Written for auberus for the 2007/08 winter_deaddrop fic exchange. She requested Michael Westen and Daniel-Craig-as-Bond, and I was only too happy to oblige. Huge thanks to mrsronweasley and Q for betaing (beta-ing?) and for reassuring me that this story does not, in fact, suck.

Set pre-series for Burn Notice, and at the very beginning of Casino Royale. If you've seen the movie, you'll recognize the scene.

Down Time
by Maya Tawi


Michael Westen was being punished.

They didn't say that, of course, because the CIA boys were bureaucrats at heart, only with more guns, and no one was better than a bureaucrat at sprinkling sugar on a load of crap. Light duty, they called it. Think of it as a vacation, they told him. See the sights, they said.

"A vacation," Michael echoed. "In Prague."

Dan's voice crackled over the secure line. "You got something against Prague?"

"Oh, not at all. Lovely city. Lovely people. Some of them haven't even tried to kill me yet."

"That situation was taken care of."

"Yes, I'm sure the Czech government has spoken very sternly to them."

"I'm not gonna argue with you, Michael," Dan said. "Take the job or take a suspension. Your choice."

"Suspension?" He hefted a paperweight in his hand, evaluating it for bludgeoning purposes, then dropped it back on the desk. "That's a new one."

"Your cover was blown in Dublin. It shouldn't have been. Until we can figure out why--"

"I told you why," Michael said. He grabbed an uncapped ballpoint pen from the desk and started doodling in the corner of the room service menu. "You did read my report, right? I worked very hard on that report."

"Oh, I read it," Dan said.

"That sounds ominous."

"No one thinks you lied, Michael--"

He pressed down hard with the pen. "Obviously someone does, or you wouldn't have mentioned it."

"We're just concerned," Dan said sharply, "that your relationship with your contact may have been what compromised you."

Fiona. Michael closed his eyes. Even thousands of miles away, she was still getting him into trouble. "Relationship, is that what we're calling it?"

"Take the job, Michael."

"Of course I'll take the job. I always take the job. I just don't think sending me to Prague qualifies as a vacation."

"Do you really want a vacation?"

"Got me there," Michael said.

"Anyway, it's a working vacation," Dan said. "Check in with your contacts in the area, see if they have any new information. Make sure they're still on our side."

"Networking? Are you serious? You want me to schmooze?"

"Damn straight I do."

He was definitely being punished.

After forty-eight hours in Prague, during which time nobody shot at him from a nearby rooftop or followed him into an alley with a knife, Michael no longer felt quite so anxious. In fact, he was bored as hell.

Boredom was an occupational hazard in covert intelligence. The explosions and exciting car chases were not necessarily few, but definitely far between. Michael spent most of his time on assignments sampling the local yogurt selection and waiting for something to happen.

Prague was different. In Prague, he wasn't waiting for anything; he was just waiting.

Two of his contacts were dead. One was in prison. One had cut all ties to the intelligence community and had nothing to say, no matter how many veiled threats Michael tossed his way. Michael's list was getting very short, and it was only his second day there. If this "light duty" went on much longer, he might end up starting a revolution just to have something to do.

That evening, he went to a bar called Club Kohout, where Dana Jezek had been slinging drinks two years earlier. Jezek had some kind of connection with MI6, and if Michael got him drunk enough, sometimes he'd let something interesting slip.

Kohout hadn't changed at all; it still smelled like sweat and industrial soap, and Budweiser was still the only beer on tap. Bad '80s power ballads still blared over staticky speakers. Jezek looked the same as well, lurking behind the bar, with his plaid shirt and curly, unkempt hair. Michael slid onto a stool, propped his chin on his fists, and plastered a friendly smile on his face.

"Long time, old friend," he said in Czech.

Jezek glowered at him. "Michael Westen."

"You remember. I'm touched."

"What do you want?"

"What makes you think I want something?"

"You always do," Jezek said.

"I enjoy your company, Dana," Michael said. "You're a fun guy."

"Whenever you come here, you bring trouble. I have enough trouble."

"What kind of trouble?" Jezek didn't answer. "Come on, talk to me."

"About what?"

"What do you got?"

