As a rule, Berwald Oxenstierna did not enjoy receiving emails from Director Andersson that were also cc’ed to their long-suffering liaison at Interpol. Whenever these directives crept silent and deadly into his inbox, Berwald wondered if today was the day to seek reassignment to a department within the Swedish National Bureau of Investigation that had far fewer cases that necessitated cross-border and international cooperation.
Ten years ago, when he had joined the Bureau after a four year stint with the police, cyber security had seemed like the ideal choice for doing solo analysis and pursuing justice without the need for a team of people constantly looking to him for instruction and coordination. But now, the internet had blossomed into a world of cyber-physical systems full of threats and sophisticated, border-less organizations of criminals and rogue governments with divergent and veiled interests, and there was no shortage of kindly worded requests from Mr. Williams at Interpol for Berwald’s cooperation on yet another international investigation.
It wasn’t that Berwald minded working with others to thwart criminals. It wasn’t in his nature to deny assistance or to hold back his expertise when safety and security were on the line, regardless of nation or creed. It just that for all that he commanded a room with his height and impressively stony glare, and managed to scare most cyber criminals into surrender just by knocking down their door and stepping across the threshold, Berwald found people in general found him disconcerting, generally wary of a man given to reticence with a desire to think first and speak second, and who, he had been told, had a glare that would give even Medusa pause.
His neighbor Eirik once told him that with his gravel voice and unnaturally stern expression it was a wonder than anyone beyond the smallest of children and animals ever dared to look at him twice. Eirik, it seemed, deigned to speak to him on occasion because he appreciated the silence Berwald brought to the Danish-inflicted chaos of his world.
While an exaggeration, it was true that Berwald struggled to get beyond his own shyness and the lingering sourness of first impressions, generally letting people think of him what they would as he went about his days and tried to live a quiet, successful life that he hoped helped his country in some small way.
And so he had picked a career that let him use his sharp mind and even allowed for the occasional indulgence of his not so secret enjoyment of a good political or judicial debate but also one that left communication largely to words on a screen. It would have been the ideal arrangement if not for the alarming amount of requests for his in-person and oh-so valuable input, experiences that both drove up his percentage of closed cases and reaffirmed his suspicion that he was almost certainly doomed to a long solo career.
With the exception of those too boisterous and arrogant to notice, each time Berwald reluctantly agreed to Interpol’s requests for inter-agency collaboration, he inevitably spent more than half the case trying and failing to make his temporary partner feel at ease, their thanks for his support overshadowed by their relief when the assignment was over. He had little expectation that this latest request for his expertise in working with the Finnish police in uncovered a splinter cell of sophisticated hackers with a penchant for infiltrating government and financial sector servers would be any different.
Tino Väinämöinen, Berwald noted absently as he hit “reply all” and sent off his reluctant agreement to meet with this Captain of the Finnish Police at 4pm on Wednesday afternoon in the Stockholm office, already feeling pessimistic about the chances of this Swedish-Finnish alliance being anything other than awkward.
Well, Berwald thought wryly while skimming through the admittedly very detailed dossier on the so called “APH Group” Väinämöinen had included with his request to Interpol, anything would be better than being stuck on another case with the loud but unfortunately skilled Dane.
Berwald pulled off his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes, wanting to give proper attention to the critical information in the document, impressed by the thoroughness of Väinämöinen’s research and his apparent dedication to bringing down the splinter cell, his notes spanning over six months of monitoring internet chatter and tracking leads that continually led him outside Finland’s borders and beyond the easy access of his jurisdiction. The latest and most damaging infiltration had apparently involved cells in Helsinki, Malmo, and even in St. Petersburg.
It was no wonder Väinämöinen had come to Interpol and to the Bureau for assistance in closing the loop on the net he’d been so carefully weaving, Berwald thought, impressed and engaged, for once even a little eager to have the chance to work on such a compelling case.
As long as this Captain Tino could be as composed and curt in person as he was in his paperwork, Berwald thought they just might have a chance of wrapping this up quickly, cleanly, and with a minimal amount of entanglement.
Perhaps this time it would be different…and cooperation wouldn’t be so bad.
At the clock ticked closer to 4pm and to the imminent departure from the safety and solitude of his office, Berwald packed up the APH case notes and grabbed Väinämöinen’s dossier and jotted down the contact number William’s had provided when he’d agreed to collaborate with the Finn, wondering not for the first time since he’d first read the file exactly what kind of temporary partner he’d been saddled with this go around.
Berwald straightened his tie and smoothed the wrinkles out of his severe, black suit—the one that the Dane insisted made him look like a funeral director with a poker up his ass—determined to look as much the part of Bureau agent as possible when meeting people from other agencies that were more frequent competitors than allies.
(Once at an Interpol group meeting in France, the attractive Belgian liaison told him sweetly that if he wanted to come off as less scary, he might want to consider not draping his considerable form in all black, that perhaps a pastel shirt here or there might do wonders to soften his image. Ludwig had promptly countered that suits were perfectly appropriate attire at all times and that neither Berwald’s fashion choices nor his demeanor were on the meeting’s agenda.)
With briefcase in hand and reluctant interest in mind, Berwald set-off for his meeting, imagining with each street he crossed the sort of battle-hardened and no-nonsense cop that could write such a scathing and impressive account of the successes and failures of his division in attempting to bring down the APH Group.
But when he finally made it to the drab and dreary conference room, expression already grave and serious as he prepared to encounter his latest and perhaps most intriguing new colleague, Berwald’s hypothesizing came to abrupt, screeching, and devastatingly adorable halt.
The person sitting at the table, wheeling idly and forth in the standard office chair, squeaked and dropped his pen at the sound of Berwald’s approach, turning his round and flush face to arrest Berwald’s thoughts of grizzled middle aged men with bright, happy eyes and lips that were just a little too tempting to be thinking about ten seconds into a first meeting.
“Väinämöinen?” Berwald grunted in surprise, wincing inwardly at the immediate disappearance of the man’s welcoming smile into something wary and tinged with annoyance, unable to keep his eyes from widening imperceptibly as he took in jeans topped by a white and blue polo shirt. His latest colleague looked far too good and far too kind to be sitting in this boring beige room, staring at him with open curiosity and a touch of hostility, while his fingers drummed anxiously over a stack of folders ten inches thick.
“Yes,” Väinämöinen said firmly, lips quirking in reluctant amusement when Berwald failed once more to disguise his disbelief, voice taunting as he continued, “Don’t worry, Oxenstierna, you aren’t exactly what I had in mind either.”
Berwald frowned, wondering what that was supposed to me, flushing a little under the collar as it crossed his mind that in other circumstances, Väinämöinen would be exactly what he had in mind.
He shook his head and set his briefcase down, determined to regain his professionalism and salvage this first impression before it became any worse, holding out a hand and offering quietly, “Call me Berwald.”
Väinämöinen caved quickly, smiling and sliding their palms together, “You can call me Tino. I save the last name for all the new recruits who need to learn their place and not think they can pull one over on their pretty blonde captain.”
Berwald grunted his assent, trying not to think about pulling one over on Tino and pulling out the dossier instead, “This is good work, Tino.”
Tino laughed prettily and winked at him, snarking, “Well, I’m so glad to have the approval of the Swedes.”
Berwald smirked, appreciative of the sarcasm and even more so of the curve of Tino’s smile and the thoroughness of his work, pushing ahead, “Very useful. Gave me a start on tracking down some loose ends.”
At once Tino transformed, body going rigid, gaze suddenly alert and mouth a taut line of tension, stilling Berwald with the ferocity of his words and the unexpected blood-lust in his eyes, “Tell me everything and anything I need to know to bring those men down.”
For the first time in his life Berwald had the strange experience of being the one intimidated, finding himself wary and not a little wanting of the hidden iron beneath Tino’s soft and lovely visage. Tino must have read the shock and apprehension in his expression, smiling brightly as he pulled the gun from his waist with a wink while he cocked the weapon, and promised him sweetly,
“Don’t worry, Berwald. You’re safe with me. Now, let’s get to work.”
Berwald flicked his eyes between the gun and Tino’s pretty smile, knowing that his frown must have deepened considerably when Tino’s smile wavered into hesitant consideration, his voice sweet and light once more when he said,
“You alright, Berwald?”
Berwald nodded his head and slid into the empty chair next to Tino, on the other side of the weapon, answering shortly, “Fine. Don’t like guns much.”
“What?!” Tino exclaimed, spinning in his chair to arrest Berwald with the fervency of his pitched outrage, “How can you not like guns? Weren’t you field trained?”
Berwald fought the urge to flush and squirm, remembering keenly why working with cops was the worst, “Course I was. Just prefer other means.”
He rolled his eyes when he saw Tino look longingly at his Glock, as though he was worried Berwald had hurt its feelings, before returning his bright eyes to Berwald’s grave face, expression considering as he shrugged and said, “Oh. You’re one of those agents. The cloak and dagger kind.”
“Uh,” Berwald stammered, thinking how terrible he would be at trying to play any role other than silent, scary villain or enforcer, and though it saddened him to ruin what he hoped was Tino’s burgeoning impression of him as a Scandinavian James Bond, he found honestly was generally the best policy when fighting crime, ”Not really.”
Tino smiled at him kindly, patting the files he had in front of him, warming Berwald’s cheeks when he teased, “No guns and no intrigue? So what do you do with that scary face of yours?”
“Catch cyber criminals. Using, you know, cyber technology,” Berwald retorted dryly, pleasantly surprised by the easy rapport between him an the adorable, gun-toting Finn, “Sorry to be dull.”
“Well, that’s fine! Leaves more opportunity for me to be the dashing hero,” Tino said laughingly, distracting Berwald from his desire to scowl with the flex of his arms as he stretched them over his head, before he sighed and snapped back into cheery professionalism, “So, what do you say, show me some of your crime fighting skills?”
Glaring at Tino’s unfortunately attractive smirk, Berwald pushed his glasses up his nose, and started to explain, “Did forensics on all the hacks you’ve been investigating. Seems like each time you get close to infiltrating the cell or finding their roving base of operations, they’re receiving a signal from an as yet untraced source that they need to move.”
Tino nodded, gaze considering and appreciative, tapping a finger to his chin as he sighed, “Its true. Every time I think I’ve nearly got them within the sight of my gun, they’re on the run again. Its uncanny, how they not only get better with each crime, but also seem to know just when I’m coming for them.”
Berwald frowned, hesitating as he started to tread on the dangerous ground of his suspicion as to why Tino was looking outside the Finnish police for support, murmuring lowly, “You think there’s a leak.”
For a moment, Tino looked even younger, confirming with the flash of disappointment in his eyes what Berwald’s investigation had already proven, his voice rife with bitterness, “I’d hoped not, against my better judgement, but I can tell from your expression that wish isn’t coming true.”
Even though he’d only known Tino for the span of 15 minutes and the two days he had spent with the daydream author of the dossier, Berwald felt the irrational desire to do anything to remove that sadness, regretting that all he had to offer at the moment was confirmation of Tino’s fears.
“Afraid so,” Berwald said lowly, casting his eyes down as he pulled his laptop from its case, continuing his deluge of bad news as he waited for it to boot up, “From my analysis, no one’s getting into your files. There’s been no breach of security.”
“Which means the files are being sent out, somehow,” Tino said hurriedly, sliding his chair over to stare over Berwald’s shoulder as he loaded his work from the night before.
“Right,” Berwald confirmed, trying not to focus on Tino’s breath against his neck, “Haven’t been able to find where the information is leaking from..”
“But you do know there is a leak,” Tino interrupted in a rush, hands clenching on the arms of his chair rest, alarming Berwald when he noticed that Tino was once more staring intently at his gun.
“Uh,” Berwald mumbled, risking his safety by brushing his fingers quickly over the rigid whiteness of Tino’s knuckles, breaking his silent commune with his weapon, “Yes. And its almost certainly someone close to your investigation. I think they have information that only the immediate team would possess.”
Berwald felt his ears burn from the unexpected sensation of hearing such filthy, furious Finnish come from such a pretty face, choking a bit with reluctant admiration when Tino threatened the nameless leak with fates that would have impressed a Viking.
When he’d finally calmed, Tino turned to Berwald, the intensity in his gaze arresting as he said, “I had suspected it was a case of a dirty cop, but I didn’t think for a second it was someone I trusted,” he paused, biting his lip and sighing as though forcing himself to ask the inevitable, damning question, “What did you find?”
Berwald scrolled through several pages of code, pointing to various lines as he warmed to the challenge of a good case and the sensation of Tino’s bright and unwavering attention focused on him like a laser, explaining, “Looked through the chatter that followed each of APH’s sudden relocations, tried to trace the flow of information over numerous protocols. Couldn’t find the source, but one word kept popping up in all the junk they layer over their encryption.”
Berwald turned his face just enough to observe the keen interest in Tino’s gaze, wondering how he could have doubted for even a moment that this was a man to be reckoned with, now almost entirely convinced no matter the softness of his face or the flashes of kindness in his smile, Tino was not someone to be underestimated.
He exhaled slowly, wary of the answer as he asked, “Any reason why the word salmiakki should be encoded in terrorist communications?”
Tino went very still, eyes wide and mouth parted around his surprise as he slumped in his chair and rubbed his face, voice muffled when he finally spoke, “Its my code name.”
“This is bad,” Berwald said unnecessarily, uncomfortable with Tino’s obvious distress, wishing they were actual partners, not just two guys thrown together on an increasingly unfortunate case, so he could offer some sort of reassurance.
Tino snorted and gave Berwald a baleful look, “Score another one for the Swede.”
Berwald ignored the taunt, mumbling, “How bad?”
Tino hummed and exhaled, seeming to take comfort in wrapping his fingers around the cold steel of his gun, “Depends on your perspective. Very bad, in that only the four other members of my team know that code name. Not so bad, in that there are only four possibilities for who’s been betraying me and the Finnish government to a terrorist organization.”
Berwald nodded, impressed by Tino’s clear, precise thinking, ready to commit as much time and effort as he needed to finding out who it was that was responsible for putting the lines of worry in Tino’s forehead and the sadness in his eyes.
“But,” Tino said, startling Berwald with the clap of his small hand around the wrist still poised over the keyboard, “Regardless, for today its the kind of bad that can only be helped by two things.”
“Those are?” Berwald asked warily, hoping that one of the answers was not lots and lots of guns and violence.
Tino smiled at him a little, hair falling over his eyes as he tilted his head and said, “We tell each other everything we know about APH and then we go get really, really drunk.”
A huff of laughter escaped from Berwald’s throat, low and rumbling in the quiet of the room.
“Ah,” Tino said with a wink, “You look much less scary when you laugh! So what do you say, Berwald, want to be my partner?”
Once Berwald had regained his somewhat limited powers of speech and agreed to all three of Tino’s proposals, his new partner proceeded to make very first item on their to-do list, promising Berwald with unnecessary fervency that they would absolutely get to the second task as soon as they had gone through the preliminary information exchange.
They remained within the drab walls of the conference room for as many hours as the building coordinator would allow, sharing every shred of evidence, hearsay, wild speculation and outlandish theories they possessed on the activities, members, and goals of the APH Group. Sensing that Tino’s upset over the suspected betrayal of one his trusted teammates was only simmering under the surface of Tino’s professionalism and light good cheer, Berwald skirted around the question that remained unspoken between them…namely, who Tino thought was the one responsible for selling out colleague and country.
The time for that discussion could come in the morning, when Tino had had whatever time he needed to come to grips with the revelation and after Berwald had taken the time to digest the not insubstantial quantity of information Tino was feeding him rapid-fire. His new partner was talking so quickly and so passionately, that Berwald began to wonder if Tino was trying to convince himself that he should have seen this coming, combing through each move and decision made, trying to figure out where he’d let the wool be pulled over his eyes.
Had Berwald been the kind of man who knew how to affect easy camaraderie, like his Danish neighbor who befriended everyone from the landlord to the icy Norwegian that lived three doors down, he would have tried to assure Tino that he was certain there was nothing he could have done to prevent this, that he was the better person for having trusted those around him.
Instead, he redirected his energies from the inexplicable worry he felt each time he saw the purse of Tino’s lips or his faraway, considering stare towards combing through the substantial set of case files Tino had schlepped from Finland, impressed as always by the detail and the obvious thought that went into each dossier. When he told Tino as much, stammering through his botched attempt at sincere flattery, Tino smiled and batted his eyelashes and kindly told him that unless that had some bearing on catching the bastard responsible for making him write up that many cases, Berwald could save his pretty words for another day and other circumstances.
