“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.

 

7777777

 

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.

 

 

7777777

 

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?

“Number Seven…” part 2 [original fiction]

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

part 2

 

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.”

“Who?”

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.”

 

7777777

 

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!

“Number Seven…” part 1 [original fiction]

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

part 1

 

Kirill Morozov was just a job. That’s what Number Seven kept telling himself, anyway, whenever the Olympian hopeful already with stars of gold in his eyes showed off his white-dagger smile in an effort to get what he wanted. Usually, those desires were harmless: a second bowl of ice cream, some extra time in the hot tub, an indulgent hour of playing videogames in the suite. Tonight, what Kirill wanted was to attend a party in the city to which the rest of the swim team had gone. Unfortunately for the young swimmer, the order that had come through Seven’s earpiece was that he was to escort Kirill back to the suite, give him his supplements, and put him to bed for a solid night’s rest. An agenda in which Kirill wanted no part once he’d received a series of photo messages from a teammate showing Darya Vikhrova, captain of the women’s diving team, already in attendance and already grinding upon three other men on the dancefloor.

“It’s just a party,” Seven said into his comm, while Kirill grimaced and made silent prayer hands in front of him. “I don’t understand why—”

“Yours is not to understand, Number Seven,” the voice replied in his ear, from Control Headquarters over three hundred kilometers away. “Yours is to follow orders. And Number One has given his orders.”

That tone – and the following silence as Control cut off their mic – made it final, and Seven turned to his charge with a look of apology.

“The old man says no.”

“That is not fair!” Kirill complained, there in the middle of the lobby. The woman standing behind the desk cast them a snooping glance but returned to her computer screen when Seven met her gaze. He had that effect on people.

“Please,” Kirill begged. “Ask again?”

“It would not do any good,” Seven said; they both knew that once Control made a decision, that decision was made. He pressed the button for the lift and stepped back, to watch the numbers come down. “Look on the bright side: they will probably break it up before we could even get there. You know how Two is about his curfews.”

Kirill groaned and cringed both hands in front of him, in a rather distasteful mime of groping a woman’s bosom. “But, Darya…!”

Seven sucked a click through his teeth, and gave him a shove into the opening lift. Kirill moved to the back, to rest his behind on the bar, and Seven pushed the button for their floor. As the numbers started to tick up, he turned to Kirill with faint curiosity.

“Do you like Darya?”

“What is not to like?” Kirill said. “She is strong, feisty, beautiful…!”

Seven rumbled a dubious hum. “Tell me: what color are her eyes?”

“Brown.” Kirill blinked. “Or blue.” He shrugged. “One of those.”

“What kind of music does she like?”

Kirill flicked his gaze to the ceiling. “Uh…?”

Seven furrowed his brow. “Do you know if she has any hobbies?”

“I have seen her sunbathing on the roof.” Kirill flashed a toothy smile. “Sometimes, in just her panties!”

“God,” Seven muttered, shooting him a glare. “I despair of you.”

Kirill spread his hands. “What?”

“You do not know the first thing about her!” Seven scolded, as the doors opened. He walked out, and Kirill came to pace him, protesting his innocence.

“Because she will not talk to me!”

“Maybe because all you seem to notice is her breasts!” Seven said, and kept walking.

Kirill followed in silence all the way to the suite, when he muttered, “She has very nice breasts.”

Seven faced him with a groan. “You do know a woman is more than the sum of her measurements. Yes?”

“Of course I know that.” Kirill bumped his wide shoulders. “But how am I supposed to get to know a woman if I am training, training, training all of the time? I want to live,” he said, baring his perfect teeth in a grimace.

Seven swiped the key card and opened the door. He walked in and flipped on the light, to emphasize Kirill’s private, two-bedroom suite – the only one given to any member of their division – where they spent at least a third of every day.

“You live very well,” he said, waving an arm over the main room with its kitchenette, sleeper sofa, large-screen television, and entertainment center.

Kirill walked past him, seemingly without noticing any of it. “Hotel rooms,” he said in a sneering voice, as he flumped down on the sofa. “Gymnasiums. Pools. It’s boring!”

Seven stayed standing, and crossed his arms. “I would have been happy with boring, at your age.”

Kirill sat up, his face going smooth as he relinquished some of his dissatisfaction. “I know swimming is not soldiering,” he said, his tone briefly hushed for shame before it rebounded in volume again. “But at least you lived! You saw the world. You probably had tons of women!”

“I also got this.” Seven indicated his face for its harsh reality, but Kirill snorted.

“I don’t know why you bring that up. The scar is cool. Everybody thinks so.” He threw out his hand and blustered on. “I swim better and faster than anyone else, on our team or any other, and those miserable old men punish me for it!” He jabbed a finger toward the east-facing windows, even if that was the wrong way toward Control headquarters.

Seven approached the sofa, offering the same reasoning that his superiors were so fond of spitting into his earpiece. “You are going to be a champion. That is a great privilege, but also a great responsibility. Wild parties with drugs and alcohol are not good for that.”

Kirill slumped back against the cushions. “Only Ullman takes those stupid party drugs.” He rubbed his belly. “They make me feel sick.”

“Then you should not mind missing them,” Seven said.

Kirill made one last attempt: “Number Four would let me go.”

“I am not Four,” Seven said. “And you are not Ullman. Or Adamski, or Baskin.” He held back a smirk. “You are Kirill Morozov, and you must be held to a higher standard.” He crouched at the edge of the sofa and offered Kirill a tiny smile. “Your time will come.”

The younger man sighed as he got to his feet and threw his arms out in a gesture of reluctant acceptance. “It has already been twenty-two years! What is one more night, eh?” he said, and headed into his room.

Seven took his place on the sofa and watched him go. Kirill was brazen and cheeky, but not without compassion. He was even thoughtful, in his sheltered young man’s way. It was part of the reason why Seven liked him so much.

He picked up the remote control for the television and switched it on. It landed on the news, in the middle of a report about border arrests of immigrants trying to come in and the marginalized trying to escape, complete with disturbing video footage of men in military armor threatening a line of protesting homosexuals with their weapons and shields. He switched it off. From the other room, he heard Kirill singing – badly – to some cloying popular ballad until his voice fell away a few beats later, no doubt due to his standard ritual of self-pleasure under the shower.

Seven pulled his mobile phone from his pocket, scrolling through the contacts list until he came to a particular name. He tapped the dial icon with his thumb and raised the mobile to his ear.

Three rings went by before a feminine voice sounding as rich as chocolate truffles answered, “Allo?”

“Natalya!” Seven said with a smile.

“Who is this?”

“Your favorite ex-war hero,” he said.

“You’ll have to be more specific.”

Seven frowned. “Quit fooling. You know it’s me.”

Natalya’s voice broke into a laugh of sharp delight. “Still so easy to frustrate!” Her tone became glib. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Are you still in the city?”

“Where else can a girl make a living,” she said, more statement than question. “Why do you ask?”

Seven looked at Kirill’s room, from where the sounds of water and the radio still wafted, and smiled to himself. “How would you like me to owe you a favor?”

 

7777777

 

There you have it: part 1 of my original spec-fic story, “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind.” If you liked it – or you didn’t – feel free to add your feedback in the comment section, or send me a note directly at Mayumi[at]bonusparts.com. Once the next part is posted, I’ll add a link to go straight to it from here. Successive links will appear at the bottom of each part in the same fashion.

Update Schedule and Email Notes

I’ll be updating this story every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. So that I don’t spam anyone’s inbox, though, this will be the last time you receive an email alert, until the story is finished.

Thank you for reading!

Log in here!