Mélomanie (French) - an excessive, abnormal love and deep attraction to music and melody
The buildings all looked the same. The entire street seemed overcrowded with their matching facades and the identical black and white cars parked out front on the street. Even the landscaping scheme did not deviate from property to property, giving the neighbourhood a cohesive appearance. It might be pleasing to the eye, but it showed a lack of personality and a desire for conformity, rules, regulations, standards.
Bond found the whole thing hateful.
MI6 had chosen it, not him. Undoubtedly, they no longer wanted to pay for Bond's extravagant hotel bills. Either that, or they wanted to keep a better eye on him during the next few weeks while he was in London. It must have been tiring to whomever had the duty of keeping tabs on him, what with Bond moving hotels every few days. Maybe they thought that a boring flat in a calm neighborhood was just the thing to kick his restlessness. Bond thought that whoever came up with that idea should be fired. Double-Ohs were not meant for this kind of environment, especially Bond.
But he had orders: strict ones from Medical for a mandatory leave. Bond did not have to ask to know that his passports were no longer authorised; he had a feeling that if he went anywhere near an airport, he would most likely be detained. It spoke volumes that MI6 didn't trust him not to go AWOL, but then again, he'd done it before; once bitten, twice shy and all that.
After everything that had happened in Skyfall, Bond certainly deserved the rest and he should have been grateful for it. But with the worst of his injuries healed and nothing but time on his hands, Bond felt restless. He wanted an assignment. He wanted something to take his mind off what had happened in Scotland, but Mallory was withholding all missions until after twenty more days had passed. In the meantime, Bond now had an ungodly amount of time to deal with his current predicament.
He did not have much. He never did, that came with the lifestyle. But he still had a storage unit's worth of things to go through. Upon his "death", most of his possessions had been thrown haphazardly into boxes, with no clear organisation or labelling. It left Bond with a mess of cardboard containers strewn round the flat when he went searching for his favourite scotch glass. He gave up after about a half an hour of searching and sat on the couch to drink directly from the bottle.
At least the place had come partially furnished. Bond could not think of a more hateful thing than having to shop for new furniture.
Bond stared at the dark television screen as he drank. It was only three in the afternoon, but Bond didn't care. The entire flat smelled like fresh paint and wood cleaner and he hated that almost as much as he hated everything else about the place. Bond got up from the couch and went to the window, which he opened just a bit. Coming on October, it was almost cold enough to be uncomfortable, but not enough to keep a Scotsman from keeping his windows closed to it.
He went back to the couch and looked at the bottle on the unfamiliar coffee table. There were still plastic sheaths around the legs from when it had been transported. Bond picked at the nearest one with disinterest, staring through the dark neck of Macallan at the only other object on the table.
M's ugly old bulldog stared back.
Bond ripped at the plastic viciously, fighting the urge to break the stupid porcelain thing. It reminded him too much of her, that obstinate old woman with more bollocks than anyone Bond had ever met, with more patriotism than Bond had ever known. She believed in what she did. She was strong that way and Bond had loved her for it as much as he hated her. But really, when he thought of England-when he thought of home-he thought of her.
And he had failed her in the end.
Bond leant back and closed his eyes. With the window open, he could hear the sounds on the street: the splash of tyres through day-old puddles, the laughter of children, the rumble of an oncoming storm. It was ordinary, pedestrian; so horrible that Bond felt himself turning a bit mad.
So he went back to the bottle and drank until it became dark outside.
He listened as some of his neighbours returned, the building coming alive with the clicks of closing doors, the murmur of turned-on tellies, and the aroma of different cuisines cooking in different kitchens. He had been told that almost everyone in the building was MI6 in some capacity, including retired, active, and the spouses or families of employees, both living and deceased. Bond had yet to meet any of them; really, he had no interest anyway. Simply knowing that they were Six allowed him to not be suspicious of anyone he encountered by the post boxes or in the underground garage, and that was enough.
The person who lived above him came home round seven that evening, just as Bond got up to close the window. He was tired and sluggish by that point, and not wanting to do anything but drink a bit more on the sofa that he did not choose. Bond closed his eyes and listened to the person above him moving about. The ceiling did not creak under their weight, as if the person was naturally light footed or just being considerate to those below.