In the silence that had followed that little retort, Berwald had dared to wonder whether or not Tino might mean that he’d be open to Berwald’s compliments if they weren’t embroiled in an international cyber terrorism plot. He promptly pushed that thought into his mental recycle bin, acknowledging how patently ridiculous it was to indulge in daydreams about a man he’d only know for a few hours, who had a weird thing for guns, and who probably would not appreciate his scary Swedish computer nerd mooning after him.
Tino’s hand waving in front of his face snapped Berwald out of his silent debate and into a deep scowl that had Tino backing away quickly with a wary laugh.
“Uh, sorry to interrupt whatever deep thoughts you were having, Berwald,” Tino said as he skittered around the table and started collecting their scattered papers, “Were you having a breakthrough as regards the case?”
Berwald choked a little, hoping his face didn’t betray that he’d been having a breakthrough of another kind entirely, shaking his head and taking the cue from Tino’s packing up to shut down his computer.
“Don’t worry,” Tino said kindly, sliding the gun back into its holster with a disturbingly fond pat, “That was a lot to take in at once. I’m sure after a few glasses of vodka, everything will seem much clearer.”
“That makes no sense,” Berwald teased lowly, pleased to see some of the badly hidden tension in Tino’s face dissipated.
“Well, you’ve never had the pleasure of drinking with me,” Tino retorted with a wide smile, rolling his stiff shoulders, “So don’t knock my tried and true strategy until you’ve tried it.”
“No arguing with that,” Berwald said, lips threatening to break into what for him passed for a smile, knowing that they only had a few hours before the intrigue of betrayal and the danger of their case was back with the sunrise, “Show me how its done.”
With a touch of his hand to Berwald’s wrist and a flicker of a smirk, Tino agreed, “Fine, but only in the interests of improving inter-agency cooperation.”
As it turned out, Berwald was quick to learn that there was in fact something Tino liked as much as his gun and catching criminals. And that something was alcohol. And lots of it…consumed at a rate and quantity that had Berwald wondering where he fit it all while he forwent any ideas he had of impressing Tino by keeping up, realizing with a mixture of amusement and resignation that one of them was going to need to stay sober enough to keep Tino from sleeping in the gutter.
By the time the bartender kicked them out, Tino was slumped on the bar, muttering brokenly in barely discernible Finnish about “rat bastards” and “hurt feelings” and his desire to “kick the crap out of the meanie pants who had gone behind his back and told lame terrorists his cool code name.” Berwald had to wonder if perhaps Tino was replacing his thoughts with booze, astonished once more by the man’s ability to just talk and talk.
It wasn’t that he minded, Tino was entitled to get drunk enough not to feel the sting of betrayal for one night, and his face was flush and slack, and the way he looked at Berwald when he turned his forehead on the sticky surface of the bar and murmured, “I should have known,” was enough to endear him to Berwald for days.
Even if he did end up having to carry Tino, draped over his back like a graceless, heavy blanket that kept on regaling him with tales of his glory mixed with morose self-recriminations, for four blocks before he realized two things.
1. He had no idea where Tino was staying.
2. There was something hard pressed against his hip, just above the wrap of Tino’s legs.
Coming to an immediate stop, Berwald hefted Tino a bit higher, feeling his breath catch when the hardness dug in just a little deeper. His…discomfort…must have been apparent enough to filter even through Tino’s vodka gaze and detailed account of that one time he saw the ABBA cover band made up entirely of drag queens when he kicked his heels against Berwald’s legs like he was some kind of unruly horse that needed to be prompted once more into motion.
“What’s wrong?” Tino slurred into the curve of his neck, breath smelling of vodka and licorice, “Are you mad because I said F-ABBA was better than ABBA?”
Berwald rolled his eyes, thankful to Tino’s antics for snapping him free of his confusion (and maybe the tiniest bit of desire) and into action, letting the drunk Finn slide down his back to teeter and sway alarmingly once his feet were on the ground.
“Ugh,” Tino whined prettily, falling towards Berwald, smiling when Berwald propped him up with one broad hand to the chest before frowning again and dropping his hand near his crotch, “Gonna have a bruise on my leg from my gun poking me.”
Unsure of whether or not to be relieved or disappointed, Berwald decided that he must have been a little drunker than he thought to have even considered that Tino would be packing the other kind of heat, chalking it up to a long day and an even longer night.
“You shoulda carried me better!” Tino declared angrily before slipping against Berwald’s chest and grinning up at him, entirely undeterred by Berwald’s glare as he giggled, “Shoulda carried me like a princess. Then my damned gun wouldn’t have been in the way.”
Berwald filed away that suggestion for later, amused in spite of himself by Tino’s adorable, wasted little smile when he wrapped a steadying arm around his shoulders and started guiding him forward once more.
“What?” Tino pouted, “You’re not going to piggy-back me any more?”
“Shouldn’t have complained,” Berwald teased, before remembering that he still didn’t have any idea where the hell they were supposed to be going.
“Where’s your hotel?” Berwald grunted, trying to keep Tino from tripping over his feet, hoping he wouldn’t start singing the F-ABBA version of A Man After Midnight again.
“Hotel?” Tino asked blearily, before his face fell almost comically and he clung to Berwald’s terribly wrinkled suit coat like his life depended upon in, “….I forget. Where am I again?”
Berwald flushed and sighed, wondering not for the first time just what he’d gotten himself into by taking on this case, hoping that Tino wouldn’t reach for his gun when he dared to suggest, “You can crash at mine.”
Tino blinked up at him, eyes wide and lovely though tired and troubled beneath the sea of alcohol as he murmured, “You’re really sweet, aren’t you, Berwald? Not scary at all. A biiiiiig softie.”
Berwald rolled his eyes and turned around, bending down a little to let Tino scramble drunkenly up his back once more, warmed by the drape of his body and Tino’s smug, satisfied laughter.
“Just don’t shoot me in the morning when you wake up with in a strange place with a hangover,” Berwald mumbled, trying and failing not to blush and stumble when Tino tightened his hold and answered,
“Won’t shoot you. Need you.”
Waking up to find a half-dressed Finn sprawled across his couch, breathing noisily through his mouth, with one arm thrown over his head as though in an attempt to block out the morning was a rather surreal experience for Berwald, who, with the exception of a few ill-advised flings, generally had an apartment occupancy rate of one. Still wary of being attacked by a nervy policeman with a yen for firearms, Berwald tried to be as quiet as possible as he went through the motions of his daily routine, keeping busy to keep his eyes from lingering too long on the soft, exposed skin of Tino’s stomach and the more amusing patch of drool now adorning his best throw pillow.
As he waited for the coffee to brew, he wondered idly if he could expense a replacement pillow to Interpol for going above and beyond the call of duty. Williams would probably find it funny. It had to be less odd that the requests Matthew got from the German with the white hair Berwald had been forced to work with six months ago.
Tino, it seemed, was either a hard sleeper or, the the vague scent of vodka in the room was anything to go by, a lazy drunk. He slept through Berwald making coffee, making toast, puttering about the kitchen, reading the paper, booting up his laptop and reviewing the international news, sending a plethora of texts and emails to follow-up on the handful of leads Tino’s first, sober, deluge of information had generated. Berwald began to despair that his new partner was ever going to wake up, looking at the clock and finally giving in to the inevitable.
He was going to have to risk showering while Tino was still asleep and chance being held at gun point while naked if Tino should wake up in a confused, angry, possibly still intoxicated panic.
Berwald wished he had tried harder to take the gun from Tino when he’d dumped him on the couch the night before, but the other man had seemed so despondent when he tried to pry it from his surprisingly still agile fingers that Berwald didn’t have the heart to separate Tino from his shiny metal beloved when he’d already been betrayed once in twenty-four hours.
Besides, Berwald thought as he stepped into the shower, tipping his head under the spray, he wanted Tino to like him (and, no, he told his traitorous lizard brain, not like *that,* at least not just like that) and he had a sneaking suspicion that hiding his weapons would not be the way to ensure a continued close, productive collaboration.
Naturally, it was when he got out of the shower and stepped back into the living room wearing only a pair of boxers that Berwald found Tino sitting on his couch, awake and looking not-at-all-adorably mussed, murmuring cheerfully into his cell phone.
“Tell her I miss her and that I can’t wait to come home and be with her again. Give her my all my love!” Tino said with a happy, wistful sigh before his eyes fell on Berwald, causing him to yelp in surprise, flush a charming shade of pink and snap the phone shut while glaring daggers at Berwald’s intrusion into his own living room.
“Don’t shoot me,” Berwald mumbled, trying to stem his curiosity at just *who* was worth of Tino’s heretofore hidden cute voice and not stare at Tino’s bedhead for fear of assault with a deadly weapon.
Tino laughed and looked at him like he was a very strange creature, asking, “Why would I do that?”
Berwald shrugged and inched towards the safety of the kitchen, muttering, “Wake up in a strange place, no memory of how you got there.”
“Oh, I do that all the time,” Tino said nonchalantly, yawning as he stretched lazily until he must have sensed Berwald’s waves of surprise and hypocritical disapproval, blushing as he hastily tried to explain, “Not *like* that! Because we work long hours and I usually end up on the floor or couch with one of my teammates at some safe-house or some fleabag motel. Or after a case when we celebrate and one of them gets assigned carry-the-captain-home duty.”
When Tino’s expression immediately darkened, lips turning downward with the memory of his mysterious turncoat, Berwald scrambled to change the subject, wishing not for the first time since meeting Tino that he had as much talent with talking as he did with hacking.
“Uhh,” Berwald said while shoving a cup of distraction into Tino’s hands, “Doesn’t your wife mind?”
Tino gave him that little look of amusement and confusion that furrowed his brow, blowing on his coffee to cool it as he peered up at Berwald and murmured, “Wife?”
Berwald turned his blushing face towards the fridge, pretending to look for milk to offer Tino while grunting, “Thought you might be talking about her on the phone.”
Tino’s peals of happy, embarrassed laughter sounded rich and warm in the closeness of his kitchen, making Berwald forget that he was mostly naked with a mostly stranger at the outset of what was likely to be a difficult and daunting case.
“Oh, oh,” Tino said breathlessly, touching his coffee-cup warmed hand to Berwald’s chest, “I was talking about my dog.”
Berwald snorted with disbelief to cover his relief, “Dog? Really?”
Tino slapped his chest and glared at him playfully, “Yes, really! Her name is Hanatamago and she is perfect and adorable and I miss her when I have to travel, so I get the neighbor’s kid, Peter, to watch her.”
“Uh-huh,” Berwald said, delighted beyond reason to find that here was yet another piece to the Tino puzzle, (guns, vodka, and cute little dogs coming together in a too tempting package), “And you call her on the phone?”
“Don’t make me shoot you,” Tino grumbled, cheeks flushed with amusement, “No one makes fun of my Hana,” he winced and shielded his eyes, “Especially not when I’ve got such a hangover.”
Berwald rolled his eyes and patted Tino’s head, “There, there. Won’t say anything else about the pup. Sure she’s very sweet.”
“She is!” Tino declared, stumbling back into the living room to bend over and rifle through his abandoned jeans, providing Berwald with exactly the kind of view he didn’t need while only wearing his underwear, “And if I could find my phone, I would show you!”
“Think you threw it behind the couch last night,” Berwald offered helpfully, “You were angry because you couldn’t figure out how to type lying assface without it autocorrecting.”
Tino hummed in thanks, scrambling over the side of the couch while muttering, “Been thinking about that lying assface a lot.”
Berwald, reflecting that most of Tino’s night had been spent serenading him or going maudlin, was inclined to be skeptical of this, but reserved judgment. After all, so far, not a single moment of this case had gone as he’d anticipated.
Tino popped up from behind the couch with a triumphant, gorgeous smile and his retrieved phone, snapping back cheerfully, “Yes, really! I told you I did my best thinking after drinking!”
“Right,” Berwald answered noncommittally, before sighing, “Been thinking myself. Got some things you probably don’t want to hear.”
Tino’s smile softened, his eyes kind as he nodded, “That’s alright. I’ve got a plan in mind…that you probably don’t want to hear.”
Berwald swallowed, suddenly chilled with anxiety, wary of the glint of excitement in Tino’s eyes and the dangerous slant of his words, almost entirely certain that he was both going to hate this plan and be unable to deny Tino his help.
“Afraid so,” Tino said with a wink, sauntering once more towards Berwald, giving him a wry glance as he held out his phone, “But before we talk out all the uglies, how about checking out the cuteness of my dog? I just know you’re going to love her!”
As Berwald was quick to discover while sitting across from Tino at the little cafe down the street from his apartment, Tino could eat. And eat. And keep right on eating, all while Berwald drank coffee and tried not to be too distracted by the fact that Tino was wearing one of his shirts and smelled like his soap.
(The obviousness of the too big shirt had actually caused quite the scene when they’d finally left Berwald’s apartment after thirty minutes of admiring pictures of a fluffy white dog, followed by twenty minutes of Tino hemming and hawing about whether or not it was OK to walk around Stockholm smelling like a distillery in last night’s clothes only to end his ultimate adorable agreement to accept Berwald’s stammered offer of a shower, a clean shirt, and a hearty breakfast. Already tired from *that* little domestic drama, Berwald had not been in the mood to run into the idiot Dane and his idiot leering when he eyed Tino-in-Berwald’s shirt while Tino blithely introduced himself as Berwald’s new partner. His asshole neighbor hadn’t stopped dropping his insinuations until he was glaring so hard his face had gone red and Tino had spun around and flashed his gun, sweetly telling the intruder that no one made fun of his partner, ok? While it had been mildly embarrassing to have been saved by Tino and his best metal friend, Berwald couldn’t feel too badly when recalled the look of horror and strange approval on the Dane’s face.)
“That was delicious,” Tino declared, snapping Berwald out of his stupor, apparently having finally finished plowing his way through his third plate of eggs and ham, “I think I’ve soaked up enough of the vodka to be ready to face the day.”
“Glad to hear it,” Berwald said dryly, pushing his food around his plate, reluctant to bring up the case and ruin the strange familiarity and peace of the morning, but knowing that they weren’t sitting together at this table because they were friends or lovers, but because they had a job to do.
“Sorry if I was any trouble,” Tino said, blushing a little.
Amused that it took Tino two hours and three cups of coffee to feel any kind of unnecessary shame for his antics, Berwald shook his head and grumbled, “Its no problem.”
“Well, I insist on paying for breakfast to make up for any and all things of which I have no memory, which includes forgetting my hotel, and declaring my love for F-ABBA,” Tino answered cheerfully, the brightness of his smile precluding Berwald from reminding him that he had also forgotten to pay his tab at the bar last night, leaving Berwald to try and deal with both an angry bartender and a very intoxicated Finn.
Abruptly, Tino sighed and pushed his fingers though his hair, peering at Berwald from between his fingers as he said lowly, “Now that all the food, fun, and cute part of the agenda has been covered, I guess we have no choice but to talk about APH and my leaky faucet problem.”
“Guess not,” Berwald agreed reluctantly, pulling his glasses off his face and cleaning them on his shirt, hoping that Captain Tino wasn’t detective enough to have yet discovered that was his biggest tell that he was nervous.
“So, who wants to go first?” Tino asked, pretty smile fading as he drummed his hands on the table and looked pleadingly at Berwald.
Berwald, feeling indebted for the morning’s salvation from the idiocy of Danes, groaned inwardly and decided to take Tino’s obvious bait and volunteer his thoughts.
“You said there were four others on your team, yes?” Berwald began, “And that you’ve had no reason to suspect any of them of being crooked?”
“Yes and yes,” Tino answered quickly, adding in a dark, threatening tone that still seemed so out of place coming out of his chapped, pink lips, “Though clearly that was my first mistake, thinking that people who are like brothers and sisters to me would never be capable of betrayal. I should have remembered that family is always the likeliest suspect.”
Berwald cleared his throat and tried not to squirm under the intensity of Tino’s glare, even though he knew it wasn’t for him, attempting to stay focused on the professional, “The person you’re looking for has skill. And lots of it.”
“Because the leaks were so well hidden,” Tino mused, following Berwald’s train of thought with pleasing alacrity, “I had to get Interpol’s best agent on call to help me find out where I was going wrong.”
Berwald flushed under the casual praise, making a mental note to thank Williams the next time they emailed for recommending him so highly just this once, mumbling, “Was hard even for me to see the flaws in their work. The perp has confidence in the cyber world. Very few people would be able to do what they did.”
“Except you,” Tino said with a wry smile, “But unless you’re playing a very elaborate game with me, I don’t think you’re the man I’m looking for…”
Berwald definitely did not choke on his sip of coffee as he tried not to react to such a statement, choosing instead to wipe the drips from his mouth and shake his head, avoiding Tino’s curious, questioning stare.
