|Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow
Author: Guede Mazaka
“It still doesn’t make any sense—” Will glanced up from the printouts in his hand to see Theo’s jaw hanging loose as Saturday night in the Cuban districts. Likewise, the rest of the office had gone quiet in that way that foreshadowed some huge shock.
With a sigh, Will checked his watch. Yes, it was about time for Elizabeth to return Horatio. And since neither Will nor Jack or James cared to let her meddle much in their choice of clothing, that particular impulse of hers had latched on rather firmly to Horatio. Poor man—sooner or later, he’d learn how to say no to a woman.
When Will looked up, it was with some idea of how his eyes were going to be assaulted. But once he had spotted the man stalking grimly through the office, he had to admit that Elizabeth had outdone herself.
“Leather pants, boots, chains, tight linen frock-coat…” Theo sat down hard and grabbed his glass of water from the table, then hesitated. After a moment, he shoved it against his temple. “And is that glitter eyeshadow?”
“Silver. The last time I let Elizabeth near me with that, I was limping for a week. Jack was very smug, damn him.” It was interesting to note how heads swiveled and gazes seemed to drag inevitably to that very nice ass Hornblower had. Even Gillette stole a look and promptly looked outraged about it. “So Horatio’s assigned downtown tonight, I take it.”
Beaming like a proud mother, Elizabeth sauntered in Horatio’s seething wake, causing some serious aftershocks herself. By Will’s calculation, she had over a hundred miniskirts now, and he still couldn’t choose a favorite.
Theo apparently had remembered he was a taken man, because he tucked his chin into his chest and coughed. Supreme British discomfort, accompanied with a fringe of red along the tops of his cheeks. “Downtown…yes. We might have to rethink that. Elizabeth, while I appreciate your help in the wardrobe department, the point is to blend in.”
“Oh, he will. Half that stuff won’t last till this evening.” She gracefully slid into Will’s lap and rested her chin on his shoulder so she could continue to watch the havoc Horatio was wrecking on MI6’s productivity. The man must have been too irritated to notice the effect he was having, as Hornblower would never knowingly decrease work output.
“Only Bush is in. Archie and Alexander are still out.” From the sound of Theo’s voice, he had a migraine exploding through his skull.
As amused as Will was, he did feel a little sorry and guilty about that. It was vacation time for a lot of colleges, so downtown was flooded with hordes of drunken hormone-kegs; working in that area without sparking off undue property damage consequently required extreme concentration. And the newest Brits had a peculiar sense of honor when it came to defending one another.
Well, not so peculiar in its motivations. After so long, Will sometimes felt as if he and Elizabeth had…grown into the others in some way, to the point where it became difficult to distinguish where they ended and began. But he was definitely less stiff-necked about flirtations with his bedmates than Bush or—though he was much more subtle about it--Archie about Horatio. If he bothered reacting to every single moron that hit on Elizabeth or Jack, he would’ve keeled over from an aneurysm ages ago.
“There’s still half an afternoon to get Hornblower toned down,” Will offered, shuffling papers to his other hand so he could pat Theo’s shoulder. “And for the next few weeks, Lizzie’s going to be much too busy to mess with your field operatives—” Elizabeth started to exclaim, but Will clapped a hand over her mouth and gave her a look “—so you’ll get a break. Really, Theo. I promise.”
Elizabeth paused, sharply nipping at Will’s hand, but she could see the stress grooving into Theo’s face as well as Will could. With a reluctant mutter, she nodded. Then she jerked her mouth free and pecked Will’s temple. “I need to help Giselle find a decent hairdresser anyway. And come on, Will—drop whatever bit of geekery you’re playing with. It’s almost the start of rush hour, and I don’t want to explain to Jack why we’re late again.”
That reminded Will, but they did need to go. So he put aside the discrepancies in the papers for the moment and quietly folded the sheets into his bag. Theo still noticed, but he only raised an eyebrow, so quickly that Elizabeth didn’t catch it, and saw them to the door. Circumspect of him, but then, James was off in London for the quarterly meeting and had given express orders not to be phoned unless the peninsula dropped into the ocean. And whatever the reason behind the weird numbers was, it clearly involved both Jack and James. No sane man would take on the CIA section leader in his territory without having his own commander at least in the same state. And after the almost-mess at Disney World—about which Will still didn’t have the full story—they both knew how delicate interagency cooperation could be.
