It was after the glow had faded off, dripping down, slow as honey until they were left together unsure of quite what to do with one another. It was always after the glow. Before, they were a mad series of twists and turns on a jagged mountain road, securely tied together by a tenuous but climber-tight knot. During, there were no divisions between them at all. They just were, as if this was the state they were naturally meant to be in. After - after when everything settled out, warm and fine, when anyone else would have been slated to have their happy ending - this was when she stood, the air light accross her skin, and moved to the dressing table where she sat and began slowly unpinning her hair from the intricate knot she had put it in for the elite society ball that had exploded into the chaos that had eventually ended in this chalet high in the Swiss Alps. He watched her as she went, tracking her every move with his eyes, as he always did when it was just the two of them, as he always did when he could spare either of them from watching his own back, from watching hers.

"Have I ever told you," he asked deliberately, stringing the words on the silence that laced between them like necklace of fire opals that he'd once fastened around her neck for one night, "That I love it when you wear your hair up?"

She cocked her head as she drew another pin from the pile and another lock fell to rest on her pale, rounded shoulders, "Mm?" she murmured curious, "And why is that?"

"Because then I can watch you take it down."

If you would like then, you may have the priveledge, Mister Bond, was what she almost said, without thinking, and that would have certainly brought him to her, or perhaps she'd be beckoned back like a little cat and then the unpinning would last only long enough for him to settle his hands on her again and then they'd be lost like candles in the glow, beautiful and furious and wonderful and gone. It was how they were meant to be, she knew, and so it almost slipped out without her thinking, but then there would be paradise, and afterwards, east of Eden, once the glow settled out. For now, she would hold this lull on purpose, a note in a song kept caught between her fingers for far longer than it should have hung. Lulls were not meant for them. They were not meant for lulls. The lulls never lasted, unless she was asleep and he was watching her, counting the fine, thick hairs on her head, remembering the trails his hands traced over her with his eyes. She knew that this was what he did when she slept because she had awoken quitely once or twice to find him at it, eyes lost on her as if she were a Bengali treasure. But the lulls never held while she was awake, the lulls never held for her, not unless she held them herself, like a butterfly held delicately in the fleshy cage of her fingers.

She breathed out softly, letting the very last of the glow seep out of her, leaving her heavy limbed like a bather come to shore, "You know," she whispered, her tone soft as heather on the mountain in spring, the mountains that they never went climbing together, even though both were quite capable, the hills they never went wandering, unless someone was shooting at them from a helicopter with a high calibur rifle, "You know, it's almost unfortunate."

"What is?" his eyes were still on her, his voice slow, as he'd obviously expected the invitation that she'd stilled on her lips.

She turned her head slightly so she could catch her profile in the mirror as she took down another diamon tipped pin, smiling slow and easy, "It's almost unfortunate, Mister Bond, that I did not meet you before you were married."

"Minx," he said, with a touch of exasperation on his voice, rolling onto his back so that he was facing her, "You know very well that I am not married and never have been."

She tossed her head, shaking down another loose curl, "Oh, but you are, Mister Bond, and you have been. Married to your job, married to the double oughts they put so carefully before your own personal number, married to your license to kill. It has been so since long before little Nymphette Minx arrived to complicate your situation."

He said nothing, simply watched her carefully unpin stone after stone, as more and more of her hair came down and she closed her eyes, stretching artistically, both wrists crossed high above her head, the way she was always bound when it was his business to rescue her, "It's all right, Mister Bond," she laughed softly, "I don't mind too overly much, because I know that you will never marry a flesh and blood woman, or even a little slip of a girl, like me, and that is at least some consolation, don't you agree?"

"I suppose it would be, at that. You are an accomodating soul, Minx," he answered almost lazily, although his eyes were still there, tracking her fingers as they tangled in her dark hair.

"And I shall never marry either, and don't try to convince me otherwise by saying things like 'you'll eventually want to settle down' and 'it will be the best for you, Minx' and 'you don't want to ruin your life on a man like me' like you're all noble and have my best interests at heart, because you're not and I know you wouldn't mean any of them and it is only your immense amount of discipline that would keep you from shooting them where they stood. By the way, if I ever do get engaged, that is your cue to do a thorough background check on the gentleman in question, because he will no doubt be some disguised evil mastermind, or the son of some disguised evil mastermind and you'll just be called in to get me," her words pranced on, soft and soothing the way her voice always was when it was just the two of them. When pretenses were dropped.

"And won't that 'I told you so' be satisfying?" he answered indulgently, one hand behind his head, bracing it up against a pillow.

"I'm sure," she agreed, tilting her head thoughtfully so that all her hair swept over one shoulder, "Although I do rather like children. Rather a lot. That's one of the things that's almost unfortunate," she said carefully, "That I shall never have any."

"You are just seventeen yet, Minx. You should not be worrying about children. You have plenty of time to have them in the future," he offered, almost patronizingly, and she was forced to shake her head.

"Oh, Mister Bond, I will be forever seventeen. It is not time that I need," she said, carefully collecting her pins and folding them away in a silk scarf, "We have all the time in the world, as it were. It is not time that is the problem. I shall never get married and I shall never have any children, and may I remind you that all I have said is that it is almost unfortunate, not that it is in actuality. I could never give you up. Do you suppose I shall ever see the inside of your house?"

