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All the King's Horses

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Bond isn't used to London. His time here is limited, consisting of long mornings filled with self-indulgence and sleeping-in to an intolerably late hour -- utter decadence. Afternoons lost in suit-fittings or getting his hair cut or the gunpowder residue and dirt picked out from beneath his fingernails by accomplished professionals. Evenings passing in a haze of alcohol, music just loud enough to be distracting, and sometimes the embrace of a woman or perhaps a man, if there's someone interesting available.

London is for downtime. London is for that increasingly tedious lull between one mission and the next. It's returning his equipment to Q-Branch and leaving, supposedly unarmed, to 'recover' or 'relax' or 'get himself together' or 'get some rest, for god's sake, 007'.

In short, London is boredom. Predictable, uninterrupted monotony. That rush of 'home' and 'alive' diminishing with a depressing rapidity that leaves Bond itching to escape the very place he would willingly, happily, give his life for, just so long as he is not called to live there for any length of time, which is perhaps why he is feeling particularly pleased as he ends the call that brings his evening plans to an abrupt end.

Two days back from a six month operation that took him through seven separate countries leaving a trail of death and destruction in his wake and resulting finally, inevitably, in the rather thorough demolition of a drug cartel that had been branching out into arms dealing. Two days back and a phone call from HQ, which can only mean that there is something else for Bond to sink his teeth into, something that might take him away before the tedium strikes, as it always does.

He doesn't bother to change his clothes because the grey suit and white shirt is something he could have just as easily picked to pack for a mission. Bond makes a point of always looking his best. He doesn't even have to change direction as the call comes through to his mobile just as he is heading out his front door, keys already in hand.

"I'm on my way," he says, and rings off without breaking stride, locking his door as he goes.

The hour is late enough that traffic isn't much of a bother. It's not rush hour, though the streets are cluttered with people on foot and in vehicles, the pulse of the city picking-up as the predictability of a day at work is cast-off for the spontaneity of a night out. Bond feels a surge of fondness for this city in this country that he loves. The kind of fondness he can only fully experience when he knows he is soon leaving it behind.

"Evening, Moneypenny," he greets as he strides into the depressingly brown outer-office, his eyes instinctively landing on the sole occupant of the space.

"Bond," she answers with a tight smile. "They're waiting for you."

Bond pauses by the edge of her desk. Eve can almost always be counted on for a spot of flirtation, a mischievous grin at the very least, which is the reason he had taken such a quick liking to her: she is interesting. This abrupt business-like demeanor is revealing; an indication that whatever Mallory has called him for, it is serious. More serious than the drug cartel because if Bond recalls correctly he kept Mallory waiting a full five minutes while he indulged in a swift parry-riposte-parry exchange with the man's administrative assistant.

"Bond," Tanner says, opening the stitched leather-bound door that had replaced the floor-to-ceiling tinted glass door that the man's predecessor had preferred. Mallory had taken-over the running of MI6, taken the office space at the top of Vauxhall; taken Tanner, M's ever-faithful number two; taken the initial, even: "Smooth out the transition and all that". For her part, M had taken retirement. Bond is still unsure whether she went willingly or not.

Tanner nods in greeting, a tight grimacing smile on his face as he tells Bond to "Come straight through."

The first thing Bond notes as Tanner quietly closes the door is the other man in Mallory's office. He is seated in one of the high-backed club chairs that occupy the space by the window, bracketing a round coffee table. His back is perfectly straight, his arms resting on the arm rests somewhat stiffly, as if he has studied very carefully how one is supposed to sit in a chair of this sort but is not quite comfortable regardless. His eyes are sharp and his hairline receding, though what little he does have is carefully smoothed down and looks vaguely brownish. He is clad in a plain dark suit with a red tie; bespoke Bond thinks, though the cut of it and the slackness in the jacket suggest that either the man's tailor is inept or he quite recently lost some weight. The black leather shoes shined to a gleam are definitely expensive and the soles are hardly scuffed, which says all Bond needs to know about the man's importance if only in relation to his place of employment, which is almost certainly government-related though perhaps one of the more shadowy branches of power. This is the sort of man who enjoys pulling strings.

A black umbrella with a wood handle is propped against the side of the chair, though it hasn’t rained in the last two days. Either he prefers to be prepared for any eventuality or the item has some sentimental value, perhaps a sort of security blanket. Or maybe he is merely a pragmatist. When piercing brown eyes meet Bond's assessing gaze, unflinching and plainly scrutinizing, Bond thinks perhaps it might be a little of all three.

"Ah." Mallory looks up from where he has been skimming through a file, abruptly he flips the folder closed over the papers and gestures to one of the chairs opposite his desk. "007."

Bond sits down slowly, aware that the man in the high-back chair who has yet to be introduced is eying him carefully, fingers steepled beneath his chin. From the corner of his eye Bond can see Tanner standing just to the right of the door. "A bit crowded," he says, keeping his voice casual. Bond is all too aware that his chosen profession has made him necessarily suspicious of everything, whether it warrants concern or not. Better to be suspicious and unsurprised than trusting and dead.

"If I may?" The stranger looks to Mallory seemingly for permission and, when he receives a nod, withdraws something from a black briefcase set at his feet, which he fiddles with for a moment before passing it over to Tanner.

In turn, Tanner carries the item to Mallory's desk and sets it down. The device is small enough to fit easily in the palm of a hand and looks remarkably like a miniature portable speaker. It's four inches tall when popped up, perfectly round and completely black except for a strip of purple light circling the top.

Bond eyes the thing carefully, attempting to determine what it might be with little success. There is nothing visible that might provide a clue as to its purpose except that its small size suggests portability, and its lack of wiring indicates independence and so perhaps a level of security. "Interesting gadget."

"Mm, yes," the stranger answers. "Not exactly easy to acquire. This one was a gift of sorts, but I've found it immensely useful."

"Bond." The corner of Mallory's mouth quirks upward in that stiff, half-meant politician's smile as he says, "This is Mister Mycroft Holmes. Mister Holmes, this is James Bond, agent 007."

"Pleasure," Mycroft Holmes says, partially rising from his seat so he can extend his hand, which Bond takes, tightening his grip just slightly because he dislikes being at a disadvantage and also because Bond is a sore loser.

He has no idea who Mycroft Holmes might be, or why he should be involved in this meeting, or why Mallory would feel compelled to introduce Bond so thoroughly, but all of it just makes Bond curious and perhaps defensive. In his experience the best defense is often a strong offense, so he looks Mister Holmes directly in the eye and schools his features into a blank expression. In turn, Mycroft Holmes raises his eyebrows but seems to be neither intimidated nor impressed. If anything, the man appears to be placidly amused.

Having observed the exchange, Mallory clears his throat and casts a pointed look at Bond as he says, "I assure you he has the appropriate clearance." It doesn’t put Bond at ease but he retakes his chair and lets the issue drop, at least for the moment.

"This is unfortunate business, I'm afraid," Mallory continues, picking up the folder he had been looking at earlier, standing so he can pass it across his desk and into Bond's hand.

It's the standard dark folder that all of his missions have been delivered in since he transferred to MI6. The expected words visible at the top: Top Secret. When he opens it, however, it is rather startling to note that he is not being called to travel to a foreign country and track a rising arms dealer, or assassinate a political figure or anything of the like. It is a strictly internal matter.

When Bond looks up Mallory nods once, solemnly. "We're in trouble." He adjusts his suit jacket as he settles back into his chair.

"I imagine you'll recall, Mister Bond," Mycroft says. "The incident of approximately six weeks ago wherein the security of several rather prominent British establishments were compromised. Scotland Yard arrested the perpetrator and he is currently in custody awaiting trial." The man speaks with a smooth, arching cadence; each word enunciated but smoothed over with a posh drawling rhythm that has a curious undercurrent of smug self-satisfaction.

"At the time," Mycroft Holmes continues. "I believe they found him wearing several of the crown jewels, including the crown itself, and waving the royal scepter in his hand."

Bond sniffs because he imagines it would be inappropriate to laugh, especially as Mycroft Holmes is looking at him quite keenly, and seems not the least bit amused. "I must have been out of town at the time."

"Yes, well," Mycroft continues. "It has been a matter of some concern to myself and members of my department."

"And your department is…?"

"Irrelevant, at the present moment," the man answers, waving a hand dismissively. "These things are sometimes difficult to confine to a simple title. I'm sure you'll understand."

Bond is reminded why he so greatly dislikes politicians. It was the thing that he appreciated most about M: her directness, her forthrightness, her tendency to cut through couched words and embedded meanings with ease. For all that she knew how to play the game she never bored him with it.

Sighing and making little effort to mask his irritation, Bond asks, "Why am I here?" He is certain to add just the right amount of petulant impatience to his tone, which never fails to insight some sort of response from Mallory, usually a wry comment and a flash of sharp teeth.

Though Mallory huffs and rolls his eyes, Mycroft Holmes merely smiles as if Bond has done something terribly amusing. "James Moriarty," Mycroft says simply and waits a beat, as if the name itself should have immediate significance. Bond has never heard of the man. "As it says in your brief, he is suspected of running a rather formidable crime syndicate that does not, as far as we can tell, limit itself as to type of criminality, or severity or geographical location."

"Mister Holmes brought the matter to the attention of MI6," Mallory says. "But the investigation hit a rather significant snag recently." His mouth is pinched in that way Bond has noticed it does when he is mulling something over that displeases him. "We have reason to suspect that MI6 has been compromised."

The situation is not unheard of, and it easily explains the late hour and Moneypenny's briskness. Bond is intrigued because he has long-since learned what words to listen for in order to anticipate a truly stimulating mission. 'Syndicate', for instance means 'large' with the appropriate sub-clauses: 'lots of guns' and possibly 'organized', 'skilled', or 'a bit of a challenge'. 'Compromised' to Bond means 'complicated'.

Refocusing, he shifts forward in his chair. "A mole?"

Mallory nods. "At least one. Given the level of interference on any intelligence gathering we've attempted, we suspect it is someone within Q-Branch, but at the present moment we are not ruling out anyone with a high facility with technology, or the possibility that there is more than one corrupted agent in our midst. With the exception of Miss Moneypenny, the only people you should trust from this point forward 007, are in this office."

Bond flips through the file quickly, noting several suggested names of suspects and beyond that, a disturbing lack of anything relevant or remotely useful. "What do you want me to do?"

Mycroft takes a long breath. "I have people looking into Moriarty. At present, he is confined in prison but his trial is rapidly approaching and I suspect that the ease of his capture is an indication that it is part of some greater plot, on his part. I believe it safe to assume we are operating under some kind of time-constraint."

Mallory nods his agreement. "I want you looking into whatever you can find about the leak at MI6. Track whoever it is and use them to uncover as much as you can with regards to this Moriarty's dealings. Then take care of it."

Bond smiles. "With pleasure." Though, now that he considers it he can see one rather distinct snag. "I'm to complete this mission without making use of Q-Branch?"

"At the moment there is no way to know who has been compromised," Mallory confirms.

"My skills with computers may not be up to the requirements of this mission."

"Well then," Mallory says. "That will be your first point of business. I don't care how you do it, Bond, just get it done. And don't cock it up!"

"If I may," Mycroft says, raising a finger. "I have a contact who has consulted on this matter in the past. He may be willing to assist."

"Excellent." Mallory claps his hands together once, as if that settles things nicely.

Bond has a tendency to not count his chickens before they are even out of the egg. "Where do I find him?"

"You don't," is the rather ambiguous response. "I'm afraid I don't know what name he's going by these days. In the past, he has been the one to contact me with the relevant details."

Mycroft opens his wallet and withdraws a plain white business card, still crisp, which he promptly flips over. Taking a pen from an inside jacket pocket, he jots something down before returning both wallet and pen to their previous places, and then handing the card across the distance to Bond. "You might have better luck making the suitable inquiries at this address. I recommend being forthright and direct, and not taking anything personally."

Bond glances down at the name on the business card: Sherlock Holmes, and the address: 221B Baker Street. Then he flips it round to the back where he notes the hand-written addition: L. Q. H. in precise black print. "Are you certain this man can be trusted?"

"More than that," Mallory interrupts sharply. "If your contact with this informant has never been direct, and you can't even determine his name, how can you be certain it's all on the up-and-up? MI6 is prepared to make an allowance for a civilian given the nature of the current predicament, but there has to be some reasonable assurance that we are not allowing an even greater security threat inside than we are already currently dealing with!"

Mycroft chuckles and shakes his head, vaguely condescending. "I never said I didn't know his name. And while I can safely say that Mister Sherlock Holmes and my 'informant' are both reliable to the utmost, I am equally confident that neither of them is, strictly speaking, on the 'up-and-up'." He turns to Bond. "Don't feel obligated, of course. But I can assure you that, should you manage to make contact, you'll find yourself with a considerable asset indeed."

The briefing draws to a close because there isn't much more that can be said when they are at such a significant disadvantage in terms of information.

As Bond exits the office Moneypenny passes over a plain white envelope. "Tickets and passport," she says. "Enjoy Cuba, 007." Of course, Bond isn’t going anywhere near Cuba, which is vaguely disappointing, and Eve gives him a wink to let him know that she's well-aware that he isn't at all impressed with his current assignment.

Inside the envelope is a set of documents for a Mister David Winshaw, each with his own face printed beside the name: his cover identity. Nodding his thanks, Bond makes his way to the lift only to be stopped again.

"Mister Bond." Mycroft nods his head in acknowledgement as he settles his umbrella in the crook of one arm, stepping into the lift beside Bond and pressing a finger decisively against the button for the main floor. The doors close without a sound. "I'm not in the habit of sharing my contacts. If you decide to make use of that lead, please exercise the utmost discretion. In every regard."

Bond casts a curious glance sideways. "What was that device you had earlier?"

"Ah." Smiling, Mycroft pats his briefcase twice. "A clever little contraption that obfuscates sound within an established radius. It has the ability to render any listening devices and indeed any electronic device not cleared by the system completely useless while it is switched on."

"A gift from your contact," Bond guesses.

"Indeed."

"You're worried about him." He keeps his gaze fixed on the other man so as to catch any sort of reaction, but Mycroft Holmes does not seem the slightest bit surprised by the accusation. "He's not simply a resource, is he? You have some connection to him."

The other man tips his head back a little as he laughs. "You're very good."

"What is he, an old school friend?"

"No." Mycroft meets Bond's eyes carefully. "Something much worse, I'm afraid."

The lift chimes once, the doors sliding open. "Good night, Mister Bond," Mycroft says in such a way that makes Bond think the man would actually tip his hat if he were only wearing one. Then he steps off the lift and disappears down the hall.

________________________________________________________________________________________

The moment he returns to his flat Bond unplugs his computer from the wall and disconnects it from the WiFi, and then turns it off, setting it back on his coffee table and throwing a dishcloth over it for good measure. If MI6 has a mole, has possibly more than one mole, than Bond cannot afford to be careless. He searches every conceivable spot for listening devices or surveillance equipment and is not calmed when he comes-up with nothing. This address is listed in his personnel file, which means it is now officially an unsecure location.

Besides, he's supposed to be heading for Cuba on a flight that leaves in three hours according to the mission brief. Not that Bond will be on the flight. Still, it doesn't give him very much time to pack his things and determine just where he will be going. At least finances aren't an issue. Along with his identification, the packet Eve passed him at HQ includes three different credit cards under the name David Winshaw. There is also a yellow post-it with her familiar print: 'don't spend it all in one place'.

He packs a bag, leaves his mobile on top of his computer and locks his door on the way out, sparing a longing glance to his Astin Martin, which he leaves in the garage. Paranoia makes Bond hire a cab and head to the airport where he makes certain to check-in for his flight to Cuba personally. If Q-Branch has even one spy then when they view the security footage of Heathrow they will get one tedious hour of viewing pleasure: Bond sipping a coffee at the airport café and reading the newspaper as he waits for his flight. Eve will have to take care of the rest because Bond can't afford to actually get on the plane and go to Cuba. His mission is right here in London and he's put it off long enough. There's enough of a crowd at the airport that he makes it out and into a cab without trouble, and there's no reason to suspect a corrupt agent would be suspicious enough to look into Bond too closely at this point. After all, there's no reason to think he hasn't gone off on another mission in another country, business as usual.

It's not all been wasted time, because while he was drinking stale coffee at the café Bond has managed to settle on an answer to the most important question: where will he stay?

The Savoy is relatively central in terms of location and it offers ease of access to any one of a hundred crowded little places that might make a nice anonymous place to meet an asset, should he be lucky enough to actually acquire one. At the front desk he requests a suite. No one specified any sort of budget for this operation, and Bond's penchant for excess is not exactly a secret at HQ. He views Eve's handwritten note as a challenge.

Besides, the process of locating and eliminating one spy in an entire organization of spies is high-priority, this operation warrants more than a few concessions.

Settling into a hotel room is routine to him, by now. He has a hot shower, unpacks a few items from his bag, and then calls it a night. Anything more can wait until morning.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Bond doesn't manage to make it over to 221B Baker Street until midday, his morning eaten up with acquiring a burn phone and a laptop, and with an attempt to pursue the relevant information as far as his ability with computers can take him, which is depressingly not very far. Whoever this Moriarty is, his technical know-how easily outstrips Bond's own.

After lunch he takes a cab across town and jogs up a set of cement steps to the black painted door, rapping twice with the shiny brass knocker. It takes a moment, but eventually the door is opened by an older lady in a dark floral frock who immediately assumes, correctly as it happens, that he is here for the occupant of 221B. "Come in out of the cold, dear," she says, stepping aside. "Just up the stairs, there. I think Sherlock might have popped out, but Doctor Watson is in."

Thanking her, Bond climbs the narrow staircase, knocking at the door he finds at the top, which opens to reveal a man almost but not quite a whole head shorter than Bond, with blond hair and the stiff, precise posture of someone who has seen military service. Having perused the man's blog before lunch Bond knows precisely who has come to the door. "Doctor Watson?"

Watson tips his head a bit to the side, frowning. "Yes. May I help you?"

"I'm here to see Sherlock Holmes."

"Oh." The stiffness in the man's posture eases somewhat but not, Bond notes, entirely. "Is it about a case? Sorry, please come in."

He finds himself sitting in a chair opposite Doctor John Watson, holding a cup of tea that he doesn't really want but sipping it anyway because it distracts him from the way that Watson is plainly sizing him up. It's mutual. Apparently, they can both smell the military wafting off each other but are too polite to make a direct inquiry.

"He shouldn't be too long," Watson says, with a parody of an easy smile. "Though, I should warn you, he might be a bit abrupt. It's been a slow week and Sherlock doesn't handle boredom all that well."

The offhanded way John Watson says this leads Bond to believe that it is a warning he finds himself so frequently giving that he delivers it now by rote, despite the fact that he is not exactly at ease with Bond sitting in his living room.

Smiling, Bond says, "I hope he'll be able to help."

When he had run a search on Sherlock Holmes that morning Bond had been surprised by the sheer volume of hits he'd turned up; apparently the man is a sort of celebrity. There had been a rather tedious website titled, 'The Science of Deduction', which was filled with articles written by the man himself, each one making a more outrageous claim than the last, though Bond can not quite bring himself to doubt the legitimacy of any of the assertions.

The comment pages had been stuffed with cryptic notes that led Bond to think that Sherlock Holmes fancied himself some sort of crazed, unlicensed private investigator. Judging from the personal blog of Doctor John H. Watson this theory was not all that far from the truth. Watson's blog had included actual short stories detailing their various adventures (or misadventures as the cases sometimes seemed), which had distracted Bond long enough that he had almost forgotten about lunch entirely.

"Well," John Watson says, taking another sip of his tea. "Sherlock's standards when it comes to taking cases are sometimes quite high. They have to…"

When the man trails off, Bond finds himself smirking and supplying helpfully, "Intrigue him?"

"Well…" Watson ducks his head with embarrassment. "Yes. Do you think yours will do?"

"I have no idea." He doesn't think he imagined the hopeful tinge to Watson's question, which makes him wonder just how unbearable Sherlock Holmes is when he is bored that his flat mate should be so desperate to amuse him. "Mister Holmes was recommended to me."

"By whom? May I ask?"

Bond has a strange sense that mentioning the name Mycroft Holmes at this point might be a misstep. When he had first glanced at the card he had dismissed the surname as coincidence, Holmes was, after all, not exactly an uncommon name. But Mycroft's rather pinched cautioning about 'not taking anything personally' implied at least some level of familiarity, which Bond's instincts suggested might be down to an actual familial connection of some kind.

Apparently reading his reluctance, John takes another sip of tea and changes his line of questioning. "How about the case. Can you tell me a bit about that?"

Bond is not entirely certain how to explain his purpose here. Mycroft had advised that he should be 'forthright', so he says, "A missing person's case," because it's not exactly an untruth.

"Boring!" a voice declares from the hallway.

A moment later a fast-moving flapping shadow throws open the door to the room jettisoning coat, scarf, gloves, and what Bond registers as being an actual brass trident that looks, at least from this distance, ancient enough that Bond wonders if it should really be cast aside with such abandon. Each item flying in a different direction, the coat and scarf dropping somewhere in the vicinity of the sofa seemingly by chance but actually, Bond thinks, by careful calculation in combination with an abundance of practice. Judging by the carelessness of the gesture Bond suspects the scarf and coat would land in precisely the same places on the sofa whether someone were already occupying that space or not.

Watson observes the entire spectacle with a pinched crease between his brows. "Sherlock, did you go on the tube with that?"

"Of course not. I took a cab," the dark haired man announces, exasperated. "Why do you always ask me that question?"

Pursing his lips in disapproval, Watson ignores this as he points out, "We have a client."

"No we don't," Sherlock Holmes counters, waving a dismissive hand behind him as he rifles through a stack of papers on his desk. "A missing person? What is it, cheating girlfriend? Wife?" His eyes, a curiously green-grey color, skim over Bond's face, down his body and then back up again.

In an instant he stands away from his desk, the motion fast as any jackrabbit. "No. Wait. Look at you. It's something else." He steeples his fingers under his chin, his gaze repeating the pattern, down and then up Bond's body, this time slower. Under any other circumstance Bond would comment on being so blatantly leered at, but he has the distinct impression this man is hardly making note of his physique. He feels more akin to an object under a microscope.

"You work for the government, but you have a military background. Hmm, what is it, MI5? Did my brother send you?"

"What," Watson scoffs, and then confirms Bond's earlier suspicions by adding, "Mycroft?"

"Well look at him," Sherlock waves an irritated hand in Bond's direction. "It must be. He's paying someone with actual training to spy on me now."

Bond tries very hard to stifle his smirk, but despite his desire to get to the point of his visit, he finds this commotion of a man amusing. "If that's the case, I'm not being very clever about it, am I?"

Holmes narrows his eyes, prowling closer in such a way that Bond finds himself wondering if the man is making an effort to intimidate him or if this Sherlock Holmes is merely completely and utterly inept when it comes to basic social interaction. "Forgive me if I find it difficult to believe that a trained SIS operative has 'lost someone' and is genuinely seeking my help."

Watson sets his teacup down with a rattle, shifting forward in his chair as if he thinks he might have to run and fetch his gun. "Wait, SIS. Sherlock, are you serious?"

Bond and Sherlock both ignore the doctor. Bond says, "I was told to come here and make 'the suitable inquiries'."

"And what," Sherlock asks, prowling about in a way that suggests restlessness more than nerves. "Are the 'suitable inquiries'?"

In answer, Bond draws the card that Mycroft had given him and hands it over, enduring a rather suspicious, narrow-eyed glare as Sherlock accepts it, his eyes skimming over the front where his own name and address are printed, and then turning it horizontal to measure the width and undoubtedly the quality of the paper and perhaps also the curvature and then, finally, flipping it round to the back.

"No," Sherlock says, breathy, the words a whisper kept almost beneath his breath. "No, no, Mycroft, what have you done?"

"What is it?" Watson asks, up and out of his chair and at Sherlock's side in an instant. He glances down at the card but seems in no better position to make sense of the letters than Bond had been. "Sherlock?"

Bond is perfectly and completely aware that if he wants to track down Mycroft's mysterious source then he should not make any sudden moves. Sherlock is apparently genuinely disturbed by the message on the card and John, though clearly uncomprehending of the cause of his flatmate's distress, seems willing to turn violent should the occasion call for it. Bond would prefer not to kill anyone just yet, especially anyone who might in fact be immensely helpful once they stop being so infuriating.

All at once, Sherlock recovers himself enough to shove Watson aside and stride forward, brandishing the rectangular business card like a weapon and shouting, "Why! Why did he give you this?"

There are any number of responses that Bond could give in answer to the question, but he recalls Mycroft Holmes' advise and weathers the accusing glare coolly. "Because I need help from someone who can be trusted."

That this is precisely the correct thing to say is evident in the way that Sherlock's mouth clicks instantly closed. He backs off, still eying Bond but at least seeming to be willing to listen. Bond waits as the man settles onto the couch, tucking his legs up beneath him as he perches rather like a giant crow.

Hands on his hips, eyes switching from Sherlock to Bond and then back again, Watson demands, "Someone had better explain what the bloody hell is going on!"

"Is it a mole?" Sherlock's tone purrs low and smooth, like the prospect of a mole inside MI6 is positively delicious.

Bond is careful not to react to the question. "This information is highly classified."

Sherlock waves his hand as if Bond's words are a rather irritating fly that might be physically swatted into submission. "My brother is Mycroft Holmes," as if that were an actual answer. He steeples his fingers again, bringing them to rest against his lips, his eyes drifting away. "A mole."

"Do you understand what the letters mean?"

Again, that waving hand. "Of course I do. But my question remains unanswered. I repeat, 'why'?" Then sharper, "Why?"

Random letters Bond had wondered when he had first looked at the back of the card. A code, perhaps. Or initials? "Because the British government is under threat," he says. "Any number of lives are in danger if this threat remains unchecked."

"Oh dull," Sherlock sighs, the very picture of boredom as he flops back against the sofa.

Bond does not at all appreciate the implication that his work is in any way 'dull'. He rises from his chair and moves across the room, leaning over the sprawling form of Sherlock Holmes close enough that his breath startles the man's eyes open. "Because," Bond says, keeping his voice even and low. "There is every reason to believe that the spy, or spies, working within MI6 are part of an international crime ring that I have every reason to suspect you are greatly interested in."

There's an excited gleam in those green-grey eyes as they match Bond's gaze. "Moriarty," Sherlock says with a curious amount of relish.

Bond nods. "Yes."

"Very well." Rising smoothly from his chair, Sherlock declares, "I'll look into it, but I won't make any promises."

"Thank-you."

The taller man narrows his eyes when Bond settles back into his chair. "What are you still doing here? I already said I'd do what I can."

"I'm in no hurry." Holding out his cup to Watson Bond asks, "More tea?"

Startled, Watson refills the cup. Then he smiles brightly. "I don't think he plans to leave until he's certain you've actually made some effort, Sherlock."

The insinuation that he might not be true to his word has visibly ruffled the man's feathers. Sherlock flashes a grimacing frown Bond's way and glares at Doctor Watson, as if he is uncertain who has offended him more. "It's not a matter of making a quick phone call! I can't just snap my fingers and 'poof', have him appear!" He rifles his hands through his hair and then begins to pace.

Bond takes a casual sip from his cup, dimly aware that he hasn't consumed so much tea in a single sitting in well over five years. "Some assurance that the necessary steps are being taken would go a long way."

There's a rather irritated sounding 'whoosh'ing breath, and then Sherlock collapses onto his desk chair, prying open the top of his laptop with a vicious tug that Bond knows would make any one of the techs in Q-Branch cringe. Then he begins to type.

Bond is just finishing his tea when Sherlock announces, "There! I've updated my blog."

"Is that helpful, do you think?" Watson asks, though whom his question is directed to is not clear.

Sherlock glances pointedly between Bond and the door. "The 'necessary steps' have been taken. Either he'll come or he won't!"

"Because you updated your blog?" Frowning, Bond paces over and pulls the laptop round so he can read the screen. The more he reads the less he understands because as far as he can tell it's just another tedious article about the distinguishing characteristics of clay. For all his not inconsiderable training Bond is absolutely incapable of finding any indication of a cypher.

"The message isn't in the words," Sherlock says smugly, his gaze calculating as he turns. "I assure you the encryption is flawless and untraceable. You'd be impressed, if you had the capacity to comprehend the sheer elegance of the coding."

"I'm sure I would," Bond says. "Good afternoon, gentlemen." Setting his cup and saucer back on the little table, he nods at Watson and says, "Thank you for the tea. I'll show myself out." Then he turns on his heel and leaves.

________________________________________________________________________________________

It's raining when Bond steps down onto the street. He hails a cab, climbing into the back and then sitting a moment, trying to determine where it is he would like to go. He settles for directing it to a restaurant near enough to his hotel that he might manage to walk back.

Bond dislikes missions like this. There are hundreds of people employed at MI6 and without further information he can't possibly determine whom he should be investigating. In order to get that information, he has to find some link with Moriarty and, outside of reading the relevant articles in the online newspapers, Bond can't risk running a search because he is aware that his computer skills are vastly outmatched by his target's. That much is evident by the goose-chases any and all reports from Q-Branch have invariably become when the task at hand was tracking Moriarty.

Give him a clear target and Bond can manage just fine, but technology isn't what he was trained for. He has all of Q-Branch to manage the intelligence gathering, the hacking and the technological aspect of any operation. As a double-o, his job is primarily focused on killing people or blowing things up, and his intelligence-gathering capabilities are based mostly on subterfuge and manipulation. On this particular mission he is woefully out of his depth.

For one thing, he feels quite differently about running about on rooftops and setting off explosions when he's standing in the heart of London.

For another, if Sherlock Holmes proves unable to coax his source out of the woodwork, Bond will have to find someone who is both technologically competent and also adequately trustworthy if he has any hope of discovering the leak within HQ. A tall order indeed.

He briefly considers and then quickly discards the notion of calling Eve. She's his primary contact but truthfully he's on his own. If he keeps making calls and popping up where he shouldn't, he'll come to the attention of the mole, which might be a credible strategy to lure the traitor out, except that Bond suspects given the sheer amount of contaminated intelligence from Q-Branch that there is more than one of Moriarty's spies within MI6, and Bond can't possibly have the advantage given what little he knows of the situation.

Which leaves him here, having dinner alone. Though if the way that woman in the blue dress sitting at the bar keeps looking his way is anything to go by, perhaps his night won't be a total loss.

He takes the last bite of his steak, picks up his wine glass and is about to make his way over to her when his mobile rings. No one outside of Moneypenny is supposed to have this number. "Yes?" he answers, not trying to keep the mistrust from his voice.

"Mister Bond," Mycroft Holmes says.

Years as a field agent mean that he doesn't succumb to the impulse to glance over his shoulder, though he does check any and all reflective surfaces in his line of sight to see if someone familiar or suspicious is sitting in the restaurant. "How did you get this number?"

Rather infuriatingly, Mycroft chuckles. "Don't concern yourself. The number is still secure, I assure you. How quickly do you think you can finish your dinner and make it across town?"

Bond huffs, deciding not to waste time asking how the man knows he is eating dinner. "That depends a great deal on my incentive."

"Hm," Mycroft says. "A package has just arrived on my doorstep that might be of some interest to you."

In the background, Bond thinks he hears a man say, "A 'package'? Mycroft, really?"

"I'll text you the address, and I do recommend that you hurry."

"I'm not a package!" the voice insists.

Bond says, "I'll do my best," and spends the time it takes to disconnect the call and await the text with Mycroft's address flashing a disappointed look in the direction of the bar and settling his tab. His phone 'pings' as he slips into his jacket, and he steps back into the rain to hail a cab.

Chapter Text

The cab ride from the restaurant near the Savoy to Mycroft's place in Mayfair might have gone faster if Bond hadn't become distracted by a call from Eve, who was determined to scold him for not 'checking in from Cuba' like he was apparently supposed to.

The ensuing conversation mired in sexual innuendo, sarcasm and what sounded like genuine concern, prompted him to pay too much attention to his mobile and too little attention to his cabbie, who had taken it upon himself to drive what was possibly the most circuitous route possible before finally depositing Bond at his destination. Obviously, Bond doesn't give a tip.

The building out-front of which Bond finds himself is red and grey bricked with a terrace covered in neatly pruned greenery. Bond tries to imagine Mycroft Holmes tending to the plants and decides that, more likely, the man has employed someone to do that sort of thing for him.

There is black iron fencing along the sidewalk draped in some sort of ivy, and the steps up to the front door are covered by a cement entablature supported by ionic columns. The front door itself is a black iron-grated affair with a rectangular segment above it of iron and brass depicting a rearing lion.

Bond takes it all in out of habit, an ingrained instinct to always be familiar with his surroundings even as he jogs up the steps and rings the bell.

Seven hours. That's all it has taken for Mycroft's contact to track them down? For all of Sherlock Holmes' cautioning, Bond had imagined a nightmarish five-day wait only to be told to 'piss off'. This seems almost too good to be true, and positive developments like this have a tendency to set Bond on edge.

The door is answered by a woman wearing a sleek black pencil skirt that perfectly hugs her hips, tapers beneath her knees and ends mid-calf, which is the first thing that Bond notices because she has very nice, long and shapely legs. She is wearing black stilettos and a black blazer, her hair falling just past her shoulders in soft curls, a pleasing dark chestnut color. He would have found her impossibly attractive except that she draws open the door and invites him inside without once glancing up from her Blackberry.

"Wait here a moment, Mister Bond," she instructs him in a smooth, thoroughly bored tone, and then disappears down the hall, her heels clicking, still fiddling with her mobile.

He's been left in a wide marble front entrance, very ostentatious but utterly devoid of anything that might provide Bond with some sense of the man who lives here. There is a slowly winding staircase leading up, three white-painted wooden doors leading off to different rooms, each of which is closed, and one antique wooden table that looks expensive, is probably authentically ancient, and has nothing sitting atop it save a wooden box for sorting letters and holding keys and other paraphernalia.

Bond has all of a few seconds to be thoroughly bored before he catches the faint sound of two men quarreling. Bond is very good at overhearing things he isn't supposed to – it goes along with the job, really – and though neither man is speaking particularly loudly, he has no trouble determining what it is they are saying. Based on the sound level, in combination with the direction the as-yet unnamed woman wandered off in, he estimates that the men are in a room somewhere on the main floor, not far from where he is standing. The door must be at least slightly open.

"Of all the places," the voice that Bond recognizes as belonging to Mycroft Holmes is saying. "Why did you come here?"

"It seemed reasonable to believe that you were behind Sherlock's sudden request for my to return to London. Why should I have gone anywhere else?" the other man answers. His voice is a smooth tenor, each word shaped and enunciated distinctly to make up for the quieter tones. His accent is posh but less forced than Mycroft's own. "Now please tell me that you didn't call me back for more of the same, Mycroft. Sherlock seemed genuinely concerned, or extremely excited. It was difficult to tell."

"It often is with Sherlock." There is a brief pause, which Bond assumes is the woman interrupting in order to announce Bond's presence, and then the sound of her heels on the marble getting louder as she returns, along with Mycroft's voice saying something that Bond doesn't quite catch but ends in, "Moriarty."

"You're bringing me back here to get me under your thumb again, and I won't stand for it," the other man retorts.

"Mister Bond." For the first time the woman, who has returned to front hall, glances up from her mobile long enough to flash a smile and double-check that she has his attention. "Follow me, please."

"You have me at a disadvantage," Bond says, smiling his charming smile, though it misses its mark when his target is distracted by a beep from her mobile and goes back to fiddling with it as she walks. He can't help but notice that she manages her rather tall heels with marked ease.

"My name is Anthea," she says, still typing.

"Anthea." Though he says it with a softly alluring purr the woman doesn't so much as blink, and her attention remains focused on the mobile. Bond gives up, caught somewhere between exasperation and amusement and says, "It would be lovely, if it were your real name."

That catches her attention. She looks at him with a genuine smile on her face and for a fleeting moment the almost vapid expression she's been wearing since she opened the door is replaced by something startlingly shrewd. Just as quickly the expression is gone; so quickly that if Bond were anyone else he would undoubtedly wonder if he hadn't simply imagined it was there at all.

She gestures him through a set of tall, narrow white doors one of which stands partially open, stepping aside so he can walk through. When he glances back Anthea flashes a quick smile before drawing both doors closed.

He can hear the noise her hoes make as she clicks down the hall, and wonders how she can manage those high heels, her mobile, and navigation all at the same time. Surely that must require some sort of specialized training.

"Ah, Mister Bond," Mycroft greets. There is a fire burning in the fireplace and Mycroft is seated in a wingback chair nursing what looks like two-fingers of whiskey.

Bond has been shown into a formal sitting room that is impeccably decorated, tidy and impersonal. The ceiling is white paneled, there are conservative style pale furnishings set on an equally pale though detailed ornate rug stretching from the door all the way to the white paneled fireplace at the opposite end of the room.

The curtains framing the numerous windows are each a light grey; the walls, what little show of them behind pieces of art interspersed by built-in bookshelves, are a dark textured grey that hint at an unfulfilled desire to be something resembling the color blue.

"Would you care to sit down?" Mycroft offers, gesturing to one of the other chairs with his free hand.
Bond's attention, however, has stalled on the other occupant of the room.

Somehow between meeting Mycroft, who Bond easily determined to be approximately five years his senior, and Sherlock who is some years younger than Bond, though not by a terribly significant margin, he had imagined that the contact he was waiting to meet would fall somewhere in between that age-range.

Not be freshly out of uni, with a truly impressive thatch of wavy dark-brown hair sticking up in every conceivable direction.

He's wearing a dark chocolate colored fishtail parka unzipped over a speckled grey hoody, the white drawstrings hanging unevenly over his chest. Bond sees a hint of what looks like an olive colored button-down beneath, tucked into a pair of dark denim trousers with a black leather belt. His shoes are worn and abused green high-tops, and there is a large coffee brown leather bag, equally worn, sitting at the foot of a chair just behind him, a rather large pair of over-ear headphones hanging out of one pocket. They are candy-apple red and metallic.

"You must be joking," Bond says to Mycroft, at precisely the same moment that the young man says, "Who is this?" gesturing in Bond's direction with a casually flapping hand, as if Bond is an interloper that the young man isn't prepared to tolerate.

"James Bond," Mycroft says, rising from his seat and smiling in that pinched way he apparently has, which Bond can't decide is his natural expression or simply what happens when good breeding and a sense of propriety meets with a terribly awkward situation that he is forced to make the best of. "Allow me to introduce my brother, Lysander Quillon Holmes."

There's something in the way the man, Lysander, braces himself, as if in preparation of hearing his name pronounced aloud that is just shy of a cringe, which makes Bond warm to him. He says, "That's quite a mouthful," as he reaches out a hand.

"Don't mention it." Lysander accepts the offered hand if somewhat cautiously for a brief shake, and completely misses the innuendo. "Really," he adds with utter sincerity, apparently making a wholly genuine request that they never think on his name again.

"Yes well." Mycroft glances between them and sniffs, his smile faltering, though still making a valiant effort to remain in place. "Our mother named him."

"At least I was named for a Spartan warrior," Lysander retorts. "I suspect father just invented the name 'Mycroft' by smashing likely words together."

Mycroft rolls his eyes emphatically, catches himself, and makes a concerted effort to regain his composure before saying, "Well, it's only a name. You mustn't take these things so personally."

Turning back to Bond he says, "Please. Have a seat," and moves to the table in order to pour another whiskey, which Lysander casually intercepts en route to his leather satchel, sipping it with an apparent amount of satisfaction as he fishes with his free hand in his bag, withdrawing a laptop that he proceeds to boot-up.

Mycroft pours out another glass, this one making it safely into Bond's hand before retaking his own seat, his eyes narrowing the moment he notes the computer on his brother's lap. "I hope you are not using my Internet connection to hack secure databases, dear brother."

"That would be very ill-mannered of me," Lysander retorts absently, and then waves an imperious hand and encourages them to, "Carry on."

Mycroft purses his lips. "For God's sake, put that away. I'll tell you whatever it is you want to know."

"A lovely idea, if I trusted you." Lysander glances up briefly. "This will only take a moment."

After a long steadying breath, Mycroft apparently decides to try a different tactic. "He's here for you."

This catches Lysander's attention, and the young man looks up first to his brother, eyes narrowing as he assesses the veracity in his brother's statement. Then Bond finds himself fixed with striking green eyes hidden behind a pair of large, black-framed glasses.

Those green eyes narrow accusingly the moment they drop to the area of Bond's chest. "You're carrying a gun."

Taking a sip of his whiskey, Bond attempts to cover his amusement. "It goes with the job."

In an almost precise reenactment of his brother earlier that very day, Lysander's eyes scan from Bond's face down to the toes of his shoes, back up again and back down. He purses his lips, turning a slightly wide-eyed pleading look on his older brother. "MI6, Mycroft? Really?"

Bond would dearly like to know how everyone keeps guessing that. It's growing increasingly troublesome and is making him wonder if perhaps Eve had clapped some sort of sign onto his back when he had left her office the other night.

"He's not here for you like that," Mycroft says, placating and not a little bit exasperated at once. Lysander darts a skittish look in Bond's general direction, clearly unconvinced.

Bond finds himself saying, "I need your help, actually," before he even stops to consider his words.

Either it's the delivery, so clearly spontaneous, or the words themselves, but Lysander makes a soft 'hm'ing sound, darts an assessing look in his brother's direction once more and then turns back to his laptop, apparently mollified. "You're tracking Moriarty's syndicate, then," he says. "Took MI6 long enough to catch on."

Bond has done enough research to know that it is a depressingly accurate comment, though he is conscious enough of the latest operations at MI6 to be able to say, "I suspect we've been picking off bits of his crime ring for some time."

"The bits he wanted eliminated. I wouldn't call that progress," Lysander says. Then, seemingly apropos of nothing, "You're a double-o!"

"Oh good lord!" Mycroft exclaims, his head dropping into his hand as if he cannot believe his little brother's audacity.

"You've hacked into my file?" Bond can freely admit that he is impressed: it took the man less than eight minutes. Glancing at his watch, Bond raises an eyebrow. Considerably less than eight minutes, actually.

"I'll stop reading if it troubles you," the younger man offers, but his eyes are flickering left to right, and his fingers don't stop moving.

