This phone call seems no different than the others -- he’s on the flight back to Heathrow after his latest assignment; it’s no more than a courtesy call to let her know that he’s headed back and he’ll see her in the office on Monday.
(She’s heard hardened resignation in his voice a dozen times before, but this time she hears soreness and exhaustion grating against the edges of his clipped responses and knows this assignment couldn’t have gone well.)
M collects her briefcase and her coat from her chair, ignoring the manila folder on her desk that contains the report on Bond’s latest assignment. As she steps onto the elevator, she glances down to her mobile, checking her voicemail and missed calls.
The doors slide open as she reaches the parking garage -- she presses the key assigned to her husband’s speed-dial, bringing the phone to her ear as she reaches into the pocket of her coat for her key -- her heels clicking against the concrete as she walks the short distance to her vehicle.
Her lips curve into a smile when she hears him answer; the smile makes it easier to deliver the white lie -- she’s stuck in the office, dealing with a crisis in Uganda that’s just come across the wire. He offers to send dinner over, but she declines, telling him instead to put it in the fridge.
After hanging up, she opens the door to her car and slides into the seat, tossing her phone into her handbag as she starts the engine.
She lets herself into the loft with the key he gave her months ago, closing the door behind her as she turns on the lights. It’s evident from the state of the living room that he’s still not using the maid service that MI6 offered to get him, but it won’t take more than a few moments to tidy up the stray magazines and fold a few pieces of his laundry.
(It will be another hour before his plane hits the tarmac and another twenty-five minutes or so until he walks into his apartment -- plenty of time to get started on the bottle of wine she picked up at the grocery on the way over.)
The loft is quiet when he turns his key in the lock, but he’s not surprised to find the lights on, or to find her settled at the kitchen table with a glass of wine and one of the books off of his bedside table.
He slowly closes the door behind him, ignoring her stare as he moves through the room. His bag goes on the floor two steps from the couch; his overcoat hits the coffee table with a dull thud.
(The thud is thanks to the Walther tucked into the inner pocket, but he ignores the dent it likely put into the mahogany in favor of moving into the kitchen in search of some liquor.)
“Do I even want to know how you ended up with that bruise?”
Bond pulls the corner of his mouth into a pained smirk; the cracked skin on his lower lip splits again and begins to bleed. “If I tell you, you’d think I was lying.”
“Try me,” M replies, standing from her chair. “And sit down, before you fall over.”
“I don’t look that horrid.”
“You look like you’ve just been trampled by a herd of wild horses,” she pulls the chair back and points at it. “Sit.”
He drops carefully into the chair with a soft groan, closing his eyes as she places a glass of a well-aged red into the grasp of his fingertips. He drains half of the drink in two swallows before he looks up at her, wiping the blood from his lip.
“Do you want some ice for that?”
Bond shakes his head, then instantly regrets it as the motion threatens to upturn his stomach and empty the wine onto the tablecloth. “No,” he mutters, closing his eyes once more.
(It’s better this way -- the room doesn’t spin quite so badly when he can’t see the walls.)
He hears the clink of a plate being placed in front of him and cracks one eye (the one without a black ring forming around it) open to look at what she’s set in front of him.
“Peanut butter and jelly, M?”
“I thought your system might revolt at the thought of creme fraiche and caviar after what you’ve been through the last month.”
“You might be on to something there,” he agrees, lifting the sandwich from the plate and taking a bite. He washes the peanut butter off the roof of his mouth with another swallow of the wine. “This is heavenly,” he adds.
M chuckles under her breath. “It’s just peanut butter and jelly.”
“Yes, but it’s the first honest thing I’ve hard to eat in days that hasn’t immediately come back up three bites after I’ve started eating it.”
She frowns at that. “Food poisoning?”
He shrugs -- cringing -- and takes another bite of the sandwich. “Think I just need some solid sleep.”
M touches him gently on the arm as she moves around the table, headed for the stove to put a kettle on. “I’ll fix you some tea, then.”
“Thank you,” he says, wolfing down the rest of the sandwich as he reaches for the bottle of wine to pour himself another glass.