Bond turned on his side and reached for the bottle. He knew he should stop, but he couldn't make himself. He just brought it to his lips when he heard the sounds change upstairs.
It was not a song Bond had ever heard before, nothing classic or traditional. It bordered somewhere between not quite sad and not quite happy, and there was something about it that made Bond pause. He put the bottle down on the table and leant back against the arm of the sofa.
He listened until he fell asleep.
Bond woke with a hangover that he tried to kill with coffee and aspirin, which he promptly vomited into the pristine toilet in his master bathroom. His back hurt from sleeping on the sofa and his head pounded angrily behind his eyes. When Bond looked at himself in the mirror, he hated what he saw. He was washed up, weak, a drunk, and far, far, too old for all of this. The lines around his eyes and mouth were proof enough of his inevitable ageing, and in combination with his red lids and unshaven appearance, they did not lend their usual attractiveness.
He showered, shaved, and dressed before going to Six to stalk around Administration for a bit, hoping that his presence might scare someone into insisting that he be sent off on assignment. Moneypenny removed him before he could do any serious damage to the secretarial pool and ushered him out of the building to have lunch.
"You're crawling up the walls, aren't you?" she asked. She had chosen a cafe a few blocks down from headquarters, one of those terribly French ones with a pretentious menu, and prices to match.
"I don't understand why Mallory is withholding," Bond replied, not answering her question.
"You know, it is protocol to give an agent a specific number of days recovery time for each day on assignment," Moneypenny answered. "You're entitled to a holiday."
"If I would have wanted holiday, I would be in a different business," Bond said.
"Don't be stubborn. Relax a bit. Maybe have some fun?" Moneypenny suggested, and she smiled a bit with her mouth that told Bond no, she would not have sex with him.
"This is not my definition of fun," Bond said.
"Well then find a way to make it enjoyable," Moneypenny replied. "Why don't you take up a hobby?"
Bond raised an eyebrow at her and she laughed.
"Okay, okay. Though the thought of you taking up knitting is sort of an endearing picture," Moneypenny said. "But in all honesty, if you don't want to do something so civilian, why don't you take up something else?"
"Like what?" Bond asked, because he already knew as many martial arts as the next Double-Oh, could shoot any weapon with (little) difficulty, and while he could be in better physical shape, he was not about to take up some banal exercise regime to occupy his time. He'd break his own legs before he went to a spin class.
"Hmmm…what about weapons testing for R&D?" Moneypenny said, after a moment of thought. "I remember Q telling me something about a whole slew of new designs they've got on the docket for the upcoming weeks. Maybe you could help with that?"
Bond realised then that he hadn't been down there since Silva's escape. He had cut off communication with Q after he and M had started for Scotland and had had no other reason to contact his Quartermaster since the incident. He wondered what had happened to Q after that.
"That kid," Bond began, pausing when the server brought their lunches. It was only once the person was out of earshot that Bond continued: "The new Q. What happened to him? After, I mean."
Moneypenny looked at him.
"You mean you don't know?" she asked.
"If I did, would I be asking?" Bond replied.
"He defended you," Moneypenny said, "to the Board, to Mallory. He's probably the reason you still have a job."
Bond watched her spear a pear from her salad.
"Sweet thing," she said thoughtfully, "but a bit quiet. Never talks about himself much. Quite a shame, though, because I know a girl that'd be perfect for him, but you know, I don't want to assume."
"Assume what?" Bond asked, not quite following.
"You know," Moneypenny said, and when Bond gave her a blank look, she continued: "He's very pretty for a man. Maybe he leans the other way, if you get what I mean."
"Oh," Bond said. Sexual orientation never mattered much to Bond, unless it meant he couldn't finish a mission because it stood in the way of things somehow. He was much more concerned with the fact that a man who had only met him twice had defended him so adamantly.
"Doesn't really matter to me, or to anyone really," Moneypenny kept on, "not when we've finally gotten all those server issues resolved. Do you know how easy it is to manage our database now that…"
Bond listened with only half an ear for the rest of their mostly one-sided conversation, picking disinterestedly at his food while thinking that it might be time he paid his Quartermaster a visit.
