Thankful for the hunch that had him start the job early, Sebastian ran through all options that fifty minutes before the meeting might provide. And, as always, there were just as many possibilities for things to go wrong - including the meeting being cancelled. Which would mean, tadaa - the target would not arrive; mission accomplished! Hah. It was safe to assume that Jim's wish for the man’s ‘absence’ extended to all future meetings as well. An order for a hit had an aura of permanence to it.
After taking a left into the next side street, Sebastian then turned, doubled back, and slowed down, approaching the main road again. No convertible.
To the dismay of the van behind him, he slowed down even more, despite the lull in the traffic. He killed the engine, waving an apology as if it had happened by accident... There... a string of cars – white sedan, BT service van, dark blue convertible – Sebastian kicked his machine back to life – there was a red Vauxhall and - fuck- a fucking bus that would block his sight, but he took the convenient gap behind it anyway. The convertible was heading towards the city. So chances were good, his man was going to the meeting and even if he lost him, he'd find him along the way.
As it became clear that his target was indeed en route to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Sebastian fell back a bit, tailing it, but keeping some distance. There would be one more good opportunity before reaching the hotel (the last resort being the bike messenger charade - walking into the hotel itself, which he was not particularly keen about).
Nearing the Thames, he closed in again. Heading onto Blackfriar's Bridge there was only one car between them. Broad, straight lanes, not narrowed down by obstacles, and no CCTV. Well - you could never rely on that in London, but the plates of the bike were cloned and he was the faceless man riding it.
He changed gears and accelerated, pushing the bike through the space between the car in front of him and the central barrier, then he eased it back into the same speed as anyone else. Leaning forward and to the left, he'd nearly be able to touch the man. And while a shot directly from behind would be safer, that was not a wholesome place to be with a dead man behind the steering wheel.
Sebastian pulled the Glock from the front of his jacket and fired three shots, two of which he was certain had found their mark. There was no time to double check. No doubt he'd been seen by several people, but straight ahead there was a good opportunity to take their minds off what they'd just witnessed - at least long enough for him to get away. The bike powered forward, and passing the third vehicle in line ahead of him – a beer lorry - he put two rounds in its right front tire. The effect was thrilling and instantaneous. Hard to say whether it was the ghost convertible or the veering lorry with the peeling tires that caused more mayhem but the din of crashing metal, screeching brakes and horns blaring drowned out even the roar of his bike's engine.
Both hands back on the task of steering the bike, he whisked through precariously narrow gaps in the traffic ahead, but in the mirror he still got a glimpse of the incapacitated lorry sliding towards the railing of the bridge and breaking through...
Shame. But then again, he wasn't particularly fond of Tennent's Lager.
What the fuck. It had been half an hour. Why hadn't he confirmed the kill? Why hadn't he replied to Jim's text?
If something had gone wrong with the hit, he was going to kill him. If he had gotten hurt, he was going to kill him.
But - he couldn't start fretting every time Sebastian left the flat!
Every time he left? He had only been to the flat once!!
Jim sent another text first to Steve and then another to the non-responsive Tiger.
What incident? (to Steve)
What the fuck, Sebastian? (to Sebastian)
Steve responded that he was waiting for information and would get back to him soon. Sebastian didn't respond at all. Jim stood staring at his phone, furious with all three of them.
Cursing, he did a search for very recent news on his phone, and very quickly found iPhone footage of several crashed cars, the smashed guardrail of a bridge, and an eyewitness account carrying on about a lorry diving into the Thames.
His mouth dropped open. This was the route that Sebastian was supposed to be taking. Where the fuck was he?
How would he kill him if he was nowhere to be found??
And what the fuck was he supposed to do while he waited for information???
Sebastian didn't think the police or anyone else was aware of what had actually transpired on the bridge. Hopefully the chaos would keep everyone tied up nicely for a while. That didn't mean he was in the clear... or could just go home, like after a day at the office. It took forty minutes to navigate back to the lock-up that doubled as a workshop, where he changed the plates of the bike again as well as his clothes, and left on foot. Only then did he send a message to Steve, and, with a grin, one to Jim:
Had to make a few adjustments.
He then added:
Well, you told me to have fun, right?
And after a few seconds:
And top of the morning to you too, Boss.
Jim stared at the message on his screen. He felt tension in his chest slowly easing up, and shook his head.
He replied: Adjustments to Blackfriar's Bridge?
Then stared at the second and third texts, exasperated.
Seems to me you feel the need to leave your mark everywhere... Should I expect any fun demolitions tomorrow? Or a dip in the Thames?
Jim rolled his eyes, and tossed his mobile down on the table. A text alert sounded immediately, and Jim ignored for as long as he could. Then he sighed and picked up the phone. Steve had sent an initial report. Jim scanned it, sent back OK, and then he returned to his laptop. Where he remembered he still hadn't eaten anything...
Storming to the kitchen, he tossed some pad Thai into a bowl, and threw it into the microwave. He watched the seconds melt away on the timer, and idly started thinking of what he would say to Sebastian tomorrow.
His heart sped up. He felt flushed. Stop. No. Unacceptable.
He was James fucking Moriarty, and no man made him feel this way. Made him feel anything.
Satisfied, he took the bowl from the microwave, and sat down at the table with it. And lost himself in the workings of his beautiful Empire...
Reading Jim's quip about the bridge, Sebastian smiled gleefully and typed back:
It's always so congested during rush hour! Another exit-only lane surely can't hurt?
He could literally see Jim at the kitchen table with his phone and laptop. Or, no, probably on the sofa in the living room... Where the carpet was bound to still show traces of strawberries and...
Jesus! He had to keep his wits about him getting home…
Sebastian stuffed the phone back into his pocket and called himself to order –– only to find himself in a daydream of being in that living room again – under the scrutiny of gleaming dark eyes, one eyebrow arching exquisitely... Fucking hell...
The phone was in his hand again.
Not unless you fancy some demolishing or dipping...?
He found himself wondering what Jim’s thoughts on the hit would be. Sebastian prided himself on being the silent predator in the shadows, killing with skill and elegance. Even though he had to admit that today's hit, while certainly effective, had the surgical precision of a fucking chainsaw. Not that there had been a viable alternative. And it had been fun.
