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Where Loyalties Lie

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A senior officer of the Ministry of Defence, Commander James Bond C.M.G., R.N., is missing, believed killed, while on an official mission to Turkey. It grieves me to have to report that hopes of his survival must now be abandoned. It therefore falls to my lot, as the Head of the Department he served so well, to give some account of this officer and of his outstanding services to his country.

Expression stony, Alec Trevelyan reread the words from the memorandum M had sent out to announce that James had been officially declared dead. On stage, M was giving a similarly worded speech, lauding James’ service in vague, security-conscious terms. Looking up at the small, fierce woman, Alec reminded himself that he was a professional. He couldn’t show his anger and wouldn’t show his grief, but a hint of tension wouldn’t be out of line. Everyone at MI6 knew that Alec and James had been close for nearly twenty years, since their earliest days in the Royal Navy. He let his shoulders come to a tight, straight line as he folded the memo and slipped it into his pocket. Then he turned and looked at the other senior staffers – Double O’s, branch heads, executives, and liaisons from other organisations.

Was one of them responsible? Had one of them sold out two agents? For what price? he wondered, turning his attention back to M without actually hearing her words. The main assembly room was packed, standing room only. Though Alec could have demanded a seat up front, as the closest thing James had to a relative, he was standing at the back, where he could see everyone. He knew that someone inside of MI6 was responsible for what happened to James and Ronson, and a small, vicious part of him wanted to slip out, bar the doors, and light a fire.

If there was one thing he couldn’t stand, it was a traitor.

Instead, he waited in the shadows, conscious of the killers to either side of him. They were all standing against the back wall where their twitch-reflexes wouldn’t be set off by people moving around them. The news of the deaths had everyone on edge.

All of them were thinking the same thing. All of them, in fact, were probably looking at Alec as the most likely suspect. Questionable birth. Unknown upbringing. Intimate knowledge of James Bond’s fighting style and MO on a mission. It would be effortless for Alec to find a buyer for the sort of information that could give him a luxurious (albeit short) life anywhere in the world. There were people who’d bankrupt entire nations to get their hands on James, in fact; he was just that good at making enemies.

They both were, James and Alec. They just never made the mistake of allowing those enemies to live for very long.

The memorial service dragged on, and Alec’s fingers itched. Every instinct was urging him to tear into the crowd and start questioning people in the most bloody, efficient way possible. Someone had sold inside information. Someone had given the enemy – whoever that was – the intel on the Istanbul safehouse where Ronson was. And then James, that bloody idiot, had to go haring off to save his some-time lover, with a bloody green recruit as his only backup.

“Steady,” 009 murmured under her breath, glancing sidelong at Alec.

He forced his fists to unclench and nodded, wondering if 009 was the traitor. She and James had a vicious rivalry, but was it enough to sell out a fellow agent?

Possibly. She didn’t have a record of loyalty. At fifteen, she’d betrayed her family for their IRA affiliation, testified as an anonymous witness to their bombmaking, and then disappeared into the military. She’d been with MI6 as a field agent for six years, a Double O for two. She’d been assigned James as a field supervisor and gone out on two missions with him, which was two too many, as M should have known. The battle lines had been drawn the very minute 009 and 007 had been put in the same room.

Maybe the traitor was M herself. Alec stared across the room, watching as she returned to her chair, though she remained standing. A military chaplain took her place at the podium, and everyone in the hall rose for a minute of silence, cutting off Alec’s view of the short, authoritative woman who ruled MI6 with an iron fist. It was said that nothing happened in MI6 that she didn’t eventually discover, but hadn’t her own bloody Chief of Staff – Bill Tanner’s predecessor – been compromised?

Alec took deep, steadying breaths and tuned out the carefully non-denominational memorial prayer. This was all the service James would get. Ronson, whose body had been recovered and whose presence in Turkey wasn’t a political time bomb, would have a proper wake and graveside ceremony.

Just as well. The last thing Alec needed was for James to drag him to a bloody grave every time he decided to get stroppy. Bad enough he’d be bragging about coming back from the dead for months.

