|Tarot III: Death
Author: Guede Mazaka
The problem with being a fugitive was the constant running and shooting and general destruction that was required. And when combined with the fact that whatever James' mindset was now, when confronted with former colleagues he was still aiming to injure and not to kill, it all made for far less actual speech than Alec would have preferred. And far, far too little than what he needed. Wanted. Craved.
He'd missed James' voice, even back when he'd had old deaths and cherished vengeance to distract him. And now, sharing cars, sharing rooms, sharing beds-the trappings of paradise, beneath which the unending silence submerged him in the unspeaking atmosphere of true hell.
And all the memories their current actions were bringing back were hardly contributing to Alec's serenity. They had been unbeatable together, living out of each other's pockets, not even needing looks to coordinate their movements. But that was then, and this was now. Which is what Alec kept telling himself whenever he walked in and James didn't turn to greet him. Whenever he ran out of bullets and a thrown cartridge smacked his head instead of his palm. Whenever he woke in the night, chest heaving from a nightmare's ride, and glanced around only to find James' unreadable gaze watching him from a shadowed chair.
Perhaps he couldn't live like this much longer, but the slow eat of James' acid wordlessness wasn't destroying Alec quickly enough to keep up with his frustrated desolation.
Having locked himself out on the roof of their current abode, James desultorily flipped his cell phone open and shut. Playing with the click, so different than that of a gun hammer cocking back. He could feel Alec's green gaze burning up through the separating layer of concrete and steel beams, asking and asking and asking him.
Unfortunately, there wasn't much of a point in doing that, as he had no answer. Ripping his way in and out of MI6 hadn't helped James realize anything except what he'd already known: Alec's life was his, and he wouldn't allow anyone else to have it. Even MI6, who had had James' allegiance and his lifeblood for so long he could barely remember to what he'd cleaved before them.
The cell's smooth silver metal was itching James' palm. His fingers were twitching as well. Making tiny clawing jerks in the air like they wanted to-to touch something. Someone.
Scarred skin covering tattered mind and spirit. Efficient as always, 007. Making Alec's insides match his outsides, and then being too afraid to look at the final results. Though obviously James' fingers had a different take on the matter, wanting to feel and ripple themselves over the hard ridges. Gorged to the point of rupture on wrathful confusion, he flung the cell phone over the side of the building.
Footsteps shuffling up behind him, and a door swinging in the breeze, hinges squeaking. It hadn't been a very good lock, and after all, James had left Alec with the equipment. Stolen equipment. Poor Q, sitting back in the labs and biting his nails over the unknown fate of his precious creations. James almost wanted to apologize.
"Ja…could you turn around?"
Could he? Yes. Would he?
Before he could think of a reply, James had shifted himself to look at the white-faced man standing at his elbow. Alec had a faint tint of sickness beneath his pale skin, mold hiding beneath gauze, and he'd lost weight. Gaunt, with prominent hollows along his throat, he swayed slightly in the light breeze. "James," the ghost whispered. "We'll never make it out. There's nowhere to go but deeper."
"What?" Shaking the blur out of his vision, he blinked rapidly at the other man.
Alec frowned. Started to lift a hand toward James, but hesitated and froze, floating his fingers in the space by James' shoulder. "This-their chasing us-you know it won't end any time soon. We need to find a way to finish it. And I…I need to know something."
Didn't everyone. It was odd that Alec was asking him, seeing as it'd been made rather clear that James knew absolutely nothing. Nothing about Alec, about MI6, about himself…lies, all of them, and he'd never even suspected till the mirror reflected their yellowed dissipation back up at him. "I can't guarantee you an answer."
"But you have to," Alec insisted, suddenly crackling with heat as he came forward, his hovering hand dropping down to clamp onto James. "Damn you, I need to know. Do I duck the next bullet, or-"
Seizing the other man, sinking his fingers in till the bones protested under his grip, James struggled to contain his fury. Oh, no. No, Alec, there's no easy way out for you. Not from this. Not from me.
Except Alec wasn't trying to escape. Was, in fact, rocking into James, wincing at the tight hold but still leaning closer. Pressing up to James' chest, huge eyes staring at him over a shock-parted pair of lips. "So I do, don't I."
"Yes," James forced out through the gravel and ice clogging his throat. "You live."
