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The Robe

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James watched M from the doorway. She must be aware of his presence, he reasoned, still, she didn’t move.

She sat, motionless and slouched on the sofa. She was still in her robe and he wondered if she’d even moved from the spot since he’d left that morning. The mug in her hands being the same as he’d left her with.

He walked slowly toward her, trying not to startle her. It had been a hell of a week.

“M,” he said as he approached her.

The only response was a deep, slow inhale, and a slower exhale.

She was staring out the glass french doors toward the garden, one arm resting on the sofa pillows next to her, as if she had not the energy to even move it.. Things were bad right now and the medication they’d put her on was only ebbing the physical pain.

“He was all I had.”

Her voice was rough with disuse.

“I’m sorry,” James said.

He truly was. James hadn’t known M’s husband, but he’d known he was a good man. James had known this because he’d looked into it personally at one point in order to gauge his chances with her.

“Tanner thinks he has a good lead,” James said. “He’ll send me out as soon as he confirms it.”

She nodded but didn’t turn toward him.

“I will get them,” James said. “I promise.”

Finally, she turned and looked up at him.

“I know you will, James,” she said. “I have no doubt.”

James felt his pulse increase with the idea that he had her trust.

“Let me make you some tea,” he said, to break the moment. “Or get you something to eat. The doctor said you need to eat when you take the pain medication.”

“Is that why you came back?” she asked. “I had thought you were going to leave from HQ.”

“I wanted to make sure you were taken care of and Tanner is rather busy, as I’m sure you can imagine,” he said.

He headed for the kitchen and pulled out some cans of soup from the cupboard to heat them. As he waited, he did a mental check of the perimeter of the safe house in his mind again. There were two guards at each of the two doors. Then there were two in constant circulation around the property. The cameras were all in working order and the van parked across the street was monitoring them.

A movement caught his eye and he involuntarily smiled when he turned to find M joining him. She set her mug on the counter and sat down at the kitchen table.

“Thank you, James,” she said.

“It’s no trouble, M,” he said.

“No, I mean for the robe,” she explained.

He looked at her and stuffed the emotions that threatened to bubble to the surface.

“Of course, M,” he said.

The water for the tea began to boil and he turned back to the stove to stir the soup and prepare the tea.

“How did you know I’d want it?” she asked.

James thought it an odd question.

“It was his,” James told her.

“Yes, but, what made you think to grab it?” she pressed.

He pulled the soup off the stove and let it set as he finished the tea prep.

“It was laying on the bed,” James explained. “It smelled how I assumed he would smell and I thought you would like it.”

She didn’t say anything more and James pulled out some bowls and began to ladle the soup.

Her room had been neat, all but the bed. It was wrecked. The suit she’d been wearing the day before at the office was flung across the back of the chair at the vanity, but the other clothes were mostly piled on the floor next to the bed. Alongside them were some men’s clothes. The lube on the side table and some burned down candles around the room had told James exactly what M and her husband had been up to when she’d arrived home.

Shaking himself out of his thoughts, James set the tea on a tray to take to the table. As M prepared hers, he brought over the bowls of soup.

They ate their soup and drank their tea in silence. When he felt she’d had enough soup, James went to the bathroom and got M’s pain medication.

Once she took her meds and finished her food, she headed for the bedroom as James cleaned up.

He decided to check on her before he called Tanner and found her laying in bed under the covers, with the robe laid out on top of the bed in the position it would have been if her husband was wearing it and lying next to her.

“Sorry,” he said and began to back out of the doorway.

“It’s alright, James,” she said. “What is it you need?”

“I just wanted to see if you needed anything else,” he told her. “I'm going to call Tanner and see how things are progressing.”

“No,” she said. “I suppose I’ll try to sleep.”

He nodded then left, pulling the door shut to give her some privacy.

Returning to the living room, he sighed quietly and sat in the chair across from where she’d been sitting when he’d arrived.

Aside from himself, and the medical team when she’d been in hospital, only Tanner had been permitted to see her. It had been such an odd situation for him, and possibly Tanner, as well. M had always been such a formidable woman, but the shock of her husband’s death, and the manner of it, had apparently distressed her more than she could handle at the moment.

James knew how she felt. When he’d learned of Vesper’s betrayal, he’d gone from on-top-of-the-world-in-love, to an anger he’d not felt in his life. Probably the only thing that had kept him sane during that time were the calls from M as he searched for White.

At the time he’d hated her tone, thought she was coddling him. Now, he wondered if she had so much more experience with such things that she knew she would lose him otherwise. He’d pushed back against her kindnesses, though. He hadn’t desired that anyone would think he’d had any sort of feelings for Vesper at any point, going so far as to tell himself it never would have worked.

But M had always known him, and she had pushed back herself when he’d brought White in. She’d known he was in love with Vesper, even in his denial to her face.

James leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes, silently going over the little information they had. Tanner was looking into people from M’s past, but that hardly seemed likely. She’d been an analyst, not a field agent. How many enemies could she have made that would be vengeful enough to murder her husband on their anniversary?

Twenty-five years, James thought. It was a damned long time. It was the second marriage for both, but they had been happy. James had often been jealous. He’d been attracted to her from the beginning, but he’d always liked a strong, independent woman. He’d never wanted to be needed the way some women seemed to need a man.

The phone rang and James picked up to talk with Tanner.

“The forensics is complete on the car and the bomb,” Tanner said. “There’s, uh, nothing more than what we expected.”

James noticed Tanner seemed hesitant.

“What aren’t you telling me?” he asked.

“Um, well, I received some information that might explain things a little more,” he said. “Is she available?”

“She’s taken her pain medicine, and she’s gone to bed,” James said.

“I really have to talk with her first,” Tanner explained.

James sighed. He hated to disturb her. She hadn’t slept much since the bombing. But when he stood to go toward the bedroom, M appeared in the doorway.

“Is that Tanner?” she asked.

James nodded. She held out her hand for his phone and he handed it to her.

“Tanner, report, please,” she said, sounding much more like her normal self.

She listened as he spoke, nodding and agreeing occasionally.

“No, that’s alright,” she said, finally. “I’ll tell him.”

She told Tanner goodbye and handed James back his phone.

Sighing, she went toward the kitchen. James followed and found her pulling a bottle of scotch from the cabinet.

“You can’t have alcohol with your medication,” he admonished.

She chuckled and shook her head as she filled a tumbler with the amber liquid.

“This is for you,” she said. “I think you might need it.”

James was a bit stunned by the turn around in her behavior. He wondered if the pain medication was the cause of the change.

She returned to the living room and he joined her, returning to the chair when she indicated he should.

“You hacked my file some years back,” she began.

James nodded.

“You read a bit about me, I assume,” she said.

Again, he nodded.

“Well, only about half of it was true,” she told him.

He took a long drink suddenly feeling she was probably right about him needing it.

“Which half,” he asked when he finished.

“I was an analyst for about ten years before I was promoted to M,” she said. “But before that I was a field agent.”

James stared at her in astonishment and she had a laugh at his expense.

“I never made 00,” she said. “I’m a lousy shot and you have to be good all around.”

She smiled and closed her eyes as if to remember. When she opened them, she continued.

“My specialty was bombs,” she said. “I could make a bomb out of just about anything.”

“Bombs sound terribly obvious,” James said. “It’s not really something that we use a lot.”

“No, it’s not,” she said. “But I was also good at starting a fire and making it look as if it was really an accident.”

“That’s useful,” he said.

She nodded.

“I would infiltrate then slip into wherever I’d determined to set the bomb or start the fire,” she explained. “Then I would stay around until months after so as not to raise suspicion.”

She smiled at the memory.

“No one ever suspected a little woman like me,” she said. “I was so, well, feminine and they really just considered me a bit of fluff.”

“I can’t imagine anyone thinking of you like that,” James told her.

“Well, not now,” she said. “I’m old and wrinkled. I could never do that now. No man would take a second glance at me.”

James felt his throat constrict at the thoughts that went through his mind, thoughts he had far too much and were probably a very bad idea to share with her now.

“That’s not what I mean, M,” he said. “You could definitely still turn men’s heads.”

She rolled her eyes.

“You don’t have to flatter me,” she said. “Your job doesn’t require that.”

“I’m not flattering you, M,” he said. “I can assure you that.”

She gave him a bemused look and James hoped she would not press the issue. Now was not the time to discuss his suppressed desires for his boss.

“At any rate,” she continued. “Tanner is going to go through all my old files and see what he can come up with.”

“How did Tanner find out about this?” he asked.

“There’s an emergency contingency,” she said. “If something happens to me, the person I’ve designated receives my full and accurate file.”

“That’s a good idea,” he said. “Seeing how you weren’t forthcoming.”

She sighed and her shoulders sagged.

“I didn’t want to think that somehow, something I’d done in the past had been the thing that had killed George,” she admitted.

James cursed himself internally for not considering that was the reason for her silence.

“But I was never this cruel,” she said. “I was careful. I tried to make sure there were no innocents involved. I did everything I could to get only the person I wanted. That’s not an easy thing with explosives, you know.”

They were silent for quite some time, until James noticed M’s eyes begin to droop. He smiled softly at the sight before cajoling her into bed.

He cleaned his glass, then checked the doors and windows before heading to the other bedroom to get some rest himself. If Tanner was successful, James wanted to be fully ready to go after these people.

After undressing, he crawled under the covers and fell asleep with thoughts of M as an agent running through his mind. He would have loved to have seen her in the field. She was so good at playing the men around her now, he could imagine that in her younger days the men would have been even worse at underestimating her.