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Have a Very Merry 00 Christmas!

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"Come on, come on," Tanner mutters under his breath, shifting from one foot to the other. The doors of the lift swoop open at last, and he rushes inside, stabbing the fourth floor button repeatedly until the doors close again. He's late, he's bloody late, today of all days; God only knows what the double-ohs have unleashed in his absence, not that he'll ever be able to keep them contained. With M's--departure, they've only got more unruly. Add alcohol and a generous portion of seasonal cheer to the mix and he thinks he might be sick with the churn of anxiety in his gut.

Whoever thought it was a good idea to hold a Christmas party for the whole of Six at the same time was clearly delusional. The fact that it was the new M only makes Tanner's acid influx worse.

The lift pings, finally, and Tanner bounces on his toes as the doors slide open, strides out of it quickly -- and comes to an abrupt stop as the wall of noise slams into him.

"Dear God," he whimpers weakly.

The cafeteria looks very different today than it usually does. Tanner knows, vaguely, that the staff spent most of the afternoon transforming it into a place where people can gather and get pissed with other people who know almost all of their secrets and haven't so far killed them, hence they can be trusted at least to the extent of letting one's guard down in their presence. There is red, so much red, and also gold and green and white, and Tanner has to admit that it looks rather nice, not so much like Christmas vomited inside. Laughter fills the air; someone has put on the Christmas On Death Row album in rebellion against all the horrible Christmas music everyone has been subjected to the second they step outside of Six's HQ. As happens every year, London has gone utterly insane with Christmas spirit, enough to make anyone this close to committing murder if they hear Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer one. More. Bloody. Time. Currently Danny Boy's version of Peaceful Christmas is filling the air with a retro 90's sound that instantly transports Tanner back to the year when his mother stopped speaking to his uncle for six months and his sister discovered make-up. It's... okay, as these things go, and he only glares a little at 006 for the transgression.

He can't really escape the conclusion that the double-ohs have taken over. He has absolutely no idea how M managed that one, because it has been years since all the double-ohs have been together in one place -- quite by design. The combined destructive force of nine of them in the same place does not bear thinking about.

A loud burst of laughter comes from the other end of the room, where 009 is holding forth, surrounded by impressionable agents of both genders hanging onto his every word. He's currently in the process of explaining why France is going to fold on the issue of same-sex marriages, like so many other countries that face protests and opposition from a fraction of its citizens while the rest of them send the world a Gallic shrug and wonder what all the fuss is about. He has the world's biggest, stinkiest cigar clamped between his teeth, grinning like a shark while his dark eyes dance and his arms gesture expansively, deftly preventing a glass of aged whiskey from spilling over his knuckles. Tanner watches resignedly as the interns sway towards him, helpless to resist his lure. It's one reason why 009 is so damn successful: everyone he meets dismisses him as no more than a loud-mouthed buffoon to be scoffed at -- right until he's pointing a gun at their faces and shooting them through the head with a dead look in his eyes, goatee a dark ring around his flat mouth.

Before Tanner can work out what he can possibly do about 009, short of frowning ineffectually at him, there's an arm weaving through his and warm, scented breath teasing his ear.

"Charming, isn't he?" 005 says, voice low and appreciative. Tanner half-turns obligingly, giving her a wary look. 005 is their oldest active agent, at fifty-eight years of age. A former diplomat, she is still extremely well-regarded by the most important people in Europe; and she thinks 009 is charming.

"If you say so," Tanner demurs. She grins wolfishly. Oh, bloody great. This could turn into a fucking disaster.

Then again, what 005 doesn't know about poisons isn't worth knowing, so at least if it goes pear-shaped, it'll get sorted out quickly.

"Lighten up, Tanner," she purrs. "We only live once."

Tanner wisely remains silent as she walks off with a spring in her step, small frame weaving expertly through the crowd in four-inch stiletto heels.

"I want to be her when I grow up," Eve says dreamily, taking 005's place. They both stare appreciatively after the double-oh with the highest clearance rate on record.

"You're plenty scary enough already," Tanner grumbles, shifting so their shoulders touch companionably.

Tanner lets his eyes wonder over the mildly terrifying gathering. On the other side of the room, 008 sits on top of one of the catering tables, long, long legs swinging easily under it, making eyes at Q. Tanner just barely resists the urge to groan out loud. He must make some kind of noise, though, because Eve follows the direction of his gaze, and snorts.

