“Ma’am,” James says, bowing. The Duchess regards him with cool yellow eyes, fingers laced together in her lap on top of her rather voluminous gown. There are rumors about what lies under it; James has speculated with the best of them, but even he knows better than to actually try and find out.
“Bond,” she says, dry. “I see you’ve mostly survived in one piece.”
“It only took me three months to get over being inconveniently dead,” James agrees. “I don’t suppose I’ll be paid for that amount of time?”
“You earned an honorable mention for expiring in the line of duty,” the Duchess says. “I wrote it myself.”
“Flattered, I’m sure.”
“Yes, well.” The Duchess sniffs, shifting slightly in her chair. Eerily, the shadows behind her shift as well – not normally, but with sinuous writhing motions, settling down long after the Duchess stops moving. “You are one of my best agents, even though you lost the list. I am,” she continues graciously, pretending not to see James’ wince, “willing to grant you a chance to redeem yourself.”
“I am at your service, ma’am.”
“Of course you are. Now go get me that list.”
James wanders the Neath, cataloguing the changes that have happened since he’s been… indisposed. Rubbery Men seem to be out in greater numbers, and the wanted posters of Jack-of-Smiles have been taken down. (He must be in one of his jail stints.) Cats of all colors slink along the rooftops and watch him with gleaming eyes, no doubt in order to bring the news of his resurrection to the ears of interested parties.
When he gets back to his flat there is a folded note stuck to his door. A sigil is burned onto the paper, glowing sullenly and giving off a faint phosphorus smell. James rolls his eyes and presses his thumb to it, hissing as heat blisters his skin. Smoke curls up; the light from the sigil winks out.
He sucks at his burnt finger absently as he steps through the door, disarming the traps that would maim an unwary intruder. None of them have gone off, which means that either nobody has broken in (possible but unlikely) or that whoever did break in knew his security procedures (MI-6) or was good enough not to be caught (a host of other possibilities). He doesn’t waste brainpower worrying about it. Instead he cracks the seal on the letter and unfolds the heavy parchment.
My dearest James, is written in elegant, curling script. Please call upon me at your earliest convenience. I believe that I may be able to help you recover an item of yours that was lost.
Most fond regards, Silva.
James narrows his eyes in a glare. Silva. Of bloody course.
Scarlet stockings greet him in the quarters outside the Brass Embassy, worn by a woman that nearly matches the beauty of the shocking crimson cloth; she is dark-haired and high-cheekboned and graceful, and beckons him inside with a wave of her arm.
“He is waiting for you.” She has a smoker’s voice, low and sultry. If James looks closely he can see that she also has the peculiar dead-eyed gaze of a person without a soul – a gaze very similar to his own. She hides it better, though. Her smile even nearly looks real. “Would you like a refreshment to be brought over while you talk?”
“No, thank you,” James says curtly. “I won’t be long.”
Her smile turns secretive. “Of course not. This way.”
James follows her, pointedly not looking at the stockings. Instead he discretely checks his weapons; a revolver hidden under his shoulder, a knife strapped against his leg, a second knife hidden spring-loaded in the toe of his boot, and a couple of useful vials of chemicals secreted about his person.
Silva is, of course, sitting with his back to James as he enters the room, a mere shadow backlit by the flickering flames of the hearth. The light makes his blonde hair shine; his horns curl dark and sleek over his skull.
“Good evening, James.”
James stops just inside the door, folding his arms across his chest. “Silva. I got your note.”
“So you did, so you did,” Silva says. “Good. Come, sit. Wine? Or do you still prefer that old Macallan?”
“Wine,” James says after a brief consideration. Good whiskey isn’t worth getting drunk in a devil’s presence, especially not this devil. “Thanks.”
Silva grins at him, flashing a bit of fang. “So cautious, after your spectacular demise? Did you know that there were rumors your body fell into the deep nether regions of the Neath, the endless abyss? Obviously exaggerated, of course. But a good story, no?”
“It was just a river,” James says.
“And you revived so quickly!” Silva leans subtly closer. His chair is also suddenly next to James’ chair, the two almost touching. “I do hope that you are all in… hm. One piece?”
Silva’s hand rests on James’ knee. James works hard not to twitch or tense up.
“I’m good at resurrection,” he says.
