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gruff old dog

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Its MI6 protocol that every agent must undergo separation from his or her daemon. Luckily James and Shylah never have been all that close.

They're taken to a large, fenced off patch of land in the Welsh countryside, there are signs along the rusted iron mesh that warn of mines and bombs and all manner of other nasty things. It's all lies of course but he supposes it keeps wayward citizens from stumbling into the Barren Land.

The agent who brought them here is a gray man with a chameleon daemon and a really bad haircut. He lets them out of the van and leads them into a small, sparsely furnished building. There's a row of TV monitors taking up one wall showing different parts of the Barren Land, a computer, a chair, a desk and a small bed. There are too other doors, one marked bathroom, the agent leads them over to the unmarked door.

"This is where your daemon stays," the man drones. "I'll give you a few minutes."

The room is small, there's a mattress, some perches high above and a camera in the corner. Shylah glances around with disgust. "It may as well be a prison cell," she mutters dismally.

"I'm sure that can be arranged," he says with a small smirk.

She quirks an eyebrow at him. "My teeth are still quite sharp you know, James."

Shylah settles a few weeks before his parents die.

Back then he's just a rich kid with a big house and a big black dog daemon that likes to test their bond. She's a black German Sheppard, bigger than usual and just this side of feral. His mother and her pretty bluebird daemon like to joke that there must be some wolf in her somewhere. He's twelve which is a little early but he's always been mature for his age and the kids at his boarding school go mad with jealousy.

His father is so proud it makes James a little dizzy.

When Kincade comes to find him, jack rabbit daemon trailing behind him to tell him his parents are dead there's a part of him that knows already. They were visiting his mother's relatives in Switzerland; he was supposed to fly out to meet them when school got out. They were supposed to call him.

He knew something was wrong when they didn't.

He hides in the priest hole and in his haste he shuts Shylah out. She howls and scratches at the door for hours after Kincade has given up. And it hurts gods, it hurts to have your daemon shut away from you but he doesn't care because it distracts him a little from the pain of knowing his parents are gone.

"You're being childish, James," his daemon barks and sounds so much like his mother that he's crying all over again.

He lets her in and she nuzzles up against him, blunt claws scrabbling against his chest. "Don't ever do that again." she growls. "You idiot. You idiot."

When they leave the priest hole two days later they don't cry.

Keep calm and carry on.

The idea behind the forced separation is simple: your daemon is your greatest vulnerability. If they're small, easy to hide, they're also easy to catch, easy to hurt. If they're big they might limit escape routes, might slow you down in a chase. It's just easier if they're gone and James is fairly sure that if it weren't illegal some factions of M16 would enforce severing.

Shylah is quick, Shylah is clever and agile and powerful and tough. But she's heavy, hard to accommodate on say bikes or small boats and she's hard to hide.

"We don't have to do this if you don't want to, Shy." He says with something bordering on fondness.

She barks out a laugh, "The sooner I'm away from you the better." But she butts his hand affectionately and when she leans against him he can feel her trembling.

He's never seen M's daemon.

He's not entirely sure anyone has.

It's not uncommon for agents to keep their daemons hidden completely, their last Quartermaster did. There are, of course, a lot of benefits to no one (aside from those with access to your records) knowing your daemon's form, makes you harder to catch, harder to read.

It drives him mad wondering though. Would he be something large like a tiger? Because she's definitely tough enough and fierce enough, or would he be smaller, subtler? She's been known to carry one of those protective glass cases people with particularly delicate insect daemons sometimes have but it's fogged so he never knows if her daemon is actually in there or if it's just a cover.

"I know what he is," Shylah says smugly.

He thinks about kicking her.

"Now, now, James. You know that hurts you far more then it hurts me."

The first time someone touches his daemon is on his second mission. He's in the falling Soviet Russia a green agent, first time on his own and as usual he gets cocky. He sleeps with the wrong woman, pisses of the wrong man and almost kick starts a massive international crisis.

He's been taught about how it feels when someone touches your daemon, it's a requirement for all field agents, but nothing could fully prepare him for it. His stomach rolls and his head pounds and his whole body writhes with the wrongness of it as the man tugs Shylah in by her scruff.

"Who are you working for?" the man demands in clipped Russian.

"I don't know what you're talking about," James grits out. He has a back story ready and prepared but then the man yanks Shylah up again and presses a gun to her head.

James wretches and Shylah whimpers.

The man's own daemon is a huge brown bear with a shrill laugh and a jagged scar across her nose.

