a previous visit (Alexei something) and he had passed her name along to his colleagues. Irritating though this was, her particular source of annoyance was the Captain. Despite having consumed one of the hearty meals prepared by Eno and Sorin, the fine Stolichnaya vodka the man had been consuming for the past two hours seemed to have gone straight to his brain and had rapidly turned him into a grasping octopus.

When Olivia passed by their table to clear away the dessert dishes, he slapped his hand on her hip.

"My dark-eyed Olivia," he said, as his comrades looked on with amusement, "you have gypsy blood in you, don't you?"

Better than the shit that fills your veins, you bastard. She tried to keep a rein on her temper, but it was hard. "Yes, Kapitan, I do indeed. And you? Your dark hair reminds me of the southern republics. Uzbekistan?"

Olivia knew she was walking very close to the line with that remark; it was very nearly an outright insult. But her gypsy blood boiled easily and often made her speak before thinking, especially when the opportunity presented itself to put an arrogant asshole such as this in his place.

To her surprise (and relief as well, though she wouldn't care to admit it) the Captain laughed. "So the hot blood of the gypsies is not a fairy tale. Milaya, want to show me some more of that hot blood? We Russians have a few tricks as well, you won't be disappointed." His comrades laughed.

Olivia favored the Captain with a searing glance and left the table, carrying an armload of empty plates. Fucking bastard.

He shouted after her, "And bring us another bottle, milaya!" His cronies erupted in laughter again, and Olivia wanted nothing more than to ram exactly such an object down his throat.

She made a point of attending to her other tables first, delaying their order. But finally she returned with another bottle of Stoli. This time, the Captain seemed unwillling to confine himself to purely verbal advances. As she opened the bottle and refilled their glasses, he put his hand on her hip once more. And when she was done, he pulled her onto his lap.

"Olivia, ti takaya krasivaya, you are so beautiful. Come here, my little gypsy." He held her against him with his arm around her waist and pressed his mouth to her neck. His comrades laughed, focused on this diverting little drama. "Ti takaya milaya", he said as he ran his tongue along her skin.

That was it. No matter the consequences, she would not put up with this shit. With arms strengthened by years of manual labor, she rammed her elbow into his ribs and took advantage of his momentary confusion to push herself away from him.

Olivia whirled on the astonished Captain, rage flashing in her eyes. "Kapitan, you disgrace your rank and the uniform you wear."

The Captain's face turned a deep shade of red at the insult and he rose from his seat, ready to teach this insolent peasant a lesson. Olivia stood firm. You want to see me cower in fear, don't you? Do your worst, you asshole.

As the Captain raised his hand to strike her, a sudden motion interrupted his intent. He turned at the sound of chair legs scraping sharply across the floor and looked toward the source of the noise. The Major across the table from him had risen abruptly from his seat and was now standing at attention, looking at someone who had apparently appeared right behind him.

A cold, alto voice spoke from behind the Captain's shoulder.

"I agree."

The Major's voice was strained as he offered a greeting, "Major Romanova, what an unexpected pleasure." The Lieutenants beside him quickly realized the situation and rose to attention as well. Confusion and growing fear evident on his face, the Captain tried to follow suit, turning to greet the new arrival.

Olivia turned as well.

And there before her was the most magnificent woman she had ever seen. Tall, straight-backed, perfect features. But most striking of all was the air of absolute confidence that radiated from her like a tangible thing. The woman's blonde hair fell to just below her shoulders and the expression in her blue eyes was as cold as the Siberian wastelands.

She addressed the Captain again, her voice as clear as a mountain glacier: "Sit down, Kapitan, before you make a greater fool of yourself than you already have."

Who the hell is this? Olivia quickly scanned the woman's clothing for clues. Long overcoat without markings ... clearly a uniform beneath it, but any rank or unit insignia were concealed by the coat. She observed the response of the officers to this new arrival. Fear, clear as day. She could practically smell it.

Olivia's first conclusion was the obvious one: KGB. No one sparked fear into the hearts of others as much as the members of that particular organization. But, no, not quite right: the KGB did not wear uniforms, and they did not carry military ranks. Major Romanova. She was of the same rank as her colleague across the table ... why did he display such trepidation at her appearance?

Olivia continued to observe closely as the new arrival shed her overcoat and headed for the empty seat at the head of the table. The ingrained years of experience as a tavern hostess overcame her curiosity, and she quickly approached her new customer, offering to take her coat. The Major handed it to her with only a brief glance. Before she sat down, the woman extended a hand to the ranking officer across the table. "Major Ivanilov, it is a pleasure to see you again."

The others sat down only after she had done so. Olivia carried the overcoat to the front hallway, using the brief pause to try and distill her impressions of their unusual new visitor.

After the woman had handed over her coat, Olivia had spotted the markings on the uniform jacket beneath. The rank insignia of an army major were clear: her collar bore the distinctive yellow and red bands emblazoned with a single star in white. But she carried no unit patch on her shoulder. Army, Navy, Airforce ... all had come through her tavern over the years and she was quite familiar with their various "badges of honor". But she had never seen an individual bearing rank flashings on her collar but no other indication of her affiliation. Well, more than that, she'd never seen a woman in uniform at all. Olivia's anger toward the obnoxious Captain evaporated in the face of the presenting mystery. Not KGB, with markings like that ... but then who is she?

Olivia returned to the officers' table and found the two Majors engaged in conversation about the state of affairs back home in Moscow. The junior officers kept silent during this exchange, focusing their attention on their shot glasses. To Olivia's surprise, she noted that Romanova was not the one providing the news but asking the questions. So she's been out of touch for a while. Where? Returning again to her duties as hostess, Olivia approached the blonde woman's chair and waited for a pause in the conversation.

"Major, the kitchen is still open, would you care for some dinner?"

The blonde officer turned her attention from her colleague to the hostess at her side. When the clear blue eyes met her own, Olivia was astonished at the effect. Those eyes ... so clear. The blue of a winter sky. And never wavering, not once. They seemed to look through her, focusing on something inside her that she herself could not see.

"Yes, thank you. I have heard of the fine meals offered by the Gradina, and have not yet eaten."

