Taylor reached out to steady the punching bag, then took a moment to adjust the wraps on his hands. Magnolia was asleep in her room – they had been…intimate before she had fallen asleep. Careful touches. Kisses. Embraces.
All sensations he had never known he’d needed.
All sensations that he now did not want to be without.

Love had been-
Love always looked like a weakness. Love was Ryan and Whitman. Love had meant death.
Love was the constant companionship Magnolia had provided for the term of her recruitment. Love was consistency. Back up. Being able to rely on someone. Accounting for them in all things.
Love was soft, but not weak.
There was the sound of air displacement as someone – Grigori – shifted into the gym. His friend looked- Content.
‘Good evening,’ Grigori said, ‘or good morning, whichever you would prefer.’
Taylor grunted in greeting, and pushed on the punching bag, letting it swing towards the other agent.
‘I’m not here to pound inanimate objects, my friend,’ Grigori said, one of Grigori’s usual grins taking over his face. It was the expression Grigori wore when-
‘You’re flirting with me,’ Taylor said, stepping around the punching bag, and beginning to unwind the wraps from his hands.
Grigori winked. ‘My friend, I’m openly announcing my desire to fuck you into the ground, I think it’s a little beyond flirting.’
Taylor squared his shoulders at Grigori. ‘Magnolia- We spoke-’
Grigori held up a hand. ‘I know. We also speak.’ He shook his hand. ‘Do not think of it as speaking behind your back. We both love you, we’ve both loved you for a long time, albeit in different ways. We keep each other updated on how you’re doing, in case there’s anything we can do to serve you better.’
Taylor grunted his acknowledgment – it was a tactically appropriate way to share knowledge.
‘And your pretty little bird has told me that you’ve agreed to be poly.’ Grigori took a step closer, then wiped a towel across Taylor’s brow. ‘It’s not a move I expected from you, but it does mean that perhaps there is still a spark of your former inside you.’ Grigori stepped in close, and kissed him, then rested their cheeks together. ‘I see you, you ginger beauty, that doesn’t stop me from being glad that he is not entirely gone.’
Taylor took a careful look at Grigori, then kissed him – he dropped the wraps from his hands, and raised his hands to his friends face, taking in the contours as his fingers ran along Grigori’s cheeks.
An authorisation window appeared in Taylor’s HUD, and he accepted the shift request, following Grigori to Moscow.
Grigori’s rooms came into view – it was an extension to his office, as Taylor’s gym was to his. Unlike his gym, however, Grigori’s rooms served far less utility.
There was a bedroom with an obscenely large bed – somewhere in the vicinity of twice that of a king bed – and Grigori had boasted over the years of the number of concurrent lovers he’d had in the bed at once.
There were two sitting rooms – one, more public, with couches and a table for dinner. One, more private – where they spent most of their time when he visited. Grigori called it his memory room – and it contained his wall of the dead, a memorial for all the agents he had lost during the war – something from each of them, even if it was only their ID, or a scrap of uniform.
Grigori’s hand twined with his, and the other agent pulled him away from the public areas of the rooms, towards the bedroom.
As they crossed the threshold, Grigori pushed him against the wall, and gently laid his hands on his shoulders. ‘I just wish to check in with you,’ he said, ‘are you all right to proceed?’
Taylor met his friend’s gaze. ‘I can’t- Can’t tell you what I don’t know.’
Grigori took his hands. ‘Then tell me that you trust me.’
Grigori grinned, then grabbed his jacket and swung him towards the bed. ‘Take off your clothes, or would you like me to do it?’ The flirty smile returned. ‘I do enjoy unwrapping presents.’
Taylor sat up. ‘They’re clothes,’ he intoned solemnly, ‘not paper.’
Grigori weighed his hands, as if judging the merit of the statement. ‘Well? Which is it to be?’
His friend stepped forward, planted his hands on the bed, and bit down gently on his ear, his tongue- Taylor felt his centre of balance slip, and as an act of revenge, of defiance, he pulled Grigori down with him as he fell back onto the bed.
This, however, seemed to please Grigori, as he began to laugh, the shaking motion of his chest vibrating through both of their bodies.
Grigori kissed him, and time passed.
Clothing began to disappear – one item was dismissed, then another. Grigori’s hand slipped under his shirt, and began to scratch lightly at his skin.
‘Tell me you trust me,’ Grigori said as he rested his hand against Taylor’s belt.
Taylor growled, and attempted a smile. ‘I’m sick of repeating myself.’
‘Lie back, put your head on the pillows.’
‘What are you doing?’
‘I’ll make it obvious,’ Grigori said.
He shifted back a little, so that his head rested on the pillows. The absurdly soft pillows.
With a few more dismissals, he was naked.
Grigori, equally as naked, climbed on top of him. The taller agent’s knees sliding over his sides, the weight making him sink further into the mattress. The absurdly soft mattress. Grigori smiled down at him. ‘I thought you would have shifted away by now.’
