I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls.
Santorini is supposed to be lovely in July. Travel guides wax poetic about this, the locals insist on it in accented English to whoever will listen and Q, usually painfully wry in his pre-mission briefings, had voiced his dissatisfaction by making several disgruntled sounds over the assignment of this particular account to Bond. The post-it reminder for sunscreen Q had pinned to Bond’s Santorini operations kit had even come strongly worded, Bond needing to take a full few seconds to properly appreciate Q’s creative manhandling of the English language before the note went into the bin.
After all, what’s the use of sunscreen when it doesn’t even come with someone to apply it for him? Bond being Bond, had kindly extended the offer to Q, which had merely resulted in Q rolling his eyes and making disparaging remarks about Bond having better luck teaching the island fauna to do so instead.
A definite no to skin cancer prevention, then.
In retrospect, Bond thinks it’s hardly fair that he should shoulder any blame for this mission’s locale. It’s not even his fault that some criminals just prefer the Balkans over say, Balashov or even Kent, but there’s professionalism for you. Q’s lacklustre equivalent of an MI6-sanctioned fit of jealousy has at least not gotten in the way of Bond netting a considerable amount of explosives, firearms and dangerous weaponry. So sunscreen or not, Bond is probably still going to live long enough to get Q yet another tacky tourist souvenir that Q didn’t ask for nor, to quote Q himself, can even bloody well condone having because someone used the company account to buy overpriced, devastatingly ugly, local baubles again.
But back to how Santorini is supposed to be lovely.
Bond stands atop the flat roof of his suite, drenched from head to toe in brilliant sunlight with the Aegean sea to his back and vehemently thinks that while yes, the view is indeed quite pleasant and Santorini is certainly a very charming island to holiday on, it seems that most of his sources have failed to mention the absolutely blistering heat that comes with summertime here. After three full days of temperatures hovering at the 33ºc mark, Bond is honestly reconsidering his distaste for mid-winter operations.
“If you’re trying to work on your smouldering look, there’s probably a less literal way of doing it.” Niall yawns and stretches, luxuriating in the shade while Bond moves out of the sun to go sit by where Niall is, now that the latter is stirring awake. “And before you tell me how much you hate Santorini again, I’ll have you know that I’m fully capable of going back to sleep at a moment’s notice.”
“You’re just the pinnacle of companionship, aren’t you?” Bond adjusts his aviators so that they perch a little more firmly on the bridge of his nose, before turning towards where Niall is sprawled. “Remind me again why I keep bringing you with me?”
“Oh I don’t know, maybe the simple fact that you’d be dead a few dozen times over if I wasn’t here to save your sorry arse?” Another yawn and Niall slits his eyes as he squints at the sky, grumbling under his breath about the brightness. It’s going to be midday soon, the sun climbing higher still and pushing temperatures up to truly unbearable highs. “But now that you mention it, I probably should have sat out on this one.” A few more dark complaints about the temperature and Niall sighs, rolling his shoulders a few times to lessen the post-sleep stiffness. “This bloody heat is getting ridiculous. Tell me you’ve got enough information for us to leave within the week?”
“By tomorrow, if it all goes to plan..”
The next time Bond cares to looks over, Niall is already resettling, eyes shut firmly against the light. “Oh, good,” he mutters. “When does it never go to plan?”
The heat makes Niall lethargic and even more sarcastic than usual during the day, so Bond leaves him lying in the shade to sleep the daytime hours off, Bond left to his own devices for hours on end. The first three days had been recon, of course, or whatever recon that Bond can do in this frustrating maze of a town, but by day four, Bond is already well and thoroughly sick of prowling around Fira in the dry, sea-scented heat, playing pretend-tourist while he tries to make sense of the town’s seemingly random layout. Santorini’s capital is a mess of buildings stacked precariously along the cliff edges and as if moving on the narrow, cobblestoned walkways isn’t already hard enough to do when they’re filled with throngs of summertime tourists, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship just has to dock this morning, all 2000 passengers spilling out onto the island like a plague.
By lunchtime, there are cameras and handheld video recorders being thrust in all directions possible. Crowds, absolute throngs of them, lounge about on every available street corner while others tramp their noisy way up to Firostefani and then on to Oia before heading back down to descend on Fira, clustering around where the docks are. Santorini heaves under this new crush of humanity, overcrowded in the heat, and it isn’t long before Bond resigns himself to just absently wandering the streets, occasionally tracing and retracing potential bolt-paths in case the need for them should arise. Not that he’d be able to do any bolting of sorts with the streets as crammed as they are now, but it’s still rather comforting to have information like this on hand.
When Bond finally emerges from the bowels of downtown Fira, it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise when he finds himself in possession of not only a suitably ugly knick-knack for Q to add to his unintentional collection, but also the beginnings of what promises to be an excellent migraine, the latter being courtesy of loud commercialised tourism and the harsh glare of sunlight reflecting off the white-wash that the townspeople are so fond of using here.
“Can I claim medical expenses for injuries sustained before making contact with the mark?” Bond groans dramatically into his mobile as he watches the street from a first floor cafe. The iced coffee in front of him is slowly turning undrinkable in the afternoon heat, leaking condensation into a small puddle on the table. “Maybe have someone fly over and make sure these aren’t actually symptoms of a brain tumour?”
“God, if only we’d be so lucky,” Q says drily in return. “If you have a headache, Bond, perhaps you should just man up and buy yourself some aspirin instead of spreading your misery.”
“It’s no fun if I’m in pain all by myself.” Leaning back into his chair, Bond reaches out to toy with the disturbingly unbecoming paperweight he had bought off the street just before coming up here. The ceramic Athena owl has a startled expression that borders on frightening and Bond is sure Q would appreciate its addition to his ever-growing collection of travel souvenirs from Bond. “Besides,” Bond drawls, setting the owl back onto the table again. “You can’t be that presumptuous as to assume I’m only calling to whine about my bad day, are you?”
