It still surprised Bond that he had actually retired whenever his mind managed to catch up with itself. But perhaps the one part that surprised him more than his own retirement was the fact that he had gone along with it for the past two decades or so, that he hadn’t wasted his time away drinking or actively trying to end his existence.
In a way, he supposed it had something to do with Eve, who still popped in to ‘check’ on him from time to time (which, admittedly, was a rather embarrassing, if not slightly humiliating, concept to wrap his mind around), because back when he had tried to drink himself to death, she had been there. The entirely powerful and attention-commanding woman that she had been, still was, had told him one thing and one thing alone:
“If you throw your life away recklessly and meaninglessly like this, when he died trying to protect this country and you in it, I will never forgive you.” She had stared hard into his eyes, cold and cutting, despite the stench of all the scotch and whiskey and whatever else he had consumed reeking all around like fuming miasma. “Most importantly, you will never forgive yourself.”
Idly, Bond tapped at the cane handle in his hand with a distracted finger. Almost twenty years had passed since then, his body had deteriorated quickly due to all the damages it had taken and doled out in its prime—a restructured back, shoulders that had been dislocated too many times, and all the other hazards that had come with the job. Reality had finally creeped up on him like the looming shadow that it had always been, and draped its smoldering weight over his shoulders now that he could no longer run. Not even from himself.
( Every night when he goes to sleep, he wishes he will never open his eyes once more to see this world. Never again feel this bruising pain that has been aching for so long he can no longer pinpoint when it started.
Every morning he wakes, he can only grow more disappointed than before. And the cycle repeats. )
Gardening had turned out to be a good thing for him, the meticulous care that each plant required in order to reach full bloom was just the thing he needed to keep himself occupied whenever he wasn’t fixing things around the house. The house… His house. A suburban structure of a home that Bond, in his younger days, would’ve sneered at with contempt. However, after having lived in no place permanently, the long climb of stairs had only become too wearisome when there had been nothing awaiting him on the other side of that door other than just more empty spaces and broken whispers of promises made.
And so, after a few years living in this nearly nauseating perfect catalogue cut-out that was his suburban house, all but a rather ‘model’ citizen, Bond had actually grown slightly fond of it, even though he sometimes still wondered if this had been part of the small doses of punishment that Eve had been exacting on him over the span of his retirement. The commemorating medals, the honors, the visits…
And now the aide.
It had been one of those things he had drawn the line at, aside from bi-yearly medical checkups. She had been giving him everything he had never thought he would live to see since the start, everything that could’ve given any regular person out there the most comfortable life they could ever hope to have, because she knew it was what he never wanted. What he would never dream he deserved. That was the cruelty of her method, the both of them knew—she could never forget, and neither could he.
But well… Bond frowned as he squinted at the piece of paper in his hand (the fewer electronics the better), trying to read the information included there that had come with the package Eve had sent him. The doctor had deemed his twice-shattered knees, which definitely did not look like how they should’ve been for someone of his age on the X-Ray scans, too out of shape during their last check-up, and it had been at that point that Eve had decided to override his feeble protests at not needing help around the house. He scoffed at the idea even then, as he sat on the porch waiting for this aide to arrive. Honestly, he could very well take care of himself even better when there wasn’t some fumbling, bumbling teenager by his side, thank you very much.
Stuffing the note inside his pocket, Bond rolled his eyes, put the cigarette he had been smoking out, and got up to do some more gardening, more than determined to scare this kid from his house before the day was over. That doctor and Eve could fuck right off, and that kid could just be assigned to assist someone else who actually needed their help.
It was when Bond’s knees gave out from under him as he tried to get up, and a part of him thinking that he would finally smash his head in against some rock this time, that a pair of strong arms caught him.
Surprisingly, no one fell to the ground—either whoever had caught him had a firm stance, or he had lost more weight than he told himself (and Bond would rather it be the former option).
