Actions

Work Header

The Rabbit Hunters

Chapter Text

Part Two: Ruat Caelum

 

Bond parks the car on the north side of the house, hidden from the drive.  He lets M lean on his arm a little as they head to the back door so she doesn't slip on the grass, which is acquiring a fine sheen of frost in the cold night air.  "God," she says, "you're sure the heat works?"

"There is no central heating.  But the power's on.  There've always been heaters in individual rooms, we moved them about as we pleased." 

"Please tell me they're still here."

"Not sure who'd want to take them.  They're twenty years old." 

"Oh, marvellous."

The door is locked, but he's long past the days when he needed a key for anything.  When he gets it open, it swings back, and he leads her into the kitchen, guided by the light of his miniature torch.  He'd rather expected dust and cobwebs, decay, rats and mice.  From what he can see, it's mostly the furniture covered up with sheets.  It doesn't even smell as musty as it ought; somebody cleaned the place up and aired it out before putting it on the market.

"Wait here," he says, leaving her so he can do a quick sweep of the house.  Empty.  Every footstep echoes. 

The gun room seems especially empty.  Empty of guns.  He looks around the racks in dismay, denuded as they are of useful firearms, and curses under his breath. 

No help for it now.  He continues throughout the house, eventually making his way up the stairs.  As he stands in the middle of the master bedroom, looking at the four-poster bed with its mattress stripped bare, he feels an old weariness settle down on him: not physical exhaustion, but the oppressiveness of memory.  Long, grey afternoons during school holidays.  The morning chill that lasted all day.  The barking of a far-distant dog.  He'd wanted Vesper to change Skyfall; now he lays it at M's feet as it is.    

She's standing by a window, lit by the moon, when he returns to the kitchen.  She doesn't turn at his approach, but mutters, "I've been jumping at damn near every sound."

"We're the only people here."

"For miles, it looks like."  She points behind him.  "I found that and got it going."

He turns to see the space heater tucked in the corner, humming gently.  When he was last here, it was brand new, and had warmed his legs beneath the table before he'd left and never returned.

"Glad it works," he says.

She nods and draws her coat closer.  "The grand tour?"

His stomach growls.  "After supper."

The next hour is surreally domestic: he bringing in the groceries, she puttering around in the kitchen, rinsing out the kettle and making sure the refrigerator really is cold.  The kitchen is not visible from the drive, so they risk using the lights. 

They're good cooks when they choose to be.  Her kitchen in London was well stocked.  They took turns preparing meals and never talked about how they were taking turns, because then it would just have been absurd, but it passed the time.  Now he knows how she takes her evening cuppa and she knows his preference for wholemeal bread.  She toasts it in the oven with some cheese; he warms up the canned soup that neither of them will like, but both will eat. 

Halfway through his soup, he says, "Someone cleared out the gun room.  The firearms are gone."

She puts the spoon back in her bowl, her eyes widening.  "Bloody hell.  What happened to them?" 

"I've no idea.  Sold or stolen, I expect.  There were some valuable pieces.  There's only one left."

She bites her lip.  "Better than nothing, I suppose.  What sort—"

"My father's hunting rifle."  He looks at the wall over her shoulder.  "Saw it in the corner.  I'll test it tomorrow."

"And if it doesn't work?  Well, we've got the bug-out bags."  One handgun each, plus less ammunition than he'd like.  She takes a bite of toast, swallows, and says, "I've always been useless with a rifle, anyway.  The recoil's murder."

He pauses before he takes another bite of soup, feeling a pang of dread.  "How good a shot are you in general?"

"Not the best."  She gives him a level look that dares him to find fault with this.  "How deeply did you read into my file?"

"Not enough to know what you're getting at."

"When I was a field agent, my specialty was explosives.  I couldn't hit a man dead between the eyes, but I could blow him to bits well enough."  She sips her tea while he stares at her, and adds tranquilly, "You'll be amazed what can be done with things you've just got lying around."

He supposes that must be true; he can jury-rig something to pop, but explosives have never been his thing, really.  He usually doesn't have time for them.  A gun can meet an immediate threat.  Bombs require forethought.

He supposes there's a window of opportunity for that, though.  "Well, keep an eye out, and see what we've got." 

They finish, put up the dishes, and then he guides her through the house.  They only make a quick pass through the parts that face on to the drive, leery of turning on lights or flashing the torch, but it's important that she knows where everything is in case they are set on in the middle of the night.  If not, then they can do a more thorough tour in the morning.  She is very interested in the chandeliers and the entrance to the tunnel. 

By now, he's mostly interested in four hours' worth of sleep, if he can get it, before it's his turn for watch.  He puts the bug-out bags in the second-largest bedroom, one in the rear of the house, and pulls out his radio.  They turn it on and listen together: thankfully, no news of fresh havoc, or even new nursery rhymes.

A camphor blanket box yields cover for the night, even if the smell is less than pleasant.  "I'll set up in the master," M says, taking the radio and one of the blankets.  "It's got a good view of the drive and a chair by the window."

"There's a heater by the door," he says, tossing a second blanket on the mattress.

"That'll only make me go to sleep."

"You sure you can—"

"Positive.  Is everything out of the car?"

"Yes."  He sits on the edge of the bed and begins unlacing his shoes.  "You'll keep watch for four hours?"  He wants to say, Wake me if you can't do it, but suspects that will only lead to trouble.

"Four hours.  007."  He looks up from his shoes to see her regarding him with a pinched look on her face.  "Silva's death is our chief objective."

"I know that," he says.

"Well, I want to emphasise it, then.  We must accomplish that.  Whatever else might happen, you must not lose sight of that goal."

There is no accusation or recrimination in her tone; she is stating the facts of the matter.  He still feels it like a slap.

"Yes, ma'am," he says, and she leaves.

He waits a dignified two seconds before resting his elbows on his knees, and then his face in his hands.  Well.  That's a pleasant way to bid someone good-night: remind them of their terrible failure and then politely close the door behind yourself. 

You must not lose sight of that goal.  Unspoken: Again.

He's back in the room in Cornwall, Silva's body rigid beneath his own, but going limp.  The wire digging into his palms as he tugs it tight.  M watching Silva.  Bond watching M. 

A man can survive many things.  A man can be clinically dead and come back.  He should know.  Silva had just been lying there, no pulse, no breath, and Bond had taken it for granted he was dead, because if he knew one thing, it was how to kill people.

He could have snapped Silva's neck, just to be sure.

He could have taken the gun and put a bullet in his brain, just to be sure.

Neither of those things would have taken long at all.  But he had been watching M.  And Silva's breath had stopped, and his pulse was still, and Bond had thought only of escape.  It hadn't even occurred to him to snap or shoot anything.  And now—

Regret is unprofessional.  Fixing one's mistakes is not.  He will have one more chance.  It's more than most people get.

He takes off his jacket and lies down, rolling the blanket around himself and feeling a bit like a caterpillar.  He wishes he'd thought to nick the space heater from M if she's not going to use it, but he doesn't want to go out and face her again just yet.  And the bed is comfortable.  And, even though he's only been driving a car instead of shooting people and running around on rooftops, he's done in.

He sleeps.  Last night, he dreamed of rabbits.  Tonight, he dreams of running down the corridors of Whitehall, the sound of gunshots ringing all around him.  He can't remember if he's supposed to run toward or away from them.  He's looking for M.  But the corridors are empty, and though he can hear the shots, he doesn't know where they're coming from.  He can't stop running long enough to listen and figure it out.  He mustn't stop moving, or all is lost, and she'll be gone.

Someone shakes him.  He comes awake instantly, sitting up to find M bending over him, her lips a thin, urgent line, her gun in her hand.  "There's someone downstairs," she whispers.  "I think they came in through the back door."

He's got his own gun out before she finishes speaking, standing between her and the door, listening.  Sure enough, there is the creak of footsteps on the ground floor.  It sounds like only one person.    