"Why?" Alec demanded, suddenly pushing himself forward so the back of James' knees hit the ledge ringing the rooftop. "Why? What's my reason, James? What's my prime cause? Why should I bother?"
"Why should I?" Those eyes, rainslicked jade now, narrowed and sharpened. Alec twisted in his grasp, and it took a moment for James to realize that the other man was trying to tug them away from the edge. James held his ground. "You remember what training said? 'Good agents need three things: a steady hand, a strong stomach, and an unbreakable belief, whatever that may be.' Three, Alec. No more, no less. And I've lost one."
Some fierce emotion sparking into his face, Alec somehow bent enough to hook an ankle around James' and pull, sending them both falling to the ground. He rammed a knee into James' stomach, making pain fracture outwards, then swiftly wound his arms and legs around James to lock them together. "No. You said so yourself. I took it from you. And now you've taken it back, but you don't seem to know what to do with it."
Laughing hollowly, James didn't bother struggling. "Too many pronouns. Specificity, please. Oh, God, those reports-"
Alec untangled one arm long enough to smack James across the mouth, hard enough to split the lips open into crimson trickles. Then he dove forward, vicious kiss further widening the wounds. "Me," he panted. "You have me. And I'm not leaving this time, James. I can't ever leave, thanks to you."
"Won't that be a wonderful existence." Snapping his head forward to crack against Alec's, James tore himself free. Used Alec's moment of dizziness to snatch flailing wrists and wrench them up behind Alec's back. "Sex and hatred, lust and resentment. Always a stable combination. How long would I have? How long till you tired of the game and picked up the gun? Who cares which of us your target would be; the results are all the same, regardless of path."
Alec unexpectedly went limp, his eyes glinting vulnerable and huge in the dying light. "You idiot." Small, small whisper, like a candle placed in the wilderness. "I don't want to leave. I won't ever want to leave. Not now."
"Thanks to me-"
"Stop. That." Hissing through his teeth, Alec flashed vibrant green fury at James. "Bastard. Stop judging me by what you knew before Goldeneye. That was a lie. Stop judging me by what you knew during Goldeneye. That was another lie. In fact, stop judging me by anything you thought you knew about me." He moved very slightly, sliding up so lips brushed over James' collar and settled lightly at the base of James' throat. Butterfly lured in by sweet poison. "Whatever I was before, I'm not that now. I'm not the same man."
James' breath hitched, snagging itself on shards of dying emotions. "Then you're asking me to believe in a complete stranger."
"Why not? I already do." Alec's back shuddered, as if a great hook had clawed the words out of him.
"I…" James began, but instantly after that, loud squealing shrilled from the street below. Releasing his hold on Alec, James hurled himself over to the ledge and peered over, then violently swore. "They're coming."
Alec was already running for the door, scrambling to secure their belongings.
Fishtailing and spinning through the city's roads, switching cars three times, they arrived at the train station not more than twenty minutes before their pursuers. Just in time to catch the last train of the night. Having stowed his share of their bags, Alec flopped exhaustedly down on the seat and checked his watch. Fifteen minutes to departure. "They could stop it," he muttered.
"Given where and how we wrecked our last car," James replied, coming into the booth, "They'll be too busy trying to figure out whether we're charred corpses."
The other man glanced over the bags, then stared absentmindedly out the window. Alec dearly wished he could simply stand up, cross over and lick at the trace of rust still dotting the corner of James' lip. In apology. Or even just ask what James was thinking about.
He wasn't yet sure enough of his footing to risk either of those, however much those eyes had blazed and broken on the roof. Alec thought he had gotten through to James, shattered the labyrinth and bearded the Minotaur in his own den. Escaping unscathed was of course an absurd idea, but Alec didn't know if there was a way out. Conquering the monsters made no heroes; only the successful return did.
And here he was, once again trying to seek comfort in self-delusions. He wasn't capable of conquering anything at the moment. In the past, yes, he had almost done it. Almost. History remembered no 'maybes' and 'close seconds,' Alec reminded himself. At any rate, he could barely recall what it felt like to think himself invincible.
"I'm going out to buy a newspaper," James abruptly said, turning to leave. Alec began to rise and follow, but a cold gaze, deep blackish ocean water that simultaneously crushed and chilled him, brought that effort to a halt. Lowering his eyes, he sat back.