“Looked at your dossier on your teammates,” Berwald said slowly, approaching the moment of revelation cautiously, “And from what I can tell, only one comes close to having that level of hacking skill.”
Tino’s eyes fluttered shut, his lips twisting almost in pain when he spared Berwald the need to say the likely betrayer’s name, murmuring, “Eduard van Bock.”
“Yes,” Berwald agreed reluctantly, wishing he’d never had to see the flash of real sadness in Tino’s gaze when he opened his eyes once more, “Though can’t say for certain.”
“What would you need to be able to say for certain?” Tino questioned fervently, “What evidence would tie him directly to the information leak?”
Berwald hesitated, thinking of yet another set of challenges, “Forensic analysis of his machines, associated servers, data packets to try and detect anomalies that can be traced back to him.”
Tino hummed and nodded, eyes glinting with determination and interest, “And potentially who may have been on the receiving end of the information.”
“True,” Berwald acknowledged, though he imagined a hacker of Van Bock’s skill working with the Scandinavia’s best (or worst) cyber criminals would be unlikely to leave much of a trail they could follow. It would be a coup if they could actually prove beyond suspicion that Van Bock was the original of the leak, let alone find out exactly who was behind the mysterious APH curtain.
The touch of Tino’s hand to to wrist stilled his negative thoughts, all of his attention spiraling in on the feel of his fingers and the sadness in his words, “Eduard’s been my closest friend since we came out of the academy. How could I have not seen this coming?”
Berwald took a breath and risked putting his large hand over Tino’s cold fingers, squeezing once as he offered what comfort he could, “How could you have? And we don’t know that its him.”
Tino shook his head, bitterness in mouth as he replied, “And if its not him, its one of the others. No, I don’t need false assurances.”
Berwald winced and tried to pull his stupid hand away, remembering why it was he preferred email to interpersonal relationships, mumbling when Tino didn’t let go, “What do you need?”
“What we need, Berwald,” Tino said sternly, sliding his hand free to pat his arm as though trying to imbue confidence in their fragile, new partnership, “Is evidence. Irrefutable proof that will let me understand how this could have happened.”
Berwald straightened, buoyed by Tino’s ability to bounce back so quickly, not wanting to leave him to carry the burden of the case alone, telling him, “For that we’ll need to try to get access to his computer.”
“Which one?” Tino asked with wry laugh, “He’s got at least two that I know of. Not to mention his iPad and his phone. The man’s a total technology slut.”
“That makes two of us,” Berwald confessed, enjoying Tino’s grumble of ‘of course you are,’, before remembering that Van Bock’s technolust was not going to make their job any easier, “But we’ll need to look at all of them until we find something.”
“Well,” Tino said slowly, thinking through their objective with that precision Berwald had so admired when all he knew of him was his skill at writing case briefings, “It won’t be too difficult to get access to the work computer. Its his personal devices that are going to pose a challenge—we can’t just ask to touch his stuff without him becoming wildly suspicious, since I’ve never once shown any interest in any of his toys.”
Berwald nodded, following along with keen interest, entirely impressed by this man in a shirt three sizes too big for him with a face that seemed more suited for soft things than bring cyber terrorists and his best friend to justice. He wondered how many cases Tino had been able to get a jump on because the world underestimated him, took one look at his kind smile and completely missed the gunmetal of his mind.
“And if he gets suspicious,” Tino continued, fingers once again drumming anxiously on the table, “Eduard and his little APH friends will be on the wind faster than Hanatamago can eat her kibble.”
“Um, right,” Berwald agreed, only a little thrown by Tino’s odd associations, “So, how do we get to the computer without arousing suspicion?”
Tino smiled so brightly at him, actually fluttering his eyelashes while leaning in closer, that Berwald immediately knew that Tino was about to reveal that plan he knew Berwald wasn’t going to like.
“Well,” Tino said sweetly, “I was thinking I might like to bring a friend back with me to Helsinki. One who’s quite the wannabe computer buff and who might strike up a bond with Eduard and flatter his ego enough that he’ll let you poke around his hard drives.”
“WHAT?” Berwald said wildly, face actually breaking into an expression of surprise as slammed his glass down in shock.
In the chaos that followed Berwald spilling his water over the table and into Tino’s lap and the ensuing laughter and scramble to clean up the mess, Berwald knew that he was well and truly screwed. There was no way he could turn Tino down, not when something warmed in his chest every time Tino smiled at him, not when he thought there was something he could do to help.
“Me?” Berwald asked once they had been kicked out of the cafe for causing such a scene and he’d endured being reprimanded by the hostess for yelling so frightfully at his boyfriend, “You want me to go undercover?”
“Why not?” Tino asked blithely, still patting down his wet pants.
“I’m not good with people,” Berwald grumbled, averting his eyes from the actions of Tino’s hands.
“You do fine with me,” Tino said with a smile, “Besides, I’ll be there with you every step of the way. I can coach you and tell what you need to know to get in good with Eduard.”
Berwald sighed, “Won’t he think a random Swede showing up after you’ve been gone is suspicious?”
Tino pursed his lips and looked away, “I’d thought of that. But…well, I didn’t tell any of my team the real reason I was coming here, since I’d had my doubts…so they think I’ve been here meeting my internet sweetheart. Its the one cover they won’t question.”
Berwald stopped, heart beat thundering in his ears as he tried not to shout WHAT again, waiting for Tino to come to the inevitable conclusion of this ludicrous little proposal (that he would never, under pain of loss of Apple products, admit to liking a little too much).
“So, I’m really sorry to ask, especially since you seem like such a nice guy and we barely know one another, but…uh, do you think you could be my undercover lover?” Tino said with a playful smile, laughing shamelessly around his last words.
Berwald blushed and looked at the ground, willing the redness to be mistaken for consternation and not embarrassment, mumbling, “You sure about this?”
Tino clapped him on the shoulder and pressed in alarmingly near, so close he could feel the warmth of his breath on his neck as he promised, “Don’t worry. We’ll be fine. I promise I’ll protect you.”
As it happened, going “undercover” was both very easy and very difficult. Easy in the sense that for the first two weeks back in Helsinki, he didn’t have to do much but make casual appearances for lunch “dates” and afternoon coffees with the Captain to acclimate Tino’s team to his existence before they could start the real work of Berwald attempting to worm his way into Van Bock’s confidences (or just his computers when Van Bock wasn’t looking). That part, working remotely on the case and ignoring Williams’ gentle teasing (he suspected German influences were afoot) until Tino sent him a come-hither and pretend to be my very stoic and intimidating boyfriend from Sweden text, that was easy. Hell, even sneaking back into Police Headquarters at night and hacking into Van Bock’s machine while Tino prowled the hallways like some sort of cute ninja lookout, only to find confirmation that Van Bock was far too skilled to leave any evidence of his involvement let alone how he’d done it, (or why, Tino always mumbled under his breath each time the subject came up), had been easy.
The difficult part was what Berwald realized the very first morning he woke up in Tino’s guest bedroom to Hanatamago, who really was irresistibly cute, licking his toes and the sounds of Tino yawning and cursing at the apparently recalcitrant coffee maker for not working quickly enough.
(“Of course you have to stay with me!” Tino had insisted when they first arrived, staring at him like he had grown a second head, “It would totally blow our cover if someone found out my supposed boyfriend was staying at a hotel and not in my bed…not that you’ll really be in *my* bed, I have another room if that’s what you’re worried about. Jeez, Berwald no need to look so scary over simple strategic planning. Its like you’ve never been covert before.”)
In the span of time it took him to realize that he was smiling even though it was early and he’d been roped into doing something completely out of his comfort zone, Berwald knew what was really going to be the challenge in this little collaboration. How was he supposed to ignore the warmth that spread over his cheeks and down his neck every time Tino smirked at him and cracked another joke about the ridiculousness of Swedish pop or tell himself that it was professional curiosity that made him wonder how Tino looked in his police uniform, when he got to spend every morning and every evening (and those lunches and coffees for cover!) with Tino?
Honestly, after two weeks of enduring Tino’s attempts at creative cooking because Tino seemed so genuinely excited to have someone else to try his food, and becoming familiar with the way Tino always saved the sports section of the newspaper for last, and talking about the case until it was so late that somehow they’d veered into conversations about family, friends, and nothing of importance at all without even realizing….after two weeks of that Berwald wasn’t sure he could tell any longer where the cover began and reality ended for him.
This was dangerous territory, he knew, letting himself fall for someone who was only sharing his coffee, his dog’s affection, and a few well-timed and easily noticeable hugs and touches because he needed Berwald’s skills to break their case open and put smoking gun in Van Bock’s hand.
He tried to keep his attention on the case and not on the way Tino apparently had no issue wandering around his house in boxers or petting Hanatamago when she was resting in Berwald’s lap. Unfortunately, though he had managed to find that all of the data packets giving warning to APH that “Salmiakki” was on the move had been sent through one particular server to numerous ghost IPs, Berwald was no closer to being able to prove it had been Van Bock. It was frustrating to be so certain and have no tangible evidence, only endless trails that went cold and disappeared into the ethernet.
This professional frustration in addition to the personal, unmentionable frustration brought on by the harmony of their false domesticity, was enough to make even peaceable Berwald want to do very unpleasant things to the perpetrator responsible for his current situation. Williams had simply responded with to his complaints with a cheerful email reminding him that he was a trained interrogator and he could spot a lie from twenty yards away, so perhaps Berwald should just admit that the problem was he liked all of this a little *too* much and suck it up.
And after two weeks of deadends and the slow introduction of Berwald into Tino’s tight-knit circle, it seemed that Tino had also reached a boiling point and was no longer content to play the long game. The time for more definitive action (read: forced bonding with Van Bock) had come, Captain Väinämöinen declared with that glint in his eyes that Berwald already knew to obey without question.
Which is how he came to find himself dressed in casual clothes that Tino said flattered his assets and squeezed into a too small bar booth with Tino pressed warm and buzzed against his side, breathing vodka tonic over his throat every time he laughed at one of Van Bock’s inside jokes.
“So, Berwald,” Eduard said, finally acknowledging his presence beyond a curt nod and polite smile, “What do you do for a living?”
Berwald tried to smile, wishing Tino didn’t feel the need to pinch his leg under the table to snap him out of his stony silence each time Eduard asked him a question other than his drink order since it served the exact opposite purpose from focusing his attention on anything other than Tino’s hands being anywhere near his….well.
“I’m in sales,” Berwald answered gruffly, feeling patently ridiculous as he offered up the cover job Tino’d decided was perfect for him with after three glasses of vodka and found too hilarious to take back the next morning.
“Sales?” Eduard said with measured skepticism, gaze darting over to Tino as if to confirm if he was serious.
“Mmm,” Berwald grumbled, wondering how Tino could keep a straight face while he rolled out the backstory he’d been so richly embellished, “Online marketing, B2B sales. For a cosmetics company.”
Tino smiled at him and batted his eyelashes a little, winking as he pressed in just a little closer, apparently really trying to sell the whole facade to Van Bock, “Berwald’s a computer guy just like you, Eduard. You should talk shop sometime when I’m not around to be bored to tears.”
“You have an interest in technology?” Eduard asked without much real interest, seemingly preoccupied with the insistent buzzing of his cell phone.
“You going to answer that?” Tino asked nonchalantly, though Berwald could tell from the tightening of the hand on his knee that he was wondering if they’d somehow been made.
“I am sure its just Feliks calling to ask me where Toris is, as if I am his keeper,” Eduard said quickly, waving off Tino’s curiosity with a smile and a repeat of his earlier question.
“Oh,” Berwald mumbled with false modesty, just like Tino had instructed, “Mostly dabbling. Hobby, really.”
“He’s being modest,” Tino said brightly, gazing at him as though he really was a man infatuated, bringing a blush to his cheeks, “The first time I met him I never would have guessed that a big, scary guy like him could be almost as big a computer nerd as you, Eduard!”
“Very funny, Väinämöinen,” Eduard answered dryly before turning his attentions to Berwald, “Ignore him, I’m impressed the Luddite had enough savvy to know how to put together a dating profile without help from the IT department.”
“But look at me now,” Tino said cheerfully, ruffling Berwald’s hair and blowing a mocking kiss at Eduard, “I’m online and in love.”
Berwald thanked all the deities he could remember through the cracking of his mind that he had not been taking a sip of his drink when Tino laid that little line on the table, hoping that Eduard would think his choking flush would be a sign of returned sentiment (no comment, Berwald’s traitorous little mind offered unhelpfully), instead of cover-blowing surprise.
“So its serious then?” Eduard asked slowly while Berwald tried to recover his stoicism as Tino pinched him so hard he knew he was going to bear that mark of conditional training for a week.
Berwald watched as Tino met Eduard’s gaze, knowing how much was hidden beneath the false happiness of his reply, “Very serious. Haven’t been able to focus on anything else for weeks! I only feel bad that I kept it from you and the gang all this time.”
“Sometimes a man keeps secrets for a good reason, so for my part, I understand why you did,” Eduard murmured as his phone started buzzing once more, apologizing as he turned away from the table to check his messages.
“You okay?” Tino whispered into his ear, practically sitting in his lap to do so, making the answer to that question a hearty yes and no.
“Fine,” Berwald mumbled, keeping his eyes firmly on Eduard’s back and not on Tino’s worried frown.
“Sorry if I laid it on too thick and made you uncomfortable,” Tino said softly, frown threatening to dip into a pout.
Powerless against that expression, Berwald shook his head and grunted, awkwardly patting Tino’s hand under the table, surprised for the tenth time that evening when Tino turned his palm over and laced his fingers with Berwald’s and whispered, “But I think it may have worked.”
“Why do you say that?” Berwald asked, resisting the urge to rub his thumb over Tino’s knuckles.
“Just wait and see,” Tino said with a wink before shushing him unnecessarily and nodding his head as Eduard turned to face them once more.
“Excuse me,” Eduard said, “As expected, Feliks would not be denied his Toris-report.”
“No need to apologize,” Tino said blithely.
Eduard grimaced, “Don’t say that yet. I told him that I was out with you and your new boyfriend and he absolutely demanded that he be introduced to the Swedish Stud ASAP.”
“Probably wants to give him a hands-on inspection before approving him for Finnish consumption,” Tino said, giggling while Berwald tried not to die from awkward.
Eduard snorted, “I’m sure,” he paused, sighing a little before continuing, “But regardless of his perverse Polish intentions, I was wondering if you both might be free to come to my house for dinner on Saturday?”
“Will this Feliks be there?” Berwald grumbled under his breath, only to feel his heart jump into his throat and choke all protests when Tino brushed a kiss over his cheek and teased,
“Don’t worry, sweetie, I’ll protect your virtue from the bad man.”
“So I take it that’s a yes?” Eduard asked through his snickering, pointedly trying not to avoid Berwald’s poisonous glare.
“Oh, its a definite yes. We’ll be there.” Tino said, still pressed too close and too warm for comfort.
“Wonderful,” Eduard said, standing as he pulled out his wallet and tossed some bills on the table, “Sorry to run out, but I’ve got some work at home that needs my attention. A certain slave-driving captain to keep happy.”
“Thanks for the invite,” Tino said, sharing a secret victorious look with Berwald while Eduard nodded absently and slid on his coat.
“Yes, thanks,” Berwald chimed in, mind already racing with how he and Tino could finagle time alone with Eduard’s machines during the middle of a dinner party.
“Don’t thank me until you’ve survived Hurricane Feliks,” Eduard said with reluctant fondness, “Anyway, it was nice to meet you more formally, Berwald. Hopefully we’ll have more of an opportunity to talk shop on Saturday.”
“I’d like that,” Berwald said while Tino groaned theatrically about nerds and buried his face in Berwald’s shoulder, missing Eduard’s one handed gesture as he exited the bar.
As soon as the coast was clear, Tino was out of his arms like a shot, practically vibrating with excitement as he slammed his fist down on the table and declared, “It worked. We’re so in!”
“Mmm,” Berwald agreed, trying to be as enthusiastic about the matter now that Tino wasn’t splayed all over his personal space.
“You were great, Berwald! Really, I can’t think of anyone I would rather being doing this with!” Tino enthused, smiling at him with such pleasure that Berwald couldn’t even mind that Tino had no idea what all of his was doing to his poor, confused libido that wasn’t even half as stupidly hopeful as his heart.
Tino looked at him curiously, pausing in his jubilation over their success, patting his shoulder with friendly ease, “Don’t look so worried. Saturday will be fine. Like I keep telling you, there’s nothing that can happen to you when you’re with me.”
Nothing except falling in love with something that isn’t real.
