by Arisu Riddle (アリス・リドル)
illustrated by snork_nombly
First things first: I am an evil genius. Two years ago I organised a coup that overthrew the President and Parliament and installed myself as Boss of this country. That’s my title, as Prime Minister or President just conjures images of balding men with no spines, Leader has been forever tainted by insane man with daft moustaches, and I couldn’t very well be King with my anti-royalist tendencies. So, Boss it is. Dr Nemesis, evil scientist, Boss of his own country. My assistant and right-hand man is Scarface, who has been my trusted companion since we met.
Now that’s out of the way, we can continue.
Luckily for me, I am one of the smarter people of this world. I knew that someone would turn up eventually with the intention of kicking me out of office – and possibly killing me, depending on the type of hero they were – and prepared accordingly. I am an evil genius, after all.
The hero isn’t very amused. Tough luck being him. Then again, I wouldn’t be very amused either if I had been handcuffed and strip-searched, forced out of my fancy adventuring gear into plain white cotton and any and all things that could be used as weapons confiscated. He should be grateful, though, as I could have been a lot worse. I could have stripped him naked and chained him in vulnerable positions. So, really, I’m being quite a considerate captor, dressing him in comfortable if rather plain clothes and only handcuffing his arms behind his back.
I smirk at him, as an evil genius does not smile or grin. “You did very well,” I tell him, ensuring there is a noticeable sprinkle of patronisation in my voice. “You did have me rather worried when you failed to realise that the Heart old Druid was talking about was the Capital.”
“You mean Hearthaven,” the hero says lowly. His name, by the way, is Luke. It’s a good name for a hero, Luke: it’s an honest, hopeful, brave, earnest kind of name. It goes with blue eyes and brownish-blond hair and farm boy good looks, all of which this young Luke has in droves.
I shrug. “If you want to use the old name, yes. I prefer the new.” Well, obviously. I introduced the new names. It makes everything so much easier when the capital city is called Capital, border towns are Border 01 and so forth, up to Border 56, and other places are named after their main tourist attractions: Flower Clock, River Town, Great Big Castle, Not Quite As Great But Still A Very Big Castle… It’s one of my favourite alterations, to be honest. “I was almost tempted to give your little trio a fourth member just to give you the answer to that riddle, but that would have required a fifth friend, as heroes can only exist in groups of three or five. Occasionally seven will do, but that rather clutters the plot. Scientifically proven.” A slight flash of teeth. I do have very good villain teeth. My canines grew slightly pointier than is usual, and slightly in front of my other teeth, making me look part fox. (It’d be vampiric if I wasn’t a redhead; but as the image of vampires has been rather tainted nowadays, I prefer the fox comparison).
“Where is Alanna? Claire?” Ah, the first signs of desperation.
“You do care for them such a lot,” I say absently, as if I am not already aware of this from my various spies. “It’s really quite sweet.”
Luke decides to start struggling against his handcuffs then, as he apparently hadn’t been listening when I told him that there was no point in doing so. I designed those cuffs myself: no amount of wriggling will cause a pin to slip and they can’t be picked. I’m not stupid. There aren’t any convenient sharp objects in the cells, either, and the air vents in my headquarters aren’t oddly large. “Tell me where they are!” poor Luke cries.
“Claire is here, though I will not tell you her specific location in case you decide to rejoin her and stage some silly escape attempt.” His glare increases in ferocity. It is akin to being threatened by a gerbil. “As for Alanna, your dear love interest has returned to being my Minister of Marketing.”
Luke pales. “What?” he breathes.
Smirk smirk. “I know. Shocking, isn’t it? Your special, trusted companion, an agent of your worst enemy. I can’t believe you never suspected it, it happens such a lot. Then again, that girl can turn a phrase so quickly, even the grammar becomes dizzy.”
“I don’t believe you,” Luke whispers.
“Then you’re an idiot,” I say shortly.
Wait, what. This isn’t right. Heroes yell and argue, confident until the end; they just become enraged upon discovering betrayal, either vowing revenge or to get their love interest back. Even if they cry, they cry heroically.
This boy is… just sobbing. Rather pathetic, really. Luke has lowered his forget-me-not blue eyes, dropped his head, and just started crying. Quite a disappointment, really: you prepare yourself for weeks, rehearse a load of intelligent and witty one-liners and some clever banter, and then don’t even get to use them because the hero decides to just break down. Pretty unfair.
“… I’ll leave you to it,” I say awkwardly, and leave Luke’s cell. (A pretty comfortable cell, all things considered: there is a separate room for the toilet, sink, and shower, and I had even had someone pick out some tasteful wallpaper.) I lock the door behind me, pause for a moment, and when I turn I walk right into Scarface.
“Ack!” I say, a pretty undignified noise for an evil genius. “Didn’t see you there.”
Scarface catches hold of my arms and smiles. He has a pretty good smile for a villain: you can’t work out what the hell he’s smiling about. Not even I know, which does annoy me a bit. “Of course not, sir, as you were not looking. How did things go with the young Luke?”
I frown. “He started crying when I told him about Alanna.”
Scarface looks rather taken aback. “That’s a bit of an extreme reaction to a habit.”
“Ah, no, not that,” I correct. “When I told him that she’s been working for me all this time.”
