“You’ve got to be kidding,” Janine complained, taking a long pull of her cigarette as she stared at the photograph in her hand. Two dour-faced men stared back at her, one with curly black hair, a blue scarf, and a black coat, and the other with silver-blond hair, a checkered shirt, and a militaryesque jacket. “Hat Man and Robin, right? They look like the kind of men who take themselves far too seriously for my taste.”
From the kitchen, Mary made a noise of agreement but didn’t comment, and Janine looked up to watch her. It was only six o’clock in the evening, but Mary had already stripped down to her leopard print panties and bra. A black silk robe hung sloppily from her shoulders, and Janine suppressed a chuckle at the sight. Only her Mary would thinking cooking in lingerie was a wise idea.
“Holmes and Watson,” Janine sighed, leaning back into the soft cushions of the dining room chair. She hadn’t had time to undress from work yet and the stiff wool of her suit jacket rubbed uncomfortably across the back of her neck. “I thought Holmes was dead.”
“Mycroft says he isn’t,” Mary shrugged, eyes still focused on the pot where she was stirring tonight’s dinner with vigorous, angry strokes. Janine hoped like hell it wasn’t rice. Mary was brilliant at many things, but cooking wasn’t one of them, and Janine had become adept at setting ‘accidental’ kitchen fires. A spilled shot of vodka and a dropped cigarette did wonders to save her from overly-gelatinous goop.
Janine set the photograph back on the pile of papers that detailed their latest assignment and stood. A warm breeze, heavy with the scent of lilacs, swept in through the open patio doors, bringing with it the noise of the city. Janine closed her eyes and listened to the blues performer whose dark, regretful voice floated across Park Drive from Independence Park’s amphitheater. Sirens wailed as they flew down 5th Street to the hospital, and dogs barked as their owners took them on their evening rounds. It was hot, busy, and happy here in Charlotte, and the thought of returning to the rain and glum propriety of England made Janine’s stomach twist unhappily.
“Fuck Mycroft,” Janine cursed as she shrugged off her suit jacket. “Even if he’s right, we don’t actually owe him anything.”
“He saved your life when he pulled you out of Syria within a day of my asking him to,” Mary pointed out, looking up from the pan to smile softly at Janine. It was the kind of warm affection that still, after twelve years, never failed to make something hot unfurl in Janine’s chest.
“And we paid for it by doing his dirty work for the last eighteen months,” Janine pointed out.
“We’ve been paid well for that,” Mary responded with a shrug. “This is the first time he’s asked us for an actual favour.”
“A favour that has us abandoning our home here for an indefinitely-long, deep cover assignment,” Janine sighed. She set her cigarette in the ashtray on the table and toed off her shoes.
“Home,” Mary repeated, looking up curiously.
“I like North Carolina,” Janine said unapologetically, unfastening the top buttons of her blouse as she stepped onto the patio. The city spread out like a board game in front of her, a perfect grid of old and new mixed together in brick and steel. They ate dinner out here whenever possible, fending off pigeons with well-aimed flicks of pebbles and bickering over the benefits of new fad diets. It was disturbingly domestic, and Janine lived for it.
“So do I,” Mary soothed, and it took Janine a moment to remember that Mary was responding to Janine’s love of their American home, not her unspoken thoughts. “And we’ll come back. But this needs to be done first. Hell, when we’re finished, we could probably retire on what Mycroft’s offered us. Buy a cottage on Lake Lure, with a porch swing and a flower garden and a two—person kayak. Our neighbors will think we’re just the sweetest things.”
Janine thought about the stunning array of heavy assault rifles in the cabinet in their room and they way they practiced knife and baton skills as foreplay. “Yeah, right,” she snorted.
A metallic crash and a low curse broke through Janine’s thoughts, and she barely spared a moment to shove her cigarette in a flower box before she ran back inside.
“Fucking spaghetti,” Mary hissed, shaking her hand frantically. Janine snapped the burner off and moved the hot pan off the heat. Then she turned to the sink, twisted the cold water on, and tugged Mary by the waist to stand in front of it.
Mary hissed at the flow of cold water over her hand. “Pasta was supposed to be easy.”
Janine tossed a look back at the pan, the mass of noodles looking suspiciously jiggly and solid. Well, at least she didn’t have to fake a ruinous accident this time. “Your skills in other areas more than make up for -“
“For what?” Mary challenged, turning her head to raise an eyebrow at Janine.
“For how the takeaway boy at Mr. Gyro knows us on sight,” Janine laughed.
“I don’t want to go back to England either, you know,” Mary said quietly. “And the job? Seduce a broken-down soldier? Keep him sane and happy until the real love of his life comes back? Not exactly my idea of a good time. But…”
“But it’s well-paid enough to allow us to be as selective as we want in taking future assignments,” Janine finished. She stepped back and leaned against the opposite counter, watching as Mary turned off the water and dried her hand. “And it gets the world’s most powerful manipulator on our side.”
“And you’ll be there,” Mary pointed out.
“Playing the part of the ninny,” Janine scoffed.
“Among other things.”
“Bodyguard, nanny, counselor, cupid,” Janine laughed, thinking of the ridiculously complex three-year plan Mycroft had outlined for them. “My, how we’ve fallen.”
“Oh, shut up,” Mary laughed. “It won’t be boring.” Then her nose wrinkled as she thought about it. “Okay, maybe a little boring. But longer games are the more fun ones.”
“All right,” Janine sighed with false exasperation. She knew that the moment Mary had accepted the file from Mycroft’s luscious assistant, the decision had been made. Janine had long ago decided that the only thing she wanted out of life was to go with Mary wherever she led. It made the danger delicious, the boredom soothing, the pain exquisite, and the scars stories worth remembering. Nothing else mattered, really, and this game - no matter how long - would be fun simply because they played it together. “But I want out usual vacation clause in our contract,” she added. “A week together, here at home, once every six months, so we don’t go native.”
Mary smirked. “What? You’ll think I’ll fall for a man and live happily ever after?”
“Well,” Janine said, tipping her head sideways in pretend contemplation. “Happily ever afters are your style.”
The smirk morphed into something more predatory, and Mary took a step forward. Janine’s breath caught as Mary began unfastening the rest of the buttons on Janine’s blouse “Oh, my love. Don’t worry. I won’t let you forget, even for a moment, how much you’re mine.”