The next few days were the most relaxed Bond had ever enjoyed while in the field. Mostly meandering through the town and playing tourist. Bianca was doing the questioning, and Bond let the Serbo-Croat wash over him. It wasn’t a language he’d ever studied.
Leisurely boredom was interspersed with an array of charts, databases and tables that Bianca dealt with ‘as a favour’ for someone or other in HQ; and with glorious food and drink. There were glimpses of their target, but on the fifth day, there was sufficient evidence, confirmed with Q-branch, that they did not have the right man. Eventually, they conceded defeat, an outcome that didn’t surprise Bond in the slightest. Their flight from Belgrade was at noon, so that left plenty of time for a leisurely room service breakfast: preserving the image of lovers getting less cautious at the end of their holiday.
They had ordered breakfast the previous night, and Bond was still asleep when a knock on the door roused him.
“Commander Bond?” the voice was female, a faint Balkan accent. Bond froze in his bed.
Unexpected. Not fully awake. Unarmed against the sudden onslaught that dragged him back.
His heart rate sped up and his breathing hitched, then became shallow and fast, racing towards panic, as sweat broke out.
This time he fought back. His hand reached for the sling that wasn’t there. The ‘dog tag’ wasn’t there either. He almost couldn’t move, felt the restraints once again, and the pain, the terror, but he forced himself. Kept fighting, remembering what he had to do, had to grab hold of anything that could ground him.
He knocked the glass carafe off the bedside table, water spilling and glass shattering, but he got hold of his Patek watch and desperately closed his hand around it, until the metal dug into his palm.
Watch. Palm. Sensations. Here, now, present.
He didn’t know how long it had taken; how long the sensations had overwhelmed him. There was a louder knock on the door, the same voice, the same accent, but now he could hear the core: British, Londoner. Tennyson.
“Commander Bond? Breakfast is here.”
“Y...yes.” He focused on taking deep, slow breaths, until he managed to get himself together enough to speak. “Get the maid. I knocked over the glass carafe, splinters everywhere.” His voice was rough even to his own ears. Still clenching the watch in his fist, he’d come back from the brink on his own accord.
The door opened and Bianca stepped in. “Glass? Are you alright?” She was right beside the bed, and gently pushed aside the bigger bits with her foot.
“Yes, of course. I just miscalculated the angle.” Bond pushed himself up until he sat, slowly relaxing his fist. Unconcerned that he was naked, with all of the scars on display, and only an excuse of a sheet pooling in his groin.
Bianca stepped back, giving him a look that was somewhere between appreciative and embarrassed, and backed out of the room, closing the door behind her. Bond heard her on the phone, speaking in rapid Serbo-Croat, presumably to Housekeeping.
He opened his fist and gently placed the watch down onto the bed, before pulling the sheet up higher and reaching for his tablet. He’d fought the flashback, but he felt severely rattled and a long way from normal. Q would be the only one to get him grounded again. There wasn’t as big a time difference as with Thailand, only an hour, and Q would be awake.
“Q?” Bond was hoping he’d catch the secure line straight away.
“What is it?” Q appeared on the screen straight away. His hair was mussed, and he was adjusting his glasses. From the angle, he had grabbed the tablet from the bedside table and had just got up.
“I need you to turn the tags into a bracelet for me. Something I can have on me at all times. Nevermind what it looks like.”
“I got caught out half asleep. I don’t wear the sling in bed. I don’t wear anything in bed, as you know.”
“What triggered it?” Q’s eyes were steady, ignoring the details about Bond’s sleepwear, or lack thereof.
“Female voice with Serbian accent, again. Seems to be a red herring.”
“Bianca?” Q confirmed, “well, at least we know that a female voice with Balkan accent is a consistent trigger. But you handled it. Did she notice?”
“No, I don’t think she did, even though I knocked the water carafe off the bedside table. Managed to get hold of my watch, hence the need for something I can wear permanently.” Bond sounded matter of fact, but he didn’t feel quite as calm as he pretended to be.
Q nodded, “or even an attachment to your watch.”
“Good point, I always wear a watch anyway.” Bond took in a deep breath. “At least the technique works.”
“Yes,” Q said, and there was a moment of silence. “Same as last time, with the shortness of breath?”
“Heart racing, shallow breaths that feel as if I can’t get enough oxygen, cold sweat, panic, frozen or locked muscles. Exactly the same.”
“Exactly the same,” Q echoed, “but shorter this time, and manageable? Do you think this is something that exposure can lessen, or is it always by surprise?” He paused. “Tennyson didn’t seem to have much of an accent, but I suppose she’s been there a week, and speaking Serbo-croat the whole time, so that’s where it’s coming from.”
