Elijah Snow looked up from the file, reading over Tuvok’s measured evaluation of the events in Candyland. He’d already read the reports from Rosa Diaz, Veemon, and Miss Piggy, and they all agreed that Adam Jensen hadn’t been himself, likely due to some adverse effects from his time imprisoned in the Candyland dungeons. A separate report from Mordin Solus had been unable to find anything amiss aside from elevated blood sugar, but that hardly accounted for the intense delusions or the emotional difficulties. Ordinarily, Jensen was one of the more reliable cell members, capable and attentive to details.
Adam Jensen stood in the doorway now looking haggard and drawn--lack of sleep, likely hypervigilance too, if Snow had to guess. Jensen dropped into the chair before Snow’s desk, eyes flicking behind him periodically like he was checking for something.
“How are you doing?” Snow ventured.
Jensen narrowed his eyes and glanced at the report on the desk. “Fine. But I assume you’re about to tell me otherwise.”
Snow ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “Look, Jensen, what I am seeing in these reports is not something I can ignore. I’m going to ask you bluntly, can you pull it together?”
“I am together. You haven’t had any problems with my work and you haven’t had any problems with my performance on missions,” Jensen said evenly.
“You know that I’m not talking about that. It’s about the fact that you’re obviously not fine and therefore a liability. You’ve seen yourself in a mirror; you look like hell if hell really let itself go. I know you’re not sleeping.” Jensen gave him a suspicious look. Snow rolled his eyes. “I don’t have spies following you, I can see the circles under your eyes, which you would know if you were on your game.”
“You need me, and I am fine. There is no problem here,” Jensen folded his arms across his chest.
Snow sighed, standing up. “We disagree, but thankfully I’m in charge so you’re on leave until further notice. I’m willing to tolerate a lot,” he said, gesturing at a chair with a bite taken out of it, “but even in the League, there are some limits to how many red flags we can ignore. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but the League is a family and you don’t let family endanger themselves and others.”
Jensen leaped to his feet. “I am fine! Even if I wasn’t, you can’t put me on leave. This is a volunteer organization and I don’t see new recruits lining up to follow your orders,” he challenged, fists clenching and unclenching at his side.
Snow levelled a glare at him. “I have responsibilities, as do you. I’m not going to let you risk your teammates' lives and, as tempting as it is right now, I’m not going to let you risk your own life either. If you’re too far up your own goddamn ass to appreciate that, then maybe the Extraordinary League isn’t the best place for you,” he hissed, the temperature in the room dropping by several degrees.
Jensen tensed in rage, holding himself back. “Even you’re not so short-sighted that you can’t admit you need me--you need everyone you can get.”
Snow opened the door to his office. “What we need is people who we can trust, and those are in short fucking supply. People are counting on you and want to help you. People care about you, and although I’m having trouble seeing it right now, people like you. If you’re not going to do it for your sake, then for their sake, get your shit together, Jensen. And do it somewhere other than my office,” he added, gesturing to the hall.
Adam stormed out, letting his feet and the sound of the door slamming behind him carry him. He didn’t have a place to be, but he needed to get away. His face was hot with embarrassment at Snow’s words. That shamefaced feeling was worse than any wound. Worse than almost anything he could think of. In his own world, he’d been able to keep it together for the most part, but then in this freak show, of which he was absolutely one of the freaks, he could barely keep his head screwed on. Granted, Candyland was a reasonable place to lose your mind. The colors, the food, the smell of sweetness so strong it made you feel thirsty, the wackjob locals that looked somewhere between a child’s toy and a nightmare.
He rushed down the stairs, blowing past Veemon who said, “Hi Adam! How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine!” he called as he landed in the ground level hall.
Veemon’s distant voice replied, “You don’t seem fine...?”
Adam stepped down one of the side halls and through the armory, then punched open the door to the courtyard, letting the pressure of it ground him as the impact registered across his knuckles, up his wrist, then arm, coming to a jarring stop in his shoulder. As the dull crack rang across the flagstones, Amethyst poked her head out of a door in a nearby passage.
“Woah! Are we fighting doors?” she said excitedly before head-slamming the door to her room, leaving a sizable dent in it. “And that’s for not being cool when I lost my key!”
Adam pulled his fist back self-consciously, but Amethyst just gave him a manic grin. A few awkward seconds of eyes contact passed and then he kicked the door slightly.
Amethyst bit a chunk out of her door and spat it out on the ground. “C’mon, you gonna let your door think you’re not serious about this fight? You started it. Or did the door start it…? Typical doors.” Amethyst sneered at her door.