Jezek's eyes darted over his shoulder. He was sweating, which didn't necessarily mean anything; Jezek was always sweating. Still, he seemed damper than usual.

"Budweiser," he said loudly, and okay, that set the alarm bells ringing.

Michael played along. "Anything else?"

"Wait," Jezek said curtly, and disappeared through the door behind the bar. When he returned, he slid a piece of paper toward Michael and said in English, "Here is menu."

Michael frowned and slipped the paper into his pocket. He said, "Bud's fine," stood, and headed for the restrooms with the air of a man very concerned about his bladder.

The men's room was locked, a sign reading "out of order" in both Czech and misspelled English taped to the door. Michael glanced around, saw no one, and stepped into the shadows to read the note.

My life is in danger.

Michael thought, And? According to Jezek, his life was always in danger. Michael doubted he'd survived so long due to his native wit; more likely, if anyone really was trying to kill him, they weren't trying very hard.

He scanned the paper again, half-hoping to find something else, maybe a footnote: No, really, I mean it this time. Nothing.

When he got back to his stool, a mug of flat beer was waiting for him, and Jezek was trying hard to look like he wasn't. Michael put money on the bar and, when Jezek came to take it, said in a low voice, "I'm not a bodyguard, Dana. What do you want from me?"

"I need help. I have no one else."

"Call the police."

"They cannot protect me."

"And I can?"

"You have connections," Jezek whispered loudly. "You are--" He stopped and made some vague gesture that Michael assumed meant CIA.

"I'm really not," he said.

"You can get me out of this country. Please. We need to talk."

Michael sighed. He really was a pushover. "Fine."

"You will help?"

"We'll talk. I'm not making any promises."

"Chvála bohu," Jezek said.

"Sure," Michael said. "Why not."

Jezek was on duty until the bar closed. Michael asked for something to read, and Jezek brought him a week-old newspaper, creased and damp; he suspected it had been unearthed from a trash can somewhere, but elected not to ask.

He skimmed the front page, not really paying attention. If he worked out a deal with Jezek, it could actually be a good thing. The boys in Langley would be thrilled to snake a contact from MI6; it might even get Michael off their shit list.

If Jezek had anything worthwhile to offer. Which, going by past experience, was a pretty big if.

He kept an eye on Jezek, who seemed marginally more cheerful, and on the other patrons, just in case. There weren't many to watch-- a few old men smoking in the corner, a handful of what looked like college students crowded around a small table, and two uncomfortable-looking tourists sipping Becherovka cocktails. The students left and were replaced by three young women, with backpacks slung over their shoulders, who kept looking at Michael and giggling. The tourists made their escape soon after. The old man stayed put.

Some time after midnight, a man in a black suit walked in. He had short blond hair, a tired-looking face, and startlingly blue eyes. British or Australian, Michael guessed. The man halted in the doorway for a moment, seeming lost, then caught Michael's eye. His pursed lips relaxed into a wide grin.

It looked like recognition, and in a way it was: the English-speaking businessman spotting a kindred spirit in a foreign country. Michael wasn't in the mood to chat, but it was too late to hide. The man headed straight for the bar, sitting one stool down from him, and waved Jezek over. "Vodka martini," he said.

Michael stared down at his newspaper.

"Here on business?" the man asked, right on cue.

"Yep." He didn't look up.

"Me too." The man tugged at the knot of his tie. Then he huffed out a short breath, pulled the tie over his head, and shoved it in his pocket. "Just got out of a meeting. They do go on, don't they?" His accent was English, voice a little rough but not too deep, the syllables perfectly formed. A native Brit, Michael decided, all local inflections deliberately trained out of his speech.

"They certainly do," Michael said.

The man squinted at him. "Don't tell me you can read that gibberish."

"I wasn't planning to." He turned the page.

"Better man than I." The man sipped his martini with the excessive care of either the self-conscious or the already halfway drunk. "What sort of work do you do?"

Michael closed his eyes briefly, then looked up and smiled. "Securities."

"Good field," the man said, nodding. "Lots of money there. I'm in banking myself."

"Lots of money in banks too."

The man laughed, too loud and too long. "Good one! Money in banks, eh?"

