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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

James Bond (spectre) fic: Between the Idea and the Reality (2/2)

December 22nd, 2015 (01:01 pm)
intimidated

feeling: intimidated

Continued from Part One.



-o-

As a spy, Bond was used to working in the shadow. Stealth was second nature to him.

He had to admit, however, that it was a nice change of pace to avoid subtleties. It was far more convenient to take out armed men without trying to cover it up. Much more efficient.

Needless to say, they made fast progress, breaking through the levels of Drollinger’s security with ease. Alarms sounded and men rushed them, but there was nothing that could stop them.

Now when Bond was this highly motivated.;

And when the security personnel were this poorly trained.

He’d almost forgotten what it was like to work with amateurs.

The building was, at least, small and secluded -- almost predictably so. A warehouse on the edge of town surrounded by vacant lots. It made it easy to see if someone was coming, this much was true, but it also left you entirely cut off if someone was coming.

A fact that Drollinger was probably starting to realize as Bond took out the last two guards and stared him in the eyes.

In person, Drollinger was even less impressive. He was small and lanky, and clearly unemployment had not been kind to him. His cheeks looked sunken and his complexion was sallow. He wouldn’t survive a single punch to the head, must less anything else. Bond could take him out right here, right now.

Except.

Except.

For the trigger in his hand.

The one attached to a remote monitor.

Which was attached to a bomb.

Which was attached to Q.

-o-

Bond took in the situation in a faction of a second. Drollinger was a lightweight, but his grip was tight. He’d pull that trigger and blow them all up, consequences be damned.

That was a problem.

The bigger problem was Q himself.

The quartermaster looked even worse in person, slumped over and restrained in a chair. The dark mop of his hair obscured his face, which was tipped forward, but the bloodstains were evident on his sweater.

It didn’t take skill, unfortunately, to beat up a restrained man.

He was breathing -- a slight rise and fall of his shoulders -- which was the only reason Drollinger was still alive himself.

Bond stiffened, turning his cold glare on Drollinger again.

But before Bond could speak, M pushed past him, stepping in front of his line of sight until he was eye to eye with Drollinger.

“I know who you are,” M said. “And I know why you’re doing this.”

Drollinger sneered. “Do you?”

“Your work for the last three years was gone in an instant,” M said obligingly. “And you didn’t so much as receive a severance or thank you for your work.”

This was drawn out and tedious. M was being far too indulgent.

That was the point, though.

M was the distraction.

Bond was the action.

“I am surprised you weren’t offered a position,” M said, almost sounding genuine.

Bond stepped back, easing into the shadows.

Drollinger flinched, shaking his head. “I was offered a job,” he said. “Lots of jobs. Every office. Except yours.”

And there was the rub. Maybe it was about status; maybe it was about power. Maybe it was just the high of top secret intelligence.

See, Drollinger fancied himself a spy. He had the fantasy in his mind.

And it was going to be a hard fall back to reality.

One he may not survive.

“Well,” M said. “Maybe we can discuss that.”

Drollinger made a face. “You think I believe you? You think I believe that you came here to talk this out?”

Bond stepped to the side, separating himself from M even more and positioning himself with a clear line to Drollinger or Q.

Whichever he needed to get to first.

“Well, then tell me,” M said. “Why are we here, then?”

This was the opening Drollinger had been waiting for -- clearly. His eyes brightened; his gaze intensified. “So you can learn,” he said. “So you can realize that the intelligence you need, the information you pride yourself in -- is not yours at all. You think you can protect secrets, but you can’t. You don’t own secrets, and you can’t control them. You barter on fake power mediums when I hold the keys to the real thing. Brains beat brawn, every day of the week.”

He smiled, holding the detonator aloft. “That’s why this thing is rigged to blow,” he said. “I push the button or I don’t, you and your team still go boom. I can do it here and take us all out, or I can do it when I’m safe away and let your secrets get blown wide open. You take me out? And the timer will go off and you’re still out at least one man.”

He laughed now, with more than an edge of fanaticism. Civil servants had become a whole lot more terrifying than Bond realized.

But no more dangerous, thankfully.

“You needed me on your team,” Drollinger said, voice starting to hitch. “You needed me and because of your own stupidity, you won’t have a team at all. Everything you worked for, everything you thought you saved, it will all go--”

Boom.

That was the sound Drollinger made when he hit the floor and the detonator skidded safely from his hand. Gaping like a fish, Drollinger gasped wildly. “You’ll never disarm it!” he spluttered. “You’ll never stop it without me!”

Then Bond leveled him with a single punch across the temple and he collapsed in a limp pile.

Getting up, he dusted off his jacket.

M inclined his head. “Nicely done.”

Bond swatted at a stain on his pants. “Same to you.”

“Still,” M said. “Do you know how to disarm that bomb?”