 

~~~

 

Desmond McCowen sat at his desk, not really seeing what was on the screen in front of him. After almost ten years – first the Home Office, then at MI5 – he had come to expect the sort of death and destruction that came from this particular brand of government work. More so since he had joined MI6 as one of Major Boothroyd’s Technical Services Section quartermasters.

But this was different. Not only had MI6 lost two field agents; one of them had been the legendary 007, James Bond. To make matters worse, he had been lost at their own hand – shot off a bridge by a fellow field agent. It implied an operational failure at every level, especially considering M herself had given the order – an order that never should have been necessary in the first place.

“Everything all right, Desmond?” Boothroyd said as he approached the desk.

Wasn’t the Major supposed to be at the memorial service? Desmond looked down at the clock on his computer. He was appalled to see that two hours had passed, and he’d barely made an inch of headway with the security program he was currently writing. “Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. I was just streamlining the security algorithm for the new comms system. Was there something you needed?”

“No, no, that’s fine. How close are you to finishing?” Boothroyd leaned against the cubicle wall, one arm draped over the edge.

“Not much longer. Should be ready for testing tomorrow,” Desmond replied. He wanted to ask how the service was, but felt it wasn’t proper. “Give me an hour, and I can run through it with you before I leave.”

“That’s all right, my boy.” Boothroyd straightened up. He seemed tired, as if the memorial had been not for an agent but for a close family member or loved one. Of course, Boothroyd had been at MI6 forever. He knew everyone there, and he still kept his hand in, running the most critical missions for the Double O’s. He gave Desmond a faint, fatherly smile. “Finish it tomorrow; we’ll go over it then. Just close up and go home. I think we all could use a day away from this place.”

“Er, all right,” Desmond said, surprised. Boothroyd had never sent him home early. Ever.

As Boothroyd walked away, Desmond saved his programs and then shut everything down. Much as he loathed leaving a project incomplete like this, he was in no shape to be working on anything. He’d just end up having to fix it tomorrow.

After everything was locked down, he grabbed his tablet, laptop, and an MI6-issued mobile phone, shoving everything haphazardly into his rucksack. Now that he really was leaving early, he didn’t want to have to be here any longer than necessary. The stench of recent death permeated every corner of the building, dragging down everyone’s spirits and making him crave fresh air.

The Technical Services Section occupied the sixth floor, with a lovely view of the Thames. Central to the building were the labs, two of which extended up into the seventh floor.  The street-side of the sixth floor had been remodelled into offices a few years ago, but the occasional explosions meant no department wanted permanent residence there. The offices had been assigned as temporary workspace for the field agents whenever they were in town.

Desmond had made it a habit to pass the labs on the way to the stairs, mostly to see if there were any interesting experiments going on. He specialised in computers, but had an aptitude for engineering that a few night classes had honed. Much as he believed the future of TSS lay in cyber-security rather than explosives, maintaining the MI6 armoury did have its place.

As he passed the chemicals lab, an office door flew open, and a man came crashing out to hit the chemlab wall. Desmond stumbled back out of the way just in time to see the dark muzzle of a gun emerge from the office. Walther, he recognised, one rational corner of his mind cataloguing and analysing while the rest of him wondered whether or not he should run for cover.

The gun was followed by a hand, tanned and scarred and rock-steady, holding the weapon aimed at the dazed man, who cringed back against the chemlab wall, a rabbit trapped under a falcon’s shadow, too scared to move.

Oh, fucking hell, Desmond thought as the agent stepped into view. He was no ordinary field agent, but Alec Trevelyan – 006, rumoured to be the closest friend of the lost agent, James Bond. He didn’t even twitch in Desmond’s direction as he advanced on his chosen prey.

“Sorry, what was that about regs?” Alec asked in a mild, calm voice that sent chills through Desmond.

In his short time at MI6, Desmond had only ever encountered a Double O twice. The first had been at Medical, the day he went in for his intake testing. 003 had recently come back from a mission and could be heard two corridors over screaming at the doctors and nurses. Desmond had the unpleasant experience of being one bed over from her. The other had been up in Finance, where 002 threw a rubbish bin through the window of one of the offices. Rumour was they’d mucked up his pay slip by something like twenty pounds. Desmond learned quickly that the Double O agents were not to be trifled with.