A sigh floats through from Q’s end of the line. “You have five seconds to get to the real reason behind your call before I hang up on you.”
“So you mean I need a reason every time I call you? Cruel, Q. That’s just cruel, even coming from you.”
“Five,” begins Q warningly and Bond relents, launching smoothly into a concise list of reasons why MI6 should have someone start drafting a letter of apology to the Greek government for when Bond is done in Santorini. The problem of difficult layouts and ridiculous architecture is already one thing in itself, but to have that along with the added annoyance of nosy tourists crawling all over the hit location is another one altogether. Bond knows he’s been specifically told not to plan anything that will end in the same kind of fiasco that Tianjin had turned out to be in March, but given the reasons he had just listed to Q, Bond thinks M just might forgive him for adding a Greek account to the Chinese stack over at Finances. Maybe. Probably.
“So what you’re telling me–,” Q says slowly, “–is you anticipate things going pear-shaped on your end and you want me to be the bearer of bad news to M?”
“Well that’s a rather unkind way to put it, but–“
“It’s not like I have a choice, Q.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it.” The sentence is curt, the tightness of Q’s public school accent making the syllables glass hard. “When there’s a will, there’s always a way. You just want to give everyone at Finances a collective heart attack again, don’t you?” There’s a few furious sounding clicks and keyboard taps coming over the line, Bond narrowing his eyes a little at whatever destruction Q is orchestrating half a continent away. “We’re up to our ears in debt here and I swear, if M goes after my department budget because you decided to wreck a few tourist stands and a priceless clock tower or two, I’m going to have MI5 outfit you instead of my branch.”
“You wouldn’t,” Bond breathes, mock-scandalised even as he’s jarred out of contemplating his coffee and its ratio of actual caffeine to melted ice. “Q, I know we have our differences, but that’s going a bit too bloody far now, isn’t it?”
“Desperate times, double-oh seven. Desperate times. In any case, I’ve just sent you some extended floor plans for the Aigialos so please do familiarise yourself with them if you haven’t already. The Tramountana villa where Aleksander will be is up in the top north section of the hotel complex so I don’t really care how creative your exit strategy will be in the event of complications, as long as you don’t wreck too much havoc in the surrounding areas.”
“I like how you say complications when you actually mean me facing down certain death,” comes the dry reply. A tentative sip at his coffee has Bond knowing that it tastes more foul than he had calculated it to be, Bond only swallowing his last mouthful down through sheer force of will and wanting to not look like a complete boor by spitting it back out. “Are we now at the part where you tell me MI6 would appreciate minimal civilian involvement and possible trauma?”
“Personally, I’ve found the practice to be quite redundant since you do have a flair for the dramatic.”
“Ah, so you have been paying attention.”
“If I don’t pay attention, no one will, and then we’ll have to waste resources sending in a retrieval team to bag your body.”
“Funny, Niall said something along those lines to me just earlier this morning.” Bond pushes the offending glass of watered down coffee far, far away from him and picks the owl up again. “He says hi to Marie, by the way. Says he wishes she was here because I’m apparently not good enough company.”
“Oh?” The earlier traces of exasperation in Q’s voice let up a little, Bond letting the corners of his lips turn up a fraction in the barest hint of a smile as he hears the softened tone. “Noted, I’ll pass that on and be sure to emphasise on you being bad to live with. She’s got a whole paragraph of things she wants to tell him too, so you’d best let him know that he’s probably got a longish voicemail coming his way soon.”
“He’ll appreciate it, that lazy brute. Do you know what he’s been doing since we got here? Absolutely nothing.”
Q hums noncommittally. “I’d draw your attention to certain parallels between you and him, but I think you already know them. Anyways, unlike certain people who get to spend their afternoons drinking coffee in the sun and wasting company call credit, I have some actual work to do.”
“I’ll remember that comment while dodging bullets in the name of Queen and country, ta.”
“Hanging up now, Bond. Goodbye.”
“No, I hate it when you hang up first, darling,” Bond purrs and Q just sighs the sigh of the long-suffering in response before the line goes dead.
“That–” Niall says when Bond shows him the paperweight, “–is possibly the most hideous thing I’ve seen you spend actual money on.”
“It’s perfect, isn’t it?” Bond is grinning broadly, allowing himself this one small indulgence as he turns the owl over in his hands. Now that he’s actually looking at it, the owl really does seem to possess a sort of ugliness that’s almost…endearing, in a way. With bulging eyes far too big for its tiny head and splashes of paint (Bond guesses that in an ideal world, these are supposed to be feathers) streaking down the sides of its misshapen ceramic body, it feels like it’ll fit in right away with the array of strange trinkets that Bond has been bringing back lately to terrorise Q’s workspace with.
“It’s absolutely fucking terrifying, more like.” In the falling dark, Niall has to come a little closer to the light that’s leaking out from the doorway to Bond’s suite, angling his head to have a proper look at Bond’s newest acquisition. “You might want to exorcise it before giving it away.”
Bond laughs and leaves the owl on top of his luggage before walking out to join Niall in the evening cool, Niall having drawn away from where he had been watching Bond to go settle at the edge of the wide balcony instead, staring out at the sea. Sunsets come slowly here, but it always seems to get dark quicker than Bond expects and along the cliffs, Fira is already lit up for the night.
“You talked to him today, didn’t you?”
“Don’t play coy,” Niall grunts. “You had that face on you when you came back, so there’s no use denying it now.”
For a brief moment, Bond thinks about objecting, but the look that Niall is sporting already has Bond knowing it’ll be a lost cause, should he even try.
“What’s it to you if I did talk to him?”
“Marie and I have a running bet about the both of you getting together, in case you didn’t know already.” Bond turns wearily to Niall at mention of this and Niall just schools his features into a loose approximation of innocence. “I’ve got a fairly big pool riding on eight months to a year, but Marie’s a lot more optimistic. Four to six months, she thinks.”
“And I suppose the next thing you’re going to tell me is that you’ve got M placing his bets as well? Some of Q’s branch managers, maybe?”