Berwald forced a nod and as reassuring a smile as he could manage, hoping that Tino couldn’t read his thoughts, wondering how much worse this could get before it was all over.
The Saturday of Van Bock’s soiree was yet another experience in the now going on three week’s worth of contrasts that left him consistently amused, confused, and not a little bit aroused and ashamed. Berwald spent his time leading up to the dinner party helping Tino wash the dishes they’d both dirtied from the breakfast Berwald had cooked, taking Hanatamago to play in the dog park while enduring (appreciating) the misguided comments from other dog owners in regards to the cuteness of Hanatamago and her owners, and having an in-depth and rapid-fire discussion of the strategy for maneuvering their way into Van Bock’s home office while also trying to appear as two guys with no bigger plot in mind that drinking and canoodling.
That particular conversation continued for more than three hours with the exception of brief respites to admire Hanatamago’s latest trick or for Tino to fuss at him for not using an coaster on the coffee table. Berwald thought that Tino seemed nervous and not a little uncertain of what exactly he wanted the outcome of their operation to be—-a success meant that he lost a best friend and trusted fellow officer to corruption, while failure meant they were back to square one with all leads still pointing to a member of Tino’s inner circle. Though Berwald was more than ninety percent convinced based on the circumstantial evidence and his own profiling of Van Bock’s legitimate cyber attacks done under government auspices that they had the right man, he stayed solemn and near during Tino’s pacing reiterations of the plan, offering an ear to hear out his concerns and all his unspoken unhappiness, and a silent promise to soften the eventual blow of proving Eduard’s betrayal however he could.
The plan, as Tino told him for the fourth time that afternoon, shouting over the sound of the shower in the bathroom that adjoined the master and guest bedrooms, was for both of them to make nice as long as possible, play up their happy couple routine until everyone was relaxed and if at all possible intoxicated, and engineer a situation that had Eduard cornered by Feliks for at least ten minutes, during which time they would abscond to the office and Berwald could access the OS and insert the ghost code that would log Van Bock’s keystrokes and transmit the data back to Berwald. And, if they had time, Berwald would try and scan through the archival data to see if there was a smoking gun…or, well, smoking python…that would seal Van Bock’s fate as the Benedict Arnold to Tino’s Alexander Burr.
Berwald was glad that he had already been debriefed on the plan several times as it was rather hard to concentrate on any of the finer points of covert operations when he tried and failed not to catch glimpses of Tino’s wet and naked skin in through the fogged shower glass while he grunted at the appropriate times and attempted to find something appropriate to wear to a dinner party/hack-job. He’d been tempted to tell Tino he didn’t really need to hear the play-by-play while the man showered, but Tino had looked so stressed and was eying his gun in that way that always gave him the chills that Berwald had resigned himself to willing away the lust that didn’t want to understand that Tino didn’t mean anything by parading around in nothing but a towel and wetness by thinking about King Carl naked.
In the blessed moments of quiet after Tino turned off the shower and took his bare skin and his strategies behind closed doors, Berwald actually debated whether it would be a better use of this momentary cease fire to review his untraceable coding or to quickly and hurried give himself a little relief so he could withstand an evening of fake!boyfriend!Tino snuggling against him and touching him like he really cared.
Ten minutes later, and not a second too soon, Tino came wandering into his room, Hanatamago trailing happily behind his still bare feet, looking unforgivably appealing in gray slacks and a pale purple shirt that did criminal things for his eyes while giving Berwald the critical once over.
“You a little flushed, Berwald,” Tino said worriedly, making what Berwald could only assume was his tell-tale redness deepen, “Are you OK? Are you nervous about tonight?”
Berwald jumped on the excuse, grunting out a quick, “Yes,” and turning his shameful blush from Tino’s undeserving kindness, reaching into his closet for a tie.
“It will all be fine,” Tino said resolutely, marching over to touch a reassuring hand to Berwald’s back, “Do you want to go over the plan again?”
Berwald resisted the urge to groan, shaking his head and peering into the depths of his borrowed closet, wondering how it was that Tino felt so comfortable with him, showering with doors open, bitching at him about the television remotehehad misplaced, and walking into his room with concern that seemed above the call of duty written all over his face, when most people shied away and left him to his self-imposed silence. When his flush had receded enough to be considered decent, Berwald turned back around, holding out two ties for Tino’s inspection, made happy by the sight of Tino’s smug happiness at being asked for his opinion.
“Blue, definitely the blue,” Tino said, snatching the blue tie from his hand and snapping his fingers for Berwald to bend down, “Blue always makes your eyes so startling.”
Aaaand the blush is back, Berwald thought with inner sigh, though he couldn’t be too regretful of the stain of Tino-induced color when Tino was busy humming and threading the tie around his neck, knotting it perfectly while his warm fingers brushed over the skin of his throat. At this distance, Berwald could see the fan of Tino’s eyelashes and the patch of stubble he’d missed during his shaving cum strategy session, and in that moment, more than any before, he wished this strange domesticity was real, that when Tino finished tying his tie with a whistle of approval and pat of satisfaction, he could say thanks with a kiss instead of with mumbled words.
“There, now you’re all set,” Tino murmured, taking a step back, “No one will suspect you are anything else than my silent, sexy, salesman from Sweden.”
Sexy?Berwald choked a little, wondering if Tino was warming up his performance for later by flirting, knowing that the man certainly needed no practice when it came to charming him, choosing to slide on his jacket so as to avoid needing to respond to that little description of his undercover persona.
“Well, then, ready to go Moneypenny?” Tino said with a smirk as he pulled away and looked at his watch.
Berwald snorted and rolled his eyes, gathering his wits and all the wherewithal he knew he was going to need to get the job done tonight, “After you, James.”
“Oh my god, you like weren’t kidding, Eddie, he’s a total beefcake!”
Berwald immediately took one barely noticeable step backwards in retreat as a firebrand with blond hair and poking fingers accosted him the moment he and Tino arrived at Van Bock’s apartment, ignoring Tino’s huff of amusement as he was shoved forward into the leering little lion’s den.
“I have never called anyone in my life a beefcake, Feliks,” Van Bock said tiredly as he pushed Feliks aside and shook Berwald’s hand in welcome and reassurance, “Please ignore the sideshow and come in, both of you.”
“Psssh, like when have I ever been anything but the main attraction?” Feliks said merrily, pushing brazenly up into Berwald’s space to deliver two swift kisses to his cheeks as he tittered, “Its way cool to meet you, Berry…do you mind if I call you Berry?”
“Uhh, sure?” Berwald looked at Tino for confirmation that this was indeed happening to him, delighted when Tino laced their fingers together and squeezed, only a little ashamed at how quickly he curled his hand around Tino’s.
“Feliks, this isBerwald. Not Berry or B-B or Swedish meatball or any of the other names I’m sure you’ve got written down on your hand to use throughout the evening,” Tino said dryly, lips quirking at the sight of the horror on Berwald’s stoic face, continuing with laughter in his voice, “And Berwald, this is Feliks. We’re not sure why we put up with him, but here he is.”
“You put up with me because I am fabulous and like the life of the party, especially after you end up in your cups, Tino-wino,” Feliks answered saucily, finally letting them all step into the living room proper before winding his arm through Berwald and dragging him away from the warmth of Tino’s handhold to point at a quiet composed man standing in the corner holding two drinks, “And this,Berwald, is my total hottie boyfriend, Toris.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” Toris said like a completely normal person, already gaining him points in Berwald’s book, sighing fondly when Feliks snatched the glass of wine from his hand and promptly resumed imitating a leech plastered against Berwald.
“Likewise,” Berwald answered slowly, trying and failing to inch away from Feliks’ not at all subtle inspection of his biceps, craning his head around to try and silently plea for Tino to come rescue him.
His attempted salvation came through Toris taking pity on him as he said, “Feliks, I’m not sure Berwald appreciates getting the hands-on third degree from a total stranger.”
Feliks smiled slyly up at him, green eyes glinting with such mischief Berwald couldn’t help but smirk a little in return, flattered in playing along by the harmless flirtation in Feliks’ smile when he said, “Oh, I don’t know, Toris. I bet Berwald like has a total thing for cute blonds getting all up on him.”
Berwald caught Tino watching from across the room, enjoyment of Berwald’s seeming predicament all too clear on his face. He shrugged and held Tino’s eyes for a moment, boldly risking a wink as he slipped an arm around Feliks’ still wriggling waist and retorted lowly, “Maybe I do.”
“Ooooh, Berry’s totes a bad boy,” Feliks crowed delightedly, releasing him with a pinch to his arm and an approving smirk to drape over Toris instead, his departure just in time to allow for Tino to occupy the space Feliks had vacated, pressed suddenly warm and possessive against Berwald’s side.
“Making friends, baby?” Tino asked, merriment written all over his face, giving away his apparent desire to exact revenge on Berwald for his little tease by tracing his fingers lightly up and down Berwald’s back while giving his hellos to Toris.
“Your boyfriend’s a total charmer,” Feliks enthused, “And also like way hot. Where did you find him?”
“Thinking of trading me in?” Toris asked wryly while Berwald looked away and Tino just appeared smugly satisfied.
“We met online,” Tino answered, titling his head up to meet Berwald’s gaze, the space between them humming with secret plans and the unexpected thrill of what was to come, “And found out we had a lot of common goals in life.”
“Totes romantic,” Feliks declared, nodding regally, “I highly approve of Tino acquiring a taste for Swedish meatballs.”
Before Berwald or Tino, or even Toris, could think of an appropriate response to such a statement, Eduard poked his head from the kitchen, rolled his eyes at the awkwardness in their little corner of the world and declared dinner to be served.
“Here we go,” Tino whispered, pushing up on his tip toes and into the supporting circle of Berwald’s arms that disguised a professional tete-a-tete as a lover’s embrace, “A little wine, a little food, and a big helping of sneaking around to go with dessert.”
“Ready when you are,” Berwald murmured, hoping for the first time since he came to Helsinki that Van Bock wasn’t the suspect, so Tino could be spared and he could go on pretending the comfort and ease of this new world was real for just a little longer.
“Well, come on then,Berry,” Tino said with happy laughter, threading their hands together once more and leading them fearlessly on.
For all that Van Bock might have been a criminal and a backstabber, Berwald could find nothing to fault in his cooking, rather pleased to eat something that didn’t taste like an adorable culinary experiment gone wickedly wrong for the first time since coming to Finland. That Tino’s hand remained settled on his knee through the first course, only to shift up to rest on the crook of his arm once the main course had been cleared, likely only contributed a pinch of spice to an already outstanding meal. Even Feliks calmed and mellowed like the wine he as drinking with some alacrity, splitting his time between cuddling into Toris, who seemed to Berwald to be long-suffering but happily tolerant, and giving Berwald appreciative once-overs that had the dual affects of making him feel the need to adjust his glasses and causing Tino to hold him a little closer.
Like maybe he wasn’t playing at jealousy.
And as that thought went to his head as thick and disorienting as the wine, Berwald felt the sudden and urgent to excuse himself from the table and seek out Van Bock’s facilities, ignoring Feliks’ pout and trying not to dwell on Tino’s little frown of annoyance as he stumbled down the hall and pushed into the first open door he found.
It couldn’t be possible, Berwald thought wildly, forcing his thoughts back to the task at hand and firmly away from the unprofessional daydreams of a more lasting and reality based relationship with his determined, dangerous, and wonderfully kind Finnish partner. After all, they didn’t know each other outside of the APH case and the fantasy they had concocted to achieve their goals. He remembered the first dossier, so precise and relentless in its objectification of APH, remembered just who Tino was: a great cop with a zealous need to pursue justice, especially when he’d been personally burned by the crime. Taking a deep breath and cooling his ardor and longing with some much needed logic, Berwald ran his hands through his hair and prepared to walk back into the dining room, not wanting to deviate from Tino’s very well rehearsed plan of action.
“Changing the game without me?” A voice hissed from behind him, resulting in an ungainly stumble and little yelp of surprise that burned in his ear as surely as the curiosity and excitement in Tino’s voice, “Thinking you want to be Bond instead of the pretty arm candy?”
Berwald turned on his heel as Tino flicked on the light and half closed the door he’d crashed through, finally realizing that in his haste to get away from the foolish loveliness of the dinner table lies he’d managed to stroll right into Van Bock’s office, at least 12 and a half minutes ahead of Tino’s schedule.
“Sorry,” Berwald mumbled, looking at his feet as he tried to usher them out the door, only to find his wrist grasped between a small but iron grip, guiding him firmly to the computer.
“Too late for that, babe,” Tino teased gently, eyes glinting with encouragement and excitement as Berwald sat down at the desk, fingers already itching to finally do what he’d come all this way to do while Tino whispered into his ear, “When you bolted, I said I wanted to check up on you and followed you in here. The plan starts now or not at all.”
“And the rest of ‘em?” Berwald murmured under his breath, working more quickly than he had since that time he’d been trapped in a bank vault with the strange German, trying to hack through the security system for the release mechanism, coming to life under Tino’s appreciative stare and the exhilaration a good agent always feels when they get close to cracking the case.
“I told Feliks that Eduard had been thinking of buying a pony,” Tino said, enjoyment evident even now, making Berwald smile a little into the pale glow of the monitor as he finished entering the keystroke logger and started running a background search.
“How much time we got?” Berwald asked lowly, eyes scanning the code that ran up the screen, tilting his head to welcome Tino’s eager interest as he crowded into Berwald’s space and whispered his appreciation.
“Couple a minutes, maybe,” Tino said, “Unless Toris is feeling generous towards his old roomie and cuts Feliks off before he can start demanding to take all the test drives.”
Berwald hummed his approval, fingers flying over Van Bock’s keyboard as he reluctantly admired the layers of coding and protocols, knowing that barring a miracle, it was going to take him more than the length of a pony chat to find what he needed. With a wish and a prayer, he tried to adjust the programming he’d written to uncover and copy to him remotely all of the incoming and outgoing encrypted data packets.
Just as his fingers were starting to cramp from the effort and sweat was starting to bead on his forehead, he registered Tino’s hurried, hushed cursing.
“Shit, shit,” Tino whispered, “Hit save or pull the plug or do whatever it is you do right now, now, now,” his urgency punctuated by the anxious grabbing of Tino’s hands around his shoulders, attempting to turn him in the chair while he was still furiously doing whatever it was he did with the added pressure of trying not to have his heart jump out of his chest.
With a click of a finger and flick of a wrist, Berwald managed to set the innocent looking Macbook to sleep mode and shut off the screen, mind still tangled in endless lines of beautiful and devilish code when Tino spun the chair around and straddled his lap.
“What…” Berwald managed to choke out, all thoughts of protocol immediately rushing southward, before Tino held a finger up to his lips, smiled at him apologetically and pressed their mouths together.
Kissing Tino, even like this…fake and hurried in the midst of a covert operation…was too tempting to resist, and though Berwald knew he was a bastard for even thinking it, he couldn’t help but want to enjoy this moment as much as possible if it was never going to happen again. His hands were around Tino’s waist and Tino’s legs were thrown across his thighs. There was a soft, teasing tongue tracing over his lips and a hammering heart pressed against his chest, and Tino was making tiny little sighing noises that had to be the damned sexiest thing he’d ever heard.
Ten times more deadly than any gun Tino could have waved in his face, Berwald thought wildly as Tino’s fingers made their way into his hair and he dragged Tino back just enough so he was sitting more comfortably in his lap and a bored, vaguely amused voice was asking him,
“Honestly, Tino, you couldn’t wait to get home?”
And in the split second it took Berwald to realize that was definitely not Tino’s whispering sweet nothings or wicked somethings, Tino had abandoned their wonderful kiss to look shamelessly at that bastard Van Bock and shrug his shoulders.
“Nothing wrong with a little appetizer,” Tino answered, licking the remainder of Berwald’s kiss from his lips, “Right, Berwald?”
Berwald had nothing to say to such a question that wouldn’t result in sexual harassment charges, settling instead for glaring at Van Bock and thinking about how he no longer felt quite as much guilt over busting him.
Van Bock rolled his eyes and hooked a thumb over his shoulder, “As long as you don’t ruin your appetite. Now, if you’re both quite finished, dessert is ready and if you don’t come soon, Feliks is certain to start up on the glories of miniature horses.”
“Be right out,” Berwald said sternly, using the full force of what Williams had assured him was his deadliest stare to force Van Bock from the room.
At once, Tino was all business, in spite of still straddling his partner, whispering quickly, “Did you get it done?”
Berwald swallowed the double innuendo that was on the tip of his tongue, knowing that Tino deserved so much more that his useless crush, leveraging them both out of the office chair as he nodded.
