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Second chance at life

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The day MI6 didn’t experience a crisis will probably the end of the world. Usually, some kind of convoluted secret organization that was too ridiculous for anyone to believe existed was behind the latest thing that had everyone scurrying around the halls, barking orders in their invisible headsets and typing madly on their projected keyboards but every now and then, an invention was at fault.

Sometimes it was an explosive one accidentally getting mixed in with a box of the product it was moulded after and the idiot who lost it there remembered only after the Quartermaster almost beheaded him when he was presented with the harmless original. Other times it was because someone from the government got it in their heads that MI6 was a black hole when it came to money so everyone in management dragged them around to remind them why they had to suck money up faster and better than the finest blotting paper.

This time it was the rare combination of all three.

A recently completed mission by an agent that wasn’t the infamous 007 resulted in a lot of interesting equipment being brought over to MI6 for further study. A lot of the material indicated that the recently dealt with threat was, in fact, a madman obsessed with staying young forever.

“Q, is it just me or do people with too much money go insane?” the Quartermaster’s right-hand woman asked as she tossed one of the confiscated notebooks in a box that would be deposited somewhere no one would ever open it again.

Q hummed, also putting away a notebook and turning his attention to the strange machine the agent also picked up. “I am inclined to believe that, given that 008 managed to stop this Duke minutes before he sacrificed an entire town in order to get immortality. Then there’s that…” Q trailed off and turned to look at the mysterious machine that had also been confiscated and that they had been tasked with finding out what it does.

“Why don’t we just fire it up?” The grounded 007 grumbled from his dark corner of the room in which he was very slowly going through the stack of notebooks that had been assigned to him as punishment for the latest hole he put in the budget. Q was on double oh babysitting duty because he had enabled Bond like always. Or was it Bond who was always enabling him? “We could test it out on the perfection that is 009 and then go have that lunch in Paris we were talking about prior to the accident.”

Q snorted. “Bond, why would we risk harming – by your own words, mind you – our best agent?” He asked, crossing his arms over his chest. “You better be done with those by the end of the day unless you want for 009 not only to join us by order of M and the higher-ups but to also be bested by him at reading.”

“I never saw 009 read anything, so I am sure he can’t do that,” Bond grumbled under his breath, purposefully being as slow as humanly possible while turning the page. “You know there’s nothing in here and that we’re all just wasting precious time.”

“I’m assuming we’re wasting our time,” Q corrected him, bringing Bond another stack of notebooks. “Now keep reading and remember this horribly boring moment the next time you find yourself in possession of some illegal explosives and in front of a historical building after your bloody Quartermaster begged you not to do anything more stupid.”

In a rare moment of actual humanity, Bond allowed himself to feel bad for the consequences of his actions. “I had hoped your name wouldn’t come up during the inquiry, Quartermaster or if it did, that M would turn a blind eye once again. The building was condemned anyway and it was it or the entire city followed shortly by London itself. So give me your stack as well as R’s and get on out of here.”

Q made to answer but he was interrupted by the governmental pencil pusher opening the door to poke his nose where it wasn’t his business despite the army of MI6 employees doing their best to get him out of Q’s branch as fast as possible.

“I thought our Quartermaster wasn’t wasting money on ‘70s lasers’ anymore,” the snooty man uttered the words that were going to bring doom on them all just before doing the incredibly stupid thing of touching the side panel while it was pointing towards Bond and Q.

There had been a few instances in the past in which just MI6 was at fault for what happened within its walls. A rogue laptop here, a prisoner improperly detained in the middle of the building there but no one ever, in the entire history of the agency, had been dumb enough to randomly fire up something that they didn’t fully comprehend. In fact, the reason Q, Bond and R were flipping through the notebooks trying to fire out if it was safe to dismantle whatever the strange device, how to dismantle it and what it was supposed to do.

After the world returned to normal, the pencil pusher immediately started trying to deflect the blame while everyone rushed to the fallen agent’s and its Quartermaster’s side, R loudly taking note that Bond had attempted to shield Q with his body and that there wasn’t a single drop of blood anywhere before breathing a sigh of relief.