Olivia described the three main dishes available this evening: a blend of beef tips and vegetables, a seafood stew, and a traditional pork dish local to the area. Though she had recited the descriptions a thousand times in the past she nearly stumbled on the words. She could not tear her gaze from those blue eyes and it was proving very distracting indeed.

Not really knowing how much time had passed, she heard the Major make her selection. Another surprise: she chose the pork dish. Typically the words 'traditional' or 'local' attached to anything outside the Motherland was enough to discourage the interest of their Russian visitors. Olivia gathered her wits about her with effort and headed for the kitchen to give Eno the order. As she did so, her mind was occupied by a single thought: Who is she?

As usual on a Friday night, the tavern remained filled until well past 11. Olivia and Svetlana were kept busy, trying to divide their attention equally amongst all their customers and keep everyone happy. But as the hours advanced, the happiness of their customers became progressively easier to maintain, consisting mainly of keeping their glasses filled with the liquor of their choice.

Though most were as drunk as owls when the old clock on the wall chimed 11, even the Russians seemed to be on their best behaviour tonight. Olivia was pretty certain what was responsible for this minor miracle: the appearance of the mysterious Major Romanova. Besides the officers' table near the fire, three other tables in the tavern were occupied by enlisted men. Their conversation was uncharacteristically subdued for a Friday night and Olivia couldn't miss the many surreptitious glances they directed toward the statuesque blonde Major. At first she thought it was just wishful lust: the woman was magnificently beautiful by any standard. But no, there was something else going on here. Having spent much of her life tending bar, she was a good judge of human character and behaviour. She didn't know why yet, but she was sure of one thing: they were afraid of her. Again, KGB was the obvious conclusion, but it didn't fit the facts.

As Olivia served the various tables in her tavern, keeping her uncharacteristically polite customers plied with good liquor, she not only noted their frequent glances to the blonde Major but found herself engaging in the same activity. It was hard to keep from looking at her. Major Romanova radiated something ... it was more than poise and grace, it was an aura of some sort. One could almost feel it. As the night wore on Olivia simply gave up trying to fight the impulse and glanced toward the statuesque woman whenever she could spare the attention. As she washed empty glasses or updated the running tabs behind the bar, her eyes drifted again and again toward her unusual customer. It was clear that the other officers at her table deferred to her. It was obvious both from a distance, and from the snippets of conversation she overheard when she came to their table to refill glasses or retrieve empty dishes.

Only once did Olivia have a chance to interact with the mysterious woman at all. When she arrived at the officers' table to collect Major Romanova's empty dinner plates and offer a selection of desserts, she waited patiently behind the woman's shoulder. When a pause presented itself in the conversation, Olivia reached for the empty dishes and asked the Major if she was interested in one of the desserts that came with the meal.

Romanova turned her attention, and again Olivia was transfixed by the unwavering blue eyes that held her own. They possessed some power that she could not identify, part confidence and certainty, part intuition ... Whatever it was, she found herself most-uncharacteristically speechless.

"What do you have to offer, doamna?"

The use of the Romanian honorific was another surprise. Struggling to regain her composure, unable to look away from the penetrating blue eyes, Olivia managed to describe the evening's offerings.

The Major did not decide immediately. Instead, she held the dark eyes for a few moments, for longer than was appropriate. Then her gaze drifted casually over the woman in front of her, observing with careless leisure. Her eyes were an enigmatic blend of arrogance and intent: appreciation, curiosity, evaluation ...

Olivia was transfixed by the blatant scrutiny. It was something she would typically find insulting, but not this time. Standing within a meter of the enigmatic Major, she felt a magnetic pull toward the nameless force that held her in its regard. She couldn't help engage in some scrutiny of her own: the perfect bone structure, the soft blonde hair that longed to be touched, the straight back, the athletic physique beneath the tailored uniform.

The Major made her dessert selection at last. Olivia broke the eye contact with effort, and retreated to the kitchen.

Shortly after 11, Olivia called Svetlana over. "Go on home, Svetlana. Things are quiet tonight, I can handle it from here."

Svetlana smiled in relief. She pressed a quick kiss to her employer's cheek and said good night: "Noapte buna, Olivia."

A few minutes later, Olivia's uncle wandered to the bar to announce his departure as well. "Olivia, I'm going to take these old bones to bed. We have one new guest for tonight: Major Romanova reserved a room. I gave her the nice one on the second floor, with the view of the garden. She paid in advance and the key is on the desk." Her uncle smiled as he glanced over at their blonde visitor. "She's quite something, eh draga. If only all Russians were so good looking, and polite too." He chuckled. "And if only I were thirty years younger."

Olivia shook her head fondly and kissed her uncle good night. "Sleep well, you old goat."

Major Alexandra Romanova watched impassively as her colleagues sank further and further into their individual wells of inebriation, becoming more forthcoming and less coherent with each passing minute. By midnight, only she and Major Ivanilov were left. The unfortunate Captain had passed out with his head on the table an hour ago. The three Lieutenants had fared a bit better, and she'd been amused to see one of them actually make a vague attempt at a come-on. But at 11:30, they'd called it quits, carrying their unfortunate Captain between them.

Though maintaining a steady conversation with Ivanilov, her attention, as always, remained in wide-angle. She had been trained for this career since her aptitude had been spotted at a young age. The combination of talent and years of dedicated training was a potent one: her capacity for observation was unmatched, and backed up by a prodigious memory. While she heard every word Ivanilov was saying and participated easily in the conversation, at the same time she was aware of the conversations at the nearby tables ... of the quiet old men in the far corner smoking their pipes ... of the drooping eyelids of young Lt. Akushevich, trying hard to keep up with his comrades.

Most especially, she was very aware indeed of the movements and behaviour of the Romanian woman with the smoldering dark eyes who served their table. She had heard the woman's name spoken by local patrons: "Olivia". The gypsy heritage was obvious, both in her features and in the ferocity with which she had met the Captain's unwelcome attentions.

