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James Bond (spectre) fic: Between the Idea and the Reality (1/2)

December 22nd, 2015 (12:59 pm)
uncomfortable

feeling: uncomfortable

Title: Between the Idea and the Reality

Disclaimer: I do not own anything related to James Bond or Spectre.

A/N: This is my Christmas gift for sendintheklowns. She has consistently been the best possible friend to me, and every year I am increasingly grateful for her awesomeness. She loves Q, and my muse was happy to oblige her.

A/N 2: This is set post movie with spoilers thereof. I also make no promises that Bond is remotely in character. I have no beta, so this is as is. It conveniently fills my skeletons in the closet prompt for hc_bingo.

Summary: Being a team had got them into this mess. It was going to have to get them out of it, too.



-o-

There was a fantasy amongst spies; it was even more prevalent with assassins. The idea of it, that there could be one last job and then retirement. Leaving the game for the simple life.

Lovely, in theory.

Walking away from the tawdry details, washing away the blood on your hands once and for all.

The stuff movies were made of.

Problem was, of course, that life went on after the credits rolled, and the simple life was only for the naive. To be clear, Bond did not resent the naive, nor did he look condescendingly upon the ignorant. Their choice was, overall, their greatest asset, and if it left them vulnerable, they were, quite sincerely, better for it.

No, the point was not that Bond craved the simple life.

It was simply that he knew he’d never have it.

Even when he wasn’t doing the job, he had to be doing the job. Because, at some point, the job would probably be to do him and leave all the rest for naught.

That said, Bond was disappointed when it happened.

Six months he’d spent with Madeleine, living under the radar in London. His alias was simple and clean, and while Madeleine had insisted upon a job for herself -- she had to keep busy, or what was the point of anything -- he had been quite happy to make a life for himself as a house husband, if ever there were such a thing. She had protested, pointing out that she wasn’t asking him to change. He was a spy, she had told him, and she’d accepted that so he might as well, too.

Still, the fantasy is more alluring than Bond had realized.

Bond cooked; he tended the garden. He cleaned. He was a familiar face at the market down the street, and the neighbors called him by name.

Rather, a name. It wasn’t like he was going to admit to being James Bond, after all.

All of this was an intriguing distraction that Bond indulged with extreme efficiency. It was more productive than locking himself in a room with a bottle, and really, it was just the backdrop for Madeleine’s well being.

She wasn’t deluded; she knew they would never be normal. But there was a reason she’d never stopped working, and a reason she’d agreed to move in with him in the first place. Because they all wanted the fantasy, even a version of it made for spies and their relatives.

To that end, Bond would play his part well. Happy boyfriend, waiting each night with a warm dinner and an even warmer bed.

And, of course, all the rest of his time? When he wasn’t cooking or cleaning or gardening?

He spent making sure the fantasy could exist.

He checked their security system and made daily visual sweeps of the block. Those trips to the market were not merely for fresh fruit and vegetables, but to scout the area for any signs of change. He had mentally catalogue every person who frequented the street, and he knew their patterns and their habits. He knew their names and their jobs and their aspirations -- not because he was a good neighbor.

No, he knew these things because he was a good spy.

And he knew -- he knew -- that someday, someone would come for them, and he swore to himself that he would be ready.

Hence his disappointment.

Bond was ready for a true professional, someone invested for the long haul. He expected someone to scout out his flat for months before making their move. Or, at the very least, to bring a heavy arsenal to back them up when they finally struck out.

The duo of men who circled his apartment failed on both fronts. They were strangers, and they were dressed like common burglars. It was glaringly obvious that they didn’t belong, and Bond wouldn’t be surprised if someone called the police on them before they even made it inside Bond’s fence.

Moreover, as they traipsed through his flower beds, they were loud. He actually heard them scuffling; their hushed whispers were audible through the open window. And, worse, they loaded their guns within earshot of the home.

They were so obvious that Bond almost felt remiss taking counter measures. It was just too easy.

