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Queen of Spades

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Sorrento, Italy was one of the safest cities for Q.

He was sitting at a street-side café with his dinner on the table next to his ever-present laptop; he’d just been picking at the food really, he wasn’t that hungry.  He knew what he looked like to the tourists: a British university student either on holiday or studying at a nearby university.  He didn’t dispel their notions, knowing that while he was older than an usual student, he could easily dress the part; the earbuds were there to discourage anyone from approaching while he listened to the myriad of languages around him in an attempt to continue adjusting to his new life, one he’d entered just a year and a half ago.

Humming a soft tune to himself, he smiled and leaned back in his chair when the last bit of code fell into place, completing the new security measures he’d started working on after Raul Silva made a move against MI6 a couple days ago, stripping down their technological defenses and remotely blowing up part of their headquarters.  James hadn’t wanted to run the risk of falling into a similar trap, so it fell to Q to protect their networks from any kind of cyber attack.

Then, in the interest of keeping their Italian allies content, Q had bolstered their cyber security as well.

A flicker of movement from the corner of his eye startled him, but instead of being the MI6 agent he feared, he realized it was just a guard mingling with the tourists; they all did that.  One of James’s even; the phoenix armband was barely visible underneath the T-shirt.  The two men made brief eye contact before the guard disappearing into the evening crowd again. 

Even months after the fact, it was hard not to instinctually bolt whenever he saw the guards, no matter whose group they belonged to.  Q could still vividly recall a time when those same guards had been tasked with keeping him corralled in one part of the city.

Sighing, he stood up and put his laptop away.  It was getting dark, and while the two mafia bosses who controlled the entire Bay of Naples were getting along, it didn’t necessarily mean that Q was obligated to stay out longer.  Leaving a few Euro on the table, he gathered his things and began walking to one of the private seaside villas.

Two years ago, he wouldn’t have imagined living this life.

Back when he still had a name, a flat, and a well-paying job as a low-level MI6 tech, he’d been decrypting codes, sending the keys and patterns up to Q-Branch once done.  It was monotonous work, but it paid the bills and kept him out of prison (apparently MI6 didn’t like it when bored IT workers hacked into their systems).  A 00 agent came sniffing around one day, looking for an unlucky boffin to drag to India in the middle of summer.  Being the newest apparently meant he was automatically chosen, despite the fact that he made it quite clear he hated flying.

As with all 00 missions though, this one took a turn for the worse.

Walking up the stone steps that led to the front door of the villa, Q paused when he recognized the familiar Aston Martin in the driveway.  He smiled softly, recalling the lonely week he’d spent here in Sorrento while James took care of ‘business’ in Rome.  Then, clutching his computer bag tighter, he hurried up the rest of the way, nudging the door open with a foot and hoping to see James waiting there.

He was taking his shoes off and hanging up his coat when he realized that there were two men standing in the front hall.

For a moment, the three of them stared at each other.  Turf wars weren’t unusual, and home invasions were rarer but not unheard of (especially if one happened to know a certain Alec Trevelyan, whose hobby was to harass those outside of the group), but a blatant attack on the capofamiglia’s home was something akin to suicide.

Grazie James, voglio parlare con tigo in la mattina,” came a familiar voice—Ottavio Arnoni, Q realized; Arnoni was the other mafia leader based in Capri, and had easily settled into some sort of symbiotic relationship with James after the latter’s arrival several years before Q came.  Footsteps echoed down the hall as Q finally spotted the falcon armbands on the two guards; Arnoni’s men.  The footsteps paused as both Arnoni and James appeared around the corner.  Arnoni paused when he spotted Q, and, after smirking, added, “Buona notte, James.”

Buona notte,” James replied, casually pausing by Q and draping an arm around his shoulder after Arnoni signaled his guards to follow him.  “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” he muttered under his breath, keeping Q close to his side as the trio left.

“Trouble with the Sicilians again?” Q whispered even as the door closed with a soft snap.

“No, MI6 has been spotted near our borders again.  I was hoping Silva could keep them busy for a few days,” James said before ducking down and capturing a kiss.  Q hummed happily as he reached up and rested a hand on the back of James’s neck to loosely hold him in place.  When they pulled apart for air, James rested his forehead on Q’s and said, “I missed you.  Although you probably already knew that.”

“I don’t mind hearing it from you,” Q said, smirking before bumping noses with James.  He allowed the other man to step back, and then, noting the shadow on James’s face, asked, “What did Arnoni say?”

James elected to ignore him; he always did when avoiding a question.  “Alec says you didn’t eat dinner,” he said, nudging Q into the home while taking the computer bag.

“Alec wasn’t bothering the MI6 agents?  What a shock,” Q said, allowing for the diverted topic for once.  For all intents and purposes, MI6 believed him to be dead; James had assured him of it.

“He’s waiting for that double-oh to return, the one that shot me off the train in Istanbul.  He seems to be under the mistaken impression that I’m going to let him take first shots at her,” James said, herding Q into the kitchen as opposed to the living room where the two usually ate.  Pulling a bowl down and preparing soup, he said, “Eat.  I’m going to take a shower.”

“Did you eat?” Q asked as James washed his hands.

“On the way over.  Didn’t waste time once I found out that MI6 was on a witch-hunt for the person who blew their headquarters up.  I know that we told Silva we didn’t give a damn about what he did with the funding he asked for, but the only stipulation was that it didn’t bring trouble to our door,” James said grimly as he put a towel back.  Kissing Q briefly on the head, he said, “I’ll see you in a few minutes.”

Judging from the way his hand lingered on Q’s shoulder before he left, Q knew that neither of them was going to get much sleep tonight.

Not that he was complaining.

Although he couldn’t read people as well as James did, Q wasn’t an idiot and could tell when something was agitating the other man.  He knew the signs, having been forced to learn quickly in order to survive during those first six months of capture.  The restlessness was the biggest hint here, James’ inability to stay still came from years of paranoia and keeping an eye and ear out for trouble. 

He still remembered their first meeting, hard not to given that he was scared shitless at the time.  James Bond was a man who ruled with an iron fist, using fear to keep his men in line.  He’d scared Q so badly at the first meeting that Q had stared him in the face and blatantly lied about his identity, claiming to be the MI6 Quartermaster in hopes that James would spare him instead of killing him right away, giving him time to plot an escape.

Even after living with him for so long now, Q admittedly still didn’t know much about James from before he started living on this side of the law.  He’d certainly heard of James while still working at MI6; the man apparently ran MI6 in circles when he was bored enough, but was never caught.  Few MI6 had come close to catching him, none had succeeded.  Same went for James’s second-in-command, Alec Trevelyan.  Combined, the two of them angered M enough for her to start cursing the two and their ancestors out whenever they resurfaced (according to rumor mill, anyway).

A shadow fell over him, and he looked up in curiosity, smiling when James sat down next to him, wearing nothing but sweatpants.  Leaning forward to gently bump noses, James said, “Next time, I might have you accompany me.”

“I did offer to go this time, it was in-country,” Q reminded him petulantly before accepting the offered kiss.

“I know, but I felt better, knowing that you were here in Sorrento, where my men and Arnoni’s could keep an eye on you,” James replied quietly, gently brushing hair away from Q’s face with a callused hand.  “I don’t know what I’d do if you were hurt.”

Or killed.  Q still caught the unspoken words, and reached up to catch James’s hand that was still against his face.  “I assume the trip home was at least uneventful?”

James nodded, moving his hand so that his fingers brushed against Q’s lips.  Before Q could capture the finger in his mouth, James pulled away.  His face would be unreadable to anyone else watching them, but Q could read the carefully-concealed worry within his eyes.

Finishing the last of the soup, he took James’s hand and allowed the older man to pull him to a standing position, walking forward as James pulled him gently toward the bedroom.  James was silent as he undid the buttons on Q’s shirt, and, after pushing the bothersome fabric from Q’s shoulders, wrapped a hand around Q’s neck.  Instead of reacting instinctively to pull away, Q tugged James closer, letting out a sharp gasp when James took advantage and ducked down to bite gently at the soft skin over his pulse point. 

Then, without warning, he scooped Q up.

Q yelped, clutching to James as the other began to carry him the rest of the way.  “James, warn me next time!” he protested half-heartedly, smiling when he caught James’s faint grin.

“Perhaps, if I feel like it,” James said before shouldering open the door to their room.

Their room opened up to a balcony that overlooked the Bay of Naples, and it was truly a sight in the summer evening; Q could see the lights from across the bay, creating a series of pinpricks across the horizon.  The balcony was right above a sheer drop into the bay below, and it was this fact alone that made James feel safe enough to keep the doors open while they slept.  Being this close to the water kept the house cool during the summer, and Q loved being able to see it all from the bed.

James gently placed Q on the bed, his face curiously unreadable again.  Q, sensing his lover’s dark mood just underneath the surface, kept his hands around James’s neck and brought James down with him.  James propped himself up as he rearranged himself to sprawl over both the bed and Q, and then for a moment, neither man said anything.  Then Q whispered, “James, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” James replied stubbornly before leaning down and mouthing Q’s collarbone.

Q gently pulled James back up so they could make eye contact.  “James… is it about me and MI6?  You know I wouldn’t go if they asked, and if I truly wanted to leave, I’d be long gone by now.”

James didn’t say anything as he cupped Q’s face, kissing him gently.  Q closed his eyes, trapping James’s hand with his own as he felt the unspoken desperation in the other’s kiss.  “James, I swear I’m not going anywhere, I’m here,” he whispered when James pulled away long enough to take off his glasses.  “James, I’m still here,” he repeated before the other man kissed him again, using his body to effectively cage Q in. 

Q felt heated skin underneath his fingertips as he skimmed his hands down James’s side, earning a groan.  He parted his lips at James’s silent demand, the silent request to get closer and kiss deeper.  James’s hands gripped his hips before tugging insistently at Q’s waistband.  Q had to stifle a laugh as James growled and pulled away to deal with the offending clothing.  “I’ll wear something you can handle better next time,” he teased as he lifted his hips to allow James to pull off the jeans, taking his pants with it.

“Shut up.”  James paused long enough to study Q again, who had to resist the urge to squirm under the scrutiny.  He leaned forward a few seconds later, and then whispered, “Are you sure?”

Q looked him straight in the eye; James was close enough to be clear in his vision.  “Yes, I am,” he whispered back.

James nodded and then reached for Q’s hands, pinning them above his head.  “Don’t fight it,” he whispered before leaning forward for a harsher kiss, to which Q reciprocated by arching his body to meld with James as best he could; James’s weight was pinning him mostly to the bed.  James was still wearing the sweatpants, but Q took advantage of the loose fabric to press their hips together, something James added to when his hand wrapped around Q’s lower back to keep them together. 

Something gave out, and the two landed on the bed again, James careful to not completely crush Q.  He was relentless, distracting Q with his mouth underneath Q’s jaw, neck and then lips again.  Q found himself unable to do anything except rub and increase the friction to the point where he started gently bucking against James, who was already gently thrusting against him despite still wearing sweats. 

“I’m never letting you out of my sight again, understand?” James whispered, his voice harsh and warm against Q’s ear before gently sucking at the skin behind the ear.

“I’m still here,” he repeated before kissing James, distracting him from his plan.  Squirming pleasantly, he nearly flinched when he felt cold fingers against heated skin, but before he could react, James pressed his forehead against Q’s.  Instead of speaking, like Q fully expected him to, James merely kissed him again, nuzzling him as he steadied Q’s hips with his hands. 

“Are you ready?” he whispered, leaning in close so that Q could see him without the aid of glasses.

Q nearly groaned, feeling the tension throughout his body; James’s hands were keeping his hips still against the bedspread.  “Yes… yes-”

James swallowed the last word in a harsh kiss, fumbling slightly as he pulled his pants off.  Swallowing Q’s groan when James finally, gently, penetrated him, James held still for a few minutes to allow his lover a moment to adjust.  Then he went all the way, Q reflexively letting his head hit the pillow again in a silent moan as he was filled.  Reaching blindly for James, Q stuttered as James slowly pulled out again, and he didn’t need his glasses to see the grin on his lover’s face.  “Ja-ames…”

“Shh, shh, I’m sorry,” James murmured, a soft whisper in Q’s ear as he slowly increased his rhythm.  Q tried to bat James’s hands away from his hips so that he could bloody well move, but the infuriating man tightened his grip instead, attacking Q’s pulse points with his mouth, gently nibbling, and sucking as Q felt himself get slowly overwhelmed with sensations.  He found himself clutching James’s shoulders, nails digging into scarred and sweaty skin.

It wasn’t until he finally managed to summon enough energy to curl forward enough to bite the junction of James’s neck and shoulder that James responded instinctively with a hard thrust, and Q let out a soft cry as he was momentarily blinded, overwhelmed and drowning in pleasure and relief.  He faintly heard a deeper growl before James released his hips to hold his head for a dominating kiss, one that forcefully pushed Q’s head back onto the pillow and stole the rest of his breath away as James gave one last hard thrust, holding still as best he could for a few moments.  Then he relaxed, carefully pulling out and rolling over to lie next down to Q.

They lay there for a few minutes, Q doing his best to bring his breathing back under control.  His eyes were still closed, so he felt rather than saw James get up and walk away, returning a few minutes later with a damp warm cloth.  “Lemme help,” he mumbled, but didn’t know if James had heard him or not.

“I want you to sleep, I can see you nodding off right now,” James replied quietly, leaning down for a slow, light kiss before straightening again.  His fingers squeezed Q’s lightly before disentangling so he could toss the cloth.  Q felt the bed dip slightly as James leaned over to brush some sweaty hair out of his face, and then frowned to himself when the bed straightened again.  “Let me go make sure that the doors are locked, and then I’ll come back.  Stay there,” James said quietly before leaving, his footsteps almost inaudible on the carpet.

“I’m still here, James,” Q mumbled brokenly, his heart twisting as he tried to wake up, turn back the clock and rewrite the story.  “James… James…

Clang!

