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The Room and the Road

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~*~*~

Good wombs have borne bad sons.

~*~*~

Silva rushes down the hallway with M, surrounded by four of his men, holding his gun outstretched with one hand. He drags her along by her elbow with the other, saying nothing, and she stumbles when they round a corner. The man behind her bumps into her and they nearly tumble to the floor; she gasps, but Silva catches her before she can hit the ground. "Careful," he snarls over his shoulder before resuming his breakneck pace, keeping his arm around her shoulders.

They get outside, onto a side street, and M expects more carnage. But there's an ambulance waiting at the kerb, and what could be more natural than an ambulance fleeing away from a shot-up building? No one will even suspect--she considers crying out, calling for help, but she's just seen at least five people die right in front of her, because of her, because of these men. And she sees none of her agents. A few police officers, but after the past ten minutes, who's to say whose officers they really are? The rest are only civilians.

So she bites her lip, tries not to think, tries not to think ahead even one minute at a time, and lets them bundle her into the back of the ambulance. Two men get in the front seat, leaving Silva and two more in the back with her.

The two men sit down on the bench opposite her. They do not put down their weapons. They stare at her, surprise and unease writ clearly on their faces, and M realises that something has not gone according to plan.

Silva sits next to her and demands of them, "What are you looking at?"

One of them says, "Sir, we thought--we just thought--"

"I make the plans. I alter them as I wish."

"So..." the man trails off, and gives M an uncertain look. "We're--you’re--killing her somewhere else?"

M holds her breath.

Silva's voice is low and calm when he says, "No one may harm her. No matter the circumstances. Do you understand?"

These men, professional killers, nod silently. M recognises the terror in their eyes.

Silva leans back against the wall, closes his eyes, and exhales in a whoosh. His hands rest loose and easy on his thighs, palms down. He looks almost as if he's about to go to sleep. But then he turns his head to the side and looks into her eyes. He says nothing.

Bond will come, M tells herself. Bond will come. Even if he drives around a corner in front of the ambulance and nearly kills them all and has to swing her out of here on a bloody jungle vine or something, Bond will come. She masters herself and narrows her eyes, pinches her lips together so they can't tremble. She calms her breathing. She doubts she can do anything about the pallor of her face.

Silva gives her a small, thin smile before turning away.

~*~*~

There are no windows in the ambulance. She has no way of knowing where they are. She only knows that no one tries to pull them over or get in their way. After four hours, the ambulance stops, and the two men in the back get out. M cranes her head and tries to look after them, but Silva tugs her back gently by her shoulder and places a hand over her eyes. He says nothing. He's said nothing this whole time. His fingertips tremble slightly against her face.

When the doors shut, Silva pulls his hand away without looking at her. There are two new men with two new guns in the back of the ambulance.

"Do not touch her," Silva says to the new men, who seem made of sterner stuff and simply nod.

Where the bloody hell is Bond, M wonders, and for that matter, where the bloody hell is she?

"Where are we going?" she finally asks.

"Ssh," Silva says absently, tilting his head to look up at the ceiling. "Ssh. Be patient. Oh, but just a moment." He looks at the man sitting directly opposite M. "Did you bring it?"

"Yes, sir," the man says, and looks in a satchel at his side. He pulls out a paperback book and gives it to Silva.

Silva, who is maintaining as much distance as possible between himself and M on the narrow bench, tosses the book into her lap, still without looking at her. "For you. I remembered your favorite."

It's Hobbes’s Leviathan. M cannot recall ever discussing literature with him. But she supposes she must have done. It was so long ago. She waits a moment for her fingers to stop shaking before she picks up the book, and she tries to make sense of this.

The first two men thought that she was meant to die, but the second two had been ordered to bring her some reading material? Silva hasn’t radioed any instructions since the escape. He’d told them ahead of time, and this troubles him not at all. Silva’s mind has always been brilliant, labyrinthine, capable of contortions no one else could manage. M herself is a strategist, but she, like most people, still thinks in a linear fashion: do this, see what happens, and then do something else as a result. A to B to C. Stay a few moves ahead and have contingency plans just in case. But Silva sees from all vantages at once, as if every movement can be simultaneously enacted with no fear of contradiction. Plans within plans.