“Not a clue,” Bond admitted. “But I think I know someone who does.”

-o-

Bond crossed the distance first, going to his knees in front of the chair and taking Q by the shoulder. Gently, he tipped Q’s head back, shaking his shoulder with plaintive determination. “Q,” he said, tone just shy of a demand. “Q.”

His head lolled loosely on his neck, his hair flopping out of his face and revealing an assortment of bruises. Most of the damage was to his left cheek, where the skin was mottled and swollen. There was a cut on his cheek with dried blood trailing from it, matching the flaking rust stains from his nose and cut lip.

His clothes, while stained, were in one piece, which suggested that most of the damage had been done to his head. The blood on his clothes looked alarming, but Bond knew from experience that one good punch to the nose could unleash enough blood to make such a mess. It might just look worse than it was.

Q groaned, trying to roll his head forward again.

Bond didn’t let him. “Q,” he said. “We need you to wake up.”

M was on his knees, too, working at the intricate wires and cords that tied Q to the chair -- and the bomb to Q.

“Two minutes,” M reported. “And counting.”

Bond clenched his jaw, jostling Q again. “Q.”

This time, Q’s eyes fluttered, and he opened his eyes blearily, blinking lazily at the wall behind Bond’s head.

“Q!”

Sluggishly, Q turned his gaze toward Bond, and Bond’s stomach did a small flip. Q’s eyes were clouded, lacking their usual sharpness, and worse -- the pupils were uneven.

A concussion at best.

A brain bleed at worse.

So maybe it was as bad as it looked.

“Q,” Bond said again. “Are you with me?”

In a lot of ways, it was an unfair question. To ask anything of Q at a time like this was alarmingly presumptuous. Bond had assumed without any actual consideration of Q’s injuries or predicament. There was no telling exactly how many times Q had been hit in the head, or just how traumatic the experience had been for him. Q was, after all, not a field agent. He wasn’t trained for combat, and he didn’t do the things Bond did for good reason.

This was a man concerned about a mortgage and two cats.

And here Bond was, asking him to disarm a bomb and save them all while badly concussed.

Some might think it cruel.

For Bond, though, it was part of being on the team.

Q would understand that.

Assuming, of course, he was able.

“Q,” he said again, more vehement this time.

Then, Q’s eyes cleared. Just a little.

Just enough.

His brow creased, pulling at the swollen skin. “Bond?” he asked, voice no more than a croak.

Bond almost smiled with palpable relief. “Are you alright?”

Q’s gaze tracked sluggishly around the room. “Honestly,” he said haltingly. “I don’t think so.”

Bond reached out, tilting Q’s eyes toward the light. The pupils at least responded, albeit slowly and unevenly. “Concussed, no doubt.”

Q winced, his face blanching. “I feel sick,” he said, the words slurring at the end as his head dropped forward.

“Whoa,” Bond said, tipping his head back again. “No sleep for now.”

At this, Q looked genuinely distressed. “But -- my head--”

“Is the only thing that will save us,” Bond said emphatically, tightening his fingers on Q’s shoulder. “We need you, Q. Right now.”

Some might call it emotional manipulation.

They’d be right, naturally.

But it was also true.

Q was the one they needed; his part was his own and perfectly balanced with the rest of them. Q himself would be the first to point that out, ad nauseum, if given the chance.

That wasn’t what mattered, though.

No, what mattered was Bond’s admission.

That he needed help.

That he was part of a team.

That was something Q would never deny.

With obvious effort, he held Bond’s gaze. “Show me,” he said, taking a painful breath, using every bit of strength he had to stay awake. “Tell me what you need.”

Bond couldn’t help but smile.

-o-

“A bomb,” Bond said, having no time or inclination to soften it.

Q’s face contorted. “I’m strapped to a bomb?”

Bond had hoped that this was already self evident to Q, but apparently his head wound was worse than Bond had thought.

“It’s on a timer,” Bond said.

“A timer very short on time,” M said, voice taut.

“Well, who put it there?” Q asked.

“Does that really matter now?” M returned, the tension rising.

Q blinked a few times, as if to regain his bearings. “Yes, I think so,” he said. “If I know who made it, I can better figure out how to disarm it. Every criminal organization and terror cell has their own preferences--”

“It’s homegrown,” Bond said. “Someone not unlike yourself.”

“Except I don’t go putting bombs on people,” Q objected.

“Again, not really time for this--”

Bond took Q by the shoulders again, looking at him level in the eyes. “It’s going to go off in less than two minutes and kill all three of us unless you tell us what to do,” he said as plainly as he could. “I need you to focus. I need you to help.”

It was one thing to appeal to Q’s pride, and another to appeal to his sense of survival.

But the best way to motivate him was to play the personal card.

