Time: Approximately a year before Hell for the Company
The bar was packed. Usually, this was good. Extra people meant extra noise to cover up certain activities and extra confusion through which a certain type of person could easily slip. This evening, all the extra bodies simply annoyed Julian. So did the assignment, which wasn't so much an assignment as a strong-arm, bullying order. A serious shame, wasting Julian's talents on this sort of thing. Oh, HQ had their reasons. Still annoyed him.
He slid to one side so he didn't block the doorway and leaned against the wall to survey the crowd. Most of the tables were packed with extra hangers-on standing around them. The bar, likewise, though there was an odd space around two of the bar stools at the far end.
Ah. The evening just got better. He knew that adorable little butt on the left-hand bar stool quite well. The larger, most muscular one on the stool beside it, not quite so well, but that ass was still identifiable by association. Julian's assignment hadn't arrived yet. He had time. Putting on his polite rogue face, the one that said I'm here to relax and would rather buy you a drink than punch you, thanks much, he sidled between patrons until he reached his goal at the gleaming chrome-and-glass bar.
He leaned his elbow on the bar next to the owner of the adorable butt and murmured, "Well, hello gorgeous. Of all the nights in all the bars in all the galaxy, you had to walk into this one, didn't you?"
The deliciously handsome demon on the bar stool didn't turn, but he hesitated before he took his next sip, so Julian knew he'd heard. "Do I know you tonight? And by what name?"
Julian held out his hand. "Julian Parallax. How do you do, sir?"
Instead of shaking hands, Shax leaned in and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Lovely to see you, my dear." His dark gaze traveled up and down while Julian tried not to snicker under the undisguised heat in those eyes. "And in my favorite outfit, too. Flyboy devil-may-care."
Julian put an arm through Shax's and leaned over the bar to speak to his companion. "Hello, Hammer. How's everything?"
"Not bad till you showed up," Verin snarled without glancing over. "If you're here to drag us into trouble, Parallax, you can fuck right off."
"I'm hurt that you'd suggest it. Just a polite hello and maybe a proposition for sex later. For Shax, not you. Obviously."
Verin snorted a cloud of steam. "Would rather break you in half than screw you any fucking day."
"Ah, it's good to be back among friends."
Shax laughed and hooked an arm around Julian's waist to pull him closer. "Later meaning you're on assignment?"
"Briefly." Julian untangled himself and turned so his back leaned against the bar. "Ah. My target's arrived. Back in less than twenty minutes."
"You're assuming I'll be waiting."
Shax gave a one-shouldered shrug, his eyes narrowed. "Most likely. But you didn't ask."
"Ah. How rude of me." Julian kept one eye on the room while he picked up Shax's hand to kiss his fingers. "Your most irresistible highness, may I fuck you later this evening?"
For a moment, Shax stared down his nose, undeniably haughty and regal until he cracked a grin. "Of course you may. Yummy flyboys are excused their rude assumptions." He made little shooing motions with his fingers. "Go, go. Get your work done. I'll wait."
Julian started toward the cloud of pink glitter near the door. This. The reason why sending him on this assignment was such a waste. No one could've missed Jimmy's entrance. An entertainer, Jimmy had undergone body modding so that his skin sparkled permanently and a glittering pink and blue unicorn horn jutted from his forehead. Not exactly subtle, but that's what had made Jimmy a top-notch informant. He seemed so superficial that people became careless around him.
Unreliable, the report had said. So they sent Julian, of all people, to handle it.
Within seconds, Julian was beside him with an arm around Jimmy's waist, micro-pistol pressed up against glittering skin. Jimmy sucked in a breath, eyes wide. The couple he'd been speaking to looked at him oddly.
"Smile, Jimmy darling," Julian purred in his ear. "We're all friends here. Make a plausible excuse. You and I are going outside for a chat."
In the crowded room, only Julian heard his whimper, but Jimmy caught himself and smiled, telling the couple he'd be right back. Julian herded his prisoner outside and into the transport he had waiting. Once he closed the top and locked the doors, it was as good as a soundproof chamber. Smart boy that he was, Jimmy waited until they were effectively alone before he broke down.
"Whatever it was, Mr. Parallax, I didn't do it! Please don't shoot me! Please! I don't know why they sent you after me, but I haven't done anything!"
If there hadn't been a weapon pressed into Jimmy's side, Julian had no doubt that he would've had a lapful of running mascara and unicorn horn. He was rather fond of horns on a male, but he preferred them small, red, and in a matched set of two.
"Don't screech," Julian said with a wince. "You'll make me shoot you out of reflex."
"Yes, sir. I'm so sorry." The whisper was almost worse. "I'll do anything you want. Nothing's too kinky. Whatever it takes."
"Now it's bribes?"
"Just please don't kill me." Jimmy dropped a shoulder to let his open-necked tunic fall off one shoulder, managing to look vulnerable, decadent and tempting all at once.
Julian stifled a sigh. Both their skill sets were wasted on this interaction. "Jimmy, sweetie, if I had come to shoot you, do you really think you would even have caught sight of me? Don't you think you'd already be dead?"
"You, ah, wanted to gloat? Deliver a message before you shot me?"
"Do I look like the super villain type to you? And as for pre-death messages, could you think for one moment about how ridiculous that sounds?" Julian backed off so the micro-pistol wasn't invading Jimmy's space quite so personally. He wasn't stupid enough to put it away. Jimmy was an operative, not half as helpless as he wanted to appear, and probably better armed than most bodyguards.
"So what then? If you needed a meeting, Julian, you could've just asked." The tears and the terrified expression had vanished abruptly, packed up for another time.
"Don't get snippy with me. The home office has become less than certain about your continued usefulness." Julian pulled out his most dangerous smile. "Even if they're not openly questioning your loyalties, I'm still not going to be careless. Your information has proved unreliable. Three times now. Agents with bad information get hurt, Jimmy."
Jimmy had the gall to look offended, his horn brushing the roof of the vehicle as he sat up straighter. "I'm just the conduit. What agents do with the information isn't my problem."
"You've passed on time-sensitive intel so obviously planted a three-year-old would've seen through it." Not entirely true but Jimmy knew better. Either he had been lazy or mercenary enough to pass on bad intelligence for payment. Perhaps being paid twice.
"The Great and Powerful Parallax has spoken. Now you, what? Beat me up? Break my arm?"
"How crude. You know me better than that." Julian let his smile slide into feral. "You're relatively safe when you can see me. If I'm ordered to come back and take care of you, you'll be dead before you realize you're in danger. Just remember that the next time you want to hand over sloppy intel."
Jimmy whimpered again, most likely a real one this time. With an exasperated sound, Julian opened the canopy and waved him out, horn, glitter and all. Instead of returning to the bar, Jimmy ran down the street and hailed a passing hover cab. Wise choice.
Julian waited a good fifteen minutes before he stepped out. The whole thing had left a nasty taste in his mouth and if they sent him after Jimmy at some point in the future, he would refuse the assignment. He had that right at any time and when the assassin knew the subject, refusal was encouraged. He just hadn't exercised the option in years. An officially sanctioned assassin is what he was and would most likely remain until the day he misjudged and someone shot him down. Once in a great while, days popped up when he wished he wasn't quite so good at it, though he never told the department doctors that. Ever.
Done. He set the incident aside and headed back into the bar. Sexual promises to a certain exiled prince to keep. He laughed softly as he made his way through the crowd a third time. Of all the beings in the universe. Who would've thought a demon thief, liar and troublemaker would settle his nerves more consistently than anything else.