The morning started with clouds and ended in rain, the grey sheets of it falling after casting a pall across the day.
In Livingston, West Lothian, a blue-eyed boy sat in the Saint Joseph’s Home and stared forward with practiced apathy as he was lectured by the Home’s headmistress. It wasn’t anything he hadn’t heard before: “James - you have to stop being so irresponsible! James - you won’t be living within our walls forever, and you’ve got to get ready for the real world! James - where do you keep getting these bruises? James - stop fighting!” Other words snagged the barest edges of his attention as they floated past, words repeated so often that they’d nearly lost all meaning in his ears: difficult, disrespectful, inattentive, troublemaker. Since James Bond had been orphaned at age eleven and been passed through more foster homes than he cared to count in the five years since then, he figured that he was entitled to every one of those words and then some. Just because he was considered ‘in transition’ and being taught how to ‘survive in the adult world’ didn’t mean he was going to suddenly shed his present skin and become something pretty and new.
Glancing over at the window, James watched the thick-bellied clouds as they marched above the rolling hills, and wished they’d just fucking rain already. Then he could distract himself with the sound of it.
In London, another day started out grey, and then went black. A younger boy, fresh from a family fight and determined to run away (at least temporarily) to a relative who properly appreciated him, traipsed boldly to the train station only to get waylaid upon arrival. Boys with posh coats attracted all kinds of bad attention, and muggers could be unscrupulous in what prey they chose. It took only seconds for things to go terribly wrong. Small frame limp and as vulnerable as the bones of a little bird, that fourteen-year-old boy was tossed aboard an empty train-car. Blood plastered dark hair against the side of his face, making his wild nest of curls lopsided, but even as his muggers ran off with his coat and all the meager belongings in his pockets, that boy stilled breathed.
Back in Scotland, the blue-eyed boy endured the rest of his lecture, ending in strict instructions to make it to his job on time come Monday - and not to get any more bruises between now (Friday) and then. James wanted to ask her if she knew how ruthless the kids at the Home could get, but he’d already had liberal experience with adults not listening to him, so ultimately his eyes slid back to the window with its portent of rain. He’d failed today at being a grocer, but in the time he’d skivved off on his ‘work training,’ he’d made at least a week’s worth of cash at The Black Eagle, hustling people at poker. Everyone underestimated him pretty quickly because of his young age, although if they tried to use their fists to dispute their losses, he was quick to show them that youth didn’t exactly mean ineptitude - and James was more than capable of weathering a few blows to defend his winnings for the day.
Instead of thinking about how much madder Mrs. Mitchell would be if she realized that he’d been augmenting his income at pubs, or that he’d found an underground club amoral enough to let a sixteen-year-old brat fight in it, James brushed a hand back through his short blond hair and glanced out the window again. He almost liked getting lectures in this office, because instead of looking off towards the suburbs of Livingston, it looked out over the land mankind hadn’t reached yet.
It made him think of home.
Just before James' mind slipped from pleasant memories into the ones that stung and burned, the clouds opened up, and thunder rolled like a celestial grumble.
Over another boy, those same clouds opened up - and the train-car’s doors were opened as well. A flurry of shocked and confusion followed, as the hurt boy was bundled up, freezing cold and barely alive, far from his London home and now raggedly breathing in the wet Scottish air. Amidst much bewilderment and worry, he was rushed to the nearest hospital, the rain pouring down all the while and washing the blood out of his hair.
The rain seemed to wash away everything temporarily: James' frustration and discontent with his life, his general disregard for human attachments that had been growing like a cancer ever since he’d watched his parents and groundskeeper killed in front of him. For a while, he was able to just drown himself in the pounding of the rain and the growl of the thunder as he was released back to the room he shared with at least a dozen other orphaned boys.
But while all of those things would come back to James, recreating the model of a recalcitrant adolescent well on his way to becoming one of life’s menaces, the rain’s metaphorical cleansing had a more lasting effect in another sector.
Days after the rain had passed, a boy with cracked glasses and a cracked skull would wake up in the hospital with absolutely no memory of what had happened to him or where he was… much less who he was.