He felt his smile grow a little stronger. ‘I don’t want to.’
Grigori slid off him, lying beside him on the bed. ‘You’re going to enjoy this, my friend, I promise.’
‘I don’t-’
‘Too much of your life is “don’t”, is “won’t” and is “can’t”. You need to stop that. You need to stop being…dead. You need to start living.’
‘Can’t? Won’t?’
‘I’m not you.’
‘Would being me really be so terrible? I mean, you don’t have to father a hundred children, you don’t have to have five women in your bed at once, this…this is just how I choose to enjoy life. To celebrate living. You can do something else, I mean, think of how much better your life will be now you have Magnolia in your bed every night.’
‘You presume-’
‘I think she loves you in the forever kind of way, mate,’ Grigori said gently.
Grigori put a hand to his mouth. ‘Shh.’ Grigori slid a hand down his chest, and to the smooth, empty patch of skin between his legs. ‘Just make one small requirement for me.’
His breath hitched again. ‘I can’t.’
‘I said you can’t keep using that word,’ Grigori said, his fingers massaging the smooth area. ‘Require.’
There was breath against his ear. ‘Require.’
He made the requirement, and it wasn’t a smooth, open area that Grigori was massaging anymore.
‘All you have to do is tell me to stop,’ Grigori said, ‘that you want me to stop, or that you need me to stop, and I will.’
Of course he wanted him-
Grigori smiled, then moved away, sliding down the bed, his hand still-
‘What are you doing?’
‘To paraphrase something you said to me,’ Grigori said, ‘I’m going to bow, and use my expertise.’
This wasn’t duty.
He looked down the length of the bed, at a sight he hadn’t seen since his first week of rebirth, and at Grigori as the Russian bent over him. Words and pictures flashed at him, explanations and names, diagrams. All it making perfect sense. All of it making no sense at all.
He could shift away. He could say stop. He did neither.
This wasn’t duty.
Grigori removed his hand, and he barely had time to protest as it was replaced with…with…
This was far from Duty. This was-
There was warmth, there was wetness, there was pressure, there was…there was…there was pleasure.
He put his head back on the pillows, and stared at the ceiling as the unfamiliar sensation of pleasure threatened to overwhelm his mind. It was strange, it was having trouble reconciling itself in amongst the-
He heard himself moan, and he stopped thinking about Duty.
Pressure began to build, leaving him with an ever-changing sensation to deal with, but he didn’t move, trusting Grigori to know what to do. The pressure built, built, and then released. He barked an expletive, felt more unfamiliar sensations, then nothing as Grigori pulled away, joining him on the pillows again.
Grigori grabbed him by the arm, and pulled him onto his side, pressing his forehead against his, their chests following suit. ‘Are you ok?’
He stared at the Russian. ‘Yes,’ he said after a moment.
‘Are you more than okay?’
‘I don’t understand the question.’
‘If you were anyone else,’ Grigori said, ‘I’d be insulted.’
‘Because you need to know that it’s all right to feel good. That it’s good to feel good. Taylor, we are capable of emotion. Of wants of need that have nothing to do with duty, and we were designed that way. The best of us, fuck those guys, they need to be put down, they aren’t what we should be aspiring to, they should be held up as examples of what not to be.’
He pulled himself into a sitting position, then required his skin clean, clearing the stick sensation from his skin. ‘I wish I remembered,’ he said. It was a weakness. Something he could barely admit to himself. Something he shouldn’t want.
He knew who he was. He knew what he was.
He was incomplete.
He was nothing compared to his former.
Magnolia loved him. Grigori loved him. Everyone else wanted the dead man.
The dead man that Grigori shared so many memories with.
The dead man who wouldn’t be hesitant when it came to intimacy.
‘Do you want me to share those memories?’ Grigori asked. ‘It will only be from my perspective, so you may get tired of watching memories of fucking and being fucked by yourself, but it is what I can give you. A little at a time. I don’t want to overwhelm you.’
Taylor reached for Grigori’s hand. ‘You do nothing but overwhelm me. You- So much. Too much. You- Exceed yourself.’
Grigori kissed him. ‘It’s the only way I know how to live, it keeps me one step ahead of boredom, at any rate.’
Grigori held onto his hands, and they moved to face each other. ‘I think,’ he said, ‘it would be appropriate to share our first time.’
A memory window appeared in his HUD – it was a far more muted experience than going in and pulling the memory directly, but there was a positive – this method didn’t cause either participant pain.
Taylor saw himself – saw the dead man – as blond as the naked man beside him; as blonde as Carol – standing against a window, slowly undressing.
‘Get over here,’ the memory of Grigori demanded.
‘Presents,’ the dead man said, ‘are best when savoured.’
Taylor backed out of the memory, and pushed himself to his feet. ‘Not yet. Too much. I want to- I want the memory. But not yet.’
Grigori stood, and required his uniform back. ‘Want to go three rounds in the gym?’
Taylor nodded. A spar would centre him. Fighting was what he knew.