I'll do my best to follow the orders of the day, Sir.
God... those words alone did things to him…
He looked up at the thumping sound of rotor blades and ducked to the left into a thoroughfare. It got noisier, and phone back in his pocket, he found himself amongst people – visitors milling about in an open-air antiquities fair. Very good. The noise of the chopper waned – just some cas-evac bird heading towards the city center. He was fairly certain that, even if there was a search on already, he was unrecognisable by now. Miles from the scene, miles from his bike, different clothes, strolling amongst the stalls of a fair, smoking a cigarette, buying a pair of aviator sunglasses and finally... heading home.
With the concentration, tension and adrenaline wearing off, he started to fully feel the effects of the previous two days. Underneath his jacket the back of his T-Shirt felt sticky, and even without looking he knew it wasn't sweat...
After peeling out of his clothes, he poured a glass of Jameson, downed half of it, and then headed for the shower...
Dealing with the bandage on his back was a bitch. The strips of tape holding it in place were soaked with blood and had started peeling off. He let the spray of the shower finish the job. Slapping on a new bandage was a different matter, though. At some stage he was about to give up. Craning his neck, he stopped struggling with the bandage, and just drank in the sight of the violently beautiful, calligraphic mark of possession on his back – two vertical slashes, the one near his spine a bit longer than the second one, the connecting, downward sweep carved across his shoulder blade. Blood was seeping from it in several places. Every movement sent a new, harsh jab of pain along the lines that had ripped apart flesh, skin, and layers of superficial muscle, but it neither looked nor felt infected. More than wound care, he probably needed a psych evaluation, he thought – as he stood there, gazing with eyes half closed and cock half hard, just from looking at Jim’s mark... and remembering...
Texts from Sebastian trickled in, interrupting the flow of work... each time, Jim made an irritated, impatient sound.
Hah. Clever. Adorable.
And terribly bold for an employee, regardless of yesterday's activities... there was a flash of an image through his mind - strawberry trifle cream and Jim spread out on the carpet, with Sebastian crouching over him... Jesus... stop.
Jim squelched the image quickly, but not before starting to go hard. Fuck's sake...
He glared at his phone, and sent a reply.
Awfully cocky, aren't you! Now piss off, Tiger. Your employer is working.
He went to throw his phone back on the table, then remembered... Damn. The wound he had gifted Sebastian with would need to be checked and the dressings changed. And he had said he'd take care of it himself... but he wasn't about to show up at his flat with bandages, was he? Idly he imagined Sebastian opening his door to find Jim wearing a white coat, black boots, and nothing underneath...
Then felt his breathing quicken as the Sebastian of his imagination yanked him inside, kicked the door shut, and started peeling him out of his coat.
His cock was now fully hard. He squeezed his eyes shut, and breathed deeply. He cleared his mind, continued breathing, and felt his erection melt away. Sighing, he made a phone call. When he ended the call, he pushed his mobile away in annoyance, and returned to his laptop.
Tomorrow on the job, he was going to stay cool and detached. Even if it meant not taking Sebastian home...
(But... no! You can't!) the little voice started to protest.
Enough of this chaos and distraction. Otherwise, no overnight visits, he declared firmly.
There was no response but there was a distinctly unsettling feeling... as if the part of him that the little voice sprang from was... plotting?
Perplexed, Jim tried to assess what was happening in his subconscious mind... but after a moment, pushed aside the concern in exasperation. There was plenty to control and conquer today... tomorrow (and a certain cocky Tiger) would have to wait.
But the uneasy feeling remained, and stayed with him for the remainder of the day.
It wasn't Jim whom Sebastian hauled in through the door, much to his disappointment. The unremarkable-looking man of undiscernible age seemed quite unfazed by being shoved face-first against the wall, and patted down for weapons.
“Mr. Blaidd sent me to see to your injuries,” he said calmly, seemingly familiar with paranoid and occasionally violent patients. He watched as Sebastian rifled through his bag, and then dropped it onto the kitchen table, satisfied it indeed held medical supplies, and nothing else.
“Nothing I can't deal with myself,” Sebastian grumbled, crossing his arms.
“I've been informed otherwise.” The man had cool, tired eyes, thinning hair and the ravaged complexion of an alcoholic. Sebastian knew the type - combat medics and field surgeons, highly capable of dealing with everything that came their way, provided the fuel tank was kept topped up.
“Need a whisky first?” Sebastian asked pointedly.
“No. You? Sit down.”
They both grinned. Sebastian shrugged and drew up a chair, while the doctor snapped on a pair of latex gloves. Sebastian lit a cigarette, elbows on the back of the chair he sat astride. Apparently the good doctor had not been informed of the nature of the injury. He seemed to freeze for a second, but got his bearings back quickly enough.
“Doesn't look bad...” was the verdict, after he had examined the cuts and prodded around a bit. “Not infected."
“I know.” Sebastian stoically smoked his cigarette while the man behind him cleaned the cuts with unhurried efficiency.
“Well, I suppose you would...” During the initial if brief moment of scrutiny he'd seen enough of his patient to come to that conclusion. “So, I'm going to use tissue glue and a few butterfly strips and you'll be good as new... well, your back anyway. I just have to refresh the edges first...”
Sebastian exhaled a plume of smoke, considering the proposition.
'Souvenir', Jim had said…
What if it was just that?
If the mark was all he was left with... to stare at in the mirror for the rest of his life, remembering… wouldn't it be better to let it heal quickly, and fade away, and...
“Under local anaesthesia, of course,” the doc said soothingly and Sebastian gave a soft snort of amusement.
“No,” he repeated. “Just leave it as it is.”
“Believe me, it would be worth it - much less scarring.”
The corner of Sebastian's mouth twitched, as he brought the cigarette to his lips again.
He exhaled smoke. “I think that would be... missing the point,” he murmured.
“What?” The swab of gauze cleaning the wound paused briefly. But Sebastian didn't elaborate further, even though he could practically hear the wheels of the doc's mind turning, and feel him staring at his bandaged wrists. “Well, I'd just assumed this hadn't been-“ the voice behind him trailed off.
Sebastian smiled, looking at the floorboards, and finally offering, “Consensual?”
