|Tarot I: Moon
Author: Guede Mazaka
Face unchanging, James slowly raised one hand to touch his bleeding temple, then lowered it without even looking at the crimson-streaked fingers. "You missed," he noted, distantly accusing.
"Why?" Alec hissed. The gun was shaking--he was shaking. Shaking till his joints unlocked and he fell, grabbing for jutting knees in front of him as a last desperate resort. "Why? Why did you do it?"
"You were England to me," James shrugged. "Always was. And I'd sworn to protect that. Protect it until I grew to hate it. But I don't care now. MI6 has taken its last drop from me." Sighing, he let his head fall back onto the seat. "I think I knew back then that it would come to this, and that's why I made certain you'd follow me. You always knew what to do and when to do it, Alec. I was hoping you would oblige me one last time."
Alec tightened his hold on James' knees, digging in till his fingernails ached, half-moon splinters forcing themselves back into his furious, unsteady flesh. He was looking at the carpet through the frame of James' legs, gaze glued to the irregular worn patches. They swam before his jerking vision, flashing brilliantly violent colors in time with his ragged breathing. Swallowing down the acid etching curses on the walls of his throat, he forced his voice through steamrollers till it was sound enough to shape words. "James," he whispered, too calmly, "I'm afraid that you've made it impossible for me to do that."
"Really?" Black-bitter tone, dregs of a brew percolated through ruined spirits and shattered faiths. "I could remind you, if you're in need of motivation. I wrecked your revenge. Drugged you and forced dependency, then abandoned you and had marvelous times with many women in many places over the next few years. Are you in need of details? I-"
"Stop," Alec snapped, surging up and slapping the gun butt across James' composed face. The other man let his head turn into the pistolwhip, then stayed in that position. Almost tiredly, a tongue crept out to swipe away the trickle of blood from the corner of the split lips. "Yes, James, you did. You did all of that. You completely destroyed everything that I had built for myself."
Stepping back, Alec leveled the pistol at his former friend, then abruptly flung the gun into the wall. It cracked into plaster and clattered to the ground, lying limp under the soft drizzle of painted dust. "I can't kill you. I can't, you bastard. It's-it's-"
"You made some spectacular attempts at it before," James remarked, dead-glazed eyes following the pistol's trajectory and lingering on its fallen form. "And I would imagine that the frustration has become quite considerable over the years since. After all, I just can't seem to die, can I? There's my damnable luck: my constant ability to come out on top despite being nothing more than the Queen's…terrier, was it?" He tilted his head, dark humor shading the haggard features of his face. "Practically another life, it was so long ago."
"Shut. Up," Alec whispered harshly, fumbling a step backward. His stomach was roiling, turning in on itself and gnawing in time to the memories flashing through his mind, sharp daggers whisking him into slivers. "James…don't…"
"Don't what, Alec?" the other man suddenly demanded, throwing himself out of the chair onto drunkenly unsure feet. James' eyes were electric blue, charged with iced fury, and the air displaced by his out-flinging arms slammed into Alec harder than a punch. "Don't remind you? Why on earth not? I'm always remembering the hole at my back, and it's cold. Colder than the Arctic, Alec, and I've been there."
"I-" tight swallow "-I know." Alec was shrinking back on himself. He could feel his marrow freezing and contracting, leaving his bones too hollow and frail. He hated it. "I've been keeping rather close tabs on you."
"Not close enough, obviously," James growled, one hand raking half his shirt open. "Not nearly close enough for friends." Lifting up his chin, he appeared almost condescending. "Not even close enough for government work, I take it."
One year. One year of not knowing, of dying every night with a prayer on his lips, a prayer gone unheard when every next morning brought waking and brutal sunlight shitting its unsullied glory all over him. "Korea. Where…you went in, and it took a prisoner exchange to get you out."
Laughing, James glanced at the shrouded window. "Oh, yes. Korea." His eyebrow arched, his lips quirked. "Prison. Lovely place. You have plenty of time to think."
"Think," Alec repeated lowly, trying to force himself to back up to the door. And failing. Trapped, he was, in this anonymous cubicle of manufactured blandness. Chained to James' increasingly searing, blindingly brilliant gaze. It was burning through Alec's flesh, rewriting instinct and experience on his skeleton.