“Thank you,” Bond said rather gruffly. He grabbed the cane that had somehow been timely and helpfully deposited into his grip and straightened up with whatever shred of remaining dignity he had, brushing himself down. “Who—”
Once the glare from the sunlight reflecting against those somewhat too big glasses eased, Bond caught sight of two wells of familiar green that he had so many times seen behind his eyelids that he could no longer tell which was part of his imagination and which was real anymore. And air stuttered in his lungs.
The boy carefully placed a cup of water into his hands, peering worriedly at him while brushing the falling fringe of his messy, messy dark curls away from his eyes. “Are you sure you’re not hurt anywhere?”
Bond looked at the way a pink tongue swipe across that full bottom lip, and nodded. “Yes,” he replied, still sounding a little more out-of-breath than he would like. He had regained most of his composure, but there was still that part in the back of his skull that remained reeling over just how alike this… this boy and his long gone quartermaster were. “What did you say your name was again?”
“Jason,” the boy answered with a kind smile.
“You don’t look like a Jason,” Bond said before he could stop himself. The boy blinked at this, chuckling softly, the sound deep in his chest and pulling at something Bond thought had already dried up and died.
“That’s what people like to tell me. It seems my parents didn’t have a knack for giving me a name that suits me.” His head tilted to the side, eyes searching for something in Bond’s expression. “You don’t feel lightheaded anymore, right?”
“No.” Bond shook his head, bringing the cup up for a slow sip at the cool water inside.
“Good.” Jason patted gently at Bond’s swollen knee, the touch barely there so as to not hurt him, but still surprisingly warm. Perhaps it was something about that look in his gaze. “Wouldn’t want you hurt right on my first day here.”
And the subsequent smile that followed was brilliant.
Bond is sixty something (he’s lost count after sharing a few similar birthdays with some of his myriad of aliases), and the boy, Jason, is freshly eighteen—his face still retains a bit of baby fat, but his cheekbones look like they will grow to become cut glass sooner rather than later. There are spots on his face, and a scatter of moles that kiss his cheeks and jawline… all of which are in the same places as Bond remembers them on Q.
But this boy isn’t Q.
Q is dead.
(His body was pale when Medical had relented and let Bond see the photos, all spilt blood cleaned so efficiently, no blemishes of mortality remained. The mop of his hair had been long enough to cover up even the gunshot wound to the head as well. But the thing that had wedged inside Bond’s gut like a stone that would never disappear afterwards, had been the serene look on his face.
Like he had felt no pain or betrayal, right to the end.)
Q is dead, and even now, Bond, in the privacy of his own mind, swears he did see Q sitting behind his desk that one last time before the end, typing away at his laptop like usual, as though nothing was wrong.
He swears when he came in, Q was bathed in the gray light of day from those first few hours of a shy morning barely breaking over the horizon. He can still taste his own words on the tip of his tongue when he asked for that blasted Aston that now sits and gathers dust in the garage, its glory days long past and tucked away hidden under a sheet, much like the life Bond used to have that is now nothing but a dream.
Q had even looked up at him back then, breakingly hopeful in a way Bond never saw before, or after, to have ever managed to conjure up such a vivid image all by himself. Of course he remembers this, down to every millimeter per second…
Because he can never forget that instant in which he knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that he just dashed Q’s hope away.
The boy stopped by three times a week from morning till rather late in the evening. He didn’t seem remotely deterred by Bond’s grumpy mood that changed like the weather outside, fickle and usually unpredictable. And when Bond tried to shoo him away, saying it was starting to get too dark to walk home, Jason had even cheekily said he would stay over for the night, if only Bond would ask.
Bond would never ask of course. Why would he? He preferred solitude. All killers did, even those who had retired years ago and could now barely walk for long without a cane anymore.
( It’s a pathetic existence, him just a shadow of his former self, but an existence Bond is willing to have, nonetheless, until his own heart decides it can’t keep carrying on beating in this shell any longer, or something else inevitable ends up killing him.)
But soon, he found that the boy’s presence was everywhere. Two tea mugs drying in the corner of the dishrack, a forgotten cardigan draped over the back of the sofa, a small stash of sweets hiding deep inside the fridge, and physics notes somehow randomly ending up under the coffee table, just slightly scrunched up.
