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"What's next on the agenda?" Gareth asks.

Tanner looks at his tablet. "007."

Gareth is not a man to avoid problems, although he does allow himself a sigh. "He hasn't sent me a formal resignation, unless it's come to us through other channels."

Tanner shakes his head. "No, sir. I haven't heard of one."

The sir is a good sign Tanner has more to say. Gareth gestures him on.

"Sir, she's not the first woman he's tried to leave MI6 for, and she's unlikely to be the last."

It's blunt, but not untrue given what Gareth knows of 007 and his file. Gareth rubs his temple; 007 isn't even here and he's still causing headaches. "Right," Gareth says. "Make him inactive, but have someone track his passport."

Tanner makes a note. "And the car?"

"From what I understand, the car was his to begin with. Let him have it."

Tanner makes another note, and they close the question of 007 for the time being.

*

Gareth knows the moment he opens the door that his flat is not empty. Something about the quality of the silence tells him there's no danger. The report he skimmed and dismissed earlier suggests the cause.

"Unretiring?" he asks as he turns on the lights.

Bond is lounging in Gareth's favorite chair drinking some of his very expensive scotch. "Yes, I suppose." If he's surprised Gareth knew he was there, it doesn't show.

"Have you brought a mission with you?" Gareth's understanding of Bond's history is that he usually does when he reappears.

"No." Bond finishes off his glass and pours another.

Gareth tosses him a file that he catches easily but doesn't open.

"What's this?"

"Something I'd like you to look into." Gareth walks over to pour himself a finger of scotch before Bond drinks it all. "You can report to Q in the morning for equipment." Gareth throws back his drink. "Now get out of my flat. I've had a very long day and I'd like to go to bed."

Bond's eyebrows go up a bit, and he opens his mouth.

"Alone," Gareth says firmly. He's not unamused, but he doesn't let it show.

Bond's mouth twitches into the bare beginnings of a smirk, then he finishes his drink and gets out of Gareth's flat.

One of the benefits to being at the top is that Gareth doesn't have to do anything about Bond being back. He rings Tanner instead, apologizes for contacting him so late, and delegates reactivating Bond and alerting Q to him.

*

The something Gareth handed off to Bond to look into sends Bond through Chile, Peru, Belize, and, for some reason, Austria, before he returns to London with a trail of destruction behind him and an international criminal in tow. During that time he sleeps with a general's mistress, a barmaid, and, if rumors are to be believed, the CIA's section chief for South America and his wife.

He reports to Gareth's office looking none too worse for the wear. "Sir."

"007." Gareth leaves Bond standing. "You are meant to work, as my predecessor liked to remind me, in the shadows. Please explain to me how four exploding buildings constitute the shadows."

"Sometimes we need to shed some light on the situation," Bond says.

Dealing with Bond is going to age Gareth before his time. "Even if that were the case, wanton destruction is not the best way to go about it."

"As you say, sir." There's nothing openly insolent about Bond's tone, and it sounds like a fuck off nonetheless.

Gareth all but throws a file at him. "Get out of my office."

"Certainly." Bond gives him one of those sly smiles on his way out, but he leaves.

That file takes Bond halfway around the world and he comes back with just as many broken hearts behind him but far less property destruction. Gareth gives him another file with an actual briefing and sends him off to Norway.

Bond doesn't come back from that one. There's a woman in Norway who accompanies him from there to Sweden, Luxembourg, and the Czech Republic. Bond sends the man he tracked down back to London with the cleanup team, and takes off with the woman in a car.

"Inactive status?" Tanner asks.

"With passport tracking," Gareth confirms. Bond isn't his problem anymore, at least for the time being.

*

It's nearly a year before Gareth comes home to a tan and well-rested Bond drinking his scotch.

"007."

"M."

"To what do I owe the pleasure?" Gareth goes about taking off his coat and setting down both his briefcase and his takeaway bag. It's an unwise choice of words; the intervening months have caused Gareth to forget the way Bond will take a mile given any inch.

"I had thought to report in," Bond says with a smile that edges into a smirk, "but I can imagine we might find other pleasures to be had."

Gareth ignores the flirting. "I had thought to have a quiet evening in - alone - and I intend to do so. You can report to my office at nine o'clock tomorrow morning."

That doesn't stop Bond from giving him any more looks, but it does get him out of his flat for the evening.

Of course, the downside to having Bond report in to the office is that it gives him an opportunity to flirt with his assistant.

Gareth ignores that as well - Moneypenny is well able to stop it if she so chooses - and gives Bond a file, instructs him not to destroy anything not absolutely necessary, and sends him to Q for equipment.

Bond argues later that the destruction was all strictly necessary. Gareth reminds him sternly that they are to work in the shadows, and sends him home for a few days before he dares send him out into the field again.

There's a woman on that mission, some terrorist's terrified hostage, and Gareth finds himself having another inactivate with passport tracking conversation with Tanner.

