The first time Victoria noticed the ring was when Francis removed his shirt to grant her access to the gun shot wound in his shoulder. There was a silver chain around his neck, disappearing under his muscle shirt, and that made her curious. She had never seen him wear a chain outside of an assignment when he had to, he had always said chains were an unnecessary risk in their job. He was right, of course, but that didn't keep many agents from wearing a chain anyway. It was curious that Francis had apparently joined their ranks now.
Victoria didn't comment on the new piece of jewellery, but she looked a few times – unobtrusively, of course – while she patched Francis up. The shape visible under the fabric suggested there was a ring attached to the chain, a broad ring obviously. She had to reign her natural curiosity, this was neither the time nor the place to ask personal questions. They were in an abandoned house in the countryside, a few miles outside of Rome, and the rest of the Gang cowered somewhere in the room, all making use of the break to patch up their injuries. The mission in the French Embassy had been a success, but it had taken some improvising and a few injuries. Marvin growled he had told them all along that waiter had been a spy, but he was widely ignored. Especially since he was right.
Once she'd noticed the necklace, Victoria had found a new obsession: She wanted to find out what the ring looked like – without asking Francis. It was something to train her senses, to keep her sharp and to fill the boring pauses they had to suffer through sometimes, especially in between contracts. One day, some weeks into her observation, Sarah came up to her and pointed wordlessly at Frank.
“I want to know, too.” she simply said and leaned on her rifle. “I tried to spy on him with the scope from a safe distance, but he just never shows it.”
Victoria looked at her. Sarah was a very promising apprentice in the art of sharpshooting, a sharp observer, patient and focussed when she had to be. She would have noticed the chain around Francis' neck, of course she would have. It came as no surprise, Sarah had been his lover for a time and knew him well enough to notice that this new jewellery of his was out of the ordinary for him.
After a moment, Victoria nodded and chuckled. “I tried that too, my dear, and I had no more success that you did.”
“So, how do we find out?” Sarah wondered and stared at Francis.
“That is a very good question, I have to admit.” Victoria joined her in staring. “We will need great stealth. And incredibly much chance. Francis can be very secretive.”
“So I've noticed.” Sarah grinned. “I love a good challenge.”
Victoria couldn't help grinning back. She absolutely agreed. Nothing was more exhilarant than a secret to uncover.
It was pure chance, however, that Victoria found out who wore the matching ring to Francis'. Well, actually she had known all along who that would be; there was no doubt about Francis' affection belonging to dear William, but she had never expected to actually see it. She had still been tired when she'd opened the bathroom door without paying to much attention to her surroundings – this was her own house, after all, and it was very well secured. The more she was taken by surprise to find a certain CIA agent in her bathroom, his back turned towards her.
“This is my bathroom, dear.” She said with in slightly irritated voice and folded her arm in front of her chest. She felt slightly ridiculous dressed only in one of Ivan's t-shirts, much to large for her, facing a half-naked CIA agent in her private bathroom.
“Oh Gosh, I'm really sorry, Victoria.” William hurried to apologise and held tighter onto the towel he had quickly wrapped around his hips. He was still wet – obviously she had interrupted him while drying off – and he passed a hand trough his hair in an unconsciously nervous gesture. “Sarah has taken over the guest bathroom and we have to leave in ten minutes and since you and Ivan were still sleeping, Frank told me to use this bathroom.”
Victoria listened to his rambling and watched him. He was truly a treat for the eyes, she admitted and allowed herself to enjoy the view. You were never too old to appreciate beauty. And young William was beautiful, in his very own way. He was well build, not too muscled, just right. Tall and lean, yet broad shoulders and nice slim hips. But what really caught her attention was the chain around his neck and the simple, broad silver ring attached to it. It seemed an exact counterpart to Francis', down to the silver chain. Not that she had actually seen Francis' ring, but the shape was remarkably similar. Very interesting indeed.
“All right, William.” She replied after a moment of letting him fidget. It was just too much fun how she could intimidate a hardened CIA agent, who was more than a head taller than her, just by staring him down. “Just this once.”