“Yes, yes.” Silva’s eyes bore into him, yellow and slit-pupiled and mad, captivating. “You would be, you have a strong soul…”
“Speaking of,” James says, blinking deliberately. Silva halts his inexorable advance, hand halfway up James’ thigh and face mere inches away from James’ own. “Your note said something about a list.”
Silva stares at him a moment more before leaning back, laughing. “Ah yes, the list! Her list. I had heard it went missing.”
“And I’m sure you had nothing to do with it.”
“Me?” Silva brings a hand to his breast. His fingernails are perfectly manicured, the skin pale, the color of bleached bone against his deep maroon vest. “Would I do such a thing?”
“If it suited you, yes. But probably not this blatantly,” James concedes grudgingly. Silva’s hatred for the head of MI-6 is legendary, although few know the reason why. James himself isn’t quite sure but he can guess. “You said that you could help me retrieve it.”
“Did I?” Silva widens his eyes.
“If you stop making everything a question and ask for your payment straight up, I may even consider taking your offer,” James says. His tone has a bite to it; he’s recently back from the dead, exhausted, in disgrace with the most powerful woman in the city, and is in no mood to be playing devils’ games.
Silva isn’t intimidated. “James, James,” he tsks. “So impatient. You would be much more effective if you learned subtlety.”
“I’ve been fine so far,” James says. “Your price?” He gathers up the edges of his coat, setting his feet flat on the floor.
“Wait.” Silva waves him down, sighing. “All right. No romance in you,” he mutters.
Silva taps his fingers against his chin, thoughtful. “A night with me,” he says at last. “Doing what I say, so long as it doesn’t hurt your employer’s interests.”
“A single night,” James says, suspicious. “Ending with the eighth toll of the bell tomorrow.”
“Of course.” Silva smiles.
“And nothing that will maim me,” James continues. “Nothing more than superficial injuries – nothing that takes longer than a week to heal.”
“Yes, yes.” Silva crosses one leg over the other, resting his elbow on his knee and his chin in his hand. “Anything else?”
“You aren’t to compromise my mental judgment with any external substance, including magical means.”
Silva nods. “Is that all?” With James’ reluctant confirmation, he claps his hands sharply. “Done! Now, come give us a kiss.”
James hesitates, but a deal is a deal and devils often seal agreements with kisses. Silva’s lips are soft and unnaturally smooth; he kisses James back gently, almost shyly, but ends with a wicked flick of tongue.
James feels unbalanced when he pulls back. Silva smiles.
Surprisingly, Silva doesn’t immediately order James to get on his knees for him. Instead they finish their wine and go out: to the opera, where James spends his time cataloguing how he could kill everybody in the vicinity to escape the singing (they leave during intermission, an unacceptable faux pass that James doesn’t care a whit about), and then for a walk about town.
“I’m not putting my hand on your arm,” James warns.
Silva pats him proprietarily on the shoulder. “Of course not, my dear. I know you have limits.”
James gives him a squinty-eyed, suspicious look, but doesn’t press the issue.
When approximately half the gas-lamps are dim (and, more importantly, the bell tower in the center of the city strikes nine) things finally start to get interesting.
“I had no idea you were so deeply entrenched in the Great Game.”
“Mm?” Silva finishes licking blood from the blade in his hand, giving one last swipe to the few droplets spattered on the skin over his radial artery like a particularly fastidious cat. Red spackles his formerly pristine white suit all up one side, the hem of his trousers nearly fully soaked through while his suit jacket merely looks lightly drizzled on. “You should know better. I am not thinking highly of Mix’s intelligence division.”
“That’s a terrible name,” James says instead of rising to the bait. “Would it be so hard to just shorten it to ‘six’? Or to use the whole title, rather. Em eye six really isn’t that difficult to say.”
Silva sighs. “Are you so set on not enjoying yourself tonight? I could let you have the next one,” he offers, wheedling.
“Please,” James scoffs. He does have to admit, if only to himself, that despite their target’s general incompetence he enjoys getting back to work. His feet find the quiet parts of rooftops as well as they ever have; his body remembers how to blend with the shadows. The hunt sharpens his senses and makes the world brighter, richer, and he is still riding that high.
Silva grins at him, blood on his lips and between his teeth. “Come, come. I order you this time, if that will make you feel better.”
He glides away with the smooth, rolling gait of a hunter. James steps carefully around the spreading pool of blood and follows, gaze fixed on Silva’s back.
