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Thy Sins

Chapter Text

Enough. It's been enough.

 

His own death has always been a possibility (not just in this filthy cell: in safehouses, in pursuit, in hidden nooks, in bed, in broad daylight), but it remained an abstract certainty. Nothing Tiago would dirty his hands with. Death was always for others – not for him. Until tonight, that is (he knows it's night because of the faint, artificial glow shining through the thin slit that faces the courtyard). What is he trying to prove? For whom? Not for Her. She gave him up. It's been at least five months, and there's no end to this. Unless he ends it himself. Give up. Die.

 

The interrogator (two weeks in, Tiago named him Jun in his head) has just left a ring of raw, burned flesh on his inner thigh. He's going further up every day, and who knows where it will end tomorrow. From the way he grinned, it may very well be his balls. Or worse. Jun's become quite good at this - the first days were an excruciating ordeal since he was too green to restrain himself without truly harming Tiago. But lately he's been stopping just at the exact moment to have fear pooling at the pit of Tiago's stomach and lingering long enough until the next session.

 

He curls up, knees to his chin, refusing to see even the slit of light. There's hardly room to move here. He can hear his own breathing. He'll never speak (don't let Her down, even now, don't), and they'll never kill him. They'll beat him within an inch of his life (they have), but they will not let him die. It isn't about information, secrets, spying: it's mindless torture. To break him. To punish him. Is this what She wanted? To punish him through them? But would She punish him this harshly? It's only when he starts worrying his back molar to feel the foreign, plastic sensation of the pill that he notices it.

 

His left hand. He's actually clenching it.

 

They broke both wrists on the first day to forgo bounds and to discourage any fighting back - so violently Tiago never expected to be able to use them again. But his left hand opens and closes at will despite the pain, and rotates, and suddenly, suddenly he starts thinking there might be a way out after all. One chance in a hundred. That's more than enough. Better to be gunned down escaping than convulsing to death on a sorry pill. Hell, he'll take one chance in a thousand if needed be.

 

A plan. He has to wait for the young guard (Tiago nicknamed him Ming four days into his captivity). Every night, Ming brings water and a nondescript paste that usually gives Tiago the shits but it's only marginally better than starving. Now, Tiago is right-handed but he can fight with his left. He has before. He'll break Ming's jaw, grab his gun, steal his uniform, and get out of this fucking prison somehow. Can't he?

 

He's out of shape.

 

He should have factored that in, but he's not going to let a little breathlessness stop him. He punches Ming in the stomach, knees him in the face, but at some point during the struggle Ming manages to hit back - dislodging the pill further. Shit. Don't swallow. He shoves the tin bowl down his throat, food included (section the airway, yes, like this), and he doesn't even register the kill until Ming collapses next to him. It can't have lasted more than thirty seconds, and it was a quiet affair.

 

The uniform is too large for him, but it's not like he can ask for Prada in this little outing, can he. It's so dark in the fucking hallway. The hardest part is not limping. Good thing Tiago doesn't have an accent in Cantonese (funny how that works, isn't it? only his English is accented). He slips by two controls unmolested - no one even glances at him. It's working. It's actually going to work. The one time someone addresses him he gives a mumbled, meek answer in the local lingo, and he's left alone until he reaches the damn courtyard and fuck fresh air he hasn't felt that on his face in months and it feels so good he can barely choke back a gasp. Never mind the blood pooling in his shoes. Never mind the raw burns on his inner thigh. Never mind the fact he hasn't run in over ninety days. Tiago makes a run for it - it's not even a fence, it's just a two-meter wall, no barb wire - and climbs up the bitch. He's at the top when the first shouts break, and the alarm sounds when he's already on the other side.

 

Fuck. It worked.

 

There's open fire and he heads straight for the bushes or forest or whatever kind of vegetation it is that grows around here that may bring some cover (a forest: it's a forest and he needs to figure out where South lies) and this is the actual easy part, whose idea was it to keep him in a lone bunker in the middle of nowhere instead of a top-notch prison? He takes off the stupid cap and unbuttons the jacket and if he wasn't on the run he'd laugh because fuck the odds, Santiago Rodríguez isn't going to rot in some forgotten cell after all. He'd laugh too, if it wasn't for the cyanide pill dislodging further and further every time he takes a step.

 

He collapses on the doorstep of one of the remaining H safe-houses five hours later just as he's run both legs bloody and his head is spinning and he can no longer breathe.

 

"A dentist. I need a fucking dentist," he tells the wide-eyed, baby-faced MI6 kids who yank him inside.

 

Chapter Text


"M?"


She looks up from the document to find Villiers standing by the door. The boy will never be a good agent - his emotions are so plainly written on his face she doesn't even have to strain to notice something has upset him, or confused him, or maybe even shocked him. But he performs adequately at his current job, and while she knows that sooner or later he'll be crushed out of the game she still wants him to succeed. Perhaps because she chose him, and it has become a matter of pride. Isn't it always. When she has the time, she devises exercises to toughen him up, to rack up experience - he's yet to fail one to date.


"Yes, what is it?" she asks, impatient to have him gawking at her like a public school thing afraid to speak up.


"It's 001," Villiers says, his voice wavering a little. "He's managed to escape."


Oh dear. For a brief, wild moment, she allows herself to lower her guard and successively feel bewilderment, relief, and an absurd urge to sob. Ridiculous. Not two seconds later she restrains herself to contemplate the next course of action. So: he's escaped. This is rather inconvenient. Probability ran low that he would survive, even lower than he would escape - but she had considered the scenario once or twice. The Chinese will not take kindly to lose their prize but quite frankly she cannot bring herself to care: the benefits of recovering her best Double-0 far outweigh the work of brushing ruffled diplomatic feathers back into place.


"What is his condition?" she asks. She has not even blinked.


Villiers walks closer to her desk, and she can tell he is composing his face to her likeness, but his voice - he cannot mask the edge there. "They think he'll make it. But he's in a terrible shape. It's quite plain he was..." Villiers lowers his voice. "...tortured."


Bloody hell.


The first thought to cross her mind: did they torture information out of him? The second: stupid, infuriating child, putting himself in that position. She always suspected he overstepped his assignment just because he could, rather than with malicious intent. He left her no choice. However disproportionate the punishment, perhaps a valuable lesson was taught out of all this, one they can profit from – no more straying. If he is still able to rejoin them, that is. If he is still willing. She refuses to consider the alternative.


"Are they looking for him?"


"Not as of this morning - China Standard Time. He was flown out before dawn anyway, to one of our ships in the area. He's being transferred home as we speak."


Home. Would he still think of London as home? He has always been fiercely, passionately, irrationally loyal to her. She isn't blind. She knows this. But the line between obsessive love and violent loathing may thin and blur, and what then? If he has rationalised her actions as a betrayal against him, as abandonment...

 
"M, he walked nearly thirty miles in five hours. In that condition."


Villiers' voice has a vaguely accusing edge, though there are no traces of grievance in his wide eyes. Perhaps it's just bewilderment.


"Yes, well. He's 001. He has been trained to survive."


She made him, she trained him, she oversaw every single mission to ascertain he would be nothing but the best. He was her first. In rare moments of weakness she even allowed herself to secretly think him her favourite. So close in age to -


"As it stands now, he is a greater liability to us alive than dead," she adds, skipping over the sentimentalities to bring Villiers back to business - and herself.


"You think the Chinese will assume we freed him?"


"You know how quick they are to bristle these days."


As if they didn't have enough headaches with the aftermath of the handover. Damned it all, Tiago, couldn't you die? She had mourned for him in private, stuffed him in her ever-expanding box of regrets, and moved on to other diplomatic endeavours.


"I'll try to find out more from H," Villiers says.


"Do."


Only when he leaves the room does she let out a sigh of relief, or perhaps of exasperation. There are many phonecalls to make to stifle this before it turns to a wild fire. It won't be easy. It may be very well impossible. Oh, the Foreign Office liaison will be thrilled, as usual. But does Tiago understand he left her little choice but to hand him over to the Chinese? Every course of action relies on a single question: is he still loyal or not? And this she will only know when she looks into his eyes. She's always known when she looks into his eyes. Absurd sentiment.

 

 


The child can't be older than twelve, scrawny looking, dark long hair. He bolts towards them, oblivious or unafraid of the drawn guns. He stops in front of her, bloodied hands closing on the hem of her uniform.


"Stop! They're not behind that hill. They're there!" He points somewhere South where a faint light is flickering. They hadn't noticed that. Next to her, Hackney curses and pulls out his binoculars. "I heard them," the child insists. "Decoys. An ambush. If you go to the hill, they'll kill you all. The Eastern path is safer."


"Why should I believe you?" she asks, pushing him away from her. He is far too young to understand military terms and his English is heavily accented. "You're South-American. You may've been sent to trick us."


"I'm British! Like you," the child growls.


He steps back to the bushes where he was hiding and points down. A man and a woman, dead. Like the child, they look South-American, but who the hell knows, in this bloody war and in this godforsaken island?

 
"We weren't soldiers. This was our home!"


It must be the war stress weighing on her, but his eyes are fierce like beacons in the dark. He isn't lying, she realises. He wants revenge. There's a third body in the bushes, isn't there.

 
"Hackney, take Ragsdale and investigate the light. Report back," she says. "If you're lying, I'll cut off your balls," she tells the child.


"Go on," he says, obscenely, disturbingly too deadpan for his age, "You might even like it."

 

 


"Villiers?"


He left the door to their adjoining offices open, as he does when he expects to be called again. She hears him interrupting his typing on the keyboard and pull his chair back. When he peeks his head in, his tie is loosened.


"Yes?"


"What time is he expected back?"


"Midday at the latest. I've cleared two hours at lunch time for you."


She never asked him to do that. He's good. He's very good. He might even turn out competent one day.

 


 


In truth, she has no time to idle in military hospitals like a steadfast family member, but she makes it a point to sit by Tiago's bedside as he sleeps, long enough to read his medical report at least. Fractured wrist, fissured femur, sprained ankle, infected lash wounds on his back. Two cracked ribs. No nails. Burn marks and blisters on his arms, all over his legs. There isn't an inch of skin that they spared, and the internal damage... If she was cross with him before, it all but thaws away reading the minutiae of his injuries. Cankerous little mongrels. How dare they. How bloody dare they.


Tiago is awake when she looks up, a tired, childish smile growing on his bruised lips - he's lost so many teeth. His hair is shaved (burned, most likely) and one eye is too swollen to stay open. She would clamour for revenge, if it were diplomatically possible.


"Hi Mum," he whispers, his thick accent discernible despite his raspy voice.


He's hers. He's still theirs. She only needs one glance to know it, the relief so overwhelming her restraint slips, and she smiles back at him.


"Oh, Tiago." She reaches out to squeeze his bandaged good hand. "Welcome back, child."

Chapter Text


If Tiago was never good with downtime between missions, forced downtime feels like a noir novel straight out of a Borges nightmare.


He managed to survive in a filthy prison, but the minute he's back in Britain everything is infected or mending incorrectly. His damn ankle alone takes six agonising months to recover. His right wrist worries the team of doctors. He runs out of breath too quickly. His aim is off. He slept in the cloakroom for three months because he couldn't fall asleep anywhere else. Sometimes he wonders if he'll ever return to his former self (he knows he won't). So he drugs himself to oblivion and scratches the scars with gleeful mischief, pushing recovery further back.


"If you don't cease your nonsense I'll have you thrown into psychiatric observation," M tells him.


"I don't need a fucking shrink." Tiago crosses his legs over to the side of the chair where he's sitting - he hates sitting straight like a schoolchild. Besides, it annoys M. "I need to kill something. Someone. Anything."


"Not until you recover."


"It's your fault I'm like this now, remember?"


She narrows her eyes. "You knew what the stakes were when you breached their servers," she says, frowning at him as if he were a misbehaving child.


He loves it. Sometimes he wishes to never recover.


(Back in school, he used to beat up kids during the break then give them his slice of cake, sink the football team then score a hat-trick, fail three assignments in a row and then excel at four. M came to see him once, in the dead of the night. He was pulled out of bed, jammies and all, and he'd stood barefoot in the parlour as she told him, You know I expect nothing but excellence from you. That disappointed look in her steely gaze: a welcome change from the detached disinterest of his teachers. Disappointment, pride: it's all the same.)


"I didn't think you'd hand me in," Tiago says, fishing for a reaction. He knew she would hand him in. He expected nothing less. Bitch.


"I haven't the faintest notion why you've deluded yourself into thinking you are above the law."


"Aren't I, though?" he asks.


At thirteen, he got away with murder. Tiago knew M had seen the body, but she never asked about it. Yes, it was a war, and that soldier was the enemy, but Tiago was thirteen, and a civilian. Other agents often joke M is ruthless. They have no idea.


 


On the ship to Britain, she slips a cold metallic thing on his hand.


"A medal?" he asks, turning it before his eyes. "What did I win?"


"It's for exceptional bravery," she tells him. Her hair is short, like a man's.


I wasn't brave, he thinks, but doesn't refuse it. The medal bears the Lion and the Unicorn, but Tiago can't recognize the motto, or the cryptic name of the division. "Is this a toy medal?" he asks. "I've never seen one like it."


"And I presume you know much about medals?"


She's mocking him, the bitch, but her eyes don't laugh. True Brits are always like this. Tiago suddenly wants to learn how to do that.


"I know all about war!" he snaps. "Alexander, Caesar, Africanus. Genghis Khan. Lautaro." She doesn't know this name, he can tell, and it makes him proud of Chile. "Nelson, Napoléon, Bolívar. The Great Wars. Everything! And I've never seen a medal like this."


"That's because we don't exist," she says. "I am not even supposed to be in the army. We are a secret detachment, and this is one of the medals awarded in exceptional circumstances."


"Only the Queen awards medals."


"Listen, child, I'm the commander of this ship and I'll give out medals to anyone I bloody well please."


Oh, he likes her. He likes her very much. Yet when she asks, 'Do you want to be a soldier later on?', Tiago shrugs and says no. He can't let her know how much he likes her.

 

 


"You most certainly aren't," M says, back in the present. "I do hope you've realised that now."


For a moment he's forgotten what they're talking about. Being above the law. Right. He still keeps that stupid medal. And M looks just the same. Perhaps a bit more grey. Fatter.


"Your sadistic punishment almost backfired, though. I was going to bite the pill, you know."


"Yes, I know. It was on the medical," she says.

 
Sure, Tiago. Suicide was the logical action. It was expected. She probably never meant for him to survive. He clenches his fists.


"Do you have any idea what it was like?"


He did not mean for his voice to drop like this. It comes out a low hiss, almost a growl, like he does not have all his wits with him. She holds his gaze, though she does not appear contrite in the least. It would be too much to ask, wouldn't it?


"I can imagine," she says, calmly. He wishes she would display an emotion, any emotion, warmth in her voice, anything. She only stares at him. "It is extraordinary that you survived, given the circumstances. It is... fortunate that you did."


Fortunate. Is that supposed to be a compliment of some sort? He stares at his nails. They are slowly growing back, covering the raw, soft skin that was left underneath, but they aren't quite long enough to be groomed into shape. Maybe this is her way to say she is happy to see him. He looks to the side, at nothing really. She does not even have books in this office.


"Listen to me, Rodriguez." He hates how English speakers pronounce his last name, and she knows it. "The Q branch has been struggling since the Quartermaster's untimely death, especially the computers section."


"No," he says, knowing exactly what she's about to suggest.


It's not the first time she asks this. He always refuses.


(he always says no first, in fact. She came after his A-levels with a letter of recommendation for Greenwich. No, he'd said, I want to study Maths and Computation. He did join the army in the end, three years later with a degree in his pocket. He'd gone to Cranwell, though, just to be contrary. Airplanes are more fun than ships. Faster. Versatile.)


She throws a brown folder on the table. "I have four physicians here advising your immediate discharge, including the psychiatrist. The fifth one suggests a desk job. What's it going to be, Rodriguez? I can either buy you more time over at the Q branch until you're back on your feet, or I can fire you."


Or kill him, really. Finish what she started in China when she put him in the rubbish bin. If she gives him the gun, he'll do it himself - save her the trouble to send 003 for him. He almost says that. Almost. But in truth, in his six years at MI6 he's managed to piss off half the Q branch with his unsolicited computer suggestions. Idiots, all of them. They wouldn't know a backdoor if it bit them in the arse. He'd no idea the old man bit the dust. Cold War dinosaur, still expecting machines to take up half the room. He had banned Tiago from the labs after he remotely overclocked all the prehistoric workstations just because he could. I was trying to prove a point, he'd argued, and he could tell some of the youngsters agreed, but Q could not bear the sight of him. Yeah, he could take over. Hell, he could revamp the whole place if he's given enough time.


"Looks like you're twisting my arm a bit here," he says, raising an eyebrow.


"Just a bit." She smiles, unexpectedly, and Tiago chokes with the need to plant a big, wet kiss on her cheek.


"How long?" he asks, breathless.


"Get them back up and running. And pull yourself together, for crying out loud. I don't exactly have hordes of Double-0s waiting to do your job."


In other words, unlimited time. Until he gets bored. Set up new servers. Deep-encrypt and bunkerise the architecture. Optimise everything, bring it up to date. And bring in competent kids, for fucks sake. Yeah, he can do that.


"I need to know I have your full support for whatever I do over there." She nods, no hesitation. He'd smile, but he's too surprised she agreed. Why is she being so nice? Is she trying to make amends? He clears his throat. He'll take anything. Anything, really. He smothers the despair at the realisation with a slight cough that makes his ribs ache. "And I'm going to need a new name," he says, crossing his legs the other way.


M blinks. "A new name?"


"Well, you meant for Rodriguez to die," he says, and shrugs. He can see her lips parting in protest, so he talks again before she manages to. "And you can't call me Q if it's interim, can you?" He hums a tune, he's had Verdi in his head all morning (Rigoletto, like his reflection in the mirror). "Silva, how's that?"


She opens the folder to peek at his name on the upper left corner, half-heartedly. There's no way she doesn't know it. Santiago Raúl Rodríguez Silva. Yeah. A mouthful. "Your mother's maiden name?"


"Easier to pronounce, too."


Raúl Silva, Quartermaster. He likes the ring of it.

 

 

Chapter Text


She leans closer to the screen, indulging in the illusion that it brings her closer to what she is watching on the video feed.


Tiago always did love an audience. He'd excelled at everything, of course, but theatre brought out the best in him. She went to see him, once, though she never told him - hiding in the shadows of the darkened auditorium was trivial; justifying her absence at work for the school play of a child that wasn't hers, less so. At fourteen, Tiago was Iago come to life, his performance so vastly superior to that of the other children it seemed an unfair advantage: he should have been Iago, and Othello, and Cassio all at once. She'd then read an essay of his where he argued Iago's motivations, and she'd allowed herself to be proud of him and to hope (darkly) that his talent for Machiavellian thinking would one day be put to good use.


She watches him teach the younger members of the Q-branch on the grainy video feed, the same enrapturing actor who charms his audience in three sentences and holds them captive for the rest of the play. The Q juniors scramble to take notes, type on the computers, but they mostly stare up at him in awe, drinking his every word as he scribbles pseudocode on a white board. He loves it. She can tell: he's wearing designer clothes again, Prada or something equally Italian. His hair is starting to grow back too - the burns on his scalp turned out to be mercifully superficial, and he's let it grow just under his chin, the wavy, dark locks exquisitely groomed. Lucky bugger: her hair never looked this gorgeous, not once.


But he holds the pen stiffly in his right hand, and for all his graceful bearing he still limps a little as he walks down the room, demonstrating something in one of the workstations. He's on the mend, the physicians report, but it's so very slow. She won't risk putting him back in the field when he could fail a mission - Tiago is certainly capable of putting a bullet to his own head if he fails. She's not quite sure whose high standards those are - his, or her own. And he'd see right through her if she assigns him to a lesser mission to spare him indignity. He might put a bullet in her head, too.


No, let him be Quartermaster, let him play with the machines. Let him be Silva. She'd had to handwave the expenses for all the extravagant equipment he's been buying, but she must admit the internet is noticeably faster, and she can't remember the last time the network was down.


Oh, she is keenly aware that by recruiting him for MI6 she robbed Oxford of a brilliant Computation Chair, the Royal Shakespeare Company of a lead actor, and perhaps the most damning, the Royal Air Force of an exceptional strategist. He is too flamboyant to be a perfect spy, but by Jove he's hers: she found him, and she claimed him for herself.


Santiago Rodriguez, bred on war books and biographies of generals, sees it all with cold, steely logic so unlike his expressive other self, and plans, replans, under-plans, over-plans his actions tightly woven nets. She read about it in his RAF reports, and she saw it whenever he was out in the field: three plans of action and five backup plans, his unique blend of algorithmic probabilities and intuitive psychology a deadly combination. He's probably not even aware that's how his mind works. But she knows.


Some of her husband's Classics has rubbed off on her throughout the years, enough for her to realise that if Tiago is an Athenian strategos, then Bond has potential to become a true Spartan kryptes, blunt and silent, a deadly instrument moving in the shadows with Swiss precision. And like Tiago, his lack of discipline would be a hindrance were he not so infinitely resourceful to the point of disbelief: there are twenty-three missions in his military career that he should have spoiled yet managed to complete. She doesn't believe in luck, but luck clearly believes in Bond. He thrives on luck like Tiago thrives on logic. James and Tiago. So very alike, so very different.


"Bond's file should be accessible now," Villiers says from the door, and she tears her eyes from the video feed to nod in acknowledgement.


Right, yes. It's time to see whether James is ready to be the spy she's always known him to be.

 

 

 

Chapter Text


"James Bond," Silva muses, out loud. "She's been accessing that file a lot, hasn't she."


Next to him, the kid squirms on the chair where he is barely balanced. He's always twitchy, always nervous, learning in silence. This time, however, he glares at him through his thick glasses, and shakes his head.


"You really shouldn't access those files," Geoffrey says.


He does not like his first name, but in any case, Silva never calls him anything other than 'kid'. Better than Boothroyd.


"And why is that?" he asks, absently, typing away commands to print out this James Bond's file on screen. They are protected, of course.


"Debasing yourself to guess passwords is a pointless waste of resources and demeans our role as guardians of the architecture."


Our role? Well, well. Silva would smile, but his mind is elsewhere. Passwords are nothing when he's the one behind the file system. But first he needs to remember which seed he assigned to this subdirectory.


"Mm-hmm," he hums, distractedly. "Did they teach you that in school?"


"Indeed," Geoffrey says. "And didn't you almost get killed for a stunt like this?"


"Hm. Yet here I am. Think on it."


Silva tears his eyes from the screen to glare at him. There are scars on his neck that haven't quite healed, and the kid's nervous gaze glides over them. He cowers. Or blinks. One of the two. Silva is willing to forgive this oversight as youthful earnestness or as the natural cockiness that comes with the job. But he's certainly not going to let an entitled little boy lecture him on what he's allowed to do as Quartermaster.


"Where did you come from, anyway? Fresh out of Cambridge?" he asks, turning to the screen again.


"Oxford. But you knew that."


Yes, of course. Same College as him, too. Silva wouldn't have taken anything lesser. The kid is a fast learner, and a tolerable programmer (hideous cardigans though – if Silva were invested enough, he'd take him shopping somewhere decent). Blasted seed, what the hell is it. He types, mistypes, retypes. He usually favours eleven digit prime numbers, and he's half tempted to write a script to crack it quicker. Oh, fuck it, he'll do it. And he ignores Geoffrey's snort when he calls out an editor shell in defeat.


"Why didn't you stay there, kid?" he asks, still absent, as he watches the command window vomit out the mismatched numbers line by line. "Get a PhD? Become a fellow? Publish your findings in nice journals?"


Geoffrey stiffens next to him. "I don't care for that."


"Don't you? It'd be something far more respectable to write home about. A professorship instead of this civil servant mediocrity. Your mother would be proud."


"My mother is dead," Geoffrey says, in the cold, detached tone Silva knows so well because he's used it a himself million times before. "My father too."


The normal answer would be, oh i'm sorry to hear that, or maybe even so are my parents, but Silva isn't one for empty pleasantries. Besides, the script's just found the seed. He types it in gleefully, until the kid mumbles to write it down so he doesn't forget it next time - with just enough sarcasm for Silva to reach out and smack his arm. "Ow," he whines, and lets him skim over the file in peace. He doesn't turn away from the screen, though. Cheeky little thing.


James Bond is five years younger than Tiago Rodriguez. CMG, former SBS, Int Corps, very hush hush. 10/10. Commended everywhere. Multilingual (9+). Ruthless, reckless, outstanding gunmanship, top physical. (Devilishly handsome, too.) There's something a bit unsettling about all this, because bar the Computer Degree, Silva could be reading his own file. Like looking in a mirror and finding a younger, Navy version of himself. He shakes his head and keeps on reading. Britannia Naval College, balked out of Cambridge Oriental Studies in Part I - ha. Unmarried, unattached, no known living relatives. Scottish father, Swiss mother, both dead: Bond was orphaned at eleven, placed in public school, then...


Wait. What?


Silva turns towards Geoffrey so briskly the chair nearly gives with the circular impulse. "How old were you?" he asks, and when the kid only gives him a blank stare he hisses, "When they died. How old were you when they died?"


"Nine," Geoffrey says, clearly taken aback. "I was sent to boarding school."


Tiago doesn't even want to allow himself to believe it. He types furiously again, brings up 002's file, 003's, 004's. Mother and father deceased. Mother deceased, father unknown. Raised by an ageing grandmother, dead. Orphans, all of them. Every single one of M's recruits...? Even this scrawny, nervous little kid sitting next to him and biting his nails?


"Do you see what I see?" Tiago asks. His voice comes out a whisper.


"Yes," Geoffrey says. "But it doesn't have to be anything sinister."


Doesn't it! Tiago types some more, prints out files and files on the screen, for every agent M has ever recruited. Orphan, orphan, orphan, orphan. The ones who aren't orphans are stuck in inconsequential desk positions. After going through thirty-seven files, Geoffrey puts a hand on Tiago's fingers to stop him.


He runs. (isn't it funny how his ankle seems perfectly okay? not even his wrist hurts.) He's vaguely aware that Geoffrey is following him, talking to him, arguing something, even trying to stop him, but a skinny nineteen-year-old's grip on his arm doesn't do much to slow him down. He breezes past the secretary, storms through empty meeting rooms, but in the receiving area just before M's door he meets an actual physical object.


Villiers. The cunty little aide has the gall of standing in his way and Tiago crashes into him, knocking the wind out of him before tossing him aside. In the periphery, he can hear Geoffrey apologising profusely and helping him back to his feet. "She can't see you," Villiers wheezes, but Tiago has just pushed the door open.


M is on the phone, and raises an eyebrow at him. She puts a hand on the receiver. "Yes, what is it?" she asks, impatiently.


"James Bond," Tiago spits. "The newest addition to your orphan collection."


"I'll call you back," M tells whoever is on the phone, and hangs up. "How dare you barge in like this?"


"Piss off," Tiago says. "How do you do it, hm? Do you have a, a database of orphans that you prey upon? The younger the better? Pay for their school, recruit them from the cradle, groom them, corner them into your schemes?"


"I've no idea what you're raving on about, 001."


"James Bond. He's an orphan, like all of your recruits. Like me. Like him." He points at Geoffrey, who is standing at the door in muted horror. Villiers has recovered and Tiago points at him, too. "And like him, most likely. Are you an orphan too?"


The aide's eyes widen, and Tiago doesn't even need an answer.


"Villiers, shut the door and leave us," M says.


It's suddenly very quiet in there, and all Tiago wants to do is shout but he can barely speak. "You have a little chess game set up, don't you. And we're just pawns that you use and throw away. Isn't that how it is?"


"Of course it is," she says, ice cutting through Tiago's ears. "I'm trying to run a country, if you haven't noticed."


"So you threw me away. You knew I would die." She flinches at this, at least. "But I didn't. You're rubbish at chess," he mumbles, too dizzy for coherent arguments (painful memories of playing with her in Hong Kong, no). He thought he was at least a Bishop. He thought he was the King, and he's nothing but a pawn in a row of pawns, disposable, replaceable. That cold, tiny room full of pain was for nothing, for nothing. She didn't deserve it.


"001," she says, speaking as evenly as ever. "I don't recall making you Quartermaster to have you prying in classified documents to find something to rage about."


"I'm going to find your file," Tiago says, irrationally. "I'm going to find your file of orphans and erase all entries."


"And what would that accomplish, if it even existed? What is it to you, Rodriguez?"


"It's Silva! I'm Silva."