Then there is the scrabbling of smaller feet—paws—on the floor, and the sounds of an animal's eager panting.  A bark.  "Ssh, ssh, ssh!" a man's voice hisses in agitation.  "Quiet down, you…"

He knows that voice.  He raises his gun, listens for the sound of more people; hearing none, he calls, "Kincade?  Is that you?"

Silence; then a well-remembered baritone growls out, "Who's asking?"

"James Bond," he says, in spite of M's murmur of caution.  "You alone?"

"James?  You're bloody joking.  Come down from there."

"Are.  You.  Alone?"

"Are.  You.  James?  Get down here and show yourself before I come up there with a rifle."

"Who the hell is that?" M hisses.

"Kincade.  The gamekeeper," he says.  "Wait here till I call."  Still in his stockinged feet, he puts the gun in his waistband and heads towards the stairs.  There, at the bottom, alone—except for two black Labradors—stands the figure of a man who'd taught him how to shoot.

"My God," he says.

"So it is you," Kincade replies, his eyes wide with astonishment.  Bond does not know why he is surprised to see how much Kincade has aged; perhaps it is because everything else here hasn't.  "James Bond.  I'd heard you weren't dead after all, but I didn't expect to see you here."

"It's come as a bit of a surprise to me, too."  He reaches the bottom of the stairs and holds out his hand.  "How are you?"

"Out too late in the cold.  I was taking the dogs out, and I saw the kitchen light on, and then a torch in the windows.  I waited until you put the lights out, then came up from the back and saw rather a fancy car."

"Didn't you recognise it?  It was Father's."

Kincade shrugs, looking unimpressed.  "He had a few of them, didn't he?  Never could tell one from—"

Upstairs, M clears her throat.

Ah.  "You can come down," Bond calls.

He hears her footsteps moving towards the stairs, and turns back to Kincade, who's raised his eyebrows.  "A special lady?" he asks under his breath.

"In a manner of speaking." 

M appears, and Kincade takes her in with even wider eyes.  "M, this is Kincade, the family gamekeeper," Bond repeats.  "Kincade, this is M."

"Hello, Mr. Kincade," she says, holding out her hand, manners as impeccable as if they weren't all meeting in an abandoned house in the middle of the night.

"Pleased to meet you, Emma," Kincade says, shaking her hand.  Bond knows his mind, both loyal and crafty, must be working overtime.  He glances back at Bond, keeping hold of M's hand for perhaps a touch longer than is seemly.  "What are you doing here?"

M tugs gently and Kincade releases her.  Bond replies, "Some men are coming to kill us.  We're going to kill them first."

Kincade blinks, inhales, and then lets out his breath.  "Are you, now."


 

A third person joins their watch that night, plus his dogs.  The dogs alone provide such extra vigilance that Bond goes back to sleep with shocking ease.  And when he opens his eyes again, the dawn is grey over the horizon.  Nobody woke him up so he could take his shift.

Annoyed, he puts on his shoes, and then the black Asda pullover.  His annoyance doubles when he finds no sign of M or Kincade anywhere in the house, although the two dogs wait patiently by the front door, and come to him wagging their tails when he reaches the bottom of the stairs. 

A note rests on the kitchen table: Showing Emma the grounds.  Tea in the pot, breakfast in the oven. –K.  At the bottom of the page, he's scribbled his mobile number.

How thoughtful.  Bond rubs his hands over his face, growls, and stomps back upstairs to scrub up in cold water.  It's not as if it's a bad idea.  Kincade will look out for her, of course, and knows the grounds better than Bond himself.  It's best to show her everything as soon as possible.  There's no reason to be in a bad humour about it.  It's not as if he even likes this bloody pile.

On his way back out of the lavatory, rubbing his face with a dishtowel, he passes the bedroom M used for the night after Kincade arrived.  Her Hermes bag is on the bed, and her spare pair of shoes—black trainers, practical and hideous—sits next to it.  But even as he glances at them, he pauses, because something is different about the shoes.  He sees something sticking out from beneath the left one.

He enters the room, picks up the shoe, and raises his eyebrow when he realises it's got a false bottom that's slid partway out.  He smirks; so much for the notion of her picking up an extra pair in Harrods because they're just so comfortable. 

Bond prises the false bottom open completely, careful not to tear anything, and finds within a sealed packet full of powder.  He takes it out, sniffs it, and recoils at the faint hint of garlic.  Arsenic trioxide.  In her shoe.  And then there's her obsession with the cyanide capsule.  If her specialty is building bombs, then poisons must run a close second.

He makes sure to put everything back exactly as he found it and returns to the kitchen.  His radio's sitting on the table.  He turns it on and listens to Radio 4 while he sips a mug of cooling tea and waits for M and Kincade to return.  Breakfast, still warm in the oven, is black pudding and fried bread, a Kincade specialty.  Bond wonders how it went over with M, who starts each day with tea and toast, and a poached egg if she's feeling particularly savage.

No news of Silva.  No rhymes.  No murder, so he hopes.

He's just finishing up the tea when M and Kincade return through the back door, kicking mud from their boots.  Where did she get boots?  "Morning, James," Kincade booms.

"Morning," Bond says.  "Thanks for leaving me asleep and vulnerable."

"You had the dogs," Kincade grunts, holding out a chair for M.  "Don't whinge."

"Thank you," M tells him, seating herself.  She's wearing her coat and a scarf Bond doesn't recognise.  Her cheeks are reddened from the morning chill. 

"I'm going to let the dogs run a bit," Kincade says, opening the back door again and whistling.  The Labradors bound through it, appearing excited beyond all reason.  Kincade follows.

"All right?" Bond asks M when they're alone.

"Yes.  We drove out to the quarry.  In his Volkswagen, not your girl," she adds dryly.

"Good, I'd have hated to shoot our only ally.  He mentioned dynamite last night, was there any?"

M sounds almost apologetic when she says, "He looked everywhere and couldn't find a single stick."

"Damn.  Well…I'll still go and see for myself.  There's no news, but we should start making preparations.  You been thinking about bombs?"

"I've been thinking about a lot of things.  Bombs included."  She loosens the scarf.  "It's freezing outside.  Nicer in here."

"Where'd you get that?  And the boots?"

"Kincade got them from a cupboard somewhere.  They must be at least—"  She stops.

"They're not my mother's," Bond says, taking a final bite of fried bread.  "All that's long gone."

Just when the silence threatens to become awkward, the news reader's tone becomes more urgent.  They haven't really been listening, but that alone is enough to cue M to turn up the volume. 

"—Motherless have released yet another nursery rhyme," Charlotte Green says.  "No message accompanies it, no explanation.  We've received word that MI5 are working round the clock on deciphering it, and there is speculation that perhaps MI6 are as well, though so far all indications point to this being a domestic threat."

"Home-grown, even," M mutters. 

"Something very familiar," Charlotte continues.  "Here we are: Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home.  Your house is on fire and your children will burn.

M goes pale.  Bond holds his breath.

"Not the usual end to the rhyme," Charlotte says.  "There's more, a new touch for The Motherless, a postscript in Latin.  Latin's not my background, forgive me if I butcher the pronunciation, we'll have a translation for you in a moment: Fiat justitia ruat caelum."

Bond hisses and switches the radio off again.

"Have you lost your—!" M snaps, reaching for the knob.

"No need.  He's on his way.  We have to make ready."

"Wh…are you sure?  That sounded like a threat against Six!  Trying to draw us both back to the—"

"I'm sure they've thought of that too," Bond says, rising to his feet.  "Let them look out for it.  He's coming here."

"How do you know?"

"The thing in Latin," he says.  "It's the family motto."  Her mouth parts slightly as she looks up at him; he smiles back without humour.

"Fiat justitia ruat caelum," he says, his pronunciation letter-perfect.  "Let justice be done, although the skies fall."


 

Laid out on a table, it all looks a little grim.  Two handguns, two rifles, and a hunting knife: that's what they've got to take on whatever Silva flings at them.  Bond is not given to despair, and he knows they're doing all they can, but it is not an encouraging moment. 