It wasn’t really Will to upset that balance, but this case was slightly different than the usual issues of information-sharing and territorial rights over informants. For one, he suspected that what was in his bag had very little to do with either agency. For two…
“Penny for your thoughts?” Elizabeth said, slipping past him.
Will blinked, startled out of his thoughts, and then he saw her aim. By now, it was reflex to grab her waist, shove his head into the back of her neck so she would have a harder time hitting him, and sling them around so he was the one who ended up in the driver’s seat. “I’m driving.”
“I am not that bad. You turn whiter when Anamaria drives.” Pouting, Elizabeth flopped off his lap and tumbled into the passenger’s seat. His eyes inevitably glued themselves to the expanse of thighs her rucked-up skirt showed.
A giggle finally broke his stupid lust long enough for Will to look up. Elizabeth was lightly, thoughtfully, nibbling at her fingertip while her other hand lazily smoothed thin khaki over her legs.
“I can’t do anything about it when Anamaria wants to drive,” Will muttered, rolling his shoulders back and facing frontwards. He’d long since resigned himself to acting like an idiot around Elizabeth, but this was just like being hauled back to high school, where his half-accent had had his class’s entire female population parading past his locker. “Whereas you…”
She flicked her fingers at him, then dragged down her seatbelt. As he started the car, Elizabeth ground herself into the seat cushion and slowly stretched her arms over her head. “Whereas I…”
“…seem determined to make us crash anyway.” Will reminded his prick that it’d been seen to only a few hours before, and had also been thoroughly exhausted last night in preparation for James’ week-long jaunt to London. Where the damned thing got its energy, he didn’t know, but he was fairly sure it had nothing to do with the laws of thermodynamics. He could be completely drained, and all it would take was Elizabeth in silk. Or Jack in silk—all right, no.
“You’re making a face,” Elizabeth tittered. They pulled out just as Kennedy roared in, a somewhat greenish Edrington hanging off the passenger strap. Being a properly brought-up British girl, Elizabeth beamed and waved anyway, then turned to watch. “God, I wish I could be there when they see Horatio.”
Whatever face Will was currently making scrunched itself a little more. “Just why do you like doing that to Hornblower so much? There’s four of them, you know—well, maybe Edrington would be a bit tough to maneuver into that kind of clothing—”
“—not really. Not if Jack’s special rum is involved.” When Elizabeth finally turned back, she wore a satisfied grin that glowed and warmed just like the brilliant sunlight spilling over the dashboard. Once again, Will told himself to calm down and bloody drive. “And because Horatio could use it. He’s such a geek, never knows when to get off the stupid laptop—like you, only I’m not as polite about hauling you off the computer as Kennedy or Bush or…well, even Alexander.”
“And there’s Jack as well. Impossible to ignore him when he thinks I’ve had enough.” Too late, Will realized he was speaking much more dryly than usual. When he glanced over to check on Elizabeth, he knew they weren’t going to arrive at Jack’s offices without him giving up the goods.
Damn. He’d been hoping to at least have the car stopped before he’d brought up the subject. They were taking a fast, slim sports car, which meant very little room if Elizabeth happened to overreact in any way.
Surprisingly enough, Elizabeth didn’t say anything. Instead, she slung her purse around and burrowed through it, shuffling through lipsticks and compacts, a few knives, a set of lockpicks and some broken microchips Will had forgotten to get back from her. After a moment, she produced a penny, which she then proceeded to balance on Will’s shoulder.
He took a turn and it fell off.
“You know, a truly skilled driver could take that at 90 and not have the penny fall off.” She poked his side.
“A truly skilled driver does that on a controlled course with a precisely adapted and calibrated machine. And he doesn’t have a pretty blonde tickling his side,” Will grated out, trying very, very hard not to start laughing. “Elizabeth, highway.”
Big innocent eyes blinked at him, then looked at the oncoming ramp. “So blowjob?”
Will started to straighten up and be a man about his discomfort, then remembered he’d been in America long enough to not have to do that stiff upper lip act. So instead he sank and sprawled out as much as the footspace would allow, which was infinitely more comfortable. “Liz.”
“Will.” Elizabeth ceased playing connect-the-dots with his ticklish spots and wriggled around till she was halfway out of her seatbelt, head on his shoulder and hands toying with the three hip chains he was wearing today. “All right, what’s wrong? I know there’s something, and you know I know, and you might as well tell me. Overreaction or not, it’s just going to be worse if you wait.”