The good doctor made a noise, which sounded like 'to each their own'. Sebastian heard a package being torn open, then gauze and lint was swathed onto the wound - none too gently - and the subject changed. “Need any medication? Jabs? Unless dying of tetanus is part of the kink?”
“All good,” Sebastian replied. “Last vaccination two years ago.” He grinned, reaching for the ash tray on the kitchen table. “Rabies, too.” He stubbed out the end of his fag, but otherwise kept still while strips of tape were fixed over the dressing. Then he got up, picked up a clean T-Shirt and pulled it on.
The doctor shrugged and put away all his things, pointing out: “Dressing should be changed in two days max.” He handed him a card with a telephone number and took his leave.
By early evening, Jim had left his laptop and started pacing in the living room. The cream-streaked carpet had already been taken away and replaced by a new, even more expensive one. The bed linens had been picked up by the laundry service, and Jim had made the beds, preferring to do things himself when he was home for the day. Other than the chip in the bathroom sink, and the doodle of the tiger in the kitchen, there was now no sign of Sebastian having been in the flat. He paced from room to room, feeling restless... cagey...
Was that for the best that most signs of Tiger had been erased? he mused. The sink would be replaced tomorrow while he was out. And he could easily sever all ties with Sebastian, send him away and just be done with it...
(You told him... just last night... that there would be a next time... and marked him twice!) the little voice protested.
You know me... SO changeable.. he purred.
(I would never forgive you... You know very well where your cleverest little plans come from...) the little voice whispered. (And if you deny me Sebastian... who knows what would happen?)
Jim stopped his pacing in the hallway. Talking to himself was one thing... arguing another. But was he threatening himself now? He covered his eyes with his hand.
"I'm fucking mental," he muttered.
(You're just getting this now?) the voice giggled.
Jim smiled despite himself. No... Guess not...
(You can do this... you can work with him, and fuck him, too...) the voice wheedled.
Jim sighed. I don't see HOW... look how distracted I am!
(But you're not BORED, are you...)
Jim didn't bother to respond, he just checked his phone idly. A brief report had come in from the doctor, and he sat down on the staircase to read it:
Patient’s mental state, upon initial contact: Suspicious. Bordering on violence.
Wound: Healing. No infection.
Vaccinations up to date. No jabs required.
Outcome: Wound examined, cleaned. Dressings changed.
Patient refused application of tissue glue for less scarring.
Maximum length of time between dressings: 48 hours.
Jim reread it, a smile slowly spreading across his face.
Patient refused application of tissue glue for less scarring.
(See? YOUR Tiger now...) the voice crooned.
Patient refused application of tissue glue for less scarring.
Of course he's my Tiger... Jim replied loftily.
(Wanna have some fun?)
Always... Jim whispered, his eyes lighting up.
(Special projects folder?) the voice cooed.
You always know just what I like... he murmured, and returned to his laptop.
Lovingly, he stroked the keys, and found another plan for pure mayhem. By late in the evening, the wheels had been set in motion, and an army of hackers had been unleashed... by morning, the former commanding officers of Sebastian Moran would have received dishonourable discharges, and their records would be peppered with strange incidents calling to question their mental health. The general who was instrumental in Sebastian's dishonourable discharge, for example, would now have psychiatric records indicating that he had extreme anger management issues due to erectile dysfunction, and believed himself to be the avatar of the ancient Nordic god Thor. Whether or not all this was sorted out in the end was not Jim's concern. There was time enough to do more lasting damage at a later date... this had just been the initial step, purely for his own amusement.
By the time he was done his work, he was giggling helplessly as he got ready for sleep. It was late, and work seemed dreadfully dull compared to what had just transpired.
He slid into bed, and picked up his phone, staring at the screen with a gleam in his eye. Then sniggering madly, he put it on the bedside table, and settled in for the night.
Oh Jesus bloody Christ, go to sleep…
But sleep didn't come, not in the state Sebastian was in - beyond exhausted, and restive at the same time...
The entire day had felt strange, like trying to find his way back into... before.
The intense concentration, the rush of the chase and the kill this morning had helped… well, sort of. Until he'd gotten back home and found himself prowling around this flat that felt like... Like someone else had lived there. Somebody you were vaguely acquainted with from a long time ago. He'd half expected to find a heap of faded bills and junk mail behind the door, the power turned off, and a few mummified apples in the fridge.
Instead, the fridge was humming, the milk was still drinkable, and the running shoes he had left in the shower after rinsing them off were still a bit damp.
So was the beer, for that matter, and he cracked one open, wandering about aimlessly after the doctor had come and gone. With the text from Jim - telling him in no uncertain terms to piss off - still fresh on his mind, Sebastian took care to not read any sentimental signs of caring on Jim's part into this medical visit, nothing beyond conscientious maintenance of valued tools (e.g. members of his security and assassination detail) he would need the next day.
The word kept humming through Sebastian. He was lying on his bed, hand dangling over the side, occasionally bringing the cigarette up to his mouth, or flicking the tip against the rim of the ashtray on the floor. He tried to picture tomorrow, seeing Jim, working with him, everything back to normal... Jesus, what the fuck did 'normal' even mean? Back to the tension of the last weeks? Back to the strictly professional relationship of the very beginning...? Had they ever even been strictly professional? Oh fuck, fuck, fuck it! What was he?! A thirty-six year old teenager?
He'd just do his job and... well, what then? Go back home and pine away like a moonstruck intern after the boss? Do what he used to do, go out and scour the clubs...? Both concepts felt alien... downright bizarre, while his mind, his body, his memory... everything was still steeped in Jim...
God. He closed his eyes and groaned when the images came flooding...
His hand moved down to his cock, but for all he knew... it was Jim's hand closing around it, Jim's low heated voice, whispering threats and promises that had him on the brink in no time...
And as he rolled onto his back and came with a harsh breath and a grunt, it was Jim's knife sending a jolt of bliss and agony through him and into his fist...
Well, apparently he had gone to sleep after that, and tomorrow had become today, he realised, waking up ten minutes shy of the time his alarm was set for. He padded to the bathroom for what was less a shower than a catlick (tigerlick, he thought with a grin), for the benefit of all his bandages. Then he threw together a breakfast from all the miraculously non-expired supplies in the fridge, and headed out.