It was like having a second housemate he wasn’t aware he had whenever he found these things, and Bond could never bring himself to grouse over this sort of sloppiness the next time the boy stopped by because…
Because Jason was excitedly chattering about yet another science project, or telling Bond about his day, or striking a joke with the punchline somewhat flat, which he himself laughed at anyway. Bond was always left just watching the boy, watching the way he laughed with his eyes closed, long limbs awkward, cheeks flushed.
It was strange.
It was so familiar it threatened to suffocate him.
They spent most of their mornings working in the garden. At first, Bond didn’t quite trust Jason. He had come to feel rather attached to these plants that would bloom year-round for him as long as he took proper care of them, even if he would never admit so aloud. However, it turned out that the boy had quite a green thumb, and he paid close attention to the instructions, too, so nothing had gone wrong so far.
Perhaps having the boy here did have its merits. His knees certainly weren’t protesting.
It’s when Eve stares blankly into his face as he (foolishly) speaks to her about how much Jason resembles Q, and she tells him, “I’ll arrange for an eye examination,” with a frosty and tired note in her tone, that he realizes just how mad and ridiculous he must have sounded. (She is still angry; Eve. And she has every right to be—someone has to be for him .)
All these thoughts about Q, all the tiny bits and pieces of fleeting memories that are coming back to him every time Bond closes his eyes with maddening frequency, surely have clouded his judgment and sensibility.
But deep down inside, Bond knows full well he can’t deny the resemblances—the way he carries himself, the way he talks, the distinct lilt of his voice that is all sorts of posh and crisp and Shakespearean, the way he licks his lips, and that motion of his hand as he sweeps fallen hair backwards to where it should be…
Every day, the creaking pains in his body clarifies the realm of reality to him, but Jason is the anomaly that makes him question everything again as he increasingly can’t tell which seems more real anymore.
This boy standing in Bond’s living room while putting on some 80s music and humming along to it.
Or that young man leaning back against a desk, peering at Bond over the rim of his somewhat smudged glasses, and talking about two cats and a mortgage with exasperation in his tone.
Even so, the boy’s hand is warm over Bond’s sometimes twitching fingers that are ridden with arthritis and were probably broken one too many times, and his smile is warm. And Bond feels he is just a little less on edge, despite all that wretchedness rotting inside.
Jason had always been a little too thin ( like Q ), but soaked through and shivering in front of Bond’s front door at 1245, he had looked even worse. There had been an already blooming bruise on one side of his face, his lower lip split just off to the corner.
He had looked the perfect picture of misery.
“I’m sorry… I came here without really thinking about it,” Jason had begun, voice strained in an effort to force the shaky words out. “I can go—”
Not hesitating, Bond had stepped aside and ushered the boy in, closing the door quickly behind him to stop the chills from setting in even more.
“Bathroom upstairs,” Bond had instructed. “Down the hall, on the left.”
That was an hour ago, and now, cross-legged on Bond’s floor in front of the fireplace, the boy was dressed in a pair of clothes a size or two too big for him that Bond had randomly grabbed straight from the rack, doing his homework. Like nothing was wrong.
Sitting in his most comfortable armchair, Bond spotted more bruises on Jason’s wrist.
“Who did this to you?” Bond asked, feeling something like genuine emotion for once in the long years of retirement he had endured up until that moment.
Jason turned to regard him, his gaze fixed and calm. “It’s nothing you should worry about,” he said after a long second.
Bond scoffed. “You are hit and bruised and are seeking shelter in my house. How is that something I should not worry about?” He raised an eyebrow.
It was almost eerie, the steady way Q— fuck, Jason (Damn it, what is wrong with him) —was unblinkingly staring at him, the flickering flames of the fire casting ever shifting shadows along the contours of his face.
“You know,” Jason said, voice soft, flecks of gold dancing in his green eyes, “I’ve never heard you call this place ‘home.’”
Bond blinked. “You’re detracting from the topic.”
Jason shrugged, a small smile quirking up the corners of his red, red lips. “Maybe, maybe not.”