*

Bond comes back, of course, and does four more missions before he takes off with a woman. This time, Tanner only asks Gareth to confirm that they're making Bond inactive and retaining tracking.

Bond's back within a year, and does three more missions before he takes off again. There's a man this time, half Bond's age, nearly always seems to be striking a pose, even in the surreptitious surveillance photos. He'd been a corrupt politician's plaything until Bond came along.

"Inactive and tracking?" Tanner asks.

"Yes," Gareth says. "And squash the rumors if you can." He's heard three of them himself, each one more outrageous than the one before, although anything sounds plausible when compared to the truth of Bond's exploits.

The rumors die off slowly. He hasn't heard one in months when he comes home late to find Bond in his flat nearing the end of the bottle of scotch.

"The trouble with pretty boys who want to get away from their domineering older lovers is that they can always find other pretty boys to play with instead." Bond toasts Gareth with his glass. "Easier for you, I suppose. You're conveniently widowed."

Gareth doesn't manage to tamp down all of his fury at that. He stares Bond down. "I hardly think my wife's death was convenient."

Bond looks briefly guilty.

Gareth reins in his temper. "I suppose that means we get you back."

"Yes." Bond drains the glass and stoically pours himself another. Maybe if Gareth doesn't replace the bottle, Bond won't keep drinking in his flat.

"Right," Gareth says. "Here's something to keep you busy." He hands the file to Bond, not entirely sure how drunk Bond is and whether or not he'd be able to catch it if thrown. While he's there, he takes the bottle away and returns it to his liquor cabinet.

Bond flips through the file with one hand. "Dubai."

"Yes," Gareth says. "Do try to stay out of trouble."

Bond gives him a raised eyebrow that Gareth ignores; he does know how unlikely a prospect that is.

Bond tosses back the rest of his drink. "I expect Q has something for me to take."

"He will in the morning," Gareth says, because he's hardly going to drag his quartermaster out of bed for something that can easily wait for a few hours.

Bond sets his glass down with a thunk. "What shall I do with myself until then?"

Gareth gives Bond a stern look. "Whatever it is, you'll do it elsewhere."

*

Bond does two missions, three, five, ten. There are women, the occasional man, rumors again about the CIA's section chief for South America and his wife. Bond doesn't leave MI6 for any of them.

Gareth assigns him mission after mission and listens to Tanner very loudly not saying anything about Bond's continual return.

There's a fight in Berlin, one that leaves Bond in such a bad state that Gareth has Moneypenny arrange for governmental rather than commercial transport to bring him back to London.

He's not surprised when the end result of that is Bond in his flat with a newly empty bottle of scotch and a fair dent into a new bottle that he must have brought with him; Gareth had no intention of encouraging Bond's behavior by buying a new bottle himself.

"Bond."

"M." Bond toasts him, throws back his drink, and pours.

"I hope you're not mixing that with painkillers," Gareth says mildly.

Bond doesn't answer that. Instead he says, "I'm past the mandatory retirement age for Double Ohs."

Ah, so that's what this is about. It seemed a bit much for his injuries alone.

Gareth pours himself a drink. "We've revoked the mandatory retirement age."

"Have you?" Bond downs half his drink.

"We have," Gareth says. "I take a rather different approach to agent effectiveness."

"So we stay in the field until we die now." Bond drinks the rest of his glass and reaches for the bottle.

"No." Gareth picks up the bottle before Bond can get it. "There are other options."

"Are there really?" Bond asks the question idly, attention more focused on the bottle, like he's deciding whether or not to make a grab for it.

"There are." Gareth screws the cap tightly onto the bottle. "We can find you something else to do if you'd rather not continue with field work, or you can retire altogether." Gareth puts the bottle away. "It's got to be your choice." He pins Bond with a look. "You needn't provide an answer now. The only choice you've got to make at the moment is if you're going to sleep in my guest room or if I should call you a cab."

Bond throws Gareth one of his flirtatious smiles, none the worse for the wear of his drunkenness. "Surely there's another option."

"Your only option right now is to sleep it off. That's an order, soldier." Gareth snaps the last and doesn't allow for the possibility that Bond, who's disobeyed so many orders, will disobey this one. It's a chance.

"Very well, sir." Bond stands, steps right into Gareth's space. "I'll take your guest room. I'm sure there will be other options in the morning."

*

Gareth calls Moneypenny and Tanner first thing in the morning to have them reschedule his appointments and courier over a number of files. He spends the morning working at his dining table.

He starts a pot of coffee when he hears the shower go on, and puts a cup of it - strong and black - and a plate of toast in front of Bond when he emerges.

Gareth works while Bond eats, and only gives Bond his attention once he's finished the cup of coffee and poured himself another. Gareth closes his files and meets Bond's gaze across the table. He ignores the flirtatious smirk on Bond's face.

"You have options," Gareth says. "You can continue with field work. You can retire fully. You can retire from field work and continue to work with MI6. It will, however, be your choice, and I won't take kindly to you trying to force my hand."