"I'm not bothered." This was a possibility Bond had already anticipated. Someone skilled enough to be of any sort of use on this operation would be, to some extent at least, a liability: privy to information that would, under any other circumstances, be highly classified with severe consequences to anyone brazen enough to bypass such protocols. Mallory had said, 'by whatever means', and Bond had taken him at his word. Some allowances would have to be made.

"What else have you found?" When Lysander flashes him a cagey glance, Bond smirks. "I assume you can multi-task."

The wide mouth, lips bitten into a bright pink-red, quirk upward slightly, amusement crouching cautiously at the corner of green eyes before Lysander turns back to his laptop. "Security here is appalling. So far, no one has even noticed that I'm pirating files."

"I can't hear this!" Mycroft announces, standing hastily from his chair.

"I'm assuming this is the reason you asked Sherlock to contact me." There's something of a trickster in Lysander's eyes when he looks over at his older brother, who he has successfully reduced to agitated pacing.

"Yes, well there is a considerable difference between suggesting this sort of thing might be necessary, and having it going on under my roof. Under my very nose, in fact!"

"Are you concerned someone from your work will track my signal?" Lysander tips his head to the side quizzically, as if he genuinely cannot understand why his brother is so worked-up.

Mycroft makes a phlegmy scoffing sound. "For a start!"

The resulting smile is half-proud and half, Bond guesses, meant to put his brother at ease. "They'll never manage," Lysander assures with confidence. "How long have you had your department looking for me? And in the end you had to ask Sherlock to send me a message."

This, oddly enough, does appear to soothe Mycroft's nerves, though not enough to stop him from pouring himself another glass of whiskey. "You were always stubbornly uncooperative."

"That's not how I remember it at all," Lysander says, with a touch of darkness in his tone.

Before the moment has the opportunity to stretch into something awkward, he hits a key with an emphatic flourish and smiles again. "There, all done and no sirens. Feel better?" He's smirking in his brother's direction, his expression softening to amusement when it passes over Bond.

Mycroft purses his lips. "Decidedly not."

"Now," Lysander says, setting his laptop aside and steepling his fingers together. Bond cannot help but feel slightly relieved that he doesn't go so far as to bring them up beneath his chin, because in that moment this youngest Holmes so closely resembles both of his older siblings that it feels disturbingly like looking into a surrealist painting. "I want to know why you thought it would be a good idea to have me work alongside MI6. Was it lack of foresight, Mycroft?" he asks guilelessly, his voice still utterly calm. "A misapprehension about what it is exactly that I do?"

He is clearly addressing his older brother, but Bond answers nonetheless. "I've been authorized to complete my mission by any means necessary. So long as your actions are not a threat to Her Majesty's government, then I'm willing to overlook how you go about gathering the relevant data."

"I suppose you have some sort of contract I can sign to ensure you uphold your end of the bargain?" Lysander shoots back, doubt written plain in his tone. "No, I'm sorry. I know how your world works, Mister Bond. Make whatever promise, do and say whatever you must to ensure absolute cooperation, but in the end, there's never any accountability."

The observation is wholly astute. Bond is momentarily at a loss as to how he can proceed. He says, "Your brother's position in government provides you with a certain amount of security."

Lysander actually laughs. The sound is sharp and brittle. "Up until three minutes ago I wasn't even certain he hadn't lured me back here as part of some deal he struck with your employers."

Thinking back to Sherlock's reaction earlier that day, Bond realizes that Lysander is no the only one who had doubts as to Mycroft's motivations. "If you thought it might have been a trap, why did you come?"

Lysander's eyes drift away and he sniffs. "Curiosity?"

"I don't think so." Bond has only just met Lysander but he's observed enough that he has some confidence in his assessment. It might be a gamble, but he is used to those. "I think whatever Sherlock messaged you made you feel genuinely concerned. I already know you've been following bits of this case and sending along your findings to your brothers, so you're already interested, and you're already involved. You came back because you wanted to help."

When no one says anything in response, Bond goes one further. "How many of your nefarious activities actually endangered this country?"

"None," Mycroft answers quickly.

"Well…" Lysander says, with far more consideration.

"None," Mycroft repeats, this time firmly, like he is kindly but unequivocally telling his brother to shut it.

Lysander narrows his eyes angrily at his brother. "He was sitting right there when I hacked into MI6 not five minutes ago. There's no use hoping he has the memory of a gnat."

"As far as I'm concerned, I asked you to do that," Bond says. "In fact, anything you do to help me resolve this issue is, as far as I'm concerned, something I specifically asked you to do. I'm not interested in who you were or what you do next. When this is over, disappear back into the shadows if you like."

"Yes," Lysander scoffs. "I'm sure it will be just that simple. I've already read your personnel file and have access to any number of classified documents now sitting here on this laptop. I hardly think your employers will be happy to let me just, as you put it, 'walk away' once whatever your mission is has been resolved. "

Bond smirks. "Somehow I think you'll manage to, anyway."

Bond is pinned under a considering gaze with all the weight and power of a black hole that has swallowed up everything else in the room. The moment feels almost interminable, and then Lysander says, "Yes. I rather think I will."

He stows his laptop carefully back in his satchel and sets his emptied glass down on the table. "Excuse me, but I have to make arrangements for a suitable place to stay. I'll speak to Anthea about that, shall I?"
He pauses by Mycroft's chair long enough to place a careful hand on his brother's shoulder. "I quite like this Anthea, by the way," he says. "I do hope you plan to keep her."

"Mister Bond," Mycroft calls when Bond starts to rise from his own chair and catch up to the youngest Holmes. "He's not as young as you might think, and rather more capable than I believe you might like to estimate. I have no illusions that I might be able to keep him out of danger. That was something I realized not long after he turned eleven, but still. Do be careful with him."

Bond tips his head. "Discretion?"

"In every respect," Mycroft says. "He is my brother, after all."

________________________________________________________________________________________

Lysander Quillon Holmes is nowhere to be found when Bond makes his way to the front hall.

"I called a car for him," Anthea says, looking up from her mobile long enough to see the rather keen glare her employer is leveling at her. "He was anxious to feed his cat."

"His cat?" Mycroft echoes.

"Mm," Anthea confirms, clicking something on her Blackberry. "The one he had with him. She was quite charming."

Mycroft seems thoroughly wrong-footed. "He had a cat with him the whole time? Where was it?"

Bond doesn't think he's imagining the amusement on Anthea's face as looks up and says, "In his satchel, sir."

Mycroft presses his lips firmly together, as if he is trying very hard indeed to silence a tirade. Undoubtedly, Lysander's older brother has had to talk with him more than once about stuffing living things into his bag as he would a textbook or an article of clothing.

"I didn't have a chance to give him my number," Bond remarks. Not that he thinks this will necessarily be a problem. At the very least, Mycroft has already managed to call Bond on his brand new, supposedly untraceable, mobile phone; he imagines Lysander Holmes will manage.

In fact, he greatly suspects that Lysander Holmes was responsible for the ease with which Mycroft managed to contact him.

"I wouldn't worry," Mycroft says, with a sharp, smirking smile. "Good night, Mister Bond," he says. "And good luck."

________________________________________________________________________________________

Bond isn't one to sit around and wait.

He wakes early the next day and, after breakfast, finds his way out to procure all the necessary documents for a new identity in the event that his MI6 provided personality, David Winshaw, be exposed. While he's out he also acquires two new guns, neither of which will trace back to him.

Always a good thing to have on hand, should the need arise.

Without a way to contact the youngest Holmes and without any clue as to where the younger man might be staying, Bond can only hope that the man has not only decided to help, but hasn't wasted any time in doing so. No way to be certain until Lysander calls.

The next logical step, as far as Bond can see, is something he is not at all looking forward to.

Bond needs information on James Moriarty so he can begin placing associates and assigning patterns to the man. Unfortunately, the individual most likely to have worthwhile information to contribute is Sherlock Holmes, and Bond rather doubts Sherlock is the sort of man who shares anything willingly.

Bond returns to his suite long enough to place a call to Eve, encouraging her to keep an eye on any suspicious behavior at MI6, and also to request the personnel files of the most likely corrupted agents. Paperwork is not something he enjoys, but it is rather unavoidable especially in this situation.

By the time he makes his way downstairs, it is time for lunch, and he is perfectly aware that he is merely putting-off the inevitable. Still, lunch is the second most important meal of the day, and he sees no reason to skip it.

"Table for two?" the hostess asks with a flirtatious smile.

Bond thinks she is remarkably forward and is halfway to being intrigued when a decidedly male and markedly familiar voice answers from behind him, "Yes, thank-you."

When Bond turns around to meet Lysander's green-eyed stare, this time unshielded by the massive glasses, the younger man merely says, "You don't mind, do you?" as casually and easily as if they frequently take lunch together.

In fact, Bond doesn't mind at all.

If it weren't for the fact that the young man is rather unmistakable, Bond might not have recognized him at all, and the difference is rather disorienting. The rumpled brown parka has been exchanged for a dark grey coat with epaulets and a large collar unbuttoned to reveal a thick cotton cream-colored turtleneck sweater with a wide neck, over grey trousers. His hair, rather disappointingly, has been more or less smoothed into submission, with barely a hint of a wave or a curl.

In short, he looks almost nothing like he did the previous night.

"Christ," Bond says. "Are you a chameleon?"

The corner of his mouth quirking upward, Lysander follows the hostess through the restaurant, settling down at the table she shows them to before finally answering, "I thought it would be useful to make some effort to blend in."

Bond can agree that the man looks a little less conspicuous like this, given their more formal setting, but it is still difficult to process, though Bond isn't certain why. He only just met the man the other night, and even then only briefly. It is, Bond thinks, entirely too premature to be forming fixed opinions.

Rather troublingly, Bond finds that his eyes keep drifting somewhere in the vicinity of the dip in Lysander's turtleneck collar where his slender neck is visible all the way down to the top of his sternum, just barely visible: a peak of pale skin at the base of a slender throat.

"Would it make you feel more at ease if I told you I was decidedly uncomfortable?" Lysander offers. Then, before Bond has an opportunity to answer, he picks up his menu and says, "It would be a lie, of course. Mycroft didn't just spring up into power from nowhere. Growing up at my family's estate made me highly adaptable, I think. It also cultivated a certain appreciation for the simple things."

Dropping his menu down, Lysander leans forward over the table slightly and whispers conspiratorially, "I miss my canvas sneakers."

"There," Bond says with a teasing smirk. "I'm feeling more at ease already."

"I thought you might." Lysander mirrors the smile before returning his attention to his menu.

The waiter comes and takes their order, and Bond again finds himself surprised by the younger man, this time at the gusto with which the Lysander tucks into his three-course lunch. Another judgment Bond has made based solely on a rushed assessment during a single, brief meeting.

"I forgot breakfast this morning," Lysander says, his eyes narrowed, defensive.

He finishes off his split pea soup long before Bond is done with his salmon and horseradish, and sits back, looking sheepish. "I wanted to apologize for my manners the other night, Mister Bond, but they don't seem to be improving any with the new day."

"Please," Bond says with an amused curl to his lips. "It's James."

Lysander purses his lips. "That's a bit informal, I think."

Bond sits back as the waiter replaces their first course with the second, thanking the man before he against moves away. Alone again, Bond smiles disarmingly at his lunch-mate. "Only my employers and my enemies call me Mister Bond."

"I'm afraid we'll just have to pretend that you're on my payroll then, Mister Bond," Lysander says, a slight quirk to his mouth and a mischievous spark in his eyes. "You don't seem at all concerned that I was able to track your location."

"Should I be?" Bond asks as he picks up his fork. "I assume you managed it the same way you managed to find my mobile number, despite the fact that I only gave it to one person, and she works for MI6." He risks a quick glance across the table, assessing. If they're going to work together, Bond needs to get a sense for this man. He says, "I also assume that if I were in some sort of jeopardy, you'd let me know. Am I wrong?"

Green eyes peer at him closely for a moment before Lysander huffs, tipping his head in agreement. "No, you're not wrong."

"Now why did you really come here?"

"The prospect of a free lunch proved impossible to resist?" Lysander smiles, a hopeful lift to his eyebrow, like he's floating the idea. Bond merely stares patiently back. After a moment, the younger man's shoulders slump forward slightly. "You're going to see my brother, aren't you? Sherlock?"

"And?" Bond prompts.

"And," Lysander continues. "I think it might be more useful if I went instead. He won't talk to you."

Bond takes a moment, chewing his food carefully as he considers. "You're being remarkably helpful."

"I could argue that you have simply stumbled into what is essentially a family matter, and that you're in over your head."

Bond leans forward slightly, lowering his voice as he says, "I'm tracking the head of an international crime organization, who has managed to corrupt at least one agent within Vauxhall Cross. I wouldn't call that a family matter."

"You might be surprised." Lysander dabs at the corner of his mouth with his napkin, and then shakes his head. "You'll only set him on edge, which will irritate him, which will make him uncooperative."

"I managed to convince him to contact you without much trouble."

"That's different," Lysander dismisses easily. "All you had to do was knock on his door making inquiries after me. He would have deduced you were MI6 within moments, and messaged me just as fast. He can be … protective. After a fashion."

"A familial trait," Bond notes, sipping at the wine he ordered with their meal.

"I didn't have to ask," Lysander points out. "I could have simply sat back, let you rattle him and walk away with less than nothing, and then spoken to him myself."

At first, Bond had entertained this conversation because it had seemed like a perfect opportunity to get a better handle of this man with whom he will be working. In whose information and abilities Bond will, eventually, have to put absolute trust. So much so that he will have to risk his very life on the accuracy of the intel this man might gather for him.

Now it feels like a negotiation, which Bond isn't in the habit of doing whilst on a mission. There is his way, or … no, come to think of it, when Bond is on a mission there is only ever one way.

He doesn't negotiate.

Except, apparently, when confronted with cold logic and an unbending, chameleon of a man. "Alright, talk to him," Bond says. "But on one condition." He carefully dismisses the waiter who passes by checking that everything is to their satisfaction, and then reaches into his pocket. "You're to wear this when you speak with him."

The radio isn't exactly high tech. It's small and fits easily in the ear, deep enough in the ear canal so as to avoid detection. It's Q-Branch tech that Bond had 'lost' after a mission some time ago, in much the same way that he tended to 'lose' any number of gadgets from Q-Branch that might prove useful in the future.

"You want me to wear a radio when I visit my own brother?" Lysander does not seem at all impressed with the idea. "I should warn you, I have a tendency to not trust any piece of technology that I haven't taken apart and rebuilt, or invented myself."

Bond smirks, cocking his head to the side as he says, "Well, seeing as it's merely a visit to a beloved sibling, I can't imagine there will be much of a problem."

Lysander accepts the earpiece hesitantly, rolling it between his thumb and forefinger, eying it critically before he finally slips it into his pocket. "You're paying for lunch, then."

________________________________________________________________________________________

Bond follows Lysander because that's what he does. He might be willing to trust the younger man, desperation requiring it of him, but that in no way means he has to follow blindly, without gathering his own intelligence.

On the curb in front of the Savoy, Lysander flips the collar of his coat up so it brushes his cheekbones and says, "I'm going to my brother's now. I'll fetch my own cab," by which he means he'll allow the doorman at the front of the hotel to hail a cabbie for him, and also that he expects to ride alone.

As Bond has every intention of following, and also greatly dislikes hopping into a cab and making the rather clichéd request to 'follow that car', he is rather relieved that he had the foresight to include a stop at a car rental shop in that morning's schedule. Not that his loaned vehicle in any way compares to his beloved Astin Martin, but he'll manage.

It's testament to how frequently he does this that Bond asks for his car to be brought round without Lysander overhearing, and with such impeccable timing that the youngest Holmes is pulling into the road in his cab just as Bond's car is pulling up beside him by the sidewalk.

"Thank you," he says, tipping the valet handsomely. He eases out into the London traffic at precisely the most ideal place to tail the nondescript black cab. Finally, some actual spy work.

There are no erroneous stops along the way. Lysander travels directly from the Savoy to 221B Baker Street, and by the time he steps out of the cab the earpiece is in place and switched on. Bond can hear the faint scuff of footsteps and the sound of a lock turning over, a door opening.

Apparently Sherlock saw fit to outfit his youngest brother with a key to his flat.

Either that, or Lysander Holmes is remarkably skilled at picking locks.

Bond finds a parking space down a side street and settles in just as Lysander is being invited into his brother's flat, greeted by the deep voice that Bond remembers from the other day as belonging to Sherlock Holmes saying simply, "Q."

Chapter Text

“How is brother Mycroft?” Sherlock asks as he pours two cups of tea, offering one to Q before settling into his chair.

The teacups are fine porcelain: crisp white with a country rose motif around the lip, dark red flowers and deep orangey-yellow. Not at all the sort of tea set Q can imagine his brother purchasing for himself. Pilfered then, most likely lifted them from Sherlock's landlady, though possibly belonging to the flat mate, a Watson family heirloom perhaps.

Nudging his cup around so he can reach the handle, Q smirks. “You know that I wouldn't dress up for Mycroft. I had lunch at the Savoy this afternoon.” The smell of bergamot wafts pleasantly. Earl Grey prepared just as Q prefers with plenty of sugar and a drop of milk.

Anyone else, a normal person, would undoubtedly assume this small point was an indication of a considerate and thoughtful host. Q knows his brother, who prefers Darjeeling to Earl Grey, is merely showing off: 'I knew you were coming', the gesture says. Nevertheless, as his fingers curl around the porcelain, Q can't help his eyes falling closed a moment as he takes a sip; after all, it is still a very nice cup of tea.

When he opens his eyes again he catches his brother's amused expression and Q narrows his eyes challengingly. He has come here for information and perhaps in small part, to say 'hello'. Q has no intention of descending into a fraternal squabble and providing unwitting entertainment for the double-o agent eavesdropping via the earpiece that he is wearing.

“Is Doctor Watson in?” he asks, by way of diversion. “I should like to finally meet him.”

"Work," Sherlock answers, succinctly. "Which is undoubtedly why you're back."

"You called me." Q matches his brother's narrow-eyed stare. He had anticipated a certain amount of resistance, his brother's overprotective concern had a tendency to trigger at the most peculiar and often most inconvenient of times, at least in this instance it was not entirely untimely. A notorious hacker working alongside MI6? Q can recognize the difficulties inherent in the idea, not the least of which is the fact that he has spent the majority of his adult life skipping through cities and countries precisely because he has no desire to be under anyone's thumb, thank you very much.

How very much like Sherlock to request his help in a terribly oblique manner, and then fret over and obstruct Q at every opportunity when he shows up. Yet still he came. How could he not? Sherlock had asked him to.

His brother's eyes scan him closely. Q imagines that this would be the point at which a typical brother would ask: "How are you" and the other just as typical sibling would say: "I'm well" or something of the like, but it has never been that way between he and Sherlock. They have always shared the simple understanding that words can obscure as easily as they can elucidate; that they can reveal truth or be twisted into falsehood, and that, in the end, the only thing that can be trusted is the evidence.

So Q sits and enjoys his tea and lets Sherlock come to his own conclusions about how Q is, and what he has been doing. Q wonders what Bond thinks of this prolonged silence. Perhaps the man suspects they are communicating with hand signals, which would certainly be a possibility. Q has fond memories of studying every sort of code and means of communication with his brother and then driving Mycroft mad as they would go weeks only communicating in dots and dashes, or sign language, or in the made-up gestures they had created in case they ever needed a way to communicate with the other without anyone else knowing what was being said. Sometimes Mycroft knew or would learn their codes, sometimes he would grow exasperated and say: "At least you might put your minds to learning a language. Something that might be of practical use!"

Languages came later, when Q and Sherlock could sit still long enough to learn them, but Q still maintained that speaking German or Russian was far less exciting than communicating in Semaphore, or via heliograph.

Finished with his scrutiny, Sherlock meets Q's gaze and opens his mouth, preparing to ask a question or perhaps make a statement but Q cuts him off with a raised finger, turning his head just slightly to the right. There's nothing visible of course but Sherlock will know, will understand that they're not alone; Bond is listening.

Sherlock nods, the corner of his mouth twitching upward. "How are you finding MI6?" he asks.

"It's early days, but I had a rather enjoyable company sponsored lunch." Q takes a sip of his tea and then asks, “When is Moriarty's trial?”

“Two days.” Sherlock smirks somewhat meanly, "I am to appear as the key witness."

"A key witness who was not present at any one of the crime scenes during the crime, and who has known the accused for a grand total of, what is it now, fifteen minutes?"

"Ten," Sherlock corrects, his tone dismissive. "Five minutes would have been enough."

"For you, yes, of course it would. But I'm certain the jury might not be so confident."

Sherlock sets his teacup back on its saucer, looking keenly at Q in the same way a dog might perk-up after sniffing out a scent it has been tracking. "You don't approve."

"The man broke into three of the most secure places in England, his trial is in two days and yet still, no one can say how he did it. The entire case rests on your testimony."

"And the surveillance cameras that filmed him smashing the protective glass around the crown jewels, and settling down to wait for the Yard, decked out in full regalia and sitting on the throne."

Q had watched the footage. In particular, he found it chilling that Moriarty had taken the time to write out a request for Sherlock before smashing the glass down. Consulting detective versus consulting criminal.

"Why didn't you get in touch sooner?"

There's barely a flicker of anything on Sherlock's pale face. Just the slight upward lift and fall of his left eyebrow: a pantomime of surprise. It's all a show, of course. Foolish Sherlock, thinking it will work on Q.
“I didn’t think it was relevant,” Sherlock says, his expression flat and unreadable.

“Not relevant? Moriarty has apparently written some sort of computer code that opens any door in the world. Literally any door, and you didn’t think I might be able to help?”

Sherlock waves a dismissive hand. “You were pursuing other leads. I didn’t want to distract you. The code could wait.”

Always so many webs with his brothers, everything so needlessly complicated. “You’re playing games again, brother.”

“It’s not a game. I don’t play games!” Sherlock snaps, his tone so harsh and sharp that Q is taken momentarily aback.

He's hit a nerve. He's hit a nerve precisely where he hadn't expected to find one.

“Sherlock, are you alright?” Q asks. “Are you in trouble?”

Regaining his composure, Sherlock turns a decidedly bored expression in Q’s direction. “Of course I’m alright. Why wouldn’t I be alright?” Again he makes that dismissive wave of his hand, and then takes a sip of his tea. “At any rate, my opponent is safely behind bars and I have been assured there is very little doubt he will be staying there for the foreseeable future.”

“You don’t believe them.”

The sigh is exaggerated and wholly and completely Sherlock: so dramatic. “When have you known me to ever trust anything blindly?”

“You agree with Mycroft, then. That Moriarty is playing some larger game. That this has all been carefully planned.”

“Is that what brother dear has deduced?” He looks only mildly chastened when Q cuts him a sharp glare, who refuses to indulge the feud between his older brothers. As always, Sherlock recovers quickly and moves on, exhaling in a sharp huff as he says, “Well how can I not agree? His capture was too simple. It's obvious really.”

“Moriarty is entirely focused on you,” Q adds, thinking aloud. “For it to have been a true resolution it would have been you who captured him. It would have been you who brought him in. Not the Yard.”

It is illogical Q knows, but it doesn't stop him feeling guilty. Moriarty was plotting and scheming possibly before Q was born, definitely before he had ever left London, but he can't help thinking that if he had stayed, maybe things would have developed differently.

He had any number of very good reasons for abandoning London at the time, not that he had stayed long enough to explain them. After a certain point, Q took for granted that Sherlock would deduce the relevant details. He'd been right in that at least, but it doesn't make of it sit any better with him. “I can help you,” he offers now.

“I don’t need help.” Sherlock's expression is particularly sarcastic and sour. Defensive, Q thinks. Worried. Damn his brothers. “Besides, you’ll be busy with MI6, I imagine. Their difficulty is rather more complex than even they have managed to determine at the moment. Call it a reasonable deduction.”

“There's no reason why I can’t help you both,” Q argues. “I’ll hack Moriarty’s system and see if I can learn something about how he managed to accomplish this, find whatever this key is.”

“You’ll do no such thing. Focus your efforts on finding the moles in Vauxhall, but leave Moriarty alone.”

“You know I can’t do one without the other. The best chance of finding his plants at MI6 is to trace his organization. Besides, I suspect that once the moles are eradicated, MI6 will turn a rather determined eye towards eliminating Moriarty’s crime ring. I'm surprised they let it alone as long as they have, to be honest.”

“Incompetence, I suspect," Sherlock says, darkly. "Beside, it’s not a ‘ring’, it’s not an ‘organization’, it’s not a ‘syndicate’.” Sherlock's impatience makes his voice edge toward a sharpness that anyone but Q might mistake for disdain. “It’s one man. One man pulling a hundred strings.”

“But why?” Q asks. “Doesn’t it bother you? Why, and how?”

“Why should Moriarty be any different than you or I, Q? The answer is the same as it is for either of us: because he can. Because he’s bored.”

Briefly, Q considers that if it had been Mycroft leveling such an accusation at him he would be defensive and angry, but because it is Sherlock, Q hears the truth in the words. Perhaps that is what being separated in age by only a few years rather than well over a decade does to brothers. Perhaps it’s all the particular shared history that Q has with Sherlock.

“Well,” Q says, primly. “I refuse to believe it’s anything so simple.” Then, teasing, because he misses the way things used to be with his brother, untouched by this dour countenance Sherlock has pulled around himself like a suit of armor, Q leans forward and asks, “He’s not another of your spurned lovers, is he? We know how these things sometimes go.”

There’s a faint twitch to Sherlock’s lips, the barest trace of a smile, and some of the darkness eases from his eyes. Q thinks that it’s about all he can really hope for, given the mood. The trial is in two days and nothing is decided. Until Moriarty is charged and found guilty, until he is sentenced and put away then he is still a menacing presence on their horizon.

Q suspects that, even in prison, Moriarty might find a way to get beyond his cage.

“You’re not going to give me anything useful, are you?” Q asks, somewhat rhetorically. “About Moriarty? Some place to start?”

Sherlock takes a very long indrawn breath. “He strapped a bomb to Watson’s chest,” he says. “He gave me puzzles to solve and I was ecstatic, and I thought I had him and instead he had me. He set the perfect trap knowing I would walk straight into it, like an idiot.”

“I remember." Q remembers very well the rather hateful tone in his brother’s voice when Sherlock had rung him. Rung his mobile directly, even though it was reserved only for emergencies. It had been a brief conversation, because neither of them has ever been particularly prone to erroneous words, but Q had understood just the same.

“Don’t you see?” Sherlock asks. “This is personal, Q. Anyone else caught in Moriarty’s web is a chess piece in his game. I’m his opponent. I’m his target.”

“I understand.” Q sets his teacup and saucer down on the table and stands.

There isn't much else that he can say. It's not worth an argument, especially when Q doesn't entirely disagree with Sherlock's assessment. Moriarty is preoccupied with Sherlock. Obsessed, really. That doesn't mean that Sherlock's plan to push anyone who can help away is necessarily the best course of action.

In fact, Q wholeheartedly disagrees with it.

“I’m back in London for however long, if you need me. You know how to get in touch. Please don't hesitate.” He stops by his brother's chair, pulling the earpiece out and letting it drop into the flat of his palm. Q extends his hand, leaves the earpiece on full display until he is certain Sherlock has noticed it.

The corner of his brother's pale lips twitch, almost but not quite a smile. Then Sherlock's familiar grey-green eyes shift up to meet his own, patient but questioning. In a swift smooth motion, Q folds his fingers over the radio, knowing full well that the tiny device has been muted.

Finally, they are both alone with one another.

“If we’re chess pieces then put us to use,” he says, meeting his brother’s eyes with a determined look. “He won’t hesitate to put every one of his pawns and knights and rooks into play. I’m already another piece on the board. I've already come back to the city. If you need me, use me; I can help. We both can.”

Sherlock’s eyes flicker down to Q’s hand, still outstretched, still stifling the radio. His lips quirk upward, amused, knowing precisely who the 'we' includes. “Overconfident, Q.”

Q smiles. “Sentimental, Sherlock.”

________________________________________________________________________________________

The earpiece has been switched off.

Bond is doing his best to remain in his car and refrain from entertaining thoughts regarding possible betrayal or conspiracy but as being a particularly suspicious and cynical person has saved his life on more than one occasion, it is rather difficult.

At the very least, switching off the radio, an act that runs counter to the verbal agreement they had struck, however informal that agreement might have been, does not bode well for his future working relationship with Lysander.

Bond is incredibly particular about who he entrusts his life to. It's the reason he prefers to work alone, and why he has put a great deal of effort into being self-reliant, both at home and in the field. If he can't trust Lysander then he might as well be back at square one: he has to find someone who is capable of tracking Moriarty, of tracking the spy in HQ.

Then again, not trusting Lysander Holmes is precisely why he requested the man wear an earpiece when he went to have a chat with his own brother. Now that Bond thinks of it, the request for the earpiece had owed more to uncomfortably new experience of negotiating with someone and the sensation that he had actually been losing.

"I didn't have to tell you," Lysander had said, just a few hours ago.

"I could argue that you have stumbled into what is essentially a family matter, and that you're in over your head."

Lysander had been direct and honest, and had spoken plainly. He had been willing to place a certain amount of trust in Bond. Perhaps he had been too hasty in insisting Lysander wear the radio.

A sharp wrap on the passenger window startles him from his thoughts and before he manages to collect himself the door is pulled open and the lithe form of Lysander Holmes, clad in that dark grey coat, is sliding into the front seat, casual as ever. As if Bond had merely pulled over so he might run and pick something up from a shop.

Bond doesn't bother to ask how Lysander knew to look for him, or how he found the car. Quietly, Bond decides that he is getting very tired of the Holmes brothers being always five steps ahead.

"I want to get a look at that phone," Lysander declares, cutting a sharp look in Bond's direction, the expression practically dares him to play at stupid. When Bond remains silent, Lysander asks, "Do you have any ideas?"

"Do you mean Scotland Yard isn't in the practice of handing out evidence to anyone who stops by?" Bond teases as he turns over the engine.

Undoubtedly, by this point with the trial only days away, Moriarty's mobile has been thoroughly investigated by Scotland Yard's top experts. Bond might have only just met Lysander, but he feels confident that he knows how the younger man might react to being told to leave the investigating to The Yard: outside of perhaps an amused laugh or a derisive snort, he imagines Lysander would say something along the lines of: "I don't trust anyone else to know their left foot from a bicycle."

At least in this instance, Bond doesn't actually disagree. If the files that he's read on James Moriarty are anything to go by he suspects that the Yard is more than a little outclassed.

Halfway to their destination, Bond realizes that the only plan he hasn't considered and then subsequently dismissed involves making use of a few of the smoke grenades he has in the boot of his car.

Lysander seems to have figured out their predicament as well. "Shit," he says. "You can't present your credentials because no one is supposed to know you're still in the country. If we go in there and muck about, we might accidentally give Moriarty just what he needs to have the charges dismissed or something."

"Shit," Lysander repeats, this time quieter, almost to himself. Puling his mobile from his jacket pocket, Lysander selects a number and waits to be connected. "How fast do you think you can get me access to Moriarty's mobile?"

There's a pause as whoever is on the other end of the line speaks, which ends abruptly when Lysander huffs and says, "Yes, it's me, and yes, I have all of the manners and social graces of a baboon, apologies. 'Hello'. Now please answer my question, we're in a bit of a rush."

Bond tries to imagine Mycroft Holmes taking this call somewhere in Parliament, maybe surrounded by a number of notable figures in the British government. Possibly the man has been so unfortunate as to answer the call on speaker phone, though Bond imagines that with brothers the likes of Lysander and Sherlock, likely Mycroft would never make such a mistake.

Bond decides that it is possible that he was too quick to judge the Holmes brothers after all. Maybe they really are more amusing than irritating.

"I miss the old flip-phones," Lysander says. It takes Bond a second to realize that the younger man has disconnected the call and is now talking to him. "It was so definitive to end a call by flipping it closed. Satisfying. Then again, they were absolute rubbish at everything else."

Bond sneaks a quick sideways look, still having trouble reconciling this well-dressed, well-groomed young man with the be-spectacled, rumpled individual he had met the other night. Vaguely, he thinks that he should prefer the neater dress because he has always enjoyed people who take particular care in their appearance.

But there was something about the fishtail parka and canvas sneakers, both so obviously worn and well loved, and the glasses and ruffled hair that had felt more natural, less like a disguise, somehow.

Flexing his hands on the steering wheel, Bond refocuses his attention on pertinent details. "Your brother called you 'Q'."

"What?" Lysander asks, glances up from his mobile with a frown, as if he has been pulled away from very deep thoughts. "Oh, yes. There was a time when 'Lysander' seemed horribly Shakespearean to me, and it's not exactly like I have a middle name that is any better." He smiles, clearly lost in memory. "Teenage rebellion and all that I suspect, but Sherlock indulged me. It's become a nickname, of sorts."

"You prefer it?"

Still smiling that barely-there hint of a smile, Lysander tips his head to the side and says, "You know, I think I still do prefer it, actually." Then those sharp green eyes cut in Bond's direction. "I hope you're not getting ideas."

"Of course not," Bond says, trying to smother an amused smile. "Calling you 'Q' would be far too informal."

________________________________________________________________________________________

Lysander walks into Scotland Yard with a smooth confidence more suited to a superintendent or chief inspector who had worked there for years, not a young man of indeterminate age who had spent what Bond suspected was the majority of his life breaking laws rather than protecting them.

"I'm here to see Inspector Lestrade," he explains to the woman at the front desk, offering a polite greeting and a friendly expression. Bond notes carefully that the moment she glances up from her computer screen she blushes prettily and can't seem to stop cutting coy glances in Lysander's direction.

For his part, Lysander seems oblivious. "I'm the specialist he called in to analyze some technological evidence pertaining to one of his current cases."

"You'll have to sign in," she says, which Bond suspects is a lie, but she produces what is apparently the sign-in sheet of The Yard and hands over a pen, purposefully brushing her fingers with Lysander's, who jots his name down and caps the pen with definitive click. "And him?" the woman asks, cutting a suspicious look in Bond's direction.

"My intern," Lysander explains with barely a glance, then passes the pen over to Bond, who uses his false identity to mark the register.

"Seventh floor, is it?" Lysander asks, already pacing in the direction of the lifts.

"You have to wear…" the receptionist calls after him, then slumps. "Badges," she finishes, handing them over to Bond, her disappointment evident.

"I'll make certain he puts it on," Bond assures her, but even his most charming grin doesn't seem to divert the woman's attention.

"Christ," is how they're greeted the moment the lift doors 'ping' and slide open. "Are there really three of you?" The man has short, greying hair and warm brown eyes, and there's a friendly, amused smile on his face when he offers his hand and introduces himself, "Chief Inspector Lestrade."

Accepting the man's handshake, his brows pinched in a slight frown Lysander says, "I'm afraid I don't follow. As far as I know, there's only one of me."

It feels curiously like a marked achievement that Bond can easily hear the trace of dry humor in the younger man's tone. It is the sort of reply that he only hears from people who have siblings, who are used to seeking out ways to distinguish themselves from their family and establish their own individuality. The hint of humor makes Bond smile to himself.

"Oh yeah," Lestrade says with a sigh and a bemused smile. "I can see the family resemblance." Shaking his head, he gestures down the hall. "This way."

He leads them away from the lifts toward a small room tucked between a steady march of offices. There is a desk, two chairs and a side-table cluttered with stacked cardboard boxes. On the desk is a small plastic tray inside which is sitting the Moriarty's phone.

"I had it brought over on the rush," Lestrade says, tucking his hands in his pockets as he leans against the door and then adds, mostly to himself, "Probably shouldn't be doing this."

"Did the request not go through the appropriate channels?" Lysander queries innocently, hesitating in the act of reaching for the mobile.

Bond makes a slow circuit of the room, noting the view through the frosted glass walls of the office as Lestrade chuckles somewhat self-deprecatingly and shakes his head. "I got a call from the personal secretary of Mycroft Holmes. There were a number of very official sounding words thrown my way, not the mention two or three threats regarding paperwork as well as displeasing 'the higher ups'. I imagine this'll all check out on paper. Still doesn't mean it's a good idea."

Bond leans against the side-table, flashing a raised eyebrow when Lestrade looks at him rather pointedly. "Lacey, down at the front desk called up. She said you were an intern?"

"That's correct," Bond says. Out of the corner of his eye he catches the amused grin on Lysander's face, there and gone again in an instant.

"Well then," the younger man says, once again reaching for the mobile. Again, he pauses before actually picking it up. His eyes narrow marginally, the only indication of his displeasure, as he meets Lestrade's somewhat dubious gaze. "I assure you I am extremely proficient."

"Oh yeah," the inspector says, sounding not at all confident. "Got the right qualifications?"

Stepping away from the desk, Lysander says, "Not on me." Taking a step towards the door he continues, "If you like, I can pull them up on your computer. Just give me three minutes."

Bond suspects that Lysander intends to present a set of entirely falsified credentials, which would undoubtedly require any number of illegal acts to create. That the younger man is capable of doing this, Bond has no difficulty believing, but it is disconcerting to think of Lysander hacking into the necessary databases and fabricating a personal history on the work computer of a Chief Inspector while sitting in Scotland Yard.

Lestrade holds of a hand, instantly apologetic as he says, "No, I'm sure it's fine," and Bond lets out a quiet, but relieved exhale.

Lysander remains still for a moment, halfway between the desk and the door, as if he is uncertain whether to let the matter drop, or pursue it. Bond briefly imagines the younger man marching out and insisting on showing the fake qualifications just the same. They may not have known each other for very long, but it wasn't difficult for Bond to spot the stubborn streak in the youngest Holmes.

After a brief hesitation, Lysander lets the matter drop, slipping his coat off his shoulders as he returns to the desk, draping it over the back of a chair as he finally picks up the mobile.

"We've been over it," Lestrade says, watching as Lysander carefully observes the mobile from every angle before he even bothers to turn it on. "No booby-traps and nothing suspicious or even out of the ordinary. Your brother was convinced we'd find something there, but as far as we can tell, there's nothing. The call history has been wiped, though. Unless it's brand new."

"You determined the pass code?" Lysander asks as he turns the mobile on.

"Yeah," Lestrade says, nodding at the plastic tray. "Taped to the side, there."

Bond shifts so he can see the numbers written in blue pen on a square yellow post-it note. As Lysander inputs them into the phone, Bond takes a moment to consider their possible significance. From what he has learned of James Moriarty, he is not the sort of man to select something arbitrarily.

"Uh, right," Lestrade says, after the silence stretches out, Lysander entirely engrossed in the phone and Bond still mulling over the passcode. "Is there anything else you need?"

As it turns out, there is quite a bit that Lysander apparently needs. The list starts out simple, with "A laptop", but becomes increasingly complicated as Lysander requests a surprising number of apparently different types of wires or cables or something, which results in Lestrade pleading: "I don't know what any of these are". The list is concluded with a request for tea.

"Earl grey, please," Lysander adds. "If at all possible."

Blinking wide eyes at Bond, looking helpless and more than a little overwhelmed, Lestrade says, "Right."

"Shall I help?" Bond offers.

"No, that's alright." Lestrade rips the page on which he'd jotted the list out of the notebook and pushes away from the wall. "I'll have someone familiar with tech run and fetch these wires. It might be a bit. But I'll get the laptop and the tea."

"Thank-you, Inspector." Lysander's dark brows pinch together as he returns his attention to the mobile.

The office door closes silently behind the chief inspector, and Bond pushes away from the table. "What are you thinking?" Bond asks, as he shifts closer to the desk.

"Hm," Lyander says, his tone curiously distant, as if he is caught-up in his thoughts and is speaking more to himself than to Bond. "The pass-code is just random numbers … But that's impossible, no numbers are ever really random …" With a huff, he shuts the mobile off and glares. "There's nothing here."

"What were you expecting to find?"

"Something," Lysander says. Pursing his lips, he elaborates, "In the surveillance video at the Tower, Moriarty is plainly standing by the crown jewels listening to music playing on this phone," he flaps the mobile in Bond's direction for emphasis. "He enters something into it, something short and simple, nothing that requires a lot of typing. But I'm looking, and there's nothing here that I can see."

Resting his hip against the edge of the desk, Bond considers this. "Is it possible to partition the memory of a mobile phone?"

"Not unless…" Trailing off, Lysander cocks his head to the side considering. Then he takes a long breath and says, "Oh. I'm an idiot."

Bond smirks. "Don't be too hard on yourself."

"No, really," Lysander insists, pulling his own mobile from the pocket of his jacket. "I'm a total idiot."

Despite apparently being the inspiration for this epiphany, Bond is not entirely certain he knows what is going on. Thus far, working with the youngest Holmes has been a study of patience and trust. He watches quietly as Lysander taps out a phone number and waits to be connected.

In the few moments of silence that follow, Bond amuses himself by attempting to guess who it is Lysander is trying to call. As it happens, he is right on the money.

"Sherlock," Lysander says, sharply. "Be quiet and listen. What was that woman, the Adler-woman's password for her mobile?"

Holding his mobile between his ear and shoulder, Lysander snatches up Moriarty's phone and types something into it. "No," he says, after a moment in answer to something his brother has asked. "I was simply curious, it's not relevant."

Bond can faintly hear the familiar cadence of Sherlock Holmes' deep voice as Lysander pulls his mobile away from his ear. "Sorry to trouble you, good-bye," ending the call abruptly and returning his phone to his pocket.

The look Lysander turns on Bond is bright and excited. "We're in."

"So it is partitioned?"

"Yes," Lysander says. "I don't know why it didn't occur to me before. Moriarty isn't playing this game with Scotland Yard, he's fixated on my brother, and he's been laying the groundwork for this for a very long time." He's flicking through screens as he talks, Bond can't see what the phone is displaying, but it seems to be more helpful than whatever it was showing before. "Of course the password would be something for Sherlock, and that case had nothing to do with The Yard."

"What was the password, then?"

"Sherlocked." Lysander waves a hand as he explains, "A reference to an earlier case. Another time Moriarty meddled with my brothers."

Bond notes the plurality, but he doesn't comment. Right now, there are more pressing issues. "Have you found anything?"

"A pen," Lysander says. "I need a pen. And paper." Then he looks up from the phone, glancing around the room and frowns. "And a laptop. Where is Lestrade?"

________________________________________________________________________________________

By their third hour at Scotland Yard, Lysander has so thoroughly investigated the phone that it has been reduced to its component parts, which lie on a cloth spread across the desk, meticulously placed. "I'll put it back together again, I promise," he assures a hovering Lestrade without glancing up.

