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The Magic of Christmas

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James hated being 'on call,' but this was the price he paid for the specific arcane skills he'd been born with. Low-level castors got nine-to-five jobs, high-powered sorcerers got sensible tasks like warding the Queen's corgis, but rarities like Bond got called in at midnight on a Sunday because some wannabe warlock had powered up a pentagram in central park.

Bond stepped out of his car, leaving it running because he hoped to make this quick. A glance at his watch showed 12:04am. "Four minutes into the day before Christmas, and I've already had enough of it," he griped quietly, then pulled his sleeve back down and adjusted his gloves. The leather of them seemed to slither and cling to his knuckles.

There were some truly terrifying types of magicians out there, but most all of them were registered, and none of their names had come up when someone had reported the neighborhood kids trying their hand at "satanist rituals." James had met a few true practitioners, and before he'd even stepped beyond the glow of his car's headlights, he knew that this wasn't even the real deal. Oh, there was magic going on, but it was the low-grade stuff that tasted like orange peels in the back of his throat and made James want to sneeze. Dammit. He stepped further into the dimness, glad that the local authorities had had the sense to clear the area so that no one else would interfere - because Bond could sense enough magic up ahead to be dangerous to the average person.

To James, though, it was going to be just enough to annoy him, most likely.

The reports had been vague, because the person who'd stumbled across the situation had been both magicless and smart enough not to get too close. Still, what James found himself approaching generally matched what he'd been told to expect: a trio of kids with candles, a pentagram, and the scent of alcohol. A lovely combo, especially since at least one of them had some actual magical talent, it seemed like. Even James had learned to be careful with mixing alcohol and magic, despite the fact that his particular brand of sorcery was generally considered more defensive than offensive. At least, that's what he was officially registered as. Unofficially, he liked to think that he could raise a little Cain in a terrifically offensive way if he put his mind to it. 

Predictably, the kids were chanting in Latin, and while their pronunciation was shit, the intent behind it was actually making the air crackle. James' left hand strayed to his right wrist, idly plucking at the seam of his glove while he eyed the details of the scene from the shadows of the trees. His breath plumed, the cloud of it instantly sucked away into the subtle turbulence of the spell going on. Maybe there was more power being used here than he'd thought. 

Just as James was about to go from irked to mildly impressed, his eyes slid to the center of the pentagram and noticed the limb body of a black cat there. He couldn't tell if it was dead or not, but it looked like someone had poured ice-water on it, and in the winter weather, it was all but frozen to the ground. Suddenly, James found that his patience had evaporated. 

Stepping boldly out into the open now, James peeled his gloves off one by one, stating with all the coldness of winter steel, "I'm not a particularly moral man, but congratulations, you little monsters have managed to cross a line."

James had bought the gloves himself, liking the fit, but Eve had actually been the one to make them into the pair he wore every day. Right now, as he pulled them off and stuck them into his jacket pockets, faint golden sigils winked and flickered from where they were deeply imbedded in the leather. A Glyphist like Moneypenny did subtle but powerful work - nothing less than that would have sufficed. After all, James didn't exactly like to advertise that he was a Spelleater, but at the same time, it took a lot of skill to tamp down his abilities... especially since his ability was to very literally snuff out any magic he came near. 

The faux-dark-wizards had all spun around to face him, waring various expressions of shock. God, they were even wearing makeup. Bad makeup. Bond's friend R was an actual Goth, and she'd have wept at the eyeliner alone being used here. James focused past the facades, though, instead fixing his attention on the boy with the buzzcut who'd gone from surprised to angry and who was already raising up a hand. The air sizzled in front of the idiot’s palm. "Gregory-!" one of the other kids stuttered in warning.

But apparently Gregory was the 'shoot first, ask questions later' kind of brat, because he'd already fired off a wad of pure power. The sound of it clawing through the air was like heat-lightning as it winged towards Bond's face. 

It fizzled out half a meter before it hit its target. James didn't bat an eye. Gregory and his two companions all stared, jaws agape now. The ambient magic in the air shifted, as if it had just slid past a black hole. 

James twitched his mouth upwards in a parody of a smile. He said lowly, almost softly, "Not so fun when you pick on someone bigger than you, is it?"

This was usually the point when James' opponents realized that they were dealing with something they were not prepared for. Most magic-users had at least a bit of an idea how to fight with one another, just like any normal kid knew the basic mechanics of how kick someone if they wanted to - but James was, generally speaking, outside the norm. MI6, when they'd taken him in, had created the title of "Spelleater" because magic like his had never been documented before. He was literally the antithesis of magic - and if he wasn't blocking his powers in some way, his very presence would corrode any and all magic around him. It was like an aura, one that took more energy for him to turn off than it to unleash, as he was doing now. It had taken nearly a year for Moneypenny to find a technique to help James' contain it. Right now, though, he didn't want to contain it, so he was actually a little bit elated when Head Brat got over his surprise and decided to get more violent. 

