Tangible Schizophrenia


Tarot II: Hanged Man

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: PG-13, Rish for disturbing imagery.
Pairing: Alec/James, Jinx/Xenia
Feedback: Fave lines, gross errors, whatever you'd like.
Disclaimer: Not mine, or my life would be much cooler.
Notes: References all of Brosnan's Bond movies. AU from the end of 'Goldeneye.' Italics are flashbacks. //words// in Russian.
Summary: In which James suffers a visitation, and then passes on the favor.


Generally, James preferred to drink in company, but considering the past week, a little solitude seemed appropriate. Considering the past half-year, permanent solitude would have been preferred, but was currently unavailable, due to absence of the dispenser.

What was keeping Alec?

Granted, James had made the trail a little more difficult this time around. Mostly because he wanted to guarantee enough time in between meetings to allow him to regain his calm, and a little to ward off any unwanted outside attention that their last, disastrous meeting might have engendered. And while he was flaying himself open, he might as well acknowledge the smidgen that wanted to revel in the anticipation and never reach the culmination. Simply bypass the internal complications that seeing Alec had always brought.

Shifting into a more comfortable position, he eyed the various sorts of liquor lining the bar's shelves, varicolored essences of oblivion neatly and attractively packaged for consumption. Rosemary for remembrance, rue…James wondered if the different kinds of alcohol had a similar correspondence. Certainly champagne was associated with celebration-

welcome to MI6, gentlemen

and it was sweet and bubble-bursting burning in that lovely mouth, asking to be chased down the long graceful bend of throat

--and whiskey with sorrow, at times. A bit of Scotch might suit the occasion. Whatever James was at the moment, he certainly was not filled with joy. In point of fact, he couldn't remember the last time he'd known joy. He did remember the last time but once that he'd felt anything real-

hello, james

easter day present, wrapped in bleak gray and black of endless winter, promising resurrection and revealing the inescapable seed of rot already growing

--and after that, the scum-coated puddles of an Asian prison. Hue of ill and pain, but James had choked it down anyway, the slime slipping slowly along the ridges of his throat, raw from holding in his tearing screams. So different from vodkas and elegance, it'd shocked him back to reality. Broken the illusions he had delicately weaved to deceive all and sundry, and ground his face into the world's fractures till he could smell the shit. He'd retreated into meditation, into willful withdrawal from his five senses, but the stench had still been there. It had followed him out into the free air, had trailed him through the entire mission.

Duty. Stingily parceled out to agents as if it were fire opals and black diamonds instead of the dry, shriveled sticks it truly was. But the habits had been engrained deeply enough into James that he hadn't been able to throw everything away until his last mission, interrupted for a year of hell's crucible, had been completed.

James laughed at that, reaching out to snag the nearest bottle. Rum. Well, it wasn't as if getting thoroughly pissed required any kind of professional standards. One poison worked as well as another. False reason as well as a true one. Who cared whether he'd continued to go after Zao and Grave in order to save the motherland or to satisfy himself? Erase his failure and chalk up another victory for 007. The equation may have had different inputs set each variable, but the end result was the same. Was the one most pleasing to the administration.

Flicking the cap into a corner, he took his first long swallow, then leant back to let the warm burn take off another layer of himself. It really was a pity, James thought. MI6 had spent so much time on torture-resistance training, and never once had realized what having a clear mind and nothing to do would lead to. Hours and hours of thinking about the damp walls, dissecting the scents of blood and urine, and rating each interrogator's technique-and in the end, even those ran out, streams straying too far from their fountainhead. Leaving only the source to contemplate: himself.

He'd forgotten what he had looked like from the inside. Too long under the velvet curtain, like Dorian Gray's portrait. But James had found the key to his attic, had stepped in and systematically examined every single sore, scar, sagging fold of skin inflamed by dissipation. More two-faced than Janus. At least Alec had had sincere motives beneath his duplicity. As far as James could determine, his prime cause had been the desire for effortless accomplishments. Smooth the outside and glide through the waves, never mind the infrastructure.

i was always better

"Yes, you were," James replied, lifting his bottle high in a toast. "Sorry, Alec, but Fate's a whore: she'll never take the better man if there's a worse to be had."

