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Creature Comforts

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Handler's Handbook Rule No. 1:
The Charge wants to be cared for by its Handler.

"So I heard you're getting a new Handler today," Alec Trevelyan said, glancing over at his friend James Bond and taking another drag from his cigarette.

"Yes,” James agreed. “The last one, Sabrina, was retired while we stayed in Singapore.” He stared up unblinking at the clear afternoon sky above the MI6 compound in inner London.

"I hope you didn't feed your Handler to the sharks again," Alec said with a grin, but James shook his head.

"I did no such thing. She just didn't take well to the local cuisine," he returned evenly, giving no hint of whether or not he’d had something to do with the woman’s demise.

"You can't keep offing your Handlers, James," Alec warned nonetheless, though he was still smiling at his friend. "You’ve been at it for two years now and if you keep it up they'll stop trying to find you one."

"Good,” Bond returned grimly, not interested in returning Alec’s teasing in kind. “Then I won’t have to keep thinking of ways to get rid of them.”

"Nonono, that wouldn't do. You know what they do with Charges that can't be handled," Alec said, voice more serious now. They’d both had missions like that. Rogue Charges to eliminate. Betrayed Handlers to rescue. Even so, James just shrugged.

"Let them try. I'm more than capable of taking care of myself,” he said coolly. “In the last year alone I've gotten rid of more Handlers than enemy combatants. I'm not willing to put up with them and their stupid expectations any longer. If that means they'll try to terminate me, then they should be prepared to lose a few of their Charges to get the job done."

Alec watched his friend silently, unsure of what to say. He knew he needed to make James see reason before he got himself killed. Not that Bond’s dislike of his latest Handler was unfounded – Alec would have tried to get rid of her as well. However, if James kept his current habit up, they’d find a way to off him. Unfortunately he knew that James wasn’t willing to make concessions any longer. Not that his friend had ever been good at making concessions for anyone, including Handlers. Back in the all-Charges Institute they’d grown up in James had already been the rebel, the one that wouldn’t bend to the rules - not that Alec had been much better. It was just that James had always been that small bit worse: a little more disobedient, a little quicker to resort to violence. Because he stood in James’ shadow, no one had paid Alec much attention, which had served them well. But right now being a rebel wouldn’t do. Not if James wanted to stay alive.

"Did you know that my last Handler threatened to retire me?” James spat. “That bitch said I was too unstable and old for proper fieldwork. She said that after that mission she'd have me transferred to the Institute as an instructor. Could you imagine me teaching? Just picture me in Instructor Charles' shoes," he said with a shudder. He continued in a modulated voice: "Remember, children. The most important rule of a Handler/Charge partnership is respect and obedience. It is most important that you respect your Handler and obey their orders. At no time should you work to undermine them."

James and Alec shared a look of distaste before Alec spoke up again.

"I don't think they'd put you in his position. You’ve got too much of a record. They’d put you in charge of Physical Training or something like that where they think you can’t influence the children much,” Alec reasoned. James just looked at him sourly.

"We'll never have to find out. Either they get me a competent Handler or I'm not coming back, Alec," James said seriously and Alec sighed, turning his head to look more closely at his friend. James’ expression was closed off and nearly unreadable even for Alec, who’d had more than 30 years to learn all the nuances of the other’s face.

"You know I'll have to report that threat to Eve, right?” Alec asked, referring to his own Handler. “They might not let you leave at all if you keep talking like that."

James shrugged. "It'll be Eve's decision to report it further up. And if they think they can keep me here against my will, they're fools. I've been sneaking in and out of the compound since before leaving the Institute," he said.

Alec could hear the hint of fondness in James’ voice and had to agree that those had been good times; in those last years at the Institute, the worst that could happen to them had been falling and breaking a leg. Or getting detention with Instructor Charles. No corporal punishment, or at least very little. No bullets flying at them outside of training exercises. No meddlesome Handlers to avoid whenever they wanted to get out for an hour or two. With a shake of his head Alec chased the memories away. He couldn’t linger on the pleasant memories when he needed to convince James that he should at least give the new Handler a chance.

"And that right there is precisely why they won't let you leave,” he said seriously. “They'll just gas you in your bedroom or something. You can be happy you didn't pull that stunt 10 years ago or you'd have vanished into a dark dank cellar for retraining faster than even you could blink," Alec added, but James just shrugged.

"I really don't care anymore, Alec. Either their new Handler is worth my respect or you'll find my file on your desk in a few weeks.”

Alec nodded silently and turned his gaze back to the sky above. There was nothing left to say between them. There were no more arguments Alec could make before he’d got a glimpse at James’ new Handler – it wouldn’t do either of them good to argue over somebody they hadn’t even met yet. Instead, Alec lit another smoke and passed it to James after the first drag.

They quietly shared the smoke until James handed the stub back to Alec for the last drag and pushed himself to his feet. Alec didn’t watch him, but he could hear James walk away and step through the door back into the building. He just hoped this wasn’t the last time he saw his friend James.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Silently, Q flipped through the file in front of him. The folder was a good three inches thick with yellowing handwritten pages at the bottom and pristine computer printouts on top.

