Chapter One: The Arms of Morpheus

The music that evening had been tolerable, even for James Bond's stoic tastes.

It may, however, have had more to do with his company than the performance itself. The dry, but pleasantly warm breezes of the Houston evening caught the four of them as they left the Bayou Palace in the Downtown Theatre district. Houston seemed to lack the particular ambience most American towns wore like a cheap perfume. The constant odours of an industrialized nation with an oily tang to the air, much like Liverpool or Dublin, permeating everything, the food, the buildings, the atmosphere, and even the people. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, even Miami now, had almost a perpetual greyness to them as if the life of the town had been squeezed out of the husks of the great American Meccas. But Felix had been right; Houston was still blissfully free of the sickness.

He'd spent some leave time here years ago, visiting with Felix as he recovered from the vicious attack that left his friend's body and mind scarred, an attack wrought by one of the human monsters Bond had eventually slain. At that time, the city had been small by modern standards, a former cattle town feeling the growing pains of adapting to a modern economy, but now, it was a fusion of towering metal and glass giants. The air, however, had remained fine.

The traditional fortnight of Bond's post assignment leave would be ending soon, two days to be precise. Now, where in the old days, he would have been marking the time until he returned, serving his holiday as if it were penance, the thought of returning to that grey building in Regent's Square filled him with boredom. There were often months between missions; months filled with a sea of paperwork, spaced by range work and training. He'd entertained the thought of requesting some time, that would certainly raise the eyebrows above those damnably clear greys of M's. Spend a few more weeks sharing Felix and Sara's retirement and the company of their family friend, Samantha Maske.

The dry breeze ruffled the ladies' dresses briefly, flipping the comma of black hair above Bond's eyes from the left to the right. Felix handed the keys of his Cadillac Allante to a waiting valet who went about his job with all the speed and gusto of modern youth, very little in other words.

"It's a long ways from the old Studillac, James," Felix had assured him a week ago when he'd picked up Bond at Bush International, fresh from a week's stay at his vacation home in the Bahamas.

"Not bad, he'd replied with a rare, easy smile. "But I would have expected you could have afforded a real automobile, by now." The driving debate had gone on between them since the inception of their friendship so long ago; Felix sticking with his American roots, and Bond beating the path of tried and true European engineering.

Felix Leiter was one of the few people Bond had met professionally that he would consider a close friend. There had been others over the years that had stayed dear to him, such as his chief of staff, Bill Tanner, or the old man himself, but many more had passed on, victims of a lifestyle and a world that pushed people to extremes and then punished them for their servitude.

Sam clutched at Bond's hand, he could feel the long, delicate fingers seek out his own and intertwine within; her natural, close-cropped nails, painted a deep, glossy bloodlike colour for the evening, ever so slightly scraping his palm and sending joyous spasms up his spine. He turned to the woman and shared a brief smile.

Sara and Felix also exchanged a quick glance meant to go unseen by the other couple, but Bond's peripheral reflexes, never completely off guard, had caught the silent communication. It had been Sara's idea to bring the two of them together, against almost violent protest from Felix.

"James is one of the best friends I have in this world, my dear," he'd exclaimed at the time. "But the man is a predator when it comes to the ladies. Even when he's truly enamoured of someone, the damnedest things always seem to happen."

But Sara had persisted.

"Felix, she'd been living with that abusive bastard for almost a decade and in the end, he was the one that threw her out. Do you know what that does to a person's self esteem? A little wonton excitement, a few wonderful nights with a handsome, exotic stranger could be just what the doctor would prescribe."

Felix had learned enough about women over the years to know the fight had been lost before the battle had even been joined. Besides, Sam was pretty enough to keep Bond distracted, and the poor guy had a serious action addiction. If there weren't a gunfight or a pretty lady when he stepped off plane, he'd be bored within the hour.