Letting the golden rum freefall into his mouth, drowning himself with liquid King's shilling, James palmed his gun and casually swung his arm out to aim. "Private pity party, I'm afraid. No exceptions."

"Damn, intel was right for once. You have lost it," replied a familiar saucy voice, though somewhat more somber than James recalled.

Lowering his gun, James set down the bottle next to him. "Jinx. What urgent business brings you here?"

"That'd be you," she archly told him, making the barstool squeak as she perched upon it. "Care to explain why you of all people are lying on a bar counter?"

"I see no particular reason not to," James shrugged, reaching down for another random bottle and proffering it. Propping her elbows up on the bar so she could lean over his head, Jinx refused the port.

"Just like you saw no particular reason not to feed lead to half the arms dealers in Hong Kong during your layover on the way here. And then make up a very convincing turf war to cover up the tracks. Right." Extending a perfectly-manicured fingernail, electrified green, she started to trace circles on the wood. "James, we don't actually have any problems seeing motherfucks like them die, but we do have certain interests that you came dangerously close to affecting."

Putting away the port, he retrieved the rum and began to tip the bottle over, but was suddenly struck by the tint of its contents in the uneven lighting. Gilt, wavering from honey to wheat. Alec's hair under the frozen Russian sky, snatching the feeble sunshine and refracting it into brilliance. "'We,' is it?" James repeated, more harshly than he'd intended, as he dropped the bottle onto the floor behind the bar. Tinkle and splash, barely different than a ballroom of clinking glasses. "Strictly business, I see."

"You're gonna be stubborn about this," Jinx muttered, flicking at his shoulder. "Listen, prettyboy-America could care less if you've decided to go it alone, as long as you keep off our operations. And you have; you've been impressively circumspect so far, though the Hong Kong incident was about a hair away from blowing your cover. Gave Wai Lin of China enough of a lead, and she and I, we're old drinking buddies."

"The dealers fired first," he clarified, not terribly interested in the conversation. It was rather typical of the CIA: independence and self-containment whenever possible, though they would cooperate with other intelligence agencies when necessary. James could hardly expect anything else. Even if he didn't expect much of anyone these days. "Self-defense, if you like."

"Pretty extreme of you, but hey, considering how your last retirement phase went, I can't say that I'm too surprised." Gazing down on him, Jinx almost glowed, mocha and cinnamon, as she steadily regarded James. "We just need a confirmation that whatever shit's going down will stay between you and MI6, and won't spill over into World War III."

"And how would you like that?" James asked jeeringly, allowing a faint, contemptuous smile to curve his mouth. What would be the point of a war? He wasn't Alec; worldwide destruction would offer him no solace, and James had lost the habit of persuading himself to believe in delusions. "Should I find my grandmother's Bible and take a solemn oath?"

Dropping her head into her hands, Jinx huffed in annoyance. Clutched her fingers briefly, mussing up her lovely hair, and then lifted up her chin. "Look, Bond. I'll be straight with you. Seeing as I'm the CIA agent who's had the most recent contact with you, and the most…intimate…I got asked to come here and do a quick evaluation. But the reason I came is because I need to show you something. I was gonna give you a little explanation first, but since you're being such a bastard, I think it'll work better without one."

"I'm not fond of surprises any more," James remarked, pondering ways of getting rid of her. Without actually hurting Jinx, because she was the one bright spot of the entire Graves/Zao escapade. She held no real appeal to James now, but he still respected her enough to extend some professional courtesy. "And I'm waiting for someone else."

Jinx rubbed her mouth, uncomfortably looking across the room. The small gesture prickled at James' spine, ruffling the edges of his senses. Turning onto one elbow, he leaned in till he could count every flickering speck in those large eyes. "What. Do. You. Know."

"Well, you're a complete idiot," Jinx snapped, abruptly furious as she glowered back. "You left your-your-whatever-unconscious there, right after leaving a trail wider than the fat lady's ass up to that apartment. What did you expect-MI6 was just gonna back off and give you two space to have your stupid pissing contest?"

