It is never really quiet in the technical section of MI6. The low electronic buzz of computers and other technical equipment usually creates a comforting blanket around the mind of Rutherford Holmes, better known in MI6 as Q (or Ford, by family members and a small number of friends), lulling him into deep concentration and calming him. Today it is different. Every periodic whirl reminds him how much time has passed since he followed Bond's instructions.
Morning is approaching, but right now he waits for a call, a signal to send a retrieval team to get Bond and M back to London. They are still alone. Tanner sits opposite him, dozing off, but occasionally awakening at the sound of his own snores. Mallory's last check-in was about an hour ago and Q wants to do something, wants to hack any surveillance camera to see, to know what's happening in the loneliness of Scotland. But the next usable satellite is still 37 minutes away, and since they aren't officially on a mission he can't just hack one. They are breaking enough rules right now, no need to alert other agencies to this.
The big screen shows the trace he has programmed for Bond in one corner. Below is the satellite, still somewhere over Siberia. The rest of the screen is covered in code, running a program to follow Silva’s traces as he follows Bond’s, trying to find Silva’s base or possible associates. Using the big screen is a little indulgence, not really necessary, but it gives a semblance of activity, while everything else is stalled until they hear from Bond. Q hates it, has always hated those times when he is reduced to waiting, because he can't see, because other parts of the world aren't covered with CCTV on each corner, where he is able to trace anybody, to trace Bond ...
He stops this train of thought immediately. He must really be exhausted when his usually singular brain decides to take the route of sentimentality. His attraction to Bond is nothing new, but it is usually the kind of sentiment that he reserves for the privacy of his own home, only there allowing his rigid emotional control to crumble and to give in to some of his more private indulgences. Like accessing the ‘Bond-cam’, watching the agent move with his own careless, dangerous elegance and pretends he has every right to call him his. Q knows it is not exactly healthy and he feels vaguely guilty, but working for MI6 and obsessing about one of its agents is not really conductive to a healthy relationship.
Two years ago, on the day of his recruitment – if you can call it so when offered a choice between MI6 or jail – he met Bond for the first time in a lift of all things, like a normal office romance. Those piercing blue eyes swept over his body, then clearly dismissed him. It had been an interesting experience to be judged with such a look by someone outside the family. Interesting in the sense of frightening. He had thought years in the Holmes Mansion under the scrutiny of two elder brothers and all-seeing parents meant that he was immune to the effects of this particular skill, but Bond's look felt like a firetrail on his skin and he had vaguely wondered what it might feel if this man was actually touching him, if he would burn alive.
He remembers that he immediately knew that this man was a spy (or, to be politically correct, an agent), but the thing that stuck in his mind was the short moment when their eyes met. Ice blue, calculating, assessing and then switching to indifferent neutrality. The quick changes and the shimmering intelligence left him dizzy and the rest of the day is still a bit of a blur. M threatening him. Not in so many words, but he had sensed the control and the determination to go as far as necessary. Tanner as the mediator, but with clear loyalties. His predecessor sitting on his right side watching him curiously and of course Mycroft radiating displeasure at the whole situation.
Two years and nothing has changed. Well, that isn't entirely correct. MI6 has proven to be far more interesting than Mycroft made government work look (and what Sherlock’s disdain implied). And more important by now he manages complete conversations with Bond and keeps them on track the whole time. Q allows himself a small sigh when he realises that he is still thinking about Bond.
It is probably time for another cup of tea. The young quartermaster is pretty sure that he won't get any sleep before his scheduled shift starts, but luckily he did not only inherit the Holmesian brain but also the insomniac streak. Staying awake for days is neither a problem nor uncommon. The kettle sounds unusually loud in the empty rooms. Ford fixes the tea in his favourite mug, watching the brown shapes created by the splash of milk.
He checks his watch. It is almost time for the satellite. Ford allows himself the luxury of taking his teacup to the workstation – something that would earn any of his technicians a stern look – and switches the satellite image to the big screen, reducing the code to a small window. The image still shows the North Sea when he hears two sets of footstep approaching. Of course, Mallory would return for the satellite feed. In silence they wait for the satellite to make its way to their goal, watching the scenery changing from water with the occasional boat and oilrig, to a coastline. The smoke is visible even without the enlargement, but the latter shows that the fight is over.
It doesn't show who won it, but Q sends a retrieval team anyway.
James Bond has seen too much in his life and grown too cynical to be affected by what normal people would call ‘wonders’ or ‘impressive’. Nature’s own beauty became boring after watching too many sunsets, risking his life in the shadow of the rain forest or falling down another ‘must-see’-waterfall. He also knows enough about loss – personal and otherwise –, has seen too many violent deaths and caused enough to ignore the circumstances. So when he sits in an icy church with the body of the woman who somehow managed to get too close to him, the cold beauty of another morning on earth brings nothing symbolic to him.