When Bond shook his head with a snort, the boy laughed, too, the sound tamed and controlled.
“It’s my boyfriend, ex -boyfriend, but don’t worry. He is actually the one who came out the worse for wear after all was said and done,” Jason continued, something sharp gleaming in his expression, something close to dangerous as he stood and went to turn on some low music with a gentle beat. “He’ll be having his real payback tomorrow.”
And just like that, the boy hummed and got back to his homework.
After a couple of minutes of tangential musing, Bond decided to make himself useful and got up to make some tea for them both.
Sometimes, he sees himself stopping the bullet.
Most of the time, it’s a split between seeing a strange body all laid out in the morgue, scrubbed clean under the harsh fluorescent light, and him actually there to witness Q drawing his last aborted breath as the blood ooze out of him in never ending streams, entirely helpless in the face of a tragedy repeated. Q ends up dead either way.
Other times, though, as rare as it is, he manages to convince Q to stay out of it. To just go home to his two cats, and Bond promises never to bother him again. It is in this sort of scenarios that Bond sometimes finds himself somehow inside Q’s flat as well, morning coffee in hands, mixed colored cat hair on his rumpled pyjama bottoms, and Q, so beautiful and radiant, half asleep across the table, the heat from his tea steaming up the lenses of his glasses.
It is scenarios like those that are the most cruel.
(It all fades away like dust blown by wind whenever he tries to reach out anyway. Every single time.)
Bond woke with a start. Being sweat covered with the muscles in his back cramping had become so much of a norm that he barely grunted anymore as he tried to unstick his face from the pillow, a whisper of disappointment welling up in the pit of his stomach.
Bond instantly regretted turning so quickly, but instincts dictated so. And just as one of his hands reached under the pillow for his gun, he realized two things: he no longer had a gun, and Jason was standing at the door, sleepy-eyed with his hair sticking everywhere. ( Q looked just the same whenever Bond caught him taking a short nap in Q-Branch, all curled up in that office sofa as it was. )
“Don’t you knock?” Maybe Bond did snap a little, but it was because he was half-naked and still reeling from the idea that someone had managed to sneak up on him like this.
Either way, Jason didn’t seem to care or appear perturbed—not by Bond’s tone of voice, or by the visible old scars that littered his body all over. He just yawned. “I did,” he mumbled. “But I had to go in and check when I didn’t hear any response.”
Bond all but scowled. “I don’t need you to mollycoddle me.”
“Obviously,” Jason scoffed with a small smile. “I’ll be downstairs making coffee and tea, so just holler if you need me.” And with a wink, he was off, leaving the bedroom door slightly ajar behind him like an invitation.
From then on, he somehow found himself occasionally putting up a teenager in his house, certainly more than three times a week, and certainly not just from morning to evening. It was a strange affair overall, but Jason seemed oblivious, or uncaring, about this fact. He had gone shopping for some food the second night he dropped over after that first one, too, and everything just sort of settled in from there… strangely enough.
Bond didn’t even bother protesting anymore, mostly because he had realized early on that Jason was every bit as stubborn as Bond was. Combined with that fueled energy of youth, it was difficult to dissuade him from anything he had set his mind on.
( But also because he possibly has grown to… appreciate the boy’s presence, despite all the conflict it stirs up in his mind—a maelstrom that doesn’t really ever calm down.)
He started luring Bond out more, Jason. It was a decent tactic, even Bond had to admit: he just started talking about these places (a restaurant, a café, a jazz club), showing Bond the photos and videos of the place, and sighing that he had no peers who could appreciate all these things to go with. Bond realized that he was probably being a little reckless, saying yes that first time, but the bright grin that he received in return washed the thought away like a refreshing bout of spring rain.
It only got easier after that.
The space nestles a gentle warmth that glows like the soft radiating light of a faraway star, there and nearly intangible. He is sleeping in Bond’s arms, the gentle rise and fall of his chest a reminder of peace… and home.