“Oh, that.” Scarface pauses for a moment. “Yes, I can see why someone would cry about that.”
Another thing about Scarface is that his expressions are usually unreadable. No one can work out what just what he’s thinking. Again, incredibly useful when turned against enemies; incredibly annoying when used on me.
“Scarface,” I say suddenly, “you can let go of me, you know.”
“Sorry, sir.” He does so and smoothes out the creases he had made in my sleeves. I allow him to mother me for a moment or so before losing patience and knocking his hands away.
“All right, all right, that’s enough,” I mutter. “What would people say if they saw us?”
“The same thing they usually say, probably,” Scarface replies with a slight shrug.
“And what’s that?” I ask, slightly suspiciously.
“You tell me, sir.”
“Hmm,” I say. Scarface’s expression doesn’t change. “Well, anyway, what’s next on the agenda?”
“You have a meeting with the Minister of Defence in a quarter-hour, sir.”
I frown. “The hell are we defending against?”
“Just general defending, I think,” Scarface answers smoothly, “against general things.”
I sigh. “Off we go, then. The road goes ever on and on, and the duties of an evil genius are just as continuous.”
I don’t go back to check on Luke, as my day is full of appointments and paperwork and arguments disguised as debates and all the other necessary little jobs. Besides, it’s not as if he’s going to escape: even if he does attempt to, my security will stop him.
I do, however, find a few spare minutes to visit Claire. She is on the opposite side of the building to her brother in a room that isn’t strictly a prison cell but serves as one quite admirably – I’ve always hated offices. Claire, a slim brunette of a far shorter temperament than Luke, has also been dressed in plain white and handcuffed, though hers are chained to the wall as well. She’s sitting on a desk and looking rather bored.
“So when am I allowed out of these?” she asks, and waves her manacles at me. Honestly, is no one versed in prison etiquette anymore?
“When I decide that they are no longer required,” I reply archly. “You’re very calm for a prisoner.”
Claire shrugs. “It’s a fair cop. There never was a Doom Machine, was there?”
“There could have been,” I say, ever so slightly defensively. “I definitely have the technology, and the mind to create one. In a way, there was one, as you believed there was, and so to you it was real-”
“Yeah, yeah,” Claire sighs. “You’re clever. I get it. Let’s change the subject. Alanna was working for you since the beginning, wasn’t she?”
Bloody hell, I do so hate it when people go off script. “Yes,” I answer shortly. “If you knew that, why didn’t you tell Luke?”
“‘He was busy falling for her.” She pauses. “Her is correct, isn’t it?”
“Definitely her,” I clarify. “Very her.”
Claire shrugs again. “‘Kay. So, when am I no longer going to be your prisoner?”
I look at her critically. She iss gazing at me openly, honestly, her body language relaxed and calm without any trace of hostility. “Why aren’t you fighting me?” I ask, trying not to show how off-balance this is all making me.
“Not my fight,” Claire answers plainly.
I don’t understand people at all.
I inform Scarface of this later as he’s aiding me in the laboratory in some late-night chemistry experimentation. He pulls his goggles down and says, “They are rather complicated beings, sir.”
“Ridiculously complicated,” I do not grumble, as evil genii don’t grumble. “So much easier to dictate to them than persuade them, as half the time they don’t know what the hell they want and prefer it when you give them something they can complain about instead.”
“Indeed, sir, and you are doing a fine job of it, particularly giving them things to complain about.”
“Thank you, Scarface. Now, stand back, as this will explode. Or perhaps melt. I’m not sure which.” I hope for the former, though. I do love explosions. There’s something wonderfully majestic in their pointless destructive power. They combust in a myriad of colours, light the room with their violence, and then die down leaving ashes and debris and Scarface’s hair blown back, which I should not find as hilarious as I do.
I carefully tip the test tube over the beaker and a tiny drop of purple liquid crawls out. It hit the liquid in the beaker, and – whoomph.
“Brilliant,” I say, and peel my goggles off, snapping them back into place on the top of my head. “Quite brilliant.”
“Indeed, sir,” says Scarface dryly. I turn to look at him and utterly fail to stifle a chuckle, and I can’t be blamed for that, dammit. He looks ridiculous. He removes his own goggles and gives me one of his slightly fond, ‘must you, sir?’ looks. “And what, pray tell, are we going to use this new found explosive knowledge for?”
I shrug. “Whenever an explosion is necessary, really. Now come on, high time we turned in for the evening. Or, rather,” I add quickly, “we turned in in our separate locations.”
Goddamn, he was smiling again. “Yes, sir.”
“Hello,” I say, and cursed myself for just how hesitant I sound. I’m the Boss here! Bosses aren’t hesitant about anything!
Luke doesn’t answer, which is bally rude of him.
“Sleep all right?” I ask. “I did make sure the beds in these cells weren’t too bad.”
“Was all right,” Luke whispers.
And then I’m left unsure again, which is annoying me even more than Luke’s thoroughly downhearted expression.
“Right,” I say. “Well, then. Good. I’ll just… go, then.”
I curse myself as soon as the words are out of my mouth. Evil genii don’t make excuses, especially if they’re Bosses. They don’t explain what they’re doing, they just do it. Argh, I say. It’s worryingly difficult to think around Luke.