St. Joseph’s Home was bustling, the hall used for breakfast filling up fast with ravenous children all descending on their first allotted meal of the day like ravenous wolves - they were young like pups but all the smart ones had learned to scrap and bite already like adults. Necessity and hunger were good teachers. James had technically learned most of the tricks before coming here, but even he had to admit that it was hard to keep hold of your food with so many other boys and girls jostling for it. Even as he filled up his plate, he slipped some of his food into his pockets, aware of the dangers of keeping all of his valuables in one place. If someone took his plate, he’d still have food left.
It was likely a needless precaution. James was one of the older boys, and even if he wasn’t - he’d earned a reputation as one of the ones you didn’t fuck with.
“Children!” Mrs. Mitchell’s voice managed to cut above the general chatter of boisterous, rowdy adolescents. James turned half an ear to her, keeping his attention evenly distributed, and giving one gimlet look to the girl following after him in line - at the moment of distraction, she’d started eyeing one of his scones, but now kept her eyes to herself as she realized that James wasn’t an easy target. Assured that he’d get to eat his breakfast today (all of it), James shifted just a fraction more of his jaded attention to Mrs. Mitchell, whom he could just see at the front of the room, hands on something small in front of her. “Children, we’ve got someone new to welcome into our fold! I’d like to introduce you to-” There was a brief moment of confused quiet, and James leaned around a clutch of taller kids to to get a better look, curiosity getting the better of him. James caught sight of a bespectacled boy perhaps thirteen or fourteen years old with the most ridiculous dark hair that James had ever seen. He was a small kid, just skin and bones beneath overlarge clothing - borrowed, if James was any judge, and he was quite a good judge.
“-Introduce you to Quincy!” Mrs. Mitchell finished a bit belatedly. James instantly noted the lack of last name; that meant this kid was more than an orphan like the rest of them, but among the unlucky beggars who didn’t even have a family name to call their own. Not that a name made any real difference at St. Joseph’s, but it did made James feels just the tiniest bit sorry for the kid.
Especially since he had ‘fresh meat’ written all over him, and it only got worse when the bespectacled twig of a boy raised a hand, smiled, and said in a friendly voice, “Hello.”
James wondered if he’d ever been that naive.
The boys and girls of St. Joseph’s Home left no-last-name-Quincy alone for about four days - which was how long it took for his shiny newness to wear off and the adults to stop mothering and watching him so closely. It was a familiar pattern. Even the most adorable children eventually just become one of many, and St. Joseph’s had a high kid-to-keeper ratio - too high for the adults to watch them all. Usually it only took two days, tops, before everything returned to normal and the newcomers were subsumed into the nondescript whole for inevitable hazing, but Quincy had a few things going for him that kept him interesting. He was apparently an amnesiac, transferred directly from a hospital because no one knew anything about him and no one had come forward to label him as missing. He’d been dropped off at the hospital anonymously, like a baby on a doorstep. A damaged one with no pedigree in sight.
James didn’t really take notice of him until Saturday rolled around and the adults lost the interest to watch Quincy like a hawk, and someone promptly stole all his breakfast.
You didn’t go through the food-line twice at St. Joseph’s - greed and overindulgence weren’t tolerated, and generally, children who came back whining for second-helpings were accused of both and shooed off with a wooden ladle. James could hear Quincy shouting for someone to “Hey, give that back!” but doubted that any of the adults heard, because the bullies at the Home were smart enough to do their hunting where they wouldn’t get caught. Already on his way to one of the windows where he liked to perch and eat with his flanks defended, James sighed, flexed his free hand where his knuckles still ached from his last scrap, and erased the incident from his mind. Sympathy never got him anywhere.
It’s not like anyone had ever had any to spare for him.
Sitting on the window ledge with his plate balanced on his knees, James went through his meal quickly. Getting one’s food stolen was a very real threat at St. Joseph’s, but if you could keep hold of it, the portions were decent - although a growing boy like James (with a fast metabolism and a habit of burning off energy like the sun) pushed the limits a bit. It was tempting to steal food himself, but the one and only time he’d done it, the little girl he’d snatched a sandwich from had looked so goddamned heartbroken that he’d given it back with ill grace and the defeated knowledge that he’d never do it again. James was amoral enough to beat a person into submission with little or no provocation, but apparently he couldn’t bully people out of their meals if they’d never done anything to hurt him. It was a bit of a frustrating conundrum, really.