Tennyson returns to mind, in fact.  "The Charge of the Light Brigade," specifically.  Bond elects not to draw the comparison, and accompanies Kincade outside to test the guns. 

"What are you going to do?" he asks M as they head for the door.

She looks up at the chandeliers.  "Go back in time."

That makes two of them.  "Need help getting them down?"  She glares at him.  "Right.  Back soon."

His father's Anderson Wheeler feels heavier in his hand than any other weapon he's ever held.  The initials on the barrel mock him.  Andrew Bond: country squire, kept hounds and horses and cars, loved the bagpipes, drank good brandy, died on a godforsaken mountaintop and took his beautiful, flirtatious wife with him.  Everyone said it was an accident.

Bond the younger used to spend too much time wondering if that were true, or if murder runs in the blood.  Then he decided to stop thinking about it and use his natural gifts instead.  Now he feels a strain, not at all physical, as he hefts the rifle.

Kincade chooses this moment to ask a question that he'd pointedly avoided last night, perhaps in deference to a lady's delicate sensibilities: "So who is it we're supposed to be fighting?"

Bond sighs.  Keeping watch with them was one thing, but what Kincade proposes now is madness.  "There's no 'we' in it, Kincade.  This is not your fight."

"Try and stop me, you jumped-up little shit."  He adds, as Bond aims, "Remember what I taught you.  Don't let it pull to the left."

Bond chuckles, but as his finger touches the cool steel of the trigger, something in his chest grows just as leaden and cold.  His vision telescopes to the teacups resting on a tree branch eight yards in front of him.  Fine bone china.  He'd been forbidden to touch them as a child, but somehow it would have seemed more sacrilegious to destroy the homely things he'd actually used, even in service of this cause.

This cause.  Silva.  There are only two cups because they can't afford to waste the ammunition.  He cannot indulge himself in elaborate fantasies of revenge.  Must keep it simple.

The first shot.  That's for Ronson, for Six, for Whitehall, for Britain.

The second shot.  That's for—

(the scar on his chest, Silva's hands on his thighs, the pained catch in her breath, the bruises on her shoulders)

—everything else.

Kincade stares as the teacups shatter in the distance.  "What did you say you did for a living?"

Bond, feeling no satisfaction from target practice, says, "Didn't you ask M?" 

"She said you were in life insurance."  Bond laughs before he can help it.  "Even cagier than you, she is.  Carries herself well, though," he adds too innocently.

Bond wishes he had a third teacup.  "You haven't changed a bit."

"Olive died six years ago.  Am I meant to be a monk?"

"Oh.  Did she?  I'm sorry to hear that."

"She thought a lot of you."

"No, she didn't.  I broke her mother's soup tureen."

"I didn't say they were nice thoughts."  Kincade's breath puffs clouds into the air.  "I always hated that bloody thing."

"And I never told her that you put me up to it."  Bond tilts his head to the side.  "Some secrets ought to be kept, Kincade.  For everyone's sake."

Kincade regards him, then nods slowly.  "All right."

Bond runs a hand through his hair and sighs.  "I'm going down to the quarry."

"See if you could find what I didn't.  I could have sworn there were a couple of sticks left.  Take my car."

Ten minutes later, sorting through rubbish and rubble, Bond curses himself for a fool.  There's no dynamite here.  There's nothing here.  He's wasting time.

He returns to the house and finds Kincade sawing the barrel off his shotgun.  "Where's M?"

Kincade nods towards the dining room.  "She was just coming out of the tunnel when I got back."

M's seated at the dining room table.  Before announcing his presence, Bond watches in fascination as she neatly smashes light bulbs wrapped in cloth.  After breaking a bulb, she pushes its mount into a shotgun cartridge, leaving the foot contact exposed at the end; then each cartridge goes into a small plastic bag filled with screws and nails, with the foot contact facing out, ready to be fitted back into the chandelier.

"Do you have constructive criticism to offer, 007?" she asks without looking up.

"No, ma'am.  Kincade said you were looking at the tunnel."

"Yes."

"And?"

"I discovered that it is most definitely a tunnel." She ties off another bag and glances at him.  "Are we running out of cartridges?  I had a thought to rig some floorboards, too."

"We'll need to use them judiciously, but no, we're not exactly short."  He hefts the rifle and glances restlessly out of the windows.  Then he remembers they need to cover up the windows.  "What are you thinking about the floorboards?"

"Pick the doorways they're most likely to access," M says promptly.  "Take up a floorboard, lay a charge in the centre slat, and then stick two or three cartridges on top of it, primers down.  That way, when they step on it, the primer hits the charge and the pressure ignites the—"

"Got it," says Bond, who knows very well how a cartridge functions, but is impressed nevertheless.  "I can do that."

"And make sure you tell me and Kincade which floorboards you rigged, for Christ's sake."  She reaches for another bag.  "Guns all right?"

"Mine are fine.  Yours?" 

She gives him a sideways glance.  "Lower on ammunition than I thought."

"I've got a spare clip.  Let me get it."

"No!  You're the better shot, and you're the one who's decided to take up a post outside."  She shrugs. "I'll choose my shots carefully."

"It only has to take one," he reminds her.

"I am aware of that."  She sounds a bit embarrassed when she looks at the ceiling and says, "I got these down well enough." 

They carefully affix the plastic bags, and he raises the iron chandeliers back up to the ceiling.  That's one thing done.  Then they get out crowbars and begin to pull up the floorboards.  He gets to work planting cartridges in the doorways; she and Kincade prise up a few more boards from the corner of the dining room.  These they use to cover up the ground floor windows.  He moves the Aston from the back of the house to the front, aiming the guns towards the main entrance.

Hours have passed.  Everything seems to take an inordinate length of time, perhaps because they keep pausing to listen, and to take turns checking the drive.  Nothing.  No one.  Save for their efforts, the whole world is silent.

Bond knows what M is thinking: what if it's a trick?  Or what if Silva was just mocking them with the motto, and is attacking in London again while they rush around like headless hens in an old Scottish house?  Perhaps the silence is all there is, and nobody's coming.

No.  They've underestimated Silva from the very beginning, but Bond knows him now.  He can smell him.  He'll be here.

Eventually they've done all they can, and there's nothing for it but to wait.  Bond and Kincade take up their posts by the windows.  When it's time, Bond will head outside and wait in the car for Silva's men to wander within range of the Aston's guns. 

M sits on a sofa, looking at the floor, smaller than Bond can ever remember seeing her.  Her gun hangs loosely from her hand; her wrist looks narrow and frail.  It seems impossible that only a week ago he'd planned to bring her up here so they could get a bit of rest.  Now the shadowed house seems to leach all the life from her.

She looks up and sees him staring at her.  Her eyes narrow and flash, as if daring him to express sympathy or concern.  Instead, he says for the first time, "I read your obituary of me."

The anger disappears from her face, fades into something like anxiety.  "And?"

It's oddly endearing.  He hears his voice soften as he says, "Appalling."  It was.  If he'd ever had doubts that she was a spymaster and not a poet, they'd vanished on the instant.

She droops a little.  "Yes.  I knew you'd hate it."

He tilts his head.  "You knew I'd see it, then."  Her lips press together.  He thinks of her easy acceptance of his return, that first night in her house.  "You never thought I was dead."

"Of course I didn't."  Then she laughs, sounding astonished: "There was no body."

There wouldn't have been, he could say now.  I went over a waterfall and into a river.  I should have washed out to sea. 

"Don't talk about this now," she whispers, staring at the wall opposite her, where they have strategically placed another mirror.  "Silva's coming.  Focus on that.  There is no room for sentiment."

Kincade, Bond can't help but notice, is giving both of them a very odd look.  But before Bond can respond—to either of them—he hears it. 

The distant barking of a dog, incessant, furious, until it is suddenly silenced.

He was right.  And now it's time.


 

The waiting was the worst.  Now it's all happening quickly.  It's always like this, a firefight, a battle, and he feels his blood singing in relief.  This is what he's made for.  The ear-splitting roar of gunfire is music.