When I leave the room, I ended up walking right into Scarface again. This time my reaction is more of an, “Wuaaargh!” which honestly embarrasses me more than anyone.
Scarface’s eyebrows are in danger of disappearing into his hair. “I beg your pardon, sir?”
“I have no bloody clue,” I reply. I fee like that metaphorical rabbit caught in the metaphorical headlights: something weird is metaphorically happening, but my metaphorical bunny brain is too stunned to try to work it out.
Did I just say bunny?
“I really have no bloody clue,” I reiterate.
I don’t think Scarface has, either. I have never seen him so confused, and I’ve known the man for three years and, in all honesty, we have seen some pretty odd things together. Late-night biological experiments are not for the faint-hearted, particularly when they start moving.
“Well, let’s get you some tea,” says Scarface, putting an arm around my shoulders and starting to steer me towards the kitchens – at least, I assume that’s where we were going, as that’s where the tea is. I duck out from under his arm as soon as I deem it polite – doesn’t do to see the Boss being casually affectionate – and walk a few steps ahead of him down the corridors. My Headquarters do have some lovely corridors. There are the shiny metallic corridors of the laboratory block, the vaguely threatening corridors of the prison block, and the great, grand, wood-panelled corridors of what I call the argumentative block, meaning the part where I am forced to deal with politicians and their ilk. Wish I could throw the whole lot of them in prison: they’re more evil than me.
We enter one of the kitchens, decorated in a kind of terracotta, and Scarface leaves me at one of the tasteful wooden tables – there are larger ones in the dining rooms, but this little kitchenette is for tea and biscuits and toast and other snacks to help one through the day. Alanna’s sitting at the table as well, munching on a buttered crumpet. She has an awful lot of hair, does Alanna. It seems to be far too much for just one person.
“Our Lord feeling a bit under the weather?” she asks once Scarface has gone.
“I’m not sure, honestly,” I confess. “Is it a sign of illness when you can’t think?”
Alanna leans forward. “That depends on when it happens,” she says, and I’m kind of worried by how interested she is.
“I think there’s something wrong with the prison block,” I say. “Possibly the air conditioning is broken again.” That would explain why I keep flushing, as well.
I am definitely worried by the gleam in her eye. “Specifically in Luke’s room?”
“It’s not a room, it’s a cell,” I correct. “And it doesn’t require a huge leap of the imagination to think that.”
Alanna chuckles. It’s an especially disconcerting noise from such a feminine person. “It doesn’t require a huge leap of the imagination to reach the other conclusion, either.”
I narrow my eyes suspiciously. “What other conclusion?”
Alanna twirls some of her ridiculously abundant red hair around her finger. “You did send me instead of, say, Charles to join Luke’s little band.”
I’m a little thrown by this sudden change of topic, as it isn’t like Alanna to leap from one train of thought to a completely unrelated one at the drop of a hat. She’s usually pretty lucid. “You’re a better actress,” I reply, and I have no clue why I’m sounding so defensive. “I trust you.”
“You trust Charles.”
“I trust you more.”
Alanna grins and leans back in her chair, taking a delicate and triumphant bite out of her crumpet. “How closely did our Lord and Master watch Luke’s exploits, Scarface?” she asks. Scarface has returned, carrying a pot of tea, a cup, a little jug of milk, and a small sugar bowl.
“You didn’t have to make a whole pot,” I say. “I’m not in that bad a state – am I?”
“He followed young Luke’s adventures with great interest,” Scarface answers, “and, please forgive my presumptuousness, sir, but you do seem to be.”
I grumble unintelligibly while Scarface pours me a cup.
“This just proves it, then,” says Alanna.
“Proves what?” I ask.
Alanna and Scarface are giving each other Looks. It’s bad enough when Scarface uses his Look, but to suddenly find Alanna Looking as well is almost too much.
“I’m afraid it does,” says Scarface in very measured tones.
I do so hate it when my bloody subordinates are keeping things from me. I sip my tea and, while marvelling in a vague way at how Scarface always knows how to make it just right, I make a mental note never to look to Alanna for help of any kind ever again.
I’ve been visiting Luke every day and he’s still being a moody little thing. He has asked once about Claire but spends the rest of his time staring blankly at the wall. I worry he’s depressed. I’m considering releasing him, but of course there are all kinds of problems with that: if he decides to overthrow me again he has a better understanding of how my mind works this time, and knows I am not above strange and interesting ruses. I do plan on releasing him someday, as he hasn’t really done anything wrong, just picked a daft profession, but the real problem is knowing when to.
I sigh. I’m not paying any real attention to the world. I know there are various people wandering around, and I trust that Scarface is at his station at my side, but other than that I am not taking any notice of the world outside my head.
Which is why I fall down the stairs.
I have not done this since I was a very, very small child, when you fall over everything. I’m lucky in that I manage to pick an average-size staircase, not one of the huge showy ones, but it’s still a very unpleasant experience. One moment my foot is on firm ground, the next there’s that sickening feeling of being loose in space and then it’s a very, very bumpy ride until I manage to stop myself by grabbing onto the banister. “Ow,” I say crossly. Buggeration, my arse is bruised beyond relief.