"I'm not sure that I'm good for much beyond field work," Bond says. He's too casual for Gareth to tell if he means it or if he's fishing for information. It hardly matters; Gareth's approach is the same either way.

"I think you'd be best suited to training new agents or running missions," Gareth says. "Or I'm sure Q Branch would appreciate your expertise in designing and testing new equipment."

Bond raises his eyebrows. "I expect field work is easier than testing Q Branch prototypes."

"No need to decide now," Gareth assures him. "You'll need to be cleared for duty first." He gathers up his files. "I'll see you at the office."

Bond recognizes the dismissal. He also walks out with one of Gareth's coffee cups. Better that than the scotch.

*

Bond being cleared for duty is the kind of thing Gareth gets reports about, so he's prepared with both a mission file and several other possible assignments when Moneypenny shows Bond into his office.

Bond stands at attention in front of Gareth's desk. "007 reporting for duty."

Gareth picks up the mission file. "We can use you in Romania."

"No arguments?" Bond asks with the sort of neutral look that hides whatever it is he might be getting at.

"It remains your choice, Bond."

Bond nods and takes the file.

*

Over the course of the mission, Bond sleeps with a Romanian cabinet minister, two separate actresses, a banker, and, despite not crossing the Atlantic, the CIA's section chief for South America and his wife. He blows up two cars and a boat, but no buildings. He takes out the target and half his network and brings back the evidence that justifies it.

He reports not to Gareth's office but to his living room, a glass of scotch in his hand.

Gareth refuses to be surprised by Bond's presence. "007."

Bond toasts him with the glass. "Consider this my resignation from field work."

"Going out on a successful mission?" Gareth pours himself a drink and taps his glass against Bond's. "Well done, Bond."

"Thank you, sir." Bond sips from his drink at a civilized pace.

Gareth settles into a chair. "Shall we discuss the terms of your continued employment?"

"Oh, let's not." Bond holds up his glass. "We ought to celebrate first, don't you think?" The look on his face leaves no doubt as to the sort of celebration he has in mind.

"We'll have a drink," Gareth says, "and then you will go home."

Bond chuckles and sips his drink slowly.

*

"One more thing," Gareth says at the end of his daily rundown with Tanner. "Bond will no longer be working in the field."

The slight widening of Tanner's eyes is the only sign that he's surprised.

"I expect he'll take on junior agent training and missions," Gareth says. "Any considerations I might not have thought of?"

Tanner takes a moment to think about it. "If you're giving him his own office and staff," he says, "you're likely to lose Moneypenny to him."

That would be an unfortunate consequence. Gareth calls Moneypenny into his office.

"Yes, sir?"

"Moneypenny," Gareth says. "If Bond heads up junior agent training and missions, are you going to leave me to become his assistant?"

Moneypenny takes a seat in the chair next to Tanner's. "Hardly necessary, sir. There's an empty three-office suite down the hall that will suit. You'll need a second assistant to take on some of the more routine tasks if we're to support you, Bond, and Tanner. I suggest Claire in Records, but it's up to you of course."

Gareth lets a bit of a smile slip through. "Thank you, Moneypenny. You're terrifyingly efficient."

"Just doing my job, sir."

*

Moneypenny shows Bond into Gareth's office precisely on time.

Gareth raises his eyebrows. "I appreciate the punctuality."

"Well, I wouldn't want to get off on the wrong foot." Bond settles into the chair across from Gareth's desk.

"Quite." Gareth straightens the stack of files on his desk. "Have you decided what you'd like to move into now that you're no longer doing field work?"

Bond manages to lounge in the straight-backed chair. "Usually Her Majesty's Government tells me what I'm to do."

"And then you go and do whatever you think best," Gareth points out. "Let's agree on the terms of your service to begin with."

Bond's smile shades into a smirk. "Certainly, sir. You mentioned new agents."

That's the file on the top of Gareth's stack. He hands it to Bond. "Our training and recruitment program for potential Double Ohs. Familiarize yourself with it. I'll want your thoughts on how to improve it, and then we'll see how you do running it."

There's a flash of surprise in Bond's eyes before he says, "Very good, sir."

"One more thing, Bond," Gareth says before Bond can leave his office. "You, Tanner, and I will be sharing a suite of offices and a pair of assistants. Moneypenny will fill you in."

*

For his first check-in as the head of agent development, Bond drops a file onto Gareth's desk and says, "They're going to die. Sir."

Gareth waves him into a chair. "Sit down, Bond. Keeping them from dying is what you've chosen to devote yourself to."

"Hardly a reasonable assignment given the available recruits."

Gareth raises his eyebrows at Bond before opening the file to see what, exactly, Bond has seen fit to deliver to him. The file contains the summary page for each of the agents currently in training for or in line to be recruited into the Double Oh program, with Bond's notes across the bottom of each page. The notes say things like, "Will be dead twelve minutes into first assignment," "Lacks judgement; likely to kill innocents in error," and, "No ability for subterfuge."