But neither of those experiences could have prepared him for the look of murderous fury that Desmond could see buried beneath 006’s coldly neutral mask. This suit in front of him had no idea how close he was to death.

Desmond stood frozen to the spot, his brain warring over what to do. He could try and run, but that would be like turning his back on an angry bear. Or he could be stupid and step in. It seemed stupid was going to win out.

Taking a step forward, he turned to face the deadly agent. “006?” he asked as calmly as he could manage. “What are you doing?”

Alec growled. He actually growled, the sound coming from deep in his chest. “Interdepartmental politics,” he said, biting out the words.

Alec’s victim shot Desmond a desperate look. “I’m locking out –”

“No, you’re not,” Alec interrupted as though speaking to a particularly dim child. “Leave.”

Desmond saw Alec’s finger twitch on the trigger. Calculations flew through his mind – trigger pull, muzzle velocity, probable load of the round that was chambered. Exactly what all of that combined would do to the man pinned up against the chemlab wall.

Hoping that the agent’s anger was more single-minded focus and less murder spree, Desmond put himself directly between 006 and his would-be victim. Alec’s eyes – startling green – locked to Desmond, and the muzzle dropped, aimed more safely towards the floor.

“Alec,” Desmond started. He’d heard somewhere using a name could sometimes have a calming effect on would-be attackers. “I’ve no idea what’s going on here, but I don’t think shooting a fellow employee is going to solve anyone’s problem.” He glanced warily at the gun in Alec’s hand. “Might I suggest holstering your weapon?”

“Training suggests the simple solutions are usually the best,” Alec said, tipping his head to glare past Desmond. “I’d be doing MI6 a service. This one’s too stupid to take advantage of my distraction and run,” he snapped, barking out the last word.

The man finally scrambled up to his feet, kicking at the back of Desmond’s foot as he got his balance. Alec’s gaze shifted, and Desmond knew the man was taking full advantage of whatever shielding he could get from Desmond’s slender body.

Desmond flinched but held his ground. If Alec was offering up a way for the man to escape, Desmond knew the agent had no actual intention of shooting anyone. He turned to watch the man flee before finally looking back at Alec. “Would you mind telling me what all of that was about?”

Desmond might have expected the agent, deprived of his chosen prey, to shift his rage to the person who’d intervened. But as Alec holstered the Walther under his arm, the look he shot Desmond was anything but angry. It was slow and assessing, almost a physical touch, from hair to toes and back up. It was the sort of look that would get anyone short of a Double O hauled before HR for sexual harassment.

“I’ve never seen you before,” Alec said, and even his voice was completely different. The dangerous growl still lurked under the surface, but now it was all silk and interest and confidence, as if they were meeting at a nightclub rather than in a hallway that had nearly become a murder scene. Desmond had heard stories about being caught under the intense gaze of one of the Double O’s, and he wasn’t entirely certain the shiver he felt was from fear.

“I doubt you have. Most senior agents refuse to show their face in TSS considering how often and how spectacularly you damage our equipment,” he replied, going for false confidence. “I’m Desmond McCowen, quartermaster for TSS.”

“Desmond.” Alec looked him over again, frowning suddenly but not ominously. “You don’t look like a ‘Desmond’.”

“No?” he asked, hearing the tremor in his voice and hoping desperately that Alec didn’t. “What do I look like, then?”

Alec buttoned his jacket and smoothed it down as he took a step closer. He was three inches taller than Desmond and significantly broader in the shoulders. The subdued aura of danger still crackled around him like static electricity, despite how calm he seemed. “I’d have to know more about you,” he said, stopping only when he was a foot away, just close enough for Desmond to want to back up a step. “You’re one of my quartermasters, you say?”

“Among other things, yes.”

“Really,” Alec said, grinning as he looked slowly down Desmond’s body again. “And what other things are you for me?”

Desmond hid a sigh of relief as he realised the danger had passed, though he had no illusion that Alec would remain docile if provoked. His sudden interest in Desmond was obvious, even heavy-handed, but not quite crossing the line. And Desmond knew that if he turned and walked away, Alec would let him go.

Desmond began to feel better about the entire situation, but he was still wary. This was a grieving agent who’d recently lost his oldest friend in the world, and Desmond had heard more than enough stories of how field agents behaved at the best of times. Cede any ground to them, and they’d take it unhesitatingly before demanding more.