“Dr Nemesis,” I hear frantically in my ear. Scarface has leapt down – bloody hell, he can be athletic when he wants to be – to my side and is holding my elbow and looking rather concerned. “Are you all right, sir? Do your shoes need re-heeling?”
“I’m bruised more than a banana in a tumble-dryer,” I grumble. “No, it’s not my shoes. I don’t know what it-”
And then I stop. Because I do. Because I was thinking about Luke, and I zone out a lot when thinking about him, and blush and babble a lot in his presence, and am far more worried about him than I should be for someone who, when you get right down to it, did want to overthrow me.
“Oh, shit,” I groan.
Unfortunately, my emotions don’t seem aware of this.
Which is why I’m in Claire’s office-turned-cell and she’s blinking at me curiously and saying, “What?”
I frown and cross my arms. “You heard quite well.”
“I’m wondering if I did,” says Claire. “Did you seriously just ask me what my brother’s hobbies are?”
“Yes,” I answer curtly.
Claire stares at me. “Wow,” she says.
“Hey, I’m not judging,” she says, holding up her (still manacled) hands in a placating way. “My mind is just a teensy bit boggled. It doesn’t really fit with your image.”
“I know,” I say through gritted teeth. I haven’t even told Scarface about this visit to Claire. To say I am deeply embarrassed is an understatement – this has been happening a lot lately. I dislike it immensely.
“Well,” says Claire, leaning backwards, “he’s pretty fond of happy endings. Comedy. Musicals. Gardens.”
“We had one, back home with Mum,” Claire replies. “I just kept killing everything, but she and Luke would tend it, and stuff. They liked watching the little birds.”
“Why did you leave your mother, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Well, she was kind of decaying,” says Claire. “She wasn’t a great conversationalist after the cancer.”
“Oh,” I say softly. “My Dad had that.”
Claire sighs. “It’s a bugger, isn’t it?”
“It’s the worst bugger of all.”
“Luke took it very hard,” Claire explains. “I was promoted to parents, as it were. So be gentle with him, ‘kay? He is my little brother.”
“I’m evil,” I reply, “not cruel.”
Claire laughs. I think I shall let her join my staff once I am certain of her loyalty.
I jump when I leave the room and find Scarface waiting outside. I try to form a question, and then give up. It’s Scarface. I’d almost swear he’s snuck a tracking device onto me if it didn’t seem below him. Maybe he just has a sixth sense. Or perhaps he’s secretly part bloodhound – but that doesn’t seem likely, as he would have told me.
Scarface doesn’t say anything, but then neither do I. He falls into step beside me as I walk and probably thinks I don’t notice the fact that his arm starts hovering near mine whenever we’re in the vicinity of stairs. That isn’t a mistake I’m about to make twice. Those bruises make just sitting down a nightmare.
I try to appear very casual as I make a beeline towards Luke’s room. Scarface still isn’t offering an opinion. It’s getting a little disconcerting. He usually has something to say about everything.
Luke actually looks up when I enter his room, which I take as a good sign.
“Hello,” I say, and then start cursing myself for not being all self-assured and villainous. This is how things always go when dealing with Luke. “Would you like to go outside?” I ask then, trying to regain some face.
Luke sits up. He looks surprised and cautious and pleased, and unsure as to which emotion should be the reigning one. “Where?” he asks.
“Out behind the chemical sheds,” I say with my usual sarcasm. A-ha, that’s where it’s gone! Damn thing keeps disappearing when faced with Luke. “Just for a stroll. You have been cooped up in here for a rather long time.”
“What about Claire and Alanna?”
I unlock his handcuffs and he stands, doing that odd wrist-rub thing people in films always do when they’ve been released from manacles. I don’t understand it at all. Does a little rubbing really alleviate any hurt that much? Surely it would make it worse by putting pressure on the sore area? It’s not as if my handcuffs cause that much pain either: as I said before, I designed them, and made their interiors slightly cushioned so as not to break skin as handcuffs usually do. I’m evil, but that doesn’t mean I should cause needless hurt to my prisoners.
“I can’t risk having you three in the same vicinity,” I reply. “Sorry.”
Luke sighs and cracks a tiny smile. “Thought as much.”
I truly hate the fact that the only thought in my head is, He’s so pretty when he smiles. Seriously, what kind of thought is that?!
I hate being smitten.
“Try to escape,” I warn the young hero, “and I will have to use my gun. And if I’m not quick enough, Scarface is.”
Speaking of, my assistant has a slightly odd expression right now. It’s rather dark. This is strange, as Scarface is usually rather gentle and amiable, if mysterious, and rarely looks angry. No, it’s not even anger: it’s another of his unreadable expressions, but instead of looking vaguely fond, as they usually are, this one looks vaguely… well, it’s vaguely worrisome.
I wonder if next time I should choose staff that I actually understand.
We take the long way to reach the gardens in the hopes that Luke will get hopelessly lost and won’t be able to remember it even if he does escape. There wouldn’t be any point in heading to the gardens if he does, though: I do like my high, forbidding fences.
