Brian sat in his kitchen covered in latex and cling film, lost in reverie. A cup of tea and a large pair of shears waited, forgotten, on his table. Memories mixed with wishes had stilled his hands before they could begin their attack on his costume.
It had been his first Bond night at the pub, and Brian, his thought processes typically askew from the local way of thinking, had used the occasion to present himself as a riddle to be solved, a pun on the myth of 007. It hadn’t occurred to him to put on a nice suit and present himself well, although as he looked around at the other men in the room he knew he could outclass them all given the chance. He knew how to pull off formal attire—his medical training hadn’t taught him that, but the social occasions within the medical community had given him plenty of opportunity for practice.
He unconsciously shook his head, despairing at his own thoughtlessness and the missed opportunity to stand out in a way that could earn him respect instead of ridicule from the Tretarw community.
The silver jumpsuit was leftover from a Wizard of Oz-themed fancy dress party his now ex-wife Miranda had thrown. She’d gotten the thing online and said it was an astronaut costume, but a quick Google had told him it was a latex catsuit typically worn by gentlemen of a certain persuasion that Brian was not. She had used it to dress him up as the Tin Man by adding silver-painted poster board pieces on his legs and chest. She’d suggested a codpiece as a joke but Brian had found silk boxers in silver and worn them instead. The catsuit was form-fitting and left nothing to the imagination, and Brian preferred a bit of imagination over stark reality in the more private aspects of his life and anatomy.
He remembered the party as one of his more socially awkward evenings. The barrel-chested look only made his arms appear thinner and the oil funnel didn’t sit well on his head. The silver face paint itched and the poster board crumpled easily, which meant he couldn’t sit, lean against a wall, or even dance much. The catsuit itself was almost comfortable, which unnerved him a little bit. He was more unnerved by Miranda’s costume as a genderbent Wizard of Oz; she was startlingly sexy and powerful at once.
The catsuit came into play later, after the guests left and Miranda’s inner dominatrix was loosed into their domestic world. The next morning Brian dragged himself into consciousness with the certainty that he knew what it meant to be caught in a tornado. He suspected it had been Miranda’s plan all along.
Brian had buried the catsuit in a box that had moved with him to Tretarw. He resurrected it, and renamed it a jumpsuit in his mind so it would be less sexually provocative, for the sake of his Bond-themed costume. A martini, shaken, not stirred. As soon as his mind caught the joke it stopped considering any other ideas and moved forward with his usual focus. He grew eager to show off his idea.
He’d been quietly disappointed when Nina cancelled the Bond party and quietly curious when she announced its return. He thought it must have had something to do with Vic but he wasn’t sure what. A peace offering? A chance to give her old friend the spotlight in front of Violet, the milk girl he’d taken up with? Nina had a good head for business and she’d been right to cancel the party on economic grounds; reinstating it for the sake of sentiment was a sweet gesture that Brian found charming. He was also relieved that his effort to put together the perfect costume wouldn’t go to waste.
He planned it out, how to wrap the cling film around the high collar of the jumpsuit first, spreading it over his shoulders and upper back and chest. Arms next, thoroughly wrapped, then torso last of all. As he studied his reflection in the mirror—he kept it hung on the inside of his closet door so he could never catch himself unawares—Brian thought his natural modesty may have caused him to overdo the cling film. He was determined to make sure any curves or lumps were thoroughly covered, and his slender frame could do with a few extra layers to add the suggestion of musculature that was, in his eyes, partially lacking. Especially when compared to the burly farmers and fishermen whose injuries he was forever patching up.
He hadn’t expected the result to look quite like this, however. By the time Brian has used all the cling film—over two big rolls of it—he’d nearly made himself a mini-dress out of cling film. His mirror suggested that he’d dressed himself in a ‘60’s style Bond girl outfit complete with silver tights. He’d have to keep his olive balloon in hand and shake regularly so everyone would get the joke. On the bright side, he did look significantly more bulky than usual.
Of course, muscles don’t make the man, but his particular brand of wit and encyclopedic knowledge of medical trivia and pirate lore was unappreciated by the locals. He was out-of-place, as most people were happy to mention, and his academic rather than athletic stature made him even more so. There were so many men in this community, and very few women to soften their behaviors.
