‘I knew you needed space.’
Taylor lifted his head, barely taking in the view of the punching bag in front of him, and turned to look at his friend.
‘But I thought you’d make contact.’
Grigori’s hands on his shoulders.
He turned to properly face to Russian. Grigori lifted a hand to his face, and wiped sweat away with a clean handkerchief. ‘So are you going to talk to me, Taylor?’
‘I was-‘ he looked away. ‘I knew what I had to do. You-‘ He narrowed his eyes. ‘You agreed.’
‘Never like that, Taylor. Never like that. Never where the Agency can see. Never murder within these walls.’
‘She’s a threat,’ he said. He looked at his hands, and began to unwrap his hands. No pieces of Magnolia’s skirt this time. Standard wraps. Magnolia- Words would be required. Words would be needed of him, and he had none.
What had happened, had happened without many words. It was poor strategy to count on that status quo continuing.
He met Grigori’s eyes. Grigori did- Grigori was an expert on the- On what Magnolia needed. Expected. On what he could – should – be capable of.
There was something positive to focus on, yet the conversation was pivoting on Mimosa.
‘It was an execution. Mirror is dangerous. She’s- What she has is dangerous.’
‘And now she’s untouchable,’ Grigori commented lightly. ‘It’s worth more than your life to go after another agent. You’ll have to wait for her own incompetence to do her in.’ Grigori placed a hand on his cheek. ‘Wishes, by themselves, are not a bad thing, my friend, just what people do with them.’
‘She deserved to die.’
‘Promise me you won’t go after her again? If you do, you’re fucked.’
‘I am aware.’
The situation would stay. He would watch. Monitor. If there was ever a duty-bound reason to execute the mistake, he would take it. Until then – until then there was Duty; and Magnolia.
Grigori put a hand on his shoulder and slowly steered him towards the bleachers. He was no longer impaired by a loss of integrity – but everything seemed – slower. The Scholar had informed him that- He would have scans running for hours.
The effect left him feeling tired.
Grigori sat, and leaned back. ‘What did Ryan say?’
Taylor looked up. Grigori liked when he echoed his words. It was strategic to do so. ‘That if I touch her,’ he said, ‘I am fucked.’
His use of an expletive got a smile from his friend. ‘And your pretty bird?’
Magnolia. Words. He’d told the Scholar. He needed to tell his best friend. The words had been easier with Jones. He’d needed to say them, to keep her. It had been tactical to tell Jones. It was-
‘Magnolia…’ Hesitation. Something he should have been beyond.
‘She’s still listed as a recruit,’ Grigori said, his hand resting against his. ‘So she didn’t leave. Did you talk to her? Have you said anything to-’
Taylor lifted a hand to stop Grigori’s words.
‘Love,’ she said, the word still feeling alien in his mouth. ‘She loves me.’
Grigori gave him a neutral look. ‘And you, my friend? How do you feel?’
The reaction was strange. He hated words, but they had their uses. He listened. He knew what they meant. What people- There was no surprise in Grigori’s reaction.
He kept his hand where it was – the touch was comforting. ‘You knew?’
‘I’ve known for years, my friend. She’s been in love with you for years. I didn’t know she’d ever say anything. I didn’t know you’d react so well.’
Taylor frowned. There was no way of truly knowing his reaction, other than by the fact that Magnolia was still a recruit. That wasn’t a reaction, it was a lack of reaction.
He raised an eyebrow. ‘How do you-’
‘Because you’re not angry, you stupid fuck.’ Grigori smiled. ‘Because you look – for you – happy. Or…some other emotion, but it’s not anger.’
He nodded his assent. ‘I’m not angry.’
Grigori gave him a lopsided smile. ‘Are you happy?’
He stared at the floor. ‘I’m afraid.’
Grigori’s fingers twisted with this. ‘Why would you ever be afraid of something like this?’
‘You know how to do this. I don’t. I am not- Trained. I do not-’ he exhaled. ‘I am not you. This requires someone like you.’
‘Have you kissed her?’
‘Then you’re halfway home already.’
Grigori put his hands on his face, and turned him away from his examination of the floor.