The gardens are not, I must admit, that much to look at. When designing my headquarters I concentrated more on the interior. The gardens were just there at the back because they sort of had to be. I did pay some people to decorate it, but all they did was plant some trees, add a flowerbed, and supply a water feature that explodes if you set the water pressure too high before disappearing. I didn’t bother chasing them down. There are far more important things to worry about in life than exploding fountains.
Luke takes a deep breath when we step out into the open air. He closes his eyes and just breathes for a few moments, probably relishing the fresh air or some such thing, and damn if my heart doesn’t just quicken at that.
He opens his eyes and smiles at me. “Thanks,” he says softly.
“Uh,” I reply.
Scarface starts walking, and so I have to overtake him, which results in me actually doing something instead of continuing to stare at Luke – a pretty good thing, really. Insert Deity of Choice bless Scarface.
“Do you come out here often?” Luke asks. I’d forgotten how soft-spoken he is, what with his long lapses into silence.
“Not really,” I answer. “Most of my business requires me to be inside.”
“It shows.” Luke smiles again, rather awkwardly, all unsure of himself. “You’re really very pale.”
“I’m a vampire,” I say, and he laughs a little.
“There are ginger vampires?”
“We’re a rare and powerful breed.”
He chuckles again. “We live and learn.” He’s giving me a thoughtful look and I pretend not to notice. I think he pretends not to notice that I’m blushing.
We spend a half hour or so wandering the garden, talking occasionally. Luke seems to be in a much better mood, which is a good thing, I think, though I hope no one ever finds that out. Unfortunately, I have business to be getting alone with, and tell him so, and he nods.
“All right.” He glances around – Scarface has gone, though I’m not sure where or why. I’m not unduly worried. “Thank you for this,” Luke continues. “You’re… you’re really not all that bad, you know. For a dictator called Dr Nemesis and all.”
“Tell me I’m a good person and I will have you executed,” I warn darkly.
Luke grins. “Okay. I won’t.”
Then there’s a kind of feeling, as if now would be a good opportunity to say something or do something, though I’m not sure what, but have a sinking feeling it’s something Romantic and Nice Guy-ish. Chances are I would have done it, as well, had not the fountain exploded again.
It’s a spectacular sight. A stone mermaid holding an urn goes shooting up into the air on a high-powered stream of water before landing in a flowerbed on its side and anyone anywhere near it gets soaked. I make a completely dignified, “Argh!” noise in surprise and Luke laughs loudly. Maybe white, I decide, is not such a good idea for prison uniforms. My lab coat’s all right, as it’s made of a pretty thick material, but Luke’s uniform is… not.
I avert my eyes and tell a shrubbery, “We should get you back inside.”
Luke pushes his sopping hair out of his eyes. “Yeah, that’s probably a good idea,” he laughs.
“I’ll take him,” says a voice. Alanna, she of the Hair, has entered the garden and is looking Very Helpful. I am always suspicious of Helpful Alanna, but right now I don’t have much of a choice, as I hate being wet and want to change into dry, presentable clothes as soon as mortally possible.
“No letting him escape,” I order. “Or snogging in the corridors,” I add as an afterthought. “That’s a Health and Safety hazard.”
Alanna twiddles her fingers. “I promise. Come on, sweetheart, let’s get you changed and cleaned up with absolutely no snogging in the corridors.” She takes Luke by the elbow and winks at me over her shoulder. Daft minx.
Scarface reappears at my side. He, oddly, isn’t wet. “To your room then, sir?”
I sigh. “Seems favourite. Do you have any idea how that happened? Is my exploding fountain haunted, or something?”
“Couldn’t say, sir.”
“Hmm.” Rather suspicious that he isn’t wet, really, as usually the only dry place when the fountain explodes is the shed in which the fountain’s controls are kept.
“You should probably get that fountain fixed, sir, if you don’t mind my saying so.”
“You see, I would,” I reply, “but then I think I’d rather miss it. It’s something of a conversational piece, an exploding fountain. Not everyone has one.”
“I wonder how they manage, sir.”
I raise an eyebrow at him. “Was that sarcasm?”
“I couldn’t say, sir.” He’s actually smirking.
“Good on you, if it is,” I say.
“Thank you, sir.”
We get odd looks in the corridors – not often I’m soaking wet – but they turn to ones of comprehension when they realise we have just come from the gardens.
I shan’t say just where my rooms are located, but they are in the headquarters. Some people are surprised at the lack of extravagance in my rooms. I’m surprised at their surprise. I know the over-the-top riches are usually part of the dictator image, but honestly, I can’t be having with that. What’s the point of killing rare and wild animals for their fur when you can get an elderly relative to knit a blanket that’s just as warm?
“I’m going to shower,” I tell Scarface, and peel off my goggles. I hate it when eyewear is wet, but you can’t dry them on your clothes because that would just make the problem worse.
“I shall prepare your clothes, sir,” says Scarface.
“Thank you,” I reply. I do like having my own bathroom. There’s just something wonderful about the privacy it gives one. I close and lock the door and then set about undoing all the little clips and zips that keep my lab coat and gloves in place and smooth. It’s slightly ridiculous how many there are, but the overall effect they achieve is quite brilliant. On some days I have to ask Scarface to help. Today, however, is not one of those days, and I peel my coat and gloves off and shiver, as that water was damn cold. I glance in the mirror above my head and frown.