James tensed, his peripheral vision catching movement and triggering him to swivel his head even as one of his hands gripped his plate and the other curled into a practiced fist. He’d had ‘food guarding’ down to a science even before he’d arrived at the Home, and it had made him very, very hard to take advantage of when he’d first arrived.
Now, however, instead of finding a threat when he looked over his shoulder, he saw none other than Quincy approaching. The kid was surprisingly soft-footed, and already close enough that James' quick eyes could see a nasty, healing cut that stretched from his hairline down over his right temple. It was visible where doctors had no doubt shaved back some of his hair, which looked ridiculous - but, then again, all of Quincy’s hair was pretty ridiculous. “Hello,” the smaller boy said, sounding less sure of himself than he had that first day.
James narrowed his eyes. It was reflex to slash his gaze from the crown of Quincy’s fluffy little head to his too-clean, too-new trainers, and dismiss him as a non-threat. Even if Quincy had been armed with a kitchen-knife, James doubted that he would have come across as all that dangerous. “What do you want, Quincy?” he demanded gruffly.
Eyes that looked gold when the sun struck them but green when he looked down and scuffed his toes shyly met Bond’s ice-blue gaze briefly. However, with more guts than most kids at the Home showed towards the resident scrapper, Quincy replied with clear British diction that only about half of the kids at the Home had, “My name isn’t Quincy.”
Arching one eyebrow, James reacted to Q’s posh accent by thickening up his brogue, “Well, isn’t that jus’ grand for ye.”
Quincy’s eyes snapped up, hearing the change in vocalizations instantly. His dark brows drew together over his big hazel eyes in clear bewilderment, and for a second, James almost chuckled. The fluffy-headed boy quickly recovered, however. “I told them to call me ‘Q,’ but they didn’t listen.”
“Yer name is seriously Q?” Bond asked back, his accent slipping back to something more British mid-sentence, to the other boy’s increasing consternation.
This time the bespectacled little mite frowned deeply, an irked look all over his fine features, and he gave up on deciphering Bond’s method of speech in favor of muttering back, “I’m not sure.”
‘Amnesia, right. He does’nae remember a bloody thing,’ James recalled, and rolled his eyes before turning back to his plate. He froze again when Quincy… Q… responded by instantly skipping forward a few more steps like the player in a game of ‘Red Light, Green Light.’ Suspicious and wary, James watched him askance, and only resisted the urge to growl because he was above making animal noises as boys half his size.
“I… er… couldn’t quite miss that you stuffed a roll in your pocket. You know, while in the lunch-line,” Quincy went on doggedly. Just as James was about to pretend he didn’t know what the hell Quincy was talking about (something that he could keep doing even while eating said roll hidden in his pocket), the younger boy’s eyes suddenly seemed to get bigger and more pleading, and James hadn’t seen something look so hopeful and helpless since he’d found a hungry kitten in the gutter on his way home from skinning people at cards. “Please,” Quincy said, a word that wasn’t heard much around St. Joseph’s unless prompted by an adult. His hazel eyes darted behind him, to where other orphans were starting to watch the exchange from the rows upon rows of tables, curious as to how this would go. “They took my lunch, and the servers don’t seem to believe me, and they won’t give me more, and I don’t want to take anyone else’s food - obviously - but I saw you take extra, and… well…” His lips pursed and his shoulders hunched up for a second, bony knobs beneath an oversized blue shirt. “I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask?” he finished uncertainly as he looked back to where James was perched.
A goodly number of other kids were watching now. Not a lot of people messed with James, and even the adults left him largely alone, knowing that he had ‘trouble’ burnt into his bones. You didn’t go through as many foster homes as James did without something seriously wrong with you, after all - or so the opinions went. James' reputation as a scrapper was widespread, too, and even now he knew that he had a bruise fading on his jaw and healing knuckles making his right hand twinge. He’d built up a general aura of dangerousness, and no one had penetrated it in quite a long while, but here was Quincy… Q… coming up to him like that kitten in the street had, too stupid to know any better and too trusting to imagine that James could do a lot of harm to him over one simple roll.
As the seconds stretched without James answering or even really moving, Quincy shuffled closer, starting to smile, hopeful and tentatively happy. When he got close enough to be within arm’s reach, James' eyes narrowed a tick and people held their breath. A few people got their own food snatched while they were busy staring.