“Well, please remember that we both hate hospitals, and at least three people will kill us if we do a rollover on the highway.” He switched over a lane to swing by some semis, then settled down behind what looked like a reasonably sane driver. In another fifteen minutes, rush hour would begin.
Fifteen minutes. It was a little funny that Will could judge he needed only a third of that time to boil down some very complex financial paper-trails into a simple explanation. The skills one acquired on the job…
He told her his working theory. When that little furrow started between her eyebrows, he eased back a bit and mentioned some other possible hypotheses.
Elizabeth, however, had gotten more than reaction mechanisms out of her chemistry training. And between the horrific stepmother-spawned legal aftermath of her father’s death and looking over Will’s shoulder for the past three…no, almost four…years, she had developed a damn good financial head.
“Stop evading, Will.” If a litmus test had been done on her tone, it would’ve come out neutral pale yellow. 7, exactly in the middle. Her expression was equally noncommittal as she leaned back and crossed her legs. When Elizabeth was thinking on something deeply unpleasant, she epitomized demure politeness.
That was possibly why Will hated to see her so; he’d rather she be furious and spitting than quietly folded in on herself. At least when she was angry, he knew she was with him.
They’d just parked at Jack’s offices when Elizabeth spoke again. “There’s got to be a different reason.”
“Probably. Jack and numbers don’t generally tend to add up.” But even while Will was attempting to reassure her, he could feel his own faith slipping.
“Will.” And there was the flash in Elizabeth’s eyes, and she was straddling him and grabbing his head into a fierce kiss before he’d even gotten the keys out of the ignition. He hit the horn, winced, and licked the side of her mouth as she pulled away. “Will, don’t you dare. You haven’t heard Jack’s side yet—and he’s in love with you. Completely. Ridiculously. Anamaria regularly mocks him for favoring a puppy-boy over an intelligent stick-man.”
Will sighed and buried his face in Elizabeth’s breasts, savoring their soft warmth. Then he actually thought about what she’d said instead of only reacting to the tone. “Puppy-boy? Stick-man?”
“Oh, well…” Elizabeth blushed and looked sideways “…Anamaria tends to see you and Jaime when you’re fucking up or he’s being prissy, remember. And you do have puppy-eyes.”
“I also have more ins to her goddamned bank accounts than I know what to do with. And what does she call what Jack and James have, then?” When Will muttered into the space between Elizabeth’s breasts, she shivered in a way that was lovely friction and almost enough to convince him into a better mood.
Apparently Elizabeth wasn’t averse to using that method, because she was nuzzling the top of his head and massaging the back of his head. “Comfortable. It’s love all right, but it isn’t quite the kind that makes Jack get a deep dark panic in his eye when he’s lost contact with you.”
“That could just be because he believes in James’ ability to handle himself, and he still doesn’t do the same for me,” Will retorted, half of him stubbornly refusing to be soothed. After all this time, he still knew far less of Jack than Jack knew of him, and it grated. Granted, the other man was much older, and Will wouldn’t begrudge any man the keeping of some certain secrets, but still. He could’ve used a timetable for revelations, at the least.
Or Jack could have been smart enough to do his covert dealings where he knew Will couldn’t run across them. It’d just been a routine check into recent money transfers that had led to this current sticking point—like Jack had wanted him to find out. Only if Jack wanted someone to know something, he generally relished the telling of it. Will knew perfectly well that Jack and James had had background projects going on long before he and Elizabeth had showed up, and that didn’t irritate him…well, it didn’t irritate him nearly as much as something that started only this year did.
“You know better than that. Honestly, Will—you’re such a prat sometimes.” Elizabeth smacked him and was climbing out of the car before the sting had half-faded. “Look, I know it looks bad. But could you at least try to give Jack the benefit of the doubt?”
“What do you think I’m doing? I didn’t call him up in a raging fury, did I?” Will got out after her and slammed the door a little harder than strictly necessary. Then he caught up and passed Elizabeth, walking fast to take the edge off his fear and frustration. “Why are you being so calm about it, anyway? Weren’t you complaining just this morning how Jack still doesn’t think we’re good enough to know some things?”
The clicking of high heels became staccato snaps. After a moment, Elizabeth was close enough to snag Will’s arm and drag on him, slowing them just enough for them to miss the elevator. As the doors closed, Joshamee smiled apologetically and yelled something about sending it right down, and mind the freshly-cleaned floor.