Q flinched at the loud sound, harsh reality flooding his senses as he woke from the dream of his last night as a free man.  Struggling to bring both his panic and grief back under control—show no weakness, that’s what they use against you—he swallowed before cautiously opening his eyes, silently taking in the gray walls of the holding cell that had become his new home in the last few weeks. 

Five minutes.  That was how long James had his back turned to Q that night; the fears of MI6 presence in Italy were grounded after all.  Five fucking minutes was all it took.  They wanted the brains, not the brawn of the operation; the codes used to destroy their headquarters had been traced from Silva to the original creator, a man they once believed dead and thought was lashing out in vengeance as a result.  They believed Q to be the real power behind the organization, not James. 

“Wakey, wakey…”

Q turned his head, not moving from where he was lying on the cot.  Glaring balefully at the masked MI6 guard, he tensed, fully prepared to be a complete dead weight again.  It wouldn’t be difficult, his muscles and body ached already from previous days, and the hunters could smell the blood; it wouldn’t be long now.

Twenty days of interrogation had brought them nothing, and they were starting to get frustrated.  They’d tried to negotiate, threatened execution for treason, offered bribes; Q knew what they wanted, knew how to fix it, and knew how much they wanted it.  Yet he said everything except for what they wanted.

It was the only thing keeping him alive nowadays.

He knew soon they would turn their attention to breaking his resolve.  Up until this point, all they’d wanted was information.  When was the next attack?  Why attack?  What was James planning?  Why defend a man who has left you to die in enemy hands?

But it was hard to break something that was already fractured.

“Ready for another round?” the guard asked, tilting his head.

“Go to hell,” Q muttered before turning his head and remaining stubbornly still on the cot.

A sigh.  “I was afraid you were going to say that,” the guard said before snapping his fingers.  Q mentally braced himself for the two men that would haul him out of there again, and sent another silent prayer for help.

James, I’m still here.  Help me, please.

 

Chapter Text

Q could still remember the first time he saw James kill another man.

It had been hours after his capture on the botched India mission; 001 was nowhere in sight and Q was trussed up and propped against a stack of empty containers in the makeshift camp.  His guards were conversing quietly with a man that Q later learned to be Alec Trevelyan; they had been conducting their own mission in the area when 001 had foiled it and escaped with the MI6 objective, which turned out to be data chip that James’ men had stolen from someone else.  Q meanwhile was too sore to even consider escape, given that his captors had whacked him in the head from behind and he’d woken up less than five minutes before.  The phoenix armbands alerted him to which group captured him, and he was trying to figure out what he was going to say next when a hush descended upon the camp.

There was a twisting sensation in his gut that left him feeling sick as James Bond arrived with two lieutenants and a third man that Q recognized as 001’s contact, MI6’s in-man with the group.  He realized that this was it.  The contact would expose Q as MI6, and Q would be executed; Bond was infamous for not keeping prisoners, especially once they’d outlived their usefulness.  As an unlucky low-level decoder, Q had nothing of value that would spare his life.

I’m going to die.  I’m really going to die.

Trevelyan moved then, walking away from Q’s guards to chat quietly with Bond.  They both had their backs to Q, and Q just knew they were talking about him.  He was still looking around for the easiest escape route when he heard crunching gravel and looked back to find Bond approaching him.

Q panicked.

He jerked back reflexively only to hit the containers, startling his guards, and could only struggle uselessly as the guards held him still so that Bond could kneel down perhaps a meter away from him.  Bond was holding a knife that Q hadn’t seen five minutes ago, but didn’t seem interested in using it… yet.  For a moment, neither man said anything.

Bond broke the silence first, sharp blue eyes studying Q carefully as he asked in a calm and quiet voice, “Do you see the man in the gray jacket behind me?”

Q reflexively looked up and made eye contact with 001’s informant.  “Wh-What about him?” he finally managed to stammer.

A soft, predator’s smile.  “Have you seen him before?”

Shit… if Bond didn’t kill him first, then 001 definitely would for exposing a MI6-sanctioned contact.  Was the man even on a MI6 payroll?  Q didn’t know for sure, 001 barely talked to him throughout the entire mission.  He’d just seen the man in question once talking to 001 in the streets of New Delhi.

“It isn’t that hard of a question.  Either you’ve seen him before or you haven’t,” Bond said, cutting into Q’s internal panic as he examined the blade.  Turning the blade over so that it reflected the nearby firelight, he softly added, “A simple yes or no will suffice as an answer.”

Q’s heart skipped a beat, well aware of the knife and that he was the closest thing to the blade right now.  “Yes. I saw him.  He provided the network codes and hub location.  Granted, the codes were outdated and therefore useless, but once I was at the hub, I was able to get into the network.  You need to update your firewalls, fire your programmers, or do both,” he said, watching the blade carefully as Bond leaned forward a bit.

“Are you willing to stake your life on that answer?” he asked quietly, ignoring the soft snarl that came from nearby at the mention of the damaged firewalls.

Q swallowed—or at least tried to.  “Y-yes,” he whispered, staring straight at Bond before closing his eyes as he waited for the strike that would end everything.

It never came.

Instead, he heard the crunching of gravel as Bond stood up again, and opened his eyes in time to see Bond approaching the informant this time, the man struggling in the grip of the two lieutenants.  “It truly is a shame, Michael Devensky, that our working relationship had to end like this.  But, as you know, although I can tolerate the occasional liar, I never condone treason.  We lost people today because you felt the need to get friendly with a double-oh agent and let the two slip through our nets,” he said, still examining the knife as he drew closer.

Devensky spat in Q’s general direction, struggling to regain his balance.  “He’s lying, he’s MI6 like she was!” he snarled, more focused on Bond than Q, something Q was rather grateful for since he had no idea what was about to happen next.

Bond continued as though he hadn’t heard Devensky.  “Treason is treason, regardless of who commits it.  I’m not the only one out there who removes traitors,” he said, pausing by Devensky.  “Although I’m sure the other traitors are more careful to ensure that there were no witnesses that could easily report back.”

“No second chances in this business,” Trevelyan murmured, shaking his head in feigned dismay as Q’s guard nodded in agreement.  “You can sink or swim, but out here, loyalty is law, not an honor,” he added in a lower voice as there was a thump and Bond stepped away to deal with something else.

Loyalty is law, not an honor.

It was one of two memories that Q clung to in his darkest days in captivity, when he’d been so close to giving up.  His acquiesce to MI6 demands would be there on the tip of his tongue as he waited for the guards to return for the next session, but then either the memory of Devensky’s death or of James’ soft smile of the night before leaving Italy would come to mind, and he’d reaffirm his resolve to remain utterly silent.

He still remembered from his days as a technician that MI6 never kept the stubborn prisoners: they were too much of a liability.  At this point, he simply had to outwait his interrogators, and then, one way or another, he would be free again.

He idly wished he could get an idea of what James was thinking right now.  Had he moved on by now?  Had he decided to cut his losses, sacrificing one to save many?

Q swallowed the twinge of hurt, curling into a tighter ball so he could rest his chin on his knees.  His interrogators at some point had taken his glasses away, something about the lenses being a potential weapon.  It had taken him a couple days to adjust to being half-blind, but for some odd reason, it had made the interrogations easier to bear.  Maybe it was because he couldn’t actually see what they were doing to him, and had an easier time retreating within his head.

Clang!

He didn’t even bother moving at the sound of his door opening, any kind of movement on his part hurt too much.  It was one of those aches that reached deep into his bones and settled there permanently, especially since the interrogators were relentless and he was too stubborn to give them what they wanted.

“Be careful.  He’s stopped eating most of the meals, so he’s a little on the breakable side,” came the unmistakable crisp voice of his primary interrogator, Agent 009. 

Q braced himself for the inevitable rough hands, and wasn’t disappointed.  The only thing different this time was that there was only one person handling him this time, someone with larger hands than the ordinary two guards.  He stubbornly remained silent as the man finally set him on his two feet and propelled him toward the open cell door, keeping a firm grip on his shoulder to better steer him.  Q could see 009 standing just outside the door in the hall, hand on her hip as she waited semi-patiently for the two of them.  Her face looked drawn and tired, and he wondered if she knew that he could still get a good sense of her expression even though he wasn’t wearing glasses.

This was the first time he saw her express something other than cold professionalism.

His escort forced him forward, 009 falling in step with the guard.  Q could hear the soft tapping of 009’s heels behind him, and noted vaguely that his guard, for once, was not roughly manhandling him.  Instead, the man kept Q’s hands handcuffed and pressed against his back, but at least wasn’t deliberately trying to cause pain.  He wondered if the man was a replacement because the other two guards broke unspoken orders not to abuse him.  Q snorted softly, and then winced; his ribs still hurt from where one of his regular guards had kicked him in retaliation for a bitten hand.

009 wordlessly opened the door ahead of him; she wasn’t in charge today, or someone would be opening the door for her.  The guard propelled him forward, and then sat him down abruptly in a nearby chair.  There was the sound of something clinking against metal, and Q felt a faint twinge of surprise when his glasses slid back into place on his face.

Then he immediately wished that he didn’t have his glasses back when he saw who was sitting across the table from him.

M said nothing as the guards left the room, and didn’t acknowledge 009 moving to stand behind.  The three of them were in an enclosed room with steel walls, making Q feel mildly claustrophobic.  At least his cell door had had windows.  M meanwhile leaned back in her seat, and said, “Somehow, you’ve gotten skinnier than from when we first found you, three years ago.”

“That does tend to happen when one isn’t given a chance to recuperate from countless interrogation sessions,” Q replied mildly, trying not to make it obvious that he was still anxious about 009’s presence in the room.

He failed.   “Double-oh nine, please move to stand at the door,” M said, not watching the agent obey the order.  Instead she said, “I have been extra lenient with you this past month.  By all rights, I should have ordered your execution a week ago.”

Q was careful to hide his surprise.  Caution wasn’t something he was particularly worried about holding onto, not this far in the game, but he’d learned quickly not to give the interrogators a weakness to exploit, and it soon became an ingrained habit.  “May I ask what held you back for this long?” he finally asked.

M narrowed her eyes.  “That is none of your concern.  This is the last time we will speak together, and it is my suggestion that you take the advantage to make the most out of this meeting,” she said calmly, folding her hands on top of the table.

Q studied her for a moment, the diminutive woman who tightly held the reins of control over MI6.  James had mentioned her only once, when interrogating Q in those first few months.  He’d laughed when Q confirmed that she was still in charge of MI6, said, ‘She always was my favorite person’, and then moved on with the questions, similar in nature to the ones that MI6 were asking of him now.  The difference between then and now was that Q told James what he wanted to know, still fearful of the immediate threat on his life.

Now though, his life wasn’t the only one on the line here.

“In which case, I thank you for the opportunity to stretch my legs and be somewhere other than my cell,” Q said, pointedly stretching his legs out.  He was unable to hide the grimace of pain that came when he tried to fully extend the limb, but he didn’t otherwise make a sound as he tried to move into what he hoped was a casual sitting position.

M’s mouth twitched, but she otherwise didn’t give away her emotions.  “Where is James Bond?” she asked coldly.

Q tilted his head as though considering the question.  “I would suspect that you would know that better than myself, I’ve been locked up in a cell for a month now,” he replied carefully, watching her eyes for any hint of expression.  “He never told me anything, I was just a tech working on his staff,” he said, careful to keep to the same story he’d told 009 and the interrogator before her. 

M frowned.  “You created the virus that destroyed MI6 and killed nine people, including your previous supervisor, Major Boothroyd,” she said coldly, and Q was careful to school his expression into one of polite disinterest.  “Why did Bond order the attack?”

Q almost corrected her, that it was Silva who had commissioned and then used the code in the first place.  Then he remembered that he hadn’t told his interrogators that either, and if he did so now, it could bring a fresh round of torture.  “I don’t know, he didn’t tell me anything,” Q said instead, slowing his breathing down as he began to withdraw into himself.  “I was just a tech, he spared my life because I wasn’t worth the effort.”

“With all due respect, I do not believe you,” M said, leaning forward.  “For God’s sake, he murdered you just to throw us off your trail!” she snapped, and Q flinched, recalling instantly the nauseating memory of pain searing through his shoulder as he was propelled backwards off London Bridge before Alec and Ryan, two of James’ lieutenants, caught him almost right away.  It had been part of his desperate bid for freedom, one that he’d had to coax James into helping him pull off.

He felt his chest constrict when he felt the cold edge of a knife against the back of his neck.  “I am asking you one more time,” M said, standing up as the guard behind Q leaned forward and pulled one of Q’s wrists up, gloved hand forcing his elbow to bend as it skimmed down his arm.  Q felt the first coils of cold fear twist in his gut as the guard’s gloved fingers intertwined with his own, twisting slightly so that it would take the only the slightest of pressures to snap four of his thin fingers on his dominant hand, leaving his thumb for last.  M leaned forward as panic coursed through Q’s limbs, and she whispered, “Where the bloody hell is James Bond?”

Q gaped at her, his previous nonchalance fading away as he became very aware that he needed those fingers for his work… which would be the only thing he’d have left once he got out of this hell.  He shrank back against the guard’s armor chest plate, at a loss for words.  “I…I…” he stuttered when the guard’s grip tightened on his fingers, and he began shaking his head.  “I don’t know, I was just a staff member,” he tried to protest, flinching as the guard’s grip tightened; he knew it wouldn’t take much, not the way the last few weeks were going.  He struggled against the firm grip as much as possible, but he could manage were a few weak, desperate pulls; he’d slowly stopped eating because his energy and determination had dwindled over the last few weeks.  “Please-

Beep!  Beep!

The guard and M both jumped at the rapid beeping sound, the guard abruptly releasing Q’s fingers, and stepping back to turn around.  Confused, Q managed to turn slightly in time to see 009 raising her communicator to her ear.  “Agent double-oh nine, here, what’s going on?” she asked crisply, eyes flickering at M as her brow furrowed.  She frowned even more, and then said, “She’s with me…understood.  Thank you, R.”