Predictably, they came up by the back. Bond was already there, poised at the door. When the first one snuck through, Bond let him get all the way inside before slamming the door while the second entered. There was an oof and a distinctive clatter as the man went down, gun skittering from his grasp.

The first man turned, but as he pulled the trigger, Bond grabbed his hand, directing it away. A bullet clipped the ceiling, and Bond used his momentum to elbow the man in the face. Blood spurted and the man fumbled, but he didn’t go down. He brought his gun up to bear, and Bond kicked him, sending him backward.

As the man recovered, the second man was on his hands and knees. He staggered, reaching for the gun, and in the flurry, the two men bumped into each other, the gun going off.

Nowhere near Bond, but the first man faltered, face going slack as he slid to the floor.

Shot with his own gun in the chest.

Dead before he hit the ground.

The second man balked, a small noise coming out of his mouth.

He looked at Bond, face blank for an instant before it contorted with rage.

Bond almost sighed.

Rage was a dangerous emotion. In the right man, it could fuel brilliance.

In the wrong one, however, it usually only prompted stupidity.

The second man reached for the gun.

Bond was on him in an instant, kicking him in the chin to send him sprawling. As good as the kick was, it wasn’t enough, and in his desperation, the man reached up, pulling Bond down with him. This was not preferable but not anything too difficult, and Bond rolled with him until they hit the wall. He was already thinking about the possible ways to incapacitate the attacker when he saw the second gun.

So did the man.

Frantic, the man lunged for it, eagerly turning it toward Bond.

Foolish, of course.

To assume that just because Bond led with his fists in this instance that he was unarmed.

Bond was never unarmed.

Not in the garden, not in the market, not when he went jogging.

And not when he was being stalked by two pisspoor assassins.

He fired before the other man even had a chance to aim.

Single shot, to the head.

It was instinct to shoot to kill.

The good news was that he had eliminated the immediate threat.

The bad news was that he had also eliminated his most lucrative source of information about the greater threat.

Because no one ever just sent one assassin.

No, if Bond wanted this to be done, he would have to track it back to the source.

He sighed, looking at the two felled men.

They were poor assassins, no doubt.

But they might prove to be useful leads.

-o-

Their technique left something to be wanting, but Bond was relieved that they at least had the sense to have nothing on them. This meant that they were badly trained but not wholly incompetent. This probably shouldn’t have mattered to him one way or another, but Bond found poor spies to be personally insulting. Those who had the means and motive for this line of work needed to have the wherewithal to do it right.

And yes, Bond was aware of the irony.

It was neither here nor there, because the lack of identification also meant Bond had no way of tracking them. There was nothing to suggest an identity on either man except one cell phone.

Pulling up the contacts list, Bond was not surprised to find it empty. This was a burner phone, no doubt, which meant that it would have little to concretely identify anything.

Quickly, Bond switched to the call history. There was only one call -- incoming -- right before the attack started.

Bond’s lips twisted in a rueful smile as he redialed the number.

Two rings, and a voice on the other end answered. “Is it done?”

The question was desperate enough to be a demand and a question all at once. The lack of professionalism suggested that this wasn’t a trained criminal mastermind. Moreover, this probably wasn’t someone who had done this sort of thing before. A novice, perhaps.

Which made the fact that he’d found Bond in the first place all the more disconcerting.

“Who is this?” Bond asked. There was a time for intrigue and old-fashioned detective work, but this wasn’t it. He had a lead; he intended to pursue it. Now.

There was a hesitation. “Ah,” the man said finally, trying to sound completely collected. He almost succeeded, but not quite. “Mr. Bond, I should not be surprised to hear your voice.”

He shouldn’t have been surprised.

He still was.

Bond got to his feet, pacing out of the kitchen and away from the dead bodies. “Who is this?” he asked again, even more to the point.

“Well,” the man hedged -- and he was a man, not old, not young. Not someone used to leadership positions -- his voice wavered just slightly -- and he lacked an innate authority in his tone. “Let’s just say we have mutual friends.”