Most sports cars aren't bulletproof.  Bond congratulates himself on his foresight as he keeps pressing the trigger on the Aston's main control panel.  Then again, when you've got guns behind the headlights, you might as well think to protect yourself from enemy fire in return.  It's not rocket science.

Three men have fallen before the Aston's guns.  Two more have taken cover around the front door.  That leaves eight men unaccounted for, and he saw at least five go into the house.  The two outside are now well out of the Aston's range, so there's nothing for it but to slide out of the front seat, rifle at the ready.  The first man, overenthusiastic and indiscreet about his cover, goes down quickly enough; Bond withdraws behind the car door and reloads.  He's got to get his hands on one of their guns. 

Time to risk it all.  He rises to his feet, rounds the car door, and dispatches the second man with a single shot to the chest.  Now the way to the front door is clear.  He steps over three bodies, tossing aside the Anderson with relief—so heavy, too heavy—and taking up an HK416 in its place.  One man lies dead in a doorway, felled by a floorboard cartridge.  That's six men accounted for. 

He heads back towards the kitchen and sees two dead bodies lying across from a shattered mirror, Kincade's trap.  That's eight.  At the opposite end of the house he hears M's chandelier bombs going off. 

Then, from the kitchen, he hears rifle fire—has to be Kincade.  It's followed by the rapid fury of assault rifles, which means he didn't hit whatever he was aiming at.  Bond flies towards the noise and uses Silva's weapon against his own men.  It is certainly satisfying to see Kincade's awed expression—it's one step away from my hero—as well as the cartridges on the floor at his feet, next to two fresh corpses. 

That's ten.  Three left.

"Drop something?" Bond asks with a smirk.  Kincade huffs, but Bond's already turned on his heel, scanning the shadows.  There's no noise.  He prowls towards the dining room, smelling smoke, trying to peer through the haze.  As he approaches, he sees two bodies lying on the dining room floor, felled by the chandelier bombs.

There's one left.  He hasn't seen Silva.  It must be Silva.  And where the hell is M?

Just then, he spies her: specifically, her reflection in the mirror mounted on the dining room wall.  She has her gun raised, but she's pressed back against the opposite wall, shielded by a bookcase, with a very strange expression on her face that he has never seen before.

But it's enough to tell him that the last man is in there:  somewhere back by the window, judging from her eyeline and the angle of the mirror.  He rushes in, and it's got to be Silva, he sees the dark figure, and it's got to be Silva, and he pulls the trigger again and again, it's got to be, it's got to be—

The dark figure goes down, the assault rifle falling from its hand.  Bond exhales, not sure if he's allowed to be relieved yet.  He turns to look at M, who steps out from behind the bookcase, lowering her gun, still with the odd look on her face.

"How many are left?" she asks, her voice shaking.

"That's the lot.  Are you hurt?" he asks.

"No.  No, I—" She shakes her head, looking at the corpse with wide eyes.  "I recognised him."

"Silva?" Bond asks at once, but even as he turns the body over with his foot, he knows better.  It's a stranger's face.

"No," M says.  "He was one of the men in the ambulance."  Bond turns to stare at her, in time to see that the odd expression is turning into something more familiar.  "He brought me to the farmhouse and locked me in the room.  I recognised him.  And then I tried to move, to shoot him, and I couldn't.  He would have spotted me any moment, and I was just standing there—" She clutches at her scarf, her eyes dark with rage and shame.  "Bloody useless."

Oh, hell.  They should have anticipated this.  Now he thinks about it, some of those faces back there were familiar too, if he'd taken the time to pay attention to them.  Of course Silva would send the same men.

Bond gives the corpse a good kick in the ribs.  "No," he says.  "You were just ready for one thing and you got something else.  Now you know."

She takes a deep breath, visibly getting herself back under control.  "Yes, now I do.  But—" A new sort of alarm crosses her face.  "You said that's the lot.  And you thought this was Silva?  So…"

"So he's not here," Bond growls, as frustrated as he's ever been in his life.  "He's not here." 

He cannot believe it: cannot believe that Silva wouldn't come himself, would give the honour of killing M to thirteen hired goons with assault rifles.  It doesn't seem possible. Bond would have thought that Hell hath no fury like a madman scorned. 

"All right, Emma?" Kincade asks as he arrives in the dining room.  M nods wordlessly.  "That's all of them, isn't it?  Are we finished?"

No, they're not finished, it's never fucking finished.  Bond's trying to think of a less dramatic way of saying this when M gasps, "Listen!"

Bond listens and hears two things, neither of which is good news.  One: rock music.  Two: the blades of a helicopter.

"Boom boom boom boom," The Animals sing, "gonna shoot you right down!" 

In the distance, Silva's Merlin HC3 approaches, blaring music from mounted speakers.

"Take you in my arms, I'm in love with you—love that is true…"

"Bugger," Kincade breathes.

"Boom boom boom boom."

"Always got to make an entrance," Bond snarls.  Next to him, M stands with her mouth pressed into a thin line, but the haunted look is gone.  Silva is most definitely here.  This, at least, she is prepared for.

Well, sort of.  Bond doesn't suppose that any of them is really prepared to be attacked by an armoured helicopter.  He raises the 416.  It's on his mind to tell them to pick up a couple for themselves, but Kincade's never handled an assault rifle in his life and the recoil could seriously injure M.  The best Bond can do is say, "Go to the kitchen.  Now," before sprinting to the far side of the room and knocking through the window coverings with the butt of the gun. 

It's getting dark outside.  The rifle fire will act as a beacon, drawing the helicopter's attention towards this end of the house.  All it can do is buy time, but maybe Bond can lure Silva a little closer, get a better idea of what he's dealing with: how is the helicopter armed, how many men does it carry?

He fires, though he doesn't hope to hit much.  The helicopter swerves neatly from its head-on approach, rotates, and Bond has only seconds to duck.  At least it doesn't have rocket launchers or some other bloody thing, but the heavy machine gun mounted in the cargo bay door is deadly enough. 

Silva is apparently in the mood to show off, as the HC3 proceeds in an almost leisurely fashion to strafe the building, machine gun fire tearing through the window coverings as if they were paper.  Bond half-runs, half-crouches to the kitchen, his ears ringing, but not loudly enough to block out the music. "Shake it baby, I don't mean maybe—come on now, shake—"

Kincade and M are huddled together by a wall, but that's not going to be enough.  "Get behind the arch!" Bond shouts, and they do, taking cover beneath the heavy stone just in time.  He fires out another window, draws the helicopter back the other way again, always keeping just ahead.  He's thinking in half-second long increments, how to survive from one breath to the next.  It's not good enough. 

Soon, every window on the ground floor has been shot to bits.  The helicopter swings by for a second pass, moving more slowly, and Bond can just imagine Silva's face, watching.  Waiting for the mice to poke their whiskers out of the hole.

Then the chopper begins its descent to the ground.  The second wave of men are on their way.

Bond runs back to the kitchen, where M is covering her ears with her hands against the cacophony, and Kincade wears the look of a man who isn't getting what he signed on for. He's re-loading his Colt because he actually thinks it'll do some good.  They can't stay here.  Bond can't focus on taking down Silva and looking out for them as well.

They look up when he arrives in the doorway.  "Go to the chapel.  Use the tunnel," he says, and is almost amused by the alacrity with which Kincade obeys him, taking hold of M's arm and tugging her forward.  She does not immediately follow.

"Wait," she says, looking up at him, "Bond—what the hell are you going to—"  

"M, please," he says, holding none of his urgency back.  "I'll get him.  Just go."  He looks at Kincade, who nods, and pulls at her arm more firmly.  "I'll meet you at the chapel soon."

She accepts the lie for what it is, looking into his eyes for another silent moment before she finally lets Kincade escort her towards the tunnel, which she disappears into without another backward glance.  He supposes that's the only goodbye they get.  He will likely never see her again. 