They capture, interrogate, and kill two more rival spies before a stroke past midnight, and by then James is lazy and sated, violence shared with another predator soothing the tension that coiled insidiously through his muscles during the enforced calm after his death. Silva takes advantage of his complacency to rub against him as they walk back to his nest, the smell of blood and sweat and something sharper, like metal or poison, hanging heavy around him.
This time when the woman in the scarlet stockings opens the door, James allows himself to look.
Silva laughs. “Addictive, no? Each one,” he whispers, breath tickling James’ ear, “worth a hundred souls and twice as many bodies.”
James carefully doesn’t shudder but he does allow a smirk to pull at his lips, for heat to flare in his eyes. “Do they feel as good as they look?” The question is directed to both Silva and the nameless woman.
“You’ll likely never know,” the woman says coolly. Silva laughs and kisses her on the mouth.
“So cruel,” he says approvingly. “That’s my lady viper.”
James grunts. He wouldn’t want to touch the stockings anyway—he’s seen what they can do to a man, leaving him craving more and more until he sells all that he is for just one more taste, one more touch. Anything can become an addiction. There’s no need to make it easy for something to get a hold on you.
Silva hasn’t let go of the woman. James wonders if Silva isn’t going to ask him to bed after all, but as if Silva read his mind the devil looks up. He whispers something in the woman’s ear (still nameless, which bothers James a bit—he doesn’t like wild cards) too softly for James to hear and steps away.
“Shall we?” He gestures towards the door with a polite half-bow. James strides forward without hesitation.
Silva overtakes him once they are in the foyer and James follows him to what could be a bedroom. There is a canopied four-poster, lavish in black and dark red silks, and the walls are a deep burgundy. It looks very much like how a devil’s nest would be. Silva’s light hair stands out like a beacon.
“On the bed, if you will,” Silva says. He is taking off his cufflinks, not looking at James. James briefly considers disobeying and trying to kill Silva. That would be a bad idea though, so he doesn’t.
“No, no.” Silva halts him as he begins to undo his own cufflinks. “Keep everything on. I just wish for you to be on the bed, hm?”
James sits. Silva rolls up his sleeve and opens a drawer. His body blocks James’ line of sight, but when he turns around again there is a knife is his hand. James tenses.
“Relax.” Silva grins at him. “I am not going to hurt you. Not yet.”
“I feel so reassured,” James says. He doesn’t relax.
Silva walks right up between James’ knees so that James has to bare his throat to see his face. He places the knife on the bed within easy arms reach of both of them, then regards James critically.
“Humans,” he muses, running calloused fingers over the skin at the corners of James’ eyes, the harsh lines around his mouth. “You age so quickly. I remember when you were much younger. So reckless, so full of fire. And now you are an old dog past your prime, trying to play a young man’s game.”
He clucks sadly, shaking his head. James considers picking up the knife and stabbing him.
“A moment,” Silva says suddenly, pressing his index finger onto James’ bottom lip. He steps away to rummage through the drawer again, coming back with a handful of rope.
James grits his teeth and allows himself to be tied eagle-spread, arms and legs lashed to the bedposts. He thinks that he could probably slip out of the knots on his wrists, so long as he’s willing to lose a couple layers of skin and dislocate his thumb. Hopefully it won’t come to that. Devils are creatures of their word; if Silva has promised not to maim James, he won’t.
“Now,” Silva says once James is tied securely. He straddles James’ waist, knees on either side of his hips. “Let us get you out of that suit.”
Of course Silva would ruin James’ clothing, he thinks sourly, trying to distract himself from the shivering danger of a blade near his skin, cold metal raising gooseflesh on his arms and the nape of his neck, adrenaline once again pumping through his blood.
The knife runs over all of James’ major arteries. Silva teases his skin, touching with the flat of the blade along James’ forearm, pricking the tip just the slightest bit over the vein in James’ inner elbow. He doesn’t touch James’ thighs at all but the nearness of the blade ghosts over his skin.
Silva hums his approval when James is divested of his garments, expensive tailoring lying spread and shredded around his body. He leaves the cloth under him as he leans forward for a kiss.
James bites Silva’s lip hard enough to bleed. Silva laughs and bites him right back, copper mingling in their mouths, running over their tongues.
