“Oh there you are, Basil. I thought you’d given up smoking,” Cecily stepped from the warm indoors, sliding the door shut behind her and effectively muffling the sounds of the celebration inside.
“I did,” Basil said wearily. “I just needed to get out of there for a few minutes and figured this was as good an excuse as any.”
“Fair enough. Do you have another one?”
He silently handed her the package of Djarum cigars. “Cloves,” Cecily nodded approvingly. “Delicious. Light me.”
A second later, they stood side by side, inhaling sporadically, listening to the crackle of the tobacco and paper. “Are you alright?” she asked. When he didn’t answer, she leaned her head onto his shoulder affectionately. “What’s on your mind, love?”
“I’ve been doing some thinking since Easter when that egg showed up. I think…” he trailed off, took a breath and said, “I know I said that I think it’s time we quit the game, but now that the moment’s arrived, I don’t quite know what to do.”
Cecily straightened up and was silent for a long moment. She took a drag at her own cigar, and let the smoke waft from her mouth, French inhaling through her nose. She nodded slowly. “Same here.”
“We can do that, right? We can take it back?”
“Of course we can. Honestly, the Minister suggested the whole retirement idea to me when I went to confront him at Easter. It was only a suggestion, but I was angry enough to take him very seriously.”
“He suggested it?”
“Given how upset we were over an agent being in our house and planting something of—well—planting that thing in Darcy’s basket, I understood why he said something.”
“Well, it was only Beatrice who did the breaking and entering, so that’s not so bad. He knew we’d be minimally alright with that, I suppose. Wait, you didn’t say anything to me about that conversation.”
“It wasn’t something I relished hearing from the Minister. I knew you and I would have to talk about it, though, and I thought it might be easier to swallow if you came to that conclusion without my input.”
“I hate it,” Cecily grimaced. “It doesn’t feel right.”
Basil stretched upward, his toned muscles relishing the tense and release. “Me too, Ces.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t do this, Basil. We’ll lose all our friends, references, livelihood… this has been our job for the last 10 years.”
Basil chuckled. “That will be right grand on our CVs. We’ve, uh, been with MI-6 since that time. Classified nosh, old chap, can’t discuss it. You understand.”
“It’s not like our enemies would just give up once we’ve dropped out.”
“Are you talking us out of this?”
Cecily stared at him, a smile lighting her eyes. “I am. We’re going back inside and turning this party around.” She took a final long drag of her cigar, dropped it, and ground it out.
The pair re-entered their home hand in hand. Megan Moneypenny lifted her glass in greeting from where she sat on the sofa, flanked as usual by two double-0’s. “There you two are!”
The rest turned towards the door as she spoke, glasses or bottles in hand, calling out greetings. “For God’s sake, if you want us to leave, just let us know!” one joked. “Alone time for the old retirees!” They all laughed.
Basil shook his head, “Shove off, you!” His smile belied his words. Cecily poured two Old Fashioneds for her herself and her husband, handed his drink to him, and then clinked between the two glasses with the long stirring implement. The party quieted itself and became attentive, expecting a farewell address. “We have something we’d like to say,” Basil spoke. “After thinking it over just now, Ces and I have decided we’re not leaving after all.”
Their colleagues’ faces and voices registered various emotions from surprise to pleasure.
“We’d miss it too much. We’d miss you all too much,” Cecily added. “MI-6 is our home. You will have us back, won’t you, and forgive us for even thinking of leaving?”
There was a brief pause, then someone produced a blade and slit through one end of the banner over the kitchen table that read “Happy Retirement!” It fluttered aside, dragging the loose string through the crisps and dip. “Absolutely g’day!” the agent grinned widely, as the others surged forward with their words of happy agreement at the pair’s decision. “We knew you wouldn’t really leave,” Agent Beatrice embraced her friends.
“No, you just can’t keep away and let somebody else have a crack at things,” Agent Albert shook Basil’s hand. “Damn Americans.”
“Does anyone need a refill on their drink?” Cecily grinned, raising her glass. Basil clinked his tumbler with hers and took a long sip.
“Pick me,” he rasped over the whiskey as it slid down.
“I’d like a drink,” a new, quiet voice sounded. The group turned unanimously to see the Minister of Defense. “Hope you don’t mind, I came to deliver your reinstatements.”
As Basil poured the Minister an Old Fashioned, he winked at Cecily, who rolled her eyes and nodded towards the Minister, and muttered in a fond tone, “I hate it when he does that ‘random appearance’ thing. It’s like something out of a cartoon.”
Basil laughed quietly and delivered the drink to their superior. “Thank you for coming, sir.”
“I admit I was not pleased to hear that you two were leaving, but I came to pay my respects. I brought your reinstatements with me because I know you both. You can’t just leave. It wouldn’t sit well with your work ethic. Besides all that, what would you do with your free time? Surely three children is enough for you, young man.”
Basil shook his head. “That’s classified,” he laughed.
Cecily joined him, and the Minister smiled at her warmly. “I’m so very glad you two have made your triumphant return,” he said. “It’s like you never left.”