But equally obvious was the intense attention that Olivia had bestowed on her all evening long, though she had tried to conceal it. Alexandra had no need to shift her gaze: everything in her peripheral vision was perceived and recorded. She saw exactly how often Olivia's eyes fixed on her, all evening long. And they fixed on her with an intensity that burned, burned with ... something, some emotion. Once, Alex couldn't resist catching her in the act. After taking another sip from her glass of vodka, she looked pointedly toward the bar and caught Olivia staring right back at her. They held each other's gaze for a bit longer than was comfortable. Alex took the opportunity to try and decipher the other woman's intent. But the dark eyes were difficult to read.

It could be one of two things.

The troublesome of the two possibilities was that she had been recognized, and it was a possibility that she couldn't ignore.

Alexandra Romanova's anonymous uniform, bearing only rank insignia and nothing else, was the characteristic garb of the GRU: Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravlenie, the intelligence branch of the Russian Military. While the infamous KGB kept a close watch on the citizenry of the Soviet Republics, the GRU was a much more shadowed organization whose focus was mostly outward, and strategic in its intent. Its primary effort was foreign intelligence and it was in that very area that Alex had been trained since her youth. For many years her missions had been entirely in the Balkans, where growing resentment of Soviet influence had led to a recent surge in the number and size of underground movements. She spoke most of the major Balkan languages fluently and without accent. Only one week ago, she had completed her most recent mission, a long-term infiltration of an anti-Soviet cell in Bucharest. She had been in deep cover for almost 18 months. Her last objective had been completed one week ago, and as planned, she had made her way to the backwater barracks in Tulcea to debrief.

The GRU had two other branches. One was internal policing of the armed forces, much like American MPs, or the Internal Affairs divisions of American police departments. Consequently the very acronym struck fear into the heart of regular military personnel. Though Alex had no connection to that side of the GRU she had found the effect very helpful on many occasions: even officers well above her in rank would trip over themselves trying to keep her happy.

The other branch was Spetsnaz GRU, the Special Forces arm, generally considered the elite black-ops unit of the Soviet Military. Their hand-to-hand training and tactics were legendary. Alex had worked with their instructors for years, learning skills which had been of vital importance in many of her missions. Like this most recent one. The coded message she had transmitted to her control last Friday had confirmed the completion of her three objectives: three targets identified, and eliminated.

She was now taking the 'long road' back to Moscow, travelling through small towns to keep out of sight. But her leisurely route along the Black Sea coast was not a vacation generously granted by grateful superiors. Again she was under orders: to return to Moscow through the Ukraine, spending a few days in various towns along the way to gauge the climate of the local population.

It was a mild assignment, about as close to a paid vacation as she could hope for. Her fluent Ukrainian and statuesque good-looks would made it easy to gain the confidence of the locals wherever she went. But she was still in Romania and the cell she had infiltrated had a large support base. To accomplish her objective of identifying the group's closely-guarded leadership and eliminating them, she had become a well-known figure among their membership. Her appearance was distinctive, and while she remained within Romanian borders there was always the chance that a sympathizer might recognize her.

So while one part of her brain tracked her conversation with Ivanilov, another part kept track of Olivia's movements and disproportionate interest in her. She watched particularly for any hint that the woman had telephoned someone, calling in supporters to plan an ambush. But Olivia's only disappearances from her sight had been into the kitchen ... understandable, but not necessarily benign. All she could do for now was watch, and remain alert.

Yes, Olivia could be a problem. But there was another possible explanation for her attentiveness. Alex smiled to herself as she took another sip of the excellent vodka in her glass.

When the old clock on the wall chimed 1 am, Alex and Ivanilov were the only ones left in the establishment. Alex could see that her companion was fading rapidly. And too proud to quit before I do. In a rare burst of compassion, she rose from her chair.

"Major, I have had a long day. My apologies, but my stamina isn't what it used to be."

Ivanilov's sigh of relief was almost visible. Rising, he extended his hand and she shook it.

"Major Romanova, are you returning to the barracks? I have a car, I'd be pleased to drive you back."

"Thank you, Yuri, but no. I've reserved a room here tonight and will be moving on tomorrow."

"Then my best wishes to you for a pleasant and uneventful journey."

"Thank you, Major, and to you as well."

Olivia was washing glasses behind the bar as she watched the two Majors shake hands, then saw Ivanilov head for the door. She's staying here. Suddenly finding herself alone with the mysterious Romanova, Olivia felt an unexpected nervousness overcome her. As she heard the clicks of the Major's bootheels approaching, she focused on her mundane task.

The boot clicks stopped when they reached the other side of the bar. Olivia put down the glass she was drying and tried hard to steady the absurd shaking of her hand. Get a grip, woman. Just another bloody Russian. Get rid of her so you can get some sleep.

Olivia dropped the towel to the counter top and looked up. Although she hated herself for it, her breath stopped. Only a meter away now. Perfect features, blonde hair so soft that one yearned to touch it, and eyes that looked back at you with an unwavering level of arrogance that was just right: any more would be vulgar, any less would diminish the magnificence of this creation.

Swallowing hard, Olivia tried to find her voice. "Major, my uncle told me you reserved a room with us for tonight. Let me get you your key, as well as some extra blankets. The night becomes quite cold at this time of year. Please follow me."

Olivia couldn't hold the woman's gaze any longer and dropped her eyes. What's happening to me ... Olivia, you're a grown woman, snap out of it. Trying to regain her composure while keeping her eyes to the ground, she left the confines of the bar and headed for the front hallway of the inn. The measured tread of bootheels followed behind her.

Reaching the small registration desk in the foyer, Oliva saw that her uncle had left the key in plain sight, next to a small note with the Major's name written in his simple but distinctive hand. Thanking him silently for his efficiency, she grabbed the key and headed for the carpeted staircase. Still unable to look at her guest, she said needlessly, "Your room is on the second floor."

Olivia stopped at the first-floor landing and opened a narrow linen cabinet. She retrieved two folded blankets, then continued upwards. The Major's footsteps were muted now but she could still hear them behind her.

Room 202 was immediately to the left of the second floor landing. Balancing the blankets on her arm, she put the key to the lock. She railed in silent fury at her right hand, whose slight tremor betrayed her incomprehensible nervousness. Opening the door at last, she entered the small but tastefully appointed room. The bed was against the far wall, next to a small window, and she headed for it. Depositing the extra blankets at the foot of the bed, she reached for the lamp on the nightstand. As she turned it on, she heard the door close behind her. She was certain it was her imagination but she thought she also heard the dead-bolt click into place.

