“Number Seven…” part 8 [original fiction]

"Number Seven and the Life Left Behind" - bonusparts original fiction part 7

part 8

 

As with many of the troublesome times over his life, Natalya turned out to be Seven’s savior.

“Emigration in itself should not be so difficult,” she explained as they sat together on a bench in the park, over carry-away coffees.

Sitting beside her with his elbows on his thighs, Seven rolled his emptied cup in his hands. He’d had to wait two days for the security lockdown at the hotel to be lifted, another two days for the athletes’ commute schedule to the gym complex to return to normal, and an additional three days after that before he felt safe enough to get away for a few hours into the city, under the guise of buying some gourmet chocolates. That excuse that might have been flimsy otherwise, except that Kirill was making an honest effort to be nice to Darya, and Darya did love chocolate.

“Even for who they are?” he asked, and Natalya made a noise of indifference.

“It is still a free country. You know, for the most part. I would think your superiors would have more anxiety over any bad press they might get for keeping them locked up.” She smirked. “Pretty faces generate more interest with any media.”

He marveled at her calm composure, when the little pieces of the puzzle of her life as he knew it snapped gently into place. “You have done this before,” he said, partly in awe.

She cast him a sly, sidelong glance. “I am sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Seven swung his head, muttering to himself, “Why did I not see it before?”

“Because men often do not see what is right in front of their faces,” she said, primly but with a touch of annoyance. She paused, and added in a more serious tone, “Unfortunately, even a blind man would spot you running for the border.”

He had to silently admit agreement, but told her, “I am the lesser concern.”

“Not to me.”

He sat back, breathing a sigh through his nose. “Natalya…!”

Her chin puckered with a frown. “There was a time you would call me Tasha.”

He coughed. “When we were children!”

The bench creaked as she shifted her hips. “I was no child.”

“You were not built like a child,” he said. “But you were, what? Fifteen?”

“Sixteen,” she corrected, before drifting into a thoughtful, smooth-skinned daze. “And you were that shining young soldier. So proud in your uniform, so tall and strong and beautiful.” She smiled in her musing. “Everyone thought so.”

“They thought that about you,” he said, thinking of the way she glided with him in impossibly-high heels across a dance floor; “in that gold dress that caught the light whenever you moved.” He lingered in that far-off memory of simpler, more trusting times, when he’d believed so much in the world around him that he’d been willing to risk his life to preserve it. Now, he was risking his life to run from it.

Natalya lost some of her nostalgia, too. “That dress was hideous,” she said, and Seven laughed out loud to spite his melancholy.

“But you wore it like a princess,” he said.

One corner of her mouth twitched into a sardonic half-smile. Then, she became wholly serious once more. “The paperwork I can help arrange. And, it is safe behind embassy walls, relatively speaking. The only tricky part will be getting there.”

Seven hummed. “We will need a car. Preferably an untraceable one.”

“What about one with diplomatic plates?” she said, and when he widened his eyes at her, she raised her slender, unadorned fingers for a blasé waggle. “You are already going to the consulate. It will be easier to get you there in one of their cars.”

He didn’t quite want to believe it could be so simple. “You think that will work?”

“I have told you: my ambassador friend likes me owing him.”

“As much as I owe you?” he asked, half-jesting.

“You owe me nothing.” There seemed to be more words behind that sentiment, but she didn’t say them. Instead, she stood up, shaking her takeaway cup. “Give me a few days to make arrangements. And do not call, not on your phone. I will contact you at the hotel.”

“How?” he said, rising with her.

“You’ll know. Now, come.” She used her head to gesture toward the street. “I will buy you those chocolates you need.”

“I can buy my own chocolates,” he chided.

“I am sure you can.” Her lips glistened in another wide smile. “But then how would I excuse spending more time with you?”

“Perhaps I am your day-off man. The one you do not need to impress.”

She sniggered. “I expend much effort to impress you. You just don’t notice.”

“I notice.” He shifted so they faced each other head-on. She was close enough to take in his arms, but he kept his hands at his sides, instead only bowing his head for a hushed confession. “I will miss you.”

“No, you won’t.” Before he could protest, she told him, “I am going with you.”

His spine went shock-straight. “What? But, your life here—”

“Would not be much of a life,” she replied, “if I am going to spend most of it worrying about where you are and what you are up to.”

A mix of conflicting emotions rolled in his chest. Despite them, Seven pulled a tiny half-smile. “Are you sure?”

She put her hand on his sleeve, not gripping but with intent. “I am not going to let you simply walk out of my life again. I have learned my lesson from the last time.”

He touched her fingers and let a fuller smile come through. “What would I do without you?”

She matched his smile, though hers broke a bit at the corners. “Let us not find out,” she said, and threaded her hand under his elbow, to hold herself close to his side.

Two days later, Seven received a message that there was a package waiting for him at the main desk. He went to retrieve it, only to run into Number Ten on the way.

She didn’t look happy. Of course, happiness generally seemed to be out of her realm of personal possibility, but this was different. She strode toward him swiftly, on an unerring course, and stopped only when she had successfully barred his way.

“Your target,” she said without greeting, and Seven pushed his shoulders back.

“I have told you before—”

“Assignment, then,” she corrected, and spread her feet and clasped her hands behind her back, a soldier at ease even though she looked just as rigid as before.

Seven took her stance at face value. “What about him?”

“Tell him to stay away from Ms Vikhrova,” she said, and, inside his torso, Seven’s belly contracted. He’d warned both Kirill and Darya to keep a low profile. If Control decided to put them under extra surveillance – or, worse, under another lockdown – any plans they had made would be for shit. His brain raced for an excuse, when Ten caught him off his guard once again.

“She’s difficult enough to control without him arousing her,” she said, furrowing her tall brow.

The tension fluttered out from him with three quick blinks. “He arouses her?”

“He struts in front of her in his tight clothes or tiny swimsuit. It’s distracting.”

“Is it?” he said, clamping a smile behind his teeth.

Her nostrils flared ever so slightly. “These men and women are here to train,” she went on, raising her head in an attempt to regain her normally-perfect composure. “Not engage in extra-curricular hanky-panky.”

“Hanky-panky,” Seven repeated dubiously, and Ten responded with a tight-lipped frown.

“You may not take your duty seriously, but I do.”

Seven pulled himself straight. “I assure you—”

“I am the highest-ranking woman in this division,” Ten snapped. “Yet, I’m still only number Ten. This assignment is already a demotion. I won’t jeopardize it any more by letting your ward swing his dick around in front of mine.”

Seven raised an open palm and patted the air, in an effort to settle her ire. “I will make sure Kirill keeps the strutting to a minimum,” he said, and paused for a smirk. “For all of your sakes.”

Ten offered no reaction to his teasing, save for pulling her lips tight before walking away with her spine as straight as a rifle barrel.

Seven allowed himself a breath of relief at her back. In many ways, he preferred Ten to her predecessor, though she could still turn out to be a problem. Like every sniper Seven had ever known, she was a cold, consummate professional who did not question orders when they came down the line. This bodyguard assignment was new to her, but she was a fast learner. And, she had those eagle eyes. They would have to be cautious.

He got to the front desk and requested his parcel from the attendant, a dark man with a bouncy pompadour that Kirill would have envied. After a quick trip to the back, he laid a long, flat box on the counter. Seven signed for it, thanked him, and carried the box away in his arms, puzzling over its possible contents.

The return address was from a clothier in the city. Seven had passed the storefront many times but had never ventured inside; his salary didn’t cover that level of extravagance. Natalya’s must have done, though. He couldn’t think of anyone else from whom the package could have come.

He took the box to the lockers, where Kirill and the rest of the team were doing an afternoon speed session. They weren’t finished, yet, so Seven took the time to investigate the box. He snapped the courier security wrapping with a forceful but controlled pull of his fingers, unraveled a second layer of packaging and lifted the top of the box.

The white crepe paper crinkled as he slipped his hand beneath it and shifted it aside. Within, a black silk shirt shined up at him. He pulled set the box top beside him and lifted out the shirt. At first, he thought it must be for Kirill, but the shoulders were too wide, and the cut of the neck too thick. This was meant for him.

Cufflinks clattered to the bottom of the box as he shifted the shirt, as well as something lighter.

He picked up the fallen business card. On one side was embossed the word Escape, the name of a dance house in the club sector, while on the other was a handwritten message in a precise, flowing script.

Tomorrow, 9 o’clock. Bring your friends.
Ever yours,
Cleo

Despite Natalya’s sultry subterfuge, a nugget of nervousness jumped from the pit of Seven’s belly to the top of his chest. Tomorrow night. The end of his life as he’d known it. So far.

He put the card in his pocket and folded the shirt back into its box, looking up again just in time to see Kirill emerge from the showers in his usual fashion, naked and wet. Seven stood up, grabbed a towel from the pile, and handed it to Kirill. He held on to his end for an extra moment, to draw the younger man’s attention.