By hour four Lysander proudly holds up the reassembled phone: "There, feel better?" and then returns to his work, his attention split equally between the mobile, and the laptop that he has connected it to, which is running lines of code the Bond can make no sense of.

By hour five the younger man has accumulated a small stack of lined paper that he has covered in pencil markings that is possibly a code, or some form of shorthand that Bond has never encountered before and can't begin to decipher. Apparently, it makes perfect sense to Lysander, who constantly shuffles the papers, squints at them, purses his lips and shuffles along to another sheet, sometimes adding a mark before moving on.

Turning to Lestrade, Bond says, "Thank-you for your help. We appreciate it." He catches hold of Lysander's left elbow, guiding him through the door of the office and down the hall, and then out of Scotland Yard and onto the street because the younger man is too focused with his illegible scratchings to be trusted not to run into a wall.

"I hope all of that in there was helpful," Bond says as he drives.

"Maybe helpful," Lysander mutters, shuffling through the papers. "Mostly troubling."

Bond shoots a sharp glance to his passenger. "Troubling?"

"Clever apps," Lysander says. "Amusing apps, like a joke. But they didn't lead anywhere, just another string of numbers. Each one: Bank of England, Tower of London, Pentonville Prison, each with a different string of numbers hidden behind a clever front: a funny animated app."

"Relevant?"

"What do you mean, 'relevant'?" Lysander asks, apparently so stunned by the ridiculous question that he looks up from his papers, blinking owlishly in Bond's direction. "Of course it's relevant."

"Helpful, then?" Bond says, correcting his word-choice patiently.

Lysander's lips press together and he's lost once more in his notes. "Troubling."

Chapter Text

"Let me out just up ahead, please," Lysander says when he finally looks up from the papers he's been shuffling and reshuffling. He's been so engrossed in his notes that Bond has managed to drive them three-quarters of the way to the Savory.

Bond had been hoping to be a little further along before the younger man took any notice of their destination, but he makes a go of it anyway. "It's pouring rain."

"I'll manage."

Flexing his hands around the steering wheel, Bond says in his most reasonable tone, "My hotel is just around the corner. You've eaten two biscuits and about three pots of tea, we can order room service and I'll let you sleep on my sofa."

Lysander's lips quirk slightly. "What a tempting proposition."

"Well," Bond continues. "I would offer to share my bed but that seems somewhat forward considering that you won't even call me by my first name."

Green eyes shift Bond's way, the gaze inscrutable. "I'm not convinced that not being on a first-name basis with someone is really a deterrent for you."

Bond laughs. "You're not wrong."

His initial motives in choosing their destination had been honest. On missions, his role is always active: he runs, he shoots, he fights, and snoops about and sometimes he seduces a person or two. He is not used to sitting about waiting for people to tell him what to do or where to go or why, that's the sort of thing that Q-Branch is supposed to work out before he gets assigned.

On this mission, however, Bond's abilities are not presently very useful. He is almost entirely reliant on Lysander to gather the information that will finally get things moving. It had been Bond's intention to grill the younger man about what precisely he learned from their earlier meeting with Sherlock, as well as what he has managed to make-out with regards to Moriarty's phone. Then he had planned to hover over Lysander while he continued his work in the hopes that it might spur the younger man to work faster.

Now, however, Bond is caught up in enticing, though unproductive thoughts of getting Lysander into his hotel room, stripping off their wet clothes and making use of the sizeable bed in Bond's suite.

"Just up ahead, please," Lysander says, cutting into Bond's fantasy. He folds the papers, tucking them inside his coat before turning his collar up to ward off the rain. His hand rests lightly on the door handle as he waits patiently for Bond to pull to the curb.

"You're certain I can't convince you to come back to the hotel?"

Lysander shakes his head as he opens the door, stepping out directly into a puddle. "I'll be in touch."

"You don't even have an umbrella," Bond points out, leaning over the empty passenger seat toward the open door.

Lysander ducks down to peer into the car, his left eyebrow arched and his lips stretched into a smile. "Christ, Mister Bond," he says. "You sound exactly like my brother." Then he shuts the car door and steps up onto the sidewalk.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Three days sequestered in his hotel room flipping through the hard-copy personnel files of suspected corrupt MI6 operatives and Bond doesn't hear a thing from Lysander Holmes.

He has plenty of time to feel irritated with himself for not making a better effort to tail the man back to his hotel or flat, wherever Anthea has set the man up. Then Bond could at least keep track of any progress being made, and perhaps provide helpful incentive to get the work done faster. He could at least assure himself that something is being accomplished, because, like it or not Bond does not feel as if he's making any headway with his files.

For one thing, there are a depressing number of Vauxhall employees working for an agency that does not trust them. When she had brought over the boxes Eve had said: "These are people with whom HQ has had difficulty in the past: not following their brief, going rogue, causing undue trouble, that sort of thing. Being sloppy."

Bond had pursed his lips and eyed the boxes she had set to the right of his sofa. When he looked back to her, she'd been flashing him a mischievous smile: "I checked. You're not in there." Then she'd left him to it.

The Q-Branch files are somehow easier. He imagines them becoming bored with their post, looking for something to break up the monotony of their coding or hacking or whatever it is they do. Imagines Moriarty approaching them, making them feel wanted instead of hidden away and forgotten in the bowels of Vauxhall. Imagines that none of them really know what it's like out there in the world: outside of the safe boundaries of England, caught in a power play between countries and people and weapons.

Q-Branch doesn't have the same training as an operative. They don't live and breathe for their country the way Bond does, the way any field agent has to. At least, that's what he tells himself.

The truth is there are more field agent files in his boxes than Q-Branch; operatives with computer skills and a history. These are the names that Bond knows, people he has worked with, has heard about and sometimes admired.

These names are difficult because as he reads he feels as if he is prying: no field agent, especially a double-o, has a particularly pleasant history. It's not the sort of career you pursue when you are happy, well-balanced sort of person, but that doesn't necessarily mean that field agents and double-o's are bad people. They all come from the same place, make the same pledges, they're supposed to stand for the same thing; each of them equally prepared to make the same sacrifices for the one thing they believe in above all else: their country.

"This isn't going to work," Bond says to Eve on the fourth day. "This isn't what I do: paper-pushing."

"It's hard to stomach, isn't it?" she asks. Then she sighs heavily. "We have no choice, Bond. Right now, this is all we've got."

________________________________________________________________________________________

John manages to convince Sherlock to stay home. It's a close thing, but he says, "If you show up you'll only start grumbling, adding your own running commentary, and if you do that the judge will find you in contempt of court. Again. I'm not bailing you out twice in as many days."

He leaves Sherlock lounging on the sofa, still not dressed and feels more than a little envious. It's not that John especially wants to spend another day sitting in a courtroom; it's just that he feels as if he has to. He has had more than enough of James Moriarty and it isn't good enough to simply be told that justice was done and Moriarty is in prison. John needs to see it all happen for himself. He needs to be absolutely certain.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury," the judge says, his voice deep and steady. "James Moriarty stands accused of several counts of attempted burglary. Crimes which, if he is found guilty, will elicit a very long custodial sentence and yet his legal team has chosen to offer no evidence whatsoever to support that plea. I find myself in the unusual position of recommending a verdict wholeheartedly: you must find him guilty…"

________________________________________________________________________________________

"Not guilty," Q says when Bond pulls the door open. Then he narrows his eye. "It's just me, put your gun away."

"Maybe I won't." Despite the threat, Bond steps back, letting Q enter the suite before closing the door and locking it. "You don't sound surprised at the verdict."

"Because I'm not." Q looks the agent up and down, scrutinizing. Bond is only half dressed, a pair of pressed trousers belted around his waist, his muscled torso and thick arms on display. He's obviously just out of the shower, his hair wet and skin glistening. "Don't stop dressing on my account."

Bond cuts him a coy look, half-invitation and half-dare, a devilish smirk on his face. When Q fails to look impressed, the man picks up a button-down shirt and slips it over his damp shoulders, holding Q's gaze rather pointedly as he ever so slowly begins to do-up the buttons.

Clearing his throat, Q says, "Tell me you didn't believe that a person who could walk into Pentonville, the secure vaults in the Bank of England, and access the crown jewels in the Tower of London, couldn't just as easily walk out of prison before anyone had a chance to put him on trial."

A pale eyebrow jumps up, and the corner of Bond's mouth quirks. "Of course not. Moriarty wanted to be there. Getting caught was part of his plan."

"It was part of his marketing campaign," Q corrects. "Free advertising. His name splashed on the front page of every newspaper, on the mouth of every reporter on every news network the world over."

Bond finishes buttoning his shirt, adjusting his cufflinks. "He's selling the computer code," Bond says with a frown. "The break-ins were a demonstration, proof that the key worked."

"And now that he's been released he's probably taking calls from anyone and everyone," Q finishes. Bond's level of intelligence has been a pleasant surprise. Of course, Q had assumed an agent had to be at least passingly smart to stay alive in the field, but Bond has thus far had little difficulty keeping up.

Picking up the suit jacket that is lying on the bed, Q shakes it out and hands it over as he says, "Who wouldn't want a key that can open any door in the world? I would be surprised if your employers didn't put in a call."

Bond pulls on his jacket, leaving it unbuttoned. "Have you made any progress with it?"

"Some, but it's complicated," Q says. "How are you managing with the personnel files?"

"Remarkably similar, actually."

There are two file-sized boxes sitting, their lids closed, by the sofa. Q wonders what it would be like to flip through file after file of people he knows, worked with, trusted his life to, maybe even respected, all the while considering each one as a potential threat. He has absolutely no basis to even begin empathizing but he imagines it's the sort of thing that a person would find difficult.

To Q anyone who isn't family, who isn't one of his own brothers, is a liability. Sometimes -- all too often in fact -- even his brothers are unacceptable risks.

Sentiment, Q thinks, with the same impassive judgment he has been taught to value above every other thing, emotional attachments serving no other purpose than to complicate matters unnecessarily. He had assumed a double-o would not fall victim to the trap, but apparently even Bond isn't immune.

"I'm going over to my brother's for tea," he says, letting the issue drop. "You should come with me."

"Hm." Bond is preening in a mirror, checking the lines of his suit, tugging his sleeves to lie right beneath his jacket. "Which brother?"

"Sherlock," Q answers, and then can't stop asking, "Do you always wear suits?"

Sharp blue eyes pin him like a butterfly at a lepidopterist's mercy. Bond makes a show of closely scrutinizing Q's plain, untucked shirt and dark tie, his faded red sweater vest and blue velvet blazer, the slow visual perusal ending pointedly at Q's feet: his canvas sneakers.

When Bond meets Q's eyes again his gaze flickers just slightly to the right, which makes Q suspect the man is including the glasses perched on the bridge of his nose in the rather sweeping assessment. The agent smirks as he says, "Not all of us can be chameleons."

Q refuses to feel self-conscious. He's actually very fond of this particular blazer and has been told on more than one occasion that it looks well on him. "There is a difference between being unable to adapt to a given situation, and being unwilling to, Mister Bond."

This elicits a pleased smile from the agent. "I'll stick to my suits, thank-you."

For a moment Q very much wants to grin cheekily and tease the agent some more, but he doesn't. They aren't friends, they aren't even very well acquainted and it would be foolish of Q to think that an SIS operative would like, let alone trust, a nomadic computer terrorist. "We'll take your car."

"Will we?" Bond says, amusement evident in his tone even if he's reaching for his keys as he speaks.

________________________________________________________________________________________

John is sitting in what has become 'his chair' in his toweling robe and slippers, freshly washed and reading the newspaper. Living with Sherlock Holmes has the effect of turning one's internal clock on end, what with the violin music in the middle of the night, the experiments, the chaos and motion followed by three-day strops where Sherlock stretches out on the leather sofa and does not move or speak.

Very quickly John stopped troubling himself about what was strictly 'proper', and what bordered on sheer decadence. Besides, after the week he's had he feels entitled to a late start to his day.

"I imagine that you'll want to put on some clothes," Sherlock says, swanning into the room, his blue silk robe pulled on over the usual dark suit and unbuttoned, tie-less shirt. He collapses in a graceful flurry of limbs onto the chair opposite just as John lifts his focus from the paper, watching as his flat mate reaches for his violin and bow. "Not that I mind one way or another, but I know how you feel about company and propriety and all that."

Says the man who walked into Buckingham Palace swaddled in a sheet and nothing else. Not even a pair of pants.

"Wait," John says, caught off-guard. "Did you say 'company'?"

Outside of Lestrade the only 'company' that ever sets foot into 221B is there because John invited them. Even shared acquaintances like Molly Hooper. Sherlock has never issued an invitation. Not in his entire life, John suspects.

"My brother." Sherlock settles his violin into place and raises his bow.

The first strands of music start as John tilts his head. "I didn't know Mycroft ever bothered to call ahead," he says as he refolds the newspaper. Sherlock ignores him. "Right, well. I'll just get dressed then, shall I?"

He's pulling a striped cotton shirt over his head when the jaunty little tune Sherlock seemed to have been composing on the spot cuts-off abruptly. John assumes Mycroft has arrived and takes an extra moment to stand in his room and pull himself together. A nice, leisurely afternoon lost. A potentially regenerative day at home, disrupted.

John always feels wrong-footed around Sherlock's older brother, never certain of anything. Also, Mycroft never simply 'drops by', he always has some purpose to his visits and John had very much been hoping to have a nap at some point today.

"Ah, John," Sherlock greets, when he finally returns to the living room. "This is my brother."

His military training has taught him to notice any potential threats, so John's attention is momentarily preoccupied with the man standing just to the right of the door since he is obviously armed. Bond had seemed friendly enough the last time they'd met and apparently he works for MI6 and has no quarrel with anyone living in 221B, but that doesn't mean John is keen to turn his back on him.

"Uh," he says, having trouble detaching his gaze from the cool, blue-eyed stare long enough to greet Mycroft. That's of course when it occurs to him that the other man standing in John's living room is decidedly not Mycroft Holmes.

For one thing, he is unquestionably younger and certainly a good deal less poshly dressed. There's a thick tangle of wavy dark hair on his head, and he is wearing large glasses and a perfectly pleasant, almost serene expression as he extends a long-fingered hand toward John. "Doctor Watson."

Manners are ingrained in John, so his hand is already bridging the distance even though his brain hasn't caught up yet. He says, rather eloquently he feels, "What?" which makes the corner of the younger man's mouth quirk upward just slightly. "I'm sorry," John says, in genuine apology for his manners, which he proceeds to ruin a second later when his mouth blurts: "There's three of you?" without the permission of his brain.

"My youngest brother, Lysander," Sherlock explains. "I call him 'Q'."

John is still shaking the youngest Holmes' hand because apparently he's gone into some sort of shock. "Q?" he echoes dumbly.

"For 'Quillon'," Bond supplies helpfully. "Middle name," he adds as he steps forward, offering his own hand because apparently he seems to have noticed that John is doing a rather commendable impersonation of a skipping record and requires a bit of help. "Doctor Watson," Bond greets, when John successfully transfers his hand to greet the agent.

"Mister…Bond, was it?"

"Yes," Bond says, smiling easily. "Call me James."

"Oh right. Please, call me John." John doesn't think he imagines the pointed look James shoots in Lysander's direction, though he has no idea what it might mean. It occurs to him to wonder how on earth the two might have ever crossed paths; they certainly look as if they are from different enough worlds.

Lysander's voice is steady but quiet as he says, "We seem to have caught you by surprise. I hope it’s not an imposition at all. I did call ahead."

"No no," John dismisses quickly, trying to get his brain functioning again. "It's fine, it's just…Sherlock told me his brother was coming and…"

"Ah. You were expecting Mycroft."

"Yes, I was," John agrees. "I didn't know Sherlock had another brother."

Unhelpfully, Sherlock pipes up from where he has settled into his chair, "That's because Q doesn't exist."

"I…" John starts, and then blinks. "What?"

"Well." Lysander looks just a little bit sheepish. "Technically speaking, I suppose I don't, really. Not in any records, anyway."

There is a trace of delight in Sherlock's tone as he embellishes on this still ambiguous comment. "Q erased every trace of himself from every record available, and now he doesn't exist. Well, except for that one hard-copy Mycroft managed to squirrel away." Smirking in John's direction he whispers, "Keeps it as insurance, I suspect."

John glances between the two gleeful brothers, feeling more than a little at sea as Lysander confides, "Periodically Mycroft uploads my information all over again. It's a terrible nuisance."

"Right," John says. He clears his throat. "Would you like some tea? Please, sit down."

James and Lysander both settle onto the sofa, because it's the only available place once John has laid claim to his usual chair. He notes that there is as much distance between two men as possible, given the size of the sofa, so not lovers then, a part of his mind thinks. He has trouble believing that the youngest Holmes brother works for MI6, but John has been wrong before, especially when concerning the Holmes family.

He pours tea for everyone and tries to think of a way to subtly pry more information from Lysander, or Q, or whatever his name is. The man seems pleasant enough, is considerably less threatening than his eldest brother, and less manic than Sherlock. John wonders if he'll be more amenable to talking about his family history, or his brothers.

He makes a few polite inquiries, intent on circling round to the information he's really after but somehow Lysander's equally polite, smooth responses end in John spilling out practically his life's story and he has no idea how it happens. Isn't even aware he's doing it until he pauses long enough to take a sip of tea and realizes he's partway through recounting a particular event from his time studying medicine at university, which he had privately sworn to himself was too embarrassing to ever recount to anyone.

He sighs. Another Holmes brother, this one as cagey and elusive as the other two.

"Well," he says, cutting himself off abruptly. "I don't want to bore you."

"Oh, we weren't bored," James answers with a smirk, warm amusement coloring his tone.

Sherlock looks slightly affronted. "You never told me that story before."

"I assumed you'd probably deduced it by looking at my socks or something," John says, rolling his eyes.

"Oh please," Sherlock says with a disdainful little sneer. "It would require at least one boot to deduce all of the relevant details."

________________________________________________________________________________________

It wasn't Q's intention to linger, but he can't help himself. John is friendly, relaxed and so thoroughly grounded that within moments of accepting his cup of tea, Q finds himself settled comfortably in his spot on the sofa, perfectly at ease.

John Watson so flawlessly complements and balances Sherlock that Q is momentarily envious.

"Are you going to accuse me again of being sentimental?" Sherlock asks when they are left alone in the living room. Bond excusing himself to the hallway in order to answer his mobile, and John lost in the kitchen endeavoring to find something for lunch.

"No." Q sets his teacup aside. "I like him."

Sherlock waves his hand. "He's just a flat mate."

"Still," Q says, noting his brother's casually dismissive tone, in direct contrast to his manner of moments earlier, when speaking to John. He lets it go without comment.

They don't have much time to themselves so Q takes steadying breath, his gaze flickering quickly to the hall where Bond is still occupied, and then to the kitchen entrance, where there is no sign of John. "I didn't come simply to chat."

"I know," Sherlock says, steepling his fingers and bringing them to rest against his lips. "Go on."

"Four different international assassins have each taken residence here on Baker Street." Q is very careful to keep his voice hushed. "Your living room window looks directly into the flat of one of Russia's top assassins. You could probably watch her get dressed, if you wanted."

"She rarely leaves the blinds open." Sherlock catches Q's irritated look and huffs. "Well, what of it?"

"What of it?" Q echoes. "You're sitting right in Moriarty's palm, and slowly he's starting to close his fingers around you. What are you going to do about it?"

Sherlock gives a twitching shrug as if the answer should be obvious. "Nothing."

"This isn't you. You can't really be this blasé," Q says. "You're in danger, Sherlock. Moriarty wants to destroy you. Let me help, if not for your sake, at least for John's."

Sherlock sneers. "Now who's being sentimental?"

Q ignores the barb. "I'm working on something…"

"I told you to stay out of it."

"You said yourself that Molarity has been two steps ahead every time. If I can get this to work, we'll have the advantage."

Sherlock hisses like an angry cat. "There's no 'we', Q."

"Fine." Q adjusts his glasses and tells himself to be patient; that getting angry won't get them anywhere. "You can have the advantage, but I'll get it for you." Then his resolution to stay calm falters for a moment, and he ruffles his hands through his hair in agitation. "Look, there's something I should probably tell you. I'm not sure if you know…"

Sherlock's eyes flicker to the left and Q cuts himself off just as Bond returns, his face tight and eyes narrowed. "Problem?" Sherlock asks. His keen eyes are shifting, taking in every change in the man's demeanor and undoubtedly drawing conclusions.

Bond looks directly at Q. "We need to go."

"What?" Q asks. "Right now?"

"Yes," Bond says. "Right bloody now." Turning to Sherlock, he nods tightly, "I'm sorry to cut the tea short."

John pops out of the kitchen. "Wait, you're leaving?"

"We have to," Bond says. "There's been an emergency."

"An emergency?" John asks, like he might soon be offering his services. "What's happened? Oh of course. Classified."

"Got it in one." Bond nods. "Gentlemen," Then he stares at Q pointedly until he has no choice but to stand up, grab his parka and leave.

________________________________________________________________________________________

At least Lysander has the good sense to save his questions until they are safely back in Bond's car, but once the doors are closed the man reaches over and pointedly wraps his hand around the stick shift, refusing to let Bond drive them anywhere until he explains.

What part of 'emergency' is so difficult to comprehend?

"Tell me," Lysander insists, his tone steady and strong as steel.

"I'm going to ask you a question even though I think I already know the answer. Consider it, and tell me honestly, right now." After a moment, the younger man nods, so Bond continues, "When we first met, and you hacked into MI6, you said you made off with some classified files."

Lysander licks his lips. "Yes." Bond waits until the younger man elaborates: "I wanted to create a program to monitor unusual activity within MI6, but to create something that would stand a chance of running, undetected and uninterrupted for any length of time I needed to understand the basic network operations."

"So you stole data? Code?"

"Essentially, yes," Lysander says. "All the relevant bits I'd need to know not just to get into the system, but to stay in there, hidden in such a way that even the internal security wouldn't detect the surveillance."

"But not names."

"No." Lysander looks genuinely confused by the question. "Without some place to start from it would be like researching British culture by running around the library snatching books off the shelves at random. How do you know the books you have are the right ones, or even remotely relevant? You might have grabbed something by Charles Dickens off the shelf, but maybe you forgot him? How could you know? And really, he's someone you should consider in your research."

"I bloody hated Dickens," Bond mutters.

"What's this about?"

Bond glances down to where Lysander is still stubbornly gripping the stick shift, holding them hostage in 'park'. "One hour ago, MI6 discovered that a list containing all of the names of NATO agents embedded in terrorist organizations across the globe had been stolen."

"Don't be an idiot," Lysander scoffs. "Why would MI6 have a list like that lying around?"

"I don't know."

Shifting up in his seat, Lysander demands, "Well, how could they let it go walking out their front doors? They knew they had at least one mole lurking about!"

"I don't know!" Bond says, emphasizing each word cleanly.

"And your plan is to, what, go running around the world, hoping to stumble across it?"

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Bond says, "No. My plan is to bring you to Vauxhall so you can take a look at the computers and maybe turn up something useful. Does that sound reasonable?"

"Oh," Lysander says, removing his hand from the stick shift and drawing his seat belt across his chest. "Alright. Actually yes, it does. We can go, now."

"Good," Bond says, then puts the car in drive, and goes.

________________________________________________________________________________________

It takes some skill on Bond's part to get them both up to Mallory's office without being noticed. After all, he's supposed to be in Cuba, and Lysander has absolutely no clearance whatsoever, they can't exactly walk through the front doors.

"You have full use of my computer," Mallory offers Lysander once a few brief introductions have been made. "Will that be satisfactory?"

"So long as it has full network access." Lysander ignores the assessing gaze Mallory is leveling at him, either oblivious or completely absorbed in his task: getting into the system.

Mallory's expression is inscrutable as watches Lysander settle into work, before gesturing for Bond and Eve to join him at the opposite side of the room, as if this affords them any reasonable privacy. "Are you sure he's up to this?"

"He's up to it," Bond says smoothly.

The quick, sidelong look Mallory flashes him states plainly that he noticed the innuendo but refuses to comment on it. "We've sent out three operatives to recover the list. Bond, your mission is still the same, find the person responsible for stealing this information."

"Excuse me, sir," Eve interrupts. "But are we assuming that the person responsible is still here? In the building?"

Mallory nods. "We've been working on recalling most of our field agents. Until this mess has been resolved we have only a limited number of operations running, the ones we can't afford to close down. Meaning only a handful of agents in the past week have been sent out into the field. Leaving at a time like this would place him on a very short list of names. In short, it would be bloody obvious."

"That's assuming that he is at all threatened by MI6, which at this point seems unlikely." Lysander is tapping away at the computer his eyes fixed to the screen, despite obviously listening in to their conversation.

"Excuse me?" Bond thinks that the expression currently on Mallory's face clearly says: 'piss off', even if his tone is faultlessly polite.

Just for a moment, Lysander's fingers pause in their dance as he glances at them, something like surprise evident on his face. "Staying within Vauxhall might temporarily spare him from discovery by MI6, but it leaves him at the mercy of someone I think this mole would consider a far greater threat."

"You mean Moriarty," Bond says, shifting closer to the desk.

Lysander nods. "If they're working in concert then it's immensely poor timing. Not something that can usually be said of James Moriarty."

"What do you mean?" Mallory asks, genuinely listening now if the cant of his had is anything to go by.

"The code," Bond says, slowly. He has been passing along what he can to Eve, but considering it's also been in the papers it feels somewhat disappointing that Mallory hasn't made the connection. "Moriarty has a key that can hack any secure site in the world within moments."

"With a key like that he could blow up NATO in alphabetical order if he wanted," Lysander says. "Why would he bother to steal the names of NATO agents? It's counterproductive."

"People will have to decide if they'd rather know who has infiltrated their organization, or if they want the keys to the world, essentially," Eve says, nodding. "Maybe he's trying to start a bidding frenzy? Or cause a panic?"

Bond shakes his head. "With the key, you'd be able to open the relevant files and find the names of the infiltrators."

"All the more reason to wonder why someone bothered with the names at all," Mallory says.

"Unless , whoever took the names has broken away from Moriarty," Lysander says "What do you know about your Quartermaster?"

"Hamish?" Mallory asks, clearly surprised by the question. "Why?"

"Because the data came from his computer. It's possible someone hacked it and is merely setting him up."

"It's the perfect cover, though," Eve says. "He's the Quartermaster, everyone trusts him. Like it or not, almost all of our intelligence goes through him at some point or another."

"Mister Holmes is right," Mallory concedes after a moment's consideration. "It makes more sense that whoever stole the data waited until they had a chance to make a clean break from the agency. Meaning that one of the agents we've sent into the field has gone rogue. We just don't know it, yet."

"I've pulled up the names of everyone who's been sent out in the past week. I should point out that whoever is responsible for the theft is very good, they've covered their tracks remarkably well, and the information packet was removed automatically, filtered through a program that was set in place some time ago. Which means this was planned well in advance, down to the second."

"He could have triggered the names to upload to a secure location while he was already out of the country?" Eve asks.

Bond rounds the desk so he can look at the screen as Lysander types. As Mallory had said, the list of agents in the field is quite short.

"I think that's precisely what he did," Lysander confirms. "All of the agents currently in the field left before the data was uploaded. I've tried tracking the signal but it's bouncing around everywhere. I don't think we'll have any luck, there."

"Wait," Bond says, still scanning the list of agents. "Right there: Tiago Rodriguez. He was one of the agents in the files you sent me."

Mallory's expression is hard and angry. "Yes. He would definitely be capable of doing something like this. He is a field agent, but his specialty is computers."

"We need to confirm it," Eve says. "Without proof, this is nothing but conjecture."

"If it is Rodriguez, he won't check in," Lysander says. "He'll cut every tie cleanly. Shed his name, his entire identity. Whatever he can do to make it harder for Moriarty to track him."

Mallory sighs. "So we have to wait twenty-four hours before we can verify that Rodriguez is the mole?"

Bond is itching to confirm the information straight away so he can get on a plane and get to work hunting Rodriguez. Twenty-four hours is too long. By then, the other agent could be anywhere in the entire world. He certainly has all the skills necessary to disappear.

"There's another way," Lysander says, slowly. "Someone in Q-Branch could run the facial recognition software over the surveillance cameras throughout Vauxhall and pinpoint exactly which computers Rodriguez has had physical access to. From there, we can crack them open, see if those computers have been used to input any data that they shouldn't. There can't be that many; I imagine field agents don't have a lot of cause to sit down behind a desk for any length of time. Someone would have noticed if he was someplace he shouldn't be."

"Will that take less that twenty-four hours?" Mallory sounds doubtful.

"Considerably," Lysander says. "If it's done right. Also, it might be helpful, having someone that can be trusted on the inside of Q-Branch."

Bond notes the curious phrasing immediately. "You're not talking about a Q-Branch technician, are you?"

Green eyes lift to match Bond's. "No. I don't expect any of your technicians in Q-Branch are clever enough to track Rodriguez. He's very good at covering his tracks. If they're not thorough, they'll miss the pieces that he didn't have time to hide."

Mallory's eyes narrow to slits, a tense, frozen look on his face like he suspects a trap. "You want clearance to access Q-Branch so you can track Rodriguez' technological footprint within Vauxhall?"

Pushing back from the desk slightly, Lysander turns his steady gaze away from Bond, matching Mallory's look directly, his voice even and smooth. "No. I'm perfectly happy to get on a boat and disappear somewhere on the continent. But I am offering to help locate proof that Rodriguez is the mole, and also work on some sort of defense for round two."

"Round two?" Eve says. "What's round two?"

Lysander looks over to her. "Rodriguez had to pay a price to be able to set up the data upload remotely. All he has right now are names, but without the translation matrix he can't actually read them."

"The files need to be decrypted."

"Precisely. And in order to do that, he'll have to hack into MI6 in order to access the decryption program, which won't be particularly difficult for him, I'm afraid. It's possible that with enough time I can set something up and get ahead of him, but I can't be certain. It just seems like I should offer."

"Bond?" Mallory says, his eyebrow raised.

Bond would very much like to insist that they can't trust Lysander Holmes.

As it is, he strongly suspects Lysander has his own, far more personal reasons for wanting access to MI6s computers, but Bond is equally certain that whatever his intentions, he isn't planning anything that would detrimentally affect anything that Bond intends to protect.

Lysander's presence in MI6, however, will be not go unnoticed. Not by Moriarty, and not by Rodriguez. Not if either criminal is even half as good as their current efforts make them seem. Bond is almost certain that there are still moles within MI6, whether bought or threatened, passing along information to Moriarty. Putting Lysander into Q Branch will essentially be putting the younger man out on the front lines, holding a sign that shouts: Hello, I'm very good with computers too, come and play!

Usually, Bond is alone at the front, the last and only line of defense.

However much he wants to insist that Lysander be thanked for his help and sent on his way, Bond suspects that if they are to have any chance of getting ahead of Moriarty and Tiago Rodriguez, they will need Lysander's help.

So Bond meets Mallory's eyes and nods his head.

"Very well, Mister Holmes," Mallory says, flashing a tight smile at the younger man, currently sitting behind the desk. "Welcome to MI6."

Chapter Text

It isn't the fact that the house resembles a quiet little cottage. Even at a distance, Bond can tell that the place is actually quite large; it's a trick of the eye, clever landscaping and a few architectural illusions making the long, two-storied home blend into the surrounding hillside, appearing smaller than it actually is. Especially as it is entirely surrounded by gardens so filled with a discombobulation of flowers that it could easily be mistaken as abandoned.

That isn't why Bond is still standing here, staring.

The reason is all of it together: the sweeping, empty plains of the Sussex Downs; a rolling lush expanse of nothingness all around and this, a large home with all the quaint civility of a tiny cottage, in the middle of nowhere; no people, nothing to do except garden and possibly keep bees.

It is altogether incongruous with the person he knew.

"Are you going to stand there all day, 007? Or would you like to come inside?" The voice is still the same, Bond thinks with a smile, imperious with an heir of drawling exasperation, perhaps a hint of impatience. When he turns his gaze away from a patch of lavender flowers he sees her standing in the doorway. "I've made coffee but there's Scotch as well, if this happens to be one of those types of visits."

She disappears back inside the house pointedly leaving the door open behind her. After a moment, he follows her.

There are no cluttered floral prints or wicker chairs the likes of which one might expect to find in their grandmother's cottage. Bond is relieved. The decorating is meticulous with an eye very strongly directed toward comfort, but even though he looks for them, he can see no sign of a basket filled with knitting or crocheting supplies. He's still leery.

"Oh, don't look at me like, Bond," she says when he finds his way to the kitchen. "It's not a metaphor, it's a cottage. I'm on holiday."

When he knew her as M it was in the context of her office at MI6: free of clutter, modern lines, metal desk and glass doors, the precise opposite of Mallory. Or in her flat with an electric fireplace and light colored hardwood, open-concept with everything in its place, not even a coffee table book for clutter. Even her home, when she had moved, had hints of the modern in its decorating, regardless of when the building itself had been constructed. Her color choices never varied and always tended toward the monochromatic: crisp whites and greys that bordered on silver.

"This is not where I pictured you settling down," he says, accepting the coffee she sets in front of him.

"Oh please," she scoffs as she settles into a chair across the table. "I haven't sold my place in London, and I haven't put myself out to pasture. Not even remotely." She raises her eyebrows and sniffs, indignant at the suggestion that she has lived-out her usefulness. "I've had this place since before I even took charge of the agency. Periodically one simply has to get away from it all and have some quiet." A flicker of mischief brightens her eyes as she glances at him. "I thought you of all people might manage to understand, Bond."

He lets the teasing barb pass without comment, but he smirks at her over the rim of his cup. She's remembered precisely how he prefers to drink it, right down to the pinch of whiskey. Bond can't remember ever sharing a cup of coffee with her in all the years they've known each other and is momentarily distracted, trying to puzzle-out when she might have had the opportunity to note how he prefers his coffee. Eventually he dismisses the line of thought: as retired head of MI6 there is probably far more that this woman knows about him than his drink preferences.

"Well," she says, setting her cup down and shifting in her chair. Bond remembers this, her 'getting to business' tone of voice. "God knows I wouldn't make the mistake of thinking you've come all this way with good news. This place is a bit out of the way for all of that."

After another sip of coffee, he decides that she's right, as usual: best get straight to the point. "An agent at MI6 has been passing information to a known international criminal named Moriarty. Recently, he's abandoned the agency entirely and may have also separated from Moriarty."

She purses her lips, the wrinkles around her mouth crinkling. "Obviously since you're here you think I might be able to provide some insight into this person," M says, holding his gaze. With a resolute nod she asks, "What's the agent's name?"

"Tiago Rodriguez."

Her expression is closed-off and indecipherable. Bond knows that when she worked for MI6 she had her favorites: agents she trusted more than the others, ones that she relied on when others fell-through. If Tiago Rodriguez was among those favorites, Bond can't tell. Her fingers tap a short rhythm against her cup, and she lips it to take a sip of coffee. Bond wonders if she had the foresight to add some whiskey to that as well.

"I do know him," she says, after she's set her cup back on the table. "Or I did. He was section H, stationed in Hong Kong. One of our best, until he started operating outside his brief, hacking the Chinese." Disapproval is perfectly evident in her tone, Bond thinks he hears a trace of disappointment, but she clears her throat and carries on, her voice level and businesslike, "He got sloppy and they caught wise, so I gave him up in exchange for six agents and a smooth transition."

"How did he come back to MI6?"

"How do any of you ever come back?" She smiles a little wryly. "You didn't think you had the market cornered on impossible escapes, did you? Anyway," she continues. "When he returned to us he was put through a barrage of tests: physical and psychiatric. The results were satisfactory but he was more or less benched, we couldn't use him in the field, but his skills when it came to computers were remarkable. We put him in with Q-Branch."

"From double-oh to Q-Branch technician."

"Oh, he wasn't a double-o," she clarifies. "A field agent, certainly, and he would have progressed if he hadn't gotten full of himself." She sighs, the first hint that she knew Rodriguez beyond a name on a piece of paper. "Are you certain it's him?"

Bond nods his head. "It was confirmed this morning. Mallory sent agents into the field tracking his last known movements."

"And I suppose you're here to bring me in," she finishes. "I'm not sure how much help I'll be. After Hong Kong I had very little interaction with him."

"At this point, anything would be helpful," Bond says. "But I should tell you, Mallory is also concerned for your safety. Rodriguez had already demonstrated that he is willing to do damage to his former allies."

"Good lord. What's he done?" Bond tells her about the list, though he is careful to say that it has not been decrypted, or sold to anyone, as far as they know. "That hardly matters," M snaps. "The information is still out there. Until that drive is destroyed every agent is in danger." Pushing back her chair she picks up both cups, dropping them in the sink before glancing over her shoulder at Bond. "I'll get my coat."

________________________________________________________________________________________

The doors to the lift at MI6 slide open with a chime and before either M or Bond can step in Mycroft comes striding out. "Ah, Mister Bond," he greets with a practiced smile that doesn't reach his eyes. "How fortuitous. I wonder if I might have a moment of your time."

M glances between them, smiling when she undoubtedly notes Bond's reluctance. "I'll leave you to it," she says. "Mister Holmes." Mycroft dips his head in a brief greeting, but then the lift doors are sliding closed and M is gone.

Bond wishes he had been able to depart as easily. He values simple, straightforward honesty, and Mycroft is a snarl of conflicting motivations, secrets and manipulations. It's the sort of combination that always makes Bond itch for explosives or a suitably large weapon.

Mycroft extends his arm, gesturing them away from the lifts. "I understand that MI6 has recently added my youngest brother to the payroll." They come to a stop after a few feet, far enough out of the way to be afforded some privacy in the general bustle that is the main entrance of Vauxhall Cross.

Bond keeps his expression suitably pleasant and his tone light as he replies, "A necessary aspect of his new cover as an employee here. We've given him clearance as well, and a plastic badge with his photograph on it." Glancing sideways at the other man, he asks, "Is that a problem?"

Mycroft flashes him a brief grimacing smile clearly unamused with Bond's answer, then his lips thin into a fine slash. He holds up his umbrella, apparently in order to better inspect the end of it, before setting it down again with a forceful 'tap' against the tile floor, resting his weight on it as if it were a cane. "Everything has a balance, don't you find?" Mycroft says. "For every strength, a weakness that prevents us always from rising so high that we mistake ourselves for anything more than we are."

Bond has absolutely no idea what this has to do with Lysander's temporary employment at Vauxhall, but he nods his head in understanding and says, "An Achilles heel."

"Precisely." Mycroft rocks on his feet a little, adjusting his grip on his umbrella as he flattens his mouth into a tense, unhappy line. "You mustn't make the mistake, Mister Bond, of thinking that because my brother is young and brilliant, that he is at all bright-eyed and naïve."

"Of course not."

Mycroft quirks an eyebrow, casting a sideways glance at Bond to make certain he is still listening. "Lysander's weakness has never been his inability to remain detached. His uncompromising objectivity outclasses even my own; witness the ease with which he abandoned England, everyone and every thing that he had ever known, including his own mother, without a moment's hesitation. Without even a note to let her know not to worry."

This is the sort of thing that makes Bond greatly dislike working with people who are related. He doesn't care if Lysander is a good son or not, he is only interested in whether or not Lysander can get the job done. "If you were concerned with his loyalty, why did you recommend him to me?"

Mycroft rolls his eyes, a derisive little scowl flickering across his face before he recovers himself. "Neither of my brothers is capable of blind loyalty. They are constantly questioning everything at every moment." He shakes his head. "Regardless, it is not out of concern for this country that I'm telling you any of this. England and MI6 will outlive every one of us, in some form or another. Neither is as fragile as your employers would have you believe."

"Then why are you telling me this?"

The look that Mycroft gives him reminds Bond of the mischievous glint in M's eye just that morning. Mycroft rocks back on his heels and says, "I am concerned," as if that should be perfectly obvious. "My little brother has an Icarus complex, and you've just given him a set of wax wings and told him to fly."

Bond has had just about enough of this circuitous and seemingly pointless conversation. "For someone who claims to be so devoted to his brothers you have remarkably little faith in them."

Mycroft gives a sharp little grin. "For someone who has only just met Lysander you are demonstrating a remarkable amount of faith in him. Is it enough, I wonder?" He pauses, raising a reddish-brown eyebrow. "Are you really prepared to stake everything: your country, your life, the lives of your friends and everyone you know and might hold precious on someone you've only known for a handful of hours?"

Bond thinks he has an answer, but he can't see how this is any of Mycroft's business either way, so he says, "We've also had lunch together, as well. It might not be as intimate as dinner but I find it can be equally revealing."

Again, Mycroft looks thoroughly unimpressed. "It seems most unlike a trained double-o agent to be so keen to trust. One might go so far as to suggest it is almost reckless."

"How horrifying," Bond says, dryly. "I'd hate to do anything that might be considered reckless."

"Yes." Mycroft mouth pinches in distaste. "I have read your file." A woman walks by, passing close enough that they both pause, watching her carefully until she has moved away again.

"Well," Mycroft says, his expression evening out into something passingly neutral. "I've taken enough of your time already. Good day."

Bond accepts the hand that Mycroft offers. "Yes. Have a good day, Mister Holmes."

The eldest Holmes leans forward slightly, dropping his voice into a hush. "Time to choose a side, Mister Bond." Then he steps back and turns away, walking toward the front doors of Vauxhall, his umbrella tapping the ground as he walks as if it were a cane.

Bond is still turning over the exchange in his head when the lift arrives. Instinct tells him that the curious conversation was some sort of test. That's certainly what it had felt like, but what the purpose of it had been, or whether Bond had passed or failed, he can't say.

Possibly Mycroft had simply been trying to amuse himself, maybe cryptic conversations with a vague underlying threat was his method of choice, similar to Sherlock's puzzles or Lysander's computers. Perhaps Mycroft Holmes keeps himself entertained by thoroughly confusing and irritating people who carry guns. If so, it's likely that John Watson had a similar encounter with the man. Maybe even Inspector Lestrade, as well.

He sets the issue aside as he walks into Mallory's office, noticing with disease how the room falls abruptly silent as Mallory and M both cease their conversation in favor of turning to face him, their expression smoothed into blankness even as their eyes glitter keenly.

"Bond," Mallory greets, standing from his desk as he motions Bond inside. "M was just saying that she thinks she might be able to give us some insight into Rodriguez. I was going to have her touch base with Q-Branch."