(he'd cried on the long journey to Britain, on the ship. He was too old for it. He didn't want her to see. But she sat with him on his berth and didn't say a word, and she rocked him to sleep with the lull of the waves.)


Fuck you. And this Bond... this Bond, he'd even gone the Navy route, like she probably wanted him to, whereas Tiago joined the RAF like a petulant child. Did she hold him when he cried, too?


"I thought I was an only child," he says, shaking with disgust. There are hundreds of others, hundreds of M's orphaned children running around MI6 and around the globe with her favour. "It seems I've just discovered I'm just one of your many faceless clones."


"I don't have children. I only have agents," M says. "I can see you're rather distressed today, but it's no secret orphans make the best recruits."


"Yeah," he says. "So that when we die there's no one left to mourn us."


He slams the door on his way out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text


"Wait here," she tells the driver.


She waves the maître d'hotel off and steps into the kitschy French restaurant briskly and unannounced, making her way among waiters and diners without truly looking at them. She knows just what kind of table he's chosen - facing the front door, in a darkened area, close to the kitchen and away from prying ears. She's guessed right: he's lounging with his legs crossed to the side, a glass of wine in his hands and a suave, expertly fake smile on his lips. In front of him: Agent L63, a girl fresh out of training who should have known better than to be charmed by the exaggerated Spanish accent. He's wearing thin spectacles, what he is on about?


"Cease what you are doing immediately," she barks as she nears them.


Agent L63 jumps. Tiago's eyes widen. He stands, contrite for a brief instant. It's not enough to placate her, but it's getting there.


"M," he says, studiously courteous and also low enough not to be heard by anyone in the vicinity.


"Get in the bloody car."


He follows her at once (good), ignoring Agent L63's irrelevant mumbles. He does throw some notes on the table but then he's at her heels, their intempestive exit turning a few heads in the restaurant. A most undesirable scene for keeping incognito. She should have his head for this. He holds the car door open for her, but is sulking noticeably once he slumps on the back of the car next to her.


"This is the third time I've asked you to stop harassing my agents," she tells him once the car gets going. "It's three too many."


"Nothing about tonight was harassment," he says, and removes his ridiculous fake glasses, folding them away in a pocket of his suit. She scoffs, and he makes it a show to look wounded. "Is it so hard to believe someone would find me remotely desirable? Just because you don't doesn't mean others cannot."


"And she just so happened to be an agent I recruited, like all those you've been hounding for months now that you're obsessed with my hires."


In other words, he was hoping she would notice. Well, she had.


"I am not obsessed," he says, pronouncing the word with profound disgust and making an exaggerated handwave. "Look, she was willing, and I just wanted a shag tonight."


It's crass and inappropriate, and she cannot stop herself from replying in kind, sarcasm dripping out of her voice as she says, "Well, what do you know. I have a mind to bend you over my desk once we get to my office."


She hears him gasp, but she does not look at him. She stares at the driver, who does not meet her glance in the rear-view mirror. He cannot hear them from the front of the vehicle, she's grateful for that. Tiago leans closer to her, fresh cologne sliding up her nostrils as he has the cheek to wrap an arm around her shoulders.


"I do hope you mean that... Mummy," he says, too close to her ear, and she shoves him away to the other end of the seat. He only laughs.


"There is nothing humorous about this situation, 001. We've danced around this issue long enough."


He chokes a little. "My place or yours?"


She rolls her eyes, and taps the screen isolating the driver from them before pulling the hatch open. "Leavitt, stop the car, please. After that corner, yes."


They have just driven past Canary Wharf, the would-be business district a ghost under construction. Leavitt stops after the CCTV and she gets out of the car without a word. It isn't so late, some people are still at work up in their offices in the existing buildings, but the streets are largely deserted, the empty, hollow glass structures casting eerie shadows around them with their incomplete wirings and beam works. She pats the pocket of her coat for her gun: back in the day, all meetings were like this, in empty warehouses, in abandoned construction sites. Tiago, once out of the car, extends a trembling hand towards her but she glares at him to discourage him from even thinking it.


"I'm removing you from the Q branch as of tonight," she tells him.


His eyes widen, dark rounds orbs flashing not with surprise but with fierce, uncontrollable rage. She stares up at him without flinching. Height is irrelevant when she holds the power of life or death over him. She isn't about to let him forget that. The gun is a light, comforting weight in her coat.


"Why." He spits the syllable, barely making it sound like a word.


"You know why. I see now what a ghastly mistake it was to give you carte blanche with everything. A privilege you've been abusing so impudently it's reached my ears. What the hell do you think you're doing going over all those files?"


She has never been on the receiving end of one of his murderous glares. If she ever witnessed one, they were directed at the target and she happened to be in his line of vision. She finds she is largely unprepared to bear pure hatred fixed over her with such intensity, but she holds his gaze anyway. The ground rattles as the overground passes by, an overly bright empty shell.


"There are one hundred and seventeen agents I'm supposed to leave alone," he says, his tone blank and mechanic. "Of those, twenty-nine aren't orphans: not a single one of them in a critical position. Sixty-three of them are on active duty in the field, rising through the ranks with... shall we say, remarkable speed." He's frightening when he speaks like this, a cold-blooded machine ready to pull the trigger (her machine). So much for not being obsessed. "And the rest? It's quite interesting, actually. It's clear from their progression that they were groomed for so much more, but their career cuts off abruptly. And for all of them, the change can be traced to a single event: marriage. Is that why you ended my little date tonight? Are you afraid I'm going to marry?"


"Don't be absurd," she manages, disdainful enough for how chilled she feels to have this conversation. The psychiatrist did warn her this was a possibility following the long recovery. She had ignored it. As usual.


"I'd lose all my worth to you, wouldn't I, if anyone were to ever care. Maybe you could have me killed again. Somehow I don't think I'm allowed a fairy tale ending."


She raises an eyebrow, humouring his rant. "Would you want one?"


The way his eyes quiet down reminds her of throwing a bucket of cold water over a furious fire. Tiago drops his gaze, stares down at the fine shoes he wore for his date - absurd child. There is a nondescript liquid soaking up the concrete; it could be water, it could be construction residue. It could also be piss. Tiago clenches his jaw, lets out a deep breath.


"No," he admits, at last, almost reluctantly, and she recognises his defeated tone as regaining the upper hand, however briefly.


"Then cease your little games with my staff. You've been playing with computers long enough now. It is time to determine whether you are fit for fieldwork."


"You can't keep me away," he says, through gritted teeth and sounding rather sinister. "That system is my doing. I built it."


"I'll see that the new Quartermaster takes all the necessary precautions to secure the system from you."


He laughs, loudly and arrogantly. "There is only one person clever enough to do that in all of Q branch, and I am certainly not going to tell you who it is. In the meantime, you will not stop me. You will not."


How dare he. And yet, it does not even surprise her.


"Know your place, 001. This is an order I am giving you."


His nostrils flare. From the way he glares at her, her orders seem be rather inconsequential to him. None of the others question her like this. They would not dare to. Oh, to hell with it, she might just have to bend him over her desk after all, and teach him a lesson - she should have done so long ago. That would be quite a sight: poor Villiers might just resign the next day.


"You are to keep away from Q branch from now on," she goes on, ignoring his scowl. "Did you not hear what I said? I am sending you back on the field. You will take the tests to determine your fitness tomorrow. If I get word that you failed them on purpose I will certainly have you eliminated. You know my hand will not tremble." His fists curl, but she steps closer to him, recklessly. She touches his arm. "Tiago. I need you back."


He wraps an arm around her waist, as if on cue, a possessive, irresistible grip that pulls her against him. She lets him. She can afford this impropriety, if it gets him where she needs him. He is two heads taller than her but she somehow finds that she fits against him if he bends slightly, bodies pressed far too close together.


"How badly do you need me?" he asks, his voice hoarse, and she cannot help a smile. He is a handsome devil. If she were thirty years younger...


"Quite," she says. "Raoul Silva has fulfilled his purpose. It is Tiago Rodriguez I need now."


He lets go of her, unexpectedly, his eyes avoiding her gaze, and he takes a step back. A haunting, pained look has him turn away from her. "Rodríguez died in China," he says, arms crossed and facing the car. "I do not want that name."


"Yet that is your name, and Rodriguez did not die," she says, patiently, and walks around him to face him again. "It is entirely irrelevant whatever you choose to call yourself." She puts a hand on his chest, over his tie - an orange tie that should not match his burgundy jacket but it does, in a scandalous way. "You are still 001."


He takes her hand and lifts it to his lips to press hungry kisses to it. "My ending," he says, his accent too thick, "isn't a fairy tale one. But you are in it."


Right. That's her cue to leave. Lines are social constructs designed to maintain a semblance of professionalism - in their case, their line has been smudged, blurred, and disregarded so blatantly it is practically invisible. This is an absolute truth and not lingering sentiment. She would never allow the others to behave like this. And yet... She extricates her hand out his grip, and puts it to his lips to stop him from talking further. There is a twist of pain in his eyes.


"Don't," she says, and she turns from him to walk towards the car. He does not look ready to follow her, sullen, broody, lost in thought or contemplation or who knows what complicated labyrinths of his mind. "You may take the tube home, I suppose." He starts at this, and she smiles. "Six o'clock tomorrow morning. Do not be late, Tiago."

 

 

 

Chapter Text


He has to give credit to M where it's due: he did miss being out in the field. It's fucking freezing in La Paz but he slips back into the shadows like into a perfect fitting glove, in ways he never managed to in any corner of the globe. He looks like a local, for the first time. Still slightly unusual, because of his lighter skin in this sea of golden-skinned people, but not enough to turn heads, or to deserve a second glance. He doesn't have the local accent, but he's not there to speak anyway. Why did MI6 ever waste his time sending him somewhere other than South America? She said... She said, when handing him this assignment, that this might just become his area, if he managed to complete the mission. If.


"What is it that you do, then?" a friendly policeman asks him in the bar (Carlos, off duty, passably good at pool).


"Business man," Tiago answers, not feeling creative enough to come up with his own cover story. "Radio Tests Ltd. We export radios."


"Radios?" Carlos asks, and misses the yellow ball. "Is that still a thing? Maybe my grandmother has a radio, up in the mountains."


Tiago lets out a chuckle. "Airplane radios."


This is a subject he can talk about for hours like a genuine enthusiastic salesman, and he goes on and on and on, his Spanish never rusty, until Carlos is so bored he sinks the eight ball in to shut him up. The waitress who brings their celebratory beers has striking grey hair, saggy breasts and a twinkle in her eyes: Tiago surprises himself staring after her so insistently that she blushes, and Carlos laughs at him.


"I'm pleased to see you like our ladies, but you might enjoy someone younger, don't you think?"


That's what the problem is, isn't it.

 

 


On the day he turns eighteen his world is knocked off its axis, a little. Hardly anyone stays in town for the summer and Tiago's taken up rowing, not because he likes it but because there's nothing else to do (other than coding, of course, but the computer warms the room too much during the day). There's no rowing on Mondays, though, so he takes three books out of the library (Latin American literature, go figure) and begins a quest for a shade within walking distance from his College. He's finishing the second Neruda booklet when he hears the footsteps, and jumps to his feet when he sees who it is. It strikes him, for the first time, that he doesn't even know her name.


"Mum," he says, for lack of a better one.


She nods, evidently following his predicament. "Yes, that will do." She looks amused. "Let's buy you a drink, shall we?"


They sit in the beer garden of the pub down the road, empty at this time of the day. She hasn't removed her hat. It's not an oversight, he knows. He glances around. Who is she hiding from? Would it be so bad if someone saw her here with Tiago? It's a really nice hat, too, white with a checkered ribbon, and it matches her dress.


"Happy birthday," she says, and clinks their beers together.


Funny, he never imagined she'd drink beer. Not cocktails, either. Something masculine, rather, to go with cigars and apocalyptic decisions. He gulps down his own beer and feels light-headed right away (he doesn't drink much: coding is a mess when he does).


"I didn't think you knew when my birthday is," he says, and he actually means: I didn't know you cared at all, though it isn't entirely fair. He always did get a card with a twenty pound note in the vicinity of his birthday. It was never signed.


"I know everything, dear," she says.


He slept with a girl from Balliol after exams ended, does she know that too? He'd fucked her with scientific curiosity, learnt the motions, understood what everyone raved on about. When it was done, he realised he didn't even like her. Tiago has a mind to shag a rowing teammate next, to see if it's any different. Why is he thinking of this at all? Bright blue eyes under the checkered hat: so unlike that girl's. His face feels very warm.


"Are you happy?" she asks, out of nowhere.


He doesn't know how to answer that (lectures are too easy, he amasses As without doing any work, he's younger than everyone he meets, he could have already sat for three different Finals and he has the sinking feeling he knows as much or more than most postdocs), so he mumbles, "Yes."


There's many things he'd like to say to her, conversations he's been rehearsing in his head hoping she'd one day be there to listen, and yet not a word leaves his lips as he sits in front of her. He stares and stares and she stares back. She even smiles, and this would be a perfectly pleasant afternoon if it wasn't for the strange ache growing inside of him the more he downs his beer. Summery colours as they stroll down the cobbled lanes and he imagines her here thirty years earlier on the arm of a handsome chap. He hates him.


"The clouds," he says, thinking of Poem IV he's just read. "They look like handkerchiefs in the wind."


He's botched up the translation, and it sounds like he's raving mad. She stops walking to look at him, puzzled, clearly having no idea what he's on about. She wouldn't know Neruda, would she. She probably has no time for poetry. His face must be very red. She resumes her walking and he has to jog up to catch up after she's left him dumbfounded and lost in the middle of the path. She must think him a child.


"Would you like to come to Hong Kong?"


Her driver's pulled up at the end of the road and it's like an afterthought, but Tiago knows it isn't. So that's where she is, these days. No wonder she insisted he read Cantonese last term. He thinks his heart may just burst. It's not just the beer making him dizzy.


"And leave uni?" Is she asking him to give everything up, to follow her? He would, he thinks, he just might.


"You'll return for Michaelmas, of course." She puts a hand on his arm. His knees quiver.


"Is this your idea of a birthday present?"


"Yes," she says, and he's hers.

 

 

 


"And where might I find those younger ladies?" Tiago asks Carlos, continuing the conversation despite his complete disinterest as he sips on the cheap beer.


"Oh, everywhere. I introduce you."


He hasn't had sex since China. He doesn't want a younger woman. He doesn't even want women. He wants Her. He wants to rest his head on her lap and watch her stop the world from shattering. He wants to lie down terabytes of encrypted data at her feet and have her do with them as she pleases. And he wants her to suffer, too, like he did in that filthy cell, crush her and break her, and then save her and keep her to himself.


But no. For her Tiago is only a thing she may destroy at will - she may replace him, if she hasn't done so already. He copied the names to five secure servers, and he still goes over the list again and again trying to find names that stand out. He was able to guess who would be made 005 before news broke out. Please stop, Geoffrey always begs, nervous eyes glaring at him with reproach. It's become a training exercise (a game) to sneak into the network without the kid noticing. Cavendish, the new Quartermaster isn't even aware of it. Nowhere as good as Geoffrey, incompetent fool. And M has no clue. Cavendish handed Tiago his equipment before the mission with a sheepish smile, 'No hard feelings, 001? ' and Tiago had resisted the urge to shoot him with the gun he'd just been given. With any luck, Cavendish will steer the section back to their little gadget production (how many times had he told M it ought to be a separate section?) and leave the network as it is, and then... and then...


"It was great meeting you, Carlos," he tells him.


He shakes his hand. Tiago doesn't hold it for as long as he would like - in this corner of the globe, men are so dull and straight he knows not to even consider the possibility. And yet... Carlos does squeeze faintly, and smiles, and if he didn't have a man to kill, Tiago might just stay a little longer.


The target is alone in his hotel room when Tiago slips in the terrace. He's more out of breath than he'd like after climbing two storeys up the wall (the altitude, he tells himself) (more like he's a physical wreck despite passing the tests) (maybe M hoped he would die anyway). He thought the man would be asleep by now, but the white glare of a computer screen lights the otherwise darkened room. The German banker, a Euro naysayer with ties to the IRA, hunches over his laptop typing with one finger, too engrossed in his work to hear Tiago approach - not that he makes any noise.


The bullet goes in his head with a telling splat and he slumps on the chair. The shot actually ended up a little lower than intended - too far down nearly by the neck, but still; a job well done. He walks over to check that he is dead, but he needn't have bothered: blood and brains on the screen are enough of a tell. Would that it were always this easy. (was it too easy? did she hand him an easy mission purpose? he feels this urge to kick the body, to punch him, to empty his charger into him and crush his skull against the laptop.)


The cursor blinks at him, mockingly, as it waits for more instructions. The man was logged in to his bank network. Tiago ignores the bloodied spots on the screen as he leans closer to figure out what it is that he was doing. A transfer. And the recipient’s account number is missing. Later, if he tries to remember he won't know which one came first, his gloved-hand typing his own account number, or the rapid engineering of what he christens Plan B. Money buys servers, infrastructure, manpower. If she ever kills him again, and he survives, he'll have something to fall back into. To rebuild himself. To make her pay for it. Erasing the record of the transference is trivial, and he smudges the target's bloodied skull into the keys to damage the electronics even more.


M's little aide informs him over the phone that the plane out of Bolivia won't be ready for two hours: that's more than enough time. Tiago returns to the pool bar, but Carlos has already left. He fucks the old waitress instead (it's been a while since she was touched like this he can see it in her eyes), wins a street-fight (stupid drunk kids hoping to find a tourist wallet and finding his fist instead), and kills the leader of a druggie gang with his own knife. He has just the time to regret not finding a willing man, go back to the hotel, shower, and dress back into Armani.


Back in London, when M congratulates him and asks about his split lip, he smirks at her and says he bumped into a door.

Chapter Text


"I'm not sure I can handle all this testosterone," he'd told M when he read over his assignment. "Are you purposely looking for reasons to fire me?"


"Yes, well. I'm sure you can control yourself," she'd said (and she was smirking). "They're very good agents. I want them to learn well. That's why I'm sending them out with the best."


M rarely praised Tiago. It was so outlandish he'd spent the next hour wondering if he'd imagined it, and the next one whether he'd misunderstood (to be fair, she'd also said: don't you dare botch this one up and do not get my agents killed). James Bond, the one who set it all in motion. Tiago'd kept a distracted eye on him, and on Trevelyan as well, but he had not expected to actually interact with any of them, given M's overprotection of her agents from what she called his 'obsession'. Perhaps it was her way of telling him it was water under the bridge. From her side, at least. And she had agreed to let him keep Raúl Silva in the field.


Three days later, in a cramped hotel room with Bond and Trevelyan staring at him and waiting for instructions, Tiago is still not sure he can handle the testosterone.


For starters, Bond is shorter than Tiago expected, and distractingly more handsome. He's all sharp edges as he sits stiffly on the chair across from the bed, but there's a hint of... a certain... impatience about the way he holds himself - of course: Bond must have been the kind of child who went on skiing holidays in five-star hotels. Ah, M, failing to mention it's 37° in Maracaibo, and that the mission required a budget hotel - the indignity. Trevelyan, in contrast, a sober slavic beauty but his bearing friendly and nonchalant as he perches himself on the bedside table (nowhere else to sit in the room). Tiago undoes a few buttons of his shirt and sits back on the bed.


"Darlings," he drawls, just to get a reaction from them: Bond raises an eyebrow, leans back into the chair (recoils); Trevelyan raises an eyebrow too, but leans closer. Fascinating. "Darlings, you know half the world is hysteric after the Twin's Demise."


Tiago jammed the sound in a 30 mile radius in case someone's eavesdropping, but he still uses the code name for the New York attack. He leans even closer to the younger agents and lowers his voice, as if letting them in on a secret.


"Unsurprisingly, we need more people out in the field. There's going to be a new Double-0 very soon. Word is, this little mission is meant to be a... test of sorts."


He raises an eyebrow emphatically, cocks his head. Bond's jaw tenses (so green), a mirror image of Trevelyan but with arms crossed over his chest. There's a coyness in both of them that they mask with nonchalance. They've been well taught. They're all cut with the same scissors (M's scissors): loners, and violent, and not really fit for teamwork.


"How would you know?" Trevelyan asks.


"Ah, Alexei - do you mind if I call you Alexei?"


He grimaces. "Alec, please."


"Alec, then. Surely you don't imagine I'm 001 just for my dashing good looks. Hm?" Trevelyan snorts, but Bond smirks, and Tiago's never been so entertained. "And I happen to have, mm, peepholes in the network, as you can see." He gestures towards the laptop on the crummy bedside table where code is running 24/7. Mostly to keep Geoffrey entertained back home, but the younger agents don't need to know that.


"Just the one?" Bond asks, and when Tiago feigns not to understand, he elaborates, "One more Double-0?"


"Ah, yes, I heard just the one. The next 006." He makes an effort not to sound too taunting. "I'm to recommend one of you at the end of this mission. Only one."


Trevelyan and Bond glance at each other, seem startled when their gazes meet, and then look at Tiago again. Only their training keeps them from squirming. Tiago does his best to look pensive enough, despite how much he wants to smirk, and smooths the bedsheets with a distracted hand. He's read their files: it isn't the first time they're assigned together. They're rather fond of each other, in fact. This is going to be glorious.


"Somehow I don't quite think you were supposed to tell us this," Bond says, pursing his lips and shaking his head, eyes bright and alert. Gorgeous.


"Not quite." Tiago allows himself to chuckle. "But I hear you're a gambler, aren't you?" Something dampens in Bond's expression, but he holds Tiago's gaze. "Surely you can see the appeal in having a little bit of a... thrill?"


He rolls the r too much, letting the sound hang in the room. Bond is still staring at him, his gaze carefully displaying nothing but studious curiosity. Yes, he must be good at cards: he doesn't blink (the image of calm), he doesn't twitch (he only sees). Bond is likely arrogant enough to imagine his talent unique, failing to understand a face is just a face, and that it may show whatever its owner wills it too. Tiago arranges his own to convey a touch of mystery, a hint of wickedness, and a not so subtle sexual invitation. A slight flush on the left side of Bond's neck: the only acknowledgement that it's been received.


"Right," Trevelyan interjects, interrupting the staring match by clearing his throat. Feeling left out? Tiago smiles at him indulgently, and Trevelyan is either greener than Bond or just has less fucks to give, because he does smile back: a charming, wide-eyed grin. "What are we supposed to do?"


"Oh, yes, of course. The briefing," Tiago says, reaching back to grab some folders that he's left on the bed. He makes sure their fingers brush together unnecessarily when he hands it to each of of them. Neither recoils, this time. "This is a map of the site. Memorise all of it, the exits, the windows, the blind spots. Everything."


Their target: codenamed Ishmael (Tiago has no idea whether the intel agents are unimaginative to the point of tears or so clever that the metaphorical designation works on literary, biblical and philosophical levels). A shady oil businessman with bloodied hands (red and black: had it been Tiago's choice, he would have codenamed him Monsieur Sorel). The CIA are hounding him, and so is MI6. The evidence against him is irrefutable: direct links to the Twins, and to financing future attacks. The longer Mr. Ishmael is allowed to send ripples across banks the larger the terror threat grows: he is to be terminated before all hell breaks loose. The CIA should have done it, but they lost his trace somewhere in Jordan: the kill is whoever's finds him. Tiago's. Intercepting his emails was child's play (or maybe it wasn't: the CIA hadn't managed to).


Who would, after all, look for a Middle-Eastern fugitive in Venezuela? The secluded villa in just on the outskirts of Maracaibo must be Mr. Ishmael's idea of a safe-house. Two bodyguards (armed to the teeth), no wife, no family, no friends. Rarely ventures to Maracaibo proper, if he does, he rides an inconspicuous black sedan, and he only stops at the bank, or at a local restaurant (always the same).


"There's no clean-up team, no med evac, and very little diplomatic assistance available if we botch it up," he tells them, after filling them in on all those details. "This is a big boy's mission. And no crying to Mummy if something goes wrong," he adds, though that's more of a private joke for himself than for them.


Bond and Trevelyan nod, already tense as if ready for immediate action. Tiago pities them for a brief moment: the mission won't start for a few hours. But most assignments involve tedious inaction and waiting, and this they've to learn, too.


"Study it. Know the place with your eyes closed. Be ready here at 2300, for Ishmael's bedtime." He smiles at them, cajoling. "And if you've any questions... any questions at all..." He raises an emphatic eyebrow again, and thins his lips in a wry smile. "...my door's wide open for you."


Maybe he's gone at it too hard: even Bond looks a little flustered when he meets his gaze. He keeps the predatory smile until they scramble out of the room clutching their manila folders, then snaps back into his normal stance. The cogs have been set in motion, and he has other matters to attend.

 

 



Cease your poking around, Geoffrey scolds over their private IRC when he notices he is trying to enter MI6's network, despite it being so late in London. Tiago sends a smiley in reply. He is the only one who is vigilant enough in the section, but he is no match for him. Not yet. He tests backdoor after backdoor, more out of habit than because there really is anything he needs from the network. It still is, for the most part, his design. He suspects Geoffrey is trying to rebuild it, or build over it, but his junior status does not let him do any major restructuring. It's cute. Tiago has taken to broadcast his presence clearly so the kid can follow - at least let him learn something out of it. One day, perhaps, he may be useful.


Seven missions later, his bank accounts are fattening with the deliberate moderation of a foie gras goose. A small percent of Ishmael's obscene fortune will go a long way for new servers, if he manages to access his computer immediately after the kill. The young pups might be a hindrance, but all he needs is a good two minutes. The more he does it, the easier it becomes.


 


Tiago shoulders off his shirt under the pyrrhic illusion that it'll make the heat more bearable (it doesn't) and pulls the laptop closer to balance it on his knees. He's removed his trousers by the time the door of his room cracks open. He doesn't look up: there's a certain thrill in delaying the knowledge of which of the two came for the cookie jar a mere hour after his offer.


"Mister Silva," Bond says, as he nears the bed, and Tiago bites back a grin.


"Yes?" he asks, still not looking up.


Bond's breath hitches: he must have noticed the scars once he stepped into the light cast by the bedside lamp. Tiago doesn't see them any more, but he supposes it must be rather striking for one not expecting it. Unless Bond is shocked about the underwear: unlikely, if the sexual reports in his file are accurate. He glances up, and finds that Bond too is shirtless.


Thin droplets of sweat slide down his chest. He was in the army, wasn't he. What is he even wearing? Some ill fitting dark trousers that hang loosely just under his waist. Well: that is inexact, they are not ill fitting. They fit so tightly that taking them off would be like peeling a layer of skin (and his agent self idly wonders if it is wise to wear this on a mission: if Bond was chased, could he run?). It takes all of his training not stare, and not to react in any way to the fine body walking closer to his bed and exuding sex.


"I had a question about..."


Bond trails off, and from the way his gaze bears on Tiago it's clear as day that this is a sentence requiring no ending, the offer unmistakable in his eyes. The way he glances at him is outright obscene, lewd, irresistible, but Tiago's been an agent for ten years. He keeps a blank face, despite his mouth going dry and the very infuriating hammering of his heart.


"Well, go on," he says, feigning impatience.


Bond hadn't expected this: for a brief instant he looks ready to give up, but he clenches his jaw. He does not back down from the challenge, and has the gall to sit on the edge of the bed. Agents may not wear cologne on duty, but the faint smell of aftershave follows Bond as he leans closer.


"About the terrace," Bond deadpans, though Tiago knows he just made that up. "How are we supposed to go in if he keeps it closed?"


Tiago leans closer to look at the diagram and waves his hand. "It's not closed, you've got the symbol wrong. Look again."


And Bond does, he leans over the diagram too as if about to point at something, but shifts his head sharply and tries to meet Tiago's lips with his own in one swift motion. Smooth little fucker. Arrogant little cock. Tiago has just the time to move his head to the side before their mouths press together, and to jerk back with exaggerated flair.


"What are you doing?" he asks, keeping his tone dry and stern though he wants to laugh, especially when Bond's eyes go wide with shock.


"You said... I thought..." He takes a deep breath, but there's no way to gracefully finish this sentence.


"You thought you could sleep your way to Double-0 status." Bond's fists curling confirm he is right. "Get out of my bed."


It's almost endearing, the way Bond reacts like a petulant child: nostrils flaring, lips pursing, jumping off the bed and slamming the door on his way out. He hears him trashing about in the room next door. Mm, how volatile he is, probably just as reckless. It would be so easy, so easy to egg him on, to push him over the edge, to oust him out of MI6 forever. Tiago leans back down against the pillows with a chuckle. He gives himself a much needed rub over his briefs. He could have unbuttoned those tight trousers, pulled them down with exquisite slowness and...