Bond checked through the blinds at the front of the house, scoping out the street, just to be safe. “I don’t have many friends,” he said, turning back toward the kitchen. He thought briefly about Madeleine at work, but if the hit on him was scheduled for the daytime, then he was probably the target, not her.

“True, true,” the man said. “But you do have enemies, yes? And skeletons in the closet? Rattling around?”

Bond drew a breath, taking the weapons from the dead men and tucking them in his own jacket. “You didn’t send two men to talk to me, you sent them to kill me,” he said icily. “Now I’d like you to tell me why you’re after me.”

“That’s the thing, Mr. Bond,” the man said, voice steadying now. “I’m not after you. Not really.”

“The two dead men in my kitchen suggest otherwise,” Bond returned.

“You’re not the only one with skeletons in the closet,” the man said. “In fact, most of your skeletons are actually dead. Some of your friends, however….”

Bond’s jaw tightened. He’d survived worse than this, but he had no tolerance for personal vendettas. On the job, assassins tried to kill each other. It came with the territory. At home, it was personal.

And Bond was not going to tolerate personal. “You’re still not answering the question.”

“And you’re not listening,” the man said. “This isn’t personal, not between us. I have no qualms with what you do or how you do it.”

Bond shook his head. “Then why?”

“Pity,” the man said. “But at least M can say he has his agents trained well. We’ll have to see how the rest of his little band of loyal employees fare.”

Before Bond could ask a question, the call ended.

Gritting his teeth together, Bond tossed the phone back on the floor. The man wouldn’t answer again, and besides, he’d told Bond what he needed to know.

This wasn’t about him.

This was about M.

So he was the target.

And Bond was the leverage.

A target like M, though, would have plenty of leverage. Other agents…

We’ll have to see how the rest of his little band of loyal employees fare.

Not just agents.

His little band of loyal employees.

Because the 00 program wasn’t just made up of assassins. There was an entire support staff, necessarily in place to provide assistance at all points of an agent’s career. Personal assistants, staff directors, technical support.

Moneypenny; Tanner; Q.

All leverage points with someone like M.

And none as well trained as Bond.

Stepping over the bodies, Bond already had his phone out as he made his way out the door.

-o-

An assassin never worked in an office, but they had a great deal of practical and employable skills. For instance, Bond was exceptionally good at project management and multitasking. He was able to identify very quickly was what most important and most practical, implementing an efficient plan of attack to promote overall productivity.

At least, that was what Madeleine had explained to him when she suggested he think about getting a real job.

Bond had passed on the job searching, but she was right about his skills. Bond knew what to do and when to do it, especially in times of crisis.

To point, Bond had to know who to call and where to go.

With someone like M, there was hundreds of employees to consider. Coming from the public sector, M had some training in combat, but he was not specifically a spy. This meant he had also personal connections as well. However, if someone was exploiting Bond, then this vendetta was professional. You didn’t go after the top rated spy when there was a soft target sitting around unless you had a good reason.

More than that, how did someone pick and choose which employees to target? They had to be ones with a strong connection to M, a prominent connection. M, as far as Bond knew, was professional with all of his employees and he invested in all of them as much as he could. No one would ever be able to make charges of favoritism stick, but it wasn’t hard to see who he relied on most.

Moneypenny, his assistant.

Tanner, his chief of staff.

Q, his quartermaster.

And Bond, the spy he could count on to do what was necessary no matter what.

They had formed quite the team, the five of them, and that wasn’t a bond that was easily broken.

It was, however, a bond that could be exploited.

Getting into his car, Bond dialed M.

Mid morning, M would be in the office or in cabinet meetings. He could hope for the former.

“Yes?” M asked, answering with no preamble.

“M,” Bond said, trying not to sound as relieved as he was. Professionalism be damned; there were too few good men in his line of work. He hated to lose allies. He hated to lose friends. “Is the office secure?”

“Bond?” M asked, sounding surprised but pleasantly so. “What--”

“Someone came after me,” Bond said because there was no time for pleasantries now. “Said they were after you.”