Grigori smiled. Grigori kissed him.
Strong lips moved against his, and a strong arm wrapped around his neck to keep him in place.
Questions formed, and questions died, he didn’t know what to say, he didn’t know what to do, and nothing in his repository of contingency plans had prepared him for an eventuality like this.
Grigori withdrew after a moment and smiled at him. ‘Listen, Taylor, you are the furthest thing from a passionless husk, well, you were before anyway. So much of you has changed, I know that. I miss him, but I refuse to believe that anything, even death, could have killed that much passion.’
Passion was a waste of time. A waste of effort. It was a weakness. It was-
‘Do that,’ he said, ‘again.’
Grigori grinned, grabbed a handful of his shirt, and kissed him again, lips pressing against his for another moment, before sliding across his cheek to assault his ear. There was warmth breath, and the centre of his world fell away. He was glad of Grigori being so close, holding him in place, otherwise, he would have fallen to pale floor of his gym.
It was…different to how Magnolia had kissed him. And it was more. It was- Almost like memory. Like something he should have known.
‘Do you trust me?’ the Russian asked, his lips against his ear.
‘You know I do.’
Taylor touched his hand to his mouth. ‘That was familiar.’
‘Yes,’ Grigori said as he stood. ‘It is, or at least, it should be.’
‘You’re an intelligent man, Taylor,’ he said, ‘do I really have to explain?’
‘What? I was one of your lovers?’
‘No,’ Grigori said, ‘we were exactly what we are now, except a hundred times closer, and we would fuck for fun. If you were just my lover, my life would have been so much simpler, I would have let you go, I would have never attempted to be your friend again. But…you were my friend, you are my friend, and for better or worse, I love you, my friend. It’s as simple, and as complicated as that.’
‘You never said- Anything.’ He stood, so that he wasn’t at a disadvantage. ‘You never said-’
‘I realise that your life would be different, better, probably, had as soon as they reconstituted you, I’d taken you into the back and rocked your world, but I couldn’t. That’s my weakness, and I apologise. I just…I just hated you too much. You were this…monstrous abomination of a joke wearing my friend’s skin. Fuck you? It took all of my self-control not to put you out of your misery.’
It would have been a kindness. An execution of a being that shouldn’t have lived. ‘You should have.’
‘No, no,’ Grigori said. ‘I couldn’t have. I was just having trouble dealing with it.’
‘I didn’t ask to be brought back,’ Taylor said. ‘It isn’t my fault.’
‘It took me a long time,’ Grigori said, ‘to figure out what is old you, what’s the new you, and to talk to the both of you at the same time.’
Taylor stretched an arm. It felt strange to be doing nothing. Just conversing. It was unnatural. ‘How does- Help now?’
Grigori snapped in an at-ease position. ‘Why are you afraid, Taylor?’
He gave his friend a helpless look.
‘Are you afraid that she doesn’t love you?’
Taylor shook his head.
‘Are you afraid you don’t love her?’
‘She’s mine. I love her.’
Grigori smiled. ‘Good. Are you afraid…because you aren’t me, and don’t have any practical knowledge on how to please a partner?’
‘I am not you,’ he agreed. ‘And I want to- I want to-’
Grigori took a step closer. ‘You want to fuck her?’
‘Touch makes sense. I-’ He closed his eyes. ‘We slept together.’ The wording were inelegant. Grigori would assume he meant sex. ‘Touch makes sense.’
Grigori closed the distance, and kissed him again. ‘Not bad, Taylor. You can’t always spoon with a girl the same night.’
He gave a slight nod, wondering if Grigori expected him to ask a question about cutlery. He wasn’t an idiot, despite what some – most – of the recruits seemed to think. He knew words, even if they were hard; were impossible; or had no previous associations.
Spoon. An implement for cooking, eating or killing. Spoon. An action with Magnolia.
Spoon. Sleeping in contact with a lover. Feeling their body, even through the distance of a sleep cycle.
Spoon. An action he wanted to repeat.
Grigori smiled again. ‘You’ll figure out what to do, my friend. When two people know each other as much as you two do…it’s all natural from there.’