How can she win against that? He cannot be out-thought. Where can she strike?

"We will arrive soon," Silva says, gazing back up at the ceiling. "You can stretch your legs, refresh yourself. I know you are tired. Don't you want to read?" He closes his eyes. "Oh, what a long day it's been. All of you stay quiet. I'm going to get some shut-eye."

And he does. The bastard does. His eyes close, his breathing slows and evens out. M stares in shock.

Then she swallows and turns to the two men, both of whom are watching her steadily. She presses her lips together and, mindful of Silva's order that they may not hurt her, mouths the words, Help me.

Their faces do not move.

I will pay you, she mouths.

One of them gives her a wry smile. The other shakes his head. And that's all there is.

~*~*~

The ambulance stops. Silva's eyes open so readily that M knows he never truly slept. He opens the door and steps down to the ground. "Gently," he says over his shoulder to his two compatriots, one of whom climbs down in front of M and offers her his hand, the other of whom keeps a firm hand on her back to usher her out.

She nearly falls anyway. Her knees ache and her back is stiff. She leaves Hobbes in the ambulance. She'd kill for a toilet.

It's dark now, and there's not much to look at. They're in the countryside somewhere, but 'where' is the key part, and she has no idea. They're at a farmhouse with no other dwellings in sight. Armed men are patrolling the perimeter. Some small distance from the house, lit by a floodlight, sits a helicopter: it looks like a Merlin HC3, which is no joke.

Silva stands talking to a group of men. He still does not look at her. But her two guards seem to know the plan, and they usher her into the house, down a small, dimly lit hallway.

The bedroom they thrust her into is small, sparsely furnished, and disturbingly isolated from the rest of the house. It does, however, have a private toilet.

They lock the door behind them when they leave. M does not hesitate to use the facilities, Maslow's hierarchy and all, and after that, she takes stock of her surroundings.

The room is small, perhaps nine by ten feet. It contains one bed and a bureau. The window, more suited to a prison than a home, isn't large enough to fit through. Besides, there are crossed iron bars on the inside of the glass. She can't even put her fist through it as a last resort, making some shards to use on Silva—or, more practically, on herself. She certainly doesn't have a cyanide capsule. Which, now that she thinks about it, is unbelievably foolish, because she's the one who knows all the secrets.

No. That's not true. Silva knows them too, he already knows everything. The question is how.

Bond will come. She needs to have faith. She must trust him to finish the job.

An hour passes. Then two. She no longer hears sounds outside. No one comes to speak to her.

Then the door opens and Silva arrives. He’s changed out of his police uniform. His face no longer wears either the mocking smile or the rage she saw in the dungeons of MI6. His face wears no expression at all.

He steps inside and kicks the door shut with his foot. Advances one step. Two. M feels something bump against her back, and realises that she has been retreating from him until she hits the wall.

"Are you hungry?" he whispers.

She does not answer. Perhaps she cannot. She looks at the wall beyond his shoulder and wishes that she were somewhere else.

"Look at me," he says.

At home. In bed. All the doors locked. And--why not?--James Bond in her sitting room, helping himself to her bourbon while she peacefully sleeps.

“Look at me," Silva repeats, his palms slamming against the wall to either side of her head. He looms over her, bending down and baring his teeth in her face. "Do you see me? Do you?" One of his hands drops to hover above her shoulder, fingers clutching at the air. "Say something."

She opens her mouth, closes it, and then shakes her head. No.

He steps back, his hands clenched into fists. "Speak to me," he says hoarsely. "Say something. We are alone."

They are surely not alone. The place is crawling with guards, isn’t it? M looks out the window before she can stop herself, at the dark, empty yard outside.

"This is a very private room. No one will come," Silva says. He is breathing hard. "Not my men, and not your men. Your man. Bond has abandoned you. Perhaps Bond is dead."

Perhaps. He doesn't know. Which means Bond isn't dead.

"He’s been in your house," Silva says. "I know that. I know where you live. But I never disturbed you there. It would not have been right. He did, though." Silva steps forward again. "I ask you this one thing. I will only ask you once. After your husband died--" He swallows before he can continue, "After your husband, did Bond ever…when he came to your house?"