Elizabeth didn’t laugh at that. Her lips compressed into a tight line as she looked hard at Will, and then she turned to glare at the shiny metal doors. “Would you rather I be absolutely furious and egg you on into a rampage? Damn it, Will, if this is your reaction every time I try to be reasonable, I might as well stop.”
“Liz—Elizabeth—I’m—” Will stopped himself before his tongue could make any more trouble. He pinched the bridge of his nose, took a deep breath—
--and nearly jumped out of his boots when the elevator blared Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and clicked open its doors.
They stared. Then Elizabeth rolled her eyes and pulled Will inside, backhanding the correct button as she went. “Hornblower has weird tastes in music.”
“More like he’s got a fairly good idea of what will annoy us. You see, this is why you should stop kidnapping him on shopping trips. Or at least pick out clothes for him that don’t scream, ‘You. Me. Wall. Now.’” The banter temporarily banished the strain between them, but soon the elevator was smoothly climbing upward and Elizabeth had her arms folded across her breasts like an iron bar.
There was a fascinating new stain on the floor. It didn’t look like coffee, or…any kind of bodily fluid, so Will was left to some desultory speculations about its origin. Which were stupid and he was definitely stalling, and damn his pride anyway. This was Elizabeth. “My deepest apologies?”
“Stop trying to—no, you don’t.” Stamping her foot, Elizabeth grabbed his arm and dragged him down so she could shake a finger in his face. “Stop with the eyes. And the James-impression.”
“I was going for Theo, actually. He’s wormed an impressive number of vacation days out of James with that face,” Will replied, tentatively smiling. When she didn’t move away, he swung his arm around her waist. “So…”
With a half-content sigh, Elizabeth snuggled into Will’s side and nuzzled his shoulder. “So I’m plotting. That’s why I’m not upset.”
Will winced. He hadn’t even thought about that, and it was possibly the most dangerous reaction that Elizabeth could have. “Should I put the local hospitals on alert?”
“Of course not,” she snapped, turning a mock-shocked expression up at him. Then she grinned and pecked his cheek. “Besides, Jaime isn’t even in the country.”
Something lurched, and it wasn’t the elevator. Once again, Will winced. “Oh, God.”
“No, Lizzie and her brilliant plan,” she amended.
* * *
One of the loveliest surprises in the world, in Jack’s opinion, was walking into his office to see Will sprawled all over his oversized swivel chair. The hip chains were dragging one side of Will’s jeans low enough for the curving top of hipbone to be visible, and the face was arranged in frowning contemplation. Which wrinkles were always enjoyable to trace with a tongue till Will decided to abandon the electronic heaven and…hmm.
Will was looking up at him, and the other man didn’t seem happy. More importantly, he was focused on Jack and not happy, which meant that whatever was wrong couldn’t be put down to knotty technological problems.
Jack paused in the doorway and divested himself of his heavier guns, slinging the holster over the coat-tree. Then he leaned against the frame and made himself look as confused as possible. “Will?”
“Web,” was the intelligently incomprehensible response Jack got. With a sharp snap of the wrist, Will flipped out a handful of papers from somewhere beneath the desk, then spread them out so Jack could see.
“You’re creating a web of accounts. Laundering money. It’s something we do all the time, so it took a while for me to figure out why this looked off.” A kick sent the chair straight so Will could rest both elbows on the desk. As he folded his hands under his chin, he was visibly trying to control his temper. “None of these are in areas where we have interests. In fact, the pattern’s that you’re purposefully trying to avoid all of our operations. Like you were planning to cut and run sometime, and you wanted nest eggs.”
“Those are strong words,” Jack began, taking a slow step forward. He absently shuffled through the papers, furrowing his brow and running his fingertip along the columns as if he didn’t know exactly what was there. The point was to stall for time, but the reasons Jack needed more time were a bit muddled. Most of him was torn between pride that Will had caught on after all and a rare irritation with himself, because he should’ve known better how to hide his tracks.
While Jack realized the real issue here was the delicacy of explaining to Will just why he and James hadn’t wanted to discuss this with the others, he knew full well that the coming conversation was going to be about as pleasant as sailing through a week of squalls in a dry ship. And being human, his first reaction was going to be looking for ways around that. Not to mention that it was still debatable whether Will would understand, even if he did comprehend.
“Well, it’s a touchy subject. So I’d rather have it out in the open.” The glare in Will’s eyes was beginning to go red and wet around the edges, which didn’t bode well. “Are you planning to leave?”