A knock on the door.


Bond wouldn't have the cheek to come back and rage at him, would he? But it's Trevelyan who peeks his head in: cautious, but with an unmistakable glitter of intent in his gaze. The decrepit hotel walls are very thin: Tiago grins at him.


"Come here," he tells him, invitingly, and Trevelyan shuts the door as he steps in.


Alexei Pfeuffer, born to a Stasi father and a free-thinking Russian mother, crossed the Wall with her at nine. His father found them, or rather, found the mother and killed her before killing himself. But little Alexei slipped under both the Stasi and the West German radars, and instead found his way to a British safehouse: one of M's finest catches. She even changed his name to Trevelyan to sound more English. And here he stands, a good clean little slate where M has written what she wants. No army for him: she roped him to MI6 straight after university, and he is, his file notes, a remarkable spy.


He sits on the bed, like Bond did, but at the other end of it, without invading Tiago's space. Like Bond, he seems startled to see Silva's body, though whether it is about the scars or the half hard-on is rather unclear.


"Just never get caught," Tiago tells him with a lazy smile, and pauses before adding, "when you become a Double-0."


"About that..." Trevelyan says, his tone casual, but there's a hint of coyness in it. Is that part of his act, too? It works admirably well: Tiago wants nothing more than to break his reserve, feigned or not, however little effort it might entail. He hums in encouragement, and Trevelyan goes on, "I don't imagine you actually have much say in the decision, do you?"


Clever boy. Tiago chuckles. No, he doesn't, but they won't know that until they do become Double-0s. He may give a recommendation, but it's ultimately M's choice and M's alone. Pawns, the lot of them. But he'll raise hell if not wreak havoc on his way to the other side of the chess board.


"But if I did?" he asks, raising an eyebrow.


"I guess I'd better get in your good books, then," Trevelyan says, cheerful, and his gaze wanders over Tiago's crotch.


He fucks him quick and hard on the filthy mattress, making a point of grunting for Bond to hear next door. Trevelyan is lithe and slender under him, and while there isn't much room or time for truly enjoying this or for fooling around with positions, he moves with the ease of a gymnast against his body (leftover DDR schooling?) - something intriguing to look forward to, if there's ever a next time. Trevelyan smiles, too, as if he actually liked it, as if they'd met in some pub and then agreed to go to someone's flat. As if he weren't doing it for uncertain personal gain. It's ridiculously charming: Tiago kisses his lips when it's done (something he never does). Alec tastes of nothing, but kisses like a promise. It's unexpectedly pleasant.


"I will send Bond to check the perimeter," he tells him, watching him dress himself. "You can kill the bodyguards then. Are you armed? Will you know how?"


Trevelyan says, "I have a knife," and winks at him before leaving the room.

 

 


 


Predictably, hilariously, once Alec kills the two bodyguards, James lunges himself at him seething with frustrated competitiveness. It makes a fine anecdote on the report, and a nasty stain on James's otherwise brilliant file: how Tiago had to come between the younger agents and subdue James's recklessness with a smack on the back of his head, like a misbehaving child. M is not amused, and for once, her ire is directed at someone other than Tiago.


It's beautiful.

 

 

 

Chapter Text


The little flat looks like many others, in a narrow lane that also looks like many others in the East End. It took James five weeks to trail him here without losing him, and two more to actually locate the flat he goes into. He's always hated surveillance, and this is by far the most tedious one he's done. It must be one of many flats: Silva never spends more than two nights in a row there. James would try to find the others, if it wasn't such a pain to follow him. He used to think he was good at disappearing: Silva's proved him wrong every night. He doesn't even make noise when he walks. He doesn't walk in the shadows: he is a shadow, and it only makes James hate the stupid cunt even more. He's a good agent, the fucker. A better agent than James.


He's been watching the flat for ten days when he's sent to Kabul on yet another dull mission where he's to behave and do what he's told - leaving him to wonder why he ever thought quitting the Navy for this was a good idea. When he comes back to London, the pattern is all messed up; there's no way of knowing whether Silva's been here in the past few days or not, whether he's in there right now. But James has had enough fucking around with this.


He's not sure what he expected, maybe a myriad of security locks and tech gadgets barring the way into the flat. Instead he finds only a door: a good honest wooden door, with a simple lock any child could pick open. James glances around, at the empty hall. Maybe he's got the wrong flat. But no: he's counted and re-counted the windows; this is it. The door doesn't crack when he pushes it open after fiddling with the lock.


The flat's in the dark: a one-bedroom unit with a sitting room slash kitchenette. It doesn't look like anyone's lived there in years. There's nothing on the cooker, nothing on the kitchen table, nothing on the shelves. Not one bloody picture hanging from the walls. A handful of cables on the floor: someone used a computer here once. It's a false lead, it has to be. James wants to take a deep breath, but he stays silent anyway. He pushes the bedroom door open with his foot and peeks in before stepping inside. The bed is spartan, the white mattress reflects the glaring orange of the street lights. No curtains. Oh, hullo: there's something on the bedside table. A book. James walks over and picks it up. He squints. Othello. A yellowed Penguin paperback. Someone's pencilled 'Santiago' on the first page in large letters like a child's handwriting. What- ?


That's his last coherent thought before pain explodes on his shoulder. Someone, attacking him from behind. The toilet, James should have checked the toilet first. He tries to turn, to fight back, but his opponent is larger, and stronger, and as he struggles against him James recognises the scent. Silva. It fuels him on, and he throws a punch. But then, the same paralysing pain under his arm, and he loses footing. Silva slams him down and flips him onto his stomach, and there's the sharp snap of handcuffs against James's wrists.


He's hauled up to his feet by the collar of his shirt, and James trashes about, trying to kick at something, but the click of a gun against his neck discourages him out of it quickly. There's something nauseatingly familiar in being bested by him: Maracaibo. It hadn't gone well in the report: after all, you're hardly supposed to fight your fellow agents, are you. Cunts. Both of them.


"Fuck you, fuck you," he growls, his mind drawing a blank of clever things to say.


Silva shakes him hard enough to make him stumble. "Don't you think I noticed your little games around me?"


Of course. It was too easy. The ache to punch something is driving James mad, and he can only clench his fists. He kicks some more. Let him shoot, who gives a flying fuck. But Silva drags him towards the front door and he cannot help asking, "Where are you taking me?"


"To the office, to have you sacked."


Following a Double-0 and attempting a break-in. Yes, this is very high on James's list of stupid things he's ever done. He really should have stayed in the Navy. They won't take him back, will they.


"Wait," he says, lamely, and wants to kick himself for sounding like he's begging.


"Really, Agent Bond?" Silva snorts. "Give me one good reason, one, why I shouldn't have your head for this."


"You slept with Trevelyan. In Maracaibo."


"And many times after. I'd say it's hardly any of your business what two Double-0s do in their spare time."


Two Double-0s. 001 and 006. James hear the unspoken 'you lowly vermin' in that sentence. Did Alec really sleep with this sorry fucker again? He's forgiven him (after all, James had tried to do the same), but it still makes him want to throw up.


"My business? No. But maybe MI6's," he forces himself to say, desperate enough to trudge forward towards disaster with his eyes open.


"Oh, indeed." Silva laughs, a hearty, slightly deranged laugh. "But it's your word against ours, isn't it?"


"I taped it," he bluffs. He's running out of petrol there. "I'll turn it in tomorrow."


"You didn't," Silva says, his tone harsh, so far from the pseudo-charmer in Maracaibo he's an entirely different man. "And you won't."


This is exactly the kind of challenge James never backs away from, but he is jetlagged, and tired, and his shoulder still aches where he was hit. Silva seems to smell this brief weakness like a hound going after blood. He pulls him away from the door and pushes him down onto a kitchen chair. The light is white and unpleasant when he turns it on. James doesn't look up, but he can hear him circling around him, around his prey, gun still drawn.


"Do get one thing straight, James," Silva says, his face so close James feels his breath against his cheek. "You found this flat because I let you. Everything you see here is because I let you."


"Even Othello?" James asks, and his voice thankfully doesn't crack despite his dried throat.


"Even Othello. Did you ever read it, or did you fail that class?"


What is it about him that makes James lose his cool like this? He wants to throttle him. He never failed a class. Not once. Collect himself, look calmer... he doesn't think it works. Silva crouches down so that their gazes meet. There's a fresh wound on his forehead, swollen and crusting unevenly over the dried blood.


"I read it," James lies. Or not? He doesn't remember. He'd hated school. He only liked playing rugby, and beating older lads to a pulp. The rest is a blur of half-learnt lessons he never found a use for in his adult life. But his grades, while not stellar, were never mediocre.


"I'm surprised."


"I'm full of surprises."


"You think yourself clever, don't you?" Silva pats his cheek, hard enough for it to be a light slap. "Luckily for you, I am easily amused, or your little quips would be wasted on me. I may even forgive the boyish curiosity that led you to break in here."


He puts the gun down and lets his hands rest on James's thighs. He flinches, damn it, he can't stop himself until it's too late, and Silva grins, evidently pleased with this.


"I've caught you. Like a little rat in a cage, going after that fragrant piece of cheese. Tell me, James, what were you hoping to find here?"


He's the charming man of Maracaibo again, and James forces himself to swallow a shiver before it even burgeons: that man, he's learned, is danger.


"I don't know."


He wishes he had a more elaborate answer than this. He hadn't planned ahead. He just wanted to know more of him, more than office gossip let on. Trash the place around, maybe. Punch him. His bland non-answer seems to placate Silva, somehow.


"M is very fond of you, you know," he says, more gently, and his hands begin stroking James's legs.


For a moment, he blanks out, his mind solely bent on the unwanted touch. But the thought of Her unsettles him: yes, she would not approve of his little stunt, would she. He's perceived she'd forgive him what most people wouldn't, but how far her patience stretches, he doesn't know. You'll never make Double-0 at this rate, she'd said after that blasted fight with Alec.


"What was it like, when she found you?"


James stares at Silva, into the dark eyes gazing back at him with hungry curiosity. This isn't idle chatter. Silva is so invested in the answer he's lowered his guard, however briefly. James decides to push his luck.


"She didn't find me. I joined on my own."


It looks, for a split moment, as if Silva is going to slap him. If he does, James will knee him in the chin. But he only flashes him a condescending smile.


"Did you, now?" he says, as if speaking to a child. "Somehow I don't think that's quite true."


The truth? He'd thought she was a social worker, or a solicitor executing his father's will (there were so many of those). Kincade had never explained, and James was too young to care. It only struck him as strange when she'd shown up after the Eton débâcle, worked out his move to Fettes, and told him 'there may not be a second chance' as if she actually expected something of him. No one had, in years.


"You were very young, weren't you?" Silva goes on, the hands moving further up James's thighs. "You wanted her to like you."


"How- ?" James starts, but his voice dissolves into a croak when the hand cups him over his trousers. What the fuck is going on.


"How do I know? Because I was very young too," Silva says, eerily calm, as if he weren't feeling him up. "We all were. We are all rats, in a way. It's rather sinister, you see."


More sinister than this? James doesn't want to harden, but he does. He was trained for this situation, at some point of his short-lived career, but for the life of him he can't remember what he's supposed to do but to stare down in half-shock, half-wonder.


"How you're trying to remember your training," Silva says, as if reading his mind, and gives him a squeeze. "What's the regulation to cover this?" When James stays mum, he drops his voice to a whisper, like a schoolboy helping another, "Do not engage..."


"Do not engage with the interrogator," James completes, though it feels like another is speaking in his place, parroting words out of a handbook. "Do not allow them to think the offending behaviour has thrown you off balance. Is it Othello you're meant to be reading, or Oedipus Rex?"


Belated reflexes kicking in: some use for those literature lessons after all. Silva grins.


"Oh, very good. You'll be good one day, James. But you still have much to learn."


Somehow that is more infuriating than the hand on his crotch. "How's this? The day I become good," he snaps, "I'm going to kill you for this."


Silva only shrugs. "I doubt either of us will live that long."


"Are you planning on dying some time soon?"


"Aren't you?"


The hand stops stroking him, but it's too late: James is hard, and angry, and he considers kneeing him in the chin anyway. It wouldn't get him very far: he is handcuffed, and Silva did wrestle him to submission with his hands untied.


"You're a darling, James. You remind me of myself when I was younger." That unnerving Spanish drawl on the Rs. He glares at him. Silva tuts in disapproval. "You hate me, but for the wrong reasons. Believe me, the feeling is mutual."


The cold tone is back again, and James refuses to be intimidated, though his mind is taking notes in spite of himself. He'd love to learn that paralysing trick, too. Some Asian technique, perhaps.


"And here I thought you fancied me," he quips, deceptively good-natured.


"Well," Silva says with a smirk. "Perhaps I do. One doesn't exclude the other." He drops his gaze to James's visible arousal. "I can't haul you over to MI6 like that, can I?"


"I'd rather you didn't," James answers with a placid smile, though his heart is hammering in his chest.


"Do you know what happens when little rats get caught?"


He runs a finger over James's lips and laughs when James tries to bite him. He'd entertained the thought, not just in Maracaibo, but afterwards: what sex would be like with Silva. What the scars would feel like to touch. What it would be like to grab a fistful of his dark locks. What he'd look like under him when he came. Because Silva was under him, in those fantasies, but with the handcuffs still tight on his wrists there's no way that's going to happen, is it, not when he's dragged over to the empty bedroom and sat on the bed. Silva unbuttons and unzips James's trousers with a mechanical, distant expression: more unsettling than the fake charm of earlier. James lets out a shaky breath.


"First time with a man?" Silva asks, sounding amused as he meets his gaze.


"What makes you think this is my first time?" James bites back, because it's ridiculous to consider one would spend so much time in men-only quarters and never try this even out of curiosity but even if it were his first time he would never admit it, not to Silva. Yet he gasps when the hand curls on him, and he concedes with a smirk, "First time with handcuffs."


He does try to keep his composure, but that lasts all of maybe ten seconds. The grip is much firmer than what he's used to, the brisk strokes designed to undo him as quickly as possible. James takes a deep breath, clenches his teeth, but this is a battle long lost. Silva goes through the motions with a detachment that James has only been on the giving end of, fixing a point past James's head on the wall and it's unnerving but it's also a challenge, and if James's hands weren't handcuffed behind his back he'd grab Silva's chin to force him to meet his gaze. He is good looking, the cunt. James bucks against the hand hoping to catch his eye and it doesn't work, Silva just strokes him faster, absently, and it shouldn't be so bloody arousing to be utterly ignored while getting a wank but it is.


"Raoul," he hisses, but it gets him nowhere. The name, what was the name in the book? "Santiago?"


Silva finally looks down at him, the hate in his gaze so raw and burning that James wonders in frantic panic how suicidal it is to tease him like this. But it's also a reaction, any reaction at last, and it vaguely tastes of regaining control.


He couldn't be more wrong.


"Shush," Silva says, and pushes him down on the bed.


James kicks his trousers off: his free legs should give him some leverage and wrestling with no hands is probably going to get him nowhere but that has never stopped James before, has it? But Silva doesn't let go of him and his other hand slides down to cup James's balls. And to squeeze. Too hard. Well. That gets James very still, very fast, heart pounding.


"Good boy," Silva purrs, and James nearly comes in his hand.


He doesn't want to come, there's things he can think of to will his cock limp but damn it he wants to see how far Silva is going with this. Like throwing a grenade and not taking cover just to watch it blow up. For a brief, wild moment he thinks Silva is going to kiss him, but instead he bites his neck so hard it breaks James's skin. He groans, more out of shock than out of pain. A second bite. He muffles the groan this time, but the blood is warm as it smears on his neck and somewhere in a dark, primal place James doesn't dislike it entirely. Blood and sex: almost the same.


"But what if Oedipus had a brother, James?" Silva drawls against his bloodied neck, and he doesn't know whether to kick about to move him off himself or to buck up against him but then Silva flips him over and James thinks of a rat, captive and helpless when the rat-trap springs snap shut on its spine.

Chapter Text


"You told James, didn't you?"


Tiago doesn't answer right away. He'd like a cigarette, for some reason. He isn't a smoker, but he always keeps one or two fags in the inner pocket of his suit (just in case). The one he finds is a little bent out of shape, but it'll do. He places it between his lips and rummages another pocket for the lighter. Behind him, Alec is staring at his back, he can tell.


"What?" he asks, pretending to be distracted as he fiddles with the lighter. The flame is thin and dim, but it lights the cigarette well enough.


"About this." He gestures between them and doesn't say 'about us'. Thankfully.


"I might have." Tiago shrugs. "Was I not supposed to?"


"You got him quite riled up. What the hell did you do to him?"


Alec sounds amused. Tiago climbs back on the bed, draws another puff. The first one is the best, and the small kick wears off so disappointingly quickly.


"Would you believe me if I said I can't remember?"


(but he does, he does remember: Bond's eyes wide with shock and arousal but not with fear - to think Tiago was once adverse to having little brothers.)


"No," Alec says, "but I thought you might say that." He chuckles against the pillow. "Apart from a cunt, a bastard, and other unimaginative insults, he's also calling you a nutter."


Is he, now. How asinine. Three puffs: it's more than enough. Tiago's mouth tastes of ash. He crushes the cigarette against the bedside table; the fire leaves a faint imprint on the wood, aesthetically pleasant. "Mm," he acknowledges, irritated that Alec feels the need to talk about Bond right now. He wonders if they fuck too (utterly disgusting notion).


"I told him, that's hardly a defining epithet. We're all mad, here."


Something about the way he says it, detached and falsely cheerful, makes Tiago turn to face him, but Alec isn't looking at him. He's staring at nothing on the wall, a placid smirk stretching on his lips as if he were reminiscing the way Bond looked at the time of the conversation.


"So you've noticed," Tiago says.


Alec rolls towards him on the bed, long limbs bending slightly as he settles into a comfortable position. "You just got me off with a tale about your latest kill. I'd say I've noticed, yes."


Tiago smirks back at him. They don't do it often: some kills are unspeakable of, even with another Double-0. Exchanging anecdotes is hardly unusual between colleagues, the same way chefs might trade recipes, or barristers compare notes after a case, he supposes. It so happens that theirs are a little bloodier. Sometimes he suspects Alec embellishes his own kills for the sake of storytelling. He doesn't mind.


"We all fit a certain profile," Alec goes on. "You, me, James. Shadwell. I've not met the others, but I can imagine they fit as well."


It was inevitable that another one of them would arrive to similar conclusions. Alec's degree involved some psychology (Tiago took only one course: nothing he didn't already know), so his assessment must derive from that area rather than from brute-force decryption of dozens of personnel files. Tiago crosses his legs, masking his interest with a bored, blasé expression that, he knows, won't fool Alec very much.


"What's that?" he encourages.


"Not many people can kill and remain detached like we do, can they. Recklessness, danger-seeking, no close attachments, predatory charm, defiance of authority. Don't tell me it's never crossed your mind."


"Not really." He's never bothered to dig deeper (what for?). "All I've found is that we're all orphans."


Alec lets out a nasty, short little laugh. "Oh, no, it's much more than that. It's not something you'll find in a file." He taps his own forehead and licks his lips. "Psychopathic disorders go a long way in our line of work, wouldn't you say?"


How... mundane, ordinary. Tiago frowns. "No. That's not what we are."


"Not quite, but close. It's not in their interest to treat it. They nurture it, rather, enough to make us functional."


"M," Tiago says, cautious. These are not the notes he meant to compare.


"For example. I'm not sure if it's a by-product of her own personality, but she's certainly been grooming us for this. There's nothing casual about her involvement in... our life. Or career."


What an irritating way to simplify everything to fit his pseudo-diagnosis. Fool. Tiago feels the irrational urge to defend her, to set the record straight: whatever relationship Trevelyan imagines he has with M is nothing like his own. He avoids his gaze, in case he can't quite mask the anger in time as he listens to Trevelyan blabbering on and on.


"She'd take me for ice cream twice a year, and ask me questions about the people sitting next to us, to deduce what they did and so on. She said it was a game. It wasn't. It was training, even then."


Ice cream, beer. What else? Tiago's fists tighten out of their own accord. He wonders if he's been wrong in not hating Trevelyan as viciously as he does Bond. But he listens on.


"You see, I've always done what she's asked me, and it's never enough. But if she calls, I will answer: it's what she bred me to do. In your case, I guess you'd already hit puberty? That would fuck you up even more."


 


It seems he's permanently living on a plane these days, either training on base or flying across the world. The twelve-hour flight is well worth it when he gets to sit across the table from her wine in hand and a chess board between them. He stays over in her quaint bungalow in Tai Mei Tuk - if her superiors (her husband) object he never hears about it. She isn't always there when he arrives: he works on the computer fighting the jetlag and when he awakens there's a blanket thrown on him with her faint scent lingering on. He pretends to forget his poem books on her coffee table, with all the relevant rhymes underlined in pencil. When she's in, they have tea and play chess in the sunkissed terrace overlooking the Bay and he loses game after game because he wants her, he wants her, he wants her desperately and he loses track of all her moves.


"Show me," she tells him one night, "what they've been teaching you in the army."


How to move in the shadows, how to trail a target, how to fire a gun. It's everything he dreamt of as a child, and there's a giddy, sadistic pleasure in showing her how deadly his aim has become, even if it is only on a man-shaped target of her basement (he doesn't ask why she keeps that in her house).


"Wear this," she tells him, and hands him black, tight-fitting clothes. He's always in uniform when he arrives to the bungalow, knowing she counts the stripes on his sleeve with every visit.


She doesn't leave the room when he changes. He's cocky enough to imagine she likes what she sees: he pulls the trousers hard enough to lower the pants, too, and give her a full show. He expects a rebuke, but she says nothing, as if she hadn't seen.


He's not told who the man is. He only sees a short, fat shadow walking nervously into the Walled City from where, she says, they've been evicting people left and right. Blocks and blocks of precarious materials stacked atop each other in true chaos, squeaking rats, constant dripping, the stench of raw meat. So many windows, so many balconies, so many eyes, but it's a little bit like London in that eyes may see but care very little. He loves it.


"Kill him," she says, her tone casual. It isn't a trivial command: if the fat little man hears them approach, there are a dozen corners where he could escape to. Tiago holds his breath, follows the man's movements. If he goes right, he will escape too easily. There's too many eyes in the centre. But if he turns left, then, then...


He whips the gun out, a nice little Walther P22 with a long suppressor. "For you?" he whispers.


"Don't be a child," she says, and he fires the bullet straight into the guy's head.


He hasn't killed since his parents' death but as he watches the man tumble down the narrow stairs leaving a trail of blood and brains behind him he realises how much he's missed the fleeting certainty of invincibility, and he can't stop grinning as they make for the car. She doesn't smile, she doesn't congratulate him, but that night he sneaks into her bedroom and curls up on her bed like a dog might after a hunt. She doesn't send him away. He figures that's as good as he's going to get. Her bedsheets smell of her. They hunt together for three more days, and bodies fall like flies, and the last night her leg is warm against his forehead.


"You could work for me, when you're ready," she tells him, as the driver waits to take him to the airport.


Tiago holds her shoulders to stop her from moving and places a fleeting kiss on the side of her head. She stiffens, and he lets go. The driver remains stone-faced.


"Not yet," he says. He loves the primitivism of radio comms encryption and he's six months away from the next promotion. But after that, he will join her. He will.

 

 


Tiago shakes his head to chase off the feeling that Trevelyan has given this as much thought than he has. "What was it like, when she found you?" he asks, the same question he'd asked Bond.


"It was in a park, in the wee hours of the morning. I still don't know how she found me, neither of the Germans had. She gave me a toy, some... tin soldier. When she spoke in English I figured I'd be safe."


Trevelyan is looking away, too. He doesn't ask, 'and you?', which is just as well, because Tiago wouldn't tell him. The Germans, he said. He probably considers himself British by now, though still fluent in German (and Russian, and several Slavic languages). The late 003 spoke perfect Persian, Arabic and Hindi. 005 knows thirteen African dialects. M's children, all of them, scattered across the world: her mercenary army of wayward boys starved for her approval.


"Do you ever think of quitting?" he asks, as casually as possible.


Trevelyan's face says nothing. One of the problems of fraternising with a fellow Double-0. "Quitting?" he repeats, an eyebrow raised. "And doing what instead?"


They've been meeting like this for some time now, in between missions, and he's never given Tiago a reason for worrying (other than the recent, disquieting certainty that they're alike, too alike in M's eyes). Still, it's unusual: Tiago never trusts anyone, and yet he finds he wants to at least test the waters to see where the other man stands.


"Oh, you know. Misbehave," he says, the words vague but his smirk revealing.


A chuckle. "I wouldn't know what to do with myself."


"Wouldn't you?"


There must be something deadly serious in his expression, because Trevelyan stops smiling and sits up on the bed, staring at him with eyes narrowed. Tiago bears his gaze calmly, and wonders whether his loyalty to Britain runs as capricious as his own. His charm isn't what Tiago would call 'predatory' (mild-mannered, easy smiles - unlike Tiago, unlike Bond) but it's a charm nonetheless, false boyishness and wide-eyed innocence: geniality and ruthlessness don't always go hand in hand.


"We'd get caught," Alec says, cautious.


"Not if I’m in charge."


For once in many years, the blank face displays something akin to genuine surprise, and maybe even to wonder. Interesting. Alec sinks down on the bed, the back of his head resting against the pillows (too many pillows on this ridiculous hotel bed). Tiago crawls closer to him, straddles him with a playful smile, and when he doesn't get rebuked he drapes himself on top of him. The ever-vigilant voice on the back of his mind warns that the way their bodies adjust to each other out of habit is immensely dangerous. He chooses to ignore it. He's been ignoring a lot of things of late.


"It was a hypothetical question, don't fuss," he lies.


Alec shakes his head. "You don't do hypothetical questions."


"What do I do, then?"


A thrust of his hips, and Alec rolls them so that he is on top, trapping Tiago under his hips. He grabs a handful of Tiago's hair and brushes it off to uncover his forehead.


"You plan," he answers, "and there's no such thing as idle chatter."


Tiago almost jokes, 'you know me so well' but the vigilant voice makes him bite it back. Alec is still a brother. A competition. He shifts up and crushes their mouths together to distract him (he tastes of strawberries, from the tartelette of earlier). It works, briefly, until Alec pulls away and looks down at him again.


"The answer is yes," he says.


Tiago smirks. "To what question?"


Alec presses his mouth to Tiago's ear. His breath is warm against his neck. "Whether I'd misbehave with you," he whispers.


A secret army led by murderous brothers, ready to destroy M's little chess board. Tiago kisses him for real this time, snaking a hand to the back of his neck, claiming his lips, and claiming him.

 

 

Chapter Text


It's four in the morning by the time she gets home, and half-past when she stops shaking enough to consider joining Archibald in bed. She should not be home at all, not today, but even one hour of sleep will go a long way in the next few days. Villiers stayed in: he will call her the second something goes awry. She cannot entertain the possibility that it might. London is wounded, its broken guts bleeding like they haven't since the end of the War. She was a child, then, but she remembers people's eyes in the shelter: the same haggard, terrified look she'd caught today floating about in the office, on the streets, in the PM's Office. She's meeting the head of Five at six, and they're to go together to the Home Secretary's at a quarter past seven. What a bloody mess. So many deaths, too many wounded, in her  city, on her  watch.


She pours herself another glass, just one more before she tries to sleep, and her hand doesn't tremble as she begs her mind to turn from the five agents unaccounted for. Not just agents - Tiago. She knew, of course, that he wasn't hers to keep, that the moment he started working for her the hourglass tipped onwards to his inevitable death. But he'd survived Hong Kong, he'd survived Bogota, he'd survived Kabul. The bourbon tastes bitter in the back of her throat. How dare he go missing in London ?


She is not going to sleep, is she. She brings her glass over to the darkened sitting room, where she examines books she does not truly see - back from a time when she still had time to read books. Most are Archibald's, textbooks he's published, valuable old editions that would make collectors go mad, poetry. Really, it's not unusual for her agents to be unaccounted for. In all the chaos of the day, it did take hours and hours to rally the wounded - some unconscious, unidentifiable, and agents would not carry ID. She should be in the hospitals, along with the search party. She downs the rest of the bourbon and reaches for the phone to call Villiers, but the ding of the lift, monstrously loud in the silence of the building, stops her in mid-movement.


Her gun.