"They've not started shagging again," she confides.

Tanner eyes her distrustfully. "How do you know?"

Eve catches his eye, and then tilts her head and slides her amused gaze to the south corner of the room, where 007 stands propping up the wall, glaring at the two young men from behind a glass of scotch.

"Oh, and that's better?" Tanner protests.

"At least Bond isn't likely to seduce Q into bringing down a minor government just for fun. Well, unless he's really bored."

"This is so reassuring to me," Tanner tells her dryly. 008 gifts Q with his lovable psychopath grin, the one that makes everyone with an ounce of common sense take a smart step back. Q is, evidently, not a member of that particular demographic, because he just rolls his eyes. Well, they have known each other for more or less their entire lives.

"I'd be more concerned about three and six," Eve murmurs, directing Tanner's gaze to where the two agents are circling each other again like sharks scenting blood. There is a well-worn history between the two; 006 often gets dispatched to support 003 from a distance, given he's the best marksman they have on record, yet he's utter crap at infiltration. He balances 003 beautifully.

"Christ, remind me again why I took this job?" Tanner groans.

Eve smirks evilly. "Well, I don't know why you took it, but I know why you kept it, mister."

Tanner feels himself flush bright red when Eve nods none-too-subtly at Mallory, who is chatting to 001 with every sign of enjoyment. Well, he was fond of the classics, you had to give it to him, and you don't get any more classic than 001. No matter how often the agents under that call-sign changed, they always represented the best of the old Empire.

Tanner dislikes 001 rather vehemently, for reasons he'd rather not examine too closely. The old M hadn't been too fond of him, either; possibly because 001 could never bring himself to talk to the... commoners, for lack of a better word, on the level. Bloody aristocrats. Mallory, though -- 001 could appreciate the quintessential military man, Tanner would just bet.

"Excuse me," Eve says unexpectedly, with an undercurrent of interest as she disentangles her arm from Tanner's. Tanner follows her gaze to 004, who is lounging at the bar, long black tresses curling over her shoulders as she watches the party with disinterest. Tanner knows her well enough to know that it's as much because she finds crowds tedious as it is because she's Muslim. Eve makes a beeline for her, and Mira's mouth curls in this smile when she spots her, slow and sweet and welcoming. Tanner feels a pang inside to see it, as much as he's happy for them both.

Every damn Christmas, it comes down to this: watching his colleagues flirt, and have fun, and not-so-discreetly pair off, at least for the night. It never used to be an issue; Tanner knows himself and his libido, knows there's a part of himself that has been dormant for years now, despite his co-workers' best provocation. To have it waking up now, for his immediate superior, the head of MI6, no less, feels like nothing less than sabotage on the part of his insufferable brain. Especially when he knows full well that it's perfectly futile. Colonel Mallory would never, and Tanner is beyond unreasonable to even think about it, let alone sulk because he'll never have what he wants. He'd be much better off to accept it and move on, do his job, contend himself with being able to spend his time watching Colonel Mallory kick arse and take names.

Jesus, and he hasn't even had a drink yet. Time to fix that.

002 finds him much later, leaning against the wall and listening to Fred chattering about circuits and systems that are self-protecting and some insanity that Tanner is going to need explained to him in very simple words if he'll ever have a hope of understanding it. Then Karen shows up to drag Fred away to where Q and 008 are squaring off against each other and squinting balefully, clearly in the middle of some theoretical dispute. He sighs despondently, resigning himself to 007 stomping around in a sulk because he's no longer Q's favourite (or so he thinks. Tanner is quite confident that it won't be 008 taking a mildly inebriated and clingingly affectionate Q home tonight.)

002 slides easily in the space left in Fred’s wake, leaning against the wall at Tanner's shoulder and looking out into the room. His sharp eyes find all the agents in turn, watch 005 and 009 dancing, 009's huge paws holding 005 close in a manner that suggests that this isn't their first time taking this path. 004 and Eve are nowhere to be seen, and 006 and 003 are engaged in a strange competition that seems to consist of both of them relating embarrassing stories about the other to a fascinated crowd that looks half-terrified, half-infatuated with them. Tanner is not going to be policing that fallout, that's for sure. They have cleaning staff who are paid vast sums of money to take care of the resulting mess that better resembles a Roman orgy than an office Christmas party.