James Bond, AKA 007 - an infamous Double O Charge, the top of MI6’s internal hierarchy.
38 years old - making it one of the oldest Charges still alive, with 20 years of field experience behind it.
Male.
It had been assigned seven Handlers in as many months - and that was just the count for this year.
Drinks - yes.
Smokes - yes.
Bisexual.

One of the most effective Charges employed by MI6, going by the number of mission reports in its file. Also one of the biggest disciplinary problems the Institute had seen in recent years. For every mission report there seemed to be two disciplinary reports, though the last few months were especially worrying. Disciplinary measures now outnumbered missions 10 to 1 – they’d been on the rise ever since the Charge’s first Handler, Tracy, had been killed two years ago, and on the same day as her wedding with Bond. 007 just hadn’t been able to form a connection with any of its new Handlers and Q was sure that any other Charge this problematic would have long since been terminated.

But this was James Bond - and now, it was Q’s Charge.

Q had no idea why he’d received this assignment. He was after all just 22 and came straight from the Handler Academy. Yes, he was ready for his first Charge, but he’d always expected a normal Charge, a newbie just like himself. He’d expected one with which he could grow, not a Charge with so much more experience that Q wondered why it needed a Handler at all. Sure, every Charge was required by regulations to have a Handler, but Bond had had 20 years of missions – 18 years of which were with a Handler it’d gotten on well with. A Charge like that shouldn’t have to get rid of its Handlers in the field.

Of course it was MI6’s call what kind of Charge a Handler received, so it wasn’t like Bond would be able to influence who it’d end up with. And they’d sponsored Q ever since he’d been diagnosed as Charge compatible at the tender age of five, so he had no say in the decision either. In fact while MI6’d supported him they’d also given him demanding tasks for him to prove his competence. He’d passed with flying colours, but that didn’t explain why they’d chosen to give him one of the top Charges, and one with behaviour issues at that. Surely there were other Handlers better equipped to deal with something like Bond, because it seemed like more than a little behaviour reconfiguration would be needed before a working relationship was possible.

“Charge displays unnecessarily violent behaviour both in and out of missions.”
“Charge found in shower fully clothed. It remained unresponsive for an hour even after water had been shut off.”
“Charge infiltrated compound against orders. Mission objective met. Charge disciplined for disobedience. (see attached)”

Q hated the bureaucratic language in Handler reports, the catch phrases and tick-boxes, but he could read between the lines well enough. The reports screamed of distrust and a mutual lack of respect that boded well for neither the Charge nor the Handler - and that wasn’t even taking into account their ability to complete the missions.

Of course, in general Handlers weren’t taught to respect their Charges. That wasn’t what handling was about. It was about knowing one’s Charge inside and out to provide it with what it needed to fulfil the task at hand. But in order for a Handler to gain that knowledge, the Charge needed to give up the information freely. And for that it needed to be able to trust its Handler. So if the Charge managed to fulfil the objective without Handler support, it’d be stupid of him or her to punish it. After all it was the Handler’s job to make sure the mission was completed, not to judge whether or not the approach was valid. And if you pushed your Charge into shock so that it was forced to seek refuge in the shower, you needed to seriously consider your approach.

Of course the next report filed under those Handler IDs usually read, “Handler deceased in line of duty. Cause of death…” Not exactly encouraging if you thought about it, but somewhat justified given the previous incidents.

Q was not exactly confident, but still hoped he could figure his Charge out enough to make this work. All he needed was a little more information gathered via surveillance. He needed to have at least an idea of what his Charge needed before they met. No matter that he’d graduated at the top of his class – Q was sure that not even 17 years of rigorous training could prepare you for a Charge like James Bond.

Maybe that was what the administration was hoping for, he mused, that instead of some seasoned Handler a youngster would be able to figure this Charge out. Someone who accepted that he or she might be unprepared. Someone willing to apply new solutions to an old problem in the hopes of getting more favourable results. After all, new handling methods were added to the curriculum every year while others were dropped. Q wasn’t sure why they’d ever thought electroshocks were an effective means of behaviour correction. Or for that matter why gold stars would properly motivate a Charge. So maybe he actually was better prepared than all his unfortunate predecessors. Unfortunately that didn’t mean he would be able to make this work.

Q closed the file and returned it to the clerk on duty. Around him the other graduates were looking through their own Charges’ files, but Q paid them no mind – it wasn’t like he’d see them much after today. He hadn’t even had much contact with the others back at the Academy.

He figured that was what a single letter designation got you. Where his classmates had got names like Adam and Gabriel he’d gotten the Q designation and a single room. He had never figured out what part of his initial assessment had made them call him Q, just like he’d never found out why the rooms next to him were occupied by an M and an S. All they’d known was that, while their strengths were fundamentally different, they were all MI6 sponsored. And being sponsored by MI6 meant you had to be better than everyone else, a hard lesson they’d learnt when S didn’t come back after his third year assessments. They’d never learnt just what had happened to him, but neither they nor any of the single letters in the other years dared complete anything inadequately out of an ingrained fear of finding out just what happened to Handlers who weren’t up to the task.

Sighing, Q sent an email to the Handler Supervisor to cancel the prearranged meeting with his Charge. There was no way he could get reliable intel in 30 minutes; instead of going in blind he needed to observe and figure out just what this Charge actually needed from its Handler.