Time to leave. Her duty done, Olivia was about to turn back toward the door ... but before she could move, her left wrist was grabbed from behind and twisted up behind her back. At the same time, the click of a switchblade snapped in the silence and a knifepoint was pressed against her throat.

Shocked into numbness, Olivia went still. She couldn't move: she was pinned, between the deadly knife at her throat and the violent angle of her arm. Not understanding what was happening, she tried to breathe, then to swallow.

Alex waited for a few moments, letting her victim absorb her situation. Then she brought her mouth very close to Olivia's right ear and spoke quietly.

"Doamna, I am not fond of being watched."

Olivia tried again to swallow, to quell the cacophony of fear.

"You've been watching me all night, doamna. Why?"

Olivia's first response was pure, panicked inanity. "I ... I haven't, I haven't been watching you."

Alex twisted Olivia's left wrist just enough that pain shot all the way to her shoulder. Olivia bit her lip to keep from crying out.

Alex's voice next to her ear was very soft. "If you lie to me again, you will be very, very sorry." She held the woman's wrist a moment longer in its painful position, then lessened the pressure. Olivia gasped at the release from pain but still couldn't move, trapped between the knifepoint and the threat of a dislocated shoulder.

"Let's try this again, shall we? Who told you to look for me?"

"No one, Major, no one," Olivia stammered. "I swear it. I ... I don't know what you mean."

That had the ring of truth. Alex's long training and years of experience in the field were more reliable than a polygraph and she trusted her instincts implicitly. But a few more tests were in order.

"Do you know Tibor Ionescu?"

"No! No, I don't know anyone by that name, I swear it!"

Truth again. Tibor Ionescu was her second target in Bucharest, killed in an apparent traffic accident late at night four months ago.

"Do you know Vadim Stoica?" Target number one, and the best known of the three.

"No, Major, no ... please ..."

"Do you know Ivan Ducaru?" Alex resurrected a name that she had overheard during her observations in the tavern.

"No ... yes! Yes, I know him. He's a carpenter, here in the village. He has a wife and family. Major, whatever you believe he's done, it's not true. He's just a carpenter."

Alex smiled. "Good girl." She pressed the knifepoint a little deeper for emphasis. "Now let's return to the original question: why were you watching me, Olivia?"

Olivia swallowed hard. She squeezed her eyes shut, not knowing the answer to the question herself ... or not daring to admit it. But she knew this woman would sense a lie the instant it left her lips. So she told the truth as best she knew it.

"I ... I don't know."

"That's not good enough, Olivia." Very slowly, Alex released the pressure of the knifepoint from Olivia's neck, then moved it lightly across her throat and down the open V in her blouse. When the blade reached the top button, it took only the slightest pressure for the razor-sharp edge to shear the threads that held it in place. The knifepoint trailed down another few centimeters, ever so slowly, and a second button was gone. And then a third.

Her eyes still closed, Olivia's breathing became ragged as she felt the blade push the freed pieces of the garment to either side. She felt the chill air against her bare breasts, responding to it like a touch. She felt Alex's breath in her ear and heard her low question: "Now do you know?"

Leaving the knifepoint resting lightly against bare skin, Alex dropped her mouth to the Romanian woman's neck, running her tongue lightly against the pulse point. Olivia leaned her head back against Alex's shoulder, breathing hard, her senses awash with pleasure inflamed by danger, knowing she was lost to a longing that had been building all night.

Alex returned her mouth to Olivia's ear, this time taking the earlobe lightly between her lips before she spoke again. "Now do you know?"

"Yes," Olivia gasped.

"Do you want me to stop?"

"No ... no ..."

Alex smiled. She never conquered by force. She found the concept ... inelegant. No, it was much more satisfying, and effective, to simply turn her opponent's desires and weaknesses to her own advantage.

"What do you want, Olivia?" Alex took the earlobe again between her lips, biting down softly. Running her tongue along the sensitive edge of the woman's ear, she asked again, "What do you want?"

Olivia breathed hard as desire flashed through her blood like fire. The hated Russian enemy held her captive, at knifepoint, yet she had never wanted anything so much in her life. Still unable to answer, she felt the Russian woman's grasp on her wrist tighten, and begin to twist, forcing the joints of her left arm again toward an impossible angle.

"No, please ... I ... " Olivia swallowed hard, trying to overcome the growing pain, and pleasure, and the deluge of emotions ... trying to force the words of submission past her lips.

"Don't lie to me, Olivia." Alex's attentions dropped to her neck once more. As she caressed the sensitive skin with her lips, she twisted the captured wrist another degree.

Olivia gasped aloud at the pain. "Please ... I want ... " Swallowing her pride in the wake of the losing battle the desperate plea came out in a rush. "I want you to take me ... Major, please ... take me." Olivia gasped again, trapped between pleasure and pain as Alex's tongue moved against her.

Alex relaxed the tension on the captured arm. Olivia sank back against her in momentary relief, awash in the dual sensations of the release from agony and the wet heat against her neck. Focused on the touch of Alex's exploring mouth, she didn't notice the removal of the knifepoint from her skin ... didn't realize what was happening until Alex's hand had unfastened her skirt from behind and she felt it drop to the floor.

The hand that had previously held the knife reappeared, this time pressed against her abdomen. Olivia's body clenched at the touch, desparate for more yet afraid to seek it. Alex's voice was in her ear again, low and filled with both threat and promise. "And how do I know you're telling the truth, Olivia? Should I take your word for it?" Alex's hand slipped beneath the edge of Olivia's underwear and began a rhythmic exploration, pushing lower with every pulse. Olivia was beyond thought and simply responded, the motion of her hips matching Alex's rhythm, transmitting her desire more clearly than words could ever manage.

Alex's fingers soon reached the wetness they sought, and wetness they found. Olivia was still constrained by the arm trapped behind her back. Only the motion of her hips could speak for her, pressing for more contact. Pleased, Alex watched in satisfaction as Olivia gave in to her body's cravings, trying to work herself harder against her hand. But the hand remained frustratingly remote, the touch too light. She let Olivia continue her futile efforts a while longer, waiting for the begging to begin. It didn't take long.