“You have been cooped up too long. We should get out.” He paused, and added in a deeper voice, “Tomorrow night.”

Panic flashed in Kirill’s eyes, but he recovered with a blink. He took the towel and forced a shaky smile. “Darya, too?”

Seven nodded.

Kirill swallowed, put on another nervous smile, and nodded back.

With no time for elaborate planning, they made none, just agreed to get to the club on time the following evening and be ready to run.

“We should invite the others,” Darya murmured to Seven at the dessert table that evening; meal-times were the least conspicuous way for them to talk.

He hovered beside her, making a show of trying to decide between pastry or fruit for his empty plate. “Ten will be there, too, then,” he warned.

Darya slathered chocolate sauce around a dainty biscuit. “She would be, anyway. It will be easier to slip away if she has more than me to look after, no?”

That made sense, but… “I still do not like it.”

Darya raised her gray eyes at him and brought her thumb, which was marked with a dab of spilled chocolate, to her lips. “What choice do we have?” she said, sucking the chocolate sauce from her finger as she moved away.

Seven had no good answer to that question.

The suggestion of getting out for some entertainment in the city spread through both teams like flames over drybrush. Nearly every training session, meal, and passing conversation to follow buzzed with plans and schemes to make the night one to remember. Seven was certain it would be so, one way or another.

That evening, while Number Four brought around the transport van and the rest of the men’s team horsed around near the valet stand outside, Seven stood by Kirill in the lobby. He played absently with his own cuffs, but Kirill fully fidgeted, biting his lip and rubbing at the back of his neck like a nervous groom. Seven was about to advise him to relax, because such conspicuous behavior was bound to get noticed by his teammates or – worse – Ten, but stopped himself when the elevator dinged, and from out the opening doors flowed a chorus of feminine laughter.

The cluster of women athletes moved past them with little notice, save for Darya, whose clicking gait paused ever so briefly as she spared them a furtive glance beneath her mascaraed lashes.

Seven met her fleeting gaze, and politely waved her on with the rest of the team. Kirill, though, pulled a breath and followed Darya’s form with his eyes. He took a step after her, but bumped into Ten’s side as he did so, causing a momentary break in the team’s smooth movement as a group.

Kirill muttered a swift apology and hurried to the door with his head down. Ten frowned, and followed him in a sure-footed march. In her wake, Seven sighed, swore to himself, and got ready to run some interference.

 

7777777

 

…How did we get here? This story was supposed to be simple

“Number Seven…” part 7 [original fiction]

"Number Seven and the Life Left Behind" - bonusparts original fiction part 7

part 7

 

“That can’t be true,” Kirill mumbled around his half-eaten blini. He squinted at Seven. “Can it?”

“Of course it can,” Darya said. The tender cubes of meat from her kebab lay mostly uneaten in front of her; she’d left them untouched as soon as Seven had told them the darker truths behind their training and sponsorship. “Quit being so naïve.”

Kirill frowned. “I’m not—”

“They don’t care about us,” Darya persisted. “All they care about is what we can do for them.” She scowled and pushed her plate away. “I feel sick.”

Kirill’s gaze strayed to the carpet. “What will we do?”

Darya gaped at him. “We get out of here! That’s what we do.”

Kirill faced her. “What about the games? Both of us are sure to place in the final teams—”

“I do not believe this!” Darya thrust herself up from the sofa with a flap of her arms. “You are willing to wait around for them to auction us off, like cattle, just so you can show off how fast you are?”

“That is not what I mean!” Kirill jumped up, too, to stand over her. They stared at each other a moment in silence, then he relaxed his posture with a calmer breath. “If we win, we have leverage,” he began.

“And if we lose, we have nothing!” Darya snapped. “And then, who knows what they will do to us, or where they will send us.”

That brought a pause to their arguing. Kirill looked at Seven; Darya did the same. Seven looked from one to the other, caught between both their fears.

“The games come with their own risks,” he said at last. “You will already be out of the country, yes, but security all over will be very high, much more than it is here.”

“So we have to get away before then,” Darya decided.

Kirill turned his stare back to her. “Are we seriously talking about leaving the country? Our home?”

“We are talking about freedom,” Darya said, and Kirill balked at her.

“As fugitives!”

Darya raised her chin, and set her fists tight at her sides. “Not if we go now. Not if we owe them nothing.”

Kirill waved his arm over the room. “Except for all of this!”

“Are you afraid?” Darya challenged.

“No,” Kirill said, but his gaze shimmered with uncertainty.

Darya narrowed her eyes. “There is no compromise, Kirill. There is slavery, or there is freedom. I know which I choose. You need to decide which you will live with.” She spun to the first bedroom and slammed the door after her with enough force to rattle the frame.

Kirill waved a helpless hand. “That is my room,” he muttered, and blew a breath through his cheeks for a weary landing on the sofa. He looked down at his plate but didn’t reach for any food.

Seven bowed his head. “Do not feel shame for being afraid,” he murmured. “This is not a decision to be made lightly.”

Kirill kept staring at his plate. “What would you do?”

“In your position? I do not know. But,” Seven added with his own sigh, “I fought in a war to protect our way of life. To live as we see fit, as men and women in control of our own destinies. No one else should lay claim to that, no matter how powerful they may be.”

For a stretch of uncertain minutes, Kirill didn’t speak. Then he blinked, and his profile changed, and he said, “I want to live my own life.” His voice came out abruptly deep. It trembled a bit, as well, as if trying to hold up an impossible weight. “I do not want someone else to decide what I will do, or where I will live, or who I will marry.” He looked around the suite, his features in conflict with each other. “But, this is all I know. My mama and papa gave up everything so I could come here, for my training.” He turned to Seven, the gold in his eyes wavering. “How can I betray them, now?”

Seven touched the back of Kirill’s neck with his hand and stroked the short hairs there. “Your mama and papa made their sacrifices out of love for you. I do not think they would see any choice you make as a betrayal of that love.”

A clarity came to Kirill’s gaze. “Would you come with us?” He shifted his posture so they faced each other, and said, “I want you to be free, as well. Free to live the life you want. To love the people you choose.”

A fierce pounding started in Seven’s chest, constricting his throat and pumping the oxygen from his brain. He held his breath to recover himself, then forced the answer from his lips, a gentle, croaking, “Yes.”

Kirill’s smile was tender and sad; Seven nearly drew him into his arms for it. The timid creak of the bedroom door stopped him, though. They both looked to it, and to Darya standing there in the opening.

“I wanted something more to eat,” she muttered.

Kirill rose from the sofa and crossed to her. “You are right,” he said. “We deserve a better future than the one they have planned for us. We will go, together.”

“Yes?” Darya said, though her smile was already coming through.

“Yes,” Kirill echoed.

Darya’s gaze flashed to Seven. “How soon?” she asked, as if he had an answer.

Kirill turned around to him, too, and said, “We will have to be careful, yes?”

Seven tried to stand with confidence, because they seemed to need that, but had to rub his hands on his trouser legs to dry his palms.

“There are too many eyes during lockdown,” he said, thinking aloud. “We need to wait until it is over, and things are back to normal. That should only take another day or two,” he added.

“And then?” Darya pressed.

Seven kept his gaze steady. “Things go back to normal.” He took both of them in a guarded look. “Train, sleep, eat as you would normally do. But keep your eyes and ears open.”

Kirill’s expression was blank, but Darya pulled a face.

“That is it?” she said.

“The less you know,” Seven said, “the safer you will be. Let me take the risks, for now. It is my job,” he added with a tight smile.

Kirill and Darya looked at each other, and came to agreement at the same time, nodding together at Seven. He nodded back…even though he didn’t have the first clue how to do this part of a job that was becoming ever more complicated by the moment.

 

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A smaller piece of this little adventure-pie, but hopefully one that pushes the story along. The parts to this story are a little bit all over the place in terms of length, but I’m trying to give each part a nice conflict and tell a functional piece of the story, while still offering motivation and character. Even though this one is shorter than others, I think it does manage to serve its purpose. But maybe you think differently?

“Number Seven…” part 6 [original fiction]

"Number Seven and the Life Left Behind" - bonusparts original fiction part 6

part 6

The hotel was still in lockdown in the morning. Number Two collected closed-room statements from each member of the teams and staff one by one, leaving the rest of them to find other ways to occupy their time. The men’s team had taken over the hotel pool. While not regulation size, it was large enough for them to swim laps, which was what they usually did, anyway. The women’s team was relegated to the workout room, with its weights, mats, and stationary machines. Seven took a run around the hotel grounds, doubling-up on some exercise with a perimeter assessment. On his third lap, he saw Number Four smoking a cigarette at the rear entrance.