There was a reason Q gave Bond the leeway to chase down his wayward leads, and there was a reason he showed up in the cold and snow to help out.

That was the beauty of teamwork.

It made people willing to do stupid and heroic things in the name of a greater good.

Trembling slightly, Q managed to nod as precious seconds ticked by. “The trigger mechanism,” he said finally. “Describe it.”

“It’s on a remote switch with a timer backup,” M explained.

Q nodded again, clearly trying to focus himself. “And, um -- the bomb, it’s made from--”

“Simple but powerful,” M supplied. “Enough to take down the building and a full square block around it.”

“Right,” Q said, brow furrowing. He winced, forcing out a breath. “The point is for it to go off, then, and it’s not merely a threat. That means you’d want as many failsafes as possible. Any tampering and…”

He trailed off, eyes going glassy for a moment.

Bond shook him, his own heart start to pound. They could do this, and he knew that. He just wasn’t sure if they could do it in time. “And what?” he growled. “What, Q?”

He roused again. “And so if you cut anything, it’s just going to go off,” he said. “It’s not designed to be disarmed.”

“But you can disarm it,” M surmised. “Can’t you?”

“I--” Q started, but he faltered. “You can’t stop the countdown, and you can’t disable the power source.”

“So it’s impossible to disarm?” Bond asked, willing away the pressure building behind his eyes.

“In essence, yes,” Q said, struggling to keep his gaze straight. “So don’t disarm it.”

Bond gritted his teeth together, and M pressed his lips flat. “We’re down to a minute.”

“Q--” Bond started.

Q’s eyelids fluttered. “You need to make the bomb think it’s already exploded.”

“How?” Bond demanded. He gripped Q again, just a little desperate now. “How?”

It was clearly a struggle for Q now, his consciousness fading in and out. “The -- it’s timing,” he said. “Cut the power source and the trigger mechanism at the same time, and the device thinks it’s detonated.”

“Okay,” Bond said, his adrenaline starting to kick into overdrive. “So we need the power source and the trigger. How do we find those.”

Q’s head started to loll again, but he caught himself. “The power source -- it’s attached to, uh, to a battery or--”

“Got it,” M said.

“Now the trigger?” Bond asked.

“Could be anything, really,” Q said. “Depends on the design specification and the--”

“Q, focus,” Bond said curtly, glancing anxiously at the timer as it ticked down even further. “We’re running out of time--”

“Red,” he blurted, locking his uneven eyes on Bond again. “Because you’d want to remember which wire not to mess with during the construction process, and red’s the most obvious choice.”

Bond looked at the device, then he looked at Q. It seemed too simple; painfully simple. “The red wire? You’re sure?”

But Q was slipping again, head dropping back. With a curse, Bond propped him up. “Q! Q!

“We’re out of time,” M hissed. “We’ll never make it.”

That wasn’t an answer Bond was willing to live with. He hadn’t survived so much, he hadn’t come so far, just to die here, like this. He wa going to come home to Madeleine; he was going to save his friends.

This was what was going to happen.

Because for the first time since he was a child, James Bond was a man with something to lose.

“Q,” Bond said, taking his face in his hands and lifting it forward again. He cupped his chin, pushing the thick hair from his eyes. “Q, tell me the wire to cut.”

Eyes no more than slits, Q tried to draw himself up. He failed, though, breath escaping in a small gasp as he struggled against unconsciousness. “Red wire,” he mumbled. “Red wire--”

It wasn’t much, but Bond had gone on less where Q is involved.

“Ten seconds,” M said, voice starting to crack. “Bond--?”

“Do it,” Bond said, reaching down to take the red wire in his fingers. “On the count of--”

M’s fingers twitched on his wire. “One--”

“Two--”

“Three,” Q said, just loud enough to hear.

Just loud enough to act.

M pulled; Bond yanked.

The timer blinked to zero.

Then, in a quiet, dismantled whir, the whole damn thing shut down.

Bond sat back on his heels; M rubbed a hand through his hair.

“You did it,” Q murmured.

Bond laughed with a short nod as he looks from Q to M and back again. “We did it.”

-o-

The threat was neutralized, and that was usually all that mattered to someone like Bond. But consequences mattered more now, both the big and the little, and sometimes Bond didn’t have the luxury of disappearing into the shadows.

Sometimes he had to stick around, tie up those loose ends.

Sometimes, according to Madeleine, he had to let things get messy.

And this, to be perfectly honest, was very messy.

Bond left quite a trail of bodies on his way in, and now that the scene was contained, they would need medical attention and then legal detention. As far as the hired hands went, most of those would not fall under their jurisdiction, but they would want a team in place to deal with Drollinger before turning him over for prosecution.

