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“Report, 007,” M barked out on the phone. James could feel his lip curl into a sneer.

 

 

“The boy’s started work on a new firewall for Jetmaster Corp after they had a hacking scare, and he has a side project for some kind of word game. He’s not doing anything against the UK and never has for the last two years,” James growled out. Two years of this stupid sodding mission of playing at a relationship with the stupid sodding twig of a boy. God, he was fucking tired of this shit—he could barely remember the last time he got drunk, truly drunk, and had been able to let go. He couldn’t go on missions of his usual caliber, he had to be more careful because why would a sales rep get new scars every other month?, and he had to sleep with the boy regularly. He needed to shoot someone, but only three weeks had passed since his last mission, if it could even be called that, and he still needed to keep up the pretense of domesticity for at least another week.

 

 

“Careful with your tone, 007. You know your objective is observation and prevention. Tell me more about this side project of his.” M said warningly. Some criminals had the tendency to tell their unknowing spouses about their work using coded language.

 

 

“It’s a crossword puzzle,” James said, his jaw clenched at the utter ridiculousness of his longest ongoing mission. “You can choose puzzles from different topics, ranging from computer science to fashion history. You can also choose a crossword on ‘Combined’ mode, where all the topics are mixed. There is also a ‘Random Puzzle’ option. Though the game is free, hint packs are available at fifty pence for two hints to five pounds for twenty-two hints.”

 

 

“It’s a team effort, and the boy’s been meeting up with two other programmers named Khalid Kennedy and Nancy Palmer. They just sit in a coffee shop coding and snacking away. There is no sign of hacking or any other illicit activity, nor any sign of clandestine contact with criminals.”

 

 

“Does Kennedy and Palmer have any history of criminal activity?” M asked. James started pacing the bedroom.

 

 

“No. Kennedy only has two parking tickets to his name, and Palmer was sued for assault but she didn’t even make it to the courtroom. She is a dominatrix in a lesbian relationship, and one of her clients lied to his wife about how he got the marks on his body after she saw the blood on his shirt. After he owned up to his lies, the wife dropped the charges.”

 

 

“Does Palmer have any clients that might need the services of someone at Albury’s skill level?”

 

 

“She was the one who mentioned the boy to the CEO of Jetmaster Corp. Her other clients are all middle-to-upper-class former public schoolboys who get off on being beaten.”

 

 

M was silent for a few moments, before saying “Keep observing and seducing information out of him, 007. If he commits treason again—”

 

 

“Dammit, M!” James exploded. “When will this mission be over?”

 

 

“007! Get a hold of yourself!” M snapped, but James steamrolled over her.

 

 

“I’ve been on this honeypot recon for two fucking years! In all that time, I can’t drink, I have to go on stupid fucking dates, I can’t shag anyone I want, and I have to pretend I actually care for him! Everything I say, everything I do, I have to do it differently just for the boy! I can’t stand it anymore, M!” James ended the call and threw his phone onto the bed with a snarl. He knew he was going to be getting an earful later, but it was worth it. He hated the fact that his entire life had to be shifted to accommodate a target. 

 

 

In his rage, he forgot that he had chosen a flat with thinner walls to better listen to any incoming intruders. He didn’t know that Benjamin Eucharis Albury was home early to surprise his lover. He didn’t see Benjamin standing in the hallway that led to their bedroom holding a cakebox and a bottle of wine with tears running down his face.

 

 


 

 

M let out an exasperated sigh when James cut the call. She knew that he wasn’t enthusiastic about this mission, but he truly was the only agent of the target’s type that was available. 006 was deep undercover on a mission that had somehow grown uncontrollably long, 008 had the honeypot skills of an ant even after years in the field, and 009 was still too green to be able to handle that kind of long-term deception. 

 

 

She seemed to have overestimated his skill in partitioning away his feelings. At this rate, he was going to explode on Albury soon and irreparably damage the relationship. She needed to get him to vent his rage quickly. She had just the mission in mind.

 

M emailed Mycroft Holmes to inform him that she had found someone to destroy the crime gang he wanted to eradicate.