Then it was gone, shut off, and Alec didn't know whether to sigh in relief or scream that the sky was falling. "Did you ever think?" James inquired, with unexpected mildness, slumping into a casual stance. "When you hiding behind Janus, when you were planning my death, did you ever think, Alec? And I don't mean about which tie to wear to the shooting party. I mean think about what you were doing outside of the revenge, outside of the emotions. Like they taught us."
"Like they taught you," Alec retorted, stung. His palms were slicked with clammy moisture, and he scrubbed them on his trousers. "I was never as cold as you, James. Never."
Nodding, the other man acknowledged that. Bringing up a hand, James studied its wrinkles and minute scars as if he'd never seen them before. "True. Very true. That's what kept me alive, just as your vengeance kept you alive, I suppose. But the thing is, Alec-I did think about matters like that. Those that died for me, those that I killed, and those that I needed to kill but didn't want to. You."
James was coming closer, filling up Alec's sight. Clouding it over with passion and distrust and craving. And there was another gun, produced from some secret space to which Alec was no longer allowed access. It frosted his skin as its steel was pressed into his palm.
"I simply failed to pay attention to it, and hoped that they would fade in time," James continued, pensive, as he twisted Alec's hand up to touch the gun muzzle to his temple. "Unfortunately, as Korea showed me, they don't. You haven't, certainly."
Wrapped around Alec's finger, James' own tightened infinitesimally on the trigger, tearing the guts out of Alec.
Jolting away, Alec ripped the pistol up just in time to fire into the ceiling. Knees giving out at the resounding shot, he let himself tumble and scrambled left, quickly emptying the clip into the wall. "Oh, God," he panted, dropping his sweaty forehead to rest against the scratching carpet.
But a moment later, a vise seized his neck and yanked him up. Ramming him down onto the bed, James efficiently and brutally smacked both Alec's arms down onto the mattress. "Why?" the other man shouted, viciously shaking Alec. "Why, damn you? You hate me, you wanted me to die for you. Well, I will! So kill me. Kill me!"
"I can't," Alec yelled back, breath sobbing in his throat. "I-not after what you did."
"What I-" jerking his head sideways till the bones crackled, James clenched his jaw and shoved a knee into Alec's belly, driving all the air out. Over the agonized gasping, he seethed, "You broke my trust, Alec. You broke my faith in myself, in you, in MI6, in your bloody 'for England'-and after that, what was I supposed to do? Yes, I kept working for them. Because they're what I knew. What I could predict, what I could count on, even if they weren't what I believed in anymore."
"But now, Alec. But now, my dear," James murmured, tone dropping to the netherworld as he leaned down to Alec's ear. "I can't even depend on MI6. They shouldn't have let me live on in a Korean prison, and they did. They shouldn't have released Zao in return for me, and they did. They shouldn't have tried to salvage me, and they did."
James' breath reeked of alcohol smoke and bitterness, falling warm and soft on Alec's cheek. Closing his eyes, Alec bit into the side of his mouth, flooding copper and salt over his tongue. "Then we're at an impasse," he answered, quiet desperation fraying his words.
"Why can't you?" Begging. A plea like none that Alec had ever heard slip out from between those lips.
"I never thought about it like that," Alec told the other man, fully knowing what effects this confession would wring from James. "I focused only on how I'd been wronged, so I would forget what you'd been to me. So I could kill you and not regret it. I simply made you into…an obstacle, James. That was all."
"I still am," came the unforgiving reply. "I'm all that stands between you and the world, Trevelyan." Between. Beyond the rules, the shared lives. Beyond anything that Alec recognized, standing with one foot on the edge and the other idly swinging over the abyss. "Fight. Damn it, fight me!"
Sucking in a deep, deep breath, inhaling till his lungs burned blue-white, Alec shook his head. "No." Wet was collecting at the corners of his eyes, still squeezed shut. "James, that was what I did then. Now-now I can't think of anything but you."
Snarling, low and rumbling up from some steep-sided chasm of pitch and hate. "You're-" fingers crushing Alec's wrists, making him gasp "-Lying. Lying. I saw you lie for years; I know what it looks like. You-" weight brought to bear on the knee jammed into his stomach, pulverizing whatever was left of his bowels, already sick and flagging with confusion and blind feeling "-came here to kill me. The gun, Alec."
"That's what I told myself." Barely able to push out each syllable. His mind was whirling, dangerously near to gyrating off its axis, and all Alec could do was feverishly memorize the impressions James' hold made on him. "But it's not why I came. It's not why you waited."
