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He shakes Mallory’s hand, and he feels…purged.

It’s a strange sort of cleanliness, and if Bond were given to self-reflection (which he never has been, and never will be now), he would think it maybe unhealthy, or maybe hollow.

And he does feel hollow. There’s a blank space somewhere in his sternum that when he breathes it whistles like a gale through a broken window, but it doesn’t hurt precisely, it just exists.

He needs this, he thinks. If he is to continue, he will need it this way. 

(Kincaid had walked with him to the entrance of Skyfall, the both of them rickety now, Bond limping and shivering beneath Kincaid’s hunting jacket.

“Won’t be seeing you again, will I?” Kincaid asked, as headlights from a company car appear in the distance. 

“No, I imagine not,” Bond answered. “Will you be all right?”

“Have been, haven’t I?” he retorted. 

Bond snorted. The flames around the house began to die, could only do so much with the iron and stone once they’d eaten through the mothballs and mahogany. Bond still felt them burning in his chest, though, like a phoenix stealing his breath from the inside out, stretching its wings within the cage of his ribs. “Sorry about the house,” he said absently.

“It was ready,” Kincaid shrugged.

Bond has a feeling that Kincaid is almost ready, too. He shakes hands with him when he goes, and doesn’t look back.) 

Bond feels ready, too. Standing in Mal—in M’s office, he feels stripped down to his bare essentials, and even if his file remains full, it sits light on his shoulders now. 

Everyone who has known what lies beyond its censor bars, known him beyond words on a page, have now become words themselves.

(He will carry those words, but they will be tucked away, deep in that hollow space, where the light won’t reach, where a flare would sputter and die before it ever broke the surface.)

Now he is a vase, poured out, scrubbed with iron wool.

He is black Courier print on white paper, black tuxedo over white French cuffs, and his blood is more vodka than plasma, chilly with the ice shards it was shaken with. 

He has known fear, every facet.

He won’t any longer.