He pulled into the carpark of the 'Dima Shipping Corporation' in Wapping nearly half an hour early and stayed in the car, watching the comings and goings. Then, when the black Mercedes appeared, he breathed in deeply and got out.
Jim’s sleep was restless, and peppered with anxious dreams that he'd wake from with a start... in the only one he remembered he was on a train, watching open-mouthed as a tiger ran next to his window. He kept scribbling absurd signs and holding them up, such as "Tigers are Satan's Minions!" and "Tiger sind verboten! VERBOTEN!"
But each time he held up a new sign, the tiger would roar loudly and Jim would cover his ears and drop the sign. He also dropped his tea and scone, a bag of crisps, and a jigsaw puzzle - he hadn't worked out what the picture was supposed to be yet, but there was an awful lot of red. Now the floor of his train compartment was covered in rubbish, and the conductor was going to be so angry, and what if he threw Jim off the train, and he was stuck out in a field with a hungry Tiger??
He heard an announcement through the intercom, and the voice sounded so familiar... in lilting Irish, it purred, "Well, I hope all passengers have kept their compartments clean and tidy and not let any jungle cats in. That is a big no-no on this train, I can tell you! I'll be around to check on all the good boys and girls in just a moment... just as soon as I punish the naughty ones. Just as soon as I open their brains and see what's inside!!" Jim jumped back as the conductor suddenly appeared, reaching for him with electroshock electrodes that were crackling and sizzling. He felt himself falling backwards in slow motion, out through the window, as he heard yelling... then he felt the tiger running through the grass, growling, and then -
the thump of huge paws on his back -
He woke up, yelling - tangled in his sheets, and covered in sweat. Sitting up, he clutched at the sheets, breathing raggedly.
Fuck... just a dream. Just a dream...
He fell back against the pillows, and covered his face.
Whatever he tried to do to make the bad dreams stop, it never worked... they would always come back... as if hunting him...
He sighed and look at the clock. No point in trying to get back to sleep now. He would just do some work before it was time to go to his meeting. His heart thudded in his chest before he could control himself.
Calm. The Fuck. Down.
(I slept so well when Sebastian was here...) the little voice piped up.
Oh god... don't start...
(Just saying! Carry on!) the voice chirped, and faded away.
That was remarkably short and unobtrusive, he thought, suspiciously. Then he stifled the feeling as he pushed aside the bed covers, and got out of bed.
After a rather unproductive, irritating morning, he snapped his laptop shut and headed to the bathroom to shower and make himself beautiful.
When he emerged from his flat, he sighed with satisfaction. His suit was immaculate, his hair was glossy and slicked back, and his eyes were gleaming from behind his sunglasses. The only hint of something amiss were the slight purple-tinged shadows under his eyes which had mostly been cleared away with a hint of concealer.By the time he slid into the car, the dream has been forgotten and he was feeling like his old self again.
They pulled into the car park, and Jim spotted Sebastian leaning against his car. As he pushed off from it and stalked towards them, Jim's heart slammed in his chest again.
(He wants you...) the voice sang.
Then give him to me, Jim whispered back, his eyes locked on Sebastian as he approached.
(Yours for the taking...) the voice whispered silkily.
Jim smiled slyly, and waited for Sebastian to slide into the seat opposite him.
He looked up at him from his phone. "Moran," he purred. "Ready to protect me, body, mind and non-existent soul?"
Steve looked from Jim to Sebastian and back again. Then he sighed, and sat back against the seat.
Jim coyly raised an eyebrow at Sebastian, and returned to his phone with an innocent expression. "Oh look, Her Majesty is in Scotland. Whatever shall we do without a Queen to lead us to glory?"
Sebastian watched the car pull up, with all sorts of thrilled little creatures fluttering around in his stomach, euphoric and jittery with anticipation. And he nearly growled at them. At himself.
Fuck's sake, get a grip.
No problem at all. He'd always been able to channel the onslaught of adrenaline - or whatever this was - into calm clarity. Control. But it was unnerving that he had to consciously evoke mechanisms that usually, even in the most fucked up situations and under fire, worked smoothly all by themselves… no thought or effort required...
He pushed himself off his car and walked over to the black Merc, mentally readjusting himself to everything... Everything, as it had been last week.
Just another day at the office, Moran...
Sebastian acknowledged Terry and Mike in the front with a tap against the headrest of the driver's seat as he got in and joined the two men in the back.
Under an openly taxing look from Steve, and a brief one from Jim, before he returned his attention to his ever-important phone - unruffled, perfectly turned out as usual, not a hair out of place, not a speck of lint on his suit. Except – there, and only if you knew where to look: a tiny scab on his bottom lip, slightly to the left. And a band aid on the heel of his thumb. But overall.... looking elegant, well rested and relaxed.
Whereas no amount of grooming could gloss over the evidence that a quiet weekend was not what Sebastian had indulged in. His movements were lacking just a tiny bit of their usual graceful ease, the sleeves of his jacket only partly covered the bandages on his wrists, and not the one on his hand; while the concealing effect of unshaved stubble on a punctured lip and a bruised jaw was fair to middling, at best.
He could feel Steve's gaze travelling back and forth between them, surely just confirming assumptions he'd already drawn from Jim's ad-hoc changes in working schedules, before it settled on him. With a glare. Sebastian stared back impassively. After a beat, arching an eyebrow a bit smugly, as if asking: 'Want details'?
Then he looked away again, pleased as punch about Steve silently fuming, yet not daring to say anything, not with Jim present.
Who, seemingly oblivious of that little exchange now looked at Sebastian, and Christ… parts of his body seemed to be hardwired to the sound of that purring voice by now, with reactions that had sweet-fuck-all to do with being professional. Especially not in the face of the silky reminder of Jim's body, mind and non-existent soul...
Which to protect he was here for, of course...
“... With my own, Sir", he purred back.
Then he smiled, because the notion of needing a queen sounded hilariously absurd from the mouth of someone who was king-of-the-castle, queen bitch and criminal emperor all rolled into one. And as far as Sebastian was concerned - in over a decade of endeavours 'for queen and country', whenever the shit had hit the fan, he couldn't remember seeing her once...
He was just about to say so, when Steve cleared his throat.
