Bond sleeps all night, deep and dreamless, and well into the next morning. The sun is glowing full and golden through the peach brocade curtains when he rolls from bed, still leaden, but needing to piss.
He was being held in a standing-room-only cell until a few days ago, and now he doesn’t feel like closing the door in this cramped bathroom with its little roses on the tiles, its lace cover on the spare toilet roll.
The ruckus he makes groaning and shambling down the hall alerts M, who steps out into the hall to investigate, purse-mouthed, in a cream twinset and pearls. He’s already in full, steaming stream above the calamine-lotion-pink toilet bowl, wearing nothing but trackpants fallen down around his ankles, when he meets her eye, side-on through the open door. There’s nothing to do but grin.
His face is still bruised, and he knows he’s no picture, but there is something wounding in the way she tuts at him before turning her back.
When he’s pissed out half his body-weight, and splashed his face with water, he staggers to the sitting room and throws himself on the overstuffed sofa to doze a bit longer. He’s still shirtless, legs akimbo. The trackpants he’s wearing are hers, and they’re baggy at the arse, but only come halfway down his calves. She’s seen his cock now, he reflects. “What’s a man got to do to get a cup of tea round here?” he calls.
“Darling,” she calls back, “I’ll tell you when you’re older.” She could be addressing a parliamentary committee.
He falls asleep again on the sofa. Some noise from the kitchen rouses him, and he lies quiet, listening to it. He is not sure that he really remembers the sound of his own mother in the kitchen -- that what he remembers isn’t a fantasy.
M brings him not tea but an espresso, in modern black-rimmed bone china that cannot possibly have come with the house. There’s another one for her on the tray beside it. She hasn’t brought sugar.
She crowds his spread legs against the back of the sofa to make room for herself to sit down. He captures her hand on his thigh under his own, and smiles.
“You’ve been trying that for years. It hasn’t worked yet,” she says.
“Yet,” he says.
“Drink your coffee.”
He hoists himself to his elbows and downs it like a shot. His chest convulses, but he keeps himself from coughing.
M smiles, and sips hers.
“Was that a broom handle they were using, across there?” she says after a moment. Her hand ghosts over a narrow, greenish-yellow shadow just below his ribs.
“Could have been a chair leg. But it’s hard to keep up, after a while.” It feels like a confession.
“Yes,” she says.
He had held her in his arms as she died, on the floor of the chapel. They might never have let him know she hadn’t, except he’d needed springing from this job that had gone sticky. Her place must have been convenient to hide him to convalesce. And so, as casually as that, they let the cat out of the bag.
“Your aunt’s come to get you,” a nurse told him at the hospital.
“Oh?” he said, still groggy, struggling to catalogue what there might be in the room that would serve as a weapon.
It was M.
She was in drag -- a retired suburban matron in beige slacks and orthopaedic shoes. Her twinkling eyes and benevolent smile were ludicrous. He could not understand why no-one was staring but him.
He did not trust himself to speak, not until they were in the back of the cab.
“They let me think that...” he said, pointlessly.
Her face was her own again, mouth neat and closed. “I know.”
He shut his eyes.
His bruises disappear as the days pass.
He’s not allowed outside, so she goes to Marks & Spencer’s in town to fetch toiletries and clothes. He lets her dress him up as the bourgiest nephew a retired suburban matron could hope for, in flat-fronted trousers, collared shirts and tennis jumpers.
He doesn’t bother with the tan shoes and belt she bought, since he’s not going out. Besides, he still needs a nap at the drop of a hat. He thinks he catches her face fall, if just by a millimetre, when she first notices his bare feet. She herself wears stockings and shoes all day indoors, rain or shine, though now it’s the frumpy beige sandals of her cover, rather than her previous black-patent, medium-heels.
They play Scrabble on the coffee table, she perched on the skirted floral ottoman, he sprawled across the full length of the sofa. “I could move,” he offers.
“Hoping to sneak a peek, are we?” she says.
“You know I am.”
“Bond,” she says. It’s not a question.
He makes vagina for ten points.
She retaliates without comment, with gigolo on the g.
“Time for an afternoon sherry?” he says. “Sun’s over the yardarm.”
“Sherry,” she says.
“If anything, it’s time for little boys to have an afternoon nap.”
“Not while I’m winning.”
“You’re not winning,” she says.