"Your face is going to stick this way if you're not careful," 002 remarks, eyes lingering over 001 and Mallory, still talking, what do they even find to talk about for so long, is what Tanner wants to know.

"Piss off," Tanner suggests. He is not junior enough to be afraid of the double-ohs; when one has saved their arses enough times, one tends to slip into a sense of fond exasperation rather than the homicidal irritation/terrified respect they evoke at first.

"Now now," 002 drawls distractedly. "You can rest easy on that score. 001 actually doesn't swing that way. He's got some outdated values."

"I don't know what you mean," Tanner says with all the dignity he can muster under the circumstances (it's not as much as he'd have liked).

002 rolls his eyes. "Okay then," he agrees, patently humouring him. "If that's how you want to play it. I still maintain that you don't have anything to worry about."

"Rashid," Tanner starts, but 002 raises both his hands innocently.

"Say no more."

Tanner watches him wonder off in the direction of Q and 008, now progressing to drinking each other under the table, a place where Q seems to be imminently headed. Tanner knows from their files that they practically grew up together; their families had been friends for decades before they were born, and even after the loss of their parents and 008 (he'd been just plane Nicholas then) leaving the country with his grandmother -- the previous 008 -- they'd kept in touch. Funny how things turn out sometimes. Bond definitely does not look happy about the connection, even when Q keeps sending him what for him are extremely sappy looks. Ridiculous, the lot of them.

"Surely the situation is not as dire as your expression suggests," Mallory says from right behind him. Tanner jumps and whirls around guiltily.

"Sir?"

"You're glaring at them like you want to suspend them, Tanner. It's just a bit of Christmas cheer."

001 is watching Mallory and him consideringly from the other side of the room. Christmas cheer, his arse.

"Sir."

"You realise this isn't actually the answer you imagine it to be," Mallory muses. It's hard to think of him as M, even though it's been almost two months since he ascended to the post. Maybe Tanner just doesn't want to accept he's that unattainable. He elects to remain quiet, but he can't really force his body to ignore the nearness of the man, even when he really, really should. That way lies madness.

"Next year, we should hold a Secret Santa exchange," Mallory says, and the words sound so odd coming out of his mouth that Tanner can but stare at him with a mixture of wonder and horror.

"Sir, what a double-oh considers an appropriate present is almost certainly not going to be fit for company."

"Nonsense," Mallory maintains, but Tanner catches the quickly suppressed quirk in the corner of his mouth. The bastard is enjoying playing havoc with Tanner's blood pressure. It shouldn't be so sodding hot.

"If I didn't know any better, I might imagine you're trying to get a rise out of me, sir," he says evenly.

Mallory's lips twitch. "Whatever gave you that idea, Mister Tanner? Surely that's against the rules."

'You don't give a crap about the rules,' Tanner finds himself thinking ruefully, trying to stifle a rush of fondness. This can't end well.

"Ah, and I see that 007 has finally had enough," Mallory muses as Bond tosses the rest of his drink back, plonks his glass down and strides swiftly towards the corner where Q is leaning against 008, fighting to keep his feet in the face of the vast amounts of wine he and the rest of Q branch have consumed. 008 eyes 007 in challenge, but he lets his arm fall from around Q when Q grins up at Bond, as bright as any star of Bethlehem.

Tanner and Mallory watch 007’s eyes soften from their usual glacial stare when they land on Q’s open face and dishevelled hair. It’s kind of…sweet, actually, the give and take between them, how much they clearly respect and actually like each other. Working for MI6 is not exactly conducive to maintaining relationships, even though it’s quite good at encouraging the short-term variety of blowing off steam. Those two, though – there’s something about them that hints at ‘as stable as it gets’. Possibly because neither of them is thinking too hard about what they’re doing. It seems to be the way to do these things.

Which is why Tanner can’t do it himself. He thinks about it. He thinks too much, a lot of the time; and he’s tried one-time things, and they do not work for him at all, leave him even more highly strung than before he went for it. Might have been the reason for his sex drive going dormant in the first place. He wants more than just a tumble between the sheets. He wants tea in bed, and someone who can keep up with him in world affairs; someone he can mock poorly researched books with, someone who will surprise him and challenge him to be better. Someone who appeals to his brain as well as his cock.