Not to mention the fact that they would need to look at what software Drollinger had in place and what backups he still hand. It would all have to be confiscated and analyzed while Drollinger’s overall threat margins were assessed by Tanner and the team back at HQ.

There was also a bomb to deal with, and though it was not at immediate risk of exploding, it was generally considered bad form to leave explosive devices lying around. He’d feel a bit better himself once they were clear of the building.

First things first, though.

The reason Bond was here.

Q.

In the rush of adrenaline not getting killed, the young quartermaster had all but wilted, slumping back in his bonds once more. Now that there was no countdown, Bond set about dealing with the bindings properly.

Pulling out his pocket knife, Bond made quick work of the zip ties around his wrists while M leaned down and did the same at Q’s ankles. They worked in tandem to unfurl the wires from around Q’s body, tossing them next to the discarded bomb.

The change caused Q to shift, almost toppling out of his chair before Bond caught him, propping him upright once more.

“Q,” he said, reaching up to steady the younger man’s chin with his hand. “Q.”

This time, however, Q didn’t quite rouse. He mumbled something, eyelids fluttering before shutting again.

“I’ll get us some backup,” M said, getting hastily to his feet while he rustled around for his phone. “And an ambulance.”

This was probably the most reasonable course of action, but Bond found himself feeling unsettlingly protective. This wasn’t his fault -- he wasn’t even the reason Q was here -- but he still felt a sense of responsibility.

He had a nagging feeling it was that bloody teamwork thing. It was a weakness just as much as it was a strength, and the thought of letting Q out of his sight right now was surprisingly unattractive.

“Come on,” Bond said, focus on Q again. “Time to go.”

It was not a request, but then again, Bond didn’t make requests. At least, not like other people did.

Q had come to understand this, in his own way.

That was why, at the very least, he tried to comply.

The sounds out of Q’s mouth weren’t quite words, and he made a yelp of protest when Bond hauled him to his feet. He wavered badly, legs not quite supporting him, but Bond steadied him with determination while Q’s knees figured out how to lock again, and he lifted his head to blink sleepily at Bond again.

“007?” he asked, sounding confused.

Bond managed a tight smile, drawing Q’s arm around his shoulders. He had to stoop a little, but he tightened his grip and made it work. “You ready to get out of here?”

Q looked around, as if trying to remember what had happened mere minutes before. M was still on the phone, tying up Drollinger and his goons, just to be safe. When Q looked back at Bond, he was vaguely stunned. “We’re not dead.”

“Not for a lack of trying, anyway,” Bond mused, taking a step.

Clumsily, Q followed along. “It’s funny,” he said, words still running together as he stumbled beside Bond.

“I’m not sure I get the punchline,” Bond admitted.

Q shook his head. “I thought, all those years ago, when we first met,” he said. “I thought you’d be the one to get me killed.”

Bond’s brow darkened as he pulled Q along another step. “I’m still not sure--”

Q came to a sudden stop, almost staggering as he lifted his head to look at Bond. “But the moment I was taken -- that very moment -- I knew it’d be you who’d save me.”

It was more than Bond expected; more than he was, in fact, comfortable with. This wasn’t what they did; this wasn’t what Bond knew.

But he was a quick study.

And, these days, he had pretty good incentive.

Q smiled sloppily. “You found me,” he said, far, far too earnest. The bruises on his face didn’t help; neither did the uneven pupils. He looked like he was 12. He sounded even younger. “You saved me.”

Bond smirked mirthlessly. “You’re very badly concussed,” he said, trying to nudge Q along. “I doubt you’ll remember this by tomorrow.”

But Q didn’t budge. “And you disarmed the bomb!” he exclaimed, sounding positively impressed.

“Well, you did talk me through it,” Bond replied.

“But pulling that blue wire!” Q said. “That takes courage.”

That was all well and good, and Bond was about to cajole Q another step when he stopped. Q was still watching him, eyes almost filled with tears of apparent wonder and adoration. “Wait,” Bond said. “The blue wire?”

Q’s head bobbed up and down in an exaggerated motion.

“But you said red,” Bond told him, hoping this was just a misunderstanding, a sign of Q’s quite obvious concussion.

Q’s face screwed up, pulling at his split lip. “Red’s too obvious,” he said. “If you’re rigging a trap, you want to switch out the process. You’d make the red a failsafe, sure thing.”

For a moment, all Bond can do was stare. It was not a comforting thought, that if Q had been in his right mind, they probably would all be dead. It was somewhat more comforting, however, to realize that for as smart as someone like Drollinger was, Q was always going to be smarter.

After all, Drollinger had made the obvious choice -- in everything.

That had been his undoing.

Bond, Q, M -- Moneypenny and Tanner. They were making the less obvious choice.

And that was what made the difference.