“I thought you were watching them?” Seven said, nodding in the general direction of the pool.

Four grunted in disinterest. He’d been the bodyguard for the men’s swim team since the last round of games before the barring, and obviously held them in weak regard. “They are not going anywhere,” he said around a billowing puff.

Seven made a point to stay upwind of the carcinogenic cloud. “You do remember we are on security lockdown?”

Four blew a wet scoff through his teeth. “That explosion was a publicity stunt. Metropolitan faggots and coloreds making noise.”

Seven looked at him a long time before he spoke. “When people are deported and shot at for no reason, they tend to become angry.”

“That is politics,” Four said, waving his smoking hand. ‘This is sport.”

Thoughts of his meeting at Control headquarters buzzed in Seven’s head. “Number One would say they are the same.”

Four returned his cigarette to his white-rimmed lips. “Number One can kiss my wrinkled ass.”

That wasn’t a pleasant image.

Seven glanced at his watch. “It is almost lunch,” he said, half as excuse and half as dutiful prod.

“I’m not keeping you,” Four said, and shallowed his cheeks around a puff.

Seven gave a short shake of his head, but moved inside without further criticism. Number Four had done his job his way for decades; there was little chance of him changing, now, especially not for a lesser agent’s ideals.

He used the pool showers instead of going all the way back to the suite, and changed into a clean suit before heading to the pool area. Half of the team was lounging around the edge, while the other half cut through the water in regular beats. Kirill set a steady pace in the far lane, as he usually did, and Seven watched him finish a lap. Youth made the swimmer fast and strong like his fellows, but the drive to be a champion kept him diligent.

Kirill broke the surface at the edge of the pool, spitting water as he raised his goggles and guessed, “Lunch?”

“When you are ready,” Seven said.

Kirill hauled himself out of the pool with a single powerful lunge. “I am always ready!”

Seven smiled. It was good to see that the events of the previous day had not affected his charge too much.

Kirill padded to the showers, with Seven following at a respectable distance. He readied the swimmer’s towel and clothes as he’d always done, once more grateful that the younger man’s new awareness changed nothing in their interaction when Kirill dried off and dressed without pause or blush.

“Should we wait for the others?” Seven asked.

Kirill shook his head as he rubbed the towel one last time over his hair. “No.” He snickered and tossed the towel away. “I want first dibs.”

Seven chuckled with him as they walked out to the main corridor, toward the commissary. On the way, they went through the hall with the office rooms Number Two had set aside for his interrogations. One of the doors flew open, and Darya came storming out in her playsuit uniform, with Number Twelve hustling after her.

Seven paused, and Kirill stopped beside him.

“Darya!” Twelve called after her, and the diver whirled, her ponytail swinging up and around like a whip.

“They cannot do this!”

Twelve’s gaze caught Seven’s. The other agent did not have his size, but the harsh lines of her jaw exuded authority, and she hissed to Darya, “Quiet!”

“No!” The girl jut out her chin. “We have done nothing wrong. They cannot simply lock us in here, like criminals!”

“Number Two wants—”

“‘Number Two wants,’” Darya mimicked with a sneer. She swung her arm toward the debriefing room. “The only thing that little toad wants is power. But we have the power,” she said, beating her breast. “Without us, he is nothing.” She snorted. “I would not be surprised if he set off that bomb himself, just to look important.”

Seven’s stomach plummeted as he saw Twelve clench her fist. “No!” he bellowed, but the cruel pop of Twelve’s knuckles against Darya’s cheek sent the diver’s ponytail flying again as she rolled with the hit.

Seven rushed up and snatched Twelve’s wrist in the air. “You should not have done that!”

“Let go of me,” Twelve rumbled.

Kirill came up between Twelve and Darya. “Are you all right?” he asked the girl.

Darya stood mostly-straight, her cheek red and her eyes watering. Her voice, though, came out clear and defiant as she glared hard at Twelve. “I will not let you break me.”

“You see?” Twelve said with smug satisfaction. “My discipline makes her strong.”

“Your bullying makes me sick,” Seven growled.

“Do you want some ice?” Kirill asked Darya.

She shoved herself away from them. “No, I don’t want ice!” she cried, and stormed down the hall to the lobby.

“Make sure she is all right,” Seven said, though Kirill was already jogging on the diver’s heels.

Twelve yanked on her wrist. “She cannot leave.”

Seven kept his grip firm. “There is nowhere she can go. And she should not be with you,” he added with a snarl.

Twelve replied with an equal grimace. “I know how to handle her.”

“Hitting is not handling!” Seven’s boom bordered on a shout, but he succeeded in restraining himself. “We are sworn to keep them from harm. Both out there and in here. You will answer for your actions.”

“I get results,” she spat up at him. “Number Two sees that.”

“He will also learn how you abuse your responsibility.”

She snorted a brief humph. “Coddling your ward makes him brittle.” She raised her chin. “Mine will be winners worthy of the title.”

“Not under your supervision,” Seven told her, as released her wrist. He backed up toward the lobby but kept his eyes on her. “Leave Darya be,” he said. “I will not warn you again.”

“I pity your weakness,” Twelve grumbled, and turned away.

Seven wasted no more time on her. He hurried to the main lobby, where he found Kirill just outside the doors, his arms hanging at his sides as he watched Darya kick and scream at the bumper of one of the transport vans. Seven let her vent, as well; it would help calm her faster than any pacifying words. Inevitably, her violent kicks died to a sustained push of her heel against the rubber that was more force of will than brute strength, and her raw wailing withered to a series of tired, wheezing puffs. At last, she wilted like a flower deprived of light, and slumped onto the offended bumper with her head in her hands.

Kirill walked over to the bumper’s edge and sat down, leaning out over his knees to peer at her. He spoke softly, too softly for Seven to hear, but whatever he said, it made Darya raise her head and start speaking, as well, with equal quiet. She wiped her face with her hand and shook her head at something. Kirill glanced Seven’s way, then tilted his own head as he stood up. He opened his hand. Darya didn’t take it, but she did stand up with him, and the two of them came Seven’s way.

“Are you all right?” Seven asked.

Darya nodded stiffly, and Kirill said:

“Can we stay upstairs a while?”

“I do not want the others to see,” Darya murmured.

Seven nodded back at both of them. He passed Kirill the security card, and Kirill passed it to Darya.

“Go up,” Kirill said. “I will bring you some lunch.”

Darya stared at the card a moment, then raised her gray eyes to look at Kirill, and finally smiled a tight, tiny smile as she accepted the offer. “Thank you.”

“Blini?” Kirill asked.

Darya pressed her lips together again, this time sheepishly. “With chocolate sauce?”

“Okay,” Kirill said, and Seven felt a swell of silent pride for him.

They walked to the lifts, and Kirill urged Darya inside the first car. Seven urged him the same.

“Stay together,” he told the athletes. “Do not stop for anyone. I will bring lunch up shortly.”

“Are you sure?” Kirill said, even as the lift doors began to close.

Seven nodded. “Yes.”

Once the elevator was on its way, Seven stalked back up the corridor. Not to the commissary, though, but to Two’s interrogation office.

He shoved the door open, crashing it against the wall. “You need to relieve Number Twelve,” he said without preamble.

Two’s initial shock at Seven’s entrance became a composed indifference. “Do I?”

Seven crossed to the table and dropped both his hands upon it. “Less than twenty minutes ago, I saw her abuse one of the athletes.”

Two raised a brow. “You saw?”

“With my own eyes.”

Two clasped his hands in front of him and hummed. “I take it from your tone that you will not agree to unseeing that?”

Seven drew back from him with a gape. “You knew she was violent. And you did nothing?”

“We were willing to overlook some misconduct, in light of her results. But, with a witness…!” Two shook his egg-like head, and Seven had a flash of violent thought of his own, of grabbing Two’s skull and slamming it against the wall with shattering force. He made no move, though, and the older agent remained unfazed by his own confession.

“I suppose she will have to be reassigned,” Two said, and sniffed. “Pity.”

“That is all you are going to say?” Seven started to snarl. “Darya was hurt!”

“Miss Vikhrova is insolent and temperamental. Whatever she got, I am sure she deserved.”

Seven stared at him, and muttered, “You care nothing for them, do you? They are mere pawns to you, a path to the winners’ circle—”

“Did you not listen to anything that Number One told you?” Two cut in. His complexion burned red, and the lines around his eyes, nose, and mouth dug deep. “This is not about some ridiculous sports competition! This is about reclaiming our rightful place at the top of the world. Wealthy, powerful men and women will pay – happily! – for our champions. But not if they speak with impudence, or devalue their worth with easy-come whores.”

Seven felt his stomach cringe, and his voice, when it came, wavered in his ears. “What are you saying?”