Michael kept smiling. His face was starting to hurt.

The man finished his drink and ordered another, and kept up a stream of inane chatter while Michael tried to ignore him. He was out of place in the run-down bar, but Kohout was within walking distance of a couple big hotels, and the guy seemed like the type who'd claim to enjoy a spot of local color, if "color" translated to "sticky floors and unwashed glasses." Besides, Michael was having a hard time imagining someone so fatuous could pose a threat.

Then again, he'd known some pretty dumb hitmen in his time.

When the man was well into his second drink, he leaned over, started to lose his balance, then quickly righted himself and moved to the stool next to Michael's. "Listen," he said, his voice slightly slurred, "I realize this is a delicate question, and I normally wouldn't ask, but you seem a man of the world to me."

"Uh," Michael said. "Okay."

"You wouldn't happen to know where a man could find a bit of companionship after a long day, would you?"

Michael leaned his chin against his hand and studied the man. Something about his expression and the way his ears stuck out made him look like a clown. His smile was too wide, almost fake, and Michael found himself wondering if the man were capable of showing less exaggerated emotions, and what they'd look like on his face.

He folded the paper and said carefully, "Female companionship, you mean?"

The man's smile faltered. "Ah," he said. "Well. Yes. Of course."

"Sorry, can't help you, then."

"I see." He hesitated. "Well. Nice talking to you." He drained his martini, slapped some money on the bar, and quickly left.

Michael grinned and turned back to his newspaper. That had been way too easy.

Once the last drink had been poured and Jezek had chased the old men away with a raised bottle, he told Michael he needed ten minutes to close up. He emptied the cash register and disappeared once more into the back room, while Michael, having twice read the paper cover-to-cover, let his mind wander as he folded bits of it into origami cranes.

Inevitably, his thoughts drifted back to Fiona. He wouldn't be seeing her for a long time, he knew, if ever again. He wished he'd had a chance to tell her that. Even after he was cleared for regular duty, he couldn't go back to Ireland. If the IRA didn't kill him, Fiona certainly would.

In a way, it was a relief, getting away from her. They had never quite worked, the two of them, and he had the scars to prove it. Maybe the near-debacle in Dublin had been for the best. He couldn't think straight around Fiona, couldn't bring himself to break away from her either.

He couldn't afford to have attachments. That was the whole reason he'd become a spy in the first place, to have an excuse to avoid attachments.

Though that could be dangerous as well; that way lay asking a complete stranger in a bar where to find a hooker at one in the morning. He'd gotten rid of the guy, at least, easily. Too easily....

Michael put the finishing touches on a paper airplane, tossed it across the bar, and looked at his watch. Fourteen minutes. Jezek had said ten.


He pulled his gun and stepped around the bar. Past the door was a dim hallway, silent and deserted, with a staircase at one end and another door at the other. Decisions, decisions.

"Dana?" he called softly. No answer.

And then, from beyond the closed door, he heard a gunshot.

Michael forced himself not to run. He edged down the hall to the door, then flung it open with his gun still raised. The front hall lay beyond, leading to the restrooms and a storage closet.

The restrooms. And the men's room was out of order.

He pressed his ear to the door and heard, over the tortured strains of Bon Jovi, the sound of running water. The door was still locked. He took a step back, and another deafening crack split the air.

The door was flimsy; he kicked it open on the first try. When the dust settled, the man in the black suit was pointing a gun at him.

Michael's fingers tightened on his own weapon. He didn't dare look away. In his peripheral vision, he saw Jezek slumped on the floor beneath an overflowing sink, eyes wide and blank, gun held loosely in his dead fingers. Another sink and a urinal had been smashed, littering the tiles with broken ceramic; the three stalls seemed to have imploded, their dividing walls in pieces on the floor. All that destruction, and with the worst of the '80s playing so loud, he'd been twenty feet away and hadn't heard a thing.

The man said nothing. He didn't look goofy anymore. His suit was rumpled and torn, and his face seemed carved from granite.

"Well," Michael said after a few seconds had passed. "This is awkward."

No response.

"Good performance out there. Too good, really. I would've remembered you later."