“Good,” Tino said breathlessly as he continued to cling to Berwald, pressed against him from his toes to the place where his head met Berwald’s chest, “Very good. And thanks for being such a team player with the whole improv back there. I thought we were going to get busted.”
“Its no problem,” Berwald said honestly, “I’d do anything to help the case.”
To help you.
And when Tino flushed prettily and peered up at him through that fine fan of eyelashes he’d so admired hours earlier and murmured, “I could get used to such good help,” Berwald thought maybe Tino wanted to ask him if maybe they could see each other sometime without cyber terrorism hanging over their heads.
He opened his mouth to tell Tino how much he felt the same way, how Tino was the most unexpected and wonderful partner he’d ever had, hands flexing gently on Tino’s waist and words climbing slowly from the shiest, sweetest part of his heart, only to be stopped in their tracks by an angry shout from the living room.
“Ugh, like if you’re going to make out, at least do it in public so we can all be entertained!”
The brashness of Feliks’ voice seemed to shatter whatever it was that was keeping Tino within the span of his arms as the other man backed away quickly, muttering something unintelligible in Finnish. Berwald let his offer of something other, something for later fall back into his wistful daydreams at the sight of Tino’s sudden agitation, doubts of the return of his inappropriate feelings returning ten-fold.
“Well, James,” Tino said lowly, gaze distant and unreadable, “How about we eat some dessert and then go home and crack this case wide open?”
After the indulgence of stolen kisses, Berwald found that Van Bock’s dessert, which would doubtless be found very good by someone who had not just had Tino’s tongue in their mouth, seemed rather tasteless and uninspired. Sadly, the conversation had also grown tepid in the wake of their red-faced return to the living room, no matter how Feliks tried to incite them to kiss once more. Berwald would have been happy enough to oblige, but from the way Tino was now keeping a distance that felt like miles after the way he’d been clinging to him all night, he thought it was best to mumble something about a long day and the need to go get home to let out the dog as soon as the dessert plates had been cleared.
“I hope we’ll get to see you again,” Toris offered politely as he and Tino gatheed the coats and made towards the door, Eduard and Feliks trailing behind, still bickering with one another about the most appropriate breed of horse.
While he helped Tino shrug into his coat, he felt his heart sink a little as Tino answered Toris with a quiet smile, “Oh, it may be awhile before that can happen. Berwald will be going back to Sweden soon.”
It was true, Berwald thought morosely, he would be going back to Stockholm if his espionage revealed that Eduard was in fact the leak. Interpol and the Bureau would see no reason that he couldn’t continue to assist on the case remotely from his home office once there was no longer a need for the covert operation. He wondered how Tino would react if he offered to take a few vacation days and stick around to help him out while his department recovered from the likely outcome that was on the horizon.
But Tino wasn’t giving anything away at the moment beyond the brief flash of palpable sadness that crossed his face when Eduard hugged him stiffly goodbye as they departed, his sorrow hidden from everyone but Berwald…who had developed a penchant for watching Tino a little too closely. Once they were back on the street, free from prying eyes and breathing into the cold night air, Berwald could stand to leave Tino alone in his worries no longer, taking a step nearer as if to offer warmth and solidarity if he wanted to take it.
“You okay?” Berwald mumbled, noticing that Tino’s bottom lip had gone raw from the way he was chewing on it nervously, trying not to remember how he, too, might have pressed his teeth into its softness an hour earlier.
Tino sighed and looked up at him in surprise, “You really are too good, Berwald.”
Berwald flushed and shoved his hands in his pockets, nudging Tino a little with his arm, wishing he could take away that perplexed and lost look, ” ‘m not. Just worried about you.”
Tino said nothing for a long moment, gazing at him with that same expression of consideration and surprise he’d had on his face the first time Berwald met him, a day that seemed like a lifetime ago instead of only a month, finally breaking the silence to ask with soft resignation, “What am I supposed to tell the rest of my team?”
There were no good answers to a question like that, Berwald knew, and so he gave the only honest answer there was, “Tell them the truth and then pick-up the pieces.”
“Guess you’re right,” Tino said slowly, leaning in closer as though weighted down, “That’s my job as their superior officer.”
Berwald frowned and shortened his strides so he and Tino were now almost touching, thinking it would be nice if they had the excuse of Feliks or Toris or even Van Bock around so he could offer the comfort of an arm around the shoulders or the squeeze of a hand as he struggled to explain, “Not what I meant. You’re a team, right? You’ll support them and they’ll support you.”
And I’ll support you. Even if I can only do it from my cube in Stockholm, I’ll give you whatever you need.
Tino smiled at him wanly, pressing near for just a moment, a fleeting warmth in the night, “Thanks, Berwald. Would you think less of me if I said I still hope to find out its not him? That this has all been some big misunderstanding and maybe APH just has a psychic on the payroll and that’s how they’ve been predicting my every move?”
Berwald laughed, a low rumbling thing, as entranced as ever by Tino’s seemingly endless well of good cheer and sweetness mingled with practicality, “Not at all. Might make me look bad though, to have been outwitted by a fortune teller.”
And finally, the clouds parted from Tino’s lovely face, his eyes sparking with amusement as he jostled Berwald and chortled, “You and me both! Sweden and Finland’s finest…foiled by the power of the stars!”
“Tragic,” Berwald deadpanned as he enjoyed the sound of Tino’s cute little laugh, letting the levity of the moment be a temporary reprieve from all the truth they did and did not want to uncover all the way home.
Unfortunately, by the time Tino slid the key into his lock and opened the door to his darkened apartment and Hanatamago’s eager, licking welcome, the dark mood had returned once more. Berwald was out of what little wisdom he had and Tino seemed to have retreated into strict professionalism, talking of nothing but facts and potential outcomes, as though psyching himself up for the very real possibility that he would be arresting his best friend the next day.
Berwald shuffled about the apartment he’d come too know too well, ignoring Tino’s little huff of absent amusement as he made the coffee for the next morning, knowing that if this little gesture lessened Tino’s anxieties even a little it was worth Tino’s muffled crack about him making someone an excellent house-husband someday.
But once the coffee was made and the dog had been fed, there was nothing but silence and inevitability left as they stood together in the dim light of the living room, thinking much and saying little.
“Listen, Berwald,” Tino said softly, staring at the floor and looking so young and lost Berwald’s heart ached, “I know I said we should come home and crack the case open, but do you think we could wait until morning….I’d kind of like to have one more night in which reality doesn’t totally suck. To keep pretending tonight was just a really fun dinner party with friends.”
He hated that he’d been so distracted by all the touching and flirting and his own tangled feelings that he’d failed to consider how hard it must have been for Tino to deceive Toris and Feliks, and to smile at Eduard and wonder whether or not anything between them have ever been real.
Berwald nodded, gently reaching out one hand to touch the slump of Tino’s tired shoulder, wanting to push his fingers though his hair and tell him it would be alright, instead saying, “Course.”
“Thanks,” Tino answered softly, covering Berwald’s hand with his own and squeezing, “And just so you know, no matter how it turns out tomorrow, I’m really grateful you’ve been here with me.”
“Me too,” Berwald confessed, inching closer, hoping that maybe Tino would take a step as well and then they would be almost touching and perhaps he’d know if it was okay to think there could be something more than the case.
But Tino only sighed and looked at the ceiling before giving him a tired, watery smile and shifting away, murmuring, “You are a really good partner, Berwald. When you get back to Stockholm, you should look into leaving the desk behind and getting yourself hooked up with one.”
“Right,” Berwald muttered lowly, disappointed and touched at once while he watched Tino retreat once more, resisting the urge to tell him that he was pretty sure no one was going to come close to the renowned Captain Väinämöinen.
“Goodnight, Berwald,” Tino said with another soft sigh, trailing off towards the bedroom as he left them both with heavy hearts, “And…thanks, again, for everything.”
Berwald took his glasses off and kicked at the sofa in frustration, mumbling into the emptiness of the room, “Anytime.”
Morning! Took the dog out for a run—we both had excess energy to burn off for some reason. Maybe she’s picking up on her daddy’s love for the thrill of the chase. Even if we are chasing one of daddy’s best buddies.
If you come across anything…important…(since I know you are just going to go straight to work without evening finishing your first cup of coffee), text me and I’ll come right home.
Do me a favor—stash my gun somewhere so I won’t be tempted to use it.
Maybe we can go out for dinner tonight, once all the hypothetical dust settles. Or maybe to another bar if it turns out we were wrong about E.
I promise not to sing any F-ABBA.
Berwald smiled through his yawn while he read Tino’s note, fully intending to harass the man about his apparently not-so-faulty memory of their first night together in Stockholm, opening up excellent possibilities for exacting a little revenge for Tino insisting that his cover involve cosmetic sales. The familiarity and domesticity was as endearing as ever, chasing away the chill of the morning and the work that was still ahead, easing the sting of Tino’s one-step forward, two-steps back dance from the previous evening.
In the throes of his lackluster sleep, Berwald had resolved to resolve the mixed signals and the tangle of his own embarrassingly intense crush once the Van Bock matter was closed one way or another. Even if Tino told him that he was a creepy stalker who had confused good acting for genuine feeling, and, wow, Berwald must have no life he took so much pleasure if something as simple as Tino assigning the purple mug with the chipped rim and the Moomin picture as “his” coffee cup…even if he said all that, at least he would have the satisfaction of having helped Tino professionally and could retreat behind his firewalls in Stockholm to assuage his disappointed feelings.
Alternatively, there was always the slim but not entirely impossible possibility that Tino’s occasional blushes and avoidance whenever they’d crossed an already blurred line between professional and personal meant that he, too, was inclined to think of Berwald as more than just a partner in fighting crime. Those were the thoughts he ‘d carried with him as he finally fell asleep and to this moment, standing barefoot and drinking out of a chipped mug in Tino’s kitchen, eyeing his computer with wary excitement and not a little dread.
With a sigh and a roll of his shoulders, wincing at the noise his back made and wondering if all this not spending 10 hours a day in proper Swedish office furniture, Berwald sat at the table and pulled his laptop towards him, knowing that there could be no answer to his many questions without the process of asking.
To almost anyone else, the work would have been tedious and migraine inducing, scrolling and analyzing endless lines of code and encrypted data. Fortunately for Tino and unfortunately for Van Bock, if there was one person in Scandinavia who had more of an appreciation for such devilishly crafted mazes and deliberate misleads, it was Berwald, who found himself so engaged that his coffee quickly went cold and the hunger he had felt upon waking was subsumed by his admiration of Van Bock’s trickery and his own low-burning delight at having the opportunity to tear down the walls of such a challenger.
And there, buried beneath the endless coils of seemingly innocent data was the evidence Berwald had known with every binary bit of his mind he was going to uncover. Solid, irrefutable proof that Van Bock, or at least his machine, had been used as a conduit to pass information on the movements and plans of one “Salmiakki” to an operative within APH known only as “White.”
As an agent, he couldn’t help but feel vindicated by the discovery and not a little excited by the prospect of tunneling in even deeper and potentially rooting out the current base of APH’s Finnish operations. The last transmission had happened well before he came to Helsinki and it was reasonable to assume that without any communication of a potential Tino-shaped threat, APH had been camped out in a fixed location. Now that the first wall was pulled down, it was only a matter of hours before he could breach the keep of APH’s security by reverse navigating the channels Van Bock had been using. It really was a damned shame that Van Bock had gone to the dark side, Berwald thought as he continued unraveling the endless threads of data, if they had been able to work together instead of at odds, in secret..they likely could have taken down APH from the inside without Tino even needing to fire a single bullet.
As a man, he couldn’t quite decide whether to be happy that he could prove his worth and skill to a man he admired in turn, or to be wary of Tino’s potentially violent and colorful reaction to his news, or to be disappointed that there was a damned good chance of wrapping a bow around the entire APH case by the end of the week, if not the end of the day.
And it was already 10am.
Remembering his resolve to be resolved, Berwald told his wibbling thoughts to take a momentary hike until their were irons around Van Bock’s betraying wrists, and pulled out his cell phone, preparing to send the text message he was certain that Tino both did and did not want to receive. As he typed, he imagined Tino running, flush with exertion, likely singing something ridiculous under his breath while Hanatamgo romped at his feet, tongue hanging out her mouth as she tried to keep up with her master exercising his demons.
He wished he’d pushed his tired body out of bed earlier so he could have run right along side, silently egging on Tino’s amusingly random and yet dangerously intense competitive streak to exact vengeance for his partner’s endless delight in reminding him that he was just a cubical rat.
At least they could do this together, Berwald told himself sharply, casting his gaze down at the brightness of the monitor, silently spelling out Van Bock’s fate.
Morning. Big news you need to hear.
Will wait for you.
Just as Berwald hit send on his terse and telling summons, Tino’s doorbell rang, shattering the anxious quiet of his resolution and reminding him that he was still in his pajamas and not really fit for answering the door. But when the ringing sounded once more, almost insistent, Berwald decided that Berwald Oxenstierna, cosmetics salesperson extraordinaire and lover of Captain Väinämöinen, did not shy away from answering the door in boxers and a t-shirt.
He peered through the keyhole, surprised to find a beautiful woman with long blond hair and a slightly murderous expression staring at the door, fists clenched impatiently at her sides her gaze. Berwald wondered what on earth she could possibly want, hoping against all hope that this wasn’t some secret ex-girlfriend Tino had failed to mention who was out for her ex’s fake boyfriend’s blood. But it was too late to turn back now, even though his phone was vibrating in his pocket, she’d clearly heard him approach from the way her face had started softening into something more lovely but no less alarming when he opened the door.
And in the seconds of consciousness he had after the syringe sunk into his throat, all Berwald could think was that it really was terribly unfair that all the pretty blonds that crossed his path had such a penchant for unexpected violence.
“Berwald. Berwald. BERWALD!”
Berwald really wanted the shouting to stop as his head hurt like one of Tino’s favorite four letter words and he was fairly certain he had been assaulted and subsequently kidnapped by a pretty woman with an apparently very bad temper. Slowly, he pushed through the grogginess that told him really wanted to stay unconscious, unable to ignore the upset tone in the voice calling his name so often and the unsettling feeling of unfamiliar hands brushing over his face.
“Mrpgfkj,” He managed to choke out, grateful that the strange person immediately stopped petting him as soon as he showed signs of life, only to fall right back into ingratitude when nothing became clear because someone had seen fit to steal his glasses. As far as he could tell, he was chained to a radiator in a room with a large square blur in the middle and some other fuzzy furniture-shaped items.
A hotel, Berwald realized at length, thankful only that he wasn’t locked up in a dungeon or in the trunk of a car, a little humiliated that he was, however, shackled to a heater wearing only his pajamas.
“Thank goodness,” The now slightly recognizable voice said, emanating from a blurred blob that resembled a man he was almost certain he knew, “I was worried that crazy woman had rendered you permanently insensate.”
Finally, through the haze and the throbbing, the missing piece clicked into place, flooding Berwald with much needed adrenaline via white hot anger.
“Van Bock. Where the hell am I? You better not have touched Tino.” He growled, struggling to to try and get to his feet, only to find that his legs were not yet as cooperative as his mind, still sluggish and under the influence of whatever had been pushed into his veins. But before he could say more, could accuse Tino’s betrayer of all he deserved, Van Bock was at his side, so close Berwald couldn’t ignore the obvious concern and regret in his expression.
“Tino’s fine. He can take care of himself. But you…I’m so sorry you’ve gotten roped into this mess,” Van Bock said lowly, almost whispering as his eyes kept darting to the door, “I can’t believe he would go so far as to involve an innocent civilian.”
Berwald schooled his surprise at that very pertinent and unexpected revelation. Van Bock obviously had no idea who he really was or what he’d been doing in Helsinki. He tried to think of what Tino would tell him to do to maintain cover, letting a hint of fear and confusion replace the murderous outrage, hoping he could try to get Van Bock to tell him why on earth he was chained to a radiator if not because of his affiliation with Interpol and his desire to put Van Bock behind bars.
“Where am I? And why am I here?” Berwald demanded roughly, shaking the handcuffs so they clanged against the metal of the heater, leaning closer to Van Bock as though he were a fellow prisoner instead of the bastard who’d put worry lines on Tino’s face.
Van Bock sighed and rubbed a hand over his eyes, thankfully staying near enough so he could watch his expression without squinting too hard, answering quietly, “I can’t tell you where you are. Because I don’t know where we are. I get blindfolded and hooded every time they pick a new base of operations.”
“Who’re they? Berwald asked, knowing full well what the answer would be, but wanting to hear the confirmation of Van Bock’s perfidy in spite of the second unexpected revelation that perhaps Van Bock was not as trusted a member of the little crime syndicate as he and Tino had suspected.