Nancy and Betty were women, true enough, but hardly the gentile type. With Nina visiting, though, things were different. Nina was a woman for sure, and a lady too. And when she smiled, the world lit up. Even the dark old pub room nearly glowed.
Brian wanted to make Nina smile at least and laugh at best—not at him, with him. At the joke he’d cleverly devised for the Bond party. He wanted her to dance with him and give him a chance to tell her about the trouble he took on his costume. Not that he’d complain, but that he’d let her know he took it seriously.
In his secret imaginings Brian wanted Nina to offer to help him out of all those layers of cling film and the wide sellotape that held the costume together.
He imagined her walking back to his house with him and using his best pair of shears to carefully cut away the cling film. He could almost feel her hands move up his arms, across his shoulders, and up his body as she guided the scissors. He could see the costume drop away in pieces until he was left with just the jumpsuit. That’s when his imagination came to a screeching halt, because Brian honestly couldn’t imagine Nina getting aroused by the sight of him in a ridiculous silver latex jumpsuit.
Perhaps he could ask her to fix them both a cup of tea while he excused himself to change into something more comfortable and less absurd. Yes, that would do it. He’d return to the kitchen in something casual but sexy. Pyjama bottoms and that nice lightweight dressing gown. Easy on, easy off. His imagination could work with that.
Brian let his imagination work as he threw on the longest coat he had, in order to hide his costume until the big reveal, and walked the few blocks to the pub. He wondered what Nina would wear to the Bond party. Something sophisticated and elegant for sure, if she’d thought to pack her best things along from London. Brian thought a sophisticated lady would want to have a martini in her hand for the evening. A lady would want to sip her martini from time to time, and sips could easily translate into kisses. Not that he expected it to happen, not in front of everyone, but maybe if he helped Nina fetch some more wine from the back…
The martini costume had the locals stumped, and Brian had almost lost the will to party by the time Nina walked in, smiling and beautiful in her party dress. She got the joke and appreciated it, which made Brian very happy and confirmed his belief that he and Nina understood each other in ways the others didn’t. There was a spark of something between them, just enough to make him awkward and shy with her, but Brian was determined to put that aside tonight and channel his inner Bond, or at least his inner alcoholic beverage. He’d be relaxed, he’d enjoy himself and enjoy Nina’s company, and he wouldn’t worry about any regrets he might have in the morning.
Nina wanted to dance with him! She wanted to be stirred, not shaken. Brian found her to be quite stirring and took her comment as flirtation and a challenge, one he was determined to accept. Things were going very well, he could tell by the sparkle in her lovely eyes and the smile that was so perfect he expected flowers to bloom and birds to sing every time it happened. Then Dai broke in with his terrible announcement, and all eyes turned to Vic, and in the span of a few moments the night was ruined.
Vic wouldn’t steal from his friends. Brian believed that, and he believed there was an explanation for the disappearance of Dai’s manky old stuffed dog that didn’t include theft of his savings. He could see that Nina believed it too, as she rushed off to defend Vic against his unfair arrest. Brian was left to calm things down at the pub and help clear up the mess, which he did in the hope that Nina would return sooner rather than later. Finally there was nothing left to do but go home, so he did.
Brian’s imagination spent some time on what might have happened if Dai’s taxidermied safe hadn’t been stolen. Slow dances and quick kisses, leading to a walk home hand-in-hand, and Nina here in the kitchen with him. He sighed. Best to get rid of the costume and the day’s disappointment once and for all. A shower and his usual solitary pursuits were the best he’d get tonight.
Brian stood up and reached for the shears. His fingers and the rest of him froze at the sound of soft knocking on his kitchen door.
“Brian? Are you still awake? It’s Nina.”
Nina sat at the bar after Vic left, sipping her drink and thinking back through her evening. She’d gotten Vic squared away with the police and sent him home to think about his new girlfriend and the probability that she had stolen Dai’s stuffed dog. It was probably just a prank—Vic had said Violet wanted to pull three pranks on the gullible Dai, and they’d only done the two. Vic would deal with Violet in his own way. Nina would give him a little time to do so before mentioning her suspicions to anyone else.