Ahh, some days, James did love the stupid ones... 

This time, the magic that was lobbed James' way looked like actual flames, and the blond-haired man sighed past his teeth, "Why do the newbies always teach themselves fire-magic first?" Probably because it was flashy and easy to set off. Unfortunately, it was also very hard to control, and that was exactly why James got called into situations like this. For example: the fireball, instead of burning its target and then likely setting the park on fire, was met by James' raised, bare palm, where there was a brief sizzling noise like... well, like a fireball being swallowed by a vacuum. Smoke whisped through Bond's fingers as he lowered his hand, and proceeded to stalk forward. As the third magical attack fizzled out a hand-width from his knee, it felt like nothing more than a brief kiss of heat. Technically, Bond's powers did have limits - he'd worked together with Trevelyan at one point to take down a power-hungry Warlock high on fairy crack, and James had consumed so much magic that he'd nearly passed out. He was not truly a black-hole - merely a very, very deep vessel, one with with no release valve. M had warned him that he'd probably push himself too far someday and explode. 

But not today, though. These brats didn't even had enough juice to make him feel it.

The leader of the monstrous little trio kept attacking and James just kept walking forward, like a beast wading into a war. He'd been told that when his anti-magic was active, it did something hellish to his eyes, and he rather hoped so, because while he could forgive kids for messing around with powers they didn't understand, he really did draw the line at animal sacrifice. There was a reason it was illegal, and even if it wasn't, James did have at least a few scruples when it came to innocent creatures. James himself was a very not innocent creature, and it shows now as his eyes burned a phosphorescent blue, and the magic around him just continued to wink out like stars before a storm-cloud. 

It was going to be a dark night indeed. 

There was a ferocious crack like an iceberg being sheared off as James stepped up to the edge of the pentagram. It had been done with white spray-paint on the grass, and it flashed briefly as it tried to maintain stability - but the damage had already been done. One of the other kids, the girl who’d spoken up first, swore and tried to pour more magic into the circle, but James had broken a trip-layered Caim before, and this was nothing but a child's drawing in comparison. 

The candles all leaned towards him before snuffing themselves out, and James stopped the next fireball by reaching the last distance forward and wrapping his hand around the kid's raised wrist. James had been told that when his abilities met skin-to-skin with a caster using magic, it felt like being dunked in ice-water - the more magic being attempted, the colder the sensation. James hoped that right now if felt like frostbite. "What the fuck are you?" the kid finally gasped.

"I'm the one who's going to break your wrist and possibly shoot your friends in the kneecaps if you don't all sit your arses down right this second," James said flatly, using his free hand to brush back his coat - revealing his gun holster. The two Lesser Brats, who had been in the process of slinking away, froze and promptly did as they were told.

~^~

James didn't end up having to shoot anyone, and moments later he had the situation under control, with cuffs on everyone - cold-iron cuffs, which forced James to put his gloves back on again. Despite the fact that his abilities relied on the negation of magic, he still shared at least some of the same weaknesses with other magic-users. Cold-iron stung him like it stung any magic-user, and made him a normal, magic-less human being when he came into contact with it. That's why Eve had used little slivers of cold-iron in the glyphs she'd put into his gloves. She'd hated the entire process, complaining about how ridiculously difficult it was to essentially build a spell out of materials that were inimical to magic. Her fingers had gone numb, she'd said, and she hadn't managed to draw out a proper glyph for weeks after James' gloves were finished. And that was just with tiny, thread-thin slivers of the stuff. James could feel those slivers just barely right now, numbing out his power through the leather of the gloves. 

Full cuffs of cold-iron were wrapped around the bare wrists of the little bastards who had fancied themselves great warlocks. Quiet and sullen, the kids were smart enough not to verbally complain, though. "Hang tight, while I make a call and tell the cops that it's safe to come pick your arses up and take you into custody," James muttered, fishing out his mobile while wandering back to towards the pentagram. It took just a few words to let the authorities know that the situation was secure, and safe for mundane cops to come in. James quietly affirmed that he'd take care of the pentagram. 

There was no need for people to go stomping all over the place, and since the little cat was probably dead, it felt disrespectful to have people around anyway. Fucking kids and their disregard for creatures smaller than themselves... James had killed before - often - but he made a point of only destroying things that were capable of destroying him in return. 

