"So what are we meant to be doing here again?"
It's a legitimate question, Bond thinks defensively when Tanner shoots him a look. They're holed up in a really rather posh hotel room that looks like it hosted a controlled explosion of filigree sometime in its infancy. He's not uncomfortable per se; he just thinks there are better uses of his time than watching Tanner prod irritably at the keyboard on his ultra-thin laptop and scowl.
"You'll get wrinkles that way, you might want to start watching out for that," Bond muses, just to see what will happen. No one’s ever accused him of not being a bastard.
Tanner, annoyingly, ignores him in favour of squinting at the monitor that shows the security feed from the hotel lobby.
"What?" Bond says, scooting closer to the screen.
"I could have sworn-- I think I know this man," Tanner mutters. Bond leans in.
The man is about Tanner's height, thinning hair, strong shoulders, wearing a really rather nice suit. He's got his back to the camera; all they can see is his left hand -- broad hand, long fingers, expensive watch. He's white, but other than that there are no distinguishing features at all from this angle.
"You sure?" Bond says doubtfully.
"I think so," Tanner says after a pause, but he doesn't sound very sure. "There's something about the way he stands..."
"Old one-night stand?"
Tanner sends him a dirty look. "Why don’t you go make yourself useful, Bond? Find the mark, chat him up, do whatever it is you do that seems to work. We need him to like us."
Bond grins wolfishly. "No problem," he drawls.
Just as he turns to leave, there's a flash at the corner of the camera -- another white man entering the picture. Bond stops to watch him approach, drawn by some unexplainable impulse (he listens to those, they keep him alive). The man moves like a jungle cat, a predator, all smooth grace and liquid shifts of muscle. He comes to stand at the first man's shoulder and leans over it with a casualness that screams of familiarity. The first man doesn't even bother to glance over his shoulder, just tilts his head in the opposite direction. They can't see anything being spoken, but the second man complies immediately, stalking towards the hotel's bar lounge -- where, incidentally, their mark is known to spend several hours every day.
"You know him, too?" Bond says, extending a long finger to indicate the man.
Tanner shakes his head. "Doesn't ring any bells."
Tanner looks up. "What are you thinking?"
Bond purses his lips and shakes his head slightly. "I don't know. Something."
"Care to elaborate?" Tanner prompts dryly when all Bond does is stare at the screen in the man's wake.
"I think we may have competition, Tanner," Bond says lightly. Tanner doesn't look convinced by his attempt at nonchalance.
"Well, then. Go do your job," Tanner says, in that way all MI6 superiors apparently evolve over time -- a deft amalgamation of direction and dare that, even when Bond knows it for what it is, is still too bloody effective. He heads for the door.
"Keep in contact," Tanner throws over his shoulder. Bond doesn't bother responding beyond a half-arsed two-fingered salute.
The hotel bar is no less opulent than the lobby, but the lights are a little dimmer, encouraging relaxation and offering ample opportunity for flirtation. Which is what their mark is currently occupied in, holding court at a corner booth and being plied with everything from sumptuous drinks to fragrant cigarillos and engaging conversation with the cream of New York society.
Charles Xavier, Bond muses inwardly. Twenty-four, heir to the Xavier estate, dual citizenship, brilliant geneticist -- exactly what MI6 needs, apparently. Bond privately thinks that Xavier might well be groomed for the new Q, if only he'll agree to work with them. This is his and Tanner's mission -- very likely Bond's last before he's finally granted the double-oh status he's been doggedly pursuing all this while. He can't afford to bollocks this up.
Xavier throws his head back and lets out a lush, alluring laugh. The woman who has eked out this reaction preens while her rivals frown and glare at her.
"Oh, my dear, you really are too delightful," Xavier says teasingly. She bats her extra-long eyelashes at him and smirks. Immediately, the young man on her left leans in and engages Xavier in more conversation.