It’s possible that Tanner’s maybe had a bit too much to drink tonight, as he mourned things that would never be. He needs to get a grip, because Mallory is standing right there, and the man is many things, but stupid and oblivious have never been some of them.

“They’re good for each other,” Mallory says quietly, watching as Bond swaddles Q in his five-foot-long scarf, buttons his coat and braces his arm as they leave the room in a more-or-less straight line. Tanner has nothing to say to that. It’s true. Q is an anchor for Bond to come back to, and Bond takes Q out of his virtual life every now and again, enough to keep him rooted in the real world. Tanner hums when Mallory sends him a look, because he doesn’t trust himself to say more.

“And what about you?” Mallory asks, and Tanner’s heart slams into his ribs as he turns to look at him.

“Sir?”

“Who is the one that’s good for Bill Tanner?

It’s said so easily, so curiously, that Tanner can’t actually breathe for a moment, let alone think of a good enough misdirection that might actually work.

“There is someone who’s good for me,” Tanner admits, his face aflame. He avoids Mallory’s eyes, because he might be brave and stoic under pressure but right now he doesn’t think he can look at Mallory without giving the whole game away.

“Oh. That's good,” Mallory says, and Tanner must have drunk more than he thought, because he thinks he hears disappointment in Mallory’s voice. He swallows, and does turn to look at him then; and much like he suspected, just seeing Mallory’s face looking down at him is enough for all his words, all his wits, to dry right up.

Mallory blinks. “Oh,” he says again. Fuck. “That's... very flattering," he adds. He sounds so hesitant, like he's picking his way through a minefield, and Tanner's heart sinks to his feet. Christ, he's such a fool.

"Sorry, sir. Just… please, forget the past five minutes ever happened," he mutters wretchedly. He has not had enough alcohol tonight to deal with the crushing weight of the rejection. He just can't. He determines to forget all about it until he inevitably recalls the entirety of this conversation tomorrow morning before his first cup of coffee (because life is cruel that way). He turns to leave, squeezing his eyes closed and berating himself for being such a needy little shit. He couldn't just be happy with what he had; oh no, he had to go get ideas above his station, didn't he.

"Tanner," Mallory calls from behind him, and Jesus sodding Christ. He stops in his tracks and fights the urge to cringe.

"Sir?" he asks, turning around and schooling his face into something that he hopes at least resembles inscrutability and professionalism.

"Can I have a word? My office?"

Tanner swallows fitfully. "Of course," he murmurs. It's lost in the noise, but he knows full well that Mallory can lip-read as well as him.

No one sees them slip away, which isn't all that strange, since everyone that's left is too absorbed in their own little cliques of drunken revelry. The walk to Mallory's office feels like heading for his execution; he's excruciatingly aware of Mallory following behind him, close enough that Tanner can smell his aftershave even after a full day at the office. It's, against all expectations, warm, a touch spicy, instantly attractive. Heat pools low in his belly, defying all his dire warnings to himself. He needs to keep a clear head; he needs to not get comfortable. He needs to keep his guard up.

The six gin-and-tonics under his waistband beg to differ. By the time he's walking over the plush carpet in Mallory--the new M's--office, he's fighting to not give away the burn under his skin and the way his fingers twitch when Mallory steps in far too close to his back after closing the door. He's suspended in time and space, waiting to see what gives, what his fate is going to be.

Mallory's breath stirs the hairs at Tanner's right temple. He can smell the tang of fine scotch in the exhale, far from strong enough to indicate that Mallory does not have possession of his faculties, but enough that it hints at a certain loosening of limbs – and the reins of his control.

"This is so inappropriate," Mallory mutters just loud enough for Tanner to hear, to give him the option of walking away. Tanner wants none of it, thanks. Swallowing, he leans back, trusts his instincts that tell him Mallory won't let him fall. He has his confirmation in the firmness of Mallory's chest behind him, the strong fingers that curl around his arms, bracing him with hardly any effort at all.

"Sir, with all due respect, 'appropriate' can go fuck itself," he says, letting his head fall back against Mallory's shoulder, baring his neck to the room.

The sharp inhale by his ear tells him he's very much on the right track.

"I want you," he adds quietly. "I know how things stand; I know I can hardly expect anything... well, at all. I don't expect anything. I'm--actually shocked that you're even amenable to the idea, but--I'm sorry. I can't help it, and frankly I'll take whatever you choose to give me and be perfectly happy with it."