Adam was fairly sure door fighting wasn’t going to help convince Snow he was stable enough for the job. He shrugged and stepped down into the courtyard. “Guess I’m not as good at fighting doors as you.” That was a sentence he never thought he’d have cause to say, but that was sort of what League was like. He also never thought he’d tell people he’d been tortured by the Kool-Aid man, and yet here he was on leave because his brain was convinced that had actually happened.
He walked past the gardens where Ash Ketchum and Pikachu were raking up the last bag of leaves while Elastigirl plucked off the few stubborn leaves and nuts still clinging on. He went to go sit on one the more secluded benches near the east wall but Venusaur was resting his head on it as he napped, sleepily drooling all over a blue flyer that had been taped to the bench.
Adam could see at the other end of the sprawling courtyard, in an open grassy square, Gimli had put up targets and set out throwing axes. Squirrel Girl, Brock Samson, and Rosa were lining up shots, adjusting their stances as Gimli offered corrections. Brock cleaved through his target in a single throw, earning a high five from Squirrel Girl and a nod of acknowledgment from Rosa. She noticed Adam lingering against the castle wall and motioned for him to join them, but he just shook his head and turned down the covered walkway to the kitchens. He lengthened his stride, hoping Rosa wasn’t going to catch up and, God forbid, try to talk to him. Neither of them was the “talk about your feelings” type. They had Veemon for that, sort of the emotional ballast of their cell.
And Snow thought Adam had problems? They all had problems. Likely most of them wouldn’t have joined if they weren’t at least a bit unstable. Fighting to save the multiverse was necessary, but sane people didn’t usually sign up for these kinds of things. Sane people were too busy doing all the things it took to make life go on like selling food to people, pouring drinks, driving buses, and… knitting blankets? He had to admit he didn’t have a lot of experience with sane people. Maybe they did knit a lot of blankets. It seemed like a thing a sane person would probably know how to do.
Adam shoved open the door to the kitchen only to see it was covered in blue flyers haphazardly pounded in with bent nails. The kitchen was mostly empty after breakfast, just the occasional person grabbing a snack or the people with more unusual eating preferences. Today it was Helena up on the counter eating Jell-O out of a mixing bowl. Leaning against the counter next to her was Rorschach. They were each dipping into a box of sugar cubes open on the counter between them. Disconcertingly, Rorschach seemed like he’d been making an effort to build some relationships lately. Mostly it had resulted in him sitting silently around other brusque Leaguers.
Lace dipped her head at him in greeting before going back to dragging a chunk of unidentifiable meat from the fridge to the courtyard. Adam held the door open for her as she nudged the meat outside. Lace clicked appreciatively and kicked a meat scrap at him.
“I’m good, thanks,” Adam grunted.
She snorted and dragged her meal out the door, spearing the scrap with her toe claw and taking it with her. Adam let the door swing shut, setting the flyers swinging wildly. He’d seen plenty of them around in the hallways and a few in the bathrooms, but someone must have decided to double down on their publicity campaign. He tore off a flyer, which read:
“Feeling tense? Need to blow off steam? Got a need for a speed? How about just bored? Get your race on and join the Grayskull Wheel Demons. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at the Guard House from 3-5 on Lace’s course. BYOW (Bring Your Own Wheels) preferred.” Someone had drawn a tiny velociraptor wearing sunglasses in the corner of it.
“There are less than one hundred people in this whole damn building. Every single person knows about these races…” He muttered.
“Are you talking to yourself?” Helena said around a full mouth.
Adam didn’t bother answering.
She snorted in amusement. “Hm, maybe you are crazy then. You still see red monster in your dreams sometimes?”
Adam turned around irritably. “You know, it’s really starting to piss me off that nothing is private around here.”
“Da. League is family. Family always knows too much.” Helena shrugged philosophically, popping a sugar cube in her mouth.
Adam pinched the bridge of his nose. “I need a cigarette.” He turned for the stairs up to the inner walls of the keep. The uneven stairs tightly turning in on themselves forced him to concentrate. Thinking about those delusions, or maybe memories, felt like stepping on something sharp--a sudden stab of pain when you weren’t expecting it and resentment at the entire world for placing that object in your path. It felt petty and stupid but most of all it felt like some part of him being ground into silence.
Thankfully, the top of the walls was blissfully free of Leaguers. The air burned cold in his lungs as he lit a cigarette and watched the smoke rushed off by the wind. Smoking never felt as good as he remembered, but the smoke curling from his nose felt familiar at least.
The door swung open and James Bond, in his usual well-pressed suit, set down a box to prop it open. He cut a quick look to Adam. “I don’t suppose you have another cigarette?”