“What’s going on?” M demanded, standing up now.

009 hesitated for the briefest of seconds, and then said, “Five of our undercover agents have been exposed, ma’am.  Identities were given away online, there’s fifteen agents left until we either pull them out or recover the stolen hard drive.”  She glanced at Q warily before adding, “R did point out that Major Boothroyd’s successor is still one of those that need to be recovered.”

M stared at her for a moment before signaling the guard behind Q.  “He is now a liability.  I do not want to see him around here by tomorrow morning,” she said curtly before walking around the desk and walking through the door that 009 had scrambled to open.  “You two, come with me,” she ordered, the two door guards moving to stand behind her as she headed down the hall.

Q could only stare in bewilderment, something that quickly disappeared as the one guard behind him hauled him to his feet, thick fingers digging harshly into his skin and bone.  He gritted his teeth as cuffs were slapped onto his wrists, and bit back a yelp of pain when he was placed on his feet, his knees buckling as he unexpectedly placed his weight on his right leg, the same side as his injured ribs.  009 had her lips pressed into a thin line as he was escorted out the door and back toward his cell, but did not say anything until it was just the three of them in the dimly lit corridor again.

“There’s something I don’t understand,” she said finally, the soft tapping of her heels the only other sound in the hall.

Q glanced at her, noting the dark circles under her eyes and the faint food stain on the shoulder of her black blazer.  “What’s that?” he asked, his green eyes making eye contact with her brown.

She shrugged.  “M just wants one piece of information, and she’ll let you go.  Why won’t you just tell her and then go back to Bond?” she asked quietly.

Q was silent for a few moments.  He had a strong suspicion that he was going to die tomorrow, if M’s words were anything to go by.  009, the double-oh agent who first found him and brought him to MI6, had been one of the few individuals in MI6 he called ‘friend’.  He could still hazily remember late nights at the pub with other new techs and the occasional 00 agent out for either company or a drink, and that it really hadn’t been that bad before the India mission.  009 had been one of three people he wondered about after he faked his death six months after India, and knew that at the end of the day, she was just doing her job despite being sidelined indefinitely. 

He sighed, recalling the last time he caught James in one of his unguarded moments.  Those were a rare treat, even when the two of them became lovers.  James would forever sit in the windowsill of the Sorrento villa when he thought Q was working elsewhere, always writing or reading, his facial features relaxed and every emotion flitting through his eyes.  Then there were those moments in bed, in the early morning hours, when James thought Q was sleeping and would gently brush Q’s hair from his face and eyes while looking down at him with a fond and gentle expression that Q memorized before ‘waking up’ and greeting his lover with gentle kisses and nuzzles.

He glanced up at her again, and he saw that moment of understanding in her eyes.  “I love him too much,” he said simply, shrugging with one shoulder as his guard pushed him forward into the now-familiar cell.  “I know he’ll have moved on by now, found a replacement tech, perhaps also another woman who doesn’t need constant supervision and can actually hold her own when someone sneaks up behind her with chloroform, but if his safety and survival is the last thing I can give him, then so be it,” he added steadily as he awkwardly lowered himself back onto the cot as the large guard left.

009 stood in the doorway, hands on her hips as she stared at him incredulously.  “Don’t you want to live?” she pressed.

“More than anything, but that’s not an option anymore, is it?” he said, raising an eyebrow as he leaned back against his cell, the realization finally unfolding in his mind.  “I can’t run, I can’t even move unaided, and I know what happens with liabilities.  There’s a reason James doesn’t keep his prisoners.”

“Except you,” 009 said, shifting anxiously for a moment.  Shaking her head, she said, “Then bloody well tell her what she wants to know!”

“Tess, either way, I can’t go back!” Q snapped, the unexpected vehemence and the use of her first name startling them both.  “I’m either dead for treason or dead for not giving in to M’s demands!  At least this way, I can retain some control of the situation and protect him since it’s apparently going to be the very last thing I will ever do!”

“Alex, you’re being stupid!” Tess countered, growing agitated.  She glanced back at the guard, and said, “If you ever expect to live beyond your next paycheck, you will leave and not say a damn thing about this conversation.”

Q watched in slight amazement as the guard flinched, but promptly obeyed. 

He turned back to find Tess standing there with clenched fists.  “Tess, I’m done discussing this,” he said, folding his hands on his lap.  The four fingers that had nearly been snapped ached more than the rest.  “There’s nothing you can say to make me change my mind,” he said before drawing his knees up to his chest, turning so that his back faced his thin pillow, and then lay himself back down on his side so that his back was facing her.

There was silence, and then, “Damn you, Alex.  Just… damn you,” Tess whispered before leaving, the clicking of her heels fading as she moved farther away.  There was a slam of a closing door, and then the familiar complete and utter silence of the cellblock.

Q just curled back into his ball, belatedly remembering to take his glasses off and set them to the side before retreating in his mind for the safety and comfort that was James.  He wondered how easy it was for the other to move on, he had to have done so if he never came for Q. 

Am I selfish for having hoped that I mattered enough to him that he would come for me?

Q slowly evened his breath out, knowing sleep would come that much faster if he calmed down and pretended that the burn of hurt and grief in his heart was nothing more than a figment of his imagination.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

They came for him at some point in the night.

Q awoke to a firm, gloved hand covering his mouth and nose, muffling the initial yelp of surprise when he realized there was the outline of a helmet and visor centimeters from his face.  He nearly jerked up in his spot, but the hand was firm enough to keep him pinned to the bed.

“Keep him quiet, M doesn’t want fanfare,” 009 said from where she was standing in the hall, her cold voice sending another jolt of adrenaline through Q’s chest.  “Quickly, mind you, we have a time schedule to keep,” she said impatiently as the guard eased Q into a sitting position, and Q briefly wondered what he had done wrong in order to get the nice guard right before his execution.  He still gritted his teeth as the guard nudged him into a standing position before placing the cuffs on his wrists. 

009 was expressionless as the guard pushed Q out into the hall, tilting her head as the guard showed her Q’s cuffed wrists.  She shook her head before gesturing for the guard to follow her.  “That doesn’t bloody well tell me anything,” she said crossly as she started walking back down the hall; Q noticed that while she was still in the skirt and blazer, she had on what looked like thin ankle socks underneath the tights.  Before he could analyze what it meant—with 00 agents, even the slightest variation in uniform could mean the difference between life and death—the guard shoved him forward, the movement causing his ribs to start throbbing dully again. 

He grunted as he tried to keep to 009’s brisk pace, and dared not complain.  The guard holding his wrists seemed unable to make up his mind about moving slow or keeping up with 009; he kept adjusting his pace as though trying to make it easier for Q, but then 009 would make a sound of impatience, and then he’d hustle Q again.  The 00 agent however seemed too focused on her goal to notice the guard’s dilemma; she kept checking her watch before resting a hand on a firearm holstered at her hip that Q hadn’t noticed until now.  A Walther, if he had to guess, but it wasn’t the gun he would have recommended for her if he were in such a position.  Borrowed firearm then. 

He stumbled once in the dark, but the guard kept him upright.  Since he’d traveled this path many times to his interrogations, Q knew that they had arrived to the staircase.  He breathed several times to calm his breathing down

After a moment of shuffling along in the silence, he finally asked, “Tess?”

“Unless you’ve changed your mind and you now want to tell us what it is that we want to know, stay quiet,” 009 said curtly, not turning back to acknowledge him.

Q pressed his lips together, grimaced as the guard gave him a slight shove as though reproaching him for speaking.  He hobbled along a few more meters before asking quietly, “Will it at least be quick and painless?”

009 didn’t say anything for a moment, and Q thought she hadn’t heard.  Then she said quietly, “Yes.  It’ll all be over soon.”  Q nodded, looking down at the ground and squinting to make sure he didn’t trip.  Then she said, reclaiming his attention, “You had better hope I don’t find Bond on the field, I’ll tell him what you fucking went through for him and then I’ll kill him.”

“Please don’t, he doesn’t have to know.  Especially if he has a girlfriend already,” Q said tiredly, feeling his eyelids grow heavy as he struggled to stay awake; he had no idea how long he’d slept before the guard woke him up, but he suspected that it hadn’t been longer than a few hours.  Once, he’d been able to work efficiently with little sleep, but that was also when he’d had good meals and a secure place to stay.  “Besides, I like you too.  I don’t want you to get hurt unnecessarily, not when you’re already risking life and limb for Queen and country,” he added.  He paused, recalling something, and then asked, “Also, don’t you have-”

“Yes,” 009 said, her tone dropping several degrees.  Q frowned, not remembering that particular topic to be a sensitive one, but let it go for now.  She sighed, pushing another door open, and stepped back to let Q and his guard through.  “Everything’s been arranged, so you won’t be entirely forgotten,” she said quietly as the two passed.

Q paused to see if she would be coming as well, but the guard pushed him along, a little rougher now that Q was getting worse and worse about following commands.  While not a hard shove, it was still enough to make Q trip and then fall to the hard cement ground.  He flinched when the side of his head made contact with the cement ground, having turned it at the last minute to avoid smashing his face.  He could only let out a whimper as the guard and 009 pulled him back up, the 00 agent stumbling when she realized how light Q was now.

“Hurry up, I want to be done with this as soon as possible,” 009 hissed to the guard, her grip tightening around Q’s bicep as she drew closer to him.  They continued hustling him down poorly lit corridors and towards another nondescript door, which 009 tapped three times with a gloved knuckle before tapping in the four-digit lock combination to unlock the door.

Q glanced up hopefully, looking for anything familiar to help quell the slowly growing panic in his chest.  He knew M was trying to scare him into a last minute confession, but he was determined to leave MI6 with the same, quiet dignity he’d had when brought in all those weeks ago.  To his shock though, he saw nothing but cold, dank tunnels and two waiting vehicles, one with three agents standing around one car, another with four.  “Where are we?” he blurted out, not even noticing that he’d reflexively dug his heels into the ground to stop the escort, not that it did much anyway.

009 didn’t respond, she was too focused on the guards.  “Captain, there are two more people than I requested,” she said coolly, walking up to the nearest man in MI6 colors, his companions tensing around him as though preparing for a potential fight.  “Why is that?” she asked, her tone slipping into the familiar pleasantness that more often than not preceded some form of violence.

Evidently, the captain caught it as well; his men looked torn between standing behind him and backing away while the captain swallowed.  “Change in orders, M requested that you and the escort remain behind as your jobs are completed,” the captain said, glancing back at Q and his escort.  “She understands that while you were in charge of the prisoner’s internment here at MI6, your responsibilities end here, since there will no longer be a prisoner to be in charge of.”

“I see.  Thorough as ever, Captain.”  Stepping back, 009 glanced back at Q, and then signaled for the escort to push him closer.  She calmly avoided eye contact with Q, who could only stare briefly over his shoulder at her.  She’d been in charge of his internment the entire time?

“It can still end, Mr. Winfield,” she said quietly, just loud enough for Q and the closer guards to hear as the escort turned Q around to give the handcuffed wrists to the new men.  “All we want is Bond’s location.”

“As I have already informed you, ma’am, I’m done discussing this.  Good-bye, Agent double-oh nine, and thank you for the pleasant stay,” Q said, making full eye contact with the other agent for a brief moment before allowing the other men to turn him around and march him to the nearest black vehicle. 

He gritted his teeth as one of them forced his head down to avoid hitting the frame of the car, and then let out a muted whimper as the man behind him shoved him into the backseat.  Someone else then propped him up by the collar, closed the door, and then the engine slowly came to life.  Q slowly exhaled as he finally realized that this was it, and there wasn’t going to be that last minute rescue.  He didn’t recognize any of the men in the car with him, it was too dark to tell anyway, so he leaned back in the cushiony leather and tried to distract himself with the little scenery of the tunnels outside.

He did look back once.  His escort had already left, but 009 was still standing on the pavement underneath one of the few lights in the tunnel, a strange mixture of panic and regret on her face.  Q watched her figure diminish until the car made a turn, going deeper into the tunnels.  One car, their car, went deeper into the tunnels, the other headed in the other direction, presumably to the surface.

Q slowly exhaled, working to bring his panic back under control.  He tried to distract himself with memories, brief snatches of images and emotions that would help him until the end.  The car’s dashboard clock read 01:12, which meant that James would be either sleeping, working, or even eating at this point, wherever he was.  Q suspected that James would have left Sorrento as soon as the security breach was discovered, and would have most likely headed to France or Spain, he had allies in both countries.  Not to Strasbourg though, it may have been a popular haven for all those seeking to evade the law since it was so close to the German border, an easy escape route, but James knew better.  Strasbourg was also home to the Russian mercenaries that Alec Trevelyan had butted heads with on more than one occasion, and the enmity ran too deep for Alec to go there safely, and James wouldn’t leave Alec behind even if his life depended on it.  All Q knew was that the two had known each other before falling into criminal activities, and that they were practically brothers. 

Q tried to draw his knees up so that he could rest his chin on them, but the combination of the awkward position and his companion smacking them down left Q having to settle for shifting around in his seat to get more comfortable.  Then, glancing at the clock, he tried to guess to which haven James would have gone off to, and back to what he was doing at the moment.  If he wasn’t sleeping, then someone, Alec or the new partner, would have to remind him to sleep, chances were likely that he’d worked over twenty-four hours without stop.  Q knew he did all-nighters; the two of them would do it together while Q worked on the latest program upgrades and James plotted the group’s next move.  It was always a companionable silence, and that would be when Q felt at his most relaxed.