He raised one eyebrow, "I have told you before Minx, it is not very exciting. It is not really where I live. It is only where I store my things."

Half of her pins thus arranged, and half of her hair down, she felt she could not stay away from him any longer and settled on the floor, by the edge of the bed, her chin propped on her hands, "And I don't suppose you shall ever be on the inside of mine either."

"Your father," he said wryly, rolling to face her, "I believe, might disapprove. I still have no idea how you manage to so consistently slip away. The man runs MI6. How is his personal security that suspect? No slight at all to your innumerable skills intended, of course."

She smiled a bit herself, the kittenish smile that was really only for him, no matter how often she flashed it. It was one of the skills he had previously mentioned, "Oh, papa has given up fighting me over you, which is really not surprising, since I never, ever lose."

"I have seen you in the casino," he agreed, one hand bridging the gap between them to catch a lock of her hair between his fingers, "But if you never lose, then why is it that you're content to leave me married to my PP7?"

She closed her eyes again and brushed her cheek against the hand that had captured her curl, to lean a little of her weight against it, "Because if I forced your hand, then you would break apart into a different man. Who you are is bound up in your double oughts. I cannot have the blood of the man that I love on my hands, can I?"

"You are overly dramatic," he said, the barest hint of a chuckle in his voice.

"Perhaps," she said, opening her eyes again, "And perhaps not. We live in interesting times, Mister Bond - "

"Why is it," he interrupted her, "That you never - "

"Call you by your first name even though you know well that I know it ever since you gave it to me backwards, even when you're in between my thighs? Why is it that you never call me Nymphette, Mister Bond?"

He was silent, so she continued, "It's because first names are things you trade over tea and jam tarts. They're the mundane words you mull over a hundred thousand times a day when you ask me to get you your paper or if I need fresh eggs from the market, or if I'd like to go see a motion picture, of even that the weather is nice. First names are the names you trade when you have a month of sundays to go strolling in the park. We have all the time in the world, Mister Bond, but we do not have that sort of time. We are not people made for first names, so even though I love the way your name fits over my tongue - Kezef - I will never ever use it, except when I'm alone or you're asleep. Because we are not meant for tea and jam or the paper or fresh eggs or motion pictures or the weather, and that is almost unfortunate."

As she spoke, his hand slipped down from her cheek to the curve of her shoulder, and then all at once he had wound his other arm around her waist and had scooped her up and pulled her back into the bed with him like she was nothing, spun of feathers and air and she was suddenly taken very fiercely back to that first moment when he'd pressed her back into the deep cushions of that luxury escape pod, and then he'd stopped, fingertips braced in the velvet around her shoulders and he'd asked her very seriously, "Minx, exactly how old are you?"

And she had positively writhed as she'd laughed, voice deep and sweet as cherry preserves, because what a time he'd chosen to ask, when they were already so deeply tangled in one another, and her ankle was so patiently resting on his shoulder while he sorted out the wrong or right of it that he'd presumed. She had known before that that there was no wrong or right of it at all. It was simply being, and moral judgements did not come into it, could not come between them.

"Mister Bond," she had chided gently, her eyes following the lean and hungry angles of his face, "Does it really matter?"

And his eyes had roved over her, unfettered - the first time they'd done so so openly and honestly and then they'd come home to her face and then he'd looked hard into her eyes as if questing for something he'd lost and couldn't name. She still didn't know if he'd found it, because his answer had been for her and not for himself - a simple and very eloquent, "No."

It had been the most beautiful word she had ever heard.

No, he'd said, and it had been more true than the truest thing. No, it does not matter. Because it didn't, not between them, and so their first glow had spun hard and beautifully, a golden ring of fire, halos that crowned their heads in grace and in those first moments, they had both known its trueness was written on their bones. No, it does not matter, because no other man's hands will even find their way slowly down your spine, rung by rung like Jacob's Ladder, no matter how many men I have to kill to keep this so.

Why Mister Bond, she'd laughed, soft as the heavy cream he took in his coffee, One would almost think you were looking forward to doing away with them.

One would almost think that, he'd responded casually, as he'd rolled to fit the curve of her back snugly against his chest, fitting her under him as if she were a piece that had always fit there to keep him steady - bracing that evened out his inconsistencies, but had gone missing at the bottom of a drawer, Because it is true.

As if he had need to worry. He was the best man in the world, despite his faults. He was the only man - the only one that mattered, at any rate, and her French lace and Chinese silk came peeling off like a cocoon for no one else, and now he wrapped the two of them tightly in a sheet, fitting her slim curves to his angles again and binding them up so tightly against one another that she was almost uncomfortable. Almost. It was another of the perfect words laced between them like the fire opals that had never belonged around her neck, kissing the hollow of her collar bone where he'd strung them with rough-padded fingers.