Adam grimaced but pulled one out, silently handing it over. Bond put it in his mouth before grabbing a nail, flyer, and hammer out of the box. With economical movement, he pressed the nail into the flyer and gave three firm raps with the hammer, neatly pinning the flyer down. Dropping the hammer back in the box, he pushed it aside, letting the door swing shut. He patted his jacket and sighed, looking at Adam.
“May I trouble you for a light?”
Adam moved to hand his lighter over but Bond had already knelt down expectantly beside him waiting for him to light the cigarette, clear blue eyes crinkling slightly at the corners. He sheltered the flame as Bond leaned close. His face looked so clean shaven. No one else bothered to shave with that sort of care around here--it’s not as though they had anyone to impress. Adam’s fingertip accidentally grazed Bond’s jaw as he pulled away. Apparently Bond also knew about moisturizing. Show off. He gave his own beard a self-conscious brush down as he put the lighter away.
“I’ll leave you to your thoughts as soon as I’m done,” Bond said. “I didn’t mean to intrude on the bit of peace you’ve managed to find.”
Adam jerked his head at the box Bond had brought. “What’s with the flyers?”
“It was a forfeit. Amethyst and I were racing and I spun out rather fantastically and as the loser on that particular race, I had to take on the onerous task of putting up the flyers. Not that we need any more, but she’s very excited about the design so I’ve been trying to cover the places she hasn’t already papered over.”
Adam tapped the ash off his cigarette. “You don’t strike me as the type to lose bets much.”
“I lose them more than I’d like, but you can’t always keep lady luck on your side, I suppose. The important thing is that the car didn’t explode,” Bond said it as though it was a noteworthy occurrence.
Adam blinked. “…Do cars usually explode around you?”
Bond looked thoughtful. “Some. More than I’ve been told is normal.”
“That’s a talent, I guess. Do you really think you’re going to get anyone new coming to your racing group? Surely everyone who was going to join has by now.”
“You know, that’s what I said, but I’ve found that our Miss Amethyst is able to create enthusiasm even with a reluctant audience. It’s quite inspiring.” Bond shook his head affectionately.
“Huh, the two of you don’t seem like you’d run in the same circles, to be frank.”
“You do make a lot of assumptions, don’t you, Mr. Jensen?” Bond gave him an assessing look. “Before this… whatever you want to call it, second chance perhaps?... I had a life that was glamorous, exotic, and at times great fun, but it wasn’t the sort of life where one expected to have friends, or indeed to live long enough to enjoy having friends. But now I’m free to run in whatever circles I’d like. Admittedly, my life is not as glamorous and certainly not as luxurious as before, but I’m happy in ways I didn’t expect I could be. I thought I’d join the League and be the calculated spy and assassin they needed, the one able to do what others couldn’t or simply wouldn’t.”
“The problem solver type.”
“More like problem eliminator.” Bond laughed quietly. “You needn’t pretend that wasn’t an insufferable thing to believe about myself.”
“I didn’t say anything,” Adam replied.
“To your credit, no. The implication was clear, though, and you’re quite right. The League isn’t really the place for that sort of hero... or at least, not the kind of hero I thought I ought to be.”
Adam rolled his eyes behind the dark frames. “If this is some attempt at a pep-talk or inspirational message to get me back on-side, you can save it.”
Bond tilted his head curiously.
“Snow is worried about me, I’m sure you know why. I’m sure everyone in this whole damn castle knows why. I didn’t keep it to myself very well and no one else kept it to themselves either. Bottom line, if you’re trying to ‘fix’ me, I’m fine. And even if I wasn’t fine, this wouldn’t be how to go about doing any ‘fixing.’”
“Mm, interesting. And what method of fixing do you prefer?” Bond purred.
Bond threw his head back in laughter. “I appreciate a man who knows what he wants! I didn’t find you or speak to you because of Snow, or because of anything I know about you. I spoke to you because you had a cigarette and we were in the same place at the same time. I can see I’ve worn out my welcome, but if you’d like to be in the same place at the same time again, I’ll be at the guardhouse at three tomorrow. I’m sure we can find a car for you if you’d like to work out a little frustration behind the wheel.” He stubbed out his cigarette, collected his things and nodded to Adam before heading down the stairs with irritatingly cat-like grace.
Adam hunched his shoulders against the wind that was starting to pick up now. Well shit, he might as well go inside and spend some time catching up on his own chores if he’d be benched for a while. God only knew when Snow would realize that Adam’s sanity was the least of the League’s problems.