“Well, in regrettable absence of the queen,” he said pointedly, “may I address the entourage?“ Butting in like that, even Steve was skating on thin ice. But the two men - feigning disinterest while the air between them was so charged it almost tasted of sex - were obviously driving him to distraction.
Of course Jim had caught the look Steve had given Sebastian... and the look Sebastian had given back. It was all Jim could do to not laugh.
And then to keep from shivering at Sebastian's response.
With my own, Sir...
It inspired such a flood of images, it was hard to focus on anything else. Jim on the living room floor, his body covered with cream… covered with Sebastian...
With my own...
Jim being fucked soundly by Sebastian, his teeth at his throat...
The images ground to a halt when Steve started briefing about the meeting... thank Christ. Jim nodded with a cheery smile, bordering on manic.
"Right," Steve said. "Dima imports and exports goods for us. The head of the company is retiring soon, and his son is taking over. This is meant to be an introduction, and discussion of our future with this company. Should be straight-forward, we're on good terms. Or have been. Heard the son is a bit of a hard-nose, sir," he said to Jim.
"Oh, I'm well aware!" Jim said, sounding chipper and tapping away on his phone. "So let's meet the lovely gentleman..."
He continued to focus on his phone, and didn't look up until moments later when they were pulling up next to the small but posh building - located far from the warehouse where unsavoury aspects of the business happened under cover of their legitimate shipping operation.
"Shall we?" he said, pocketing his phone and staring at Sebastian. Steve exited first, followed by Sebastian and then Jim... they walked in tight formation, with Terry remaining behind in the car - at the ready in case things went pear-shaped and he needed to call in reinforcements. Mike trailed behind Jim.
Steve spoke to the receptionist, and they were escorted into a well-lit board room, where a man with white hair stood and extended his hand.
"Mr Beecham," the man greeted Jim deferentially. "Lovely to see you again."
Jim smiled and shook his hand. "Walter Schofield! All these years I've been telling you to call me Liam... and now you're retiring, you old dog!" he laughed heartily. "So! Will I need to do the same with your son?"
"No, I'm far less formal in my business dealings," a man's voice sounded across the room. "Lovely to meet you, Liam. I'm Theodore. And this is our future Chief of Operations, Suzanna Powell..."
He shook his hand firmly and gave him a polite but cool smile.
Jim stifled a sigh. God... heir to his father's business throne and he had a chip on his shoulder, and something to prove. This was why he didn't care to deal with anyone who hadn't made their own fecking way in the world.
"Theodore, Suzanna," he said, with a pleasant smile. Steve tensed. Damn but the man knew him well... "Shall we begin?"
He went to sit down, as did Walter Schofield. The heir to his throne however stood staring at Sebastian, and a smile spread slowly across his face.
"Theodore," Jim said sharply. "Sit."
Theodore blinked at him after a moment. Jim sat and gestured at the seat across the table. "Please," he said gallantly with a tight smile.
Theodore sat down with an arrogant grin, eyes flicking over Sebastian.
Jim leaned forward over the table. "Shall we begin?" he said in a soft, purring voice.
Sebastian was silently grateful that this probably wasn't going to be a job that needed two hundred percent alertness all the time. But he knew - as did Steve, and any bodyguard worth his salt – you never ever just assumed a job would be straightforward. Not until the job was over and had proved itself to be that.
And you didn't get sidetracked by the boss staring at you, or get sucked into memories and salacious daydreams that sent a flush of heat through you, wondering what he was thinking of right now...
Damn, back to business… And he loved watching Jim doing business. Every time he had the opportunity, he observed and finetuned his perception of what was going on – on the surface, and below, even though he did not know that side of Jim Moriarty as well as Steve did - yet.
So, two minutes into the meeting he knew Mr. Beecham liked the old man a lot more than the prospect of dealing with his offspring...
On the way to the boardroom he'd clocked a bit more security than one would expect in an office building. They'd looked more bored than competent, but he'd signalled Mike to stay at the door and keep an eye on them.
Inside, the parties had gathered around a boardroom table, and it was then that he became aware of something else, something he picked up easily, because he was used to it - someone staring at him with blatant interest. Barely concealed hunger, even.
Sebastian never had to do anything to receive this kind of attention – he didn’t have to turn on the charm or make the first move, and it affected men and women alike (in this case, young Theodore). Well, what could Sebastian do?! People literally tripped over their own feet and fell into his lap, and who was he to reject them? He enjoyed the attention, even though this time was a bit different: Most of the thrill came from the fact that Jim had noticed too… and actually hissed at the whelp to sit.
Sebastian stood back from the table at ease, yet with a hint of subtle tension remaining. There was an almost imperceptible smile on his face, directed at no-one in particular. He still felt Theodore’s eyes on him, but it was Jim's deceptively soft voice that trailed down his spine like velvet, silk, and the thong of a whip.
Walter began to drone about the history of Dima, and the exciting future under the leadership of his son Theodore. Jim tuned him out, only half listening as he observed Theodore, who surreptitiously glanced at Sebastian on and off.
Walter's phone suddenly buzzed, and he looked at the screen, frowning. "I'm so dreadfully sorry, but something urgent with a shipment has come up that I must deal with. I'll leave you in Theodore's capable hands, and you can discuss the future... my apologies, Mr Beecham..."
"Not at all," Jim said smoothly. "This will give Theodore and I a chance to get to know each other..."
Walter shook his hand, and murmuring apologies, left the room.
Theodore sat back with a pleased smile. Jim narrowed his eyes slightly, and glanced at Sebastian, standing by the door. He remained remote and professional. Suzanna was scanning him up and down, before looking back at Theodore with a lusty smile.
Oh Suzanna… he thought, indignant. Et tu??
Well, apparently Teddy and Suzie already had something between them... and now they wanted to squeeze Sebastian in as well.
Not. Going. To. Happen.
Careful now, Jim sang to them in his mind. Don't want to sever our business ties, do you? Or anything else?
He leaned forward. "Our company has done business with your father's for many years now... I for one can't think of any reason for this not continue as always. Is there any new information I need to be aware of?" he said, sounding bored.
Theodore snapped to attention, and assured Jim they would make every effort to give their current roster of client the same service while they were taking initial steps to expand their operation, bla bla bla. And with this expansion, would of course come an increase in shipping rates, Theodore informed him, sounding sad while smiling like a shark.