This has never happened, in all her years of service, but it figures today of all days would be the day they'd attack. At least she's home, she thinks as she makes her silent way to the front door, so she may protect Archibald (a superfluous consolation, if they brought a bomb). There's a rattle on the door, and she pulls the safe. A shadow, interrupting the faint light of the hallway flooding under the door - how did they get in in the first place? The peephole shows nothing, and she punches in the code to activate the video feed on the surveillance console: no one, not from this angle. Only this: a trail of blood from the lift to her door.


"Put the gun down, Mum. It's me."


She drops the gun, runs to the door, whips it open.


"Tiago!"


He's slumped by the doorframe, eyes closed. He's been badly hurt. His long, dark hair: grey with ashes and soot, his clothes are torn, and there's a gaping, bleeding wound on his arm. There are burns on his legs, too, underneath the ragged trousers: his skin never quite healed after China, not enough to withstand this kind of damage.


"Tiago," she repeats, and drags him inside with what little strength she can manage: he's a tall man, and she's not the woman she once was. "What the hell are you doing here? You need to go to a hospital right now."


He clings to her with disturbing strength, considering his state. "Not yet," he says. "Debrief."


He tried to do a bandage in his arm right above the wound, but it's become loose. She tightens it, and he moans in pain. But he seems stable enough, and his body is warm against hers. She sits against the closed door, pulling him in her arms the best she can. She ought to call for a medical evac, but the phone is nowhere near.


"What happened? Why didn't you report back?"


"Couldn't," he mumbles. "Line wasn't secure." His breathing is unsteady, and she runs a hand on his side to check for broken ribs. Her fingers come out bloodied. "I was in King's Cross," he says at last. "Trailing him."


Debrief him before he bleeds out on her carpet. There is blood in his forehead too, when she strokes hair out of his face.


"It was him," he goes on, pressing against her neck. "I should have shot him in Pakistan - I could have, it was a clear shot, I told you-"


"Hush," she says. "We had nothing on him then."


"But I knew. I knew today too, I knew he was trouble. I had my gun with me, but - too many people. So I followed him, I just thought he was going somewhere, I never thought he'd do it in the tube. I had my phone out when it happened. Should have called you, should have called Five. Too late, too late. I cocked it up, I'm sorry."


He has never apologised to her after a mission, not once. This isn't just the pain, or the adrenaline speaking: his speech is disjointed and fast, his accent thicker than it's been in years. She leans closer. He does not smell of alcohol, but his pupils are dilated, huge and dark in the light that comes from the kitchen.


"Are you drugged?" she asks, shaking him.


"No," he lies, angelic, and she shakes him again, harder. He moans in pain. "A little."


"What did you take?"


"Just a little sniff, I swear. Just to keep myself going."


"Going where?" she asks, not suppressing her irritation. They all do it, eventually, it's inevitable, but he's her best. He isn't supposed to be ruining himself like this - he hadn't done it in years - and he knows too much to be compromised. "I thought we were over this. Tiago, who have you talked to since this morning?"


His eyes widen even more. "No one. Never. Only you. I never betray you. Not even in China. Remember? I remember. They hurt me. I didn't say a word."


"Shush now." This is her own mess: his old, raw pain exposed indecently for her to see. She holds him tighter, and she isn't certain it's his heartbeat she feels on her throat, or her own. "Where did you go after the explosion?"


"Brixton. Kensington. Stockwell. Everywhere. They're everywhere. They will attack again, this is only the beginning. I killed two of them."


She sighs. "We aren't to kill in Five's jurisdiction, and you know it."


"Why isn't Five doing anything? We told them. They could have stopped this a year ago, they could have."


They sent Silva's report to MI5 when he returned back from Pakistan, but as far as she knows, they hadn't seen fit to keep the surveillance. The gnawing suspicion had not left her all day, the same obsessive sing-song of Tiago's: we could have stopped this, we could have, we could have. But it isn't the time for accusations, not now. They're to stand together.


"Tiago." She holds his head between her hands, forcing him to look at her. "Only you and I know this, in all of Britain. And it's to remain so. Understood?"


He scowls. "Fuck MI5. Let me kill them myself." When she shakes her head, he adds, "Send me to Pakistan, then. We know who their contact is. Let me kill him."


She could certainly do that - in fact, she will. But Tiago will not be fit for field duty for weeks if not months - she should have called the ambulance ages ago.


"We will kill him," she says, stroking his dirty hair to soothe him. "But 006 can handle this. You need to get better. I'm going to make a phone call, can you-"


"No!" She was trying to disentangle herself from his crushing grip, but he clings to her even more fiercely. "Don't send Alec. Don't send him alone, he has no military training, he'll get himself killed."


The violence of his request is to be expected in his state of mind, paranoid, euphoric and uninhibited.


"He will be fine. He's a good agent. Let me call the medics now. You are ruining my flooring."


"A little bit more, please," he whispers, sounding like a boy, and she cannot make herself let go. She held him like this, years ago, huddled together in a war ship.


She has still time to gently remind the head of Five about the pieces of intelligence they've inexplicably swept under the carpet, before they meet the Home Secretary. They will stop them. There is no alternative. And yes, Trevelyan will be more than adequate for the Pakistan mission, though Tiago does have a point in that military training certainly goes a long way in the region. Shadwell, perhaps, might be more suitable, or even the two of them together. It's a start: for the first time that day, she allows herself to feel some relief. They can fight these sorry bastards after all. All it took was Tiago returning. The head of her silent army.


"What happened to the bodies? With my parents," he asks, out of nowhere. They've never talked about this. She had assumed they weren't to. "You didn't write it in your report."


Of course he'd read the report.


"Ragsdale buried them at dawn," she answers, cautious not to sound too casual about it. She doesn't tell him they left the soldier to rot in the bushes. She had wondered why he'd never asked. As far she knows (and she would know), he's never returned to the Islands. "I can give you the exact coordinates, if you'd like."


"No. Waste of time. Should I dye my hair blond?"


He claims it was 'only a little sniff,' leaving him talking this kind of nonsense. A broken thing bleeding in her arms. She humours him, because she cannot find enough strength left to scold him.


"Please do not. You are flamboyant enough already. What gave you this ridiculous idea?"


"To be more like James Bond," Tiago says against her neck, and lets out a childish, hysteric laugh. "Your golden child."


"He isn't a Double-0," she answers, her mind still on the Pakistan mission. He has the right profile for it, in fact.


"You should knight him, then. Why haven't you?"


She doesn't answer: that is not for 001 to know. But Bond has turned out far more reckless than she expected him to be. The potential is all there, but she has the uncomfortable certainty she may never be able to control him fully if she ever sets him loose.


"I fucked him once," Tiago says, an afterthought. "I think I hurt him."


It surprises her only because she has known for six months it's Trevelyan he's bedding. She'd been tempted to demand they stop, but it seemed harmless enough (not a defiance against her, somehow, and it had not not affected their performance).


"Why would you do that?" she asks, masking her annoyance to sound perfectly calm. He's baiting her for a reaction, she refuses to indulge him.


"I felt like it."


"That is very unlike you."


He laughs again. "It is, isn't it? All these years, that's something you can't hold against me."


It is: she's never had reports of him being sexually promiscuous, but she'd assumed he was simply discreet about it - only flaunting it when he imagined it would anger her. She does not believe for one second he does not put his charm to good use. Even on herself. The day she made him a Double-0, she had almost faltered. He'd dropped to one knee and had tried to kiss her hand, young and boisterous and in love, like a knight would. It was ridiculous and theatrical, but what wasn't about him? She had slapped the side of his head and told him to stand before she changed her mind.


He untangles himself from her to face her, unsteady, eyes ablaze and unfocused.


"All these years, I've been waiting for you," he says. "Wanting you. All these years, since you wore that checkered hat. It's you I want. You. Always you. Only you."


His lips are wet with blood when they press against her mouth. She doesn't push him away, but she doesn't kiss back, either. Of course she knows - she's always known. She could see the way he always looked at her, hungry yet coy like a schoolboy. It was useful. She moves her head to the side, breaking the clumsy kiss.


"Don't be a child," she chides, and this time she does manage to make him let go.


"No, no, no, I don't want to shag you. I want to drink you. Leave your husband. Come with me."


He's left mumbling other incoherences against her carpet, moaning a little too loudly, in pain or in protest. Archibald is very patient, but a bleeding, self-proclaimed lovelorn agent by their front door is probably over the line. If he ever takes drugs again, she'll kill him herself.


"I have an agent down," she tells the girl on the other side of the line. "Yes, in my flat. He's been badly hurt in the bombings. He's taken drugs, I don't know which kind. Come quickly."

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text


James crosses the street and appraises the plaza: it's a security nightmare, this parasol-island in the middle of town, but it's also inconspicuous, and the sounds of the road will muffle conversations. The briefing appointed a time and place for the meeting, but it said nothing of the contact. He offers his arm to Vesper to step into the terrace, under a row of summery parasols: she refuses it. Is that so? He almost smiles. A man walks towards them, against the sun, and James tenses despite the arms extended in a friendly gesture. He blinks behind his sunglasses, and then he recognises him.


Raoul Silva.


James reaches for Vesper, to stop her, to get her out of there, but she is too far from him, and Silva, all smiles, greets them like an old friend.


"My name is Mathis," he says, expertly faking a French accent. "René Mathis. I'm your contact here."


This can't be happening. He cannot be here. Silva stares at James with a stupid smirk full of defiance and offers his arm to Vesper. She takes it with a smile, the little vixen. A waitress appears with two prosecco flutes and James makes a point to ogle at her - but neither Silva nor Vesper seem to notice (or to care), so he downs the two glasses himself before sitting at the table Silva's chosen. The best one, given the insecure location - he has to at least give him that.


But what in hell is he doing here? James half expects their actual contact to show up, flustered and embarrassed for his tardiness. Or for M to ring either of them and bark at Silva to leave: he fingers his mobile in the suit inner pocket of his suit in case she's trying to call. Silva chit-chats with Vesper placidly, telling her something about his liaison role with the MI6 computer network: lies, lies, lies.


James takes off his sunglasses and cuts their conversation short. "Does he know we've been watching him?"


Vesper frowns at the interruption, and Silva raises an eyebrow. "Le Chiffre? I don't think so." He is gesticulating excessively, keeping in character: a different man from the ones he's pretended to be in the past. James forbids himself to dwell on this. "Probably because there is no 'we'. Just me."


Right. Brilliant. All the surveillance in the hands of a madman. James entertains the thought of stabbing him with the knife he's been using to spread the butter, but it wouldn't be sharp enough, would it. The waitress brings more water, and the moment passes.


"I'm afraid if you get into trouble here the cavalry won't be coming over the nearest hill," Silva says, and smiles at Vesper. "A big boy's mission," he adds, for James, and he winks.


James's grip tightens on the knife.


"Le Chiffre arrived yesterday and spent the time reestablishing old relationships," Silva goes on, leaning closer conspiratorially - unprofessionally. What is he playing at? "The chief of police and he are now quite close. That's him, with the moustache. Over my left shoulder."


James humours him and takes a quick look. A balding man with two girls. "Well, that could make life quite difficult," he quips, more for Vesper than for Silva. It's wasted: she doesn't smile.


"Yeah, and quite possibly shorter." Silva checks his watch. "He's not a very subtle man. I thought about trying to buy his services, but we frankly couldn't afford to outbid Le Chiffre, and I didn't want to make a dent in my little personal stash."


Police cars brake right in front of the café, the screeching tyres making Vesper jump. James stays calmer, but only marginally so: this is it, isn't it. They've come to take him away at last. He'll give them a round of applause for the effort, on his feet. Silva doesn't even blink, and takes a sip of his overpriced lemon water.


"I hate to say it, but the accountants seem to be running MI6 these days. Oh, not that I have anything against accountants," he says, turning to Vesper. "Many of them are lovely people." He touches the side of her shoulder, very lightly, and James doesn't know whether to laugh or to stab him. "So I decided that it was cheaper to supply his deputy with evidence that we were bribing the chief. It's amazing what you can do with Photoshop these days, isn't it?"


He gestures towards his open laptop that he's placed on the fourth chair at their table. Across the road, the head of the police is being taken into custody, to the visible astonishment of passer-bys.


"Excuse me," Vesper says, "I'll be right back."


James stands when she stands, playing the gentleman. Silva doesn't bother. Her white dress clings to her hips as she walks away, hands clutching her purse.


"Don't try so hard, she isn't interested," Silva says, dropping his cover as he takes another sip of water.


"Not yet," James says, for the sake of arguing. He sits back down and grabs Silva's wrist with a swift movement across the table, violent enough to have him spill a bit of water. "What are you doing here, Silva?"


"M sent me, what else?" he answers, raising an eyebrow, and covers James's hand with his own. Someone's wrist is going to end up broken, and James isn't sure it's going to be Silva's. There is a burn mark on his neck, one he did not have before.


"Bollocks. Why would she send two Double-0s?"


He resists the childish urge to hiss that he is the Double-0 in charge, that he was sent here, that it's his mission, but the smile Silva flashes him, a perfect mix of pity and contempt, tells him he didn't quite need to.


"You blew up a fucking embassy, James. I'm here to finish the job in case you cock it up again."


He thought M was off his back for that. Silva seems to bask in his crestfallen expression, and James frowns to wipe it off his own face. Cunt.


"Don't worry, my little rat, I'll keep out of your way." That butter knife is suddenly very appealing again. "I did promise to behave. It's still your mission. I'm laying low, just doing intel. If you play your hand well, I may not even need to act."


"Seems like an awful waste of resources. Do you even speak Serbian?"


"It's a Shtokavian subdialect of Serbo-Croatian. I speak enough." Something darkens in Silva's expression. "Not as much as Trevelyan would have, however."


Ah. It still hurts, months later, to hear that name spoken out loud. James has had his share of disastrous missions in MI6, let alone in the Navy, but Alec's screams when he left him behind in the burning building... He had to. He had to. There was no other way.


"That was not my fault," he says, his tone blank. He tells himself this every time he thinks of him.


"Of course it wasn't," Silva says, matter-of-factly, as if amused that James would imply so. "She sent him out into a hornet's nest when he had no military training. Even after I warned her not to. No, this one's on her."


There's an unsettling chill in the way Silva says that last sentence. Trevelyan was his... fucked-up lover of some sort, wasn't he? He never said so outright, despite James's curiosity. There's no sentiment in Silva's eyes, none whatsoever. An onlooker might think they were discussing the weather. James lets go of Silva's wrist as if it burnt, and Silva lets go of him too, nearly at the same time. Vesper returning would be very welcome.


"Look, I had to do it," James adds, still studiously neutral. "Or the mission would have failed."


"Yes, I know, I read the report. Quite a success, apparently. Single-handedly eliminated a terrorist cell."


It had fast-tracked James's rise to Double-0, but was it worth it to have Alec die for it? An old anger flows straight to his head when he remembers Maracaibo, a filthy bed, thin walls and maddening jealousy. Silva had played them both. Never forget he's a bloody nutter. But Vesper returns, and the anger has no place in the table. He stares at her lips.


"Are you ready to go soon?" she asks as she sits between them again. "Did you exchange all your... secrets already?"


Sarcasm becomes her, it makes her mouth curve in a rather lovely way.


"Quite," James says, and glances at Silva as he sips his prosecco.


"I think your odds are improving, Mister Bond," he says. He smiles, and James finds himself smirking back.


Vesper, however, sighs. "So much at stake depending on 'luck', Mister Mathis," she tells Silva, echoing her disapproval of the train and likely looking for an ally in her stance.


"Ah, Miss Lynd. I'm afraid there is no such thing as luck. What we call luck is our ignorance of the complex machinery of causality."


James rolls his eyes. "Did you come up with that yourself?"


"No," Silva says, slipping into his suave persona for a brief moment, "It's Borges. Have you ever read Borges, Miss Lynd?"

 


 


It's beneath him, of course, to waste his time with trivial assignments more fit for an ordinary field agent, either green or decaying. Sending him to babysit the newly knighted Golden Boy (as if saying: look Tiago, look how good you could have been, look how low you've fallen, look how useless you've become after your last injury) is M's idea of a punishment (or a loyalty test), and it's the closest Tiago's come to refusing an assignment. She'd have loved that, a perfect excuse for disciplining him. But no, he won't give her that pleasure. Besides, Tiago likes the decadent smell of money stinking up the playgrounds of the rich. (that, and the rotund Swiss bank clerk has a certain laptop with a laughable firewall.)


Patience. That's all there's left for Tiago, and he hasn't got much of it.


(Vesper is actually witty and charming once he establishes himself as non-threatening and uninterested in her - posing as a gay man has always been less of an effort. It still counts as a victory over James, right?)

 


 


Entering Silva's room uninvited: déjà-vu. Please be dressed, James thinks as he pushes the door open. The suite has signs of his presence, dirty clothes on the floor, three pairs of shoes, an obnoxious Gucci case yawning open. A row of shirts hanging from the wardrobe. The smell of minty aftershave. Underwear on the bed: James never imagined Silva would be untidy. It feels absurdly more intimate than when he broke into that bloody flat. There are no books on the bedside table: just as well, he wouldn't touch them this time. James finds him sitting on a garden chair on the balcony, with a laptop nested on his lap. Fully dressed. He doesn't look up, not even when James speaks.


"Did you have any trouble with the bodies?"


"Good morning to you too," Silva answers, taking his time and typing something, faster than before. In the parking lot, three policemen seem preoccupied with a man's car. "Not really. Less than some, mind you."


A phone rings in the trunk of the car: it stops when Silva presses the enter key. The increasingly nervous policemen force the trunk open to discover the bodies of the two men James killed the night before. Vesper. Poor thing. She shouldn't have had to witness that.


"Being dead doesn't mean one can't still be helpful," Silva says, wryly.


"That'll keep Le Chiffre looking over his shoulder. He'll be wondering who's going to come for him next."


James couldn't quite keep the praise from his tone, and only realises it's Silva he's praising after he's said it. It was a clever solution, he hates to admit it. He turns from him to leave and cut the pleasantries.


"How's our girl?" Silva asks, offhanded. "Melted your cold heart yet?"


Oh, don't you dare. Don't you fucking dare. James twists to face him, but Silva is staring at his laptop screen and typing something with ridiculous speed.


"What would you know of hearts?" James bites back.


"I had a heart." Silva looks up at him then: blank, unsettling eyes meeting his. "It burnt in a Pakistan desert, apparently."


James gets the fuck out of there because there's nothing witty to reply to that.

 


 


Tiago stays at a prudent distance when the American approaches Bond, pretending to be fiddling with his phone. He's grateful for the intervention: he'd have had to rough Bond up, make a scene (call attention to himself), probably injure him (or get injured himself: a meat knife? really?) instead. He is less impressed, however, with the deal Bond has struck.


"Are you aware," he tells him, standing next to him by the bar, "that even if you win the game, the CIA taking him into custody is the very definition of this mission failing?"


Bond gulps down his martini, the image of perfect calm now that his tantrum has subsided. "I had no choice." He throws Vesper a particularly venomous glare across the room (which she ignores). "She won't give me the rest of the money."


Is that so? In a way, it's almost understandable (Bond has antagonised her enough in his boorish attempts to woo her), but this kind of decision is hardly hers to take. Mathis (Silva) (Tiago) glances at her as she checks her phone, her scowl genuine. Her fingers are trembling, and there is a faint bruise on her upper arm (Bond's doing? shame on him). Something strikes Tiago as profoundly wrong about the situation, about her attitude, but he cannot pinpoint what.


"You should have asked me. I could have found the money for you," he chides, not even making an effort of not sounding scolding.


Bond takes offence, naturally. He scoffs. "What, you have five million on you now?"


"That, and more if necessary. Money can always be found, James, as long as there's computers." He drops his voice. "Your new American friends might not be thrilled when they find I had to kill Le Chiffre before they swoop him away."


"Are those your orders? I wasn't aware we were working against them."


"We are working alone. Do you know what the Americans would be like if they stumbled upon a goldmine of secrets like this one? We have no colleagues. We have no friends. Didn't they teach you that in nursery school for agents?"


He leaves him at the bar to brood on that. If he were truly invested in this mission, Tiago would ring M right away, inform her that her youngest is too reckless to be of any use, and ask her to run a background check on Vesper, if it hasn't been run already. But quite frankly? Tiago finds he has a spectacular range of little to no fucks to give.

 


 


it seems your friend Mathis is our friend Mathis


no


not him


pain


help

 


 


The old, never-forgotten fear of being unable to move returns with the zap of the taser. They throw him in a little room on the plane where there's barely space to sit upright. Handcuffed. Tiago was never captured or restrained since then. A Chinese man with a chilling smile. A chair. A burning rod. And pain. He's having trouble breathing, the irrational, animalistic fear forcing him to curl into a ball. He tries not to, of course, but it's like walls are closing in on him, crushing him, suffocating him, trapping him. He wants to throw up. He does, a colourless bile.


"Please, take them off, please," he pleads, too breathless for pride, but there's the prick of a needle, and he is engulfed by the darkness.


When he comes to again, he is on land, in an over-bright, sterile interrogation room. He's in Six, he guesses, but he's having trouble focusing in his surroundings. He blinks. There's a faint, familiar scent over the hospital-like antiseptic smell, and a voice he knows well.


"Was this truly necessary?" M asks someone Tiago can't see. She sounds angry. Very angry. Fuck. He's still so dizzy.


"He wouldn't cooperate, Ma'am," the someone says. "He resisted."


She grabs Tiago by the chin, and his eyes seem to clear at last. Anger, blinding anger to see her face and her false concern, obliterating any fear or physical discomfort lingering in him.


"Bitch," he growls, and jerks his head free, but he cannot find enough words, not yet. "You... fat bitch."


"Fat? Really now." M sighs. "Well, he's on the mend. Leave us," she tells the other man, who leaves before Tiago feels steady enough to jump to his feet and strangle him.


They ruined his shirt but they took the handcuffs off (he clenches his fists, nails digging into palms). His mind is already clearing. He is sitting on some kind of bed, and M stands in front of him, alone. A table and two chairs in the middle of the room, and the unmissable false mirror hanging from the side. They've detained him. Why? There is room to breathe here, at least, so he does, a few deep breaths. There's also a camera, its blue led blinking at him from the far corner of the roof. He wonders how many are watching, over at the Q-branch. He wonders if Geoffrey is.


"Rodriguez," she says, walking away from him to sit on the chair. "You are suspended from duty with immediate effect. We have reason to believe your integrity has been compromised on clandestine dealings with organisations that go against British interests."


"My integrity? Clandestine dealings?" Tiago chokes, disbelief buzzing in his ear. "What reasons?" When M remains tight-lipped, he adds, "Bond's wild imagination?"


"007 has sustained grievous injuries, but briefed us his observations the moment he was given medical clearance to do so."


"I rescued him! I know." Grievous injuries is an understatement: Tiago'd found him naked, passed out from the pain, his balls a bloodied mess (in the most generous scenario, he'll never father children). "He is half-drugged with morphine, for the pain. You can't be serious."


But she is. Tiago shivers to find that she is. He stands. His knees are unsteady, but he manages a few steps towards the table - towards her. She appraises his approach with clinical nonchalance, as if she were curious to find whether he'd manage or not. He doesn't sit. His mind is less foggy. It doesn't lessen his outrage.


"It seems evident, at this point," she says, when she understands he won't sit, "that you collaborated with Le Chiffre to orchestrate Bond's capture and subsequent torture. Pending further investigation, of course."


"Are you seriously thinking I was working with Le Chiffre? I don't even work with people. Why would I bother with some... poker crook?"


"Bond thinks you might have been motivated by revenge for Trevelyan's death. He said, and I quote, the kind of abuse he sustained in Le Chiffre's custody was in line with your modus operandi. I'm not going to ask you what in hell he means by that, because quite frankly, I think I don't want to know."


Tiago feels faint in the head again, and he holds on to the back of the chair to stay upright. Did Bond really say that? And it's on the record? He's fucked, isn't he, truly fucked this time. How sweet this belated revenge must feel for the Golden Boy.


"Where were you when 007 was poisoned?"


Tiago was distracted on the computer with a juicy transaction from Mr. Fukuta at the table. But he cannot say that. And agents cannot afford to be distracted. He only stares at her. She raises an emphathic eyebrow at his silence.


"Bond thinks you were in love with Trevelyan, and that you blame him for this death."


"It's not Bond I blame for that, it's you."


She does not even blink. What does one argue against such calamitous drivel? Bond took his guilt-inducing mind-games quite literally. (it's only fitting, in a way, that Tiago would be caught and drowned with his own little games: well played, James, well played.) (if he'd known about the poison, he'd have let Bond die. He would have.) Tiago shakes his head, unable to laugh or scoff.


"Bond has absurdly convinced himself he's in love with Lynd," he says, "no less because she refuses his advances, so he projects that on everyone around him." His defence sounds weak to his own ears.


"That may be. Is he wrong, nevertheless? Weren't you in love?"


No! How can she be so ludicrous to ask? Tiago refuses to even consider the thought, and he clenches his fists again. If he tells her to piss off like he aches to, she'll take it as a yes.


"It was sex and companionship," he snarls, voice dripping with disdain. "Neither of us was juvenile enough to mistake that with love. Trevelyan was utterly irrelevant to me."


He wonders if she believes him (he wonders if he believes himself). Nothing in her face reveals so. Tiago begins to feel a cold discomfort burning in his stomach, a bitter, bile-like taste not unlike fear. How dare she believe Bond, and not him. How dare she.


"I've been your agent for over a decade and you still take Bond's delirious ravings over my word?"


"Unfortunately for you, this investigation isn't solely based on Bond's assessment. He did highlight certain facts that raised some alarm. You referred to a personal stash, and being able to provide five millions or more on demand. I know what your pay is, Rodriguez. You shouldn't have that kind of money with your extravagant lifestyle."


Remain calm. It is vital to remain calm, despite the urge to snap the chair in two and slam it into her skull. They won't find the bank accounts. Not all of them. She stands and walks around the table until she's in front of him. She barely reaches his shoulder. He could strangle her (here, in MI6, for everyone to see). How long would it take it for people to reach the room and off him?


"Your laptop was taken into custody, and Q-branch is analysing it as we speak."


He stares up at the blue led from the camera. If it's anyone but Geoffrey working on it, he may yet have a chance: the encryption is flawless and will self-destruct the machine irretrievably rather than being compromised. And the laptop is only a lesser link to his string of servers and dedicated machines (all of them secret, all of them safe). But Geoffrey knows how he programs. He stares up at the camera intensely with the absurd hope it'll be of any use. Lend me a hand here, won't you, kid?


"Whatever you manage to find there, I got through my own means and not financed by some Le Chiffre buffoon. I hope you know me enough to know that," he tells her, eyes back on her.


"Bloody hell, Tiago!" M growls, and Tiago starts, both at the use of his first name and at the sudden anger burning in her eyes. "This is the second time you've done this on my watch, under my bloody nose! I thought the Chinese cured you of your urges to play the criminal mastermind. Do you have any idea how this looks on me?"


Nothing. His mind is nothing, only rage. Fuck her. Is this what she thinks of, how it looks on her? Is this what she thought in China, too? That's why she got rid of him (of course: recently promoted to M back then, too much to prove, too much at stake). And she will do it again: not like she got rid of Alec, but with a stroke of the pen.


"They kept me for five months in a room with no air," he says, shaking with anger, his world wobbly in red. "They tortured me. They made me suffer. And suffer. And suffer. But I protected your secrets. I protected you. And this is how you repay me?"


"What do you suggest I do? Look the other way while you steal to your heart's content?" She looks at him up and down with contempt, sizing him up, finding him lacking. "I never took you for some... petty thief."


He laughs, then, loudly. She really doesn't know him, does she. All these years, he'd imagined she was the only person who knew him (and no one should have that kind of power over him). The realisation that he's as foreign to her as any of her clone-like agents is exhilarating, dizzying, liberating.


"No, I suppose you didn't," he says, smiling a wide, fake smirk. "More of a pet, rather? A thing to pat on the head and to let in your bed when well-behaved. Tai Mei Tuk, do you remember? I do. Your drivers might have interesting anecdotes about me."


She starts at this, though only her eyes betray her. He wonders how much of this conversation is recorded. He wonders how much of it she will order erased.


"You forget yourself," she says, though not as firmly as she likely intended. It tastes like winning. Like overly expensive bourbon.


"Do I? You tasted of bourbon, a year ago. It was delicious. You were."


"Utter one more syllable and I will kill you on the spot," she snaps.


He only smirks. "In any case," he says, willing to throw her a bone in retribution for this small victory, "I'm not doing it for something as pedestrian as money. It's a mere means to an end."


"What end?"