“The one in charge of the team that provides your weapons, gear, and up-to-date intelligence for use in the field,” Desmond said, meeting Alec’s eyes steadily.

He had the immense satisfaction of seeing confusion cross Alec’s face. Then Alec laughed, the sound rich and full of what felt like genuine amusement. “My quartermaster,” he said, smile turning sly. “Q. That suits you better.”

“I’m not really sure what to say to that,” Desmond responded before shaking his head with a smile. “But I assume that means you like me, and I much prefer that over being targeted as your next victim.”

“Not very clever,” Alec scolded, grin never fading. “I don’t know you. It’s a bit much for you to decide that I like you.”

Desmond paused, feeling slightly wrong-footed. “I assumed your nicknaming me meant that I’d gained at least some favour with you. Consider me better informed.”

“You did that with your pointlessly altruistic decision to save that cockroach from IT,” Alec said dismissively.

“My decision to see that man spared had nothing to do with altruism,” Desmond responded with a smirk. “The last thing I want to deal with is blood anywhere near the chemlabs,” he said, waving a hand in the direction of the labs.

Alec barked out a laugh. “I can settle for practical. In fact...” The sly grin reappeared as he moved, looking away from Desmond for the first time. With one hand, he gestured at the tiny office; the other hand brushed over Desmond’s back, slipping between his raincoat and the rucksack over his shoulder. “Do you do computers? You must do.”

Desmond looked up at Alec in disbelief before laughing. “Yes, as a matter of fact. Computers are something I definitely do.”

“Perfect,” Alec approved, giving Desmond a gentle push towards the office. “I need you to get past a security card reader so I can get at some files.”

Desmond stopped in his tracks, causing Alec to bump into him. “I’m sorry, what?” he asked, peering into the darkened office before looking back up at Alec. “Do you have any idea how many different regulations that violates?” He tried to sidestep Alec, but the position of Alec’s hand on his back under the rucksack made it awkward. Remembering what he’d stumbled upon, he had a feeling this had something to do with 007. Not wanting a gun pointed at his head, he chose his words carefully. “As much as I’d like to help, I’m not all that keen on losing my job.”

“You won’t get caught,” Alec said soothingly, giving Desmond another gentle push. “It’s important, Q. You know I have the authority to do damned near anything as it is.” His charming smile reappeared, and he leaned in a bit closer, offering, “I can make it an order, if you’d like that.”

He stared incredulously at Alec. “As much as it would appease my superiors to know that I was acting under the orders of a senior field agent, I think we can pass on the directives for now,” he said, shaking his head. “Why don’t you tell me what it is you need first? If I can help, I will. Then we’ll decide if you get to call me Q.”

Again, Desmond saw that look of confusion cross Alec’s face. Did no one ever stand up to the field agents? The expression disappeared in a blink, replaced by what Desmond was quickly coming to recognise as Alec’s ‘I want something’ smile.

“Agreed,” he said, and gave Desmond a slightly harder push to get him moving towards the door. “In private. Unless you want a third to join us, that is.”

Feeling his ears go hot, Desmond coughed and finally started moving. “No, I think I can handle this all on my own, thank you.”

Alec closed the door behind him, engaging the locks. Overhead, the air supply came on, filling the room with an irritating, low hum. It was a filtered air connection as well as a white noise generator. They were in one of the dark offices, used for reviewing compartmented secret files. The rooms were shielded against all forms of electronic and mechanical spying, swept twice a day for unauthorised devices. They were meant to be used individually, with a single chair and a minuscule desk that didn’t even have an Ethernet connection, much less wireless access.

Well, that explained the need to disable a card reader. Without network authentication, the laptop sitting on the desk was worthless except as a paperweight. Alec wouldn’t be able to get past the login screen to play Free Cell.

Desmond took off his rucksack and set it on the chair. No point in using it; the room wasn’t big enough for either of them to be sitting down. He turned as best he could to face Alec. “I can do what you’re asking,” he said, glancing back, “but I have to ask you one question before I do. Does this have anything to do with 007?”

He turned and saw Alec’s eyes had gone sharp. The smile was gone. “You don’t want to ask that, Q,” he warned quietly. “The less you know, the happier you’ll be.”

“If you think my knowing less of anything will make me happier, then your original assessment was right. You don’t know me.”

 

