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a price most dear...

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Some say love is a young man’s game, that only the young and foolish can risk themselves so completely. But old hearts know better. Old hearts know that most of what passes for love is mere attraction, or giddiness, or boredom. Old hearts have no time for such trifles and fall less often. But old hearts also know themselves and recognize true compatibility when they see it. Old hearts are patient and selective.

But when they fall, they are utterly lost.

 

Bond’s heart lashes out after Vesper’s betrayal. Hot with embarrassment and rage, it shreds itself with recriminations of folly until all that’s is left is a calloused leathery thing, all but impossible to pierce. And so it stays for years, with only a few shiny spots worn soft by colleagues and friends. Until Madeleine reminds it of older times, older connections, and finds a way in.

She doesn’t betray him. Not really. She just doesn’t love him. Not once she truly sees him. Not once she understands that this is who he is, who he’ll always be, whether on the job or not. The more they know each other, the less compatible they feel. When things end, his heart doesn’t grow hot and fierce; it grows cold…weary. He returns to the fog of London, comforted by the soft-edged familiarity, grateful that he can’t see too clearly. There is a bruise where she had resided, and Bond pokes at it occasionally to feel the faint ache. To feel something. But in time, he stops worrying it.

Eventually, he calls M. It’s a short call, followed by a succinct conversation in M’s office that ends with a trip to HR.

Mere hours later, he’s riding an elevator down to the bowels of…well, not hell. Someplace infinitely more comforting and appealing than hell. But perhaps as secretive. Like some realm under the hill that never changes, but is somehow always current. Always changing, never changed.

Tanner leads him through the maze of surprised whispers and wide eyes until he finally sees a shock of dark curls for the first time in nearly a year. When green eyes rise to meet his, James tallies the emotions he sees — surprise, pain, distrust, exasperation — before they shutter again to a familiar, wry professionalism.

“If you’ve left that beautiful car in the bottom of a river, I’m afraid I don’t have another for you to abuse,” Q says, looking away and feigning disinterest.

Bond reaches into his pocket and tosses the keys to Q, who catches them without looking. He raises an impressed eyebrow to Tanner as Q drops them into a desk drawer, still without looking.

“This still doesn’t make up for absconding with it in the first place,” Q complains, though not with much venom. “And I’m not giving you so much as a paperclip until you’ve requalified quam videri.”

It’s considerably less fuss than James anticipated. “Understood, Quartermaster.”

Q turns and studies him, eyes a deep, forest green and completely unfathomable. It strikes Bond, then. Tanner is balder than when he left; M has more lines around his eyes — even Eve’s temples sparkle with a bit of silver amongst the mocha, just as his own blond is woven with grey. But Q... Q looks as young as ever.

Except for his eyes.  His eyes seem to betray a weariness of ages, as well as something of a sharp curiosity.

Bond places his hands in his pockets and allows Q’s scrutiny to wash over him. It feels different from M’s, whose assessment was calculating and opportunistic, and Tanner’s, which was imbued with relief. There’s a sad sort of warmth in Q’s eyes, but also caution. Bond wonders what he missed while he was ‘retired’, and whether that caution stems directly from his leaving or some detail of the Nine Eyes aftermath he avoided.

Where M’s and Tanner’s scrutiny chafed, James feels perfectly content to let Q’s sharp eyes take in whatever details they can. The focused attention makes him feel… almost settled. Or at least, on his way to being settled. Q’s scrutiny feels more like a homecoming than M’s office (the wrong M’s) or Tanner’s pile of familiar forms, or Alec’s bottle of very good vodka, or even the rain-streaked kerbs of London. Q will challenge him, and Bond will rise to it. Together they will do the Queen’s work. It’s enough. If that’s all that’s left of his life, he’ll do it well and be satisfied.

Q finishes his silent assessment, nods, and turns away in dismissal, moving onto the next crisis. Bond turns to Tanner, who meets his gaze and shrugs with a small smile, leading him out of the branch and down to Operations to get a new ID.

 

Old hearts may fall hard when they fall, but they are very good at keeping their balance.