The plan had been to let James do the explaining when the time finally came. Norrington had a marvelously disarming way of being earnest that did wonders for putting a heroic light on things. And cynically pragmatic as Will and Elizabeth both could be on occasion, when it came down to it, they were hopeless romantics. Jack only had to look at himself to know that.
At the moment, Jack was looking at himself and wondering how much fluff to subtract from his impromptu speech. Despite the general impression of responsibility Will gave, he could be as temperamental as any artist. Particularly when he believed he wasn’t being dealt with in a respectful manner, if not in a completely fair one.
So Jack compromised and perched himself on the desk, looming over Will. “Do I appear t’be leavin’?”
“Oh, very nice. Very nice.” Will abruptly shoved himself back from the desk and was on his feet before Jack could grab an elbow. “Put the judgment call on me. Well, I’m not going for it, Jack. I have the numbers and I know I didn’t play with them. Are they lying?”
“Not in th’way y’re takin’ it, Will—Will!” Jack lunged over the desk, but his fingers just brushed Will’s sleeve before he overbalanced. Fortunately, his desk was somewhat clear today, so it was easy to swing about and right himself. And then he was through the door and after Will, but Will was surprisingly fast. Also, Jack’s office wasn’t nearly as good about keeping out of way of hurrying superiors as James’ was; some idiot reporting from Sharpe intercepted Jack and kept him back a full five seconds.
By the time he reached the garage, Will was long gone, and something was happening in Puerto Rico that needed his immediate attention. Jack wasn’t generally one for kicking walls, seeing as one never knew how thin and what or who was behind, but for a moment, he was sorely tempted.
He went back inside and started countermeasures rolling, and then he tried a quick call to James. Busy line. Whereupon Jack realized he hadn’t seen Elizabeth yet, and she had gone to pick up Will. Anamaria might’ve been able to help, but she was down in the streets for the week and she would’ve been right pissed to risk a blown cover for anything short of someone vanishing. Which might happen—never mind that. Jack had work to do. And then he had a list of Turner-haunts to check.
* * *
James checked the latch of the bathroom stall door one last time, then answered. Though it could be remarkably stingy about footing the bill for regular expenses, when it came to HQ, MI6 would have only the highest quality stuff. Consequently, the stalls on the topmost levels were more like miniature rooms, complete with good soundproofing. Of course there were bugs as well, but those weren’t too much trouble to take care of.
A moment later, James was devoutly grateful for the existence of all of the above. “Elizabeth. Wait. Please slow down and—”
*It’s some dramatic exit plan, isn’t it?* barked Elizabeth. The static flattened and screeched her voice, but her anger came through quite clearly. *After you’ve got enough money salted away, you and Jack stage some amazing heroic death and retire to sunny Acapulco.*
He blinked. “Acapulco.”
*Acapulco. You bastards.* Her chin was audibly lifting in that pugnacious, adorably defiant way that was simply Elizabeth.
Sadly, James couldn’t admire her spirit, because he was suddenly somehow in imminent danger of losing it. “What on earth are you talking about? I’ve no intention of retiring till forty-five at earliest, and even then I certainly wouldn’t indulge in that sort of senseless drama. We’re not living in a movie, Elizabeth.”
*No, we’re not.* Just as abrupt as her greeting had been, her voice slumped into a palpable depression. He could hear her muffling a sigh with her fingertips, then muttering curses as she remembered not to ruin her manicure with nibbling. *But Will’s got financial numbers that are adding up to suspicious. I only want you to be honest with me, James. Are you going to leave?*
For a moment longer, he still had no idea what she was referring to. And then he did, and his gut was busily knotting itself in rags while a tiny voice in his head called him all the manner of idiot.
The thoughts in his head were turning it weighty as lead, so he put the toilet cover down and sat on it. Then he propped his elbows on his knees, and his forehead against his hand. “Elizabeth, have I ever mentioned how old I am?”
*No…* In the background, voices were rapidly shifting; it seemed that Elizabeth was curled up somewhere and channel-surfing. *I know what day your birthday is, but not your year. But I’d peg you at…thirty-two, perhaps.*
That brought a slightly sour smile to James’ face. “Complimentary of you. I’m thirty-seven.”
“The average lifespan of an intelligence operative is lower than that, you know. And the typical retirement is only a waiting game till the past either drags one back or destroys them. I have no intention of suffering either fate.” Tension was gathering into prickles around James’ temples and eyes, so he rubbed at the skin there in an attempt to break up the nervous spasms. “I’ll not be leaving the game, but neither will I be able to continue my current role in a decade or so. Age catches up, unfortunately.”
