The bullet finds its mark between his third and fourth ribs.
The impact is dazzling. His breath is knocked entirely out of his body. He has the sudden sensation of movement; catches a blinding glimpse of sky. He isn’t even in pain just yet, only very acutely aware of sun and cloud and breath. His fall is impossibly long. He is in flight.
Nothing goes through his mind when he finally hits the water. No particular thought occurs to him. No name flashes, along with its accompanying face, before his eyes.
The waves take him, as gentle as a mother with her child.
Two weeks later a fisherman brings up his body in a net.
The woman is dark-haired, dark-eyed, and she is no-one. He meets her at a market. She is dressed in green and her fringe falls forward into her eyes. Her skin is the colour of caramel; she picks up a small earthenware pot, looks about for the vendor, catches sight of him.
He watches her. When she notices this, she gives him a puzzled smile.
The smile turns into a strange sort of recognition when he takes her home with him.
He does not speak a word of her language and her English is broken, chipped at the edges, persistently apologetic. He cannot understand the sounds she breathes into his skin. The only language he picks up is the taste of the sweat on her shoulder-blades and the feel of her pulse underneath his lips; she has an unexpected beauty spot on the inside of one knee. Her ankle is narrow, well-formed, and very delicate. She tries to tell him her name but he pulls away.
“This,” she says, and trails her finger over the scar on his chest.
He says, that is where they tried to kill me, but she doesn’t understand. She presses the heel of her palm against his heart. She kisses him – just once, very chastely – on the shoulder.
“You,” she says. She kisses him, again. “Stay.”
She shakes her head. “Stay.”
Her fingers tap out his heartbeat against his skin. He forgets, whispers Vesper’s name into her hair; she seems to take it as an answer to her question, and the right one.
A part of him is utterly exhausted. Another part of him, the better part, is already dead.
One month after the fact, he visits M’s grave.
When he doesn’t pass, all of a sudden nobody quite knows what to do with him.
The retirement package of a double-oh at MI6 is generous. But there is something about the word retirement that knots in his throat. He is not the man that he used to be – everything tires him now, from running to fighting to pulling the trigger of a gun; but without these he doesn’t even know who he is any more. Without 007 inside his blood, he is no-one. He is not even a silhouette. He is barely human.
A month later, when it is all finally over, she visits him.
“You take a long time to answer the door,” she says. She looks as if she has just come from work: green blouse, black skirt. She looks down at the knife in his hand. “Is that meant for me?”
“No.” He moves aside to let her in.
“You don’t need to worry about security. Q branch is keeping an eye out for you.”
“I know,” he says. He closes the door behind her. “I’m just a bit old-fashioned.”
He is envious of her in a way that he cannot describe. There is that familiar purpose to the way that she moves; that steel glint in the dark, roving flash of her eye. He watches her take in her surroundings – exits, wall placement, furniture, where a weapon might be found if required.
She slides into a sitting room chair. “This is a nice place, James.”
He shrugs, non-committal. “I get by.”
“I’m sure you do. They’re decommissioning the entire double-oh section now, you know. After the enquiry.” Her voice is light, but her eyes are as hard-edged as daggers. “With M not cold in her grave.”
“I heard about 005.”
“It should’ve been you,” she says. “It would’ve turned out differently, if it had been you.”
He looks over at her. He doesn’t quite know what to do with the bitterness he can see in her spine, in the white of her knuckles where she’s clutching the handles of her bag.
Something inside him feels as empty and as cold as the sea.
“Maybe,” he says at last. “But then, maybe not.”
There is a shift in the air between them as they face each other. For at least a minute they stare each other down. Silva’s eyes are so brown they might as well be black; when the flat of Silva’s palms skate down his thighs, he squares his chin and holds his breath.
An amused twist goes into the cruel line of Silva’s mouth. “Do you believe in luck, Mr Bond?”
“Sometimes,” he says, neutral. “Not usually.”
“Ah, you believe that you make your own luck, yes? Of course, that is true. It isn’t luck that makes us, Mr Bond, is it.” Silva’s fingertip draws light circles over the scar above his knee, a scar that Silva should not know about. “We are created with purpose. By her. Each and every small decision until we are what we are. You think you have made your own choices, but you haven’t really. Think about it, yes?”
“I don’t need to,” he says. “I’ve always made my own choices.”
Silva’s eyes fix on him coldly. “Have you? Well. I suppose you don’t ever wonder what would have happened if you had chosen differently. Why did you return to MI6, hmm? You were dead.”
“I suppose over the years I’ve grown attached.”
“Dogs grow attached, Mr Bond. Give me a better answer.”
“I don’t have one.”
There is a gravity to Silva right now that is frightening. Nothing is identifiably wrong – but he can sense instability behind the smooth façade, a scale ready to tip either way.
“Ah, well,” Silva says at last, with an idle little shrug. “I suppose I am attached as well.”
His mouth tilts wryly. “How very unfortunate for you.”
“It isn’t,” Silva says. Leans forward to whisper it, intimately, against his mouth. “It’s disappointing.”
Their blood runs together down the stained glass window of the chapel; weaves its drunk, sluggish way between the flagstone cracks. Their bodies are folded in a strange embrace. Silva’s head has slipped down to pillow itself against her shoulder, as if they are sleeping. As if they are in love.
He hadn’t thought that she would pull the trigger – hadn’t thought it possible.
But then he hadn’t thought that his mother would, either.
He is dying by the time that Q finally comes for him.
His vision is already beginning to haze. He can barely feel the tips of his fingers. There is a fresh, crimson bloom across the front of his shirt; he has been staring at it for the past five minutes or so in a fairly detached way, vaguely interested in the steady creep of its borders. There is a gun next to him and a cyanide pill in his mouth but he isn’t ready yet. The pain is not yet so great that he cannot stand it.
He thinks he dreams Q’s fingers on his neck. But then Q is there beside him, feeling calmly for a pulse.
“Medical team will be here in three, 007,” Q says.
With effort, he makes himself look up. He takes in the unrattled expression on Q’s face. That is the way in which you tell whether something is wrong: the larger the crisis, the cooler his quartermaster is.
He chuckles despite himself.
Q balls up his jacket and presses it bodily into his wound.
“I’m afraid I fail to see what is so amusing at the moment,” Q says. He almost doesn’t hear it; he is looking down at where his blood is underneath Q’s nails. “You’re going to have to share the joke. Or perhaps you might save it until the medical team is here.”
He tries to sit himself up. “Listen, Q – ”
“You’re going to make it. I will personally ensure that you do.”
“Q,” he says.
The last time they were in Dodoma he had Q over the couch in his hotel room. Q’s body had been hard to pin down, whipcord thin. Afterward, in the muzzy dawn, he’d run his fingers down each notch of vertebra in Q’s spine; he’d learned every noise that Q could make; learned the tapered flare of Q’s hips, the crease where Q’s thigh met his body, the stutter of Q’s throat underneath his mouth.
He can remember every step of how they got here. Every decision.
“Q,” he says again.
For a second something in Q’s gaze cracks and skitters away. “I can’t.”
“Please,” he says. He pushes at Q’s hand on his stomach, looks at the gun. “Please. I want it to be you.”
“The medical – ”
Q’s fingers hook around the grip of the gun. Q’s face is still carefully turned away, and he thinks for a terrible moment that Q will drop it – knows that there is nothing he can do if Q makes that choice.
But then Q lifts the gun to his temple, and the barrel doesn’t shake.
“Close your eyes, 007,” Q says.
He can remember every step of how they got here, and it was worth it.