“I am saying, we already have impressive marriage bids for both Morozov and Vikhrova. All they have to do is win. And all you have to do,” Two told him with a sharp jab of his finger, “is keep your mouth shut and do your job.”

Seven nearly staggered. “You cannot be serious.”

Two didn’t seem to notice, or care. “Wars are not won on the battlefield, anymore,” he said, his voice full of quiet menace. “They are won in boardrooms and on screens, with money and prestige. There is no place for the weak and ugly in that world. Only champions, winners, like the ones we have produced.” He stood up and headed to the door, moving around Seven as if he were no more than a piece of the room. “Now, I need to find a suitable replacement for Number Twelve.” He shot a disparaging look from over his shoulder. “Because some people do not know when to look away.”

In the devil’s wake, Seven clenched his fist. But then he remembered his duty, and walked double-time to the commissary. The smells from the trays and plates attacked his senses, making him woozy, but his resolve remained firm.

When he arrived at the suite, his stomach was roiling, and a sticking sweat had started under his arms. He must have looked peaked, too, because when Kirill opened the door for him, the younger man’s face lost its smile of greeting.

“Has something happened?” Kirill asked.

Seven steeled himself, stepped inside, and pulled out his earpiece. “Not yet,” he said. “Not if I can help it.”

 

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It’s strange, how story elements produce themselves. Originally, the plot point Two outlines above had nothing to do with the story. But, when characters speak, it’s my job to listen. Plus, every villain needs to do or think something reprehensible. But what do you think?

“Number Seven…” part 5 [original fiction]

"Number Seven and the Life Left Behind" - bonusparts original fiction part 5

part 5

 

One vehicle flew into the air; another flipped over its side like a twisting diver launching from a board. Seven wrenched their car away from the ballooning fire, narrowly missing a truck in the outer lane that screeched sidelong in a panic. A compact slammed into their rear bumper, sending their sedan spinning.

They smashed into a line of already-crashed, crunched vehicles. Seven heard his head crack against the steering wheel. He jolted up again and looked at Kirill, who was rising slowly from a bracing position with his hands thrust out to the dash. His hair had been shocked out of place and his skin was pale, but otherwise he seemed all right.

Seven still had to check. “Are you hurt?”

Kirill shook his head. “I don’t think so…?” His pupils loomed large in his eyes, and it took him a moment to focus. “You’re bleeding.”

Seven touched his forehead; his fingers came back with a smear of blood. He felt his dead eye squinting and blinking from the liquid, and he wiped what he hoped was a clearer path across his skin.

Shouts and screaming filtered through the cracks in the chassis and the waning tinnitus in his ears. He could feel a wafting heat, too, from the exploded car and one that had begun to burn beside it.

He slapped the catch of his safety belt. “We have to go.”

Kirill sat dazed, and Seven shouted his name. The swimmer blinked in rapid succession but didn’t move.

Seven reached over and wrestled with the passenger safety belt lock, his fingers fumbling against the awkward angle.

“We have to get out of here,” he repeated, as the latch came free and retracted across Kirill’s chest. “It’s not safe. Does your door work?”

Kirill had started to come around. He jerked at the handle but the door didn’t budge. A shove with his shoulder yielded the same lacking result. “No…!”

Seven tried his own door. It creaked with give. He twisted around in the car, got his leg out from under the dash, and kicked the door hard with his heel. The door swung in a squeal.

“This way,” he said, shimmying out legs-first.

Kirill’s agility proved itself well as he clambered over the gearshift and driver’s seat. As soon as he was out, Seven hauled him nearly under his arm, throwing his gaze in all directions to assess the situation.

“Code Red,” he barked for sake of his comm, and followed with their location.

The voice of Control came back in his ear. “Are you compromised?”

Seven grimaced at their vehicle. “Our car is.”

“Emergency crews have been alerted. Secure your target and await instructions.”

The comm clicked off in his ear, and Seven swore to himself. On their own, then. He didn’t dare pull his gun in this chaos, but he touched its butt to make sure it was still secure under his arm.

He pushed Kirill ahead of him and pointed up the block. “Go.”

“To where?”

“Natalya’s.”

Kirill looked round at him. “What?”

Seven gave him another forward push. “It’s secure, and I trust her.” He hurried three steps, but Kirill didn’t keep pace. “What are you waiting for? Let’s go!”

Kirill waved an arm toward the pile of wrecked traffic. “What about those people? And Darya? She was coming this way, too, with the others. We have to make sure they’re okay!”

Seven hustled back and grabbed his arm. “If we come across any of them before we get to Natalya’s, we’ll take them with us. But you are my first priority,” he said, and gave Kirill the mightiest shove yet. The younger man came along at half-again pace, this time without protest. That was good, because the blood dripping from Seven’s head was getting worse – he tasted its sharp, salty flow on his lips – and the streets were getting madder.

They ducked into an alley between a grocer and a coffee shop, behind a dumpster, so Seven could clean his face a bit. His hands stayed smeared, though, even after he wiped them on his trousers.

“Here,” Kirill muttered, pulling off his tie. It was a pretty silk make, and Seven hated to mess it. At least it was a dark color.

He wadded the tie into a compact ball that he pressed to his head, once and again. A more conscious look into the street to get his bearings told him, “It is only two, maybe three kilometers from here. Can you run it?”

Kirill nodded. “What about you?”

Seven tucked the tie into his jacket pocket. “I will be right behind you.”

“Promise?” Kirill said.

“Yes. Now, go!” Seven said, and pushed him into the street with the gut-clenching feeling that he was back on a battlefield.

They got to Natalya’s apartment complex without trouble, and without seeing anyone else they knew. Seven was glad they didn’t have to stop. Alarms had been raised, and even at this distance away, he could hear the faint wail of emergency sirens echoing between the city blocks.

He jabbed the intercom button for her apartment. There was a telltale hiss of air indicating an open connection, followed by a gasp. Natalya’s cultured façade was broken by a sailor’s curse that actually made Seven break into a smile.

“What happened?” she demanded.

“I’ll explain after you let us up,” he said, and the door buzzed in quick reply. He maneuvered Kirill inside and went in behind him, closing the outer door firmly after them.

Natalya was waiting outside her door, in a shapely crème dress with a deep arcing cut in the top and a high arcing cut in the bottom, a glamourous sight that clashed with the look of worry on her face. She crossed to Seven, wheezing, “Semyon!” Her slender fingers grazed his temple, and he cringed.

“It’s fine.”

She stood straight with a humph. “What in God’s name have you gotten yourself into, this time?”

“There was an explosion,” Kirill said, “on the side of the road. It took out our car. This was the closest, safest place we could come…!”

“All right, all right.” Natalya drew them inside and tsked at Seven. “Let’s clean you up.”

The apartment was warm and quiet and dim. Seven made his way to the sofa, where Kirill helped him sit. Natalya swept down next to him, a little red bag in one hand and a bottle in the other. Unfortunately, the bottle was peroxide, not whisky, and Seven hissed when she pressed a cotton ball full of the stuff to his face.

“I thought you said it was fine,” she said.

“It still burns!” He could also hear it fizzing.

“You’re being a baby,” Natalya scolded softly, as she made several more liberal dabs.

Standing to the side, Kirill rubbed his hands. “Can I do something?”

“You can get me a whisky,” Seven said.

Kirill went to the bar, and Natalya continued to clean the wound. Seven leant back against the cushions with a tight-lipped groan. He tried to relax, and let his gaze wander. It was drawn to Natalya’s chest, the most defined thing in his vision, and the delicate silver-and-diamond necklace nestled there.

“That is very pretty,” he muttered. “Your necklace.”

She hummed. “It was a gift from an ambassador friend. He has a fondness for fine ballet.” As she reached for a bandage, he caught her quick smirk. “And wicked women to watch it with.”

Seven chuckled, and over her shoulder caught sight of Kirill. Hovering at the side of the sofa, he looked very disheveled, very worried, and very sweet.

“Does it hurt?” he asked.

“It won’t after that,” Seven said, nodding at the glass. He took a cautious sip and sucked some air between his teeth as chaser. “Now, that is a good burn.”

Natalya got up, and Kirill took her place. He peered at Seven’s face and offered a little smile. “It doesn’t look so bad.”

“One more scar won’t matter,” Seven said, and snickered. “I am already ugly.”

Kirill’s smile fell. “No, you’re not,” he said, in a hushed and gentle voice.

“You boys are darling.” Natalya’s breezy interruption relieved Seven’s sudden wave of emotion, as she sat beside him on the sofa’s arm. “But have you figured out, yet, how you will return home without a car?”

Seven frowned to himself. “I will think of something.”

She swept up again with a swirl of white satin and a harrumph. “While you think, I will do.”

“Natalya,” he began, but she had already plucked her phone from the table and was navigating the menus deftly with her thumb.