“They are both alive,” she announced and made room for the medical team that had indeed reached them in record time. “Test them for everything; we don’t know what hit them exactly and we don’t know what it was supposed to do to them if it didn’t kill them instantly,” she instructed them and then turned to glare at the moron who was to blame for the state, ready to rip his heart out of his chest with her bare hands.

It appeared as though she would need to stand in line and that M was going to be the first to end the pencil pusher’s life.

The first thing that he became aware of was how much every one of his bones and muscles hurt. It felt as if he’d just finished running for his life through a huge maze filled with traps and that feeling, although painfully familiar and overall blessed, wasn’t one that he liked. The next thing he became aware of was the steady beeping of two machines and the third thing – and, perhaps, the most important one – was that someone was gently shaking him and asking him to wake up.

He opened his eyes and found himself staring in what he thought to be a lush forest at first until the owner of said forest started to speak, kick-starting his brain and fully processing that he was looking at a very young and pale boy with wild brown hair and bright green eyes – scared green eyes.

“You wouldn’t happen to know how we got here or why?” The boy asked in a trembling voice.

Taking a moment to think deeply, he found that he didn’t like the answer. “I haven’t got the slightest idea.” He sat upright in bed and made to pull the wires glued to his chest when he stopped and realized that if the heart monitor flat-lined, a lot of people were sure to rush in the room. It also dawned on him that although the other boy was next to him, his monitor was still beeping as if it were attached to a living human. “Do you think that you could do that to mine so we can both get out of here and figure out where here is?”

The boy nodded and set about working his magic and not even five minutes later, he had tricked the machine. “I told Pop-pop that playing with his would eventually be useful,” he boy said proudly, though he was shifting his weight from one foot to the other, obviously anxious and at a loss for what to do next.

The first thing that came to his mind was that someone had kidnapped them for their internal organs. He was a healthy young man and it looked like the same thing could be said about his companion. The fresh needle marks in their arms despite the lack of IVs indicated that someone had recently taken their blood for testing. He became even more convinced that was the reason behind them when he sat up and didn’t feel dizzy or disorientated, despite the fact that his body was very much hurting.

But who kidnapped them and how? He was tanned and his friend was as white as the sheets so they had to be picked up from different places. And when did it happen? He couldn’t remember what he was doing outside of being bored out of his mind, angry at something, and frustrated with someone for not know… something. Everything was at the edge of his, within reach and yet, completely inaccessible to him.

Maybe they had been drugged.

In any case, introductions were in order not only to get to the bottom of the mystery but also because it was only proper, so he stuck his hand out. “I am Bond. James Bond. Fourteen years. You?”

“Freddie Boothroyd and I’m seven years old,” his scared but ingenious friend replied. “Your name sounds familiar.”

“Your family name…” James started but then trailed off. Everything was more than familiar but it was also extremely off and it was making his head hurt. “Right, let’s think about this somewhere that isn’t here.”

He expected the electric door to be locked and guarded on the outside by at least two tugs that would easily tower over him but he was wrong on both accounts. He looked at his new friend, suspecting him of having done something to make things easier for them but Freddie just shrugged. “I only take apart things and I just learned how to read and write proper English! You can’t expect me to know computer language.”

James thought that a posh accent should have accompanied that declaration. “Then let’s not look a gift horse in its mouth,” he said and grabbed Freddie’s hand, dashing down the empty white hallway after studying a fire escape map for a second.

They narrowly avoided being spotted by a few doctors and nurses but had an easy time from the main reception to the elevator because the nurse there was busy being flirty to the security guard that was probably in charge of watching their room. But that was where their luck ended as the second the elevator doors opened, they were staring at a tall, black woman with shoulder-length curly hair and a dangerous look about her whose eyes bulged when she saw them.