Bond glances from M and then to Mallory. "Is that wise, sir?"

"That friend of yours has been busy," Mallory says. "We've been making headway, clearing names and narrowing our list of potential double-agents. Moneypenny has started interviewing the ones who seem most likely." Bond considers offering to assist but he isn't all too keen to end-up stuck in an office conducting interviews with possible spies.

"We can't afford to be off our game. This is a big enough mess as it is," Mallory continues. "I've sent for Mister Holmes. He's been working almost forty-eight hours straight, I want you to take him home and make sure he rests. Bring him in to work tomorrow when you're both in a better state."

M turns in her chair, her eyebrows jerking upward as she says, "Mister Holmes?"

The door to Mallory's outer-office door swings open as Lysander strides through, only come to an abrupt halt when he notices M, who is actually smiling. "Well, I'm glad to see you made your way here after all," she says as she stands up, crossing the distance in order to offer Lysander her hand in greeting. The fondness in her tone and the light in her eyes is familiar to Bond, the same look she's given him from time to time.

"Ma'am," Lysander says with a nod, his surprise evident in the way his eyes keep shifting from M and then to Mallory, stopping briefly on Bond before beginning the circuit again. "I should say," he continues, somewhat tentative. "I'm not actually…"

"Mister Holmes is on loan," Mallory interrupts, his voice loud and his smile false. The man dislikes surprises, Bond knows, and clearly isn't at all pleased to discover that Lysander has in fact had some sort of previous contact with MI6 that he has failed to disclose.

"Ah. Well," M says, a glint in her eyes. "Perhaps you'll decide to settle down."

Lysander tips his head, his manner curiously deferential. "Yes, ma'am."

"I'm sending you home for the rest of the day, Mister Holmes," Mallory says, clearing his throat. "Get some rest. The work can keep for the night, I suspect."

"Sir." Lysander takes a cautious step back. "I'll just get my coat." Bond watches as the younger man retreats to the outer-office where his jacket is still hanging on the coat-rack where it had been left the previous night. Once Mallory had issued Lysander's temporary identity, Lysander had disappeared into Q-Branch and apparently this is the first he has left it since.

"He doesn't seem to have a traceable identity," Mallory says, his voice low so as not to be overheard by the topic of their conversation. "I didn't know he had previous involvement with MI6."

M pivots to face the desk. "We tried to recruit him several years back. His computer skills were quite excellent, but at the time we were interested predominantly in his engineering capabilities. Some of his constructs had intriguing implications in the field."

Mallory's brows pinch slightly; it looks very much as if he isn't certain whether M is being honest. Bond catches the man's eyes flickering to where Lysander is pulling on his coat. "What happened?"

M tips her head, as close as Bond has ever seen her come to a shrug. "He seemed quite keen. Of course he was a bit young, but we've made such exceptions before. Then when things were just getting finalized, he vanished."

Mallory's gaze again flickers in Lysander's direction. "You have no idea where he went? Or what he's been doing since then?"

"In my experience," M says with a wry lilt in her tone. "When someone disappears like that they are either running to something, or from something. Either way his name, or any name we could trace back to him, never came across my desk."

Lysander has finished buttoning his coat and has started shuffling, likely debating whether to take the opportunity to slip away unnoticed, or pop back into the office to say good-night, Bond suspects that Lysander will choose the path of least resistance and disappear to wherever it is that he has been staying. "Excuse me," Bond says.

"Good night, 007," M says.

"Yes, back in the morning, the both of you," Mallory adds as Bond strides out of the room to catch up to the younger man.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Lysander sits in the front passenger seat of the car with his arms crossed, head turned out the window. "You didn't have to do this. I'm entirely capable of making my own way home."

"But you don't have a car," Bond points out. "This way is faster."

Lysander's green eyes flicker in his direction, and then pointedly the younger man turns his attention behind them. "There's a bag in the backseat," he says. "You're moving in with me, too?"

Bond checks the side mirror, and then the rear-view even though traffic been surprisingly light and predictable. "Temporarily." He's expecting some sort of protest, or irritation, an explosion of words and possibly indignation. Instead, he's met only with silence, followed by a tight nod.

"Does this have to do with what Mallory told you the other night?" Lysander asks, his gaze shifting up to catch Bond's eyes and then slipping away again. "About me being your responsibility?"

Of course Bond should have known better than to assume the younger man wouldn't be listening, even though he had seemingly been preoccupied with building his MI6 identity with Eve. "Yes."

Again, Lysander gives a tight, resolute nod. "I suppose that means you have orders to kill me if I show any inclination toward turning traitor."

That is precisely what Mallory had meant when he'd said Bond would be responsible for Lysander. MI6 was placing a lot of trust in someone they hadn't had the chance to thoroughly vet. Either the young man was loyal, in which case Bond was being charged with the security of a civilian to be protected at all cost, or he was a security threat who needed to be eliminated. Until they knew one way or another, it was Bond's duty to keep the young man close.

"So we're clear," Lysander says, shifting in his seat so as to better face Bond. "Perhaps you should tell me exactly what your employer deems 'turning traitor'."

The corner of Bond's mouth quirks upward and he flashes smiling glance at his passenger. "If I have to explain it to you we're probably doomed from the start." An answering smile flickers over the younger man's face before he turns his focus back to the window.

He stays quiet until Bond passes a battered brown-brick three-story building and Lysander says, "That's it." Bond is forced to get creative with finding a suitable place to park the rental, but he finds something relatively close and turns off the ignition.

There's a wrought iron gate around the front of the building that Lysander is heading toward. The front door is painted a vibrant blue, and there is a lamp swinging slightly overhead, buffeted by the wind as he hands from the archway.

Adjusting his bag over his arm, Bond follows Lysander through the front door and up the stairs to a cozy little flat caught somewhere between orderly, clean modern lines and the ornate clutter of a more antiquated style that makes the place look as confused as it does artistic. A wall of exposed crumbly brown brick sports an electric fireplace set into an ornately carved dark wood mantel and a green-blue marble hearth and surround. Hanging on the wall above is a sizable painting of a running horse in blocky strokes of thick paint utilizing that verges on impressionistic and uses, Bond suspects, almost every color of a particularly vibrant rainbow. There's a low-backed leather sectional in soft dark leather staged to face both the fireplace and a flat screen television, set on what looks like an imported Persian rug. Directly opposite, however, are two wide emerald green velvet Rococo-style chairs with ornate woodwork, though without the gold-leaf so indicative of that period.

"It came like this," Lysander says looking around at the space as if he's seeing it for the first time. "Anthea found it for me. She says it was professionally decorated. I suspect she made a few additions herself but I have no proof."

Bond eyes the ostentatious green-velvet chairs that seem to have no business sitting opposite the sleek leather couch. He doesn't know what would inspire Mycroft's personal assistant to make the addition, but he certainly can't imagine a decorator thinking those chairs made sense with the rest of the space.

"The bathroom is just back that way," Lysander continues, gesturing over his shoulder. "Kitchen is through there," he nods, and Bond glances beyond the main space into the kitchen area: large and polished, with granite counter tops, new appliances and what looks to be post-its covering the walls. He makes a note to investigate those later. "It's fully stocked, help yourself to anything."

Bond watches as a hint of a frown creeps over Lysander's face, as if the younger man is remembering that Bond is an uninvited and unwanted houseguest with a potentially lethal purpose. He jerks his chin up slightly, defiance in his green eyes as he says, "Seeing as I didn't know I would be hosting any assassins at my temporary home I told Anthea to empty out the second bedroom; it's been converted into an office. You'll have to make do with the couch. Not that it looks at all comfortable for sleeping."

"You won't offer me the bed?" Bond teases, trying to recover the light-hearted mood of moments earlier. "I am a guest, after all."

Lysander's exhalation is perhaps a touch more forceful than it needs to be. "I'll fetch some bedding."

Bond follows him up to the bedroom mostly out of a professional need to assess his surrounds. If at any point it becomes necessary to defend or escape from this flat, Bond would prefer to know all possible points of entry, any weaknesses in security or possible places to hide.

Lysander pulls sheets, blankets and two extra pillows from the linen closet, his eyes narrowing darkly as he catches Bond leaning into the open door of the bedroom and casting a rather pointed look at the king-sized aubergine empress-style bed.

Rather than comment, the younger man thrusts the bedding into Bond's arms. "I keep odd hours. Don't bother me if I'm working in my study, and try not to shoot me if I go into the kitchen for a cup of tea at three in the morning."

"I'll do my best," Bond starts to say, but before he finishes Lysander has gone into his bedroom and closed the door.

Bond stands there in the hallway, bedding stacked in his arms as he stares at the closed door. He had hoped that this might have gone better, but he can freely admit that things might have gone worse. After a moment, Bond turns on his heel and makes his way back to the main room where he deposits his armload of bedding onto the couch.

Despite being a temporary home that apparently came already furnished, Lysander's flat feels more comfortable, more lived in than Mycroft's living room had. Bond wonders if anything in the space actually belongs to Lysander.

There are some books sitting on the bookshelf and Bond makes his way over to peruse the titles. He's already crossed half the distance before he realizes that he is being intently scrutinized by a pair of blue eyes, as bright and sharp as topaz, which peer out at him from a dark face that hovers in the middle of the bookshelf.

"Hello," he greets, edging toward the shelf cautiously. Despite the shadows he can just make out a chocolate brown face and dark ears set on a pale body, tufty in that way that kittens often are.

"Have you seen…?" Lysander asks, coming into the room and then halting when he catches where Bond's attention is focused. "Oh, is she there?" he asks, and then his voice changes into something caught between fondness and exasperation, "What have I told you about climbing on the bookshelves?" He snaps his fingers, and the cat arrows off the shelf touching down lightly onto the floor, complaining loudly as she trots over to wind around the younger man's legs.

"I was told you had a cat," Bond says, watching with amusement as Lysander attempts to walk to the kitchen while the cat brushes against him, perpetually under foot. She's still mewing vociferously.

"She's gracious enough to let me share the flat with her. I suspect it has less to do with a generous feline spirit and more to do with the treats that I give her." Lysander rifles through the refrigerator, withdrawing a tin of cat food that he proceeds to spoon out into a crystal sugar bowl.

"This is Scheherazade," he says, glancing over his shoulder to where Bond is leaning in the doorway.

The cat flicks her tail impatiently, her gaze rooted to the counter where Lysander is still dishing out her food. Bond smirks. "She does seem spoiled enough to be a queen."

There's a pleased quirk to Lysander lips as he says, "Whenever I cook dinner she lies on the refrigerator and mews constantly. I like to pretend she's telling me stories to entice me into giving her an extra helping of wet food."

"I suppose she only eats out of crystal?"

"Hardly. She was living off whatever she could find in the streets when I met her, and still has a distinct preference for Chinese take-away." Lysander re-wraps the tin and puts it back in the fridge before he picks up the sugar bowl and carries to the corner of the kitchen where a bowl of water has been placed on a little purple mat beside a matching bowl of dry food. Scheherazade is already there, sitting and waiting when he sets the dish down.

Bond watches as Lysander gives the cat a cursory stroke from the top of her head down to the tip of her fluffy dark tail as she begins to eat. "Is she a Siamese?"

"Balinese," Lysander corrects, wiping his hands on his pants as he stands back up. "She's clever, so make sure everything edible is put away, and everything you don't want her getting into is closed up. Though I suspect she's worked out how to open zippers, if they're oiled enough, and cupboards are no trouble for her at all. You should be fine at night, she usually stays with me but she's affectionate, so if you wake up wearing a hat you don't remember putting on, try not to swat at it."

"I'll remember that."

"Understand," Lysander continues, expression earnest. "I'm less concerned about her than you. She has claws and a dislike of anyone who is loud or unruly, and she's especially suspicious of strangers. Otherwise, you'll find her quite a pleasant companion."

Adjusting his glasses, Lysander glances back at his cat, and then down to his watch. "I'll be in my study." He escapes before Bond can say anything further.

________________________________________________________________________________________

With Lysander holed-up in his office, Bond is at a loss for something to do. He cleans his Walther meticulously, even if it doesn't really need it, taking it apart and setting each piece on the kitchen table. Partway through his work Scheherazade, having finished her dinner, jumps up onto the table in order to examine what he is doing. She sniffs each piece of Bond's disassembled gun, pokes at the clip with her paw and tries to steal the dishcloth Bond used to protect the tabletop from any scratches. Her inspection ends when she sniffs Bond's right hand and then his face, before jumping off the table and trotting away.

With his Walther cleaned and reassembled, Bond peruses the bookshelf in the living room, wondering if the books he finds there are part of the professional decorating, or if Anthea had added them. He picks one at random, checking the inside cover for a name, curious if any of the books are actually Lysander's. Eventually he has to admit that there is no way to be certain without actually asking outright. He takes the book he pulled from the shelf and settles onto the sofa.

Two chapters in he realizes that the book is in Russian, which of course makes him wonder if Lysander can read Russian, or if this is another of Anthea's little jokes, or if the decorator, whoever it had been, had wanted to make the space look cerebral as well as schizophrenic.

He's still sitting on the sofa reading and wondering when Lysander comes down the stairs, dressed in a pair of sweatpants and a loose cotton T-shirt. Scheherazade is dutifully trotting in his wake. "Have you eaten?"

"No." Bond closes the book as he sits up.

"How do you feel about Thai? I know a place that does a nice Panang curry, I thought I might give them a call." When Bond nods Lysander disappears through to the kitchen to place the order.

He's gone only a short while, and when he reemerges his eyes catch on the book that Bond realizes he's still holding in his hand, thumb tucked between the pages to mark his place. "They said it would be about twenty minutes, give or take."

"I'll cover it."

"You don't have to…" Lysander starts to protest, but catches himself with an impatient huff. "Fine, if you'd like."

"Consider it a 'thank-you', for putting me up on your couch and offering to help with this problem."

Lysander meets his gaze with a flat look. "You've put me in an untenable position. Front and center as the first line of defense for your employer, making me a perfect target for your rogue agent, and yet with none of the faith or support from the agency. A curry dinner doesn't even begin to cover what you owe me, Mister Bond."

Bond refuses to drop the younger man's gaze. "It can at least be a start." After a moment, when Lysander offers nothing further, he asks, "If it's such an untenable position, why did you volunteer for it?"

"You forget," Lysander says. "I came back because Sherlock asked me to. I had no idea his request was on behalf of MI6."

"But after that," Bond persists. "You didn't have to volunteer to go undercover at MI6."

Lysander frowns, apparently not following. "Of course I did. I can't possibly launch some sort of defense for the decryption program at the same time that I'm fighting not to be rejected from the computer's system at HQ. It only works from the inside."

"You're being deliberately obtuse," Bond accuses. Lysander continues to match his gaze, still looking nonplussed, offering nothing. "Your brother thinks you volunteered because you have an Icarus complex."

"Which brother?" Lysander asks. "Mycroft? Of course Mycroft; it sounds just like him."

Bond tips his head to the side and finds himself admitting, "I'm not entirely certain he's wrong."

"He's not wrong," the younger man says simply. "You'll find that my brother frequently worries Sherlock or I will one day fly too close to the sun. The only reason he exempts himself is that he believes he's far too methodical to have such a fault. Sherlock and I make him nervous."

"What do you mean?"

Ruffling a hand through his hair, Lysander begins pacing slowly across the room before dropping into one of the green velvet chairs, his feet tucked up beneath him. "My brothers and I are all intelligent," he says, and even if Bond hasn't known the younger man for very long, he can still recognize this as the gross understatement that it actually is. "Mycroft is considerably older than Sherlock and I. In many ways, it was Mycroft who raised us."

Lysander trails off as Scheherazade leaps casually onto his lap, settling into a lazy sprawl across his legs. "I never had patience for school," Lysander says, dropping a hand onto his cat's head and stroking his thumb back and forth over her brow. "I skipped grades where I could, studied summers at university, and graduated as fast as I could. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy learning," he clarifies. "I continued on, got a PhD, but I didn't want to stay a 'student' any longer than was strictly necessary. I took any opportunity I could to move through it faster. School was boring."

Bond leans forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. "I don't understand."

Lysander continues on. "My brother Sherlock could have done the same, and might even have been inclined to, but his patience for school was even less than mine. He would skip classes whenever he was caught-up in something else, a case or a puzzle. He'd purposefully forget things that he couldn't see a point in remembering, often before he even made it to the first test, so his schoolwork was inconsistent and often shoddy, but he was smart, so he did well enough to get into university, but that was just more of the same. I suspect, though I've never asked him, that he continued through to get a degree because it was what my mother wanted for him. In my opinion, getting that degree almost killed him."

"Of course, you're exaggerating."

"I'm really not." Lysander's tone is dark enough, knowing enough, that Bond believes him. After a moment, he drops Bond's gaze and continues, "Mycroft took all the time he could to go through school because he had long-since realized that was how he could make contacts. He achieved comfortable mediocrity throughout the entirety of his studies because that's what he strove for. A non-threatening though reasonably intelligent individual who people could trust, but also might hope to manipulate, or at least sway him to their way of thinking later, which of course they never could. He's patient, my brother."

Bond takes that in, fitting this new insight into the three brothers into what he has already determined about them. "He worries you and Sherlock will leap without thinking?"

"Something like that," Lysander says. Licking his lips, he turns a curious look on Bond, his eyes peering out from beneath his mop of hair. "When did you see Mycroft?"

"He was at HQ when I got back this afternoon. He was concerned about you working for MI6."

Lysander frowns. "Worried?"

"And," Bond can't help but continue. "He wanted to warn me. Apparently."

"Warn you?"

Bond looks the younger man squarely in the eyes when he says, "That you don't trust blindly."

Lysander smiles, the tension immediately falling away from him. "Is that all? Does anyone trust so easily these days? I wouldn't call that helpful."

"And that you're indifferent," Bond continues, still holding the man's gaze. He notes how Lysander's hand pauses mid-stroke across Scheherazade's head, the only indication that this is becoming a difficult conversation.

Briefly Bond wonders if he should continue. It is possible Mycroft said what he had earlier to cause some sort of rift between Bond and Lysander. To what point or purpose, Bond doesn't know, but it is still a possibility. For someone who had volunteered their brother's services so readily, Mycroft's reticence about his brother's employment at MI6 had seemed odd. Then there was the feeling that Bond had, that the entire conversation was some sort of test. Was it simply Mycroft being protective? Concerned?

Even if there was a kernel of truth in any of it, Bond thinks he can't afford to let it go. There is nothing to be gained from sitting back and waiting for Lysander to show his true colors. The sooner Bond gets to know this young man, the sooner he can stop worrying over whether or not Lysander is an asset or a threat. Since Lysander has already made it clear that he is unwilling to share any of his history voluntarily, Bond has little other choice.

"I believe your brother's precise words were that you are 'uncompromisingly objective'," he says.

"Hardly a fault. As far as I know being 'objective' is something everyone strives for at one time or another." Lysander still appears to be unfazed, green eyes are sharp and hard as crystal as he says, "Is this an interrogation? Stop fishing and ask me."

"Mycroft insinuated that giving you access to the internal systems at MI6 was setting you up for a fall worthy of the complex he accuses you of having. What did he mean?"

"I don't know. You'd have to ask him that."

Bond redirects smoothly. "M said you were recruited. That you had been planning on joining MI6."

"She'd know, seeing as she was the one who recruited me."

"But instead," Bond continues, doggedly. "You left everything behind, everyone." He remembers Mycroft's carefully schooled face from earlier, the emphasis that the man had placed on one certain piece of information, and Bond using it now, hoping that it will elicit some kind of emotional response. "You left your mother without even a note."

Rather than grow angry or defensive, Lysander simply shuts down. "That's what he told you, was it? Cold-hearted little brother left us all worrying while he traveled the world?"

Bond finds the reaction curious. There's a hint of hurt in the younger man's tones, but it's so faint Bond can't be certain that's even what he's hearing. It's clear that he's on dangerous ground, but navigating through this conversation is making Bond feel less in control and more as if he is a very tiny skiff caught-up in a tidal storm. "Were you traveling the world?"

"What does it matter? You have no reason to believe me." Lysander sighs, his shoulders slumping just slightly. "You want to know whether or not you're going to have to put a bullet in me or not, but whatever I tell you isn't worth anything, because I could be lying."

"It's a question of trust," Bond says. "Answer one question for me honestly and I promise to believe you. Why did you run?"

"I didn't run. I left. There's a difference."

"You're lying to me." He shifts forward, tries to catch the younger man's eyes. "MI6 was already filling out the paperwork and printing your badges. You didn't just leave. No one gets as far as you did and then just decides to not go further without a reason."

Sensing the tension in the room Scheherazade has abandoned her nap in favor of sitting, tense and alert, on the arm of her master's chair. Bond ignores her accusing blue eyes in favor of Lysander's defensive green ones.

"I had a change of heart, and I thought there might be repercussions if I told MI6 'thanks but no thanks'." His voice is still impossibly steady as he speaks but he's dropped Bond's gaze, he watches his own hand as he scratches gently along Scheherazade's back, smiling to himself as her tail thrashes impatiently.

"So you were running from MI6?" Bond pushes. "You imagined it would be a fun place to work but when the job requirements started to register you changed your mind and, like a coward, turned tail and ran away?"

"What are you talking about? That doesn't even make sense. MI6 is focused on England's external interests. If I left the country that would garner more attention, not less."

"Then explain it to me because M has a point. Someone who disappears the way you did is either running from something or toward something."

Lysander blinks, startled. "She said that?"

Bond ignores him. "Or maybe you were running toward something. Maybe you fell in love with someone you shouldn't, someone who would jeopardize your position at MI6, or be in jeopardy because of it. Is that why you left?"

Lysander scoffs. "What, because I developed feelings for a terrorist?"

They're both dangerously close to shouting and Scheherazade, apparently having had more than enough, leaps off the arm of the chair and bounds out of the room, the silver bell on her collar jingling as she moves. Lysander watches her go, the hand he had been using to stroke her dropping onto the armrest. "Why are we even talking about this? Why does it even matter?"

Bond refuses to let the matter drop. It's precisely why he dislikes working with a partner, his paranoia combines with his curiosity and he has a tendency to get irrational. Maybe Lysander is right and none of this actually matters, maybe Bond is pushing for nothing. But how can Bond actually know that unless he knows Lysander, unless he knows why the man left?

In short, he prefers to decide things for himself, and since Lysander is refusing to cooperate, Bond has no choice but to do it the hard way. He has no qualms with playing dirty or being unfair. "It matters because your brother seems think it might become an issue if you continue to work for MI6."

"Mycroft thinks that, does he?"

"Apparently, he does. Why would that be?"

"I don't know," Lysander snaps, biting out each word. "Why don't you ask him? You two seem to be so close."

"When we were outfitting you with your credentials why wouldn't you tell Mallory about your past history with MI6?"

"What 'past history'? I never worked for MI6."

"But you did the paperwork, you passed all the tests, you were vetted. He could have retrieved your personnel file, maybe that would have allayed his concerns."

Lysander ruffles his hand through his hair. Bond has noticed that the more agitated the younger man gets, the more he tends to use his hands. Lysander's voice is dangerously close to a shout when he responds, "I don't have a personnel file. I deleted it!"

Bond lets the silence hang for a moment. He can tell from the younger man's expression that this admittance was unintended, made in the heat of the moment and immediately regretted. The fight seems to have drained out of Lysander, his body sagging as he flickers a hesitant look up to Bond's face, darting away again the moment he realizes that Bond is looking back.

"You deleted it," Bond says, and Lysander's eyes meet his again. "That sounds very much as if you didn't want to be found. As if you were escaping in order to hide."

They look at each other like two opponents in a chess match, on opposite sides of the same board. And, just like in chess when checkmate is as evident as it is inevitable, Lysander concedes the match. "Things were different back then," he says. His eyes close for a moment and he takes a measured breath. When he opens them again it's to look Bond directly in the eye. "Mycroft was different."

He sets his hands on the armrests of his chair, his fingers tapping before he collects his thoughts enough to continue. Bond is very much aware that Lysander is picking and choosing what to say; he doesn't need the whole story, he decides, even if he is curious to know more of it. He just needs enough of it to be certain his trust isn't misguided.

"My brother likes to plot," Lysander says. "Back then, it didn't matter the cost that had to be paid so long as he deemed the result worthwhile. He was willing to risk anything for it, and I was alone. Sherlock was … he had his own troubles and it seemed simplest… seemed best if … so I left."

Bond wonders what plots the eldest Holmes had been hoping to use his brother for. It hardly matters anymore, he supposes. "Did Mycroft stop looking for you?"

Lysander nods. "Eventually. Then he started again but I think he just wanted to make peace." He cants his head to the side, a quirk lifting the corner of his mouth as he admits, "By that point, it hardly mattered to me. I'd already left, it was easier to simply stay away."

There's something brittle about the younger man, sitting in the chair across from him. Strained and tired and barely held together. Bond remembers that Mallory had sent them home because he had Mallory wanted Lysander to rest.

He's been awake for over forty-eight hours, Bond realizes. It's not so very long. Bond has certainly surpassed that in his time as a naval officer and, come to think of that, in his time at MI6 as well. He knows, however, it still takes a toll.

"I am detached," Lysander says, after the silence has stretched for a bit. "Emotions, passions, wants, all of it clouds judgment. Impartiality is key; rationality is key. That's what Mycroft taught me and he's not wrong." He looks to Bond as he says, "You know. Out in the field, you can't risk making friends with someone because you never know if they are who they say they are. Maybe you'll have to kill them tomorrow, and if you care, then you might hesitate to pull the trigger and it could cost you your life, could risk the lives of others. Could risk everything."

Bond nods his head. He does knows, all too well.

"It's not wrong, how I am," Lysander continues. "How I think. And I'd like to tell you that you won't have to kill me because I would never betray my country, but I've long ago stopped trusting blindly in the rules of organizations and systems and governments. They're slippery. Too easily bent to the whims of one person. I do wish I could give you more, but …"

"It's enough," Bond says. He stands from the couch, crosses the distance to the younger man's chair so he can place a comforting hand on Lysander's thin shoulder.

Lysander shakes his head. "It isn't. There's no reason..."

"You just gave me one." Bond shifts his hand to the Lysander's chin, tips his head up gently until their eyes meet. "I'm very good at detecting lies. It's part of my job."

There's something electric hovering there between them, sharp and dangerous and full of possibilities. For just one moment Bond considers acting on his impulse, but then there's the sound of the door chime and he steps away.

Glancing at his watch, he smiles wryly to break the tension. "A bit more than twenty minutes, I think."

"Tip them anyway." Bond picks his wallet up from the coffee table.

"Bond," Lysander calls, just as he is crossing out of the room. When he turns, he notices how exhausted the younger man looks, but there's a light in Lysander's green eyes, glimmering and devilish. "Just because my brother never found it, doesn't mean I didn't leave my mother a note before I left England."

Chapter Text

There is an envelope filled with breadcrumbs sitting on the front step of 221B Baker Street.

John almost misses it completely because he's preoccupied with another of Mycroft's little abduction-chats. It's never good news with that man. He never drops by for simple tea and biscuits, never just wants to know how things have been going.

No, it’s all: "International assassins are moving into your neighborhood, John" and "Look after my brother because he's too much of a stubborn, temperamental idiot to listen to anyone else' good advice, and I'm too much of a self-exiled martyr to bloody apologize for whatever it is I did".

John is certain that, whatever started the feud between the brothers, it was Mycroft who committed the final thing that cemented the divide. Why else would a man who is demonstrably protective of his sibling maintain such a strict remoteness? It can't simply be the result of Sherlock's tantrums because they grew up together, for Christ's sake. Surely Mycroft has gotten used to those by now. John certainly has.

More than once John has gotten the sense that Mycroft is perpetually doing penance, an undercurrent of guilt in his aspect, a trace of regret however fleeting in his expression. Of course, any time John has attempted to broach the subject with Sherlock he is invariably shut down.

No surprise, really. Sherlock is impossibly selective about the insights he chooses to share. John still hasn't forgiven him for not even implying that he had a younger brother. The ensuing argument had been brief and entirely frustrating for John, and he’s still fuming.

It started when John said: "Friends tell each other these sorts of things, you know."

To which Sherlock had replied: "You never told me about your sister or her drinking problem."

"Because you deduced all the relevant details within five minutes of my meeting you!"

"Come now, it was hardly five whole minutes. And why couldn't you simply deduce the fact that I have a younger brother?" Which was pretty much where the argument ended because John had been too busy spluttering to come up with an appropriate response that didn't involve name-calling of some form.

The man is impossible, John decides not for the first time. That's all there is to it.

He passes three people on the way home that he recognizes from the folders Mycroft showed him, and ends up hurrying up to his own front door in a bit of a panic, as if at any moment he might be shot in the back of the head.

So it's not his fault that when the envelope catches his eye he almost walks straight past it.

As it is, he carries it up the stairs wondering what sort of elaborate prank it might be a part of, but he's lived with Sherlock long enough to know better than to simply throw it away.

"Sherlock, what," John begins when he reaches the flat, and then stops because his flat mate is flapping about in his usual whirlwind of motion and it's Lestrade who actually greets him, albeit a tad brusquely.

John scans the room, notes the cluster of people including Sally Donovan and the taught, impatient atmosphere hanging over everyone, like racehorses stomping their hooves, eager to rush through the gate. "What's going on?"

"Kidnapping," Sherlock summarizes succinctly as he wraps his blue scarf around his neck.

"Rufus Bruhl," Lestrade elaborates. "Ambassador to the U.S. His two children, Max and Claudette, aged seven and nine were taken from their boarding school. Reported missing early this morning."

Sherlock is already pulling his coat on. John drops the envelope on the side table, wipes his hand on his jacket and turns back around, leading the crowd down into the street, assassins and curious post forgotten in the face of the far more pressing issue of children in danger.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Three days spent sleeping on the sofa and Bond can confidently say that Lysander was being entirely honest when he cautioned it would be uncomfortable. In fact, he has realized that the younger man is apparently prone to gross understatement. Bond has a crick in his neck and his left arm is numb, his joints stiff and his back is aching.

When he opens his eyes and tries to sit up he realizes Lysander is standing at the end of the sofa, hair sleep-mussed and sticking up in every direction, clad in his pajamas and sipping what is undoubtedly tea, his glasses perched on the bridge of his nose.

"I hacked four notorious crime rings yesterday, including the Black Lotus; designed a worm that targeted any and all data relating to either Rodriguez or Moriarty hidden in the secure databanks of the Chinese government, which they might be disinclined to share, and traced a lead on corruption within our own Parliament," Lysander says by way of greeting, taking another long sip from his mug. "Imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning to discover I was still alive."

"You're welcome." Bond sits up and carefully rolls his shoulders trying to coax the capacity for movement back into his body. Tipping his head to one side, Bond's neck realigns with a loud 'pop'. "This sofa is an instrument of torture."

"I did warn you." Green eyes flick over Bond's face and down to his bare chest, then shift to the mess of blankets draped on the sectional. "If you're not lurking about in order to kill me, then why are you still here? It's been long enough. Hasn't MI6 made up its mind about whether to trust me?"

"I'm here for your protection."

Dark eyebrows jerk upward, lifting above the black plastic of Lysander's glasses so that, for a brief moment, it looks as if he has two sets of eyebrows. "Oh please."

"The other day you were complaining that you were facing all the risk of an MI6 agent with none of the support," Bond points out. "Now it sounds as if you want me to go away."

"A double-o for a watchdog." Lysander looks distinctly unimpressed with this prospect. "Kipping on my sofa, eating my food, and playing chauffeur. I hardly think that's the wisest allotment of company resources."

"Are you trying to get rid of me?" Standing up off the sofa, Bond stretches again, this time reaching toward the ceiling before letting his hands drop back to his sides, rolling his shoulders. He pulls a thin T-shirt on before heading in the general direction of the kitchen.

"Yes," Lysander says, emphatically, following him. "And I didn't think I was being at all subtle about it, either."

"Don't worry, you weren't." Bond opens the refrigerator, pulling out the tin of coffee he picked up when he realized the younger man only had tea in his cupboards and even then, only earl grey. Bent over as he is, he makes the perfect target for Scheherazade's latest game, which involves running and leaping onto his back and climbing up to his shoulders; her sharp little claws anchoring into his shirt and often into his skin as well.

If Bond were any less of a double-o he would likely react automatically and fling the poor animal off without a moment's hesitation simply for startling him. As it is, every muscle in his body draws tight which, after a night spent on that horrible sofa, is a feat in and of itself, and he tries to stay very still until he is certain she has gotten her footing.

"Now you're corrupting my cat, as well. Encouraging bad habits," Lysander accuses when Bond stands from the fridge with coffee in one hand and the cat primly seated on his shoulder. She flicks her fluffed tail, swatting him in the face, and Bond uses his free hand to encourage it out of the way.

"Enduring bad habits is not the same as actively encouraging them. I never asked to be pounced on, or swatted at. She seems to share your impeccable manners when it comes to house guests."

"In fact, I do have impeccable manners." Lysander sets his empty mug into the sink, his nose tipped up in the air slightly, looking almost as prim as his own cat. As he walks out of the kitchen he taps a long-fingered hand against the side of his right thigh twice and Scheherazade promptly unclenches her talons from Bond's shoulder and jumps to the ground, bounding off after her master.

It's been a variation of this ever since Bond took-up residence on Lysander's sofa and it should be making him itch: being placed in the relatively simple and dreadfully reactionary position of 'bodyguard', and it does to some extent, but not as much as he was anticipating.

By the time he's washed and changed, his Walther securely resting in his shoulder holster and keys in hand Lysander is coming down the stairs, slipping into his parka. "Just a moment," Lysander says. "I need to…" and Bond steps aside so the younger man can pass back into the kitchen where he changes Scheherazade's water and tops-up her dry food.

When he comes back his hand is predictably rifling through the pockets of his coat. "Have you seen…?"

"I'll lock up." Bond holds up the younger man's house keys, which had been left on the small hall table, as always.

"Ta. I should have had another cup of tea this morning. I don't think I'm quite awake yet." Lysander heads down the steps as Bond pauses to lock the front door.

They make their way across the street. "Your keys," Bond says, relinquishing the house keys while he pulls the keys to the rental car from his pocket. "Dare I ask what you were doing in your study until four o'clock in the morning?"

"What a man does in his private study is his own business." Lysander settles into the front passenger seat, heaving a long sigh as he allows his eyes to close. "I quite like having a chauffeur, I think. Wake me when we get to headquarters."

________________________________________________________________________________________

Once they reach Vauxhall Cross they head in separate directions. Lysander taking the lift down to Q Branch, and Bond traveling up to Mallory's office to debrief. It doesn't take especially long to inform the head of MI6 that nothing unusual happened and that, so far, no significant progress has made, and the meeting usually concludes with Mallory sending him back to the task that has been occupying most of his working hours: routing out the double-agents within MI6.

As interesting as the task sounds on paper, in actuality this means Bond had been spending the majority of his tie sitting in a depressingly taupe room on the seventh floor, interrogating agents.

Between Eve's interviews and his own they've managed to locate three agents who eventually admitted to turning over information in exchange for a ridiculous amount of money. They've cleared far more than they've convicted, which is a consolation Bond supposes, but somehow doesn't feel like enough.

Today, when he knocks briskly on the side of Mallory's open office door the man waves him inside. "Close that," he says, gesturing to his door and waiting expectantly for Bond to comply. "We've lost the list. Ronson was shot three hours ago in Istanbul. Our team failed to recover the computer drive."

Bond frowns. It's bad news certainly, but not something they hadn't been anticipating. The odds of the mission succeeding had been slim. "Do we have any idea where Rodriguez might have ended up?"

"Not much." Mallory drops a folder down onto his desk. "But Moriarty is suspected of having ties with a group in Kirkuk. It's possible Rodriguez is somewhere in the area, or that whoever was transporting the list is headed there."

"If Ronson and his team got close enough in Istanbul to get shot at, even if the original plans were to stop in Kirkuk, they'd likely change their strategy."

"Nevertheless," Mallory says. "I need you to make certain. We can't afford to ignore a single credible lead." Bond hesitates, which the head of MI6 immediately notices. "Our operatives in Istanbul are a bit preoccupied cleaning up the mess from a colossal cock-up of a mission. We have more than one agent seriously injured and at least one confirmed KIA. Our field office in Iraq is, I'm afraid, tied up in another operation that we can't possibly interrupt. It's simpler to send you down, 007. If it turns out to be a viable lead, pursue it to your utmost; if not, come home."

"Yes sir," Bond says, nodding once, sharply. He knows a dismissal when he hears one, and there is no point arguing, even if he wanted to.

He stops on the fourth floor, knocking lightly on the office door and waiting until Eve steps out into the hall. "007, what is it?"

"I'm leaving on an assignment."

She smiles cheekily. "Such a gentleman, stopping to say good-bye before you head out."

"I want you to check-in on Lysander periodically."

"Ah, so you want me to look after your better half?"

"Hardly my better half." Bond raises an eyebrow, eying her skeptically. "Office work doesn't agree with you, Moneypenny. You're starting to fantasize from boredom."

"Well, you've known him for over a week, now, and you've been living at his place for a few days. You haven't shot him and you haven't shagged him. Don't tell me there isn't something there."

She winks, and then drops her teasing. "He was cleared, you know. Passed all the tests we could spare the time to give him. He's working in Q Branch and they all seem smitten, and you know how cautious they are down there. Mallory is even starting to come around. As far as HQ is concerned, he's trustworthy."

"He's a civilian, Moneypenny. And he's at risk," Bond explains. "Both of his brother's have already separately come to the attention of Moriarty. One of them has made it his personal mission to destroy the man. If any of the spies in HQ determine Lysander's identity, or if Moriarty discovers it, he'll need someone close at hand who won't hesitate to do what is necessary."

"Worrying about him? There you go again, fueling my bored secretarial fantasies," she says with a wink. "Relax, Bond. Mallory's already briefed me. I've been given full responsibility for our latest asset in your absence. It will be fine."

His next stop is Hamish, the Quartermaster, who hands over his documentation, passport and plane ticket. From there, Bond detours through Q Branch until he finds Lysander seated at a computer, deeply engrossed in his work. "I have an assignment…"

"Kirkuk, Iraq," Lysander says, without even glancing up from his computer. "It's a false lead but try not to get shot anyway."

"How could you possibly know that?"

Lysander stops typing, swivels his chair around and lifts an imperious eyebrow. When Bond glances at the computer screen he spots a tiny window open in the bottom right corner flashing his number: 007, and his mission destination.

Bond smirks. "Stalker."

"If they find a credible lead on Moriarty and send you after him, I want to make certain I'm not left behind to twiddle my thumbs in the basement of MI6."

"God forbid anyone ever try to bench you, Mister Holmes."

Lysander's chin jerks up, a challenging little smile on his face. "I'd like to see them try, Mister Bond."

________________________________________________________________________________________

Most of Sherlock's problem, as far as John has been able to tell, is that when he's presented with a suitably intriguing case he treats it like a brainteaser, like a puzzle or a game of chess. He stops seeing the people involved, stops looking at the violence and puts everything in terms of strategy. People less skilled at maintaining that level of objectivity are often horrified by the ease with which Sherlock can walk around such horrifying scenes without flinching, without even for a moment hesitating as surely any decent human being would do.

Periodically, John still hears the echo of Anderson's voice: "…Right, sociopath, seeing that now…"

The more time John has spent with Sherlock, however, the more he has come to believe that there isn't a label for what Sherlock is because half of what he can do is entirely natural, but the other half John suspects has been painstakingly learned and cultivated and honed. He doesn't like the judgmental little looks people tend to throw in Sherlock's direction, which is perhaps why he has appointed himself as his friend's quasi-PR person.

"Having fun?" he asks as Sherlock pries up pieces of the wooden floor with a small knife, dropping the evidence into a plastic baggie to be carted off to Saint Bart's where the traces of linseed oil can be properly analyzed.

Sherlock's expression is not entirely unlike a cat glancing up from a bowl of cream. "Hm. Yes."

"Maybe not so much with the smiling," John cautions. "Missing children?"

Immediately, Sherlock's expression flattens into neutrality. "Right." He holds up the baggie and nods, satisfied. Then he hops back up to his feet and rushes off again.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Kirkuk is a false lead. Bond can sense it more or less immediately, but he stays to pursue every possible angle until he is able to confirm that every one of the apparent connections Moriarty has in this city are dead-ends. If those connections ever actually existed at all, they have since been terminated.

When Bond checks-in Hamish tells him, "We're pursuing another lead. Bullet fragments have been retrieved from one of our wounded agents. We might be able to connect those to whoever was transporting the list and get an identity."

"Ronson?" Bond asks.

"Alive. Still in critical condition, but we're hopeful. Come home, 007."

Bond sighs. "A bit of a wasted trip."

________________________________________________________________________________________

The first sign that something is wrong comes in the form of M calling in to Q Branch. "I've been sent a rather disturbing message."

The second indicator is every single computer screen in Q Branch flickering and then going dark.

Lysander waits, hands poised over his keyboard because this at least was something he anticipated and prepared for. A second later, the screens are back on as the failsafe's he's programmed kick-in, but that's just about the only thing that's going right.

Lysander starts typing.

"Christ!" Hamish shouts as the various techs of Q Branch begin to shout. "Everyone stop panicking and lets try to get ahead of this!"

________________________________________________________________________________________

It's almost a full five and a half hour flight from Kirkuk to London, and Bond spends the majority of that time flirting with the stewardess, anything to distract himself from his growing frustration.

Tiago Rodriguez has disappeared. Has ceased to exist, for all intents and purposes. Without any idea of who Rodriguez has become, they have nothing. Which means Bond, for all his skills, is utterly useless.

Not a feeling with which he is especially familiar, and certainly not anything he's particularly happy about. He doesn't even fully understand the motive behind the theft, can't decide what the objective might be, which is also troubling.

________________________________________________________________________________________

It's a modern day fairytale: Hansel and Gretel and the wicked witch who is, statistically speaking, probably a wizard rather than a witch, really. John doesn't find it at all comforting that Moriarty seems to share Sherlock's ability to view everything in terms of a chess game. Cold and calculated, human lives reduced to pieces on a board.

Perhaps if this were simply an Agatha Christie novel then John could put his feet up and appreciate the subtlety and brilliance of slowly poisoning two children with chocolate mixed with trace amounts of lead: "Murder by remote control," Sherlock summarizes, clearly impressed. "He doesn't even have to be there."