“My ambassador friend will be happy to help.” She put the phone to her ear with a naughty smile. “He enjoys me being indebted to him.”

“Natalya!” Seven protested again.

She shushed him. “Do not argue. You know better than that.” A moment later, she put on a wide smile to be heard in her voice.

Kirill watched her in mystified amazement. “Can she really do that? Get us a car from a foreign embassy?”

“I have never known her to not be able to do what she says she will do,” Seven said, and sighed a little bit as she laughed, cajoled, and made her deals over the phone, all with her innately feminine charm.

Kirill’s voice wafted next to his ear, softer than the cotton Natalya had pressed to his skin just a few minutes ago. “Do you love her?”

Seven turned to look into his face, smooth with youth and naivety, and caught his breath. But before he could answer, Natalya once again insinuated herself into the moment with a dramatic swoop of skirt as she sat down beside Seven.

“Your car is on the way,” she said.

Seven replied in the only appropriate fashion. “Thank you.”

She nodded. “You’re welcome,” she said, and shrugged. “Of course, it means you cannot stay.”

He hummed. “It was not the evening any of us was expecting.”

“No.” She extended a hand across Seven’s chest, to Kirill. “My brave prince,” she said, gripping his fingers. “I am sorry to have disappointed you.”

Kirill held her hand, but loosely. “You could never be a disappointment.”

Natalya cooed, while Seven tried to make himself smaller between them. She noticed his fidgeting, and narrowed her eyes for another shrewd smile. “You will take care of this big one, yes? Until we meet again?”

“I would be proud to do so half as well as you,” Kirill said, which caused Natalya to stretch her shoulders in flattered delight.

“Oh, you sweet thing!” She rose and drew him to standing, too, so she could move up against him with the promise of feminine fulfilment. “Be safe; be strong; and come back to me sometime.” And, putting her arms around him, she kissed him with the practiced sensuality of her occupation.

When they parted, Seven stood with them. “I am sorry,” he began, when Natalya clucked another scold at him.

“Don’t you dare. I am proud you came to me.” She stroked the scarred side of his face, tingling the nerves under his skin. “And, I enjoyed being your Florence Nightingale,” she said, and kissed him, lightly on his good cheek.

She saw them to the lift. Once the doors had closed, Seven told Control that they had secured safe transport and were headed back to the hotel. The voice on the other end confirmed, and when Seven asked about the others, he was informed that Twelve and her athletes were on their way back, and Four already had the rest of the men’s team in lockdown in their rooms, which was precisely where Seven and Kirill were expected to go as soon as they arrived, as well.

Seven didn’t mention his injury; lockdown was going to be annoying enough.

In the lobby, a thin, dark man in a solid black suit greeted them. “Are you Natalya’s friends?” he asked, and Seven nodded. The driver introduced himself as Alex, and extended his arm toward the doors. “This way, please.”

Alex took them to a dark blue, roomy sedan parked out front. He opened the rear door, and Seven urged Kirill inside before following. Alex took the driver’s seat and, once they were on the road, asked them to confirm the address for his GPS. Seven did so, and the driver made a noise of clarification.

“We’ll have to take a detour from the main roads, though. There was an explosion earlier.”

“We heard,” Seven said, avoiding any more detail. “Was anyone hurt?”

“Nothing reported. But it’s caused a right mess of traffic.” Alex smiled over his shoulder. “Feel free to relax back there.”

Seven thanked him, and sat back against the leather interior. The back seat was a novelty for him, and he took the time to enjoy the feeling of distraction that belonged to a passenger. He was about to comment on this to Kirill, when he noticed the younger man staring morosely out his window.

Seven leant toward him, whispering, “Control says the others are safe. And we will be with them soon.”

“Okay,” Kirill said, and turned back to his window.

Seven returned to his own side, deciding not to press. Kirill was silent for the rest of the drive.

When they arrived at the hotel, Alex opened the car door for them, looked up at the complex, and whistled.

“Impressive! I didn’t know this was even out here.”

“It is for the athletes,” Seven said. “Kirill is a swimmer, training for the games.”

“Really?” Alex smiled. “Can I say I met you, if you win?”

Kirill didn’t react beyond a blink, so Seven said, “There is little doubt of that. This one is a champion.”

Alex was polite enough not to poke. “You must be very proud,” he said to Seven, who agreed. “Well, good luck with your training. And, if you ever need another friend in the city, let me know.”

“Thank you,” Seven said again, and shook his hand. Then he bade the driver farewell, and turned Kirill toward the hotel.

As soon as they were inside the main doors, Number Two strode up, pointing a finger at both of them. “You!” he cried.

Seven held up his hand before Two could say anything more. “Tomorrow.”

The older agent kept yammering. “There has been a breach of security. He needs to be debriefed—”

“Tomorrow,” Seven repeated with a menacing lean. “He has been through enough tonight.” He pushed Kirill in front of him, directing him toward the lifts.

Two sputtered after them. “I will inform Number One about this!”

“Go ahead,” Seven mumbled, as he and Kirill walked into a waiting lift. The doors closed, and, thankfully, Two did not follow them. In the hush, Seven muttered, “I am sorry tonight did not go as planned.”

Kirill slumped against the wall. “It is not your fault.”

Seven watched him a moment before trying again. “Are you all right?”

“Fine,” Kirill said, though he stayed slouched, shuffling down the corridor when they came to their floor.

Seven let them into the suite and locked the door after them, with two sharp clicks and a swing of the deadbolt.

“The lockdown is only a precaution,” he explained. “Until things settle down.”

“I understand,” Kirill said dully.

Seven sighed. In the safety of the suite, he could assert himself better than he could in the car or the lift. “Tell me what is wrong.”

Kirill turned and looked up from between his slumping shoulders. “Do you think I am terrible?”

“No.” Seven squinted at him. “Why would you think that?”

“You have taken care of me for almost two years,” Kirill said, his voice cracking with guilt. “Yet, I have never asked your name.”

Seven blew a sigh and shook his head. “You know my name.”

“Natalya called you Semyon—”

“That name is not who I am, anymore.”

“Then who was he?” Kirill planted himself on the sofa. “I want to know,” he said, the gold in his eyes flashing with determination.

Seven sighed again and sat down on the opposite side of the sofa. This story was common record in the military files, and known to the few friends he still had from before the war, like Natalya, but he’d never actually told it to anyone. He pulled out his earpiece, looked at it a moment, then tucked it into his pocket, out of reception range of his voice.

“I was a young soldier,” he said to begin, “sent to fight a war. My squad was on recon one day, not far from the border. There were lots of abandoned vehicles, and trash everywhere. We’d gotten used to it. But one of the cars had been rigged with a bomb.” An abrupt sense-memory of explosive heat burning his face made him blink. “Our sergeant was closest. Somehow, he was still alive.” Another blink, as he recalled the man’s ear-splitting howling. “Another soldier and I pulled him to cover. The rest of them were panicking, shouting and firing in all directions.” He shrugged to himself. “Most of us were just boys. Then, another car exploded.”

For a heartbeat, he was there again: smoke burning his eyes, fire singeing his nostrils, and the panicked, Babel-esque shouts of his comrades filling his ears. And Leon: skinny, eighteen-year-old Leon, wide-eyed and white-faced in frozen shock, with the line of cars burning behind him.

Seven had never remembered exactly what had come next, but he’d been told, by the medical team and the discharge officer after the fact. How he’d bolted from his sergeant and screamed for Leon, when another explosion eradicated almost a third of that young soldier’s body. The shrapnel shard that pierced his own face hadn’t stopped him from dragging Leon to safety, though, an act for which they’d called him a hero, when all Seven had really tried to do was keep him from dying out there, alone and so far from home.

He relayed the details of the story in the same matter-of-fact manner used by the army officer, and Kirill asked:

“Were you afraid?”

Seven felt a little bit of his breath go. “There is no way I could have survived that without being afraid. I think it is why I don’t remember it very clearly.”

“What happened then?”

“I woke up in a field hospital.” Seven smiled suddenly, for the memory of the kind, clear, green-blue eyes watching over him in his convalescent bed. “To the most beautiful nurse, with the most soothing voice I’d ever heard, and the most caring touch I’ve ever felt.”

Kirill smiled, too. “Natalya?” he guessed, but Seven laughed.

“No! No, Natalya’s bedside manner has always been better suited to more…private situations.”

Kirill’s smile fractured at Seven’s laughter, but the curious interest in his gaze remained intact. “So, who was your beautiful nurse, then?”

That brought a pause, and an anxious cramping in his underbelly. Even fewer knew this story. But the golden shine in Kirill’s eyes was too bright, too attentive, too splendid to ignore.