"MI6 has Alec," James murmured, dark and pitiless. His vision was narrowing to black-ringed pinpoints, and he clenched his fists around invisible necks, virtually feeling their snap against his palms. Scarlet drummed in his ears, fast and frantic, while his-


Cold washed through James as he rocked back from Jinx's blow, stinging his mind clear. "God. I wasn't thinking…"

"Damn straight, you moron. It's gone out on the networks; Alec Trevelyan alive and at this place on such-and-such day, just waiting for a pick-up." Laughing sardonically herself, Jinx snorted. "They must be really desperate to get you back, if they're willing to risk taking on everyone else that has a bone to pick with Trevelyan. Probably is a good thing almost all the people who knew him as Janus are six feet under, or every damn man in Russia would be packing up his guns and booking a flight."

"They want me dead," James smiled, sitting up and holstering his gun.

Jinx blinked. Silently asked if he was kidding, and then said disbelievingly, "They want you what?"

"006 taught MI6 a hard lesson. Never let an agent go, lest he return to the sheepfold as a wolf." While straightening his clothing, James' fingers slowed as a realization whipped him across the back of the head. Twisting to stare intensely at Jinx, he demanded, "How do you know about Janus and Alec? We never told the CIA-"

"And as far as they're concerned, Janus was a Lienz Cossack with a redneck's sense of grudges, not a disaffected MI6 agent," Jinx interrupted, holding up a hand. "I told you, I didn't come here because of only business."

"Why? Why are you taking such a personal interest?" James pressed, still not convinced. Still feeling inexplicably defensive over Alec's missteps, and angry at himself for caring.

Ducking her head, Jinx appeared almost shy and embarrassed. "Because…you helped with a few things," she quietly confessed. "I don't mean saving each other's lives, because that's just par for the course in our line of work. I mean how you understood the other half of things. Yeah, you checked out the package, but you didn't mind taking advantage of the brain and skills, either. You-were a rest. A vacation."

Damnation. Closing his eyes, James took a deep breath. "Likewise, in matter of fact. It's a pity that vacations are never more than temporary."

"I'd wondered why you didn't crack up till a few weeks after Graves and Zao died," Jinx commented. Small and sincere, a smile briefly lit up her face. "It was a nice compliment for me, James. Thanks." Getting up off the stool, she waved toward the door. "So, are you coming or not?"


It was a short, wordless drive to Jinx's rooms. Leaning his head on the window, James mindlessly watched the city whisk by him, too preoccupied with-of course-Alec.

MI6 and their honey traps, with the lure replaced by an irresistible nightmare of James' own creation. He was beginning who had created the worst hell, after all: them or himself.

Death sounded rather good these days. The dead didn't have to deal with what their pasts had wrought, and they certainly didn't have to face what their present desires were demanding. James felt murderous, self-denigrating, everything and anything and nothing all at once. And when he tried to close out everything, to slow down breath and beat till time stretched like he'd painfully learnt in Korea, all he could seem to accomplish was a sense-memory.

Sharp, sweet desperation, holding no allegiances. None but to James. The Holy Grail of the spy's world, the pearl in the reeking muck. In a reality where even his inner and outer selves held different agendas, James had fiercely wanted something he knew would never betray him. Would never leave him, never look beyond him. He had thought that Alec might have been it, up until that meeting among petrified old Sovietism. Broken remnants of a vanished superstructure, casting their shadows over the barren new ground.

In one stroke, Alec had obliterated James's basic premises. And then James had returned the favor, with interest. But now what was he supposed to do with the accrued funds of their clashes and crosses?

"We're here," Jinx said suddenly, squealing her car up to a terrified valet. She swiftly led James through the rich, crowded lobby and into an overblown confection of an elevator, which dropped them off in front of what appeared to be a very extensive penthouse.

"You have quite the expense account," he noted, absentmindedly registering the obvious wealth.

"I need the space," she answered tersely, her hand hesitating on the knob. "Look, try not to overreact, all right? It's late, I'm jet-slagged from hell and back, and I'm in no mood to get blacklisted on the only fancy hotel in town."

"I aim to please," James murmured carelessly, combing a hand through his tousled hair. Studying him for another long moment, Jinx finally nodded and let him in.


//You're late--// The dark head on the couch twisted about, revealing a beautiful face that segued from glad to snarling in less than a blink of an eye. //You!//

James' eyebrow arched, and he was momentarily stunned. "Xenia."