An empire, he thinks, the likes of which you can't even begin to imagine, to destroy you and your well-behaved children. And yet... a faint ache somewhere in his throat: Alec was meant to join him, one day. They would have been unstoppable. His death becomes a true victory for her. For her and for Bond. Bond whom she might hold, and pet, and let in her bed like she once did him. Bond would try to fuck her, no doubt about it. That sorry bastard is sex on legs. Or was, if his balls did not survive Le Chiffre's toying.


Instead of answering, he asks, "Why Bond?" It is a mistake, but he cannot take it back once he's said it, and this conversation will end soon anyway. So he goes on, "I never quite understood your fascination with him."


She seems to gather her thoughts for a few seconds, looking to the side. When she looks up, her face is noticeably more composed.


"You may have survived the Chinese, but it took a toll on you. Your injuries last year didn't help, or your stint with substance abuse. I have a report of your meltdown on the way here. I suppose it's fortunate we never had to deal with a hostage situation as far as you're concerned, you'd have been a proper mess, blabbering anything they'd ask you. In a way, Bond is the natural consequence of the inevitability of your decline."


Each one of her words is designed to wound him, and he feels the lashes cutting right through his bare skin. Well, he did bring this on himself by asking.


"Why, there's no remedy; 'tis the curse of service, preferment goes by letter and affection, and not by old gradation, where each second stood heir to the first," he recites.


The wrinkle under her eye is the only acknowledgement that she knows it's Othello he's quoting, after twenty-three years (Iago's lines never truer). His delivery is lacking, but he could not care less, as long as the message gets across.


"You shall mark many a duteous and knee-crooking knave that, doting on his own obsequious bondage, wears out his time, much like his master's ass, for nought but provender, and when he's old, cashier'd: whip me such honest knaves," he goes on.


"Do not quote Shakespeare with such a foul mouth, Mister Rodriguez. Am I to take your public school nostalgia as a veiled threat against this institution?" She narrows her eyes. "Are you going to be a problem?"


"No, Ma'am," he answers. He's never called her that, not once in his life. Let that be a warning, too, if she's able to discern it. Think on thy sins.


"I am placing you under arrest. Out of concern for your... state of mind, I will not put you in shackles like you deserve. I am going to recommend house arrest instead, in one of the safehouses, until you receive proper treatment for your PTSD."


For a moment, he wonders if she's lending him a hand. Safehouses are child's play for him to escape. But the cold, disdainful look she throws him on the way out of the interrogation room reminds him that she is merely underestimating him.


Good, he thinks. Now it begins.

 

 

Chapter Text


The farm is just as the computer boy described it: remote, ordinary and stinking of cow shit. James throws the map on the passenger seat, arms his gun and steps out of the car. He lets the door slam: there's no way his approach wasn't noticed. He saw at least one camera hidden among the foliage, following his progress inside the property.


Bregenz was right on the border, so he drove out of Austria with no other intention but to enter Switzerland and access the one bank account he'd never declared to MI6: a Swiss penchant for secrecy inherited from a mother he doesn't remember. But money was not enough to get going, not without intel, not without backup. Not in the dark. He called the boy from a prepaid mobile in the Zurich Bahnhof at rush-hour, dialling a number he'd once learnt by heart in case he ever needed it - and he knew he would: he never bought the tale that Silva's laptop was irretrievably fried during the investigation. The crowd made him untraceable should anyone bother checking security footage afterwards, and should the Swiss humour an investigation on one of their own citizens.


'I know you helped him,' he told the boy, 'I read the report. Tell me where he is, and I won't speak of it to Cavendish.' It'd had been a wild guess, but he had guessed right: the lad relented right away, as if it were a secret too great to bear. 'He's in France,' he'd said. 'I'll text you the location from a secure line.' James had almost hung up, but the boy added, 'Bond? He was... he was my teacher. I couldn't betray him,' and James had sighed at the idealism and told him, 'You're a good lad, Boothroyd.' To this day he has no idea why he felt the need to say that. As far as MI6 is concerned, it was an act of treason, but so is James's at the moment - and so was Silva's escape, when James accused him. Loyalty isn't as black and white as they make it out to be.


He'd have wanted to check on the flat in Geneva, buy chocolate, have a bit of raclette, but there was no time to waste, not with Greene still one step ahead. He only allowed himself a Migros sandwich as he raced West and then South to a sleepy village in the Pyrenees. A fine place to farm, apparently. An even better place for Silva to remain unremarked among Spanish-looking people, so close to the border with Spain.


James manages exactly three steps out of the car before the first shot cracks between his feet, narrowly missing his legs. He raises his hands, hoping to mollify him, and indeed, Silva steps out of the shed next to the farm, dishevelled, trousers brown with mud and rifle pointing straight at James. He looks like a fucking farmer, dusty coat and flannel shirt and beret: nothing like a former MI6 employee.


"I won't miss next time, Bond. What are you hoping to find here?"


"I'm alone," James says, hands still in the air. "No one knows I'm here, Silva."


"Silva is dead. Come to apologise?"


James stays silent. In a way, he supposes he is. He is that desperate. The second bullet ricochets on the pebbles at his feet and thwacks against his calf. Damned him. It will probably bruise, later. But the pain is faint: it doesn't deter him.


"You missed," he teases, but when Silva points the rifle again, he adds quickly, "Enough with the foreplay, will you? If you're going to shoot me, do it properly."


The fierce eyes have not changed, restless and unsettling, the face familiar despite the scrawny beard. The muzzle presses against James's chest. No, he won't miss next time.


"How did you find this place?"


"The computer boy."


Something softens in Silva's expression, but only fleetingly. He pushes the muzzle against James, nearly knocking the breath out of him. "Don't you fucking dare to touch him," he growls.


It shocks James, because that was the last thing on his mind when he called Boothroyd. He grimaces. "I'm not one for sloppy seconds, I'm afraid."


It's Silva's turn to look shocked, and then disgusted, as if that too were the last thing on his mind. "You think I did? Everything really is about sex with you, isn't it? I should have let Le Chiffre slice off your dick."


"We can talk about my dick later, if you're so inclined," he bites back, not missing a beat. "Look, she's cut off all my cards, she's blocked my IDs. Oddly enough, I have nowhere else to go."


His face shows mild interest at this, but he also rolls his eyes. "That is odd. And I'm supposed to feel sorry for you? Do you need a foster home to spend the night while Mummy's wrath subsides?"


James throws his hands to the side in defeat. "Something like that."


His plans always do sound stupid when someone else says them out loud. But Silva lowers the rifle.


"I suppose I can hardly leave an ex little brother out on the street," he says.


If he were a cat, James would see him licking his lips. No matter: he's done worse things to make ends meet. He doesn't even scowl when the hand pats a little too much before finding the gun in his trousers.


The room in the shed is spartan beyond belief, for one who used to lounge in five-star hotels wearing Savile Row - or Italian, wasn't it? Silva used to wear Italian suits. James sits on a rustic wooden chair and takes in the straw bed, the fresh butter on the table, and the earthen floor staining the evening shoes he'd stolen in Austria. There's this annoying buzzing sound, like some sort of boiler, but the room is as chilly as the outside.


"It's temporary, James," Silva says, patiently. He pours himself a glass of fine wine, a 1998 Bordeaux, but only a glass of water for James. He takes it without protest: he supposes he deserves it.


"Ploughing manure not quite the life you always dreamt of?"


The smile too is patient, like for humouring a child. He hasn't let go of the rifle. "Not quite."


James rubs his hands together and glances around the room again, unnerved by the buzzing sound and feeling more chilled after he's drunk the water. "Your boiler isn't working, is it."


His cardigan isn't warm enough, and Silva's got a thick coat on his shoulders. It must be in the adjoining barn, where presumably the cows are kept - but really, what does James know about farming? The strangest: it isn't a foreign sound. He'd find it inconspicuous if it wasn't so loud. Computers, he realises. It's the humming of computers, not just one or two, but dozens and dozens running together, somewhere very close to them. His eyes widen.


"It's not cows you're farming."


"Clever boy," Silva says, and takes a sip of his wine. "Don't run and tell Mummy."


Who knows how many servers he's hidden in the barn. Who knows what an assassin gone rogue can do with so much computer power under his fingertips. James smirks in spite of himself.


"I wouldn't dream of it," he says, and finds that he means it. M is very low on his list of favourite people right now, despite his need to avenge her. Or to finish the mission. James forgets who came first, her or Vesper. "Look, I was wrong, all right? It's clear now you weren't working with Le Chiffre. M knows it. She's been trying to find you."


"I daresay she isn't trying out of motherly concern for me." Silva sets the glass down on the table with a a smirk, his graceful moves clashing with his farmer outfit, and he cocks his head to the side as if giving James his undivided attention. "Is this you showing some remorse? I appreciate the gesture. I guess after a while, the villains and the heroes get all mixed up, don't they."


Vesper's warm body drowning in deep blue. She was certainly a villain. During the brief hour when her betrayal existed, he thought he'd have to kill her. Yet when she died, he found he no longer wanted to.


"We're not heroes," James says, blankly.


"Not even close. Don't flatter yourself thinking you ruined my life, James. You merely precipitated the start of an event long in the making."


He gestures around the room and James takes in the words quietly. He's been planning this for years. Whatever money he made on the side was likely destined for this sole purpose, this giant computer barn in the middle of nowhere - one of many, perhaps. Just what in hell has James just stepped into?


Silva takes a long sip and stares at his glass. "I was sorry to hear about Vesper. I was fond of the girl."


"Hm," James answers. There's this knot in his throat that hasn't quite left him since Venice, the kind of knot he can only hope goes away with the shouts of every man he kills with his bare hands.


"Don't torture yourself thinking you were in love with her. We aren't meant to love, you know? We just aren't wired to feel that way."


But he did love her. He thought he did. It was not lust, James knows lust: it was more than that. Or maybe a constant state of lust, of wanting, of never getting enough of her. He had expected to stop wanting her, when she gave in to him, but it had only made him want her more. He loved her. It had lasted what - two weeks? The brightest two weeks of his life - a lie, a cynical lie. Would believing it was not love make it hurt any less? Silva gives surprisingly sympathetic advice for someone who claims to hate him, sweet cyanide wrapped in lolly cellophane.


"Is that what you tell yourself about Alec?" James asks, finding he wants him to share the venom, too.


Silva chuckles heartily, no traces of pain in his eyes - or maybe just a flash. "It's Alec who taught me this, actually. But enough foreplay, don't you think, James? Why did you come see me? What do you imagine I'm willing to do for you?"


Indeed. James pulls the pictures out of the back pocket of his trousers. He's been sitting on them since Geneva, they are noticeable wrinkled, but still of use. He throws them on the table and Silva reaches for them with unnerving parsimony. He whistles.


"You have some hard friends. These men were together?"


"They're buying up oil pipeline," James says, and suddenly he's unsure how much he should tell him. "Something called the Tierra Project. Do you know it?"


Silva shrugs impatiently and continues flipping through the pictures. "That's Guy Haines. You don't know him?"


"Should I?"


"I suppose not. You haven't been keeping secrets as long as I have." James revels in the familiar urge to punch him in the face with his glass of water. "He keeps a very low profile," Silva goes on, "but he's one of the Prime Minister's closest advisers. Some might say the London Bombings aftermath was a bigger mess than it needed to be, because of him."


He returns the pictures to James with an emphatic nod. Well. That explains M's keenness that he drop the mission. His head is probably wanted in London by now. Suddenly the Swiss passport in his pocket is worth its weight in gold - tenfold.


"What do you know about Bolivia?" he asks, cautious.


"All there is to know, of course." Silva gestures towards the computer barn. "And I was there some years ago. Spent a few weeks undercover for a mission."


James's heart has started pumping harder, but he forces himself to scowl as if not terribly impressed. "Well, do you have some contacts there?"


Silva raises an eyebrow. "A few. What do you want?"


"Come with me."


James hadn't meant to sound this hoarse, but his throat is strangely dry. He'd meant to sound business-like, and it came out like he's asking Silva to bed. Though, who knows, that might just do. He holds his gaze, but Silva looks thoroughly amused instead of convinced.


"I do have to ask, James, what's in it for me here? Who are you chasing? And what for?"


"Dominic Greene," he offers, desperate enough to spill everything if needed be, though he guesses finding M's would-be murderers scores very low on Silva's list of priorities. Perhaps finding Vesper's would be better received. She'd taken a liking to him, much to James's initial dismay. He adds, "Quantum. Ring a bell or two?"


Silva shakes his head. "Let's find out."


He follows him outside into the barn, the way there so muddy he gives up on not stepping on any puddles. Pity about the shoes. James thinks of wellies, absurdly - a damp memory of playing in the rain. The heavy wooden doors of the barn groan as they pull them open. James is surprised to find actual cows in there, two of them, and not at all half-starved like he'd expect them to be.


"My parents were cow farmers," Silva says, brushing off his question with a wave of his hand, and James doesn't ask 'where?'.


Other than the cows, it's like entering a spaceship in every way that James would have imagined as a child: towers reaching the high ceiling, lights blinking everywhere, a cobweb of cables, and the buzzing louder than it was in the shed. He walks down row after row of servers, staring up in wonder. He may not know a lot about computers, but he can only imagine how far Silva can reach with these machines. There's a long bookshelf at the end of the barn that stretches as wide as the wall, but only as tall as his waist. So many books. James does own books, boxes full of them cluttering the flat he's hardly ever in. There is no time to read when he's trying not to die. Kincade, the only one at home, was never a good storyteller: James learnt to read on his own when he was five. Long, long ago, in years he'd rather leave untouched, he quite enjoyed curling with a book by the fire - in a frosty, lonely, darkened manor in which he hasn't set foot again. He can't imagine doing this now. He can't imagine 001 doing it, either, and he glances over his shoulder. Silva is still typing, eyes on the screen. Not minding him.


James steps closer, with the unpleasant sensation that this is it, this is what Silva is, more than what a file could have told him, more than an untidy hotel room in Montenegro. 'You know, you really are alike in a way,' Alec told him once, and James hated him for it. He doesn't see it, least of all now. Rows and rows of high literature, Stendhal and García Márquez next to Hugo, and Goethe, Tolstoy, Hemingway. Caesar's Commentaries, Homer. Authors James has never heard of. And Shakespeare: expensive editions in gold and leather binding. He doesn't know what to make of it. Were he in any other kind of mood, he'd feel intimidated, maybe, or out of place. But he's come so far in not giving a fuck that he chooses to focus on the objects scattered on top of the shelf instead of on the books.


"Don't break anything," Silva warns playfully just as James reaches for one of them, as if he had eyes on the back of his head. A camera, rather.


It's a strange collection of worn-out trinkets, the kind one might find in an antique shop. A fountain pen, a rubik's cube with faded colours, a small compass, a watch that doesn't work. In fact, most of them could be toys. James sets upright a tin soldier that a rusty medal knocked over, mechanically. He's seen a toy like this before, but he cannot recall where. He cocks his head and scans the rest of the objects for a clue. To no avail.


"Well, well, well," Silva says, by one of the monitors where he's been typing away. "This certainly raises the stakes. I'm in."


"What did you find?"


"Le Chiffre's patrons. Easy money. More networks."


James leans over his shoulder, trying to make sense out of the windows splayed out on the screen, Interpol, CIA, KGB, MI6 files collated together in a single display. Quantum. Greene's network reaches far wider than expected, and Bolivia is only one of his many interests and even then, he's only a lieutenant in a larger army. James shivers a little: he's guessed right, he's got the fuckers. He'll make them pay. For Vesper. For M.


"I'd heard of Quantum, but not this deep. Do you even want to go to Bolivia?" Silva asks. "With this many leads you could get started right here in Europe."


James ponders on this, but only briefly. "Greene is the big fish," he says. The fish he's after.


"Then Bolivia it is. Do you have a safe passport with you?"


He pulls out the bright red booklet out of his pocket. "Under my real name, unfortunately."


Silva chuckles, and for an absurd moment James entertains the thought that they are old friends joking over something. It makes him want to throw up.


"Funny you should say that. So do I."


He rummages in a drawer by the third monitor and pulls out a navy blue passport. REPUBLICA DE CHILE, it reads, in golden letters. James had no idea. He'd fucked three different girls in the Archives, and neither had been able to give him this information: it was as if 001 had never existed before England. Silva holds it open for him with something akin to childish glee. Rodríguez Silva, Santiago Raúl. Oh.


"I guess I should start calling you Rodriguez, then?"


"Hm. I suppose Santiago will do for now."


Except it brings back memories of an event James has successfully blocked from his mind for years. He clenches his jaw, but Sil - Santiago turns away and begins tapping the keyboard. James follows the images on the monitor, idly. Bloody nutter.


"MI6 is actively looking for you," Santiago says, "and there's an Interpol alert on your name. I can print you another passport."


No, fuck that. "There's no time. Never mind Interpol: by the time they catch on, we'll already be in Bolivia."


"Tsk, tsk, James. That's the recklessness that has got you in trouble so often before."


"You should try it sometime." James snatches the Chilean passport from him to look at the birth date. "You're only five years older than me. You don't get to lecture me, not any more. Not when we're both... running wild."


"Oh, Mister Bond!" Santiago exclaims, faux-seductive, then grows serious again. "Do whatever you want. I do have other documents for myself. I'll stay clear of you at the airport and meet you at the hotel. Understand this: if you get caught, I don't know you, I've never seen you, and I will not rescue you."


The tease is so obvious James cannot hold it from rolling off his tongue. "Likewise, Mister Rodriguez. Likewise."

 

 


 


There is a bar in the first class section, and they gravitate towards it without question, not out of a desire for social interaction or companionship, but for the simple need of alcohol. The only sleepless passengers on the 747. The young steward takes their orders without blinking and fixes their drinks the best he can considering the limited selection.


"Don't drink that shit," Tiago tells Bond, when he recalls this is the martini he ordered in Montenegro - he'd called it a Vesper, like a lovelorn fool. He doesn't want him moping for the remaining seven hours of the flight.


"It's good," James says with a shrug. "Want a sip?"


Tiago is perfectly content with his rum, but curiosity wins him over and he takes the girly glass from him. The gin tastes hideous, despite the lemon peel. He grimaces before giving it back with a shake of his head that draws a half-hearted smile out of James. He looks good. He insisted on buying himself suits in Madrid before they boarded the plane - Tiago approves of the result. As for himself, he has to admit shaving was a relief, just like going back to Dolce & Gabbana. It was time he got out. He supposes he has Bond to thank for that.


Six drinks later they've not moved from the bar, and they've not spoken, either.


"So what's keeping you awake?" James drawls at last, twirling his glass to make the drink dance.


"Me?" Tiago raises an eyebrow. "I rarely sleep anymore. Do you?" James shrugs, holds the drink in his mouth before swallowing it. "Would you want to?"


James smiles, and shakes his head no. He sets the glass down and taps a finger on the thin neck, drawing a chiming sound. "She brought me chocolate," he says, slowly, thoughtfully.


"Hm?"


"You asked me once what it was like when I first met her. She gave me a chocolate bar. Swiss chocolate, the same kind my mother used to buy when we stopped in Geneva."


Ah. Tiago glances at the flight attendant who is still wiping glasses methodically. The conversation is inconspicuous, he supposes. Yes, that does sound like M, worming her way into a young boy's heart with the subtlety of an elephant in a crystal store. She'll pay for everything. Soon.


"That was Alec's toy soldier, wasn't it?"


"Mm," Tiago non-answers, examining his empty glass with feigned interest. "And Shadwell's compass, and Mjumi's pen. I don't think you knew the others."


All dead, from 002 to 006. Only 001 and 007 survive them: eldest and youngest. But Bond isn't ripe for the taking yet. Why would he? He hasn't been betrayed by her yet. In a few years, perhaps... or maybe never. There is something uncomfortably loyal about him, a penchant for righteousness neither Tiago or Alec ever had. The same knightly principles that stopped Geoffrey from joining him, when he'd asked him to. That night he'd wondered for the first time what it would be like to be a father, to create and mould a creature to your likeness and then have them walk away from you. 'If you ever try to hack us, I will fight you,' the kid had said, fiercely, but he'd also pretended he messed up the decryption of his laptop. Schrödinger's heart.


"I did read it, you know," Bond says, emptying his glass and placing it down with admirable steadiness.


"What's that?"


"Othello."


Tiago chuckles. "And?"


"It's rubbish," James says, echoing his chuckle. "But I also understand."

 

 


 


Who would have guessed, Interpol is half-competent after all: there's an obviously British red-haired girl waiting for James at the airport. The ill-fitting trench-coat doesn't hide the curves she must have underneath.


"Mister Bond," she says. "My name is Fields, I work for the consulate."


In his peripheral vision, somewhere to the left, Silva-Santiago is leafing through papers as he juggles his suitcase with the other hand: a harmless inexperienced traveller looking for a hotel address before boarding a cab.


"Of course you do," James tells the girl. She's hot. M could have sent a sweaty male clerk to fetch him: she can't be that cross at him.


He fucks the girl with her clothes still on, no questions asked, making it last enough to have her moaning under him. If he squints, she could have black hair. But it's just as he suspected: sex is still just sex. He'd thought... he'd feared... Vesper didn't take this from him when she died. Relief should not taste this bitter.


"I'm so angry at myself," Fields says, and James places absent kisses on her back. He doesn't even know her first name.


The knock on the door saves him from further post-coital platitudes and he throws something on to answer, though in hindsight he probably should have turned the cockiness down. Santiago is there with an envelope in his left hand, impeccably dressed but scrunching his nose in disgust at the sight of him.


"Oh god, you've fucked her already," he says.


James can think of five comebacks to that, but he doesn't manage a single one; an odd, unfamiliar shame burning through him. He shouldn't give a fuck what Santiago thinks. Yes, James has sex; yes, James fucks women: he's always had, and he always will. The anomaly was Vesper, and not the others.


He says, "I just needed to know," and doesn't elaborate.


Santiago shakes his head and flattens the envelope against his bare chest. It's an invitation: it reads Greene Planet, Eco-Park.


"Eight-o'clock. Wear a tie," he says, and shuts the door himself before James can ask more questions.

 

 


 


Two police officers tried to gun him down: they're lying in a ditch somewhere. Tiago clenches the wheel tighter. Where is James? So much for trusted contacts: the promotion to Colonel had made Carlos forget the past (well, it's to be expected: that was a very long time ago) and the police, instead of cooperating, is actively on their backs now. Especially since Tiago was stupid enough to single out Bond to him. Carlos had asked, 'is this your friend?', with evident disdain on the last word (amiguito, he'd said, his grin full of insolence), and then it was too late to backpedal. Five years ago Carlos was not so disgusted with the notion. Idiot.


Ah, here's James: holding a stunning beauty by the arm. Tiago nearly punches the wheel in frustration. Speed away, leave him there, let him fuck himself to death. But then he overhears their bickering before he can follow through on his threat.


"You're going to show me Dominic Greene's Tierra Project. Are you up to it?" Bond is saying, and what do you know, he doesn't only think with his dick, apparently.


She glares at him. "Do I have a choice?"


"Do you want one?"


"There's something horribly efficient about you," the girl says, and James ushers her in the back seat, climbing after her. "Oh. You have a driver?"


"Something like that," Tiago answers, amused, and glances at James through the rearview mirror before driving off.


She does not speak. She is of mixed descent, her green eyes not matching her darker skin. Once they get out of La Paz, he'll hand over the car to James so he can background-check her (knowing him, he's probably picked up another double agent, or who knows what kind of traitorous creature). They don't get very far before the sirens catch up to them.


"What's the bet that Dominic Greene has friends in the Police Force?" James says, looking back.


"Try a hundred to one. Carlos was a lying cunt," Tiago snarls, and for a moment he considers just speeding, but sirens can bring more sirens, and there's two of them for two police officers (piece of cake). He brings the car to a stop, but he doesn't get out. "Buenas noches," he tells the officer, placidly, as he rolls the window down.


He can tell the accent throws him off, as do the papers in perfect order. He makes small talk in Spanish, and the cop grows increasingly nervous. Somewhere in the back seat, James does too, Tiago can sense it. The policeman snatches Tiago's ID to consult with his colleague, and that's simply unacceptable. Tiago exchanges a glance with James in the rear-view mirror and they get out of the car with the same impulse. Two shots, two perfect kills, one for each. Tiago feels childishly gleeful to see that his dies first (bullet through the throat: very messy).


"You drive," he tells James after they've raided the bodies for guns.


The girl looks rather calm (interesting: she must be used to this -where did James find her?). "Drive out of the city through the slums," she says. "The police won't bother questioning people there."


If they manage not to be gunned down on the way, that is. Tiago brings his knees up to his chest in the passenger seat to balance his laptop. The satellite is in range, just as he programmed it before they left France, giving him slow but decent network access. He doesn't have much to go on other than her accent and her giving James directions out of La Paz, and sure enough, she shows up on MI6's database (James must have done a query). Russian mother, Bolivian father. The KGB too has a file. Suspected to be Bolivian intelligence, linked to Greene, gone rogue. Hm. Safe enough, if only a little unstable. Like them.


"Keep driving," he tells James, who stares in alarm when Tiago crouches in the space between his seat and the dashboard to fiddle with the radio. It isn't completely digital, he may yet work something out, if he manages to stretch the copper wire... There's a strange comfort in leaning against the engine like this, feeling it vibrate against his back as he tweaks the radio wires.


..a Paz... órd-enes... rrrr... refuerzos...


Ah, a police frequency. Tiago sits back with a grin. It seems they are still being chased. Next to him, James smirks, and in that moment he's actually tolerable. If the girl is right, it'll be a long drive: at least nine hours to the desert (seven if James keeps up this speed). He opens the laptop again, but she taps his shoulder and leans closer to him against the seat.


"Where are you from?" she asks, in Spanish. She really does have stunning green eyes.


"I'm English," he answers, dismissively, though replying in Spanish is an invitation for the conversation to continue.


"You don't have an English face," she insists, and it brings out a chuckle of him.


"And you don't have a Bolivian face."


Right on the mark. A sour, murderous glance: she's probably heard that all her life. Tiago sympathises, unexpectedly. Everyone always dismissed his Britishness. He relents.


"I was born in the Malvinas." It's the first time in his life he uses the Spanish name of the Islands. It would seem wrong not to, on Latin American soil. Tiago's patriotism runs very low these days. "To Chilean parents."


She leans even closer to him, eyes wide with interest. "And what happened?" She gestures around them, to the Land Rover, the chase, their guns: the life he's leading now.


"Argentina happened," he non-answers, but it is an answer enough.


He glances at Bond, who drives in silence but cannot quite mask the interest from his closed expression. The conversation was basic enough for him to follow with his mediocre Spanish, even if they spoke with native speed and without softening their respective accents - though Tiago has found his own has evened throughout the years, making him speak a more standard Spanish devoid of regionalisms and of nondescript diction. It often happens to those who travel, he's heard.


He reaches back. "My name is Santiago."


"Camila," she answers, and squeezes the hand offered. Her touch is gentle. Bond scowls at the gesture, and Tiago grins to himself.

 

 


 


"What now?" James asks, killing the engine.


The clock reads 07:17 before fading to black. The Police frequency is mum around this area. He throws the keys on the dashboard and glances at the girl through the mirror: she's asleep. Next to him, Santiago is looking out the window.


"We're really close to the border," he says, blinking when the desert sun hits him straight in the eyes.


"I mean, what do we do now?" James amends, impatiently. "Want to try to get that plane over there?"


It's a rudimentary airport, but some of the planes look like they might fly - with some luck. A single mechanic tinkers with the largest one, an old, passably rusting monster that must be well over forty years old.


"What do you suggest? Kill the man and steal the plane, then get picked up by the radars?"


James scoffs. "Don't tell me you don't know how to fly to avoid radars."


Santiago lets out something between a growl and a laugh. "I was a Wing Commander in the RAF, James. I know how to fly a fucking plane. Though he looks more like a museum piece than an actual aircraft." He. James rolls his eyes. Santiago is staring at the plane with a glint in his eyes that reminds him of his own need to feel the stick of a fine car under his fingers. "All I'm saying is we're close to the border with Chile. Might be good to get the hell out of here and work out a plan."


"I piss on your plans," James snarls, and drums his fingers on the wheel.


Santiago sighs and turns the laptop towards him. "MI6's caught on our little killing spree last night, courtesy of Carlos since we didn't leave anything incriminating behind. Word is, they're coming down here to find you. The CIA wants your head, too."


James shrugs. It isn't the first time. "I want Greene," he says. "That's all this is about."


"And here I thought it was about Vesper."


Her name sounds obscene in his mouth. James twists towards him, grabs him by the collar, points a finger at his face. "Don't," he growls. "Don't."