Samantha Maske would not be James' usual fare to begin with, Leiter knew. She was a thirty-five-year-old grade school teacher whose idea of dangerous living was a room full of fifth graders five minutes before recess. She had little trouble holding the attention of even the fifth grade boys, however. Her dark, black hair hung long and loose about her shoulders, taking a slight in-turn a quarter of the way down her back. Sam was never sycophantic enough to stand there and constantly adjust her locks, as some women are prone to; she was content to let it hang free, with her part always slightly askew. The radiant mane framed a splendid face with watery blue eyes that were a little too far apart for Felix's tastes, a small, but attractive, Anglo-Saxon nose, and a wide mouth with full lips, the bottom of which always seemed to be tucked into her mouth in a nervous, oral fixation.

Her body was not as athletic as many modern women preferred. Rather than the hard muscular arms and torso, Sam had a soft quality. A classic femininity that may have been out of place for recent times, but was well appreciated by men of any age. She had long, gazelle like legs that flowed in long strides beneath her and flawless breasts that called out for attention regardless of her apparel.

Had Felix not been so devoted to Sara Needy, his physical therapist for the last ten years, and his soul mate for the last six months, Sam could have held more than just his attention.

The woman's one flaw was her horrible taste in men. Even before Sara had finally surrendered to Felix's persistent attentions and boyish charms, she would spend many of their three-a day-sessions retelling the horror stories of her friends' personal lives, and Sam's name was always a headliner. As she would manipulate his ever tightening limbs, and what remained of his one leg and arm, Felix would be distracted from the pain by stories of how this poor woman had been made to grovel and apologize for every sorry thing that had ever happened in her ex's life. As Sam grew older, the man had made a habit of visiting the local strip joints and cat houses, and then would return early each morning, smelling of booze and the women from the night before, berating her loudly for not living up to his latest conquest's standards or skill level.

Felix had always marvelled at how quick some people were to criticize a womaniser such as Bond, or even himself in his older days, but they had always respected the women, loved the women on some level, and even prostitutes were afforded common courtesy. Why Sam had waited for the bum to bring a stripper home one night and told her to find a new bed, Felix would never understand. He'd gone into her classroom a few months back as a favour to Sara, told the kids some of his old CIA/Pinkerton stories as part of a career week. The kids had eaten up the stuff, even though Felix had kept the talk of gunplay to a minimum, but what had made the deepest impression on the Texan was the intelligence and beauty of this teacher as she held the attention of, and interacted so naturally with, the children. It was hard to equate this Ms. Maske with the sorry Sam that had filled Sara's stories. The only thing he could figure is that some women were just too conservative in their personal lives, so opposed to change for fear of leaving a secure world, that they were willing to put up with an idiot who would rather eat hamburgers on the road than enjoy the steak he had waiting for him at home.

Felix had picked up James at George Bush International, finally talking him out of picking up a Jag out of one of the rental pools and sharing the Allante with him for the short ride to his new home in Fort Bend County. As Bond had gone to throw his luggage in the boot, he was surprised to find Felix's prosthetic hook tucked neatly into the wheel well.

"Why in God's name are you still holding onto this thing?" he'd quipped.

Felix had laughed as they both got into the Cadillac, "I guess I'm like a ninety-year-old-man with an erection, I might not need it much anymore, but it makes me feel good just having it around."

The airport traffic was gruelling and Felix had more than a few critiques of his fellow drivers to deliver.

"I was suspect of your driving when you had two feet, Felix," Bond had quipped. Felix had known better than to turn the conversation toward James' last assignment, aside from his oaths of secrecy, Bond would have just turned in his final report and would be attempting to distance himself from the adrenaline of the mission.

"So, My Limey Bastard, what do you have in the way of plans for this visit? I'm afraid I'm fresh out of stakeouts and raids this time around."

Bond sat stiffly in a passenger seat that had been built for anything but. He shared a grin with his old friend, but when he looked over, Felix could see the lag in his eyes.