“We did consider opening it up a little–“ Niall admits lightly, “–but then that’d mean too much potential manipulation from third parties. I may like Marie’s company, but I’ll have you know, I like winning more.”
“Potential manipulation from third–…” There’s disbelief in Bond’s tone, Bond shaking his head as he trails off. “And I’d be correct to assume that the both of you wretches aren’t considered as manipulative third parties?”
Niall just looks pointedly out towards the horizon in response, refusing to even grace Bond with a direct answer for that.
“I hate you,” Bond finally says with immense feeling and Niall laughs.
“Fuck,” Bond swears under his breath as an ornamental mirror next to him shatters in an impressive shower of shards, destroyed under rapid, if slightly inaccurate gunfire. “Fuck.”
The sudden flare of a shot so close to him jars Bond’s night vision a little and Bond curses as he blinks furiously in the dark, ducking through the arch into the living room so he can overturn a conveniently placed coffee table for cover. It’s pitch dark in the villa and Bond can only spare half a second to bless the fact that Q has somehow managed to worm his way into the local power provider’s system, cutting off the lights to plunge this part of the island into a temporary darkness.
In the absence of man-made light, the moon outside seems impossibly close.
“Bond, get the hell out of there,” urges Q in Bond’s ear just as gunfire starts to erupt again, Bond hunkering down against the wood as it takes the brunt of the attack.
“You think I’m not trying?” Bond hisses. “How about you try dodging bullets in the dark?” There’s a half snarl of annoyance curling from behind Bond’s grit teeth, cuts opening up on his palms as he presses against the places where wood has shattered and prepares to shove the table forwards as a temporary diversion. “Keep the lights out, Q, I’m going to make a run for Niall in a minute.”
“Might want to make that half a minute,” comes Niall’s voice over the system, the wind making his words sound much too far away to be anything of a comfort. “30 seconds and counting, James.”
“Oh, now that’s just brilliant.”
More gunfire staccatos overhead and in a split second decision, Bond kicks the table towards the general direction of where he hopes one of the bodyguards is standing. A burly looking shadow goes down with a yell.
“Twenty five,” warns Niall’s in Bond’s ear as Bond takes advantage of the temporary confusion and sprints out of the living room, running towards the balcony. Bullets are ricocheting off the walls just as Bond breaks into the open, the tattered remands of his suit jacket flapping in the warm night air. “Twenty.”
Bond can’t hear the rest of it though, not over the sound of gunfire and his own adrenaline pumping in his ears as he runs towards the furthest edge of the balcony. With little effort, he clambers up onto the low, waist-high wall that separates the villa from the cliff’s edge and the sea crashing onto the rocks below, the empty air like a sudden void beneath the back half of Bond’s shoes when he stands to his feet.
“I hope you bloody well know what you’re doing,” Q’s voice cuts in abruptly, the sound of each word clipped and tight with stress. Perhaps Bond should be flattered that Q gets like this sometimes, mostly whenever Bond does anything particularly life endangering.
“You’re one to comment when you told me to get creative with my exist strategy. Look, Q! No clock towers or tourists!”
In the midst of Bond’s animated retort, the bodyguards have come to a sudden standstill in front of Bond, guns still trained on him.
“Stamatí̱ste!” one of the guards barks and even if Bond doesn’t know the language, the intent is obvious enough.
If Bond falls, the documents fall with him.
“In a bit of a dilemma now, aren’t we?” Bond says with a grin, breathing hard even as he spreads his bloodied hands in front of him, a poor mimicry of surrender. “Good thing it’s a nice night out this evening. A standoff like this would be uncomfortable in the rain.”
It’s a full moon tonight, hanging low in the sky and Bond bides his time in its barely-enough light, counting the number of bodyguards who eventually emerge from the villa. Two already on the balcony, two more limping out. Four still standing out of the original six, which isn’t too bad at all, given the three minutes or so that Bond had.
“You cannot jump,” one of the guards points out reasonably when they have Bond surrounded and Bond still hasn’t made a move to come down from his perch on the wall. “There is no where to run.”
“Five,” says Niall.
The sea sounds loud from where Bond is standing and if Bond would care to look, waves are crashing onto the rocks down below, sea spray having done nothing to blunt their sharpened edges. From the echo alone, it sounds like a long, painful way to the bottom.
All it’ll take is a misplaced breath of wind, a miscalculated step to send Bond off the edge and onto the rocks, sliding into the water.
Maybe it’ll even take a bullet to the chest, if it’s that sort of night.
Bond really, really hopes it’s not that sort of night.
“Get down, you madman,” one of the guards yells, English coloured faintly with a rolling Greek accent. “Get down.”
Maybe it’s the word madman that finally does it, or maybe like Q said, Bond is just overly fond of dramatics when he can get away with them, but under the light of the Thiran moon, Bond just grins as wide as he can and spreads his arms before leaning back into the open air– (“Two.”) – and letting gravity take care of the rest.
“Motherfucker,” shouts one of the guards just before falling makes it too hard to hear anything beyond the rush of wind in Bond’s ears and then–
Niall grunts as Bond twists his body just in time to land a little off mark, hands scrambling for purchase against smooth scales before Niall banks a little to the right and Bond can finally get hold of one of the saddle straps, looping the tough leather around his wrists for the time being.
“You just had to stop to see the scenery, didn’t you? Couldn’t have just got in, shot the bastard, take the documents and get out like any normal agent?” Niall grumbles as Bond tries to catch his breath, leaning forwards against the familiar expanse of Niall’s neck.
“Shut up and fly.”
They’re hugging the coastline by now, low enough for sea spray to dampen the heels of Bond’s shoes and far above head, the shouts have turned from loud cursing to a single word, surprise and anger making voices carry far into the night.
“Dráko̱n!” Bond hears on the wind even as Niall carries them away from Santorini, making for the mainland.
drag.on / drægən
1. sentient animal of reptilian origin, order Draconia, generally having characteristics such as a moderately elongate body, tapered tail and hardened scales
Also see: draco archaeopterophis
The strange thing is, Bond had never really wanted a dragon.