Bond thumbs along the dark circles of many a sleepless nights under his eyes. He twitches, mumbling something in his sleep, and Bond just presses a kiss to his hair and sighs into the fold of slumber as well.
Bond woke up one day, feeling almost like the man he had been from two decades ago, and sat up with a deep exhale before getting himself out of bed. It was a slightly gloomy morning that day, but still warm enough to have the windows open.
Jason seemed a little surprised when he finally dropped by at around 0730, flopping his messenger bag at its usual place at the foot of the coffee table along with another separate bag, which no doubt had a change of clothes inside, next to it.
“Let’s go out today,” Bond said, and for what was probably the first time, the boy looked like he was caught a little off guard.
“We are, though?” He blinked. “For the play tonight?”
Bond shook his head. “Yes, we are going to the play later, but I mean now ,” he elaborated.
“Oh…” Jason straightened up, somehow awkward now that he wasn’t entirely the one making all the plans. “Sure. Where to?”
Bond stood, rather amused. “We’ll grab breakfast first, then… go to the beach,” he filled in that sentence with the first thing that occurred to his mind.
Jason was blinking rapidly now as he adjusted his glasses in a nervous tic. “Uh… I’ll order us a cab then,” he said, quickly reacting to the situation and trying to be proactive as ever.
“No. We’re driving.” Bond was already heading over to where the garage was, and the small ‘what’ he could hear behind him made him chuckle.
The Aston Martin was still as sleek and beautiful as ever, but this time, as he slipped in behind the wheel, somehow, there was just a little less guilt sitting at the bottom of his stomach. He turned when Jason climbed into the passenger’s seat, and started the engine.
The DB5 came to life and purred like a dream. It was worth all the frequent nights he spent maintaining her in shape.
“Sweet ride,” Jason said, looking around as he clicked on his seat belt. “Did you customize all these?” He nodded at all the rows of buttons and switches that regular cars of its time shouldn’t have.
Bond shook his head, eyes ahead as he waited for the garage door to open all the way. “Someone made all this for me,” he said. “A long time ago already. He was brilliant.”
“He must have cared about you a lot, then.”
“It seemed that way,” Bond replied with a small shrug.
The thing he didn’t understand, even up to then, was why Q had cared at all.
A brilliant but foolish man.
The beach turned out close to being deserted. Apparently, not many people looked at the weather that day and thought to themselves they should go to the beach, and Jason told him as much as they walked along the uneven shoreline, nudging at shiny pebbles as they went.
It wasn’t cold, per se, the sea still carried a spark of heat in her that Bond could feel brushing against his skin, and that was already more than enough.
Jason was balancing on his tip-toe on an imaginary line next to him. It was rare to see him acting like an actual teenger, and so Bond reached over to just slightly push the boy off balance with a nudge of his hand.
They kept going back and forth after that, because Bond was a competitive little shit and Jason was no different, until the rumbling at the far horizon drew close and dumped rain down upon them.
With a startled laugh, they began running for shelter, hands over their heads as though that would really help cover anything up.
The torrent started out heavy, but eased back into a quick drizzle by the time they found somewhere to hide, soaked through and dripping wet.
“You okay?” Jason asked, a grin still on his face as he tried to catch his breath.
“Of course.” Bond smiled. Actually, he was surprised to find that it wasn’t a lie. Aside from a bit of an ache here and there, even his knees weren’t bitching up a storm, so there was that.
It wasn’t too bad until a particularly strong wind blew through and had Jason shivering.
“We should start heading back.”
Well, despite the somewhat spoiled ending, the trip had been overall good after all.
He just smiles, the gesture unspeakably sad, and doesn’t say a word as he shakes his head.
Early that evening, Bond smoothed a hand down along the front of his jacket. The suit was a little loose around his frame, but it still didn’t look half as bad as he had thought it would, even if he did feel rather warm in it. He couldn’t remember the last time he had worn a proper suit like this, and if he were honest, it actually felt quite nice.
Adjusting his tie and cufflinks one more time, Bond headed out, fully intent on waiting for Jason to come down once he was done changing as well (and also stopping his mind from wandering off to places where it shouldn’t), when they met each other out in the hallway.
