He hadn't seen it coming. He should have, in hindsight it wasn't like Sphinx had been at all subtle, but he just ... He hadn't seen it. Hadn't dared. There were some things a man wasn't supposed to even think about. That way lay security risks, and blackmail, and one-way mission assignments that mysteriously made their way onto only one desk.
Though it was a little late for that, too. He'd always known the section chief suspected. Even as dashing a womaniser as Agent Michael White could slip up sometimes. He must have. There must have been a glance somewhere, a micro camera lingering for a second too long on some handsome male face, a hint of unwarranted empathy while reporting an agent turned by threat of blackmail for certain indiscretions. Something like that. He'd tried so hard for so long to hide himself, to become the epitome of what an agent was supposed to be, but he guessed ...
He guessed the truth must have shown somewhere. Lies only lasted for so long. It was one of the first things you learned in this business. Everyone just thought that their lie would be the one that made it through.
More fool them, and more fool him.
Sphinx was going to kill him. He hadn't gotten around to it yet, content to leave Michael shackled underneath the waiting laser for a while first, but sooner or later he'd do it. Thing of it was, Michael wasn't even sure he blamed the man. In the end, it was really no one's fault but his own that he'd ended up here, that he'd angered a supervillain into making his death drawn-out and special. If he'd been on form, if he'd been paying attention and not both seeing things he shouldn't want and trying to convince himself they weren't there at the same time, then maybe it wouldn't have ended up like this. Maybe neither of them would be here.
He had a reprieve, for a little while. It seemed that Sphinx HQ operated strictly nine-to-five. A warning klaxon blared out, literally the very second Sphinx' finger was poised to send him to an early grave, and abruptly the entire facility powered down, readied itself for shift change. Sphinx stopped, there and then with his finger on the button, and simply ... walked away. Left Michael alone, shackled and under guard, to wait for him to change his mind.
He knew where the man was going, of course. Even for a mission he hadn't been intended to come back from, intelligence had made sure he was prepared properly, just in case he had a chance. Sphinx had a family. Nobody knew exactly who or where they were, but the couple of infiltrators they'd managed to briefly insert into his organisation had picked up that little tidbit fairly quickly. It was the subject of a lot of gossip in the ranks. Sympathetic gossip, even. Sphinx' people were loyal. Genuinely, honestly loyal. It was the reason his organisation was never more than briefly infiltrated.
So the man had a wife and kids. The most feared supervillain in the world, the man who professed ... professed jealous desire for Michael himself, and he had a family. He had a wife. God, it was laughable. Even Sphinx, huh? Even Sphinx, with his flamboyant prosthetic and his evil organisation and his unabashed dance moves out of nowhere, even he pretended better than Michael did. Enough to maintain a family. Enough to have a cover that strong and that protected.
There'd been that look on his face, though. When the klaxon sounded, the summons home to his family. It hadn't been the look of a man going home. It had been ... the look of a man steeling himself, putting the lie back on and getting ready to go back into cover.
Because it was a cover. The family. Maybe it had been real once, maybe parts of it still were, but it was a pretence now. A hollow shell, trying to disguise the fact that Sphinx was ...
Someone who wanted men. Someone who wanted Michael. Or had done, at least. Somewhere at the start of this, when Michael's cover hadn't been broken yet. When he'd been stiff and uncomfortable out of sheer surprise at what he thought he was seeing, when he'd half flirted back on sheer instinct before realising what he was doing. When he'd stumbled so much, off guard at what he thought was happening, that something had slipped through. Let them know what he was. Let Sphinx know he was betrayed, and the handsome man nothing more than another enemy agent sent to bring him down.
Lying there, listening to the vague hum of the powered-down laser, Michael wondered what he'd have done if he hadn't ... if he hadn't been so surprised. If it hadn't hit so close to home, if he hadn't been so desperate not to react when he knew the section chief suspected him anyway. If he hadn't ballsed it up from start to finish.
Would he have played on it? He'd seduced people for the sake of the mission before. Women. He'd lied to them, made himself everything they wanted. If he hadn't had that shadow hanging over his record, if he could have lied to the chief and claimed it was only another pretence like all the others, would he have tried to seduce Sphinx too? Lured the man into believing in him, more than he'd been tentatively willing to even then, and strung him along until the agency could strike? Would Agent White have done that?
He didn't know. Damned, damned if he understood why, but he didn't know. It was different, maybe, when the desire was actually real. When the warmth in his belly that had so panicked him had been genuine, when that man with his scarred face and his fluid movements had made Michael's palms sweat without even trying. Lies were one thing, Michael traded in them all damn day, but the truth ...
It didn't matter now. None of it mattered. He'd screwed up, let himself be captured and revealed. He was going to die, Sphinx was going to kill him, probably at nine-oh-two on the dot the next morning, and whatever slurs people spat over Michael's unmarked grave were hardly going to matter to him any more anyway.
He just ... he wished Sphinx would hurry up about it. He didn't want to die. He'd realised that when he saw that finger on the button and felt that surge of raw, instinctive terror. He knew he didn't really want to die. He just didn't want to draw it out, either. He wanted it over, one way or another. He wanted this to stop.