The man's lips twitched, but his eyes stayed cold and hard. "It worked."

"Well, yeah, there's that." Michael paused. "So now what?"

"I'd really rather not have a witness," the man said. His accent was the same, but with a quiet, clipped intensity that hadn't been present before. "I'm sure you understand."

The back of Michael's neck prickled. "And I'd really rather not be shot."

"What was he to you?"

A friend. An asset. An irritation. "Not much."

"Pity," the man said. "There are far better reasons to die."

"Wow," Michael said. "That's good. That's really dramatic. You practice that line?"

Another faint smile. It faded fast. Michael wanted to ask questions, but he knew that the longer he stayed, the less chance he'd have of getting out alive.

"I'm backing up now," was all he said. "I'm leaving. You want to take your chances, go for it. But I'm warning you, I'm pretty jumpy right now, and I shoot a lot when I'm jumpy."

He stepped back. The man's eyes narrowed, but something seemed almost to sag in his face, and his trigger finger didn't so much as twitch. Nor did he lower his gun.

"Bye now," Michael said. "It's been fun." He moved out of the doorway, until the man was out of sight, then turned and ran, just as a bullet exploded through the wall behind him.

He hunched over as he sprinted down the hall, his shoulders tensed, anticipating more gunshots that never came. Still, he kept running, out the front door and down the street, and didn't slow down until he heard sirens and saw flashing lights in the distance.

Dan said not to worry about it. Jezek wasn't an official contact; no one in Langley would be mourning his loss.

Michael said, "Did you miss the part where I got shot at?"

"What, you think he'll come after you again?"

"I don't know," Michael said after a moment. "I really don't. The guy was damn hard to read. But I don't think he'd leave something unfinished."

"We could get you into a safehouse." Dan sounded dubious.

Michael grimaced. "Those are my options?"

"Don't start."

"There's nothing else for me to do here, Dan. Jezek was my only contact still in town and above ground."

"So make some more."

"Well," Michael said, "when you put it like that."

"I'll send you some names to get you started." Dan paused; when he spoke again, his voice was softer and somehow deeper. "You know why you're there, Michael. I can't do anything about that. I would if I could."

"That's sweet, Dan, thanks."

"Shut up and get some sleep. And watch your back."

Developing new contacts was a lot trickier than maintaining old ones. There was way more paranoia involved, on both sides, and more reason for it. It was, Michael thought, a lot like meeting a blind date for the first time, with the added danger that the date might be not just ugly, but also armed.

Michael was finally starting to enjoy Prague.

He didn't think the blond man in the black suit had left town just yet; when the local section chief of MI6, a man named Dryden, was found in his office with a bullet between his eyes, it seemed too much of a coincidence to be unrelated to Jezek's death. Michael changed hotels twice, took the scenic route to meets through busy tourist centers, and generally kept an eye out. When he called in to report Dryden's death, Dan told him that MI6 was being suspiciously silent on the matter. Maybe they'd already taken care of it.

After two weeks spent chasing down crooked informants and overly skittish BIS officials, without ever seeing the man from the bar or feeling the unmistakable itch of someone on his tail, Michael put the encounter in the back of his mind. No good assassin would linger so long after completing a job. If he were going to come after Michael, he would have already done it, Michael was sure. Pretty sure. About ninety percent sure.

After two weeks, even still being on high alert wouldn't have prevented him from drinking orange juice with his dinner in the hotel restaurant, but it might have caused him to notice the slightly off taste before he'd drained the whole glass.

As it was, when his eyes started to drift closed, he thought at first he was just tired. He tried to stand, but his legs wouldn't support him. He tried to push himself away from the table. His arms weren't working too well either.

"Oh shit," he heard himself say. He sounded stoned. "Shit." It seemed to sum up the situation fairly well, so he said it a few more times.

"Not to worry," came a familiar cool, clipped voice from somewhere far away. "Just a bit too much to drink. I'll get him to his room." A strong arm curved around his back, hauling him to his feet. "Up you get now. You really ought to know your limits."

"Shit," Michael muttered.

"I gathered," said the man.

He tried to pull away a few times. His gun was beneath his jacket, but he couldn't quite seem to make his fingers work, and the man had too good a grip on him to let him reach for it.