But he doesn't have much time to get sentimental about it, because the instant Kincade shuts the false wall panel behind the pair of them, there's the helicopter to deal with.  Plus, more importantly, the passengers descending from its ramp.  Visibility is getting increasingly poor as the darkness falls, but he can make out nine men, all armed, not counting the two still flying the Merlin.

The one striding along in front seems particularly confident.  And familiar.  There's just enough light left to see that he's a blond.

"Got you," Bond breathes, crouching again and making his way towards the front door, which Silva is brazenly marching towards.  One clear shot, that's all he needs, just one clear shot.  The bastard thinks his arrogance is bulletproof, but it'll be his downfall.  Right here—point-blank—

Bond raises the gun as Silva tosses something into the air.  It lands, rolls at his feet, and he has about one second to see that it's an incendiary grenade before he throws himself out of the way.  It goes off better than any floorboard cartridge, and he only narrowly avoids being splattered all over the wall.  He's lucky he didn't drop the gun.  Behind him, the floor is already on fire. 

Just as he gets his bearings, another grenade comes soaring through the next window, and he has to move again.  There's not even time to get to his feet, he just flings himself across the floor, slamming painfully into the wall shoulder-first.  The flames are licking over the floorboards, catching hold of the sheets that still cover most of the furniture. 

Bond holds still for a moment, waiting, his shoulder throbbing from the impact.  No third grenade comes flying in.  Suddenly it goes so bright outside that he wonders if Silva's actually nuked the place in a grand suicidal gesture—but no, it's only the helicopter's floodlight going on.  Once his eyes adjust, Bond sees Silva walking past each window, looking inside.  He growls and scuttles across the floor, gun in hand.

At one window, Silva pauses and calls, "James?  Can she come out and say hello?"

He was never supposed to speak again.  Bond fires at the window without thinking whether or not it's wise.  All it earns him is another grenade, and this time it's the dining table that catches fire.  That's two areas of the house that are closed to him now.  He's being backed into a corner.

He needs a plan, here.  If he's going to kill Silva, and buy M and Kincade time to get to the chapel in one piece, he needs a plan.  Just then, his eye catches sight of the two Calor gas canisters behind mesh wiring in the pantry.

Sure, it's an option; but it's also a bit final, it would mean abandoning the house, and he's reluctant to do that.  Especially since there's no guarantee Silva would be caught in the conflagration.

Where the hell is Silva, anyway?  Even as he has the thought, Bond spies him through another window, just for a second.  He's not looking at the house or preparing to lob another grenade.  He's staring into the distance and his teeth are bared; his face contorts with rage, despair, desire.

He's looking west.  Towards the chapel.  He's spotted M.

And then he's gone before Bond can even aim properly, although he does manage to nail the man foolish enough to trail behind him.  So much for making a plan.  There will be no luring Silva inside now.  And there's only one way to chase after him without getting shot to pieces.

But even that won't count for much if he doesn't take out as many of Silva's man as he can beforehand.  Bond ducks back into the pantry and smashes open the mesh covering the gas canisters with the butt of his gun.  Then he drops the gun and hauls the canisters back through the kitchen, his arm and banged-up shoulder aching from the strain.  The helicopter is hovering near the window where he sets them down. 

Hurry, he thinks, hurry, this is taking too long, Silva's no doubt running towards M at top speed. 

The flames are spreading rapidly throughout the house, catching cloth and wood, and mortar soon enough—if left unchecked, the fire could actually bring the whole place down.  That's what he's counting on, at any rate.  He leaves the canisters and heads back towards the hidden entrance to the tunnel.  When he slides the door open, he sees that it's dark inside, and when he flips the light switch, nothing happens.

Oh, bloody brilliant.  He'll be feeling his way.  At least Kincade had a torch.  Gritting his teeth, Bond turns, pulls his Walther from his pocket, aims at the gas canisters, and fires.

He stays just long enough to see the flames flare up before he ducks down into the tunnel and tries not to trip and break his neck in the darkness.  After a minute or so, behind him, he hears the roar of an explosion and the shattering of glass, wood, and stone.  It won't be enough to bring the house down, but he'll have caught at least the bastards stupid enough to linger too close, and combined with the fire that already rages, maybe…

It seems to take an age to navigate down the tunnel.  Disoriented, making his way through absolute darkness, he finds himself hurrying forward with his free hand outstretched.  It doesn't help that the tunnel winds back and forth, and the ground is anything but even, strewn with pebbles and small rocks.  He keeps stubbing his toe and nearly slipping, and once he damn near sprains his wrist when his palm slaps too hard into an outcropping that otherwise would have broken his nose. 

Goddammit, he has to go faster, Silva's way ahead of him by now, but he can't go faster—it's not as if he can run headlong, and it won't do M any good if he splits his face apart on a stone.  Does this tunnel never end?  How long has he even been in here?  Why the hell don't the lights work?

Then, just when he's getting far too frazzled for his liking, there's a sound up ahead.  He freezes in place, bringing up his gun, as if he can see anything worth shooting at.  With his luck he'll be firing right into the wall.

There's a circuit panel at the moor end of the tunnel, but apparently the other party doesn't know that, because the lights don't come on.  Instead, Bond hears footsteps continuing down towards him.  That heavy tread isn't Kincade. 

"Come out, come out," Silva calls into the darkness, "wherever you are."

Bond holds his breath.  He hears only the footsteps of one man.  Silva is alone.  And he's coming from the moor, where…

Did he find M?  Is she already dead? 

"Ah, James," Silva says, and now his voice is much closer.  "It is you, isn't it?"

Bond raises his gun and fires two shots.  They light up the darkness just enough so that he can see Silva standing ten feet away from him, half-hidden behind a stone curve and pointing his own gun right at Bond.  Silva fires, and Bond barely ducks behind his own outcropping in time.  His ears are ringing.  Every sound echoes.

Damn it.  The tunnel's so narrow that whoever steps out first will be the proverbial fish in the barrel.  Even in this darkness it'd be impossible to miss.  He would come out firing, of course, but he knows Silva's listening just as hard as he is, and those few seconds when he'd be exposed, and Silva wouldn't, would be the end of him.

"Where is she?" Silva asks.

Bond blinks.

"Where are you, Mother?" Silva calls, and it would be a coo if not for the rough edge to his voice.  "Hiding behind your favourite son?"

Bond licks his lips and tries not to hope.  It could be a bluff.  "Why don't you come back here and find out?" he suggests, hearing the rasp in his own voice from smoke.

"Hello, James," Silva says.  Then silence, for a moment or so.  Bond holds his breath and finds himself leaning forward on the balls of his feet.  No, that would be stupid—wait for it—

"Were you surprised by my return?" Silva asks.

Of course the prick's got to gloat.  Bond says nothing, but he's not sure how much of this he's going to be able to listen to.

However, the conversation doesn't take the turn he anticipates.  "I was," Silva continues.  "I did not expect to come back.  I gave up, James.  You were there, you saw it.  But it didn't work."  Silence.  "I just keep living.  Surviving.  I die; but then my eyes open, and I am not dead, though still in Hell.  Two times now.  Such is her power over me."

Bond offers, "Third time lucky?"

"Don't joke.  Don't."  Silva's voice is low.  "You have some experience of it yourself.  You are the only one who knows.  You're the second rat."  Another pause.  "Let me save you.  Only I can do it."

"Thanks, but I'll pass."

"I have no further plans to trouble you, James.  Or anyone.  I want to rest."  His voice shakes when he adds, "I yearn to rest."

"Then maybe I should be the one to save you."  Take a step out, you mad bastard, just one step, just one sound of movement, crunching gravel—

"Ha," Silva says.  "It will not be so easy.  You know it can't be.  She must die with me, do you see?"

Well, at least it's increasingly likely that Silva's not bluffing and M isn't dead already.  "I'm afraid I don't."

"No.  You wouldn't.  That was my mistake as well—to think I could go alone.  But she will not release me."  Bond hears Silva take in a deep breath.  Then he says abruptly, as if making a confession, "I can neither live nor die without her.  So I am here to finish it."