Gareth closes the file and hands it back to Bond. "It seems you have your work cut out for you."

"Work?" Bond says it with the hint of danger Gareth's heard him use under pressure. "It'll be a bloody miracle if any of them survive to become Double Ohs, much less manage two kills."

Gareth leans back in his chair. "A miracle shouldn't be out of the question for a man who's defied death as often as you have."

"Only on my own behalf."

"High time you learned to do so on behalf of others, then." Gareth nods at the file. "That is what you have to work with at the moment. I'll expect a progress report and your plan for revising recruitment measures at our next meeting."

Gareth dismisses Bond from his office, but is unsurprised to find him in his living room when he arrives home after a late dinner with an uninspiring undersecretary.

Bond lifts his glass in Gareth's direction. "I thought I should get some recompense for the impossible task you're asking me to perform."

Gareth declines to pour himself a drink. "You've performed any number of impossible tasks. I expect you to perform this one as well."

Bond gives him a restrained leer. "I can think of more enjoyable," he pauses, "tasks to perform."

Gareth walks across the room and takes the glass from Bond. "Good night, Bond."

Bond chuckles, but doesn't protest the dismissal.

*

Gareth suffers through complaints from various instructors about Bond failing out half of the agents in the Double Oh training program. Then he gets a handful of very politely worded complaints from a few of the agents left in the program about Bond having disappeared. Then Bond comes into his office without an appointment and drops a handful of files on his desk.

"Bond," Gareth says, with a raised eyebrow to make it a question.

"M," Bond replies with a smirk.

Gareth picks up the files. "What's this, then?"

Bond lounges in the chair in front of Gareth's desk, looking the very picture of unstudied relaxation. "A revised training curriculum and our next class of Double Oh trainees."

Gareth presses the intercom on his phone. "Moneypenny, hold my calls and reschedule as needed."

They spend nearly two hours arguing about Bond's curriculum and selection of agents. Phrases such as, "He has a history of recklessness," "Double Ohs have to be able to think independently," and, "Is this a joke?" make appearances.

In the end, Gareth approves Bond's training plan with minor modifications and rejects only two of Bond's candidates for the program.

"You do have to see the current batch of recruits through to the end," Gareth warns Bond, "without failing them all so you can start over."

Bond says, "Very good, sir," and takes his leave.

Gareth wishes very much for a drink, but waits until he arrives home to find Bond has started without him. Gareth kicks Bond out after one drink and has a second alone.

*

Only one of the recruits Bond began with makes it through. On Bond's recommendation, Gareth assigns him to another program to season him before considering elevating him to Double Oh status.

Having signed off on the fact of their recruitment, Gareth leaves the work of recruiting and installing the next batch of potential Double Ohs to Bond and Tanner. He then suffers through six weeks of complaints in varying degrees of politeness from instructors, Q, and Medical.

"Any changes you want to make, sir?" Tanner asks after he's relayed the complaints that have come through him.

"No," Gareth says. "Not at the moment. We'll see how Bond's recruits do and go from there."

"Wise decision," Moneypenny opines.

Gareth shoots her a look that only serves to make her smile at him before leaving the room.

"Must you make my life so difficult?" Gareth asks Bond when he next arrives home to find Bond lurking in the dark with a glass of scotch in hand. "You've got to work with the people you're antagonizing, you know."

"And you'll get better value out of your Double Ohs if they survive. Sir."

It's a good point, but Gareth isn't in the mood to deal with him. "Good night, Bond."

Bond drains his glass. "Good night, sir."

*

Gareth makes his way down to Q Branch to observe the crucial part of the mission they've sent Williams, the only one of the first batch of recruits to make it through, on. He nods at Bond and Q, and stands back to observe.

"Turn left," Q says calmly. "There should be an archway to your right."

"Yes," Williams says. "It's clear."

"Wait," Bond says.

"Sir, it's clear."

"Wait. Q, can you get us eyes on?"

Q works for a moment. "No. Their security system isn't networked."

Bond swears. "Williams. It's too easy. Be careful."

"It's clear," Williams insists.

"Slowly," Bond says.

Williams' footsteps echoing down the line at them are not slow. Bond swears again.

"Coming up to the building now," Williams says. "I've got eyes on the room."

"Put the gun down." The voice isn't Williams'.

Bond swears. Gareth takes a breath, holds it, lets it out.

"I'm getting something," Q says. "Putting it up now."

It's video. Williams is slowly bending down to put his gun on the ground. There are three men around him with assault rifles, and Getz, the man they sent him to spy on, standing unconcerned amidst them.

"You really should have known better," Getz says, looking straight at the camera. "You'd have one more agent."

Williams rises up quickly, kicks the rifle out of one man's hand, aims a kick at another's knee. It's not enough; the third man shoots him, and his body jerks as it's riddled with bullets.

Gareth exhales a breath he'd been holding.