Something creaked as Elizabeth changed position. Now she was speaking with a sharp intensity that stretched undimmed over the ocean. *The CIA has this joke: an agent never retires. He just takes it a little easier.*
“Elizabeth, I love you. You and Will.” James took a deep breath to rid himself of the clog in his throat. “The day I leave either of you is the day I die. You have my word.”
She made a little half-choked noise, then straightened out her voice. *That’s quite a promise.*
“It’s a true one.” The massaging wasn’t working, so James shifted around till he could lean his forehead against the cold marble walls. Then his muscles started to relax. “No, I’m not leaving. That money is for my…withdrawal from MI6, but it isn’t for my departure from the Caribbean.”
*I’m a fool,* Elizabeth suddenly said, a bubble of laughter in her words. *I should have known better. Once you’ve claimed something, you don’t ever give it up. God, I pity whoever takes over the Miami office after you.*
It was James’ turn to chuckle, because as ungentlemanly as it was, he did enjoy a bit of irony. “Actually, you’ve already met them. Though I still haven’t decided how to divide things between Hornblower and Theodore…Sharpe will probably melt back into private life himself when I--”
The sound that emitted from the cell was piercing enough to make James jump and jerk the phone from his ear. After a second, he identified it as a squeal of delight.
*I love you, you know. You look so upright and virtuous, but inside you’re just as devious as Jack. I love it. I really do,* Elizabeth was babbling. She made another pleased sound, but cut it off. James had counted to ten when she said something again, her tone back to somber. *But why didn’t you tell us?*
“Because…well, I suppose vanity’s part of it. Even when preparing for it, no man likes to acknowledge that he’s growing older.” Hopefully, James’ laugh didn’t come out too sardonic. It was a ridiculous reason, but it had weight with him. “And we were—Jack especially—worried. We thought you two might not—you see, we aren’t expecting you to leave when we do. Jack’s…”
Elizabeth thoughtfully hummed. *We’re his successors. Well, I’m assuming Anamaria will stay on, but she’s happy with what she’s got. Hates running any kind of interference with Langley. And as nice as it would be to drop out at the same time, we’d still be too young.*
“I’m sorry, but it’s politics and trends. The CIA will accept a fiftysomething retiring, but not a thirtysomething. And I’ve seen agents leave before they were ready; they always end up itching to go back, and it often takes over their whole life. It takes a long time to fully assimilate into the intelligence world, and it takes even long to ease out of it,” James said, slow and precise. His brow had cooled rather nicely, but his knees were cramping rather badly. A case in point.
*I know.* And the richness of the varying threads running through Elizabeth’s voice told him that she meant it.
They sat in silence for nearly a minute because it was so peaceful that neither one of them wanted to break it. Of course, that had to happen sooner or later.
*Jaime? Where are you?* Elizabeth asked, innocent as a Catholic schoolgirl.
He bit his lip and double-checked for bugs and taps. “Elizabeth, I’m in London, in the heart of MI6’s offices—”
*Bathroom. Ah. And in there—* her voice dropped an octave *—do you have enough leg-room? Whenever you get around to taking me to London, should I bring along a cushion for my knees?*
“Elizabeth,” James hissed, crouching over to hide his flaming cheeks from absolutely no one. As far as he knew, at any rate. Other parts of him besides his joints were beginning to develop a bit of an ache.
She had to be smirking, the little vixen. *No one’s in there—well, I would hope no one’s in there with you, Jaime. So go ahead and sprawl a bit. Spread your legs. I’m positive it’s more comfortable that way.*
Only marginally, but James was rather preoccupied with his iron grip on the toilet and the cell to make a good judgment about it. His teeth seemed glued together as well, because all he could manage was a little grunt.
*Have I ever mentioned how much I love your tailor? Really. Your slacks hang in just the right way, showing off the curve of arse, and right now I’m betting the curve of a nice hard prick as well. Will said he made sure your balls would remember him at least before you went—is he right?*
Elizabeth’s tone was far too sugary for James’ taste. Therefore he braced his feet on the floor, pried his jaw open, and fired back. “In a manner of speaking. But if you want me to be truly honest, I think I remember his arse better. I agree with Jack—there’s something to be said for fucking against walls, even when your back has seen better days.”