The Bond party had been so thoroughly cleared away that she wouldn’t know it had happened if she hadn’t been there. Nina had hated to see the party end so abruptly and on such a bad note, and not just for Vic’s sake, or Dai’s. She’d been enjoying herself. She’d spent her time with Brian, dancing and flirting a little and letting his attention sooth her damaged self-esteem. Confidence about her work was one thing, but confidence about herself personally had been seriously undermined this last few years. She could use an ego boost, and something clicked between her and Brian. The party could have been just the thing to loosen him up and see how much of a connection they had. That had been her hope, and that’s what was beginning to happen. It had just ended too quickly.
She wasn’t entirely sure of her motives in cancelling and rescheduling the Bond party. It’s true the pub couldn’t afford the expense, but it’s just as true that Nina was tired of having Vic in the center of everything that happened and wanted an evening where he wasn’t the focus of attention. She loved her old friend as much as ever, but her mother’s determination to see them romantically involved was, frankly, a pain in the arse. Nina just wanted to relax and enjoy life for a little while, with no expectations from any man about anything.
Brian was good for that. He was attractive, attentive, and just a little intimidated, which she liked. She wondered what might have happened if the evening had gone as planned. Would Brian have gotten past his shyness enough to kiss her? Would she remember how to kiss a man, after so much time with nothing more than cursory pecks from her husband? Brian might be good to practice on. Brian might be good for her in ways she wasn’t fully prepared to consider.
Rescheduling the Bond party had been a chance to show Vic how little it mattered to her that he had a young woman enjoying his company. Vic and Violet were getting along great, and that was just fine. She wasn’t bothered by it. What’s more, Nina had thought she wouldn’t mind dressing up and spending time with a young man who might fancy her. What’s good for the gander is good for the goose, right? And she liked Brian. She wanted more of his company. He wasn’t demanding, quarrelsome, or pushy. His awkwardness made her feel confident, and she needed that.
The brief time they’d spent together this evening had proven one thing. Nina had been right to expect Brian’s attention at the party. Things had been going just as she’d hoped before Dai’s interruption.
Nina sighed. It was late and she should be tired, but she wasn’t. Perhaps a walk would help settle her thoughts. She didn’t get to wear a dress very often these days, and the shoes were comfortable enough to dance in, so her feet weren’t even hurting yet. If she was careful she could manage a short walk without twisting an ankle. She’d have a walk around the village, in no particular direction.
A few minutes later Nina noticed a light shining out a window on the back corner of Brian’s house. She knew she’d come this way intentionally, hoping that he was still awake. The sense of restlessness she felt might have something to do with their interrupted evening. Unfinished business bothered Nina. She had gotten into the habit years ago of completing her jobs for the day and tidying up before going to bed. Not that her checklist for today had “Potentially Seduce Brian” on it, but she hadn’t even gotten a kiss. Nina wanted a kiss. She’d settle for a cup of tea and a nearly-chaste goodnight kiss if nothing else.
The fact that she was sure she could get a kiss from Brian excited her enough that she squared her shoulders, took a deep breath, and followed the path through Brian’s small garden to the back door of his house. She took another breath, settled her face into what she hoped was a calm, self-confident expression, and knocked softly on his door.
“Brian? Are you still awake? It’s Nina.”
“Yes! Yes, I’m up—er, awake—just a moment!” She was here! Brian was grateful for the abundance of cling film that fully covered his torso and hid his body’s enthusiastic response to Nina’s voice. Now if he could just keep his brain and his mouth in line, he’d be all right. He opened the door calmly, almost.
“Oh, you’re still in costume!” Nina was surprised
“Yes, well, I’ve been putting off the inevitable,” he said as he stood back to let her in. “Please, come in. It’s very late, are you all right? You look all right—not that you don’t always—but you were upset earlier. Lovely—did I tell you that?—but upset and now you’re… Did things go—well?—with Vic? At the police station, I mean.”
Brian managed to close the door as he stumbled over the simplest thoughts and tangled his sentences into knots. He stood facing the door for a moment and silently ordered himself to STOP BABBLING!
He turned to Nina with a self-conscious smile and saw the amused look she got when he made a fool of himself. He was tired of that look and tired of being foolish. Standing in his kitchen swathed in cling film and latex when there was a beautiful woman looking at him didn’t help his mood. His smile wavered and left, replaced by the slight frown that was as stern as his mild temperament allowed.
