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James looked from the door to where M's trailing shadow slipped towards the bedroom. Stray dog come home to its master, of course he wouldn't spend the night. A hotel would be simple, and the hour early enough for the lobby bar to entertain more than professionals. Having been a few days without a razor and smelling like a drunkard would even make the game a bit of a challenge.

He considered the option, thoroughly, but the greater challenge presented a more attractive reward. M didn't scold him for heading to the bathroom and turning on the taps, and she looked only mildly irritated when he came back to her, skin steaming from the heat of the shower.

"A marginal improvement," she said, though her eyes never left the screen of her laptop. The glow cast her skin in an unflattering shade, the light spilling blue onto the pristine white pillows propped up behind her.

"Marginal will do, ma'am." He stood beside her, waiting for the moment when her fingers slid off the keys, a subtle invitation to lift the laptop away and set it on the writing desk beneath the window. Her attention turned to him now, hawk-keen as he settled on the edge of the mattress. The faintest of shivers crawled up his arms. Were their ages reversed, he guessed she’d still make him feel like a boy with the sharp slice of her gaze. Beneath his thighs, the dampness of the towel grew noticeably cool.

Driftwood washed ashore with all the hard edges smoothed out, and he'd been spit out onto the sand as pale as the bone-white sticks around him. But he’d been stranded on the shore ragged--splintered--while M looked the same as when she'd slid him the file.

It was some small comfort that she didn’t sound the same when he leaned in to kiss her: intake of breath a touch too swift, quiet murmur against his lips not a sporting rebuke. Rare as their coupling was, he’d never come to her bed with anger and betrayal simmering in his marrow. James took a deep breath as his mouth quivered against hers; he drew back to look at her again, waiting for his world to tilt back into place as he’d hoped it would when he first returned to London.

M met his gaze unflinching, the blue of her eyes peeling the layers of his skin back until he felt like nothing more than a machine built of muscle, his ugly truths exposed. He lacked only the gun in his hand. In the mirror of his mind, he was flat-eyed, a hair-trigger away from an bloodied fist and shards of glass scattered upon the floor. James forced a smile until it felt real, and M had to know it was rooted in a lie. Armed with a grandmaster’s patient cunning, she’d always remained yards ahead of him; now was likely no different.

Getting into M’s bed had required pairing the same cheek and charm that had gotten him everything in life with the ruthlessness that made him such a damned good agent. He’d gambled more than was wise in the process, risking his place in the service, and risking his neck more than once trying to impress her or win one of her quick, rare smiles.

“If you’re feeling sentimental, you can stop dripping all over my linens and be on your way.”

Sentiment had never been James’s forte, and neither was being truthful. He studied M’s face with more than the sort of quick threat assessment that training had ingrained in him, taking in the map of lines faintly threading on the high rise of her cheeks, creasing deeper on her forehead and around her mouth; the softness along her jawline where gravity had tugged down the natural roundness of her face; the high arch of her brows dusted lightly by the simple makeup tinting her eyelids; and then down to the open neck of her dressing gown and the skin there, lightly freckled and begging for a kiss.

He obliged, twisting bodily towards her and tugging away the towel as he put his lips to her skin. The silk of her dressing gown parted easily, and she drew the fabric aside for him, revealing the dark plush fabric of her bra cutting a stark curve between her breasts. A sharp prickle of heat came to life in his belly, stoked by the light scratch of M’s fingers along his scalp.

A pity that even for the months he’d done little more than lose himself in surf and sex that he hadn’t been able to shake the regimen and let his hair grow out further. M’s grip would certainly be firm, the twist of her fingers in his hair guiding him like reins to where he could pleasure her best.

If she didn’t care to give him any guidelines, he’d as well to be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, and taking his own pleasure was something James was very, very good at. He kissed her neck as he trailed a hand down her front. “Convenient,” he said, finding the bra’s clasp in the front. He buried a grin against her collarbone, smeared a wet kiss down to the softness of her breasts as he bared them.

Now she moved, settling deeper into the pillows and taking his face in her hands. He wondered if she liked the feel of his jaw working as he licked a path along her skin; if she’d moan for him this time as she had a year ago. The thought spurred him on, made him sprawl and grind his cock into the bed as he sought to put his mouth lower and to better use.