“I knew you would not submit easily,” Silva purrs. His slit-pupiled eyes are dilated like a cat on the hunt, eerie and eager. “You are like me, a fighter. And if we cannot fight—“ he scrapes his teeth over James’ collarbone, moving steadily downwards, “—we cheat, hm?”
James arches with a gasp as Silva bites down on a nipple. Silva chuckles into James’ skin.
“I am sure you are thinking of many ways to turn the tables,” Silva says. He grins up at James, chin resting on James’ sternum. His hand is cupped over James’ balls, massaging. James can feel himself hardening. “The infamous James Bond unpredictability.”
“Are you going to talk all night, or are you going to do something?”
“Cheeky!” Silva sounds delighted. “Yet I cannot allow you to mouth off to me, can I? Oh, but I have no gag…” He looks almost comically disappointed. “Perhaps this.”
James chokes as Silva’s hand presses against his throat, closing off his airway. He thrashes instinctively before stilling, conserving what little oxygen his has, and tries to beam a message with his eyes: we have a deal.
He works on getting a wrist free.
Black spots swim in front of his eyes. Just when he’s about to pass out, Silva releases his grip. James breathes in and coughs, harsh and rasping, managing a hoarse, “What in the Neath was that?”
Silva blinks at him. “You didn’t enjoy it?” His other hand rubs over James’ erection, which (inconveniently) hasn’t abated. “You are still hard, my lovely shade. Harder than before I laid a hand on your throat, even.”
“Physiology,” James grinds.
“Yes,” Silva agrees. “You are quite wonderful creatures.”
James opens his mouth to give a scathing retort, but Silva presses down on his throat again. This time he kisses James as well, accepting James’ savage bite with a growling purr and stroking James’ cock, pleasure mixing with the slow rising panic rising in James’ gut; the last time he couldn’t get enough air he drowned, and that’s enough of a trauma to scar even his battered psyche.
Silva lets him up again. Then chokes him again. And he does it over and over, until James can only accept what he is given, air fresh and sweet in little sips between long dark periods of lack, Silva’s mouth again his and Silva’s voice murmuring reassurance, Silva’s hand moving up and down on James’ cock.
He comes right hard, and doesn’t know if the spots in his vision are an indication of pleasure or of death.
He wakes silently and violently, sitting up with an arm out to strike.
Nobody is in front of him. Silva uncoils himself from a in a chair by the bed ostensibly reading a newspaper but more likely watching James sleep. He looks exactly the same as he did when James met him last night, clothes and all.
“It is half pasts eight in the morning,” Silva says. “I trust you slept well?”
James starts to answer, pauses to clear his throat and cough, then tries again. “Fine,” he says. “I’m glad to see that you didn’t kill me.”
“Please.” Silva flaps a hand dismissively. “Only amateurs don’t know how much their playthings can take. And you are quite tough, are you not? You’ll be fine in a day or two, let alone a week.”
James considers placing a clause of no physical harm at all in any future deals he makes with devils.
“The list?” he demands.
“You’ll find the relevant information at your lodgings,” Silva says. “Would you like to stay for breakfast?”
James gets up in answer. A replacement suit has been laid out for him on the bed and he steps into smoothly, quick but unhurried.
“Do come again,” Silva says as James opens the door. When he chances a quick look back the devil is smirking. “I quite enjoy your company.”
The scarlet stockings and the woman are nowhere in evidence, which is good. James is in no mood to be trading verbal barbs.
There is no sunlight in the Neath, but the faint glow of glim and phosphorous life forms in the cavern above the city is reassuring. James walks briskly down the road back to his flat, rubbing at the bruises on his throat. It could have gone worse.
“So you say Silva provided you with the list?” The Duchess squints down at James from her high chair.
“Yes, ma’am,” James says. “I found it within a sealed envelope with his sigil on it in my flat after favors rendered. He must have had it all along.”
“Hm,” the Duchess says. She taps his fingers on the wooden arms of her chair. “Devils butting into our business, is it? And this particular devil, too. An interesting development.”
James doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t have to.
“Bond,” the Duchess says, and he straightens. “I believe we should look into Mr. Silva’s operations. Are you up to it?”
“Yes, ma’am,” James says. “It would be my pleasure.”
It looks like he and Silva will be seeing a lot of each other in the recent future. A pleasure indeed.