“Come on,” Bond said, pulling Q along another step. The younger man faltered, color draining from his face as he slipped again, head flopping against Bond’s shoulder. The extra weight was notable, but it wasn’t too much.

It would never be too much.

Q shivered, fingers clutching at Bond’s jacket as they continued on. “I knew you’d come,” he mumbled again, his coherency slipping once more.

“I know,” Bond said, reassuring and certain as he mostly carried Q another step. “I know.”

-o-

Having friends was useful, that much had been clear to Bond for awhile.

Having a friend in the head of the 007 program?

Was infinitely convenient sometimes.

M’s clout was impressive, and Bond knew it comes with a price, but he had never been more grateful than he was at this very moment. There were already operatives on the scene by the time Bond dragged Q outside, and just as the younger man was going absolutely slack at his side, there was an ambulance with a stretcher waiting for them.

He released his burden quickly, not because Q was actually a burden but because Bond knew his own limitations. He was a competent field medic -- he had stitched up his share of cuts and bullet wounds -- but he found there are increasingly some things he’d rather not risk.

A young, lanky quartermaster being one of them.

Besides, he reminded himself, it was entirely pragmatic. Bond had done his part. It was time to let someone else do theirs.

Pragmatism aside, it wasn’t easy, standing aside and watching the medics assess Q. He lingered closer than he probably should, watching as they check Q’s vitals and try to rouse him with marginal success. As they moved him toward an ambulance, Bond made no attempt to follow and pulled out his phone instead.

Bond had done his part.

Almost.

This was where it was complicated now, because Bond wasn’t just part of a team. He was part of a relationship, and Bond had lost one of those before. He wasn’t sure how he’d fare if he lost another.

Madeleine answered after the first ring. “I got a call from the police telling me our house had been burgled,” she said, voice a mix of worry and accusation. “What have you been up to?”

Bond was not hurt, but he winced anyway. “I was going to call you,” he said, and it was almost the truth. He was going to call her -- as soon as he remembered that he was supposed to.

“That still doesn’t answer the question,” she replied.

“It’s not as bad as you think,” he said, turning away from the swarm of operatives working to secure the area.

“So you didn’t kill anyone?” she asked.

“Well, they did try to kill me first,” Bond said.

“Should I be concerned about that?” she wondered.

“Not particularly,” he replied. “This wasn’t about us, necessarily.”

“Then why did break into our flat?” she pressed.

“It’s complicated,” Bond said. “A few loose ends that hadn’t been tied up. We can blame M for this one, actually.”

“So if the house was burgled, then where are you now?” she asked.

“I wasn’t the only target,” Bond explained. “Someone went after M’s team.”

The shift in Madeleine’s voice was immediate. “Are they okay? Moneypenny and Tanner--”

“Fine and fine,” he said.

“And Q?” she asked.

At that, he hesitated, glancing to where the ambulance was starting to pull away, the sirens just now turning on. “We got him out,” he said finally. “Which means this is wrapped up. Do you want me to come pick you up?”

“What?” she asked. “They weren’t after us, though.”

“I know, but I thought--”

She sighed audibly. “I’m glad you’re okay,” she said. “But I’m not the one who needs you right now.”

He frowned. “But I thought--”

“That I needed the fantasy?” she asked, voice sounding rueful. “It’s a nice fantasy, and I appreciated your efforts. But, after everything, I don’t want the fantasy. For now, I can live with the reality.”

“Which is…”

“Which is you,” she said. “And them. What you do, it’s not pretty or clean. But neither of us can walk away, not really.”

He hedged, not sure if he wanted to believe her or not. “You’re sure?”

“Positive,” she said, and he can hear her smiling now. “Tell you what, I’ll make dinner tonight.”

He was smiling now, too, because everyone thought they wanted the fantasy. Even Bond, when he wasn’t quite drunk enough to forget, clung to the dream of what could have been, the life he should have had with Vespa. Or even the fractured childhood that left him alone and scared.

There was no question, things could have been different.

But, for the moment, he was hard pressed to see how they might have been better.

“All right,” he said, calmness settling in his chest as his smile inevitably widened. “I’ll see you then.”

-o-

There would be files and reports and debriefings about this entire ordeal, but for now, there were other priorities. Once the scene was thoroughly under the control of MI6, Bond eased his way out of the scene. In the car, he considered -- however briefly -- going into HQ. There would be plenty to do, but somehow he knew that wasn’t where he needed to go.

No, if he was going to be part of the team, then he was going to be invested. They were still one man down, and Bond couldn’t rightly see starting the paperwork when he didn’t even know the outcome yet.

The hospital, in truth, was more off putting than any of the other perilous scenarios Bond had been in throughout the day. The nurses were overworked and distracted, and no one seemed inclined to tell him anything. When he couldn’t find out anything concrete about Q, Bond decided that being a spy was more than killing people.