The emotional pain has faded, leaving an aching body. The wetness reaches his bones, adding to the emotional numbness. He is tired, so bloody tired and again death seems more like a welcoming friend than an enemy to outrun. Kincade has settled beside him, the warmth of his hand a stark contrast to the cold of the church’s floor, the cold of his soaking clothes and the drying blood on his hands.
Their combined breathing sounds too harsh in the silence, breaking the eternal peace of old walls and their stories. Just another dark moment in family history, a part of his chosen family lying in his arms. Dimly he is aware that he should go, get out of his clothes, alert London to the fact that he failed – once again. But despite the fact that every breath brings back an equilibrium he has maintained more or less since his parents’ death, there is a part of him that doesn’t want to return, that stayed on a beach and enjoyed death.
The sound of approaching helicopters wakes him out of his drowsiness. The rotor blades cutting through the air, getting louder, a steady rhythm, like the wings of a bird on its way south. It seems like too much effort to go and check whether it is the expected back-up team from MI6. But years of training can’t be ignored. Still numb, he takes Silva’s gun and gently lies M down, before he approaches the windows. Past the landing helicopters he can see the fuming remains of his childhood-home. The new owners won’t be pleased. Kincade follows him as they watch the first men descend. By now 007 is sure that they belong to the good guys, but he only lowers his weapon when he recognises Tanner. Apparently his trained brain takes this as his cue to move. He leaves the church without a glance back, crosses the small graveyard with the tombstones of his parents and only stops to hand the gun to Tanner. He climbs in the helicopter, ignoring his aching body and the noise around him and hopes it will take him away as soon and as far as possible.
London is the same as ever. In fact James is almost appalled at how little things have changed. Surely, MI6 is still located in the underground and even if most of the faces look foreign to him, the bureaucrats still think he needs to be checked by the medical team. At least here is a familiar face. Dr. Andrew Scotsdale, who's been working for the service longer than Bond has; an institution like the old Q. Bond has seen the developing grey in dark hair, matching bushy brows above brown eyes, but the doctor’s body betrays no signs of age. Still very lean and fast on his feet, no insecurities, just firm confidence. The quiet assessment of steady hands brings back a normality that he had lost. Maybe he really is too old for this job.
He lets himself being manhandled, vaguely aware of probing fingers and applied bandages, contemplating the number of people that are still here since he enlisted, only to be interrupted by Andrew’s voice.
“So, it’s true then?” James looks up, surprised and trying to catch a glimpse at the doctor’s face. “Is she dead?” Andrew clarifies, probing with something sharp at James’ back.
Bond waits for the sting to dissolve before confirming with a simple ‘yes’, not ready to go into details. He still has to deliver an official report and that will be enough said about Skyfall. This lack of detail doesn’t seem to disturb the doctor, for he continues in a conversational tone.
“I knew him. Silva, I mean. We started at the same time. He was a good agent.”
Bond is certainly not someone who sticks to the unwritten rules of social niceties, but it seems an odd sort of statement. Again he searches Andrew’s expression, and is somewhat startled by the apologetic look.
Apparently it is also the cue for Andrew to elaborate, moving in front of Bond and gesturing vaguely to his surroundings.
“It sometimes feels as if I’ve been here for centuries. So many things have changed. New agents, new M, new policies, even Q-branch is different. Now everything is about data security and data leaks and computer protocol. Sometimes I really miss the old days, when agents were more than hired guns and exchangeable items. When they made a difference.”
There is a bitterness in the doctor’s voice that is unexpected, but Bond isn’t a good caregiver at the best of times and certainly not at the moment. He goes for humour, hoping to elevate the slight tension in the room.
“I think that should be my speech.”
It is only partly a success. Andrew sighs and then crosses the room to get clean clothes for Bond.
“Oh, ignore me. A meeting with the past always makes me sentimental. You are good to go.”
“You sure everything is alright?” Bond puts on the dry shirt, observing the doctor.
“Yes, yes, I just never thought I would outlive Silva twice.”
The debriefing follows strict protocol. Q and Tanner are there and another suit which Bond automatically allocates to the psychology department. He is declared unfit for active duty and spends his free time house hunting. One of the perks of the job is the paycheck, and since the British Crown invested the money from his death quite sensibly, he can afford a nice penthouse with a great view. Unfortunately nothing feels right; he can’t even settle down in a hotel for long and annoys Eve by changing his address every few days.
He is not surprised that he has to answer to an informal inquiry. Just the Prime Minister, M, himself and one man he recognises as head of MI5. However, he is surprised when he learns the official version of events. Somehow the Prime Minister has managed to put the blame on MI5 for their failing to see the potential for domestic terrorism. Sharing a small smile with M he just enjoys the sharp questioning of the other man, glad that they won’t be the media target for the next few days.