"Is that what you believe now?" James snorted, incredulous and incensed. Sudden storming force smashed against Alec's lips, breaking their seal open and plundering within, crashing overwhelming waves of shudders down his spine. His eyelids snapped open, staring unfocused as James moved back just far enough to meet his gaze. "Is that why? Poor Alec, one half-unconscious ravishing and he's in love."
"What-" feebly struggling at last "-what happened to you in Korea?"
Sighing, James let his forehead come to lie on Alec's. "Are you going to shoot me, or aren't you?"
Wrenching both Alec's wrists into a one-handed grip, James tore past cloth and metal to wrap fingers around warming flesh. "Don't suppose I can change your mind?" he mused, disturbingly charming.
"God, James…" Arching into the clever touches, Alec found himself responding far too quickly, far too violently. Too long, too long in the winter with no heat but himself, incinerating whatever parts he deemed unnecessary. And who could've known-James Bond, cool and dry as his signature martinis, reserved even among equals. Or friends. Or more.
James, face set in fury, irises sapphire blazing with devastating fire. A trace of scarlet on the edges of one lip, so glistening and gleaming and Alec just wanted to taste it. But when he shifted, ever so little, rocking his hips, nails jabbed into his skin and set off nerves in a perpetual electrical tempest.
More nails circling the head, catching and scoring sparks when it worked free of the snag. Unable to control his breathing now, Alec panted and whined, reflexively spreading his legs. Asking that one long wandering finger to meander lower, and God, but it did. Raked welts into his balls, into the delicate skin in the crease between inner thigh and torso. Heavy cloth rubbed over his hips, pulling tight and loose as he wriggled. Rough satin tips caressing and molding his flesh, hurting and soothing and oh-white white grey--
Coming back, the first thing that greeted Alec was James' disgusted face.
"So that's what it took to break you?" the other man said, his disappointment sinking like lead weights into Alec. "Not much, as these things go. Honestly, Trevelyan, you were better than that."
"It's your fault," Alec retorted, vitriolic and ashamed. Curling in on his splattered stomach, he glared at James. "You made this, Bond. If you had been any kind of agent, you would've let me fall and moved on. But you couldn't, could you. You dragged me back. You didn't want me to die. Is it any surprise that now I can't bear to see you die?"
"Kind of you to pay me such an extravagant compliment," James grinned sourly, crossing to the back of the room and picking up his jacket. "The amazing 007, enshrined in immortal greatness. Suppose I'll just have to check that, shall-"
Leaping off the bed, Alec swiped a gun from the floor and rolled onto his knees, aiming for James' heart. "No."
Eyebrow arching, Bond tsked. "Never use a called bluff. You aren't going to shoot me."
"No?" Alec repeated. Less than a blink later, before he could bother thinking about what he was doing, the pistol was chilling his temple. "Perhaps not you. What about myself?"
That provoked a response. James' cheek muscle ticked, and he halted, jacket slipping from his hand to the ground. "It appears we're at another impasse," he gritted out.
"Don't you dare walk away from this," Alec replied, tone intense. His heart, still recovering, was skipping erratically against his ribs, like rain pounding down on a thin roof. His eyes stung, salt-crusted and aching with exhaustion. "One thing you're going to have to learn, James, is to clean up your messes."
"You're not going to pull the trigger," James remarked with absolute certainty. Alec opened his mouth to disagree, but then a hand grazed the scars on his face, gently skating over them to cup his chin. The world rippled, shot through with pooling lust, and Alec's hand wavered. Just for a moment.
But that was long enough. Swiftly slapping the gun away, James took Alec by the throat once again and made to throw him aside. Desperation giving him strength and quickness, however, Alec managed to clamp onto James' arm, swinging them both into the wall. Slipping past the barring hands, he pressed forward and kissed James.
Clumsy, due to the haste. Clashing teeth split Alec's lip, oozing more blood into his mouth. His tongue sought refuge in James', swiping gums and palate, tasting rich whiskey and tart citric cinders. Recalled the ice-burning vodka and dangerously alluring sugar of before, mixing past and present in one tumultuous melding. And James allowed it. Tangling fingers in Alec's hair, he even returned the kiss with a fervor that unraveled Alec's tendons and sent him staggering into the wall.