He could hear the authorities handling the kids, back in the shadows of the trees, bringing with them enough light that James could see flashes of things if he turned around and looked: stern-faced cops, that monster Gregory snarling as he was dragged to his feet, his companions looking more scared now than anything else. Served them right. James hoped that they'd learn, but was jaded enough that he doubted it. He turned his attention forward again, to the pentagram, lit only by moonlight now. It was a full moon tonight; another factor that seemed to make idiotic newbies want to try all sorts of occult stuff. And sometimes it worked, too. 

And sometimes it was just devastating. 

James knelt down by the little furred body. It didn't look like it was breathing, although even with the moonlight, it was a bit dark to be sure. When James was in a fight and being a proper Spelleater, his eyes glowed, but that didn't mean he could see in the dark. Wanting to be sure that the poor creature was dead before he gave up on it, James pulled a glove off again - this time just so that he could press bare fingers to frozen fur and seek out a breath or a pulse. 

The moment he got his glove off, though, he felt the hot sizzle of magic against his fingertips, which buckled and then promptly shattered as it came into contact with James' Spelleater aura.

Suddenly the body of the small, black cat was jerking and expanding, its previously clumped fur seeing to turn inky and liquid like dark glass being blown into a different shape. James didn't even have time to jump back before limbs were extending, and fur was peeling away in puffs of jetty smoke. It all smelled acrid and wrong, like turpentine burning, but even as Bond gagged at the scent, the last of the spell was nullified, and James was no longer bent over the body of an unfortunate black cat, but a young man with pale skin and black hair. Groaning, the young man blinked open impossibly green eyes that briefly showed feline, slitted pupils before that faded, too, leaving more normal, hazel eyes with dazed, blown pupils as round as any other person's. "What the f-?" the no-longer-a-cat rasped, then abruptly curled in on himself under the force of a bone-deep shiver. 

James, realizing that he'd just shredded through magic of a higher calibre than he'd been expecting tonight (transformative magics were nothing to scoff at, being both difficult and dangerous), jerked himself into motion. Pulling off his coat, he wrapped it around the young man as much as he could, even as he used his bare hand to check for injuries. "Are you all right? Do you know what happened to you?" he asked, starting with the basic questions even as he tried to get his bearings on the situation. For all he knew, this had been planned, and this youth was as guilty of mischief as the others - although, planned or unplanned, James didn't envy the recipient of a botched transformation.

"I..." the young man answered, blinking in an unfocused way before closing his eyes for another hard shiver. "I was just... walking home. Someone hit me...?"

James' questing hand had just rounded its way to the young man's neck, and when he pressed fingers up into thick, damp, curls, he could feel evidence of a goose-egg even before the other winced. The slender hand that lifted instinctively to feel the injury showed torn knuckles - self-defense wounds. Bond relaxed a bit as he realized that this wasn't another stupid kid with too much magic, but a victim that he could legitimately feel sorry for. "What's your name?" James asked, even as he gently steered the young man's hand away from his minor head-wound. 

"Q."

James could hear that the cops were already clearing out - after all, he'd promised to handle the rest of the magical stuff. He just hadn't realized that it would include a human being who'd been forcibly transformed into a cat for purposes unknown. James almost called out to them, but just as he turned and opened his mouth, he felt a hand grab his wrist and the young man, Q, beg quietly, "Please, don't..." 

Usually, James was known for having problems with authority, yet he obeyed this time, closing his mouth even as he looked back down at Q for an explanation. The young man had rolled onto his back a bit to look up at James more clearly (although he was still squinting nearsightedly), hugging James' jacket close. Despite the fact that he'd clearly been drenched and was freezing cold, the young man pulled the coat back a little now - revealing a better look at just what he was wearing. When Q had gone from a cat back to being a person again, the spell broken, he'd been lying on his right side, Bond at his back. James had seen the only a general vision of dark clothing - long sleeves, dark jeans, shoes. Now, James realized that Q was wearing a thin and rather tattered coat over nothing but a fishnet shirt. And his jeans were very tight indeed. 

Q was trying his best for a winning smile, but it looked strained by shame. "As you can see... well... uh... How can I put this delicately?" Q started to explain, continued shivering making his words catch. He pulled the borrowed jacket closed again. "As much as I'd like to answer questions about what happened to me, there are a lot of other questions that I'd really rather not answer."

James dragged a hand down his face, realizing that with each passing moment, the authorities were retreating further away, and would eventually get in their cars and leave. Dropping his hand and sighing, James finally just asked bluntly, "Are you a prostitute?" 

"Yes." At least Q had the decency to answer without evasion. 

"A runaway?"