Adam woke up shaking and sweating, the muscles in his neck corded tight. That goddamn stupid dream of being in that sugary hell-hole, drifting in and out of awareness, as he was prodded and questioned. His head had hurt like a never-ending cloud of cotton candy was forming in his brain and had nowhere to go, an immense, pulsing pain that made every sound register as a scream. He’d been so thirsty, his muscles aching from dehydration. He couldn’t stand the thought of food, and they didn’t have anything but candy to give him. What sort of pathetic person died from too much candy? Worse, it hadn’t been on purpose, they hadn’t tried to torture him. By their own frame of reference, they’d been civil, even attentive. There were times he could swear he heard the universe laughing at the sick hilarity of him lying on a marshmallow mattress slowly dying of kindness because the Candylanders didn’t know how to keep a human alive and didn’t have the resources to do it even if he’d been in his right mind enough to explain it to them. And he did remember the Kool-Aid man being there. He couldn’t have been, but it felt like he was there? All of which made no damn sense. He despised not being able to trust his own brain.
He looked down to see that the sheet he’d been clenching was now partially torn. He threw it across the room in disgust at his mutinous brain and body. He’d deal with it later. For now, he was going to go to the gym and just lift something heavy until he could finally calm down enough to go back to sleep.
The only person in the gym was Lara Croft, who gave him a curt nod as she did her pull-ups. Adam nodded back and grabbed the free weights. Just another normal Saturday night at Castle Grayskull.
As it turned out, physical exhaustion only went so far in keeping nightmares at bay. It didn’t help that there was no work problem to solve, nothing to focus on except how pointless it felt being cooped up in the castle and not out in the field. He was so bored he even gave in and showed up at the labs so Mordin and Doc Brown could run some scans on his augmentations. Mordin “hmm”d in surprise but didn’t comment. Doc Brown, on the other hand, tried to drop hints that there was a support group Buffy was running if he was interested.
“I’m fine,” he’d replied.
Doc Brown shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t wanna question your judgment, I’m sure you know how you feel, but maybe give it a try.”
Adam didn’t respond and Doc Brown shook his head pityingly before noticing a readout that was particularly interesting and become engrossed, ignoring both him and Mordin.
On Monday, Adam sidled into the guardhouse, keeping to the back. Racing didn’t seem like something to get excited about, but after a few nights of rough sleep and the creeping boredom of nothing pressing to do besides patrol the outer walls and help with chores, he was desperate for any distraction.
Elphaba had her broom on some sawhorses and was retying the brush, looking for any stray bristles that might slow her down. Beatrix Kiddo had the Pussy Wagon on a jack, trading out the nearly bald tires. Lace was in her Jeep, carefully fiddling with the cassette player. Bond and Amethyst were in the corner with maps laid out on a heavy wood table that looked like it was meant for a banquet hall.
“C’mon, we can run a track through that square, it’ll be great!” Amethyst was saying.
Bond folded his arms, looking down at the map. “And when it’s market day?”
“Obstacles to avoid! It’s not just about speed, you know, you gotta be precise. Smooth, like butter.” Amethyst slowly skated her hand through the air like it was a car.
“I like the idea of obstacles, but it sounds quite dangerous for the villagers.”
Amethyst scoffed, “No way man, I’m not letting any of them get hurt! This is for advanced drivers only.”
Bond held up a placating hand. “Yes, but even if none of them get hurt, they might not enjoy having a race track running through their place of business.”
“Mm, yeah, I guess. How do you feel about the Ice Mountains track idea?”
“If you’re willing to make that pitch to the Ice Trolls.”
Amethyst pumped her fists in celebration. “Heck yeah, I am! We can get them in on our racing crew! I bet they know all sorts of great moves.”
“I don’t believe they know how to drive,” Bond replied.
“Okay, then we teach them our great moves!”
Bond paused as though he wanted to question Amethyst’s logic before nodding decisively. “I trust you’ll find a way to make it work. After all, the track through the Evergreen Forest was a great success.”
“Awesome, we’ll be driving those icy roads before you know it!” Amethyst punched Bond in the arm and strolled off, leaving him to roll up the maps.
Amethyst grinned excitedly at Adam as she walked past. “Glad you’re here! This is way better than door fighting! Although I totally won that door fight. Hey James! Your friend came! But you can be my friend too.” Amethyst put out a fist for him to bump. Adam lifted his fist, copying her, and as his knuckles touched hers, Amethyst yelled “DOOR BROS!” then turned into a car and headed out the open door calling, “See you on the track, dude!” Leaving Adam to stare in awe after the force of personality that was Amethyst.
Lace revved her engine and peeled out in pursuit, “Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Car” blaring from the stereo. Elphaba finished retying her broom and headed after them. Beatrix ignored the noise, continuing methodically with her task.