“APH,” Eduard confessed, settling down next to Berwald, head turned away as though he were ashamed, “A dangerous criminal organization. They started with petty crime, moved into robbery, art forgery, bank heists…anything they can think of to evolve.”
Berwald cursed well enough to make Tino proud, feigning shock and apprehension, pressing forward for more information, despite the lingering ache in his head and his growing confusion, “And you’re one of them?”
Eduard went silent for a long, tense moment, and when, at length, he sighed once more and reached for his pocket, Berwald stiffened, hoping like hell that Eduard wasn’t as gun happy as his favorite Finn.
To his relief, instead of the cold barrel of imminent death, Eduard only shoved a picture in front of his face. Through the blurred edges, Berwald could make out the image of a young man, smiling nervously and waving at the camera.
“This is my younger brother, Raivis,” Eduard said quietly, tucking the picture back into his pocket, “Two years ago, through an endless series of stupid decisions, he fell into significant debt and made the last of his stupid choices and took a loan from one Ivan Braginski.”
Berwald bit the inside of his cheek to keep from reacting to that name, wondering just how screwed he was if Ivan Braginski was involved in APH, trying and failing not recall the Agency’s ten centimeter thick dossier on his assorted crimes prior to 2010, when he’d seemingly disappeared or been run underground.
“Ivan is a very nasty piece of work,” Eduard explained, blissfully unaware of Berwald’s panicked thoughts, “And my foolish brother had no way of paying him back on Ivan’s schedule. So Braginski kidnapped him just as he’s kidnapped you and held my cooperation as Raivis’ ransom.”
This time, Berwald let the surprise show, wishing that Tino were here so he could help him decide whether or not such a story was true, flooded with reluctant sympathy for Eduard, who sounded so genuinely upset to be confessing such a shameful thing.
“Which was, of course, what they had wanted from the beginning. Ravis was just a pawn,” Eduard grumbled with resignation, “Because the point had always been to gain leverage over me by involving the person for whom I care most deeply. That’s what they do, Berwald, they decide they need you and will stoop to any level, exploit any weakness to get what they want.”
“What did they want from you?” Berwald murmured, his mind quickly trying to rewrite every assumption he’d made, growing ever more certain that Van Bock was telling the truth. But more than anything, more than the genuine apprehension of being Braginski’s prisoner, more than his dark curiosity as to why he’d been kidnapped, he overwhelming relief that Tino had not been willingly betrayed and that if he and Van Bock managed to get out alive, he might get to see Tino’s happiest smile directed at him.
Eduard laughed dryly and pointed at what Berwald could only guess was a laptop, “Like I said, APH is interested in evolving. Cyber crime…the next frontier of the criminally fashionable.” He paused, voice full of self-loathing so deep Berwald couldn’t help but put a comforting hand on the man’s shoulder as he continued, “For the past year and half, I’ve been using my skills to help them commit crimes against the people I swore to protect. And to deceive the people that trust me the most. Like Tino, who if he knew what I’d been doing, would put a bullet in me.”
Berwald sighed and patted Van Bock awkwardly, mumbling, “I think he might understand. But why didn’t you go to him? Get him to help you?”
“Its sweet you think Tino can do anything,” Van Bock teased halfheartedly, standing up and pacing, leaving Berwald alone with his favorite radiator, “Braginski has his sisters, one of them being the charming women you met this morning, move Ravis somewhere. Oh, he treats him well enough and sends me pictures and videos, and twice we’ve been in the same place, but I’ve never been able to get him free. If I misstep, if I betray APH, who’s to say what they wouldn’t do to the little fool?”
Berwald’s nerves were on edge, thoughts tumbling over anxiously, grasping at hope as he downplayed his expertise and asked with false innocence, “Why not just do something on the computer that they can’t understand? Send a message for help? Betray them.”
Eduard scoffed and sat on the bed, head in his hands as he mumbled, “APH has more than one cyber expert, Berwald. Tino has no idea how big their network truly is. He thinks it’s just this cell in Finland, but Braginski and his sisters are just one part of a larger whole. If they say they are watching me, I believe it. The risk isn’t worth Raivis’ life.”
Berwald thumped his head against the radiator, needing the pain to clarify the rush of his mind and the clear away the cobwebs, feeling that the handcuffs around his wrist and the invisible noose around his neck had just become infinitely more dangerous, especially if APH knew who he was. What if they wanted him to become their next hacker? Forcing him to commit crimes against his country, worn down and threatened like Eduard, made to live a shameful double life?
He swallowed and tried to keep his voice even as he asked, “So, why am I here?”
Eduard knelt in front of him, once again close enough that Berwald could actually perceive the sympathy and sorrow in his frown as he eyed the handcuffs and then the door, finally replying, “You’re leverage. Just like Raivis.”
While that implied APH remained ignorant of his identity, Berwald did not much care for the alternative, mumbling, “Over whom?” even though in his heart of hearts, he knew the answer.
“Tino, of course,” Eduard said with quiet pity, “Ivan’s become fixated on him in the past six months. That’s why they’ve stayed in Finland so long, even with how close Tino’s come to catching them even with my misdirection. Ivan wants Tino for something, and he thinks you’re the key to getting him.”
Berwald closed his eyes and let out a long hissing curse, thinking how ironic it was that he’d been kidnapped for a connection that wasn’t even real no matter he wished it were, a relationship that didn’t exist for Tino beyond the mission objective. Ivan was going to be sorely disappointed when he discovered that threatening Berwald wasn’t exactly enough to compel Tino to do anything.
Well, he thought wryly, at least he wasn’t going to be forced to reveal state secrets while he waited for Interpol to notice he’d gone missing and send in the cavalry.
“Don’t worry,” Eduard said hurriedly, clearly misreading his distress for fear, “Ivan won’t hurt you. Natalya may play a little rough, but she follows her brother’s lead. As long as Tino does what they ask, you’ll be fine.”
Berwald glared at him, clanking the handcuffs to protest the stupidity of such a claim even as he appreciated the crooked cop’s attempt to assuage a supposed civilian’s anxiety, gritting out, “Tino’s not going to a damned thing they ask. I’d never want him to and he never would.”
“He will if the thinks they are going to kill you,” Eduard said breathlessly, apparently stunned by Berwald’s sudden insistence, “I’ve seen the way he looks at you. He’d do anything, I think, to keep you safe.”
Berwald laughed bitterly, wondering just how many people including himself had been fooled by their act, determined to take this risk to keep Tino as protected as he was able, explaining lowly, “Whether or not that’s true, we’re never going to find out. Because I’m going to get us out of here with Tino ever needing to be involved.”
“Are you still high?” Eduard asked warily, tapping Berwald’s forehead in concern.
Berwald snorted and shifted away from the irritating presumption, steel in his tone as he declared, “No. I’m Berwald Oxenstierna of the Swedish Bureau of Investigation.”
“My God,” Eduard whispered, turning pale, “They’re going to kill us all if they find out.”
“They’re not,” Berwald growled, trying to deny his own doubts, “Because I’m the best cyber security expert in Scandinavia and you’re the second. Between the two of us, I think we can manage to get a message to my contact at Interpol. He’ll know what to do.”
“But…” Eduard hesitated, still white with fear and surprise, the name Raivis written all over his face.
Thinking of Tino, his strength and his unwavering convictions, Berwald pushed forward, determined to see this through, trying to convey his confidence as he said, “But nothing. We must do this. For our countries. For ourselves. For your brother.”
And for Tino.
Agent Williams needed a latte. Preferably one with a swirl of that syrup his brother always insisted ruined good coffee, but after three hours of trying to unscramble the encrypted cipher in a spam email entitled, “You want Russian Bride? We promise she steal heart away!” using Oxenstierna’s immediately recognizable but famously difficult key, Williams wasn’t inclined to be too picky about his source of caffeine. Unfortunately, coffee was going to have to get bumped on the priority list to just below executing a search and rescue squad for one of Interpol’s finest and most reliable agents, who seemed to have landed himself square in the lap of Ivan the Terrible.
He checked his watch, absently wondering who he could get on call during lunch hour, sighing a little when he realized there really was only one person he knew would be both ready and eager to go storming into situations unknown to face down one of the criminal world’s most notorious and be sitting awkwardly at his desk instead of out to eat.
But before he could call in the many, many favors he was owed from the German counter-terrorism squad leader, his phone rang and Williams was spared the need to contact his Finnish counterpart and inform him of the consequences of misplacing a valuable Swede.
“Where is he and who needs to be shot?”
Williams pushed his forehead into his palm, really regretting his lack of latte as he answered dryly, “Hello to you, too, Captain Väinämöinen.”
“Berwald is missing,” Tino snapped, “And I came home to find my dog with an empty syringe between her teeth like it was some kind of chew toy, so I think I’ll pass on the pleasantries and get straight to the solutions part of the conversation. What do you know and what can I do?”
Williams slumped in his chair, pulling up the unencrypted email and re-reading the very specific instructions to keep “F-ABBA” as far from the operation as possible, wondering exactly how well that piece of information was going to go over as he explained, “I’ve just received a coded distress call from Oxenstierna. Apparently he’s being held with Van Bock by a cell of APH operatives in a hotel.”
“Where?” Tino barked so sharply Williams almost dropped the receiver. Honestly, he questioned not for the first time in his career, who had made impatience and a fearful temper part of the screening requirement for police academy?
“Unknown at this time,” Williams answered quickly, responding to the urgency in Tino’s voice in spite of his unwillingness to encourage such behavioral tendencies in his cop colleagues, “What we do know is that Ivan Branginski and his sisters are involved in his abduction.”
He held the phone away from his ear so as not to be scalded by the litany of cursing, waiting until Tino had finished threatening every living person in Russia for their unfortunate mistake of being nationally related to Braginski before attempting to sweeten Väinämöinen’s attitude with a little good news, “It would seem Van Bock helped Oxenstierna send the message. I don’t have full details as there is only so much you can fit in coded spam offer for mail-order brides, but it would seem that he’s not alone wherever he may be.”
Tino was silent for a moment before answering quietly, “I’ll deal with Eduard later. Right now, what I need to know is how Berwald’s cover got blown and what exactly Ivan Branginski wants with him.”
Williams hesitated, weighing the value of informing Tino of exactly what Oxenstierna had said was to remain off the table, making the professional call that Tino was a trained officer of the law and one hell of a shot and therefore perfectly capable of defending himself against any threat he chose to take on in pursuit of APH.
“His cover’s not blown,” Matthew confessed, quickly redacting Berwald’s instructions so it was as if they had never existed, “As far as Braginski is concerned, he’s just your Swedish lover.”
Once again the line went quiet while Tino apparently took the revelation under consideration and Williams used the opportunity to pop-off a red-flag email to the strange German instructing him to be on stand-by for a smash and grab operation as soon as he gave the go ahead.
“Be that as it may,” Tino said softly, “And while I’m glad Berwald isn’t in danger of being tortured for state secrets, that doesn’t explain what APH wants with him if they think he’s just warming my sheets.”
“Apparently,” Williams said slowly, preparing for another verbal explosion and rolling his eyes at the speed of the reply from the counter-terrorism squad agreeing to be on-point provided they were credited as opps lead, “Braginski wants you. Seems you’ve made quite the impression.”
To his surprise, Tino didn’t curse or shout, but huffed with mocking laughter and declared, “And he thinks taking Berwald from me will make me come running. Well, the asshole’s right. If he wants me, he can have me. And all my best, shiny metal friends.”
“Just like that? Even though you know this is a trap?” Williams pressed, though he already knew the answer.
“Our favorite Russian will have to make contact with me to lord his leverage over my head. What he doesn’t know is that I have leverage, too…and my leverage is smarter and scarier than his.”
“Flatterer,” Williams said dryly, “But you aren’t wrong. You’ll have the full weight of Interpol and the Swedish Bureau behind you on this one. I’ve already got a team on stand-by, ready to go as soon as Braginski sets the meet.”
“Are they good?”
Williams considered, “At everything but keeping damage control low enough for me to make my quarterly budgets.”
“Excellent,” Tino responded, an edge of steel in his voice, “I’ll be in touch the minute I hear from my secret admirer.”
“Wait,” Williams said reluctantly, cursing his inherent need to do the decent thing, “You should know that Oxenstierna specifically said you shouldn’t get involved in this, that he wants you kept safe until the Braginski threat is neutralized.”
“Idiot,” Tino answered fondly, “As though I wouldn’t come for what’s mine.”
Williams blushed on Oxenstierna’s behalf, clearing his throat to cover his total lack of surprise, “Understood.”
“Now, if there are no other stupid objections, I’ve got a rescue to plan,” Tino said determinedly, hanging up the phone before Williams could get another word in edgewise, wondering if he was going to need to write up a interagency conflict of personal interest report for the Interpol commissioner this mission was completed.
Filing that away in the same corner of his mind that housed redacted requests regarding FABBA, Williams hit send on his reply to the crazy German’s reply and went off in search of that latte, hopeful that the Russian would give him at least ten minutes to get re-caffeinated before declaring a very foolish war on a very stubborn Finn.
Being held hostage was boring. Really, incredibly dull, Berwald quickly discovered as he was left alone to pass the hours chained to a radiator wearing nothing but his skivvies. He supposed that had he actually been the civilian paramour of a Finnish police officer, he might have entertained being scared after so much time abandoned in a hotel room, but as he didn’t feel inclined to give these creeps even the time of day, Berwald remained nothing more than bored.
Once he and Eduard had managed to scramble furiously to put together the most wicked piece of coding he’d ever crafted in ten minutes or less, there had been nothing to do but wait. It had been quite the task trying to get the job done with his wrists shackled and without his glasses, but Eduard had proven himself as adept a substitute partner as Berwald could have wanted. He’d even been quite calm regarding the unfortunate need to practically straddle Berwald’s pantless lap at one particularly critical moment in the hack and smash so Berwald could enter sensitive Interpol scripts with two fingers one painstaking key at a time.
Being chained to a radiator was not all it was cracked up to be.
After the initial thrill of playing at Jason Bourne had passed, the anxiety of waiting set in. At least for the first two hours, Eduard had been there to keep him company and distract him from his worry with adorable stories about Tino’s more notorious company holiday party shenanigans. He could almost picture Finland’s finest dressed up in red, wearing a long white beard, as he chased giggling children around the station. He could most definitely picture this same Santa-Tino drunk and commanding his lower ranked officers to sit on his lap and tell him what they got their beloved captain for Christmas.
Unfortunately, just as Eduard had started to smirk and lean closer, clearly intended to tell him a really juicy story, the lights in the room were cut at the same time a canister of something nefarious was tossed through the door. As the room had filled with smoke, the last thing he had heard was Eduard telling him not worry about him and to tell Tino he was really sorry about everything.
When he had managed to wake up from being drugged a second time, Berwald was pissed off, alone, and still chained to the same goddamned radiator. Apparently, Eduard’s services were needed elsewhere while Berwald was needed to guard the precious heating system of an unknown hotel in his skivvies. The bastards hadn’t even paid him the courtesy of a change of scenery, and though he knew he should be more than grateful that he remained a dull Swedish citizen in the eyes of a group of crazy criminals, the treatment still rankled. He wondered how long he would have to finance Williams’ latte habit to avoid any incriminating evidence from this particular…incident…being circulated among the other units, sadly aware that there was no amount of money he wouldn’t pay to keep any photos from ending up in the hands of a certain Hungarian.
In his boredom, he sat reciting multiplication tables and trying to come up with what to say when he and Tino met again. It was starting to get cold and his back ached from being pressed against metal for too long, but all Berwald could think about was how angry Tino was likely to be when he found out Berwald had been kidnapped and rescued without him knowing.
The thought of Tino being angry enough to refuse to even consider maybe going out drinking (or falling desperately in love) with him was daunting, but as he considered the danger that a man like Branginski posed, he decided it was a risk he had to take.
To keep Tino safe.
Even if keeping Tino safe was turning out to be a rather mind and ass numbing experience that offered far less glamor that the movies would have had him believe, Berwald was prepared to wait for Williams and the troops to come and finally save him from the perils of the radiator.
He had just reach the nine-times tables when the lights flickered ominously, causing him to hold his breath and close his eyes, hoping that whatever noxious substance the Russian used this time would cause far less headache and dry mouth. In the hallway there were angry shouts of languages he could barely discern, echoed by clipped footsteps and sudden bursts of violent noise that could be nothing other than gunshots. And when the entire building seemed to go still and quiet in the sudden plunge of darkness, Berwald felt his heart meet his Adam’s Apple and regretted his reckless wish for excitement, struggling against his bonds, the sound of metal scraping against metal mixing with the anxious sound of his breathing.