It was this calm that kept him from outright panicking as the car finally came to a stop in what looked an abandoned subway tunnel, a light over the old platform blinking as it struggled to remain lit.  Q remained silent as his guards pulled him out of the backseat, causing him to stumble and nearly collapse before regaining his footing again.  Jaw set to keep the tears back and pleas silent, he allowed the two men behind him push him to the center of the old tracks, where they would most likely leave his body in hopes that it would be a while before someone found it.  One crack, one slip of sound, and Q knew it would be all over for him one way or another.  Instead, he closed his eyes, holding the last memory of James’ face in his mind as he felt the guard behind him hold him still.  Then, in final defiance to M, he squared his shoulders and raised his head to show her that he was ready for her worst.

Click.

Q almost let out a squeak of terror as he felt the cold barrel placed against the back of his skull, pushing his head forward a bit.  Instead, he let out a slow exhale, struggling not to give in to the rising temptation to just start speaking so the nightmare could be over already. 

The man holding his thin wrists must have felt him shaking.  “If you give us Bond’s location, we’ll let you go,” the man said, his voice unfamiliar to Q.  “Any location, any safe house will do.”

Q opened his mouth to respond.  Closed it again.  Weakly shook his head.  Ignored the tears sliding down his face as he fought to keep the whimpers in.

“Very well.”

Bang!

Bang!

Bang!

Silence fell.

It took Q three, painful seconds to realize two things.

One, against all odds, he was still alive.

Two, he couldn’t feel the gun against his skull or the man holding his wrists together anymore

A stifled sob escaped his lips as he collapsed, weak from relief.  He bowed his head, limbs weakening as he cried with happiness and terror that was growing with the realization that he still didn’t know who had done the shooting or worse; if he was still about to die because a vagabond found his or her territory threatened by invaders.

“I…fucking…hate…you.”

Q groaned and curled into a ball in an attempt to protect himself from the angry 009.  “Tess?” he finally ventured carefully; the woman sounded as though she was alone, but given that he lived in a world where walking in silence was a requirement rather than a special skill, there was always the constant fear of an unwelcome shadow.  “Tess, what are you doing here?” he finally croaked. 

She was quiet for a few minutes.  Q could barely hear her footsteps around the three corpses that were surrounding him on the gravel and the old tracks.  There was rustling of skirts, and then tiny crunching sounds as she systematically destroyed each radio that the MI6 field agents must have been carrying with them.  “I thought about what you said yesterday,” she said finally, her voice significantly calmer and closer than before.  “And then, ten minutes ago, I decided that I was willing to do something incredibly stupid for someone I love too.”  A harsh laugh.  “Three someones, actually.  Bond chose the wrong woman to fuck around with because Lord above, I can be angry now that I’ve paid my dues,” she said bitterly as she knelt beside Q and slipped the handcuffs off his wrists with no problem.

Something cold settled in Q’s gut. “You mean you slept with-”

“Fuck, no.  I have high standards, and he is nowhere remotely near them,” she said as she moved Q into a sitting position.  “But yes, I have been in touch with Bond for the last three weeks, it was part of the arrangement we had,” she said quietly as she stepped around Q and knelt in front of him, shining a small light into his eyes. 

Q could only stare at her, unsure whether to be grateful, even more relieved, or remain numb as he had been since his close brush with death.  “Arrangement?” he repeated in a flat tone.  “This… this isn’t making any… any sense…”

She tutted impatiently, and then turned the small light off, plunging the two of them into near darkness again.  “We’ll discuss it later, one of your two guardian angels suggested that we go now while we still can.  HQ will be checking in after five minutes of radio silence, and then the second car will turn around and come back to investigate,” she said, turning before reaching back for Q’s hands.  Bemused, Q let her pull him onto her back, wrapping his arms around her neck before reaching for his legs. 

Cautious hope bloomed in his chest as she stood up, only grunting slightly.  “How… how do I know this isn’t a trap?” he asked finally as she began walking toward the old platform, resting his chin on her shoulder.

“You’ll see in a few minutes, when we get to the car,” Tess said grimly, picking her way back through the carnage.  Q tried not to look down, but was grateful that it was too dark to really see anything when he accidentally did look.

“Nothing makes sense anymore,” he said finally, tucking his face into her neck to shield his eyes from the light.

“I promise to explain what I can once we get to safety, we have a small window before M realizes that something has happened and she calls out double-oh six and seven,” Tess said impatiently as she approached and began walking up the old stairs; Q could no longer hear the familiar tapping of the heels, and could only assume that she’d changed shoes before coming after him.  “All right, hang on…”

The air was unusually cold when they came aboveground, and Q did not recognize any of his immediate surroundings.  He could only gaze in wonder at the stars above, his breath forming white clouds as he began shivering. 

“I know, I know you’re cold, I just don’t see our ride,” Tess said, glancing anxiously up and down the deserted side street.  She carefully balanced one of Q’s legs on a hip before tucking his hands underneath the lapels of her jacket.  “Damn it, I am going to kill him… okay Alex, I hope you don’t mind a brisk walk.”

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Q mumbled, feeling the bile rising in his throat.  Tess didn’t argue; she deftly knelt to slide Q off, and then turned around to brace him as he finally crawled to the side of the street to retch what little he had left in his stomach.  He could feel the exhaustion creeping into his limbs as he slowly realized that he was alive and that he was safe.  The gagging turned into hiccups as he nearly collapsed, crying from the sheer relief of being alive. 

Tess didn’t say a word through all of this, only continued to support him as she rubbed his back with her free hand while murmuring soothing nonsense.  She waited until he was done before sitting him up again.  “How are you feeling now?”

“Tired,” Q said as she draped her blazer around his shoulders, even going as far as to insert his arms into the sleeves.  “Aren’t you goin’ to be cold?”

“Once we get to the safe house, you can sleep all you want,” Tess said, scooping him up on her back again.  As he wrapped his arms loosely around her neck, she added, “Just hang in there for another few moments, but keep quiet.”

Q nodded, not bothering to try and stop his eyelids from closing as exhaustion and pain overwhelmed him.

Chapter Text

Q jerked awake the second he felt someone touch him.

“Easy Alex, it’s just me,” Tess said worriedly, hovering over him before leaning down and wrapping him up gently in a horrendously patterned blanket that had cartoon characters across the fabric.  “Tuck your legs in please,” she said, and he warily did, completely unsure as to where this was going.  Once he was wrapped up, she gently scooped him up bridal-style from the large master bed he’d been lying on.  Holding him close to her chest, she said, “We’ve been here far too long already and need to get going if we don’t want to get arrested.”

“Do they even know we escaped?” Q asked blearily, fighting her in an attempt to stand on his own.  While sleep had restored his energy, he knew that physically, he was most likely not ready for this.  But he had to get moving again, to avoid being rendered permanently unable to walk for the rest of his life.  “Tess, put me down.”

“No idea, but we need to move quickly before they do.  Besides, you being unable to walk will be a part of the disguise I had in mind,” Tess said, keeping him close to her as she walked through the flat, stepping around the numerous picture books and toys that still littered the floor, a light covering of dust on each item.  Q leaned back and noted that her flat was still unusually messy for 00 agents, and wondered exactly how long this charade of hers had gone.  Unaware of his observations, Tess continued, saying, “It doesn’t matter whether MI6 has discovered our escape, we need to utilize every second we have and I already feel nervous about the six hours I gave you to sleep.”

Six hours?  “You could have left sooner, even with me in tow.  We’ve already demonstrated that I’m a lightweight,” he said, trying to hide the slight twinge of guilt in his voice.

Tess shook her head.  “We were already taking enough chances with your declining health when you were still in custody, you needed the rest.  O’Reilly would have had my head if he knew I didn’t let you sleep and rest in peace for once,” she said, grinning softly at the thought of the usually cranky MI6 Medical Chief of Staff. 

Q hesitated as she nudged the front door open with a foot.  “You mentioned that two people in MI6 helped you.  Who and why?” he asked quietly.

“O’Reilly because he still likes you, even though he was beyond furious when he found out that not only were you in MI6 custody for treason, but you marred his once-perfect record of posthumous examinations.  He could only do blood tests for illnesses, since that was all I could smuggle him week after week, but he and I constructed a diet that had you eaten it, would have caused you to lose weight but keep enough strength for a planned departure.  As it is, you lost maybe a little too much, but we won’t know until we get another doctor to look at you,” Tess explained as the two left the flat, nudging the door shut behind her with the locks sliding into place with an audible click

Q grimaced at the thought of the doctor.  He and O’Reilly had met when Q had stumbled into Medical two months since joining MI6 after a mishap with a few inebriated Q-Branch staffers.  O’Reilly had taken a shine to him just because he was one of the rare few patients who didn’t fight him every step of the way, and the two had settled for weekly tea chats on Friday afternoons until Q had been dragged away to India.  He could only imagine how O’Reilly had handled the coronary exam of Q after Q faked his death in an attempt to escape for freedom and ensure that he’d be left alone.  “And the other?” he prompted.

Tess blew out a soft sigh.  “Marcela Nicholson from Q-Branch, the two of you were friends since you’d both joined MI6 around the same time,” she said as she turned around so he could press the button for the lift.  “In the year and a half you were gone, she got promoted to work in Q-Branch, and was rather surprised to find that you were still alive when you were brought in last month.”

Last month.  Q nodded, recalling the woman in question.  The two had been thick as thieves since they’d been at the bottom of the hierarchy together, and she’d been one of the few people Q missed very much even after breaking free of MI6 control and settled in Sorrento for what he (probably foolishly) thought would be the rest of his life.  He was glad to hear that she’d finally made it to Q-Branch, but then he closed his eyes when he recalled that Q-Branch had been part of the blast that Silva had created with the code that Q gave him.  “Is… is she all right?” he finally asked, looking up at Tess as the lift doors opened.

She seemed to understand right away what he was asking.  “She was out on a coffee run when the blast happened, she is now the new R in the department.  Although, she might as well as be the quartermaster, with the amount of work she’s been doing since the blast.  Her predecessor, who is the new Quartermaster, was out on an undercover field assignment when the blast happened, and M is hesitant to call him back because she knows that his employer will be on high alert for a while now,” Tess admitted, walking into the lift and letting Q press the ground floor button.

“Where is he working?”

She hesitated, and then shook her head.  “Honestly?  I don’t know.  It was an assignment that they spent months in both preparation and infiltration, so the only people who know are the ones actively involved.  And that was several years ago, perhaps four years if I had to guess,” she said, muscles tensing as the lift got closer to the ground.  “Not a word for a few minutes, I put you in the blanket on purpose to fool the front desk clerk.  Lucky for you and me, she can’t see very well as it is.”

Q blinked, and then looked down at himself.  “Tess, I think I’m hardly qualified to pass as one of yours,” he said, making a face as she tilted his head so that he was pressing his face against her blazer. 

“That’s where the clerk’s bad eyesight kicks in, and the second reason why we have to go now before her shift ends.”

Q silently swore to destroy any existing footage of this after.

It wasn’t until he was gently placed in the backseat of the old Toyota and the safety belt was across his lap that he noticed there were three envelopes on the passenger seat.  “What are you doing?” he asked warily, well aware that this could be another one of M’s traps.  Especially since he was still bundled up in the fleece blanket and unable to break free. 

“We’re taking the Eurostar to Paris, after which I have no idea where we’re going,” Tess said, getting into the driver’s seat and starting the car.  “That’s where you come in, and I have an unregistered laptop for you to use up here in the front seat.  I’ll give it to you after we get on the train.”

“Three tickets though?” Q pressed.

She was quiet for a moment as she started the car, easily moving into traffic; it was still too early for the morning rush hour, which meant that she could make record time for the train station.  Q was about to ask again when she finally said, “Trevelyan was supposed to come with us.  He was supposed to pick us up last night, but never showed.  Bastard, I knew that working with him was going to be a problem,” she said, scowling.

Q’s head snapped up.  “Alec was here?  Where is he now?” he demanded, trying to think back to the last twenty-four hours. 

“He’s not here now, but he was your escort last night and the day before,” Tess said in a strained voice.  “I needed help with extraction when it was becoming apparent that you weren’t going to talk, so Bond sent Trevelyan to help.  I had to wait for a good excuse to switch your current two guards out for him, and wasn’t disappointed when you finally snapped and bit them.”

“I got kicked in the ribs, if you recall,” Q pointed out sullenly, finally recalling the gentle guard he’d been given in the last two days.  Damn it Trevelyan, why didn’t you bloody well say anything?  “Why did he not tell me he was there?”

“We had to break your resolve somehow.  At the time, as I told Bond, the only conceivable way I could see you leaving alive was if you talked, and if Trevelyan spoke to you before then, you would have found the strength to continue remaining silent,” Tess said unashamedly, keeping her eyes focused on the road as Q incredulously stared at her. She sighed, and then said, “The idea was to get Trevelyan to be the only other person in the room, him and me, with a tape recorder, and then you would talk.  M would be satisfied, you would be allowed to leave, then Nicholson would ‘accidentally’ wreck the tape and blame it on someone else.  Trevelyan even pushed orders slightly and almost snapped your fingers in order to get you to talk.  Luckily, he called my bluff and I ended up texting Marcela to page me in order to distract M.”  She shook her head, smiling.  “And you wouldn’t talk.  God, Bond is fortunate to have found someone that dedicated to him to keep his secrets even in death.”

Q stared at the back of her head, completely numb and unable to process her words.  James had wanted him to talk just to reclaim his freedom and then hurry back?  “I… I don’t know what to think,” he said finally.

“Start worrying then, Trevelyan was going to be my trump card against Bond if Bond didn’t buy the story of your escape,” Tess said grimly, tapping the third ticket with a finger.  “As it is, I’m going to leave it in a dead drop so that he’ll find it and at least know where we went.”

“How did you meet James and arrange all this?” Q asked as the car pulled up to the train station.

“Will and I had just completed a mission in Montenegro, we were going to spend a couple nights there, at Casino Royale before heading home.  Bond joined the card game Will and I were playing at one night, and I thought he was going to needle Will into a fight.  Will wasn’t impressed, but couldn’t start anything since Bond had done nothing to provoke him,” Tess said softly as she put the car into park.  “Even if he had been one of Bond’s captives at one point, do you remember?”