Bond jogged over to him. “Surprised you joined us. But I’m certainly glad you did.”
“Have to do something with all this damn free time,” Adam mumbled.
Bond waved to a few of the vehicles left in the de-facto garage. “Take your pick, then.”
Adam looked over the DeLorean, a small white car with the number 53 painted on the side, the Ectomobile, something James called a “pod-racer”, a weird concoction of a vehicle that had a stick on the front of it like a lance, and finally an Aston Martin.
“Does it matter? They all seem like transportation.”
“Ah, it’s about the way you respond to what you’re driving. They’ll all get you to the finish line, naturally,” Bond conceded, “but how do you want to feel when you cross it?”
From the other side of the Pussy Wagon, Adam heard Beatrix snort with laughter.
“That is one of the stupidest questions I’ve ever been asked,” Adam replied.
Bond grinned affably. “Then how about you drive the Aston Martin and I’ll just be along for the ride. Unless you’d rather drive alone, of course.”
“It’s your car. I don’t mind a passenger as long as you’re not the talkative type.”
Beatrix snorted again.
“Something you wished to say, Ms. Kiddo?” Bond asked politely.
“Nope,” Beatrix answered, lowering the Pussy Wagon with its fresh tires. She climbed into the driver’s seat and motioned for the two of them to move out of the way before she jammed it into reverse, swung the car back, and then slid into first gear and out the door, throwing up a cloud of dirt in her wake.
Bond gestured to the Aston Martin. “After you.”
Bond didn’t bother to watch the road or pay attention to what Adam was doing. He pushed back in his seat and looked out the window absently, allowing Adam to put his complete attention on driving.
They got to the starting line just as Optimus Prime was going over the agreed upon rules for the warm-up race. Five laps of the castle, the first to make it over the line at the fifth lap would be the winner. The winner would then be the one to choose the track they would be racing on next.
Optimus Prime counted down slowly. “Five. Four. Three. Two. One.” On one he transformed into a car then boomed, “Roll out!”
Samus Aran, in her Morph Ball, was the first to break the line and rush onto the path, maneuvering easily on the dirt track. Adam slid the car into gear, tried to get moving, then stalled. Max Rockatansky blew past, ignoring everyone else and staring only at the road ahead.
“Damn it to hell,” Adam said through clenched teeth. He waited for Bond to say something, but he remained pensively looking at landscape stretching before them. Adam tried again. The car barely nudged over into the right gear but he felt the transition as the pitch of the engine ticked up.
They were well behind everyone else in the track that started from beside the highest tower on the outer wall and swung out wide to straight before curving slowly back to the start. The commotion of other cars and assorted vehicles drowned out everything else. He leaned back, pushing the Aston Martin to join the rest of the pack clustered on the course. From the back, he could see Elphaba racing just above Samus, but Lace was starting to gain on them.
He couldn’t make up the time lost at the beginning, but watching the race play out ahead of him was soothing. He played an internal game of predicting the physics and choices of the people ahead of him--some of the people he knew well and, when Lace drifted to cut off the advance of those coming behind, he wasn’t surprised. When Yoshimitsu, riding his sword like a pogo stick, did a battle cry and spun around to bop Optimus Prime on the head for edging into his space, Adam was shocked. To be fair, Optimus Prime was as well.
By the fifth lap, he realized that he hadn’t spoken to Bond for the past twenty minutes and that he hadn’t had a single intrusive thought. His mind had been quiet--quiet in a way that usually took a half bottle of whiskey and exhaustion to achieve. As they crossed the line and joined the others parked, waiting for the winner to choose which track they’d head to next, Bond moved lazily in his seat, stretching his lithe form in every direction before turning to look at Adam.
“Lovely to be driven for a change. I do enjoy the challenge of a good drive, but it’s not as much fun alone, I find.”
“Sorry about stalling out,” Adam grunted.
Bond’s expression shifted to one of polite surprise. “Did you? I really wasn’t paying attention. Miles away.”
“You’re a spy and you didn’t notice that? How the hell are you alive if you don’t pay attention all the time?!”
Bond patted Adam’s shoulder. “I trusted you wouldn’t kill me. In the right company, I can find myself relaxed.”
Adam smirked despite himself. “I’ve heard some stories about you that make it sound like you only spend time around people that might kill you at any moment.”
“Mm, well, I have a habit of sharing a bed with people that might want to kill me.” Bond gave Adam a sly look. “But I’m certainly open to trying new things as far as that goes.” He popped open the door and stretched to his full height, calling over to Elphaba who had won. “And where are we off to now, madam?”
