Standing outside the pool showers, Seven sweltered in his suit. Of course, the training complex had other places he could wait – Four enjoyed smoking outside the exit doors, while Twelve could often be found looking at her phone in the canteen – but Seven preferred staying close to his charge. When Kirill hobbled out from his shower naked and dripping, Seven was there, ready with a towel and some praise.
“That was one of your best times.”
Kirill smiled, and rubbed the towel once over his head before cinching it around his waist. “You watched me?”
“It is my job.” Seven followed him over to the lockers, but stopped him before he pulled out his usual post-training wear.
“No jeans and hoodie,” Seven said, and opened the locker beside, from which he drew out a long garment bag. “You need to look nice tonight.”
Kirill blinked. “For what?”
“We are meeting someone.”
A smile pulled at one side of Seven’s mouth. “Someone with an impressive sum of measurements.”
Kirill’s eyes gleamed with sudden excitement. Then, he threw his arms around Seven, exclaiming in a kind of half-shout and half-squeal, “You are the best!”
Seven laughed and eased him away. “And you are wet.”
Kirill surrendered to a brief blush and stepped back. He unwrapped his towel for a pat-down, and, looking up between swipes of his long, muscled legs, asked, “What is her name?”
“Natalya,” Seven said, turning his gaze to the more mundane sight of the narrow circulation vents near the ceiling. “She is…” He tipped his head back and forth, hunting for a diplomatic description before settling on, “…an independent businesswoman.”
He heard Kirill chortle. “You are such a gentleman!”
“As you should be.” Seven fixed Kirill with a stern and pointed look, no matter what state of undress he might be in. “Every woman is deserving of your respect, no matter who they are or what they do. Do you understand?”
Kirill paused in the middle of buttoning his shirt, then bobbed his head.
Seven nodded, too, and let the stumble go. “Natalya is an old friend of mine. She is shrewd and worldly, but she is also honorable, and discreet.”
Kirill stayed still, save for the inquisitive tilt of his head. “Pretty?” he asked in a tentative voice.
Seven let him stew a moment before breaking into a smile. “A knockout,” he said, and Kirill grinned and nearly bounced out of his skin.
He kept bouncing as he dressed, then bounced all the way to the car, the entire drive into the city, even as they walked up to the drab-gray apartment tower overlooking the park. There Seven stopped him, though, with a hand on his shoulder and a steady look.
“As far as the old man is concerned,” he muttered, bowing his chin to keep his tone low, “we are simply out in the city, getting something to eat.”
“Something delicious!” Kirill said, but Seven glared.
“Be serious,” he said, and Kirill pushed his shoulders back and straightened up. “Now, she may ask you if you want to do things, and that is your choice to say yes or no. But you do not take her choice for granted. Which means that you do not assume, with your mouth or your hands or…any other part of you.”
Kirill’s face was serious before his eyes went abruptly wide. “What kind of things?”
Seven held in a smile for his naivety. “Things you do not go bragging about afterward to your friends.”
“You are my only friend,” Kirill said with a shrug.
“So, don’t tell me,” Seven said, as he pressed the ringer for Natalya’s apartment and looked into the security camera.
The speaker in the panel crackled, and Natalya’s voice said, “Is that a one-eyed devil I see before me?”
Seven cringed in mild embarrassment. “Can we come in, or are we to wait for you to drop your hair?”
The door buzzed, and Seven ushered Kirill through. They took the lift up to the sixth floor and walked down the hall to Natalya’s apartment, where Seven rapped on the door. It opened, and the scent of white jasmine tickled Seven’s nose before he even saw her.
She hadn’t changed much. Still with the impeccable posture that was only accentuated by her tall, narrow heels; still with the bust and behind that defied gravity; still with the bright green eyes, strong jawline, and high cheekbones that, together with her perfectly-placed tendrils of black hair, gave the distinct impression of a panther on the prowl.