But before that:
While working at Vickers had made Andrew Bond a nice, respectable sum of money, it was the side dealings he did on his position-appropriate travels around the continent that made him truly rich. Andrew’s position as company rep had him traipsing in and out of Europe on an almost weekly basis, wining and dining some clients in Paris one day, charming others in Berlin the next.
An easy life, if you will. Safe and dull and devoid of any sort of excitement whatsoever, and if one day Andrew suddenly started bringing home more than signed contracts or the promise of new business, well… no one would have even suspected a thing.
Of course, things were simpler back then, people more easy to please if you had the right resources. Money greased hands, the right names made eyes look the other way, and if anyone ever discovered something that shouldn’t be stashed safely away in crates of company samples, no one ever said. Bond always knew to give whatever cases he found in the spare room a wide berth when Andrew brought those back, only watching curiously from the top of the stairs whenever eager-looking men and women came to collect said cases from his father during the night.
One of Bond’s earliest memories of Skyfall is Andrew taking his hand to press against the warmth of a swaddled Winchester egg waiting in the foyer, Bond curling his then-chubby fingers around the curve.
“Dragon?” Bond had asked then, looking up curiously at his father, and the knowing smile on Andrew’s face had been all the answer that Bond needed.
It wasn’t like Andrew couldn’t get a dragonet for his son if Bond had been so inclined towards such a companion. Smuggling dragon eggs past red tape meant many people owed Andrew a favour or two, but as a child, Bond was more interested in climbing trees and looking for rabbits on the moorlands, not sitting down to train a hatchling. A dog might have been welcome, maybe, but a dragon?
Far too many responsibilities, far too much trouble. Bond didn’t want a dragon and no cajoling from Andrew was going to change that.
At this point though, it goes without saying that life, in its infinite ability to disregard anyone’s personal feelings on important events, had decided otherwise for Bond.
Bond was barely six the night of the intended pick-up. Though scheduled for the week before, bad weather meant the egg had been sitting in Skyfall for a good eight days and counting, shell hardening to a point where even Andrew was starting to get increasingly restless, not daring to move the egg unless he absolutely had to. This egg, a particularly adventurous attempt to breed a Winchester against a Chinese Jade, had reached a final bidding price of close to £300,000 and if it hatched before its buyer arrived, there was no telling whether Andrew would be stuck with a disgustingly expensive racing breed he had no interest in keeping or a 15% commission .
Not that either option was unattractive at that time mind you, but pocketing $45,000 was still considerably easier than housing a dragonet, especially if said dragonet decided it didn’t like the looks of its potential Rider.
Come 2am and with still no sign of the buyer, Bond was already falling asleep at his usual post by the top of the stairs, head resting on drawn-up knees as he waited. Andrew knew his son liked to watch the transactions happen, all hush-hush and reminiscent of some B-grade spy movie where Andrew played the almost-villain, but as long as Bond kept quiet and stayed on the stairs, Andrew didn’t really mind being watched. It made the longer nights feel a little more bearable after all, and the intent look of delight on his son’s face was more than worth the unplanned sleep-ins the next morning.
Bond wouldn’t have known it that night, having fallen asleep when it happened, but based on Niall’s own patchy retelling, it was the warmth of the fireplace that did the trick, egg starting to crack the moment Andrew went to let the client in from the rain.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“Did you actually try to bite him the first time you met?”
“Of course I did, he wouldn’t wake up otherwise.”
Across the courtyard, Marie’s excited tones carry easily and Bond only sighs, Q doing the same, though his comes with an extended eye-roll to accompany it. At less than three years old, Marie is still as excitable as they come, her tiny size not impeding her in any conceivable way. Why a dragon as collected as Niall is still putting up with her incessant questioning and capering is anyone’s guess, but Q finds it endearing all the same, if a bit unexpected.
“She’ll get tired of hearing origin stories over and over again, one day,” Bond says conversationally as they watch the two dragons lying together in the sun, Niall’s deeper voice a low counterpoint to Marie’s. Niall has gotten to the part where Bond’s father apparently goes for his shotgun, terrified that a hatchling would somehow mistake his son for a first meal. “But then again, that’s almost as likely as Niall getting tired of telling them.”
“He didn’t actually bite you, did he? Wouldn’t blame him for trying though.”
“Your kind sentiments towards my younger self have been noted, thanks. And Niall only wishes that he did, the overdramatic beast. It’s not like he can get away with it now anyways.”
Santorini has left Bond with a temporary aversion to bright sunlight, so they sit in the shade instead, not that London’s watery excuse is anywhere close to what Bond had come home from. Documents safely handed over in the hours before, Bond and Niall have retreated to the courtyard to let Marie say her hellos, even if Niall had given Bond a rather knowing look once Q emerged as well.
Is it even possible for dragons to look smug?
The owl paperweight sits comfortably in the space between Bond and Q, nestled against empty take-away boxes and paper sandwich bags. Q had taken one look at the ceramic monstrosity before deciding that if he ignored it, the bad thing would eventually go away, Q going as far as to tell Bond this much when Bond had offered it up like some strange peace offering.
“I think it has a certain charm to it, don’t you?” Bond volunteers after they’ve been watching their respective dragons for a while, though the momentary lapse of silence had in no way been uncomfortable. He’s picked up the owl to illustrate his point and Q can only grimace a little, deftly plucking the paperweight from Bond’s palm.
“It’s very…emotive,” says Q flatly. “I think if I squint a little, I might get what the artist was trying to convey.”
“Deep-set childhood trauma?”
“I was going more for pretentious modern art, but now that you mention it, that angle fits right too. Marie likes it enough in any case, so that’s something, even if I’m just putting that down to her being too young to know good art from the bad.”
Q bounces the owl in his palm a few times before lifting his head to look back at the dragon in question, Marie currently making a nuisance of herself by climbing all over Niall.