"I need to relax, Felix."

It took Felix a moment to adjust to the idea of James Bond, 007 of Her Majesty's Service, needing to relax.

"What does the mighty James Bond do to relax these days? Houston runs a little short in the high stakes casino market and clubbing all night would be difficult these days even in New York. You can stay out all night, but the clubs just aren't worth spending the time in. I suppose I could jack the ol' Allante up to 100 per hour if that will help."

Bond practically groaned in the seat next to him. "God, no, Felix. I just want to recharge my battery. Share your domesticity for a while. Sleep a few nights with both eyes shut for a change of pace."

Ah, so that was it, thought Felix. It was the old burn infecting his dear friend. In his days with the CIA there had been times where Leiter would sleep for almost an entire day after a particularly gruelling mission.

As James debarked from the aeroplane, Leiter had watched for any signs of physical distress in his friend; James often sacrificed his body, driving it to extremes on a mission, and Sara would want to know if she was going to be convalescing bullet holes, or burns, or broken limbs, but Bond had been physically fine. However, sometimes the mental fatigue was worse than the physical. He'd known more agents, and former agents, over the years that had ended their own lives, than had lost theirs in the line of fire. The job just wears you down, and although Bond was certainly not suicidal, Felix knew his friend needed some "down" time.

But down time was not exactly what Sara had been planning for.

"There is one hair in your ointment, James." Felix had gone on to explain about Sara's grand plan of introducing Sam that evening over dinner. Bond had rolled his eyes and cracked another tired smile.

"Is that what it has come to after all these years, Felix, matchmaking? I know dear Moneypenny's estimations of my prowess have undermined me at the office, but I hardly think I would qualify as a gigolo."

"No, no, nothing like that," Felix had attempted to reassure him. "I've known you well enough, and long enough, to know you don't need help with the ladies, and I hardly believe that Sara wants you to bed her friend and then jet back to the UK with another notch in your gun, I just think she wants the girl to have some fun. And I'm sure once you've met her, having fun will be the first thing that enters your mind."

They drove on for a few miles while Bond digested the idea.

"Felix,"

"Yes, James,"

"I haven't met Sara yet, so I would never be so forward with someone you care about, but would you please relay a message for me. Could you tell her to stick to PHYSICAL therapy?"

Bond's first night at Felix's had consisted of him falling asleep in Felix's den while Sara went on about Felix's physical relapse, and his muscular atrophy.

Somewhere during the story of how his new ultralight prosthetics were not just more functional than the old hook that had replaced his right forearm and the hollow shell where his leg had been. "By flexing his biceps and triceps, Felix can grip and almost write without too much impairment, and he walks without even so much as a limp. He can even run passably; faster than I can, anyway."

While feeling like a lab rat as his anatomy, both flesh and bone, and metal and plastic, were discussed, Felix had become transfixed watching Bond slowly fade away. Bond had positioned himself in a reclining position on a plush, deep blue Cleopatran couch that had been Leiter's since his academy days. His feet were propped up on a knit footstool. He held a brandy snifter cradled by both hands in his lap, unconventionally filled with a small pool of what had been a health dose of a single malt whisky. "One of the few things that Americans seem to do right on a consistent basis," Bond had been known to quip.

As Sara droned on, oblivious to the consciousness of her audience, James's head began to dive ever so slightly forward. You could almost see the tension leaving his body in waves as the baggage of nights of brief and fitful sleep, with days of intense concentration and physical abuse, came home to roost in the body of a mere man. As Bond slipped into the arms of Morpheus, the glass began to take a more precarious perch on the agent's lap.

Sara finally stopped talking with an audible, "Oh," when Felix stood up and fetched the drink lightly from Bond's failing grasp, catching it before it had the chance to spill, demonstrating the smoothness of his aforementioned new prosthetics.