To the contrary, Bond had a wide array of skills that could be used to his particular advantage. True, he was usually sussing out criminals and terrorists, but he’d steal hospital files if it suited him.

Today, of all days, it suited him.

It was, naturally, not that difficult. The nurses, as Bond had previously noted, were busy and distracted, which meant no one had time to give him a second look as he found Q’s records in the closest computer. Now, Bond was no doctor, but he had been subjected to enough physical examinations to know what was what on an x-ray and a head CT, and the doctor’s notes were plain enough to understand.

A bad concussion with signs of bruising but no indication of bleeding. All other contusions and abrasions were superficial, but they wanted to keep Q for at least 24 hours or more until he was able to stay conscious and coherent for an extended period of time. Recovery might be a bit slow, but there was no indication that there would be lasting damage.

Bond found this both reassuring and distressing for some reason. He made a mental note of Q’s room number and turned to leave when he saw M, standing behind him.

“You’re supposed wait for the nurses to help you,” M lectured tiredly.

Bond shrugged, unconcerned with the accusation. “They had other things to do.”

M looked like he wanted to continue to lecture Bond. About what, it was not clear, because they both knew that the real problem wasn’t Bond’s breach of medical legalities. Instead, he sighed, face drawn heavily. “How is he?”

“Fine, more or less,” Bond said. “The concussion is severe, but it’s nothing he can’t recover from.”

M nodded, almost relieved. “Sometimes it seems like we have a low bar for success.”

“Or a high one,” Bond said. “Depends how you look at it.”

At that, M looked away, running a hand through his hair. When he turned back toward Bond, he looked older somehow. Tired. “This shouldn’t have happened--”

“Our line of work--”

M shook his head, adamant. “This was personal, and that’s my fault,” he said. “I let him -- I let you all--”

“We work well together,” Bond said, because he had tried to figure it out himself. He had tried to understand how it happened, why it still happened. Why none of them quite knew how to walk away. “Some things just work.”

“I have half a mind to reassign all of you,” he said. “Spread you out through the organization. It’s a mistake, sometimes, to crowd your best talent.”

Bond lifted his shoulders diffidently. “I’m sure that’s in line with security protocols.”

“Yes, it is,” M said, matter of fact.

Notably, he didn’t say anything else.

Bond was left to hedge. “But you’re not going to do it,” he presumed.

M sighed, heavier than before. “Security suggests that static teams are a liability,” he explained. “That personal connections can and will be exploited.”

There was no denying that. Especially not now. “In this case, perhaps.”

“Yes, and this case is a strong consideration,” M continued. “But so are the other cases. Everything from Blofield to Silva -- we’ve saved a lot of people, Bond. In the end, we’ve done more good than harm, and I can’t say that I’d trade this incident for all the rest.”

Bond paused, inclining his head. “So, what’s the problem, then?”

“Personal connections,” he said, somewhat helplessly. “When I found out that you and Moneypenny had been attacked -- when we nearly lost Q -- I can’t help but think--”

“Nearly,” Bond interjected.

M faltered.

“Nearly,” Bond repeated, more steadfast than before. “And I think Q would be the first to say he doesn’t regret this.”

“And you, Bond?” M asked. “Do you regret this?”

It was a question he’d thought about, one that had run through his head every day since he left with Madeleine. Did he regret the easy targets in his life? Did he regret that every time they agreed to help him, he was implicitly agreeing to return the favor? Did he regret that just when he’d found a reason to walk away, he’d found every reason to stay? Did he regret that this was no longer clean like it used to be?

Did he regret that this had changed him already? That it would, invariably, change him more?

He collected himself, offering back a rueful smile. “It’s not what I expected, that’s for sure.”

M almost laughed, a short huff of air as he shook his head again. “So?”

“So,” Bond said, slow and even. Sure. “I think I’m going to go up to Q’s room and wait for a bit.”

“And the rest?” M prompted, though he probably knew the answer.

“Well, for the rest,” Bond said with a nonchalant shrug. “I think maybe you’ll see me at work tomorrow.”

He smiled, tipping his head politely as he passed by. He didn't look back, but that didn't mean he missed the relief that washed over M’s face as he smiled back.

-o-

Somehow, inexplicably, the next 24 hours were more complicated than the last. Bond did, indeed, make sure that Q was conscious, but the other man slept so much that Bond saw no need to stay. They were friends, after all, but bedside vigils were not Bond’s thing. He had changed, but not that much.

He checked in at the office instead, where he found Tanner and Moneypenny buried in files, frantically scrambling to check every one of Drollinger’s assets and connections over the last five years. Although Bond tried to help, it was very evident to him that this was not where he was needed.

Everyone had their place, and no matter what changed, Bond still knew his.