Suffered the finality of the door slipping shut, withstood the sudden shrinking of the space around him. Took pitiful solace in the memory of James pausing, possibly considering a different path. Phantom fingers rewrapped over the low throbbing bruises that circled Alec's wrists.
He had lied again, helplessly bound in the coils of that vicious, seductive habit. He'd found his anchor in James, not a stranger. Maybe Alec hadn't known everything about James-maybe.
He snorted, toeing off his shoes and then stretching out on the seat. No maybes in hell. No, everything was crystal and regulated and definite. Alec had never even glimpsed the depths that now haunted James' face, much less suspected the possibility of their existence. Yes, he had taunted the man with the ghosts of bad kills, botched missions and innocent dead, but those Furies were common to every MI6 agent. One learned to forget them, or at least to dissolve them in one's chosen poison. Set up the pedestal and leave the sins lying about the base.
But James, it seemed, had not been able to let his guilt diminish.
That was a wrong statement, too. He had, but only as long as he'd been able to cling to the top of the column and pretend that everything below was in fact as insignificant as it appeared. When Alec had knocked out that pillar, James had fallen and never quite climbed back up.
At the time, Alec hadn't realized how devastating the consequences of that would turn out. He had simply assumed he had enough knowledge to predict anything James would do, say, feel. Because after all, he'd seen so much of James, had learnt the shape and texture of so many other parts of the other man…and he'd still missed great gaping crevasses in the man. Well, no longer. Alec Trevelyan didn't leave matters half-done. Especially this one. He would know everything, or die trying.
And if James wanted, Alec would give up everything in order to accomplish.
If James cared. Closing his eyes, Alec wished desperately and futilely that he had had enough within himself to make a new column. But he didn't, and so the both of them were left stumbling about in the ruins, tripping over splintered gods and taking poor shelter in abandoned temples.
Casual and relaxed, James followed the man he'd spotted from inside the train. Tracked him to the men's room, then stepped back and swept his gaze once about the station. Empty at this time of night.
He noiselessly picked up a nearby trash can and walked heavily towards the door, then quickly kicked it open and threw the can in while dodging to the side. Muffled gunshots like corks popping sounded, and the harried-looking man ran out only to meet the butt of James' pistol. Keeping the door open with one foot, James seized the MI6 agent's shoulders and dragged him into the lavatory, where he propped the moaning body up against the wall and took aim.
"Claggart." Smiling pleasantly, James braced himself on the opposite wall. "It warms my heart to know you have such faith in my abilities."
"Really, a car crash?" Face incredulous, the named man raised a hand to gingerly rub at his rapidly darkening temple. "Anyone that knows even a particle about you wouldn't believe that for a minute."
"Given that you're alone, it would be a reasonable conjecture that neither the field commander nor the head office shared your wise opinion." James outwardly maintained a blankly calm expression, but beneath that façade, he was furiously analyzing the situation, reckoning the odds as to whom Claggart might have spoken, how soon other agents might come to investigate a wild guess, how fast he and Alec needed to get out-
"You can't run forever, Bond." Claggart smirked contemptuously, settling into his place on the floor. "And certainly not in this half-cocked fashion. As of yesterday, you've put twenty-nine agents in the hospital, but not a single one in the graveyard. An outside observer might be fooled into thinking you haven't truly gone rogue, but are merely rebelling against some particularly distasteful commands from on high."
"Call it a lingering respect for my colleagues," James replied tightly. "I have no quarrel with them."
"Oh, I most humbly beg to differ," Claggart mock-simpered, tilting up his head to better regard James. "The administration is, in essence, nothing more but an embodiment of the rules, and the rules are what molds the agent. Reject the law of the agency, Bond, and you reject everything."
James didn't immediately answer, which outwardly might have mimicked weakness. Claggart gleefully jumped at the assumption and added, triumphantly hostile, "And for what did you do this? For a traitor, and a poor one at that, if a decadent fool like yourself could have dismantled his operations. But no matter. Trevelyan-" positively savoring the sledgehammer words that would come next "-will be dead and forgotten soon enough. As he should be."
When hell gained an angelic choir. Alec was his, before and now and always.