The door handle rattled and Berwald curled into as small of a ball as possible for a man of his size, hoping the darkness would conceal him until he knew if the foot that just kicked in the door belonged to a friend or foe.
“Well, well, fancy meeting you here!”
Even though he couldn’t make a damned thing with the bright beam of light assaulting his already tired eyes, there was no mistaking the sound of that voice or the sudden, rushing, gladness he felt in the three seconds it took for Berwald to realize that Tino had come for him, guns a-blazing…exactly the opposite of what he had intended.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” Berwald whispered, flushing when he realized he sounded far more like a relieved damsel meeting her prince than a surly agent trying to protect his partner.
Mercifully, Tino shifted the flashlight off his face, allowing him his first blurry glimpse of his Prince Charming. Cruelly, Tino smirked and ran his eyes up and down Berwald’s more or less naked and shackled body, taunting, “Too bad you’re not the boss of me.”
Berwald scowled, wishing that he had his glasses so he could properly ascertain good Tino looked in his uniform, grumbling, “Not safe. Braginski wantsyou. And here you are, right where he wants you to be.”
“You let me worry about that assclown,” Tino muttered, fumbling through his pockets, “And you worry about the fact that you’re chained to a heater in your boxers. Loser.”
Some Prince Charming, Berwald thought fondly, at once entirely certain that there was no force in the world that could keep them down for the count.
“Managed to get a message though APH’s firewall,” Berwald mumbled, clanking his favorite handcuffs against the radiator, “Forgive me if I couldn’t break through metal.”
Even without corrective aids for his vision, Berwald could see the the spread of Tino’s smile as he pulled something small and shiny out of his pocket with a flourish and an “ah-ha!” that was too cute for a situation as potentially deadly as this.
“Lucky for you,” Tino chortled, bringing the brightness of his grin closer as he crouched down, “I come fully prepared for search and rescue.”
“Bolt cutters?” Berwald guessed before every coherent thought flew right out the window with the unexpected sensation of Tino straddling his lap and reaching for his restraints. Tino was warm and heavy, all business and urgency, though the gloved fingers that touched the chafed skin of his wrists were soft and considerate.
It almost made being kidnapped and drugged twice totally worth it.
“Mmmhmm,” Tino murmured, breath running hot and quick across Berwald’s throat, hopefully too distracted by the task at hand to notice the goose bumps that spread over Berwald’s skin.
“Thanks for coming for me. Didn’t have to do that,” Berwald said quietly, trapped between the cold metal of the radiator and the rough fabric of Tino’s flak jacket.
“What? And miss the chance to have you in your underwear and entirely at my mercy?” Tino teased, lips pressed against his ear so soft and sweet that Berwald couldn’t help but groan as one wrist was set blissfully free.
He watched with wide, stunned eyes (desperately glad that at this distance, with only inches between them, even he could see clearly enough) as Tino brought the beleaguered hand to his lips and pressed a gentle kiss to the red, stinging skin.
“Don’t be stupid, of course I was going to come for you. We’re partners, right?”
“Oh,” Berwald managed, swallowing when Tino bit down on the tip of his thumb, agreeing dumbly, “Right.”
“Good,” Tino answered firmly before ending any further debate on the subject by replacing Berwald’s hand with Berwald’s lips, kissing him as forcefully as he’d kicked down the door. Unlike the door, Berwald was more than ready to grant Tino full access, parting his lips and returning the kiss as best as he could while still partially bound and running through every possible strategic reason Tino might have for kissing him, finally coming to the wonderful conclusion that Tino was kissing him for him.
He sighed his approval of this turn of events, wishing that he couldn’t hear shouts and the occasional burst of gun fire so he could properly appreciate the spread of Tino’s legs over his lap and the feeling of leather covered fingers spread over his bare chest.
“We should probably stop,” Tino whispered, breaking away after a particularly loud crash echoed in the hallway, only to lean back in and touch his tongue to the wetness on Berwald’s bottom lip, causing Berwald to weight the potential merits to having sex in the middle of a gun fight.
“Mmm,” Berwald murmured noncommittally, choosing to blame his lack of professional decisiveness on the double drugging and not the way Tino was nibbling on his neck and rubbing against him in an effort to free his other hand from its radiator prison.
“Christ,” Tino muttered as the walls rattled from another flash-bang-explosion, “Fucking Beilschmidt does not know the mean of subtle.”
“Nghgh,” Berwald half-moaned, half-mumbled, wishing to express both his agreement with that statement and the delicious distress Tino was causing with each little push-pull of his ass over Berwald’s barely clothed lap as he continued to struggle to wedge the bolt cutters between cuff and skin. At this point, he began to despair that there was anything that could overwhelm his desire.
And then, because fate had a very bad sense of humor and marvelous sense of timing, Ivan Branginski walked through the door, pressed a gun to Tino’s temple, and proved Berwald very wrong.
Berwald stayed perfect still, blood running cold at the sight of unrestrained glee in Braginski’s expression, his anxiety lessened only by the look of absolute boredom and disinterest on Tino’s still impossibly cute face.
“Do you mind?” Tino drawled, still tracing little patterns on Berwald’s chest, though the motion had changed from arousal to assurance, quieting the thrumming of his worried heart, “We’re busy.”
“Yes, I can see that…” Braginski stammered, obviously confused that a gun to the temple was not garnering the expected reaction, having underestimated Tino’s propensity for danger. He scowled and tried again, mussing Tino’s hair with the gun barrel and demanding quite politely for a man with his reputation, “But I think it is time for you to get up now, yes?”
“I’m good where I am,” Tino answered peaceably, actually nodding his head as though the gun made for a fabulous hair brush. He winked at Berwald before he asked in tone as slick and sugary as that syrup Williams was always nattering on about, “How about you, sweetie? You comfortable?”
Berwald grunted, keeping his gazed locked firmly on Braginski’s gun. He tried to stifle an instinctual groan of not entirely gone pleasure when Tino’s thighs tightened around his hips, once, twice, three times, all while Tino continued to make innocent doe eyes at an increasingly befuddled Russian. He hoped to all the gods that Tino was trying to send a message and not enjoying this scenario a little TOO much, because it was going to be really hard to top an impassioned make-out interrupted by a crazed criminal….but he was willing to try, if that’s what it took to get Tino to flex around him like this some other time, when a bed might be involved.
Thanks to the momentary distraction of thigh induced fantasies, it took Berwald a sweet second to register that Tino’s hand was creeping slowly from behind his back, moving by inches in an effort to keep the bolt cutters from clanging against the metal of the radiator or the handcuff. Alarmed and not a little impressed by the stealth, Berwald realized that Tino was intending to strike Braginski with the bolt cutters. While it made sense to use what weapon was on hand when Tino’s gun was currently digging into Berwald’s hip, it an incredibly risky move to take against a man with at least six inches and fifty pounds on his adorably insane partner.
And while Tino was presumably trying to take out a criminal mastermind, he would play the role of pathetic man in boxers, still partially chained to a heater.
People wondered why he hated field work.
“So. Sorry and all that, Ivan, I know you’ve got some sort of weird yen for yours truly and I am sure we’d have lots in common if we ever had a chance to talk, but I’m all set with Berwald and we’re not really looking for a third,” Tino said breezily, rolling his hips and he turning his head to kiss the cold metal of the gun, drawing Braginski’s gaze to his face and away from the shifting of his arm. “No hard feelings?”
Braginski didn’t have a chance to express the hardness of his feelings as Berwald arched his hips and pushed Tino, wild and unrestrained out of his lap, leveraging him and his impromptu weapon into the softness of Braginski’s stomach. Tino grunted as they rolled to the ground, Braginski yelping as the cutters made quite the impression on his soft, fleshy middle, giving Tino just enough of an opening to make a play for the mobster’s gun.
Berwald tried his damnedest to help, struggling to kick Braginski in the shins while Tino assaulted him with fists and bolt cutters, hampered by the scope of his poor, blurred vision and the flashlight rolling on the ground casting eerie shadows on the wall. Tino shouted, voice full of adrenaline and rage as his fist connected with Braginski’s nose and the gun clattered to the floor, skittering just out of the bastard’s grasp.
“Berwald!” Tino yelled when Braginski rolled him over, using his superior height and weight to crowd Tino on the ground, “Get the fucking gun!”
Berwald slid to the furthest extent of the radiator, bare foot reaching for the gun, only to slide against the firm concrete, nearly braining Tino, as the Finn and Braginski struggled. Berwald registered the jumble of shapes from the corner of his eye, a huge fuzzy shadow rising looming against the lighted door. He kicked out again, foot catching the gun with a painful smack.
The heavy magnum swirled in arcs toward the darkest corner, shadows eating its sleek metal finish. Berwald’s flailing foot swung back, throbbing with the unconsidered impact of metal on skin. Warm and huge, a hand grabbed the trailing foot, and pulled. Berwald’s arms went taut. He gasped in pain as the metal of the hand cuffs chomped into tendon and skin. The hand yanked again, and Berwald had the sickening feeling that his joints were going to fly apart in protest, but he could see Tino rearing up in a line of dark blue. Braginski pulled once more, perhaps trying to bash Tino with the only weapon in his hand.
And the bolt cutters came down. Thud and whump. Berwald went slack, just as something heavy bounded off his ankle. Trying to see under the arm attached to the radiator, Berwald realized that it had been Braginsky’s head. He let out a breath, seeing Tino’s dark blue blotch moving closer to him.
“Are you alright?” Tino asked breathlessly, tossing the bolt cutters on top of Braginski’s stomach, adding insult to injury as he crawled towards Berwald’s outstretched hand.
Berwald marveled that a man who had just been in a fight with a gun-toting criminal thought to ask after his well being first, nodding and murmuring his assent as one gloved hand finally laced with his squeezing so tightly Berwald winced with pleasant pain.
“Don’t worry about me,” Berwald mumbled, trying to drag Tino closer, needing him within six to twelve inches to be able to actually see if there was any damage. “Was worried about you.”
Tino smirked and helped him sit back up, once more in a familiar position against his dearly beloved radiator. “Ha, I’m fine. That guy’s ass was toast from the minute he decided to fuck with what was mine.”
Berwald was relieved that Tino shuffled away to fetch the bolt cutters that spelled his long awaited freedom, happy that he couldn’t see the flush that spread across his face. “Your partner?”
Tino returned to him with a smile and wink, kissing the warmth of his cheek as he crouched down and finally, blessedly set him free—the sound of the cuff hitting the floor clamoring to be heard over Tino’s lovely, happy whisper. “Just mine. I kind of decided that the minute I saw that empty syringe and knew you’d been taken. Hope you don’t mind.”
Flexing his fingers and twisting his wrist, Berwald took advantage of the full use of all his limbs to cup the sweetness of Tino’s face and kiss the blossoming bruise gained from his tussle with Russian, murmuring, “I don’t argue with the man holding a gun.”
“Good call,” Tino answering laughingly, sliding between the parting of Berwald’s legs as he touched his lips just below the red and ruined skin of Berwald’s wrists, blowing over the aching skin, “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Mmm,” Berwald agreed without hesitation, even though his hand stung with the feeling of returning sensation and his joints still throbbed. He spared a thought for one who had caused his injuries, feeling it was his professional duty to request medical treatment followed by a lifetime in prison for their assailant. “Should probably call for backup, right?”
Professionalism died a quick and painless death when Tino swung his leg over Berwald’s hips and climbed right back into the lap he’d been so unfortunately forced to vacate moments earlier, shaking his head and pressing a finger to Berwald’s lips. “Don’t worry about him. He’ll wake up with a headache and in chains, but he’ll be fine.”
“Appropriate.” Berwald muttered smugly, appreciating just how well the universe seemed to be working in his favor despite the hours spent in half-naked humiliation and boredom. He luxuriated in the feeling of Tino warm and pliant between both of his hands, still questioning whether or not this wasn’t all some drug induced fantasy brought on by shady black market intoxicants.
“I thought so,” Tino replied lowly, teeth nipping at the soft flesh of his ear while nimble fingers continued to skate over his chest and arms, grounding him in reality, “I think my consideration deserves a little reward, don’t you?”
Berwald smiled and wrapped both his sore and tired arms around Tino’s waist and allowed himself to be pushed to the floor, ignoring the roughness of the carpet in favor of the lusty gaze even he could see when their faces were like this, so close he could feel Tino’s breath on his skin.
“You think so?” Berwald teased, spreading his legs and groaning when Tino rocked against him with a quickly little shimmy that told him everything he needed to know about Finns and penchants for danger. Wherever this took him, he had no doubt that it was going to be one hell of a ride.
“Of course. Haven’t you read your fairy tales? Or watched your romantic comedies?” Tino murmured, tongue touching the curve of his bottom lip while hands rushed from shoulders to hips, still wandering and restless, “The damsel in distress always gives it up to the handsome price.”
Berwald’s laugh was smothered by Tino’s smiling lips, kissing him sweetly and playfully, tasting of adrenaline and victory. He pushed his fingers into Tino’s hair, holding him in place so he could properly pay his respects to his hero, giving as good as he got while he attempted to prove to Tino that damsel though he might have been, he was no blushing virgin.
But with each touch of Tino’s hands and brush of his mouth, Berwald was increasingly certain that he had no objection to being ravished by the dashing savior. And though it lacked some of the romance of a classic tale, Berwald decided that if Tino continued that naughty rock and roll of his hips, he would be amenable to his debauching taking place right here and right now, unconscious Russians notwithstanding.
Unfortunately, it seemed the Russian had an unwitting compatriot in the task force of bad timing, as Berwald’s R-rated reverie was interrupted by a tragically familiar voice.
“Whoa, whoa! This is NOT mission protocol!” Their dubious back-up screeched as he came through the door, gun still blazing, “What the hell are you doing on top of the hostage, Väinämöinen?”
Berwald felt Tino’s displeasure at the interruption rumble through his chest, sharing in the disappointment when Tino’s mouth unsealed from his neck with a loud, obscene pop.
“I’m checking him for injuries,” Tino groused sarcastically, sitting up in Berwald’s lap and shouting the intruder a look so filthy even Berwald could sense the imminent death in the glare, “What the fuck does it look like I’m doing, Beilschmidt?”
“Oh,” Gilbert said quickly, dropping his weapon and making the deeply unnecessary decision to come to Berwald’s side and press his fingers to the racing pulse in his throat, effectively killing any mood that might have dared to linger, “You know we have medics on site for this shit, right?”
The force with which Tino’s palm hit his forehead told Berwald everything he needed to know as to why Braginski was still knocked out.
“You’re something else, Beilschmidt,” Tino complained bitterly, clambering off of Berwald’s lap and shoving their latest unwelcome third away from his fumbling inspection of Berwald’s vitals.
“I am pretty fucking awesome,” Gilbert crowed, as blissfully unaware as ever. Berwald counted himself fortunate that he could not properly see the frightening twist of the German’s smile as he helped him to his feet and slung an arm around his shoulders, “You can thank me for the save later, Big Swede.”
“There better not be any thanking,” Tino grumbled, while Berwald attempted not to choke on the thought of showing Gilbert that kind of gratitude. “Well, since you’re here now, we might as well get this guy to a medic and take out the trash.”
“Damn right,” Gilbert answered with too much enthusiasm, gently prodding the Russian with his boot, “And you’re not going to believe this—-turns out this loser is just the muscle. His older sister is the brains behind the whole operation.”
Tino whistled and hip checked Gilbert out of the way, resuming his recently elected position as Berwald holder-in-chief. “And we’ve got her in custody? What about my man, Von Bock?”
“Fraid not,” Gilbert said disgustedly, spitting on the floor and scratching his head with the butt of his gun, “They got away. She and her sister—-who has one hell of right hook I might add,” Gilbert said appreciatively, rubbing the gun against his cheek, “Fled the building with that hacker-nerd in tow—no offense, Big B—while we were busy creating a distraction.”
“Shit,” Tino cursed, knocking his forehead against Berwald’s chest, hiding his worry and his disappointment. Berwald sighed and pushed two tired, sore fingers beneath Tino’s chin, murmuring his low assurances,
“We’ll get him back.”
Tino smiled, bright and clear like a spring morning, leaning too close for professional comfort as he said, “Of course we will.”
“Together,” Berwald whispered, tempted to risk sending Beilschmidt into a flailing rage and make the inches that separated his lips from Tino’s disappear.
“Sorry to interrupt your totally unauthorized strategy session,” Gilbert said with loud disapproval, earning himself a permanent place on Berwald’s “do not agree to interagency cooperation” list, “But the doc’s here to check out the princess.”