“I was not awake yet, it caught me entirely off guard.” Bond didn’t comment on the other questions, because he simply didn’t have the answers, and it wouldn’t do to be speculating. “The important outcome for me is that I managed it.”
“Yes, you did,” Q smiled, and touched a finger to the screen, like he’d done before.
“Seems like this old dog isn’t too old yet to learn a few new tricks.” Bond smiled, finally easing, and tapped his own fingertip against Q’s on the screen. “Thanks for talking me back down.”
“Anytime,” Q’s voice was soft.
There was a commotion at the door, as Bianca let in the housekeeper. The woman headed towards Bond’s room with dustpan and vacuum cleaner.
“We have company,” Bond sighed. “My own fault, I asked for a maid to clean off the glass. I will see you when we’re back.” He gave a quick smile to Q, who smiled in return, before the screen went black.
Bond sat up in bed and quickly reached for his bathrobe. Just about managing to cover most of himself up. The woman gave him a brisk nod, and proceeded to do the clean-up efficiently. Bianca stayed at the door, beet red with embarrassment, until she went to usher the housekeeper out.
Now that it was safe to stand with bare feet on the floor, Bond got out of the bed without flashing poor Bianca once again. “Has the breakfast already been served?”
“Yes, waiting out here. I got a selection, one last proper Balkan meal before we head back.” She swallowed, and still averted her eyes. A fact that Bond caught on immediately.
“I’m fully covered now, Tennyson, it’s safe to look at me.” He flashed a smirk as he sat down at the table, dressing gown belt pulled tight. Positioning the useless arm in his lap, he looked over the breakfast spread.
“Sorry, Sir,” she said weakly. Sitting down on the other chair, she poured them both coffee.
Bond took a thoughtful sip. “Tell me, do you really want to become a field agent?”
She looked surprised, then sighed. “It’s not quite what I thought it was. It’s so...overwhelming. So much data.”
“I thought you didn’t like how you could never get the full picture. Is that not a contradiction?”
“There’s getting such a big picture that you can’t see the woods for the trees,” she stirred her coffee. “That’s going to be the case either way I go, isn’t it? Too much, or too little.”
“Not necessarily.” Bond reached for one of the freshly baked goods. “Have you spoken to Miss Moneypenny?”
Bianca looked at him as though he’d suggested she have a few words with the Pope. “No, not really, except when she was asking me to come meet you and the Director.”
“I could arrange a meeting for you, if you are interested. As the PA to the director, Miss Moneypenny requires access to all the data that she feels is necessary, and a thorough, detail-driven mind like yours would be perfect in dealing with data as well as schedules. Eve is the first person to tell you there is no shame in not being in the field. Fieldwork isn’t for everybody.”
Bianca’s eyes widened as she nodded. “Yes, Sir, I think that would be something well worth looking into. Meta analysis, really.”
“In that case, please get my tablet, I left it on the bed.” Heartily biting into the now thickly topped roll.
Bianca looked at him steadily, but then went and obeyed.
Bond didn’t say anything else as he tapped away on the tablet, until he had an open link to the person he’d been looking for. “Good morning, Tanner,” he cheerily said at the screen. “I have a proposition for you.”
Across the table, Bianca looked panicked, an expression echoed by Tanner, who was understandably wary of propositions from double-Os - especially former ones, and especially the former 007.
“What now, Bond?” Tanner asked suspiciously.
“You really did like Tennyson’s charts, didn’t you?”
“They were excellent, as you well know. If only I could get all agents putting in documentation that clear.”
“Would you like to have such magical documentation and chart-producing skills at your disposal?”
“If only,” Tanner’s response was prompt. “I’d probably shag you, Bond, to get that, but Q would make my house explode.”
There was simultaneously laughter from Bond and a shocked gasp from Bianca. “Don’t make unfulfillable promises, Tanner. You are so straight, the Kinsey scale has to be re-adjusted for you. But joke aside, I am planning to suggest in my evaluation report that Tennyson should look at combining her expertise from Analysis and her interest in the full data picture, as well as her probably phenomenal scheduling skills, into a potential role as PA.” He paused for dramatic effect, “as PA to a certain Head of Staff.”
There was an intake of breath. “Send her to me after you debrief with M,” Tanner said after a pause. “Margery’s been itching to go back to the FCO and goodness knows I need someone to keep all of you in line.”
Bond looked up from the tablet and straight at Bianca. “Would that meet with your approval, Ms Tennyson?”
She was still staring at him, speechless, but nodded and managed a strained, “Yes.”
“Excellent, in that case, Tanner, you will meet with Ms Tennyson after debrief. Our flight is at noon.”
A spluttering Tanner asked, in a horrified voice “You mean you had her there?”
“Of course,” Bond smirked, “we are having breakfast.”
Tanner was still spluttering as Bond ended the call.