Author: Guede Mazaka
“See? Nice up here.” Will rolled his shoulders and arched his back, pulling out all the kinks from his muscles. Then he flopped back on the conference table and let his arm drop over the side. After a bit of groping, he found the case of beer he’d left on one of the seats. “So you’re positive you debugged this room?”
“Yes.” By this point, Horatio had sufficiently loosened up to not refuse the bottle Will passed him, though he didn’t open it. He had tugged down his tie and lost the jacket, and now he was even letting his cuffs flap open.
Then again, the quarterly complete-system-overhaul was always guaranteed to fray tempers and break boundaries. And they were only half-way through it, taking a rest while their current batch of changes finished uploading into the systems. Another five minutes and the first warning beeps should kick in. “Absolutely positive.”
“Yes. What, are you about to ravish me senseless and you’d prefer to have no witnesses?” Horatio sounded so acerbic that Will had to glance over just to check that he was still lying beside black curly hair and not fine reddish-blond. Then the other man let out a…giggle. Well, no, it was a hiccup, but it certainly wanted to be a giggle.
Flushing, Horatio clapped his hand over his mouth and mumbled something that Will, with his experience in translating for perpetual drunks, interpreted as blaming the beer. “Only solution for that is drinking more.”
“Says the one who refrains from drinking so he won’t drop the blackmail camera. I think I’ll have to decline.” So said Horatio, who couldn’t help toying with the bottle. He dangled it between his fingers while he scanned the label. Ran his thumb along the edge. Absently licked off some condensation that had sprinkled around his mouth.
He had a rather long and flexible tongue, which reminded Will of entirely too many of Elizabeth’s fantasies. “You are getting quite the mouth on you.”
“Self-defense. If I didn’t, I’d never find out anything around here.” The casual wittiness vanished and Horatio scrunched up his shoulders. He looked adorable, but if Will had to put up with that all the time, he’d probably go mad. God knew how Archie and the others dealt with it.
One of the laptops beeped, but when Will rolled over to look at it, he saw that it was just a status update. So far so good, so he muttered a prayer to the gods of silicon and looping that it’d continue and hit ‘Enter.’
Turning on his back took too much effort, so he just stayed on his stomach and flipped off the top of his beer. At Horatio’s curious look, Will shrugged. “I try not to get drunk. Which one beer doesn’t qualify as. And in case you’re still worrying, I have no intention of ravishing your admittedly admirable arse. I’m too damn sore for that.”
It was late at night and they’d switched off the lights hours ago, when their eyes had first started burning, but Horatio’s flush could still be seen, changed to a lurid pale green by the computer screen’s illumination. Even if it hadn’t been visible, his embarrassment still would’ve been evident from the way he tucked his chin into his chest. His fingers nervously twisted about the top of his bottle and suddenly the cap came squirting out from his hand. He yelped a bit, then looked even more harassed. “I can sympathize,” he muttered.
The computers beeped again, and this time it was to signal them to get back to work.
Of course, Will wasn’t going to forget that easily, or let that kind of comment go. It was late, he was bored in between the stints of frantic working, and Elizabeth had swiped his mp3 player. Maybe it wasn’t nice to take it out on Horatio, but it was the other man’s luck that no one else was around, or phonable—James was in London, Jack and Anamaria in Puerto Rico, and Theo and Tom were having their first coinciding free night in two and a half weeks. Will supposed he could’ve phoned Elizabeth and woken her up, but he was more afraid of her temper than he was of Horatio. After all, Horatio didn’t share a bed with Will.
So when they were settling back on the broad conference table, idly sipping their tepid beer, Will probed. “Edrington being demanding again?”
Horatio burbled his beer. Once he’d gotten the bottle resting safely on the table and had wiped the foam from his mouth, he shot back an irritated reply. “Why would you assume it’s Alexander?”
“Honestly? Because Bush isn’t exactly the pushy type and if I suggested Archie, you’d be too defensive to be truthful.” Next time, Will needed to remember to drag in a cooler to keep the beer palatable. As it was, it was drinkable, but it didn’t exactly make his tastebuds dance with joy.
After a moment, Horatio let out a dry chuckle. “Point.”
“Match?” The last drop of beer slid into Will’s mouth, not encouraging him to follow it with any more. He leaned over the edge of the table to set the bottle down on the floor and made a note to himself to get it once they could stumble home.
“No.” Horatio made a face and waffled a bit before spitting it out. “Alexander’s actually been busy—something came up with his properties in England. But Archie, on the other hand, is between assignments and seems to believe that I’m inexhaustible. I don’t care if programming is done sitting down; it still takes energy I don’t have if I’m being constantly buggered against walls!”
Though he’d started out calmly enough, by the time Horatio finished he was speaking so loudly and sharply that they both jumped. He stared dazedly at the wall for a second, then sighed and let his head thump back. Then he shocked Will again by taking a long swig of his beer.