The room is nearly silent, then Bond reaches out and cuts the audio to Williams. "Q, backup team, different frequency."

Q gets it for him, and turns off the sound on the feed from Getz.

"Williams is down," Bond tells the backup team. "Getz is distracted. Get in and out as quickly as you can." He talks them through it. His voice is tight, but he's otherwise outwardly unruffled.

The backup team gets in and out with a copy of Getz's hard drive and photos of his inner sanctum without getting caught. Once they're clear, Bond stalks away.

Gareth and Tanner return to their offices and their work.

Gareth goes home at the end of the day to find Bond well on his way to being drunk in his flat. Gareth pours himself a drink and sits in the other armchair. They drink in silence until Bond stumbles off into Gareth's guest room.

*

Moneypenny pokes her head into Gareth's office. "Sir, Bond's been taken to Medical. Some sort of training accident."

Gareth sighs. "I suppose we ought to go see what's happened." In truth, he could use a break from reading reports.

They can hear Bond's voice when they enter Medical, which means they can forgo the necessity of asking after him. Clearly he's conscious and uninjured enough to protest receiving treatment.

"I don't need," Bond is in the middle of saying when Gareth and Moneypenny reach his curtained off bed.

The doctor looks up when Bond stops speaking, and nods to Gareth. "He has a broken arm. It needs a cast."

"It doesn't," Bond snaps. He's looking a little white around the edges of his lips, and there's a tightness around his eyes.

"If the doctor says it needs a cast, then it needs a cast," Gareth says.

Bond opens his mouth, no doubt to protest again.

"That's an order, soldier," Gareth snaps.

"Very well, sir," Bond spits.

The doctor raises his eyebrows at Gareth and turns to wrapping Bond's arm.

Gareth crosses his arms over his chest. "How did this happen?"

Bond's mouth turns up into the hint of a smile. "Sparring with Adams."

Now it's Gareth's turn to raise his eyebrows. He turns to Moneypenny. "Get me the footage."

Tanner arrives a few minutes later with a tablet.

Gareth has to replay it and slow it down to see exactly how the break happened. "Impressive."

Bond looks smug. "She's your next Double Oh."

"Call Adams down here," Gareth says to Moneypenny.

The doctor is nearly done with Bond's cast when Adams, a tall, leanly muscled woman, arrives. Her face remains impassive as she glances at Gareth, Moneypenny, Tanner, and the doctor before asking Bond, "How are you, sir?"

"Only a little damage to my ego," Bond says airily. "You didn't pull your strength at all."

"No, sir."

There's the hint of a smile on Bond's face again. "And well you shouldn't. You don't know when that will save your life."

Adams nods.

"You're very fast," Gareth says. He holds up the tablet and replays the footage for her at full speed. "Of course, Bond is a retired Double Oh."

Adams brings her chin up. "I'd be happy to demonstrate with an active Double Oh. Sir."

She's going to be just like Bond. Gareth restrains his laugh. "No need. Good work, Adams."

Adams blinks, the only sign of her surprise. "Thank you, sir."

Gareth dismisses her and stands over Bond while the doctor gives him instructions for his arm. "Take the rest of the day," Gareth says when the doctor releases Bond.

Bond ignores that and follows Gareth into his office where he shuts the door before dropping into the chair in front of Gareth's desk. He looks worryingly tired.

"She needs a little more training," Bond says, "but then send her on a pair of kill missions and make her a Double Oh."

"Let's see how she does with the rest of training," Gareth says.

"With all due respect, sir-"

Gareth holds up a hand to stop him. "I'm not questioning your judgment, Bond. Let's make sure they're ready before we start planning their futures."

Bond jerks his head in a nod. "Sir."

Gareth nearly sighs, but it's best not to show weakness around Bond. "You look done in," he says instead. "Go home. Get some sleep."

Bond leaves, but Gareth isn't surprised to find him asleep in his guest room later, the bottle of scotch on the nightstand next to him. There isn't a matching bottle of painkillers, so at least he's probably not too much of a danger to himself.

*

All but one of Bond's recruits make it through his training program. Bond is, of course, insufferably smug about it.

"You do realize your reward is that you get to do it all over again?" Gareth points out.

Three days later, Bond drops a stack of files on his desk, and they spend an hour going over Bond's second batch of recruits. Gareth vetoes only one and suspects, from Bond's casual agreement, that he was meant to.

"Adams," Bond says instead of leaving when they're done. "The others might need seasoning, but she doesn't."

Gareth leans forward. "Are you certain of that? We are talking about her life and the country's safety."

"Positively certain, sir."

Gareth nods at Bond and dismisses him without confirming a decision one way or the other.

He sends Adams on a kill mission, of course, because he more or less trusts Bond's judgement and because he agrees with Bond that she's ready.

She's successful, and Gareth sends her on a second two months later.

Gareth brings Bond into the debrief of that mission, largely so he's there when Gareth says, "Good work, Adams. That's two kill missions." He slides a folder across his desk. "You've just been promoted. Congratulations, 007."