It takes her a moment to work out what he means, and when she does, her jaw drops in unmitigated shock. That is his answer. His eyes blaze with triumph. "So he has not," he says.

M wants to back away some more, but there is nowhere to go. She can only look up at this mountain of a man as he reaches towards her, as if to cup her face or draw her close, and no, no, this cannot be happening, where is her house, where is her bed and her locked door, where is Bond, where the bloody fucking hell is--

Silva hisses and yanks his hands away without touching her, and she wonders if she spoke out loud. But apparently not. He only says hoarsely, "I cannot. I cannot--"

Then he reaches out, seizes her cardigan, and tears it open until the buttons pop off.

"No!" M cries.

He howls as if she shot him, stumbling away from her. He closes his eyes, grabs his hair, stomps one foot on the ground. And then he makes a low, groaning noise. He turns around and flees the room, slamming the door behind him.

M sags back against the wall, clutching her cardigan shut, and holds her breath. His footsteps do not continue down the hall. He is still just outside the door. She waits, shaking with the inevitability of it all.

Then he roars back inside, slams the door shut again, crosses the room, and digs his fingertips into her shoulders. It breaks the dam. It's too late for Bond.

Afterward, when it’s done, he slumps over her, taking his naked weight on his elbows and pushing the sweaty hair off her forehead so he can kiss it. "Thank you," he breathes. “I didn't think I would be able to. It was as good as I imagined. Thank you, thank you."

"Get off me," M croaks.

He hums and nuzzles at her throat. "We will leave tomorrow. I have what I came for."

"No."

"The world is ours." He gives her a smile that is very nearly radiant. "Perhaps it all had to happen. Even what you did to me. Everything in the interim, between then and now. It could not have been like this before." He raises himself up, and adds very seriously, "I forgive you."

"Oh," M says, and thinks about adding how lovely, or maybe get buggered, but he shifts his hips backwards to slide out of her, and she yelps, wincing. Everything about him, it so happens, is proportionate.

He freezes, looking horrified. "I hurt you?” Then he looks down between their bodies--at what, she cannot bear to think. "Forgive me." He cups her face in his hands and repeats, "Forgive me, forgive me."

M strikes.

"It hurts," she says, keeping her voice as low and feeble as possible. "Inside."

His face goes white. He raises himself up on one knee, looking her up and down. "I hurt you," he says again.

He did, she realises. Perhaps not inside, though it won't be much fun to walk for a while. But she's been grabbed and held down and pushed about, and bitten too, with those false teeth; given how fragile her skin is, she'll be mottled with bruises. They might already be showing. The look on his face indicates as much. "I think something's broken," she says. She closes her eyes. "I don't know, it hurts, please get off me!"

It doesn’t sound terribly convincing to her, but it works on Silva. He moans, rolls off the bed, and, stark naked, begins kissing her feet, murmuring apologies.

M thinks fast. What is best? Perhaps she could be sick on the floor--she's halfway there already--but she wants to manipulate Silva, not revolt him. There might be a chance, however slim, that she can get out of this alive.

"Why did you do this?" she asks, letting the strain into her voice. Then she adds, "Tiag--" before deliberately cutting herself off and turning her face to the wall.

He looms over her then, but she doesn't look at him. "Say it," he gasps. "I knew you remembered."

"It hurts," M whispers.

He moans again and starts scrambling into his clothes. "I'll be back. With a medic." Zips up his trousers and shrugs into his turtleneck. "Damn you--I tried--I didn't want to hurt you."

He gives her a pleading look. M judges that it is best simply to look back in silence.

He hisses, grabs his boots, and rushes out of the room barefoot. She's left naked and sticky. Does she dare dress herself? If he comes back and finds that she's able to get out of bed--no, better not to risk it. Besides, what's she going to do? She's hardly able to flee on foot in the middle of the night from a compound surrounded by guards, even if she weren't pushing eighty. Perhaps she could steal a vehicle. The thought almost makes her laugh. Certainly, that would be a possibility if she were B…

She closes her eyes and takes a few deep breaths. The chill of the air hits her, and she reaches down to tug the rumpled bedsheet over her body. That much dignity she can grant herself. She'll see how the situation unfolds when the medic arrives. If she can convince Silva to leave them alone together, well, perhaps...or something in a medical kit, even. A pair of scissors. Rubbing alcohol. Oh God, what a joke, what is she even thinking? She's going to fight her way out of here with a few rolls of gauze and some bandages? No. The medic himself is her best bet.