The woman whom Felix had come to think of so dearly positioned herself next to the couch, and with the help of fifteen years of physical therapy experience, plucked up Bond's 76 kilos as easily as he had snared the glass a few moments earlier. She laid him back down on the couch, removed his shoes, and then she garnished him with a blanket to protect against the chill of the ever-present air conditioning, a necessary evil if one wanted to live in Texas.

Felix retired to the master bedroom that featured a beautiful bay window looking out at the distant lights of the distant city. From out here in the country they were little more than candles in the distance. Once again, the hum of the air-conditioner sang to him, accompanied by the whirring of the ceiling fan above. Although he sometimes missed the life James still led, it was a nice feeling to know he was just a normal man, now. He had his little ranch house, a pension from both the Feds and from Pinkerton's, and a woman that filled his every need. Or at least his every honest need.

As if on a mental cue, Sara came into the bedroom to find Felix perched on the end of their bed, looking out at the distant lights.

"He's not at all like you led me to believe, you know," she informed Felix.

So, Felix thought, the Bond magic was working on her as well.

"And how's that, my dear?"

"He seems more sad than hard."

Felix pondered the last for a few moments.

"The part about being a knight they never mention in the fairy tales, the part that is a true bitch, is when you close your eyes and you see the faces of all the dragons you've slain, the gore and the blood of their bodies. And the hard part about saving the world all the time is that you also remember the faces of all the people you didn't save."

Sara shrugged at this. "Well someone else is going to have to save the world tonight because he's sleeping like a log."

They arose at seven the next morning to find that at some point during the evening Bond had awoken and dragged himself into the guestroom. Sara took Felix through his morning stretches in their in-ground pool, a wonderful side benefit and tax write off for both her profession and his ailments.

At ten o'clock, Bond had been asleep for more than twelve hours, and the two of them decided to head into town.

* * *

After thirteen-and-a-half hours, Bond awoke. He laid stirring for a few moments, listening to the air conditioning drone on, and taking a physical inventory of his body. Starting with his toes and working his way up, Bond tensed his muscles and then slowly released them. It was a relaxation technique he'd learned from his dear friend, Tiger Tanaka, on one of his many trips to Japan.

He arose from the bed, and straightened the sheets and pillow with all the precision of an officer. Bond then lowered himself to the floor and did his morning routine of agonizingly slow sit-ups until his abdominal muscles screamed for release. Then he switched to the equally slow push-ups with his hands off to the sides, half again the width of his shoulders. The scalding hot water of the personal shower adjoining the guest room was a welcome, old friend to Bond's weathered face, and then the equal shock of the coldest possible spray chewed away the last of the weariness from his bones.

Now, wide-awake, Bond strapped on his swimming trunks, and padded out into the kitchen area of the house. Felix had left a note on the kitchen counter saying that he and Sara would be back before too long and to make himself at home.

"Mighty hospitable of you, pardner," Bond muttered to himself in a more than passable imitation of the local drawl.

London, Bond knew, would be miserable right now. It was July, and the humidity would be unbearable, cold and wet in the mornings, and by afternoon, a damp living thing engulfing you in its suffocating arms. But as he stepped outside onto the deck that stretched the entire length of the back of the house (complete with the ever-present American barbecue grill), the boards were warm beneath his feet and the sun beat down upon his skin with all of its ferocity.

James Bond took little time to dive beneath the waters, taking a huge breath of air as he stepped off the deck and into the pool. He took four laps of the pool underwater, taking Olympic kick-turns with each new lap. The water was refreshing against his body as he sliced through the warm pool. There was a time when he could have swum for minutes without coming up for air. Oh, how Kissy would laugh if she could see him now with his cigarette-laden lungs barely able to hold his breath for a scant two minutes. When he burst to the surface, it was a defiant gesture, almost surrender. He thought about how well he'd felt after leaving Shrublands all those years ago. Bond seemed to remember M mentioning the place had closed, but certainly there were other clinics about; the Germans were mad about the things. For the first time this leave, Bond began to contemplate an extension. Purge his body and his mind, all that claptrap.