Q nodded silently.  002 had gotten captured while in the middle of a completely unrelated mission to James’ own, and James would have killed him right there and then to keep Q’s location a secret if Q hadn’t stepped in and convinced him that killing the 00 agent was only going to attract MI6’s attention.  “He used that against you, didn’t he?” he asked finally.

Tess shrugged as she gathered her things.  “More like he politely reminded me of the incident after cornering me in the restaurant after the card game.  Just asked if I could keep an ear out for your whereabouts and let him know if I found something since he was fast running out of leads, and was starting to get desperate,” she said, glancing into the backseat at Q.  “Said I owed you, and this was how he’d like me to repay the debt.”

Q’s heart went out to James at that moment, but he was also relieved that he hadn’t been forgotten after all.  James was looking for him, James bloody well knew where he was… he really was going home now.  “What did you do then?” he asked.

Tess got out of the car, collecting the envelopes before stashing them into her handbag.  Then she headed toward the boot of the car, and Q watched with a mixture of slight shock and anxiety as she pulled out and unfolded a wheelchair, and then pulled a dark blue comforter out of the boot as well.  He merely raised an eyebrow when she opened his car door and then leaned in to unravel him from the cartoon blanket.  “When Will and I got back to MI6, you’d already been there for a week.  I sent an email to Bond telling him so on Friday afternoon, and thought that was the end of it.”

“But it wasn’t,” Q prompted as she gently lifted him under the arms and placed him in the wheelchair.

“No, no it wasn’t.  The bastard was sitting in my living room when I came home from work on the following Monday, kind of in that way that made me think that he was the owner and I was the unwelcome visitor.  Flat was utterly quiet when I walked in, that was how I knew something was wrong,” Tess said as she shut the car door, locking it before tossing the keys into a nearby gutter.  Slinging her bag over her shoulder, she hesitated, and then leaned down next to Q.  “There’s something I have to know,” she whispered softly.

“You want to know whether he’ll keep his word in regard to the children’s safety,” Q said, already guessing what had happened.

Well?

Q turned to face her.  “Tess, you have something he wants, he has something you want.  With this exchange, you hold power over the other while being utterly powerless yourself.  You’ve both found what is extremely valuable to the other, he won’t risk harm to them since he knows you could easily turn around and take me straight back to MI6 or worse, finish what they started,” he said, careful to keep eye contact with her. 

She was quiet for a moment or two, and then reluctantly nodded.  “You can have the laptop once we get on the train, I’ll need to know where to go after Paris.  Trevelyan will have to take care of himself,” she said, straightening up and moving around to tuck the blanket in around Q’s legs, torso, shoulders, and around his neck to ward off the cold.  “Story is that you are paralyzed from the waist down,” she said before adjusting the blanket once more.  “Swim accident.”

Q winced, but didn’t say anything as she stuffed something into the back of the wheelchair. 

He remained quiet as they both entered the station, Tess pausing long enough to slip the third ticket in between a few bricks on the wall near the entrance.  He was admittedly more focused on getting his hands on the promised laptop, well aware that it had been a month since he last saw a computer, much less held one.  His hacking skills might have gotten rusty, and he knew that he’d have to practice to get back to his usual skill level. 

It had always been his failsafe plan in the event James left him.  Then he’d still have something to fall back on, and not have to leave the world he’d gotten used to living in.

Entering the station proper, Tess carefully pushed him to the benches in the middle of the platform  “I know it’s just a two and a half hour ride, but I got us first class since we’re more likely to be left alone there,” she said, keeping her voice down.  “Trevelyan had opted for standard class, as to avoid being seen with us.”

“Where is he?” Q asked, glancing around the platform warily, hands tightening on the hand-rests underneath the blanket.

“Excellent question… I’ll let you look it up at your leisure once we are out of London and we know where to go next,” Tess said, pausing next to one of the benches to sit down next to Q.  Checking her watch, she said, “We’ll be here for another half hour, I wanted to get here early to avoid early morning traffic.”  She glanced at Q and said, “After Paris, where should we go next?”

“Not south, he’ll have moved on from there,” Q said, relaxing in the chair once he realized that he truly was leaving London.  As much as he was sorry to leave the city once more, it would forever be his first home, he was also glad to get as far away as possible from M and her hunting dogs.  “Marc-Ange Draco lives in the south, namely Corsica, but chances are likely he’ll have headed north if MI6 was seen in southern Italy,” he said, keeping his voice down.  “Draco and James know each other well, so if James needed an ally, that would be him.  Problem is that even Draco travels, so there’s no telling where either of them could be.”

“Do you know anyone who does?” Tess asked, nervously smoothing down her coat that was draped across her lap despite the slight chill in the air.  “I don’t want to lose time looking for him.”

“I know, me neither.”  He hesitated, and then said, “We could always go to Strasbourg, there is an assassin living there who makes it her living to know where everyone is and then sells the information to interested parties.”

“And here I thought I was the one with the odd friends.  Think you could get a discount because of your connections to Bond?” Tess asked, glancing at Q.

Q shrugged.  “Maybe.  Anastasia likes me, so she might even be willing to help us out for free,” he said, shifting slightly to get more comfortable.  “She doesn’t like Alec, so James won’t go there, but she’ll know where James and maybe even Alec is,” he said, glancing to the side as something flickered in the periphery of his vision.  Dismissing it as a figment of his imagination, he said, “You’d know if we had a tail, right?”

Tess nodded.  “See something that makes you uncomfortable?” she asked, taking a worn paperback book out from underneath her coat.

Q shook his head.  “Just thought I did,” he said, twisting the blanket uneasily as he glanced at the clock, wondering if it was possible to gimmick the clock to make time, and more importantly the train, go faster. 

“Stop looking around.  Look at me if it makes you feel better,” Tess said, not looking away from her book.  “Nobody but MI6 is hunting you right now.  And they would have to go through me first, so relax.  Even if they send double-oh seven, we’ll be fine.  She and I have trained together,” she said, reaching over and underneath the blanket to clasp his hand in hers.  “Everything will be fine, it’s almost over.”

For some reason, in that moment, Q couldn’t quite believe her.

Chapter Text

Loyalty is law, not an honor.

It felt like a lifetime ago that Q heard those words, but they still haunted his mind as he double-checked the lock to the lavatory door, fingers nearly slipping as he felt a small jolt of pain.  He carefully flexed his fingers, the memory of the guard—Alec—nearly snapping them a little over twenty-four hours ago still fresh in his mind.  He was still a little hurt that Alec hadn’t spoken to him, at least warned him when walking him to his execution.

But what if he felt that he didn’t have to—he doesn’t owe you anything.

Q stared at his hollow-faced expression in the small mirror.  Nothing was ever certain anymore.  He knew that much now.  Hell, he didn’t even trust Tess at the moment; she’d identified her objective, and her children were her priority.  What if she’d lied and this was an elaborate trap on M’s part?  What was to stop Tess from contacting MI6 the second that Q transferred over to James? 

What if he doesn’t want you back?  You know too much about his organization to be left alone.

“Then he would have left me to die,” he said to his reflection, searching the mirror for any hint of uncertainty.  Shaking his head after a few moments, he turned back to the task he’d originally come here to complete.

He gingerly pulled his worn and dirty shirt over his head, leaning against the wall for support.  Balling it up as best he could, he ran water over it before turning the faucet off and squeezing the material to drain it.  Then he began to wipe down his face, chest, and arms down in an attempt to clean up as much as possible.  Tess had given him a clean set of clothes once the train was well on its way to Paris, and he was desperate to feel like a human again for the first time in a month.

Q paused to study the fading bruises on his torso, grimacing when he gently pressed his fingers against the large bruise over his lower ribcage.  A nurse from Medical, when the kick happened, had arrived long enough to make sure that nothing was broken before disappearing again. She hadn’t provided any pain medication, something Q happily cursed MI6 out for through the next several days as he tried to keep his breathing under control.  The interrogators had tried once to use his ribs against him until 009 decided that it wasn’t necessary and threatened punishment for disobedience if she ever caught wind of them trying to use Q’s ribs against him.

Q carefully stripped the rest of the way, leaving only his socks on before reaching for the pile of clothes: trousers, pants, shirt, tie, and cardigan. 

He and Tess still needed to work out their cover story for when they arrived to Paris, it had to be something that would allow Q to use Tess as a support for when he walked off the train—the wheelchair, while helpful, was also going to be the easier thing to remember for people, especially for the few individuals who would recognize him—as well as something that gave them an excuse to be traveling together.

Slipping on the last article of clothing, a mustard-yellow cardigan with blue and red stripes over the zipper, Q binned the clothing he’d worn while still an MI6 prisoner.  Then he tugged down the sleeves of the cardigan and white shirt underneath to hide his wrists, which still bore the chafe marks from the handcuffs.  He fiddled with the tie for a few moments before unlocking the door and slipping back out into the main car, using the backs of seats and any other available surfaces for support.  His eyes drifted to a still-empty seat as he limped past, and he exhaled slowly before focusing on the walk again.

Tess was reading the paperback from earlier when he finally made his way back to the first class passenger car.  She spared him a glance as he gingerly sat down across from her, and smiled.  “Well, don’t you look nice?” she said, closing the book and sitting up straight as he lowered himself into his seat.  “Need help?”

“No thank you, I can manage,” Q said, closing his eyes briefly as he accidentally bumped his still sore ribs against the edge of the table.  Whatever Tess had given him earlier that day was beginning to wear off, and he could feel it with every movement.  “Although a paracetamol would be greatly appreciated, maybe two if you’re feeling generous,” he said, taking the blue blanket from earlier and using it to make extra padding in his seat.

Tess pursed her lips thoughtfully.  Then she leaned down and pulled out the two small bags she’d brought with them.  Setting one on the table, she opened the other and began digging through it.  “I could have sworn that I bought medication two nights ago… damn…” she said, her words disappearing into a mutter as she set aside the first bag in order to begin digging through the second. 

“Do you think we can ask and see if there’s a medical kit aboard the train?” Q asked, wrapping the extra blanket material across his lap.  “If not, I can wait until we get to Paris,” he said after a moment, wincing as Tess carelessly tossed a mobile onto the tabletop.  He somehow managed to catch it before it fell off the edge, but Tess was already standing up before he could give it back, shaking her head in dismay.

“It’ll be another hour before we get to Paris, we can’t wait that long if you need medical attention,” she said, scowling as she zipped up the second bag.

“I’ve waited longer,” Q pointed out quietly, and she paused, looking at him with a frown.  “Two weeks with bruised ribs before you provided medical attention last night.  It wasn’t pleasant, but it became insignificant in the grander scheme of things.  In other words, I can wait another hour if need be,” he explained as she put both bags underneath the table again.

She nodded once before standing up.  “In which case, I’ll be right back,” she said before reaching for her handbag and pulling out a slim tablet case.  “I’ll also get you some soup, you need to put some weight back on,” she added, gently patting Q on the shoulder before handing him the case.  “Behave,” she said, and then left him there.

Q watched her go before looking at the mobile and turning it on.  To his dismay, there was a four-digit combination, and he didn’t have the proper equipment to crack the code just yet.  Slipping it underneath the blanket, he then reached for the tablet case, hoping for at least the most recent model.

He wasn’t disappointed. 

Tess was clever, as he found out when turning the device on.  She had found a tablet that was capable of running its programmed tasks, but the signal had been deliberately weakened to prevent any kind of remote hacking.  Q made a mental note to congratulate whoever helped Tess (most likely Marcela) before accessing the web browser and skimming the major headlines, searching for any kind of news story that would line up with that of Italian Ambassador Paolo Zambrano, James’ last target before MI6 kidnapped Q.  He knew his lover’s MO well enough to recognize the news story that would attempt to cover it up or even better, describe the victim’s cause of death.  He needed to establish a trail that he knew started in Sorrento, to better locate James.  Strasbourg, as he’d told Tess, was where they would find Anastasia Kaminski, who made it her business to know information and use it as a weapon.  She was their best bet of finding James.  What Q didn’t tell Tess was that he planned to part ways with her there; he suspected that James would have left Tess’ children with Anastasia, who had the expertise with handling children thanks to a daughter of her own.

He was typing in the web address for The Guardian, silently cursing the affected WIFI signal when a shadow fell across his keyboard.  He frowned, his fingers hesitating for a second and he was about to turn around and look up when he heard a sickeningly familiar voice say, “Ah, and the prodigal son finally returns.”

Q stiffened at the familiar and unwelcome voice.  He didn’t change his facial expression, merely shut the tablet down and moved it off the table as Raoul Silva sat down in the seat across from him.  “Mr. Silva, I trust you are well?” he asked, falling back into professionalism with the other man; James had handled most of the business last time the three met, so the two computer experts hadn’t spoken all that much too each other, but Q didn’t trust him.  Not after what he’d just endured.

Silva nodded, examining the small bag that Tess had left on the table, closer to Q’s side.  “Curious, has James changed his tune about MI6 after all?  He seemed… less than forgiving after the last time they tangoed,” he asked smoothly, examining one of the bag’s zip pulls that had the MI6 logo emblazoned on the side.

Q grimaced.  “I fail to see how that’s any of your business,” he said, focusing on keeping his voice steady.  “Our business is not yours unless you’re here to commission another cyber virus.  Or something equally inane,” he said, twitching briefly at the memory of an interrogation—how did you get the idea in the first place?—before focusing on Silva again.

Silva didn’t answer right away, simply leaned back in his seat, still fiddling with the zipper.  “Did you appreciate your handiwork on SIS Headquarters?  Unfortunately, the object of my attack was not in the building at the time, but all the same, I wanted her to witness that she is not as vulnerable as she would like,” he said, turning the zip pull over again to study the insignia.

“It was a nice job, I got to have a close up and everything,” Q replied evenly as he resisted the urge to glance back to see if Tess was approaching their seats yet.  “Is there something you actually wanted, or did you come here to annoy me?”