"Who are you working for?" the man repeats.

"I t-told you, I don't know what you're talking about." He manages.

The man drops Shylah and the relief is immediate. "We will make you talk."

He leaves and four other men rush in, their daemons jump on Shylah and they jump on him. James closes his eyes and commits their faces and daemons to memory.

After he escapes he hunts down and kills every last one of them.

"Good job, Bond." M says, claps him on the back and gives him a promotion.

It's called the Barren Land because daemons can't cross it.

James teeters on the edge of it, Shylah by his side. The agent is inside, feet up on the desk and flicking through a magazine. He has one hand buried in her ruff, clutching to her soft dark fur; he hasn't done this since he was a boy. It's seen as a sign of weakness to rely too much on ones daemon.

"We don't have to do this if you don't want to, James," Shylah rumbles.

He smiles. "The sooner I'm away from you, the better."

She barks out a laugh and nudges his leg, "Off you go then, James. See you on the other side."

"Indeed." He replies taking a deep breath and stepping in to the compound.

The agent (for he doesn't know her name yet) he's working with in Turkey has a pretty little insect daemon. Its body is a metallic blue-black and its wings are a rusty red, insects never have been his strong point so for their first day together he simple stares at it. Shylah is just as fascinated as he is following the insects every move.

"He's a tarantula hawk," she says one day out of the blue. "A spider-wasp. Supposedly one of the most painful stings in the insect world."

"Right," he says, giving the insect daemon a wide berth. "Remind me not to ever piss you off."

She laughs beautifully and loads her gun.

The bullet slams in to him and blows his insides up.

Or at least that's how it feels.

And then he's falling (and in his head he can hear Shylah howling even though she's supposed to be back at the safe house.)

He hits the water and all he can do is blink through the pain.

It occurs to him after he achieves double-oh status that some people might be disappointed to see a dog loping after him.

"What do you think they'd expect?" Shylah asks disgustedly and James chuckles.

Most of the other double-oh's (or at least the ones he's met) have wild things, wolves and big cats and reptiles. "Something a little less normal." He says reaching out to nudge her playfully.

She moves away and bares her teeth, "I'm loyal and smart and independent and I'm plenty wild, James."

"Yes, you've got some wolf in you after all," he says quietly.

She softens slightly, her ears drop low and she moves towards him. "Yeah, a little bit of wolf."

He makes it half way across the Barren Land before his knees buckle.

It feels like someone has reached in to his chest with a red hot poker and skewered his heart before yanking it out and going back for his ribcage. He thinks he can hear Shylah's faint howls but in his head she's laughing at him ("Fallen already, James? And here I was lead to believe you were one of the fittest recruits they'd ever found.")

He lies there for a moment on the sparse brown grass and closes his eyes.

("Just breathe, James," she says in his head)

In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.

He stands unsteadily and marches determinedly on.

He wakes up and there's sand. Gritty and uncomfortable.

He's soaking wet and there's a dull ache everywhere.

He's fairly sure he should be dead.

"Shylah," he groans because she's back in the safe house a million miles away and fuck all he wants is her to be there.

"So you're finally awake," Shylah says coming slowly in to the view. She drops her head and licks his cheek, "Come on double-oh-seven, no time to be lying around like that."

There's a bullet in his chest and another in his abdomen and he's sopping wet and in a very strange place but he smiles, reaches up and puts an arm around her. "Just taking a little breather, Shy."

She lowers herself so he can heave himself up. "Hm, yes well best get a move on."

He finds a small village (and a pretty girl with a jaguar daemon) and survives.

Shylah saunters in to the bar and shoves her head in to his lap. With his free hand he scratches her behind the ear and she hums contently. "I like being dead," she says. "It's peaceful."

"Boring," he counters, knocks back another shot.

"You drink too much," she huffs, pulls away. The news anchor starts talking about a massive explosion in London. "We're going back, aren't we?" She yawns.

He's already standing. "Absolutely."

"Brilliant," she sighs.

"You're not ready for active duty," Shylah says when he walks out of the psychologists office. He hasn't seen her all day; she's no doubt been running around gossiping with the other agent's daemons. She gets on well with Tanner's yorkie or maybe M's daemon is hidden around here somewhere.

He ignores her and she huffs, shakes herself and follows. "You're going to get us hurt if you go out there again, James. You can't even shoot straight."

"If I'm not ready to go out again they won't send me out." he says curtly.