~~~

 

Paranoia was an institutional hazard. Alec’s predated MI6, going all the way back to when he and James had got roped into military intelligence while still in the Navy. The only change now was that MI6 escalated the stakes.

The timing was all too perfect. Some troll from IT happened to come after James’ laptop, only to be rescued by a quartermaster from TSS – someone the field agents were trained to trust implicitly – who happened to ask about James?

Some things were ingrained. MI6 believed James was dead, shot by a junior field agent who was either a misguided idiot or Alec’s next target. Had Desmond been sent to stop Alec? And god, who the hell named their child Desmond, these days? It reeked of a poorly constructed false identity.

He abandoned all pretence at flirting. Before, he’d planned to draw the Walther, so he’d intentionally left the chamber empty. Now, the Walther was in his hand before he was consciously aware he’d drawn it, and he racked the slide back to chamber a round. ‘Desmond’ stared at him in wide-eyed fear that was either genuine or a damned good act.

Desmond hit the wall chest-first, turning his head at the last second to keep from breaking his nose or glasses. Alec’s free hand landed between his shoulder blades; his other pressed the Walther’s muzzle to the back of Desmond’s skull.

“Then let’s get to know one another,” Alec said calmly, glad that he’d taken a dark office. He wondered if Desmond knew that the sound of gunfire wouldn’t penetrate the walls, with dark protocols engaged.

“What the fuck, 006!” Desmond demanded, his voice going low. “You asked for my help, but understand this is my job we’re talking about. I have the right to ask what I’m risking my career for.”

Alec studied what he could see of Desmond’s profile. Who the hell was worried about his job security with an apparently insane-with-grief assassin holding a gun to his head?

Suddenly wary that there might be two assassins locked in the tiny office, Alec twitched the gun, watching Desmond’s shoulders for any hint that he might move. He ran his free hand down Desmond’s back, pressing hard to try and feel anything hidden under his raincoat and the suit beneath it.

Desmond took a breath, fingers twitching against the wall.

“Don’t,” Alec warned, feeling over his arse and across to his left hip. He was wary of weapons that could be hidden under Desmond’s belt, but he took the risk of feeling all the way along the leather to the buckle. It was a simple buckle, not something that could conceal anything bigger than a razor. He pulled his hand up over Desmond’s chest, feeling for anything – a holdout pistol under his shirt, a knife on a strap around his neck, even a damned pen. He found a watch which he unlatched from Desmond’s left wrist, wary of poison-coated needles, and a mobile phone that went onto the desk.

“I’m not carrying any weapons, 006,” Desmond said rather pointlessly.

Alec huffed and didn’t respond, except to take a step back, pulling Desmond back with him by one hip. One more step would bring them to the opposite wall, but Alec didn’t need that much room. “Hands behind your head, fingers laced,” he said, dragging the muzzle down to Desmond’s nape. He kept his fingernail pressed to the front of the trigger-guard, rather than risking any pressure on the trigger itself. A twitch and he’d fire, but it wouldn’t happen accidentally.

Desmond put his hands behind his head, doing what Alec asked without hesitation. As soon as he had his fingers interlaced, Alec pushed him forward. He nearly let go to catch his fall, stopped himself, and ducked his head to keep from smashing his glasses into the wall. “Feet back,” Alec demanded over Desmond’s indignant protest. “Legs spread. Back farther,” he barked, trying to push him off-balance mentally as well as physically.

“Anything else you want me to do? Or can we get on with it and get this ridiculous exercise over with. Remember, you asked for my help,” Desmond pointed out.

“And you conveniently showed up at just the right time for that,” Alec countered, even more suspicious at the lack of fear. A kick pushed Desmond’s feet even further apart, until he wouldn’t be able to stand without telegraphing his intent. Warily, Alec crouched, lowering the gun to push at the small of Desmond’s back so he could search up and down each leg. He thought about having Desmond take off his shoes – TSS had issued shoes with knives in them long before America’s TSA had heard of such things – but there was no point. In this office, Desmond was likely to crack his own skull bending down to reach for a weapon in his shoe.

Alec found change and a wallet, all cards in the name of Desmond McCowen. A carabiner held keys, a USB drive, a small torch, and a multitool. That went onto the desk, next to the watch and mobile. Other than that, though, he seemed clean.

Alec moved the gun back up, though he moved his finger from the trigger to lay it along the slide. Then he took hold of Desmond’s jacket and pulled him back. Desmond staggered before he caught his balance. He didn’t try to ‘fall’ backwards into Alec and knock him off his feet, which would’ve been Alec’s first move to try and get hold of the gun.

Was he really innocent or just playing a long game in hopes of gaining Alec’s trust?

“All right, Q,” Alec said, allowing his tone to turn reasonable. “Let’s have that chat now, shall we?”

“And which chat would that be?” Desmond asked, trying to turn his head. A press from the gun convinced him not to move. “The one about why I’m helping you or the one about why you’re now attacking me?”

Alec stared at the back of Desmond’s head, wondering what the hell was going on. Anyone could break, but how would he break? Was he saying what he thought Alec wanted to hear? Was he genuinely innocent of any involvement?