“I was merely curious, querido, about what you were doing on your own this far from James’ side, I never usually see you without the other,” Silva said, raising an eyebrow as he turned to face Q straight on.  “In fact, I had to double-check that James really was the one with the Contessa di Vicenzo last week, when I stopped in Strasbourg to request Kaminski’s aid with a little tidying of loose ends in Cardiff,” he said, folding his hands on top of the table, still carefully watching Q.

Q merely shrugged with one shoulder, refusing to rise to the bait as he squashed the brief flare of jealousy in his chest.  He couldn’t let Silva know what had really happened, he didn’t trust the other man at all.  “Are you trying to recruit or commission another line of code?” he asked raising an eyebrow.  “Because I can’t see any other reason for you to be unnecessarily bothering me right now.”

“Perhaps I wanted a chat?  I am always looking for brilliant minds, my dear boy, you know that,” Silva said, smirking knowingly at Q.  “And that code you constructed was clever indeed.”

Q forced himself to remain calm.  “Yes, it was,” he said almost absently as he reflexively glanced down at the phone and tablet he had hidden underneath the blanket.  “Does that mean that you being here is a recruitment effort after all?”

“Well, poor Sévérine does get lonely from time to time, I’m sure she would greatly appreciate your company,” Silva said casually, glancing over Q’s shoulder.  “I’m afraid that your companion will be a little late, so you can try to stop texting her underneath the table,” he added, and Q’s fingers stilled from where he’d been typing out an SOS.  “Now, recruitment.  Ever since our last meeting, back in Macau, I realized that James so very poorly utilized your unique skills, leaving you as his tech chief when you could be helping him run the entire show.  The two of you made the perfect team, even though neither of you realized when we met to discuss the commission.”

“How do you know that I didn’t already help run the entire show?” Q asked mildly, hoping to get rid of Silva before Tess returned… or at least soon so that he could go check on her.  While she was in better shape, there was no telling what could have happened.  MI6 agents, both field and 00s, never received warm receptions from the criminal underground, and since Silva had mentioned needing Kaminski’s aid… Q knew he had to be referring to the more volatile partner of the husband-wife mercenary team.  That meant so long as Tess left Kaminski alone, she would be fine.

“Simple,” Silva replied, drawing Q out of his thoughts.  “If the two of you were close, you would have not been gone for a month.  Poor James had to deal with a micro-invasion from MI6 two weeks ago all on his own, lost half of his people in the ensuing massacre.  Someone tattled the Sorrento location, only four people really knew where his hideout was,” he added, idly examining his nails.

Q took a deep breath in an attempt to steady himself, but still felt something cold twist in his stomach at the thought of a betrayal.  Silva was right, only four people knew of the Sorrento villa, which had been James’ home base for as long as Q could remember.  Those four people had been James, his two lieutenants Alec and Ryan, and Q.  James and Q never told anyone, and Alec and Ryan were unquestionably loyal to James.  Glancing at Silva, he lied, “I knew about the raid, I was in Vienna conducting business on James’ behalf.”

“Oh?  Then what brought you to London?” Silva countered, a faint smug grin on his face.  “Surely you did not get on the Eurostar with an MI6 agent from Vienna?”

Q bristled, suddenly catching onto the implication.  “I would never, ever, sell James, Alec, or Ryan or anyone else like that,” he snarled, feeling a surge of anger as he gripped the edge of the table and nearly pulled himself forward until something his forearm gave a painful twinge and he let go as though burned.  Noticing a few passengers staring at them now, Q lowered his voice and whispered harshly, “How dare you insinuate that I would betray them, especially after spending a fucking month in a fucking prison just because MI6 thought that I was the one with the grudge against them, not you!”

Silva shook his head, tsking in disapproval. “Oh, my dear boy, I sincerely hope that you don’t kiss James with that mouth,” he said, a slow smile forming on his face as Q realized what he’d just said.  “But this explains so much! Why James finds himself with hunters, why one lieutenant is in the morgue and the other in the hospital,” he said, grinning broadly as Q stared at him in mute horror.  He tilted his head, and then said, “Oh?  Did you not hear?  Well then, do let me know if you change your mind about working with me,” he said, smoothly standing up.  “Preferably before last bells, mind you, I prefer working with people who are still alive,” he added, nodding once in Q’s direction before turning on his heel and leaving, jacket billowing out behind him.

Q could only stare at his retreating back as he slowly went through everything in his head.  One lieutenant in the morgue and the other in the hospital.  Alec and Ryan.  He didn’t know yet what happened to either, but he had to find out fast and soon.  He looked up again in time to see Silva slip out of the car to the next one down.  Another, slimmer shadow falling across him this time as he watched the door close behind the other man. Please let this all be a trap and not real…

“Alex?  Are you all right?” Tess asked, frowning as she set down a tray that had a bowl of soup, a white bottle that looked suspiciously like painkillers of some sort, a mug of coffee and a cup of Earl Grey.  She glanced in the direction that Silva had left in.  “Alex, what happened?” she asked, warily sitting back down in her chair.

Q was quiet for a few moments, trying to process their next course of action.  “Tess, did anyone stop you while you were getting this?” he asked, suspiciously studying the soup in front of him.

“No, should there have been someone?” she asked, immediately tensing before looking around their car.

“Maybe… Russian, wearing a trench-coat, won’t look you in the eye, has a little silver flask, keeps to himself?” Q suggested, turning back to face her. “See anyone who matches that description?”

Tess narrowed her eyes at him. “Now that you mention it, I did see a person who fits that description, except he was bickering with someone over a mobile and it looked like he was close to just throwing it out the closed window,” she said, pushing the cup of Earl Grey over to Q before settling with her coffee.  “I think the barista had the same idea, he looked like he was getting ready to jump any moment.”  She tilted her head at him, and then asked, “Friend of yours?”

“No, but I know him.  Rolan Kaminski, he’s a Russian mercenary.  Not usually violent unless provoked.  Think, um, think of a bear for comparison purposes,” Q said, pulling the tablet out from underneath the blanket on his lap.  “And, if it helps at all, Anastasia, the woman we’re going to see, is his wife,” Q said as he powered the tablet back on and was pleased to find that The Guardian webpage had finally loaded.  “I am still displeased, for the record, of the poor WIFI that this beautiful device has.”

Tess snorted.  “Marcela and I had to lower the strength to keep you out of the system,” she said, picking up her book again.  “But back to the Russian.  Why is that important?”

“Because he was on the train, and not many people take too kindly to MI6 presence in the underground,” Q said, annoyed now that he would need to get into the tablet’s diagnostics himself and fix the signal for better strength.  He hesitated, and then said, “No word or sight of Alec?”

She shook her head.  “I’m trying to believe that he’ll most likely either beat us to Bond or he’s toddling along behind just to either cover our tracks or be a pain in the arse since apparently he likes to see me get stressed out,” she said as Q scrolled through The Guardian’s pages, searching for anything that could give him a hint of what happened to either Alec or Ryan.  Silva’s words were cycling in his brain, and while he knew the man would taunt him to rile him up, he also knew that Silva would tell the truth so long as it got him what he wanted, which in this case was apparently Q himself. 

“Hopefully, it’s to cover our tracks,” he said after a moment, remembering that Tess was most likely waiting for a response.  “I really hope he didn’t choose now to do something stupid…” he added, voice trailing off as he leaned forward to examine the screen better.

“Mm.” Tess glanced back the way she’d seen the other man leave, the one who had been sitting in her seat until she decided to ‘arrive’.  Luckily, the other man had been too engaged with Q to notice her there, hovering in the doorway between cars behind Q.  She hesitated, and then closed her mouth, deciding not to ask about the man’s identity.  If Q wanted to tell her, she’d trust that he would.  In the meantime, she’d taken note of his appearance to relay the information back to Marcela when the two talked later that night, see if the Q-Branch second-in-command could identify him through the MI6 databases.  She already felt anxious about the mission as a whole; she had two days to fulfill her end of the bargain and return to London as it was, and although she was used to moving in and out of criminal circles for her missions, this was different because her only companions were two wanted men, one of which was unable to defend himself. 

“Tess?”

“Yeah?” she asked, glancing back at him, taking in the pale expression.  “What is it?” she asked, straightening in her seat.

Q swallowed nervously, still unable to comprehend the text he was seeing on the tablet screen.  He even turned up the light intensity to make sure that he was reading everything correctly.  “You can really start worrying now,” he finally said, leaning back in his seat as he drew the blanket closer to himself for some measure of warmth, a deep chill settling on his bones.  “Alec is dead.” 

Chapter Text

“Authorities report that it took four hours to subdue the Russian terrorist known as Alec Trevelyan.  While nothing happened prior to the start of the chase, the London Metro Police has issued a statement saying that they will be working in tandem with MI5 in order to figure out Trevelyan’s true intentions on British soil…”

Q stopped the news video, well aware of what the tape was going to show next; a clip of grainy CCTV footage of someone—hard to tell if the gunman was MI5 or not—finally gunned Alec down.  The footage was of low quality, but Q had watched it at least five times already in hopes of finding a clue that indicated the victim wasn’t Alec.  The man that fell after receiving a bullet to the back was tall enough, had distinctive light hair, but Q couldn’t tell if he had a holster on his hip or not.  Alec never bothered to wear one because it was too visible for his tastes, and hiding weapons on his person was a talent of his.  A visible holster was something of an insult for the other man. 

He leaned back in his seat, well aware that this was the first time in an hour that he actually stopped the online video, unable to stomach another viewing.  Glancing out the hotel window, he took in the view of the Parisian streets below and was glad that he insisted on resting after leaving the Eurostar; Tess had been something of a nervous wreck for the rest of the train ride and he wanted a shower so he could feel human again.

He wrinkled his nose at the smell of cigarette smoke; he didn’t know how he missed it before.  “You know, if you just let me hack into the MI6 database, I could ease your fears and ascertain what game MI6 is playing now,” he said without looking over his shoulder at the anxious 00 agent in the other room.

“No.”  Her voice was sharp.  “Don’t you fucking dare.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied mockingly before taking another sip of tea.  Despite the fact that he had to be careful with his consumption level for a little while yet, he hadn’t been sick so far and was pushing himself to regain his strength.  He pulled out the mobile that she’d given him when looking for the paracetamol while on the train, studying the dark screen for a few moments.  Four hours ago, he would have called James in a heartbeat, once they were safe and secure in the hotel.  He wanted to just hear James’ comforting voice again.  Now, as details of Alec’s death came through various news media, Q wasn’t so sure as to James’ mood at the moment.  The blame for the crime was going to land on someone, along with a good dose of absolute hell.  The problem was that Tess, due to her status as a 00 agent of MI6, would mostly likely become a prime suspect.  This meant it wouldn’t be long now before James sent hunters after her and only her.  As much as he hated to admit it, Q knew he needed to keep Tess around in case MI6 agents arrived and he needed help to defend himself while he was still physically weak.

He pinched the bridge of his nose, tossing the mobile onto the table.  James wouldn’t grieve for his brother and friend until the whole mess was over and the responsible parties were dead, which meant Q still had a chance to appeal to his rational side.  The day’s tasks would keep the leader distracted for most of the day, and any phone calls would wait until the evening. 

If Ryan, the other lieutenant, was still in the hospital, it meant that any searches would have a lower ranking agent for a leader, meaning that James would be more likely to ask his techs to monitor it closely, namely Q’s replacement; an American, ‘Tufts’ had a penchant for trying to outdo himself which led to problems such as the hole-riddled network that Q had found all those years ago in India.  Tufts had been in charge until Q came to stay with James permanently, and the American had accepted the change of leadership with grace, but Q didn’t trust him because of that alone.

“Alex?”

He looked up to see Tess standing there, clothes wrinkled and blazer missing.  The cigarette smoke clung to her skin, and Q tried not to make a face as she sat down across from him.  “Does this change anything?” she asked quietly.

Q shook his head.  “We will go on to Strasbourg, where we will part ways,” he said, holding up a hand to stall Tess’ protests.  “You will be incredibly lucky to even get to Strasbourg with just me in tow, never mind with three children.”  Shaking his head, he said, “I’ve learned the ropes to this game.  MI6 is barely tolerated as it is, and any unlucky 00 agent to walk into the hornet’s nest will be outnumbered immediately.  Recent events most likely have done nothing to endear you to them.”

Tess bristled.  “I am a double-oh agent, I’ve run these missions before so I think I know what I’m getting into,” she replied coolly, leaning across the table.

“What about a mission without a safety net?  No allies, extractions, no place of safety to retreat to if things get nasty?” Q countered, feeling his temper flare slightly.  “What-”

In a flurry of movements too quick for Q to follow, she pulled Q out of his chair and wrapped him in a chokehold that wouldn’t require too much pressure to snap his neck.  “Want to continue that train of thought?” she asked quietly.

Q carefully swallowed to assess the amount of breathing space he still had.  “Actually, I do, because we both know what will happen once you snap my neck,” he said, his calm tone at odds with his pounding heart.  “I was not trying to belittle you, I was trying to point out that as far as I now, you did not receive any intel before setting out.  Alec is dead.  I don’t even know how James will react when he finds out that his best friend is dead, they were friends long before I even became a factor in their lives.  I hate that I’m charging into this blind, but you can either help me or leave me because I will not be fighting you every step of the way,” he said, praying that Tess wouldn’t call his bluff.

Silence, and then she slowly released him.  Q carefully massaged his throat to chase the ache away before turning to her, who had settled back down across from him, face set in a stony expression.  “When were you thinking of leaving for Strasbourg?” she asked.

Q turned back to his tablet, careful to keep Tess in his line of sight.  “It’s a four hour drive, if we were take a car.  I would prefer that we went by night, leaving either tonight or tomorrow night.  The longer we wait here, the more of a tempting target we become,” he said, pushing her mobile back over to her.  “You almost lost this on the train.”

Tess raised an eyebrow.  “Technically, it was yours, but I can understand your reluctance to trust Q-Branch tech,” she said, pocketing the phone.