Nina glanced at the table and saw the shears. She reached for them as she spoke.
“Things went fine. Vic is home by now,” she said. “The police couldn’t legitimately arrest him based on gossip, and there’s no proof he did anything wrong.” She looked at Brian, a fierce expression crossing her face as she clutched the shears. “Vic wouldn’t steal from a friend.”
“I know.” He looked at the shears, then back at Nina’s face, and smiled again. “Let’s hope you didn’t threaten the police with any sharp pointed objects tonight,” he said gently.
She laughed and relaxed her grip on the shears. “These look dangerous,” she said. “Were you going to use them on yourself?”
“I was,” Brian said as he joined her by the table. “I was going to hack my way through this prison of cling film and free myself.”
Nina enjoyed Brian’s word play and knew she could keep up. “Would you like some help?” she asked. “I’m very good at freeing prisoners, and it’s my night to rescue gentlemen from their predicaments.”
Her sparkling eyes and her smile reminded Brian of the time they’d spent on the dance floor earlier. Nina was having fun again. He relaxed a little.
“Rescuing two gentlemen in one evening is heroic. We may need to get you a cape,” he teased.
Nina studied Brian’s chest as he spoke. She saw layers of cling film wrapped around his body and held in place with long strips of sellotape. She couldn’t tell where any of it began.
“Secret agents don’t wear capes. They defeat the purpose,” she said. “Where is the start?” She pulled on a strip of tape. “How did you get all this on?”
Brian ignored her questions for the moment and spoke to something he sensed in her voice. “Secret agent. Does that make this a secret mission?” His tone of voice teased, but his eyes watched her closely.
They both grew quiet as they remembered the late night and its inherent privacy. “Yes, I guess it does,” Nina said softly. “Nobody knows I’m here.”
“What exactly is your mission, Nina?” Brian’s voice was just as quiet.
She thought for a moment, then lifted her chin and spoke with a touch of defiance. “I’m here to unwrap you, Brian. I want to see how this costume came together by taking it apart.”
He pointed out the obvious. “It would be easier to cut it off.”
“But not as much fun. And the puzzle won’t reveal its design if we do that.” Nina smiled at him again. “I want to see how your mind works. You have to tell me how you put this together while I take it apart. May I?”
“I was hoping you’d offer,” he said simply. “Here’s where it starts.”
Brian told Nina the story of the conception and execution of his martini costume as she walked slowly around him, unwrapping cling film and snipping away tape where necessary. Nina decided to make a game of it and keep the cling film in one piece if possible. He stood with arms raised except when he got engrossed in the story enough to reenact bits of the process.
He’d used strips of cling film for the neckline, laying it on first, then had wound the cling film around each arm and secured it with tape. The tricky part was his torso. He’d created a makeshift vertical dispenser from a broom handle shoved through the openings in a chair back. His wooden kitchen chairs were heavy enough that one of them worked well as an anchor, so all he had to do was drop the tube of cling film over the broom handle and hold the end of the film against his chest, then start turning in circles.
Brian demonstrated his moves, turning in a circle with Nina in orbit, laughing with an armful of cling film as he lowered and raised himself to show how he’d covered his entire torso.
“Monty Python!” she exclaimed. “This would make a perfect sketch!”
Brian was too young to be a true fan of the comedy group, as the television series and films all predated him. He’d seen the funny walks and physical comedy that were part of their act—it was hard to find a Brit who hadn’t—but humor wasn’t his aim in this case.
“Yes,” he said. “I guess it would look funny to someone watching.”
Nina heard his disgruntled tone, not as carefully concealed as usual. Brian was being unwrapped in more ways than one. He wasn’t hiding his reactions and looking for the positive side of things as he usually did; the emotional depth she sensed in him was beginning to show itself. Nina knew emotions could be dangerous things, but no self-respecting secret agent shirks danger.
“It’s ingenious, Brian. Truly. Creative and ingenious,” she said.
Nina added a genuine smile to her honest compliment and received a beautiful smile and grateful expression from Brian in turn. She was reminded that he seldom received compliments.
“This silver thing. Is it a--?”
“A costume,” he interrupted quickly. “The foundation for a Tin Man costume. My ex-wife’s idea.”