Mallory sighs. "Don't be ridiculous, man," he says. It could have been cruel; it could have made Tanner recoil to the depths of his soul and be forced to consider the possibility of resigning. Instead, it's warm, and fond, and makes him want to curl up in Mallory's lap and forget about anything other than the two of them, silent, close, content. "You sell yourself much too short," Mallory adds, still in that tone; his fingers flex lightly, massaging Tanner's biceps even through the layers of shirt and suit. Tanner wants them on his skin so badly it's a sharp ache inside him.

"Sir," he says softly. Behind him, Mallory shudders hard enough for Tanner to feel all along his back.

"Christ above," Mallory grunts; it sounds like an oath, but a breathy one, a plea more than a curse.

Tanner takes his future, the future he so desperately longs for -- he turns in the circle of Mallory's arms until he can look up and see his superior's flushed lips, the dark circle of his blown pupil as Mallory looks down into his face with an unreadable expression. Tentatively, he slips his hands under Mallory's jacket, curls them around his waist and lets them settle there, warmed by the heat Mallory's body sends out like a furnace. His thumbs rub against the clasps of Mallory's braces, and he imagines unhooking the cool metal and working his fingers under the waistband of Mallory's trousers, undoing the button and lowering the zip and opening him up like a fucking present, how very appropriate that this should happen now, with the holiday season (and the alloted days off) fast approaching, a chance to stay home and forgo clothes other than pyjamas for the duration (the image alone, the easy intimacy implied, almost undoes him). He thinks about sinking to his knees and mouthing at the long, thick line under the soft cotton of Mallory's pants, thinks about taking him out and rubbing his lips over the hard length of him, feeling the way the skin would flush hot and ready under his mouth. Thinks--

"Whatever you're thinking about with that look in your eyes, the answer is yes," Mallory says hoarsely, a tongue flicking out to wet his lips like punctuation. Tanner's eyes flicker to them, and cling, and suddenly Bill Tanner just wants.

It’s the most permission he’s ever likely to get, he knows that. This, here, will determine how they go on from now on. He might not know Mallory well enough, but he knows that he is no one-stand man, either. Just maybe, Tanner might actually have a chance at having what he wants. He leans in.

Mallory’s arms do not go rigid, don’t try to hold him away. They flex instead, bringing him closer, holding him steady as he goes on his tiptoes and presses his mouth to Mallory’s, slants their lips together until they’re rubbing slickly, soft and giving. Mallory tastes like the scotch Tanner can smell, but also something sweet and tangy at the same time that goes straight to Tanner’s cock. It fills and stretches for the first time in too long, what feels like years. Pressed as they are together, he’s sure Mallory can feel it, that he knows what a simple kiss, mere body contact is doing to Tanner.

Then Mallory’s mouth opens on his, demanding and wild with barely leashed desire, and Tanner forgets to think, forgets to panic, forgets to analyse, just loses himself in the sensation of being taken, possessed, wanted.

When they break apart, hours or days later, he has trouble catching his breath, let alone his senses. He strains in Mallory’s arms, not to get free but to get nearer, feel more of him against his body. Mallory’s arms are around him, surrounding him, one big palm on the nape of his neck, the other on the small of his back, holding him close.

“Please,” Tanner whispers, with not the slightest idea what he’s begging for, but Mallory seems to know; he always seems to know, and it’s such a relief to cede control to someone else, to trust them to give him what he needs. Shortly, he finds himself straddling Mallory’s hips as Mallory guides them into one of the soft, plush chairs in the corner of the room. Tanner’s jacket is pushed off his shoulders, and he can feel the path Mallory’s hands are taking over his back like a burning brand. He flexes his hips, rubs himself shamelessly against the bulge in Mallory’s trousers, and Mallory throws his head back, lashes flickering over the gorgeous blue of his eyes. Suddenly, there are hands on Tanner’s hips, on his arse, guiding him into a deliciously sensual pace. A truly revealing groan tangles in Tanner’s throat; he tries to smother it, but at this stage he would have more luck giving a speech than stopping his body’s reactions to everything that Mallory’s doing to him.

“Sir,” he pants against Mallory’s mouth, and Mallory’s hands clench on him, tight enough to have Tanner whimpering with desperation for more.