Shylah makes a low annoyed sound and trots off to find somewhere else to brood.

His new Quartermaster's daemon is a sleek little cat, something like a small oceolot, just as pretty and lithe as her human. If he ever knew the species name of it it's long gone under memories of gun fire and alcohol.

"Q," he says and Shylah sniffs at the small daemon.

"Double-oh-seven," Q smiles back.

"Shylah," his daemon says politely to the cat.

The cat grins (or what the feline equivalent of a grin is) "No." He says.

Q smirks.

He leaves Shylah in the car to chase Patrice (much to her annoyance).

His daemon is a tiny jewel coloured frog, he thinks it's perhaps a poison dart frog and it vanishes in to a puff of golden smoke as his human plummets off the building. James shudders because one day that's all Shylah will be.

When he gets to the end of the Barren Land he sobs and sobs and sobs.

When he stands up again the pain is gone and he can still feel Shylah and it's the oddest thing.

Eve (even though he doesn't know her name back then) leans down and presses the razor to his neck. He thinks about sleeping with her. It would be easy. Beautiful. Passionate. Rough.

Her daemon is perched on Shylah's nose, sting at the ready, and Shylah for once is quiet whether it's with fear or anticipation he doesn't know.

It would be so easy for her to slit his throat.

So easy.

He'd be dead quickly, quietly.

She won't, he knows she won't, but the prospect is strangely thrilling.

He doesn't sleep with her that night and sometimes he regrets it but he respects her far too much to say that.

He knows Severine is a trap as soon as he sees her.

Her daemon is a beautiful blue bird of paradise perched on her shoulder, her dress is a perfect match for the pattern on his feathers and his eyes are just as bright as hers. But his wings have been clipped and if that isn't a sure sign of foul play James doesn't know what is.

Whoever is doing this wants James to find him.

Shylah is at his heels, they have to appear together, whole. "You're going to walk right into his trap, aren't you?"

"Best way to meet anyone, don't you think?"

Silva's hyena daemon follows like a mute zombie, eyes wide, tongue lolling out uselessly. Severed. He shudders and feels Shylah's revulsion mirroring his own.

He's seen severed people before; he's seen people being severed. It kills some people. It makes others numb. It drives others insane.

He thinks Silva falls in to the third category.

He's rather annoyed with himself that he never guessed what M's daemon was until the end. Until he emerged from the scarf she was wearing and oh of course.

He jumps on to Shylah's nose and vanishes in to a cloud of golden dust.

Shylah howls.

He fucks Q rough and messy and desperate in an office after M's funeral. Q whimpers and moans beautifully as their daemons wrestle, biting and clawing gently at each other.

Afterwards he stares at Q's daemon until it comes to him, "A margay." He says triumphantly.

Q chuckles breathlessly, "An oncilla."

"Damn," James mutters, runs a hand through Q's hair and ignores Shylah's laughter. "Close enough."

"Indeed," Q murmers.

Q raises a hand and his daemon brushes up against him.

"You're not separated, are you?" he asks quietly.

Q shakes his head, smiles sheepishly. "Couldn't bare it, it's been just him and me for so long. And after all, I'm hardly field agent material."

He brushes his thumb along Q's cheekbone. "You may regret that one day."

Q's daemon yawns, "Yes and we may be hit by a bus tomorrow, there really is nothing we can do about it."

"You are entirely too young to be so jaded."

Q smiles tiredly, "You of all people know age has nothing to do with it, double-oh-seven."

"James," he corrects.

"James," Q amends.

He already knows Q won't tell him his name yet but he's content to wait a little.

Gareth Mallory's daemon is a quiet Irish wolfhound that sits under his desk with her head on her paws. Calm, quiet, obedient. But if James closes his eyes he can still see the wolfhound leaping through the air with her human and tugging M out of the way.

He'll never be James' M but he'll do.

He walks out of the office, Shylah at his heels, says something clever to Eve and he thinks maybe things will be okay.

When he gets back to the tiny building at the other end of the Barren Land he has to stop himself from running in (can't appear too eager) The agent greets him with a curt nod and tells him he can have five minutes with his daemon before they drive back to London.

When he enters the room he pretends not to notice the way Shylah's tail wags and she bounds over before remembering they hate each other and slowing her pace. "So you made it then," she says wryly.

"Don't sound too excited, Shy. People might get the wrong idea."

She grins and leans against him, steady and warm.

"We'll be good at this, right?"

"The best."