M’s voice hardened instantly. As affable as M was, there was a reason he’d been named as the head of the 00 program. “Any leads?” he asked, focused and on point.

“Not yet, but I have two dead men in my flat,” Bond said. “I have reason to expect I wasn’t the only target. Is Tanner there?”

“Yes, he’s in a meeting with me now,” M said, and there was faint rustling in the background of the call. Tanner taking notes, no doubt. Getting on his own phone.

“Good,” Bond said. “Keep him close. What about Moneypenny and Q?”

There was a small pause. “Moneypenny isn’t in yet,” he replied. The disappointment was audible in his voice. “Neither is Q.”

Starting the car, Bond pulled it away from the curb. “Moneypenny doesn’t live far from me,” he said. “I’ll go by her place.”

“Mr. Tanner is already calling Q,” M reported.

Bond turned hard, squealing his tires as he sped down the street. “After I secure Moneypenny, I’ll stop by Q’s place, too.”

“We can send out a team--”

“Too risky at this point,” Bond said. “We don’t know who exactly is a target.”

“We’ll have to do a head count--”

“And start looking for the skeletons in your closet,” Bond advised, taking another fast turn. “And see which one has come back to life.”

-o-

Bond knew where Moneypenny lived because of course he knew where Moneypenny lived. These things came up, and he’d never been over for drinks or dinner, but she was one of the few people he trusted in this world. Memorizing her address and phone number had been second nature more than anything else.

His ability to get through daytime traffic to her place in five minutes, however, was actually impressive.

Not that Bond was prone to bragging.

Not that he had time to brag right now.

He parked sloppily in front of her building, daring someone to stop him. He was out of his car, jumping past the pedestrians as he pushed into the front door and started to scale the stairs two at a time.

Third floor, naturally. Just to make things more dramatic.

That wasn’t true, though. Bond knew better; Moneypenny knew better. The third floor flat was no mistake.

No, it was a good vantage point, harder to infiltrate.

Harder, but not impossible.

When he reached the third floor landing, he noticed it immediately. The shift in atmosphere.

Subtle, but telling. Quiet; still. Unnaturally so.

Bond slowed, checking his position as he went, passing doorway after doorway.

Then, at Moneypenny’s door, he saw the broken lock.

The door, just slightly open.

And then, he heard the gunshot.

Bond didn’t need an invitation.

His own gun out, he charged inside, poised and ready to fire.

He was greeted, however, with the barrel of a gun.

And Moneypenny’s breathless face behind it.

“Bond,” she said, letting out a ragged breath as her aim dropped. “What the hell is going on?”

Bond blinked, and it was his turn to be surprised. Moneypenny was frazzled and tired but whole. No bullet wounds; not a scratch on her.

“Came out of nowhere, just after my boyfriend left,” she explained, putting the safety back on her gun. She stepped aside, looking behind her where two bodies were sprawled on the ground. Her gaze back to him was quizzical. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to rescue you,” he admitted, just a touch sheepish.

Moneypenny snorted. “I was a field agent, remember?”

Bond put his gun away, straightening his jacket. “I certainly won’t forget again.”

She smirked. “Your concern is overwhelming,” she said. “But that still doesn’t answer the question: what the hell is going on?”

“Someone is going after M through his people,” he said. “I had the same wake up call this morning as you.”

Moneypenny’s brow furrowed. “But why us?”

“I suspect Tanner and Q are targets, too,” Bond said.

She tilted her head. “The team from the Spectre mission--”

He nodded grimly, pulling out his phone. “Seems that way,” he said, dialing M again.

“Bond, Moneypenny--” M answered.

“She’s fine,” Bond said. “The two men at her flat are not, though.”

“Thank God,” M said, audibly letting out a sigh. “Tanner’s been on the phone trying to get ahold of Q.”

“Any luck?” Bond said.

“Nothing,” M said. “I’ve dispatched a team--”

“Don’t bother,” Bond said. “I’m on my way.”