“Been too busy teaching her the finer points of micro-engineering to give her art appreciation classes?”
The sudden laughter from Q makes Bond grin in return, Q setting the owl carefully back down onto its temporary seat between them before he leans back on his palms.
“Been too busy picking up after her messes, more like. Sometimes, I’m not even sure if I’m cursed or blessed that she’s the size that she is.”
A runt for her breed, Marie had been part of an exchange from the Directorate-General for External Security in France, a sort of apology slash payment for the cock-up at Portsmouth that had a French operative accidentally costing the SIS five perfectly hatchable eggs. The SIS had been livid beyond belief when Marie had hatched a small, sickly little thing, but in a take it or leave it situation thanks to France’s bad breeding year, they had still settled or her in the end.
Marie has climbed easily onto Niall’s back by now, the smaller fledging a tight, but comfortable fit between Niall’s wings. From this distance, the cheerful red colouring of her Plein-Vite heritage makes her look not unlike a contented barnacle, or a misplaced Christmas ornament atop Niall’s more sombre, storm grey scales.
“At least you’re not getting cheated out of your life savings to rent living space for her,” Bond counters easily. Niall himself isn’t oversized by any standards, but standing at a good head and a half taller than Bond, it’s still a challenge to house him without renting out an entire apartment floor. Bond just considers himself lucky that killing people for the collective good of the country pays considerably well.
“Five more minutes and we’re leaving,” Bond calls towards where Niall and Marie have just started play-fighting in the sun and Marie pauses in her assault to raise her head in Bond’s direction, baring her teeth in mock retaliation which just leads to Niall barrelling into her to knock her easily off her feet. “Wrap it up, the two of you. I need to sleep.”
“You’ll both be back tomorrow?” Having righted herself immediately after hitting the ground with a loud thump and causing Q’s yes to widen in abject worry, Marie has sprung back up on her own four legs to bound up to Q and Bond, turning a critical eye to the latter.
“I haven’t even heard about Santorini yet,” she grumbles. “It’s hot there, isn’t it? Did you manage to fly around the island? Did you kill anyone? Did Niall kill anyone?”
“Marie,” warns Q without too much feeling and Marie huffs, the sound quickly turning into a loud squeak of indignation when Niall gently nudges the tinier dragon out of the way with a foreleg so he can add his part into the conversation as well.
“The full debrief is tomorrow so we’ll have to be back anyways,” Niall rumbles calmly. “And then maybe you’ll find out just how many people we killed this time around.”
Bond throws Niall a half exasperated, half disapproving look which thankfully goes clear over Marie’s head, Marie now more preoccupied with capering excitedly in front of Q, clearly over the moon at the promise of getting access to the more gory mission details.
“Bond, I swear, if your dragon keeps feeding Marie with tidbits like that…”
Hands lifted in mock surrender, Bond shrugs. “Niall’s right there if you want to call him out on it. For once, this isn’t my fault.”
“He’s your dragon, of course it’s your fault.”
By now, Q has somehow gotten Marie to calm down a little and she thrusts her head at Q, obviously asking for some sort of incentive to keep still. Q, indulgent as he is with her, runs a fond hand across her snout, eventually getting a lapful of dragon for all his trouble.
“Go on then,” Q says at length, one hand resting against the top of Marie’s head. “Go back, get some sleep and come back to terrorise me in the morning.”
Niall has taken to nudging at Bond’s chest with his nose, clearly trying to get his Rider onto his feet so they can go home for the rest of the day. They hadn’t even meant to stop at HQ for more than fifteen minutes this afternoon, Bond fully intending to only drop the relevant things off and let Marie climb all over Niall for a while before going back to fall into bed for the next two days. Nonetheless, it’s been one hour and a full lunch since they’ve landed, and they’re both still nowhere near anything that mildly resembles sleep.
It’s not something Bond regrets though, even if he’d rather face down the business end of a gun than admit that.
“I’ll schedule in the terrorising between the debrief and the post-ops physical so be a dear and keep that slot in your day empty for me, will you?”
“Ha bloody ha. There’s a root canal operation I’ve been putting off for a while now and I think I’ve finally found the perfect time to schedule it.”
“I can be there to hold your hand if you need me to.”
Q groans and waves Bond off, clearly at a loss for words. “Go home, Bond, I think the exhaustion is getting to you.”
At this, Bond does finally get to his feet, smirking as he brushes sandwich crumbs off his trousers. Q had been gracious enough to be waiting with food when Bond finally extracted himself from Mallory’s office and even if it had been from the sad excuse that the SIS passed off as a cafeteria, food was still food all the same.
“Thanks for lunch, by the way.”
“I’d hardly call cafeteria sandwiches and a boxed salad lunch, but you’re welcome. Lucky for Niall and Marie, it’s actually pretty hard to screw up meat.”
“I think Niall might want to differ on that after Dalvík, but that’s probably a story for when we’re not in danger of keeling over.”
Bond picks up Niall’s saddle from where he had left it next to the bench and Niall obligingly lowers himself to the ground, lifting his wings without needing to be told so that Bond can get the straps in place for the short flight back.
“Okay?” prompts Bond out of habit even though they’ve been at this for years and Q knows Bond could probably do the whole procedure blindfolded, one hand behind his back. Niall rears up on his hind legs, wings outstretched before falling gracefully back onto the ground again, shaking his shoulders so that the rigging settles comfortably.
“Okay. Now get on, you’re not the only one that’s going to keel over soon. Dalvík was fish, by the way, and I’d actually prefer it if we don’t bring up that one week ever again.”
With a snort to accentuate his feelings on seafood, Niall crouches low to the flagstones so that Bond can pull himself up into the saddle.
“No fish stories tomorrow, then.” Q gives Niall a friendly goodbye pat on the side while Marie goes up to bump noses with him, Bond nodding at Q from where he’s seated. “I’ll have someone prep the new BIRD paperwork for the both of you when you come in, by the way. You know how anal they’re being these days with cross-border identification and the like.”