Unfortunately, there was no one reliable, infallible method for ferreting out the truth. There were too many variables. Humans, James liked to tell the recruits he trained, were messy. Inevitably he followed that up with a discussion on how to make them even messier in hopes of getting at the truth, but the fact was that even torture wasn’t guaranteed to work. In fact, most of the time, it was less likely to get at the complete truth.

Earlier, Desmond had seemed interested. An emotional angle might work best. Alec generally preferred seduction over torture, in any case.

Hoping Desmond hadn’t been put off by the assault and search, Alec stepped back as far as he could and holstered the Walther. He ignored the shiver that swept over his skin and reminded himself that he could have his gun drawn, aimed, and discharged in a heartbeat if necessary.

“I’m sorry,” he said, letting his voice go soft and gruff, as if hiding his sincerity. He put a hand on Desmond’s shoulder and pressed, silently signalling that he could lower his arms. “I can’t take chances. James was my” – he hesitated, thinking quickly about what would be the most useful term – “best friend. I don’t know who to trust anymore.”

Desmond flexed his shoulders as he turned around. “I can understand that. And you have no reason to trust me. You still don’t. It’s true, you don’t know me. But you should know that I’m only asking because I’m actually like you, at least in this instance. I don’t like being kept in the dark.”

Quashing the urge to roll his eyes, Alec said, “Just...get me into the computer, without letting it near the network. Then you can go. No one will find out. As soon as I have the information I need, I’m destroying the computer.”

“No.” Desmond said, looking Alec square in the eye. “I will not help you unless I know what the reason is. If you tell me, I might know where to look to help you find whatever information you need. My job as your quartermaster is to get you through a mission. I can’t do that if I don’t have all the parameters.”

Either he was incredibly confident – and thus guilty – or he was insanely brave. Or just bloody stubborn. Alec searched for any hint as to his thoughts, but there was nothing to read. Figuring the best lie was nine-tenths truth anyway, he finally said, “Agent Ronson was killed in an MI6 safehouse.”

“Yes, I’m aware. As a quartermaster, I – Ooh...” Desmond’s eyes lit up in understanding. He took a step back, leaning against the wall behind him. “You think MI6 has been compromised and you don’t know by whom.” He glanced around, obviously taking in his surroundings before settling on the locked door. “And it could just as easily be me as it could be that man from IT. Or anyone here, for that matter.”

So he wasn’t an idiot. Alec allowed a hint of his earlier thoughts to return. It would be entirely in character for him to work out his ‘grief’ in bed with anyone he could catch; better clever, useful company than someone who was pretty but empty-headed. Of course, that made Desmond more dangerous, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“That’s why I need what’s on that laptop before it hits the network, in case something’s waiting to wipe it,” he explained, watching Desmond more circumspectly now.

Desmond sighed, pushing off the wall. “All right. I’ll help. If anything, maybe it will prove I’m not a traitor, although I very much doubt it.” He picked up the laptop and turned it upside-down. “You’d be a fool to trust anyone, and you don’t strike me as the foolish type. I’ll need my keyring.” He looked at it, but wisely didn’t reach for it until Alec nodded.

“What are you doing?”

“I have to disconnect the hardware first. There’s a failsafe if the computer thinks the hardware’s been compromised,” Desmond explained as he flipped out the screwdriver and started to remove the bottom plate.

Alec nodded, watching him more out of curiosity than suspicion. His instincts were telling him that Desmond was stubborn and perhaps too brave for his own good, but also honest. As Desmond started removing the tiny screws, Alec asked, “Where do you want to go for dinner?”

Desmond looked up, confused. “Dinner?”

“There are cameras in the hall,” Alec said, grinning at Desmond’s expression. “If you’re not the traitor, then we go on the assumption that he or she is watching every security feed in here, and I’m the next likely target. So either you’re helping me crack into that laptop, or we’re shagging against the door, and I’m enough of a gentleman to feed you after. God knows you look two dinners away from starvation,” he added, looking down Desmond’s slender body.

Desmond laughed as he turned back to work on the laptop, but not before Alec caught a glimpse of him going bright red. The young ones were always so easy to embarrass.

“Well, if you’re taking me to dinner and, as you say, I look on the brink of starvation, I suggest making it a good one.” He cracked the back casing and turned it over to shake a couple more screws out into his palm. “Other than that, I’ll let you choose.”

“St Ermin’s.” Alec grinned. “How do you feel about room service?”

 

art by skylocked