"Care for some company?"

Bond turned toward the feminine voice, wiping the chlorinated water from his eyes.

"That depends on who might be asking?"

The sun was behind the woman, highlighting her frame, while at the same time disguising her features, from Bond. Her hair was dark and her form…. Felix had once commented that women from the Southern states in the U.S. were corn fed, and that this accounted for their generous proportions. Bond had learned to appreciate women from all about the globe, of many shapes and curvaceous sizes, but there were still women of classic form that could take his breath away.

"My name is Samantha Maske, but I much prefer Sam."

The woman was still disguised from the sun, but Bond could make out the towel she now shed. He took in a tiny breath, thinking for a moment she was nude beneath, but it was only a flesh-coloured bathing suit, he realised with relief. He was hardly prudish, but he liked his women to be a little slower than the cars he drove.

"And you would be Mr. Bond, Mr. James Bond. The man whom Sara seems to think will sweep me off my feet and make me forget all my troubles. Is that true, Mr. Bond?"

"Guilty as charged, I'm afraid." Why wouldn't the damn woman step out of the light? Then he realised she was well aware of his dilemma, and that she was purposefully hiding herself from him, teasing him." She seems to think you would be my tonic as well."

The woman on shore gave a throaty laugh and cocked a hip to one side.

"Well, I have to admit, the accent is adorable, and the goods look pretty fair from where I'm standing, but you've got more scars on your body than a porcupine in heat."

The frivolity of their conversation dulled for Bond. Mentioning the wounds covering his frame had made him feel exposed and reminded him of his true world, the one he was so desperately trying not to think of.

Sam must have sensed the change in his attitude for she abandoned her game and dove into the pool. A few graceful, gliding strokes beneath the waves and she broke the surface next to him.

Felix had come far from doing her justice; she was exquisite, and once again the thoughts of his other life faded away. He was on leave, a holiday, and it was about time he started acting like it, and not like some schoolboy who could get his feelings trampled at a whim.

She slicked the long dark hair in back of her, framing herself for a moment next to him with her hands in the air. Sam was watching his face again, he knew, making sure her appearance was having the proper effect on him, which it was.

"If you'll excuse a little Southern curiosity, it's something of an extension of the infamous Southern hospitality." She stepped closer to him and reached out one close-cropped fingernail to trace the scar along his cheek "Well, she said you would be dark and mysterious, that's certainly the truth."

"We aims to please, Miss," he replied.

She carried on as if he hadn't spoken, "I know that you're a former colleague of Felix's, some type of foreign national." She was circling him now, in the water, as if stalking prey. The two of them had begun to migrate to the deeper end of the pool and she easily kept pace around him with graceful strides from her long legs. Bond couldn't help but begin to wonder what those legs would feel like wrapped around him.

"Something like that," he replied.

"A spy?" She was playing again.

"Nothing so glamorous, I'm afraid." He had found it easy over the years to lie about his profession. It was natural now. "I work for a company in London called Transworld Consortium. Felix and I did some work together years ago when my company hired the Pinkertons for an insurance investigation on a lost shipment."

She smiled again.

"If you say so."

Sam suddenly reached out an arm and shoved down on the top of Bond's head. They were deep now, and he went under easily. She drove him down with both arms, but he recovered quickly from the momentary surprise. While underwater, he planted himself feet firmly on the bottom of the pool and cupped his hands beneath her feet. When she tensed her leg muscles, he threw up his arms and hurled her from the water.

Bond surfaced quickly, in time to watch her not so gracefully re-enter the water. She gave a playful yell and began to swim toward the shallow end again. He followed in quick pursuit. As she reached the far end of the pool, he grasped her foot in mid stride and pulled her toward him.