Jim listened politely. Well, an expanded operation could potentially provide Jim with more reach globally. Or Teddy could be seriously overestimating his abilities and biting off more than he could chew. Either way, he'd gleaned what he needed from meeting the man, and would look into an alternate shipping company should things go south with his relationship with Dima.
His eyes flicked over a smiling Suzanna, who winked at Sebastian. It felt like a dark cloud rolled through him, swamping everything with darkness, crackling with electricity.
Jim stood abruptly. "Please say goodbye to your father for me. An unfortunate situation has arisen that requires immediate resolution."
Theodore and Suzanna rose quickly. "But - we were going to go over increases in rates for the future?" Theodore sputtered, his arrogant smile slipping from his face for the first time.
"There will be no increases in rates for the future," Jim directed a lazy smile at him. "Not for my employer, at any rate. When you've captured more of the global market as you plan to, then we can discuss rate increases. Talk to your father and learn something about how to keep big clients happy, my dear..."
Jim turned and headed for the door, Theodore and Suzanna bustling to keep up with him. Practically running, Theodore reached the door first, and paused with his hand on the handle.
"No offense meant, Mr Beecham. We're very happy to be continue our business relationship with your employer, and we will absolutely wait for a future date to discuss any changes to the contract."
Jim sighed. "I just told you that, Teddy... I don't need it parroted back to me. But you're new so I'll let you in on a couple of things. Repetition bores me. Ineptitude vexes me. And when you're in a meeting with me, the only thing on your mind is to keep me from becoming bored or vexed. On that note... Suzie my dear, you can take back the business card you accidentally slipped into Sebastian's pocket," Jim continued to smile at Theodore who grew pale under his gaze. "Capturing more of the market does not include my security's pants, you silly thing..." he said, his voice satiny-soft.
"And Teddy..." he leaned his face closer to Theodore's. "Remove. Your hand. From. The door.” A seductive smile spread across his face. “Or I’m happy to remove it for you…" he whispered, flashing bedroom eyes at him.
The flirtatious threat of violence proved to be too much for Theodore – his hand dropped from the handle, and he stepped back, looking shocked and considerably paler. Jim's head turned ever so slightly to glance back at Sebastian, who took his cue to step forward and open the door for Jim. Seconds later, they were heading down the hall, Steve trailing behind them.
"Bye Teddy, bye Suzie!" Jim called back, already looking at his phone. But really, he was trying desperately to not pull the gun from Sebastian's holster, and head back to the boardroom to empty the contents into their brainless heads.
"Motherfucking. Morons." he said through gritted teeth. From the corner of his eye, he saw Steve jerk his chin at a surprised looking Mike, who quickly followed them out of the building.
Terry, also looking surprised at their quick return, pulled the car up and they all piled in.
"Next stop!" Jim shouted cheerily. "I'm in the mood to shoot something... Find me a shooting range in the next ten minutes or I'll just open the window and see what happens..." He settled back into his seat jauntily, crossing his leg and scrolling through his emails.
It was another small piece added to Sebastian's insights into the workings of the empire, the web – and the various ways of weaving it, expanding it, running it... Beside keeping business partners in line by threats, coercion and fear or blackmail, there were also the effective tools of mutual gain and profit, of being amenable, and reasonable...
Although he sensed Jim would be hard pressed to keep that up with the successors of Dima. He already noticed not-so-subtle signs of vexation and annoyance. Well, he noticed, same as Steve... The two pretty little halfwits didn't, preoccupied as they were with making eyes at the bodyguard of one of the most dangerous, unpredictable and lethal men on the planet.
Some addictively reckless part of Sebastian started to enjoy the little game - accelerating towards disaster - and started to subtly contribute to it. He stopped pretending to be completely disinterested or even oblivious of the vibes. His eyes stayed on Theodore's just a beat too long for it to be accidental and he might have answered Suzanna's seductive little wink with the tiniest smile.
With the third person at the table being the only one Sebastian was actually interested in, this bordered on certifiable insanity, because unlike the two young nitwits, he knew him to be volatile and possessive… and a bloody psychopath.
And god, he was a mesmerising bloody psychopath… Jim’s manner became even more polite and smooth, with just enough sarcasm mixed in to become obvious to the Dima fledglings... And before they knew what hit them, the meeting was over.
Oops. Did he contribute to the emerging failure of a once satisfactory cooperation? Surely not?! That was entirely on Theodore, for lack of brain cells and prudence… and for having the chutzpah to even mention the imposition of a bigger cut of the profit...
Jim headed for the door, and everybody fell over themselves to follow. Sebastian considered intervening when Theodore blocked the door, but he and Steve both knew better than to take any shine away from Jim's performance.
Sebastian's face had returned to impassive innocence - following Jim's cue, he pulled out the business card (with another phone number written on the back) that Suzie had conjured into his pocket. He handed it back, listening with silent glee to the devastating, derisive little parting speech Jim rained down on Teddy's and Suzie's hapless heads.
He opened the door as though for a king, and they were on their way.
Jim was fuming and Sebastian was sure their business partners had no clue how closely they had escaped annihilation.
But he also learned another lesson this day: Never ever take anything Jim said as just a joke, no matter how funny it sounded. If he hadn't just smiled at that crackpot threat that was unleashed as soon as they were back in the car, he would have noticed the concerned look on Steve's face, and not just relaxed in his seat. He would have cottoned as to why Mike feverishly stabbed at his SatNav, and Jim would never have gotten to his gun.
They had driven exactly ten minutes, Jim apparently absorbed again by his phone, when a lot of things happened all at once: the phone flew to the side and the hand that had been holding it shot forward, jamming into Sebastian's shoulder. The second of shock and jolting pain was just long enough for the weapon to be snatched from the holster underneath his open jacket. He reacted immediately and started forward, but froze when he found the gun trained on his face, along with a fierce grin and blazing dark eyes. For a moment there was nothing but stunned silence and the soft hum of the window rolling down.
Jim did his best not to snicker as he focused on his phone, after setting up the countdown. He was fairly certain that, traffic being what is was, they would not make it to shooting range - even an illegal one. Well, if they did get to one in time, he'd take that as evidence that the good Lord preferred no random acts of chaos today.
