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Sometimes, they go shopping.

Bond doesn't care for crowds, and he particularly doesn't care for the way M confronts them with a beaming smile before slipping in between groups of massed children, leaving him stranded in Women's Knitwear.

He's wearing a thick fisherman's sweater and jeans, straddling the already-blurred line between public schoolboy chic and common thug. M had sized him up at the door of her house, and seemed to approve. In this sort of store, he makes sure the Omega on his wrist is more obvious than ever (job issue, of course – Q seems to have wrangled a sponsorship deal for the entire department), and adopts a general look of condescension.

M, for her part, is in a well-cut suit she might easily have worn to the office, but she seems to thrive in puzzling over gift choices for her grandchildren while Bond scours the available exits and analyses every wearer of a thick raincoat for suicide bombing potential.

"It's London, Bond," M reminds him, turning over a child's navigation set in her hands. "It rains."

Still, he's been bred for danger, and he expects it, even though this assignment is a soft one. M's identity is a secret, and a rather banal secret at that. There's a certain respect in the higher echelons of this business, and the knowledge that one M is more or less the same as another. There would be no advantage gained from targeting her, and absolutely no reason to have a double-0 tag along on her last-minute Christmas shopping trip, except for the muttered excuse that the usual fellow has swine flu. It's become a regular plague in the office, lately. Bond had never imagined that the flu could cause so many bullet wounds and severed limbs.

During his time in the military, Bond had proved his capacity for patience on many occasions, including lying camouflaged in the sand of a particularly unpleasant desert for more than 24 hours. Laden with shopping bags, however, he finds himself glancing at that fancy Omega as if he's more a harried husband than a professional bodyguard.

The goods on offer are of little interest to him: the gadgets, while impressive to most consumers, are far below the quality of those available through Q section; films and video games bore him; and he never has the opportunity to finish a book (besides, Q generally tries to hide guns inside them). But he's here for M, watching her smile as she finds the perfect item, smiling himself when the sales clerks are rude.

"You could kill them all," he says to her, loading packages into the boot of her car.

M is busy brushing stray hairs from her lapel. "Oh, do you think so?" She seems to consider it. "Well, perhaps. But the paperwork would be rather prohibitive."

Her husband, a man Bond has never met, is away - lecturing at a conference until Christmas Eve. Bond has conjured up an impression of him mainly based upon his record collection (dull), books (painfully liberal), and choice of spouse (surprisingly good). Whenever he's in M's house he feels like an interloper, hands wedged in his pockets as if he's afraid to leave fingerprints. He feels like the part of him with the broken nose, the part that fights in gutters and breaks teeth on his knuckles and should never be allowed into polite company.

They don't need to wrap the gifts. M puts them away, stacked neatly in a cupboard alongside gowns and shoes he's reasonably confident she always finds an excuse not to wear.

His prick is hard by the time she offers him a drink, and he lays her down on her feather bed while they kiss.

She's so small, so fragile, but she makes him feel awkward and large and boorish – an oaf in the presence of a duchess. Her body, wrinkled and old beyond denial, should never hope to turn him on, but he looks at those cool blue eyes and wrestles with his zipper.

He tells himself that she would never have had so much power over him as a younger woman. She would have had curves, then: glorious fleshy tits and hips, golden hair falling over her shoulders. He'd have fucked her without feeling or any sense of challenge. She'd have got herself knocked up, silly girl, and been sent to type out meaningless correspondence for the rest of her life.

Her fingers stroke over the dull remnants of bruises around his hairline and cheekbone, not quite pressing hard enough to hurt. Her legs are already spread for him, and you little slut he wants to think, but his hand moves over her gently, getting her wet enough that it'll feel good for both of them. He tries not to wonder why he cares.

She's the only one he ever goes back to. It had been that way before, and now, after Vesper, he suspects that the situation might be permanent – until she tires of him, or until the wounds she caresses become too deep for him to ignore.

Perhaps she's the mother he never had, but he's too damn hard inside her to think of that. It's convenient. There's that. They each know exactly who the other is, what the other is. There's no chance of children. None of marriage. There are absolutely no complications.

Her back arches as he feels himself starting to leak out into her, plunging deeper. Her husband, old and overweight and weary, must take forever if he makes her come at all. M's hands trail down his biceps, and then clench as she comes. Once, he'd thought she would come with all the quiet softness of her body, but she's tight around him when she climaxes, pulling him deeper, wanting more of him as she throws her head back and calls out something that's never his name.

Afterwards, he showers and dresses in the same clothes he had worn to meet her that morning, and lets her tempt him with a parting drink. He studies her, wrapped up in a satin dressing gown, her breasts and body untouchable now, even as her thighs are still slick with his come.

"Merry Christmas, Bond," she tells him as he opens the door, turning the collar of his jacket up against the wind.

There's no gift: no tacky gadget for the trash, no book he'll never finish.

He nods, and smiles, and leaves without a word.