“God, I don’t suppose I can take your place at that root canal thing tomorrow?” A sigh and Bond slips his aviators on, giving Niall a light tap on one shoulder blade to let the dragon know that they’re good to go.
“A little paperwork never hurt anyone.”
“That’s what they all say,” Bond says darkly in parting and Niall tenses under him for one brief moment before lifting them into the air with one downward push of his wings, Bond glancing down in time to see Q going back to the bench to pocket the owl. Niall bears them out of the SIS courtyard then, heading for Chelsea, and Bond lets himself grin.
“You’re late,” Q says the moment Bond walks into his branch office unannounced, Marie twisting a curious head over her shoulder to blink at the agent in question. “Care to tell us which one of you overslept this time?”
“Is Niall–“ Marie cuts in hopefully before Bond can make any excuses for his waltzing in at 11:32 in the morning and Bond cocks his head towards the door he just came through.
“Out in the courtyard, go right ahead. He’s just waiting for the post-ops physical.”
The younger dragon doesn’t exactly bolt outside, but she does come rather close to it, Q needing to tamp down on the urge to throw his hands up in frustration when the end of her tail catches a table leg and almost sends two monitors crashing to the floor.
“She’s not half as bad as Niall was at her age, if that’s any comfort,” offers Bond helpfully in lieu of the almost-destruction of expensive technological equipment, Q going to rearrange the monitors so that they’re not in danger of toppling off the table. Quietly, Bond notes that the owl he had painstakingly brought back from Santorini has found a place on Q’s own workstation.
“You had twenty acres in the Scottish highlands. I have an underground lab that just slightly bigger than a swimming pool.” A sigh and Q pulls some wiring back into place, Bond looking up from where he had been contemplating the paperweight. “Half as bad in a fraction of the space still means I’m on the losing end, aren’t I?”
“I could make an argument for this being closer to one of the Olympic-sized pools rather than the regular ones, but…”
Q huffs out a laugh and Bond knows that for all of Q’s comments about Marie being a nuisance to have around delicate equipment, there’s no real venom behind the words. As always, Q straightens Marie’s mess with the practiced motions of someone who has been doing it on a daily basis for the past two years or so, Bond helping to shift the table back into its rightful place where it’ll hopefully stay for the next few hours.
“In any case…” Q says slowly as he makes his way towards the main worktable with tablet in hand. He carefully picks through the field equipment both Niall and Bond had somehow managed to bring back intact the day before. “How did the mic patches go for clarity?”
Bond follows Q to go lean against the table’s edge, arms folded and glancing over at Q so he can watch Q make thoughtful noises over field-tested tech.
“Some interference in higher wind speeds as expected, but altitude-wise, it seems to be doing just fine. Niall likes them, so I suppose that’s enough to go on.”
“No discomfort during flight?”
“Knowing Niall, I would get an earful about it if it so much as itched, so no. Long-term wear seems feasible too, since he had it on for about eight hours, give or take.”
A pleased nod from Q and the mic patch goes back into its casing, Q scrawling something onto his tablet with the stylus . What had initially began as a pet project that allowed him to talk to Marie during her solo flights has now turned into a fully-fledged, MI6 funded affair, the current mic models on the market too uncomfortable for long flights and too unreliable in higher wind speeds. Not that MI6 has too many operatives cum Riders in the system, but under the threat of insufficient funding and with the knowledge that dragonic technology is still pretty much stuck in the 90s, Q has learnt to be quite persuasive, to say the least. Mallory’s support for anything that’ll contribute to both operatives and dragons being kept alive for a little while longer hadn’t gone unappreciated too, especially when it was his sign-off on the budget approval forms that really mattered in the long run.
“Any inroads on the touch screens, by the way?”
At this, Q’s head snaps up from where he had been quickly sketching a new upgrade to the patches, throat vibration sensors spread out over a wider area instead of its current concentration around the edges. There’s a suspicion on Q’s face for a moment before it dissolves into something that looks an awful lot like resignation.
“Do I even have to ask who told you about that?” he asks tiredly in return. There’s an insufferably smug look on Bond’s face by now and Q just knows that the moment he has a working prototype up and running, he’ll end up having to make an extra one to keep Bond from harassing him about it.
Bloody dragons and their inability to keep secrets to themselves.
“You’re just making it so you can play online Scrabble with her, aren’t you?” prods Bond when Q seems quite intent on making faces at his screen and sketching with a rather annoyed air instead of voluntarily offering up information about his newest pet project.
“If you knew how many screens she broke while trying to use them during the first few months, you might want to rethink that statement.”
Like how two tonne beasts and delicate technology aren’t meant to be, claws and touch screens just simply don’t go too well together. Q had lost three monitors and bought five new tablets within the space of two weeks before it started to make more sense for him to fix the problem instead of cleaning up after it.
Of course, the look on Marie’s face when Q broke the idea to her had been more than worth all the damages she had incurred, but that’s a bit of a given.
“You know, I won’t be surprised if she and Niall have been comparing notes on effective destruction methods.”
“Please spare me the horror, Bond.”
“Just imagine it,” Bond continues on a gleeful note now that he’s got a potential lure in sight and Q’s efficiency means that they’re pretty much done with tech debriefing for the time being. “The things that the both of them could learn from each other.”
“You mean the things your corrupt dragon could teach mine?” Q has laid his tablet aside to start packing the used equipment away, Bond easily sliding over whatever he can on his end of the table towards Q. “Don’t think for one second that I don’t know who Marie learnt those evasive dives from.”
“I’ve heard that MI4 have some really good flyers in their retinue,” says Bond, suddenly the poster child for innocence.
“Evasive diving, Bond. In the middle of London.” The last remaining earwig goes into the discard box with a little more force than it probably deserves. “Between buildings.”
“We’ll make a stunt flyer out of her yet,” Bond is starting to say, but the unamused look on Q’s face has Bond smoothly following that up with a more sedate “But in the meantime, I’ll have Niall ease up on sharing flight techniques.”