Santiago slaps him, fair and square: there's no other word to describe it. His palm lands flat on James's cheek, and it stings, and it's so unexpected he lets go of him. Strangle him. Shoot him. Punch him until his teeth fall out. But Santiago grabs both his hands and trying to wrestle them out of his grip gets James nowhere.


"They tried to shoot M," he hisses, keeping his voice low not to wake up Camille. He manages to shove their joined fists into Santiago's face, right into his nose. No blood. Damn it.


Santiago does let go with a growl, but his face is unreadable. Hell, he probably already knew. "So this is your little crusade to avenge M?"


"M, and Vesper, and England."


"England?" Santiago lets out a short laugh. "England wants you dead, James. England has declared Greene's interests align with their own, and you're a little wrinkle in their fine dinner jacket. They're happy to deal with terrorist organisations as long as they profit from it. England's just as rotten as any other. There's nothing honourable about it. Or glorious. Or happy, for that matter."


"Piss off," James says, and gets out of the car. Santiago has the gall to follow him out, the cunt. They circle around the car to stand in front of it. James's fists curl. He could take him. He could.


"You really don't see it, do you? You're to do as your told. You don't get to stray beyond your brief. The second you do it they'll pull the plug. She'll pull the plug, James. She just got on a plane to La Paz to arrest you."


He feels like covering his ears. She's been misinformed, that is all. Once he presents the evidence to her, she will take it to the higher-ups, convince them they're being misled, and Quantum will be crushed to the ground.


"I'm stealing that plane," he says. "And I'm killing the mechanic first."


"I don't want to wrestle you."


"Is that a threat or a promise?"


"It's both," Santiago says, staring at James's neck where the collar of his shirt ends. He smiles, and James finds he doesn't want to fight him after all.

 

 


 


It's the strangest feeling, finding himself citizen of a country he's never set foot in before. The Land Rover crossed an invisible path at the border, probably used by drug traffickers. They ride South, the desert steppes shadowed by the Andes, and Tiago absorbs the landscape wishing he could truly feel it his own.


"It's here," the girl says, leaning over a yellowed map of Bolivia. "All the information I found said there was nothing of value there, but Greene's geologist had proof that there was."


The crummy little hotel by the lakeside had only two rooms available: he and Bond shared a room, for appearances sake, but they all cluster in Camila's to conjure up plans in the dark. Tiago bought hiking clothes for the three of them in an overpriced resort shop, so they look more like tourists on a trek and less like they stumbled out of a cocktail party.


"Do you suggest we go there and dig to find out whether the geologist lied?" Tiago asks James, sitting next to her on the bed with the laptop.


Bond only scowls some more. "I was hoping it'd be obvious once we got there."


His ideas are barbarous, every single one of them. How did he even get clearance? The man thinks like a ticking clock strapped to a pack of dynamite.


Tiago shakes his head and examines the map. "What else is there? What else can be mined? Copper? Diamonds? What is the soil like?"


"There's nothing," she repeats. "Nothing at all. Rubble and sand. Underground lakes, some have speculated. But our geologists aren't particularly stellar. There is no money for research."


Lakes, would that be of interest? Tiago doesn't know. He drums his fingers on the keyboard, unsure what to type. He could zoom in with the satellite, if needed be. He starts doing it, for lack of any better suggestions.


"We should be over there," James snarls, and goes look out the window. "Not growing grey hair in Chile."


"Forgive me for not heading straight to the middle of nowhere not knowing what to look for."


Camila bites her lip, looking like she agrees with James very much. Tiago sighs. He's got two reckless steeds instead of just the one. It reminds him, in a way, of a forgotten mission in Maracaibo with two younger agents (never think of that). They're tense like a wire about to snap, and unless Tiago comes up with a way to compensate...


"So what is it that Greene has that you want?" he asks the girl in the gentlest tone he can manage.


It works. Something seems to thaw in Camila's green gaze as she looks into his eyes.


"It's not Greene," she says. "It's Medrano, the man he met in Haiti. My father worked for the military junta. He was a very cruel man, but he was my father." Ernesto Montés, the file read, pseudo-marxist, inflexible, delusions of grandeur. Your standard latin-american megalomaniac. "When I was a small child," Camila goes on, "the opposition sent General Medrano to our house. He shot my father." She swallows. Tiago does not look away, and neither does James. "He did things to my mother and my sister and then strangled them while I watched. I was too young to be any trouble, so he just smiled at me and set the house on fire. He left his mark."


One is never too young to be any trouble, Tiago thinks. Medrano should have killed the girl too, or perhaps he'd hoped the fire would eventually. Tiago did notice the marks on her back (they hadn't stopped her from wearing short-sleeved dresses: she'd likely forgotten they were there, like his own scars). He reaches for her, stroking her arm in a comforting gesture. She leans against him, her eyes empty and her body stiff.


"So when I pulled you off the boat..." Bond asks. He sounds sheepish.


"I waited years for that chance," Camila says, a resigned anger lingering in her gaze.


"I apologise." James shakes his head, and she nods. "It seems we're both using Greene to get to somebody."


"You lost somebody?" It's Bond's turn to nod. Tiago can tell he's on the verge of dropping his impersonal face. This conversation is loaded for everybody, there's a thick tension in the room and Tiago isn't certain it's in his interest to diffuse it. Camila goes on, "You catch whoever did it?"


"No. Not yet."


"Tell me when you do. I'd like to know how it feels."


"I can tell you that," Tiago says, drawn to the conversation like a moth to a flame. They both stare at him, and he offers a smile. "It feels like nothing. I killed the man who killed my parents, and I felt nothing. I killed him. That was it, it was over. The world didn't change. It didn't bring them back. It didn't make me feel better. It just made him dead."


Two sets of eyes bear on him with the same intensity, so fierce he doesn't know whether to focus on James, or on her. In the end, he ends up staring back at him, but she is the closest, and she holds the side of his face with her hand, stroking some locks of hair. It's bizarrely tender: Tiago is tempted to push her away, but also to lean into the touch.


"How old were you?" she whispers, in Spanish.


"Thirteen," he answers, dryly, and when she strokes his lips with her fingers he meets James's gaze again.


He sees him taking a hesitant step closer. There's something warped and fucked up about the situation - Camila presses her mouth to his and he finds himself kissing her back with a hunger he wasn't aware he felt. Eyes still on James. It's been a while since he last kissed someone willingly (let alone a woman), but he forbids his mind to name who that was (M or Alec?). He does not like it. He pulls her closer, the angle awkward, so that she settles between his legs with her back against his chest. They cannot kiss like this. Good. He licks her scarred neck and slides his arms around her. No one asks him over, but instead of leaving James crouches between them, and he strokes Camila's legs.


Well: this is something Tiago has never done before, so he appreciates the variety. She moans when he cups her tits over her shirt (it had to be Alec: before he was sent to die, when Tiago was still recovering - he'd pressed a playful kiss to his mouth and Tiago had pushed him away) and she moans harder when he sinks his teeth in the soft skin of her shoulders. She's his: he holds her tight so she can't move while James pulls down her trousers. One of his hands is close enough to grab a fistful of James's hair while he goes down on her. He pulls at it, yanks it, blind and broken, and interestingly both he and James recoil at the same time. A lowered guard will kill you, no matter the situation.


"I'm sorry," James says, wipes his mouth, and slams the door on his way out.


"What's the matter with him?" Camila asks, sounding more hurt than confused.


Tiago eases her down on the bed. He kisses the scars on her chest, discoloured and patchy. "I don't know," he lies, and wants nothing more, really, than to follow James into the other room.

 

 


 


Fact: he's been all over the place since Vesper, operative on the surface but a loaded bomb inside. The Fields girl he could deal with: impersonal and empty, but Camille, with her mad want for revenge and her raw grief too close for comfort... James could see himself getting in bed with her, and never getting out. He ran: the only way to stay alive. He fingers the necklace like he's been doing for months, and then he hurls it across the room. A teasing reminder that Vesper was never his. It crashes on the wall, but it doesn't break. Blasted thing. He wishes it had.


He starts when Santiago slips inside the room they're supposed to be sharing - James hadn't expected they'd be doing any sleeping with their targets still on the run. But there is Santiago, tossing the laptop on the bed and running a hand through his hair, barely sparing him a glance before locking himself in the bathroom. James hears the water running in the sink, then silence. When Santiago comes out, his long dark locks are slightly wet.


"Did you fuck her?" James asks, though it sounds more venomous than nonchalant like he'd have wanted.


"Not really."


He's staring at him from the middle of the room, hands in pockets, as if deciding whether to come closer or not. In the end, he sits on James's bed, just by where his feet are resting: he thought he'd recoil, but the closeness doesn't bother him.


"Why not?" he pries.


"Not really my type."


No bedroom eyes, no exaggerated cajolery: only the low rumble of his accent and fire in his gaze. James remembers his younger self in Maracaibo, how his heart had jumped both at the prospect of becoming Double-0 and of sleeping with the suave older agent. What a child he'd been then.


"Is that so?" he asks, ignoring the way his heart is beating now.


Santiago doesn't kiss him on the lips: he slides a hand on the back of James's neck, pulls himself closer to him, and his mouth presses to his neck. Wet and warm. It's so unexpected James barely manages to hold a choke back. He reaches for him, too, running one hand through the hard muscles of his back and the other through his hair. He is still hard. They both are. There's always something brutal and honest about having sex with another man and James grunts as they roll together, kicking the bedsheets off the bed.


"I did promise," Santiago says against his ear, and pins him down against the mattress. He must be talking about their argument outside the car.


"You did," James says, and bucks his hips upwards to regain the upper hand. "But you didn't say you'd win."


"Let's see who ends up on top, yes?"


Just the thought, the possibility that this is a fair contest sends a jolt straight to James's cock and he wrestles against him with newfound vigour. He'd forgotten how overwhelming it was to measure up against him the taller, heavier agent, but those five years he has on him aren't only inexperience. James gropes him, disarms him, undresses him, yet he lets out a moan, vanquished, when Santiago flicks a wet thumb over the tip of his cock.


"What would M say, you reckon, if she knew you're on the run with me?"


Oh, for fuck's safe, there should be a rule against talking about M when there's a hand on his cock, but Santiago is deathly serious as he rubs their lengths together in one smooth motion. Deathly serious, and deathly aroused.


"You getting off on this?" James growls, twisting his legs to intertwine them with his, but the weight on his thighs doesn't let him. He bites him: a scar on his arm reddens and bruises under his teeth. Just like he'd imagined. He moans against the angry skin.


"Aren't you?" Santiago says, and laughs. "Just think. What would she say?"


"Perhaps she'd say: 'bloody get on with it, then!'" he manages, panting, letting go of him to slide a hand between them and stroke themselves together. Their mouths are so close they could just kiss, but Tiago moves his head away before James can do it.


"Wrong. And if you captured me and brought me back, just for her?"


Fine: she'd give him the slightest of smiles. Well done, James, she'd say and give a curt nod of approval. He moans at the thought, then clamps his mouth shut in alarm. What in the...?


"Oh, yes," Santiago teases, and covers James's hand with his own, squeezing them harder together. "That's more like it, isn't it. Good boy."


And then the thought occurs to him: when Santiago said it wasn't Camille he was into, perhaps he didn't mean James, either.


"What's your type, then? Older women?" he asks, and Santiago laughs, an actual hearty, teasing, rumbling laugh against his neck. "This about M?" James asks again, breathless and annoyed and wanting to get off.


"It is about her. And you. And me." Santiago's breath is quickening, too. "You see... we are her... last two boys. Her last two rats. I did mean it: did you... really never wonder what it was like... to have a brother?"


His teeth close on James's bottom lip and the rusty taste of blood fills his mouth, like a punch in the middle of a vicious fight for his life. Or like all those years ago, on Silva's empty bed: blood and come. James gasps, arches his back, thinks of M, thinks of Santiago, and then thinks of nothing more.

 


 


"You sure you don't want to come with us?"


It's tempting: M has landed in La Paz with a retinue of agents (far less security than he'd encounter in London) (but also: James). Tiago could go and confront her, and kill her if needed be... but it isn't time yet. He needs to grow stronger, invincible, extend the reaches of his empire to show her what he could have given her if she hadn't stricken him off. And confront her with the poisoned gifts he's collected over the years, to see if she deigns to show any remorse.


The satellites images very much confirmed it's the water they're after: James has enough to go on now (he wants to meet a CIA contact about it, the fool). (it's nearly unbelievable how many tentacles Quantum has infected the world with, Tiago only needs a tiny opening and he'll be in to destroy them from the inside: not for the greater good, but for his own designs.) (if James succeeds, it might just be the tiny opening he needs.)


He shakes his head to answer James's question, and asks, "Are you sure you want to go back to her?"


"Wouldn't you?"


He would have, once. When he wasn't aware of the extent of her cruelty. But he has bled thrice for her: he can take a hint. Besides, James will be M's new Crown Prince, when he captures Greene. Who wouldn't go back to that? He should have killed him when he could, yet all he feels is pity, pity for him and for the inevitable betrayal heading 007's way.


"One day, James, when the time is right, when all lights have extinguished, when the skies have fallen, when you've sunk to the bottom of the well and you cannot find your way out... I will come find you."


James looks confused and out of place in his hiking gear, standing in the middle of the room as if about to go exploring the land. But he wears it well, the pretty bastard. He wouldn't understand: not yet. And he may try to kill Tiago out of misplaced loyalty if he reveals his endgame now (what a distasteful conclusion a perfectly good escapade otherwise).


"I can't say I'm looking forward to that, can I? Do I get to find you, too?"


"Not if it's to lock me up." Tiago smirks. "I have other wars to fight now. Besides, I'm growing strangely fond of this land. I might just relocate here."


"What, and abandon your cows in France?" James's eyes twinkle when he smiles (Tiago tries not to notice that). "Look. Thank you."


An eyeful of blue and he's moving away, but Tiago grabs him by the wrist, touches the back of his neck, presses their foreheads together. "Remember this, James," he tells him before letting go. "Remember."

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 


Napoléon should have been a warning, really: staying away from Russia in the winter has never been sounder advice. It's not that Tiago is cold (he does have a warm coat and adequate gloves) it's the bloody snow, everywhere, slowing his steps, grounding planes and helicopters, forcing him to inaction when he needs to be out and not on the computer. It's the price to pay, he supposes, to pilfer the scrapyard of soviet-era machinery turned to billionaire playthings.


"Yes, what?" he snaps when he hears Villiers by the door. He was one of the first to join him, disgruntled by his unceremonious replacement by an older, even duller aide named Tanner. Not one of M's creatures, for once. But for someone so meek-looking Villiers is pleasantly efficient.


"There's someone outside, sir. He would not give his name or show his face but he asked for you by name. Your real name."


Tiago goes by Miguel Cassio these days, in the vein of lieutenants briefly fallen from glory. But his real name? Only a handful of people know that name, and most of them are dead. All the others are trouble. He locks the computer and follows Villiers out immediately. Which isn't as immediate as would be ideal, because it involves tying up his trekking boots, buttoning up his coat, and wrapping a cashmere scarf around his neck. Though the blizzard has abated, there is no way to advance gracefully in the snow - at least someone cleared a path (good for the outdoors squad, he'll remember this).


The man in question is held at gunpoint in the middle of the courtyard, knelt over in the snow (wet, cold trousers: a far more efficient torture than questioning him inside). A large, fur-trimmed hood covers his face and he shivers, but even then nothing is submissive about his stance. He seems too lean to be Bond. Tiago steps closer with the comforting sound of the Kalashnikovs being armed.


"What do you want?" he asks, in Russian, fastidiously. When no answer comes, he repeats it in English. Nothing. They could be here all day, if they're going over all the languages he can speak, but the man removes the hood just as Tiago is about to speak in Spanish.


The face has been badly scarred (fire? acid?) on one side, all of the cheek, even part of the earlobe, leaving one eye slightly more drooping than the other, but the chillingly casual gaze is unmistakable. Somewhere behind him, Villiers gasps.


Tiago allows himself one croaked, "Alec," before composing himself.


"I hear you're hiring," Alec replies, his voice a little deeper than he remembered.


The banter comes to Tiago's lips automatically, before he can think it through. "Well, dramatic entrances will certainly get you far in this line of work."


"I thought you would appreciate it the gesture."


Alec's laugh is no longer the cheerful, boyish thing it once was.


Right: he survived. Stranger things have happened (Tiago is the living example). Getting him inside and warm should be their first priority before his lips turn bluer. Someone helps him upright. He can walk, though a little stiffly, and once inside he uses the walls to support himself as he follows him to the only rooms remotely comfortable in the bunker - Tiago's quarters. This place was supposed to be temporary; the snow decided otherwise. Villiers brings a spare set of dry clothes (too big), and Tiago waves him away.


Alec sits by the fireplace, too far to be of any use, and he does not touch the clothes, though he is shivering. The snow caught on his hair has begun melting. The orange glare of the fire gives the scars a haunting, disturbing edge as if the fire were ready to devour the skin once again. Tiago forces himself to look at them with clinical detachment (his own scars must look just as distasteful or worse though not as fresh - it's only fair he returns the favour). He fills his glass with vodka, and a second one for Alec.


"So Bond lied in the report? He stated you were dead when he left you behind," he asks, studiously cautious.


Alec gives him a blank look. "Last I checked, the dead don't scream."


Alec pushes their glasses together as if toasting then takes a swig at his. The vodka burns Tiago's throat, but he swallows it nonetheless. The corner of Alec's mouth is scarred, too. Whatever medical care he was given immediately after the injury cannot have been stellar (Tiago's worst scars are the ones he sustained earlier). Perhaps he was rescued by villagers. He doesn't ask: he'd have shot anyone who asked questions about his captivity. Or his escape. He feels like shooting someone right now, actually.


"I underestimated the little weasel," Alec says. "I thought he was the softest of us all. He's ruthless. I presume he made it to Double-0 after that?"


"Hm," Tiago hums in agreement.


I had to, Bond said in Montenegro. M's best. There it is, that nauseating sensation that Trevelyan has a firmer grasp on the status quo than Tiago, that he sees clues he apparently misses, that he knows more, that if he puts his mind to it he can control it all, silent and calculating. It's like gaping into a dark abyss with Trevelyan standing on the edge next to him, a treacherous hand on his shoulder, ready to push him - and for the first time Tiago wonders if he shouldn't push him first.


"Your name," he says at last. "I don't suppose you'll be keeping Trevelyan now, will you. It's the name She chose for you."


He flinches at this. "No. Fuck that. Something Greek or Roman. Janus?" He downs the rest of his vodka. "No, never mind. Smerdyakov, how's that? Keep Alexei."


Ah, The Brothers Karamazov. Something else Tiago hadn't thought of before. He eyes the Kalashnikov on his desk. This could end right here.


"Alyosha, rather," he says, with faux-geniality.


"Only if you're Mitya."


Is this flirting? Tiago considers both shooting him in the head and knocking him down from the chair to kiss him. And he used to think Alec was not predatory! The feline grin stretches on his lips and radiates mischief to his scarred face. Tiago thinks of the tin soldier rusting somewhere in a farm in Chile, waiting for his return to a warmer place than this snow shithole in the middle of Sakha. No, he won't kill him: not now. (not ever.)


"Maybe later," he says, sounding bored to diffuse this tension he cannot profit from at the moment.


Alexei's face drops back to neutral with this bland promise, though the burn marks hinder the placid expression. That's quite an asset he lost in the fire. It doesn't matter: he won't be a spy any more. Perhaps it may be used to intimidate. The manic edge of a badly scarred face often causes instinctive repulsion. At least the Chinese largely spared Tiago's face.


"Is it the Golden Eye you're after?" Alexei asks, business-like. He said "golden eye" in perfect Russian, not accented in the least. Well. This Tiago could profit from.


"Amongst other things," he admits. So many resources wasted for the promise of these two rogue satellites.


"I made a few friends in Kyrgyzstan during my little beauty retreat. Some middle-aged general eager for glory and his bitch. Stupid enough to do as they're told for a trifle. I'm certain they could be useful if you were interested in, say, visiting the control station."


It's not the offer of a young agent eager to please, or of an old friend bringing a gift to dinner, is it. It's a broken man's fixation on the one quest that could restore his sense of self, like Raúl Silva's with the Q-branch. Tiago is quite tempted to refuse just for the scientific possibility of of Alexei crumbling and shrivelling if he refuses this. But no, he does need the satellites (and he's fucking sick of the snow).


"Wouldn't that be lovely," he tells him, offering him his best flirtatious smile.


Alexei grins back and there's something painful in seeing that glint of hope in his good eye (the drooping one remains lifeless and discoloured, wrong). He stands and throws the spare set of clothes on Alexei's lap.


"Your lips are still blue. Warm up first and then we'll plan it. Ta-ta."


He turns to make his way to the door, but Alexei says, "What, are you too disgusted to see me change?"


The bitter defiance that drips out of his voice is bait, pure and simple, and Tiago falls for it knowingly. He turns to face him again, an eyebrow raised.


"I wasn't aware you were putting up a show?"


He doesn't want to look, but that is entirely irrelevant. The sooner he discovers the extent of the burns the more he may condition himself to ignore it if sex is ever to become a necessity between them. Alexei's fur coat falls on the floor with a wet thud, and he begins ripping out the buttons of his shirt in his eagerness to undress. He yanks it open. Yes: it's a badly burned chest, discoloured and red in uneven patches. The largest one covers his entire left side in an angry pink blotch and curls into his back. Not even the nipples were spared. Tiago is reminded of Camila, but only briefly: hers had long healed since then, blending with her skin instead of standing out like Alexei's. He doesn't even blink. It isn't so bad, really. How about a little experiment?


"Not exactly my idea of a titillating strip-tease," he teases when Alexei attacks the trousers with equal rage.


It breaks him: Tiago can actually see the raw, uncontrollable hurt flickering in his gaze and his mouth twisting with anger. Alec would have never allowed his face to display any of this. Mad, mad, mad, deranged, unhinged. He's lost it: the betrayal in Pakistan pushed him over the edge in a way that Tiago and James have never been. It's fascinating to observe, in a way, like being given a new toy to wreck. He mouths him a kiss and grabs the Kalashnikov on his way out.


Outside, however, he has to smoke two cigarettes to the butt before he grows enough balls to go back in again.

 

 


 


Tiago only realises what a mistake it was to leave anything in Alexei's hands after the electromagnetic pulse has gone off, frying every device in a thirty mile radius, including his own. At least they're only links to the mainframe, but spending hours uncommunicated just so Alexei could steal an USB stick...! A useless, stupid USB stick with information any imbecile could have hacked remotely. And they lost the dish, too. Only one remains, in Nigeria. At least it will be fucking warmer there. He whips out his gun and points it straight to Alexei's neck, just under his chin.


"You deviated from the plan," he growls. "How foolish, foolish of you."


Alexei doesn't even blink. "It made sense at the time."


"Oh, did it? You know what else made sense? Every satellite in the area wondering what just happened there! There was even a distress call, someone out made it out alive. We'll have everyone on our backs because you felt like pushing the blasted little button!"


"So? Let them come."


Tiago doesn't know what to do what to do about laughter (honest, giggly pearls of laughter) coming out of Alexei's mouth, so he moves his arm and pulls the trigger with the same movement. The bullet crashes into one of the monitors and shatters the screen. Alexei stops laughing. The twitchy little fellow he brought from the control station cowers behind a computer server and for some reason this enrages Tiago even more. He walks over to him and disregards his Russian squeaks for mercy as he pulls the gun to his head. His eyes are glossy and bulbous behind his thick glasses.


"Who the fuck is this?"


"The programmer," Alexei answers calmly. "Boris Grish-"


"I'm the programmer here," Tiago says, and shoots the guy dead centre in the forehead. Some of the blood splatters on Tiago's shoes (perfectly good Versace, too). Cunt.


"Why would you do that!"


Because I can't kill you, Tiago thinks. With some luck (luck?), MI6 will get word of this. If they send Bond... If they send Bond, and he's as sharp nowadays as his file suggests, Alexei stands no chance. But no: this is thinking like She used to. He won't discard him and send him to die. Not like She did.


"He was going to hack the Bank of England!" Alexei shouts, still distressed about the body. Tiago looks around for something else to kill in their vicinity, but everyone has judiciously scampered off.


"I don't need to hack the Bank of England," Tiago says, waving his gun dismissively. "Any idiot can hack big banks."


"You don't understand. The plan was to hack into the bank and transfer everything, to the last penny, just seconds before setting off the Golden Eye, which would erase any record, the transactions, other accounts, stocks, everything. A financial meltdown!"


Setting off the Golden Eye? Tiago turns this sentence in his mind and cannot make sense out of it. What did he think it would do? That the dinosauric machine would obliterate all records? Bank servers are rarely stored in the same location. And if there's a lesson to be gained from the financial crash of the year before, it's that banks survive like cockroaches no matter what hits them. Do not shout. If he shouts, he will shoot him, he's certain.


"That was not the plan," he says, slowly, though his hand tightens on the grip. "That was your plan. Your half-arsed, simplistic plan to blow up a bank like a CBeebies supervillain. That piece of obsolete technology is more likely to blow up in my face than to be of any use."


"It functions perfectly, as I just demonstrated." Alexei frowns. "Why did you say you wanted it if you don't even care to use it?"


Tiago's voice comes out a hiss. "The sa-te-lli-tes," he spells out and gestures around them. Maybe if he explains Alexei will stop being idiotic. "I need more satellites up there. Everything you can come up with, I can do with these computers. Destabilize a multinational by manipulating stocks. Interrupt transmissions from a spy satellite over Kabul. Rig an election in Uganda. Anything. I don't need anything but my fingers to obliterate all records. So would you sod off with your Cold War memorabilia?"


Only Alexei cowering would satisfy his wrath, but he scowls instead. "Well, I want to use it. Just who exactly made you the boss here?"


Rage.


He pushes him, slams him against the wall, and wants to smash his head in when he finds their bodies still fit together when they press this close. Whether I'd misbehave with you, he remembers, the hot, husky voice against his ear, and kisses tasting of strawberries. That was in another lifetime. When MI6 was home. When She believed in him. When James hadn't won.


"I did, years ago. And you agreed," he growls. "But you probably don't remember. You were another person then."


"I am the same person! I'm still the same!" Alexei shouts against him, his warm breath spilling over Tiago face. "Is that why you won't call me Alec? Is that why you won't touch me?"


It's pathetic and disgusting, and Tiago takes a step back.


"When have you ever been in charge, anyway?" he says, disdainful on purpose. "You would have made a good soldier, now that I think about it. Follow orders blindly, that's all you ever did. You did just as Mummy told you, like a good little terrier."


Alexei has the nerve to grab his shirt to stop him. He slams his fist down and there is a cracking sound: Alexei lets go with a groan of pain. It unravels before Tiago's eyes with alarming clarity: Alexei blowing up a random Sainsbury's like any amateur terrorist because he felt like it, Alexei capturing James and burning him to a crisp without a word, Alexei killing M a quick, painless death before Tiago gets to look at her in the eye and look for a flicker of genuine remorse. Never. He grabs him, lifts him and shoves him away, and watches, uninterested, how he crashes next to the pool of blood left by the programmer's body.


"Get out," he says. "I've just remembered I don't work well with people."


Alexei is still clutching his wrist, and he trashes on the floor as he stands in his hurry to avoid the blood.


"You know I'll work against you if I go."


The scars on his face give him him a ravenously villainous edge when he scowls like this, and Tiago is tempted, for a fleeting moment, to keep him just for it.


"Oh, absolutely," he says, regardless. "From lovers to enemies, what a thrill. I'll spare a fond thought for you when I destroy you."


Alexei chuckles. "Your folie-de-grandeur is blinding you. No one is as powerful as you imagine yourself to be with your little... machines. I only need to fire the beam to fry everything you own. You won't destroy me. See, I don't even think you can."


"Try me," Tiago says, and fires in his direction, but Alexei has always been a slippery little cunt and he manages to get to the door before he can aim properly. Let him go. It doesn't matter.


He's not wrong, in a way. Tiago won't destroy him. That's what James is for.

 

 


 


It all boils down to this: Alec is a traitor and a threat to Britain, and James needs to pull the trigger. And yet: Alec was the closest to a friend James had in years. An equal. Another. A playful mirror sticking his tongue out at his reflection. Not this grimacing crook covered in grotesque burn marks - James did that. James did. His finger twitches.


Alec chuckles. "Tell me, James, do you find forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women for all the dead ones you failed to protect?"