“With a load of armed men,” Bond feels obliged to point out.  “Was that you getting up close and personal?”

“They were under orders to capture her only,” Silva snaps.  “I would never have permitted...James, I don't want to kill you.  I can even set you free.  But you must not keep her from me any longer.  Give her to me."

"I told you," Bond rasps, clutching the Walther so hard that his hand is starting to hurt.  "If you want her, you'd better come and get her."

"Let her speak, and perhaps I will.  I know she's here, she must be—I saw her on the moor, from a distance, I saw her disappear into something like a rabbit hole.  Clever, Mother, you are very clever—and then I saw the door leading underground—oh, my lady," Silva laughs, "why don't you step forward to save your boy?  Do you love him so little?  Or perhaps my own love frightens you.  Neither of us can kill it, and you have only ever trusted what you can destroy.”

Just when Bond's thinking two things—first, that M clearly tricked Silva into the tunnel, and second, that they could be here all bloody night—the lights go on. 

Then there is the sound of a slamming door at the moor end of the tunnel.  Bond's got his gun out, he's leaning out from around the outcropping, and there's the barrel of Silva's Steyr—

A percussive roar.  The ground beneath him, the walls around him, shake from an explosion somewhere back towards the house.  Bond staggers back against the wall, behind his outcropping, dropping the Walther as he shields himself from falling rocks.  Dear God—that can't have been because of the gas canisters, what—?

There's no time to think about it, because a sudden, loud series of bangs lets him know he's got more immediate problems.  Pipes run the length of the tunnel, carrying water from the pond to the house, and now they are bursting.  A frigid blast of water nails him to the wall with sheer force of pressure, and he drops to his knees to get out of the way.  His chest aches and he wonders if he cracked a rib.  Somewhere out of view, he hears Silva laughing hysterically.

Head spinning, ears ringing, he thinks about the lights that wouldn't go on, and the dynamite he couldn't find but that Kincade swore was there, and M expertly connecting rifle cartridges to electric chandeliers, and good God but the water's freezing cold and rising fast.  He staggers to his feet, looking around for his gun, but the water's already past his ankles, and so murky with mud and silt that he can't see a thing in it. 

Silva laughs again.  Bond dares to poke his head out from behind his outcropping, and sees him standing in front of one jet of water and beneath another, holding out his hands as if enjoying a summer shower.  Now that the lights are on, however temporarily, Bond can clearly see a thin, ruddy mark around his neck.  And he, too, has lost his gun.

"There!  You see?" Silva says, lowering his hands and giving Bond an enormous grin.  "Betrayal!  That's her game!  She killed you once, and now she sacrifices you again—ah, but only to destroy me."  He steps forward, water sloshing around his calves, his hair and clothes soaked through.  But he appears to feel none of the cold.  "In the end, she chooses me.  That is my victory."

Yeah, it must be a cracked rib.  Bond's shoulder also aches mercilessly.  And Silva's right.  Of course he's right.  There's no room for sentiment, she'd said, cautioning not Bond, but herself—

Silva's looking at him, and something in Bond's face makes him stop laughing.  He tilts his head back and calls over the rushing water, "Don't you want to know what it's like?"

"What?" Bond asks, regretting it that very instant, because 'it' can only mean one thing.

"How it feels, of course," Silva says.  "How it feels to hold her in your arms."  He closes his eyes for just a moment.  When he opens them again, he sounds near to tears as he adds, "The answer is…sublime.  Worth death.  I pity you for not knowing, I do pity you for that."

Bond steps out from behind the outcropping—lurches, more like—and plasters his most irritating smirk on his face.  If he's going to die here, it's not going to be from Silva goading him to death.  Maybe he can turn it around.  "Who says I don't?" he asks.

Silva raises his eyebrows.  "She did."

Bond says, "Well, that was a week ago."

Silva's mouth tightens, convulses, and something dark inside Bond sings: but then Silva gets himself back under control.  He steps forward, and so does Bond, and they wade towards one another, fists clenched.  The water is nearly to Bond's knees.  He can't help noticing the exposed lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling, right at shoulder height.  That's not going to be good news for anyone in a few minutes' time.

He should be so lucky to worry about that.  He's about to go hand-to-hand with Silva, and maybe the old ways are the best, but Silva's got a good two inches on him.  Plus several more pounds, and he's not hurt.  And Bond's got this slight, but definite weight pressing painfully against his chest—

"It doesn't matter," Silva says.

—this weight—

"I will defeat you here," Silva says.  "You cannot beat me, because I cannot be killed like this, by you.  I am sorry, James."  He bends his knees, leans forward.  "I thought I might spare my fellow rat."

The weight over his heart.  Bond says, "I'd say you were more of a rabbit than a rat."

"What?"

"Oh, you'll see," Bond says.  "Just you keep quite still and wait." 

Then he yanks Kincade's hunting knife from the inside pocket of his jacket and lunges forward.  No stupid overhead blows for a double-oh agent, no extravagant slashes that waste time and energy:  he drives the point of the knife straight into Silva's belly, tugs it out, and thrusts it home again.

Silva gasps, cracks the flat of his palm hard enough against Bond's face to knock him off balance, and then kicks one of his feet from beneath him, sending him crashing down into the water right on his arse.  Then Silva sags back against the wall, eyes closed and mouth open as he gasps for air, taking in an equal measure of water and choking on it.  He presses his hand to his stomach.

"That's right," Bond says, scrambling back up to his feet, "hold your guts in," he springs forward, "I'll never beat you—"

He'd meant it as sarcasm, gallows humour, but when he hears his own, raw voice, he knows it can only be the truth.  Silva's eyes open wide, and he begins laughing again.  "No!" he gasps.  "You never will!"

What follows is no more satisfying than shooting at teacups.  Bleeding heavily from the stomach, Silva can put up only a token resistance as Bond goes to work, the opposite of efficiency and professionalism as he hacks and hacks, half-blind with water and pain and wrath.  He must look like something out of a horror film, the villain of the piece.

He doesn't care, he doesn't fucking care, this is for the bloody shot, and this is for Tanner sitting there uselessly, and this is for Six turning their backs on devotion and sacrifice, and this is for the bed sheet she was trying to cover herself with, and this is for the slamming of that door as her insurance against a second failure—this is for every broken thing—this, this, and nothing more, there isn't any more—

"It's all there is," he hears himself choke as he pulls the knife from between Silva's ribs.  "Damn you, it's all there is."  Just death, just murder, that's all.

Blood bubbles out of Silva's mouth.  The water washes it away, but he's gagging on it nevertheless.

"I've killed you," Bond shouts, not two inches from his face, "you're not coming back this time, you're done.  Understand?  You're done!"

Silva smiles, spits blood up into Bond's face, and his eyes roll back into his head.  He gives one rattling, agonised sigh, and then lies still.

Just like last time.  He's covered in stab wounds gracelessly given, and even if he's faking it, he'll bleed out in five more minutes.  The frigid water is up to Bond's hips, and he can feel himself starting to tremble uncontrollably.  He's got to get out of here.  But.  Last time he didn't—

…Last time left an extremely convenient mark all the way round Silva's neck.

The memory of what happens next will eventually blur in Bond's mind.  He has never done anything like it before.  He cannot imagine doing anything like it again.  There's killing, there's doing his job, and then there's this.  But it must be done.  Even if he never makes it out of this tunnel—an increasingly likely outcome—this thing must be done. 

It's all he can hear, even as the water rushes and rises.  It echoes through his head just like take the bloody shot did for three months on the island where he lost himself in drink. It must be done, it must be done.  His arm moves, sawing back and forth with all the strength left in it.  This is what hunting knives are for, isn't it?  Skinning, carving, butchery? 

By the time he's finished, the water is nearly to his chest.  His fingers are shaking so much that he drops the knife when he turns towards the door leading out to the moor.  Not that he expects much from the door.  She'll have bolted it, and that is a solid, thick wooden bolt.  In his current condition, he'd have as much chance against these stone walls.