There was a flush of heat trailing up Jason’s cheeks as he blinked at Bond. “I’ve never—” he cleared his throat, somehow rather flustered. “You look… quite nice.”
Bond smiled. “You cleaned up nicely yourself.”
Jason huffed and headed straight downstairs. “Hurry up, now,” he called over his shoulder, and Bond saw no reason not to oblige.
The play was a success, emotionally charged, with a good set to boot as well. The entire cast received a standing ovation for their efforts that lasted around a good minute afterward.
“Are you sure about this?”
Bond was driving them to dinner, operating the DB5 just as smoothly as she was running for them, like he had not stopped driving her for a day.
“Why shouldn’t I be?” Bond raised an eyebrow.
“Because it’s been a long day, and if you’re tired, we can just go home and eat in.”
Jason was quiet for a bit before saying, very thoughtfully, “You seem different today.” He paused. “More like yourself.”
“And how’d you know that?” Bond turned to briefly look at him, the yellow light of the street lamps and the car’s dark interior cast half of the boy’s face into shadow.
“You weren’t at all this comfortable in your own skin before, were you?” It sounded less like a question and more like a statement, and one Bond didn’t suppose he could deny anyway. “What changed?”
“Nothing.” Idly, Bond loosened his tie for some more air. “Do you like the car?”
Jason sounded a little surprised by the question when he said, “Yeah. It’s really well-crafted… Why?”
“No reason,” Bond murmured quietly with a shake of his head, the road was winding ahead, blessedly empty.
It’s raining outside, the rain pitter-pattering against the window as the droplets shatter and reform themselves in an instant. The bed is warm, their blanket thick and comfortable, and when Bond opens his eyes, Q is already awake next to him, sleepy and quiet and there .
Bond reaches out a hand to pull him closer, his body solid and pliable as it presses against his, like two pieces of a puzzle slotting into place.
He doesn’t disappear.
“Let’s go to the play tonight,” Bond mumbles, voice thick and gruff still. “The play you told me you wanted to see the other day.”
Q hums, warm hand clasping over Bond’s own. “What would you say if I told you I already got us the tickets?” He sounds cheeky, and Bond can just see the little smile on those lips even though Q’s back is against his chest.
“I would say… good foresight?” Bond kisses along a freckled shoulder, nuzzling at the nape of Q’s neck. He’s pleased when he feels the shiver running up that delicate spine.
“You needed to get out of the house anyway,” Q continues. “So I don’t see why not.”
“I do get out of the house,” Bond protests half-heartedly, brushing his nose just behind Q’s ear.
“Only when I drag you out, you big, lazy old man.”
Bond laughs at that grumble, and concedes defeat. “All right, all right. You win.”
Quietness settles in like a friendly, contented cat between them, easy and undemanding, and Bond can almost feel himself falling back asleep with Q in his arms when the next words come in a near breathless whisper:
“Let’s stop, James.”
The haze of sleep clears out without a trace as Bond stiffens. “Stop what?”
Q rolls over to look at him, eyes bloodshot and lower lip gnawed. “Punishing ourselves.”
“What do you mean? I—”
“Sometimes, I wish…” His hand reaches up to cradle Bond’s cheek, thumb brushing gently over the rise of his cheekbone, “that someone would just tell us it’s enough already. That we’ve done enough, and we can finally stop now. But if no one is willing to do that, then I will. And since you seem to marginally listen to me from time to time…” The quirk of his lips is crooked, broken. “It’s enough, James. It is. Time to stop now.”
And with that, he leans up to kiss Bond’s eyelids and brushes away the tears Bond didn’t notice falling.
Given his own rotten luck, Bond wasn’t surprised when he ended up catching pneumonia, of all things. It would be almost ridiculous, if it hadn’t been for all the smoking and drinking and weight loss and generally not leaving his house for extended periods of time.