Terry was driving rather fast, arguing softly with Mike about the best location, Steve stared outside the window with keen eyes, and Sebastian - why he just sat back in his seat, cool as a cucumber. Looking from the road, to Jim, and back again...
Oh, darling... you think this is a joke, don't you... Well, it will make me laugh, he thought and stifled a giggle.
When nine minutes and thirty seconds rolled around, Jim glanced outside surreptitiously. No known shooting range in sight. Right, select target(s) for maximum enjoyment.
Fifteen seconds to go...
Whose gun should I use? he thought idly. Ah. Perfect.
No giggling, now...
Savour the moment!
The first to receive his attention was a business woman carrying a large cake box and 'Happy 50th' balloons.
"A-hunting we will go..." he sang, taking aim. He shot one balloon, and in an instant the rest of the balloons went floating up and the cake smashed to the ground. Vanilla?? Oh, office culture...
The lady screamed and ran across the street, diving behind a rubbish bin. He chortled with glee. "A hunting we will go..."
"Sir-" Steve tried, and Jim held up a hand.
"Nobody likes a spoilsport, darling..." he chided, and took aim at his next target. He spotted two workers carrying a large pane of glass out of a building, who obviously didn't hear the shot over the bustle of traffic... His eyes lit up, delighted.
How positively cinematic!
Even with the gun partly outside, the report of the unsilenced weapon was deafening. But that wasn't what stunned Sebastian. It was disbelief. What the bloody FUCK?!
Not only would you have to be totally off your rocker for a stunt like this, but shooting from a moving vehicle (and Mike was really putting his foot down now) at a moving target there was no way even an experienced gunman could be sure to hit what he intended to! Granted, in that first instance it didn't matter much if it was this, that or the other balloon, but they weren't that far above the woman's head! So, untypically, for a few seconds Sebastian didn't do anything. Maybe some (clearly naive) part of his brain clung to the absurd hope that Steve had a working strategy for this sort of situation...?
Nope. He started to politely sir the unhinged little fucker, who, with a smile and a jaunty song on his lips, continued...
A pane of glass carried by two workmen disintegrated – and Sebastian jerked himself out of his paralysis. He hauled Jim back by the collar, and snatched the gun away from him with his other hand, snarling. “Are you out of your fucking mind?!“
Uh... rhetorical question?
But - potential casualties aside - someone was bound to call 999.
Jim's utter delight at the pane of glass shattering was interrupted - rather rudely - by an incensed Sebastian shouting at him, and taking away his toy as though he were a child.
"Are you?" he snarled back, and punched him - once in the jaw, once in the solar plexus. Well his hands were free, he may as well take advantage. But not for long - as Sebastian struggled to catch his breath, Jim snatched the gun back, whooping with delight. Well, he wouldn't have long, so best make it count...
A red-faced businessman exited a building, shouting into his mobile - Perfect. Jim shot him in the foot, cackling with pleasure.
"We'll catch a fox and put him in a box!
And then we'll let him go!" he sang at the top of his lungs.
"Are there any government buildings in the vicinity?" he called over his shoulder, and pointed the gun carefully at an office building.
Bright sparks exploded across his vision. Every sympathetic nerve remotely involved in breathing appeared to be out of commission. Sebastian doubled over, gasping for breath. For a few moments there was just the futile struggle for air, and the frazzled thought that he should have just pistol-whipped the little maniac while he'd had the chance. Instead he'd made the same mistake twice within thirty seconds...
He had to do something!! - and in a gut-wrenching wave of nausea, adrenaline and rage, he took in a heaving gulp of air… and movement was suddenly possible again. The very moment the gun was fired again, he closed his hand around it as hard as he could, arresting the slide in recoil. With his palm blocking the ejection of the spent cartridge, it stayed where it was, effectively jamming the gun.
It was also shockingly effective for giving yourself second degree burns, but with a grunt and a vicious effort, he managed the paradoxical reaction of even tightening his grip. He twisted the gun and Jim's hand with it. Oh and as to any government buildings in the vicinity... ?!
“Yes!” he growled at Jim. “HMP Belmarsh is very close and I'm sure we'll be there in no time!”
He then barked a Hackney address at Mike – of a Kosovan gun runner, who not only had a shooting range for his discerning customers in the basement, but was also very adept at making vehicles miraculously disappear.
Jim had just spotted another straight from the box businessman, complete with mobile accessory and arrogant expression - and was considering trying to shoot it (the mobile, not the expression). Of course he knew he probably couldn't make the shot from a moving vehicle, especially with an overzealous bodyguard, and would most likely shoot the look off his face instead - but took careful aim and was just pressing the trigger when Sebastian made his move.
Even as his hand was being twisted, Jim was too distracted to respond as he watched the businessman recoiling as the window next to his head exploding into a shower of glass. The man fell over, and the phone went flying out of his hand, hitting a woman in the head. Jim laughed in delight at the screams as everyone ran for cover... then his soldier growled at him, which earned him a shove and a snarl.
Oh very clever, Tiger, he thought, scowling. You're just so good in a crisis...
He heard the address being shouted, and shook his hand free. Sebastian pulled the gun away and stared at him, panting slightly. Jim rolled his eyes, collected his mobile which had fallen to the floor in the chaos, and scrolled through his playlist.
"Think we're going to get caught, do you? I suppose I should choose something about a bad man getting what's coming to him..." He held up his mobile, pressed Play, and the opening percussion of Rasputin by Boney M poured into the car.
"Ten minutes seems to be the magic number! Get me to the Kosovan's playground by then, and you have nothing to worry about. If you don't... there's no way I'm getting out of this alive..." He flashed a grin at Sebastian, and proceeded to check his email, bobbing his head to the music.
Sebastian was propelled back into his seat by a vicious shove, but he came away with the gun – and that was all he cared about for the moment.
In hindsight this would be the day when he'd realized what it entailed to protect Jim Moriarty, and from whom. Never mind the myriad of third-party threats, when you had your hands full with someone who enjoyed nothing more than to cause chaos and mayhem and be the center of it.
The blood still pounding in his ears, Sebastian drew a deep breath, staring at Jim as he stabbed at his phone with a flourish, cheerily announcing the choice of soundtrack to this ongoing madness.