He hung up, looking at Moneypenny. “Go into the office.”

“What?” she asked. “No--”

“You need to get in, help run the investigation,” he said.

“But if someone went after Q--”

Bond gave her a small, deadly smile. “Then they’ll have to deal with me.”

-o-

The idea of having Moneypenny as backup was tempting.

It was also a sentimental indulgence he couldn’t afford.

Besides, the quality of these assassins didn’t warrant two field agents, especially not when both were already targets themselves. No, they needed to minimize and contain before reconvening at HQ to figure out what the hell was going on.

All he had to do was pick up Q and meet the others there.

It was that simple.

Bond reminded himself of that while he took a turn at 50 miles per hour on a residential street and blew past a red light.

They’d figure this out.

Together.

The street number came up faster than he expected, and he slammed on the breaks. A small group of birds scattered from the street, and a woman walking down the street glared at him.

Bond jumped out of the car, smiling politely. “Singing telegram,” he told her as he ran by. “Can’t be late.”

-o-

Unlike Moneypenny, who smartly rented her third floor flat under an alias, Q owned a townhouse under his own name. A mortgage and three cats, he’d said.

There was also a high scale security system in place, which Bond noted from the moment he got out of the car. The cameras and sensors were well obscured, but to the trained eye, easy enough to spot. There was no question that the place was equipped with surveillance and communication -- probably technologies Bond didn’t even know existed just yet.

Because Q, he wasn’t a field agent, but he knew how to protect himself.

Just in his own way.

At the front door, Bond saw no signs of forced entry. He looked around, noting no obvious disturbances.

For a moment, he dared to hope that maybe he’d been wrong, that Q wasn’t a target.

With that bit of hope, he knocked on the door, rapping his fingers once, twice, three times.

He waited.

There was nothing but silence.

With another look around, Bond cleared his throat. “Q,” he called, knocking again, feeling oddly conspicuous on a residential street in broad daylight. “Q.”

Silence greeted him again.

For a moment, he thought about breaking in. He had no qualms with breaking and entering, especially not for a good reason. Q would protest more than he needed to, but ultimately he’d understand.

That wasn’t the problem.

No, the problem was that low level assassins would never get past Q’s security system. Q was too good for that. The things he did at work -- they were nothing compared to a little at-home security.

Whoever was behind this would know that. After all, the assassins were low level, but the intelligence needed to identify three of the program’s highest operatives was much higher. They knew to hit Bond when Madeleine wasn’t home, and they timed Moneypenny’s attack perfectly, too.

This would suggest that the attack on Q would never be at his house.

No, they’d pick something easier.

The car.

Transit was usually the weakest point in any plan. And Q would have security at home and at the office, but going to the car?

Without wasting another second, Bond moved away from the door, moving around the front of the row toward the alleyway. The building was new, which meant that parking would have been a consideration. Around the back, he found a parallel row of garages, lined up neatly down the back access road to Q’s complex.

The units were number, and Bond counted them off one by one until he got to Q’s.

Out of instinct, he got his gun out, slowing down to check for signs of movement.

The garage door was open, but the car was still inside. There were security measures here as well, but Q had to open the door himself to get out.

If two people were waiting outside, across the way.

Well, that was what was called a blind spot.

It didn’t take skill or finesse.

Just damn good intelligence.

Carefully, Bond inched his way inside, scanning for possible signs of a threat.

A tool cart was askew; a bucket of nails had scattered on the floor. A pair of keys were by the car, next to a smear of red.

Bond knelt, gun still up, reaching down to touch it.

Tacky and still wet.

Bond stood up again, putting his gun away.

This time, he was too late.

-o-

Assassins and spies tended to work alone. This was, in part, necessity, but Bond had been in the game long enough to appreciate the aesthetic involved. Spies fancied themselves as lone wolves. It was safer that way; easier.

That was why Bond did it. Because he knew the pervasive reality of loss, and going solo was protecting others as much as it was protecting himself.