He realised that he was laughing as well as he pulled her struggling form into his arms. His arms reached back around her well-formed, broad shoulders and she stopped struggling, yielding to him. They were now both on their knees in the shallows and as he drew her to him he brought his mouth down hard upon her wide, pouting lips. There was playfulness and passion in their kiss as their tongues briefly encountered one another.

Suddenly she put her hands to his chest and pushed him an arm's length away.

"I'm sorry, you must think I'm terribly easy. Really, I don't normally act like this." She was being sincere, but there was still a glint in her eye, as if to say that, this once, she didn't mind acting like "this."

"Miss Maske," he assured her." We are only going to have this short time together. Sara and Felix will be back soon, and in a week, I'll be back on an aeroplane for London. I'd believe I'd like to know you better, maybe for no better reason than I like the way you smile, but to do so, I'm afraid we're going to have to make the time count. As for being "easy," you practically drowned me just now."

She smiled at this and pulled him in close once again. "Then you must require some mouth-to-mouth resuscitation."

After a few minutes, his hands found their way to her suit ties, and as his desperate fingers found purchase upon her firm, bare breast, he could feel her nipple already hard beneath his fingers from the cool water of the pool. Later, as she trembled in his arms, Bond realised one axiom had held true; everything was bigger in Texas.

By the time Sara and Felix returned from shopping, the couple had made the most of their time, indeed, neither of them realising they had been watched from the moment Bond had stepped outside.

The singer had been blind, and Italian, and James Bond had the distinct feeling the choice of venues for the evening had been Sara's. He and Felix were both attired in dinner jackets, simple cuts that were not too distant cousins of the ones they'd both worn at Royale a lifetime ago. Sara was elegantly adorned with a silver full-length skirt and a paisley top. She was beautiful in Felix's eyes, Bond knew, but Sara was far from his own type. Her face was pinched, and from the musculature of her forearms she looked more like a practitioner of the hurting arts, than the healing ones.

Sam, though, was astonishing. Even with her simple taste in clothing, a strapped grey dress that went three quarters the way down her thighs, she shone brightly.

They'd only been a few rows back from the stage, and the performer's powerful voice was close enough to lift the hairs on the back of Bond's neck. It was a mix of opera standards and contemporary songs, and although the occasional squeal of an electric guitar made Bond wince, it was a stunning performance.

He and Felix sat next to one another, with the ladies playing the parts of bookends. At one point, Felix leaned over to Bond and whispered in his ear, "He looks pretty good for a blind guy, I doubt seriously if all these women are here for just the music.

Bond looked about, and it was true, the audience was filled with women of all ages with a few token men, most of whom looked as if they were along for the ride. Sam's and his hands were entwined upon the armrest they shared. Although the music was more than adequate, his enjoyment was heightened greatly by his company. Sam would pause during points of the evening and look over at Bond in an appreciative manner. Their time in the pool had only been the day before, but the two of them had been nearly inseparable since then. She'd told him of her life, a life that appealed to Bond in its plainness; her upbringing in suburban Houston, her college days in Waco, and her habitually bad taste in men. He had told her of London, of his flat, of May, his watchdog of a maid that truly was his Scottish treasure, and of the places he'd travelled with Transworld Consortium.

The four of them had eaten at a restaurant called Maxim's the evening before. Bond had long believed that when in a foreign country, it was always best to eat the cuisine of that country. Under this operating theory, Bond had ordered the jambalaya, a Cajun rice dish that was awash with every meat the kitchen had been capable of throwing in: mussels, crayfish, shrimp, chicken, and alligator sausage, all swimming in a tomato-pepper sauce that left his lips scorched, but pleased.

Sara had drug off Felix for a game of billiards with much protest from Leiter, yet another guise to allow Bond and Sam some time alone.

"Dammit, I want some quality time, too," Felix had muttered just loud enough for the two of them to hear.

"I'll give you more than enough quality time when we get home, you old man," Sara had told him.