Bond heads towards the bar to order a drink and scope out the lie of the land. The bar is half-empty at this point of the day -- too late for the after-work drinks, too early for the night crowd. A lot of people are probably still at dinner. Bond makes a point to check out the corners, just in case -- and finds the man from the lobby watching Xavier just as intently as Bond is. Now that Bond can see his face, he notes the wide nose, the high forehead, the shapely mouth revealed when the man lowers his glass. He's got a jawline Bond wants to bite.
He's also, in the seconds Bond had taken to admire the pleasing broadness of his chest and the slim line of his hips, turned to look right at him. His mouth curls in one corner, the kind of smirk that Bond never could resist. The man lifts one eyebrow. Bond has to physically grasp the edge of the bar not to stalk over and kiss the breath out of him.
This is not the time, or the place, he reminds his cock sternly. He'd do better to seduce Xavier into amenability to their offer than hie off after some random bloke, fit though he might be. Xavier is plenty easy on the eyes.
Bond picks up the drink the bartender hands him and thanks her, absentmindedly sending an interested smile her way. She smiles prettily, but walks away almost immediately. Bond allows himself a self-deprecating quirk of his lips as he takes his first sip, and firmly draws his attention back towards where it should have been all the while.
His phone buzzes in his pocket; he draws it out smoothly as he watches Xavier lean towards a tall South-Asian man and smile at him invitingly.
"Yes?" he drawls.
"What's the sitrep?" Tanner wants to know. He sounds slightly frazzled.
"Oh, the weather is fine down here, chéri. You should come check it for yourself," Bond murmurs, dropping his voice to an intimate purr -- like he imagines he might have talked to family he loves, though he has never had the opportunity to find out.
Tanner sighs. "Quit arsing around, will you? M's been in touch. Seems you were right after all, there are other parties expressing an interest in our mutual friend. I knew that man looked familiar."
"Oh? Should I know him?"
"I don't know his name, I just know he's working for an American agency that’s a mix of Five and Six. M knows their Director, apparently."
"Is that right? Are they having a fight, do you think?"
"No, they're not hostile, merely an inconvenience."
"But we are still having dinner with our friend?"
"Yes, the mission’s still a go. See if you can't beat their man to it, will you? I don't care what M says, I don't want to give the Americans the satisfaction of winning on their home turf."
"Of course, chéri. Call me if there's any change? Je t'embrasse." He puts down the phone and focuses on keeping his face in an expression of fond amiability and not cracking into a full-out laugh at Tanner's exasperated swearing. "My sister," he explains to the innocuous-looking businessman sat on his right, who is trying not to look like he's been eavesdropping. "She grew up with our mother in France, while I was sent to that great institution that is the British boarding school."
"Sorry to hear that," the man says easily, with a distinct yet untraceable American accent. His voice is about as unmemorable as his appearance, but he seems sincere.
"Oh, it wasn't all bad," Bond replies, while out of the corner of his eye he tracks Xavier on his meandering path towards the bar. "My father was stationed in London, and the school wasn't farther than two hours by car. I got to see him quite regularly. Too regularly, truth be told." He allows a wry smile. "Boarding school is its own kind of life lesson."
"Isn't that too true," Xavier says easily from his other side. "Do forgive me for barging in, but I sense a fellow Englishman, and I can never resist."
"Not at all," Bond says, shifting to include Xavier into the conversation. "James Bond, pleasure to meet you."
"Charles Xavier," Xavier says, taking his hand. It's warm, almost comforting. Bond smiles without the need to force it.
"So, Mr Xavier, where did you serve your sentence?"
"Oh, Charles, please," Charles says, looking at Bond through his lashes. This is looking more and more promising; Bond inwardly jots down a commendation to Tanner's excellent timing. "I sat my A-levels at Eton, and I know what you're thinking, but just because it's a world-renowned public school doesn't mean that it wasn't also a little slice of hell."
"I would never," Bond assures him earnestly. "Are you across the pond for business or pleasure, Charles?"
Charles' mouth quirks. "Oh, a little of both, I should think," he purrs. Excellent.
"How very fortunate," Bond murmurs back, dropping his eyes purposefully to Charles' mouth.