Later that afternoon, Bond went down to TSS in search of Q, only to find that he essentially had to get in line. Q was involved in some sort of intense conversation with a group of boffins; others were queued nearby to speak with him next. Bond watched him unobtrusively from one of the archways. He was scrawnier than Bond remembered and he was in desperate need of a haircut, both of which served to make him look entirely too young for the position. But Bond kept up his observation and noticed that, unlike other branch heads, Q did more listening than talking, as if what his subordinates had to say was of some importance to warrant his time.
Despite what seemed to be a very considerate open door policy, there were murmurs of discontent.
Bond knew that their new digs were strategically secure, much more so than their previously ostentatious location on the Thames, but apparently posed all sorts of other problems for everyone else. Someone from R&D complained loudly that they needed to update the ventilation system in all of the lower tunnels or else they would not be able to conduct prototype testing without violating fire codes. Beside them, another white coat sympathised, openly putting down the decision to relocate to this location while also taking the time to disagree with how the current too-young Quartermaster was handling things. Bond bit his tongue to keep from intervening, mostly because it was not his place. And because the topic of discussion chose that moment to appear, expression unamused at the blatant insubordination of staffs, the near-visible thundercloud hovering just above his head.
"If you have a better method on how to handle things, please, do enlighten me."
The two in conversation did not notice him until he spoke. Immediately, both of them straightened, red-faced and properly shamed at being caught in their abuse.
"That's what I thought," Q said, only sparing half a glance at Bond before returning to them. "You'll be happy to know that the reason no action has been taken in terms of updating the ventilation system is because, as of now, this is a temporary site. We are not going to put a quarter of our budget into updating this place only to move, is that understood?"
Nods prompted him to continue.
"The relocation is only a potential option. We'll know at the end of the month how they will proceed. In the meantime, I ask that you be patient and use your vast intellect to come up with creative solutions to our current problems. I recommend using the method put forth by TSS, which is to form task squads and work collaboratively in-house. If you're terribly desperate, you could also call in favours from MI5, but if you're going to resort to that, I highly recommend taking a step back and reevaluating your career choices. Questions?"
The two boffins were silent in the cascade of Q's words; Bond was trying dutifully hard not to laugh.
"Well?" Q asked, raising an eyebrow.
"No," said one, and the other shook his head in reply.
"Good. If you think of any, don't hesitate to ask," Q said, and they quickly began making a retreat. Q let them get only a step or two away before he continued: "Oh, and gentlemen. If you again insinuate that I am unable to run this department due to something as trivial as age, I can assure you that the results will be... unpleasant."
Q smiled at them, a sweet sort of smile that somehow bordered on demonic. The men fled for the doors.
"Great, who's next?" Q asked; the two other people in the queue shuffled off, leaving Bond behind.
"You certainly know how to disperse a crowd," Bond said.
"One of my many talents," Q replied. His eyes looked tired, but his posture was as straight and alert as ever.
"Sounds like you need a lot of those around here," Bond said, looking pointedly at some of the people nearby, who were trying to not be obvious about eavesdropping.
"You have no idea," Q answered. "If I would have known that babysitting was one of my duties, I would have asked for a higher salary."
Bond smirked. Q indicated for him to follow and began walking.
"So what can I do for you, Bond?" he asked. "You aren't on my calendar today."
"Mallory's fault," Bond said, a touch bitterly.
"Don't let him see he's getting to you. It'll just encourage him. Always does with people like him," Q told him, as he led the way into a small corner office. It was cramped and poorly lit, most likely a closet at one point or another. The desk nearly took up the entire space, where two computer monitors were crammed between stacks of folders, papers, and binders, trays of equipment parts, and rolls upon rolls of plans.
"Nice digs," Bond said, not taking the bait. He went to close the door, but Q held up a hand.
"Don't close that, please. I get claustrophobic in here," Q said, and Bond respectfully left it open. Q began sifting through some things on his desk. "So you never did answer the question: what can I do for you?"
Bond put his hands in his pockets, suddenly realising that he did not have a good reason to be there.
"Can't I visit?" Bond asked.