Olivia was near the edge, every sense aflame, the touch she craved right where she needed it at last ... but too light, not enough pressure. Her body ached with need ... yet the magnificent touch seemed to back off further the harder she tried to press against it. Three more ineffective thrusts, four, five, and she couldn't take it anymore. Her voice broke as she begged her captor for release. "Please, Major, I'll do anything ... please, tell me what you want, please, I'll do anything ..."

Beautiful. Alexandra Romanova was a predator born and bred, and there was nothing that inflamed her blood as much as conquest. This was what conquest was all about: someone bent to her will, offering their heart and soul to her willingly ... no, begging and pleading for her to take it.

"You will do anything, won't you?" Alex released Olivia's arm at last and shifted her left hand to the woman's throat, pulling her captive back against her body. Only two buttons remained intact on Olivia's blouse. They would yield easily to the slightest application of force, but that was not the kind of force that Alex was interested in.

"Strip, woman. I want to see you."

The quiet words were a command. Olivia undid the last two buttons holding her clothing together. The hand around her throat was not tight but it was unyielding, a restraint of gentle steel. She worked her shoes off with her toes. She pushed her underwear down from her hips until it dropped to the floor, and stepped out of it. Before she could try to rid herself of the blouse, the Major did it for her, grasping the back of the garment's neck and pulling it downwards, off her body. The air caressed her exposed flesh with a light touch and she could feel the press of the Major's uniform against her back. The only garments remaining were her stockings, inexpensive ones which extended only to her knees. Immobilized by the iron hand against her throat, she brought her right foot to the edge of the bed and tried to reach the edge of the stocking, trying to comply with her captor's orders. Alex relaxed her hold slightly, permitting Olivia to continue.

Once the stocking was removed, Alex spoke, "Give it to me." Handing the object to her captor, Olivia repeated the exercise with the left one. Now she was naked, doubly powerless, and in the fierce grip of a woman that she knew could and would kill her at the slightest provocation.

The knife was back. Olivia felt the blade touch her again, scraping ever so lightly across her hip, inflaming the sensitive skin around it. Olivia's breath was ragged, trapped in the purgatory of her body's demands. The knifepoint drifted slowly upward, tracing lightly across her belly, approaching her breasts.

The low voice was in her ear again. "You want me to touch you, don't you Olivia?"


"You've been thinking about it all night, haven't you?"

"Yes," she breathed. Pride was long forgotten in the wake of a greater urgency.

"You want more, don't you?"


"Careful, woman. You address me by my rank, and nothing else. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Major."

Alex had noted the design of the bed's headboard: an old one, with vertical iron bars. It would suit perfectly.

"Then lie down, Olivia, and we'll see how well you continue to follow orders."

Olivia felt the hand around her throat let go. She did as she was told, as it was the only route to release. She lay down on the bed, on her back. Her legs bent, open, pleading without words, she looked up with burning eyes at the woman who held her in willing submission. Alex looked back, the knife still in her hand, her gaze wandering with flagrant possession over the body before her.

An ironic smile on her lips, Alex placed the knife on the bedside table with exaggerated care, then mounted the bed, straddling the hips of her newest conquest.

Blue eyes held dark ones in an unflinching gaze. "Grip the bars, doamna." The blue eyes saw the simultaneous flash of desire and trepidation in the face beneath her, and just waited. Alex's eyes never wavered as she indicated the bedside table with a brief tilt of her head, referring mutely to the razor-sharp knife it held. "Is that what you want, Olivia? It's there, within your reach. If you want it badly enough you can get to it before I do."

Alex watched the dark eyes, letting her own arousal build as she observed the losing battle play itself out. The inevitable conclusion took little time: though holding her gaze, the woman beneath her gave in, raising her arms slowly to grip the bars behind her.

Alex smiled. "Good girl. Now be still and you will be rewarded."

Pulling one of the discarded stockings from the pocket of her uniform jacket Alex leant forward and tied Olivia's left wrist securely to the railing. She purposely started with the wrist furthest from the bedside table, finding a thrill, as always, in walking the thin edge of danger. But Olivia's other hand never strayed, and it was soon secured as well.

Sitting back, Alex surveyed the bound woman beneath her. Beautiful. Dark, gypsy eyes looked up at her with an intoxicating mixture of submission, challenge, desire. The full breasts were at her disposal, impossible to resist. Alex grabbed one with her right hand and squeezed, her grip pulsing rhythmically. Olivia closed her eyes and arched her back, pressing for more contact.

"There are many of your countrymen who want me dead, Olivia. Are you not one of them? You had your chance, Gypsy. Are you so fond of Mother Russia that you would pass it up so easily?" Like a cat playing with its prey, Alex smiled as she watched the aching, reaching body beneath her subside, tormented by its own uncertainty.

"Not so certain anymore, Olivia? Do you want your chance back?"

Alex reached for the bedside table, grasping the open switchblade in her left hand. "Look at me, Olivia."

No response. Good. Still fighting. Alex passed the knife to her right hand, then pressed the thumb and index finger of her left hand against one of the taut nipples beneath her. She squeezed, hard. Olivia clenched her teeth against the pain, her head twisted away from her captor, wrists straining against their bonds.

"Yes, that's it. Fight, Gypsy, fight me. How long do you think you can hold out? We have all night, Olivia. You've begged me already and you'll do so again. How long do you think you can last?"

Alex released her grip and moved her body off Olivia's. She propped herself on her left elbow, to watch the show. "Open your eyes, Gypsy. We both know what you want. How long are you going to fight it?" Her hand still holding the knife, Alex trailed the back of her fingers lightly against the skin below her, drifting lower, teasing mercilessly. She saw the muscles clench in response, heard the gasp of breath, saw the involuntary motion of her victim's hips as they ignored the fleeting will of their owner.

"Open your eyes, Olivia. Give in to it. Look at me."