If even Eve, who had come to be everything the old M was and more after she had succeeded Mallory, looked worried, then he knew his chances of scraping past this by the skin of his teeth was close to nonexistent. But in all seriousness, he supposed he didn’t mind, even if it was rather ironic that his lungs would be the things to kill him now after all this time feeling metaphorically suffocated by life.
He would have asked them to just pull the plug and get it over with already if it hadn’t been for the fact that he was still stubborn about seeing the boy one last time.
The doctors were still trying, and while Bond more or less appreciated their need to save a patient (although it very well could’ve been by Eve’s orders), he would have liked it more if they could just focus all their efforts on other people who actually required that sort of assistance.
By the end of the week, Bond was at the point of respiratory failure, and despite the haze of drugs and a severe fever that refused to break, Bond still thought, whenever he was lucid enough, that the constantly beeping machines were probably going to kill him first by driving him up the wall, and subsequently, into a coma. He was barely conscious by then anyway, no longer breathing by the volition of his own body.
But the warmth that clasped around his hand drew Bond’s labored, fleeting attention, and the boy was there, eyes red and puffy, looking like he was just on the verge of another sob.
He looked so young like this, so vulnerable, that Bond could feel his heart constrict.
“Why are you like this?” he said, sniffing and gripping so tightly around Bond’s hand as though he thought that if he did so, if he held on strongly enough, then Bond wouldn’t die. “Why are you always so reckless?”
He sounded scared, and Bond wanted to comfort him, but he knew that he honestly couldn’t anymore.
“I shouldn’t have come looking for you,” he continued, venting out all of his frustration now, more tears welling up as the resolve in his voice unraveled. “I should have… I—”
Using the last bit of energy he still had left, Bond managed to squeeze back, tapping his thumb gently at the back of the boy’s thin, bony hand. It took a while, but he eventually completed the sentence:
“Tell me your real name.”
The boy was confused at first by how calm Bond appeared, by the knowing look in his eyes. But after a moment of silence, they seemed to have reached a common ground of understanding.
“Elliott.” He drew in a shaky breath. “My name is Elliott. And I hacked into MI6’s system to make sure I could switch places with Jason…” He swallowed thickly. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Bond tried to squeeze the boy’s hand again, trying to catch his attention, trying to stop him from needlessly apologizing. “Elliott suits you.”
The boy stared at him, tears spilling freely from his eyes now as they rolled down his cheeks in quick succession. Even on that stormy night, bruised and with his lip split, he hadn’t looked so pained.
“Thank you, Elliott. For always being there for me.”
The embrace of a long, long sleep was creeping back up on him, and Bond told himself it was okay. He had done everything he wanted to do already—Elliott was there, and while looking at the boy, so thin and fragile, worried him… Bond knew he was much stronger than he seemed. Stronger than Bond knew.
“Sorry… for always leaving you.”
Elliott shook his head, holding back a sob that threatened to break free in the back of his throat as he watched Bond’s eyes slowly closing shut.
“Make it up to me next time, then,” he choked, air too thick in his lungs and the words fragmenting. But there was determination there, palpable and unwavering.
In that second, he thought he could see Bond smile.
And he was gone. Just like that.
Room 34 was busy, much like the rest of the rooms, with people eager to enjoy masterpieces that the Gallery had finally put back on display after a period of much needed restoration.
He sat, one knee crossed over the other, on the one unoccupied bench in the middle of the room, and perused rather carefully the painting before him. And as if everyone else sensed that there was obvious prior engagement there, no one sat down in the seat next to him.
No one, up until just now, that is.
The cologne on this young man was tastefully sharp and faint, inviting but elusive and aloof, just out of reach. It complimented the cut of the suit he had on his person well, and not quite accidentally so either.
“Rather melancholic, isn’t it?” the young man began, the build of his youthful, muscly body exuding power and commanding attention. Quite a cocky, jumped up little shit, this one. “Grand old warship being ignominiously hauled away for scrap.”
“All in the inevitability of time.” He raised an eyebrow at this… boy , and smiled a little, extending a hand with a single introduction: “Q.”
“007,” the young man took the handshake, his hold firm but warm, the lingering squeeze surprisingly reassuring. “At your service.”