The lights blazed back on. Suddenly, shockingly, as if in answer to the thought.
Michael startled upright, straining against the cuffs in confused alarm, and watched as ranks of henchmen filed hurriedly back into the laser room, a couple of harried scientists fluttering through in their wake, and then ...
Then Sphinx, his fluid motions now sharp and jagged in agitation, rushing down onto the laser floor and barking out a flurry of orders. And then spinning instead, his body apparently moving without much conscious thought, a compulsive dance expressive of a violent confusion. Nobody batted an eye. In the middle of the song and dance, his people even paused in their assigned tasks to sing along, offering the supervillain what seemed like genuine support. The evil zzzzaapppp of the laser coming back online distracted Michael from it somewhat, made him unable to think of much beyond the death suddenly looming over him once again, but a part of him noted it. Some part of him noted that Sphinx' people saw no problem with who and what their boss was. That, unlike Michael's agency, Sphinx' people were willing to back him up even when it came to this.
It was almost enough to make him welcome the beam. Not quite, though. Some battered, terrified instinct cried out against it, railed against the unfairness of being asked to die, of being strapped down here and murdered for this stupid string of lies. He didn't want to die. All he could think was that he didn't want to die. He watched Sphinx snarl, watched him raise his hand to stab at the killing button, and then ...
Then Sphinx looked away convulsively. He swiped the raised hand before his eyes instead, blocking out the sight of Michael's terror, and strode off behind the table with the button still unpressed. Michael sank back against the metal in confused, unwilling relief, before straining his head to try and catch a glimpse of the man and what he intended. He didn't manage it, couldn't quite torque his head around enough, but after a moment he didn't have to. The click of the shackles opening themselves around his wrists was answer enough.
He rolled instantly and instinctively off the table. He didn't know what was going on, but he did know that he wanted to be out of that laser's line of fire before anyone else figured it out. He came to his feet, turning instinctively to face Sphinx, to face his enemy and see what he was doing. A squad of guards flocked down off the upper level in response, moving instantly onto the laser floor and raising their guns between him and the turned back of their boss. As if Michael had wanted to attack. As if he had anything else in mind beyond staying alive.
Sphinx called them off. He didn't turn all the way, he didn't look at Michael, but he raised one commanding arm and had his troops back off even as Michael turned to flee. There was ... there was such an expression on his face ...
Michael paused at the top of the steps. He pressed himself against a concrete column, hid his face from the guards still ringing the room. The door was right there. For whatever unfathomable reason, Sphinx had made it clear that he could use it. He was free. He could leave. Go back outside, go back to the agency and the one-way missions and the lies. Steel himself and head back into cover. Ignore ... Ignore everything that had ...
Michael's hand shook, his palm striking the concrete in an echo of Sphinx' earlier, convulsive confusion. The supervillain was turned away from him, his head bowed, waiting for Michael to leave. To just ... run away. Sphinx had been able to kill him. He'd had Michael right there, the laser primed and ready to go. And then he'd ...
Michael turned. Not out, not away, but right back towards the laser floor. Down those steps, back towards the man who'd claimed to love him, claimed to want him more than anyone else ever had. The man with a wife and children, a family Michael almost couldn't bear thinking about. A family that made ... made jealousy seethe inside his veins. He said that out loud. He threw caution to the wind and sang it out exactly as the man himself had done.
I get a little bit Genghis Khan / Don't want you to get it on with nobody else but me.
And Sphinx' face. The smile there as the man turned, slow and dazed and disbelieving. That smile in that scarred face, those blue eyes so wide and startled above it. God. God, it had been the right choice. It had, it really had. Michael knew that even as he strode towards the other man, his motions sure and fluid, matching themselves instinctively to the ones he'd watched danced out around him for this entire mission. They were different now. Matched, paired, more free. The delight in Sphinx' face, the disbelief and amazement, were almost more than he could bear. He'd never had anyone look at him like that. No one before this man.
It felt ... It felt good. It felt amazing. Wild and terrifying, like jumping out of a plane when the parachute had already fallen first, and so incredible. So stupid and amazing and real. The troops moved around them, all of Sphinx' ridiculously loyal and protective henchmen, bopping along like they couldn't be happier for their boss, like the fact that he'd found ... whatever this was ... with an enemy and an agent and a man meant nothing at all. They'd have shot Michael ten seconds ago, and now they didn't care in the least that he was making eyes at their employer while his arms and legs swept intimately along in echo of the other man's.
Michael had no idea how this was going to work. He had no idea what it was, how the hell they were going to work it out and keep it safe in a world where ... in a world where people like Michael got sent on one-way missions for their desires, and people like Sphinx had wives and children and families in deep cover to protect. He didn't know, he didn't know anything at all, and yet ...
Yet when Sphinx drew silently up against him, their hands warm and strong inside each other and their bodies merging smoothly together out of their lunges, Michael knew he'd fight for it. Whatever it was, whatever he was doing, whatever Sphinx wanted.
No matter what it was, Secret Agent Michael White would fight and die for it from this moment on. Harder than he ever had for anything before. As screw-ups went, he had an idea that this might well have been the best one he'd ever made.
And for the first time in his life, he felt just fine about that.