"And what about you, Mr Coulson?" Charles says innocently. The businessman still at Bond's right freezes into a stillness that sets all of Bond's alarms blaring. He takes a very cautious step back.
Charles frowns, and rubs at his temple with the first two fingers of his right hand. "Oh, dear," he sighs dejectedly. "I wasn't supposed to know your name, was I? I was never very good at all that spy stuff. I'm afraid I would make a very poor addition to either of your agencies, gentlemen."
Bond would very much appreciate someone telling him what the fuck is going on right bloody now, thanks.
"I'm so sorry, James," Charles says, turning to him. "I rather think I have cocked this up. Such a pity." He draws his eyes covetously down Bond's body. "This would have been a night to remember. Oh, well. You win some, you lose some."
"What the hell," Bond starts to growl, but the man at his right -- Coulson, apparently -- slumps a little and pinches the bridge of his nose. Bond looks at him closely, and has to fight the urge to step back some more. The man no longer looks like a mild-mannered businessman. Now, he looks like someone who frequently leaves the floor littered with the remains of people who have foolishly underestimated him.
"MI6, I presume?" he says, throwing Bond a commiserating look.
Things start to make a weird kind of sense. "The American agency?" Bond guesses, and Coulson nods. Then he looks over Bond's shoulder and jerks his head. A moment later, the man Bond had been eye-fucking across the room slinks over, coming to stand at Coulson's shoulder.
"Well, this is interesting," he drawls. Now that Bond sees them standing together, it's immediately obvious that Coulson is the man he and Tanner had spotted earlier in the lobby.
"MI6," Coulson says, sounding vexed.
The man looks Bond up and down. "You know me, sir, I'm all for international cooperation."
Coulson rolls his eyes. "How could I forget," he says dryly.
They exchange a look. Bond, fluent in the private language of operatives, reads the well-worn, frequently rehashed argument in the lifting of Coulson's eyebrow and the smug quirking of his agent's mouth.
Charles shifts next to Bond, looking amused. Bond glares at him, and he's just about to get to grips with finding out how the hell everything went so pear-shaped when Tanner steps in right behind Charles, catching Bond's eye and raising his eyebrows in exasperation.
"Wasn't me," Bond insists reflexively. On his other side, both agents break off their silent communication and turn towards them in unison, like a well-oiled machine.
"Wait," Coulson says, just as Tanner narrows his eyes and opens his mouth. "Germany, 1991?"
"That was you?" Tanner demands, shifting his hands to his hips and leaning in.
"I'd just made junior agent. That was my first mission out of the US," Coulson says.
"It was my first mission, too."
Bond blinks between the two of them as they continue to squint at each other.
"What about Hungary, 2003?" Tanner demands.
Coulson throws his agent a speaking look. His agent suddenly finds his boots utterly fascinating, but from what Bond can see of his face there's a helpless grin tugging at his mouth.
"Budapest," Coulson drawls heavily.
"Budapest," his agent agrees meekly.
"Hang on a minute," Tanner says, glaring menacingly at the two of them. "That was your people?"
Bond, drawn into the conversation despite himself, almost jumps out of his skin when warm breath teases his ear.
"Would you like to have a drink with me, James? I have a feeling your colleagues will be at this for a while."
Bond turns to look at him. "What about your admirers?" he murmurs. Not that he's even thinking about refusing, but he's curious as to whether he's read Charles right.
Charles sends him an amused look. "Come now. You know as well as I that they were no more than a distraction."
Bond hums. "Suppose you tell me how you knew about us?"
Charles just smiles at him. "Mine's a pint, if you're getting it," he says. "No rush. The night is young."
"Oh, come on," Coulson is saying on his other side. "Singapore? Really?"
Charles bites his lips, his eyes dancing when they meet Bond's.
"One pint, coming right up," Bond says, turning towards the bar, neatly sidestepping the two senior agents who are bickering like the worst kind of old acquaintances.