“His name was Erik.” The name sounded almost mystical to Seven’s ears; he’d never said it aloud before. “The first night after I woke, he stayed by my side and held my hand, and listened to me cry. He let me be sad for my comrades, and angry over my eye. Then, he told me that, while I could not go back to the way I was, and that it would take time to heal, I would become strong again.” Those remembered words prompted a melancholy smile. “And, I did.”

He looked over at Kirill, not knowing what to expect. Surprise, perhaps, or revulsion. But the swimmer’s gaze gleamed only with curiosity.

“What happened to him?” Kirill asked, and Seven opened his hands.

“I do not know.”

Kirill sat forward. “He did not go with you?”

Seven laughed again, softly. “I was a soldier. When I was healed enough, they sent me home. His job was at the hospital, to help other soldiers in the field.”

“So, you never told him how you felt?” Kirill asked, in a quiet but confident way that sounded like he already knew the answer.

“I was never that brave,” Seven confirmed, and bumped one shoulder. “To him, I was just another wounded trooper. I doubt, if you asked him now, he could even remember my name. But, I will always remember his.” He sat back, that sad part of the story over. “After I came home, the Security Division was recruiting. Even with my eye, I had a good record, so, I applied, and they accepted me.”

“And you became Seven,” Kirill finished.

Seven nodded. “Number Seven.”

Kirill’s expression stayed miserable. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Seven told him. “I could have been assigned some stuffy businessman or self-important politician. Instead, I was given a thoughtful and charming young man, who keeps me on my toes, and makes me laugh.”

That brought a tiny smile to Kirill’s face before he asked, “Does Natalya know? About…?”

“Yes. It has never changed anything between us, though. I will always love her for that.”

“So, you do? Love her.”

“She is one of my oldest, dearest friends. I could not imagine my life without her.” He sat back with a chuckle. “But, that should not keep you from being with her!”

Kirill answered with more melancholy. “She does not love me. Not that I ever thought that was a possibility – I know what she does – but, tonight, it was obvious.” His gaze became clear and full of resigned awareness. “She loves you.”

Seven drew a breath to contradict, but Kirill shook his head.

“It is all right. I do not blame her!” The younger man shrugged, without anger or sorrow. “Sometimes, we cannot help whom we love, yes?” He paused and glanced away for a thought. “But,” he resumed after a moment, “I want to make love to someone who loves me the way I love them.”

The ingenuousness in those gold-flecked eyes made Seven smile, and nod. “That is very mature.”

Kirill smiled, too, and dropped his gaze for a sudden blooming blush. It flashed up again a second later, and the color in his cheeks fell away, at the wail of an echoing siren. The sound was distant, though, and became more so after a moment.

“You are safe, here,” Seven assured.

“I know.” Kirill sat back and pulled his knees up, a tall, lean-muscled young man suddenly become a boy.

Seven got up and reached for the television remote control. “Why don’t you find us something to watch, while I make us some food. All right?”

Kirill took the remote and nodded, haltingly. He clicked past the news reports, to a slow-moving film about provincial village life from the last century. Seven had seen it years before, on base during his army training, so he went to the kitchenette to pull together a mishmash of edibles from the available leftovers. When he returned to the sofa, Kirill lay on his side staring at the screen. He stayed that way until he dozed off a half-hour later, the movie still running and his supper mostly uneaten.

Seven turned off the television and cleaned up the dishes. He pulled out an extra blanket from the closet and laid it over Kirill. The swimmer could wake on his own or spend the night on the sofa; it didn’t make a difference which.

With Kirill safe and asleep, Seven retired to his own room. He walked into the en suite and stopped at the mirror over the sink, where he peeled off the protective gauze on his forehead, to peer at the two delicate butterfly bandages closing the cut above his dead eye. The flesh felt tender under his touch but didn’t hurt.

He splashed some cool water on his face and gazed at his reflection – with its square-set jaw and broad brow, and the pale scar cutting over his left eye and cheek – and sighed. Sometimes, a man could not help whom he loved, indeed.

7777777

Seven’s journey is a sensitive one, which I hope readers will accept as his story progresses. The way that one identifies oneself is very personal, and not always what we expect. Seven “spoke” to me many times over the course of this story, changing even my perceptions of who he should be. I allowed myself to be open to that. I hope you will, too.

“Number Seven…” part 4 [original fiction]

"Number Seven and the Life Left Behind" bonusparts original fiction

part 4

 

Waking early was a helpful habit for guarding an athlete who started a rigid training schedule before six in the morning, though the previous day’s frustrations and exhaustions left Seven slightly bleary-eyed when his alarm went off. He got out of bed regardless, did his push-ups, and jumped into a five-minute shower, to be alert and ready before breakfast arrived.

Kirill usually stumbled up from bed just in time to eat before heading for the gym, but today, he was waiting in the main room as Seven walked into it, still finger-drying his brush cut.

“You’re back!” Kirill greeted with a gleaming grin. “I am so glad you’re back.”

Seven chuckled. “I was only gone for a day.”

“It felt like a week! That Ten has no imagination.” Kirill pulled a sour face and mimed the flipping of a switch. “Nine-thirty. Lights out.”

The impression, however unfavorable, was too accurate, and Seven laughed. Kirill did, too, briefly. Then he fell quiet, and serious.

“I’m sorry I got you in trouble—”

Seven waved him off. “It’s all right.”

“No,” Kirill said, and stepped forward. “You have always been kind to me, when to everyone else I have been a…a commodity. You have always been my friend.” He bowed his head. “I shot my mouth off in front of that vindictive little lizard, and you paid the price.”

“It’s fine,” Seven repeated, laying his hand on Kirill’s shoulder for a pat. “Really.” The swimmer looked up, guardedly hopeful, and Seven offered him a tight smile. “It’s my job to look after you. That includes keeping you safe from vindictive little lizards.” He gave Kirill’s shoulder a solid, prodding shake, and smiled wider. “And returning you to your queen.”

Perhaps it was only a trick of the light as his gaze popped wide, but the gold in Kirill’s eyes flashed suddenly bright. “Natalya?” he asked, in a voice hushed for excitement, and Seven nodded. “When?”

“Tonight, if you are willing.”

“You will take me?”

Seven shrugged. “Love is the only true joy we have. It would be sinful of me to keep you from the one you love.”

A wave of warm emotion flowed over Kirill’s young face before being replaced by a look of swift concern. “But, the old man, and Two…! How will I—?”

“Until you are in chains, you are no prisoner.” Seven tweaked his smile. “I will take care of you.”

Kirill smiled back. “You always do,” he said, when breakfast arrived. As soon as the porter left, Kirill poured a cup of coffee and handed it to Seven.

“Thank you,” he said, leaving Seven slightly dumb for a moment. “If there is ever anything I can do to repay you…?”

Seven took the coffee with another chuckle. “It’s just a date,” he said, choosing not to articulate the more sentimental answer that Kirill’s happiness was payment enough for any risk he might take.

Natalya was almost as magnanimous when she met them at her door that evening.

“My prince!” She opened her arms, which were bare, save for a cluster of delicate gold bracelets wrapped around her left wrist. Her legs were bare, too; her tan, wraparound dress was little more than a toga covering her essentials. It covered with voluptuous elegance, though, enough to make Kirill stare.

“You like the dress?” she guessed.

“It is very nice,” Kirill said, finding his voice.

“It was a gift, from a very appreciative news producer. I won’t say where he works,” she added with a snigger. “Professional courtesy.”

Kirill faltered. “I…do not have a gift.”

Natalya crooned a quiet, “Oh!” as she caressed his cheek. “The favor of a handsome young man is gift enough for me. Now, come,” she said, leading Kirill inside by a touch on his shoulder. “Tonight, I wish you to learn something new.”

Seven followed them in, and closed the door behind him. The apartment was lit surprisingly brightly, and soft music played from speakers tucked into the corners of the main room. A waltz, from Tchaikovsky. Sleeping Beauty, perhaps? What Natalya had planned with that, he didn’t know…nor did he have time to consider the possibilities before she swept up two already-poured tumblers of whisky, and handed one to Kirill and the other to Seven.

“Of course, there are some women you can just toss onto a bed and have your way with,” Natalya said, with an air of blasé detachment. Her feline smile returned. “But real women, the ones worth having, they must be won by degrees.” She turned for a whisky of her own, and directed, “Drink. Slowly. For a fine whisky is like a woman’s body: smooth, powerful, and meant to be savored.”

Seven had no hesitation for this liquor that was older than he was, but Kirill smelled his and hesitated.

“Show no fear,” Natalya instructed the younger man. “And, look into your woman’s eyes when you drink. Imagine it is her on your lips. She will feel that intensity from across a room.”

Seven snickered for her melodrama, but her directives had their intended effect. Kirill tipped the glass to his lips with purpose and a kind of blooming sensuality, the gold in his eyes shimmering like the whisky in his glass, or like stars on a cloudless night. His swallow belied some surprise at the burn, but he kept his gaze on Natalya, who watched him with a smile.