“Ah!” she said, sizing up Kirill with a smile. “You have brought me a prince, I see.”
Seven nudged Kirill, who had frozen suddenly dumb, his gaze glued to Natalya’s shaping dress with its decorated bodice and thigh-high slit.
“Uh!” the swimmer blurted at Seven’s second nudging. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
Natalya shot Seven a smirk. “It is my pleasure, too. Come in, please,” she said, and led them into the apartment. They passed through the small open kitchen to the living area, where she stopped, turned, and said, “Would you like a drink?”
“He doesn’t need a drink,” Seven said, but Natalya scoffed at him.
“I think I know better than you what our young prince needs. Just a little something to help you relax,” she said, stroking a long finger over Kirill’s cheek; Seven noticed each nail had a slightly different design. “I have vodka, whisky, beer…?”
Kirill swallowed visibly, and blinked for what seemed like the first time in a full minute. “Uh, a beer is good. Thank you.”
“Nothing too strong,” Seven said.
Natalya’s smile slacked a bit at his warning. “Do I have to put you outside?” She turned her winsome expression back to Kirill. “Shall we put him outside, like the annoying dog he’s being?”
His sense of responsibility, loyalty, or some other reluctance caused Kirill to falter for an answer.
“Let me have some of that whisky you mentioned,” Seven said in the pause; “and I’ll shut up and watch the television. Okay?”
“There are tumblers in the bar,” Natalya informed him, pointing to a shallow shelf and refrigerator beneath the living room’s window. She slipped her arm through Kirill’s and put out her other arm, waggling her fingers blindly. “And hand me a beer. We’ll share it inside,” she said, holding Kirill’s stupidly mesmerized gaze.
Seven went to the bar, popped a cold beer from the refrigerator, and put it in her hand. “Be gentle,” he said to Natalya, because Kirill obviously wasn’t paying attention to him.
She didn’t take her eyes from the younger man but said, “I know my job.” She drew Kirill toward the open door along the inside wall, beyond whose threshold Seven could see an impressively large and well-laid-out bed, and smiled again. “Come, sweet prince. We will get to know each other better, away from these distractions.”
Seven got a glimpse of Kirill’s eagerly flushed face before Natalya pulled him into both the bedroom and a close embrace. Then she closed the door, leaving Seven alone.
He went back to the bar and poured himself a whisky, a fine, forty-year-old Highland Park with a pleasant burn in the nose, and took a more discerning glance around the apartment. It was not large, but it was decorated well, and at fair expense. The kitchen appeared functional and modern, with a few high-end appliances perched pristinely on the counter. Gifts, perhaps, because, for in all the years he’d known her, Natalya had only ever been able to cook coffee. The living room, predictably, felt more lived-in, with the mahogany bar, a loveseat and chaise in matching russet, and a small table with a manicured spread of attractive books that had probably never even been opened.
He took a sip of the whisky and sat down on the loveseat to turn on the television. He kept the volume low so as not to disturb the next room…but also to stay aware if he might be needed, just in case. The television came on to the news, and more wretched reports of plummeting stock averages, mounting guerrilla terrorist strikes, and militarized deportations of anyone who didn’t suitably fit the description of state-approved patriot.
He changed the channel. The satellite frequency scan took a moment, though, and in that brief lull between news report and banal melodrama, he heard Kirill wheeze a noise of reedy delight.
Seven chased his grimace with a gulp of his whisky, and upped the volume on the television. He settled back into the cushions, concentrating more on the details of the scene on the television than the drama; he had enough of that to deal with in his real life. At some point, he dozed off on the loveseat, to the soporific spectacle of a tropical mystery.
He came to with a sharp snort, as someone poked his arm.
“Some bodyguard you are,” Natalya muttered. She clinked his glass with the lip of the bottle.
“No, no.” He waved her away and struggled to sit up. “I have to drive.”