Q looked up from his searching.
"Forgive me if I think you don't seem the type," Q said.
"Cold," Bond said, smiling.
"But I'm right," Q replied. "You're not the type at all. So why are you here?"
Bond leaned back against the doorframe.
"I have a question," Bond said.
"Go on," Q replied, giving Bond his full attention. With Q's focus entirely on him, Bond saw what Moneypenny meant when she said that the Quartermaster was pretty. Despite having met before, Bond had never taken the time to look at Q properly. He had a pleasing face and colouring-the contrasting dark hair and fair skin that people wrote songs about-and even with glasses, his eyes were expressive, vibrant green.
"Why did you do it?" Bond asked.
Q blinked, confused.
"Why wouldn't I?"
"How did you put it…a grand old warship being ignominiously hauled away for scrap?"
Q's lip quirked just a bit.
"I was talking about the painting," Q said.
"No you weren't," Bond replied.
"Well, sometimes we make assumptions upon first meetings," Q explained, as he began stacking files atop one another, "but it's our actions that allow others to make revisions to preconceived notions."
Bond had a feeling that was Q's way of admitting he was wrong, for apologising.
"And have you made revisions to your preconceived notions?" Bond asked. Q looked up from his work to regard him.
"I have. Have you?" Q asked.
The question was direct, but not accusatory. They had both made their assumptions that day and been proven wrong. Bond could admit to that.
"Yes," Bond said.
Q smiled and held out his hand, like he did at their first meeting in the National Gallery.
Bond accepted it with a firm handshake. Despite looking small and fragile, Q's grip was strong, confident, just as it had been the first time. But the situation was different, because Bond did not doubt Q's abilities or motives; he wasn't looking for deceit in Q's eyes. It let him focus on some of the other things, like the cool temperature of Q's palm, the smoothness of his skin, the plain black watch that hung loosely from his right wrist. The most surprising thing Bond discovered was that Q had calluses on his fingertips. They were not as large and rough as Bond's, but they were there, as if Q spent more time with his hands than just typing. He wondered, just for a moment, about Q and his enigmatic smile, but then Q said:
And Bond smiled, because it wasn't often he had been given a second chance. He had run out of those with M a long time ago.
When his Quartermaster withdrew his hand, if their fingers lingered a fraction of a second too long, Bond was not about to analyse why.
Bond hadn't had much of an appetite since Scotland, but he loved food and missed enjoying it when he was in London. So that night, he went out to eat at one of his favourite restaurants: a small, upscale little place near Chelsea. He sat at a tucked away table for privacy where he ate filet mignon and drank a rich Merlot in silence. The taste of it still lingered on his tongue an hour later when he arrived home. It was past nine and the flat sat dark and uninviting. Bond navigated around boxes to the light switch and turned on the overheads so that he could see. He didn't have the energy to unpack and he was too full to do much else, so he went and lay on the couch.
It was so boring being back, but then again, being dead had been just as boring. As much as he loved London, when he wasn't feeling particularly sociable, it was just as lonely as anywhere else in the world. Bond felt restless for something, but too tired to figure out what it was and go after it. Psych would most likely tell him he was grieving or had some form of PTSD and to do something constructive, but the thought of going to do the shopping or picking up a new book just made him more anxious. Bond didn't even want to turn on the telly, because he knew that even mindless garbage would not soothe this problem of his.
The person upstairs came home. Bond heard the door close softly, then the sound of tired feet dragging over the threshold. Bond empathised entirely. Judging from the hours his neighbour kept, they were a working member of MI6 and knew the exhaustion that came with it. He closed his eyes listened as the person moved about the flat, which was most likely identical to Bond's. They went into the kitchen, then to the bedroom. Bond strained his ears, but heard nothing until the feet returned to the kitchen, where he could just barely make out the sound of a kettle. The person stopped for a while after that, but there were no other sounds-telly, talking on the telephone, listening to music-from upstairs. Bond was just drifting off to sleep when he heard the person moving again, the sound of a chair, then the melodic notes of a violin. They played a short song, something a bit melancholy, and then when they stopped, retired to bed.
Bond lay on the couch for a long time after, wishing the silence was not so loud.