Q made a face.  “I can pick up a disposable phone when I’m out getting a laptop, I need a bigger screen to do any real damage,” he said, impatiently tapping the tablet screen.

Tess looked pained.  “Do you really have to?” she asked as Q pushed his chair back and carefully stood up.

“I need to know why M hasn’t sent agents after us yet, or better yet, where they are if she has.  I need to use CCTV in both train stations in London and Paris to see if there were anyone following us, because I really don’t like how no one has showed up yet,” Q said, silently grateful that he’d practiced walking on the train in order to be able to move around just a little on his own.

Tess hesitated, looking distinctly uncomfortable, and then said, “She might have not sent anyone after us, not when she can accomplish her goal of keeping you and Bond separated using the database.  I mean, wouldn’t Bond have hacked it himself to find out what she was playing at?”

Q stared at her, torn between the numerous questions running through his mind.  “When the bloody hell were you going to tell me that?” he demanded, leaning on the doorframe for support.

Tess managed to look sufficiently embarrassed without any of the usual theatrics that the 00s had a tendency to use.  “Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to be an issue,” she admitted, running an embarrassed hand through her hair.  “It was one conversation we had a month ago when I took over your imprisonment and M was trying to decide what to do with you if you cooperated.  Since you didn’t, I didn’t think the conversation would be important.”

Q slowly moved to the bed in the other room, sinking down on the mattress.  Resisting the urge to throw his hands up in frustration, he asked, “What is it with M and James anyway?  He hates MI6, she hates him, and no one tells me anything.”  He glanced at her and said, “How much do you know?”

“Given that it wasn’t any of my business at the time, not much,” Tess admitted wearily, leaning back in her chair.  “I was still new to the double-oh program when M approached Bond and Trevelyan separately with offers to join, they were both still in the Royal Navy at the time.  Then something happened, and neither were heard or seen of again until a government agent crossed paths with Bond in Montenegro, at Casino Royale.  And again, I wasn’t involved so I don’t know exactly how the meeting went down, but it didn’t end well and now M and Bond carefully keep the other in check,” Tess said, a note of impatience entering her voice.  “I was training a few technicians and agents for undercover work when that happened, this was about five years ago.”

“So two years between my arrival and this event, and only one between that and the disappearance of the current Quartermaster,” Q said, carefully turning the numbers over in his head.  He looked up at Tess and then asked, “Then does that equate me being a pawn in this squabble between them?  James takes me to spite M and she snatches me back to spite him?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that because he is going through this trouble to get you back,” Tess pointed out.

“At the cost of his best friend,” Q countered, standing up again.  He sighed, and then said, “I’ll have to talk to him then, hopefully I can manage to do that before he shoots us.”

“He really wouldn’t do that, would he?” Tess asked, brow furrowing slightly in concern.

Q let out a harsh laugh.  “Tess, the first thing he ever did when we met was shoot an MI6 informant within his ranks, the one that had helped double-oh one and me,” he said, moving across the room and pulling his new coat on.  “He won’t risk the lives of many for the sake of one.”  Shaking his head, he said, “I’ll be back with hopefully a car and a few other things and then we can get ready to leave for tonight.”

“Where are you going to find the money for a car?” Tess asked dubiously, eyeing his skinny frame.  “I brought emergency money, but not enough for a car.”

Q stuck out his lower lip in a fake pout.  “Oh Tess, you wound me so,” he said in an injured tone before slipping out the door, making sure to pocket his hotel key on the way out.

He waited until he was on the lift to allow the tension to partly drain out of his shoulders, leftover adrenaline from an angry 00 agent holding him in a chokehold.  Not quite the way he imagined to go, but to be fair, he did think he was going to be executed a few days ago.  Leaning against the wall, he knew that the next step after Strasbourg, after the exchange, was to ascertain James’ attitude towards him.  If he were given a chance to speak, he would be able to get through to James.  If not… he could either risk everything by letting James approach him and try to appeal at the last moment, or he could run for his life, and be forever looking over his shoulder.  He knew he had nothing to fear since he did not do anything, but he did not know the extent of the lies that MI6 warped since his disappearance.  If Tess told the truth, then M would be trying everything she could from her underground bunker.

Leaving the lift, he nodded once to the concierge before stepping outside.

Once out on the streets, he was more careful.

Falling back into the tried and true disguise of a university student, he smiled and charmed his way into securing student discounts for both the laptop and two disposable mobiles, one of them a backup for the other.  Money was not an issue; he still remembered the Swiss bank account numbers that belonged to one of James’ rivals, something he’d picked up from when demonstrating his hacking skills to James in those first few months.  He transferred the money anonymously to a temporary account in Paris, which he then used to purchase the electronics.  This still left the problem of how to get a hold of a car; while the rival could have easily paid for that too, it would have created enough of a significant decrease in his funds, and Q was not interested in provoking another war at the moment.  Especially since he was focusing on getting back into James’ good graces.

It was a pickpocket in Belleville Park that gave him an idea.

He sat on a bench, keeping his new laptop and its thickly-padded case close as he pretended to be glued to his mobile, constantly texting.  Out of the corner of his eye, he watched as the pickpocket preyed on a group of American tourists, carefully lifting watches, phones, wallets, and in one case, an iPhone out of unsuspecting coats.  The thief was dressed as a guide, listening obediently to the real guide in the back of the group as he worked, and Q was ready to bet several pounds that the thief had heard the tour enough to be able to participate if the occasion called for it.

The next item was a set of car keys.

Of course.

Granted, he and Tess would have to run as soon as he stole the keys, but it was the best plan he could come up with at the moment.  Pulling his laptop closer, he went back to the phone, careful to keep the walkway in the corner of his eye.  He slowed his breathing, knowing that he’d need patience for this part.

He lost track of time, sitting there, scrolling aimlessly through his empty contacts list.  At one point, he put the phone on his lap, but kept checking it every now and then as though waiting for a reply.  He watched as tour groups and wandering tourists pass his bench, but made no move; he wanted to be absolutely sure of a target before striking.

Q was about to give up and return to the hotel for a badly needed afternoon cuppa when another tourist, a man dressed in a high class suit (Q wasn’t as good with brands as James was) and aviator sunglasses, came up the steps, listening to someone on the other end of the phone as he turned his back to Q to examine something on the other side of the area. 

Q sighed, and moved to collect his things when he heard the man speaking again in flawless French, but he was still able to pick up the subtle nuances that came with a person who traveled too much to keep a native accent.  He paused and listened carefully, his limited French picking up the gist of the conversation; the man was planning to leave his wife behind at home while he treated the mistress to dinner and a night out in the city.

Sharp suit, fancy mobile, and a mistress on the other end meant that the man, arguably in his late thirties, would most likely have a car nearby designed to impress the woman.

Q could have done without the flashiness, but he didn’t have time to be picky.

Steadying the computer bag, he waited until the man moved on toward the stone steps before standing up himself, pretending to text a friend while he forced himself into a brisk pace in order to keep up, trying not to grit his teeth in pain.  He suspected he was close to overtaxing himself now.

Still, his plan worked.  Just not in the way he hoped.

It was supposed to be a quick snatch as he calmly walked past the businessman, a light brush that for the most part, would go unnoticed.  What he didn’t notice was that the businessman had paused at the top of the stairs, informing his lady of his exact plans for the evening in a low voice, so Q, too focused on not swearing aloud in pain with each step, barreled straight into him.  He yelped when they both fell, the businessman caught completely by surprise, and then Q recoiled when he felt pain shoot up his right forearm and wrist.  The mobile went skittering away as Q abruptly spotted his opportunity and sat up, moving swiftly to assist the older man. 

Je suis désolé, monsieur!  C’était un accident!” he apologized, reaching over to help the man up, grasping the edge of his coat to ‘pull’ him back up.  He managed to close his fingers around his prize a second before the man smacked his arm away, eliciting a genuine yelp of pain as Q cradled his arm, not having to fake the injury this time.

Sortez d’ici, petit morveux, avant que je appeler la police!” the man snarled, turning the full force of his anger on Q, who shuffled away as soon as the two of them made eye contact.

Q may not have understood a thing the man just said, but he knew the word ‘police’ when he heard it.  Je suis vraiment désolé, monsieur,” he apologized again, putting on his best hurt expression before slinking away and gathering his own dropped mobile, deftly moving out of the other man’s reach as the latter tried to reach for him.  Q could feel the man’s eyes burning a hole in his back as he walked back down the stairs for the park entrance.

Cradling his smarting arm close, Q calmly walked through the park before reaching into his pocket for his prize, keeping his arm close as he pulled out the stolen keys.  Brow furrowing, he turned them over in one hand, searching for anything that had a manufacturing mark.  He only smirked when he spotted the achingly familiar Aston Martin insignia engraved on one of the keys, and then leaned against the fence as he felt the quiet burn of memory.  Swallowing down the tightening sensation in his throat, he forced himself back up and began scanning each vehicle parked along the curb for the corresponding car, hoping he wasn’t going to have to hit the panic button to find it.

He found silver Aston Martin DB9 parked a ways down, about seven cars from where Q had started searching.  Running a gentle hand along the side, and smiling softly as he recalled James’ own dark navy DB9, he unlocked the driver’s door, and was both relieved and irritated to find the driver’s seat on the left side.

He really didn’t have time to be picky, especially since the owner would soon discover its theft.

Q made it back to the hotel without further incident, careful to park the car out of sight before climbing out and locking it; his new computer and mobiles were safely hidden in the backseat, but he didn’t want to take chances, especially when he was running out of time before the owner noticed the theft.

Wrapping his coat around himself tightly, Q walked into the lobby, eyes darting around the room and dining room just beyond as he headed for the lifts.  The rooms were empty save for a few hotel guests that Q recognized, and a solitary man wearing a thick coat with a fedora pulled low on his forehead.  The pages of his newspaper, Le Figaro, covered the rest of his face from Q’s view, but Q didn’t trust him at all.

He found that he was rushing to the hotel room that he shared with Tess.

Tess was already packing their three bags when he pushed the door open; she automatically raised a gun from where she was standing across the room as she kept tossing clothing into the bag with the other hand.  Q froze, taking note of the fact that her hair, while wet, was hanging in a messy ponytail and she was dressed down for the first time since they had met.  “Decided to leave after all?” he asked, already mentally calculating how fast it would take for him to get to the lifts and out to the car before she decided to kill him.  He still wasn’t armed, but he would rectify that situation as soon as they arrived to Strasbourg.

Her head snapped up to face him, and then she lowered the gun.  “No, I thought you were someone else,” she said, slipping the gun into one of the suitcases.  “Went down to lunch while you were out, and there was this man skulking around the entrance.  Came back up here to find that Bond finally texted, and I think that the man from lunch is a hired hitman.”

Q raised an eyebrow.  “Let me guess.  Fedora, thick coat, reads the newspaper?” he said, leaning against the doorframe.

“Yes, get inside,” she hissed, startling Q.  He jumped and then stepped indoors, closing the door behind him.  “I think Bond hired him to kill me and drag you back to God knows where by the heels.  Bond sent me this text,” she said, tossing the mobile to Q, who somehow managed to catch it with his good hand.  She went back to her packing.

Frowning, Q looked down, but then swallowed when he read the message:

You reneged on our agreement.

He swallowed, and then said, “Good thing I found a car, hm?” as he looked up at her.

She paused.  “Is it fast?” she asked.

Q shrugged.  “Hurry up and we’ll find out, I call dibs on driving,” he said, dangling the keys in front of her before turning and slipping out the door.  “I’ll go through the main entrance, you take the fire escape.  Silver Aston Martin, it’ll be hard to miss,” he added before opening the door and checking the hall.

Tess stared at him.  “Aston Martin?  Are you out of your bloody mind?” she hissed.  “Where the hell did you even find the money, much less the car…”

“Tess, just don’t worry about it, sometimes it’s easier to not know,” Q said before slipping out into the hall.  “Five minutes, fire escape.”

She flipped him off before he closed the door and headed downstairs, prepared to make their escape.  

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe you got us lost.”

“Well, I can’t believe that you not only stole a car, but you’re also completely unworried about the owner coming after us,” Tess grumbled under her breath as they pulled into a small car park of the small motel they’d found not too far from the highway to Strasbourg. Q merely shrugged, silently grateful that she’d opted to stay somewhere for the night so that they could also eat.

“Well, while we’re on the topic of stolen cars, I think you should know that James never forgave you for stealing his antique Aston Martin, he loved that thing more than anything else except me and his work,” Q said, bracing himself against the door as the car came to a jerky stop. He rolled his shoulders back before unbuckling himself; five hours of being cooped up in a car with an annoyed Double-O grated painfully on his nerves.

“Well, that’s too bad. I didn’t like it,” she said crisply before getting out of the car. “We had a long-anticipated farewell at the sea wall in Portugal.”

“I liked it,” Q muttered under his breath before pushing the door open and stepping out as well.

The twilight air felt refreshingly cool against his face, and he stretched to release the tension in his muscles. The motel was small, but had gleaming white paint and a tidy garden in front of the drive-through where another vehicle was parked. He reached for the satchel in the backseat, quietly hoping that Tess had either clean clothes or the motel had a washing machine inside, and then followed Tess towards the main entrance, noting her glancing around the car park a few times over.

Curiously, he looked around, scanning for any vehicles or people—there were one or two individuals in the car park—that could indicate MI6’s or James’s presences on the property; it was unnerving how both parties had been quiet since their flight from Paris. The man that had spooked Tess in the Paris hotel lobby hadn’t followed them; Tess had driven several circles around the city before taking a long route to the highway. Despite her mobile buzzing several times during the drive, Tess had stubbornly ignored the sound, instead focusing on the road. One hand remained close to the purse even now, fingers curled protectively over the opening as though to deter Q from reaching in and snatching the phone.

No matter, I waited in prison for about a month waiting for rescue or a sign. I can wait a little longer.