Sam had leaned over her aperitif as if she were about to share a secret.

"In a few weeks, the schools will be out for Christmas break. Chuck and I were going to fly out to Colorado for some skiing, but since he's probably given my ticket to the bimbo of the week, I was thinking of spending the fortnight in Europe."

Until that time, Bond had been considering their relationship as having a fuse that was slowly dwindling away to powder. Whether he was granted an extended leave or not, they would have to part ways eventually, there was no place in either of their worlds for the other one's lifestyle. But there was something whimsical to the idea he liked. The thought of showing Sam London appealed to him, they could even take the whirlwind tour of the continent. He knew it would be more than thrilling for a woman who openly admitted to having never been further from home than the Yucatan in Mexico. The idea of watching May get territorial with his flat also brought a smile to his face; he remembered fondly how flustered she became when Tiffany Case had come to roost for a few months.

He had rules about women, and one of the primary ones was that his flat was off limits, and this had always set well with May. Those rules had been created long ago, though, and had always applied to the women he'd met on assignments. It was hard enough dragging his luggage home with him after a particularly gruelling mission, how could he be expected to tote women as well? It was a matter of not wanting his professional life to invade his island of sanity. But Sam was far apart from that professional life, and the thought of her curled up next to him in front of his fireplace brought a smile to his face, it would certainly help take the chill out of a wet London summer.

"Does a smile mean you wouldn't mind having company back home?" she queried.

"A smile means you should ask me again tonight, after the concert." She smiled at this, knowing what his answer would be. Bond reached across the table, and cradling her face in his hands, kissed her hard on that beautifully wide mouth.

She never would get to ask him again.

As the four of them stood at the curb of the Bayou Palace, the crowd dispersing about them as they awaited the return of the valet, Bond felt contentment. For the first time in years, he was relaxed and at ease. As he breathed in the gentle breeze and reached into his breast pocket for the old gunmetal case where his Morlands lay waiting, he knew that Felix had been right about down time.

Felix's Allante came jerking slowly along from the valet lot. The poor boy behind the wheel, Bond thought, not only did he have to contend with Felix's specially designed stick shift, but the floor pedals and clutch had been altered as well to suit Leiter's use of only one leg while driving.

James Bond released Samantha's hand to turn and watch the car approach. His Ronson lighter found his hand and he cupped his fingers about the cigarette to deaden the wind.

The shot was from a target rifle. The wind and the sounds of the crowd muffled the rapport well enough that Bond couldn't identify the make or calibre. Having been under fire enough in his life, Bond's initial response was quick.

He whirled to grasp Sam, to pull her back to the shelter of the theatre, but the look on Sam's face was beyond surprise. Her hands were framing a hole in the abdomen area of her dress, a hole with a growing sea of red pooling across the surrounding grey cloth.

Her eyes made contact with his one last time.

"James…?" she sputtered, now holding her bloodstained hands palms up toward him, as if asking him what had happened.

The second blast rang out. This one was the kill shot. The crowd had now begun to realise shots were being fired and had started to scatter and panic. The second shot struck Sam in the forehead, slamming her to the pavement like a child's discarded, broken toy doll. The blood sprayed from the exit wound, splattering across Sara's horrified face as she had been standing behind her friend, slightly to one side.

By now, instincts had completely taken over. Leiter already had a Beretta 9mm in his good hand while his prosthetic arm pointed to a warehouse about seventy meters away.

"James, third floor, second window from the left."

Bond hand reached for the well-worn holster under his arm, but the Walther was back at Felix's, on holiday as well.

Quickly recognising his friend's frustration, Leiter tossed James Bond his 9mm.

"Watch them," Bond yelled to Leiter over the din of the screaming concert goers, looking down momentarily at the lifeless form that had been Sam, and the bloodstained face of Sara who now cradled her friend's limp head in her arms as she kneeled on the pavement.

"Get the bastard, James," Felix spat.