“Sands of time!” she called, getting back on her broom and heading to the declared course. Lace, who’d managed second place, grumbled good-naturedly to her passenger, Vivan, and peeled out after Elphaba.
From the castle gate, the DeLorean came screeching out in pursuit. “SORRY I’M LAAAATE!” Doc Brown yelled, heading after the others.
Bond dropped back into the passenger seat. “Just follow them, they know the way to the track.”
Adam silently started up the car again and joined the caravan.
The sand course was tricky and he found himself wrestling with the wheel for purchase, but by the end of it he felt pleasantly tired, calmer than he’d felt in a long time.
Optimus Prime had won this one. Adam had come close to last--never a great feeling, but for a first go, he could accept it. Racing wasn’t the most fun he’d ever had, but it felt good and reliable in a way that not much else had.
Rosa Diaz pulled up beside him in her motorcycle. “Saw you out there. You looked good.”
Adam was on the verge of pushing away the compliment, but settled for a businesslike, “Thanks, you too.”
Rosa leaned down to look in through the window. “Hey James, watch out for my teammate out there. I know where you sleep.”
Bond winked. “I didn’t know you cared enough to find out. I’ll keep the door unlocked.”
“HAH! Gross,” she said, before narrowing her eyes. “But seriously, I would punch your kidneys through your spine.”
“And I would deserve it, naturally. Rest assured, Ms. Diaz, he’s safe with me.”
Lara Croft sauntered up to Rosa and swung up behind her on the motorcycle, kissing her shoulder. “Jensen can look after himself.”
“So are you all concerned that I might lose it out there and try to kill Bond, or crash through a wall yelling ‘oh yeah’ because I’ve gone into a fugue state?” Adam deadpanned.
Rosa punched his arm. “No, dummy, I’m concerned because you’re my friend and not every idiot out there knows how to drive.” She gave a pointed look at Yoshimitsu who was pogoing madly back to the castle. “And for the record, I never thought you were a danger to any of us. I just thought you were being a stubborn jackass that didn’t want to deal with your shit.”
“I’m fine--“ Adam didn’t manage to stop the words before they escaped.
Rosa rolled her eyes. “Sure, pal. Anyway, we got a date so I’ll see you around.” Rosa and Lara shoved on their helmets and sped off.
It was, Adam was willing to admit, an acceptable week. He tried joining Gimli and the others to learn ax throwing. He’d gotten some of his augmentations tuned up by Sombra, who had refrained from turning any of them pink this time.
He'd shown up the whole week for racing with the Grayskull Wheel Demons. Amethyst had been calling them the G.W.D., but everyone had just started saying “The Wheels,” a title which no one cared for, but the name was starting to stick and Adam knew that once a name started to stick, that was usually it. After all, “Aug” had been the worst option for an abbreviation for augmented humans.
Bond hadn’t once asked to drive the Aston Martin in place of Adam, although it was his own vehicle. He’d just sat in the passenger seat and made the sort of light and charming conversation he was skilled at, or just watched the race as it unfolded around them.
All of which made it worse when he woke up from a nightmare on Sunday night, kicking over a lamp and reaching wildly for his guns. He couldn’t find them and he felt nausea rising. He fought the sheets, ripping them off, then rushed to the bathroom in time to vomit. His chest was heaving, pain thudding dully behind his eyes. For a few moments after waking, he could still smell that piercing sugar scent and taste it in the back of his throat, poisoning him with sweetness. It had felt like he was still back there, like no one was ever coming for him and he would die there, alone in that cheerfully hellish place.
Adam wiped his mouth and drank some water before brushing his teeth again to get the taste out. Even feeling so wrung out, he knew there would be no falling asleep after that. He pulled back the curtains to see the night was still dark, not even a hint of dawn creeping in. Sighing, he pulled on a shirt and coat, laced up his boots, and headed out to walk the castle. He stopped in the kitchen and grabbed a minibox of bran flakes. There was something disappointing about needing the comfort of boring high fiber cereal to calm down from his sugar nightmare, but then it was disappointing to feel like he’d turned a corner only to realize that no, he was still struggling just to get normal sleep without destroying part of his room in the process.
He didn’t think about where he was walking to but wasn’t surprised to see that he’d ended up at the guardhouse. Maybe he could take one of the cars out and just get lost for a while. He opened the door to see Bond leaning over a map, idly sketching paths. His normally tidy clothes looked lived in for once. The buttons at his collar were undone and his cuffs had been rolled back. His hair even looked rumpled, like he’d been running his hands through it. He looked up as Adam entered the room, the light reflecting in his blue eyes.