//You bastard!// Clawing over the back of the sofa, she yanked out a pistol from somewhere and began to level it at him. James instinctively jerked sideways, but too slowly, he knew-it all was too dreamlike for him to genuinely register the death coiling inside such a small piece of steel.

But a stiff shove sent him flying to the ground. Stepping forward, Jinx had her own gun out. "Don't," she ordered. "Put that the hell away and sit down."

"But he…" Xenia's voice firmed, and her chin pugnaciously lifted. "No. Jinx, it's-"

"I know who he is, damn it. I brought him here for a reason, and now that that's taken care of, we're leaving," Jinx snapped, tapping James with a toe. Glancing down when he didn't immediately move, she rolled her eyes. "Stop grinning, you ass. Come on. We can finish talking in the car."

"As you say," James replied mildly, getting to his feet. Something loudly thumped behind him. Both he and Jinx whipped their attention back to Xenia.

Who was sprawled out on the floor, gun spinning several feet away. Ignoring it, she clumsily pulled herself up, struggling against the entrapping folds of her silk robe. White limbs flashed, pale cream petals peeking out from among dark jade foliage, she unceremoniously dragged herself across the carpet to seize Jinx's knees, burying her head between them. "Don't leave. I'm sorry; he can stay if that's what you want. But don't leave."

Beyond astonishment or even amusement now, James glanced over the legs awkwardly spilling out behind Xenia. Still shapely, but thin and frail as eggshells. Trailing out behind the woman as if barely attached, they were nothing like the lethal weapons that had nearly cracked open James' chest.

"Her back was fractured, but the spinal cord wasn't completely severed," Jinx softly whispered, resigned and distant, as she put away her pistol. "I helped the Marines clean up after you and what's-her-name-"

Frowning, James dredged his memory. "Natalya, I think."

"Yeah. Anyway, she was still breathing, so the CIA took her in for interrogation and assigned me as her handler," she continued, leaning down to soothingly stroke Xenia's tangled dark mane. Gently coaxing the other woman to release her knees, Jinx got one arm under Xenia's and started to move over to the couch. "Hey, James? Do me a favor and pick up the gun, 'kay?"


Curled around Jinx's side, pillowing her head on Jinx's shoulder as she drowsed, Xenia would have presented a disturbingly insecure side of herself. If James had had any faith left in his conceptions of people. "Yet another one of my muddles about which you're planning to accuse me?" he asked, not terribly wanting an answer.

Jinx, being straightforward in her attacks, replied, "No. You're doing a fine job of that yourself."

"At this rate, Ourumov should walk in and ask if he might buy me a pint." Slouching into the cushions, James rolled his tensed shoulders. He looked over at the two women again, this time closely observing the way Jinx had her arm wrapped around Xenia's waist, the drape of Jinx's fingers across Xenia's half-curled hand. "Is this why you're bothering?"

"Sort of." Jinx returned James' gaze with cool calm. "Before you ask, the CIA does know about Xenia. She's an unofficial expert on crime syndicates, specializing in Russian ones, obviously."

"Why else?" James queried, curiosity sparking temporarily to life within him.

"Because. I need something to go back to. And it might as well be her, considering how bad off she gets when I'm out of town." Challenge glinting in her eyes, she smirked. "America's a bit more understanding about what agents do to keep themselves functioning. The CIA figures that with all the money they spend on us, they'd damn well better get as much of the full thirty, forty years as they can."

"Whereas MI6 would rather concentrate on eliminating uncertainties from their calculations," James added. At her eyebrow-lift, he shrugged. "Seeing as I'm no longer part of their organization, I see no point in continuing to justify their policies."

"Well, don't that beat all. So what are you gonna do, then?" Jinx seemed genuinely concerned, which tugged dully at something in James' chest. "Let's see: get your shit together, get Alec, and after that?"

"You sound like the informant recruiting spiel," James remarked, his black humor creeping back on him. "And why do you assume I'll be retrieving Trevelyan?"

Producing a pack of cigarettes, Jinx shook out two and offered one to James, which he accepted. Lighting them up, she leaned back and allowed the exhale to curl from her nostrils like the dragon's whiskers of Chinese fame. "Never said anything about retrieving," she murmured, slanting a shrewd gaze at him. "But you aren't going to just let this lie. You can't."

