Hand in one pocket, thin coils of chain twisted and twined around her fingers, M absently trailed the pad of her thumb over of the pendant, the raised loops and whorls of cool metal rapidly warming as they greedily drank in body heat. There was something oddly soothing in the simple, repetitive action, her fingers automatically turning the knot over each time her thumb completed a circuit.
Bond was late.
She didn't bother to check her watch, like Tanner or Villiers would have been doing, had either of them been with her, nor did she display any other sign of impatience or irritation. He'd be along soon enough anyway. M wasn't yet sure what had prompted this latest trick of arriving precisely late enough for it to be obvious he was doing it deliberately, but not so much that he couldn't claim any number of innocent reasons, such as an overcrowded lift, or heavy traffic, but she could have set her watch by the man. If she'd wanted a perpetually late watch, that is.
Given that he hadn't yet done it for anything non-trivial, or where she might have lost face with other government departments, M had chosen not to react, at least not yet. Just because a grown man had suddenly decided to start acting like a petulant teenager, there was no actual reason for her behave like a nagging parent in return. Especially as it hadn't been worth the effort when she had actually been a nagging parent. By far the best way to quash this particular brand of juvenile attention seeking was to give the impression of ignoring it right up until the moment he crossed the line from annoyance to problem. Then he'd get his ears pinned back quickly enough, and possibly a few other body parts too. That this course of inaction would keep Bond guessing as to just how much attention she was or wasn't paying to him was just one more point in favour of it.
As if summoned by M's line of thought, her errant double-oh finally deigned to put in an appearance, all apologies about his belated arrival. His explanations about problems in the tube that had a ripple-on effect on all other forms of traffic would not only have been verifiable had M cared to check, but also have rung with utmost sincerity to anyone who wasn't currently in charge of an intelligence agency. Even then there was a more than decent chance they would have been taken in.
Out of the way enough that had he wanted to, Bond could have quite legitimately claimed he'd gotten lost on the way over, the building was a far cry from the warm wooden interiors and plush carpeting of the original MI6 buildings, or the cool, sleek sterility of the modern offices. Of course, those parts of it which housed the labs where documents and debris were first catalogued, fingerprinted, and swabbed for particulates and DNA properly belonged in the wet-dream of a set-designer on a forensic procedural, and the vast array of computer equipment used to scan and electronically encode the contents of said documents, to be poured over and analysed by both flesh and blood minds as well as specialised programs, would have been the envy of any post-production studio in the country, or even the continent.
But the majority of the complex, including the part of the building they now moved through, where after one set of technicians got their swabs and before another got their scans, thousands upon thousands of pages worth of documents, books, electronic equipment, and various other materials were fumigated, decontaminated, dried, cleaned, and otherwise salvaged from the kind of damage field agents (especially certain, specific agents) were prone to leave in the wake of securing persons and places of interest, bore more resemblance to an industrial estate than anything else with its exposed brickwork, prefabricated walls, and uncarpeted floors made of massive slabs of dull, grey, cement.
Bond noted that this extended to those working here. Rather than the neat business attire of intelligence officers, or the coveralls and lab-coats of scientists and technicians, the women seated at the rows of long, low, trestle tables wore variations on a theme of jeans, t-shirts or tennis shirts, and fluorescent safety vests. Trainers and plimsolls were as common as battered work-boots, and he could see the occasional set of ear buds or facial piercings, something only a very brave, very undercover, or extremely stupid agent would have worn in M's presence.
Over the dual hums of machinery that looked like it had been stolen off a Doctor Who set and women talking in low but cheerful voices as they cleaned soot-stained documents, he could hear a staticky radio blaring pop-music, and the clean click, click, click of M's heels on the concrete floor as M walked ahead of him. Bitter, acrid, and vaguely nauseating, the aroma of burnt paper and melted plastic hung in the air, thick and greasy on the tongue except for where it was occasionally cut through with the sharp tang of acetone.
A cut-off curse was his only warning before a staple-remover skittered across his path, tumbling further across the floor as the edge of his foot caught it. Without even breaking stride, he changed direction to retrieve the wayward piece of office stationery, his movements smooth as he pressed it back into the hand of the woman still half-hanging over the edge of her desk in an aborted lunge. Acknowledging the ducked head and mumbled thanks with a smile of his own, Bond suppressed a deep-down twinge as a quick glance over the document she was working on revealed a wide, brown stain that no amount of cleaning was ever going to lift.
In all, the whole event took less than a minute at most, but when Bond turned to once more follow M, he found that she'd already passed out of sight, and the door at the end of the large room opened out into several passages, all deserted.