Right now, all John feels is a sick kind of horror that this madman is out there somewhere. That he's so obsessed with John's flat mate, his friend, that he has no trouble dragging innocent people, innocent children into his twisted game. Like some sort of demented tomcat leaving offerings of dead mice on the front steps.

"Adleston!" Sherlock says, holding up his mobile triumphantly. John isn't surprised that Sherlock's contacts in the homeless network have turned up evidence faster than the police managed. There isn't much that surprises him anymore, really.

"Come on," Lestrade shouts, and there follows a flurry of movement as everyone grabs their coats and hurries toward the door.

Rushing to keep up with Sherlock's long strides John thinks he hears the telltale beep of his friend's text alert but ignores it because they're out on the street now and Sherlock is refusing to get into a car with Anderson, and Lestrade is trying to explain that they're wasting time while Sally throws her hands in the air and accuses them all of being infants.

Four hours later, waiting in an empty office in Scotland Yard while Lestrade and Donovan interview the children, Sherlock pulls out his mobile. The message from Mycroft reads simply: Explosion at Vauxhall. No word yet.

When Sherlock reads it his face turns ashen.

________________________________________________________________________________________

The explosion is playing on all the televisions at Heathrow. It greets him the moment he steps off the plane, yellow and orange and red billowing up across the upper floors of HQ, swallowing the top of the building whole.

He watches the replay twice, is pulling his mobile from his pocket as the newscasters make guesses at what could have happened: terrorist attack seems to be what they settle on. It's also the truth, he thinks, but is grateful that no word of the leak at MI6 has gotten out.

Six deaths, twelve severely injured and counting.

"Hello?" Tanner sounds entirely unchanged, still the calm, unflappable, composed tone. One would never guess that several hours ago, the man was almost blown up.

"Not what I was expecting to come home to," Bond says. "Where am I supposed to report now that I assume HQ is out of commission?"

"We're working on it." Tanner pauses, his whooshing exhalation carrying over the connection. "Not much you can do at the moment. We've got the information you passed on to Hamish, no point in debriefing just now."

"Six deaths…"

"Holding at six, thank God," Tanner says. "Could have been worse, or so I'm told. Mallory is fine. Moneypenny's taken the asset back to his flat, minor injuries only. Go home, 007. We'll be in touch."

"Right." Bond ends the call, collects his bag and heads for the exit.

________________________________________________________________________________________

He’s sitting crossways in the hideous green velvet chair he seems to prefer, legs hanging over the arm and feet bare. Scheherazade is curled in his lap looking mulish because Bond’s entrance has distracted her master from his previous task of stroking her fur.

“I’m fine,” Lysander says when Bond strides into the living room, perhaps a little dramatically. There’s a slice across the bridge of his nose just beneath his glasses, and small cuts and a few nicks around his left cheek and eye but nothing major, nothing requiring stitches or even a plaster.

Lysander waves an irritated hand in the general direction of the Thames and headquarters. “They just sent me home because…”

Because he had a concussion,” Eve says, drolly. She comes out of the kitchen carrying a steaming mug, which Lysander eagerly reaches out for. There are a few minor abrasions on her face and arms, but she looks otherwise unhurt. She catches Bond's eye and releases an exaggerated sigh. “Honestly, he’s impossible.”

“Yes,” Bond agrees carefully, watching as she transfers the mug into Lysander’s left hand, sparing a moment to scratch the top of Scheherazade’s head before stepping away.

Lysander returns to petting his cat as he takes a long grateful sip of tea, his eyes closing for a moment to. “I’m perfectly fine,” he repeats, swallowing his mouthful and reopening his eyes. “The doctor said it was only a mild concussion, and if I didn’t have any trouble by this morning then there was probably nothing to worry about.” This last is directed rather pointedly at Eve.

“Believe me,” she says, still talking to Bond, still flashing that little smirking smile. “If you thought you gave our nursing staff trouble after a mission, you have nothing on that boy right there.”

“I’m not a boy, thank-you!”

Eve snickers, and then whispers loud enough to be easily overheard, “He’s scrappy, that one.”

“Six people dead,” Lysander says. “How many wounded? That’s all on me.”

The sigh she gives in answer leads Bond to believe that this is a conversation they’ve been carrying on for some time. “And also all of Q Branch, who was working to keep Rodriguez out of the system, and the battery of psychiatrists who assessed him and deemed him fit to continue work at the agency. To make no mention of the senior staff that worked alongside him, the trained operatives who interacted with him, any one of who have received special instruction to notice suspicious behavior, have been taught to look-out for spies and potential traitors.”

“None of those people are me,” Lysander dismisses. “I was the person who made the final call to sacrifice the entire top half of Vauxhall just to get his bloody tag…”

“His tag?” Bond asks the room in general but mostly Moneypenny, seeing as she doesn’t have her nose buried in a mug of hot tea.

“His signature,” she says, like even she’s has some difficulty understanding it. “Sort of.”

“Something I can use to locate our spy,” Lysander explains. “But instead of letting me do that your employers, in all their illustrious wisdom, have sent me home for bed rest!

Eve perches her hands on her hips and levels the younger man with a glare. “The building was entirely evacuated. There’s nothing for you to actually do until they manage to set-up a new headquarters. Even you would have a difficult time using your tag or whatever to track Rodriguez without an actual computer, or any Internet access.”

“Corruption and traitors at MI6 is one thing, but I find the sheer level of ineptitude deeply vexing.”

“Oh don’t start!” Eve actually tosses her hands in the air, turning to Bond. “You’d think he’s been medicated, but he hasn’t.”

“I’ve had an Aspirin,” Lysander declares just to be contrary. When Bond glances over, the younger man looks thoroughly petulant. He takes another sip from his mug, and then his entire demeanor shifts and suddenly he’s blinking wide green eyes up in Eve’s direction, lower lip just the slightest bit stuck out. “May I have some more tea, please, Miss Moneypenny?”

“You’re not fooling anyone, you know.” Eve takes the mug just the same.

When she disappears into the kitchen, Bond moves further into the room, settling down onto the sectional. “Are you really alright?”

“Yes,” Lysander says, emphatically. “Just a few nicks that stung a bit at first. They hardly even pull anymore.”

It’s relief, Bond thinks with a certain amount of surprise. The feeling that has had him struggling for a full breath since he’s entered the room is relief. He had no idea it could feel so utterly shattering. “I imagine your brothers came by already?”

“Mycroft did,” Lysander says. “Eve chased him away when he started hovering. Sherlock sent a text.” With his free hand he reaches over to the coffee table, picking up his phone and calling something up on it before he passes it over.

Bond reads: If you have the full use of your fingers and faculties text immediately.

“I told him to piss off. To which he responded with a smiley-face, which I find deeply unsettling. I’ve never known my brother to text emoticons of any form, and I’m half-hoping that maybe John got hold of his phone, but I suspect that I am simply in shock.”

“Amazing.” Bond sets the mobile back on the table, trying to stifle a smile as he settles back in the sofa. “The building you are working in explodes, but it’s your brother using an emoticon that sends you into shock.”

“I haven’t slept,” Lysander admits. “I keep waiting for Eve to fall asleep so I can go into my study, but no luck. She keeps catching me.”

“She might be working as an administrative assistant, but Moneypenny is still a trained field operative.”

“So I’ve been reminded, on numerous occasions.” With a long-suffering sigh, Lysander asks, “Why won’t anyone let me work?

“Enjoy this next cup of tea,” Bond advises as Moneypenny returns.

Morosely, Lysander asks, “Is it my last?”

“Yes, for now. You can try actually going to sleep for a change. Maybe that will improve your disposition.”

“I have a perfectly charming disposition, Mister Bond.” Lysander accepts his refilled mug with a genuine 'thank-you' before turning back to Bond. “You can ask anyone. I’m the sweet one.”

“You might have everyone else fooled, darling, but that won’t work on us,” Eve says, her tone utterly fond. Bond watches with no small amount of surprise as she actually drops a hand onto the top of Lysander's head, her fingers flexing in his hair before ruffling it gently. The younger man doesn't protest, doesn't make any effort to move away from the touch. He merely sits there, sipping his tea with an expression almost precisely mirroring that of Scheherazade, who is still settled in his lap.

"You two have become friendly," Bond says.

"I suppose that's inevitable after you nearly blow up with someone." Lysander stifles a yawn and nudges his cat off his lap, rising to his feet somewhat reluctantly. "Since I'm outnumbered and neither of you seem remotely sympathetic to my plight, I'll retreat now to my room and rest."

"I've locked your office," Eve says. "The keys are in my pocket."

"I'm going to bed, Moneypenny."

"Of course. I believe you." She drops down with a sigh onto the chair the younger man has just vacated. "Watch him," she advises Bond. "I suspect he can pick locks."

Bond drops his head forward into his hands, pushing his fingers through his hair as he lets out a long breath. "Are you alright, Bond?" All trace of humor gone as she leans forward, resting tentative fingers on his right knee.

"I'm fine," he says. "It was a long flight."

He can feel the weight of her eyes on him so he focuses on the rug, the smooth blending of earth-toned colors in ornate swooping patterns. Carefully, he tries to blank his thoughts, tries to push away the worst-case scenarios that had been running in loops since he heard about the explosion.

"He saved my life, you know," Eve says quietly. "Apparently, Rodriguez launched some sort of large-scale complex attack on HQ, turning the safety protocols against themselves. The entire upper levels were locked down, and since we have those idiotic electronic doors we couldn't even get out when Hamish triggered the evacuation alarms."

"I thought Q Branch was working to set up more secure firewalls, something to prevent this sort of thing from happening."

"Hamish says the explosion would have leveled HQ if they hadn't been as prepared as they were," she says. "I think that was the goal, at any rate. Get the decryption program and send a message all in one go. Q Branch had to make a number of significant decisions on the fly, I'm afraid. They prioritized evacuating HQ and minimizing potential loss of life over the decryption program. Lysander ended up stealing a laptop and rushing up twelve flights of stairs in order to plug directly into the security system and stall the attack long enough to open the doors and get everyone out."

"Including you and Mallory." Bond rubs his hands over his face and leans back into the chair. "Why is he blaming himself for those six deaths. It sounds like it was a coordinated effort in Q Branch to defend HQ."

"I don't know." When Bond refuses to drop her gaze, she shifts. "I think..." she says. "I think that when he was plugged in to the security systems he had an idea, or he noticed something, and he went after it instead of concentrating on the doors."

"Christ," Bond curses, under his breath. "He's a civilian, Eve."

"I don't think so, Bond." She reaches out again, squeezing the top of his leg as she says, "You didn't see him. He was totally calm and steady, like he dealt with this sort of thing every day. I don't think he'll fall apart the way you expect him to."

"I know he won't fall apart. It would be easier if he did."

"What do you mean?"

"Something his brother said." Bond shakes his head. "It's nothing. I've been in Iraq chasing false leads, trapped in an uncomfortable airplane for far too long and am currently running on more coffee than sleep."

Eve smiles. "I'll unlock his study for you then, shall I?"

"The study?" Bond asks, confused.

"Yes. You've been sleeping on the fold-out sofa in there, haven't you?"

Bond laughs. "The cheeky little monkey!"

Chapter Text

There is the faintest sound of metal scraping metal, which is what initially wakes him. The briefest moment of disorientation forcefully set aside at the distinct 'click'. Bond keeps his breathing steady and his body still as the knob starts to turn, the door opening on silent hinges.

His impulse is to reach for his gun but he doesn't, and that decision is rewarded when the lamp on the desk is switched on and Lysander glances over with no trace of surprise on his face. "Ah, you've found the pullout, then."

"Aren't you supposed to be sleeping?"

Settling into his desk chair, Lysander takes out a pen and a small leather-bound black book from the top drawer. "I needed to make a note of something that occurred to me." When Bond merely stares at him, he adds, "The door was unlocked."

It is a blatant lie given that Bond locked the office door himself before he settled onto the pullout. Noticing the disbelieving look Bond is flashing his way, Lysander tips his chin up and says, "It's my office."

Watching as the other man flips open the book Bond thinks he should probably ask if Lysander is okay. If he's shaken at all after the explosion, if he's still thinking about the six people who died. Bond's been there before, after all. He knows exactly how it feels: the uncomfortable weight of it all that you just have to get used to because it never really goes away.

Instead he says, "I can't believe you put me up on your sofa knowing full well you had a surprisingly comfortable pullout."

"You were an unwanted house guest, Bond." Lysander doesn't glance up from his scribbling. Bond carefully notes the use of past tense. "Also, you're a spy. I assumed the first thing you'd do when I specifically asked you not to go into my study would be to break into my study."

"Well, I didn't," Bond says. "Do you know why? I have manners."

"Ha!" Lysander guffaws loudly, actually fixing Bond with a happy little look. "Marvelous. What else?"

Narrowing his eyes, Bond considers it's likely best to change the subject. "What are you scribbling?"

"I told you. I'm making note of something." Abruptly, the younger man flips the book closed and retracts the nib of his pen with a definitive sounding 'click'. Then he stows both in the drawer, and pushes his chair away from the desk.

"Am I to assume that you expect me to satisfy my curiosity by opening the drawer and reading that book after you've gone?"

"No. You're to assume that this is a show of faith," Lysander says, pausing by the hallway out of the room. "That I'm trusting you to respect my privacy now that you're kipping in my private study and not go snooping."

Bond's hand shoots out automatically, his fingers wrapping around a narrow wrist. The sudden touch causes the younger man to freeze, his breath hitching as Bond asks, "Are you alright?"

Voice rough and quiet, Lysander says, "I'm fine." He stumbles slightly as Bond starts to draw him closer. "What are you doing?"

It's like a spell, a moment slowly filling with possibility. Their eyes fixed on each other, their connection increasingly tangible. Lysander licks his lips and suddenly Bond can't look anywhere else.

There's the sound of a door closing somewhere in the flat, of a table shifting against hardwood as it is jostled, and the moment is abruptly gone. Bond grabs for his Walther as he starts to stand.

"Put that away," Lysander hisses, the moment he sets eyes on the gun.

Scheherazade streaks into the room, hopping up onto the desk and glaring at the door like she's been horribly offended by it. Bond does not lower his gun. "Someone's inside."

"Yes. Lower your gun," Lysander repeats. "I was expecting something like this."

________________________________________________________________________________________

This is the tale of Sir Boast-a-Lot.

Sir Boast-a-Lot was the bravest and cleverest knight of the round table, but soon the other knights began to grow tired of his stories about how brave he was, and how many dragons he'd slain, and so they began to wonder, "are Sir Boast-a-Lot's stories even true?"

________________________________________________________________________________________

"Oh Christ," John says the moment he sets eyes on the two men who've come down the stairs. They're standing in the shadows of the hallway, but John can recognize them immediately and feels horrendously guilty. Both men look exhausted.

This, he thinks to himself, is what spending so much time with Sherlock has bought him. This is what following the man blindly has done: it has destroyed any ounce of civility or common sense he ever had. He had assumed they were breaking into the flat of a suspect, or possibly one of the assassins who have stalking them. He's not sure how that might have been better, but he is certain that, a few moments ago, it had seemed like a sensible and entirely appropriate thing.

"I'm so sorry." He means it wholeheartedly.

Lysander Holmes is blinking owlishly from behind his glasses, his hair distinctly sleep-mussed. His feet are bare, and he's wearing a set of navy blue pajamas. Actually, John thinks that he's seen Sherlock in the exact same pajamas in a different color.

Behind the younger man is James, Walther cocked and ready in his hand, no shirt to speak of and a pair of grey sweatpants rolled at his hips. If his hair wasn't so close-cropped, John thinks it would probably be sleep-ruffled as well. As it is, he thinks he spots a pillow-crease on the man's cheek.

"Brother dear," Sherlock greets imperiously from where he has settled on a green velvet chair, which he is occupying as if it were the throne of England itself.

"Don't do that," Lysander says, slipping a long finger beneath his glasses to rub his right eye. "Don't 'brother dear' me as if I were Mycroft. Do you have any idea what time it is?"

Sherlock glances around and raises his eyebrows. "It's dark?"

"'Dark' isn't an increment of time."

James clicks the safety back onto his gun. "I'll put on some tea, shall I?"

"Yes, please," Lysander says. "Thank-you, Bond."

"'Please' and 'thank-you'," James says, amused. "It seems you have some manners after all." He disappears through to what John assumes is the kitchen, but not before Lysander has an opportunity to roll his eyes to the ceiling rather dramatically.

He looks remarkably like his older brother in that moment.

Unlike his older brother, however, Lysander graciously offers John a seat on the sectional, switches on the electric fireplace as well as a dim lamp, and then settles onto the other green velvet chair.

A moment later, a cat leaps up onto his lap and lies down, eyeing first John and then Sherlock with a bright, suspicious blue gaze, not unlike the MI6 agent who has gone to prepare tea.

"You're hurt," Sherlock says. "I've brought John."

If anyone else volunteered his services in the same tone they might offer someone a cigarette or a biscuit, he would have a thing or two to say. As it is, John leans forward a little and says, "I don't have my kit with me, but I don't mind."

Lysander shakes his head. "Just a few scratches. They wouldn't have let me leave if it had been serious."

John is again struck with how little he knows about Sherlock's youngest brother. He has no idea who 'they' might be and, judging by the way Sherlock is merely sitting there, his fingers steepled, no one is going to bring him up to speed if he doesn't make his confusion clear. "I'm sorry. I'm not following."

"'They', MI6, John. Do try to keep up," Sherlock scolds. "It exploded the other day."

"It what?"

"Not the whole building." There's a slight upward quirk to Lysander's lips as he speaks. John has the curious sense that he is being mollified. "Just a few offices on the top floor."

"How many people were hurt? How did it happen?" How could he have possibly not known? Except, John thinks, he was preoccupied with the case.

Oh God. Sherlock's the one who is supposed to be blinkered when he's on a case, it's John who always knows the things pertinent to living in the real world, such as whether or not any significant landmarks have blown up, or that the earth is round and orbits the sun.

Sherlock sighs in frustration. "It doesn't matter!"

"It's alright," Lysander intercedes. "Only six died, and about twice as many were injured, but no one is in critical any longer. They're reporting that it was a gas explosion."

"They're reporting it was?" John asks. "What was it actually?"

"A gas explosion," James says, re-entering the living room this time wearing a T-shirt, and carrying a tray set with four mugs, none of which match. The one he hands to John is bright blue and exclaims in white lettering that, 'the angels have the phonebox'.

Sherlock's mug is perfectly white with a large black mustache one side. "What?" Sherlock asks suspiciously when John can't continue a quiet snigger at the effect when he raises the mug to sip his tea.

"Nothing." Hastily, John turns to James. "What aren't you saying?"

"Quite a bit." Lysander rubs a hand across his brow, and then waves it dismissively. "But essentially, yes. It was a gas explosion. The perpetrator hacked into the environmental controls in the building, locked out the safety protocols and turned on the gas."

"Was it him, do you think?" John wonders. "Moriarty?"

"No, it wasn't." Sherlock turns back to his brother, his expression turning dubious. "He was happy just to blow up a few offices?"

"No. But that's what we let him get away with. That and the decryption program he was after. Now every NATO agent working in the field is in jeopardy. Not the mention any agent within MI6."

"So." John glances over to James who has settled on the sectional with him, and back to Lysander. "You both work for MI6."

Sherlock's sigh is dramatic and, as usual, entirely excessive. "It doesn't matter."

Unlike his older brother, John notices that Lysander smiles with his eyes more than his mouth. "Temporarily," he says, answering John's question and then taking a sip from his mug ('Keep calm and carry on', vibrant and red). "How about you?" he asks, turning to his brother. "Eventful day? I hope you had better luck with the ambassador's children."

"No, wait." John holds up a hand. "How could you possibly…?"

"Because he's a bigger busybody than Mycroft," Sherlock drawls, and then he sighs, sounding incredibly put-upon. "I saved Hansel and Gretel from the wicked witch, was driven across town by a criminal mastermind who forced me to watch a disturbing parody of a children's story-time program that he wrote, directed and starred in, and was almost run over by a cab only to be saved by a member of the Albanian hit-squad who was subsequently shot for shaking my hand."

Just for a moment, the room is utterly silent.

"So," Lysander says. "Just another day then, really."

It's the first time in the past several days that John has seen his flat mate smile over anything that wasn't a clue. It lights his grey-green eyes and stretches his pale lips wide. There and then gone.

Sherlock huffs and says, "There's a surveillance web closing around us, John and I, as we speak."

Lysander shakes his head. "Not closing, Sherlock. It's closed already."

"Could you track it?" John asks. "Find out who's watching us, follow the signal back to the source? Maybe we could get the upper hand, finally."

"I could." Lysander glances at his brother, who is sitting perfectly still and pretending to be oblivious to the attention.

"You don't want him to," John realizes, more than a little surprised. "Why did you ask him to come back if not to help?"

"For MI6," Bond says, from where he has been sitting, half-forgotten but still listening. "For Mycroft."

"Mycroft?" John echoes.

"Who am I to come between a brotherly reunion?" Sherlock smirks at his younger brother. "You're the one always telling me to let old quarrels die. Yet I was perfectly aware that you wouldn't come back if it was Mycroft who asked."

"Don't patronize me, Sherlock," Lysander says. "Try again."

"No, I think not." Sherlock sets his mug back onto the tray and stands. "It's late."

"You're bloody pigheaded!" Lysander snaps, his cat hissing and climbing onto the back of his chair to do a commendable impression of a Halloween decoration.

"Uh." John watches as Sherlock strides out of the room. "I'm just…" then he sighs and shakes his head, following his flat mate out.

They're almost at the door to the street when James calls after them, standing midway down the stairs without any shoes on his feet. "He's right, you know," James says. "About being pigheaded."

Sherlock narrows his eyes. "I didn't come here for a lecture."

"No," James says. "You came to make certain he was alright."

John can admit that he's waiting for some kind of response, because Sherlock always responds and always has the last word. Instead, Sherlock looks up at James, expression inscrutable. Then he turns and leaves.

Just like that. No comment, no denial, just the door opening and him departing, his coat flapping behind him as he moves.

"Good night, James," John says, hesitating in the hall.

James gives a tight nod. "Good morning, John." He disappears into the flat, leaving John standing alone feeling a bit like an idiot, and a good deal out of his depth.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Lysander is not anywhere in the living room when Bond re-enters it. The fireplace has been switched off but the lamp is on, Scheherazade is sitting on the back of the green chair, her tail flicking left and then right in agitation. The moment Bond closes and locks the door to the flat she jumps down, paces about as if to make certain there are no further intruders lurking anywhere, and then disappears up the stairs.

Switching off the lamp in the main room, Bond makes his way in the dark to the study, hoping to gain a few more hours of sleep before they report to HQ. Eve had been notified of MI6's new address as she had been preparing to leave: "Tanner says you and Lysander are both expected in first thing," she had said the moment she had rung off.

"Right," Bond had said. "Business as usual, then."

He settles back into the pullout, and when he opens his eyes again it is six o'clock in the morning. Bond suspects the only reason he woke at all is because of the clattering emanating from the kitchen.

The source of the noise, Bond discovers after he makes his way downstairs, is Lysander systematically opening the cupboard doors, inspecting them thoroughly and then moving on to the next. His complexion is entirely blanched except for the dark smudges beneath his eyes and his movements are erratic and frustrated. He continues with the inspection of his cupboards despite the fact that he has forgotten to put on his glasses.

"I can't find the coffee," he declares when he spots Bond.

"I didn't know you drank coffee."

"I don't, really. I was going to make some for you." He slams another cupboard closed. "Apparently the sugar's run off." Lysander runs his hands through his hair, and then rubs his eyes, his shoulders slumping as he leans his hip against the counter. "My brother is infuriating."

"I noticed." Taking pity on the other man, Bond pulls out a kitchen chair. "Sit down, for god's sake. Did you not sleep at all last night?"

Collapsing into the chair, Lysander lets his head fall into his hands, his elbows braced on the tabletop. "I was preoccupied envisioning the various ways I could murder my brother."

He catches Bond pulling the tin of coffee from the fridge and frowns. "Why do you keep the coffee in the fridge?"

Switching the kettle on, Bond sets about preparing his coffee. "It keeps the grains fresher."

Lysander squints at him before dropping his head back into his hands, as if he is no longer capable of feigning interest. "He was angry at you, too. I can't work out why."

Bond huffs a laugh as he spoons out the ground beans into the machine. "Can't you?"

"You think I'm making it up?"

Bond glances toward the table and catches Lysander peaking beneath the lid of the sugar, as if he not entirely certain it contains sugar. Bond would find this amusing except the other night when he was preparing the tea he found three separate sugar bowls in the cupboard, none of which had been filled with actual sugar, the contents of each more bizarre than the last. Especially given the context of the kitchen.

Seemingly satisfied, Lysander replaces the lid and leans back in his chair. "I know when my brother is angry with someone, and all the tells were there. He refused to look at you, even. I'm surprised you didn't notice."

"You and your brothers each have blind spots a mile wide."

"What do you mean?"

The kettle finishes boiling and Bond drops a teabag into the mug, filling it with hot water before setting it on the table. The instant the mug is set in front of him Lysander wraps his fingers around it, staring at the rising steam with bleary-eyes.

When his own coffee finishes brewing, Bond fills another mug and settles into a chair at the table. "You left England several years ago. Did it not occur to you that perhaps your brothers might want you to return?"

"You're saying that Sherlock called me back because he missed me. Oh please."

"It was the perfect opportunity," Bond argues. "He must have known about your plans to join MI6 before you left. My showing up and making inquiries was more than an ideal opportunity, and he didn't need to worry about your safety because you'd be working alongside a double-o. Undoubtedly, Mycroft has any number of his own protections in place, as well."

Lysander removes the teabag, spooning in the sugar and a splash of milks. His green eyes flicker up to Bond, considering, as he takes a sip. "Then why is he angry with you?"

"A gas leak at MI6, and you still inside. Apparently I'm not doing my job very well." Swallowing a mouthful of coffee, Bond smirks. "It's a good thing he doesn't know that I wasn't even in the country at the time."

Lysander mulls the idea over as he sips his tea. "It's a lovely theory, but you don't know Sherlock very well at all. At the very least, he's far more strategic."

"Strategic?" Bond smirks. "Several hours ago you were calling him pigheaded."

"No reason why he can't be both." The younger man shrugs. "He doesn't want my help because he already has a plan, and he's refusing to adapt."

"Or maybe he's trying to protect you," Bond offers. "What is it with you and your brothers, so thoroughly disdaining and terrified of anything even remotely hinting at sentiment?"

"Says the double-o agent." Lysander stands up, grabbing his tea from the table and pausing by Bond's chair. "Caring isn't an advantage. In fact quite the opposite." He steps back. "I'm going to get dressed."

________________________________________________________________________________________

MI6 has relocated to an underground bunker. The commute is shorter but requires navigation through more congested roads. They make the drive there in contemplative silence.

Tanner greets them in the underground car park. "The new digs," he says as he points Lysander toward Q Branch. Then he turns to Bond, "Mallory is this way. We have a meeting."

The entire place still smells of wet paint, and everything looks uncomfortable and curiously displaced except for Q Branch, which appears to be remarkably in its element.

Bond finds himself in a room with M and Mallory, Tanner and Eve listening as Hamish spouts a lot of complicated jargon about the attack, which Bond distills to the pertinent details: It was bad, but Q Branch did a remarkable job defending HQ, so it was nowhere near as bad as Rodriguez intended it to be.

The second portion of the briefing focuses on the message that was sent to M's laptop just prior to the attack, which Bond hadn't known about. He sits there feeling vaguely disgusted with Rodriguez and listening as Hamish volunteers more computer jargon that Bond again decodes: We've issued M a new laptop with boosted safety protocols so it shouldn't happen again.

So far, nothing of particular relevance has been gleaned from the message except that apparently Rodriguez knows what he's doing. Nothing they hadn't put together already.

"Ronson is in recovery back in Istanbul. He'll make a full recovery," Tanner offers the only spot of good news in the entire briefing. "The bullet fragments are on their way to the lab for analysis. Hopefully that will give us something."

"Beyond that, we're still sitting around twiddling our thumbs," Mallory says. "With the added threat that all of our operatives are at added risk any time we send them into the field, and at some point during this week five names of embedded NATO agents will be released."

"Uh," Tanner says. "Well, yes."

________________________________________________________________________________________

At the end of the day, the sunlight already mostly hidden behind the looming grey of storm clouds, Bond wends through the labyrinth of halls heading to the underground car park. Halfway there, Lysander falls into step with him.

It's pattern, reconfigured slightly given the change in their location but mostly the younger man gives no complaint at the prospect of twenty-four hour protection, and Bond tries to avoid undermining the tentative peace by not drawing attention to the fact that this is precisely why he is driving the younger man to and from work, and kipping at his flat.

"You're looking a little less tense this evening. Good news?" Lysander asks as he slips into the front passenger seat, pulling the door closed.

Starting the car, Bond carefully backs out of the cramped space and heads up the ramp toward the light. "Some bullet fragments recovered from one of the field agents are being analyzed. There's a chance they might give us something useful."

"The agent is alive?"

"Yes."

"Well." Lysander smiles as they emerge from underground. "You might finally get to shoot someone."

"I'm very excited." Bond brings them out into traffic before he risks a glance sideways. There's a bright flush of color brightening the younger man's complexion, and he no longer seems quite so exhausted and spent as he had just that morning. "And you?" Bond asks. "What was going on in Q Branch?"

"I have absolutely no idea." Lysander sounds pleased. "Hamish put me in his office, closed the door and left me there all day."

"This was a good thing?" Bond turns down the street for the flat, and starts to look for a space to park.

"With no one bothering me I was finally able to get some work done," Lysander says, as Bond turns off the engine. "I've made a good deal of progress, too."

"With the tag?" They pause on the steps of the flat while Lysander blinks at him, realizes that Bond has no means of unlocking the door to the building, and goes fishing in his own pocket for the keys. "Are you going to explain what that is?"

"What?" Lysander asks, hesitating on the middle of the stairs up to their flat. "Oh, right." He unlocks the flat, tossing his coat onto the arm of the sectional and making a beeline to the kitchen. "Picture a fingerprint…"

Bond quirks an eyebrow. "A digital fingerprint?"

Lysander narrows his eyes. "How good are you with computers?"

"I can make do."

"Hm. Don't picture a fingerprint, then." Lysander ruffles a hand through his hair, fills the kettle and reaches into the cupboard to fish out the tin of earl grey. As Bond stands there waiting the younger man tips his head back, closes his eyes, his hands pressing together, resting just beneath his chin as if he has suddenly decided to pray.

"Okay," he says suddenly, eyes flying open and hands falling away. His green eyes are sparking. "Picture computers and hacking and all of it like the art world."

"Yes," Bond says, wryly. "I know infinitely more about art than computers."

Lysander swats a hand back and forth, impatient. "No, listen. Say you've just finished painting Guernica. It's a work of genius, and obviously you can't just set it on the wall somewhere. You want people to be able to recognize that you painted it."

"You're saying Rodriguez signed his name to the explosion at HQ."

"Except not his name," Lysander corrects, holding up a finger. "It's like graffiti. Someone walking by on the street would look at it and probably assume it was some sort of scribble, but a graffiti artist would know the language, would know where to look for the tag, and how to read it. The point isn't to communicate to everyone what you've done because most people would have absolutely no idea even if you sat them down and explained it. The point is to say to every other hacker out there, 'I did this'. It's the tiny bit of code amidst all the other lines that seemingly serves no actual purpose."

"A code unique to the hacker," Bond finishes. "Like a fingerprint."

"I'm simplifying dreadfully, but yes." Lysander pops open the tin, removing a tea bag and setting it into his cup before returning the tin to the cupboard. "I've been running through the systems at MI6 looking for other places where the tag pops up and was able to determine that at this point, Rodriguez has essentially been everywhere, all over the systems, which we anticipated. But more importantly, I could figure out what he was doing there."

The kettle begins to boil and Lysander picks it up, filling his cup before turning back to Bond. "He wanted to cripple us. More than that, he corrupted enough of our systems so that even if MI6 tried to rebuild itself and took precautionary measures to prevent an external cyber attack of that magnitude again, it wouldn't matter. He's already inside."

"Like a trap door?"

"Yes. Which means whatever he's planning, he's not through with us yet. At some point, he fully intends to require the internal systems of MI6 again. What I've been working on," he continues, with no small amount of pleasure. "Is systematically purging the corrupted code lurking in our databases so that, when Mister Rodriguez tries whatever it is he has planned next, he'll essentially be at ground zero. No clever little loopholes to bring us to our knees."

To punctuate the conclusion of his sentence, Lysander tosses the teabag into the trash, drops a cube of sugar and a splash of milk into his tea and takes a sip. When he lowers the cup, his eyes blinking open once more, he glances over at Bond and frowns.

"You're staring at me." Lysander's demeanor shifts immediately, the confidence of a moment earlier replaced with uncertainty and no small amount of curiosity. "Why are you staring at me?"

"I'm paying attention."

Those bright green eyes stay fixed on him, as if Bond is a puzzle Lysander is trying to put together. "No," Lysander says, slowly. "That's not it."

Stepping closer, Bond moves around the table. "You're right. It's not." He stops only when he has stepped into the younger man's personal space, close enough that Lysander has to tip his head back to meet Bond's eyes, his tea still held in his hands between them.

"Are you trying to seduce me in my own kitchen, Mister Bond?"

"Possibly." Bond carefully removes the cup from Lysander's hands, setting it down on the counter. "Is it working?"

"I was warned about this, you know. That you're particularly sexual for a field agent." He raises an eyebrow, as if daring Bond to deny it. "I've read your file. It struck me that the sex always had a purpose. So what is it you want from me at the moment?"

Bond flashes a teasing smirk. "Outside of the obvious?"

"Apart from that, yes."

"Nothing at all." He leans forward, ghosting his breath across the younger man's cheek before getting bolder: a light kiss to the underside of his jaw. "We're not on a mission," he says, pressing another kiss into the skin of Lysander's neck just a little down from the last. "We're not in the field. I don't need to seduce you for information, or to ensure your cooperation. I'm already confident you'll cooperate."

"Of course we're on a mission in the field. MI6 has been turned into a battleground, or hadn't you noticed? Were you not listening to me?"

"We're not at MI6." Bond leans back to match green eyes. "We're here, in your flat. No one but the two of us. And I don't want anything from you that you're not willing to give me."

He notices the shift, green eyes dropping away, focusing on Bond's mouth. Lysander licks his lips as he leans forward, one hand resting gently on the back of Bond's neck as the other fists around the front of his shirt, just above his left pectoral.

Admittedly, Bond isn't quite certain what to expect but he thinks probably something tentative: a light brush of lips and heat, just at the edge of a promise.

Though the kiss starts that way within moments it morphs into something deep and devouring, an all-consuming heat rushing up between them and into them, until somehow Lysander is sitting on the countertop, his hands moving across Bond's skin, through his hair, over his clothes, and Bond is standing between his opened legs completely uncomprehending of how they came to be like this, his shirt unbuttoned and hanging open.

"I hope you're not getting emotionally attached, Mister Bond," Lysander says as they part just enough to catch their breath. "The plan hasn't changed at all. When this is over I go back into the shadows, as agreed."

"There's a mark already starting to show on your neck, Lysander. I can feel your erection pressing against my hip," Bond says. "I think it's time you started calling me James."

"Bond," Lysander whispers, warm air like a sigh brushing against the space beneath Bond's left ear. He feels the brief pressure of lips against the same spot, and then Lysander pushes him back far enough that he can slip off the counter. There's mischief in his eyes as he sheds his cardigan, long fingers working the buttons on his shirt open slowly, too slowly, revealing pale skin.

"Christ." Bond's gaze is fixed to the skin slowly being laid bare in front of him. "How does anyone ever know where they stand with you?"

Lysander smirks. "Usually I tell them."

"Must be nice. I've had nothing but riddles from you since we met."

Buttons finally open Lysander shrugs the white shirt off his shoulders, letting it drop into a puddle behind him. Glancing up from beneath the muss of his hair, lips pink and glossy as he licks them he says, "Come upstairs, Bond," and then turns, striding out of the kitchen.

Bond can't do anything but follow. By the time he makes his way to the bedroom he's discarded his belt and jacket, kicked his shoes off and his socks.

Lysander is entirely naked except for his glasses, a stretch of skin across the soft cotton sheets. He's turned the bed down. "Were you expecting a hesitant virgin? Sorry to disappoint." He doesn't sound even remotely apologetic. Bond finds himself stalling in the doorway, momentarily transfixed as Lysander slowly runs a hand up and back down the length of his cock.

A chameleon, Bond thinks, with no small amount of admiration for the ease with which this young man can shift seamlessly from the vaguely prim, cardigan-wearing soft-spoken buttoned-up genius from Q Branch to this licentious, teasing little imp.

Crawling up the length of the younger man's body, Bond bumps Lysander's hand out of the way and takes a moment to peruse the stretch of skin beneath him from the jut of Lysander's left hip, all the way to the space behind his right ear, licking aimless patterns as he goes.

"How blind are you without your glasses?"

Lysander shifts up to rest on his elbows. "I can see well enough. Just don't get out of bed."

"That can certainly be arranged." Bond pulls the younger man's glasses off, folds them carefully before setting them on the night table. When he turns back, Lysander blinks at him, and there's nothing obscuring the green of his eyes. They look almost vulnerable.

"You should…" Lysander trails off. "The drawer."

Bond leans back over to the nightstand, pulling open the drawer. There's a tube of slick resting beside a small box of condoms and a copy of Wittgenstein's Tractatus written in its original language. He picks up one of the square foil packets and the slick, and closes the drawer. "Stop squirming and lie still."

That look is still lingering in those green eyes: something thoughtful, unguarded, so Bond cups the flushed face between his palms, his thumbs resting on Lysander's cheekbones as he leans down, brings their mouthes together in a slow kiss that only stops when Lysander's arms give-out from under him, sending them both collapsing down, their foreheads colliding.

"Sorry." Lysander laughs, rubbing the middle of his forehead.

"I don't think I've ever knocked heads with someone in bed before."

"Am I your first, Bond?"

"Cheeky monkey," Bond mutters, hooking an arm under the younger man's right leg and pulling it up as his other hand flips the cap open on the lubricant.

"Interesting," Lysander drawls, stretching his arms up over his head as he lets himself be manhandled. "I thought you would require more from your bedmate. Would you like me to ruminate on my country of origin, as well?"

Just for that, Bond slicks a finger and pushes it up into the younger man's body with one slow thrust. "Nn," Lysander says, but opens his mouth obligingly when Bond strokes his tongue against his lower lip, coaxing him into another tangling kiss.

"Still thinking about England?" Bond twists his hand, pulling the finger out slowly so he can add another and push back in, deeper.

Gasping, Lysander says, "Sorry?"

"That's what I thought."

The younger man is tight, opening gradually under careful ministrations. It's been a while, Bond thinks and catches his thoughts straying to Lysander's other bedmates; wondering if they've been slow and deliberate, or fumbling and hurried.

"I'm ready. Fuck me," Lysander demands, wrapping a hand around Bond's bicep, and flexing his fingers, his legs opening wider.

"Impatient."

"That can't possibly be surprising to you," Lysander says, raking his fingers through Bond's hair and gently tugging until Bond leans up into a brief kiss that soon becomes a wandering exploration of skin. Lysander traces his tongue down Bond's neck to his chest, worrying his left nipple between careful teeth. "I've made no secret of my personal failings, Bond." Lysander's breath dries the damp paths he's licked across Bond's chest, chilling his skin.

"James," Bond corrects.

"James," Lysander purrs the words directly into Bond's open mouth, and then he slips out of Bond's grasp. Bond lets himself be maneuvered down against the sheets, the long stretch of Lysander's body shifting above him, knees drawing up tight on either side of Bond's hips. He rips the condom packet open with his teeth, and Bond revises his opinion.

Not an imp, a bloody incubus.

He's had sex before it's no secret. Apparently it's even in his file at MI6; certainly it's in enough of his mission reports. Not that all of the sexual encounters he's had over the years have been limited to missions because they haven't. Bond has downtime just like any other field agent, weekends off, that sort of thing.

This feels different. He can't place it but it's familiar. Something he's felt before, if only once. Long enough ago that he pretends he can't remember it; which is a lie. Bond resists putting a word to it because he doesn't think there is one. Some things are simply beyond language.

This is one of those things.

Covered in sweat, breath coming in hiccupping gasps, Bond rests his forehead against Lysander's chest, the younger man's hands wandering up his back, past his shoulder blades to rest gently on the back of his head. "Are you alright?"

"Yes." Bond swallows, forces himself to shift his weight from the lithe body beneath him onto the sheets. "Are you?"

The smile Lysander offers lies more in his eyes than on his mouth. "Of course." He brings one hand up, tracing his fingertips across Bond's cheekbone. "We should go to sleep," he says. The vulnerability is there again, almost blinding. "You can stay, if you like."

Rather than answer Bond pulls the younger man down until his cheek is pressed to Bond's chest, the top of his tangled, impossibly unruly mess of hair tucked beneath Bond's chin.

After a moment, he closes his eyes.

________________________________________________________________________________________

The bullet fragments give them a name: Patrice, and a destination: Shanghai.

On his way through Q Branch to retrieve his equipment, Bond pauses by Lysander's desk. "Good luck, out there in the field, Bond," the younger man says. "Try not to get shot."

Bond grins. "Don't wait up."

He is given an envelope filled with the relevant papers, including his airline ticket and passport, a gun and a tiny square radio. "You've outdone yourself, Hamish."

"I've given up hope that I'll see any of these again, 007," Hamish retorts. "But it would certainly make for an exciting change if you managed. Good luck."

________________________________________________________________________________________

John remembers a rather tedious philosophy elective from his days at university, in which he learned all about Occam's razor: "when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better."

There are any number of reasons why a little girl, having recently been kidnapped and sitting in an office at Scotland Yard, might scream. John can easily come up with at least thirty reasons off the top of his head without any trouble.

According to Lestrade the trouble isn't that she screamed, it's that she screamed when she saw Sherlock. "I'm an Inspector at the Yard," he says. "I have to explore every possibility."

John thinks that maybe the kidnapper had worn a particular blue scarf or heavy coat. Maybe his hair had been dark or curly; maybe he had been tall or moved quick and sharp, like a jackrabbit. Surely those are the sorts of things a policeman should consider obvious; clearly someone is trying to frame Sherlock. "It's ludicrous."