"Aren't you presuming a bit much?" James inquired, sharper than he'd meant. Tone far too telling, for a woman who was revealing far too many commonalities with him.

"Hey, I don't assume anything when it comes to male craziness." Stabbing holes in the air with her cigarette, scorching the red tip into space, she eyed him, wary. Tightened her hold on Xenia, drawing a quiet squeak from the other woman. "But I know one thing. If you're intending to go anywhere except to Trevelyan after our little chat, I'll kill you. Or she will."

Two pairs of dark hard eyes fixed themselves onto James' face, trying to strip the concealing layers from his bones. "Professional courtesy," Jinx added. "I'm giving you a chance. As long as I know you've got links somewhere, then I also know that you won't go off the deep end. It's only those who have nothing to lose that have no fear, and the man with no fear is the man who wrecks the world."

"I see." Looking away, James dragged on the cigarette, watching the smoke sculpt itself. Sensuous and ephemeral, it looped and doubled back on itself, coiling in a Gordian knot of transparency. Rather like himself, actually.

"You aren't saying yes?" Xenia suddenly said, fine dark brows pulling together over her nose. "If-"

"Shut up," James interrupted, tone succinct and falsely genteel. "Strawberries? Did he let you taste that?"

Clenching her jaw, she had to visibly force herself to relax. "No."

Which startled James. Nearly choked himself on burnt nicotine, but caught himself in time.

Natalya had been apricot, in fact. Xenia had been all wildness and raw vodka, and Wai Lin, ginger and sugarcane. Christmas didn't bear considering. Jinx had come the closest, her raspberry and lime almost the same.

But none of them and none of the numerous rest had ever matched up to Alec. To that unexpected sweet tartness, discovered only after many years of trying. And then lost, a few weeks later. But through all those years, it had still remained James' alone, it seemed.

Was that enough?

Silently laughing, James leaned forward to extinguish his cigarette in a heavy crystal ashtray. As if there was any other answer, damn it. Damn him. "Well, this has been a lovely evening."

"The pleasure was not yours," Xenia mumbled, which statement obviously mystified Jinx.

"I don't think it was anyone's," James replied lightly, getting up. He turned back only once to nod at Jinx, who, comprehending, flicked a wave at him. Xenia was demanding something from the other woman, but James didn't bother to listen. He had plans to make.



Before Alec could respond to that brusque command, he was being jerked off the cot and hauled at a furious pace through a labyrinth of dim hallways. He knew he should be trying to memorize turns, construct a blueprint in his head, but the short rations, restless sleep and general uncertainty had made his mind into so much worthless gray jelly. Barely able to keep his eyes open, let alone observe anything, he stumbled as best he could in a failing attempt to keep up with his guards.

Stairs and floors. Chutes and ladders. Through his growing haze, Alec just noticed that they'd stopped.

It was an odd halt, in point of fact. The grips on his arms were crushing his muscles into his bones, and his guards' breathing had suddenly sped up.

"Drop him."

M. Marvelous. Alec wondered whether he'd receive the hologram again, or be graciously allowed to speak to the real thing.



A shot, splintering wood. Instinctively, Alec's head jolted up. And then it froze there, jaw hanging open. Oh, God, James.

Pointedly gazing from the shatter-edged hole in the fine desk to the guards flanking Alec, James tutted. "If you're issued an order, you obey it, gentlemen." Adjusting the angle at which his gun pointed at M's head, he made a peremptory gesture. "Out. You aren't cleared for a discussion at this level of classification."

Hands reluctantly released, sending Alec crashing to the ground. Not that he even registered the new bruises, too busy staring at the impossible apparition. Behind him, a door closed.

"Thank you, M. I'll be sure to call when we're settled," James remarked, oddly cheerful as he rounded the desk to Alec's side and reached down. There were several small clicks, and then the manacles fell from Alec's wrists and ankles.

"Bond, this is insupportable," M barked, watching the pistol still aimed at her. "You know what the consequences of your rash idiocy will be."

"Of course," he answered blithely, heaving a still-wobbly Alec to his feet. "I've always known, every single time." Then cobalt seared into Alec's eyes, pulverizing whatever was left of his reason, and gunmetal chilled his palm. "Make it out of here, and then we'll see," James hissed, one fire-filled moment before he threw them out a window.


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