“Then I’ll drink it.” She poured, took his glass, and swigged, ending with a shimmy of her shoulders. She had replaced her form-fitting dress with a dressing gown in red silk stitched with black lace flowers along the edges, and gathered her hair at the back of her head into a shiny onyx cascade that was somehow no less striking than her precise coiffure of earlier. Hardly a wonder why men fell at her feet…or why she commanded the price she did to let them stay there.
She crossed her legs out of the gown and pressed the glass to her forehead, sighing softly. “What is it about young men, that they can screw all night without even needing a drink?”
“They are young men,” Seven said, suddenly amused by and proud of his charge.
Natalya shot him a sideways glance. “You were never like that.”
He shook his head in agreement. “Too many responsibilities.”
“Such as our young prince in there?”
He nodded. “Such as him. How did he do, by the way?”
“A bit bumpy to start. But, sweet. And very receptive to suggestion, if you know what I mean.”
Seven raised his hand. “Please, do not tell me.”
“You don’t want to know?”
“What a man does behind closed doors is his business, and no one else’s.”
“So proper,” she cooed, and leant close to him; he could feel the weight of her breasts against his arm. “How long has it been, for you?”
“About seven inches.”
She clicked her tongue for his irreverence. “It is not too late, you know. You are still young!” Her finger stroked the scarred side of his face, lightly, like the drift of a feather. “Still handsome.”
“That is what I keep telling him,” Kirill said from behind them. “But he is all about the job.”
“That job is you,” Seven reminded, as he turned to look back at him. Kirill had redressed into his slim-cut, black, button-down shirt and trousers, but he seemed to wear them with a different air, now. He walked with a smoother sway, too, and smiled in a way that brought the word languorous to mind.
“My prince!” Natalya swept up to meet him, her robe flowing around her long, smooth legs like for a ballroom dancer twirling on a competition floor. “You are leaving already?”
Kirill accepted the wind of her arms, and bowed his head as a kind of bashful excuse. “I have to get up early, for training.”
“Then train,” Natalya said, pressing her body against his with the poise of a true professional. “And win.” She smiled a white, flattering smile, adding, “For me,” just before she drew his face to hers for a kiss that was long if not deep.
Seven rolled his good eye as he got to his feet. “All right, Romeo,” he began, but Natalya brushed him off.
“Romeo is a boy,” she said, caressing Kirill’s cheek. “This one is a man. Like Marc Antony.”
Seven humored her with a tight smile. “You just want to be Cleopatra.” He put a hand on Kirill’s shoulder. “Come on. We need to be back before Two makes his rounds.”
Kirill blew a sigh of disappointed resignation. “I have to go. But thank you.” He paused to make a fresh smile. “My queen.”
Natalya laughed and led them to the door. “Come back anytime.” She let them pass and offered a sultry look equal to a blown kiss. “Both of you.”
They said a simple goodnight, and walked back to the lift in steady silence. Once they were inside, though, Kirill nearly swooned against the wall of the lift as he went on shoveling his praise.
“She was everything you said she’d be: clever, sophisticated. And beautiful! The things I have learned…!” His knees collapsed under him for a dramatic semi-fall, but he popped up again a half-second later, the gold flecks in his eyes alight with excitement. “I have never felt so alive as I have tonight! And it is all thanks to you, my friend,” he said, and put his arms around Seven in an exuberant hug.
Such silliness continued through the long drive to the hotel, during which Kirill sighed and squirmed in his seat beside Seven.
“Is it possible to fall in love with someone you’ve just met?”
“It’s possible,” Seven said, as he held the accelerator mostly to the floor.
“Then I think I am in love with Natalya.” Kirill faced him with his whole body. “Can we see her again?”
“We just left. And this morning, you didn’t even know who she was!”
“I know, but…!” Kirill groaned and fell back against his seat. He gyrated his hips, in a slow pantomime of a thrust that was impossible not to notice. “She is so…talented!”