Berwald allowed Tino to deliver their shared sentiments via extended middle finger and hissed Finnish he was fairly glad he did not understand. As the doctor separated him from Tino’s possessive grasp, he tried to remember that the poor medic had not asked to be involved in Beilschmidt’s inadvertent cockblocking operations while he endured the cold press of a stethoscope and welcomed the warmth of a blanket wrapped around his still bare shoulders. While he waited to be given a clean bill of health, he watched Tino and Gilbert manhandle Braginski into handcuffs, letting the sweetness of revenge assuage his abused wrists.
“Well, everything seems in order, Mr. Oxenstierna,” the medic answered at length, quickly stepping back to make room for the insistence of Tino’s return only to frown with displeasure when Tino insinuated himself between Berwald’s chest and the folds of the blanket.
“What?” Tino asked innocently, wriggling his hips against Berwald in a way that was anything but innocent, “I’m just keeping him warm in case he’s suffering from shock.”
Berwald hid his amusement in the mess of Tino’s hair, pursing his lips in an imperceptible kiss of thanks and adoration while his hands snaked around the waist he was quickly coming to know very well.
“Hpmh,” the unimpressed doctor answered, waving their antics off haughtily, “Just make sure Agent Oxenstierna doesn’t do anything strenuous for a few days.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll make sure he stays in bed all weekend,” Tino replied helpfully, turning within the span of Berwald’s embrace to wrap his arms around his neck. He winked and stretched on his toes to touch his pretty, tempting mouth to Berwald’s cheek, murmuring, “You’re going to follow the doctor’s orders, aren’t you, Agent?”
In the not so distant blur of his vision Berwald knew that Beilschmidt was hauling Braginski to his feet, that there was a sour faced medic lurking in the periphery, and countless agents of more bureaus that he cared to count running rampant through the hallways. There was more work to be done, other damsels to be rescued and a network to be brought to its knees.
And yet, the only thing he could see clearly was the sweet smile of Tino’s promise, asking him if he wanted to go home and take a shot at a partnership of another kind entirely.
Berwald smiled and closed his tired eyes, trusting Tino to close the distance separating their kiss as he mumbled, “Yes, sir.”
It didn’t happen right away. For all that Berwald had been two minutes away from doing his fairy tale duty and giving Tino his princely reward for saving him from the boredom of the radiator, in the immediate aftermath of his rescue, professionalism prevented prurience. Though his sore and roughed-up hands very much wanted to be held by the softness of Tino’s gloves fingers, Berwald had no other choice but to let the German with the impeccably bad sense of timing pull him aside and grill him for every last detail of his abduction. He did, after all, have a responsibility to help recover Eduard from the Branginski sisters’ clutches and to fulfill the promise he had made to his…partner…to bring Eduard home.
He knew that as soon as Tino had managed to get his commanding officer in Helsinki on the line, he was going through much the same ordeal, rehashing each blow and bruise in the hopes of putting a puzzle together that would lead to the heart of APH. While Gilbert continued pestering him, Berwald stood wrapped in his blanket and tried to catch Tino’s gaze to offer what support he could while they each rehashed the events of the night. He watched as Tino’s expression wavered between grim and gleeful, thankful that the flickers of happiness seemed to alight whenever their eyes met, warmed that Tino also seemed to be wearying of the incessant questioning.
For a moment, Berwald considered paying the Interrupter-in-Chief back by telling him exactly what he’d stumbled upon, but decided against such acts of retribution knowing full well that Gilbert’s slavish dedication to proper documentation and filing would ensure that the explicit details of his first aborted attempt at sex with Tino would be on record at Interpol for all time. Instead, he tamped down his growing desire to cross the ten meters between Tino’s irritated frown and his impatient lips that wanted to make it all better, to pick up where they had left off and make sure that Tino really did intend to kiss him when their lives weren’t in grave danger, and tried to do his job.
Just when he had give up all hope of escaping the crime scene, Berwald’s second big save of the day arrived. To be sure, this one lacked Tino’s flare with firearms, but when Williams strode through the door, balancing a cup of coffee in one hand and an iPad in the other as he promptly sidled up to Beilschmidt, and mildly informed him he had his own damage reports that needing filling out now, Berwald had never been so grateful.
“Help with Tino?” Berwald mumbled under his breath when Williams waved off his thanks for ridding him of the German stickler, hoping that perhaps Interpol’s secret weapon could extricate his ride out of this place.
Williams shook his head, laughing a little as he sipped his coffee and watched Beilschmidt grumble over the multitude of incident reports that needed his immediate review. “Fraid not. But you could always just pretend to feel a little faint so they’ve got no choice but to let him whisk you out of here and get you somewhere more comfortable.”
“Good idea,” Berwald said, impressed by Williams’ casual recommendation that he deceive their mutual colleagues, “Think I am feeling a little light headed.”
“Yes,” Williams intoned seriously, smiling over the rim of his cup, “You’ve had quite a shock. Who could blame you for wanting to go lie down?”
Berwald smirked and attempted to appear as pathetic and pitiable as possible after Williams patted his shoulder and wandered off to supervise Gilbert’s antics, slumping against the wall and waiting for Tino to take notice. Happily, Tino was as efficient in noticing and catching on to his false distress as he was in dispatching Russian mobsters. Without saying a word, Tino arched an amused eyebrow at Berwald’s hunched figure before snapping the phone shut and pushing through the crowds of medics and Beilschmidt’s men to slide beneath the curve of Berwald’s arm and start leading him out of the room.
“Hey!” Gilbert shouted at their turned backs, clearly disapproving of the breach in protocol, only to be startled into silence by Tino’s sharp rebuke,
“Say one more word, Beilschmidt, and I’ll tell Héderváry about Prague.”
Berwald didn’t really care what happened in Prague, but knew enough about Héderváry to know whatever had happened in Prague was scandalous enough to earn them both free and unquestioned passage out of Gilbert’s presence and into uncharted territory. He peered down at the blur of Tino’s blond hair and the dark stain of his uniform, a headache threatening behind his tired yes as he looked forward with anticipation and anxiety as to what happened next.
“Thanks for saving me,” Berwald whispered into Tino’s hair as they crept towards the exit of his hotel prison, “Again.”
Tino smiled at him and splayed his fingers over Berwald’s still bare stomach, teasing his skin under the blanket. “Don’t be ridiculous. Beilschmidt be damned, I intend to collect my reward.”
Berwald halted their strategic retreat to turn Tino within the span of his arms, cupping his face between his abraded palms to narrow the distance so he could see the honesty and warmth in Tino’s gaze and the playful desire in his smile. This close he could just make out the marks of Tino’s struggle to free him, a strange contrast to the sweetness of Tino’s flushed cheeks, as much a contradiction as the rest of his adorably foul mouthed rescuer. Berwald sighed as Tino let his eyes drift shut and leaned just so into Berwald’s space, quietly demanding the kiss Berwald was more than willing to give. It was only marginally more appropriate to be embracing in the abandoned parking lot of a crime scene, Berwald knew, but there was something more romantic in a kiss shared without danger, without adrenaline, but with absolute intent.
And in the assurance of Tino’s grin and the softness of his touch, Berwald lost the last lingering vestiges of doubt and finally let loose all the affection and admiration he’d felt since the first time Tino stroked his gun as though it was beloved. While they walked together in an awkward, blanket draped shuffle towards one of the patrol cars in the lot of some unknown hotel in a part of Helsinki he didn’t recognize, Berwald clung to Tino’s cling and listened to Tino hum FABBA.
Even after their daring escape from what turned out to be a derelict hotel next to Helsinki-Vantaa, there were still matters of practicality that took their turn before passion. Namely, there had been the three stops in Helsinki in search of a tolerable substitute pair of glasses. Though Berwald had mumbled that he needed them to stave off the very real possibility of strain-induced migraines, he wondered if Tino suspected that in actuality he didn’t give a damn about headaches but wanted dearly to be able to see Tino’s face properly the next time they kissed.
But it had been worth the wait, worth the indignity of sitting in a cop car half naked while Tino rushed through super-markets and drugstores finding anything remotely close to his prescription, when he slid the frames on to his face and finally got to appreciate just how cute Tino’s smirk really was just before it was pressed against his lips.
By the time they reached Tino’s apartment, Berwald was almost positive he had not been kissed so thoroughly in a car since he was eighteen. By the time they made it up the four flights of stairs, laughing and panting as they tried to skip as many steps as possible while still holding hands, Berwald was entirely certain he had never been so smitten, not even when he’d been young and stupid.
Hanatamago’s wild joy at their return stole Tino’s attention from him momentarily, but Berwald didn’t mind, happy to be once more be safe in the comfort and closeness of Tino’s lfe, watching him unholster his gun and bend down to let his little dog lick his fingers and welcome him home.
“Did you miss us, sweetheart?” Tino cooed, shedding his jacket as Hana raced to Berwald, favoring him with her wet and rough expressions of adoration.
Berwald hid his smile as he crouched low and scratched between the dog’s ears, enjoying the sound of us echoing in his ears. Behind his new glasses, his eyes fell shut from pleasant surprise as Tino’s hand covered his against Hanatamago’s soft fur and Tino’s soft lips brushed over his, murmuring, “Just let me take our girl out for a walk and I’ll be all yours.”
“Mmm,” Berwald mumbled in ready agreement as he parted his lips to the quick dip and tease of Tino’s tongue, liking the idea of Tino being all his. He couldn’t help a low groan when both man and dog shuffled away, frowning playfully into Tino’s knowing smile as he stood up and stretched his arms over his head, wondering if Tino had always looked at him like he was as alluring as the first cup of coffee after a long night. “I’ll take a shower while you’re out.”
Tino smiled at him, licking the lips Berwald had just whetted, “Good call. Wash off the radiator and the Russian.” Berwald started to make for the bedroom that had been his throughout their relationship charade, only to feel his desire turn thick and sweet at the words Tino called out as he left, “Wrong room, Oxenstierna.”
In the shower, the hot water stung and soothed as it poured over his scrapes and bruises and sluiced down his chest and over his cock, still half-hard from the chaotic kisses of the car. And the stairwell. And the hallway. And the entry way.
Berwald closed his eyes and tilted his head into the spray, letting his hands drift idly over his skin, leaving trails of soap and suds as he recalled the sound of Tino’s voice when he’d murmured that he was always coming to come for him.
“Hey now, no starting without me.”
Berwald’s eyes flew open and the soap slipped from his fingers, clattering against the tile while the shower door slid open to reveal Tino in all his naked and blurry glory. Berwald swallowed and wiped face as he stepped out of the deluge of water, groaning, “Hand me my glasses.”
Tino laughed and teased, “What is it with you and your obsession with these?” even as he obliged by handing Berwald the cheap substitute pair and sliding into the narrowness of the tub.
“Want to see you,” Berwald confessed, unable to keep his hands from reaching for Tino’s waist now that he could admire the loveliness of Tino’s nudity, so seemingly vulnerable and sweet without its armor.
Tino pushed in close, eager fingers threading into his hair while wicked lips touched his throat and took first hand evidence of the way his breath caught when Tino’s cock brushed against his thigh. “You can see me anytime you like.”
“That so?” Berwald asked lowly, pushing his leg between the spread of Tino’s knees, answering of the bold question in the hips arching into his hold, urging his hands to drift from waist to the rich slope of Tino’s ass. He was thankful for the nip of Tino’s teeth at his shoulder, the sharpness of his impatience reminding him that this was not another of his fruitless fantasies…that the body slick and soft within his arms was as real as the yearning he’d carried in his heart.
“Its an order,” Tino murmured into his ear before sucking on the lobe and rubbing himself against the thigh pressed between his legs, curling his fingers around Berwald’s cock and making him moan. “Now, touch me.”
Berwald borrowed a few of Tino’s choicest curse words, hissing them into the water’s echo while Tino brushed his thumb over the head of his cock and licked up the curve of his neck to take control of Berwald’s mouth. Just as he’d dreamed, Tino took the lead, rushing in with a wild, exuberant kiss that brooked no refusal while he waited for Berwald to devise the follow-through strategy that would get them both where they wanted to go.
Berwald returned Tino’s kiss, tasted his happiness and risked implementing a plan that was more Finnish that Swedish as he wrapped his arm around Tino’s waist and hauled him against the shower wall. He swallowed the sound of Tino’s approving gasp, refusing to be distracted from the task of pinning warmth and wetness between the breadth of his chest and white tile, welcoming the confident twine of legs around his hips and a hand in his hair.
“Very nice,” Tino whispered hotly when Berwald broke from their kiss to breath and spread his legs wide enough to ensure that Tino was safe within his hold. “Now this is a skill. You’ve been holding out on me, Berry.”
In retaliation for the horror of Berry, Berwald dragged his teeth along Tino’s pretty collarbone, glad to finally know how it felt beneath his tongue. “Think I should test it in the field?”
Tino laughed and rolled his hips in teasing little circles, cock hot and flush against Berwald’s stomach as they rocked together. “Only if by field, you mean my bed.”
“I do,” Berwald answered, kissing the stain of pink on Tino’s cheeks while the water splashed against his back and he cupped his hands beneath Tino’s ass and titled him forward.
“Hell,” Tino moaned as their cocks slid together, slick and hot and wanting, “In that case, yes. You should.”
Berwald kissed the amusement and pleasure from Tino’s breathless lips, envisioning long and hard nights of training while he pushed Tino against the wall and sighed at the feeling of Tino within the span of his arms, urging him on with little nips and wicked shimmies. The fingers splayed against the sweet curve of Tino’s bottom tightened and trembled as Berwald watched through splattered lenses when Tino trailed one finger down the length of his chest to tease at the tip of dick.
“Should I know I’m a very demanding captain,” Tino whispered, before spreading his hand to let Berwald drink in the sight of his thumb brushing the head of his own cock, tormenting them both. Berwald shuddered and dropped his head against Tino’s shoulder, picking up the pace of his thrusts while he kissed and sucked the wonder that was Tino’s skin, all his for the worshipping.
“Practice?” Berwald asked, a low rumble to match the burning in his chest when he felt a small but firm hand, the hand that had saved him, stretch around their cocks and stroke.
“For as long as you need.”
Berwald smiled, the tiny curving of his lips breaking the stern expression of concentrated desire as he met Tino’s offer with ready acceptance. “‘M up for the challenge.”
Tino moaned and bent his neck to meet the desperate searching of Berwald’s mouth, rolling his hips in time with the arch of Berwald’s body, trying wildly to stroke and rub and touch and grind as they kissed beneath the spray. He could feel the shaking in the thighs wrapped warm and slick around his waist and the urgency in the messiness of their embrace, wishing he had more presence of mind to savor each new sound Tino made when their cocks brushed together between the tight circle of Tino’s fist.
The rush that had been building since the first touch of Tino’s lips in the darkness of a hotel room surged harder and faster, urged on by Tino’s breathy moans and the guttural demands for more, more, more. In this as in all things, Tino commanded his attention, commanded all his willingly given best efforts. Berwald struggled to keep his eyes open, struggled to watch Tino’s lips open wide as his gaze fell shut and he came with a hot splash against Berwald’s stomach.
Even through the smear of his wet glasses, Berwald was certain he’d never seen anyone look quite so good, kissing Tino as he gasped and shook and threatened to break free from Berwald’s hold. He barely felt Tino’s come wash too quickly from his chest, distracted by the sudden urgency of the fingers wrapped around him, drawing him forth with long strokes and the soft brush of a thumb over the head. He wanted to look down, to see Tino’s hand around him, but surrendered to Tino’s unspoken order that their kiss remain unbroken.
His moan muffled by Tino’s lips and his cock held within Tino’s capable, trusting hands, Berwald closed his eyes and came with such force he did not realize that Tino was now cradling him until the haze of desire had cleared. He looked up from the Tino’s shoulder to find they were now both on their knees in the tub, meeting Tino’s adorable expression of amusement through his fogged glasses. Tino brushed his hair from his face and brought one tired and bruised wrist to his lips, kissing the reddened skin gently.
Berwald wondered if it was possible to blush when all the blood in his body was elsewhere, giving up the fight as he welcomed Tino into a loose knot of limbs and held him close.
“Not bad,” Tino murmured, kissing his ear and his jaw, “Though you need to work on your dismount.”
“Tomorrow?” Berwald offered boldly, though his body ached for to be in bed curled next to Tino, chasing sleep.
“Well, I did I promise to keep you in bed all weekend,” Tino answered merrily, yawning and resting his head against Berwald’s chest, “And it is best to follow orders. Don’t you agree as a fellow officer of the law?”
Berwald smiled and thought of the request that had come across his desk not so long ago and thought of the tasks ahead. All the many ways they would now cooperate.
“Yes, sir, I do.”