“Bravo!” She laughed and cringed her shoulders, her nipples straining suddenly erect against her dress. “I felt that in my toes!”

Kirill laughed, too, as a heady blush filled his cheeks.

Natalya took his glass. “But, we are not done, yet.” She set the glass on the table and opened her arms to him again. “Now, we waltz.”

Kirill burst with a sudden laugh. “I do not know how to waltz!”

“Of course, you do. It is in our blood.” She tipped her head at Seven. “Even this one knows.”

Kirill looked at him, and Seven nodded.

“Prove it,” Kirill challenged with a smile.

Seven took a sip of his whisky before setting it beside Kirill’s on the table, then stood at attention. At his beckoning, Natalya stepped into his space and put her arms around him in loose position.

It felt strange to be standing here like this with her again; the last time, he’d been a new soldier, in his new uniform, blushing under the lights of a dance hall. While he wasn’t very good then or now, he remembered the basics, and led her in a simple box step, counting out the movements in three-quarter-time: Step, side, close; step, side, close.

Kirill laughed again. “I never knew you were so graceful!”

Seven stopped, and stepped out of Natalya’s arms. “Oh, you think you are so much better, let us see you try.”

Natalya walked to Kirill, taking his hands to put them in the proper place. “A dance is the fastest way to put a woman in your arms. And if she wants to stay in your arms,” she said, moving into starting position with him, “she will want to stay in your bed.”

That sobered Kirill, who drew a breath that straightened and tightened his posture. He followed Natalya’s instructions, as she forced him to take the lead. His athletic agility and muscle control made him a swift learner, and very quickly his feet became more confident. His hands, too, as they moved around her with greater intimacy. Natalya encouraged him, closing her embrace around him, as well, until their bodies touched.

Seven cleared his throat.

Kirill jerked his head up. He stepped back from Natalya and looked down at his groin as a fresh burn rushed into his face. Seven didn’t need to follow the younger man’s focus. Neither did Natalya, who chuckled and said:

“Such is the magic of the dance. But, the next part of the lesson is a private one.” She shooed Kirill toward the bedroom. “Go. I will be with you in a moment.”

As Kirill went into the bedroom, trying to hide his arousal with an awkward hunch, Seven shook his head.

“Try not to tire him out too much?”

Natalya snickered. “That young, strong buck? Your confidence is flattering.”

“I aim to please,” he said, as he reached into his jacket.

“That is my job,” she said, and laid her hand on his sleeve. “Keep your money.”

He blinked at her even as he relaxed his arm. “I can only owe you so many favors.”

“You do not owe me anything. I like seeing you again.” A wicked smirk alighted on her lips. “Besides, our young prince’s attention is wonderful for making other men jealous.”

“You are very wicked.”

“Yes, I know. Now,” she said, patting him on the cheek, “be a good guard dog, and have a nap on the sofa, while I take care of your master.”

Seven pulled his mouth to one side. “Woof.”

She laughed in her rich, winsome way, and turned with a swing of her masterful hips, leaving him to savor the whisky and waltz while she furthered Kirill’s education.

Such lessons continued sporadically over the next several weeks. Seven was always careful to mask them under the cover of group social outings into the city, to stay under Number Two’s radar. So long as they were back to the suite before curfew, no one was any the wiser. No one took any extra notice of them, in fact. Except for one.

As he stood waiting for Kirill outside the locker room before one planned group outing, Seven became alerted to the measured clack of heels upon the tile. Darya Vikhrova, she of the perfect dive and ample bosom, came up next to him, in a waft of flowery perfume. She was dressed to kill – figuratively – in a daring black bustier with lace sleeves connected only by a band collar around her neck, and tight black trousers that he was certain she couldn’t sit down in. That left him to wonder how long she’d last standing, especially in her strappy black shoes with the high, arching heels.

“Hello.” She raised her chin to look at him, showing off the slope of her neck. She was not a short woman, but at six-and-a-half feet, Seven towered over her.

He lowered his head, trying his best to keep his focus out of her cleavage, a feat he very nearly managed. “Hello.”

“Is Kirill still doing his hair?” she asked, changing the angle of his view as she peered around his arm.

“He takes it very seriously.”

She smiled, somewhat slyly. “You are very patient. Twelve would hit me if I made her wait.”

The gibe, however offhanded, pinched a nerve in Seven’s neck. “She should not do that.”

Darya’s ponytail bounced with an offhanded shrug. “She is a bitter old hag.” Her demeanor changed as she stepped to his side. “You seem lonely.”

“No. I am fine.”

Her lips weren’t painted, but their gloss caught the light. “I agree.” Her gaze was either gray or blue depending on the angle he saw it from, and it roved over him before settling on his face. “How old are you?”

“Thirty-three.”

“You don’t look that old.”

He sniffed a tiny smile. “Thank you.”

“I like your scar,” she said, in relation to nothing. Then, “It’s sexy.” She drew her mouth into a flirty pout. “Do you think I am sexy?”

“I think you should find your teammates,” he said, but she wrinkled her nose and groaned.

“They are so boring! All they talk about is training, and dieting, and boys, boys, boys, boys, boys.”

He let go a snigger at her disdain. “You don’t like boys?”

“They don’t know what to do with me.” The coquettish smirk returned. “But, I’m sure you do.”

“I am just a bodyguard,” he said, hoping to preempt.

“You can be mine,” she said, ignoring his effort. “I will need a big, strong man like you, after I win the gold and move to Italy.”

“Italy?” he echoed with suddenly unfeigned interest.

She nodded and pressed herself closer, to play her fingertips along his lapel. “There is a little town there, called S’Architto, where tourists sunbathe and spend their money, and divers jump from the great cliff into warm, blue water. I am going to teach all of the shy little girls who have been told their whole lives they are nothing, that if they can do a perfect dive from that cliff, they can have everything.” Her words rang with fierce conviction, and he believed her. She continued on, with more lyrical delight. “And in-between, my man and I will drink wine, and eat gelato, and swim naked with the dolphins in the sea.”

He chuckled again, this time for her romanticism. “And make love on the beach under a moonlit sky?”

“Every night.” Her look turned seductive with a flutter of her full lashes. She touched his sleeve, her hand traveling a slow path to his collar as she shimmied against him. “But why wait?” she asked in a breathy murmur.

Seven took gentle hold of her hand, halting its progress halfway to his shoulder. “Because patience is a virtue.” He took a step back from her. “And this is not dignified.”

Darya’s eyes flashed. “You think me a child?”

“No.” He shook his head. “I think you are a bold, gifted young champion.” He furrowed his brow. “…Who should focus on her dreams of helping shy little girls instead of getting pissed at parties for the attention of salacious boys.”

A flush burned in her face, and she clicked two steps backward, her bosom huffing and her lower lip crimping into a rounded pucker. It was a sight more pitiable than pretty. Kirill happened to walk out from the lockers just then, and as she spun from Seven, Darya caught the younger man in her glare.

“Your bodyguard is a prick,” she snapped, tossing her head as she clacked down the corridor.

Kirill stared after her. “What did I miss?”

Seven told him the truth. “Nothing.”

Kirill faced Seven with an impressed smile. “She has never said so many words to my face before!”

“Can we go?” Seven said, because the air in the corridor was starting to stifle.

They walked to the car, swiftly and saying no more. Seven took the wheel as usual, but, unlike times before, there was no conversation; his interaction with Darya had left Seven maudlin and contemplative, which kept him quiet as he drove.

Kirill was not totally insensitive to the change. As the isolated road from the hotel complex turned into highway, he ventured, “Is something wrong?”

Seven held his attention on the road. “No,” he said, but it didn’t come out convincing.

“Are you sure? You seem angry.”

“I’m not angry.”

“Well, you are not happy. Do you not want to see Natalya?”

“I am not the one ‘seeing’ her.”

Kirill sat in silence a long minute, while the car rattled and seemed to chill by several degrees. Seven regretted his tone, but there was no way to take back the words, except to say:

“I’m sorry. I did not mean to snap.”

Kirill turned to him. “Was it Darya? Did she upset you?”

Seven waved his fingers up from the steering wheel. “She was merely looking for attention.”

Kirill fell quiet a moment. “Did she make a pass at you?”

“As I said, she wanted attention.”

Another silent moment. “Do you like her?”

His gut reaction was dismissal, but his charge’s timid concern made Seven change course. “What is not to like?” he said, glancing over to check the reaction to his words. “She is, after all, strong, fierce, beautiful…!”

Kirill pushed back in his seat. “I see,” he said in a hushed voice.

Seven clicked his tongue and reached out, blindly shoving Kirill’s arm. “I am only teasing! She is not my type.”

“No?” Kirill sounded relieved.

“No.”