Where the marvelous twining came to a shockingly abrupt end. Ripping himself away, James whacked his head into Alec's, then pinned Alec's reeling form to the plaster and paint. "It doesn't work like that," James growled, ragged with exertion. "I won't do this again." He ran a palm over Alec's belly, then shoved it up to display the viscous whitish smears now coating it. "This, Alec. What I always came back to, in spite of all the girls, the missions-yes, it was the mission while I was doing it, but damn you, I didn't stay in the mission. I finished them, and I came back. To you. Till you weren't there anymore."
"You can't leave," Alec hissed back, frantically searching James' face for a hint. A hair off the unicorn's tail, a grain of sand in God's eye. Anything that might mean a chance at altering the impossible. Reversing the tides, redrawing the mountains-after all the times he'd helped save the world, didn't he get any say in how it was run?
Except he had. No more than one unchangeable vote allowed per person, and he'd cast his for the exclusion of James.
"Can't I?" the other man asked rhetorically, perilously close to maddened. "And who are you to tell me anything? Who are we to even talk to each other? I thought you were a loyal British subject, and you thought I was a willing pawn."
"If you leave me here, I'll-I'll die, damn you," Alec countered. "You ensured that much."
"No, you won't," James chuckled, unexpectedly bending in to brush lips along the side of Alec's hitching throat. "Because I might still be alive, somewhere out there. And you'll come looking, won't you? You never could help yourself when it came to me."
"Neither of us could," Alec grated, nearly whimpering. Too close, too hot, and James wasn't in any mood to consider even meaningless sex, let alone something that would satisfy the swelling inferno that was demolishing Alec, bit by bit. "James-just tell me what happened. This…this isn't you."
"Yes, it is. You wouldn't be asking me to stay if it wasn't," Bond contradicted, leaning back. Their positions shifted, and Alec jerked an arm and knee up to force James off. Nearly fell himself at the abrupt loss, the freezing chill that glided up his front, but Alec willed himself to stay on his feet. Dodged the punch, going to grab James about the waist and tackle him to the ground. Somehow, the other man twisted out of the way and seized Alec's collar, hauling him with his own acceleration. Smashing into the wall, Alec felt plaster crack beneath his spinning head. He dazedly whipped about, black spots smudging his vision, only to have more blows rain upon his head. Metal struck his skull, plunging him into too-familiar darkness.
Waking this time found Alec securely handcuffed to a chair in a blank concrete room. With no James. With not even the slightest hint remaining but a faint scent of James' sweat, searing itself up Alec's nose into his brain.
Blinking slowly, he pushed down the initial urge to panic and observed what he could. Clean clothing, zipped pants. Bandages on one temple, which stretched whenever he blinked. Deep ineradicable soreness all through him, with one particularly nasty cluster of excruciating pain emanating from slightly left-of-center in his head.
And a woman, old but hawkish and diamond-hard, sitting at the other end of the table.
"M, I presume," he said, making the best approximation he could to a polite greeting, given that his wrists were chained behind him and his limbs seemed boned with overdone noodles.
"That would be correct. And don't bother trying for me, Trevelyan," she replied stiffly. "This is a hologram, and you are not where you assume you are."
"Whatever blessed isle that would be," Alec commented dryly, though inwardly he was ridiculously happy to have a distraction. "I take it you were watching Bond and intervened when he…shall we say, became unfit for duty?"
She hesitated. This M was very good at the gargoyle routine, Alec would grant her that, but a flinch was still a flinch. So James was still a tender spot with the administration; it was good to know that not everything had so drastically changed. Seeing what he could pry out of M while she tried to tease information from him should keep Alec occupied for quite some time.
"James Bond has been rogue for several months," M finally informed him.
And another piece of reality slipped off its hook, shattering to pieces. Alec stared. Replayed her words again and again in his head, but still couldn't register exactly what they were telling him.
"We've been trying to track him," she continued, calmly, as if the laws of nature hadn't just been turned on their heads. "But it seems that 007 has an unexpected capability for flying under the radar. Your meeting with him was the clearest sign we've picked up in weeks, and that, consequently, is one of the reasons why you are still alive instead of being shot on sight."
"Oh, come now, M," Alec smiled, regaining a shadow of his poise. Thin as it was, the mask of affability was all he had at the moment. "Surely you've had some records you'd rather have been erased. Speeding tickets, perhaps?"