Alex watched with pleasure as Olivia tried to fight her need, and failed. The dark eyes opened, fixing at once on the blue eyes that held them captive. "Good, woman, good." Alex brought her hand off Olivia's body and held it before her eyes. The 15 cm blade glinted in the dim light of the bedside lamp. With a practiced hand, Alex pressed the catch on the switchblade and closed the knife, its securing click sounding loud in the surrounding quiet. Its threat gone for the moment, she lowered it, lowering her hand to the open space between Olivia's legs. She pressed the butt end of the closed knife against the opening that pleaded for contact, verifying how wet and ready the woman was.

"This is what you want, isn't it? I'm going to fuck you, woman, but only if you beg for it."

Alex waited, sliding the knife handle with unbearable lightness through the wetness between Olivia's legs ... teasing, promising ... waiting and watching.

"Beg for it, Gypsy."

Olivia was trapped in the strong blue eyes that held her captive while the soft blonde hair and the hated uniform inflamed a fever of inner conflict. But her body moved in spite of her meager will, and she knew she was lost.

"Do it, fuck me, please ... I'm begging you, fuck me ..."

Eyes narrowing with pleasure at the desperate profanity, the Russian woman thrust the knife handle deep inside her. Olivia cried out in relief and pressed her hips against the invasion, trying to pull the object deeper within her. And then the ancient rhythm began, both of them working toward a primal goal beyond thought. Alex was entranced, her own arousal growing as she saw the abandon with which the woman responded and it inflamed her senses.

Olivia was indeed beyond thought, feeling nothing but the thrusting between her legs, lost to all thought but the sensation of the deadly weapon moving inside her, in the hands of an enemy she despised. All that mattered were the growing embers it provoked. She thrust her hips, pushing against the pressure provided, trying to stoke the flame her body craved. Timeless minutes passed ... but it wasn't happening, she needed more. She gasped her request: "Harder, I need more ... please, god, harder ..."

Foolish, foolish girl.

Alex stopped her hand at once. She listened with sharp delight to the broken pleas from the woman she held in thrall. Olivia begged, her voice desperate, "No, no, please ... please don't stop." Olivia gasped in need, "Please ... what do you want ..."

Alex made her wait, watching from a calm distance until the begging collapsed into broken sobs of need.

Bringing her mouth against Olivia's ear, she spoke. "You are not in control here, Olivia. Do you understand that? You demand anything from me again and I will leave you here: naked, bound, and begging for a release that will never happen. Is that what you want, Olivia?"

"Forgive me, Major ... please, forgive me ..."

"Olivia, look at me". Alex backed off, and the Romanian woman's eyes met hers almost immediately. Alex dropped the knife from her hand, letting it fall to the mattress between Olivia' legs. She brought her fingers to the wetness awaiting her. With unbearable slowness, she ran two fingers between the offered folds, carefully avoiding the places that craved them most. Olivia's eyes drifted closed once more, concentrating on the renewed sensation between her legs.

"You have lied to me once, and you have disobeyed me once. If you do either again ... look at me." Olivia's eyes returned to the cold blue of the arctic north. "If you do it again, I will enjoy the next many hours very much. If you do it again, I will bring you to the edge of release more times than you can count, Olivia, and I will pull you back every time. Hour after hour. Do you think you can stand that, Olivia?"

Olivia sank, lost, into the icy blue that held her captive. Lost, desperate, drowning with need ... "No, Major." She was drowning ... "Tell me what you want, Major."

Alex smiled, and her hand continued to move. Lowering her mouth to her captive's ear, she spoke: "Submit, Gypsy, submit to me. Give yourself up. Give yourself to me, leave nothing behind."

Olivia closed her eyes once more and sank into pure sensation, releasing her will to that of the woman touching her. She could not demand, she could not ask ... she could only wait, and feel. Her awareness focused to a point, to the feel of Alexandra Romanova's hand moving against her. She accepted the unbearable slowness of her caress, accepting it, enjoying it ... no longer anticipating where it might lead but accepting the pleasure she was being given, at this moment.

Alex saw what she had been waiting for: Submission. And as promised, it would be rewarded. She pressed two fingers into her captive, and the woman beneath her responded. So passionate, so responsive ... Olivia pressed against her, at a matching pace. Alex stroked her slowly. She watched with narrowed eyes as her captive took was was given to her. No longer demanding, just meeting the pace that was set, taking what was offered.

Alex's voice was a whisper now, stroking Olivia's senses at the same languid pace as the hand inside her. "That's it. Let it go. Just take what I give you." The rhythm of her hand held steady at its measured pace. "Don't want, don't ask, just feel, Olivia ... just feel me inside you." Alex was now the one enthralled, watching the body she controlled responding to her so perfectly. Timeless minutes, on and on, pure sensation.

And eventually, a slight change. Alex shifted her arm so that the heel of her hand now pressed against Olivia's sensitive bud of nerves with each thrust. Slowly the pressure of each pulse grew, transporting her subject back from the soft tides of pleasure to the growing rhythm of need. Now began the real test of control. Alex's voice was low in Olivia's ear: "Remember, Olivia, don't ask, don't want, just take what I give you." Riding the quiet words, Olivia pressed harder in response to the new pressure, matching what was provided, her breath in time with it. The need built again, ever more intense as the minutes passed and the thrusts of her captor rose in depth, and pressure.

"That's it, woman, let me build it for you. Let me have you, all of you. Give yourself to me, Olivia. Trust me, Olivia, trust me." As she whispered the words, Alex watched the growing pulse of Olivia's body like a hawk, evaulating just how far she could push this woman, how far she could prolong her pleasure without losing her ... how close she could stray near the edge and still maintain control. "That's it, match me but don't ask for more. Let me take you where you need to go." Two fingers became three, and the press against Olivia's clit continued to build with each thrust.

"Good girl, good girl. Now one chance: tell me what you need to come. Tell me. I want you to come with me inside you ... tell me what you need, Olivia."

Olivia gasped at the question, the offered words. "Major, I need to ..."

"Good, tell me what you need. I want you to come for me. What do you need, Olivia?"

"I need ... " Before Olivia could get the words out, her body responded for her, pressing her thighs together against Alex's invading arm, flexing pelvic muscles that she knew from experience would bring her relief.