Adams's composure cracks enough that she seems startled into a smile. "Thank you, sir."

Garth nods. "You've earned it."

"I think this calls for a celebration," Bond says.

Gareth waves them out of his office.

Two nights later, when he arrives for an appointment that was listed in his calendar as a casual dinner with a representative from the CIA, he finds himself at a table set for five introducing himself to the CIA's section chief for South America and his wife.

Shortly after Gareth joins them, Bond arrives with Adams on his arm in an eye-catching red dress. Gareth would make a note to have a word with Moneypenny about her misuse of her access to his calendar, but he doubts it would stop her and Bond from conspiring.

"Elizabeth Adams," Bond introduces her. "Felix and Della Leiter."

Adams shakes their hands. "Call me Lizzie."

"It's so nice to have another woman join us," Della says. She turns her face up to receive the kiss Bond places on her cheek. "Of course, I'm always glad to see you too."

Bond takes the seat between Della and Gareth. "I should hope so."

Felix looks over Adams. "James speaks well of you." The slightest smile bends his lips up. "I look forward to helping you cause trouble."

Adams laughs, which is a sound Gareth hasn't heard before. "Let's not say that in front of the boss." She nods at Gareth.

"This is purely a social occasion," Gareth says. "You'll have plenty of chances to cause problems for me later." He has no doubt that Bond's protégé will cause any number of problems.

They're well-behaved for the evening, to a point. Bond and Adams flirt shamelessly, with each other and with the Leiters. Bond throws some of his flirtation in Gareth's direction; Adams doesn't. The Leiters return a subdued version of Bond's flirtation, and deflect Adams's.

"You go ahead," Adams says when they prepare to leave. "I've got my eye on the maitre d'."

Bond glances at the front of the restaurant. "Good choice."

On the pavement outside, Della says, "Let's have another drink."

"I won't turn that down," Bond says. He turns to Gareth. "Care to join us?"

They seem perfectly welcoming, Della and Felix framing Bond, but also not something Gareth has any wish to get involved in.

"I think not. Enjoy your evening." He nods to Della and Felix. "Nice to meet you." He holds out a hand to Bond, who takes it with raised eyebrows. "Congratulations, Bond. This is your success as well."

It's not often that he can surprise Bond, but he's done it now.

"Thank you, sir."

Gareth goes home satisfied with the work they've been doing. Perhaps he doesn't need to take Moneypenny to task for conspiring with Bond after all.

*

It's an appropriately gray day that looms over the cemetery. Gareth sets the flowers down in front of the simple headstone. He comes alone now. He used to come with Amy's parents, but now he brings flowers for their graves adjoining hers.

He rubs his fingers over the curve of the stone and stares at the dates. Thirty years, and sometimes the guilt and grief of it feel as fresh as the day she died.

Gareth doesn't speak to her, doesn't tell her about what he does with his life now, that he hopes she's at peace wherever she is. He doesn't believe there's anything left of her here. This is for him, a place and time for him to mark the passing of time without her. Far more of it than the time with her.

His driver takes him to the office from the cemetery. The world doesn't stop, and Gareth has any number of matters to attend to.

One of them is a meeting with Jackson, the head of MI5's recruitment. Gareth invites Bond to that meeting, and Bond and Jackson sit stiffly in the chairs in front of Gareth's desk.

"It does, of course, benefit us to work together," Jackson says with very little conviction. "We'd like to discuss distribution of personnel."

"We'll choose our agents," Bond says, "and distribute the rest of them to you."

Jackson's nostrils flare. "I hardly think-"

"Don't you?" Bond cuts in with a mockingly polite smile.

"That's enough," Gareth says.

"Is it?" Bond asks.

"That's an order, soldier," Gareth snaps, and Bond closes his mouth around the rest of whatever he was about to say. "I'm sure you understand," Gareth says to Jackson, "that we do have need of good agents, but it doesn't suit us to work at cross purposes."

Jackson gives Bond a suspicious glance. "What do you propose?"

They hash out an agreement around recruitment that puts limits on what each of their agencies can do, with a clause that MI6 gets first crack at anyone with skills that will be particularly beneficial in an international context.

Jackson leaves looking pleased, distrust at Bond's polite farewell notwithstanding.

"You're limiting my recruitment pool," Bond says when Jackson is gone.

Gareth takes a seat at his desk and opens one of the files waiting for him. "On paper, perhaps." He glances up. "I'm sure you'll recruit with an eye to skills that will benefit agents working on the international stage." He holds Bond's gaze until Bond takes his meaning and lets his lip curl up into a smile.

Gareth dismisses him to his own work and settles in for an afternoon for reading reports and other political maneuvering. It keeps his mind off of the date, until he gets home and finds Bond sitting in his flat with a pair of glasses and an unopened bottle.

Gareth joins him without protest.

Bond pours. "You needed me there to show him you could control me."