He grimaced as he looked down the empty corridors, trying to guess which way M had gone. It was one thing to be late on purpose, quite another to be late because you'd been outpaced by someone with legs considerably shorter than your own and gotten lost.
If he were to be perfectly honest with himself, Bond wasn't entirely sure why he was currently attempting to tweak M's metaphorical pig-tails. Apart from the fact it seemed to be the singularly least effective method of getting a reaction he'd pursued in a lifetime of tugging against the reigns of authority to see how much slack he could gain, there was the ever present possibility that if he did manage to push her too far that her reaction would involve bullets and the more vulnerable parts of his anatomy.
This time, M did check her watch as she waited for Bond to show up, or rather a clock on the wall, with some amusement. She'd caught sight of him stopping out of one edge of her peripheral vision, and had increased her stride just enough to leave him well behind her without giving the appearance of rushing. Ignoring him was all well and good, but that didn't meant that given an opportunity she was going to let it slip through her fingers.
It took him some time to find her, but a mere three or four swoops of the bright red second-hand around the clock-face, an impressively short amount given the size of the facility, and he managed to look neither rushed, nor especially chagrined. There was a faint air of embarrassment about him, one that had been completely lacking during his earlier arrival, but M suspected that most people wouldn't have been able to detect even that. He opened his mouth to say something, but before he could, M cut him off with a single raised eyebrow and the simple expedient of turning to Morris, a young, nervous-looking technician, who she rather suspected had been expecting O'Hea, or possibly Tanner at the very most, and asking him in the politest, most warm and soothing tone possible, what exactly was so important that they had need to come down here.
Shortly thereafter, his part done, the only slightly less harried Morris scuttled out of the room, the documents that had lead to the meeting clutched close like some kind of shield or protective talisman. It was painfully obvious that he was far more comfortable tucked away in this particular facility, mostly alone with the scanning computers, and despite being what her more ungenerous critics would call uncharacteristically gentle, M had wondered several times if he would bolt like the skittish colt he resembled before he'd even finished.
Bond, who prior to this had quite sensibly been keeping his mouth shut except for when it was absolutely necessary to volunteer an answer or opinion, finally broke the silence left in the wake of Morris's hurried exit. "I think he thought you were going to eat him alive," he remarked, staring at the now closed office door. "I didn't think we recruited people quite that odd."
"Odd or not, at least he knows how to check his watch." She didn't snap. If anything her voice was mild, dismissive even. "I'm perfectly content to ignore your idiotic attempts at some sort of pissing contest when all it does is make you look like you have no time management skills, or even the simple ability to catch a lift. But there are limits. Just now, I wasn't entirely sure that poor Morris wasn't going to faint before you finally bothered to show up." An exaggeration, but she was starting to wonder if Q Branch needed to include some sort of socialisation counselling in its training process.
As gratifying, not to mention amusing, as it would have been, Bond did not react by gawping like a beached fish, though that faint air of embarrassment did make a return appearance, however momentarily before he tried to cover it up with the usual bluff charm and suave.
Butter wouldn't have melted in his mouth as he asked "Since you've caught me out, should I just assume the position?" If M had actually had any questions about how he'd managed to suborn who knows how many receptionists, secretaries, and pretty much anyone with a libido to speak of, the boyish grin as he leant against one edge of the table would have explained volumes. "Take my punishment like a not-so-good boy?"
"Honestly, James, do I look like your mother?" M did snap this time. "Believe me, if I bent you over my desk, spanking you would be the last thing on my mind."
Again, there was nothing particularly dramatic Bond's end, but he was leaning against the edge of the table much less casually, his eyes widened and that boyish grin wavering almost imperceptibly, as if he was suddenly unsure of himself. M suspected that she couldn't have gotten a better reaction out of him if she'd hit him upside the head with a cricket bat, an idea that often held some appeal depending on just what kind of mess he'd gotten them all into on any given day.
"Is that a promise?" There was something in his voice was most definitely wasn't bluffing, mockery, smarm, or any of the million little defensive mechanisms she'd learnt to recognise.
While the idea of buggering the often recalcitrant agent over her office desk also held a more than a little appeal, even more than the cricket bat to be quite honest, in practice it would cause far too many headaches. Quite apart from having to worry about one of the imbeciles who considered strengthening their political clout more important than national security finding out, or that bloody info-screen masquerading as an office wall shorting out at an inopportune moment (though Bond would be the type not to mind been seen in flagrante delicto by an entire office staff), there was the simple fact that she didn't have anywhere in her office secure enough for her own peace of mind to keep the necessary equipment, which in this case would also have to include either a footstool or a set of phone books.
Still, if M had wanted a life where she didn't have to deal with constant headaches, she could have retired years ago.