He's got to try, though.  That's what she can write for his next obituary: On his second attempt, he got things mostly right.

By the time he makes it to the door, he's swimming more than walking.  The water is almost to his shoulders.  Almost to the lightbulbs and their exposed wiring.  It's practically a race to see what'll get him first, hypothermia or electrocution, now girls, no need to fight…

Here it is.  He staggers up the steps to the door, the water receding to his waist.  Puts his shoulder against it, shoves, with no hope—

—falls through to the other side, with no resistance.

It nearly finishes him anyway, since he lands face-first in the water that sloshes past him.  But there is just enough strength left in his knees.  Just enough.  He staggers up the rest of the stairs and collapses onto dry ground, nearly convulsing with cold.  Just give him a minute, though, now that he's not actually in the water anymore.  It's not below freezing outside, he's learnt to deal with things most bodies can't manage.  He can do this.  He's not going to die now, of all bloody times, when he's out of there.

Besides, there is a source of heat in the distance: he can feel it all the way over here.  He raises his head to see the night shockingly illuminated.  Behind him, Skyfall burns, casting an almost homely glow on its environs.  He can smell the smoke—fumes, fuel, wood.  He feels as if it's making its way even into his soaked clothes.

Before him, M sits perched on a large rock, all alone, with her hands folded in her lap.

She looks at him with wide eyes, her mouth pinched tight.  It isn't quite surprise.  He doesn't know what it is.  He tells himself that it wasn't personal, what she did; she had to do it; and hell, maybe now they're even for Cornwall, maybe he's done his penance, whatever she says about it.  But even that doesn't wipe away the last week of sharing her home and eating her bread, or her absolute trust that permitted him to bring her out here.  To say nothing of what called him back from the dead in the first place.

Whatever.  It's done.  He gets up on his knees, then up to his feet, and shuffles towards her, holding out his offering with one shaking arm.  Silva's head dangles from his grip by strings of wet blond hair.  "Well," Bond says, "here," and considers just dropping it into her lap. 

But her gun's already sitting in her lap.  She looks up at him, her eyes still impossibly wide, her mouth beginning to tremble.  Her whole body begins to tremble. 

Bond thinks it must be fear—of him, of his gory prize.  He curses and throws Silva's head as hard as he can back into the darkness of the moor.  She's seen it.  That has to be enough. 

"Where's Kincade?" he rasps.

"He went back to help you," she says unsteadily.  "I promised him I'd go on to the chapel.  Silva wasn't here yet, he didn't meet Silva.  I…don't think he would have been at the house yet when it blew.  But I don't know."

"Right," says Bond, who has depressingly little energy to care any more about Kincade.  He feels, once again, on the verge of collapse.  "The dynamite," he says.  "You took it from the quarry."  She nods.  "And you turned off the switch on the circuit panel at the door."  She nods again.  "You let him see you out here so he'd come."  A third nod.

 He looks at the gun in her lap and then back at the door.  She could have used the gun on Silva when he arrived at the entrance to the tunnel, could have surprised him, surely. 

 

 

"Why?" he asks.

"I had one bullet," she says, her voice so faint he has to lean in to hear her.  "Probably even I couldn't miss at this range.  But I didn't want to take the chance—and what if it didn't stop him?  I thought, just stay hidden, send him into the tunnel, and then duck in and flip the switch and blow him up, or drown him.  So I saw him go in, and I waited until he'd be far enough along.  But then the house blew.  The blast came from the inside.  It brought down the helicopter."  She clutches at the collar of her coat.  He's not sure where her scarf went.  "I knew you must have done it—and you would have escaped the house through the tunnel—so you must be in there, but—"

But Silva's death was their first priority.  And of all three of them, she was the strongest. 

"Anyway," she says, "I did it.  But.  Then I unbolted the door again.  And then I just waited here."

She should not, Bond knows, have unbolted the door.  She knows it too.

The gun rests in her lap.  She is looking up into his face, breathing too quickly, her eyes wild.  He notices that her left hand is curled tightly around something.  His own fingers cramping with cold, he touches her hand, prises her fingers open to see the packet of arsenic in her palm.

He looks at the gun again.  For if Silva had emerged from the tunnel instead of him.  Looks at the packet, still sealed.  For afterwards.

"Oh," he breathes, "Christ, M."

"Don't," she says.  "I'm not M.  Don't, don't, don't.  Thank God—" 

Her teeth chatter.  They're both shaking with cold.  This is purely a practical measure.  He seizes her waist and pulls her to him, pressing his face into her hair while she throws her arms about his neck.  The gun falls from her lap.  She slides down from the stone, he goes to his knees, and they huddle together like that in the dirt, shivering and reeking of fire.


 

It's how Kincade finds them later, nearly stumbling over the pair of them as he makes his way across the moors towards the chapel.  He's smudged with soot but seems all right, his grip on his rifle as firm as ever.  He gawps down at them: Bond soaked and smeared with blood, M's white face pressed to his shoulder. 

"All right, Kincade?" Bond croaks.

Kincade nods, eyes wide.  "Wasn't much left when I got there.  I picked off the only bugger I saw still walking around.  Never saw me coming.  What…" He gestures at the heap they make on the ground.  "What's all this, then?  Are you hurt?"

"Not much," Bond says.  "We got him.  Silva.  He's done."

M exhales deeply, but quietly against him.

"Ah."  Kincade nods again.  "Well done, then."  He glances back towards the flames of Skyfall and gives a sigh of his own.  He'd always loved the old pile more than any of the actual Bonds ever had.  Still, all he says is, "Shall we be off?"

"Volkswagen's on the other side of the chapel?"  Bond asks. 

Kincade nods.  "Not much left of the Aston, I'm afraid."

"Oh dear," M murmurs, giving a shaky laugh.  Bond has the vague idea that he ought to carry her or something, but he has to let her go before he can even stand up.  Every joint feels frozen stiff. 

Kincade's the gentleman who helps her to her feet, after which it becomes apparent that she doesn't need any carrying, thank you.  By the time they've made their slow, halting way to Kincade's car, she's mastered herself; and by the time Kincade's got them all safely back to his cottage, she's starting to look a touch chagrined.

Kincade's tatty sitting room, after the events of the past few hours, looks positively surreal.  Before anything else, Bond borrows and dials the mobile phone, and while M looks on, he says, "Q?  Now would be the perfect time to send backup."

By the time they've sorted that out, Kincade's got the kettle on.  He sends Bond into a warm shower, and when he comes out again, stinging and red-fleshed, makes him change into dry clothes.  "I'm burning this lot," he says, looking at Bond's bloodstained trousers.  "What were you trying to do, make sausages straight from the pig?"

"No," Bond says, feeling as if he'll be better prepared to quip after he's had some sleep.  "I was not trying to do that.  Lost your hunting knife, though."

Kincade's look says very clearly that he does not want to know.  "Ah well, there's more where that came from.  I've got some of Olive's old things, but most won't fit Emma.  I gave her a wool jumper, though."

"Is she all right?"

"She's very quiet."  Bond grunts.  Kincade pats him on the arm.  "I should ask, who is it that's sending backup?"

"MI6," he says, because there is zero point in prevaricating. 

Kincade raises his eyebrows.  "Well, that'll be something to see."

"They'll be here faster than you think is possible."  Bond rubs his hands over his eyes.  He almost wishes he'd waited to call until morning. 

"Let's sit down," Kincade suggests.  M's already at the dining table, cradling her teacup and wearing a green jumper that smells faintly of mothballs.  She's washed her face and hands. 

"Better?" she asks, giving Bond a hooded glance.

"Much."  He supposes that's nearly true.  Kincade's tea is stronger than it has any right to be, but it's wonderfully warm.  "You?"

"Fine."  She turns the teacup around in her hands and looks into the distance, offering nothing more.

Kincade takes his own seat.  "So what now?  I mean, after these people arrive.  What happens then?"

"We'll all have to debrief," M says, her voice as crisp and cool as if they were back in her office.  "Including you, I'm afraid, Mr. Kincade."