James kissed her through the silk of her knickers, spit soaking through until a hint of the salt taste of her hit his tongue and sent him gasping. M’s hands flattened over his skull, action and reaction, and James raised his eyes to watch the shape of her mouth. The slight part to her lips was too delicious to resist, and he prowled forward to kiss her as he hadn’t before, mouth descending over hers to lick against her tongue. He poured a moan straight onto her lips as she kissed him back with clever twists of tongue.

He’d slept with passive women, playful women, fierce women, women too shy to fuck with the lights on, and he’d been on his knees for members of both sexes with a penchant for using their partners like toys--nowhere along the spectrum did he respond to a lover the way he did to M. His entire body was electric, skin raised and tingling as she kissed him back with rising passion.

M’s hand skimmed down to brace against his shoulders as he peeled the elastic of her knickers down and ran a finger along her cunt. Her nails bit crescents into his skin. Oh, how she liked that.

“You still won’t be staying the night,” she warned, molten steel despite the quaver in her voice.

James mumbled agreement, even looked forward to the eventual silence of the hotel suite, but he couldn’t resist saying: “Not even if I’m very, very good?”

“Well, I’ll hardly dissuade you from trying.”

“Just the opposite,” James observed wryly, as M pressed him down again.

With no silk in the way, he ran his tongue eagerly along her cunt, tracing the folds and lapping at the hard nub of her clit until his chin was wet with saliva and the slick proof of her pleasure. He felt simultaneously tense and completely at ease, the strain on his arm forgotten as he thrust his tongue into her as deep as he could manage, nose pressed flush against her clit. He held there for as long as his breath would hold, replacing his tongue with a finger as he came up for air. Panting lightly, he wondered which of them enjoyed that more. He buried his face against her a second time, considered rolling onto his back and having her a swing a leg over, crush him to the bed and fuck herself on his face.

“Christ, James,” M whispered, though her tone was loaded. Maybe she thought it was a mistake for him to come back, or an even bigger one to let him think he might be welcome.

He turned his head to wipe his chin on his shoulder, gasping this time to catch his breath. His or hers, they each had their history with mistakes. “I knew you missed me,” James said, before putting his mouth to her again. Like a schoolboy practising his letters, he traced an “M” over and over with the tip of his tongue: up one side along the fullness of her labia, a swoop down that flicked across her clit, and then down again on the other side.... Just once, he spelled out her full name, wrote it in cursive with a trailing lick along her soft thigh.

Lazily, he fucked himself into the mattress, the friction on his cock delightfully frustrating. Fingers buried deep in her cunt, he imagined fucking her, feeling the sweet clench when she came, and she was close, so close. She shifted restlessly, hips rising and falling like the swell of the surf.

Eyes closed, tongue and arm aching fiercely, James chased the edge of M’s orgasm with single-minded dedication. He paused only long enough to gather his knees under him--avoiding the temptation to make a mess of her linens--and slid his hands under her. His thumbs slipped along the slick inner heat of her labia and he spread her wide to match the roll of her hips with wide drags of his tongue. He surrendered to the rhythm M sought from him, let her heat pour into his body to fill all the dark and shadowed places, and when she seized his skull and held him in place he drowned all over again.

James sucked her clit as she came, sank his fingers back into her as her body still clenched. He was dizzied, light-headed, and felt the effects twice over as he brought her off a second time with the slow push of his fingers and the brush of his lips.

“James,” she said, when after she released him, he slid away from her. He stood, his cock still absurdly hard, throbbing to the beat of his pulse as her gaze took him in. “Let me take care of that for you.”

The corner of his mouth tugged upwards; he felt more ragged than he had when he’d first arrived, but perhaps he was never meant to be polished. The rough edges had kept him alive, and over the years M had done her best with the tools she had; even the ones that were adrift from the start. James snagged the towel off the bed and wiped down his face and throat. He felt far more satisfied than he appeared, he supposed. “You’ve done enough already,” he said, letting her choose whether to take the words with a knife’s edge or trust the slight nod and the widening spread of his smile.

M gathered her dressing gown around her, denying James one last look at full breasts still flush with afterglow. “Very well then, I expect you’ll report in with a bit more care than your usual sense of timing.”

“I’ll do my best, ma’am,” he said.

“It’s all I ever ask of you.”