“Oh.” Kirill sniffed. “So…what is your type?”

Seven paused, to consider just how to answer that question, when the air popped in his ears, and a bolt of fire exploded on the side of the road less than two dozen car lengths in front of them.

 

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This story might be about Seven, but Natalya and Darya are some of the funnest characters I’ve gotten to write. I worried that they would fall into the tropes of femme fatale and ingenue, but hopefully that isn’t the case, and readers see them as more than that. But what are your feelings on these two women? Are they a match for the men?

“Number Seven…” part 3 [original fiction]

"Number Seven and the Life Left Behind" bonusparts original fiction

part 3

 

 

He left Kirill early, before the sun was up, dressing and prepping his gun in the dark. Number Ten, severe in her seriousness, was waiting outside the main suite door, staring at the opposite wall. Seven gave her a nod.

“Good morning.”

“Good morning,” Ten replied, without breaking her thousand-mile stare.

Seven jerked his thumb toward the suite. “There is coffee inside.”

True to her training, Ten didn’t move. She was famous in the ranks for waiting belly-down in the sand for eleven days straight until her target was just in the right position to strike. That patience and single-mindedness served her well on the battlefield, but here….

Seven tried again. “They bring breakfast at five-thirty. Kirill always has the same thing, but I can make sure they add something you like.”

Ten’s gaze flicked his way, but that was all. “I do not eat with my targets.”

Seven lowered his head. “This is not the war,” he murmured. “He is not a target; you do not put him in your crosshairs. You eat with him, talk with him, be his friend—”

Now, she turned to him, one nostril faintly cringing. “I suppose you let him sit in front when you transport him, as well?”

“Fine,” Seven said, and stepped back, waving his hand. “Do it your way. I cannot be late.”

Ten returned her gaze to the wall. “I will wake him at five,” she said.

Seven shook his head and left.

He drove to Special Security headquarters with his foot to the floor. Almost three hours in thoughtful silence, then another two in the Control’s dreary reception area while the director turned the screw. At last, the secretary, a heavy-set woman with the beady eyes of a polecat and the hair to match, announced that Number One was ready to see him.

Seven walked into the office, a modest-sized room done in drab gray but set off by gilded medals placed along the walls at an average man’s eye-level, to remind those who entered just who they were talking to. That was a smallish, crooked-nosed man at the center-placed desk, who did not rise when Seven entered. Instead, he sat reviewing some papers from over the jut of his short nose for the better part of a minute before even looking up. When he finally did, it was only to say:

“Number Seven.”

“Commander.” Seven wondered if One were going to make him stand there at attention for this entire meeting, when the old man waved a mildly crooked hand at the chair opposite his desk.

“Sit.”

Seven took the seat and kept his mouth shut; like most commanders he’d met, One liked his power, and hearing the sound of his own voice. After a few moments, the old man folded his hands in front of him and asked:

“Is there anything you would like to say?”

On the long drive here, Seven had promised himself he would not start with an apology. Not for doing his job. “No.”

One’s expression betrayed no frustration or impatience, but he did prompt, “Nothing about taking your charge off secure grounds and failing to return him to his rooms before curfew?”

“You seem to know the details already. Why should I repeat them?”

The old man twitched. Just a tic at the corner of his mouth, but the façade had been broken. “No one is ever as clever as he thinks he is.”

“I never claimed to be clever,” Seven said.

“Your job is to protect Morozov.”

“I was with him the whole time.”

“Number Two said you took him to a whore. Did you hold his hand while he screwed her?”

Seven’s spine reacted with an itch. Not so much for the words, but for their inflection. “Number Two was not there.”

One raised his chin, in an effort to look down his nose. It half-worked. “So, tell me what happened.”

Seven drew a breath and released it again. “We went into the city; that is true. And, we met a woman. That is also true.”

“A prostitute,” One said.

Seven tilted his head.

“You can tell me now,” One said, jowls drooping. “Or I can dispatch an investigator.”

“An escort,” Seven relented. “But, she is very tactful, and very clean.”

“That is not the point. Morozov cannot be wasting his DNA on some overpriced whore.”

“He ‘wastes his DNA’ every time he takes a shower!” Seven said, pulling a face.

One drew his thin lips taut, and Seven backpedaled.

“He is twenty-two years old. It was just a bit of fun. He has been sheltered his entire life—”

“For good reason! Do you know how many years – how much money – we have spent cultivating young men and women like him? These are not mere athletes,” One said gravely. “They are warriors: the strongest, fastest, fiercest warriors who will restore our country to its great glory. Which we never would have lost if we had stayed pure. They may have barred us from the last games, but that will not happen again. Morozov will win.” He pointed a finger at Seven. “You will make certain it happens.”

“I cannot simply deny him his freedom,” Seven muttered, when One cut him off again.

“You can, and you will.”

Seven stared at him, struck momentarily silent by the director’s authoritarian fervor. “And what if he says no?”

One scoffed. “A dog that cannot be brought to heel must be punished.” His bushy brows went up. “Is that what you want? To have him punished for a bit of fun?”

Seven shifted his jaw to the left, then the right, then mumbled, “No.”

“No,” One echoed, his tone contemptuous. His gaze remained firm as he leaned against his chair with an air of satisfaction. “Now that we understand each other, I expect a full report on events to date before you return to your assignment.” He looked down at his desk, grasped a file folder, and opened it up for perusal. “Ms Petina will supply you with the necessary forms, and a typewriter.” He glanced up again, but only for a moment, and only to say, “You are dismissed.”

Seven forced himself up and went for the door. By the time he passed the polecat and turned down the next corridor, his steps were stomping. He shoved open the lavatory door, and it banged against the wall, creating a crack of splintering tile.

He went to the sink and splashed some cold water on his face. In the mirror, his good eye took in his reflection, focusing on the scar running down the left side of his face and over his other eye, the one that had gone white and dead from a shrapnel shard. The war had taken a lot from him – less than some, more than others – but he’d fought for the lives and freedom of his people. All of them.

He drew a few centering breaths, relieved himself, and returned to the polecat. She made him wait another forty-five minutes before she led him down two hallways, a staircase, and another hallway to a drab, tiny cubicle that held only a single desk with a chair and a typewriter, and that was lit by a flickering fluorescent.

His only course of action was to do One’s busy work. It took a few hours, and when he was finished, the polecat was out at her lunch. Seven decided to walk outside for some food, himself, but everywhere he went, it was too busy, too expensive, or too unappetizing. In the end, he waited in a half-hour-long queue at a café for a bowl of soup that wasn’t half-bad but also wasn’t very good, either. Then it was back to the main office, where the polecat made him wait yet again.

“All right,” she said, after what felt like an eternity.

Seven got up from his chair and handed her the report. She gave it a single glance, and said:

“You need to redo it.”

“You are joking?” Seven hoped.

She pushed the papers back to him. “You can’t type over the lines. It distorts the scanner.”

“That is bullshit,” Seven said, before he could stop himself.

The polecat scowled. “Do you want the new forms, or not? It makes no difference to me.”

Seven bit back the barb at the tip of his tongue and held out his hand.

It took another hour to type the new report, and another hour after that to get it approved. By the time he’d finished at Control headquarters, he was famished, but the cafe he’d gone to at lunch was mobbed with tourists, and it was already evening. He settled for a travel coffee and a pork sandwich so tasteless and terrible, he tossed it out the car window after three bites, for some unlucky dog to find later.

It was long past lights-out when he got back to the hotel. Number Two, standing in the middle of the lobby watching the main entrance, broke into a slow, smug smile as Seven approached.

“How was headquarters?”

Seven held in a sardonic sneer. “Still standing.”

The older agent dropped his forced congeniality. “I trust you understand what is expected of you?”

This time, Seven gave a deferent bob of his head. “I know my job.”

Two nodded in return, as his supercilious smile returned. “Good to hear. No one likes a disappointment,” he said, and walked away with his hands clasped behind him.

Seven glared at his back but kept his voice to himself. His limbs felt like lead, but he didn’t go back to the suite. He needed a drink.

He walked into the hotel bar, pulled up to a seat in front of the bartender, and ordered a shot of whisky, downing it all at once. It went down harshly, not like the good stuff Natalya had.

He pulled out his phone and scrolled to a familiar number.

Dear Cleopatra, he typed. Will you see Antony?

He set the phone down on the bar. In less time than it took for him to order a second whisky, the phone buzzed with a reply.

A queen’s nights have too many hours to say no.

Seven smiled to himself, and tossed back the second whisky. Because to hell with that old man at headquarters who thought he could control other people’s lives.

 

 

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The names “Number One” and “Number Two” always make me giggle a little bit, no matter how serious I’ve tried to make the characters and situations. The fact is, Number Two is supposed to be a number two, especially to Seven and his friends. But what do you think?

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