Author: Guede Mazaka
The room was richly but tastefully appointed, with heavy velvet drapes and dark, exuberant wood carving in the true Baroque style. In fact, it was one of the few relics of that time that had survived till the present without suffering the indignity of either mothballs or of the inevitable, depressing slide out of fashion. Now as the day when it was first completed, it exuded a perfect air of secrets enfolded within its closed doors.
“Dear God, no. If you step any farther into the light, I’ve the fear that you’ll completely disintegrate.” Lip faintly lifted in a sneer, the dark-haired man limp-waved the other, sandy-haired man, back into the shadows from whence he had emerged. His arm casually swept back to snag his glass, then came forward with a trace of derision in its easy movement. “Why on earth did it take MI6 so long to retire you?”
“I could ask the same question of you.” The second man insolently disregarded the first’s plea and swaggered up to the bar at the far end, which was being staffed by a lovely long-haired female personage. As the man approached, said woman slipped into a chic short crop and an odd, puffed-out A-line dress that both revealed a good deal of leg and that gave her a disturbing resemblance to a prissy lampshade. “I confess that when your collar shifts to reveal the slightest hint of the monstrosity that lies beneath it, I have to wonder exactly how you ever managed to persuade anyone to climb in bed with you.”
In the far corner, a third man distastefully discarded his suit-jacket and tie. He rubbed his neck as if he’d just been strangled and impatiently checked his watch. “Gentlemen, please. These gatherings aren’t intended to facilitate insults.”
“God forbid we offend the dutiful,” muttered the first man. “None of you seem to understand that success demands a certain balance of laissez-faire with coolheaded planning. Neither dallying with women whose height in inches is higher than their intelligence—”
“—I’m hardly the only one with that vice—” snapped the man at the bar.
“—nor spending entirely too much time thinking on serious matters is beneficial to the health of Britain.” The first man abruptly stopped there, listening with an expression that said he wished he wasn’t. A moment later, his ears detected the weak sobbing sigh from the fourth corner. With a disgusted noise, he drained his glass and pressed the heel of one hand against his temple. “Damn it, it’s been years. We all loved her, but there is an end to the grieving process and a fair amount of solace to be found in living like a man.”
Equally irritated, but with a different target in his sights, the third man strode over to the window and whipped open the curtains so that light flooded into the room. He was particularly careful to blind the first man with the startling brilliance. “Frankly, I can sympathize. You’re a icy bastard that probably wouldn’t recognize compassion if it came up and offered to suck you off.”
“Crude,” both the first and the second man admonished.
The fourth man merely continued to hunch over his handful of bloody, tear-soaked gauze and weep, shoulders trembling up with every heaving breath.
“And you--” third turning to second “—are a laughingstock. A complete buffoon. Goddamn it, man: we’re the best of the best, pitted against the worst of the worst, and yet you act as if the world were a carnival ride.”
The hang of the second man’s coat rippled ever-so-slightly. In the same instant that he drew, the other men in the room also had their guns out. At the bar, the woman continued to shake up drinks without even a flutter in her vacuous smile.
“This is ridiculous,” the first man finally said, though he made no move to lower his gun.
“And where’s our fifth?” the third man growled, sneaking a peek at his watch without looking away from the others. “I swear to God—”
Behind him, the window suddenly shattered under the force of five precisely placed bullets.
* * *
James walked into the room, gun held at the ready, and promptly rolled his eyes. “Alec, what was the point of killing the girl?”
“Oh, don’t tell me you subscribe to that stupid nonsense about not killing the bartender.” The other man lightly stepped over the nearest body, twisted around the spreading red soak in the thick carpet, and pressed James’ gun down. His hand briefly glided up the length of the pistol to graze over James’ fingers, darting as quick as a cobra. He grinned and stepped unconcernedly into James’ space. “She annoyed me. I’ve always hated the fashions from that decade.”
“And of course, it has nothing to do with…” Instead of completing his sentence, James turned to edge the toe of his shoe under the body of the fourth man, testing its slackness. Something vaguely like pity crossed his face. “You know, I do feel bad about him. He wasn’t nearly as annoying as the rest, and he was devoted to Theresa in a rather admirable way, actually.”
A hand alighted on his shoulder, then curved to follow the line of James’ back while hot breath flecked with a tongue-tip teased his ear. “Devotion is vastly overrated in our line of work.”
The warning tone snapped James’ hand backwards just in time to intercept Alec’s gunhand. “Really, 006.”
“Really, 007,” Alec repeated, voice dropping half an octave. When James twisted his arm up against his back and forced him to drop the weapon, he was grinning. “This truly was ridiculous. Thank God I only come in one package.”
“I don’t think the world would survive more than that,” James snorted, leaning down to nip the blood to the surface of Alec’s lips. He wrenched up Alec’s arm a little higher and pushed his tongue into the middle of the other man’s pained gasp, then pressed the side of his gun down Alec’s hip in a hard caress. “Go get your rifle. We’ve six minutes to get out of here.”
Alec rolled his eyes and his hips, making James groan. “Which means three. Now that I’ve seen the origins of your foundations, I have to admit that it does clarify a good deal. Don’t believe I can blame you for that any longer.”
With an effort, James pried himself off Alec. “Though you can remind me of it when we’ve Q’s latest car and a good vintage waiting for us. Trevelyan, rifle.”
“Here, James.” As Alec passed Bond, he took the opportunity to whack the rifle butt against the other man’s ass. “Two minutes and fifty—”
It was indeed possible to kiss Alec speechless and run for the door at the same time. By now, James had perfected that skill, and he was very glad that he had. Adaptation was the edge that should always remain sharpened, as they’d just proved to the others, and he had no intention of falling victim to his own lesson.