Lestrade's mouth twists in a funny way, as if he partly believes the words but isn't entirely convinced. He turns to Sherlock, who is still climbing like a spider around the bookshelf searching for surveillance equipment. "Will you come in?"

"No," Sherlock says, and then pulls a tiny camera out of a shadowed corner of the bookshelf. "One photograph, that's his next move," he declares as he carries the camera over to the desk. "First the scream, then a photograph of me being taken in for questioning. He wants to destroy me inch-by-inch. It is a game, Lestrade, and not one I'm willing to play."

John wants to tell him that he's an idiot; that Lestrade is a friend who will help if only Sherlock would allow it. He stays silent, and eventually Lestrade leaves.

"They'll be deciding whether to come back with a warrant and arrest me," Sherlock says, as he types something into his computer.

As usual, he mistakes John's motivations. Thinks his concern stems from a lack of faith, from an inability to consider every possibility. John almost laughs at his genius friend who is, at the heart of it, such a tragic idiot.

"I know you're real," is what John says. "No one can fake being such an annoying dick all the time."

________________________________________________________________________________________

Shanghai is hours spent biding his time, followed by fifteen minutes of extreme cardio. Just like most missions, really.

It's sweeping colored lights, near-blinding given all the dark; reflections off glass.

It's moving carefully across smooth tile floor, the need to remain undetected preventing him from stopping Patrice from firing a clean shot and in the building across the way a man collapses. A splash of red blossoming like a flower.

It's letting his anger get the better of him, thinking about Ronson, about the team of agents in the field who nearly died, of the agents who will die for money, or revenge, or whatever the senseless, inadequate reasoning is behind the theft of the hard drive that this assassin carried off: just another job.

"Who has the list?" Bond demands. He strikes out harder than he should, doesn't recover fast enough to catch Patrice as he sails out the shattered window, screaming all the way down. They're over one hundred stories up.

Shanghai is a painting by Modigliani and a woman in a low-cut dress gazing out into the black as a man drops out of the sky and falls.

Bond doesn't leave empty-handed. He takes with him a black poker chip and a new destination: Macau.

________________________________________________________________________________________

The last time Q visited the Tower was as part of a class trip. It feels strange to be back. He wonders if this is actually the right thing to do. Too late now, probably.

There are people all around, tourists mostly, wandering in clumps. CCTV cameras surveilling the area, and guards, but Q knows that he is alone. Mycroft is not omniscient, despite what he tries to encourage everyone to think. He won't be watching through those cameras because he has no reason to suspect that he should be looking. Eve certainly hadn't been difficult to fool, though Q does feel marginally guilty. The feeling is as foreign as it is inconvenient.

"I got your text," a man drawls, sounding half-bored and half-mocking. "Have to admit that I'm intrigued. You're either very smart or very stupid. I can't wait to find out which it is."

He's nothing to look at, dressed casually so as to blend in. There's a cap pulled low over his face, a prickle of dark hair over his lip and around his chin not full enough to be considered a beard. His eyes are brown almost black in the shadows beneath his cap, but when he turns to look at Q the sunlight stripes across his face at an angle and his eyes turn bright, almost red.

"I can't decide which to put my money on," Moriarty continues, his hands casually resting in his pockets. "On the one hand, calling me here for a chat," he scrunches his face and raises his right shoulder up to his ear. "Doesn't seem like the best plan. But then again, if you really are stupid I bet brother dear would be so disappointed."

His grin reveals pristine, white teeth. "You didn't think I knew about that, did you?" he asks. "Q. Oh, do you mind if I call you Q?"

Q is careful to keep his expression flat and his body very still. Inside, his mind is racing because how could Moriarty possibly know? No one knows about that nickname. Not anyone who would ever mention it to anyone else.

Certainly no one who would tell a criminal mastermind like Moriarty.

"Have I struck a nerve?" the man singsongs.

Q raises an eyebrow. "What nerve do you imagine you might have struck?"

"Cool as a cucumber!" Moriarty laughs. "That's what I like about you Holmes boys. Walk with me, sweetheart." He drapes an arm over Q's shoulders and pulls him close, starts walking along Tower Green. "See, I know you think you were invisible, but you weren't. Not really. You were living in my world. You've even done a few jobs for me, did you know that?"

"Yes."

"Liar!" Moriarty scoffs, bumping against Q's side. "But so sweet of you to say. The truth is, I've been watching you and your brothers for some time now. It's fascinating. Tell me something." He pulls Q tight against him, presses his mouth against Q's ear as he asks, "Your big brothers are good little boys, playing hero. Queen and country, so tedious. How can they stand you?"

"You forget. My brothers ran me out of my own country."

"Is that why you called me here? Revenge?" Bright brown eyes narrow, and then Moriarty is in front of him so suddenly that Q puts his hands up reflexively as they collide. Moriarty grins, tilting his head down, their foreheads almost touching as he cups the back of Q's head. "You're playing games with me, Q. Never, never do that."

"When I called you here, I took the chance that you'd prefer to kill me and leave my body on my brother's doorstep. Maybe that's your next move, I don't know," Q says, his voice steady. "You're like Sherlock, puzzles and chess. All I know is computers."

"Ugh, computers." Rolling his eyes dramatically the other man steps away, starts walking again as he says, "I already know all about those."

"Computers and MI6."

"And I've already got more than a few little puppets dangling at the end of a string, waiting for me to tell them to dance. The illustrious MI6. So easily corrupted." He 'tsks', and then trails off into a giddy little giggle.

Q glances over. "I hope one of those little puppets isn't Tiago Rodriguez." From the corner of his eye, he sees Moriarty's expression freeze, turning sharp and dangerous. "He's a spy, haven't you heard? MI6 is up in arms about it. They're going to considerable lengths to hunt him down, but then I suppose that's to be expected, given what he's done."

The other man almost visibly shakes off his tension. "What's he done? Stolen secrets?"

"Stolen the names of embedded NATO field operatives," Q answers. "He's told MI6 that he'll release five of those names to the public this week, and every week hereafter until there are no names left."

"What does he want?"

"Nothing," Q says. "It's a personal vendetta."

"Oh, boring! It's so common," Moriarty exclaims, sounding thoroughly disappointed. Then he cuts a suspicious look at Q. "Why are you telling me this?"

"As a courtesy."

Rolling his eyes, Moriarty says, "One friend to another?"

"Whatever you're planning to do to my brother Sherlock requires the press. He's famous, at the moment. If you really intend to destroy him you need to convince a lot of people very quickly that they have been deceived."

"Interesting theory."

"Yes," Q says, then stops walking. They're under a tree, a good distance from the crowds but he keeps his voice soft regardless. "What happens when your associate, Mister Rodriguez, begins releasing those names, I wonder?" He can't quite keep the amusement off his face, even as Moriarty sneers darkly. "He sounds rather less like an associate, I think. More of a rival, really."

"I see your plan. You want me to hunt down Tiago for you because MI6 will be too slow. Because at best you'll lost five agents but there's a good chance it could be more than that. Well," he smiles, leans in to Q's space as he whispers, "I hope it's more than that."

"I don't need your help to find him, Jim," Q says with a smirk. "You don't mind if I call you 'Jim', do you?" He waits a moment, half expecting to be throttled to death under a tree on Tower Green. Instead, Moriarty merely waits, expectant and listening. So Q continues, "You need my help, to destroy him."

An amused little grin spreads across the other man's face. "No, see. I don't think you understand how this works…"

"Of course I do. You're a consulting criminal. A genius. I recognize genius, I've grown up watching it take shape in my brother." He flashes a bitter little smile at the other man. "Sherlock will always work for the police, do you know why? It's more interesting. Working against them is tedious. Their every move is predetermined by rules and regulations. They're restricted and predictable. Criminals are exciting. They're random and chaotic and each one is different. Everyone who worries that one day he'll turn against the law doesn't understand what it is that makes him tick. But you know that."

"I do. He always wants everything to be so clever, our Sherlock."

"That's what computers are for me. Freedom, unrestricted, unlimited," Q says. "I can make them do whatever I want, but apparently someone with my abilities must either be brought quickly to heel and put to work for the government, or be hunted down and locked away."

Moriarty grins, as if he has just eaten something delicious. "You want protection."

"You have the entire world in the palm of your hand, thanks to your brilliant computer code. The one you had your little puppet at MI6 design for you. Only," tipping his head to the side, Q frowns. "He never could get it to work, could he?"

For a moment, Moriarty doesn't speak, then shakes his head and applauds. "You really are his little brother, aren't you? Not bad at all." Then the smile is gone and he rolls his eyes. "You can't really think a few lines of computer code could bring the world crashing down around our ears?"

"A few lines of code, no, probably not," Q says, pretending to consider it. "But maybe a program." He pulls a memory key from his pocket and holds it up. "In a world of locked doors, the man with the key is king. Wouldn't you agree?"

"You've bugged your own brother's flat?" Moriarty's laugh is giddy and pleased. "I'm glad I'm an only child. Sibling rivalry can be lethal, apparently." He draws Q back in, ruffling a hand through his hair. "Are we making an alliance, little Q?"

"Intelligence isn't my asset, that's why I need you."

"And now you're appealing to my vanity? Tell me, if it's not intelligence, what is your asset?"

Q smirks. "Ingenuity."

Moriarty laughs so hard he bends forward, claps his hands together twice. "Oh but I like you. I do. I think you're wrong, though," he says. "You are clever. Clever clever little boy. How am I supposed to know what you claim to have is real? I opened the doors of three of the most secure places in the country to prove what I could do."

"With a program you didn't actually have," Q points out. "How would you like me to demonstrate? Should I open those same doors again? A bit anticlimactic, don't you think?" He looks around pointedly. "Nevertheless, we have conveniently paid the price of admission to the Tower. I understand the crown jewels are located somewhere around here." Turning, Q starts walking toward the Jewel House.

"I'm going to destroy your brother," Moriarty says, his tone low and dark and filled with promise. When Q turns to look at him, Moriarty looks menacing, his head tipped down, a glower marring his features. "Whatever you do. Join me or fight me, it won't matter. I will burn him."

Q meets the other man's brown eyes and says, "By all means."

"You're not lying." There's something like wonder lacing Moriarty's tone, as a pleased smile begins to spread over his face. "That key does exactly as you say. And you really don't care about your brother."

Q shrugs. "He betrayed me. It's nothing personal; you don't get to choose family. But any lingering familial feelings I might have had for either of my brothers ended the day I left England."

"You're going to give me that key as payment for your protection?"

"No. The payment is my loyalty: the only cyber terrorist who could design this key, available whenever you have need. I will be loyal," Q promises. "As long as you keep me safe. The key is a gift, which I'll happily hand over the moment you get me away from MI6 and out of the country."

"Please. It's so easy."

"Not quite. I have one condition." This time it's Q that steps out in front, stopping Moriarty's forward march. "No one else gets hurt."

"Come now, precious Q," Moriarty chides. "That seems rather purposefully vague."

Q raises his eyebrows. "Not anyone from Scotland Yard, not anyone from Saint Bart's. Not Mrs. Hudson or Doctor Watson. No civilian casualties."

"You don't want to try and protect anyone from MI6? My friend Tiago seems to be in a very good position to take more than one of them down."

"As far as I'm concerned, they accepted the risk the moment they signed on. There's no love lost between MI6 and myself. The sooner I'm out, the better. As for my brothers, they're fair game, as well. I said 'civilian'. You know what I mean."

"My dear Q, I think we will be great friends," Moriarty says. "Though I have to admit, you are throwing a bit of a wrench into my plans."

"I'm sure you'll think of something." Tipping his head to the entrance of the Jewel House, Q asks, "Did you want that demonstration?"

"Better not." Moriarty casts a suspicious glance at the guards before lengthening his stride, heading toward the front gate. "There's a good chance security might remember me. Being in jail can be incredibly inconvenient. But you can prove to me that your little device works. I want you to resurrect Tiago Rodriguez with your little program. Rip his identity wide open for me, and I'll set the dogs on him. If it works, then you're my new favorite person."

He grabs a fistful of Q's jacket, shoving him backward against a nearby wall. "If it doesn't work," he hisses. "I'll split you open myself."

"Oi!" a passing man calls. "You alright there?"

Q raises an eyebrow at Moriarty, who slowly steps back, his hands held up and his head bowed. "I'm fine," Q says, calmly to the stranger. "Thank-you."

"You don't shove people around like that," the man scolds, glaring at Moriarty like he is fully prepared to implement his fists should the slightest indication be given that Moriarty has not understood this lesson. After a moment, the stranger backs off, continuing down the sidewalk.

"You don't need to threaten me," Q says, when they are more or less alone on the sidewalk. "I've come to you, remember. I could have given the key to Sherlock, or to Mycroft. I could have given it to MI6. Instead, I'm standing here."

He waits until some of the dangerous edge drains out of the other man's expression. Until that mischievous light is back in those brown eyes. "Why are you trusting me? I could be making all of this up."

"Oh. A live-in one really is going to be so much fun," Moriarty croons. "I know you, Mister Lysander Holmes. You can't surprise me, you can't trick me. You're going to prove to me that your key really works but either way, you're going to be mine and do you know why?"

"No, I don't."

Moriarty frames Q's face between his hands, tipping their heads until their foreheads are touching. Smiling, he closes his eyes and says, "Because the devils have all the fun, and you already know that."

Brown eyes flash open again, fixing with Q's and after a moment's hesitation, Q nods. "Twenty-four hours and if you change your mind, you know how to get in touch. After twenty-four hours, I'll give you Rodriguez."

________________________________________________________________________________________

They come back. Sherlock isn't the least bit surprised, but John has to admit that he is.

He's more than a little bit disappointed in Lestrade, in the entirety of Scotland Yard, in how terribly little they all are, just because their egos have been bruised; just because this one, preposterous explanation makes them feel better.

It feels terribly naïve all of a sudden, but John had more faith in the Yard than that.

There are more police than strictly necessary present to serve the warrant. John sees the cars blocking the whole of Baker Street when he goes to answer the door. Donovan shoves past him with barely a sideways glance as she marches up the stares. Her smile is smug and self-satisfied. John doesn't think he has ever felt anger the way he feels it when he sees her muscle her way through the door of his flat.

They manhandle Sherlock; slap cuffs around his wrists and shove him roughly toward the steps. John keeps shouting at them all, keeps arguing: "This is ridiculous! He's not resisting."

"Leave it, John," Sherlock says as he's dragged away.

John can't. He refuses.

________________________________________________________________________________________

"It's all over the news," is how Eve greets him when he slides into the front passenger seat of her car, drawing the seatbelt across his chest. She thrusts a copy of the morning paper at him and then proceeds to merge back into traffic.

"Five names, as promised," she says. "And just in case anyone might have missed which names have been leaked, they're reprinted on the front of every newspaper and announced every hour on the hour as part of what's 'late and breaking' on the radio and telly."

"What a mess." Q skims the article carefully. It's silly, but his eyes slow over the five names, making certain there isn't one he recognizes. "Do you think he prioritized them, at all? The five that will do the most damage? Or is it random."

"I have no idea." Eve's hands flex on the wheel. "It's just a sadistic game, as far as I'm concerned."

On page six, there is a brief article without any accompanying photograph that succinctly describes Sherlock's attempted arrest for suspicion of kidnapping and his subsequent escape. Apparently he took his flat mate hostage at gunpoint. His flat mate, bachelor John Watson, was apparently under arrest for punching the Chief Superintendent to the Yard in the face.

Q's phone beeps. It's in the right-hand pocket of his coat and he has to shift around in his seat to draw it out without removing his seatbelt. He types his password quickly, opens his text screen.

'Devils have more fun. 24 hours, as agreed. JM x'

"Problem?" Eve glances over, a trace of concern on her face.

"No, everything's fine." Q switches off his phone, returning it to his pocket. "As much as can be expected, at any rate."

Chapter Text

Lysander looks up at her from beneath his wavy hair, his green eyes bright and just the slightest bit desperate. "Miss Moneypenny," he says, because they're in Q Branch and he is nothing if not staunchly professional. The kind of precise adherence to appropriate conduct that is reserved for the young and inexperienced, those who are determined to prove themselves despite prevailing skepticism.

Eve herself has never been so concerned with protocol or other people's opinions that she would ever consider modifying her behavior. Not even when she was brand new at MI6 and the other field agents, all of whom were men, kept flashing her worried glances every time she drew her service weapon.

Cupping his face between her hands, she says, "Lysander." He blinks but she can't read the expression on his face. "Are you in some sort of trouble, sweetheart?"

He lifts the corner of his mouth, his tone entirely wry when he answers, "You know the hours I've been keeping, not to mention the near twenty-four hour surveillance. When could I have possibly found the time to get into any sort of trouble?"

She narrows her eyes at him because she might be an office worker of late, but there was a time when she was a damned good field agent. He's all too innocent, all too guileless to have her fooled. "I don't know. But I'm certain you could manage."

She might not be able to read his expression but Eve can plainly see the warmth that creeps into his eyes; it looks almost fond. "Ticket to Macau and all the appropriate documentation." He holds out the envelope to her. "We both know he's going to need back-up."

"I don't see why it has to be me," she argues. "I'm not technically a field agent any longer. I'm not even certain how I can explain the temporary loss of his secretary to Mallory…"

"Don't worry about that. It's taken care of." Lysander lowers his voice to a whisper, says, "Eve, I need you to do this."

She knows she should be worrying about other things, like how this young man has managed to pull strings with her employer in order to have her detailed to this assignment when he is not actually an employee of MI6. She should be thinking about her original assignment, which is keeping this man currently trying to send her out of the country safe from people who are keen to see him killed, or at least would be keen, if they knew he existed.

His expression, wide-eyed and earnest, is a sucker punch and she says as much. "That isn't fair."

He doesn't look away and he doesn't falter, and when he says, "Please," her hand closes on the envelope almost involuntarily.

It's against her better judgment but she goes anyway, because apparently she is incapable of saying 'no' to Lysander Holmes.

At least Bond seems pleased to see her. The hotel is as lavish as she had expected, and she had more than a few hours sitting on the plane in the cramped confines of coach to fantasize about the luxury awaiting her.

When Bond opens the door to his hotel room he's wearing nothing more than a fine sheen of moisture on his sun-golden skin and a towel knotted at his waist. Freshly showered, still smelling crisp and fresh from whatever soap he's used, and smugly refusing to put on his clothes because he's an incorrigible flirt.

Not that she minds, really. It is a very nice chest after all, and there's no harm in looking.

He catches her eye in the bathroom mirror as he brushes shaving cream onto his face, one blond eyebrow quirking upward, echoing the movement at the corner of his mouth. "Something I can help you with, Moneypenny?"

"Possibly," she says, flashing him a devilish grin.

He huffs in amusement as he finishes brushing the cream onto his face and picks up a straight razor, which he proceeds to unfold before he pauses. It's not until she catches him looking back at her with a puzzled expression that it occurs to her that she hasn't bothered to volunteer an explanation for her unexpected arrival.

She considers grinning at him and explaining that the enticing young Mister Holmes apparently has a soft spot for arrogant and impossible double-o agents with finely toned physiques. "Not such bored secretarial fantasies now are they?" she thinks, but she doesn't voice it. For all Bond's lighthearted flirtation he is a prickly and defensive double-o, and there are some buttons that Eve knows better than to press.

"The first five names were posted on the Internet," is what she actually says. "Apparently five more names will be released each week. He doesn't have any demands and he's not asking for money."

Turning away from the sink Bond hands her the straight razor, that measuring look still lurking in his eyes. "You've come all this way, might as well be useful," he says, as he crosses to settle onto a chair, watching her expectantly.

She picks up a towel from the bathroom counter as she follows him. "What exactly are you implying, Bond?" she asks as she kneels between his legs. She adjusts her grip on the razor before bringing it up to his face and setting to work.

"Mallory already briefed me on the list." He is very good at keeping still. Eve always preferred knives to guns. After so long of nothing but office work, putting pen to paper and taking note after note, it's lovely to press a blade against skin. The amused light in Bond's eyes tells her that he's perfectly aware of what she's thinking. "It raises the rather tantalizing question of what you're actually doing here."

"Sight-seeing?" She drags the straight razor up the right side of his neck. "Maybe I came all this way to play barber?"

He catches her hand as she moves to wipe the shaving cream off on the towel. "Spying."

The thing about the double-o's is that they can smell a lie as easily as they can smell fish at a fish market. Their lives depend on not walking headfirst into traps so they're very good at sensing when someone is using misdirection or being anything other than forthright.

The thing about Bond is that Eve suspects he can read minds.

Carefully, she finishes cleaning the blade and then tips his chin so she can shave the other side of his neck. "My official directive is to help in any way that I can."

"Official directive." he smirks at her. "Mallory didn't send you. Which means that you're here spying for someone else."

"Interesting hypothesis." Again she cleans the blade. "Hold still, this is the tricky part."

It's a matter of pressure and angle. The razor is sharp so very little pressure is required. She knows precisely how to tilt the blade to sink it down beneath the skin and that knowledge helps keep her hand faultlessly steady.

It's a perfect shave. She's rather proud of it. Apparently her skills haven't diminished for lack of use. Not that playing barber is something she does with any sort of frequency. Or ever, in fact. But she has not become so much a secretary that her ability with sharp objects has left her, which is a comfort.

"You're here for him, aren't you?" Bond says as she wipes the remains of shaving cream off his face with the towel. "Lysander."

"He cares about you, I think."

He laughs like she's said something particularly funny, and doesn't comment. It's an answer in and of itself, because Bond always has a witty rejoinder. For everything. Eve almost rolls her eyes at it: men, so typically stubborn and clueless. "Who's guarding him while you're over here guarding me?"

Now she does roll her eyes. "Not guarding, dear. Assisting. I'm an 'assistant', remember?" He simply sits there glaring. "004 is playing watchdog, if you must know." She nods in the direction of her purse, hoping to distract him. "Hamish sent me with a few accessories."

"Unless they can explode I already know I'll be disappointed."

"No explosives, I'm afraid." She rises back to her feet. "Just some earpieces for communication, as well as a back-up radio and gun. He seemed convinced that you might have lost the ones you were already issued." Bond doesn't have the decency to look even mildly sheepish, he just flashes her a grin like the Cheshire cat.

________________________________________________________________________________________

John has not lost track of how long it has been since he stood in the middle of Baker Street surrounded by police and said, "Just so you're aware, the gun is his idea. I'm just a…y'know…" and felt a wave of relief and gratitude when Sherlock switched the gun into his other hand, held it to John's temple and added, "My hostage!"

It's been fourteen hours and twenty-two minutes.

He's aware that the typical reaction to having a gun pressed to one's temple is not usually relief, but John also knows that he is not exactly typical. No one who prefers the mundane and predictable could ever get on with Sherlock Holmes, let alone manage to live with the man.

Now John is on the run. Wanted by the police for smashing his fist into the face of the chief superintendent of the Yard because the man called Sherlock a 'weirdo'. In retrospect this might have been an overreaction to what, in all fairness, is probably a reasonable and accurate statement but it's been an incredibly stressful few days and John stands by his actions. Besides, he has lost patience with people taking cheap shots at his friend just because Sherlock has a habit of making people feel foolish.

He has lost patience with a lot of things, actually.

James Moriarty is free and roaming about London convincing the world that he is a misunderstood actor for Christ's sake and that Sherlock is a fraud. He has people, friends of Sherlock actually believing this madness and John is at a loss as to how to put everything to rights. In fact, the only good thing that John can think of at the moment is that at least he is no longer handcuffed to Sherlock because that had been awkward.

It's been precisely one hour since they left Kelly Reilly's apartment. Since they left that stupid idiot so desperate to break a big story that she would swallow the most appalling falsehood happily just because it gave her something to do, just because Sherlock had rebuffed her pitiful attempt to get an interview. Revenge. Petty, pitiful revenge.

One hour since Sherlock paced in the street: "He's got my life story. That's what you do when you sell a big lie, you wrap it up in the truth to make it more palatable." This is Moriarty's masterpiece: the destruction of Sherlock Holmes, adversary. He's been hard at work setting the great detective up for a fall for a very long time now, and apparently his victory is close at hand.

One hour since Sherlock said: "There's only one thing he needs to do to complete his game and that's to…" and never bothered to tell John exactly what that last thing is.

John would very much like to know how Sherlock plans to get out of this because he is confident the man has thought of something. Well, he damned well better have thought of something. Adventures are all well and good, but this one has gotten very real all too quickly. John can't stand the number of people happily believing that Sherlock is a fraud.

One hour since Sherlock declared: "There's something I need to do…on my own!" and disappeared off down the street, leaving John ready and willing to rip something to pieces, but without any particular direction save one. The most obvious direction. The only possible source.

It's a fair distance from Miss Reilly's apartment to the Diogenes Club but John doesn't even consider taking a cab. For one thing, he's a little concerned that the cabbie might recognize his face and phone him in to the police. For another, he is simply too furious to be an enclosed place for any length of time; he might throttle the cabbie or worse, sit in the backseat spewing profanities until the cabbie kicks him back onto the street. Or possibly deposits him at a hospital.

The things is, Sherlock has two names in his address book: one of them is John's and the other is Mycroft's. Moriarty certainly did not get any personal information about Sherlock from John, who is not in the habit of selling out his friends to absolute maniacs.

Of course, there is the possibility that perhaps Lysander factors into this somewhere but John is confident he is holding the right Holmes brother accountable. After all, it wasn't Lysander who abducted him in a black sedan and brought him into a posh club just to tell him to watch out for Sherlock.

Not in so many words but John knows what that meeting was about. He's become quite skilled at deciphering the Holmes family subtext and Mycroft had been more than clear in his own way: watch out for Sherlock, because I've gone and done something idiotic and unforgivable and don't want to face-up to my brother about it.

Fourteen hours and sixteen minutes ago John had still been handcuffed to Sherlock and running down the back-alleys of London in the dark and less than five minutes away from jumping in front of a bus in order to elicit information from an assassin who had been tasked with protecting them.

"Can't we go to your brother?" John had said. "Surely Mycroft can help us."

Sherlock had twisted his mouth into a doubtful frown. "Big family reconciliation? Now's not really the moment." It makes John wonder if Sherlock knew even then, or if he was simply being obstinate. He knows answer he would prefer but then again, he'd prefer if at least some of the people he has come to think of as friends would actually be loyal. If luck hasn't delivered on the one wish, he finds it extremely unlikely it has come through for him on the other.

________________________________________________________________________________________

When an agent has worked in the field for any length of time they can't help but formulate opinions on certain things, such as radios.

Bond has very strong feelings about radios.

They're useful when coordinating group maneuvers, or for passing information and staying current on a mission. Sometimes, and he would never admit this to anyone, they are helpful simply for communication purposes because it's a bit of a comfort to slide the black poker chip across the surface of the counter and have Eve's coy voice in his ear, lilting and flirtatious, "I like a little flutter now and then". It distracts him from his instincts, all of which are telling him to duck and roll and draw his gun and shoot anyone who might be a potential threat because it's a gamble and the odds of getting another lead are as good as the odds that he's about to get a bullet in the back of the head from a sniper hidden in the rafters with a gun trained on him.

That's about the extent of a radio's usefulness, however. Bond dislikes having a voice in his ear telling him what to do because there is no conceivable way that someone miles away from his position might be better equipped to assess a situation than he is. After all, he is the one fully immersed and taking all the risks.

It's something neither of the heads of MI6 have appreciated about him. Though Mallory makes a good deal more fuss whenever Bond disconnects his radio when he's on a mission or cuts surveillance than M ever did. Then again, M was especially hands-on when it came to operations, far more than Mallory. Bond supposes it evens out in the end.

This time, the gamble pays off and he is handed a briefcase filled with what he estimates to be over four million euro, as well as a stack of poker chips, "With complements from the house."

"Don't look now," Eve says in his ear. "But someone's taken an interest in you."

The 'someone' is a woman standing on the stairs on the opposite side of the casino. She's wearing a black dress that covers less than it shows, and she's smoking a cigarette. Bond had spotted her the moment he'd slid the chip across the counter partly because of that dress, and partly because when the woman behind the counter had disappeared through a side door in the small kiosk, the man standing with the mysterious cigarette-smoking woman had put a hand to his ear. Which is another thing about radios: more than once an agent working with Bond in the field has gotten shot because they kept touching their ear.

"She's coming your way," Eve narrates as Bond accepts the case and turns away. "What cologne are you wearing, James? Is it catnip?"

Even just the feel of the radio, that sensation of fullness in his ear canal where usually there is space is a constant reminder that someone is listening and forming opinions, or in Eve's case, judging.

He stops by a game table in order to give the woman time to catch up to him, and also to allow himself some time to figure out the best approach. He's either about to meet someone who he can use as an informant, or his cover is about to be completely blown because the woman in the black knows he is not Patrice. Without a doubt, she is same woman from Shanghai who stood by the broken window staring at Bond while Patrice plummeted over one hundred stories, screaming every moment of his swift descent.

"Now you can afford to buy me a drink," she says as she stops by his side. Bond meets her steady gaze as she takes a long drag from her cigarette. She exhales through her nose and mouth, the smoke drifting up in a slow pale shadow, making her look like a dragon about to breathe fire.

"Maybe I'll even stretch to two." Bond introduces himself and cuts the song-and-dance short by referencing Shanghai, letting the woman, Severine, know that he remembers her, and is equally confident that she remembers him as well.

He's speaking with her, but he isn't quite looking at her because Eve has situated herself at a table directly in his line-of-sight, and Bond can see her eyebrows rising and falling in response to his conversation. When Severine says, "Why don't we discuss your next performance over that drink," Eve raises her eyebrows again, masking an obvious smirk by taking a pointed sip of her champagne.

It's part of the job and he knows that: seduction and flirtation. He knows that Eve understands this, but it is very difficult to concentrate on charming information out of someone when you are being directly observed. More than that, when there is a coy voice in your ear saying, "She's very pretty…"

"I'll keep you posted," he says as he passes her, and drops his earpiece into her champagne glass before following Severine to the bar.

He has Severine figured out before their drinks even arrive. She bares her teeth when she smiles and the way she holds her cigarette indicates that smoking is a habit she has grown accustomed to, that the cigarette is there out of necessity and not as part of an affectation. She has a Beretta seventy strapped to her right thigh and her nails are long and brightly lacquered. She's defensive in her posturing and that, in combination with the tattoo he can spot on the inside of her right wrist tells him all he needs to know: sex trade, long enough that she doesn't trust easily anymore.

She's learned the lie at the heart of every fairy tale.

"Would you mind if I asked you a business question?" Her smooth accented voice is like a fine wine, sophisticated and full, sensual without effort. "It's about death." She tips her glass of champagne against her lips as her eyes steadily fix on him, awaiting his answer.

Bond sips his own drink and smiles. "A subject with which I am well versed."

Her eyes flicker up to the bodyguards looming above them on the balcony behind the bar. Just as quickly, she looks back to him. "I am correct in assuming that you killed Patrice." She takes another drag from her cigarette and again lets the smoke drift from between her mouth. "Might I ask why?"

There is a fifty-fifty chance that the direct approach will send her running. In fact, Bond is almost certain that if she remains perched on the bar stool carrying on this conversation when he tells her the truth, then she's playing him. Since there is no harm in knowing that before they go any further he says, "I'd like to meet your employer."

Her answer is to laugh. Her head tips to the side slightly as she does, dark eyes assessing him as she chuckles. "Be careful what you wish for."

Again she exhales smoke. Most people tend to shape their lips into an 'oh' as they breath out, even just slightly, but Severine parts her lips and lets the smoke drift, the dark red of her lipstick making her mouth stand out as she does. Bond is reminded of Chinese stone lions that guard temples every time she does it.

"Thank-you for the drink, Mister Bond," she says, and then slides off the chair.

Trustworthy then, insofar as any informant can ever be considered so. He can use her provided he can encourage her to open up.

Bond wraps his fingers loosely around her wrist just above the tattoo and he tells her everything he has speculated about her, including her disillusionment with her employer. When he is finished she is shaking, her smile fixed and false and her nostrils flare.

For just one fleeting second he thinks she might actually cry. She doesn't. A woman like her doesn't cry so easily. Not if she doesn't want to. "You know nothing about it," she says, but she retakes her seat at the bar beside him.

When she takes another long inhale from her cigarette she's watching him with measuring dark eyes. The mask she has been wearing since she spotted him is no longer visible. Bond thinks that now he might actually get to talk to her, rather than the role she plays.

He watches as she turns, stubs her cigarette out in the stone ashtray on the bar. She glances up at him from the corner of her eye. "What do you know about fear?"

It feels like a test, but even so there is only one answer Bond can give. "All there is."

"Not like this," Severine assures him.

"Let me try to help you." They're under surveillance from the bodyguards but Bond shifts his leg, lets it bump against hers. "Bring me to him and I can kill him for you."

When she looks at him he lets her see how very confident he is in his promise. Lets her read in his eyes how much he wishes to do precisely what he has said and, for just a moment, she is taken in. "Maybe you can," she whispers.

Then she blinks twice, quickly as if she is pulling herself away from the allure of the fantasy. The mask has settled back in place but when she smiles there is a promise in the curve of her lips and a challenge in her brown eyes. She says, "When I leave they're going to kill you."

Bond risks a quick glance toward the bodyguards: three rather sizable men, each of whom is more than capable of handling themselves in a fight, even without making use of the gun each man is carrying in a shoulder holster. One of them, Bond notes, is carrying a knife in the breast pocket of his suit jacket.

When he looks back at Severine she tips her head to the side, a 'c'est la vie' sort of gesture. "If you survive, I am on the Chimera," she continues. "North harbor, berth seven. We cast off in an hour." She rises smoothly off the bar stool, brushes her hand across the back of his suit as she stalks to walk away. "Good luck, Mister Bond."

________________________________________________________________________________________

Q is not expecting company primarily because he made a point of not telling anyone where he was going. Partly this is because he prefers to work in solitude, but also he isn’t certain that his temporary clearance extends here, to this room that could be considered the central nervous system of MI6.

There is only one small desk with a short metal lamp sitting on it tucking into a corner of the room. Q isn't sitting at it because he's been on the cold floor for the last ten minutes adding one more piece of tech to the server room that is filled with racks of humming tech.

Hopefully his addition will go undetected long enough that he might be able to come back and retrieve it when it has served its purpose. He hasn't yet decided whether it is something he actually wishes for MI6 to knowingly possess, so at the moment as much of his efforts are going into placing impossible securities on it as installing it properly into the network.

He's just completing another line of security code when the door beeps and makes a loud click as it unlocks. There isn't anywhere he can hide. He's sitting on the floor in the corner with his knees propping up his laptop like a teenager, security clearance likely not high enough to justify his presence in this room, and there is only one door and the intruder is already coming through it.

"Mister Holmes," M says. She glances around, her eyes flickering over the lone desk and chair, and then over to where he is hunkered, her eyebrow quirking upward as she does so.

He nods his head but doesn't stop typing. At any moment he imagines she will call for security or demand that he explain himself. The more security he can layer into place before that happens, the better. They can detain him or interrogate him or whatever, but he strongly suspects that no one in Q Branch will be able to figure out just what it is he has done in time to stop any of it from working.

"Oh, don't fuss," she waves a hand as she settles onto the plastic chair, sets a leather-bound portfolio onto the narrow desk. "I have no intention of asking you to stop whatever it is you're doing to this agency's servers. Nor do I intend to ask what you are up to. One might not expect trust to be something the once-head of MI6 would have in any sort of abundance, but I put a great deal of faith in my people."

That makes him pause. "You trust me?"

"I trust Bond, and he seems to trust you very much. He's risking rather a lot for you." Silver eyebrows rise as she watches him. "That seems to disappoint you for some reason."

Q catches him, blinks quickly and goes back to his typing. "No, ma'am."

Her expression doesn't change, her cool blue eyes steady and watchful as she regards him. "Perhaps you would like to hear that I have particular confidence in you, but I think your presence in this facility is answer enough. Besides, I find it rather difficult to trust someone I know so little about."

She taps her fingers lightly on the portfolio she brought in, her gaze still fixed on him, scrutinizing. "I've done my best to keep my eye on you over the years since your disappearance. This file contains the entirety of those efforts. Would you like to see it?"

His curiosity makes him nod, and she flips open the portfolio and pulls out a dark navy folder, which she holds out to him. The lighting is dim and there is some distance between them, but Q thinks the folder looks like it might be empty.

He's stopped typing, he realizes. His attention has been successfully diverted and he wonders if that wasn't precisely her intention. He can't be certain. It's not as if he can bring himself to ignore her, anyway. He remembers her all too well from years before when she came to recruit him. If he had stayed in London, he knows he would have been happy to work for her. She had struck him as particularly direct and forthright which, given her position, had seemed uniquely novel. He accepts the folder when she offers it to him.

When he flips the file open he sees a black-and-white photograph that had been taken at the time of his recruitment; it would have been used on his security badge, he thinks as he looks at it. He doesn't look all that different. Perhaps his hair was a bit shorter then.

When he moves the picture aside he sees a page detailing his name, date of birth and the names of his parents and family. The address of his parent's estate is also listed. There are papers that he flips through quickly, which he recognizes as a copy of the rather extensive paperwork he filled out and tests he underwent when applying to MI6.

There is nothing else in the folder.

Q glances up and the corner of M's mouth twitches, her blue eyes glinting in the reflection from the lamp. "I wasn't able to find very much on you. But your brothers are a different matter entirely."

There are two more, far thicker folders that she hands over to him. Carefully, Q sets his own dossier aside in order to accept the files on his brothers. "You might not be surprised to learn that both of your older brothers were, at one time, considered for the agency."

He is not in the slightest bit surprised to hear that Mycroft was, but Sherlock? "Both of them?"

"Many years before MI6 approached you, your brother Mycroft was passingly considered for a position as a field agent. He demonstrated a facility with subterfuge and manipulation some time during his university years."

Q actually snickers. "I apologize," he says, trying to stifle his laughter. "I find it difficult to imagine Mycroft as a field agent."

She laughs. "Yes, it was an impractical notion. He is rather resistant to…travel. Of any kind."

"That's one way to look at it." Mycroft is also particularly resistant to the idea of getting dirty, literally and metaphorically. He dislikes handling technology, especially weapons, and never drives his own car. Anywhere. If he can avoid walking, he does so. With relish.

"In the end," M continues. "His file was passed over to MI5. It seems to have been a better fit." Q knows that these days, given his brother's position in government, MI5 works for Mycroft as much as for Queen and country.

"I'm sure you'll remember your own recruitment." Her silver-grey eyebrows arch as she observes him.

Q casts a sheepish smile in her direction as he flips through Mycroft's folder. "You told me that you thought it would be advantageous for the agency if I put my skills to work for you rather than against you." Her precise words had been that his activities were only illegal because the government wasn't telling him to do it.

Her eyes glitter warmly for a moment. "Your other brother, Sherlock, was considered more recently, and primarily because of his connection to you."

"Checking to see if the talent ran in the family?" he asks as he shifts his perusal from Mycroft's file to Sherlock's. This one is far thicker, and includes hospital reports as well as print outs from Sherlock's website as well as John's blog.

There's something that might be sympathy or regret in her expression and Q doesn't know what to make of that. "For obvious reasons," she says. "It was decided he was not a suitable candidate."

"Was it is unpredictability or his problem with authority?"

"It was both," she says. "Among other things." She straightens in the chair even though she hadn't been slouching, as if she wants to brace herself. "The truth is, Mister Holmes. You were the only viable recruit from your family. Certainly the only one I had any real faith in. I'm sorry we couldn't successfully bring you into the agency."

"It was…" Not a very good time for him, he almost says.

He doesn't think he has ever felt more isolated and alone then he did back then, with a power-hungry Mycroft anxious to rise in government by whatever means necessary, and Sherlock finally clean of drugs and even cigarettes. With everything Q had done to help his brother through it, the very last thing he wanted was to turn around and ask for help. He'd been terrified that bringing Sherlock in on his personal troubles might cause his brother to relapse. Certainly turning to his mother hadn't been an option, her health being what it is.

M raises a hand to prevent his explanation. "It is quite clear to me what happened. It was a difficult time for you, I'm sure."

She falls quiet, the low constant hum of the machinery filling in the silence, and then she clears her throat, shifting forward just slightly in her chair. "I should perhaps make it clear that MI6 is not at all interested in having its employees meddled with by any external forces, either foreign or domestic. Perhaps it is difficult to believe that the agency could be capable of safeguarding its assets, given the caliber of cunning and intellect in your siblings, but you might extend a bit of trust."

Things are different now, anyway, Q thinks. Mycroft has settled down, and Q himself is older and possibly wiser. At the very least his time abroad has encouraged him to hone his abilities. "It almost sounds as if you are offering me a job."

"Don’t be silly," M sniffs. "I don't work here anymore. I've retired." She stands up and accepts the folders when he hands them up to her, tucking them back inside the portfolio. "Just something to consider, Mister Holmes."

________________________________________________________________________________________

Sherlock goes to her because she has always counted. Even before he ever met John Watson, or Lestrade. Back when his hands still shook inconveniently, his body demanding 'more more more' while his mind kept insisting that it wasn't sharp enough, that is was too sharp, that he needed to do something now, now, now, dammit.

Back when Q would sigh and hold a cool cloth to his head: "Promise me, Sherlock" and Sherlock would say, "I promise" and mean it with every fiber of himself, until an hour later when the cravings hit him again.

She counted from the start because she was the first person who never took his manner personally. Or perhaps more precisely, she was the first person who wasn't family who could forgive him the brusqueness that all too frequently crossed into rudeness.

He's hurt her, he knows he has, and some of those times it has even been intentional.

Curiosity. He wonders if there is a point at which she will throw her hands in the air and turn away from him. In all the years he has known her, the quiet companion moving around him in the labs without ever getting in his way, she has never faltered. For all her awkwardness, her lack of self-confidence, her utter mousiness, she sees things that Sherlock himself often overlooks: "I know what that means, looking sad when you think no one can see you."

He goes to her because when he says "If I wasn't everything that you think I am, everything that I think I am. Would you still want to help me?"

Her answer is "What do you need?" without even a moment's hesitation.