Ten minutes pass before the doorknob turns. She stiffens and pulls the sheet closer. The door opens slowly, and a man in green fatigues and combat boots comes in, holding a medical kit in one hand. He closes the door and turns to look at her. There's blood on his uniform. It's Bond.

M inhales shakily, exhales, and tries to sit up, holding the sheet over herself. Her whole body aches.

"Stay still," Bond rasps. He takes a deep breath and looks at the wall over her head, even though she's decently covered. "Is anything broken?"

"I don't think so. I told him there was, but I don't think so."

"Right." Bond's throat works. "Try moving."

She sits all the way up, grunting and wincing at the pain between her thighs. She stinks of him. "Where is he?"

"I don't know. I knew you were in here, and I saw a medic heading this way alone." M looks again at the blood on the uniform. Bond says, "The way is clear to the garage. There’s a car we can probably take. Nobody saw me coming."

She should have dressed, then. Hindsight, as ever, is 20-20. "Give me my clothes. We've got to hurry."

"Was he armed?"

M can't stop herself from saying, "Did he need to be?"

Bond hands her the nearest article of clothing, her dress, and says, "Do you want me to kill him, or do you want me to get you out of here?"

She bites her lip. "Is it impossible to do both?"

"No. But unwise to count on it. There are too many men around, and you're in no shape to move quickly."

"I want him dead," M says. "That has to be our first priority. We may not get another opportunity.”

He says, "At least let me move you out of this room."

"Where to, the bloody kitchen? He'll come back here. We can surprise him." Then she sighs and looks at the dress dangling from her fingertips. "Bond, I know you mostly just undress women, but surely you know how the reverse works."

To his credit, Bond does not flush or fluster when he hands over her brassiere and knickers. Her stockings are too ruined to bother with.

"If I'd known my unmentionables were going to be handled by 007, perhaps I'd have planned better," she says.

"Well, we'll never get another chance like this," he says, giving her a smile with murder in it. "That, I promise you."

The fastenings on her brassiere have all been ripped off. So much for that. She tosses it aside and puts on her underwear while he looks away, crouched by the door. There is no sound of footsteps, but every noise makes her jump.

Then she slides into her dress, unable to repress a soft, pained sound. But she was right: nothing is broken. "He's large," she says, "and strong. You'll need to be quick."

"I'd rather not," Bond says, his lips pursed as he gazes at the window with bars on it.

"How chivalrous," she snaps, managing to get the zipper three-quarters of the way up her back, which is good enough. "007--"

"I know."

"What have you got? A gun?"

"No. Long story." Bond opens the medical kit and pulls out a coil of plastic-coated metal wire that most certainly does not belong there. "Is he likely to come back here with company?"

M says, "No. No, he isn't." She’s starting to wonder if he's coming back here at all. It's too much to hope that he's done himself in from remorse. "I'm astonished he gave a medic permission to come here alone, really." She slides her arms into the cardigan.

"Perhaps he can't face you."

"Let's hope he gets the gumption soon."

"I didn't know," Bond says. He looks at the coil of wire, turning it in his hands. "He spoke of you on the island, but I didn't understand--until I saw him looking at you from the cell. I should have worked it out before then. I'm sorry, M."

After a moment, M manages, "You don't get to have regrets about this, 007. It didn't happen to you. And if you think--" She gulps and shakes her head fiercely. "It's given us an opportunity. We'll use it."

"Yes, ma'am," he says, meeting her eyes and nodding.

Well. He did come, after all. And perhaps this was for the best--Silva is off-centre now, less prepared for--

No. Even she can't manage a lie that big. If she survives this, then later (at home, in bed, the doors locked) she can tell herself this was a sacrifice for Queen and country, but not tonight.

Heavy footsteps in the hall. From one person. Heading towards the bedroom.

Bond moves to one side of the door, silent as fog, uncoiling the wire and stretching it tight between his hands.