“That would be appreciated, thank you.” Equipment all packed away, Q tags the boxes neatly and heaves one of them off the table to bring back to his own workstation, the other left behind for the disposal team to get rid of.
“Don’t you have a debriefing with Mallory to attend?” he asks when he notices Bond still hanging around.
“Kicking me out already?”
“More like making sure your tardiness doesn’t end up with Mallory being in a bad mood for the rest of the day,” scoffs Q. “There’s a project I need to get his approval on later, so I’d really appreciate it if I got it signed without the added glaring.”
“You’re going to end up blaming me if you don’t get that approval, aren’t you?”
Q graces Bond with a sarcasm-laced smile when he sits down at his table, tablet already in front of him for more design tweaking.
“It’s almost noon, Bond, I’d run the rest of the way to the admin wing if I were you.”
Sparing Bond only the briefest of glances, Mallory waves Bond into the office before turning back to his work, typing a few more lines on his laptop before putting it to sleep. Q’s insistence that MI6 do away with most, if not all forms of actual paper-based documentation had taken a while to implement, but now that Mallory’s desk is neater than Bond can remember the old M’s ever being, Bond supposes that it had been worth the wait.
Today, there’s only the usual debriefing sign-off documents and beneath that, a copy of The Telegraph on Mallory’s desk.
“And how was Santorini, double-oh seven?”
“Hot.” Bond taps a finger against the arm of the chair he’s sitting in, considering. “Swarming with tourists,” he adds after a beat.
“It’s good you weren’t there for a holiday, then.”
“My thoughts exactly, sir.”
The words RAMPAGE and DRAGON peek out in bolded font from under the debriefing documents, disappearing altogether when Mallory pulls the paper off the table to slot into one of his desk drawers instead. Bond hasn’t seen the news since he got back last evening and though he’s not one to read the papers from cover to cover, it seems like today will be one of those rare days he’ll have to pick a physical copy up, if only to show it to Niall later on.
“I trust that you’ve already reported back to Q regarding equipment and the like?”
“Any problems with that area? You and Niall?”
“Not that I can recall, no. The prototype mic patches we used during this operation were of excellent quality though.”
They go through the usual post-operation drivel after that, Bond signing his name with a flourish on all the dotted lines to confirm all facts, details and occurrences are indeed accurate. Mallory has the BIRD forms underneath the standard MI6 ones as well and the brief look of distaste on Mallory’s face at them when he hands them over is evidence enough of his views on the British Inspectorate for the Regulation of Dragons’ current stance on dragon identification.
While it’s not a secret that Mallory takes a side-interest in dragon affairs, what is rarely talked about is the fact that Mallory had lost his own Greyling to the IRA in the 70s. Mallory doesn’t wear his grief on his arm the way other Riders do, but anyone who knows where to look will still see the tightness around his eyes, a certain stiffness in his shoulders when he absolutely has to talk to Niall or Marie, or any of few other dragons in MI6’s retainer. Thirty years now and though there had been whispers in the inner circles of the department about why a Rider had managed to obtain double-oh status, Bond has since made it a point to leave no cause for doubt over the real reason for his or Niall’s appointment.
“Niall sends his regards,” Bond says, the way he always does when he stands to leave and Mallory just nods his acknowledgement, clipping the forms back together.
British Rider Murdered in Finnish Capital
A British citizen and Rider, David Singh, was stabbed to death in the Finnish capital of Helsinki late last evening.
Finnish law enforcement received distress calls at approximately 6:30pm local time from onlookers who reported the death, these being followed up by further calls for assistance due to Singh’s dragon, a nine-year-old male Chasseur-Vocifere, exhibiting violent behaviour once Singh was confirmed dead.
Singh’s dragon was put down at the scene by Finnish Dragon Control officers in the interest of public safety and the seven onlookers injured in its rampage have since been hospitalised with non-fatal wounds.
While initial investigations have not implicated anyone in Singh’s murder, Detective Chief Inspector Henri Koski has reassured– (pg 3 for full report)
“Did you see this?” Because Q is Q, he has a copy of The Telegraph on his tablet, the first page zoomed in to the headline story. “If they weren’t so trigger happy, we’d at least still have one alive instead of two dead,” he continues on in a low, displeased voice. “Or one witness instead of none at all.”
Next to Q, Bond takes a slow pull from his bottle of water as he glances at the headlines.
“Saw it in Mallory’s office, but not the actual report itself. Local?” Another drink before the bottle gets capped and Bond drums his fingers against its sides.
“Finland, but they were both British.”
The tablet exchanges hands and Bond scans the article, scrolling downwards even as each successive paragraph makes his eyes narrow just a little more, fingers stilled against his drink.
“I’ve been checking in on Interpol ever since the news broke,” Q says offhandedly as Bond passes the tablet back, speaking as if it’s perfectly normal to go around hacking the databases of international law enforcement agencies in his free time. At this point, Bond doesn’t even think to be surprised anymore that this is what their lunchtime conversations have become. “The reports they’ve filed so far seem to indicate that they’re taking this as an isolated incident, but the red tape is going to be messy, either way. Last I heard, BIRD is already flying some of their own over to poke around in the investigations.”
“And to make a complete nuisance of themselves as well, I’ll warrant. You’ve shown Marie the news?”
“No, and I’m putting it off for as long as I can.” Q pauses to take a bite out of his pasta, leaving the fork stabbed in swirl of fusilli. “She’ll find out on her own soon enough anyways, but until then, I’m not going to actively pursue the possibility of five hundred new questions until I’ve clocked out for the day.”
Bond nods in sympathetic understanding. Runt that she might be, what Marie lacks in size, she makes up for more than threefold in her insatiable love of finding out how things work, why they work, who they work for, and basically any other possible question under the sun.