I could swear I closed and locked that door. It is now open a little bit and, I am assuming, not locked.
I close and lock it again, give it a stern look, and then finish undressing. The water is wonderfully hot and I spend perhaps more then was necessary in it. I hate being wet when it was not my intention to be wet. Showers are fine, though.
Scarface has laid out my clothes on my bed and is sitting by them, looking oddly smug. “Why the black?” I ask. “Is it a special occasion?”
“Not particularly,” Scarface replies.
“Oh.” I wait for him to turn around so I can put my underwear and trousers on – he is my faithful assistant, but there have got to be some boundaries – and he doesn’t. “Is there a problem?” I ask, feeling kind of self-conscious in just a towel.
Scarface rises. “No,” he says cheerfully. “No problem.”
He’s getting rather into my personal space now. I don’t step backwards, as I don’t see any reason to, but this does make me raise my eyebrows and look rather confused. “Then what?”
Scarface puts his hand on my cheek, which he hasn’t done before. He also leans in rather close. “You’re kind of wonderful, you know,” he murmurs.
And then he kisses me.
To say I’m surprised is an understatement.
It doesn’t last very long and is rather soft, really, and I suppose rather nice, but I am too busy being frozen to the spot and letting my brain crash. Scarface pulls back, smiles, and strokes my cheek gently with his thumb.
I open my mouth to say something and close it again.
My expression is best described as O.o
“I’ll be outside if you need me,” he says softly and leaves me still o.Oing after him.
It’s not until what seems to be several minutes later that I regain my voice. I use it to utter a very confused, “What?!”
“You look good in the black,” she says, this time eating waffles. “You should wear it more.”
“Black is usually saved for the formal occasions, when I am required to look particularly evil,” I say and sit opposite her at the little table, and steal one of her waffles.
“Is today a formal occasion?”
I make sure no one is within earshot. “I don’t know!” I wail and flop down onto the table. “Everyone’s acting very weird lately, including me!”
“Woah,” says Alanna. She thinks I don’t notice her slowly moving the waffles out of my reach. “Maybe you should tell me the whole story, as right now I have no clue what’s happening.”
“Me neither,” I whine. I sit up, though, take a bite out of the stolen waffle, and say after a deep breath, “Scarface just… kissed me.”
Alanna leans back and flicks her hair over her shoulder. “Is that all?” she asks.
I stare at her with my mouth open for several moments. “That’s not an all!” I shriek. “That’s the least all there will ever be! He’s my assistant! He’s my friend! It gets messy if friends go around kissing each other!”
“Luke and I are okay with it,” says Alanna. It may be my imagination, but she shoots me a worried glance after that’s left her mouth.
I wave a hand. “That’s Luke and you. It makes sense for you two to go around snogging in the corridors.”
“We didn’t snog in the corridors,” Alanna corrects somewhat meekly.
“Well done for that,” I say. “But Scarface and I are different. We’ve known each other three years; he’s my right hand man for everything. If things get… messy… between us it’s not just our relationship that’s at risk, it’s our work as well, and by extension the country.”
“That is a bit of a problem,” Alanna replies. “What do you think of Scarface?”
I look at her blankly. “Friends,” I repeat. “Right hand man. Three years. Very important. Did you not get that?”
“That’s not an answer,” Alanna says.
“Yes it is,” I say.
She sighs and stands, taking the last bite out of her waffle. “Well, all right, if you say so. Just think on this: you like Luke, yeah?”
“Yes,” I say hesitantly.
“Yet you’re not angry or jealous that we were snogging earlier.”
“Well, no,” I say, still hesitant, still unsure where she’s going with this.
“Yet you care about Scarface so much you’re frightened of kissing him back in case things get weird,” Alanna continues. “If you think about that enough, it starts to fall into place, doesn’t it?”
“No it doesn’t,” I reply crossly.
Alanna throws her hair back and turns sharply away. “Men!”
“Oh, like you’re one to talk,” I grumble. “You’re one of us.”
“Only biologically,” Alanna quips.
“Does Luke know?” I call after her.
“He kind of worked it out when we had sex!” she shouts back.
I stay sitting there for a while, having lost Scarface somewhere along the way. Yes, it’s true that I care a lot about Scarface, but that’s natural, isn’t it? He’s my assistant. He’s more than that, though, of course: he’s my friend, my companion, a brother I have never had. Except apparently not really a brother, if the kiss is any indication. Unless you’re into that kind of thing.
As for Luke… well. He’s very pretty, and rather kind and agreeable. He’s also still Alanna’s boyfriend, apparently. She’s right that I don’t really mind this. I’m rather surprised they didn’t get back together sooner, honestly. Perhaps Alanna was waiting for some kind of indication that it was all right to visit Luke now, that he was no longer to be cooped up in isolation.
I’m happy for them. Honestly, I am. They always looked rather close, and happy when they were.
I wonder what it would be like to kiss Luke.
Probably not as nice as kissing Scarface.
It takes me a full minute to realise I’ve had that thought. When I do, my head hits the table again, even harder than before, and I swear.
“Is everything all right, sir?”
I turn my head to glare at Scarface. “You know perfectly well it isn’t. Git.”