The last thing he remembered was a curious sense of relief. He'd been drugged, not poisoned; if he were about to choke to death on his own vomit, Blondie wouldn't have bothered to show up.

He wasn't going to die. Not yet, anyway. It wasn't much, but it was something.

Then he sagged against the warm body supporting him, and blackness descended.

Michael woke lying on his back. He never slept on his back. He didn't tend to sleep with his arms above his head, either. His first instinct was to sit up and reach for a gun; caution, and a splitting headache, told him to lie still for the moment.

Someone else was in the room.

He kept his breathing slow and steady as his eyes slitted open. He was in his hotel room, on the bed. A blond head was bent over the laptop on his desk, the man's white shirt untucked from his trousers, his black jacket draped over the back of his chair.

The man didn't turn around. Michael surreptitiously tugged at his wrists. They didn't move.

Next time, he was definitely requesting a bed without a headboard.

"Where is it?" the man asked abruptly, still facing away. Michael thought he was talking to himself, until he glanced over his shoulder with one eyebrow cocked.

"Uh," Michael said. His tongue felt dry and swollen, and his voice reverberated in his head, making him dizzy.

"Helpful, thank you." The man turned back to the computer. His fingers flew over the keys.

Michael let his eyes fall shut again. Either the drug or its aftereffects were keeping him stupid and sluggish; it was difficult to think in a straight line. Blondie had drugged Michael but hadn't killed him. He had killed Jezek and probably Dryden-- Jezek, who knew MI6 business, and Dryden, who was MI6 business.

"Question," he managed to say at last, and cracked his eyes open again.

The man didn't look at him. "Fire away."

"Would if I could," Michael muttered. He licked his lips. "You're, uh, you're looking for something you think I have. I get that. You haven't killed me yet because you don't know who I am or if I really have it, so I get that too."

"And the question would be?"

"What I don't get," he said, "is why am I naked?"

The man straightened and turned. A small, flinty smile curved his lips. Michael forced himself to stay still and meet the ice-blue stare. There was no point in trying to cover himself, even if he could; it was a bit late for modesty.

"Honestly?" the man said.

"Sounds a bit like a trick question."

"That part was just funny."

"Oh," Michael said. "Ha ha."

"Well," the man said, "no, that's not entirely true." He sauntered toward the bed, his eyes never leaving Michael's face. "It was a tactical decision."

Michael swallowed. "Tactics, huh?"

The bed sank under the man's weight. His hand brushed over Michael's bare thigh, and Michael couldn't suppress a small twitch. "You're naked," the man said quietly, "so that in the morning, when they discover that an American businessman has been stabbed to death while tied to his bed, nobody will want to ask questions."

Well. That made sense.

The hand slid slowly north. "Where is the list?"

"What's my motivation?"

"Who do you work for?"

"Where'd you get that suit?"

The man's fingers traced the crease between Michael's left leg and hip. Michael's breath quickened. It was getting harder to stay still, and not just because he was ticklish. Fiona's fault, of course; she was the only reason he had any positive associations whatsoever with being tied up. Fucking Fiona.

Wait, no, bad train of thought.

"Were you working with Dryden?" the man asked softly.

Michael wet his lips again. "No."

"Why are you in Prague?"

"Just love Prague." His voice cracked, just a little.

"Where is the list?"

Michael knew better than to ask what list. As long as Blondie thought he knew something, he'd stay alive. The longer he stayed alive, the more chances he'd have to get upright and fully clothed. He was under no illusions about the life expectancy of a spy; covert intelligence operatives died every day, usually for really stupid reasons. He just didn't want to die tied naked to a bed in Prague.

"Where is it?" the man pressed. Fingernails scraped lightly over Michael's lower belly, just above his groin.

His voice wavered. "Untie me and I'll show you."

The man smiled. The fingernails scraped harder. Michael inhaled sharply through his teeth.

"Sorry," he said breathlessly, "what were you saying?"

"Who do you work for?"

"You first."

The hand trailed up Michael's torso; his muscles quivered and clenched at the touch. "Where is the list?"