In the end, James didn’t know why he did it. He definitely didn’t make a habit of being nice, and it was no skin off his nose if this poor sap went hungry. But Quincy was skinny enough that he was in danger of blowing away at the first puff of wind, and it wasn’t like he was threatening James for the food. If the kid had tried to bluster and get pushy, Bond’s response would have been easy: if someone pushed, he pushed back harder, without question.
But Q had said please, and there wasn’t a threatening bone in his body that James could see.
“Here.” The blond-haired boy produced the bit of bread like a magic-trick, and felt a flutter of rare amusement as Q’s eyes snapped to it like magnets to metal. Bond tossed it to him and watched the small boy fumble to catch it, even as a few gasps were actually heard from the rest of the dining room. James ignored them, instead turning back to the remains of his plate and making clear, “Don’t expect any other favors, Quincy.” He even slipped his British accent on as strongly as he could, lending age and credibility to his voice like a body slipping on a finely cut suit.
“Oh no, I won’t!” Quincy assured hurriedly. He’d almost dropped the roll, but got it in both hands before looking up and daring to pipe up, “But my name’s Q.”
“Fine. Q. Whatever you bloody want it to be,” James dismissed and went back to eating. He made clear by his body-language that the other boy didn’t exist anymore, and neither did anyone else - he even ate slowly, like he didn’t have a fear in the world.
Starting at supper, a few brave idiots decided to make James give up more than a simple lump of bread, but he made it indelibly clear that he only gave up food when he chose to. He blooded two noses and ended up in ‘detention,’ which basically meant he ended up in a small, lightless room for the rest of the day and on through the night. He also didn’t get to finish supper, but he hated the closed in dark worse, like some sort of mocking beast wrapped all around him and sinking into his skin. It wasn’t that he feared the dark so much as he hated having all of his freedom severed with one fell swoop, the isolation and confinement smothering him. None of the orphans at St. Joseph’s Home had much freedom to begin with, but James valued what little he had like a dragon hoarded gold, and he paced all night long until he was released in the morning with a scolding he refused to listen to.
The brat who tried to bully him at breakfast got a far more subtle application of James' temper: a hand wrapped steel-tight around his covetous arm and a smile like a mouthful of razors as James detailed just how he’d break every joint in the kid’s hand if he didn’t back off. Unsurprisingly, everyone soon got the message that Bond’s softness towards the amnesiac Q was a one-time event. For his part, Quincy was smart enough not to have even approached James again, although he was in the hallway with one of the adults when James was let out of detention. Their eyes had met briefly, and James had done his best to make clear that they weren’t friends and this wasn’t an occasion to pity him, even as he felt the exhaustion of a frenzied, sleepless night like heavy shadows beneath his eyes.
Q definitely hadn’t looked at him with pity, but he hadn’t retreated from Bond’s frostbite-cold look as expected either. There was definitely something wrong with that kid - maybe that blow to the head had knocked loose more than just his memory.
On James' first night back from detention, he was looking forward to sleeping in his own bed again, a bittersweet sort of longing, because the sleeping arrangements at St. Joseph’s were hardly enviable. The boys and girls were split into two huge dormitory halls, and otherwise allowed basically now privacy besides the nominal anonymity that one could find if they were lucky enough to have a top bunk. There was an almost nightly jockeying for positions, quiet fights breaking out over who slept where, which were quelled but poorly by the attending staff - and usually started up again as soon as the lights were out and no adults were watching. James was high enough up in the general hierarchy that he managed to get his usual bunk with the minimum amount of posturing, mostly because the particular bed he favored was stuffed into the corner and right beneath one of the vents. The real kings of St. Joseph’s had decided ages ago that it wasn’t worth fighting over unless you also wanted to fight for more blankets, but James had always been pretty hot-blooded. He’d slept outside before, in far worse conditions, so taking the undesirable bunk was a bargain, especially because it was in the corner of the room so he had walls at his back on two sides.
Listening to the fading rustles and bickering of boys not happy with their sleeping arrangements, James settled down under the covers and let himself slip into a shallow sleep. Even with the lights now off and the adults gone, the place was neither as dark nor as confining as the detention room, and it settled something restless and uneasy in the blue-eyed boy’s core.