“I’m sorry, sir.” He picks up a chair and sits down beside me, placing a hand on my shoulder. “I do realise that I have caused you quite a quandary.”
“You can say that again,” I grumble.
“I do realise that I have caused you quite a quandary.”
He smiles. “I am sorry. I did not mean to force these feelings on you at such an inappropriate moment. It was just rather difficult, you see, what with your newfound affections for Luke. I’m afraid I can be rather possessive at times.” His hand has moved up to my neck and his fingers toy with the short hairs there.
“You know the worst thing?” I mumble.
I sit up to look at him properly. “I don’t really mind it.”
“That’s not a worst thing,” Scarface replies softly.
This time I’m more prepared for the kiss and am actually able to return it. I still find it rather awkward, honestly, as this is not exactly my area of expertise, but Scarface appears to know what he’s doing so I let him take charge. It’s not half bad when you consider what it is, when you get right down to it: mouths against each other in a mess of biology. I mean, sticking your tongue in someone’s mouth does not really sound very appealing, but in practice, with someone you care about and find, well, rather attractive, it’s not unpleasant at all.
My hands end up in his hair and on his shirt while his are on the back of my neck and making a valiant effort to get under my shirt.
“What does this make us, then?” I ask. “I mean, now. It would just be nice to put a name to it.”
“I didn’t think you’d approve of ‘boyfriends’,” says Scarface.
“I don’t,” I reply.
“Just us, then.” Scarface rests his forehead against mine. I can see the details of the edge of his scar. The rest is hidden by his eye patch, as he’s a bit insecure about that scar. It runs across his eye, meaning it’s always closed, giving him a rather lopsided look. “Scarface and Dr Nemesis. Nick and Marvin.”
“Not that name,” I snap. “Never that name.”
Scarface laughs. “Fine. Never that name.”
“What kind of name is Marvin, anyway,” I grumble. “It’s a name for depressed robots and accountants, and that’s it. It’s not a real name.”
“At least your parents only gave you an awful name,” Scarface counters. “My mother scarred me.”
“I thought we’d decided it was your father who did that.”
Scarface shrugs. “Perhaps it was both.”
“Whatever,” I say. I kiss his mouth softly and am rather surprised by how easily the action comes to me.
“Whatever,” he agrees.
No, it’s days later when we end up in my room, kissing frantically. I sort of wish it wasn’t just days, but Scarface is powerfully attractive in his thin, floppy-haired way. He encourages it, honestly: he keeps leaving his hand on my shoulder or the small of my back and just being a generally distracting person. I wish I minded.
“You are going to have to stop doing that during meetings,” I tell him crossly – as crossly as possible when you have someone nibbling on your jaw. “What’ll people say?”
“They’ll wonder at how I managed to be so lucky, sir, as they usually do.”
I wonder about telling him to stop calling me ‘sir’, but I must admit I rather like it. The only problem is that it will make working with him rather difficult.
“You have very attractive ears,” Scarface murmurs.
“Never heard that one before,” I reply.
“I’m quite glad of that,” Scarface answers. He’s got his mouth around my ear, and I had no idea something so odd could feel so damned pleasant. “I rather like that I’m your first.”
“If you say it like that I’m kicking you out,” I warn him.
“And finishing it yourself?” Scarface moves to my neck. “That also sounds quite appealing.”
“Leave a mark and I’ll shoot you.”
“I’ll just pick out your coats with high collars.”
“This is the problem with being in love with someone who knows you so well,” I say dryly.
He pauses. I can feel him smiling against my skin and wonder what I’ve done. “It’s a problem?” he asks at last.
“What do you call it?”
“Each to their own.”
He comes back up and kisses me deeply. I wonder how he manages to do that and get my coat undone, but that is one of the eternal mysteries of Scarface. I certainly can’t concentrate when we’re kissing. Then again, it’s probably a good sign that I can’t, as long as it doesn’t happen at an important moment in time – and, for all his slightly inappropriate touching, Scarface is a good boy in public. Usually.
We get the coat off, and then have to pause the snogging in order for Scarface to hang it up (just because I am in a relationship now does not mean my clothes should have to get scruffy, and I am so glad that the person in that relationship with me agrees). I cross my arms over my now naked chest, feeling rather awkward and aware of just how scrawny I am, and raise an eyebrow at Scarface. “You next.”
“That’s not exactly romantic, sir,” he says with a chuckle as he begins unbuttoning his own lab coat.
“You know I’m not exactly a romantic person,” I counter.
“This is true.” He removes his coat and hangs it up and noticeably does not try to cover his own chest. I subtly try to lower my own arms, but they keep gravitating back up. Scarface takes my hands, holds them at my sides in his own, and kisses me. “It’s fine,” he whispers.
“Not as if you haven’t seen my chest before,” I agree.
He freezes. “… Yes. Sorry about that. It was just that once, though.”
“You should really be grateful I’m so understanding about that.”
“I am. Believe me, I am.”
It’s kind of odd, kissing shirtless, but hardly unpleasant. It surprises me how warm Scarface is, how I can feel that warmth, and just how completely normal it feels to have his bare hands and arms on my back, chest, shoulders, thumb flicking over a hardened nipple, which I can honestly say was not something I ever expected to say when I met Scarface three years ago after I put an ad in the papers for an evil assistant willing to work long hours.