"I don't have it, okay? I sold it already." It was a stab in the dark, but a calculated one; what else did spies do with lists but sell them?

The stab hit home. The man's palm flattened against Michael's chest, fingers digging into his skin. "To whom?"

"Whom," Michael echoed, and gave a short, strained laugh. "Seriously? That is so classy. That-- ah--"

Without warning, the man had grabbed his left nipple and twisted. And yeah, Fiona did that too. Michael had sensitive nipples. He'd almost killed her the day she'd found out.

Another twist, and he squirmed, glaring daggers at the man even as the sensation shot down his spine and settled heavily in his cock.

"To whom?" the man asked again, and dragged his thumb over the nub.

"I don't know his name," Michael forced out through gritted teeth.

"Where did you meet him?"

"I didn't. It was a dead drop."

"How did you make contact?"

As he hesitated, wondering whether he should refuse to answer or make something up, the man leaned down and closed his teeth over Michael's sore nipple-- not biting, just holding. At the flick of his tongue, Michael's hips came up and his knees bent, and only then did it sink in that his legs weren't tied.

He was an idiot. He blamed the drugs.

It wasn't much of an advantage, but it was more than he'd thought he had. One good kick, if he could knock out Blondie long enough to get free....

The teeth bit down. Michael's brain short-circuited, an unwilling whimper slipping past his lips. When his vision cleared, the man was looking up at him from beneath pale lashes, his face calculating and expectant. And more than that, Michael realized suddenly; whatever tactical reasoning lay behind this bizarre seduction, it wasn't hard to see that the man was enjoying the hell out of himself.

Which made sense, considering he was so damn good at it. It might even have worked, if Michael had any real answers to give him; he could feel the desperation building, his cock throbbing against his stomach, as he approached that point of arousal where men invariably said stupid things, like I love you and Sure, your mother can come live with us and Of course I'll leave my wife for you. As it was, if he wasn't careful, he'd soon start losing track of his lies.

Or he could turn the situation to his advantage.

For the first time, Michael allowed himself to moan. He watched the man's face as he did, and thought he saw the blue eyes darken. It was hard to tell.

"How did you make contact?" the man asked again, and suddenly that phrase, make contact, was the filthiest thing he'd ever heard.

Michael was losing what little control he had left. He arched up, straining for contact. The man obligingly bent and started sucking on his other nipple.

It wasn't hard to play the role; the hard part was remembering that it was a role. Hands and tongue mapped the scars on his body with disconcerting skill, skirting close to his cock but never quite making it all the way down.

He wouldn't have much time before the questions started again. Michael twisted against the ropes as the man's mouth was occupied elsewhere, but the knots held, and all he got for his trouble was sore wrists and torn skin. The pain cleared his head, though, enough that he could start thinking again.

This wasn't just about some list. It had something to do with MI6, some information Dryden or Jezek had that this man wanted. A list of operatives, passwords, command codes-- didn't matter what it was, somebody was willing to buy it. Whoever Blondie worked for--

Who do you work for? He'd asked that a few times. But that didn't make sense. If he just wanted the list, it shouldn't matter who else had seen it. Unless he thought Michael was MI6 too, but that wasn't the question-- not Are you? but Who are you?

And why wasn't MI6 involved yet, anyway? A contact and a section chief were dead and their killer was still walking around, free to kidnap unwitting American agents and have his wicked way with them. MI6 should have had agents in Prague already, asking questions and being a general pain in the ass.

Unless they were already there. Unless the man wasn't trying to steal the list, but--

"Holy shit," Michael blurted, and then wet heat closed around his cock, blowing his train of thought all to hell.

"Wait," he gasped, "wait, stop, no, wait." The man looked up, pale eyes glittering, and Michael twisted his body into a position he'd previously thought could only be achieved by either Fiona or a trained acrobat and slammed his bare feet into the man's face.

The man flew backwards with a grunt. Michael scrambled into a crouch by the headboard and started pulling at the rope with his teeth, trying to loosen the knots. They didn't budge.

"Aw, hell," he said, as the man staggered upright. He wasn't unconscious, not even close, and now he had a knife.