Seven returned his focus to the road. “What did I say about keeping details to yourself?”
Kirill gave another groan, this one more plaintive than lusty. “You have done so much for me. I want to do something for you!”
Seven shot him a tickled smile. “You can sit still and let me drive.”
Kirill locked his hands in his lap. “I can do that,” he said, and grinned out the windshield.
Even with Seven’s speeding, they made it back to the hotel only twenty minutes after their lights-out curfew. Unfortunately, they couldn’t sneak past Two standing in the corridor outside the suite.
“What is the meaning of this?” Two demanded, furrowing his bald brow. He stood a head shorter than Kirill, and half again as much than Seven, but the stocky old agent threatened enough menace to stop men with a word. He pointed a thick finger at Kirill. “What is he doing out of his rooms?”
“He can hear you,” Kirill snapped, and Seven put out his hand.
“Let me handle this.” He hunched his shoulders, in deference to the senior agent. “We went into the city to blow off some steam, and lost track of time. That is all.” He made to move around the other man, but Two puffed his chest to block their way.
“That is not all. Your duty is to protect your charge. That includes making sure he is where he is supposed to be, at all times.” His sausage finger swung toward Kirill again. “That boy belongs to the state—”
“I don’t belong to anyone.” Kirill lunged toward Two, held back only by Seven’s powerful arm. “And I am not a boy! I was with a woman tonight,” he crowed suddenly. “A beautiful woman with more class and cleverness in her little finger than you—than a team of you would have in your whole pickled little bodies!”
Two’s dark eyes flashed at Seven. “Is this true?”
“Are you jealous?” Kirill sneered.
“Enough,” Seven said through his teeth, but it was too late.
“You arrogant child,” Two snarled at Kirill. “Go to your rooms.”
“I don’t take orders from you,” Kirill began, only to be cut short by Two’s hand clapping him loudly on the ear.
Kirill flinched but just barely, pride and youthful belligerence shimmering in his gaze. Before there could be more, though, Seven stepped between them and grasped the swimmer’s arms.
“Go,” Seven said, and pushed him toward the suite. Kirill went, looking back just once for a sharp glare at Two.
Seven turned to the senior agent. “You did not need to do that.”
“I did not see you controlling him.”
“I can explain—”
“I am sure Number One will be very interested in hearing your explanations,” Two said, and puffed with a push of his chin. “You can deliver them to his face at headquarters, first thing tomorrow morning.”
Seven balked at him. “That is a three-hour drive!”
“Then I suggest you set an early alarm.”
“What about Kirill?” Seven waved his arm toward the suite. “I cannot simply leave him.”
“Number Ten does not currently have an assignment,” Two said readily. “She can look after Morozov.”
Seven blinked, and shook his head. “Ten is not a bodyguard.”
“And you are not in a position to make decisions concerning state property.” Two edged closer to him, jutting his chin to make his whole face seen as he looked up at Seven. “You were awarded this position because of your military record, despite your handicap,” he said, in a tone designed to intimidate. “But do not think it will protect you forever. Not from me.”
Seven stood straight over him. “I have never used my war record as leverage for anything. I do not have to,” he added with a subtle snarl.
Two narrowed his stare. “See to your duty,” he said at last, turning away.
Seven curled his fingers into a not-quite fist. Picking a fight with Number One’s eyes and ears in the field wasn’t smart, though. So he let his anger go with a sigh and walked down to the suite. The door was ajar, and Kirill stepped back as Seven swung it open.
The athlete’s posture had fallen, and a guilty frown had replaced his former energetic beam. “I’m sorry,” he said. It hurt to see that look on his face…but he was a man, now.
“Get some rest,” Seven advised. “We both have long days tomorrow.”
Things did not go so smoothly for our protagonist there, now, did they? Is Seven in trouble? Did Kirill just make things worse? And what do you think about Natalya? I’m happy to hear your feedback!