“She chose the Tin Man for you? Why? Clearly you have a heart, you’re so thoughtful of others.” Nina began her slow revolution around him as she spoke. Honesty worked better when they weren’t eye-to-eye.
“I don’t know why she chose it. I never thought to ask. Things worked better with Miranda if everyone just—followed directions.” Brian wasn’t sure how to talk about Miranda with another woman. It felt awkward. “What would you have chosen?” he asked.
When Nina didn’t answer right away, Brian jumped to an unpleasant assumption. “The Cowardly Lion. I know people think I let myself get bullied.”
“No.” Nina stopped behind his left shoulder. “Mild-mannered and cowardly aren’t the same.”
Brian lowered his arms when he saw that she wasn’t moving. Nina was giving thought to his question.
“The Wizard,” she said after a few moments. “Not because of the power and bluster. That isn’t you at all. Because the wizard was a man who wanted to help people. And because he was an outsider in a closed community. Because he was someone nobody knew; nobody bothered to look behind the curtain and see the man for what he was.”
Brian turned to look over his shoulder at Nina as she described him. Their eyes connected as his truth was revealed in her words. She blushed pink, and saw that Brian had too. He turned to face front again.
“Until Dorothy,” he said.
“Yes. Until Dorothy.”
“Are you Dorothy then, trying to find your way home?”
Nina flinched at the truth in his question. Brian understood her, just as she was beginning to understand him.
“Yes, I guess I am.”
Then because she couldn’t just stand there all night, she nudged his arm. “Lift up, we’re getting close to the end of this.” Nina continued under his raised arm and across the front of his body, rolling the ball of cling film in her hands as she unrolled it from Brian.
“I don’t think Dorothy and the Wizard got on very well,” Brian observed as she passed.
“Not at first maybe, but they came to understand each other. And they helped each other in the end, didn’t they? I never read the book, and haven’t seen the film in years.”
“Yes, I think they did help each other,” he agreed.
“Brian? Is this a back zip? How did you get the thing on?”
“It has a string on it, like those surfer bodysuits in films. You know, so you can reach to pull the zip all the way up. I may have strained my right latissimus dorsi, though, and I have a kink in my trapezius.”
“Oh, Brian.” Nina chuckled as she reached his front again. “What are we to do with you?”
Brian dropped his arms, preventing Nina from passing behind him again. He’d finally had his fill of matronly condescension.
“I’m not a child,” he said sharply, for him. “Nor a damsel in distress. I am a man, Nina. I got myself into this outfit and I can get myself out.”
Nina looked steadily at his chest and blushed darker than he’d ever seen her as she replied. “I know you’re a man, Brian. I wouldn’t be here if you weren’t.”
“Oh. Well then. Carry on.” He lifted his arms, ready for her to move behind him again. Very ready, in fact. The cling film was nearly gone and the jumpsuit did nothing to hide the bulge in his groin area, let alone its sudden brazen growth.
Nina moved on but her hands brushed against him as she unwrapped the last layer of cling film, and Brian knew without looking down that his desire for her was too obvious to go unnoticed and not likely to go away. Not as long as she stayed close. He began peeling the last bit of cling film from his front and shoving it around toward the back.
“Here we are—no need to make yourself dizzy—it’s at the end—damn.” He swore softly as she came around front and followed his hand movements with her eyes, which led her to exactly where he didn’t want her to go.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t swear—I didn’t—I don’t—I apologize?”
Brian glanced down at himself and back at her with his question. Damnit, he’d never been any good with these things. Does a gentleman apologize for something he can’t control? Of course he does.
Nina arched an eyebrow and brought her gaze to meet his embarrassed look as he stuttered to a halt.
“I think I’ll take it as a compliment,” she said thoughtfully as she set the ball of cling film on the table and got the shears.
“I’d appreciate it if you did.”
“So, arms next,” Nina said. “I’ve unwrapped enough cling film for one night. Trust me?” She smiled as she held up the shears.
“Yes,” Brian said. “I’m ready to be out of this. Shears it is.”
She began cutting through film and sellotape up the length of his left arm. “How did you plan to get out of the jumpsuit, anyway?”
“I probably would have cut it off. It’s not something I plan to use again.”
“I’m surprised it survived the first wearing,” Nina joked.
“I had help getting it on. And off.”
