Author: Guede Mazaka
When she saw him, Guinevere allowed herself a soft, small smile. She eased the rest of the way into the room, stopping only to retrieve a paper that’d floated to the floor. If he’d been awake, Arthur never would have let his desk get into such a mess, but since he was slumped over his books, he didn’t really have a say. One arm was thrown out so his pen teetered between his fingers in dire danger of dropping over the edge and chipping its nice enamel. The other had settled so its fingers just brushed a framed photo of…Guinevere wrinkled her nose. Next time she dusted, she’d have to switch that one out for a less embarrassing shot. Trust Lancelot to be not only fooling around with the new wire-camera when the milk foamer on the office coffee machine decided to spit on her, but to email the results to Arthur.
She reached out for Arthur’s shoulder to lean him back in the seat—
--two seconds later, Guinevere was torn between staring at the letter-opener that was a hair from piercing her eyeball and at Arthur’s stricken face. Another moment after, her wrist was released and he was frantically patting her down. “God, I’m sorry, I didn’t hear—”
“I know. I usually make a point to give warning, but I forgot. Sorry.” Well, she must be flustered if she was apologizing almost as soon after. Or perhaps it was the fact that Christ, she’d been five seconds away from having an eye popped out.
Arthur was cupping her face, his thumbs frozen on her cheekbones. His eyes flicked back and forth, making her uneasy enough to start fussing with her hair, and then he dropped his hands. Sudden, as if he’d taken a chill. “I am sorry,” he said, so quietly she almost missed it.
“I know. And you’re forgiven already,” she told him, grabbing his head. Her fear went on the backburner. If he started in on the guilt, she was going to shake him till it fell right out of his brain. “I know who you are.”
After a moment, he looked at her again. “Do you,” he murmured, touching her brow.
She forgot about that in the next moment, but only temporarily.
* * *
“Smoking? The apocalypse hit and everyone’s too scared to tell me?”
Guin didn’t answer with anything except a glare. That intensified when Lancelot toed over the ash-filled soap-dish, but she didn’t try to kick him, so she must have really wanted the company. Though even if she had kicked him, he still would have sat down. “I thought you quit for Arthur’s sake. Doesn’t like it in his office, and you love ambushing him there.”
She tapped off the ash in the toilet-bowl and took another drag. Didn’t blow it in his face, though she was certainly thinking about it. “I did. Mostly. But I needed one. What, going to tell on me?”
“Pretty pathetic, even for you.” He thought about poking her some more, but something in Guin’s face said hold off and let her tell it. Maybe it was the way she was looking at the bottles on the counter, like she was analyzing their line-up for psychological insight. Like it was a crime scene instead of evidence of Arthur’s neurotic orderliness.
The minutes dragged on. Even with the superb air-conditioning, the summer heat still managed to creep in and melt Lancelot’s hair-gel so it trickled stickily down the back of his neck. He got a hand back and scratched at it, then made a face at the gunk that ended up under his nails. The toilet-paper roll would be on Guin’s other side…he gave her a second, then reached across for it.
“You could bloody ask, you know,” she snorted. She tore him off a piece and handed it over, then sucked on her smoke. “Deep cover.”
“What?” Lancelot dug too deep under one nail and hissed. He almost stuck it into his mouth before he remembered hair gel and horrid taste from a bad bout of experimentation near five years ago.
Guin gave him one of her patented you-idiot-me-learned-professional looks. “Deep cover. Arthur. It’s what he was trained to do, and I don’t think he ever really stopped. When he left, he just…”
“The man mumbles about Locke and Cicero in his sleep. If that’s part of a bloody cover, then that’s—”
“I never said parts of it couldn’t be real, you jackass. Listen to all of it first before you go criticizing.” She elbowed herself off the wall long enough to toss her cig in the toilet, follow it with the ashes, and then flush it. “It’s like hibernation, when you’re successful. You shut down bits of yourself. Put them in the deep freezer. Remember how jumpy he was when we first met him? I couldn’t believe he’d used to be a British operative.”
As reluctant as Lancelot was to admit it, Guin did know her stuff when it came to mind-games. And Arthur had come a long way from the skittish professor they’d encountered four months ago. “All right, I’ll give you that. So…”
“So he’s getting comfortable, and letting bits of it out for longer. He doesn’t flinch so much at doing certain things now. If this keeps going, we might get to see the whole of the man who’s got MI6 scared shitless. The reason why Arthur keeps his distance from Pellew.” A last trickle of smoke curled from the corner of Guin’s lip, slow and thoughtful. She ran a hand through her hair, rubbed at her temple.
Worried, was she? To be honest, Lancelot had moments where he wondered whether it’d be safer to stop prodding Arthur so much, considering what might be in the man. But it wasn’t in his nature to leave things alone for long. And it wasn’t in Guin’s, either. “Been doing a bit of research on the side, have you? I thought that side of him you liked.”
“I do like it, but I’m not some brainless danger-junkie. The research…it’s helpful to him too to know who’s still got accessible files on him, so stop staring at me like that. At least I’m quiet about it. If you stopped badgering him every time you ran across something interesting in one of the lockboxes and just did a--” she stopped and snorted to herself. Her hand slipped from her hair to gently knuckle his hip. “Never mind. I’d have better luck changing the time of the tide than you.”
They sat shoulder-to-shoulder for a while, just watching her cigarette smoke spread out and dissolve into nothing. Maybe it was a full moon, and so they were being lunatics by not squabbling. But at any rate, Lancelot didn’t feel like snapping back.
Well. Not much.
“Like that movie about chasing tornadoes, isn’t it? Got to see what’s going on in the middle, even if it’s a total disaster,” he snickered. “Always said you’d be the one that stayed with the bomb, if only because you couldn’t bear to lose a try at figuring out its insides.”
“Don’t mix your damned metaphors.” She elbowed his head hard enough to bounce it off the wall. “And you?”
Lancelot raised a brow at her. “Can’t let you get one-up on me, can I? Pass me a smoke.”
She looked at him.
“Just the one, damn it. And stop looking at me like you’re my mother. There’s a set of stained sheets in the wash that says otherwise, unless you like Oedi—ow!”
Well, that was more like it.