The fact that Q usually indulges her incessant badgering is just one reason why if there’s any dragon in MI6 who knows how assault rifles are to be cleaned, disassembled and reengineered to have a range of almost twice the usual, it’ll definitely be Marie.
Out in the courtyard, the dragon in question is watching Niall finish up the last remains of his meal, Niall easily tearing a chunk of meat off his own share to nudge towards Marie when it becomes apparent that she had already finished her portion long before.
“You’ve been starving your dragon, Q?” Bond comments teasingly as he watches Marie fall onto the meat like she hasn’t been fed for weeks.
“Starving her?" echoes Q, indignant. He snorts and points his fork accusingly towards Marie who's chewing happily on a piece of meat as big as her own foreleg. "I'll have you know that she eats better than me, most days. Only the best cuts, and all marinated to her liking at that. If not for the fact that manufacturing deadly weapons actually pays decently, she would have eaten me out of hearth and home by now."
Q sighs and turns back to his own packed lunch.
"If you're going to tell me I've been spoiling her, you can save yourself the trouble because I already know it five times over."
“I think you hardly need telling when it’s obvious to everyone that she walks all over you.” Bond leans over and easily plucks a cherry tomato off the small salad residing in the side of Q’s container. “You like it, don’t you? Having a bossy woman in charge.”
“Yes, Bond,” Q says in a dry tone as he throws Bond a look for stealing his food. “It appeals to my inner masochist and need to be domineered by a three year old dragon the size of a very large dog, after all.” Even if Bond had any food on him for Q to steal, Q hasn’t stooped that those levels just yet.
“Always knew you had a kinky side.”
“Oh fuck off, you pervert,” retorts Q good-naturedly. “I’m willing to bet that Marie is learning all her attitude from Niall anyways, who in turn got it from you.”
“Following that chain of influence, I don’t even know why you’re so worried. It just shows that Marie’s attitude is in perfectly capable hands at the moment.” Bond inclines his head towards where Marie is now trying to lure Niall into a short flight around the compound, her wheedling making Niall grunt and half-heartedly bat her away until she finally consents to settle down beside him in sulky defeat. With Niall due for a post-ops physical with a BIRD sanctioned flight analyst in an hour or so, the larger dragon has no interest whatsoever in any sort of physical activity at the moment, huffing contentedly in the sun when Marie stops squirming next to him and they can both nap in relative peace.
“That Marie of yours is a good dragon, influence or not,” Bond adds just when Q thinks they’ve gone back to companionable silence. The courtyard has quietened at long last now that their respective dragons are starting to doze off. “She’s got good head on her shoulders that’ll only get better if you give her a few more years to settle down.”
“With much prayer and supplication, a few more years shouldn’t be that big of a problem.” Q has a small smile on his face now, the edges of his lips subtly tugged up at the corners in reflex to the warm happiness that sometimes pools in his chest whenever the conversation turns to Marie. “I’d like to think I don’t worry too much about her when it comes to how she’ll eventually turn out, but it’s still nice to know that someone else sees it too.”
“Even if it’s just some damned double-oh who doesn’t know go from stop on his best days? Your words, by the way, not mine.”
This manages to draw out a full laugh from Q and Bond secretly counts it as a win for his side, even though no one is actually keeping score.
“Yes, even then. Good job on the verbal memory, by the way. Where was that from? Tianjin?”
“Almost every operation, to be honest, but yes, Tianjin. I seem to recall some explosions too.”
The rest of the conversation degenerates back into its usual formula of sarcasm and sniping after that, innuendo-laden to the bitter end, and by the time Bond has to go wake Niall up for his physical, Q can only choose to gloss over the fact that he hasn’t stopped smiling since.
Q still remembers the first time he had seen Marie, curled in on herself in one of the indoor holding pens that the SIS keeps for injured dragons and the like. Though he hadn’t been at the hatching itself, word about how the dragonet was painfully undersized had still trickled over to his branch and so here Q was, having pulled his newly conferred rank of Quartermaster to end up crouching alone on the outside of the pen during one of his lunch breaks.
“Hello,” he had said to the tiny red dragon in the corner and she had looked up at him through the glass that separated them, eyes hopeful. “I thought you’d like some company.”
“Are you going to be my Rider?” Eight months in British hands while she was still an egg had more or less erased the French lilt to her words, but there was a hint of it still, her Rs soft and rolling.
“I’m not sure, actually. Don’t you have one yet?”
It was odd for hatchlings to spend more than a few days without a Rider, but given the SIS’ preference for dragons of a certain weight or flight class, it wasn’t too strange how five days post-hatching, no one had stepped up to claim her yet. As Q was looking at her now, it felt even stranger still that the SIS was still holding on to her here instead of shipping her off to a civilian seller. Small-sized dragons were starting to be in vogue again now, after all.
“No,” came the slightly glum reply, the dragon laying her head down again. “No one wants to be my Rider. I think everyone is angry at me for being so small, but it isn’t like I can choose to be small or big.”
The way she said it, big had come out sounding like beeg instead, and Q found himself having to hide a smile.
“Well,” Q said gently as he finally gave up on the crouching and just sat himself down on the floor. “Sometimes being small is a good thing, and you’re right about no one being able to choose whether they get to be big or small, so no one should ever be angry at you for that. Anyone who is just doesn’t know better.” A pause as Q tucked one loafer under the side of his thigh, sitting cross-legged in front of the pen. “Lots of people want small dragons now by the way, so I’m sure you’ll find a Rider soon enough.”
“Really?” There was that hopeful look again and the dragonet got up to take a few hesitant steps towards Q, small enough that she had to look up to properly meet Q’s eyes. “Do you want a small dragon?”
“I’d love to have any sort of dragon, actually–,” admitted Q, “–even though my job wouldn’t make me the best Rider to have one.”
Q had spent that lunch break explaining to her how he made dangerous things for a living, and if later, Administration suddenly had a new email from Q Branch requesting the runtling to be handed over to R&D for purposes only vaguely described as research, Q made sure that all footage of the pen from that day was strangely unavailable.