"Yes." Gareth taps his glass against Bond's.

They drink in silence for a bit, until Gareth's glass is empty and Bond refills it.

"You went to the cemetery," Bond says.

There doesn't seem any point in denying it, or asking how Bond knows. "Yes." Gareth lifts his glass and watches the swirl of his drink. "My wife died thirty years ago today. It's hardly convenient."

The expression of regret on Bond's face is wholly unfamiliar. "I am sorry for that, sir."

"Apology accepted." Gareth drains his drink and refuses a third. "I'm for bed. Good night, Bond."

"Good night, sir."

 

In the morning, the guest room has been slept in and the level of the bottle isn't any lower than when Gareth went to bed.

*

Bond shows up at Gareth's at irregular intervals to complain about the bureaucracy that comes with working in a government agency, drink his scotch, and flirt.

Gareth takes a stand when Bond's spent three nights running sleeping in his guest room. It's the suit Bond wasn't wearing the day before that decides him.

"Bond," he says, as Bond pours himself a cup of coffee in Gareth's kitchen.

"M." Bond smirks at him over the top of his coffee cup.

"Yes," Gareth says. "It would do you good to remember that I'm your superior officer, not your landlord."

"Not landlord," Bond says. "Flatmate, say."

Gareth says, "No," firmly.

Bond's smirk stays in place. "Lover?"

"Certainly not."

"Flatmate, then," Bond says with an entirely unwarranted self-satisfied air.

"No," Gareth says again.

Bond sips his coffee. "You really ought to be better protected."

Gareth saying, "Bond," does nothing to stop him.

"If I can get in here, so can other, less friendly agents." Bond's smirk stays contained to the crinkling around his eyes.

"I'm well-armed," Gareth says, "and hardly defenseless. And need I remind you that you're a retired Double Oh?"

Bond shrugs. "I need to keep my hand in. Have to keep up with the recruits."

Gareth can no longer keep from pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers. "I don't want my flat filled with your," he considers "conquests" and says instead, "lovers."

The look on Bond's face falls somewhere between scornful and scandalized. "I don't bring them home. Except for Felix and Della."

Gareth's mobile pings. He looks at it, and downs the last of his coffee wishing it were something stronger. "My car is here."

Bond finishes his coffee, somehow looking leisurely about it, and strolls out to the car with him.

*

Bond moves in. He does it on a day that Gareth spends in endless meetings with various representatives from various parts of Her Majesty's Government.

Gareth arrives home, takes in the addition of several pieces of furniture and unpacked boxes to his flat, and goes straight for the liquor cabinet.

Bond appears as if summoned by the sound of the bottle opening and glances at Gareth and the already half-empty glass of scotch in his hand. "Have you eaten, sir?"

"No, Bond, I have not," Gareth says. "But I rather think I need the drink more."

Bond calls for take-away, which they eat out of containers while sitting on the sofa. Gareth drains and refills his glass a bit more than is strictly wise.

"Why did you move in?" Gareth asks, and only realizes his mistake in naming it a fact when Bond's answer comes with a side of smugness.

"Your security is rather lacking," Bond says, casually, as if they haven't had this conversation before.

Gareth doesn't have the energy or the interest in trying to crack through to whatever Bond isn't saying. He rubs his hand over his eyes and finishes his drink. "I'm going to bed." He fixes Bond with a sharp look. "Alone."

Bond chuckles. "Good night, sir."

*

Gareth worries about the complications of Bond living with him, but barring the hangover the first morning, things go well for the first few weeks. Bond doesn't come home some nights and never brings anyone back with him. They eat dinner together on occasion. Bond drinks more than Gareth thinks is wise, but Gareth manages not to get pulled into it any more often than he did before Bond moved in.

Therefore, it comes as something of a surprise when Gareth emerges from his bedroom one morning to find an active Double Oh sleeping on his sofa. Adams is tucked under a blanket, but even so he can see her arm is held at a careful angle.

She opens her eyes as he looks at her. "Good morning, sir."

"007. May I ask what you're doing on my sofa?"

"I thought it best she wasn't alone." Bond steps into the room and shakes his cuffs into place. "How's the arm?"

Adams sits up, the blanket falling away to reveal her sleeveless top and a bandage over her arm. She moves her arm and visibly suppresses a grimace. "All right."

Gareth will forever despair of Double Ohs and their casual disregard for medical care. "What happened to your arm?"

"Gunshot," Adams says. She shrugs with her other shoulder. "Nothing serious. Bond cleaned and bandaged it."

Gareth frowns at both her and Bond. "The car will be here in," he checks his watch, "ten minutes. You're both coming with me to Six. Once there, Bond will take you to Medical where you will have a doctor look at your arm." He holds up a hand to forestall their protests and directs his insistence at Bond. "That's an order, soldier."

Bond frowns at him, but says, "Yes, sir."

Gareth nods sharply at him and goes to the kitchen where he fills three travel cups with coffee.