"They don't serve draught here, what are you, tourists? Three Heinekens," the other American agent tells the bartender, who nods and goes to get them. "What?" he says when Bond gives him a dirty look. "You're not leaving me here with Humpty and Dumpty, are you? Come on, man. Help a fellow agent out. Name's Barton, by the way. Clint Barton."
Bond wants to keep scowling; wants to tell him to fuck off, really. But Barton makes this begging face, and Charles is biting his lip and trying not to laugh, and damn it, looks like Bond’s getting laid tonight one way or the other. It’s up to him how exciting he makes the encounter.
"Fine," he says, taking his beer and clinking it to Charles', and then to Barton's. "You can tell me how you knew who we were, and you can tell me more about your man Coulson."
Barton smiles a shark's grin and waves his beer. "And you can tell us both about being on Her Majesty's Secret Service."
"That was one bloody film," Bond grumbles, cursing that damn Broccoli woman.
"D'you have an Aston Martin, too?" Barton wants to know. Bond grins with all his teeth. "Aw, fuck, man, they never let us have the shiny toys."
"Oh, I do love the new DB9," Charles gushes. "I have one on order, still waiting for the beauty to arrive."
Barton looks like he's in love. "You'd let me drive it, right? Please? Just a few hundred miles?"
Charles smiles coyly at him. "I just might, at that."
Bond rolls his eyes. At least he's not this hopeless a flirt. He steers the other two away from the booth where Charles' harem is still hopefully waiting for him to return. There's an empty table in the other corner of the room, and the three of them settle along the soft cushions of the bench seat, relieved.
"So," Charles says, eyes shining with excitement. "Tell me about Budapest."
Barton lets out a startled bark of laughter that has their superiors throwing them suspicious looks from the bar. Bond grins innocently and watches Tanner resist the urge to drop his head in his hands. He says something to Coulson, who gives him a commiserating look and says something back, eyes on Barton as he starts his story with, "So we're at this hotel, right, tracking the mark..."
Coulson's face composes itself into a resigned expression that mirrors Tanner's. "Wanna get dinner?" Bond lip-reads as Charles bursts out laughing just like he did before. Tanner's long-suffering "Yes" makes Bond smirk.
"Behave," Tanner mouths at him. He doesn't look very hopeful that his order will be obeyed, but Bond will give him points for trying. He salutes him with his beer in response. Tanner shakes his head, and he and Coulson head for the hotel's restaurant.
Two minutes later, Bond gets a message on his phone: "At least text me which room you intend to stay in." He snorts. Barton looks at him knowingly, and turns his own phone to face Bond.
"If you bring them back to our room I will personally make sure R&D withholds your bows for a full two weeks. I'm inviting you to test me, if you're feeling lucky."
"I like your guy," Bond says, surprising himself by meaning it.
Barton's face softens in a very telling way. "Yeah, he's alright," he says. Bond lifts a suggestive eyebrow. Barton looks away. Ah.
It still doesn't mean that an extremely interesting night isn't waiting ahead for them, judging by the way Charles' hand rests high on Barton's thigh and that Barton isn't pulling away in the slightest. Charles' knee knocks against Bond's, and slides along it in a sinuous caress. Bond eyes Charles from under his eyelashes.
"Gentlemen, I have a suite here at my disposal," Charles informs them. "What say you we retire there for the night?"
Bond looks at Barton, who shrugs, a complicated look on his face. Probably in love with his handler; Bond didn’t get a ‘couple’ vibe off them, though the potential is certainly there. Doesn't seem to be holding Barton back from a one-night kind of thing.
"Sure," Barton drawls, downing his beer. "Why not."
"Well, I'm certainly up for some international cooperation," Bond drawls.
Barton groans theatrically, slapping his face with his palm. "Terrible," he mutters, "so terrible. I thought you Englishmen were supposed to be smooth."
"I'm Scottish, and I resent that," Bond says mildly.
"And I'm half-and-half, so I have an excuse," Charles chips in. "What's yours?"
Bond finishes his beer, a curl of languid heat starting to settle in his gut. Oh, tonight is going to be fun.