You have a trigger finger callous, Mister Bond, she'd said their first evening together, when he'd sat across from her at the casino, nursing a cocktail with one ripe olive while she'd contented herself with a sucession of round, red cherries, leaving a little pile of neatly bitten red stems on her napkin until he'd finally siezed her wrist to stop her from it so he could concentrate on the other men in the room. She had let herself be caught. She was forever letting him catch her.

You say that, Minx, he'd answered, his eyes gradually wandering the crowd, As if that surprises you.

What kind of man are you, Mister Bond? she'd asked him, her eyes glittering almost the same milky emerald as her dress.

The kind, he'd responded, easy as the condensed water that slipped down the side of his martini glass, who doesn't answer questions with obvious answers.

In Cairo, they'd told him, you will find the Jade Dragon. And he had, or she'd found him, and since then nothing had been the same, or it had been a new kind of the same, one they built with every solitary rendezvous they had in Rome or Madrid or Bangkok or Rio, whether she was wearing a new Parisian evening gown, or cheongsam, or the vinyl catsuit that cradled her almost as close as his arms did. Almost. It would start the way it always did, the way it always had, since that first time forty-thousand leagues under the sea. The same three words were always just on the cusp of his lips, but they were not the three little words that most women listened for and expected.

Come here, Minx.

They were the three second most beautiful words she'd ever heard.

And now they were bound up like the dainty nibbles of sushi she ate to keep her girlish figure, nothing but rice and fish, with nothing in between, and as she settled her chin against his chest, she could not help but idle back to their original topic of conversation, "No, I shall never get married, not even to you, so you should never get the fool idea to propose to me, because the moment I married you or even carried one of your children I'd have a gunshot wound through my back before I could even pull my desert eagle. And then you'd bury me in an english garden before going on a vigilante rampage so violent they'd almost take away your license to kill. Almost. And then when everything was done, you'd be inconsolable."

"I see you've worked out everything in advance," he said drily, hands splayed against the small of her back like the fingering of some exotic musical instrument that he knew as well as the gun on the bedside table, the one that looked as if it had been tossed there idly but she knew he could reach in a fraction of nothing as he dropped his hand from her back and found it over his shoulder, his finger on the trigger before she could even move. She had seen him do it before, had had him bundle her up in the swaddling from the bed and toss her over his shoulder for relocation in a less bloody room while housekeeping took care of his indiscretions.

It was his beautiful genius with his own smaller, silenced, and more graceful firearm that allowed her to lose hers in the piles of silk shed clothing she was always leaving in his presence. She'd find it later, she supposed, or not, like the one stiletto heeled shoe that she'd come up missing that first time, under the sea. She hadn't understood until later that he'd taken it with him, and when she'd asked he'd said, "With only one shoe, it is much harder for you to run away from me, Cinderella."

"As if I'd ever run from you," she'd laughed, but he still expected her to, as if she might bolt away from him like a soft-eyed doe at any moment, so she'd come to expect to turn up missing one shoe after every encounter like this. She still never brought a spare pair. To do so would be contradicting his point. She was always letting him catch her.

It is not really where I live. It is where I store my things. Perhaps it was where he kept her shoes.

"One of these days," she said very softly, suddenly collared sharply back to the present by his thumb on her hip bone, "One of these days our story will come to a violent end, Mister Bond, and that is something you cannot help because it is the nature of our story. One of us will end up bloodily dead, and as it is your name on the marquee, Mister Double Ought Seven, I imagine that someone will be me."

His face was in her hair, among the half a dozen diamond tipped pins that still studded it like glass stars, "I would never let anything happen to you, Nymphette," he said very seriously, no longer gaming with her.

And there he went, breaking her rules again, "I know you would never," she tried patiently to explain, but the words left her because she knew he would not hear them. He had decided. There was no talking to him when he had decided, "Just remember, should anything ever happen to me," she began, and she was not sure where she was going, was not sure even though the words tumbled out like she had been meant to say them, "Not to forget that I'll come back to you. You'll just have to wait a bit."

It was a strange thing to say, but it was the only consolation she could offer, and deep in her bones she knew it was the right thing to say, as if she'd just sucessfully called a line she'd been waiting her whole lifetime to give.

"I could wait forever, Minx," he said, strangely tender, and she could feel his eyes wandering gently over her - the way he was when she knew she'd struck him to the quick on something, "If it was for you."

"Well then," she smiled and squirmed, breaking the tension, "You are in luck because I do not imagine you will have to wait that long."

"Minx," he said declaratively and definitively, as if she could be bound entirely in that one little word.

"Mister Bond," she responded in kind, because if there was anyone who could bind her so, it was him.

And it was these names that they traded over champagne that she could not have in public, but that he would let her drink from his glass. It was these names that they traded in an open helicopter cockpit when the blades whirled so loud and sharp overhead that they had to shout. It was these names that they traded when he found her dangling from a hook over a tank of sharks like the choice piece of bait that she was.

Oh, Mister Bond, when will you realize that I'm not after you for your state secrets?

But when he finally fell asleep, his chin resting on her head, his careful arms holding her as still as death and so close to him that they were almost the same thing, it was a different name that she whispered in his ear, just as she told him it would be.

Because lamb chops and pot roast and runs in nylon and walks in the park on lazy sundays were not for them. And that was almost a shame.