M slides back under the sheet and curls over on her side, tugging the cover up to her chin so that no part of her is visible save her face. Hopefully Bond won't give Silva enough time to notice that her clothes are no longer scattered on the floor. Her heart beats so quickly that it hurts. She will not entirely have to fake the fear that Silva needs to see in her eyes.

The door opens. Silva steps inside, pressing his lips together at the sight of her, and dear God, he practically fills the doorframe. But he is alone. He shuts the door and frowns. "Has the medic already lef--"

Bond pounces. The wire goes around Silva's neck and Silva goes down on his knees. Bond knocks him all the way onto his belly and traps him between his thighs, sitting on him while he pulls the wire tight. Silva thrashes and gasps for air, his eyes bulging out while he stares at M.

She sits up, the sheet falling away from her so he can see that she is fully dressed, see how he has been trapped. She looks, and shows him exactly who, in this sad dance of theirs, failed whom.

"No one can hear us," she says softly. "This really is a very private room, Mr. Silva."

He looks into her eyes and gurgles something that sounds like, name.

"No," she says. "You have no name."

Silva's eyes close, his head lolls forward, and he breathes his last.

She exhales too. That happened so quickly. She had not expected it, but it is no less satisfying for its speed. M and Bond sit there for a moment, both of them trembling as if they'd exerted an equal amount of effort. Silva doesn't move. Then Bond sighs and turns the body over. M blinks when she sees the gun holstered on Silva's belt.

"Handy," Bond says, taking it out. He finds a silencer in a pocket. "Even handier." He puts the silencer on the gun, rises to his feet, and looks around. There's a chequered blanket, dark in colour, tossed in the corner. "How pathetic can you manage to look?" he asks. "Just in case."

She puts her shoes on. "You'll be surprised."

He dons Silva’s jacket, covering the blood on his clothes. Together, they creep down the hallway, out the back door, and cross the yard towards the garage. M keeps the blanket wrapped around her shoulders and over her head, hiding her white hair from the lights. Bond holds the medical kit in plain sight as they approach the armed man by the garage doors. Next to the garage sits a black Citroen.

M leans pitifully against Bond as he tells the guard, "Silva's on his way. We've got to take her to hospital."

"What?" the guard says. "Where is he?"

"Talking to Jameson. He said grab the first vehicle we can, is this piece of shit fit to drive?" He nods at the Citroen.

"I drove it here. Piece of shit is right." The guard looks at M with evident curiosity. "What happened to her? I thought he said she wasn't to be harmed."

"Someone didn't listen."

"Christ. Who had the nerve?"

“A dead man,” Bond says.

“No surprises there.” The guard squints at her. "Is it bad? The closest hospital is twenty miles off."

"Which one is that again?" Bond asks.

"Stratton, I think. Why--"

"Thank you," Bond says, drops the medical kit, and shoots him in the head.

M slides into the passenger seat while Bond finds the key in the guard's pocket. Stratton Hospital is in Bude. So this is Cornwall.

As they roll down the driveway, keeping the headlights off, M hears a cry coming from the farmhouse. Lights go on everywhere. Two guards are standing by the gateposts at the end of the drive, and they raise their rifles when they see the Citroen approach.

"Keep your head down," Bond orders, and M ducks below the windscreen, putting her hands over her ears. Gunfire ensues. She peeks up just enough to see Bond steering the car with one hand and firing Silva's gun out the window with the other. The windscreen shatters, and she is grateful for the cover the blanket provides. The best Bond can do is duck below the wheel while continuing to drive blind, pressing his foot on the accelerator as they roar forward. The car shudders when they hit something, but then it bounces and keeps going. The gunfire stops. Bond sits up right away and continues to pilot the car while M gingerly tries to avoid the broken glass all over the seat.

Bond glances into the still-intact rear view mirror and observes, "No one ever taught him traffic safety, did they?"

"What about the other one?"

"Shot him."

"Well done." She looks in her side mirror as they reach the end of the driveway and turn onto the road. Once on asphalt, Bond accelerates and turns on the headlights. "Nobody's following."

"Not yet. I sliced a few tyres. It's why I was--" He pauses, and says quietly, "Late."

M keeps her chin up and looks straight ahead. "It was a wise precaution. Prudent."