When they get to Six, he sends Bond and Adams in the direction of Medical and instructs Moneypenny to bring him the report on Adams' injury once she's been seen. If he can't keep her from conspiring with Bond, at least he can enlist her in conspiring with him as well.

Bond arrives along with the report on Adams. At Gareth's gesture, he closes the door and takes a seat.

Gareth just looks at him for a long moment that does nothing to make Bond show any signs of discomfort. "Don't make a habit of installing Double Ohs, injured or otherwise, on my sofa."

"Our sofa now," Bond says with an infuriating smirk.

Gareth frowns in a way that does nothing to Bond's smirk. "My sofa," he says. "You're there on sufferance."

"Of course," Bond says, clearly more amused than worried by Gareth's veiled threat.

Gareth glances down at the report on Adams, which says she's been rebandaged and prescribed antibiotics. He glances up at Bond. "You're dismissed."

Bond stands and does up the button on his jacket. "I'll see you at home, then. Sir."

Gareth waits until Bond is out of the room to shakes his head and let the tiniest edge of a smile show.

*

Gareth learns a few weeks later that Bond meant the second half of his declaration regarding his conquests just as much as the first half. It's quiet when Gareth gets home late, he sleeps through the night without any disturbances, and he wakes in the morning to find the CIA's section chief for South America and his wife in the kitchen with Bond. Bond and Felix are in pajama bottoms, Della in a dressing gown Gareth recognizes as belonging to Bond.

Gareth rubs his forehead and pours himself a cup of coffee. "You do realize how this will look if the press gets hold of it." He pins Bond with a look. "We may work with the CIA, but I can hardly be seen to be this close to them."

Bond, unconcerned, hands him a plate of eggs. "Don't worry, sir. If anyone finds out, I'm sure they'll assume I'm your lover and Felix and Della are just houseguests."

Gareth turns his look on Felix.

Felix meets his eyes and shrugs. "Social visit to an old friend, it got late, no reason to go to our hotel when you have a guest room. Easily explainable."

"And we're very discreet," Della puts in. She smiles deceptively easily at him. "You didn't know we were here, after all."

Gareth makes a note to look into Della's background to find out if it's just natural charm or if she was - or is - an agent. In the meantime, he eats his eggs, ignores their flirting, and leaves the house before any of them are even dressed.

It's not particularly frequent, but he does get used to finding the Leiters in his kitchen in the morning. They're always discreet, and he never hears them, which is a mystery that gets solved when Q presents a new sound dampening device that he says Bond has been field testing.

"He's refused to return the prototype," Q says with a frown.

Gareth briefly weighs his varying duties to Her Majesty's Government and ultimately says, "Let him keep it. He can test it for long-term use."

"I hardly think agents will need to use them long-term."

"Consider it testing before patenting for commercial use," Gareth suggests.

"Right," Q says, "of course."

*

Gareth approves a third batch of Bond's recruits into the Double Oh training program and suggests a change to the curriculum that makes Bond narrow his eyes, then nod and agree without further argument.

The Leiters casually drop Adams' name over breakfast in a story that takes place at a time when Adams was meant to be in Australia, another thing that makes Gareth pinch the bridge of his nose. As if Adams weren't trouble enough without getting herself involved with the CIA.

"Did you purposefully make her over in your image?" Gareth asks Bond.

Bond smirks, just a bit. "Hardly necessary, sir. She was like that when I found her."

Della smiles indulgently and Felix laughs outright.

Bond may have replaced himself with an agent with his flair for the dramatic, but on the whole his recruits have a variety of personalities and skill sets. Gareth has Moneypenny pull some records for him and finds that, as he suspected, they now have the most well-rounded and effective Double Oh section in MI6 history.

Tanner looks thoughtful when Gareth shows him the report. "I suppose putting one of them in charge was a difficult strategy when they didn't make it to retirement."

"Yes," Gareth says. "Let's see what we can find about where else it would make sense to replicate it."

Tanner notes it in his tablet and Moneypenny brings Gareth a list two days later. She's added to it, a handwritten note that says, "Clerks and secretaries," at the bottom of it. Gareth takes her advice.

All in all, running MI6 takes up a great deal of Gareth's time and energy, and Bond becomes a part of the fabric of his life, which is why he's surprised when he comes home to Bond waiting for him with dinner and a bottle of wine on the table.

Gareth is too much of a professional to let his surprise show. He joins Bond at the table and lets Bond pour him a glass of wine.

"What's the occasion?"

Gareth knows from the look the question puts on Bond's face that he's about to be propositioned or flirted with. He quells that with a sharp look that turns Bond's flirtatious look into a genuine smile.

"We've been living together for a year. Happy anniversary, sir."

A year, when Gareth thought he'd have to throw Bond out in days. He raises his wine glass and shares a toast with Bond.

"I'd say we make an excellent team," Bond says.

Gareth lets slip his smile. "Indeed. Good work, Bond."

Bond returns his smile. "Thank you, sir."