Foxy, with an eyebrow waggle, gains him both a double word score, and a double letter score on the y.
“Really,” she says. She picks up her tiles.
Really joins foxy on the y and takes out the triple word score.
“I am bored,” she says passionately, standing at the bay window, looking out over the pink roses she has not been pruning properly. “I am not this kind of little old lady.”
“You’re not any kind of little old lady,” he says, from the sofa.
“Oh, hush.” She goes to the mantelpiece, picks up a figurine of a Dutch milkmaid and examines it. She hurls it to the ground. It bounces on the carpet, intact, and she huffs in disappointment. Her neat, severe face is alive.
He has never seen her do anything like this. He has something like a stomach cramp, high up under his ribs, sweet and crawling.
“I suppose hiding someone like you is very difficult,” he says. “You’re too extraordinary a woman anywhere you go. So they’re putting a lot of attention into making you be ordinary.”
“Is this you, defending the service?” She laughs, bitter with honesty. This, too, is new.
“You seem more yourself than ever, to me.”
“If you want to be kind to me, Bond, put some shoes on.”
She throws herself down on the sofa, her back against his shins. He could reach out and touch her.
“Never,” he says.
He wants something from her. It might involve her turning and laying her hand on his forearm or his knee. She might say something to him in a gentle voice. It is already happening in his mind, and he is quivering like bowed catgut.
“I suppose you’re very bored,” she sighs, and stands up.
“No,” he says. Something is wrong with his voice.
“All right?” she asks, turning back to him, sharp, all business.
“Yes,” he says. “I’d better go and shave.”
He can’t bear to be inside another day, and goes out to prune the roses in the back, barefoot in a polo shirt and khakis.
He only makes it half-way along the row before the sun warming his shoulders does him in. He lies back to sleep, flat on his back on the grass.
He wakes when a dark shape clouds the red sky behind his eyelids. He lies still, not knowing for how long. The shape is still, too.
He opens his eyes. It’s M, kneeling on the grass, looking down at him.
“All right?” she asks.
“Is this supposed to be an improvement, then?” She tilts her head in the direction of the prunings discarded across the lawn.
“I’ll get to it.”
“Don’t get sunburnt,” she says, and touches the back of her hand to his forehead, light as moths’ wings, just for a second. His insides clench.
She’s not steady enough, getting up off her knees, to help him. There’s only a small twinge as he gets himself up, first to his knees, then to his feet.
One night he wakes from a dream about his time in the cell, and comes into the kitchen. It’s only when the light spills out of the fridge that he sees her there: a small, pale statue, staring out at the grey shapes of the roses in the dark.
He grunts. She mumbles some sleepy sound, mammalian, in return.
He joins her at the window, and lets his eyes adjust to the dark.
He’s cold. He puts his arm around her. She murmurs, curmudgeonly, but lets him. He kisses her on the mouth, just because he wants to. It’s more of a close-lipped nuzzle -- he doesn’t really think about it until he’s already doing it. Their bodies jumble together.
Then her nails are sharp at the back of his neck; he’s pinned at the small of his back. Her tongue shoves into his mouth. He’s being devoured by an anaconda.
She pulls him off her, all at once, drags him by the scruff of the neck like a kitten.
“James, are you mocking me?” she demands.
“No.” He’s hot, swelling, his scalp prickling. He lunges, gropes her breast through her nightgown. It’s heavy, small-nippled. She pulls him back against her, kissing him, teeth against his lip.
She pushes him back against the bench and gets his cock out of the fly of the blue-plaid pyjama bottoms she bought him at Marks & Sparks. He sees it in her hand in the moonlight, swollen rampant. “Good boy,” she says, and begins to pull him off, hard, slow and twisting. “How’s this?” she says, smug, rhetorical. He rests his forehead on the top of her head, back bowed.
He wrenches away, at last, begging, “Let me, let me.”
“Oh, all right,” she says, amused.
“On the bench.”
“For heaven’s sake,” she says. She grabs his wrist and tugs him toward the hall.
In her bedroom, she puts the bedside lamp on. A counterpane is already pulled back, rumpled, from the sheets. By the bed there’s a book, a glass of water, her spectacles. Her stockings are draped over a chair. Her private things. He can hardly bear it -- he tries to kiss her again before they can get to the bed. She allows it a while, then pulls away.