His. Strawberries, tasted by no one else. Even if James hadn't had the faintest idea of what ideas had been churning behind those half-jeering, half-playful green eyes, Alec had still been his. Perhaps he didn't have to know the man in order to hold him?
Or perhaps James only needed to hold to that which was unknowable, that which could be detected but never described. That which required…a leap of faith. Belief.
"And after you're brought in-" Having the intuition of a cow, Claggart was still blathering on about rank nonsense. The imbecile had never had a chance of reaching double-0 status, and didn't have the slightest idea how the highest echelons of MI6 functioned. He didn't even comprehend the significance of James' having to be captured alive.
"I don't intend to be taken," James interrupted. Speaking over Claggart's irate stammering, he continued with great gusto. "I intend to walk into a certain legendary underground station and have a nice chat with M."
"You can't be serious!"
Some people simply couldn't be reasoned with. Unfortunately, Claggart's presence was an obstacle to the notion forming in James' head. "I'm perfectly so."
Then James pulled the trigger.
Thirteen minutes of unending misery later, James returned, a crisp newspaper tucked under one arm. Tossing that carelessly aside, he did something exceedingly odd: knelt by the seat to look Alec in the eye.
But there was heat, and rough softness. Dragging velvet rubbing right and wrong way over Alec's cheek, over the ridges. No. On the ridges, into the scars, swirling and tasting the last remnants of his identity. Alec didn't know who he was now, and at this moment, with James' tongue so gently bathing the very surface of the rawness in which Alec had been drowning, he didn't care.
He curled his fingers together-whether to make fists or to clasp in prayer, he would never be certain. Because a third hand was already there, easing between his own two and soaking its warmth into Alec's frigid skin. James brushed slightly-chapped lips over Alec's cheek, eyes closed as if in deep slumber. Or deep pain.
And the sparking hurt lanced through Alec, racing the flickering pleasure down tracks of nerves frayed almost to snapping. He remembered to breathe and drew in a long swallow of air that sliced through the sides of his throat. Exhaled into James' moist mouth.
Slow and so sweet it burned like brimstone, the kiss was everything they should have been. Everything he should have wanted and had turned from in favor of death and cruel history.
Ash-laced breath misted down upon Alec's whimpering lips as James broke away. "I'm sorry," the other man whispered. Incomprehension stabbed into Alec's mind, webbing outwards in widening rings of lassitude. And then he understood.
"You-" Alec swung a lead-heavy hand for James' wavering shoulder, but it hit only empty space. His other hand was still trapped by James', and so he could do nothing more but struggle to peer through an ever-shrinking window in encroaching darkness. Watch while James plucked the deadened sting from Alec's neck, while the dart was tossed into the wastebasket. Watch, vision blurring with black and wetness, while James arranged Alec on the seat and bent down for a last kiss Alec couldn't feel.
"This is what I will do for you," James said through wads and wads of eternity, self-stuffed between himself and Alec. A bloody watch silently landed on the seat cushions. An MI6 watch, some barely-functioning speck of Alec's mind noted. James smiled, bitter pride staining his face. "This is why I have to leave. I was wrong. You're not my ghost; MI6 is. And I have to see to it first."
Strong back, always walking away. Disappearing into the lightless void.
"I see you kept a key to this place."
Throwing down his half-finished cigarette, James stepped out from behind the chipped pillar to meet his expectation. "If it happened once, then I saw no reason why it wouldn't happen again."
"Caution is not one of your favored bywords," M remarked dryly, pulling her coat more closely around as she entered the old, abandoned underground station. "And where is Trevelyan?"
"Out of town. Visiting family, I suppose." When no others followed her into the lights, James raised a surprised eyebrow. "Am I not considered highly dangerous anymore?"
"Do try not to be absurd, 007." At his flinch, her eyes flamed. Chin high, M came forward till the ends of their coats grazed each other. "You have not yet been removed from the official lists. And I believe it would be safe to presume that your coming here means you have no ultimate intention of being erased."
"You put it so delicately," James chuckled, frankly regarding her severe face. "But it is true that morale would decline greatly if MI6's most successful and most capricious agent died outside the line of duty."
"It is also true that with you dead, Alec Trevelyan would be unleashed upon the world," M retorted sharply. "I find you irresponsible and costly, but the fact remains that you were the only one who managed to check Trevelyan when he was Janus. And I imagine that he is an even greater menace now, as he no longer seems to need any kind of support network."