“Quartermaster, J—”

“This way!” Freddie interrupted her, pulling James to the right side of the hallway, towards a door that was obviously the staircase – and that is how they found out that they were on the fifteenth floor which was something that James could use to their advantage.

They went down two flights of stairs before James took the lead again, jumping into an elevator and pressing the bottom floor button. He also pressed the buttons for the 7th and 4th floor and when Freddie asked why he explained that he had done this in the past and this would confuse their chasers and thin their numbers.

However, while this plan worked in the past, it seemed that whoever their kidnappers were had more than a single functioning brain cell that they all took turns sharing and no sooner did they reach the 13th floor that the power was shut off. Freddie yelped and hugged James tighter and, knowing what was to come next, James huddled in a corner of the elevator and started to glare at the ceiling.

There had been nothing in their room that could be used as a weapon at first glance and James wanted to smack himself. His father had once told him that everything could be a weapon if you put your mind to it. His mother had made him sleep on the sofa for that one though James doubted his father was bothered by that given that the sofa was very comfortable. He had actually assumed that his father would sneak into one of the many empty bedrooms but to his surprise, when he’d snuck down, he’d found him there.

“What do we do now?” Freddie asked, on the verge of tears and while that would have normally irked him, there was something about this body that tugged at his heartstrings and made a voice in the back of his mind yell at him for not doing everything he could not to make his lower lip quiver and his big eyes to sting with unshed tears.

“We let them capture us,” James said simply, cursing in his mind whoever was already making their way down into the elevator with them but happy that they didn’t use sleeping gas first. “Then, when they lower their guard again and hopefully go on a rant about their plans for us, we run away again.” This time James was going to make sure that he had a weapon or three with him.

He was surprised to see the woman from earlier literally drop in, her high heels and short dress not bothering in the least. She looked up at them and smiled sweetly which looked somewhat off just for the simple fact that it was directed at him, making sure to keep her hands up and in their line of sight.

“I don’t mean you any harm.”

James snorted. “Heard that many times before, lady. From sweeter and softer looking women than you. Prettier too.”

The woman looked like she had swallowed the sourest and bitterest thing in existence – not the reaction he expected. He’d thought her vain and quick to anger, just like every other henchwoman that had tasted even a little bit of power and that had every man around them bow low to kiss their feet. “This is something new to discuss with my doctor, that’s for sure,” she muttered, going back to looking sweet when she caught a glimpse of his Freddie cowering behind him/ “Hi there, sweetie! You are so adorable.”

“I’m seven not dumb, lady,” Freddie said in the most deadpan voice a 7-year old could muster. “At least have the decency to try to tempt me with some sweets or food, not compliments.”

James frowned. “Would that honestly work?”

“Of course not,” Freddie snapped. “Do people get sillier the older they get?”

He wanted to ask him if he should be worrying about which of his thumbs he was going to suck before going to sleep but he knew that he needed to focus on the woman who was very obviously fighting back laughter. She was the enemy, not the scared almost-babe behind him who was now digging his nails in his skin to keep himself from shaking.

“I will pretend I didn’t hear that,” the woman muttered just as the elevator resumed its downward trip. “I am Eve and – though you two might not believe me – at MI6 which is currently the safest place you could be in.” Both he and Freddie snorted but it was obvious that neither of them knew exactly why. “Now how about I lower my hands and the three of us walk out like good friends?”

James frowned and shook his head

“You know that I could have taken both of you out if I wanted to,” Eve started to explain, smile turning devious. “Q-tie over there might be a little genius and you might be a very lucky young boy getting tangled in things you should have to worry about, but I am still a well-trained filed agent who knows your ticks and who wouldn’t hesitate a second knocking you out if it meant keeping you safe.”

The elevator dinged, announcing that they had arrived on the bottom floor, eerily ignoring the floors that James had selected. They obviously didn’t have a choice but the day was young and James had gotten out of tighter spots.

“No, Freddie and I would feel better if you walked out with your hands still up in the air and at least five of your giant steps behind us.”