"Oh, really?" Kincade looks more intrigued than alarmed. 

"They'll sweep the area.  They'll clear it.  And then they'll…" M shakes her head.  "I don't know what they'll do.  Things are different now."

"Who gives a damn what they'll do," Bond says, putting his cup back on the table. 

"You don't mean that," M says, giving him a very direct look with no sentiment in it at all.  "You didn't mean it three months ago, and you don't mean it now, and you never will, so you might as well give it up."  He has no real response to that, other than to gawp stupidly at her.  "But you are right in that we'll have precious little influence on whatever decisions they'll undertake."

Kincade says, "I might as well ask, are we all going to prison?"  Bond blinks.  "Well, we did kill a lot of people.  I'm assuming, since you called MI6—but I'd sooner know as not."

"No," Bond says, "that will not be a problem." 

Kincade nods, satisfied.  "And after that?"

"After that, I hope you come back home and live a peaceful life."

"I hope so too.  But what about the two of you?"

Before Bond can say anything, M responds, "I'm going to Hong Kong."

"Really?" Kincade asks.

"I have family there."  M sips her tea again.  "A daughter and some grandchildren.  She's been after me to come over for years.  Said I should have retired long ago.  Not that she ever truly knew what I did."

"Hong Kong," Bond says, trying to feel anything other than the bottom dropping out of the world.  "Where it all began?"

M looks tired.  "Don't read too much into it." 

"No, how could I?"

"Grandchildren, eh," Kincade says.

"Yes.  I've got a daughter and two granddaughters.  I'm a widow."  M says all this as if she is reciting information from a new dossier, trying to commit it to memory so she can become someone else for the sake of a mission. 

Only it's not a mission.  It's the end.  "You shouldn't rush into this," Bond says.

"I'm done with rushing anywhere.  That's the point."  She rubs her forehead. 

"That's the point," he says.  "That's the ball of wax.  That's it?"

He hears the bitterness in his voice; it makes Kincade stand up and offer to make another pot of tea before leaving the room.  Bond wonders if his second dog survived.

"That's it," she says.  "And don't you dare ask, what about you."

"No?" His throat aches.  Smoke and cold night air.

"It's back to work for you.  If I have a single string left, I'm going to pull it; and I don't want to hear any more about it.  It's the best I can give you.  It's what you need."

"And what do you need?" he asks.

She doesn't answer for a moment.  Then she replies, "Movement."

He bows his head and understands.  They sit like that until Kincade comes back with the teapot.  He pours them all a second cup, sits down, and sighs, "There's a lot to be said for it…the peaceful life.  I like my long walks in the morning.  Coming home to my tea and fry-up."

"I shall have to get used to that," M says lightly.  "Or tea and congee, at any rate."

"What's that?  Chinese food?" Kincade asks.

"A sort of rice porridge," M explains, and she might as well be in Hong Kong already, might as well be on the moon, for all that she's sitting across the table. 

"When are you going?" Bond asks.

"I don't know.  When they'll let me.  When Mary says come."

"Have you been to China, James?" Kincade asks, in the tone of one who will no longer be surprised by anything.

"Once or twice."  Bond meets M's eye as he finishes off his tea.  "Might have occasion to go again sometime, if I'm in the mood to slip the traces."

She splutters, "If you're—double-oh—!"

For a moment, everything is the same as it ever was.  Then he hears the sound of helicopter blades heralding the arrival of MI6 to the scene, thirty-five minutes after he made the call.  He wonders who has come to greet them, or possibly take them away in irons.  There's no way to tell just yet.

What he does know is the familiar prickle of gooseflesh on his arms, the coiling of his muscles, the instant readiness for action.  Six is here.  Work is here.  Life is here.  When he realises it, it shocks him.

He looks back at M, who is watching him over the rim of her teacup with a faint smile. 


 

One month later, he's still not a double-oh.  But he's back in service, and she's getting on a plane.

She's given him her London flat.  He supposes it's poetic justice.  It'll be waiting for him when he returns from Heathrow, nearly empty but for his own meagre possessions.  Her own things are either in storage, have been sold, or were sent to Hong Kong ahead of her.  She won't actually be living with her daughter, she says, just close by.

Bond envisions sitting down on the uncomfortable sofa—something else she's leaving behind—and having a decent Scotch, or several, after he gets home.  After all, they've spent over a month now in each others' pockets.  The extra space, and the silence, will hit him for six.

He carries her bags for her, watches them bump down the conveyer belt, and then accompanies her towards the security checkpoint.  Of one accord, they step out of the flow of people.  Then they just look at each other.

It's not what he felt for Vesper—he is no longer that man—but it is no less profound or absorbing.  Perhaps it's because what he is, he owes to M.  Not in the way Silva had meant: Silva, who thought M had changed his nature, forced him into what he'd never wanted to be.  To the contrary, M has given Bond purpose, a place in the world as an agent of Six and a servant of Britain.  He wonders what he's given her.  He is not foolish enough to ask.

She reaches up and adjusts the left lapel of his overcoat.  "You'll be all right," she says.

"And so will you."

"Yes."  She sighs.  "Well.  Goodbye, 007."

He looks back in silent reproof.  She presses her lips together.

"Goodbye, James," she says.

"Goodbye, Mrs. Masters," he replies.  She gives him a truly withering glare.  He says, "Well, I do have manners."

"Yes," she says quietly.  "You also have rights."

It nearly finishes him.  He'd thought he was ready.  But there is nothing on earth that can prepare him, in this moment, to call her by her name. 

He can't imagine what his face looks like, but it's enough to prompt her to murmur, "Come now, none of that."  She touches his lapel again, pats it, lets it go.  "You know where to find me."

"Do I?" he says roughly.

"You always have.  Although if it's my daughter's house…" Her smile wobbles.  Her eyes shine.  "You'd damn well better come in through the front door.  And knock first—" Her voice breaks.

He bends down.  She raises up on her toes.  They kiss only in passing, their mouths brushing on the way to each others' cheeks, and in her ear he mutters, "Beatrice."

Then she's gone without another word, a small woman disappearing into a crowd, and the world keeps moving all around him.  Nothing will ever stop it:  not effort, or pleading, or love.


 

Quiet isn't so bad, he supposes over the Scotch.  A bit of peace and quiet.  Of course, it's going to be different this evening, when she isn't where she was just last night, and many nights before, having a sherry before turning in.  Perhaps he could go out and get drunk or laid, or both.  It had almost helped, once. 

No.  He needs work. 

Other roads.  Far distant horizons.  New possibilities.

Why not stay dead?  Mallory had asked him.  He'd never answered.  But the answer was that death—his death—was dull, a prolonged boozy mess, and life, well, Kincade had summed it up.  It's something to see.  And no matter what she thinks, he still believes that it only comes round once. 

He told her once he didn't have a plan, that he just kept moving.  He doesn't regret where he's moved to, but he'd prefer not to stay here forever.  Perhaps a plan wouldn't be a bad thing.  He could try making one up, just for laughs, see where it gets him.  See if he can have something to work towards beyond firing the next bullet. 

(He wonders what Q would say to that: Q, who had greeted him upon his return to HQ with, "Well, it's good to see you in one piece.  I think—no, on the whole, perhaps not."  And Eve had laughed and laughed.  He does like Eve.)

He finishes his Scotch.  Before he decides whether or not to pour a second, his mobile rings. 

It's Mallory.  Bond raises his eyebrows.  Mallory has, thus far, made few attempts to contact him directly.  It's not that they're on poor terms—it's more that Mallory is a busy bloke these days, and Bond isn't even a double-oh, so why should he rate a personal call?

Mallory's made it perfectly clear that Bond's walking on a tightrope.  One wrong step and he'll fall off.  Lose it all.  He'll be lucky to push paper in Newcastle.

Bond considers his options.  He imagines the disgust on her face at his delay.  Then he grins as he reaches for the phone, and answers it with, "Hello, M."

As far as he's concerned, there's no better time to ask for a promotion.

FIN.