In a few hours, James was going to be horrifically embarrassed recalling this, but at the moment, his blood was up. And he had temporarily relinquished control over the hand that was slowly creeping from toilet to thigh in order to revel a ludicrous amount in rolling swear words over his tongue. “If you’re up to it, I’ll take you along on my next trip here. I think you would very much enjoy the mahogany and teak paneling. It’s decades old, and worn smooth as satin with only a hint of roughness left.”
She moaned, struggled to catch her breath. *You are a devious, devious man, Jaime. I should bite something. Your nipple. Or maybe nibble down your thigh, where I’d wager your fingers are wandering right now.*
In point of fact, they were far past that point; he’d been in nothing but dry, dull meetings all day in a dark, rainy city that was about as opposite from Miami’s light-washed sensuality as possible. James allowed himself to slide down a little further so he could rest the back of his head against the wall. “But if you did that, then I wouldn’t be in a position to see how your taste changes from your thighs to your truly delicious…cunt. That’s the word your generation prefers, isn’t it?”
*You’re too…coherent for this.* In the middle of her sentence, Elizabeth gasped and audibly shivered. It was far, far too easy to picture her long elegant fingers stabbing upward.
Reflex tightened James’ fingers painfully around his prick, but he was far enough gone that it was a sweet burn that spread from between his legs. He retained just enough forethought to squeeze cell between ear and shoulder, thus freeing his hand to grab a fistful of toilet paper. “True. If my face were buried in your cunt and I was tongue-fucking you, I would hardly be able to say a thing, would I?”
*You are pure evil.* Then there came a wet popping sound, like Elizabeth had sucked on her thumb and then pulled it out very quickly. Except that couldn’t be, because her one hand was on the phone and her other was down…oh.
She licked the phone and sucked on it.
James slammed his heels into the expensive Italian tile, pulled hard enough to possibly leave bruises, and came into a wad of soft tissue paper. “God!”
Elizabeth started laughing, and she didn’t stop until, with trembling hands, James had cleaned himself and put his clothes in order. As he was gingerly exiting the bathroom, she finally collected herself enough to pout. *Well?*
“It’s a five-minute walk to my room,” James dryly informed her. “I suppose I must be enjoying myself too much to hurry up and—get on with it, so to speak.”
In actuality, no. James checked his watch, checked his position, and picked up his pace.
* * *
Jack had coordinated with Sharpe and seen to Puerto Rico. He’d then wrapped up all outstanding business at the office for the night and spent a good three hours cruising from one of Will’s favorite leisure spots to another. Nothing.
Calling Elizabeth hadn’t yielded any aid, either, though she’d obviously been reconciled to Will’s discovery. And she could’ve called Will and passed along the creamy satisfaction that colored her voice, Jack darkly thought. It was a shame James was five hours ahead and probably getting some well-deserved sleep. If worst came to worst, Jack would wake him, but at the moment, it was Jack’s fault and he didn’t feel like throwing another stone into James’ pack.
Lizzie and her damned, “Go talk to him, Jack. He’s angry at you, so it has to come from you.”
Well, Jack would if he could find his damned geek. Will had even turned off all the various tracking and listening devices in the car he’d used—
--ah. Geek and tech. It was a moment to flip out his phone, and another to hit speeddial.
* * *
Horatio closed his eyes and shoved his face into the sofa cushions. That changed Archie’s angle from marvelous to mind-breaking, and they both moaned long and low and—
--the damned phone was still going off. On the floor, William briefly roused from his contemplation of the activities going on above him to rummage through the—not entirely horrific—leather trousers Elizabeth had wedged him into, which had been stripped off hours ago, and came up with said collection of damnably idiotic microchips.
“Temper, temper,” Alexander tutted. Of course he could; he was in the armchair across the way, already seen to and now contentedly settled in with a bottle of good wine.
“It’s Sparrow,” William informed Horatio.
Damn, damn, damn. With Norrington out of town, any other caller would’ve been one Horatio could’ve ignored with a fair degree of safety, but not Sparrow. Aside from him being head of the CIA team, he never called Horatio. And there usually wasn’t any reason for him to, given that he had Turner to see to everything…
Archie grumbled and slumped onto Horatio’s back, his lips grazing the trickles of sweat running from Horatio’s hairline. “You might as well answer it and get it over with.”
Unfortunately, the other man was right. But Horatio didn’t thumb the ‘answer’ immediately after taking the cell from William, opting instead to glance over his shoulder till he caught the attention of flushed blue eyes. “Archie?”