She turned and closed the door behind her to leave him to his preparations for the departure. It was amusing how he flinched under her stern tone. It was nearly invisible, but still. She suppressed her grin and walked back to the bedroom. She wasn't really angry, but she had a reputation to uphold.
It was about three weeks later, in one of those breaks with no contract and much free time, that Victoria finally got a proper look at Francis' ring. She had a bet running with Sarah as to who managed to see it first. It was far more difficult than either of them had expected. At least that had put Sarah to practise a lot with her scope. And her patience.
It was early in the morning, Ivan was still happily asleep in their huge bed in the master bedroom, and Victoria had woken up in an amazingly good mood and had decided to be nice and wake him with fresh, strong coffee. So she shuffled down the stairs to the kitchen and was surprised to see young William thorough the window. He was standing outside on the porch and had his back turned towards her. He wore a faded green t-shirt she recognised as Francis' and his hair was incredibly tousled. It was obvious he had just woken up.
Victoria wondered what he did outside this early and was about to join him to ask him, when she saw Francis stepping up to him, handing him a steaming mug and holding one himself. William turned towards him, the softest smile she had ever seen on his lips, and pulled Francis in for a slow, comfortable kiss. Francis wrapped his arms around William's waist and the agent turned around to lean with his back against Francis' chest, obviously content in the embrace, and sipped his coffee.
It was the intimacy and the familiarity of the scene that caught Victoria, left her feeling all warm and happy inside. She smiled. So, finally, Francis had found the happiness he had never believed in, but always craved. Better late than never, she thought and entered the kitchen to make coffee. It was a little bit like her and Ivan. They had been very close to 'never', and she certainly hadn't believed she would be able to live with him when she had shot him in the chest all those decades ago. She was still amazed that there was a 'later' for her.
As silently as possible, Victoria prepared a coffee for Ivan and a tea for herself. She was about to pour the coffee when she felt somebody enter the kitchen. She turned and saw Francis coming in, carrying his empty mug. He wore only sweat pants and an old t-shirt, his feet were bare.
“Good Morning, Vicky.” he greeted her with an honest smile. There just was something to the very early hours of the morning that made people more open, more honest than they were during the day, Victoria thought and smiled at him.
“How are you, my dear?” she asked him quietly and added four spoonful of sugar to Ivan's coffee. Who would have thought the model Russian agent had a sweet tooth?
“Great.” he replied and even though it was a short answer, she knew he was saying the truth. “I just need more coffee.”
He held up his empty mug and Victoria pointed to the coffee machine. “I just made some. Help yourself.”
“Thanks.” He came over and stood next to her, busying himself with the pot. Victoria glanced over at him and suddenly noticed his chain lying over the t-shirt. Her eyes wandered to the attached ring, visible for the first time in months, and she was not surprised to find it a perfect match to the one she had seen dear William wear when she had surprised him in the bathroom. She knew Francis too well to take it as coincidence that he let his jewellery show, so she knew he did it to make a statement without actually saying anything.
“I take it you admit to him, then?” she asked and let her finger trace the chain. Francis looked up, his face a careful mixture of hope, wariness and defiance, and nodded.
Victoria smiled. “Finally. We were all wondering how long it would take you to understand that we've known for ages.”
“You knew?” At his honestly surprised face, Victoria couldn't help laughing. “All of you?”
“Of course, my dear Francis.” she chuckled. “You were rather obvious.”
“We were?” he frowned in open confusion. The thought was obviously new to him.
“And then there was this picture Sarah had taken.” Victoria added innocently.
Francis just groaned. “I should have known she would show it to you.”
“There was no need for her to show it to me. I knew long before.” Victoria informed him and smiled.
“How's that?” he frowned again.
“Gooey.” She just said, a gently teasing smirk on her lips, and tapped her finger against the broad silver ring. Francis just smiled, a small, slightly embarrassed and yet incredibly happy smile. It suited him well.