Didn’t ever expect to feel his erection pressed against mine, either. That’s not to say I’m complaining.
“I’m – mmph.” Easily distracted by the kissing, apparently. “Not doing this standing,” I manage to say at last. Call me old-fashioned, but I want us to do it properly the first time, on a bed, not some rushed encounter.
“Good,” says Scarface. He manoeuvres us over to my bed and actually pushes me down, swallowing my indignation and smirking when he pulls away and up.
“You’re not staying on top,” I inform him.
“Fine,” he returns.
He leans in again but I stop him with, “Not anal, either. I’m just not very comfortable with the idea of that. I’m quite sure nothing’s meant to go in there.”
“That’s all right,” says Scarface. “Marvin-”
“Sir,” he tries instead and kisses my forehead. “You do know that being a gay man does not mean you have to take it up the arse, don’t you?”
“Stop calling me gay. People will think I’m nice.”
Scarface rolls his eyes fondly. “Noted.” We’re kissing again after that, which is even nicer on the bed because I don’t have to divert any of my attention to staying on my feet, and then I notice that his hands are going to my goggles and undoing the straps.
“I’m taking off the goggles?” I ask.
“You want to leave them on?”
“… I suppose it is rather daft to.” I sit up a little to remove them carefully, feeling more naked without the goggles than I do without the shirt. The goggles are like my crown: the sign of what I am, of what I do, and I’ve grown so used to having them there while I’m awake.
“They kind of distract from how very ginger you are,” Scarface observes.
I shoot him a glare. “I prefer the term ‘redhead’.”
He grins. “You’re ginger, live with it.”
I reach up to touch his eye patch gently. “Are you taking this off?” I ask softly.
Scarface stiffens and probably hopes I don’t notice. “I should,” he says with measured calm.
There are a lot of stories about how Scarface got his scar and thus his name, not all of them devised by us. Our official version is that one of his parents abused him, but we use that one because the truth isn’t exactly threatening. Scarface had a pet rabbit when he was a little boy, and that rabbit lived in a hutch. One day, Scarface tripped and scraped his face on the rather sharp corner of that hutch, receiving a scar and a permanently closed eye. It’s not a very threatening story and the only villain in it was made out of wood, so it’s one only Scarface, myself, and Scarface’s family know, and they’re a lovely bunch under strict orders not to tell this story to the general public.
It happened when Scarface was rather young, I know that, and also know that he got quite a lot of stick for it as a child.
I slowly unfasten the eye patch and kiss the scar softly. He knows what I mean by it, even if I’m not sure I do.
That seems to be some kind of sign, as trousers, shoes, and socks are the next to go, and we don’t even stop to make sure they’re put away neatly. I stop remembering to feel self-conscious when Scarface is kissing across my ribs, and stop remembering to think when his mouth goes lower.
“H-holy shit!” I exclaim, which isn’t exactly dignified but right now I don’t suppose it matters if I am.
Scarface pulls back to give me a thoroughly wicked smile.
“Are you sure you’re all right with that?” I ask.
“You taste better than you’d think,” he replies, and leans down to kiss the head of my cock.
“Can’t say I’ve ever had the pleasure,” I say, because making witticisms is my very nature. He manages to stop even those when he takes me in his mouth, which is a completely inadequate phrase to describe just what it is he does and does nothing to explain how I completely fall apart at it.
It’s strange what simple biology can do to a person.
I can’t be bothered moving afterwards, and I don’t think Scarface can either (of course I take care of him as well; I just don’t feel comfortable disclosing my complete awkwardness at it), so I pull the sheets up as it’s getting rather cold and rest my head on his shoulder.
“Well,” I say. “That was an experience.”
“We’ve proven one thing,” Scarface replies seriously.
I glance up at him. “What?”
“You are really ginger.”
I elbow him in the side, giving him a rather larger bruise than his other ones, and he laughs. I find myself joining in, to the point I can’t breathe, and find I’m quite content to just stay like this with him for several hours.
“It’s just an expression,” I reply curtly. “It doesn’t mean anything in particular.”
“Other than that you had sex last night.”
“Shut up,” I say. “This is a very bad way to start a job interview, you know.”
Luke frowns. “Job interview?”
“Yes,” I reply. “For the station of Minister of my Security. You spent a good long while trying to get through it, so I think you’d be quite suited for the job.”
“I’m sorry about that, by the way,” Luke says hesitantly. “You’re really not all that bad. I thought you were actually evil, and all. You overthrew my Dad.”
“Yeah,” Luke laughs sheepishly. “I was really just fighting you on principle. And you call yourself Dr Nemesis.”
“It’s a good name.”
“What is your real name?”
“None of your business.”
Luke laughs again. “All right. You’re not that bad. That’s my point.”
“Do you want to be my Security Minister or not?”
“Then stop telling me I’m a good person!”
“You are, though,” Scarface tells me later when we’re alone in the laboratory, making things explode. “You have made your two greatest enemies your Minister of Transport and the head of your own security. You have done a lot of good in this country.”
I snap my goggles down. “If you don’t stop saying that, Scarface, I am going to make this explode in your face.”
“I love you too, sir.”
I think I’ll put my plans for world domination on hold for now.