When he got home, the flat was remarkably clean and dinner was burned on the stove.

Madeleine apologized. “I’d forgotten how poorly I am at the stove,” she admitted. “But your friends did a good job cleaning up at least.”

“Well,” he said coyly, wrapping his arms around her. “I am only friends with the best.”

She tweaked her eyebrows. “Present company included?”

He leaned down to kiss her. “Very, very included.”

She moaned just a little, kissing him back. “Dinner really is dreadful.”

He was already running his hands under his shirt. “We all have our strengths,” he murmured, fiddling with the clasp on her bra. “And trust me when I say that yours does not have to be in the kitchen.”

She was grinning now, fingers trailing along the waist of his pants. “And where is it, then?”

He scooped her up, half carrying her to the bedroom. “Come on,” he said while she giggled wildly. “Let me show you.”

-o-

Bond got up with the sun. He laid in bed, watching Madeleine sleep. When she stirred, he leaned over, kissing her. She settled on her back, smiling up at him in the dawn. “Up so early?” she murmured.

“Afraid so,” he said. “Work, you know.”

She sighed contentedly, letting her eyes close. “Call if you’ll be late,” she said. “Or, you know, if you’re going to leave the continent.”

“Will do,” he replied, kissing her again before he slipped out of bed.

-o-

It was a familiar thing, going back to the office. A bit like he’d never left. For a man with so few ties to anything, it’d always felt like coming home.

Not the building, of course. That had changed and evolved more than he had.

But the people.

Moneypenny and Tanner were still at it -- and by the looks of it, it seemed as if they’d never stopped. M was overseeing them now, weary and worn. He looked like he could use a shave.

And a very strong drink.

Bond, for what it was worth, tried to help.

But the files and the research -- to be frank, it wasn’t really his area of expertise. He still felt compelled, somehow, to offer what help he could.

It was mid morning when M cleared his throat and eyed Bond through the melee of files.

“You know, they’re releasing Q today,” he said.

Bond perked up at this. “Oh?”

Tanner paused, glancing at his watch. “Yes, we did get confirmation of that late last night -- or early this morning, whichever you prefer.”

“So he’s been given a clean bill of health?” Bond asked without sounding too expectant.

“Not hardly,” Moneypenny said, more than a little bitter. “He’ll be on medical leave for a few weeks, at least, but they think he’ll be well enough to finish his recovery at home.”

Bond raised his eyebrows. “They think?”

“To be fair, we did push for that,” Tanner said with an apologetic shrug. “He’s going to get bored in the hospital, and I can’t even imagine what he’ll try to hack if we leave him cooped up in there.”

“It’s also impossible to fully secure a hospital,” Moneypenny said.

“Yes, we’ve already enlisted some upgrades for Q’s flat,” Tanner added. “Something a bit more tangible, not that I expect any of us will go anywhere without looking over our shoulders for some time now.”

Banter -- that was what they called it. That was what made it familiar, what made it comfortable.

M was still watching him, nodding his head keenly. “He will, however, need a ride.”

Bond kept his expression impassive.

“Maybe if you’d be willing,” M suggested.

He made it sound like Bond would be doing them all a favor.

Bond suspected it was a little bit of the reverse.

Spreading his hands on the arms of his chair, Bond pushed himself up. “Well,” he said, nodding to them each. He smiled. “Anything for the team.”

-o-

As much as Bond was relieved to be out of the massive ad-hoc research session on the HQ, he had to admit a certain amount of trepidation as he arrived at the hospital. Somehow, charging in to face a hostage situation was easier for him than coming face to face with someone he might consider a friend in a neutral context.

This anxiety, though well controlled, became more pronounced as he got to Q’s room. When the younger man actually looked him in the eye, Bond had the most peculiar desire to leave as fast as possible, and it took a great deal of his self control to act like his arrival was entirely nonchalant.

Thankfully, he and Q were adept at understated, witty repartee.

“You’re looking...better,” Bond said.

Q gave an effusive snort. “For a spy, you’re a particularly bad liar,” he said, adjusting his glasses over his damaged now. The bruises on his face had settled today, deepening their appearance and making the head wound even more pronounced.

“Last time I saw you, you were still in a hospital gown,” Bond noted, somewhat glad to see that someone had brought Q a fresh pair of clothes and that his bloodstained jumper was nowhere in sight.

Zipping up his bag, Q smiled faintly. “I don’t remember any of that, honestly,” he said. “But I’m sure it’s safe to assume that I can thank you for the fact that I’m alive.”

“It was a team effort,” Bond said.

Q nodded, steadying himself for a moment. His forehead wrinkled, and he closed his eyes before sitting down on the bed again.

“Q?” Bond asked, not sure if he should move forward to help or not.