Brian had intended to speak lightly, but the memory of that night and Miranda’s demands, and his own desperation by the time she’d finally helped him out of the jumpsuit and allowed him into her, overwhelmed him for a moment. The words came out potent and sexually charged. They were too much, too soon. The shears stopped moving.
“How long ago was that?” Nina asked.
“Just over two years.”
“Lucky. It’s been longer since I’ve had someone help me out of my clothes.”
Her quiet confession shocked him. He stared at her in disbelief. “Impossible! How could a man be near you and not--?” He turned away quickly at the pain in her face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”
“You’re not prying, Brian. I offered the information.” Nina frowned at his shoulder. “I think we need to cut a straight line through the neck. It’s all bound together. The sleeves won’t come off separately.”
“Okay.” Brian leaned his head to the side to give her clearance with the shears. “A cut up each side and off in two pieces, then.”
“Yes.” Nina finished with one side and peeled the cling film off his arm so it hung at his side. She needed a few snips under his arm to finish releasing his left side from the film, then she moved to his right arm.
“I’m rusty,” she said.
“At cutting men from cling film? I’m surprised you have any experience at all.”
“At flirting. At dating. At being near a man I’m attracted to.” She worked steadily as she spoke, trying to be offhand about it.
“You’re attracted to me?” Delight and disbelief shone equally in his voice.
“I am. See, rusty. You couldn’t even tell.”
“I didn’t expect—so—which Bond girl were you this evening? Have I already asked?”
She laughed. “Moneypenny. She’s more my type.”
“She’s my favourite,” Brian confessed as he tilted his head again to let her cut up the cling film neckline. “I think she and James had something going.”
Nina decided to follow along and see where Brian was leading. “Do you? They do seem to be saying two things at once, sometimes, don’t they? In the old films.”
“They do. It was their secret, you see. An after-hours tryst that nobody else knew about.” He breathed a sigh of relief as the last of the cling film dropped to the floor.
Nina set the shears on the table. “It would need to be a secret?”
Brian stayed carefully where he was and didn’t look at Nina. “Yes, well. Miss Moneypenny worked with all the secret agents, not just James. It would have undermined her place to show favouritism to any one of them. She may have lost her position, even.”
“Of course. Some things are best kept secret, for the sake of those concerned.” She stood behind him and spoke over his shoulder. “And possibly for the sake of those who shouldn’t be concerned but are.”
Brian shivered as Nina ran her fingers up the zip of his jumpsuit and got hold of the string. “We’ve almost unwrapped you,” she whispered close to his ear.
“If you could unzip—I should shower—there’s talcum powder—“
“Talcum powder? So that’s your secret.” Nina slowly unzipped the jumpsuit and watched as the latex pulled apart to reveal the skin of Brian’s back. She saw a few freckles but no powder.
“Not everywhere, just the legs and arms and a few—other—places. Oh!” Nina’s lips at the base of his neck, soft and quick, caught him off guard. He closed his eyes as her lips touched him again, then again.
“I like your freckles,” she said.
“Would you make tea? It’s in the blue canister, there.” He pointed to it on a shelf near the sink. “I’ll get out of this silly thing and shower. A few minutes. You’ll stay?”
“I’ll stay,” Nina said. She turned him around with a hand on his shoulder and looked him up and down slowly, a smile growing on her face as she did. “Yes. I’ll stay. I haven’t finished my mission yet.”
“And I haven’t finished mine,” Brian said as he moved in very close to her. Cling film and latex and the foolishness he’d felt earlier were all forgotten as his doctor’s discerning eye took in her flushed face, uneven breath, and the rapid pulse at the base of her throat.
“You have a mission?” Nina wondered where her breath went because suddenly her lungs weren’t cooperating. Neither was her heart, for that matter. It was beating too fast.
“Couldn’t you tell? I’m unwrapping you.” Brian spoke softly as he rested a hand along the side of her face. His thumb caressed her lips briefly as he pulled her to him and kissed her. Just one kiss, and just thorough enough to let her know what was in store for her when he returned.
He left the kitchen with one quick glance back. Nina stood dazed, with mouth slightly open and a hand over her heart. Finally, the awkward unwrapping was nearly over; Brian had coaxed her along until they’d reached the part he was good at.