Tess arrived to the receptionist desk a few seconds before Q joined her. “Two rooms, please. Preferably across the hall from each other, if that works,” she said as Q leaned on the counter for support, his back to the receptionist as he calmly studied each person in the lobby: two staff; a mother fussing with an infant; and two men arguing in French over a newspaper article. No one threatening. He turned back around in time to hear Tess say, “Three nights, please. Thank you.”

“What about three nights?” he whispered as the woman behind the desk disappeared for a moment.

“That’s how long I told her we’re going to stay here. Obviously we’re not actually going to, but she doesn’t need to know that,” Tess muttered, fishing around in her bag for a few bills. “Thank you very much,” she said, smiling pleasantly as the woman returned with two keys and passed them over the counter.

“You’re welcome. Breakfast is served at nine, and if you need anything, you may come down here and ask,” the woman replied as Tess passed a key to Q without looking at him. “The rooms are just past this desk, and the lift is at the end of the hall.”

Q remained quiet as he followed Tess down the hall, trying to disguise the slight limp as he tried to work out yet another cramp. He nearly stumbled into Tess, who in turn bumped into the wall and startled the two men who had been arguing in the lobby. “Christ, are you all right?” Tess asked, shooting a glare at the two men, who immediately looked away.

“Just a little crick I’m trying to work out,” Q replied, rubbing his knee as they stopped in front of the lifts and Tess pressed the ‘Up’ button. “Looks like we’ll have to take care of dinner ourselves,” he remarked as they stepped onto the lifts.

“Let me shower first, I feel gross,” Tess said as she watched the numbers illuminate on the panel until they stopped on the top floor, hand drifting unconsciously down the rumpled blouse she’d had on since their flight from Paris. “And check under the bed for cockroaches before you get settled in, I’ll be able to speak to the receptionist on the way out about it if there are any.”

“And if there aren’t any, I’ll head out to the car and wait for you there,” Q said as they both left the lift, falling behind Tess as he checked the number on his room key. “Fifteen minutes?” he asked over his shoulder as he swiped the key through the reader.

“Ehhh, more like twenty. Try to stay out of trouble before then,” she said before unlocking her own door and walking inside. Q waited until her back was turned before flipping her off and slipping into his own before she could catch him.

He closed his door with a loud click before leaning against it, slowly sinking to his knees as his eyes fluttered close and the last twenty-four hours caught up; he’d been lined up for execution this time yesterday with no hope of rescue. Now, he was calculating the best way to slip back underneath the umbrella of James’s protection with the murder of an ally and an angered intelligence agency on his back. Not to mention the angered mother he traveled with.

She has James’s number. I need that, but she can’t know that.

Q calmed himself through several deep breaths, aware that if he was extremely careful, he could break free soon. Standing up, he grasped the satchel straps and carried it to the bed, leaving it there as he crossed over to the large windows that overlooked the small town. It was nestled against the side of several rolling hills, and if Q squinted, he could make out a white splotch of a far-off chateau near the summit. Overall, the town and the surrounding area seemed quiet and idyll, beneficial to those wishing to keep a low profile since the town government—or any ruling criminal groups—would not be expecting trouble or interlopers.

Stepping back after a few moments, he closed the curtains before heading over to the bed and pulling out his laptop. He checked the computer’s condition before placing it back into its case and stuffing it between mattresses. He gathered his mobile and left the room a moment later, the door making a soft click behind him as he shut the door.

He nodded once to the receptionist, scanning around the lobby once for any potential risks before heading out to the car. The car park was devoid of people this time, but he spotted the Aston Martin parked the farthest from the lobby entrance. Gently rubbing his wrist, he opened the passenger door and opened the glove box, glancing over the contents for anything useful: a few Euro coins, a pair of sunglasses, a few old receipts, and the car registration. He reached for the registration, an idea coming to him as he turned the slip of paper over in his hand, noting the registration and license plate numbers. We need to disappear, and they’ll use the car first to track us.He made a note of the registry, and then slipped the registration back into the glove box right as he heard Tess returning. “That was a quick shower,” he remarked as she walked around the vehicle to the driver’s seat.

“Yeah, well, I forgot to pack soap. Who the hell forgets soap?” she grumbled as she slid into the driver’s seat and started the car, closing her door with a loud clank. “Bloody place doesn’t have any either, but we have to be careful since I only have Euro available, got it exchanged while in Paris,” she explained as she turned the car on and pulled it out of the car park. Q raised a hand to deflect a few water droplets from her hair, but scowled when she narrowed her eyes at him.

“To be fair, we were in a rush when leaving both London and Paris,” Q pointed out calmly as he leaned back in his seat. “All I have is in the bag in the hotel room.”

“But you restocked. With a phone, laptop, and a bloody car,” she said, glancing to make sure the road was clear before pulling out. “I still don’t understand how you pulled that off without the owner noticing-”

“Well a ‘phone, a laptop, and a bloody car’ is hardly going to help me now, isn’t it?” Q pointed out as he pulled himself straighter in the seat. “I barely have clothes as it is, much less soap. Besides, we have to hide said car now, but I already have a shaky idea for it. Food first, though; contrary to popular belief, I do need to eat.”

“Especially since you were usually skin and bones before MI6 got to you. Bond ever feed you?” Tess asked, glancing at him.

“He fussed to the point where I locked him out of his own system so he had to pay attention to me in order to get access back, that’s when I convinced him to stop worrying. I’ve always had a faster metabolism,” Q said, scanning a few cars they passed on the street, all while wishing he’d stolen something less conspicuous. He knew he should have erased himself from the Parisian street cameras before fleeing the city, but the owner would have strong-armed the police into helping by now.  Too little, too late, hindsight is always twenty-twenty.

Like how he should have investigated more deeply into rumors of MI6 presences in Sorrento.

Running a tired hand through his hair, Q got out of the car and followed Tess into a small diner that she’d parked near, which was still mostly empty despite the late hour. Tess nudged him towards an empty table close to the emergency exit near the back of the restaurant before leaning down to whisper, “Anything you want in particular?”

“Just a sandwich,” Q said moving around to sit down at the indicated table, the disposable mobile from Paris still clutched in his hand. He noted the three people near the entrance—two men and a woman all wearing construction outfits—and then tilted himself to better see the three people in addition to the car park, where the Aston Martin painfully stood out against other vehicles; it was too clean. Mud was easy to make—a little water, a little dirt—and splattering it over the undercarriage and the bottom of the doors would take a few minutes. Q added the task to his slowly growing list, tapping a reminder out on his mobile as an unsent text message.

“All right, our orders are in, but they’ll call our number when it’s ready,” Tess said, sliding into the booth across the table from him. She frowned when she saw his pinched expression, and then said, “Did you just see someone or something?”

Relax, you’re making me jumpy too. “No, nothing’s wrong, I just needed my laptop about five minutes ago,” he said, folding his hands on the table.

“You are not hacking MI6, I will happily break your hands myself before I let you do that,” Tess growled, stiffening at the prospect.

Q rolled his eyes. “No, I was going to hack the French police to throw them off our tail,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “That way, Interpol can’t be alerted, and then can’t coordinate with MI6,” he added, careful to keep his voice down. “And while your dedication to MI6 is to be admired, I don’t think M would take it into account when she finds out that you and not Alec killed those two agents,” he said, frowning as the thought occurred to him.

Tess sniffed. “He was wanted long before you came along,” she said, squaring her shoulders as she leaned back to rest a knee over the other. “And M knows it was me who killed those agents, their comms were on the entire time I shot them and got you out of there. She was hoping for a last minute confession.”

“And would have executed me otherwise?” Q asked, raising an eyebrow.

Tess shrugged. “Can’t have you warning Bond now, can we? You had your chances for mercy, Alex, and refused every single one of them,” she said, glancing out at the car park. “What was worse…or at least what I thought was worse…was that you were willing to die for him even if he hadn’t remained faithful. He doesn’t deserve something like that, not after everything he’s done.”

Q shrugged. “He never treated me badly, even when I was still his prisoner. Freedom and protection were the only things I could give him before my death given the circumstances,” he said, looking down at the tablecloth for a moment, biting back the urge to ask about James’s latest messages, if Tess’s recent texts were truly from him. He shook his head and said, “But enough of that. I will not hack MI6 for the time being, does that make you feel better?”

“Not really,” Tess replied, scowling slightly.

“Too bad. There’s another pain in my arse that I’ll have to deal with soon, anyway, so I would greatly appreciate it if you could relax for once,” Q said, tapping out another reminder to attempt ruining Silva enough to make it clear how annoyed he was with the other man at the moment. I can’t wait to get back to my home environment, he thought, nearly jumping in his seat when someone shouted ‘Order forty-five!’ in the background.

“And that’s us. I’ll be right back, I can’t wait to hear about your fantastic plan for the car. Hopefully it doesn’t involve stealing something else that could link back to us,” Tess muttered as she stood up.

“Then allow me to dash your hopes by saying ‘yes, we’re actually going to steal something else’,” Q said, offering an innocent smile as Tess started to leave, shrugging with both shoulders when she flipped him off.

He opened the text messages again, thumb hovering over the keys as he debated of what to say if he had to leave a message for James. He was torn between warning him about a potential leak within the organization—someone would have told MI6 about the villa in Sorrento when only four people really knew about it—or sending a private note, letting him know that Q was free and trying to return home. He only put it away, still undecided about his message to James, when Tess arrived with their plates and set one down in front of him before she sat down with her own.

“So, you mentioned you had a plan to hide the car from authorities looking for us,” Tess remarked as she began eating her own dinner. “What is this fantastical plan that I may or may not already know about?”

“If you knew about it, you would have gotten away with stealing James’s car,” Q remarked dryly as he picked at the sandwich. “It works as an excellent getaway vehicle, as we’ve already figured out. The problem is that it’s still registered in Système d'Immatriculation des Véhicules under its current owner. So we have to fix the registrations, including the license plates, and then rework the registrations online.”

Tess stared at him. “We’re about to steal another car, aren’t we?”

“Not quite. It has to be similar to the Aston Martin in size and color, I’m not hopeful enough to find an exact duplicate. This is where ‘stealing something else that could be linked to us’ comes in,” he explained. “We take a second car, switch license plates, and get me both registrations. I’ll then go online and change those registrations so it looks like you always owned the Aston Martin while the Aston’s owner owned the duplicate. Then I’ll print the new ones, after which you return the new one to the second car. The driver of the second car will contest that with the Aston’s owner, causing a tie-up that will buy us a little more time to get to Strasbourg and ditch the Aston Martin.” Taking a few bites of his sandwich, he said, “We should probably get the map of the area while we’re at it…”

“And then promptly leave for Strasbourg?” Tess asked, worry creasing her brow.

Q shook his head. “Running always makes you look guilty, I feel like we’re pushing it enough with leaving tomorrow morning instead of staying for the full three nights you requested,” he said, careful to keep his voice down.

“So one of us gets the map, the other switches the plates and grabs the registrations,” Tess said, glancing at the other three patrons as they stood up to leave, chairs scraping against the floor. “Are you sure about physically removing the registration from the car? We’d have to put the modified one back in the morning.”

“Right before we leave, so it’s not an issue. No one ever looks for their registration information unless they’re pulled over for some reason. The license plates are the first to be used when identifying and tracking vehicles, which is why if we’re going to do it, we have to do it soon,” Q said before taking a few more bites. “We’re already risking our freedom as it is, waiting this long.” He tilted his head at her before he asked,  “Which one do you want to do?”

“I’ll deal with the fucking license plates, you go shopping,” she said, stifling a sigh as she pulled her purse strap over her head and shoved it across the table at Q, nearly knocking his sandwich onto him. “And get some bloody soap while you’re at it, and anything else you might think is useful to have in Strasbourg.”

“Do you really want me to use your credit card?” Q asked doubtfully, mentally grimacing at the reminder; he hadn’t thought of money up until that point other than what he could nick online through someone’s Swiss account or an unprotected bank account.

“It’s registered under a pseudonym, not even Will knows about it,” she said before shoving the last of her food into her mouth. “Can you manage walking?”

Q scowled as he balled up his dirty napkin and threw it at her.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Tess said, standing up and brushing crumbs off her front. “Meet you at the hotel by nightfall at the latest.”

The ‘don’t make me hunt you down’ went unsaid, but was well understood.

“I’ll be in my room, hacking into Système d'Immatriculation des Véhicules by the time you get back. It can’t take that long to get groceries,” Q said gesturing to his sandwich. “Don’t wait on my account, it’s probably better that we’re seen apart anyway.”

Tess nodded and then left, disposing of her rubbish on the way out.

Q forced himself to wait despite the mounting excitement in his gut. He ate the last few mouthfuls at a controlled pace—I’ll be quick with the mobile, nothing fancy, I can do it—before chasing down the last of his sandwich with water. Then he gathered everything, slinging the purse strap over his own thin shoulder before tossing his own rubbish and heading out the door, lingering in the threshold for a moment as Tess pulled out of the car park and left, heading farther into the town.

Q headed around the corner of the restaurant before checking for any witnesses, especially if Tess was about to double back with a reminder or last minute item. Then he knelt and undid the clasps, sifting through the contents and using the dying sunlight to get a better look at the contents. He made a face when he found keys, a makeup case, a wallet—with a false ID, he suspected—and a small packet of gum.

But no mobile.

Q sighed, his shoulders slumping forward and head bowing in silent frustration as he leaned back on his heels and silently cursed Tess and her ancestors to hell and back. Then he shook his head and stood up, gathering the purse and placing the strap over his head again. He’d spotted a little convenience store on the way in, it would do for now. And if he was lucky, the cashier or someone inside would know a good way to get back to the hotel that didn’t involve more walking. He still had to get through to James; Tess may have crossed lines in M’s book by murdering her own fellow agents, but Q wouldn’t put it pass M to allow sacrifices to gain Q’s trust.

Easier to divide and conquer than to attack an united front.