Molly Hooper: Sherlock Holmes' secret weapon.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Bond makes it as far as the wooden bridge before he is surrounded: one guard blocking the way to the front door, and two behind him preventing his escape back into the casino. Eve is on her way, if he wants to be lazy he can wait for back up, but there's a perfectly serviceable metal briefcase filled with money in his hand and it has been a very long time since he had the opportunity for an old-fashioned brawl, so rather than wait Bond issues a silent challenge to himself: take them down without relying on his Walther. Then he swings the briefcase up into the air, directly into the face of the man standing between him and the door.

The case is heavy, and once it has successfully knocked the first guard down Bond uses the momentum it has picked up to complete a full circle, pivoting on his left foot so he can sweep the briefcase down on top of the heads of the two men behind him, sending them to the ground in a dazed heap.

The first man must have a thicker head than the other two because he tackles Bond from behind just as he's setting down the case and adjusting his cufflinks. Despite the man's distinctly un-aerodynamic shape, he makes a pretty good job of flying through the air and Bond is knocked backward, pressed into the rough wood of the bridge's railing as his assailant attempts to wring his neck.

The struggle lasts a breathless ten seconds before the railing gives way under their combined weight, and Bond is sailing backward through the air, still with a rather large man crushing his larynx between two wide hands.

Their landing knocks the wind from him, and what little air he has left is forcibly stolen when the guard flops on top of him. The only advantage is that the man removed his hands from Bond's throat in an effort to brace himself, but Bond is still lying in the dust, completely winded.

It's darker for some reason, Bond thinks as he concentrates on sipping in enough air that he can regain his senses. The guard drags himself up and off of Bond and suddenly it's remarkably easier to breathe. No bones broken. At most he might have a bruise across his back, but nothing permanent.

He staggers to his feet and realizes that the dimness is because he's fallen down into the pit he'd noticed on the way into the casino. The one housing the komodo dragons and a rather notable alter of melting candles that he thinks must be a fire hazard, not that anyone seems at all concerned.

At any rate, there's no time to dwell because, winded or no, the guard is lumbering in his direction. Bond staggers back a few steps and swings an arm up, but though he manages to crack his fist against the man's cheek in what will surely be a colorful mark in a few moments, it doesn't stop the man from getting his hands on Bond and deftly relieving him of his Walther.

Not that it does the man any good, coded to Bond's palm as it is. He makes a mental note to thank Hamish for that, and to request this be a feature of all of his side arms, and then the guard is tossing away the weapon and coming at him again, bowed forward like an angry bull intent on goring Bond where he stands.

Bond answers the charge by stepping to the left at the last possible moment, bringing his right elbow down as hard as he can manage onto the man's back, likely causing damage to the man's left kidney but also having the more immediate effect of knocking the man flat onto the ground.

He's about to kick the man in the head and hopefully knock him out once and for all, but instead Bond finds his attention drawn to the shadows, where a set of yellow eyes are glinting at him, and a rather long forked tongue is flickering out and then into the darkness, scenting the air.

His momentary distraction costs him the advantage. The guard finds his feet and punches Bond in the chest, once again knocking the breath out of him and sending him reeling back. Again the guard charges, and again Bond is ready. This time he jumps as the guard nears, stomach muscles clenching tight despite the bruising ache, and as Bond starts to come back down he knocks his arm hard against the side of the man's head.

They fall in an awkward heap, Bond rolling with the force of gravity through the dirt and back again onto his feet. He's filthy; his suit is likely ruined, which is unfortunate because he was growing rather fond of it. Bond settles into a ready stance and reminds himself that he can simply buy another suit. The damage to this one can likely be written off as a work expense. Bond has often replaced entire wardrobes in this way.

The guard, lying prone on his stomach and announcing his general discomfort to the world with a low moan manages to lift his head up, his glassy eyes sweeping slowly over the shadows and noting Bond's position. Before he can make any sort of lumbering effort to gain his feet, however, the komodo dragon lurches out of the shadows and snatches hold of the man's leg and pulling him into the dark.

Opponent effectively defeated, Bond decides it is an opportune moment to retreat, which he promptly does by making a running leap at the candle-filled alter, and managing to get a grip onto the bridge railing and pull himself up, directly into the line-of-sight of one of the guards Bond had felled with the briefcase. Apparently he has managed to recover enough of his senses to find his gun, flick off the safety just in time for Bond to offer the perfect target by popping up over the side of the bridge.

He has enough time to contemplate releasing his grip on the bridge and taking his chances with the komodo dragon when shiny stiletto spears down onto the man's hand, knocking the gun a safe distance away. A second later, Eve brings the briefcase down onto the man's head, knocking him out.

"That bloody komodo dragon just ate someone, I think," Bond says as he hoists himself over the rail and onto the bridge.

Eve leans over so she can glance down into the pit. "I didn't know they could do that sort of thing." She holds out the briefcase and flashes him a coy look. "Yours, I believe?"

Bond brushes the dust from his jacket as best he can, and then adjusts his cufflinks. "Put it all on red."

"Feeling lucky?"

Bond flashes her a wink. "Always."

________________________________________________________________________________________

The text had arrived with the generic chime that John had set to announce all his messages. The high-pitched musical tone had cut-him off mid-rant as he once again attempted to explain to his flat mate why it is impolite to knowingly and intentionally set-up one's friends to make asses of themselves.

"You knew I thought it was Mycroft coming over," he had been saying. He had taken a long breath, opened his mouth to follow-up this accusation with more angry shouting and then, the chime.

John had checked his mobile immediately because the only person who tended to clog his phone with texts was sprawled on the living room sofa in his blue silk robe looking perfectly uncaring. Everyone else John knows tend to ring him.

The message had read: 'In case of emergency' and was followed by a series of numbers that John realized were a phone number. It was signed '-Q'.

He isn't certain why he dials the number now, except that he's furious and talking with Mycroft hasn’t done a single thing to alleviate that. He had forced himself to leave the Diogenes Club when his desire to strike a closed fist into the center of Mycroft's face or alternately, to pitch a chair through the club's window had seemed like increasingly marvelous ideas.

'I'm sorry' doesn't cut it. It does absolutely nothing to repair any of the damage that has been done.

Actually, it's possible the reason that dialing this number seems like a good idea is that John is not currently in his right mind but he doesn't let that stop him. He wants everything out on the table right bloody now, so he can see just how bad everything really is and hopefully begin to fix it.

The moment the call is picked-up, however, John runs out of words.

"Hello?" It's funny that Lysander Holmes should sound so familiar to John, given that they've barely known each other at all. Funny that the quietly inquisitive voice can cut through the anger John is struggling with because in the next moment, when Lysander says, "Doctor Watson?" John hears worry in the youngest Holmes' voice.

Worry matched with concern.

"John," John says, clearing his throat. "It's John."

There's a moment's pause. "John, what is it? Is everything all right?"

"Did you know?" he blurts. "About the article? About what your brother did?"

There's a pause, followed by the youngest Holmes asking "My brother?" in such a way that goes a long way in convincing John of the man's innocence.

Nevertheless, he refuses to be swayed. "Just tell me now if you knew." John finds himself wishing for one ally. Just one person he doesn't have to worry about betraying Sherlock, one person who might be able to help.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Lysander says. "Please tell me, John."

So John tells him about Richard Brooke who is really James Moriarty. About the expose that is going to hit the papers on Saturday revealing the truth that everyone wants to believe: that Sherlock Holmes is an arrogant, egotistical fraud. That it's all a magic trick.

John sighs. "Mycroft told Moriarty everything he needed to make the story just true enough to be believed. Everyone's falling for it, even Lestrade…"

He's still trying to process this, still trying to understand how such a colossal mistake could have been made. How Mycroft could be so stupid. How he could be so cowardly that he didn't just come right out and admit it back when Sherlock might have had a chance to prepare, or warn people, or just do something.

Maybe then at least, the entirety of Scotland Yard wouldn't be searching the city for them.

"Christ," John says, unable to believe that this is only just now occurring to him. "You work for MI6. They're not after us too, are they?"

There's a soft huff of breath over the line. "I can assure you, John, MI6 is not interested in you or my brother. Do you have some place safe to stay?"

"Yes." At least, Sherlock sent a text telling him to get over to Saint Bart's, so John supposes it must be safe. They haven't really had the chance to settle anywhere since the police showed up at Baker Street.

"Don't let anyone know where you're staying and…" Lysander pauses again. The silence feels different, tense. Lysander says, "Look out for him please, Doctor Watson."

A piece of John feels ruffled by this request. It's not something he needs to be told, especially as he is just about the last of Sherlock's supposed friends that still holds any sort of faith in the man. But there's a weight lurking behind the simplicity of the words. Something in the quality of the tone that causes him to nod once, sharply, even though the younger man can't possibly see him.

"Of course," John says, rolling his shoulders. He ends the call, tucking his mobile into his pocket as he walks toward Saint Bart's.

________________________________________________________________________________________

The shower is running, he can hear the soft fall of the water as he enters the yacht's main cabin. There is champagne cooling on a table, as well. Two glasses. Apparently Severine hasn't completely given-up on fairy tales. Bond wonders if she really thinks of him as a white knight, or if she is simply being practical.

The answer is in her dark brown eyes when she looks up, naked and wet under the shower spray. He casts aside his soiled suit jacket and sheds his clothes before he pulls open the glass door. He's a means to an end for her, as much as she is for him. That doesn't mean they can't still enjoy each other.

"I like you better without your Beretta," he says, whispers the words into the dampness of her shoulder.

He can feel her shivering begin to ease, some of the tension leaving her body. "I feel naked without it." She turns slowly in his loose grasp so she can kiss him, just a soft brush of lips against lips, and then again, a harder push until finally she opens her mouth to him.

It's a contract, payment in full before the job is even completed. Solace offered and taken at once. A moment without fear before they wake up and return to the real world.

She is soft skin and smooth curves and hair that drapes down when she leans over him, tickles against his body as she moves. Her mouth tastes like the champagne she'd been drinking before he found the yacht but when he kisses her, for just one moment he tastes something sweet and familiar. Bond licks his lips.

"What?" she whispers, her head tilting up as she looks at him. She presses her body against his, her hands skimming down his back to settle above his buttocks.

"Nothing." He gives her a reassuring smile as he returns to his task, kissing his way down her body, exchanging the memory of bergamot and sugar in for the reality he has in his grasp, and the mission that is attached to it.

Chapter Text

There is no precise heading, no latitude and longitude with which Bond can get his bearings. Severine does not know the name of their destination, or even precisely where it is: "He calls it his island," she says, leaning against the door to the bathroom, fastening the sash on her robe as she watches Bond freshen up. "Whenever I leave it, I travel on this ship, and I return the same way. The Captain must know, but he won't tell me."

"Orders from your employer?" Bond says as he pats his face dry with a towel. Her eyes shift away from him for a moment, which he takes as his answer.

The history of the island is a different matter. "It belonged to a mining company," she says, pouring out another glass of champagne, which she sips tentatively as she inspects the dresses in her closet. "The island's population was entirely made-up of the miners and their families."

She draws a dark red knee-length dress from the closet and tosses it onto the bed, flashes a glance at him as he finishes buttoning his shirt. "They abandoned it almost overnight," she continues. "He convinced them there was a leak at the chemical plant."

"He wanted the island, and so he took it," Bond says.

Severine huffs darkly. "That's his way, Bond. In all things, that is how he works."

When Bond steps out onto the deck he catches his first glimpse of the island. It is unimpressive, grey-beige and crowded with buildings, no hint of life anywhere to be seen, no trace of green. Everything is crumbling and derelict.

"It's not too late," Severine says bitterly. "You can still turn back."

Bond has already noted that the crew of the Chimera is all armed. He rather doubts that the Captain would cooperate if Bond requested they turned the ship around. An impression that is confirmed when the first-mate steps up and ties Severine's hands behind her back with a thick length of rope.

He doesn't know what to make of her silent capitulation. She doesn't ask why her hands are being tied, or what the men plan to do. She cooperates, her dark eyes staring fixedly toward the island as they draw nearer.

It is perhaps why Bond allows his own hands to be tied without protest. He could knock the first mate out with a sharp jab of his elbow, grab the man's gun and shoot the rest of the crew before they even reach the shore. When he considers the possible advantage of this course of action, he comes-up with nothing that makes it a good option. After all, he can't sail away into the sunset. His mission is to bring-in Rodriguez so that the man can be held accountable for his actions.

Far better for Bond not to show his hand before he has had the opportunity to take-stock of his adversary.

There are no paved roads on the island. Everything is dust and dirt. As she walks, Severine stumbles and twists her ankle, her high heels doing her no favors on the rocky terrain. "I'm sorry," she says quietly, her head bent low, defeated. Before Bond can answer, the men separate them, walking them off in different directions, down different side streets.

As far as secret bases go, Bond is unimpressed. The story about stealing a whole island out from under the nose of a mining corporation is one thing, but after a certain point Bond thinks that really a proper criminal mastermind should invest in a bit of interior decorating. Everything is crumbling and dusty and impermanent. Tattered curtains blowing out of apartment windows where the glass has shattered. It's depressing, not awe-inspiring.

Behind him, one of his captors jabs the nose of the machine gun into the small of Bond's back, sending him stumbling sideways into a door. "Open it," he is told. There are three men, each armed with impressive guns currently herding him through the darkened hallways of a ramshackle building.

Bond finds himself wondering if this was another apartment complex, or if this was perhaps some sort of corporate headquarters. Maybe it was a restaurant. In his pocket, the radio that Hamish had given him is quietly sending his signal. If Bond knew where this infernal island was actually located, he would have a better chance of estimating how long it will take MI6 to mobilize and reach him. As it is, his best chance is talking, drawing things out as long as he can to increase the chance that his location will be found in time.

The room he is shown in it is large, scuffed cement floors and large windows. Bond can't decide what the room's initial purpose was but now it is filled with metal racks packed with servers. It makes him smile. He imagines Lysander squawking at the sight: "Computers need consistent, cool temperatures" he might say, or maybe, "Look at all of this dust and sand! These conditions are not at all conducive for maintaining this sort of hardware."

Bond is shoved into an uncomfortable metal chair, his bound hands draped over the back. He sits, facing a metal framework that he realizes belongs to a lift. The men who have ushered him to this point step back, a solemn row of faces blocking the exit. Everything is silent, except the distant whistling howl of the wind blowing through the emptiness of the island, like a faint mourning scream.

After a moment, the hum of a motor covers the cry of the wind as the lift begins to descend.

________________________________________________________________________________________

She sounds like a little girl answering her mother's mobile, unsure if she has permission or not, as if at any moment she might be scolded. The moment she hears his voice, however, she relaxes. "I've missed you," she says, and he can tell that she means it.

They've been friends since the start. Since Sherlock blustered into her lab and rather than kick him out she had made a space for him. "He's fascinating, I think," he remembers her saying. "Your brother. Very clever."

"I recommend not saying that to his face," Q had advised her. "He's an insufferable idiot who already thinks too highly of himself."

She'd been the only contact he kept when he had left England. The only one who he accepted calls from, who he bothered to inform when his number changed. "It's all a bit cloak-and-dagger," she had said at the start. "Are you sure you're alright? I think you should call your brother. He seems a bit worried."

"He knows I'm alright," he had promised her.

Their friendship began because they had something in common: Sherlock, driving them both around the bend, but over time it changed. Molly Hooper was an easy person to like.

She isn't all that surprised to hear that he has returned to London, but she sounds even less shocked when he says, "I know about Sherlock, Molly. I know the plan."

"That's such a relief," she says in a whooshing breath. "Even Doctor Watson doesn't, and I was so worried that he would go off on his own, and you know how he is on his own. I hoped he'd tell you, you two have always been so close…"

She tells him everything because she thinks he already knows. Because they're friends, genuine honest friends and Molly forgets that Q is Sherlock's younger brother, prone to the same ruthlessness, capable of the same cold calculations. "He's doing it to protect everyone," she says. "It makes me so sad to think of…"

"He's not alone," Q says, and at least then, he isn't lying.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Tiago Rodriguez speaks in a smooth, accented tenor. When the doors open, he is standing with his hands clasped behind his back, smiling serenely in the very center of the lift. His hair is bleached blond and he is wearing a cream-colored suit jacket. "Hello, James," he says, stepping out into the room, the lift doors hissing closed behind him. "How do you like the island?" He spreads his hands out to either side of him as if their current location is something to be especially proud of.

"I might have gone a different way," Bond says, glancing around. "Some paint, maybe. A comfortable chair or two."

Rodriguez tips his head back and laughs, a forced, staccato sound, "Ha ha ha". He raises his hand, shakes a raised finger like Bond is a mischievous and naughty little child. "That mouth of yours," Rodriguez says, chuckling. "It must get you into trouble." He cocks his head to the side, raising one brightly bleached eyebrow as he slowly walks, covering the distance.

"Did my lovely Severine tell you about the history of this place? Hm?" he asks. "It's amazing what a person can accomplish with a single computer, don't you think?"

"These days I find there is very little that can amaze me."

"Really?" Rodriguez comes to a stop directly in front of Bond. "I think that's sad." He picks up a chair, placing it down across from Bond and dropping into it and then cocking his head to the side. "Hm," he says, and then shifts the chair forward an inch, eyeing Bond closely.

After a moment of intense scrutiny, Bond breaks the silence. "Tiago Rodriguez. Assigned to section H, Hong Kong."

"Yes, that's right," Rodriguez says without looking up from where he is staring at Bond's chest. He reaches out, undoes two buttons on Bond's shirt and glances up coyly. "I was her favorite, you know. Until she cut me loose, just like one day your Mallory will do to you. Agents are disposable."

"It's what we signed up for."

"No. I was betrayed," Rodriguez says. "She traded me to the Chinese as if I were nothing more than a baseball card."

It is a convenient opening, so Bond asks the question that has been in his mind since they first discovered who was behind the information theft. "How did you manage to escape?"

"I am very good," Rodriquez says with a self-satisfied smirk. "You are not half the agent I was."

"Before you turned traitor."

Rodriguez slips his hand beneath Bond's shirt, skimming his fingertips up to just below Bond's right collarbone where there is an old scar from a bullet wound. There are more than one of those such scars marring Bond's skin. "Hm. That suggests that an agent's abilities diminish just because they are no longer working for Queen and Country. I would argue that, if anything, the opposite is true."

Bond smiles. "It was Moriarty, wasn't it?"

Pulling his hand from Bond's shirt, Rodriguez sits back in his chair. "What do you know about him?"

"I know enough."

"I don't think so," Rodriguez says. "I don't think you know enough to understand." He leans forward, his hands gripping loosely, one on each of Bond's thighs. "I was betrayed by MI6, by that old woman, by my country, but Jim saved my life."

"You're not working for Jim now, though."

"Mm." Rodriguez smirks. Again he raises his hand, ghosting his fingers up Bond's neck. "It wasn't enough for me, I'm afraid," he says. "He doesn't know what it's like, to do what we do. How hard it can be."

He squeezes Bond's thigh with his left hand while the right cups Bond's cheek, almost fondly. "How you are trying to remember your training now, hm?" he smirks. "What is the regulation for this?" he teases, his hands still wandering over Bond. "I suppose there must be a first time for everything." He tilts his head, glancing up from cat-like brown eyes as he asks, "Have I amazed you yet?"

"I'm afraid you'd have to do more than that." Leaning forward as much as his awkward position and bound hands will allow, Bond lowers his voice, plays to the genuine interest made clear in Rodriguez' touch. "After all, what makes you think it's my first time?"

"Oh, Mister Bond," Rodriguez says, leaning back abruptly in his chair, half-interested and half-teasing. He smirks, and stands, moving out of Bond's line of sight. "The physical stuff is so dull, so dull. Chasing spies. Uh."

Bond can feel it as Rodriguez leans down behind him, fingers touching along his wrists as the thick rope shifts and then loosens, before dropping away completely. With no small amount of relief, Bond brings his arms forward, rubs at the sore skin that had been chafing under the rope.

"You're living in a ruin as well, you know," Rodriguez continues, stepping back in front of Bond. "England. The Empire. MI6," he laughs. "At least here there are no little old ladies giving orders. No silly little gadgets from those fools in Q Branch."

"It sounds as if you are offering me a job."

Rodriguez grins, his wide mouth stretching but never opening, never revealing his teeth. He perches on the edge of a metal table beside one of several computers occupying the space. "If you wanted, you could pick your own secret missions, as I do. Name it."

Bond remains silent, and after a beat, Rodriguez continues. "Destabilize a multinational by manipulating stocks. Bip. Easy," he shrugs. "Interrupt transmissions from a spy satellite over Kabul. Bip. Done. Rig an election in Uganda. Alter the highest bidder."

"Or a gas explosion in London."

"Yes," Rodriguez says, moving away from the table as he nods. "Just point and click. Technology is the way of the future. No one has yet fully realized what it can do."

Bond smirks, shaking his head. "You plan to show them?"

"Just so."

"Well, everybody needs a hobby."

"A hobby," Rodriguez echoes, his head dropping forward as he shakes his head. When he looks up again he sighs, clasps his hands behind his back as he paces. "This big agency you risk you life for, it is antiquated. Frightened and cowering like an animal, it refuses to adapt. Technology is hidden away in the basement, restricted and regulated and burdened with ridiculous protocols. These are the people you trust to make good decisions? You put your faith in these, these fools?"

"You think your friend Jim will welcome you with open arms after you've betrayed him?"

"I already said that Moriarty wasn't enough. He wants chaos and criminality, he likes puzzles. He's a child and an imbecile." Opening his arms wide again, Rodriguez says, "These are the ruins out of which I plan to build something new."

"I'm still not amazed."

Rodriguez grins. "You will be," he says. "Let me show you something."

________________________________________________________________________________________

London feels like home, even if Q doesn't want it to. This is temporary, he reminds himself. A short-term visit to make certain that Sherlock hasn't gotten in over his head and then he'll be on his way. Whatever life he had hoped to build in this city isn't there anymore, consumed by choices and time; he's moved on, he's a different person.

One who isn't supposed to be getting stuck in between his older brothers anymore and yet somehow, here he is. He could have easily seen this coming if hadn't allowed his judgment to be clouded by trivial concerns because the truth is Q returned to England because he was worried. He never stopped to think.

If anyone understood Q's need for distance then it was Sherlock. His older brother would never ask for him to return to London even if Sherlock were on his deathbed. Were that the case, the most Q imagined he would get would be a concise and abrupt text that might not even include a farewell. Simple enough to determine that the source of the summons must therefore be Mycroft, but that didn't explain why.

Over the years there had been apologies, never explicitly stated but understood nonetheless. Mycroft had even made attempts to force Q to return to England, ranging from deploying agents to physically haul him back, to making manipulative appeals to Q's sense of duty: "Mummy is unwell. She's been asking for you." None of these efforts had been successful, and Q generally regarded them as Mycroft's way of saying that he was genuinely sorry, which was a sentiment Q appreciated but otherwise ignored.

It had been hard enough to leave the first time but he had managed and he had made a life for himself: travelling and working and yes, often that wasn't legal work, and sometimes that work involved cooperating with Mycroft for the sake of Queen and country. Moriarty had been correct when he had said Q had done jobs for him before, but he'd been very wrong to assume that Q hadn't been perfectly aware of it; being abroad didn't mean he was out of the loop.

Q can pretend all he wants that helping Bond and MI6 is more of the same: stepping-in to gather useful intelligence on Moriarty in the hopes that, finally, someone can put a stop to him, but he knows that the truth is something else entirely.

"This is why you gave my name to Bond, isn't it?" he says before the valet in the crisp white gloves has managed to close the heavy door. Q has never been to the Diogenes Club before, but it hadn't been difficult to find. His brother never made a secret of his enjoyment of the place, and Q suspected Mycroft spent more time in the Club than he did in his own office. Whatever tactical advantage this might have provided Q's eldest brother was negated by the simple fact that everyone knew.

Mycroft glances up from his glass of what is undoubtedly a very fine single malt whiskey. "Good evening, Lysander. Please, have a seat." Holding up his glass he asks, "Would you care for one?"

"No. I want you to answer my question."

"Ah." Mycroft raises a single brow. His eyes scan Q slowly, taking in his ruffled, curling hair that Q hasn't bothered to tame, the fishtail parka that he has taken a particular liking to, and the unremarkable suit he is wearing with a green tie and his green sneakers.

Initially, Q had changed into the sneakers because he had preferred to walk the distance separating his flat from the Club, but he realizes by the particularly pinched look his brother is giving them, that his brother suspects an ulterior motive: to purposely irritate him.

Q is honest enough with himself to recognize that this might have been a subconscious intention.

Having completed his inspection, Mycroft meets Q's gaze, pauses a moment to take-in the fact that Q is wearing his glasses rather contacts, and sighs. "I wasn't aware you had asked one."

"I did. Rather plainly, as well," Q says as he drops onto the offered chair. "How did this happen?" Mycroft takes a mouthful of whiskey but otherwise does not respond to Q at all.

"You have to explain it to me," Q prompts. "You talked about Sherlock to Moriarty? What could possibly lead you to believe this was a sensible idea?"

His brother turns away sharply, setting his glass down on the side table and pausing, the amber liquid for a moment proving more fascinating or at least less critical than Q's gaze. "Perhaps it was vanity," Mycroft says after a moment, turning back to meet Q's eyes. "Would that surprise you?"

"I don't know why proof that you are not infallible should surprise me, Mycroft."

"Mm, yes." The corner of Mycroft's lips twitch upward, a self-deprecating expression flickering over his face before the man school's his features. "You of all people, Lysander."

There's something in that fleeting look on his brother's face that gives Q pause. The briefest crack in the smooth veneer of his ever inscrutable and always infuriating brother, and suddenly Q realizes that maybe he has put this together the wrong way round. He says, "I don't believe it was vanity."

"No?"

"No." It feels as if he is seeing his eldest brother for the first time, and suddenly he isn’t certain if this hadn't been a part of Mycroft from the very start, before Q even knew to suspect that the world was anything but clear and simple and honest. It's a revelation as much as a shock. "You told Moriarty everything for the same reason you wanted Sherlock to send for me."

Mycroft's eyes narrow, two dark and intense points almost daring Q to continue. Now that he's beginning to understand, however, Q doesn't think he can stop. A moment ago when he walked in through the doors of the club, he had been prepared to shout, to accuse his brother of being the same as he's always been: a cold, manipulative bastard, just like their father.

This is something else. This is something Q hadn't anticipated, hadn't even considered and he can't be certain if this might be part of the blind-spot James had accused him of having. A blind spot a mile wide; at least, when it came to his family.

"It was concern."

Mycroft laughs, hollow and false; the laugh that Q remembers from parties growing up, the ones that never involved anyone that was Q's age, which required him to dress in uncomfortable clothes and talk to tedious people who inevitably wanted to know what he would do when he grew-up but always imagined him as a barrister or an accountant and ignored his insistence that he would build race cars that you could drive right into the water and ride like a submarine if you wanted. Mycroft would laugh that guffawing, condescending little laugh right along with everyone else, "He's still very young," Mycroft would say, which was tantamount to a pat on the head and never failed to make Q furious.

"That isn't very likely, is it?" Mycroft says now, just as condescending and drawling as Q remembers from his childhood.

"Nevertheless." It's fitting into place, snapping together piece by piece in Q's head and he's been an idiot, such a blind idiot not to have seen it before. "A consulting criminal," he says. "Who you probably had an eye on long before he ever became fascinated with Sherlock. Then suddenly here he is in London, playing games that involve civilian casualties and explosives and almost end with Sherlock blowing himself and John up in a swimming pool on the off-chance they can take Moriarty with them."

Mycroft rolls his eyes. "James Moriarty is increasing the criminal efficiency of terrorists, smugglers, slave traders, drug dealers and agents of chaos and destruction around the world."

"All of which you are adept at handling from afar. But this time you got involved personally," Q says. "You were worried about Sherlock. You wanted to step in and handle it all before it got further out of control and instead, Moriarty outsmarted you."

"Oh, please." Mycroft shifts in his chair, uncrossing his legs and then re-crossing them the other way. A nervous gesture, Q knows. A tell if ever there was one.

"You realized you'd made the situation even worse, and you called me," Q continues. "For help."

"Now, really, Lysander," Mycroft says. "It seems rather conjectural to assume I am the source of Moriarty's information. What about this computer code…"

"There is no code. And as far as conjecture goes, this seems more like simple logic. Common sense, even. Also, John telephoned."

"Of course. Doctor Watson."

"He's not very impressed with you at the moment."

Mycroft is stiff and unyielding; Q thinks that his brother will remain stubborn in his insistence that he has had no part in this drama, but then Mycroft sighs and something in his posture eases. "No. I imagine he's not."

"I should probably tell you that I'm not too impressed with you at the moment, either."

"And yet," Mycroft says, curiosity lighting his eyes. "Here you sit. Unlike our dear Doctor Watson."

There are any number of answers Q can give to the question that his brother hasn't quite asked. Some of those answers feel too sincere, too complete. Q is not in the habit of trusting easily, or allowing himself to be vulnerable. Not for anyone.

Yet most of the other responses he dismisses just as swiftly: too vague, almost dishonest and unfair given the nature of their conversation. After all, this is the most honest they have ever been with each other.

If he were speaking to Sherlock, Q imagines this entire conversation would go very differently. It would be much simpler, for one. He and Sherlock have long-since perfected their code, how to explain complex and difficult concepts without having to necessarily verbalize the complete point.

As such, Sherlock has never outright expressed any thanks for Q's help when it came to getting clean, or apologized for his abysmal behavior during that time, or offered any explicit assurance that he was no longer using. Instead, there were off-hand references to running out of Nicotine patches, and how irritating it was that his mobile was across the room and thus texting John to pick-up more patches on his way home was impossible, and did Q think the odds that John would check his email before leaving the clinic justified the effort it would take Sherlock to log-in to his email and send his request along.

Sherlock prefers pipes to cigarettes, but he only craves tobacco when he has a case, and he only ever did drugs when he was working on a problem. Q always understood the real message his brother was sending along: I'm fine, I have a case and I'm clean. For his part, Q would message back that Sherlock should get off his sofa and send a text, or better still get out into the fresh air and get his own damned nicotine patches, and trusted that Sherlock understood the subtext as easily: I'm glad, take care.

Q has no such basis of communication with Mycroft. There is no way for him to express how he is angry that his eldest brother has succumbed to the very thing he has cautioned Q about so often: sentimentality, allowing his personal emotions to impede his own judgment. How he is touched that Mycroft has called Q for help, has acknowledged that Q can not only take care of himself but might also have something to contribute. How he is angry that if he hadn't been so capable, Mycroft might never have bothered to tell him about the plan. How is worried that, just maybe, Sherlock mightn't have ever bothered, either.

There is a horrible image in the back of his mind, of himself and John Watson, and Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade all mourning over an empty grave, while Mycroft and Molly stood off to the side: silent.

Since there is no way to communicate any of that, Q doesn't try. "I know Sherlock's plan," he says. "And I know that you're a part of it."

"Do you?"

"I know all of Sherlock's resources," Q says confidently. "He hasn't come to me, which means he must have some other means of getting out of the country and establishing a new life when this is over."

Mycroft sighs. "Who told you?"

"Does it matter?"

"It does," Mycroft says. "If it means this plan has been compromised."

Q considers this quietly for a moment. "I know all of Sherlock's resources. Better than you do, I imagine. The plan hasn't been compromised, as far as I'm aware. Nor will it be."

Mycroft steeples his fingers, brings his fingertips to rest beneath his chin. "You're not asking me whether or not I would have told you."

"If you think I don't already know the answer to that, then you hardly know me at all," Q says. "Admittedly, I was surprised that, of the two of us, Sherlock turned to you more readily than he did me. He hasn't turned to you for help in a considerable while. But it made sense after John called." Q sighs. "Is he really trying to protect me?"

"You almost sound offended."

"I am," Q says with a dark frown. "Incredibly. But that's neither here nor there."

"If you haven't come to shout at me, why are you here?"

"Actually," Q admits. "I did come to shout at you. But I also came as a basic courtesy. Someone in your little circle should be aware that there is a greater plan at work, which might render yours unnecessary."

"Intriguing," Mycroft says. "Are you going to elaborate?"

The corner of Q's mouth quirks upward darkly. "I trust you can figure it out for yourself. After all," he says, as he stands up. "I figured out your little scheme."

"I wonder Lysander. Will there ever be a truce between us?" Q pauses, his hand resting on the doorknob. "James Moriarty has highly skilled assassins with their guns trained on every one of Sherlock's allies save myself and Miss Hooper. Apparently he considers my connection with Sherlock to be rather adversarial. One of Moriarty's most trusted associates has been shadowing you from the moment you set foot in Vauxhall."

Turning, Q meets his brother's gaze. "As of fourteen hours ago, that associate has since been engaged in other business. In fact, there is no longer any assassin shadowing you except the trained MI6 agent assigned to protect you."

"What is your point, Mycroft?"

Mycroft narrows his eyes. "Do be careful, dear brother. As myself have already discovered, James Moriarty is a most dangerous adversary."

________________________________________________________________________________________

"It tells a story, doesn't it?" Rodriguez asks as he ushers Bond out into a barren courtyard littered with bicycles, and rusted street lamps. There are short tufts of grass sticking up out of the dry ground, but they are yellowed and dead, like everything else in this place.

"They left the island so quickly that they couldn't decide what to take with them," Rodriguez continues, leading Bond across the courtyard. There is a tall cement statue standing, but it's head and arms have fallen away from it, time and the weather having worn it down. "This everyday reminds me to focus on the essentials. There is nothing superfluous in my life. When a thing is redundant it is, bip, eliminated."

He comes to a stop, smiling at the slumped figure, who is leaning against the fallen right arm of the statue. Hands still bound in front of her, the heel of one shoe broken, Severine raises her head. Her mascara has smeared. Bond wonders if it is merely the heat from the sun, or if she has been crying. When he looks at her, she seems weary. As if she no longer cares what happens next so long as she can simply have some peace. There's blood smeared at the corner of her mouth, and a bruise forming on a left cheekbone.

"Fifty year old McKellan," Rodriguez says, stopping by a small foldout table where a silver tray has been set out with a bottle and two glasses. A small white vase holds two white flowers. "A particular favorite of yours, I understand." Bond slides his sunglasses on and turns, accepting the glass that is held out to him. "You see?" Rodriguez says. "I know you. I know your hobbies."

He fills another shot and lifts it up. "What shall we toast?" he asks, and pauses to consider. "The women we love? Hm?" Clinking their glasses together, Rodriguez strides across the distance to Severine.

"Darling," he says, stroking her hair and bringing her up into a slow kiss. "Uh uh," he chides as she steps away from the cement arm that has been propping her up. "Stand up straight, chin up and," he balances his glass on her head. "Whatever you do, don't lose your head." Stepping back, Rodriguez grins again, pleased with himself.

To Bond he says, "Let's see who ends up on top." There are six other men in the courtyard, all of them standing behind Bond, all holding guns that are trained on him. Rodriguez opens a small chest and draws out two old-fashioned pistols. "Whoever knocks the glass from her head first? What do you say to that?"

The gun is heavy in Bond's hands. The moment he cocks it the men draw closer around him, one of them going so far as the press the barrel of a pistol against his cheek. "I hope that's not a distraction," Rodriguez says. "Well, to a trained double-o such as yourself, your concentration is probably very good. Even with the stakes so high. Hm?"

He cocks his own pistol; flashes a wink at Bond and they both raise their arms.

There's a brief second in which Bond calculates the risks, the odds. Wonders if he should gesture for Severine to try and run, or it is better that she stand still. From the corner of his eye, Bond sees Rodriguez' hand begin to tighten on his gun, preparing to pull the trigger and then there is the whirring beat of rotor blades and the dust in the courtyard jumps up, swirling in dizzying circles and blinding everyone.

Everyone except for Bond, because he was expecting this, his reinforcements.

"What is this?" he can hear Rodriguez ask as moves, slamming sideways and knocking the pistol from the man's grasp. The dust that the helicopters are kicking up gets worse as they begin to land, giving Bond enough of a distraction to disable the guards before they can fire more than a few blind shots.

"Are you taking me back to her?" Rodriguez snarls. "What is this?"

"The latest thing from Q Branch," Bond says, holding up the tiny rectangular piece of equipment that Hamish entrusted with him. "It's called a radio."

________________________________________________________________________________________

Moriarty is sitting in Q's favorite chair, sipping tea out of Q's favorite mug. He glances up, an excited gleam in his eye as Q closes his front door and spots him. Undoubtedly he is anticipating some demonstration of surprise.

Q is not at all sorry to disappoint him. "I hope you didn't have the agent watching my flat killed. That will make things very awkward tomorrow when I return to HQ."

Beaming, Moriarty sets his mug aside. "When this is over, you and I are going to have a terrible amount of fun."

"Until then," Q says, slipping off his coat and draping it over the arm of his sofa. "You took a considerable risk coming here."

"Oh please," Moriarty says, waving a dismissive hand. "Hardly a risk. Besides, you promised me something and I wanted to make certain you hadn't forgotten."

"Hardly," Q says. He glances at his teapot, sitting on the wooden coffee table. "Is there any tea left in that?"

"Some."

He walks into the kitchen to fetch another mug and notes, with no small amount of relief that Scheherazade has shut herself into one of his bottom cupboards. Her little paw pushes it open slightly as she peeps out at him, and he waves her back inside. Opening and closing cupboards was a trait she had some to him already possessing, as he discovered when she would regularly fish through his garbage. It had been a nuisance, until he had recognized the possibilities and begun to encourage her cleverness.

Cat safely hidden away and mug in hand, Q strides back out into the living room and pours himself a cup of tea, dropping into the other green chair that somehow doesn't feel as comfortable, despite being exactly the same. "Your rogue MI6 puppet has recreated himself as Raoul Silva," he says. "He has a complete forged background that can be verified. He's very good."

Moriarty rolls his eyes dramatically. "Of course he's very good, I wouldn't have been interested if he wasn't very good. The whole point was that you told me you were better!"

Q sighs and leans over, pulling his laptop from where he has stashed it beneath his coffee table, and opens it. Typing quickly until he has the appropriate screen pulled up, then he sets it down on the tabletop so that Moriarty can see it. "I am better."

The dual lives of Tiago Rodriguez are sitting on his laptop, available for casual perusal, which is exactly what Moriarty does. "You haven't run your program."

"There's a difficulty," Q says. "At the moment, Mister Silva is currently a high priority for MI6. They've sent an agent after him and are, as of this moment, currently in the process of retrieving him. If I run the program I will be destroying Raoul Silva, and Tiago Rodriguez will return in the custody of MI6 where he will be there prisoner until they decide what to do with him."

"And if you leave it?"

"If I leave it," Q says. "Then should Tiago Rodriguez somehow manage to escape the custody of MI6, then he will destroy any and all trace of his old life and begin anew, as Raoul Silva."

"Oh," Moriarty says, grinning devilishly. "Oh, this is getting very interesting." Leaning forward, he clasps his hands, his wrists braces on his knees as he fixes Q with a bright look. "How might someone escape from MI6, do you think?"

"I wouldn't presume to say," Q says, taking a sip from his tea before setting his mug aside. "But I imagine they plan to put him in a room and lock the door."

"Yes," Moriarty says. "Yes, I very much think that you and I are going to have terrible fun."

________________________________________________________________________________________

MI6 has seen fit to dispatch three helicopters, which means that Bond does not have to endure a flight back to HQ in a confined space with Rodriguez. He didn't have to endure the flight sitting with Severine, either, but when he had untied her wrists she had slumped into him, the last trace of energy leaving her abruptly. He had gotten her settled into her seat, wrapped a blanket over her shoulders and let her lean on him.

She seems to doze for the first stretch of the journey, coming awake when they stop to refuel. Adjusting the blanket around her shoulders, Severine shifts away from him enough that she can look him in the eye. "What did he mean?" she asks. "About your hobby?"

Bond considers his answer for a moment. "I imagine it was a test. To see how invested I was in you."

"Invested," she echoes. "And are you?" He doesn't look away from her steady gaze. Her makeup is still smudged; she still looks brittle and tired. "What would you have done if the helicopters had not come? Would you have shot me?"

"I would have shot the glass," Bond says. "Rodriguez would have shot you."

"You wouldn't have stopped him." Surprisingly, it is not a question. "The moment we stepped onto the island, you were buying time."

"Yes."

"You knew he would try to test you. That he would discover me, or use me against you."

"It was a possibility. Just like you knew he might discover your betrayal and kill us both on the spot." He raises his eyebrows at her. "We used each other, Severine."

She sighs harshly, turning to look out the window. "It must be hard, for your woman back at home. Loving a man as cold as you, who takes risks such as this on his missions, who uses people the way you do. The same way I do."

Bond purses his lips. "There is no one back at home."

Her eyes flicker to him sharply, scanning his face before shifting away again. "There is someone."

His answer is disrupted by the chiming cadence of his mobile ringing. "Excuse me," he says as he reaches into his pocket.

"Bond," Lysander says when Bond answers the call. His voice is soft and low just as always, but Bond thinks there's an undercurrent of something else, a tenuous sense of urgency maybe, or worry. "Remember when you first came to my flat, and you offered to cover dinner as a way of saying 'thank-you' for everything I've done to help the agency?"

"Yes," Bond says, smiling at the recollection. "You said a curry dinner wouldn't even begin to cover what I owed you."

"Yes." There's a stretch of quiet over the line as Lysander hesitates. "I need your help."

Bond drops the teasing, shifting forward in his seat as he asks, "What do you need?"

Chapter Text

When they depart the helicopter Bond catches a brief glimpse of Rodriguez being shuffled into the back of an armored truck, his wrists and ankles cuffed, surrounded by five agents, which Bond thinks is probably overkill. Then he imagines the havoc Rodriguez could cause if he got loose and sees why Mallory might prefer to be overcautious.

"007?" a woman greets, opening the back door of a sleek black car and nodding to him.

Severine glances cautiously from the car to Bond. An agent is helping her out of the helicopter, her feet still unsteady though Bond suspects that has less to do with shock and more to do with hunger paired with exhaustion. "You're not coming with me?"

He glances to the female agent still holding the car door open, raising a questioning eyebrow. "Mallory's orders," the woman explains, keeping her voice low so as not to be overheard. "She's to be taken to a secure location and interrogated."

"She'll need to be looked at by a doctor," Bond says.

The woman nods. "Of course."

There's no indication that the agent is lying, and no reason for Bond to think Mallory intends to treat Severine unfairly. That she knows more about Rodriguez and his plans than she has had the opportunity to pass on is extremely high; it's even possible that she has been privy to information she doesn't even realize could be significant.