“Get these off,” she scolds him, and unties the drawstring of his pyjamas. She leaves the loosened fabric draped over his erection. She runs her hand up his pelvic crease and around his bare hip. He realises she is standing back to allow the light to give her a better view. He tilts his hips forward.
“You like that?” He’s hoarse.
“You know I do,” she scoffs.
His pyjamas fall, and his cock bounces back up towards his stomach. Her nails dig into his hip. He hears her inhale through her nose.
He captures her with his arms and tongues her mouth.
“Lie down with me,” he begs.
“Yes,” she says, out of breath, and goosebumps rise on his arms.
They crabwalk towards the bed and roll onto it. He nearly comes before he can even wrestle her nightgown off. Her skin is dry, satiny, delicate. She directs his mouth onto her breast, his hand between her legs. When he gets it right, she goes limp all over, and strokes his hair like a cat’s.
“Do you have anything,” he slurs at length.
“Anything?” she laughs. “I’m too old for that.”
“Oh,” he says, but at first does not understand. Then he’s embarrassed. “Well, I’m clean,” he volunteers.
“I know you are. I’ve seen your records.” She beams at him, beatific.
He strokes his cock head up and down before he eases it in. “Good boy,” she says, like it’s a warning.
He slides it in deep, and she says, “Yes,” like a gasp and bites his shoulder.
“Go on,” she says. And he does.
The next day she is working on something on her laptop, on the sofa. When he approaches, she tilts the screen down, saying, “Not for you, I’m afraid.”
“I haven’t the faintest interest, I assure you.” He sits down on the floor beside her, and leans his head against her knee.
She exhales, and shifts the weight of the laptop to her other leg.
Something annoys her, and she bashes an aggressive double-click on the touchpad. The laptop unbalances on her knee and bangs into his temple.
He lurches away, rubbing his head.
“Sorry,” she says, but sounds amused. She takes over rubbing his temple for him, cursorily, but soon stops. “I’m not much of a mother after all, am I.”
At the look on his face, she says, “If you’re going to lounge around sulking, you might as well go and make some tea.”
He does, coming back with a tray. But when he tries to pour, she says, “Stop, for heaven’s sake. It needs to brew.” She goes back to work.
He sits with his hands in his lap. He wants her to hold his head in her hands like it’s fragile as an egg and kiss it all over. He wants to wrestle all her clothes off and fuck her speechless on the rose-window rug. She cries out like she’s frightened when she comes, he knows.
When she’s ready for the tea, she turns the pot three times, puts milk in the bottom of the cups, and pours, filling the first cup halfway, then the second cup all the way, then returning to finish filling the first.
She drinks with a sigh. “Well, you can make decent tea. You’re good for that much at least.”
“I like to think I can manage a few things,” he says.
She smiles, wider than she usually does.
Before she can pick up the laptop again, he lies down on the sofa and puts his head in her lap.
She snorts softly, but balances the laptop up on the arm of the sofa instead.
After a while she settles her hand, heavy, on the back of his neck. He is past the point in his recovery where he needs to sleep all the time. But he falls asleep, right there, anyway.
He’s almost well again, so he knows it’s coming, but refuses to think about it. Then it comes, and he has only a day’s notice.
The night before, neither of them believe it yet, and are joking about it. He holds up his pyjama bottoms and leers, “Would you like these to remember me by?”
“Oh, no,” she says, dimpling. “Then I can’t imagine you in them, wherever you are.”
In the morning, it’s real. He bowls into her in the hall, while the driver’s carrying his bags out, and kisses her deeply.
He tries to speak, but she shoves her hand over his mouth, urgent. “Don’t say too much.”
He twists away. “I have to.” He hears his own voice as if at a remove -- the voice of a man about to weep.
“Dear boy,” she says. “You must know the secret service is a terrible place to find someone to love you. Absolutely terrible.”
“I don’t have anywhere else,” he says, crowding against her.
“I know. Just be careful.” She grasps the back of his neck -- shakes him a little. “Just be more careful.”
“I will,” he says, but only to appease her.
Then the driver strides back in, and they leap apart as if burned. Bond has to go.
He’s already down the path. He’s in the car. He’s gone.
He will always congratulate himself on having taken a minute that morning to hide the pyjama bottoms, unwashed, under her pillow.