But this image was as much a fantasy as any of the rest, and Bond also knew this keenly from his own experiences. He had a unique skill set. Diverse though it was, it was not without its limits. Without proper backup, it was nearly impossible to do what he did and stay alive.

At first, trusting others had been a necessity, starting with M herself. But, over time, he’d grown to appreciate the other people in his path who could help him along his way. Moneypenny was a convenient ally, and it was impossible to imagine missions without Q’s technical prowess. It had taken him time to trust M’s successor, but somehow, over the course of several years, Bond had found himself as a part of a team.

This was, as far as he could tell, entirely accidental on his part. It was certainly never something he had intended, and indeed, he still worked hard to maintain strict work boundaries. It could never be said that Bond was the type who went strictly by the book, and he aggravated M, Q and Moneypenny alike as much as he helped them.

That said, they were, inexplicably, his team. They were the ones who had stood by him, even when they had no business doing so. He had needed them to close out the mission against Spectre. He had needed them to tie off all the loose ends of his life and start something new.

Of course, it figured that now that he finally -- begrudgingly -- admitted he had a team, part of it went missing.

There was a fleeting instinct in that moment he found blood in Q’s garage when he thought he should do this alone, he should follow any and every lead he could and do it by himself.

That wasn’t how it worked, though.

Being a team had got them into this mess.

It was going to have to get them out of it, too.

For Bond, this was as much a concession as it was a hope, and he called M as he pulled away from the curb.

“Q’s gone,” he said without waiting to be prompted. “I’m on my way in, so you better have a lead.”

-o-

The drive to HQ usually took fifteen minutes.

Bond made it in five.

He bypassed all security measures and dared any of the personnel to stop him. He marched his way straight to M’s office and didn’t bother to knock.

Inside, they were all there.

Moneypenny was pacing across the floor, and Tanner was hunched anxiously on one of the chairs. Behind his desk, M looked grim.

“They took him in the garage,” Bond announced. “Signs of a struggle, but by taking him in transit, they were able to bypass his security measures.”

Moneypenny stopped, shaking her head. “Are you sure?”

“Like I said, signs of struggle,” Bond reported. “Blood.”

Moneypenny closed her mouth, drawing it tautly.

Tanner looked more than somewhat distressed. “We’ve sent teams to secure your flat and Moneypenny’s,” he explained.

“I don’t care about cleanup,” Bond said, directing his gaze at M. “I care about who this is and why they’re doing this.”

M nodded, chewing his lip. “I have plenty of enemies, both domestic and abroad,” he said. “But this level of incursion--”

“You’d have to have pretty high clearance to know all of us,” Moneypenny surmised.

“We’ve had connections on most missions,” Tanner said. “The networking process--”

“But they knew about me,” Bond said. “My entire life is in the wind, and they knew about me.”

“Bond’s right,” M said. “That’s not just a high clearance level or a top secret mark. That’s total security access right there.”

“But our system hasn’t been breached,” Tanner said. “Q’s -- Q’s made sure of it.”

“So maybe the breach wasn’t external,” Moneypenny suggested.

“A mole?” Tanner asked.

M shook his head, sitting forward somewhat. “Not a mole,” he said. “But our system has not always been our own recently.”

Bond tilted his head, catching the implication. “The security transition that never happened.”

“We avoided the new system coming online,” M said, looking at them each seriously. “But Denbigh’s people still had total access to our system and our people.”

Tanner looked puzzled. “So this is what? A disgruntled civil servant?”

“Well, Spectre wasn’t the only organization to lose something,” Moneypenny pointed out. “Denbigh’s security system was advanced. He would have had a small army of programmers working to get it up and maintain it.”

M shifted through the files on his desk, pulling out one. He opened it, flipping past Denbigh’s profile. “Here,” he said, pointing to a photo.

Bond leaned forward, looking at a young, unassuming man with glasses and short hair. Not the typical mark.

M pointed again. “This is Calvin Drollinger,” he said. “Denbigh’s number two and chief programmer. He spent years developing the software; his name was all over it.”