Michael hurled his shoulder against the vertical wooden slats of the headboard. They splintered but didn't break. As the man lunged for him, he yelled, "I'm CIA!"

The man hesitated, just for a split second. It was enough. Michael sank his teeth into the hand holding the knife.

The knife fell to the mattress. Michael fumbled for it with numb fingers; they brushed against the blade, but he was at the wrong angle to get a grip on it. He head-butted the man to buy a few more seconds, then shifted position and dragged the knife toward him with his foot.

He'd just managed to grasp the hilt when a bloody hand clenched his fist in a vise grip. The man's other hand shot out and wrapped around his throat.

Michael froze.

"Say that again," the man growled. His voice was ragged. Blood dripped from his nose, whether from the kick or the head-butt, Michael wasn't sure.

"CIA," he wheezed.

"You're lying."

"And you're MI6." Michael swallowed with difficulty. "Two kills in one week. Dryden was selling secrets through Jezek and they sent you to plug the leak. You're not just MI6, are you? You're double-fucking-oh now."

The fingers tightened on his throat. "Where's the list?"

"I don't know," Michael ground out. His head was swimming from lack of oxygen, and he blinked hard, clinging to consciousness. "I never saw any goddamn list. Jezek was a contact, he knew someone was coming to kill him, now stop choking me!"

MI6 did. Then he slammed his fist into Michael's face. Michael's skull cracked against the headboard; as he slumped back, dazed, he felt the knife being wrenched from his hand and heard it clatter to the floor by the bed.

He moved his mouth for a few seconds before sound came out. "Ow," he said finally, staring at the ceiling. "That was not necessary."

"Satisfying, though." MI6's face wavered into view above him. "CIA?"

"I'd show you my badge, if I had one."

MI6 bared his teeth. He might have been smiling. Probably not.

"Which means you can't kill me," Michael added, in case he hadn't yet made the leap.

"I'm not quite convinced of that."

"You can. Uh." MI6's mouth was moving toward his; glacial eyes held him transfixed. Michael cleared his throat. "Call in," he said hoarsely. "Have me checked out."

"Yeah." The voice was rough. "I could do that."

Michael's tongue darted out. He tasted blood, and couldn't tell if it was from his lips or the other man's. "Michael Westen," he said softly.

"James Bond," the man said, and closed his mouth over Michael's.

The next time Michael woke up, he was alone, with one hand free and the knife at the foot of the bed, just out of reach. He couldn't remember falling asleep; couldn't quite believe he'd been dumb enough to do so, except that with the drugs and the repeated blows to the head, he figured he'd give himself a pass, just this once.

He spent a few minutes cursing James goddamn Bond in as many languages as he could think of, and significantly more time straining to reach the knife.

He'd just sliced through the last of the ropes when his phone rang. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and followed the sound to the bedside table.

"What?" he snapped.

"Screw you too," Dan said. "You were supposed to check in last night, that's what."

"Oh," Michael said. "Yeah. Sorry."

"What happened?"

He sighed and rubbed his face, then winced. The skin around his right eye was hot and puffy. "Long story," he said, shuffling toward the bathroom.

"I got popcorn."

"I'll put it in the report."

"Screw the report."

"Enough with the screwing, Dan." Michael stared at himself in the mirror. Black eye, bump on the head, sore chest, inflamed scratches all down his body, rope burns on his wrists. Fiona had left him in worse shape before.

That wasn't necessarily a comfort.


"MI6 has a new double-oh."

"Shit," Dan said.

"MI6 are our friends, Dan. We should applaud the achievements of our friends."

"Are you drunk?"

"I'm planning to be."

"Well, you can do it on the plane," Dan said. "Get your ass back to D.C. You're cleared for regular duty."

"That was quick."

"I pulled some strings. You can buy me something expensive later."

"Only the best fruit baskets for you, Dan," Michael said.

"I'm looking forward to that report," Dan said, and hung up.

Michael lowered the phone, still eyeing his reflection. Slowly he raised a hand and touched the bruises on his chest.

He almost tossed the knife on the way to the airport, then changed his mind and stowed it deep in his luggage. It was a good knife. He'd been on vacation, after all; no point in leaving without a souvenir.


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