“Oh, good evening, or is it morning? I couldn’t sleep, but I’m happy to go if you’d like the place to yourself.” Bond stretched, his shirt pulling tight across his shoulders.
Adam jerked his head at the Aston Martin. “You want to go for a drive?”
“I’d love to,” Bond beamed.
They sunk into the leather seats and Adam steered it out onto the path. Tuvok was on duty and looked surprised to see them together, but let them through the Jaw Bridge without comment.
On the road, Adam and Bond went quiet. They rolled the windows down and listened to the sound of Eternia at night. Insects chirped and animals chittered and hooted to one another. They meandered along the various tracks, before pulling off to park at the edge of a stream. Adam listened as the stream bubbled over the rocks. Bond turned to watch Adam but remained silent, leaning back in the seat.
Adam cleared his throat. “I had another nightmare. It’s not unusual, but I hadn’t had one in a few nights. I’m just sick of them and I thought – no, I hoped – that maybe I was getting better.” Adam lay his head back on the seat, eyes heavy with exhaustion. “I don’t want this to be my life. My life before was, well, it was shit. And I don’t want my life here to be shit too.”
“Perhaps it doesn’t have to be,” Bond offered simply.
“Got any brilliant ideas?”
“Brilliant is a bit much. Although I will suggest that you haven’t tried to actually discuss whatever it is that happened and, as far as I can tell, you haven’t allowed any of your friends to offer much in the way of support,” Bond pointed out.
“Friendship is fine, it’s great, but it’s not going to undo whatever went wrong in my head. That switch that got flipped after a week of nothing but sugar and cartoony rent-a-cops trying to grill me.” Adam clenched his hand still on the wheel.
Bond set a hand on Adam’s, releasing his death grip on the wheel. “Likely not, but they might make it easier.”
Adam looked skeptical. “And what do you think they would they do to help?”
“Whatever you needed.”
“Fine, you’re my friend, I need help. There.”
Bond sat up a little, looking attentively at him. “What would you like then?”
“I don’t know, James, to be a little less delusional would be great,” Adam said sarcastically. “Failing that, to at least stop thinking about it long enough to enjoy some part of my life?”
James leaned in and kissed him with a smoothness that made Adam jealous. Where had he learned to do that? James pulled back leaving just enough distance to say, “Are you still thinking about it?”
Adam couldn’t help it, he laughed. It was so unbelievable, like many of the things in his life, and yet it was entirely believable because it was happening to him and he was the person that unbelievable things happened to. “You smooth bastard.”
James looked a bit sheepish and glassy-eyed. “Apologies, old habits do die hard. I won’t let it happen again.”
Adam nudged his shoulder against James’ chest. “Let’s not be hasty. It did stop me from thinking about Candyland. But I want to know, what’s got you up at night?”
He gave an elegant shrug, “The same things that keep most of us up, I’d imagine. Regrets, mistakes, losses, betrayals, that sort of thing.”
“They come with the territory.”
“Mm, although I could certainly do with fewer of them. I suppose it’s another reason I said yes when offered the chance to join the Extraordinary League. A fresh start is a seductive thing. Not that there’s such a thing as a fresh start, but League is something a bit like that. A chance to be perhaps better than before. To become a person with fewer regrets.”
“Normally I’m great at reading people, requirement of the job if you want to be any kind of worthwhile cop, but I can’t tell if you mean any of that or if you’re just trying to get into my pants with this.”
“You discount that it could be both?” James raised an eyebrow.
Adam laughed again. “Romantic late night drives, moonlit streams, and ‘intimate’ conversations aren’t usually how people approach me for sex.”
James gestured to their surroundings. “And yet this drive, coming here, this conversation, none of it was my idea. I’m just along for the ride. I know when I’m being seduced, even if my would-be seducer doesn’t.”
Adam’s eyes widened. “What?! That is a damned crazy argument to make, James. This isn’t something I went looking for, I never asked for this!”
“Sometimes we don’t have to ask for things, sometimes they fall into our laps. I think the question is, would you like to ask for this?” He pointedly grazed a hand over the front of Adam’s pants.
Adam inhaled sharply but didn’t answer, trying to pick apart when exactly this had started to seem like a reasonable idea, when James had managed to become a friend, to become someone that he wanted to be around, and when he’d started to look so damned hard to resist.
James drew back, turning to look up at the stars as if they had all the time in the world and Adam could answer or never answer and James would be fine either way. “I do like Eternia at night. London in the darkness is special, but this is still… well, it's lovely. Thank you for letting me join you.”
Adam straightened in his seat, then reached over and cupped James’ cheek, gently turning him back to meet his gaze. “I’m asking,” he said firmly, then leaned in to kiss him.