“Part owner?” Bond asked.

M nodded. “He stood to make a nice profit when the system went online.”

“Instead he lost the contract all together,” Moneypenny said.

“And worse, he couldn’t use any of his system outside of that context,” Tanner said.

“What do you mean?” Bond asked.

“It was considered classified,” Tanner explained. “He owned rights to the code, but he would be arrested the moment he used it.”

“So we gave him all the motive in the world,” Moneypenny said.

“And all the access,” M said. “Drollinger had access to everything. He knew everything right up to the moment Q uninstalled the system for good.”

“So he has the means as well,” Tanner said. “That makes sense. He had the intelligence to know how to find us and where to strike, but he doesn’t have the right people to get the job done.”

This was well and good and necessary.

And still not quite the point.

“So we know who and we know why,” Bond said. “But now we need where.”

Tanner got to his feet. “I can start running a search--”

“And I can pull his file,” Moneypenny said.

There was an electronic beep, and M glanced at his phone. His brows knitted together as he picked it up.

“Somehow I don’t think that’s necessary,” he said, face going white as he turned the phone around, showing it to them.

There, in high resolution color, was a picture of Q.

Beat up and unconscious.

There was an address below it.

“Well,” Bond said, adjusting his suit. “At least that answers that.”

-o-

This was Bond’s play.

The people at HQ were important to what he did -- he needed their intelligence -- but the field?

Well, that was Bond’s domain.

“It’s a trap,” Moneypenny said.

“He’s going to kill you,” Tanner said.

“And probably Q while he’s at it,” M agreed.

“He’s got the technology and the intel,” Bond said. “But he doesn’t have the wherewithal. This is something I can handle.”

“Agreed,” M said. He looked to Moneypenny and Tanner. “I want you to oversee the information we gather from the attacks this morning, and I want you to create a fresh file for Drollinger. We’ll need our facts in order for legal details.”

Tanner was already gathering files while Moneypenny nodded.

M was on his feet, reaching for his coat. “As for you, 007, we’ll discuss the plan in the car.”

Bond raised his eyebrows. “I am more than capable--”

“This isn’t about your capabilities,” M said curtly, moving toward the door. “This is about my responsibilities. Now shut up and drive or I swear to God, I will leave you behind.”

Bond found he had no choice but to follow.

Today, as it turned out, was just full of surprises.

-o-

Bond was in the driver’s seat in a very literal sense.

Metaphorically speaking, he was increasingly aware that this wasn’t his mission.

This made sense, of course. M had been the target; M had been the catalyst. This time, it was about M.

Which was just very strange for Bond. He was sort of used to being the center of attention. Maybe Madeleine was right and he did have an inflated view of his own importance.

“When we arrive, 007,” M said, easy as he could. “I expect you to handle all security personnel on site.”

“They aren’t well trained,” Bond said, watching the GPS. “But I expect they’ll see us coming.”

“Yes, this isn’t about stealth,” M said. “He knows we’re coming, and I have nothing to hide.”

Bond glanced at him, raising a quizzical eyebrow.

M shrugged. “Relatively speaking, anyway.”

Bond turned his unassuming gaze back to the road.

“The point is, however, that I want him to see me coming, plain and simple,” he said. “I want him so focused on me that he forgets about everything else.”

“Make yourself the moving target,” Bond said.

“Precisely,” M said, bracing as they went around a fast corner. “Your priority, naturally, will be to use his distraction to rescue Q by any means necessary.”

“He’s so enticed by the lure that he doesn’t see the hook,” Bond said. “He lacks experience as a spy; it could work.”

“I will work,” M said, more confident than ever. He laid a heavy gaze on Bond. “Just remember, Q is your priority.”

“This will leave you vulnerable, you know,” Bond pointed out.

M didn’t flinch. “Just remember your part in this, 007.”

Bond gave him a discerning look before he put the car in a higher gear and revved the engine down a straightaway. “As if I could forget.”

PART TWO