"Let's hope so. It's the helicopter I'm worried about."

"How'd you get here?"

"Motorbike. We passed it a quarter mile back. I ditched it by the road."

M shivers inside the blanket. It's cold outside, and the wind in her face isn't helping. Then, inconceivably, Bond begins to slow the car.

"What are you doing?" she asks.

"Look," he says, pointing, and up ahead, she sees a red car on the side of the road. A man kneels next to it, changing the tyre. As Bond stops the car next to him, she sees that he is just finishing the job.

"Excuse me," Bond calls. The man straightens up and looks at them with wide eyes, taking in the whole picture: Bond in his fatigues, M in her blanket, the windscreen shot all to hell.

"What the Christ," he says.

"We're in a bit of a fix," Bond says, opening the door. He nods towards the red car. "You too, I’m afraid."

M draws the line at the murder of civilians. Luckily Bond does too, so he leaves the man unconscious in the ditch while M shakes the last of the broken glass out of her blanket and into the grass. Bond checks to make sure that the spare tyre is sound, drives the Citroen a short distance from the roadside, hurries back, and he and M speed away in a Ford.

He turns on the heat, but the cold is in her bones now, and she draws the blanket closer around herself. "How far to London?"

"Farther than it is to Stratton."

"Bond!"

"You need care."

"I can wait!"

"London's over a four hour drive," Bond says tightly. "I'll call for backup when we’re closer to Bude. They'll meet us there soon."

"Bond, we are not stopping. We are going to London. Am I making myself clear?"

He takes a deep breath. "You could have injuries we don't know about--"

M says, her throat thick, her hands starting to shake, "This is an order. Do you understand me? I am giving you an order."

His hands tighten on the wheel, but he says, "Yes, ma'am," easily enough. He adds, "Will you let me take you straight to St. Thomas?"

"So long as it's in London, you can take me to the devil, it doesn't matter," she says.

He's silent, but he doesn't need to say anything, because they're both thinking it: they have killed the devil and left him behind. But his legacy undoubtedly survives.

She supposes it is her legacy, too. M doesn’t believe in doing penance; doesn’t believe for one moment that she deserved what happened to her in that room; hopes that Silva is roasting forever in the flames--but her decisions, both ancient and recent, are a part of this. Now it is time to close the book.

Silva had never wanted it to end. That’s why it has to. It’s hard to see how, when every bump in the road serves as a painful reminder, but that will fade eventually. All of it will fade. She’ll make sure of that.

Then she shifts in the seat and winces. She won’t be able to do it today. She needs time.

"Do you have your phone?" she asks.

Bond shakes his head. "Yes, but Silva’s people could still be tracing it, and I didn’t have time to get a burner. We should wait until--"

She hears it then: the drone of helicopter wings. It's useless to pretend that her skin doesn't prickle with sudden, absolute horror. She tells herself that Silva is dead, she saw him die, that even if she and Bond are captured now, the worst is still behind them.

"Don’t worry yet," Bond says. "They’re looking for the wrong vehicle."

"It won't take them long to work out what we did."

"Who's 'we'? I stole the car. You were just decorative."

"Bond, I swear to God--"

"The Citroen's black and off the road, it's dark, I left that bloke out cold in the ditch, it'll take them a while to sort things out," Bond says. "But look. It's getting lighter."

It is. Dawn is breaking up ahead. There is another car down the road, heading towards them, and soon there will be another, and another. The world is waking up and they're heading into civilisation. Helicopters need not apply. If Silva were still alive, no question that he’d be willing to--but he’s not.

Sure enough, the drone does not increase in volume, and soon, it disappears entirely.

With relief comes exhaustion. She tugs the blanket around herself again and leans against the window, looking out of it but not seeing much.

"I saw a lot of faces back there," Bond says. "I'm good with faces."

She blinks.

"I'll remember them," Bond continues mildly. "All of them. Whenever an opportunity presents itself, if you like."

"If I like?" M says. He nods. "Remember Vesper, please. Remember that revenge is a road that has no end. And that, I don't like." She sighs. "Silva is dead." (Isn't he? Yes. Yes of course he--) “You’ll take me to hospital and then you’ll debrief, and we’ll sort the rest out afterward. Understood?”