"Good girl, do what you need to ... come on, Gypsy, come on ... I want to see you come for me." Still supported on her left arm, she watched the woman beneath her work herself hard against her arm, driving her body toward its goal. And at last, the cries began, the cries of pleasure torn from Olivia's throat as the fire began at last between her legs. Pulling hard on the restraints holding her wrists in place, bucking her hips against the source of pleasure, her cries intensifying with the thrusts of Alex's strong arm ... and at last she came, crying out in release. Her body relaxed as Alex felt the throbbing muscles of pleasure pulsing against her hand. Alex watched Olivia as she collapsed in satedness, her body covered with a thin sheen of sweat.

Drifting on a tidal wave of pleasure, her head averted, Olivia breathed, "Dulcea Dumnezeu," reverting from the Russian forced on her in school to her own language.

Alex's hand remained where it was, reassuring Olivia of her continued presence ... and also waiting, waiting for the next opportunity.

When the ragged breaths had slowed enough, Alex began again, slowly renewing the motion of her hand. Effortlessly switching languages, she spoke in Romanian in her captive's ear: "My passionate Gypsy, you need more, don't you. I want you again ... come for me again."

This time Alex brought her mouth to a full breast, sucking on it gently, in time with the measured rhythm of her hand. Though still recovering from her body's last wave of pleasure, Olivia gasped at the heat against her breast, felt her body responding again, and even more readily this time. Her wrists pulled hard against their bonds ... her hands strained to run their fingers through the blonde hair, to press the mouth that possessed her harder against her flesh. But she could not, and the sweet frustration inflamed her desire.

At length, Alex's mouth abandoned the breast that pressed against it and moved lower. She caressed the heated flesh of Olivia's flat abdomen, tracing with lips and tongue, listening with pleasure to the gasps of need provoked by her touch. She took her time, finding the most sensitive places and giving them special attention. Olivia's hips pushed against her, matching the achingly slow rhythm of her thrusting hand, lost to pure sensation.

Then abruptly, the hand was removed. Olivia bit her lip hard, to keep from pleading ... and Alex made her wait, watching, waiting.

Alex waited just long enough to test her captive's will, but not long enough for the growing wave of desire to abate. She was pleased. "Good, woman, good. You've earned your reward, my beautiful Gypsy." Alex shifted her body, pressing Olivia's bent legs apart and lowering herself between them. She opened the woman with her thumbs, waited another moment ... then ran her tongue deep inside.

The wave of pleasure and relief was overwhelming and Olivia's voice could not contain itself. "Oh sweet God," she cried, again in her own language. Alex didn't make her wait as long this time, building up the pace of her strokes more rapidly than before. Listening to Olivia's response with studied care, she waited for just the right moment to shift her mouth to the bud of nerves that craved her touch. It took very little time now. Wrists straining against their bonds, body straining against the sensations between her legs, hips bucking at an accelerating pace, Olivia came again, waves of pleasure washing through her, over and over again. Alex waited only a few seconds, then sucked on her again, provoking another powerful orgasm ... and finally a third, weaker this time as Olivia's body collapsed in exhaustion.

Alex raised herself and moved once again to Olivia's side. Propped up against one elbow, she watched with satisfaction as the sated woman enjoyed her release: her gaze averted, her eyes closed, her breathing deep and even. The dark hair was drenched in sweat. Alex idly pushed a strand aside as she marvelled at the pure beauty of this passionate woman, languishing in the fading throes of ecstasy. Rarely had she encountered someone so responsive, so able to abandon herself to the needs of her body and to Alex's skilled control. Magnificent. With flagrant possessiveness she watched the luxurious breasts, watched as the heaving of the lungs beneath them quieted and the nipples softened, released from need.

Olivia was utterly spent, her body treated to pleasure such as she had never experienced before. The waves of fire pulsing through her veins gradually quieted, and she sank back into the mattress, exhausted. Opening her eyes at last, she turned them to the breathtaking woman who had worked her body with such skill. Alex was watching her. The Major's expression was relaxed, contented. To her surprise, the Russian woman reached out a hand and softly pushed another strand of hair from her forehead.

Olivia held the blue eyes easily this time. A distant part of her mind marvelled at the emotions she felt ... they were tender ones, now, and directed at a woman wearing a uniform that she had despised her entire life.

They just looked at each other for a while. Then Olivia spoke, "Major, I ..."

"Shhh, quiet, Beautiful." Although Olivia had reverted to Russian, Alex continued to speak in Romanian. She ran the backs of her fingers along a soft cheek, still glistening with sweat. "Quiet, my dark Gypsy, just enjoy it."

Olivia did as she was told, for a while. She lost herself again in blue eyes, now turned soft, and in the gentling tides within her blood that beat themselves gradually into calm, like the tides of the Black Sea, wasting their energy away on the shores that contained them.

But Olivia's passionate blood would not be silenced forever. Her nature restored, she spoke with a sure voice and unwavering eyes, unconcerned any longer with the potential consequences of her bold words. "Major, release me. Let me touch you. You are so beautiful ..."

"You are so beautiful, Major ... let me touch you. Let me show you how a Gypsy can answer the passion of a Russian."

Alex smiled. She was tempted to seek a suitable punishment for the bold words, but a stronger temptation overcame her and she let it go. Still smiling, she rose slowly from the bed. And still holding Olivia's burning eyes, she shrugged the uniform jacket from her shoulders. Next came the shirt beneath ... and one by one, the rest of her garments found their way to the floor. She relished the appreciative gaze of her captive as her body was revealed.

Magnificent, thought Olivia, as she watched the graceful but powerful body revealed before her eyes. Free of her clothing at last, the Major returned to the bed, straddling her captive at the waist. The press of bare skin against bare skin inflamed them both. Alex reached behind her for the knife, left abanadoned on the mattress. Snapping open the deadly blade, she leaned forward and sliced through the bonds securing Olivia's wrists, careful to avoid her skin. She placed the open weapon on the nearby table with pointed care. Once again, its presence provided an enticing hint of danger, one which never failed to ignite a spark.