Only the rapidly blistering burn mark on his palm stopped Sebastian from dragging the hand across his face as the booming retro disco beats flooded the car. His eyes travelled to Steve. How the hell did put up with this – for years as he’d gathered – without flipping his lid? Granted, the man had not done much to resolve the situation, and yet Sebastian found his respect for him raising another notch.
As to Jim's question whether he thought they were going to get caught -
“Well, not until the fat lady sings 'n all that,” he grumbled. He took the magazine out of the gun and started clearing it. Suddenly, thinking of Jim's eclectic playlists, he had to bite back the tickle of a hysterically mad giggle tickling his throat, “Although I'm sure you'll be happy to provide us with one doing just that.” He racked the slide until he could tip out the shell casing.
“You're aware that it’s not physically possible to get from Wapping to Hackney in ten minutes?“ he asked calmly, while he reholstered the weapon, pocketing the magazine separately. Ready to be reassembled in a heartbeat, but just a bit harder for Jim to get his hands on both – again. “Not without hacking the traffic lights,” he conceded, “which I'd advise against. Sir.”
Jim noted with a quick flick of his eyes that Sebastian was exasperated, frustrated beyond belief, but also... there was fire in his eyes that wasn't present when he was just standing around being an imposing bodyguard.
Admit it, darling, he thought, bopping in his seat along to the music. On some level, you're having a blast... but speaking of blasts... He noted the blistering burns on Sebastian's hand. Aww... poor Tiger! He'd have to make it up to him... or at least not kill him for encouraging the boardroom flirting once it started.
Jim's jaw twitched. Well, Tiger... playing with fire gets you burned, doesn't it.
"Hacking the traffic lights... interesting," he murmured. "I have something better in mind..."
He pulled out his laptop, and became very focused. Tapping furiously on the keyboard, he didn't look up. A few minutes later, he heard a siren and didn't look up. But he mouthed along to the spoken words in the song:
But when his drinking and lusting and his hunger
For power became known to more and more people
The demands to do something about this outrageous
Man became louder and louder
The siren did indeed become louder, but then Jim stopped typing and held up his hand.
"Wait for it..." he muttered.
He looked up at Sebastian who was staring at him, perplexed. Disbelief crossed his features as the siren seemed to switch directions and fade off in the distance.
"A bad man who's prone to fits of outrageous behaviour would have to be an idiot not to have a few tricks up his sleeve... or all the tricks, whatever..."
He smiled brightly at Sebastian. "There. I bought us some more time. Now we can get to Hackney at a more leisurely pace. Moran, for heaven’s sake... you look so worried, darling... just look at Steve, taking it in stride. How about this. I'll take everyone out for ice cream after the shooting range. That should soothe any jangled nerves."
He shook his head as he continued typing. Rasputin wrapped up, followed by Circus by Britney Spears. Jim looked delighted. "I haven't listened to my 'Agent of Chaos' playlist in so long... you're in for a treat, Moran!"
He flashed him a wicked smile, and continued working on his laptop while singing along loudly to Britney.
Sebastian was about to enquire about the better idea, when Jim, tapping away at his laptop, held up a hand, like a magician shushing the audience before performing a miraculous trick. And in a way he did...
Sebastian tensed - at first at the sound of police sirens getting closer, then to keep his jaw from dropping when they faded again.
“What the fuck...?” Had Jim just hacked police communication? On his laptop, on the fly? As someone in an ambivalent relationship with IT stuff unless it was attached to a weapons system (and then, even more so), Sebastian had to admit Jim was absolutely amazing with it.
Still... 'jangled nerves'?
The... fucking nerve of him!
Of course, your boss taking potshots at the general public from a moving car in broad daylight was nothing to get jangly about, was it?! And telling Sebastian to relax, and promising a round of ice cream to the long-suffering bodyguards who had to put up with his lunacy was just the cherry on top of the fucking cake!
And yet, Sebastian had to bite the inside of his cheek to not let the absurd exhilaration show (don't encourage him!) that coursed through his veins like a drug. Out of the corner of his eye he did look to Steve, whose turn it was now to gaze back unmoved, and then briefly cock an eyebrow.
And now they were in for another treat - because as Jim was typing, he was singing along to an atrocious pop song that Sebastian was beginning to suspect he’d commissioned Britney to write.
There's only two types of guys out there
Ones that can hang with me, and ones that are scared
So baby I hope that you came prepared
I run a tight ship, so beware
With a huff and an eye-roll, Sebastian let himself fall back against his seat. Biting back a grunt of pain, he sat back up instantly. Then he pulled out his phone and dialed a number.
“Loran?“ To be able to hear anything over the din in the car he pressed the phone to his ear and a finger into the other one. “Loran? Basher! Po... Si je?”
Loran Idrizi and Sebastian went back a long way, about a decade, when during the Balkan wars the SAS had trained members of the KLA in guerilla warfare. A few years later the man and part of his family had made it through immigration into the UK, and now he ran a legitimate business. And a highly illegal one on the side.
He was a reliable port of call for Sebastian regarding vehicles and weapons, and was always put into a beaming good mood by Sebastian mangling his native language. But as this was not a good moment to risk misunderstandings, Sebastian switched to English.
“Listen, we need the use of your premises– no, not the garage. And not tomorrow night, we're on our way. About twenty minutes away... Just a heads up.” He didn't know what Idrizi might do when their car screeched into his yard unannounced.
“So... funfair tickets booked,” Sebastian said, putting away his phone. “Might be the courteous thing to do to take some of his wares off his hands, too... while we're there.”
Jim was trying hard not to chuckle at Sebastian's blustery exasperation, and his adorable indignation. Oh, he was just too much fun...
Idly, he wondered what he should do to his soldier when he got him alone. Then he realized it hadn't been discussed yet, but what did that matter? Surely it wasn't even a question! He allowed himself a scowl as he heard Sebastian on the phone, speaking Albanian.
By the time he had hung up, Jim was over his grumpiness. He leaned over and squeezed Sebastian's knee. "So resourceful..." he purred. "Of course we'll buy some of his lovely guns. Excellent connection, Moran..." He stared over his sunglasses at him, flicked his tongue over his lips, and returned to his laptop.
Sebastian returning home with him was as inevitable as the dawn...