James tasted like mint, a splash of gin, and too many cigarettes, but then Adam probably tasted like bran flakes, toothpaste, and a hint of vomit. Far from an ideal kiss, but they were here and they were together and it was nice. And nice wasn’t a word he’d associated with any part of his life--it had always been overwhelming and exciting. Maybe there was something worthwhile about nice over exciting, or indeed over extraordinary.
James’ fingers threaded into his hair and he hummed in satisfaction. He tipped Adam back into the driver’s seat and melted forward, pressing against him and leaving open-mouthed kisses on his neck. Adam felt the trail of James’ tongue along his collarbone and shivered.
James looked up at him with hooded eyes. “Ordinarily, I do ‘put out’ on the first date, as I’m sure you’ve suspected, but I find myself inclined to take it a touch slower if that’s acceptable.”
Adam groaned. “You really can’t resist commentary, can you? Yes, it’s ‘acceptable’. Whatever you’re fine with is acceptable.”
“There is something we could do that would keep me quiet. Well, quieter, I suppose,” James smiled roguishly.
Adam looked at the interior of the Aston Martin. “I don’t exactly think you’ll fit in the footwell, James.”
James tutted. “You wound me,” then moved across to Adam, curling up to somehow fit perfectly between Adam’s legs. “Never doubt my ability to get myself into a tight spot. Getting out might be a bit tricky, but that’s half the fun, isn’t it?”
Adam muttered, “Suave bastard.” Bond winked.
Afterwards, he was greeted with the sight of James at his feet looking simultaneously smug and charming, which was incredibly unfair.
Adam could tell he was smiling like an idiot. Apparently, the combination of sleep deprivation and sex really had a way of softening him up, “Yes. You’re very good. Really, incredibly good. Will you stop looking like that?”
“Kind of you to say so,” James nodded appreciatively. “Please do move over, I don’t think you’re in a fit state to drive at the moment.”
They switched seats and, as Adam felt the car begin to glide over the road back to Grayskull, he could barely keep his eyes open. James looked fondly at him. “Just sleep, for god’s sake. I’m remarkably used to my attentions rendering people insensate.”
“Just wait. I’m going to be the smuggest bastard in the multiverse after I ‘render you insensate.’” Adam grumbled, letting his eyes slip shut.
He felt James laugh beside him. “I’m looking forward to it. Now go to sleep.”
Finally, letting the exhaustion win out, Adam did.
Adam and James stood in front of Snow’s desk.
“I think he is exactly the person the team needs for this,” Bond said.
Snow looked between the two of them. “And of course, this has nothing whatsoever to do with your current relationship.”
“Whereas your missions with Titania are above all possible reproach on that front, of course,” Bond answered lightly.
Snow narrowed his eyes, then turned to Adam. “And how do you feel about this?”
Adam stood up straighter. “I feel…nervous, but I’m capable of handling this. The team knows I may have difficulty sleeping, may not always wake up remembering where I am, and I’ve been clear with them about what to expect. I know that we can work together.”
Snow nodded in satisfaction and handed him the dossier. “Good. Be ready to leave to in the next week. Glad to see you’re doing well, Jensen.”
Jensen looked over at Bond. “Me too.”
They joined the rest of their team in the hallway. Amethyst and Sombra high-fived. Optimus Prime did a thumbs up from the window.
Snow closed his door, only for Titania to swing it open a second later and perch on his desk. “They’ll be fine. I could hear you furrowing your brow from down the hall.”
“So help me if this was you matchmaking. Faeries and matchmaking do not mix, we know this.”
Titania laughed. “I had nothing to do with them, although I’m flattered you’d think I’d try to get away with that under your nose. Are you trying to tempt me?”
Snow leveled a warning look at her. “Do not even think it. We have to save the worlds first, getting people into romantic entanglements can wait.”
“Oh I disagree, I think we can save the worlds and get entangled. It’s all very well to pay attention to our mission, but there’s something to be said for releasing stress, don’t you think?” She traced a finger over the shell of his ear.
Snow shivered. “Not everyone is the ‘multitasker’ that you are. And I’ve told you, and everyone, stop sitting on my desk. I have chairs right there if you want to sit.” He growled, tugging a paper from underneath her.
“Sitting? No, I don’t particularly want to sit. I have other activities in mind.”
“Goddammit Titania, I have work to do. As do you.” His lips thinned.
Titania gave him a knowing look. “Yes, we do. And yet if we were to absent ourselves awhile, I do think the worlds might somehow carry on without your input.”
The line of his mouth softened into the faintest hint of a smile. “Fine, close the door. And for god’s sake lock it this time.”