The harsh sounds etched into Jeff's brain like acid, and it wasn't until the tinny backbeat registered that he managed to comprehend the torture was being perpetrated by his cell phone. And it was the Indiana Jones theme, which meant Nate wanted him. Jeff swore, realized he was cursing in Russian, and swore again. In English. He'd been debriefed in Moscow, of course, but that didn't mean Borya Ivanovich was out of his thought-processes.
"Fuck," he croaked, his hand flailing in the general direction of the night table. "Fuckfuckfuck..." It could only be bad news, like the cancellation of his well-earned and long-overdue vacation. Since he'd walked off the plane from Moscow only ten hours ago and had proceeded to wash Russia and vodka out of his system with good old American bourbon, he was not inclined to be reasonable. More by luck than judgment, Jeff located his phone and pressed the key. "Nyet," he croaked. It would have been a snarl if his hangover had permitted it. "Shit. No. Fuck off."
"Sorry, kid." Nate sounded weary and Jeff acknowledged a faint twinge of sympathy. His handler was no spring chicken and it had been a rough assignment for both of them. But Jeff hardened his heart.
"No." He cut the connection and shoved the phone under the mattress, then pulled the pillow over his head and tried to get back to sleep. It didn't work. Even muffled by fabric and whatever else went into making a mattress, Indiana Jones assaulted his senses again. Jeff whimpered and surrendered, fished out the cell and fumbled for the correct key. "What?" he demanded. "I love you like family, Nate, but I swear I'm going to break every bone in your body if this is a callout."
"Are you alone?"
"Huh?" Jeff took the phone away from his ear and stared at it. He never brought anyone to his apartment, or at least, he didn't remember doing so on this occasion. Not that meant much, given the amount of alcohol he'd poured down his throat. Nate, on the other hand, sounded surprisingly sober. Carefully, Jeff swiveled his head around to check out his bed. The other pillow was pristine, no sign another head had rested on it, and the covers on the far side were still tucked in. The en suite door stood open on a darkened bathroom, and he could hear no sound from the shower or toilet. "I think so."
"I'm sure! Come on, if I brought someone back with me he sure as hell wouldn't be sleeping on the fucking couch!" Jeff racked his brain and managed to recall stumbling from the club on his own and crawling into a cab. "I'm sure," he repeated.
"God. How much have you sunk?"
"Listen, I'm due this!" But it was more than time owed. All those months undercover, Jeff needed the space to crawl back into his own head, and his handler knew it was well as he did. If not better.
"I know. It's tough." Nate's voice was quiet, reasonable. "Thing is, it's an emergency."
"Trust me, Jeff. This is an easy case, nearest you'll get to a paid vacation and still work."
"If it's so easy, Boss-man can give it to someone else," Jeff muttered.
"Sorry, kiddo. It needs your gay ass."
"Shit! Tell me that doesn't mean what I think it means." Jeff dragged his free hand through his hair, fingers catching painfully in the tangles. "Nate?"
"Sorry," Nate said and his regret was genuine, Jeff knew. "It's a skin-job. I know we've just come out of the Kerzhakov assignment, but the boss wants you in on this one. We'll get double our leave back at the end of it, he says."
"I want it in writing, signed and witnessed," Jeff snapped, giving in to the inevitable. "Okay. Where and when?"
"Manhattan office, one hour. Call a cab."
"Yeah," he answered grimly. "Right. Connolly does knows it's three o'clock in the fucking morning, right?"
"Yup. And he's the boss. See you soon."
Jeff groaned. Moving and feeling as if he was three times his thirty years, he crawled out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom. This wasn't the worst hangover he'd ever had by a long shot, but he'd planned on sleeping it off before he started on earning the next one. His vacation plans hadn't been ambitious: get drunk, maybe have random anonymous sex if/when it was on offer, and sleep off the alcohol. And remember to think in English. Soap, rinse, repeat.
Sometimes life sucked. He stared at his reflection in the mirror, and for a moment Borya Ivanovich gazed back at him. That face, with its wide blue eyes and vulnerable mouth framed by heavy untidy waves of dark hair, looked more like twenty than thirty despite his defined cheekbones. His naked chest, bare of any hair thanks to the depilation of even the few strands that tried to grow around his areoles, was a sleek, creamy expanse of lightly defined muscles. So were his limbs, making him as graceful as a classical Greek statue. The apparent youthfulness was his stock in trade, but surely he was at his sell-by date now? Jeff swore and forced himself to relax until his eyes and mouth were his own again.
His talent for sinking himself so deeply into his roles made him invaluable to the Security and Retrievals Department of Davidson & Hart Insurance Inc, but when he spent a long time undercover, he found it hard to slide back into himself. Nate helped, of course. That was one of the main reasons why they were agent and handler. "Jefferson Damiano Taylor," he said slowly. "From El Paso via UC Berkeley and Quantico." Though Quantico had been only a brief interlude before he and the FBI agreed he wasn't their kind of material after all, and Texas had long since been purged from his accent. By the time the last word of his mantra was spoken, his own narrowed gaze and wry half-smile faced him. He gave himself a mock-salute. "Welcome home."