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He shakes Mallory’s hand, and he feels…purged.

It’s a strange sort of cleanliness, and if Bond were given to self-reflection (which he never has been, and never will be now), he would think it maybe unhealthy, or maybe hollow.

He does feel hollow. There’s a blank space somewhere under his sternum that, when he breathes, it whistles like a gale through a broken window. But it doesn’t hurt precisely, it just exists.

He needs this, he thinks. If he is to continue, he will need it this way. 

(Kincaid had walked with him to the entrance of Skyfall, the both of them rickety now, Bond limping and shivering beneath Kincaid’s hunting jacket.

“Won’t be seeing you again, will I?” Kincaid had asked, as headlights from a company car appeared in the distance. 

“No, I imagine not,” Bond answered. “Will you be all right?”

“Have been, haven’t I?” he'd retorted. 

Bond snorted. The flames around the house began to die, could only do so much with the iron and stone once they’d eaten through the mothballs and mahogany.

(Bond still feels them burning in his chest, though, like a phoenix stealing his breath from the inside out, stretching its wings within the cage of his ribs.)

“Sorry about the house,” he had said absently.

“It was ready,” Kincaid had shrugged.

Bond had a feeling that Kincaid was almost ready, too. He'd shaken hands with him when he went, and hadn’t look back.) 

Bond feels ready now. Standing in Mal—in M’s office, he feels stripped down to his bare essentials, and even if his file remains full, it sits light on his shoulders now. 

Everyone who has known what lies beyond its censor bars, has known him beyond words on a page, has now become words themselves.

(He will carry those words, but they will be tucked away, deep in that hollow space where the light won’t reach, where a flare would sputter and die before it ever broke the surface.)

Now he is a vase, poured out, scrubbed with iron wool.

He is black Courier print on white paper, black tuxedo over white French cuffs, and his blood is more vodka than plasma, chilly with the ice shards it was shaken with. 

He has known fear, every facet.

He won’t any longer.