They were shown to a cellar that was covered from wall to wall with technology the likes of which either of them had never seen before. It felt like a trap and Freddie was amazed that James signalled him to go along without putting up a fight but something told him that it was more than okay to follow his instructions.

Someone explained that this is where Freddie spent most of his working hours where a large number of people dressed in impeccably white lab coats and with colourful bowties around their necks were waiting for them.

He did not like the way everyone was looking at him. It wasn’t hatred or a wish to harm him that he saw in their eyes but the same look his aunts had just before they swarmed him and started to pinch his cheeks and cover his face in sloppy kisses.

Sensing his growing fear, James squeezed his hand and pulled him further behind him. “If they try anything, you’re the perfect height to hit them where it hurts and I’ve been told that my teeth are surprisingly sharp.”

“I’m also a biter,” Freddie assured James, flashing him his perfectly white teeth – he was already missing two but he was sure that it only made his bite worse. “But I don’t think it will be needed,” he added after a moment, frowning. “They do seem familiar and something tells me that they are smart enough not to do anything that we’d hate.”

After his apparent employees were sufficiently satisfied that their beloved overlord was safe and sound – and adorable, apparently – they returned to work and he and James were led to an office. It was empty safe for a desk, two chairs, a very comfortable looking sofa, a large, and a very thin TV on the opposite wall of the sofa and many shelves with nothing on them.

James firmly planted himself in the doorway. “This stays open and no one lingers around it but me,” he ordered and everyone nodded without a second’s hesitation

This is where things have been explained to them. Of course, they didn’t believe anything because though Freddie was only seven and Santa was real no matter how hard James huffed and chortled, they being turned into children by a ray from a machine no one knew how it worked didn’t quite make sense. Then they brought out the pictures – their ID pictures.

James groaned and muttered that he refused to believe he’d end up being the errand boy of MI6 for the rest of his life before deeming them fake. He had a harder time calling the technology fake though as yes, they brought out the touch-screen phones and the ultra-thin laptops and countless little gadgets that worked without wires. Everything was a lot more advanced than the last thing they touched before waking up in Medical.

It was tempting to believe that everything they were shown was fabricated – and boy, did James try to do that with the Internet – but everything pointed to the fact that they were being told the truth so Freddie did the only thing that he could the second he was ushered in what was supposed to be his office alongside James. He started to cry.

Ugly crying too, without a single care that he was doing that in front of a room full of people who he supposedly ruled over. He did not expect everyone to freak out and start to bring him random gadgets that were supposed to make him stop crying or for them to try to bribe him with tea and sweets. James was also at a loss for words, making sure the door still opened after he closed it to save Freddie’s face before shouting at the adults to do something and then begging him to stop crying in between offering to draw or colour with him but what shocked him the most was the sudden appearance of two large cats.

The two were obviously well-fed and they held some power over the adults, what with the way they quickly parted to make way for them. One was black and white and had a red collar around its neck that looked like a typical thing you’d put around a cat’s neck only to turn out to be super-advanced once you really looked at it and the other one was a grey tabby with a blue, hi-tech collar around its neck.

They looked bored at first, maybe even annoyed at all the noise that was suddenly around them. Seeing them calmed Freddie down somewhat like they were the only things he was willing to fully accept as being part of this reality because doing that didn’t force him to accept the consequences of being an adult. They circled him, rubbing their heads against his before plopping in his lap and starting to purr loudly.

By this point, he was just hiccupping and the room was dead silent and completely still, the adults and James obviously afraid that if they did anything else besides breathe, they’d make him cry again.

“Where are mum and dad?” He asked the question whose answer he feared the most. “And what about James’—”

He was interrupted by James squeezing his shoulders. “I know the answer to the second one, so don’t bother. I’m fine.”

A collective sigh of relief mixed in a few gasps echoed around the room and Freddie felt bad about the pity looks James was getting. He understood what they meant and he did his best not to cry about that. James’ parents weren’t his to cry over and he got a feeling that his new friend hated displays of emotion or weakness.