The tone is condescending but also friendly - the kind of tone an older brother might use, except Alec is younger. James hasn't thought of Vesper in years, really. But no: Alec didn't know Vesper. He was already dead. He's taunting him. Only taunting. James can deal with taunting. He stretches his arm out again, aims. Alec shakes his head.


"Even your poor, poor Mummy, tumbling down the Alps, and you weren't there to save her. You could have skied to save her in time. You could have. You know that."


It hits him like a physical blow to the gut. It's not what he's saying - any idiot who's read his file could come up with that - it's the way he phrases it. The same way James did, once. They got pissed in a seedy Belfast pub after an assignment, and once back in the hotel James blabbered on and on about his parents, unable to stop himself as they lied on the same bed. Never trust anyone: he'd learnt that after Montenegro. Not before, when Alec was alive, and likely nowhere as drunk as he was that night.


"Oh, please," he manages, though his voice comes out unnaturally hoarse. "Spare me the Freud."


"Very well. How's this instead: do your posh little cocktails ever silence the screams of all the men you've killed?" He pauses. "My screams?"


James's hand shakes, actually shakes. Some nights he pops out pills to sleep because he can't forget it. Not as often as he used to, but still. Back then, he'd wonder, staring at the ceiling, if it was really worth it to have let Alec die.


"Do you tell yourself, 'Oh, it was for the mission. I had to. It's unfortunate he died, but I had to. Surely he'd understand. He'd do the same, if the roles were reversed' ?"


He feels a wave of nausea. Alec inside his head all those sleepless nights, hearing his every thought. He needs to pull the damn trigger. Why can he not move his finger? These are textbook mindgames. James should be the last person to fall for those.


"I don't think I ever spared a thought for you, quite frankly," he manages, with remarkable indifference considering how he's shaking on the inside.


He draws his gun again, but he's not fast enough. Something stabs him in the neck, something sharp and painful and his knees give and he's struggling to breathe and to keep his eyes open.


"Please, it's insulting to think I haven't anticipated your every move," Alec says, though his voice sounds far, far, far from him. "You were my friend. My brother. I would have saved you, or at least killed you to spare you. Did you like bonfires when you were a boy, James?"

 

 


 


The doctors say he's lucky he's only left with burns on his arm (the bonfire) and on his right leg (when the giant dish blew up). They won't scar too badly, apparently. He'll be back to work in a couple of weeks, and that's all James cares about. He hates the hospital. The nurses are old. There's nothing to do. And then M comes see him one day. She's never done that before.


"What, no flowers?" James complains, and the corner of her mouth lifts: an M smile. His day improves, marginally.


"I'm here to go over your report with you," she says, and sits on the chair by the bed. The chair for visiting relatives, tellingly empty until today. "You were injured when you debriefed. If there's anything you might have forgotten..."


"I didn't forget anything," he says, defensively.


She leafs through the papers in her file folder, ignoring the outburst. "You understand, of course, that any information is of vital importance, considering it was a former Double-0 we were up against."


There was nothing former about Alec. Not about the way he moved, or planned, or fought: James's ribs are pure agony every time he attempts a deep breath. He'd actually thought, in that cramped control room of the satellite dish, that he was done for. Alec was too strong. His moves mirrored James. Double-0s aren't meant to face each other.


"Are you absolutely certain he's dead?" she asks, hawk-like eyes staring into his. He looks away.


"It was easily a hundred feet fall on concrete. He landed on his back. If he was still alive after that, the burning dish crashing on him must have certainly killed him."


"So you have no visual confirmation that he died?"


James clenches his jaw. "No," he growls. Just like last time. "M, no one survives that."


"Regardless. You should have terminated him after the fall. Why didn't you? Weren't you armed?"


Alec screamed when he fell. An angry, desperate scream, not unlike the one in Pakistan. James has heard plenty of men screaming. Alec makes no difference. He really shouldn't. Whatever is on his IV drip does wonders for keeping James's sleep dreamless.


"I lost my gun in the fight. It's right there in the report. I would have, otherwise. Despite the satellite dish exploding all over my face."


"Bond," she says, and leans closer. She rests a hand on his good arm. He stares down at it. "I need to know you would have, if you'd been armed."


It's not the fight in the stuffy Nigerian heat James thinks of, but of the one in a frozen St Petersburg graveyard. James was armed then. He couldn't take the shot. He'd allowed him to take advantage of his lowered guard, because of their shared past. By the time he realised it, Alec already had the upper hand.


"Of course I would have," he snaps, and hopes she mistakes his irritation for impatience.


She stares at him, examining him, assessing him, weighing him. He does his best to scowl. He's not cocky enough to believe he can fool M altogether, but he's going to damn well try. They've been through rather a lot together, haven't they. It's not the first time she's looked at him like this, as if entirely doubting his worth. He's always passed with flying colours. So far.


"You did not report a lot of dialogue," she says at last. She still sounds doubtful. James is glad he's not hooked to any bloody monitors or his heart rate would betray him at once. "Did he not talk to you at all?"


"He did," he answers, and sighs. "He said a lot of things, M. I summarised them the best I could in the report."


"What kind of things? Did he give any indication how he escaped, or where he's been, or who he's been talking to since his... resurrection?"


She dislikes the term, James can tell. He shakes his head.


"No. Believe it or not, the conversation was rather centred on me." She raises an inquisitive eyebrow. "We used to be quite chummy, during training. He was under the impression that it would allow him to get under my skin."


"And did it?"


"No."


Lying with a straight face: he didn't learn that in MI6. He'd learnt it when he was eleven with the deluge of psychologists pestering him to see if he was feeling any better, if he'd made any progress, if he was well enough to be left with Kincade until he was the right age for Eton.


M hasn't let go of his arm.


In fact, she is stroking him almost imperceptibly, her lithe fingers ghosting over his skin. James shivers. He turns his palm upwards so that her hand slides downwards into his own. She allows this, and her thumb rubs on his knuckles, very gently. A warm, soothing sensation spreads from his hand to his arm, to his chest, to his head. A bit like the feeling just before falling asleep, and he actually has to bite his lips not to let out a sound. Given his state of mind, it might well be a purr. Or a moan. He squeezes the hand and thinks of Santiago, and as if on cue, M speaks again.


"Was there anything he said, anything at all, that could make you think he was not working alone?"


Yes, in fact. That's the question James has been turning in his head all these days he's been bedridden. Tanner's intel had been exceptionally good. The emails arrived with exactly the kind of information James needed, exactly when James needed it. He'd even sent him maps with phonetic pronunciations of places James couldn't quite figure out because of the cyrillics - he did brush up on it on the plane, but it didn't come as naturally as he'd have liked. In Russia alone, Tanner spared him from meeting an insufferable CIA dickwad at the airport, from walking straight into a mobster's lair for information he could have simply obtained elsewhere, and from an assault that could vaguely pass off as brutal foreplay with some Russian bitch. Too bad, though: James was up for that. Literally.


Yet when he thanked Tanner for his intel during the debrief, all he got was a roll of the eyes and an exasperated sigh, as if the other man thought he was mocking him - as usual. James didn't insist. But if it wasn't Tanner, he can only think of one man who'd have the cheek to send fake emails from within the MI6 servers. He'd kept that to himself, though. He doesn't know why. It did make sense, in a way, that Santiago would reappear when his old lover did. During their final confrontation atop the satellite dish, Alec quipped something about the spoils going to the victor, likely referring to the red-haired programmer girl he'd been toying with. James answered, Indeed! I even got to fuck your boyfriend while you were dead, and while technically hyperbole that tease alone had enraged Alec enough to lose his focus, and James had lived to tell the tale. He'd kept that to himself, too.


"Is it Raoul Silva you're thinking of?" he asks M, who is still waiting for an answer.


"Yes," she says, and lets go of James's hand. It hurts. It surprises him how much this hurts. He stays silent.


He thought he saw a familiar silhouette in the wreck of the satellite dish - hard to tell with the thick, dark smoke swirling around him. An illusion, a passing shadow. He doesn't believe for one moment Santiago would let him live after killing Alec. It would have been laughably easy: James was in no position to fight back, injured and disoriented. Santiago doesn't strike him as a merciful chap. James doesn't believe, either, that he would pass on the occasion to go off on a soliloquy about how brilliant his plans were. Even if James did destroy the satellite dish.


"His name is Tiago Rodriguez," M adds, like an afterthought.


Tiago? Something shrinks inside of James, a nasty nagging little feeling absurdly close to jealousy, and he isn't sure if it's because M calls him that, or because James never did.


"I don't think he was there," he says, scowling again. "I think he'd have shown himself. You know how he is."


"Yes," M says, pensive. Her blue eyes are on James, but her gaze is far away. He hates it. "Yes, you might be right about that."


James went to France, once, and found that the farm had been sold to actual farmers with actual cows. He'd even slipped inside their property in the dead of the night, to look inside the barn: no towers, no computers, no high literature, no childhood mementos. Only cows. He didn't know what he'd been hoping to find. He'd been told not to look for him.


He's never said that to M, either. He never told her about Bolivia.

 

He should have killed him when he could, in Chile. After he was no longer useful. He let him loose. Who knows what he's been up with his supercomputers and his silent rage.


He takes a deep breath, opens his mouth, but he catches sight of her, still lost in thought. It's her Tiago she's thinking of. He's the reason for this visit, the bloody cunt. Just how unrequited was his love for M? And how does Silva always manage to make him feel green and unspeakably inadequate, crass, ordinary, oafish? Holding M's hand. James has sunk beyond ridiculous. Fuck him and fuck her. They are suited for each other. He rests back on the bed, eyes tightly shut. He wishes she'd go.


She does, in the end, but she also strokes James's cheek before she goes, and his face burns for hours where she touched him.

 

 

 

Chapter Text


The girl presses the wet cloth to his arm. James hisses. He's been trying the scorpion trick for weeks, but he always gets bitten. He had expected to die the first time - he'd longed for it, really. It turned out the toxin isn't deadly. A painful bite and a swollen arm: that's all there is. He'd have rather died. The girl doesn't speak a word of English, but he can tell she's scolding him gently in whatever Turkish dialect. She always does that when he gets bitten. Or too drunk for sex. Or when he's sick all over her floor from the drinking. James yanks his arm from her.


"Stop mothering me, will you."


Some gestures need no translation. She throws the wet cloth on his face, like a slap. She slams the door after herself and he finds he can't be bothered. He just cannot be bothered. He does wonder, though, how it is that her grandparents don't mind that they're fucking. The elderly couple nursed him back to health, and then looked the other way. He wonders, in fact, how it is that the old man pulled him out of the water at all. He can hear the current from his bedroom, roaring and crashing on the river bank. Sometimes in his dreams there's strong arms pulling him from the blue, from the cold: it can't be the granddad. There's also the bitter taste of morphine in his mouth, and a plainclothes doctor speaking in broken English: he hurt very bad, very serious, you know I can do no much. He was right: James's wounds on his shoulder are nasty to look at.


Take the bloody shot.


Funny how the echo of Her voice makes them sting even more. James steps outside, not to chase after the girl, but to get some fresh air. He doesn't bother with a shirt. At least he's worked on his tan while he recovers. The sight of the river makes him nauseous, even weeks after, so he stays clear of it and walks down to the beach, barefoot. He's considered drowning himself, once or twice, but if he didn't manage to when shot to death he isn't going to when more or less functional.


The day is just breaking. There is a fisherman rowing ashore and the waves lick James's feet. He always knew, of course, that if he managed to survive his Double-0 years he'd lead a mediocre, nameless existence somewhere in the Caribbean fucking every young thing who'd come his way. But not like this. He'd heard her on the mic. Take the bloody shot. He'd wanted to shout: No, and: I can still make it, and: Give me five bloody minutes, because he was close, he was, James was wounded but the cunt was slowing down and he could have made it, he knows he could have. M had chosen that field agent's judgement over his, no hesitation: Take the shot. I said take the shot. Take the bloody shot.


He wishes he hadn't heard that. He wishes he had fucking died.


James lies down on the sand, hands over his eyes. He needs a drink, badly, but the bar on the other side of the beach doesn't open until noon. So this is what betrayal tastes like: of salt and sand and piss poor Dutch beer. Somewhere to his left, the boat rattles as it swerves ashore. What did he ever do to make Her doubt his worth? He hasn't failed a single mission in all of his career. Oh, he's fucked up, he's killed people he shouldn't have, but he's never given Her a reason to doubt. Well. Except for Bolivia. And the Golden Eye mess. Is it possible She saw right through his lies, somehow guessed the truth? But then, why punish him like this, years later, out of nowhere? When did he become expendable?


There are footsteps on the sand, not far from him.


"Hello, James."


Oh, for fuck's sake.


He doesn't even need to open his eyes to know whom the voice belongs to. He laughs, then, without uncovering his face, a pained, mirthless laugh. He's always got to make an entrance. It had to be him. It had to. When the lights have gone out, he'd said. When you've sunk to the bottom of the well. James had thought the fucker was being his hyperbolic self: he hadn't quite anticipated he would be so agonisingly right.


"Have the skies fallen yet?" he croaks.


"They have," Tiago answers, and James opens his eyes.

 

 


 


He's strong and beautiful in ways the girl was not, long dark locks and three-o'clock stubble brushing against James's face. There's no way in hell he could lift him against a wall, and he's nowhere fit enough to even resist him as they tumble down on the bed. He watches, breathless, mesmerised, as Tiago's hands undress him, strip him, knock the breath out of him in their wanton raiding of his body. A hungry, thirsty gaze locking into his, and there isn't a single thing in the world that James wants more: he holds on to his shoulders and arches his back.


"No handcuffs this time?" he quips, and he feels Tiago shaking with laughter against him. "-m sorry I killed Alec," he adds with delirious sincerity. They both called him a brother, incestuous, villainous brothers thrown away by their mother and they weren't wrong, were they.


"No," Tiago says, and thrusts deeper into him. "I'm sorry I didn't kill him first."


Somehow this makes him feel more alive than when playing with that scorpion. But that's exactly what it's like, isn't it: Tiago's nails on his neck sting no less; he is poison, his words are poison, his hands are poison, and the metal bedframe rattles under them.

 


 


"If not Vesper, and not Alec, and not M...?" James says, and doesn't finish this sentence that sounds like a question. He blinks when the morning sun slides through a tattered curtain hardly covering the window. Signs of ages here and there, wrinkles, battle scars, but then: Tiago is also older now.


"We have each other, I suppose," Tiago answers in a mocking sing-song, and the notion is ridiculous enough to make them both snort in derision. "Hm. Nayar made me take apart a radio once, to show me something with two magnets. The more you pushed them together, the more they resisted: they repelled each other. But after a bit, bam. They stuck together - latched together, really, and then you couldn't pull them apart. It took me years to understand what he meant by that."


"Was that 003?"


"Mm," Tiago says, and puts a pillow on his face to block the sun. He'd liked Nayar, back in the day - in an abstract, vaguely murderous way.


"I thought you said we were rats," James says, after a long pause, and his fingers are cold on Tiago's thigh.


"We are many things, James. Even fallen angels, if you're feeling particularly miltonesque. Many, many things. And none of them unbroken."


The owners of the house make themselves invisible for as long as their little tryst lasts. Good: that's why Tiago pays them (the girl, though, was a little present for James - so heterosexual, so dull, so dull). James is an exquisite lover, painfully so. It's not unlike uncorking a rare, fine bottle intending to have a measured little taste and ending up drinking the whole bottle in libidinous debasement. So Tiago drinks while he can, gets drunk on every inch of skin that is his to touch. James is far from the boy he was in Maracaibo, yet there's still something impossibly lost in his clear blue eyes. For brief, foolish moment, Tiago entertains the thought that he can truly lure him in and keep him for good.


But this is Act V, and it isn't a comedy.


Or is it? It might very well be, with James naked, half-asleep, draped over him as they both try to catch their breaths, and a ghost of a smile over his lips. It was never like this with Alec. Never. But no: James has perfected sex as a weapon. Whatever oxytocin overload Tiago is experiencing is the natural course of being in bed with the man. He can't afford to falter, not now. Not this close to the end. The clock is ticking.


"I'd have warned you, but I don't think you would have listened," he says, stroking James's back in a soothing gesture.


James opens his eyes, rests his chin on Tiago's chest to look up at him. "About what?"


"About Her. About how expendable we were for Her, no matter our devotion."


Broody, broody James, pouting like a homicidal child when he's displeased. His muscles tense all over Tiago. "You and Alec were my warnings. I ignored that."


"It's a natural reaction. She makes you believe you are different from the others. Above all others. Special. It only makes the Fall much more tragic." James's hands curl into fists. "But in the end, we are really not so different. She bred us all to die for her. Yet somewhere along the road we also learnt to survive."


"Well," James says, wryly. "I don't quite think we were supposed to learn that."


"No," Tiago agrees. "But here we are."


Here they are, and it's the moment of truth. James slides off from him and rolls to lie on his back, still frowning. Tiago follows his movement, settling for playful as he props himself on one elbow to look at him. He runs a finger on James's jaw, on his neck, over his scars where his clavicle begins. The local vet had done his best with what Tiago provided (there'd been no time for a doctor), but the skin has welted and swollen over the rudimentary stitches. At least the bullet's out. And the schnrapel.


"You were the luckiest of us all," he tells him. Not burned, not tortured, not beheaded, not tied and thrown under a cattle train. "Then again," he adds, when he's certain James knows what he's on about (blue gaze wandering to Tiago's arms where the scars have faded but not disappeared), "You were always her favourite."


James's mouth twists with pain. "And look what good it did to me," he snarls.


"Well. I must be honest with you, James. I'm afraid this," Tiago strokes the scars again, and lets out a sigh (overdramatic, on purpose), "isn't just her doing." James frowns. "I may have a little bit of blame for your first wound."


He can nearly hear the cogs turning in James's head. He watches him sit up, eyes wide.


"A little ?"


Tiago nods, doing his best to look contrite, pouting even. James clenches his jaw.


"The thief. He was yours?"


"He was. Does that offend you?"


It's mesmerising to observe the transformation from James to 007, from broken man with bedroom eyes to agent ready for action, from battered child to prodigal son.


"Ronson," he growls. "You killed him."


Ah, yes. 008. Tiago hadn't known what to make of him.


"He wasn't like us. She didn't recruit him," he says, though he refrains from shrugging (Bond's voice did just drop into a growl). "You didn't know that, did you? She was R, the head of recruitment, for years back in the 80s. You were her last hand-pick to make it this far, though I'm sure she still had some influence over the new R. Doesn't sound like it made much of a difference about sending 008 off to die, though."


"I trained him," Bond insists.


"Now, now, James. Do not be cross with me for this. I'm only trying to bring some justice here." Tiago licks his lips, cocks his head, crosses his arms over his chest. "Do you have any idea how much power this hard drive can give me over her? She lost it in the first place. She is still dealing with the international repercussions of that. If I were to publish the names of those undercover agents, even one little name... she's done for. And so finally, finally, she will begin to pay for her crimes. On you. On me. On all the others."


There is, surprisingly, a shade of conflict in Bond's eyes. He is actually considering Tiago's words. This is unexpected. He'd thought he'd be running back under M's skirts at once.


"But it isn't right," he says, though he sounds inexplicably pained. "Those agents will die if you out them, you know they will. They are like us, sent to die on her orders. They've probably never met her. Their only fault was to obey. That's not enough to die."


Mercy? Compassion? Empathy for his colleagues? He must be bluffing. Tiago looks at him with a frown. He will not be outsmarted, not by him. But if there is, for one moment, a tiny, infinitesimal chance that they might not need to be enemies after all...


"What do you suggest?" he asks, humouring him.


"Show yourself. Negotiate for the drive. She will come. I know it."


Tiago lets out a chuckle. "Yes, along with enough agents to tear me to shreds."


"There's only 009 left," Bond says, and he leans closer with an unsettling, bloodthirsty glint in his eyes. "He's even younger than Ronson. You have the upper hand here. You can't cock it up."


For a moment he almost has Tiago fooled. No, he is good: Bond is very good. He'd forgotten this. Never underestimate him. The plan still stands (when Bond steals the drive, Tiago will look the other way).


"And will you join me in this... little quest?" he asks, smiling invitingly and pretending he hasn't noticed the frantic pulsing of that vein on Bond's neck.


"Of course I will," he says, the ruthless tone too perfect. "I too want that bitch to pay."

 

 

 


 


"Here," James tells M as he throws the drive on her desk. "I don't suppose it matters how I got it. I got it back, didn't I?"


M's frosty office is quite the contrast with the upheaval his resurrection caused in the building. He hadn't looked at anyone as he made his way upstairs, but he'd heard the gasps and the whispers. The dried blood on his shirt and the gash on his forehead probably didn't help: last minute parting gifts from Tiago, courtesy of Villiers of all people.


"Get Q," she tells Tanner, but without breaking eye contact with James.


She hasn't even blinked, in fact. Neither has James, not since he barged into her office and locked gazes with her. Breathing, he hasn't done that either. He'd had time, as he raced home from Turkey, to wonder what she'd say to find him alive. He'd expected a smile, at least.


Instead, she says, "Where the hell have you been?"


He shouldn't be surprised, really.


"Enjoying death," he snarls. "Finishing the job you wouldn't trust me to finish. Working on my tan with Tiago Rodriguez."


It's only then that her eyes widen, and the sudden fury has him shaking from head to toe. Nothing he does will ever be enough, will it. It will always be about Tiago. He's made a mistake in coming back.


"Did you kill him?" she asks, and he fucking wishes he had. He shakes his head no. "Why the hell not?"


He can think of several answers to that.


Because I only had time to grab the disk and run.

Because he made sure I lived after you killed me.

Because he's a surprisingly good fuck.

Because he had a bloody good point about the way you run this organisation.

Because I already killed Alec, twice, and it was agony afterwards.


In the end, he doesn't say anything: Tanner comes back just then, with Boothroyd trailing after him.


"Q," M says, and for a brief, nearly hilarious moment James wonders if he's fallen asleep at the wheel on the long drive from Turkey and dreamt himself into a twisted nightmare. "007 has retrieved the missing hard drive."


"This is Q? You must be joking," James says, addressing M, or Boothroyd, or maybe even Tanner.


Boothroyd narrows his eyes. "Why, because I'm not wearing a lab coat?"


Because you're a fucking traitor, James thinks. But he says, "Because you still have spots."


The lad scoffs. "My complexion is hardly relevant."


"Well, your competence is."


"I'd hazard I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field."


"Are you done?" M says, impatiently, and no, they aren't done, because what the kid just said is exactly the kind of bollocks Tiago would say. James feels cold, all of a sudden. There's no stopping the man, is there? He's everywhere.


"This doesn't look like one of our drives," Boothroyd is saying, turning it in his hands, running his fingers all over it, and James remembers how he conveniently wiped out Tiago's laptop allowing him to escape after the Montenegro mess. Not this time. Not if James can stop him.


"M," he starts, but Boothroyd cuts him off.


"A word with you, 007?"


It takes some cheek, to exit M's office without her leave. It makes James almost like the lad. Almost. She demands they stay, of course, yet they both step into Tanner's empty office out of the same accord. James is taller, but only slightly so. He wonders what happened to the twitchy kid, and who replaced him with this arrogant young man who looks at him with such fierce distaste.


"I'll out you," he tells him. "You might want to start running right now."


"I am not working for him, if that is what you mean."


"And I'm to take your word for it?"


"Yes," says the cocky young thing, throwing his head back with utmost dignity. James sees a bit of M in that gesture. It hurts. "Besides, your numerous sexual encounters with the enemy won't lend much credibility to your accusation, will they?"


Oh, cheeky little fucker. James doesn't blink. "I've no idea what you're on about."


"Oh, please. You've been sleeping with the man for years." Boothroyd looks at him up and down and who knows what in hell he sees, because he wrinkles up his nose and adds, "Up until now, it seems."


James isn't sure whether to shoot him point blank, or to find a subtle way to find out just how deep he's in with this. He's impressed to find that his best glare doesn't make him cower in the least.


"Look," Boothroyd says. "Yesterday, he managed to hack into the environmental control system and locked out the safety protocols. Ask Tanner. I was able to stop him at the literal last second. I did. I swore off I'd fight him if he ever came back: I have, and I will. I'm no longer the stupid child I was when he left. We've all made mistakes, 007. I trust we can leave those behind to fight our common enemy."


"We can," James says, straining to hear M's heels approaching. "But I'm never letting you out of my sight. Q."


The boy smirks, says, "007," and M thunders in the room demanding to know what in hell they're on about.

 

 


 


The hard drive isn't theirs.


The senior hardware technician analyses it under their watchful eyes (Q defected it to him to placate James) and the more he decrypts it the more it becomes apparent this is one of Tiago's little poisoned gifts.


"Undo, unplug everything," Q hisses, but it's too late.


The security feeds go blank. Alarms and warnings start sounding off on the overhead monitors: entire sections of the building are shutting off, one by one, and most machines freeze or restart. The entire Q-branch is on their feet. Running from one computer to the other. Holding their heads in their hands like stupid children. Asking questions no one has the answer to. You didn't plug it in the network did you? How the hell did he jump over the firewalls like that? He's in the chem lab servers, what the fuck is he looking for in there?


James glances at M. Her eyes are closed, and she is rubbing her temples. Defeated. He hates it. He wants to grab her by the shoulders and shout at her that Tiago has not won yet, he can still go to Turkey, he can hunt him down, he will go to the ends of the earth if needed be but he will stop him, never mind sex or betrayal or fraticide, he will if she asks him to. He pulls out his gun. On the mainframe workstation, Q pushes a button and a deafening, war-like alarm begins blaring.


"Evacuate the building immediately," he tells M.


"Look now," James says, but Q grabs him by the arm.


"Evacuate the building!" he shouts, and lets go of James to type frantic commands.


They don't even make it to the door of the Q-branch quarters. The explosion shakes the building, throws them in the air and James reaches for M to shield her with his body just as they crash on the floor along with three or four monitors. Debris on his back - a keyboard? possibly shreds of glass? The horrid smell of burned flesh whizzes up his nose. He's aware of the wreck around him on autopilot: a fire somewhere to his right, black smoke quickly filling the room, so many wounded.


Yet he's also very aware of M under him. She's tiny. He never realised how tiny she is; tiny and breakable under James's hips. She lets out a soft sound that in other circumstances might just go straight to his groin but not now, not here, not with MI6 under attack. He lifts himself off her.


"Are you all right?" he asks.


She seems to be. She doesn't answer. She holds on to his bloodied shirt like her life depends on it. He can smell her, sweat and a faint hint of some French perfume, is it, and James shudders with the absurd need to lick her neck. He forgets how to breathe.


"Bond!"


It's Q, pulling his arm so hard he manages to yank him off M. The lad has nicked his forehead just above the eyebrow: it's bleeding profusely all over his face. He's lost his glasses and he squints at James, as if unable to see him clearly.


"You brought this," he says, his voice raw from the smoke, and he coughs. "You brought the drive here. Why?"


Is he accusing him? James pushes him off from him, and is only aware of how much stronger he is when Q slides on the floor and crashes against the pile of monitors. There is a body to his left: the hardware techie -he isn't moving. He might be dead.


"Bond!" M scolds. She's sat up, clothes white with dust. She isn't even bleeding.


"I didn't know," James says, more for her than for Q. He's suddenly aware of the familiar warm slickness of blood on his back and he swallows a wince. "I thought it was our drive."


"A Trojan Horse," Q says. "Do you know what that is?"


Of course he does. Why does everyone assume he's an illiterate thug? James did read The Iliad, ages ago. Are they seriously having a bloody literary conversation, never mind the fact that the building's been blown up? Q is wheezing, struggling to catch his breath. Christ. He does look like the kind of kid who'd have asthma.


"The drive was... a distraction. I spent years preparing for this," he croaks, in between wheezes. "And I couldn't do a thing. He broke all my... defences."


"Don't you dare die on my watch, Quartermaster," M says. "If anyone here can stop him here, it's you."


For a brief moment, Q looks as if he's going to burst into tears. But his gaze hardens, and he says, "You need to get away." He sounds exhausted. He leans his head back against the broken monitors. "You won't be safe anywhere, Ma'am. He will never stop. You need to go somewhere without computers. Somewhere he doesn't know. Somewhere he won't reach."


James opens his mouth to say that they all need to get away from the smoke and fast, but he catches M's gaze before he manages to. She's never looked at him like that: like she needs him on a level that goes beyond a simple mission, her gaze bare and unguarded, a hint of fear, of helplessness, as if she were willing to put her life fully in James's hands. It doesn't last more than a second before she's back to her usual self, calm and composed like she isn't in a room full of debris and of dead agents. Maybe he's imagined it. Maybe he's hit his head in the explosion.