"All right," Bond says, a little pale.

"And we’ll never speak of this to anyone. Silva took--kidnapped me, you killed him, and we escaped. That's all that need be known." She presses her thighs together. She still smells of him. Bastard, dead and rotting on the floor. "I'll see a doctor, and we will not ever speak of it again."

Bond says, "You need a new bodyguard."

"What?"

"After Silva grabbed you, there was another firefight. Atkins was down the hall--"

M hides her face in her hands.

"Anyway," Bond says, "I'm available."

After a moment, she can say, "You're needed in the field."

"Christ, M! Just for a week!" He bites his lip, looking as stunned as she by the outburst. He adds more calmly, "Just a week, or however long you look for a replacement."

"Is this you trying to atone for something? I told you, this isn't about you!"

"Yes, ma’am," he sighs.

"How many people were killed? In Whitehall?"

"I don't know. I left before the smoke cleared. You'll have to ask Tanner. That’s if I leave him alive for not getting you out of there when I said to, twice."

M lets this go for now. At least Tanner survived the onslaught. "You left?"

"Immediately."

Before the smoke cleared. M wonders why there was a two hour wait between her arrival at the farmhouse and Bond’s. How many dead ends did he go down during the search, how many vehicles did he have to swap, did he run out of petrol? She glances down at the seat next to her, where he has laid Silva's gun. She remembers, in a flash, how Silva had made no attempt to draw it after Bond attacked, although he surely could have.

There are some questions, she decides, that should not be asked. "Well," she says unsteadily, "this better not be a ploy to drink all of my best bourbon."

After a moment, he says, "Wouldn't dream of it."

"And you'll kip on the sofa tonight, I won't have you making a mess of one of the bedrooms."

"I'll keep my shoes off the furniture."

"See that you do."

They continue to drive in silence. She is beginning to develop a headache on top of all the rest. She says, when she shouldn’t, "I won’t, you know. Need a bodyguard. They’re going to sack me."

"You don’t know that."

"Are you joking?"

"M--"

"He blew up MI6," M says, twisting her hands in the blanket. "For which I rewarded him by bringing him into the heart of London, and then letting him escape to go on a rampage!"

"Don’t think about that now," he says sharply. "Trust me, don’t." He lets out a sigh. "Otherwise we’ll have to talk about how I’ll be sacked, too."

"You?" She stares at him. "Why you?"

"I brought the Trojan horse, didn’t I? I watched while our quartermaster plugged him right into our network, I let him run away with--and let’s not forget--"

"None of that is..."

"--the way I went AWOL for three months. I appreciate how you ignored that it’s a crime, but Mallory’s not keen on me, and I’m here on your sufferance."

That, at least, she cannot deny. After a moment, she says, "A nice little tragedy, isn’t it?"

He laughs, low and rough. "Downright Greek."

"I want it to be over." She rubs her fingertips against her forehead. "I want it to be done. I said I’d leave when it was." She looks up again, into the brightening air. "Mallory won’t let you go. I don’t believe he’s that much of a fool."

"Then I can try my luck twice."

"What are you talking about?"

"How long do you want to stop in London?"

"How on earth should I--until it’s all wrapped--" Oh God, it’s going to be hell. Questions, and statements, and all she wants to do is-- "What do you mean how long?"

"We’ve killed Silva. If they don’t want us, then let them handle the rest themselves. I’ve somewhere I’d like to show you."

She snorts. "Show me? You? Where’ll we go, the Riviera? Because I've seen it."

"Scotland," he says quietly, and then she knows.

If she thought it was pity, she’d kill him. But Bond doesn’t understand pity. Love is different. So she just closes her eyes. "For how long?" she asks.

"As long as we like. I don’t have a plan."

"No. You never do, do you?"

"Never saw the point. Things change too fast to bother. I just keep moving."

"Well, there’s the attitude that won the war." Which...it might have done, actually.

Knowing this, he smiles. "I'm all yours, M."

"Oh, shut up, 007. And let’s get a move on."

"I'll drive as if I stole it," he promises.

And he does. Ahead of them, to the east, light breaks out over the fields. She shields her eyes with her hand as they meet the sunrise.

FIN.