This question Q seemed not to have been expecting, because his attempt at a smile finally faltered, and he hesitated. Still, under James' tired but watchful eyes, the young man again seemed to decide to give out the truth: "Also yes. So, as you can see-"

"You're not keen on going to the cops. Bloody fantastic," James grumbled, looking away and rubbing at his jawline as he tried to think. Fuck, this was not how he'd expected to spend the day before Christmas, breaking up a ring of wannabe-warlocks and then finding himself sitting with a recently transformed hooker with family issues. James still didn't even know how or why the young man had been transformed - something that he really should try and figure out, since there were a multitude of possibilities, few of them good. 

Q was sitting up slowly, watching him even as he winced - his head was probably swimming. "So... are you going to turn me in?" he asked, words like hesitant footsteps out onto thin ice. 

And, goddammit, it was the day before Christmas... "No."

Q's expression melted into a look of relief, and he probably would have actually relaxed if he wasn't shivering still. 

"Come on." Still with only one glove on, James gripped Q's elbows, getting them both to their feet. When Q teetered, lifting a hand to his head with a hiss, James steadied him without a thought. "Easy, easy. You got hit pretty hard. Do you remember anything after that?" James asked as he got them both walking in the direction of his car. Q was barely half a head shorter than him, but all limbs, and being forcibly transformed for any reason tended to leave a person pretty off-balance, so James ended up bearing a lot of Q's weight. It was no hardship, as there wasn't really all that much weight there. Q was a skinny little thing. James felt even more sorry for him than before. 

Sadly, Q didn't remember anything else: he'd been jumped from behind, and everything had gone black. He had enough vague memories in between to realize that he'd temporarily been feline, but he couldn't really confirm anything beyond what Bond already knew - that Gregory was the ringleader, and that he had two sidekicks. By the time James got them both bundled into his Aston Martin, Q's teeth were chattering, but he still managed to work his tongue around a question of his own, "So, what's your name? I mean, I'm used to going home with strangers, but I figured I should ask."

"My name is Bond. James Bond," the Spelleater answered, inwardly cringing at Q's second sentence. Most people would have been much more wary of getting into a car with a man they'd only met minutes ago, but not Q - this looked like it was sadly the norm for him. James felt the need to add, "And while I'm going to probably have to get you out of those clothes, rest assured that it's only so you don't catch you death of cold." He was glad he'd left the car running, as he now cranked up the heater until summer-warm puffs of air were coming out of the vents. Q had chuckled at James' last comment, but now closed his eyes blissfully at the instant wave of warmth.

Because Q was trusting him, and had had a truly terrible night by all accounts, James felt obliged to give out a bit more information that he usually kept close: that he was part of the branch of law enforcement that dealt with rogue magic (he didn’t go into the full details about MI6, because the world only knew half of what they did), and that his only claim to magical fame was his ability to negate all magic. "So that's how I changed back!" Q made the connection, to which James nodded. On a whim, he also added that he lived alone and didn't really celebrate Christmas, but that Q was welcome to stay with him until he could get back on his feet. 

Q had chuckled a bit grimly at that, still huddled deep in James' coat but picking now at the frayed knees of his jeans. "I've been trying to get back on my feet for quite some time now. It's harder than I'd expected," he murmured, something distant in his eyes, sad in his smile, "At least, it's hard to do while also keeping a low profile."

Sensing a can of worms that he didn't want to open, James didn't press. Q, in turn, relaxed a bit more when he realized he wasn’t going to be interrogated. When he spoke up again, it seemed purposefully chosen to steer them towards safer topics, "You don't happen to have contact-lens solution at yours, do you? I usually wear glasses, but I'm glad I kept a case of contact-lenses in my pocket, because I seem to have lost my glasses in this whole mess. Everything is terribly fuzzy for me right now." 

James didn't, but said he wouldn’t mind picking some up. Q began to look embarrassed by all James was doing for him right around then, so at the next stoplight, James turned his attention from the road to face Q fully and frankly. "Q," he said, and nearsighted hazel eyes flicked up to him hesitantly, "If you're uncomfortable with me taking you home, I understand, but you just got forcibly transformed by novice practitioners, so I'd really rather not leave you alone right now."

"You mean you're really rather I didn't go back out on the corner working again."

"That, too," James figured he may as well admit. Just as he'd appreciated Q's forthrightness, Q seemed to appreciate his, and pursed his lips but kept listening. "But while I might be insisting on you coming home with me at least for the next few hours, I won't insist on you being blind the whole time. That puts you at more of a disadvantage than I'm completely comfortable with."

The light changed green. There was no one else out on the roads at this hour, though, so James stayed where he was, one arm draped over the wheel and his attention on Q. The dark-haired young man seemed to be searching his features as much as he could without visual aid. "Okay," he finally said, hushed, "I just don't want to impose."

"You won't," James assured gently, shifting the car back into drive.

It wasn't until the next block that he heard Q's soft, "Thank you."

~^~