The woman who called herself R – and who had presented herself as his most trusted minion – stepped forward and kneeled before him. “Both are alive and on their way here.”

“Each of them with indestructible bats that have all of our names on them, I am sure,” the man referring to himself as M added, glaring at something to the far side of the room. “Eve, is that bas—”

“I am sure you weren’t just about to swear in front of my child who was somehow turned back into a child while on your watch.” The voice, though older and more ragged definitely belonged to his father. And Freddie was sure that he was seeing him, even though the few strands of hair he had left were white and he was slightly hunched – he also seemed to recall someone that might have been an older James teasing him about his posture and about how he would end up in the same shape as ‘old Major Boothroyd’.

And just behind his father, looking as soft as ever even though her face was wrinkled and her hair was as white as the wall, was his mother, hands over her mouth, soft green eyes glistening with unshed tears. “You’re just as adorable as I remember.”

The cats jumped out of his lap even before he tensed his muscles and he launched himself in the arms of his parents. He tried to get out that this time wasn’t like all the other times and that he wasn’t at fault for his current state, asking if they can fix it and if not, if James can live with them because he protected him from Eve in the elevator and he didn’t want him to go away.

As always, his parents understood everything he had said and in between kisses and questions to the room about how exactly this happened, they assured him that everything was fine and that no one was upset or angry with him and of course James could come live with them if he wanted.

“And if he doesn’t destroy anything,” his father said and his mother elbowed him before glaring at him. “On purpose, of course.” Another glare, harder this time. “My boat—”

“Forget about your boat,” his mother jumped in, sounding like she usually did whenever Freddie tried to convince her for the nth time that he would be just fine handling the soldering tools on his own after someone read the instructions to him. “He bought you a new one last week, let it go already.”

“Yes, which he then blew up—”

“Jeremy, he’s a child who is alone,” Freddie’s mother hisses and the look on his father’s face instantly softened and he looked embarrassed. His mother smiled triumphantly, a look that was right at home on her face and Freddie had to wonder if maybe she had also worked for MI6. “There, now you see how things really are.”

This could still have been a trap. Freddie thought that if the technology was as advanced as these people claimed, then there was no problem booting up a program that could scan a picture of how someone currently looked like and predict how they would be in their 60s. And yet, he doubted that the warmness in the eyes, the voice, the hugs, or the kisses could ever be replicated so he saw no reason to doubt that he was in the arms of his parents.

They were already heading towards the door, James holding on to Freddie’s hand even though he looked apprehensive when M stepped in front of him and cleared his throat. “I was under the impression that you agreed to let the Q—young Freddie stay with us until we figure out how to reverse this.”

“Well, you were clearly wrong,” his father said trying to step around M only to have his path blocked again. “I do not have to remind you who he took after or that the bulk of this agency – the one that really matters – is ride or die for my son.”

M tilted his head to the side and subtly nodded after a moment. “But young James—”

“Is also coming with us, yes,” his father interrupted M, turning to look at James. “If you want to, of course.” James quickly nodded and pulled closer to Freddie, glaring at M until he stepped aside. “Right, Miss Moneypenny, might I trouble you to round up their cats and drop them off at our home?”

Patting the right side of her jacket, Eve smiled softly. “Bill is already trying to come out of it without any permanent scars and the little demons should be with you within the hour.”

A week had passed since they had been turned into children and sent to live with the Boothroyds. Freddie had been too quick to believe everything for James’ taste so he had no other choice but to tag along and rescue him before he got brainwashed and raised to be a criminal mastermind.

That hunch of his turned out to be wrong but he was very glad about that. Sure, it made his head hurt whenever he tried to process what actually had happened or the fact that he was technically given a second chance at life but Mrs Boothroyd made very good food, the Major had all sorts of interesting gadgets hidden all over the house, and Freddie – though tiny and still stuttering when reading – was an excellent partner in crime.