“Call me Gareth, for God’s sake,” Gareth grits out, setting his mouth on Tanner’s throat and sucking a bruise into it that Tanner will find himself pressing his fingers to over and over in the following days.

“You don’t like it when I call you ‘sir’?” Tanner asks, letting his voice go deep and teasing. Judging by Gareth’s reaction, it’s not that he doesn’t like it – it’s that he likes it too much. Something to think about, the next time (and the time after that, and the time after that).

Then Mallory’s hand is coming around Tanner’s waist, and pressing over his stomach, and opening the button of his trousers, and sinking inside, and there’s no more talking for a while other than ‘Fuck, yes’ and ‘Oh, God, please.’

Tanner resurfaces some time later, filthy and flushed and sprawling languidly against Gareth’s chest, mouth pressing small, easy kisses into Gareth’s throat. Warm arms curl around him, and the bulge in Gareth’s trousers is still digging into the crook where Tanner’s thigh joins his groin, but Gareth’s hands are stroking his back gently, the very opposite of demanding. Yes, Gareth’s breathing comes faster than normal, shallower, too, but if Tanner couldn’t feel the rigidity of Gareth’s cock pressing against him, he might have never known the state of the man.

Gareth whimpers when Tanner lets a hint of teeth into his next kiss, and his hips twitch just the smallest bit under him. Tanner loves Gareth’s control. Loves even more the knowledge that, sooner or later, he’ll have that control breaking and giving if it’s the last thing he does.

“I want to suck you,” he murmurs into the shell of Gareth’s ear. “Suck you right in, all the way down my throat until you come inside me. Say ‘yes’.”

“I find it astounding that an exceptionally intelligent man like yourself can even entertain the possibility that I might say ‘no’,” Gareth says. God, he doesn’t even sound perturbed, let alone on the edge that the fine tension in his body under Tanner’s tells him he’s teetering on. It makes Tanner’s stomach clench with want all over again.

So he pulls back, just enough to kiss Gareth wet and filthy and open-mouthed, sucking on his tongue in exactly the way he shortly intends to employ on his cock. Gareth’s hands firm on his arse, and he allows himself to rub once against Tanner’s body, hard enough to send Tanner’s spent cock twitching again.

And then Tanner slides down Gareth’s body, gets on his knees, and spends the next half hour doing exactly what he’d wanted to do the moment they’d walked into this room.

The sight of Gareth Mallory, sweaty and panting and looking utterly ravished, is something that Bill Tanner relishes, memorises instantly, tucks away in the back of his mind for those times when they’ll be Mallory and Tanner, not Gareth and Bill; for when he’s going to need that something to get him through a situation that might break him otherwise.

Knowing that this is just the first time of many? Only makes this about two thousand times better.

They put themselves together with an easy intimacy that does more to make Tanner feel safe and confident and happy than anything they’ve done so far. Mallory strokes a hand through Tanner’s hair as Tanner reaches up to fix Mallory’s tie so it lies smooth and perfect over the still-pristine white of his shirt, despite what they’d spent the past hour engaging in.

“One of these days, I’m going to bend you over this desk and eat you out until you scream,” Mallory says easily as he fixes Tanner’s collar, and a hot flush of desperate desire slams its way right through Tanner’s gut.

“Sir, you can’t say things like that,” he manages to grind out while he makes himself breathe through his nose and calm the fuck down. He will never be able to look at Mallory’s damn desk without thinking of this moment right here.

“Oh, can't I? A word to the wise: I think you’ll find that I don’t make promises I don’t keep,” Mallory drawls back, and fuck, this man is going to be the death of him, isn’t he.

Tanner couldn’t be more ecstatically happy if he tried.

“Now, tomorrow is Christmas Eve, so I have to go make nice with my sister, her husband and sprogs, and my father, but I’ll be back in town on Boxing Day. Do you think I might have the indescribable pleasure of coming home and finding you naked in my bed?” Mallory asks, like he’s requesting a bloody cup of tea. Christ on a bike.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Tanner rasps, while inside him his heart is trying to slam out of his chest with how much he wants this.

“Capital. Now, I think it’s time to show you how to get to my home. What say you?”

“Now who’s asking silly questions?” Tanner says, and calmly walks out of Mallory’s office, feeling its owner fall into step behind him.

Well, he thinks to himself. Maybe miracles do happen at Christmas.