Q shook his head, though, opening his eyes again. “Unfortunately, being better than yesterday only means that I remember how bad I feel from one moment to the next,” he said with dry humor. “If you’ve come to take my statement, I’m afraid it’s still going to be a little spotty.”

“I’m not here on official business,” Bond told him.

Q actually looked surprised.

Bond shrugged deflectively. “Not exactly, anyway,” he said, easing his way a little farther into the room. “But officially speaking, you may be seeing more of me.”

“What happened to retirement?” Q asked.

“Well someone has to make sure you don’t get yourself killed,” Bond pointed out.

“Oh, no,” Q objected. “You can’t blame it on me.”

“No, I suppose I can’t,” Bond agreed. “Madeleine sends her regards, by the way.”

“So she’s--”

“She knows who I am,” he replied. “And we’re both ready to accept that.”

Q nodded for a moment before trying to get to his feet again. He moved slowly, breathing through his nose as he got completely vertical. “It’s not the same without you, you know.”

“You miss me?” Bond asked glibly.

“I miss having to outfit a new car for you after you destroy the old ones every other mission,” Q quipped in return. “The other agents, they’re so much more boring compared to you. None of their equipment ever blows up.”

“Well, I think you hold out on me,” Bond said. “Giving the other agents the better gadgets.”

“You’re going to critique my technical expertise? Today?” Q complained.

“Ah, well,” Bond said. “Later, then.”

Q rolled his shoulders lightly, marginally miffed. “I’m glad my injuries have warranted some reprieve at least. I’d hate to think all I went through was entirely in vain.”

“You got me back in HQ,” Bond pointed. “That’s something.”

Q’s lips twitched up into a smile. “Yes, that is something.”

Looking out the window, Bond rocked back on his heels, putting his hands in his pockets. “It’s all reminded me, though,” he said, casually as he could. “You do lack field experience.”

“That’s because I’m not a field operative,” Q pointed out.

“I’m afraid enemies may not always see that distinction,” Bond said.

Q sighed. “I know I messed up the security--”

Bond held up a hand.

Q fell silent, his cool facade faltering.

“We all have a part to play, and we play our parts well,” he said. “But we can learn from each other as much as we can support each other.”

Q closed his mouth, jaw twitching for a second. “Meaning?”

“Meaning I can train you,” he said. “Teach you a little about hand-to-hand or firearms.”

“I know the theory--”

“And I can help with the application,” Bond said. “It’s a fantasy to think that something like this won’t happen again.”

“But isn’t that why I have you to back me up?” Q asked lightly.

“And if I need you to back me up?” Bond returned.

The color drained a little more from Q’s face.

“Besides,” Bond said. “It’ll be fun. A little bonding outside of work.”

At that, Q’s brow furrowed even deeper than before. “Are you trying to be--” he started, then stopped. “Are you trying to be my friend?”

Bond frowned. “Well, not if you’re going to make a thing of it--”

“No, it’s good--”

“I was just offering--”

“It’s good,” Q said again, more firmly now. He attempted a smile. “A little training. I can probably make do with that.”

It was a quiet, subtle concession. It was an understated acceptance that they both understood. It was how things moved forward and stayed the same, all at once.

Bond smiled. “Very good, then,” he said. “You ready to get out of here?”

Q gathered a breath and picked up his bag. He wavered again, but caught himself quickly. “If you’re driving, then yes.”

“Naturally,” he said. “Just wait until you see the car.”

Groaning, Q made his way out, Bond just a step behind. Closer than normal, but maybe not quite as close as he’d like. This wasn’t the path he’d thought he’d be taking, not yesterday or a month ago. Not a year ago or ten years ago. Not even when he was a boy and he still had a family to call his own.

In a lot of ways, he still wasn’t sure what this exactly was, but there was no need to define it, not really.

Bond had made a career -- made a life -- out of walking away, out of no loose ends, out of messes for someone else to clean up. He’d made simple rules -- hard rules, yes, but simple rules more -- and he’d stuck to them, doggedly, no matter what.

It wasn’t that it was easy, living like that. No, he couldn’t quite count the cost or capture just what it did to a man to eschew all connections and live with no strings attached. Over the course of his life, he’d walked away from a lot of things that mattered, a lot of things that could have been, a lot of things he wanted but didn’t know how to accept.

He’d walked away to protect himself, to protect others. He’d walked away because he didn’t know what else to do.

But he couldn’t walk away from this.

At least, he didn’t want to.

Because having a team was the first time in his life when the reality was better than the fantasy.

Comments

Posted by: sendintheclowns (sendintheklowns)
Posted at: December 25th, 2015 03:31 am (UTC)
Q & 007

Concussed Q is a thing of beauty.

I liked the red wire vs. blue wire intrigue. Very cool!

Thank you so much for spoiling me with lovely h/c fic. You're the best :D

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