Until he heard a familiar voice squeaking in alarm, but one bunk-over. Fucking hell. Why did Q always have to get in trouble within hearing range?
“Leave me alone!” Q’s voice was quiet, but tight with fear that rose it a few pitches. James didn’t have to be a genius to guess that Q had already been told that screaming would earn him a
swift beating before anyone who cared heard him. Well, James had heard him… but James was trying to sleep, damn it, and this was hardly the first time a newbie had gotten bullied. Bond rolled over, determined to keep out of it this time.
“Who’s going to make me, four-eyes?” another boy, a known bully just a few years younger than James, retorted. James found himself staring at the wall, even though he’d intended to close his eyes and doze off again. “Now get out of my bed before I kick you out of it.”
“But you were just sleeping over there,” Q said, sounding helpless - and tired, and confused. “And you said that about the last bed I was in. That doesn’t make any logical-”
There was the sharp noise of a slap and Q let out a strangled yelp, the combination of noise making James' back tense up. Another bully was talking, one that James recognized as a fucker that he’d tangled with on multiple occasions - because the red-haired kid apparently had short-term memory problems that rivaled Q’s amnesia when it came to recalling lessons learned, “Who the fuck cares about logic around here? Now do as the man says, and beat it!”
Rolling his eyes at the severely fallacious use of the word ‘man,’ James tried to stopper his ears to the sound of Q capitulating. Really, the boy was softer than Eiderdown, and that was not what one needed in St. Joseph’s at all. Immediately, Bond could have told Q that giving in to these bullies wouldn’t help any, because if they were already chasing you from bed to bed, then all they really cared about was the hunt anyway. But Q tried to be nice, and Bond heard him retreating until he bumped into the bed below James' - and woke up its occupant, who took to walking like a bear dragged out of hibernation. Soon, Q was being set upon by three boys who all smelled blood in the water, and James couldn’t take it anymore.
He rolled off his bed and made the drop to the floor all in one movement, knees flexing easily as his feet thumped to the floor. Standing in the middle of the rabble now, he took a brief moment to be amused by the surprise on all of their faces before turning to look at Barnaby Fitz, the brat who’d spoken first and whom Bond recognized now as the ringleader.
“Go. The fuck. To bed,” James said slowly and evenly, adding with a bit less slowness but equal flatness of tone, “before I punch you so hard your teeth come out the back of your head.” It was a fairly flamboyant threat, but James knew how to back it up in posture and expression, as he stood with eyes narrowed steadily, hands in fists, and his weight balanced equally between each bare foot.
The redhead - Pickering, Bond thought his name was - didn’t take the hint, and instead tried to puff up as he hissed, “You wouldn’t dare! They-!”
“What, put him in solitary? He just got out of there yesterday like it was nothin’,” said the boy who’d, up until now, been sleeping on the lower bunk beneath James'. They’d had this sleeping arrangement a few times before - enough times for the rotund boy to realize the disadvantages inherent with irritating the top occupant. Wise birds did not shit in their own nest. The round boy was already backing down.
Which left just Pickering and Fitz, who were looking decidedly less enthused with their game now that someone with teeth had intervened. Still, Fitz had the balls to bare his own teeth and snarl, “This isn’t your game, Bond.”
“Yes, but it’s keeping me from bloody sleeping,” James retorted with a combination of laziness and thick irritation - with, said together, made him sound capable of killing over it without a care in the world. Basically, he sounded reckless and pissed all a once, a tone of voice that he’d cultured over the years for its usefulness. He watched as his bunkmate slunk back into the shadows of his bed like a worm back into its hole. Q remained pressed against the wall to James' left, wisely silent, his eyes almost impossibly huge behind his glasses in the dimness.
James saw it in the other boys’ eyes the moment they were going to back off. It was far from a total retreat, but James weathered their glares, replete in the knowledge that his reputation was like a prickly shield all around him. “Fine. I’m too tired for this anyway,” Fitz sniffed, a boldfaced lie that James tactfully left alone. With a sort of uneasy understanding, Bond, Fitz, and Pickering nodded to one another, and when the latter two walked away, James turned without another word and hauled himself back up onto his bunk.
There. Problem solved.