"The man with nothing is the man to be feared." James' exhalations came in translucent white puffs, ethereal as a dream of tenderness and understanding, present as the smell of cordite and death in a train booth. He flicked his eyes back to M. "You need me."
"Arrogance numbers among the foremost of your sins, Bond. I attended Claggart's burial this afternoon," she reprimanded.
Nodding in false sympathy, James tutted. "Rather rainy, wasn't it? I hope the flowers didn't wilt." He cut off M's next words with a loud rap of shoe heel against concrete, turning to look down the decrepit tunnel entrance. "I don't need MI6. Not now. Everything that is necessary to my life is outside your cage of rules and algorithms. But you need me. You need me for the missions at which no one else can ever bear to glance, you need me to be self-destructive and self-sufficient so all the other people can go on with their complicated mess of relationships and mundane life."
"You're not completely irreplaceable." M's ire was visibly growing, reddening her cheeks and gathering in her wrinkles.
"Except in one aspect," interrupted a second voice. James' shoulders jerked, then hunched. Staring past him, M suddenly appeared to have eggs for eyes, so wide had they gone.
Swaggering footsteps halted just to the side and behind James, and Alec elaborated on his words. "Me. You are correct in your assumptions, M. I would tear the world apart if you were foolish enough to kill James, and unlike before, I have no other interests to put the least bit of restraint on me. No money, no desire for everyone to know how despicable and narrow I find you-I could honestly care less if anyone survived to play audience member, to remember that it was I who wrecked MI6 and civilization as we know it."
M wore a considering expression to which James determinedly kept his gaze fixed, not trusting himself to turn and see whether Alec's confidence was real or not. "Are you making an offer, Trevelyan?" she asked in a neutral tone.
"Of course not," he snorted. "I am merely pointing out that if I were to die, James would in all probability carry out the same scenario. Which creates a considerable degree of unpredictability. As long as I remain out of your sight."
"As if you've let it be known that agents have been shooting agents." Alec sounded far too amused for this situation, his voice positively vibrating with humor. Like wineglasses being sung to till they neared their breaking points. Driving his nails into his palms, James forcibly reminded himself that there were other ways of getting rid of M without tossing her onto the rails. "Consider him retribution for all that you've allowed to be done to us, and then the scale will balance."
Quite the tabula rasa, wiping itself clean with blood so its smooth black slate gleamed scarlet. James suppressed a laugh. Suppressed his instinct to grab Alec and run. Instead, he regarded M with a mildly questioning expression. "Well?"
"Well what?" M began to snap out more vitriol, then cut herself off, dropping her head into one hand. Her small body began to shake, very gradually, with something that might have been laughter. Or rage, though when she looked up once more, she was as composed as a Japanese flower arrangement. "You two are absolutely impossible. Eight o'clock precisely, the morning two days from now, in my office. And no more killings."
"That…seems acceptable," James murmured, studying her face for any signs of insincerity. Finding none, he stepped back minutely, silently signaling her to leave.
This time, Alec waited only till he was sure they were alone before he spoke. "Why?"
"I didn't think I deserved to ask it of you," James gritted out, angrily spinning about to head for the other exit. Catching a sleeve, Alec threw his weight back to throw both of them onto a bench. He flung himself onto James, then snarled when the other man tried to talk.
"You. Don't. Understand," Alec hissed, seizing James' upper arms in a desperate grip, trying to anchor him. "Not leaving means I always come back. Means I don't turn from anything."
Slumping over, Alec let his head fall into the cradle of James' neck, scenting the musk there. "I wanted to ask you to join me. I truly did. But I was telling you the truth when I knew you wouldn't. Not then."
"Today I would say yes." Soft as spring rain, a palm settled on Alec's back, then stroked up and down his spine. "Tomorrow I would. Even five years ago, I would have thought about it." The hesitant movement of James' chest sent shivers through Alec. "For more than a moment."
"You still would have said no." Alec closed his eyes, recalling every prayer he'd ever learnt. Even the dim, fragmented ones of rippling Russian that had drifted from his mother's lips every waking moment. "James."
His voice stumbled, weakened and sank back into his throat. It took almost more than Alec had left to heave the words back out of the bog, but he did it. "Come and stay with me."