“I’m sorry,” he finally muttered. “I shouldn’t have…”
“…oh, no, it’s fine.” Which Will sincerely meant. Aside from the fascination factor of seeing Horatio actually admit to being annoyed about someone. “It’s good therapy. Let it out.”
That earned him narrowed eyes and a bottle vaguely waving in his direction. “Are you sure you debugged this room?”
“Yes, I am. Doubly sure because Jaime withheld sex until I took out the last bug,” Will snorted, rolling his eyes. Hornblower really had no idea what a dedicated commander he’d been lucky to get.
“No one would ever believe we manage to run this place the way we do,” Horatio laughed. His laptop emitted a hornpipe tune and he turned around to deal with whatever that signaled.
It’d be nice to believe that, but the paranoia of covert-intelligence agencies was never to be underestimated.
Admittedly it’d been a while since Will had drunk much, but he still didn’t remember alcohol making him morose. He flopped over and stared at the lines scrolling down the screen, trying to test his sobriety. No, he could still juggle programs in his head, so he wasn’t far gone enough for the beer to be a good excuse.
“I don’t suppose you could talk Norrington into bringing William back from Baton Rouge early, could you?” Horatio propped his chin on his hands, looking wistfully at the keyboard. Then he shook himself and pinched the bridge of his nose. “God. I’m sorry. I should know better than that.”
“No, it’s fine. I wish I could do the same all the time. Lizzie doesn’t have any problem nagging about that kind of thing, but…well, she’s not expecting to be taken seriously. Even when it’d be nice if that happened.” It’d been really quiet of late, Will thought. That was what was making him antsy. Of course there’d been rumblings on the streets and ominous whispers coming from their South American informants, but nothing really big. And nothing from London or Langley, either, and half the time it was the higher-ups who were threatening to throw everyone out of whack.
Whirring noise. Will cursed and flipped up to deal with the bitching system. “Hey, Horatio? I’ve been wondering…you realize I don’t sleep…” usually, and it was a good thing it was too dark for Will’s flush to be seen “…with Anamaria. So that’s only three for me. And James and Jack are actually out of town a lot. So how the hell do you handle always having around—”
“Did Elizabeth put you up to this?” Horatio interrupted, nothing but prim exasperation. He pulled himself up by his elbows and squinted at Will’s screen, then tapped a line. “There.”
“Thank you, and no, she didn’t. I’m just curious. You did complain earlier…” Will corrected the line and waited for the computer to spit it back at him. It didn’t, and he breathed a sigh of relief.
Horatio chewed on his lip. He seemed about to tell Will off, but then he apparently thought the better of it.
Suddenly he grinned, bleary-eyed but genuinely mischievous. “Telling them I’m in the middle of rearranging their finances and could delete their bank accounts if I accidentally hit the wrong button works fairly well.”
“I used to use that one all the time, but then Lizzie picked up enough code to tell when I was actually telling the truth,” Will moaned.
“Did you ever…” uncomfortable cough “…did one of them ever go down on you while you were on the phone?”
Well, it seemed that once Horatio had gotten started, he’d discovered a taste for gossiping. Not that Will was going to nip that in the bud. “On the phone, in the car, teleconferencing…bloody pain.”
“I know. I’m supposed to keep my balance, carry on a decent conversation and somehow act flirtatious at the same time? I should do it to Archie some time—no, that’d only encourage him.” Horatio put his head down on his folded arms and glowered at the laptops. After a moment, he yanked his tie over his head and puddled it in front of him. “Alexander’s not quite so—physical, but he does have the most annoying habit of perverting innocent everyday objects.”
“So that’s why you blush every time you see the coffeemaker! And…and the creamer, and donuts, and…
The other man shot Will a look so full of injury and defensiveness that Will took pity on him. A somewhat awkward silence tiptoed in.
“The creamer’s actually not…well, nothing to do with me,” Horatio muttered. “After the whole Agent Crumpet mess, Archie took to calling Alexander Agent Cream, and apparently Alexander took that as a challenge.”
His voice had an odd constriction tingeing them. It took a moment for Will to figure it out, and then another moment for him to believe. “And you wish it had been to do with you.”
“Of course not!” Hornblower did have the cutest scandalized looks. Not as comical as Jack’s or Elizabeth’s, but then, scandalized from those two had never been believable. “Cream is entirely too messy. Plain lube can be bloody tricky all by itself, depending on…ah…I think I need to stop there.”
“I could give you the address of a specialty dairy and sweets company,” Will said, grinning.
The other man snorted and turned away just as the computers beeped and they had to start the next stage of installment. For a few minutes, there was no sound except for that of focused, rapid typing. Then:
“Washable? We’ve generous expense accounts, but…well…”
“I’ll write it down for you in a second.” Will made a note to bug Horatio’s apartment sometime during the next week. After all, Elizabeth’s birthday was coming up and he was at a bit of a loss for appropriate presents.