Freddie was also too adorable to ground, apparently, and he was too traumatized – Mrs Boothroyd’s words – so everything was fine especially since it was the middle of summer and no one was even thinking about sending them to school. Sure, he didn’t remember anything past the age of 14 since it didn’t happen yet as far as he was concerned at this point in time but if the life he supposedly already lived was anything like what he’d been through up until now, he was grateful for this second chance.

Freddie seemed to have been blessed in his first life. Though the Boothroyds didn’t fault their son’s life, James pieced that together from poking his nose through the many photo albums that were hidden in the attic. They weren’t dusty at all and it was obvious that some had the pictures from them removed very recently. That would have raised some alarms in James’ mind instead of warming his heart if it wasn’t for the fact that he found the rest of the pictures hidden in a box – Freddie would grow up to be a beautiful man.

James too would grow up to be very handsome, even if his hair seemed to have thinned quite a bit, though he was confused as to why they’d be a picture of him and Freddie in the photo albums. It felt perfectly fine to see it there but he didn’t know why. They were both smiling in it and James had no doubt that it was genuine happiness that he saw in there. They were both leaning close to each other and their shoulders were touching, so it was good to know that they were friends as adults. They were also dressed in fancy suits, with red roses pinned to their chests and the table before them also looked fancy so they had to be at a party.

He stole that picture and kept it hidden under the mattress, like some kind of a dirty porn magazine that would get him in an awful lot of trouble if anyone caught him with it – which happened but it was Freddie who had walked in on him in the guest bedroom, so he didn’t worry.

“I ended up wearing glasses?” Freddie asked, a pout and a deep frown etched on his face as he carefully examined the picture. “Wonder if it’s because I fiddled with one too many electrical devices and one just blew up in my face.”

James snorted, looking over the edge of the bed down to were Freddie had set up his little cot for the night – he probably had another nightmare about some bad guys trying to catch him and hurt him. For whatever reason, Freddie only felt safe if he was in the same room as him after such dreams and James felt relaxed to know that, even if he did have a harder time falling asleep in the off chance someone really did bust down the door and dragged Q—

Q… There was that letter again.

Every so often, he’d think of Freddie as Q and he wondered if that was because of their jobs with MI6. Their names had been hidden on the badges when they were shown to them but if M could be M, then Freddie could be Q and not someone active in the field.

Ah, now wasn’t the time to think about that. Freddie was distressed and he didn’t like that one bit, especially since he might try to connect his nightmares to him wearing glasses as an adult. “If you look closely at the picture, you’ll notice that there isn’t a single scar on your face so it’s impossible for you to end up wearing glasses because of an accident.”

Hearing that made Freddie smile brightly but then quickly frowned again, bringing his face closer to the picture. “I wonder who we’re married to.” He pointed at the two simple wedding bands on each of their fingers. “And why they haven’t been asking around for us. We can’t both be widowers.”

James took the picture and pondered for a moment, carefully examining everything. “I suppose they would be extremely shocked to find us like this,” he said with half a month, not really vocalizing what was passing through his mind. “Look, if I strain really hard, I can sort of get a vague impression of everyone that I was close to as an adult. As horrible as it sounds, I don’t feel like anyone important is missing from my side.”

“It is horrible,” Freddie started. “But…” He trailed off and huffed. “Well, I agree with what you are saying. Maybe those were there for a mission or something. I mean, we were spies, right? And I can’t see myself married to a girl.” He pulled a disgusted face, making James chuckled.

He’d thought that when he had been 7 but then came that maid at Oxford and, well… Well, looking at the picture, he too couldn’t see himself married to a girl. “No offence, but you are too scrawny in there to be a spy. I bet you came up with all those things we weren’t allowed to touch back at MI6 and that I was your bodyguard.”

“You are probably right. You do look like the ‘all brawn, no brain’ in this picture,” Freddie shot back and after glaring at each other for a few seconds, the first pillow was swung.

Freddie dodged and quickly stole the other pillow in the room and caught James right in the face, laughing and jumping back before the retaliation could hit him. Yes, if Q was like only a little bit like Freddie, he definitely understood why they’d be wearing wedding bands.