Freed from her restraints, Olivia rubbed her hands gently against her wrists, though the soft material of the now-ruined stockings had done no damage. Before her was perfection: the most beautiful woman she had ever seen, smiling with an arrogance that only enhanced her appeal and with a note of challenge that heated Olivia's blood. Olivia brought her freed hands to the hips presented to her, touching the forbidden territory with impunity. Though she could feel the toned muscles beneath her fingers, the skin was so very soft, so enticing. She just explored for a while, tracing her hands and eyes over the body that had possessed her thoughts all evening long.

Alex looked down at her with an expression bordering on amusement. "Now you have me in your hands, Gypsy ... what will you do with me?"

When Olivia looked back up, her eyes were as bold as Alex's, with a smile to match. "You Russians think you excel in all things, don't you? Well perhaps a peasant can still teach you a thing or two."

And with that, Olivia set to work in earnest.

Alex had no idea how much time had passed when she found herself flat on her back and breathing hard against the waves of pleasure that engulfed her, for the third time. Unbelievable, was all she could think. Their positions were reversed now, with Olivia proppped up at her side and looking down at the result of her efforts.

When Alex turned at last to meet the smoldering dark eyes, things had changed. As if a common message had been exchanged, Olivia brought her lips to those of the woman beneath her. Despite all they'd done that night, it was their first kiss. Tongues met each other immediately, exploring and caressing with the slow, patient passion of desire already sated. The long kiss and its tender touches bespoke an emotion, but one that neither of them wished to acknowledge. And there was no need, the kiss was enough.

Olivia pulled back at last, looking once more at the beautiful woman next to her. She traced her hand lazily over the smooth skin, enjoying the sensation. Her prior, detailed explorations of the Major had revealed not only beauty, but scars as well. One in particular had sparked her curiosity: an ugly, jagged scar that ran from Alex's hip to halfway across her abdomen.

"It is not often that a beautiful Russian officer graces my humble inn," she began. "And one of such mystery: wearing an Army Major's uniform, but with no other markings ... speaking perfect Romanian, and inspiring terror in her fellow officers." Olivia wanted to ask more, but she had her suspicions, and was quite certain that the questions would not be appreciated. She was also fairly sure that she didn't particularly want to know the answers.

But her curiosity could not be entirely denied. She traced her fingers gently over the scar that ran along Alex's hip. "Who gave you this, Major?" she asked, greatly daring.

Alex permitted the question, looking back with a neutral expression. "Someone I trusted ... in a situation much like this one."

Olivia absorbed that information, now very certain she didn't want to know any more about the Major's identity.

Alex had a question of her own. Raising a hand to Olivia's face, she first ran her fingers gently along her cheek. Then she traced one finger along a line of white that cut through an eyebrow. It was an old scar, but it had been deep once. "And who gave you this?"

A shadow briefly crossed Olivia's face as the buried memory resurfaced. "I have sometimes been too quick with my tongue, Major."

Alex had figured as much, having seen the passion with which the Gypsy had defended herself earlier in the evening. "And cowards find strength in numbers," she said, guessing further.

Memory resurfaced with a vengeance this time. Two occasions when a drunken pack of soldiers had not taken kindly to her refusal and had waylaid her on her way home, in the darkness behind the inn.

"How many?"

"Three the first time, five the second."

"And the first time you fought."

Olivia nodded, lowering her eyes as she tried to push the memory back into its hiding place. She had been only eighteen, young and brash. She had fought the three of them with everything she had and had gotten in a few good blows, but they had been too many and too strong. One of them had secured her in an iron hold while another, angrily wiping the blood from his nose, had taken delight in beating her into submission. The ring on his right hand had made the cut above her eye. She was nearly unconscious by the time they dropped her to the ground and took what they had come for. The second time, she knew there was no point in fighting ... she just swallowed her pride, and her rage, and waited until they were done.

Alex cupped her hand against Olivia's cheek, stroking her thumb against the skin, waiting for the dark eyes to return to her own. She'd been through something similar herself. She'd been taken from her family at a very young age, barely eleven years old, by army recruiters who had spotted her potential during their regular tour of the state schools. She'd been fifteen when an instructor had tired of watching the beautiful teenager from a distance, day after day, and had simply come to her tiny dorm room one night and taken what he wanted. There wasn't a damn thing she could do about it. An unpleasant expression flickered unseen across Alex's face, then vanished. Not until many years later, that is. Alex had a long memory. One night, many years later, that same instructor had staggered drunkenly from his neighborhood pub and had never made it home. Army investigators had made a half-hearted attempt at an inquiry, but had soon concluded that he'd simply fallen into the frigid waters of the river near his home.

Olivia's expression was schooled to calm again when she looked at Alex once more. It was a long time ago.

Alex regarded the intense brown eyes with new appreciation. "But you've never given in to fear. They respect you, Gypsy."

This time, it was she who pulled Olivia to her, bringing their lips together ... renewing a nameless, unknown bond that was better expressed through touch than words.

At length, sated in a way she could not really understand, Olivia laid her head against Alex's shoulder and let her eyes begin to close. As the exhaustion of the day's labours and the night's passion overtook her, she dimly felt the soft body beneath her own, and an arm encircling her waist.

It was broad daylight when Olivia woke. Blinking herself awake, she saw that she was alone. The Major was gone. Looking around the small room, she noticed that the heavy curtains over the window had been pulled closed, allowing only a thin ray of daylight to pierce the restful darkness of the room. She was certain the curtains had been open last night ... the Major must have drawn them closed. To let me sleep. Olivia smiled to herself at the thoughtful gesture.

Rising from the bed, Olivia opened the curtains and blinked against the full brilliance of the late-morning sun. Looking back toward the interior, she saw that it was empty of all but the impersonal furniture. No trace of Alexandra Romanova remained. Feeling an unaccountable emptiness, she spotted one of the armchairs. Her clothes (or what was left of them) had been neatly folded and left there for her to find. That provoked another smile.

But one additional anomaly caught her eye: something on the bedside table that had not been there before.

Walking to the small table, Olivia saw that it was a note, and resting on top of it was the infamous switchblade from the night before, now closed. Moving the weapon aside, she picked up the note.

Don't let there be a third time. --- Alexandra

The End

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