She waits until he’s done in the shower before she knocks on the door, cup of tea in hand.
He’s standing in front of the mirror, towel wrapped around his waist.
(And it takes most of her strength not to drop the china cup onto the floor when she sees the bruises across his torso and the cuts across his back.)
“Just what in the hell did you run into, Bond. A thresher?”
“Something like that,” he’s grinning under the grimace on his features, reaching for the cup of tea with one hand.
She presses her lips into a tight line as she hands the teacup over. “Did you get cleared through medical before you came home?”
“I told them I’d avoid any strenuous activity,” he says.
“Did you actually talk to one of them in person?”
He sips the tea and doesn’t answer; she doesn’t bother to hide the sigh or the shake of her head as she walks out of the washroom.
She stops in the doorway but doesn’t turn around. “Yes, Bond?”
“Will you stay awhile?”
He’s half-asleep on the couch, a glass of scotch resting on his stomach, staring at the ceiling.
She wants to ask him what happened, but she doesn’t.
(She could have read the report, but she didn’t. She wants him to tell her, if he feels up to it.)
They sit in silence for awhile until he speaks, voice dull with liquor and exhaustion.
“They weren’t joking when they said that double-ohs had shorter life expectancies than other members of the agency, were they.”
“No, they weren’t.” M shifts slightly in the armchair, curling her legs beneath her.
“I’ve seen the headstones.”
“I asked around,” he says, drinking again. His eyes squeeze shut at the sting of the alcohol on his split lip, hissing in pain. “One of the boys down in section told me where the rest of us’re buried. The double-oh’s.”
She stays silent, because he might actually talk to her, now.
(He won’t, but it’s the most she’s gotten out of him on the handful of nights they’ve done this.)
“Found them, and went t’visit. Of course, you can’t pay any respects to just a handful of names. Numbers,” he corrects himself. “Numbers.”
(The names wouldn’t matter anyway, because they’re all lies, too.)
“We haven’t lost any lately,” she counters.
“It’s only a matter of time,” he replies. His eyes are fighting to stay open. “And then you’ll have t’find someone else to spend your Uganda crises with.”
M laughs under her breath at that, leaning her head back against the cushions. “Then you’d better keep yourself out of trouble for awhile, Bond, as I refuse to make sandwiches for just any of my agents.”
“I know,” he sobers. “I know.”
Touching his busted lip, he makes eye contact with her as his voice drops to a ragged whisper. “It was bad. Messy.” He shakes his head, looking up at the ceiling. “Very messy. I should’ve been better.”
“We all make mistakes.”
“Mistakes get us killed.”
She feels a chill trickle down her spine. “Not in this case, thankfully.”
“Mmm,” he chuckles under his breath. “Glad someone thinks so.”
The silence spreads between them and it doesn’t take long for M to realize that Bond’s fallen asleep on the couch; she quietly moves off the armchair and goes to fetch a blanket to cover him with, peeling his fingers off the tumbler of scotch in the process.
(He doesn’t wake up -- he usually doesn’t.)
She tidies the apartment briefly before she moves for the doorway, turning off the lights as she goes; she pauses after opening the door to drain the rest of the scotch from the glass she’s been carrying around for the last ten minutes. Placing the empty tumbler on the end table near the door, she glances back at his sleeping form before turning out the light.
“Welcome home, James,” she says quietly, as she reaches for her keys.
He mumbles something under his breath that she doesn’t understand, but it makes her smile regardless as she closes the door behind her.
There’s a note on the coffee table beside a bottle of water that says simply: Don’t come to work tomorrow. Enjoy your day off. - M
He listens to the note, for the first time since they’ve started doing this -- whatever this is -- but he does show up promptly at eight Tuesday morning, with an extra cup of coffee from the cafe down the street from Vauxhall Cross; he knows she prefers tea, but for this debrief, he just knows they’re going to need something stronger.
(And neither of them have any qualms about the shot of brandy from the bottle behind her desk that go into each cup either. It’s going to be a long day.)