Meeting him with her own compressed upcurve of pursed lips, she perceptibly hardened her stance. "The other reason is that you seem to be the only thing to which 007 still has ties. We need him back here."
Alec slumped back in the spare steel chair, knowing and resigned as he regarded her hologram. Which did flicker, once he knew what to look for. It was a very apt metaphor, actually: the ghost of authority that was all that reined in MI6's best, most eccentric agents. Though it appeared to have failed on at least two notable occasions. "So who's threatening merry old London now?" he queried, only peripherally interested.
M raised an eyebrow. "We don't intend to send him out again," she replied, somber and almost sad beneath that stern granite front. "Before he finally disappeared, 007 was showing increasing degrees of erratic mental behavior. Once he is in our custody-" charcoal-hued word like acid thrown on Alec's face "-he will be thoroughly evaluated in order to determine whether the alterations are serious enough to merit-"
"-elimination," Alec choked out, digging nails into his palms till the blood welled up and seeped into the quick. He could almost see the white that edged each hard oval staining crimson. "So procedure there hasn't changed."
"Of course not." M-M's image, Alec corrected himself. The real woman was most likely sitting easy in some plush office fifty floors up, with cognac just a step away. "Not that you'll have to worry. As soon as you've fulfilled your use-"
"-as bait," Alec whispered, suffocating in the tiny room.
"-you shall be dealt with as all traitors are."
Alec's reputation had clearly preceded him. His chains were cutting off his circulation, his guards were nervous to the point of breaking, and he sometimes thought that if he even sat up too quickly, they would open fire.
Not that he intended to. True, it would prevent James from being lured back in, and it would revenge Alec's indignation at being used as a trap, but…
…he would never see James again. And he would guarantee James' suicide, which was something that even picturing made Alec deathly ill. Objectively speaking, that reaction was entirely out of character for him. Hadn't he spent nine years planning out every possible way he could dispose of James?
Dispose of…clutching at his stomach, Alec curled more tightly into the sheets. And hadn't he, somewhere deep in the far recesses of his mind, always figured that James would escape? Perversely proud of that, reveling in the fact that only the best would be sent after Janus. All the while calculating assassination attempts, and never truly thinking ahead to what the world would be like without James Bond.
And afterward, floating in between wake and sleep, soaking in Lethe and Styx till he softened and became pliable, Alec had been surrounded with nothing but James. Steeping in the man, etching over designs traced out by their past till they carved his bones hollow, flutes and chimes that sang only one melody when lifted free of the waters and blown dry by the wasteland winds. The song cast a pall before and behind him, restricting his future and recoloring his history; Alec remembered every exchange he and James had had over Goldeneye. Every bullet, every word, every look, and they all seared him blind, like the sun dazzling the awestruck. He cherished the images, winced at the context.
True irony it was, that what had turned Alec back to James was the same as what was now making certain James would never be able to touch Alec without hating himself.
Burying his face into the lumpy pillow, Alec ignored the creeping numbness in his hands and feet. He tried to scrape away the layers and layers of ache and longing, tried to unearth his reason and think of a way out of this prison. What always brought his strategizing to a spirit-wracking stop, however, was James. Who Alec apparently had never truly known, would never truly know, and nevertheless couldn't avoid in any way.
Given how things had turned out, Alec almost wished he had fallen onto the dish and shattered his back. Had died there in Cuba, surrounded by perfumed jungle paradise and explosive mechanical failure. On the other hand, he would've gone alone, unless James had also fallen-
--shearing off that train of thought, Alec mouthed every curse word he knew in every language with which he'd ever come into passing acquaintance. One thing was definite: he had to get out of this hellish recursive loop.
Another thing was inevitable: he had to get to James. And no matter how many ways Alec played it out in his head, he simply could not find a way to reconcile the two. Not without determining what James was going to do.
Bond. Damn him. He'd always left Alec behind, and he'd always been the one to unnecessarily complicate matters, and…and…
James had tasted of strawberries.
Surreptitiously stuffing a corner of the pillow into his mouth, Alec bit down, hard, and held himself that way till the tears retreated and the acid frustration boiled down to a slow disintegrating simmer. He couldn't do anything until they took him outside, and he had a chance to read James' eyes. He had to remember that, and had to rest. Store up energy for the opportune moment, and not do anything to waste his luck until he truly needed it. As ferociously, inside-out clawing difficult as it was, he had to wait.