“No. It’ll give you incentive to handle whatever it is faster.” Wicked grin firmly in place, Archie wrapped his arms more tightly around Horatio’s waist and moved the slightest bit.
Sparks went off. By the time Horatio’s vision had cleared, his hand had magically pushed the button and put the cell to his ear. “Yes?”
It came out a good deal sharper than he’d intended, which made Archie muffle snickers in Horatio’s back—distractingly—and Jack pause before replying. *Hornblower? Pardon th’interruption, but I’m needin’ a favor.*
Horatio resisted the urges to roll his eyes and hips. “Yes?”
*Er…am I interruptin’, or am I interruptin’?*
And now Archie was dragging a slow tongue around Horatio’s shoulderblade, and William was making choking noises, and Horatio was a man divided. He simply couldn’t decide who he should want to kill first. “Sparrow, what can I do for you?” he finally answered, as politely firm as he could manage.
*I need t’find Will. I’ve checked all th’usual places, most of th’unusual, an’ I’ve not been able t’locate him. He’s turned off all his trackers as well—y’ve some on him, don’t you?* Though Jack spoke in a casual, even amused tone, the undertone of worry in his voice was strong enough to make Horatio sit up.
Try to sit up. Thankfully, the sofa arm was right there to bite, so Jack didn’t hear most of Horatio’s whine. Horatio flopped his hand in the direction of where his laptop should be and hoped William would stop being glazed long enough to get it for him. Then he pulled himself together, carefully avoided clenching any muscle below his waist, and tried to think. “All of them? Have you gone—” moment of panic as Horatio realized he didn’t know what kind of living arrangement Sparrow and Turner had “—home?”
“Or…ah…wherever your bedroom is.” William was holding the laptop, but if Horatio moved, his embarrassment was going to instantaneously convert into something…this wasn’t his night.
*Thank you, Hornblower. Much obliged.* Jack hung up.
So did Horatio, blinking at the cell in his hand. And then it went back to being his night, so he dutifully let his attention be wrenched back to it.
* * *
When the door opened, Will was lying on the top of the sofa. He’d long since cooled down and applied rational thought to the situation, but he hadn’t felt like calling Jack, or Elizabeth. Her plan had seemed reasonably good at first, but then Will had discovered that he was a little too terrified to carry it all the way through.
He wasn’t frightened of confronting Jack—all right, he was. But not of Jack. What scared him was the strength of the effect that just the possibility of Jack’s words would have on him. Elizabeth and Will were inextricable, and Will had accepted that ages ago, but it’d been a very long time since he’d accepted anything else like it. And he was finding it out after the fact as well.
Commitment-phobia. God. It was like a bad talk-show.
“Will, I’m not leaving.” The lazy drawl had been replaced with exquisitely-cut ending consonants. “The money’s for retiring from the CIA, not from retiring from the Caribbean. Or from you.”
“That’s what I figured out about…an hour ago.” Jack was standing by the couch, but Will continued to stare up at the ceiling. “It took another five minutes to convince myself that you would plan that far ahead. You’re what, forty?”
Soft snort, and a hand on Will’s belly. Resting easy, just there. “Thereabouts. Drop-off in survival rates start getting steep after that, so I don’t really care to remember the exact age.”
“And you’re still be here, doing something—I can’t see you giving much up, retirement or no.” For that matter, Will didn’t want to think about the years of difference, either. Sometimes he and Jack seemed to go together like river into ocean, and he just couldn’t see the place where they parted. But he knew it was there. Behind him, with the part of his life where he’d been living on the fringe with only Elizabeth at his back, dependent on no one else and on nothing that he couldn’t grab for himself. With his father’s death and posthumous vilification, which had only been recently reversed, with his mother’s slow fade into the grave. With the vicious, brilliant, savage life in the slums and the dance that couldn’t be handed off to any partners whenever he or Elizabeth grew too tired.
It’d been something. Good and bad, and something. And this was something that was suddenly far greater.
“You’ll still be here,” Jack echoed, only lilting the last word into a question.
Will finally looked over and curled his hand around Jack’s, locking it to his stomach. “It’s hard, looking ten years ahead.”
“I know.” Jack gave a lopsided, ironic smile. “S’pose that’s why I don’ care t’discuss it much. Seems safer off in m’head sometimes.”
“Safer, better…God, we should know the difference between those by now.” Will pulled Jack’s hand to his lips, and then he pulled Jack down to him, so everything was right again.