"I know a place just like that," he says, cautiously.

 

 


 


They make it as far as Stafford before Bond finally speaks. Heavy snowfall in the Highlands, Radio 1 says, and he flicks the knob off impatiently. She can see his hands tensing on the wheel, his jaw clenching, and then he glances at her.


"How did you know?" he asks. "What made you choose one child and not another?"


She looks out the window, at the lights flying by beyond the darkened plains. It was their eyes. It was always their eyes, pained and lost, cast down to mask the slight unhinge. The same gaze that had stared back at herself when she found a mirror in the rubble, after the Blitz. She'd learnt to recognise the scent of desperation in others, in a way. But she doesn't tell him that.


"I didn't," she says, still staring out at the busy M6 and knowing this isn't the answer he's after. "I recruited a lot of agents over the years, Bond. Some turned out better than the others."


Seven of them did, in fact. They were ten to begin with, and only two remain. Twenty-four hours earlier she thought none were left. There was always hope, as long as there was no body, but leave it to Bond to barge into her office months later, drive in hand like a hunting hound and the need for her approval raw in his gaze. As if his absence were in any way acceptable. If there had been time, she would have had him sit through a full evaluation just to aggravate him - particularly the psychiatric one. Only a little. She does need him to get out of this mess, especially with Mallory still bumbling about. Christ, he wasn't in the building at the time of the explosion, was he? Tanner would know. In any case, is Bond still hers at all? He is a Double-0; he can turn, like the others before him, if he hasn't already. But even then, a long lonely drive to an isolated manor with the sole purpose to kill her is not very Bond. He is more likely to eject her from the seat of the bloody car in a tantrum.


"And he, he-" Bond's breath hitches and he stutters, horrifyingly. She glances at him. Eyes on the road, neck tense. "Tiago. He was the first one, wasn't he?"


Tiago. It's infuriating how many resources, agents, operatives, and equipment she's wasted trying to locate him all these years. She needn't have bothered. It's much like him to plan a grandiloquent revenge to bring her to her knees - and MI6 along the way. She will not give him this satisfaction, but for all his adolescent apotheosis of the man he called Silva, Q had the right idea: enough people have died for her. Enough. It's been enough.


"The first one I recruited? No."


"The best one," Bond says, flatly, but he cannot keep the bitter edge from his voice.


He should have been the best, yes. But Tiago was a horse that would not be broken. She should have broken him. By the time she found the younger ones she was better equipped to deal with them. She was never meant to recruit children, of course. The orders when she was sent to the Falklands were to recruit young soldiers who had distinguished themselves in the field. She chanced upon Tiago instead - all that raw potential to mould, to train, to craft the perfect spy. This unorthodox approach would have never passed an ethics committee, but they'd never bothered with that, had they. She narrows her eyes.


"Where are you going with this, 007?"


"I would very much like to understand why I'm killing him before I do."


"Would national and international security be enough for you?" He doesn't answer. He's clutching the wheel so hard he might just tear it off and break it apart. "Hm. Neither would the threat on my life, I suppose."


He does answer, this time. "It would," he says, his voice softer. He doesn't speak again for a good hour.


But they were all the best, each in their own way. There has never been a better marksman than Shadwell - and there probably never will be. Mjumi had a chameleonic ability to be everywhere and remain unseen, Nayar could deduce the target's location without bothering to venture out of Six, Wang - Wang had died too young. And Trevelyan. The one she recruited the youngest, the one who obeyed her blindly, the one who had a thousand faces at will, and yet was no one. When he first died, she surprised herself wishing she could have looked at him one last time, given him a proper burial, mourned him, even. The absurd sentiment had well diluted by the time of his second death.


Stoke-on-Trent. Bond remains tight-lipped.


James had everything going for him. He came from money. He had the right physique, the smarts, the anger, the innate savvy. But, like Tiago, he wouldn't be tamed. She'd never even considered the possibility he'd bail out of Cambridge. She'd never thought he'd live this long, either. He draws luck in like a magnet and leaves very little to spare for others around him: it is, in fact, extremely likely she won't live to see another day after agreeing to go with him to god-knows-where in the Highlands.


"Bond," she says, around the M56 junction. "You're the best I have now."


He smirks, a grimace rather than a smile. "Is that why you had me shot?" Come to think about it, it's surprising he hasn't brought it up until now. She sighs. "What was it you said? Take the bloody shot."


"I made a judgement call," she says, slowly and clearly, like speaking to a child. "It was the possibility of losing you or the certainty of losing all those other agents. I made the only decision I could and you know it."


"Is that what you told Tiago after Hong Kong?"


If she were driving, she'd be slamming on the brakes, shifting gears into reverse, and correcting the car's course before driving on. Three months on a beach with Tiago would suffice to turn even the stones, wouldn't they. Even Bond. She could still call. Send a distress signal. They'd gun him down in minutes. And yet...


"Do not presume to understand me or the decisions I make," she snaps.


"No?" he says. "I think I do, better than you realise. They never saw it, neither of them. But you're one of us too, aren't you?"


She doesn't dignify this with an answer.


She fucked this up, didn't she. Not just this stake-out. The boys. Her job. Mallory was right, she should have retired long ago. The next words they exchange are platitudes about the Scottish weather somewhere on the A82.

 

 


 


He's dressing after his shower when she comes in. His parents slept in here, when they bothered coming to Scotland to see him. The king-size bed is covered in a white sheet, like a cadaver. It's fitting. He never did pay utilities for this rubble of rubbish he's always hated, so the water was ice cold, and there's a cold vapour coming out of his mouth with every breath. He should have brought arctic gear. Storm's coming, he said out on the road. A snowfall. He doesn't turn to face her, but hurries to shoulder his shirt on. Not fast enough, though.


"You're hurt," she says, and he hears her footsteps nearing.


"Must have been in the explosion," he says, and starts buttoning up the shirt. It was his father's and it doesn't fit right. It smells of a twenty years captivity in a forgotten closet.


But she stops his gesture. He also stops breathing. Her hand is warm, unexpectedly so, as she runs it on his back. They're probably superficial cuts, maybe even a burn or two. He felt them keenly on the long drive, and his shirt was stained in red when he removed it. He's had worse. It helped him focus as he drove.


"Did you clean these?" she asks, her warm hand ghosting over his broken skin. There's a pulse between his legs.


"No," he says.


"Do you have a first aid kit?"


He waves towards the bathroom - he had one in the car. He did try to clean them himself, but he couldn't reach, and then it was too bloody cold to bother. He's more concerned about how he hardens when she pats his shoulder and heads in that direction. It should be the last thing on his mind, really, and yet it isn't. Stick your cock in first, think later. That was M, in Bolivia, talking about Fields - not verbatim but the meaning was the same. He clenches his fists. He wants no such thing.


The sting and the slight pain of the antiseptic do very little to calm him. She's - she's very good at this. He rests his forehead to the cold stones of the wall and spreads his legs as if this were a police search. She'd have made a good copper. She'd have made a good nurse. She'd have made a good lots of things. He chokes back a moan just as it crosses his throat, and it comes out a "Nghn."


"Don't fuss now," she scolds, and he doesn't dare to chuckle.


"I read your obituary of me," he says, shivering with pleasure and begging his mind to turn to other things.


"And?"


The wet swab stops moving, impossibly close to the waistband of his trousers. He almost growls in protest. Then he manages, "Appalling."


"Yes, I knew you'd hate it. I did call you an example of British fortitude." She lets out a snort, and he swells with the need to love her, have her, hold her, all of her - not just the crumbs Tiago's left. All of her.


"That bit was all right," James says, and resists the animalistic urge to press himself to the wall, if he can't press himself against her.


"There," she says. "You're good to go."


He turns very slowly. Do not look into her eyes, he thinks, do not look into her eyes. But he does. He doesn't know what she sees when their gazes meet, but her eyes widen and dart down to his groin. It's impossible not to see, even in the darkness of the manor. He thinks he can read fear, disappointment and even disgust in her gaze before she turns away from him and gets out of the room without a word.


Well, what do you know. That single gaze is enough to make him shrink and wilt, and he throws the first-aid kit against the wall. Something in it shatters, breaks into pieces.

 

 


 


Tiago hadn't realised how much he missed flying until he feels the AW101 rumbling under him (a nice little Merlin, a beauty). The gusts of wind and the furious snowfall make it a less pleasant ride than he'd like, but he's flown through worse, and the motions come to him like second nature. In another life, he could have stayed a pilot. A dull, colourless life without her, and yet...


He gets shot at when he nears Bond's lands, bursts of orange on the windows in the ground level of the manor. He fires back. The artillery is just as good as he expected it to when he nicked the Merlin: the shots sink even into the old stones, nib at the foundations, shatter windows to bits. After five rounds, the shots from the house stop. Who knows, maybe he's killed him (he knows he hasn't). He blasts up the music through the megaphone, something from the 60s. Gonna shoot you right down, take you in my arms, I'm in love with you. Yes.


There's some white-out when he lands, the snow lifting around him (good: they won't see him get off), but he manages to keep the Merlin under control, and then shuts off the engines. The snow's not as thick as in Russia: he ploughs his way through to the front and knocks on the heavy wooden door, almost politely.


"Can Mummy come out and play?" he shouts, so they can hear.


Gunfire between legs is his answer. Bond. He shoots back half-heartedly in that direction, then blows up the iron lock. The door swings open when he kicks it.


"I'm alone, James," he says. "I left my men behind. I thought it would be cosier this way, just the three of us."


Gunfire again, and something blows up - a rudimentary schnrapel made out of glass and pebbles. He ducks, takes cover under some arch. Another one blows up, to his left. The house groans under the stress of the explosion.


"I don't want to wrestle you," he calls, obsequious.


No gunfire reply this time. He thinks he hears a chuckle in the silence of the house, but also footsteps, and something heavy being dragged. One set of footsteps. Bond must be alone in here. Where does that leave Her? He should explore the manor, of course, but he finds he has little patience for it. Tiago fingers the grenade inside his jacket. No: he does not want to risk killing her, not like this. Instinct alone has him running out of the house just as it blows up in flames (propane gas, dynamite, how mundane).


The Merlin, he worries as he crashes face first on the snow. It's far enough from the flames, but if the cankerous little cunt lies but one hand on it... In better weather, Tiago'd fly it away from the flames, reassess the situation, rethink. But the snow falls only harder, and he bids the bird a silent farewell: there is a faint light on the other side of the moor, like a torch, and a darkened mass that can only be a building.


It's freezing - he barely feels it as he makes his long way there, mud and snow and pebbles, but his steps do not slow. It turns out to be a chapel, complete with graves and dead trees and broken gothic arches. If it weren't choked by the snow, it could be a scenario coming straight out of one of Poe's ravings. Must have been fun to grow up here.


"Send your man away, James," Tiago says, through the one of stained glass windows where a Christ has lost half its head. "This really doesn't concern him."


More gunshots and fuck everything, Tiago kicks the sacristy door open. He hears the click of a clipper being changed. He can see Bond's man, actually, or the tip of his cap. He's old: the guard or gamekeeper or whoever it is that looks after the place. Tiago aims for a loose rock some ten inches from the man's head. There's a yelp, and then James shouts, "Go, Kincade. Go!" The front door of the chapel shakes the old building when he closes it behind himself.


So this is it. Act V. Just the three of them. Of course: it had to be here. It had to be like this.


"James," Tiago calls.


A flash of blond hair in the candle-lit room. He's holding a smaller gun, a little Walther of sorts. He speaks, surprisingly. Tiago didn't think he would.


"Don't bother," he says. "I'm a better shot than you are."


"Maybe you were, before Mummy shot you," Tiago quips, and then: silence.


Bond's voice didn't really sound particularly cocksure. He risks his head out of the pillar where he's hiding. Bond doesn't fire. His gun isn't even drawn. Tiago steps out fully, Kalash at arm's length in a friendly gesture (it could very well be the last thing he ever does: it isn't).


"Don't you want to hear what I want to tell her?" he asks, taking a cautious step towards them. "It concerns you, too."


"Actually," Bond says, "I think I do."


He draws his gun (too quickly for Tiago to take aim with his) but then, then, unexpectedly, unbelievably, gloriously, he points it at Her instead, and Tiago lets out a gleeful laugh.


She is hunched over in one of the chapel nooks, more a crone in the shadows than a Madonna. Tiago's heart quickens at the sight of her (it always has), and then he feels nauseous: he's not seen her in years. She's old. It shocks him how old she looks. Old and wrinkled and one step closer to her grave. But even then, her gaze remains fearless, and her eyes blaze as she straightens up. Good old Mummy.


"James, what the hell are you doing?" she barks, and Tiago would moan if he weren't holding his breath.


"It's 'James' now, is it," James says, frostier than the wind sliding through the broken window. How fascinating to watch his face contort with pain.


Tiago approaches them quietly, not wanting to interrupt their little moment, and uses their distraction to drop his rifle somewhere to his left and to draw his handgun out. He doesn't aim: he waves towards one of the chapel benches with it.


"Have a seat, Mummy," he invites, debonair as if they were in a tea room.


She does, stiff and dignified, on cue with his tone, though she does have a bit of a limp. "Gentleman-thief, are you?" she says, dryly, and looks straight into his eyes. Tiago smiles. He loves her. He should have brought the tea she likes.


But this isn't this kind of visit.


He sits on the bench right in front of her, his gaze never leaving hers. Is it absurd that he's missed her? Tiago takes out the small parcel from his coat pocket and, one by one, he balances the toys on the back of the bench right in front of her, slowly, taking his time. Tin soldier, compass, pen, watch and rubik's cube. He puts his medal in the last. She watches him, unreadable.


"Do you know what these are?" he asks, irritated that she isn't reacting like he hoped.


"Yes," she says. "Where did you get these?"


"From their flats, after they died. Is that really all you're going to say?"


She doesn't answer. Not one hint of remorse. He hates her. She doesn't care, she never has. He doesn't know what kind of glare he's giving her, but she bears it nonetheless, perhaps a little bemused. He'll kill her. He will.


"Here," James says, rummaging in his pocket and pulling out a chocolate wrapping crumpled into a ball. It isn't Swiss, but it'll do. Tiago hadn't looked at him until now. He's mastered an expression that lies somewhere between amused and murderous. Impressive. "Now there's seven."


"Seven sons," Tiago agrees, placing James's memento next to his. "Seven sins. Have you prayed tonight, Mummy?"


"I never pray."


"If you bethink yourself of any crime unreconciled as yet to heaven and grace, solicit for it straight. Think on thy sins," he recites, and there's a flicker in her eyes when she understands.


"I do hope you aren't seriously expecting me to say Desdemona's lines."


"No. But you will share her fate all the same."


He turns the gun between his fingers, playfully almost, and then allows his smile to fade as he points it straight at her. Her eyes widen only slightly, but she doesn't flinch. She sighs.


"You know the rules of the game. You've been playing it long enough. Both of you." She looks at James first, and then at Tiago. At no point during their conversation has she looked any more composed than if they were in her office for a briefing, Tiago has to give her that. "You did read Game Theory at Oxford, didn't you?" she tells him, and he wants to strangle her. "It was never meant to be Pareto efficient: the fate of Britain or you. There was nothing personal about it."


"Personal!" James hisses, and Tiago silences his own anger to witness his. "Do you reckon I brought you here because I work for you?"


This is where they must have met, when James was a boy. In the manor he's burning to the ground. How quaint: Tiago never took James for a romantic.


"I don't know why you've brought me here," she answers, and then stares at Tiago, pursing her lips in disapproval. "For all I know you planned this together somewhere in Turkey."


Tiago glances sideways to meet James's gaze and recoils from the tangible spark. "No," he says.


But James says, "Perhaps we did."


And she smiles. Not one of her half-hearted smiles where she lifts but a corner of her mouth. A full smile stretching on her wrinkled lips, feline and disquieting.


"Stop laughing!" Tiago snaps. He fires upwards. The shot breaks another stained glass window, some pastoral scene he can't be bothered to look at. Some snowflakes drift in. "This isn't a game. Not even one of your games. Like letting me sleep in your bed. Nothing personal."


James's gasp next to him reeks of betrayal. Her eyes flash with anger.


"Well, it did keep your mouth shut about the kills, didn't it?" she says, dryly, the metaphorical slap stinging more than he thought was bearable.


He lifts the gun.


"Oh, do get on with it," she says. "Go on. Do what you came here to do." He wants to. He stares at her. But his hand shakes, gun extended, and it enrages him further. He only stares at her. "You can't do it, can you?" she teases.


"I want to break you first," he snarls. "Like they broke me. I want you to know what it feels like to be afraid. Alone and abandoned. To feel so much pain you'd rather be dead."


"Dear child," she says. "I have."


Her eyes glaze, and she looks far from the chapel for a brief instant. She shoulders off her coat and undoes her sleeve with a single quick movement. A flash of her bare arm. Tiago's breath hitches. What would undressing her be like? (removing all her clothes, one by one, licking her neck.) (it's twenty years too late for that, isn't it? he doesn't want her like that.) And then he notices the lines crawling up her skin, more visible where it sags. Scars. Thick, faded out scars that must have been nasty when still fresh. He's never seen so much of her skin before. Long sleeves, dark tights, trousers. She's been at this longer than they have.


"The Soviets caught me in 1967," she says, buttoning her sleeve back. "I shall spare you the details of the unspeakable things they did to me before trading me back. But I'll have you know, there was a child - I aborted it. So don't you speak to me about fear and wishing you were dead."


He can hear James breathing unevenly somewhere on his right. The wind howling through the broken window. Her coat shuffling as she buttons it back up.


"And I certainly didn't go on a rampage afterwards because the M at the time was in no particular hurry to trade me back, not with his hands full with the Greek coup."


Tiago lowers the gun. He stares at it, useless, lying in his trembling hands.


What did he imagine he would do with it?


He can't even make himself look at her.


1967 - almost Tiago's age.


No: it doesn't change anything. She still used them and threw them, and left them all to die. Like her child. All of her children. He blinks, the stained glass figures melting into candlelight.


He should have died in China. He was meant to die in China. He should not have lived: his stubborn survival, and Alec's, and James's are grotesque faults in the fate she traced for them. Like Geoffrey, who refuses to be the hacker he trained him to be.


Tiago lifts the gun again, handgrip towards her.


"Do it," he croaks. She doesn't move. He shakes the gun forward, offering it to her. "Do it! Only you can do it. Do it."


She doesn't.


He drops to his knees, and he can see a faint sparkle of laughter in her gaze (she probably thinks him an actor, overdramatic, exaggerated: he would smile back, if he weren't so worthless). Let her end this. Like she always meant to. He crawls towards her, touches her leg, rests his head on her thigh. He moves his hand to slip the gun into hers, but his fingers find the warm slickness of blood.


Blood.


Her leg is damp with blood.


He drops the gun. He stops breathing. He cannot even manage a gasp.


"You're hurt," he croaks.


No. No, no, no. Too much blood. She will die. He did this. He must have, but when? James is suddenly by his side, next to him, also kneeling, his hand on her thigh, pushing him away but Tiago does not budge, holding her, clinging to her, even.


"No," he whispers.


"M," James says.


Tiago dares to look up at her, expecting to see loathing, hate, scorn, contempt. But she is smiling, a sad smile full of regrets and a fondness that cuts through him, perhaps, even worse than anger would.


She hasn't looked at him like that in ages.


She puts one trembling hand on Tiago's head. He bites his lips not to whimper. The other hand, the bloodied one, she rests on James's head, red tainting his hair.


"I did get a thing or two right," she says, one last pained effort, looking at Tiago first, then at James.


"No," James says. He throws himself forward to catch her as she slumps against them.


Dead. Tiago clings to her, meaning to search for a pulse, but in truth he only presses himself against her.


"The helicopter," James says, his voice wavering, "Inverness. She can still make it."


"Too late." Tiago presses his nose to her neck, to her hair, her scent sweet and intoxicating. He always wanted to do this. He always wanted to do so many things. "Too late..."


"Not yet!" James shouts.


He grabs Tiago's hand and forces some fingers to her neck. A pulse! Very faint, but still a pulse. Tiago lets out something between a growl and a gasp.


"You nicked a Merlin, didn't you? Top speed, we'll be there in fifteen minutes. She isn't dying, not here, not with me. She isn't."


"James," Tiago says, wanting to argue that they will never make it, that she is old, that she has lost too much blood.


But there's something fierce and unmovable in James's eyes, and the words die out before they even cross his lips.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 


After Bolivia, James had imagined that if he ever were to work with Tiago again, he would take over, put himself in charge and start giving orders left and right: James would follow - or throttle him in the attempt.


But in the middle of nowhere with a dying M in their arms, James has to do everything himself.


He races the Merlin to Inverness through the bloody blizzard. He radioes the hospital when the loch narrows and it becomes clear they won't be thrown in the water by a gust of wind. He handwaves instructions to keep the police out of it - well, Tiago does help with that: he tells him a RAF operative code to buy themselves more time upon landing. But other than that, Tiago stays on the back of the plane, clinging to M rather than holding her, applying pressure to the wound and mumbling apologies she likely cannot not hear.


James hates it. But he'd do the same, if he could.

 

 


 


They aren't made for waiting, sitting next to each other in the plastic chairs of an impossibly white hallway. Bloodied. Silent. Deadly. The staff knows to stay away from them, and there's only so long until they gather their wits enough to call someone about them. The blood on Tiago's coat drips into a puddle next to his shoe. M's blood. James stares at it as it grows larger and larger. If she were dead, they would have told them already.


"If she dies," he manages, and startles Tiago next to him. "If she dies..."


He looks at him sideways. Tiago is resting his head against the wall, staring up at the blaring lights of the ceiling.


"I'm not terribly interested in a world without her," he says, calmly, and James finds that he isn't, either.

 

 


 

 

She comes to him after Cambridge, just like she did after Eton. James hasn't seen her in years. But he isn't a child this time: he doesn't stand when she comes in. He smirks at her, and pours her a Famous Grouse she doesn't touch. She doesn't even sit. He thought she'd berate him for failing everything, lecture him, scold him. She only stares at him from across the table.


"I should've stayed in Edinburgh," he quips, when her cold eyes become too much to bear. He doesn't know why he says that. He has no particular attachment to the city. He has no particular attachment to anything.


"And read what instead?"


"Read?" He laughs. "Not to study. To fuck and to drink."


He'd meant to shock her, but she doesn't even blink. "How lovely," she says, dryly. He swallows. "What now, James?"


"Squander the Bond's money, I suppose. Lord over my lands. Hunt deers to extinction with my father's guns."


She does smile at this, and his heart does a funny thing at the sight. "Is that what you really want? The boring life of a lazy Scottish laird?"


James doesn't answer. He looks away.


Her eyes narrow, and she asks, "What about killing? Would you like to do that?"


He starts. He stares up at her, heart thumping. Who asks questions like that? How did she...? She is still smiling, but it's no longer a lovely sight: she looks like a predator ready to strike, and somehow that makes her no less alluring. She slides an envelope across the table. It bears the Royal Navy seal on the corner.


"Training starts on the 18th," she says. It isn't a question or a request. It's an order. "It's your third and last chance you're living, James." She turns around and shuts the door after herself.

 

 

 


 


The doctors say something about critical condition, the first twenty-four hours, damage to the limb, long recovery.


But she will live.


That's all James cares about.


He follows Tiago out to the helipad, on top of the building, groggy with relief and belated frustration thumping in his throat. Tiago hasn't much time before Six flies over to investigate M's condition: the remoteness of Inverness will delay them some, but not enough. James should stop him. He is a terrorist. He stole the drive. He had Ronson killed. He blew up MI6. He very nearly killed M. And yet...


And yet James watches him ready the helicopter with absent gestures, eyes vacant, and he finds he cannot really fault him as he should. He'd almost joined him, in Turkey. Almost.


"I'll - " He clears his throat. "I'll keep an eye on her."


Tiago stops fiddling with the wiring on the upper console - something to do with the radio - and glances down at James as if seeing him for the first time in years. He doesn't answer right away. He was clearly not expecting to have a conversation.


"Of course you will," he says at last, his voice empty, and goes back to the wiring.


"Won't you want to know how she's doing?"


He sees him smiling in the shadows of the helicopter, as if what James suggested was terribly amusing. "Oh, I will know. Hospital firewalls aren't particularly hard to get into."


Right. His little machines and the servers. He is just as powerful as he was when this all started. It would be a mistake to let him go, wouldn't it. Who knows what he will do next. James stops the helicopter door with his hand when Tiago tries to close it, and then once he's done it he realises he has no idea what to say to him.


"Your men," he manages. "The men on your payroll. What about them?"


Tiago stares at him, his face displaying nothing but impatience. He shrugs. "I'll get rid of them. Would that make you sleep easier?"


It would. James nods. No need to ask 'get rid of them how?', is there.


"I have unfinished business in London, too," Tiago adds, looking away from James towards the South. Eyes empty. "A wayward son. I'll leave him alone, too."


James's throat tightens at the way he says 'son'. Boothroyd and his thick glasses and his I'm no longer the stupid child I was when he left. Not one of them will make it out of this unscathed, will they.


"He's a good lad," he offers, perhaps a little defensively.


Tiago's gaze is unreadable. "I know he is."


They just stare at each other, James with his hand still on the door handle, Tiago's on the inside of the door but not pulling it. The snow stopped a half hour after they got in, but the wind is still biting, sliding inside James's coat through the sleeves and up his arms through the wetness. It messes with Tiago's long locks, too. It's as if, for a moment, there were little else in the empty helipad but the wind and Tiago's eyes bearing deep into his, not quite expectant but also not as cold as earlier. He is the first to speak after the long pause.


"When I flew up here I half expected to find you in a kilt, claymore in hand, protecting the Queen." A corner of Tiago's mouth lifts in a smile. How he looks like M, strangely. "I'm disappointed."


James lets out a sound that is meant to be laughter, recognising the feeble attempt to diffuse the situation. "Sorry to disappoint. I'm not that kind of Scot."


"Pity," Tiago says. "Maybe next time."


Next time. James's breath hitches at this. There can never be a next time. Tiago needs to disappear. James will go back to Six and continue working for her, and for Britain. Won't he.


"You've won, James," Tiago says, as if reading the hesitation on his face.


"I wouldn't be so sure. I did point a gun at her."


Something broke in the chapel, something perhaps unmendable. Because of them, because of him, because he did not stop Tiago when he could have. Months earlier he would have died for her, and he did: he would again, though perhaps not as blindly. And he did want her dead, for the briefest moment, until he saw that she would in fact die. Like Vesper, he thinks, but no, not like Vesper. If Vesper was pain then this was torment, more agonising, amplified and magnified and impossible to bear. No Double-0 should want their boss dead and live to tell the tale.


And there is nothing to win. The last time Tiago disappeared she never did stop thinking about him. And neither did James. What would she want? Despite what Tiago seems to think, James does not truly believe Shakespearean vengeance and fratricidal feuds were part of her masterplan. They are linked together, the three of them, red thread and handcuffs - what is a word like lover but without sex? He knows what Tiago would answer, if he asked him. He would say, it's 'mother', James, rolling the R like the silly bugger that he is. It's always been about her, and it's not even a competition. How does one move on from that? If she had died... if she had died... He would have had to kill Tiago in the chapel. Strangled him. Stabbed him with Kincade's knife. And then what? Return to Six. Mourn M in quiet fury. Mourn Tiago, too.


No, he couldn't have killed him. He'd have let him go, again, and then he'd regret it and chase him to the ends of the earth to rage at him.  


"You know," Tiago says, leaning closer to him from the door ledge where he's crouching. "Chile is quite lovely this time of the year."


Chile. Leaving everything behind, living a life of lawlessness. Leaving her. It's the second time Tiago suggests something like this to him. James looks at his feet. If he asks for a third time, he doesn't know if he'll refuse.


"Is it?" James asks, neutral, avoiding his gaze.


He is too stunned when it happens to be able to resist in any way - and isn't it always like this with him, a dance long rehearsed they started years earlier. Tiago's free hand slides on the back of his neck, and his lips are soft and playful when they press to his mouth. They haven't kissed before, not like this. Until now, James had no idea he wanted to. He parts his lips and Tiago's tongue slides against his. He tastes of blood and ash and regret and it's not nearly enough because Tiago pulls back just as abruptly as he leaned closer. More, James thinks. The door of the helicopter slams shut. He's got to say something. It can't just end like this. James has to shout to make himself heard over the starting rotors.


"I'll bring a claymore! How's that?"


He doesn't hear what Tiago answers, but he does see him smile.