He turns back to Severine, trying to look especially reassuring. "These people will look after you, so long as you cooperate."

She juts her chin up. "I have nothing to hide."

"Then you won't have any trouble." He climbs into the back of the car and pulls the door closed.

"I'm to take you the headquarters," the agent explains when she slides into the driver's seat.

"That's fine." The rest of the drive is entirely silent. Bond considers asking the agent's name, maybe flirting to pass the time but he can't be bothered. Until his mission is complete he can't afford any distractions, and until Rodriguez is securely locked away, then his mission is not over.

When they reach headquarters the other agent obligingly directs him to the secure holding cell where Rodriguez is being taken, and then disappears into the general bustle of people, leaving Bond to make his own way through the labyrinthine halls to his destination.

He arrives just as Rodriguez, still at the center of a huddle of severe looking agents does. The man's chains rattling and clanking as he walks, their slow procession drawing attention. Certainly Rodriguez seems to be quite enjoying the attention.

"007," Mallory greets from amidst the gathering. Bond catches Rodriguez' gaze shifting to focus on them. Bond shoots the man a narrow-eyed glare and receives a coy wink in return. Mallory, oblivious of the exchange, claps a hand on Bond's upper arm as he says, "Job well done."

Turning his attention away from the slow-moving procession, Bond says, "Thank-you, sir."

"I've had the woman you brought back transferred to a secure location."

"Yes. The agent you sent to bring me in informed me."

Mallory nods. "I hope she isn't just a souvenir, 007."

"Hardly," Bond smirks. "Besides, if I had failed to bring her in, you would have undoubtedly complained about missed opportunities and necessity of exploring all possible leads and importance of information-gathering."

"There is that." The right corner of Mallory's mouth twitches upward as he catches Bond's sideways glance, but then his attention is caught by Lysander, who is in the process of shuffling a file of papers as he walks at a brisk pace in the direction of Q-Branch. "Ah, Mister Holmes. Very good indeed."

"Is that it, then? My services are no longer necessary?" Lysander asks as he steps up to them. Despite his efforts, Bond can't quite decipher the expression on the younger man's face.

"Yes," Mallory confirms. "Thank-you for your help, we couldn't have done it without you."

Lysander's lip twitches. "I'd like to think that MI6 would have managed."

"So would I," Mallory agrees wryly, sharing a slight smile.

They stand just outside the main doors to holding cell, two guards already posted on either side. Bond watches for a moment as Rodriguez' progress slows even further as one of his chains gets caught on a piece of grating. Mallory's eyes drift over as two agents bend down to attempt to untangle the chains. "I suppose that's enough gawking for the day," Mallory says. "Moneypenny will get you sorted, Mister Holmes. Once again, your contribution is very much appreciated." He extends a hand, which Lysander shakes and then turns on his heel, heading back to his office but not before a final admonition to the congregating audience that they should all get back to work.

"Well," Lysander says, his eyes tracking Mallory's departure before shifting over to where Rodriguez is finally stepping-up into the holding cell. "This is remarkably anticlimactic."

Bond chuckles. "You almost seem disappointed."

Heaving an exaggerated sigh, the younger man shrugs. "I suppose it was too much to hope that he might throw some sort of party for me, maybe with a cake and several balloons. I wouldn't have said no to a medal, either. Perhaps a knighthood?"

"I'm afraid Mallory doesn't go in for that sort of thing."

Lysander flashes him a look out of the corner of his eye, one eyebrow curving upward. "Obviously."

"Still," Bond says, clapping a hand onto Lysander's shoulder and throwing him a flirtatious grin, "I'm happy to express my gratitude on behalf of Mallory and all of MI6."

"Oh don't start," Lysander says, shrugging out of Bond's grasp. When laughs, falling into step behind the younger man. When he glances back to the holding cell he catches sight of Rodriguez, grinning broadly, sharp teeth and dark eyes as the agents draw the prison door closed.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Sherlock is a firm believer in contingency plans.

His father used to like reminding his children that Noah built his ark before the rain and though Sherlock is not a religious person, and though he believes that the story of Noah's ark especially defies all logic, that doesn't mean that as an allegory it is without merit.

More satisfying than a truly effective contingency plan, however, is the particularly gratifying sense of delight he experiences when he gets it right the first time out. When he solves the case without having to rely on a Plan B or Plan C, or develop a last minute version of Plan F adapted to new developments that he hadn't managed to foresee until almost the last moment.

This is why he is pacing in a lab in St. Bart's Hospital frustrated and impatient, wracking his brain for that one thing that he has somehow managed to miss. There's always something.

"You mean that if we find the computer code then we can beat Moriarty at his own game?" John asks as he catches up to the track of reasoning that Sherlock has been on for the past ten minutes. "We can use it to delete Richard Brooke…"

"And bring back James Moriarty. Precisely," Sherlock finishes. He brings his hands together, resting his fingertips against his lips for a moment before he continues, "Somewhere in 221B, somewhere, on the day of the verdict, he left it hidden."

It's entirely possible that the expression that flickers across John's face is relief. Sherlock doesn't have time to ruminate on why John has taken Moriarty's lies so personally when not one has come remotely close to implicating him but on the chance that John is, for some inexplicable reason, actually relieved to have some method of exposing the truth, Sherlock does not continue his efforts to bring the man up to speed. That would mean he would have to explain that he personally searched the entire flat, that he asked Mrs. Hudson to search the flat, and that he's certain Lestrade has searched it as well, and there is no trace of a code anywhere. No memory stick, no cryptic code-like etchings, no abandoned gadget, nothing.

Which begs the question: how did Moriarty manage to leave the code at 221B?

"Right," John says. "What did he touch when he was at the flat?"

Sherlock waves a dismissive hand. "A tea cup and an apple, nothing else." If it were that simple he wouldn't be pacing uselessly in a lab. Someone would have found it by now.

He braces his hands on a nearby counter-top and tries to think.

It would have to be small. Something inconspicuous, because Moriarty managed to plant it while sitting in a chair sipping tea without garnering Sherlock's attention.

Sipping tea and talking and tapping out a rhythm on his knee with twitching fingers that Sherlock had dismissed as an indication of the man's low attention span.

Perhaps he has overlooked the obvious.

That rhythm that Moriarty had tapped against his knee; that rhythm that has been playing in Sherlock's head since that day, a series of beats and rests that his fingertips duplicate now, tapping the pattern against the counter-top.

Binary.

"Well, maybe we could call your younger brother," John suggests. "He might have some idea about the code."

For a moment Sherlock has absolutely no idea what John is talking about. Call Q? Why? He almost asks, but he's too busy fishing his mobile from his pocket and turning his back to his flat mate so as not to be observed as he types: 'Come and play. St. Bart's hospital rooftop. PS got something of yours you might want back—SH' and then hits send.

He slips his phone back into his pocket and turns around only to come to an abrupt halt as he notices John pulling his own mobile from his pocket. "What are you doing?"

John pauses, a look of confusion flickering across his face. "I thought…phoning your brother?"

"My brother? Why?" Sherlock asks, and then makes a significant connection and finds his frown deepening as he adds "You have my brother's number in your mobile?"

John shrugs as if he has no idea why this might be significant. "He texted it to me just after we met that first time. As it turns out he's one of the few people left who we can still trust."

Again, Sherlock finds himself baffled. "You trust him?"

"Well," John says, frowning. "Yeah. Don't you?"

"Sometimes." He waves a hand and says, "Anyway there's no need to disturb him."

"For God's sake!" John snaps. "It's okay to ask for help sometimes, Sherlock!"

Sherlock tries to look particularly put out, and goes so far as to half-roll his eyes in that way that makes John feel particularly belittled. "My brother is currently at the headquarters of her Majesty's Secret Service. Even if he had the time to take your phone call, which is unlikely, I doubt even he could manage to keep the conversation secure."

John blinks. "What?"

"Think, John!" Sherlock demands. He's making it up as he goes along, but he's known John long enough to feel confident that the barest trace of logic supported by enough condescension will result in the man getting irritated and backing off, which is about all Sherlock cares about at the moment.

"MI6 is trying to track their mole, and to do that they have to track Moriarty. Maybe that agent was happy to sit back and let my brother do most of the talking, but you shouldn't for a moment think that he wasn't listening to everything that we said and putting it together. Nor should you think that MI6 would employ my brother, however temporarily, without taking precautions? Monitoring his phone calls, for instance? And what do you suppose they would do if they overhear you question my brother about the very man they're looking for?" He shakes his head as if he is particularly disappointed. "Really, John. It's obvious."

John tucks his phone back into his pocket even as he rolls his eyes up to the ceiling and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Right, well then what do you propose?"

"Silence," Sherlock says. "I need to think."

John sighs. "Great." He lasts all of two minutes before he shakes his head and says, "I’m going to the vending machines. I'm famished." Sherlock waves him off, pretending to be engrossed in his thoughts. As the doors to the lab swing closed Sherlock settles into a chair and continues waiting.

________________________________________________________________________________________

"You hardly needed me, in the end."

"False modesty doesn't suit you, Lysander," Bond chides.

"No, you're right." The younger man's lips twitch upward. "Without me, MI6 would have been obliterated, what remained of its agents would have been scattered and directionless without Mallory to issue orders. Certainly they wouldn't have managed to mount any proper defense against Rodriguez, and it's possible the entire country might have…" Bond cuts him off, framing the younger man's face in his hands and dragging him forward into a kiss.

They haven't even made it as far as the car park, still in HQ proper where anyone could be watching through the security cameras or come walking down the narrow strip of hallway. Bond doesn't care. There is the feel of Lysander's face in his hands, his skin and soft hair beneath Bond's fingertips; his mouth, warm and wet and answering back, measure for measure, as Bond pushes into it.

It is as brief a kiss as it is impassioned, and then Bond forces himself to let go and step away, casting a glance to the end of the hall where he can hear people approaching.

Lysander adjusts his glasses. "What was that for?"

"Does there have to be a reason?"

"I suppose not." He glances over, nodding a greeting as a small group of people passes them, no doubt making their way to their home. When Lysander speaks again he keeps his voice hushed, "I think you would agree that it was hardly an appropriate time or place."

"You've handed in your security pass and all records of your employment with MI6 have been erased," Bond points out. "Your rather promising career in espionage has come to a somewhat anticlimactic end. Your words," he points out when Lysander glares at him. "What harm can this really do?"

The younger man tips his head to the side, considering. "You think it's over?"

"Isn't it? The deal was to eradicate Moriarty's spies within MI6 and capture whoever stole the list. Both objectives have been accomplished."

"And Moriarty? Is the agency happy to forget about him now that they've retrieved their traitor?"

Bond quirks an eyebrow. "Are you making a subtle allusion to my promise?"

Lysander's lips twitch upward. "Was it subtle?"

Chuckling, Bond shakes his head. "Very well, Mister Holmes. I apologize for insinuating this problem might have reached its conclusion. I am at your disposal. What is it that you suggest we do?"

Glancing around the hall, Lysander starts walking once more in the direction of the car back. His head, Bond notes, is carefully tipped forward so that his hair shadows his face. The cameras will have a difficult time making out his words with his mouth shielded as it is.

Green eyes flick over to Bond as the younger man says, "I'm assuming that you have your gun with you."

Bond smirks. "Always."

"Then I suggest we leave MI6," Lysander says, he pushes the door to the car park open, holding it so that Bond can walk through it. "Once more unto the breach. But first," he says, reaching a hand into the pocket of his parka, "I have to make a phone call."

________________________________________________________________________________________

Morbid curiosity has Mycroft tapping the CCTV live feeds. That, and a promise he made Sherlock to make certain that Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson and the others are all right and continues to remain so.

Not that he's in any sort of position to do anything should Moriarty reveal yet another trick that he's been keeping up his sleeve. Mycroft has no agents available to send out to protect the others. Sherlock had been rather insistent that everything must continue to appear perfectly normal right up until the last moment.

The final moment.

But Mycroft refuses to be maudlin. He will do precisely what Sherlock asks of him because that is the very least he can do. The paperwork is in order, the arrangements made and if he feels so inclined he can remind himself that really, this is for the best. With Sherlock so committed to bringing down every assassin in Moriarty's employ it will hardly take any time at all before any and all trace of the man's criminal web is entirely eradicated, which is better for the entire world, surely.

Then Sherlock can return and make his explanations to everyone, and everything will be right again.

Not that he's coming anywhere close to convincing himself that this is the case, but it helps keep his mind distracted from the other problem that has been troubling him: his youngest brother.

Mycroft's strained and difficult relationship with Sherlock is enough to explain why there is no assassin currently stalking him. That, and the fact that he has people in place specifically to take care of that sort of thing. He's been threatened by better men than Jim Moriarty after all.

Lysander's relationship with Sherlock, however, is far less strained. They've always been close, since they were children. Mycroft well-remembers the hellish pair they made, wreaking havoc if left to their own devices for more than a few moments.

They've kept in touch he knows, and he can't imagine that someone with skills like Moriarty's wouldn't manage to uncover that fact. So why has the assassin been called off Lysander?

He'd mentioned a plan, and Mycroft would very much prefer not to think on that because the only conclusion that he can make is that Lysander has made some sort of deal with Moriarty and…well, if that's the case then Mycroft's youngest brother might be well on his way to being shot and Mycroft has no plan in place to prevent that from happening.

Perhaps if Lysander had deigned to include him in the strategizing phase, but as it is all he can do is watch events unfold.

"Sir," Anthea says, catching his attention. "Something appears to be wrong with the cameras."

"Don't be ridiculous," Mycroft scoffs, coming forward to loom over her shoulder, fully intending to point out exactly how well everything is functioning.

Unfortunately, the cameras in which he is particularly interested: the internal surveillance of The Yard most notably the camera focused on the glass walls of Inspector Lestrade's office, the CCTV providing a view of Baker Street where Mrs. Hudson has left the door of 221 open while some wiring is done in the front hall, and the camera providing a relevant street side view of Saint Bart's have all gone dark.

"What is this?" he asks as Anthea taps away on the keyboard. "Can you fix it?"

"The system is showing no glitches."

"What do you mean, 'no glitches'? Clearly something is not functioning! Call someone in if you must, for Christ's sake!"

Of course that is precisely when friendly bold-faced lettering starts scrolling along the bottom of each of the otherwise dark screens: "Temporary suspension of surveillance. Please wait."

Anthea frowns at the screen, and then shifts in her chair so she can frown at Mycroft. "Sir, I don't understand."

"Thank-you for your patience," the message continues scrolling. "Brother dear."

Mycroft lets out a long whooshing breath and says, "Shit."

________________________________________________________________________________________

The thing about being a firm believer in contingency plans is that Sherlock has gotten very good at making them. As such, he is not in the least bit surprised when John's mobile rings and, after a brief exchange, John hangs up and says, "Jesus, Mrs. Hudson has been shot. She's dying, Sherlock, let's go…"

The curtain rises, Sherlock thinks. Out loud he says, "You go, I'm busy."

Predictably John falls prey to sentiment and abandons reason, becoming increasingly agitated with Sherlock's stoicism until finally he snaps, "She's dying, you machine!" when Sherlock remains sitting in his chair, refusing to rush to the side of his dying landlady.

"Sod this," John declares. "You stay here on your own, if you want."

"Alone is what I have," Sherlock says. "Alone protects me."

John pauses in the doorway. "No. Friends protect people." Then he's gone.

Not even a minute later Sherlock's mobile chirrups, announcing a message: "I'm waiting…JM"

For a moment he stays there looking down at the screen of his mobile. There's no use delaying. He's done everything he can and now all that's left is to play it out.

Rising from his chair, Sherlock turns his collar up and strides out of the lab.

________________________________________________________________________________________

John waves down the first cab he sees, breathless as he gives his own address and finishes by saying, "Please hurry."

He's thinking about Mrs. Hudson bleeding out in the place that John has come to think of as home. Is she alone? Surrounded only by the paramedics? Will John get there in time?

He rails at the stubborn, thickheaded self-involved asshole that is Sherlock Holmes in the grip of a case, willing to ignore anything and everything that is not part of the problem at hand. A slightly different animal than the self-involved maudlin dick that is Sherlock Holmes not on a case, in the grip of boredom, who is always willing to destroy anything and everything if it might provide even a momentary distraction.

He goes the entire cab ride not able to take a full breath, tapping his fingers in an agitated rhythm against the car door and not processing a single thing that he sees out of his window. When the cab stops by 221 John literally tosses his cab fair into the front in his haste to climb out of the vehicle.

"Are you alright?" he demands as he jogs through the open door and comes face to face with a stranger who appears to be fixing the wiring in the front hall, and Mrs. Hudson, standing right there in a plum-colored dress.

"Oh, John," she says, her hand resting on her chest. "You startled me."

Penny in the air.

John stands there gaping at her. "Is everything okay now, with the police?" she asks. "Has Sherlock sorted it all out?"

Penny drops.

"Sherlock," John echoes, dazedly, back-stepping until he shakes himself enough to turn on his heel and sprint back to the road, his hand already waving down a cab as he goes.

As ever, he has seen but has not observed.

________________________________________________________________________________________

"Here we are at last," Moriarty greets when Sherlock steps out onto the roof. He stands up, spreading his arms out to the side as he grins. "Just a couple of geniuses on a hospital rooftop." The smile slips from his lips and he levels a dark glare at Sherlock as he adds, "Except one of us is ordinary, and the other is not."

Sherlock comes to a stop half way between the Moriarty and the door; he clasps his hands behind his back and feels just for a glimmer of a moment, not unlike a person standing in front of a firing squad. There's a building close enough and tall enough that a shooter could conceivably shoot Sherlock, and that's something that he considers for a moment: that Moriarty has stationed all of his assassins in the building across the way, ready to fire at the command.

Unlikely. Not really Moriarty's style.

"Did you start to wonder if I was real?" Moriarty asks as he paces forward, something predatory in his slow gait. "Did I almost get ya?"

Sherlock holds himself still but can't help quirking an eyebrow and rolling his eyes at the question. "Richard Brooke?" he scoffs.

Grinning, Moriarty says, "No one seems to get the joke. But you do."

"Of course. Richard Brooke in German is Reichenbach, the case that made my name."

"And now you're a proper celebrity, aren’t you? The Great Sherlock Holmes. Ooh," he says, as he circles behind Sherlock. "You got that too, I see. Very good."

Sherlock has been holding his hands behind his back, tapping out the rhythm with his fingers. "You said you planted the code at my flat, but that wasn't quite true, was it? You planted it here," Sherlock raises a hand, gesturing to his own head. "Binary code tapped against your knee like a nervous tick. Every beat a one, and every rest a zero."

"I don't have nervous ticks, Sherlock. Nervous ticks are for normal people who are boring and who have nerves."

"Which is why I remembered the pattern. A few lines of code that can break into any system, and now that I have the code I can alter all the records. I can kill 'Rich Brooke' and bring back 'Jim Moriarty'."

"Hm." Moriarty clasps his hands behind his back and frowns. "Well, this is really very awkward, isn't it?" Rocking back on his heels, Moriarty 'tuts' and shake his head. "You don't actually think that a few lines of computer code can open any door? Bring the world as we know it to an end?"

"I've seen it done."

"Of course… Your little brother." He presses his tongue against his inside cheek and smirks. "He's really very good, isn't he? He came very highly recommended."

Sherlock frowns. "What?"

Baring his teeth, Moriarty chuckles. "Would this be the moment where I announce that there is no code? That it was all a clever lie that you fell for like an idiot?" He grimaces, rubs his hands over his face as he shakes his head. "Poor, ordinary Sherlock. This is too easy. I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed in you."

"But the rhythm…"

"Come now, do try to keep up." Moriarty waves his hands as if conducting a symphony. "Partita Number One. Thank-you, Johann Sebastian Bach!"

"But then how did you…?"

"How did I break into the bank, to the Tower, to the prison?" Throwing his hands out on either side of him, Moriarty tips his head up to the sky and says, "Daylight robbery!" He spins in a circle, his coat flapping around him as he turns. "All it takes is some willing participants. Everyone has a price, don’t they?"

"No…"

Moriarty shakes his head. "Your mistake was thinking we were the same, you and I: all about the puzzles, the riddles. You get caught up in the facts and the little clues and you always want everything to be so clever. That's your weakness, you know," he waggles a finger under Sherlock's nose and shakes his head again.

"But I'm not trying to solve puzzles, Sherlock. I'm trying to create them. And what better way to trip-up Sherlock Holmes than with something so simple, so totally obvious?" Tucking his hands behind his back Moriarty shrugs. "What can be simpler than bribery?" Shaking his head, thoroughly condescending, he says, "You never even considered that possibility, did you?"

Sherlock had considered the possibility of bribery, however briefly. It is somewhat sickening to realize that Moriarty has a point: he'd dismissed it because the prospect of an ingenious computer code was far more thrilling; was far more appropriate a possibility for a mastermind like Moriarty.

Sherlock clears his throat. "What does this have to do with … with Lysander?"

"Call him 'Q'. I know you want to."

He moves quickly, spinning around and reaching out all at once. Sherlock closes his fists around the front of Moriarty's shirt and jacket, shoving him forward until he's off-balance; until one quick shove would send him plummeting off the roof. "Stop gloating and tell me!"

"Woah, Woah," Moriarty gasps, his voice gone high-pitched as his arms pinwheel. Then he laughs, shrill and excited. "Now I know you didn't see this bit coming. I couldn't be sure, at first…." He reaches up and grasps Sherlock's upper arms, his fingers tightening their grip as he asks, "Should we go together? No? What do you think?"

"I think you should explain," Sherlock snarls.

"I promised I would burn you, Sherlock. This is just me keeping my word," Moriarty says in a low purr. "At first I thought I'd just kill your estranged little brother. Something poetic, I hadn't decided how, but even then I knew it would be a terrible waste. Every time we've worked together it's always been so … enjoyable."

"Q's never worked for you."

"You'd be surprised. Really you would." Moriarty raises his eyebrows. "Quite a devious little mind he has, too. I suppose that's why he sought me out; promised to be loyal even, and in return all he wanted was my promise that I would keep him free of meddling governments and corporations and bothersome, judgmental, unimaginative older brothers." There's a giddy, boyish giggle that bubbles up past Moriarty's lips and he has the audacity to flash Sherlock a wink. "He's really very sweet. I think I'll keep him. A little reward for bringing you down."

Sherlock lets Moriarty go, stepping away from the ledge as he tries to think: would Q really join Moriarty? What is he missing?

Pointedly, Moriarty brushes down his suit, readjusting the lay of it. He shoots Sherlock a sharp glare as he fixes his tie, and then claps his hands together. "Now then, shall we finish the game? I enjoy reveling in my own genius as much as the next bloke…Well," he chuckles. "Maybe a teensy bit more than the next bloke, but all this monologuing is becoming tedious." He leans to the side, looking down over the edge and grinning, half serene and half giddy. "Glad you chose a tall building, nice way to do it."

"Do it? Do what?" Sherlock releases a sighing breath as realization dawns. "Yes of course. My suicide."

"Genius detective proved to be a fraud. I read it in the paper so it must be true. I love newspapers: fairy tales. And pretty grim ones too."

Sherlock pushes all thoughts of Q out of his mind and focuses. "What," he drawls. "You expect me to throw myself off a building because you asked me to?"

"That would certainly be a lovely act of devotion," Moriarty teases. "But actually I was thinking you'd throw yourself off the building because I beat you, fair and square. I gave you the clues, I told you this was coming, and you still couldn't win." He 'tsks' again. "You should be ashamed, Sherlock Holmes. I've taken everything from you, I thought you'd have the decency to admit when you've been properly beaten."

Sherlock shakes his head. "I can still prove you created a false identity…"

Moriarty throws his head back as he releases a bubbling laugh. "You think you can out-hack your little brother? Go ahead. That might actually be fun..." Moving so fast Sherlock can't quite track the movement, Moriarty pivots round and then steps up directly behind him, his breath ghosting against Sherlock's ear as he says, "Come on now. For me?"

Hissing, Sherlock spins around and thrusts his arms forward, sending the other man stumbling away. "Touchy touchy," Moriarty says, chuckling as he holds his hands up. "You're a bit prickly, aren’t you?"

"This isn’t funny."

"Well, it is a little bit funny," Moriarty counters. "Still need a little extra incentive? I'm always happy to be of service." He casts a leering grin at Sherlock before he says, "All your friends will die if don't jump."

This entire exchange hasn't quite been what Sherlock had anticipated when he'd worked out the likely scenario in his head, sitting and waiting in the lab for the final pieces of his plan to be put into place. But this point, this 'incentive' at least, was entirely anticipated. Nevertheless, he tries to look suitably stunned. "John?"

"Everyone."

"Mrs. Hudson?" Sherlock asks, wanting specifics. Confirmation.

"Everyone."

"Lestrade?"

"Three bullets. Three gunmen. Three victims," Moriarty says. "There's no stopping it. Unless my people see you jump."

He's grateful that he has his plan in place. It's a relief to know that even as he climbs onto the ledge of the roof, he hasn't quite been beaten. Not yet. Not really.

It means he doesn't have to think about what a failure to anticipate this move on Moriarty's part would have cost. Would he have jumped? Would he have walked away?

"Thatta boy," Moriarty says, peaking over the ledge by Sherlock's leg. "Ooh look, you've got an audience now."

When he looks, Sherlock realizes that he does have an audience. People milling about on the sidewalk below, someone sitting on the wooden bench against the side of the hospital, but all of the people he can see are Molly's friends, her co-workers. All of them are down there ready and waiting.

"Off you pop," Moriarty says. "Your death is the only thing that's going to call off the killers. I'm certainly not going to do it."

If the time really is now; if this really does have to happen, then everything is in place.

All that's left is for Sherlock to jump.

"May I have a moment alone, please?" Sherlock asks. "One moment of privacy?"

He doesn't need to look to know that Moriarty has rolled his eyes. It's evident in the man's tone when he says, "Of course."

If he's going to do it, best to do it now that Moriarty will not be in a position to observe. It's all a magic trick, but if the timing is just the slightest bit off then everything Sherlock has planned will be for nothing because Moriarty will figure it out in moments.

He shifts closer to the ledge, but doesn't jump. Moriarty's words are running on a loop inside his head and suddenly Sherlock can't help but laugh. Low and deep and entirely pleased.

"What?" Moriarty demands. "What did I miss?"

"You're not going to do it?" Sherlock asks as he slowly turns around. With a smirk, he hops off the ledge. "So the killers can be called off. There's a recall code, or a word, or a number."

It's his turn to walk a circle around Moriarty. His turn to taunt, his voice a lilting singsong as he says, "I don't have to die, if I've got you."

"Oh." He's still grinning, but Sherlock thinks he sees panic in those wide brown eyes. Something shocked and nervous. Had Moriarty truly not considered this possibility? "You think you can make me do that? You think you can make me tell you?"

"Yes," Sherlock says, succinctly. "And so do you."

"Please. Your big brother and all the King's horses couldn't make me do a thing I didn't want to."

"But I'm not my brother," Sherlock points out, stepping closer until they are chest to chest. "I am you: prepared to do anything. Prepared to burn. Prepared to do what ordinary people won't."

Disbelieving, Moriarty steps back, shaking his head. "No, you're ordinary. You're ordinary," he repeats, still moving away. "You're on the side of the angels."

Sherlock keeps moving forward, keeping his head tipped forward and his voice low and threatening. "I may be on the side of the angels, but don't think for a moment that I am one of them."

He meets Moriarty's stare straight-on and thinks: if it comes down to a choice between leaving everything behind, and doing whatever he must to get the recall code from this man, it's not really a choice at all. There is only one option.

"You're me. You're me!"" Moriarty gasps, his eyes filling with tears as his voice echoes with something that Sherlock can only describe as relief. "Thank-you," he says, extending a hand out which, confusedly, Sherlock shakes. Licking his lips, Moriarty nods. "As long as I'm alive, you can save your friends. You've got a way out." All at once his grip on Sherlock's hand tightens as he yanks, his other hand pulling something from behind him as he hisses, "Well good luck with that."

"No!" Sherlock shouts, desperately pulling away even as there is a thumping sound and a bubbling crackling noise. He spins away, having liberated his hand, and can't stop moving even as he registers the spray of red mist that fills the air where, just a second ago, James Moriarty had been standing.

Now Moriarty is lying in a sprawl on the gravel, a bullet hole directly between his wide brown eyes, blood haloing behind his head and an unfired gun in his hand.

________________________________________________________________________________________

She doesn't see the shiny black car that pulls to the curb in front of 221 because she's too busy leaning over the banister as the man who introduced himself as Yuri and promised to fix the infernal flickering the front hall lights tries to explain what the problem is. It's all very complicated from the sound of it and she's glad she happened to bump into Yuri when she did because if she had to call someone in this probably would be costing her quite a bit.

There's double-knock on the front doorframe and when she looks over she sees them, a man and a woman in business dress, holding themselves perhaps a bit stiffly but she well remembers what sitting at a desk can do to a person. She blames her years working as a secretary for the state of her hip. No ergonomic, special-designed chairs back then.

"Mrs. Hudson?" the man asks.

"Can I help you?" she asks, pushing away from the banister to greet them both properly. "Oh! Are you here to see the basement flat? Sorry for the mess, just fixing the lighting."

When she offers her hand out she finds herself unceremoniously yanked out of her own front door and then forcefully bent double so fast she almost doesn't even know what's happening. Everything's a blur, and she wonders what this looks like to everyone out on the street, because the young man is draped over her back and heavens knows where that young woman has got to. "Let me go!" Mrs. Hudson shouts. "What's this about? Let me go!"

While she flaps her hands against the man's arms and demands to know what is going on she catches sight of the woman stepping into 221. There's a rattling sound and then silence, followed by two soft thumping noises and a loud thud that she recognizes immediately as being silenced gunshots because, well, she's had Sherlock living in the flat above hers long enough.

"All clear," the woman calls, and the man steps back and lets Mrs. Hudson go.

"What the bloody hell is…" she turns around and falls silent because recognizing a sound as a gunshot, and recognizing the person sprawled in your front entrance as being killed by a gunshot are two very different things. "Is that man dead?" is the first thing she can think of to say. She feels silly about it because, well, obviously the man is dead, but she can't feel foolish for too long because her feet have become suddenly unreliable and she becomes focused on keeping herself upright.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," the woman says, holstering a gun. "We work for MI6. Everything's all right now. This man is a known assassin." There is a badge that is flipped open and then swiftly shut in front of Mrs. Hudson's face and she can admit that if anyone had to get shot in her front hall, she's glad it's an assassin and that the person doing the shooting has proper credentials.

A badge, however, is not going to keep her lovely front hall rug from being stained.

"Get him up off the carpet. He'll make a mess of it like that," Mrs. Hudson says as she props herself against the wall and uses it to walk further inside. "An assassin," she echoes breathily. "Oh dear…was he going to … kill me?" She has no idea why she whispers that last bit. She has no idea about anything, anymore, and she'd feel a sight better if John were here. She'd take Sherlock, in a pinch.

The glance the agents share is answer enough to her hushed question. As the male agent steps forward to roll the body onto the hardwood the woman comes over to rest a supporting hand on Mrs. Hudson's shoulder and promise once again that everything is alright. "Do you need to sit down? Shall I get you anything?" the woman offers.

Mrs. Hudson tells herself that she is being silly. That she's still alive and, despite the odds, she is entirely unhurt; she checks, but the rug seems to be no worse for wear. Sherlock would say that there is nothing to be gained from flopping about her own front hall like a fish out of water and making undue fuss, so she pulls herself upright and tries to settle her nerves.

"Tea," she prescribes. "Would you like some?"

"Uh, yes?" the female agent says, her gaze darting over to her companion and then back. They both nod.

"Right then. I'll just pop off and make some." She's halfway to her own flat when she halts. "Oh dear, who's going to fix the wiring now?"

Again, the two agents look at each other. "I could?" the man offers.

Mrs. Hudson eyes him suspiciously. "You know a thing or two about that, do you?" At his nod, she accepts the help. "But close the door," she asks. "I don't want someone catching sight of this body…. Oh," she gasps, waving a hand in front of her mouth as she tries to catch her breath. She looked at the body. Somehow it's different seeing a whole body lying on the floor, as opposed to bits of various bodies stored in freezer bags or Tupperware in your tenant's refrigerator. "What a mess."

"I'll clean it up," the woman offers hastily. "Don't worry."

"Things used to be so quiet and simple here," Mrs. Hudson laments to herself. "Right," she says, drawing herself up again. "Tea."

________________________________________________________________________________________

In his office at Scotland Yard, Lestrade glances away from his computer screen where he has been engrossed in completing a report and is surprised to see two men in posh suits leading away one of his sergeants while a woman in a brightly colored and incredibly tight skirt advises everyone in the outer office to "Carry on, please. You're all doing lovely work."

"Hold on a minute," Lestrade says, flinging open his door a little more forcefully than he might need to. "What's going on here?"

She turns round to face him and suddenly he finds himself frozen, hanging out of his office door with what he can shamefully admit is an open-mouth. The woman's hair is short and tightly curled, and her eyes are wide and glinting with humor. He doesn't know the joke and wouldn't be capable of laughing if he did, her skirt is really quite tight.

"I'm married," he announces. "Well," he admits. "We're working it out."

"I'm glad to hear it," the woman says as she walks over to him. He can't tell if her slow pace is for dramatic effect or if it is simply the fastest that she can walk in the tall heels she's wearing. "I'm Eve Moneypenny."

Lestrade nearly falls onto his face as he removes his right hand from where it has been braced on the doorframe in his haste to shake her offered hand. "Chief Inspector Lestrade."

"Lovely," she says. "I've just saved your life, Chief Inspector Lestrade. You can thank me later. Perhaps we'll have a drink sometime."

"Uh." His gaze wanders as he waits for his brain to catch up and he sees the two men escorting Sergeant Billings out and all at once he remembers why he came out here. It had nothing to do with this woman and her skirt, and everything to do with the handcuffs on Billings' wrists. "Come into my office. You'd better have a good explanation."

"No time, I'm afraid," Moneypenny says. As she takes a step away she bows forward a little and he already knows she'll turn on her heel in a moment and be gone before she gives him any sort of explanation. "Busy day, you know. Lots of traitors and assassins to put away."

"Traitors? Assassins?"

She stops long enough to flash him an amused smile, nodding in the direction of the door. "That man agreed to kill you on behalf of James Moriarty in exchange for ten thousand pounds."

Still trying to process that someone had valued his life at the mere price of ten thousand pounds, he misses Moneypenny turning on her heel and doesn't manage to catch up until Sergeant Donovan intercepts the woman on the way to the door.

"Did you say Moriarty?" Donovan demands.

With a sigh Moneypenny comes to a stop again. They have the full attention of everyone in the office and though Lestrade knows he should tell them to get back to work, he's equally confident that no one will listen to him. "Yes, that's right."

Donovan scoffs. "But he's not real. He's just a story."

The smile Moneypenny offers Sally Donovan is as sweet as it is condescending. "Aren't you a darling," she says. "Keep trying, you'll get it right eventually."

While Donovan stands there spluttering and Moneypenny once again makes an effort to leave the office Lestrade calls out, "At least tell us who you work for. I intend to follow this up."

"Please do, Chief Inspector," Moneypenny says coyly. "I work for MI6. Though I suppose as I'm on lunch break, you could say that at the moment I'm working for the Holmes brothers." She waves a hand up in a wave as she pushes through the glass doors. "I look forward to your call. Have a lovely day!"

________________________________________________________________________________________

James Moriarty is dead. Sherlock checked for a pulse but there wasn't one. He checked for a clever trick, checked to make certain that this was real, but though the bullet in Moriarty's gun is indeed fake the one in his head is very real.

The blood is real.

Which is why Sherlock is standing on the ledge of Saint Bart's hospital. No Moriarty means no way to determine the recall code, means no way to protect everyone who Sherlock cares about except the one he put in place twelve hours ago.

He's not going to jump; not in any way that will prove fatal. There is a percentage of risk, of course. Calculations and cleverness can only go so far, he has found that after a certain point one must rely on chance. That's not why he's hesitating.

He's not going to die except, as he stands there, it suddenly feels very much as if he is. It has become suddenly impossible to imagine a world without Lestrade bringing him cases, or Mrs. Hudson scolding him for the thumbs he's keeping in the crisper, or John …

There is the creaking, reluctant swing of the door to Saint Bartholomew's roof pushing open, followed by the sound of feet crunching softly on gravel. Sherlock doesn't turn because he is too busy attempting to deduce who it might be based on the cadence of the stride. He has hit on the terrible possibility that perhaps Richard Brooke really has just shot himself on the rooftop and that, for the first time, Sherlock is about to come face-to-face with the real James Moriarty.

"You're a tremendous idiot, Sherlock."

His throat constricts somewhat awkwardly and Sherlock has no idea where to start deciphering the emotion currently assailing. He concentrates on turning around slowly enough that he doesn't accidentally slip. "Q."

Q raises his eyebrows, looking pointedly at where Sherlock is standing on the ledge, the tips of his shoes jutting out over the side. "This is your clever plan, is it?"

Sherlock feels incredibly wrong-footed. For one thing, he is not certain what time limit he has: do the assassins have to see him fall within five minutes? Ten? For another, Sherlock very much dislikes confrontation and there is an impertinent, condescending glint in his little brother's eyes that is making him feel remarkably foolish for being here: standing on the ledge of a building.

As such, he feels compelled to point out, "I'm not really going to commit suicide."

"No," Q agrees, nodding. "You're just going to make it appear as if you have. A convincing enough set-up that John and everyone else will be entirely fooled."

"Well, yes." It's brilliant. He knows it's brilliant. It took rather a lot to set-up and he is pleased with himself, and there's really no reason for Q to look so thoroughly unimpressed.

"Your stubborn insistence to do it all on your own has you faking your own suicide and severing all ties with your life here in London."

Sherlock sniffs. "You managed."

"I had considerably less to lose, and fewer friends to cut ties with." Q laughs, that low simmering chuckle that Sherlock has almost forgotten. "He's right, you know," Q says, nodding to Moriarty's prone form. "It is your weakness: wanting everything to be clever."

"How did you…?"

Tucking his hands into the pockets of his parka, Q wanders closer. "I tried to tell you," he says, and then tips his head to the side, tapping one long finger against his ear before returning his hand to his pocket. Then he jerks his head back in Moriarty's direction.

"Oh," Sherlock sighs, feeling suddenly weak-kneed. Pieces are falling into place. Bits of past conversations with his brother, snippets that Moriarty said right here on the roof, and it's starting to form an almost complete picture. "Oh."

"You didn't think Moriarty would have a 'recall code'. Since when has he ever played fair?"

Frowning, Sherlock asks. "What was the point?"

"I'm afraid I don't follow."

"Your deal with Moriarty," Sherlock says, more than a little exasperated. "That was to ensure there was a recall code in place? That was your tradeoff?"

Q shrugs. "Of course."

"A lot of good that did," Sherlock says with a derisive snort. "He's dead!" he gestures to Moriarty's body, sprawled out on the ground between where he is standing on the ledge, where his brother is.

Q follows the gesture, glances over to Moriarty's sprawled form, then back up to Sherlock. His face is infuriatingly blank. Sherlock has gotten used to being around expressive people: John, Mrs. Hudson, Sally Donovan, Lestrade. Normal people who smile when they are happy, and frown when they are upset, and grimace when they are in pain.

He is hopelessly out of practice deciphering whatever his younger brother is currently attempting to express.

"I can see that he's dead," Q says. "I don't understand why you're confused."

"He's dead!" Sherlock points out again. "You risked your life for a code that is of absolutely no use to us!"

When Q sighs his shoulder slump a little, and Sherlock can read exasperation just fine, thank-you, even at this distance. "I suppose you actually think he only had three killers in place."

Sherlock scoffs. "Of course I don't. I'm not an idiot. That's why I'm up here. How else can I call them off?"

Rather than answer, Q bends over and reaches into Moriarty's coat pocket. When he pulls himself upright he's holding the man's mobile phone. "The deal I struck," he says, speaking perhaps a bit slowly, as if he isn't entirely certain Sherlock can keep-up. "Was that no civilian casualties would result from whatever he planned to do to you. In return, I promised to be loyal, and to help him whenever he needed me."

"That was a stupid deal," Sherlock says. "Besides, he stood right there and said…"

"He could threaten you with whatever he wanted, but the moment he harmed a civilian his deal with me would be broken."

Sherlock considers that for a moment. "Are you telling me there are no assassins waiting to kill John and the others?"

"Not at all," Q says. "They've been in place for three weeks, waiting."

"Well then what…" Sherlock trails off as it dawns on him. "Ah. You showed your hand when you asked to keep the others safe. The killers are still in place because you haven't come through on whatever your part of the deal is…" Another flash of insight and Sherlock sighs. "The spy. The spy inside MI6, Moriarty wanted you to deliver him."

"Apparently he didn't believe MI6 would execute suitable justice."

"But why the recall code?"

Holding up the mobile, Q says, "Because of this."

Sherlock puts it together all at once, and he's so staggered and relieved and bloody exhausted that he almost steps backward right off the roof. "The phones," he says.

"In order to recall everyone, Moriarty needed to be in touch with everyone," Q says, nodding, a tiny smile quirking up the corner of his mouth. "Which means every assassin he has working for him in London at this moment had to have their mobile with them, and it had to be switched on."

"And you wormed your way into their network, past whatever security measures they had in place and pinpointed their location."

"Child's play," Q says, tossing Moriarty's phone in the air and catching it again. He tucks it into the pocket of his parka. "Come down off the roof, Sherlock. You're making me nervous."

"How did you bring them in? The assassins?"

"I've been working at MI6, and this plan didn't just pop into my head at the last moment. I've cultivated one or two favors. Besides, the prospect of bringing in world class assassins who might also be able to provide insight into James Moriarty's world wide criminal web? I had more than enough field agents volunteering their assistance."

"You're certain they have all been apprehended?"

"The ones in the city have," Q says. "I don't think for a moment there aren't still more out there, but it's bought us more than enough time."

Sherlock jumps down off the ledge just as the side door onto the roof is flung open again.

"Sherlock!" John shouts stumbling out onto the roof, his breath labored and his eyes wild. He brings himself up short when he spots Q. "Q," he says, blinking. "Uh, I mean, Lysander."

The corner of Q's mouth quirks upward. "Q's fine, John."

"Oh, well," John's eyes are flickering back and forth between Sherlock and his brother. In a moment Sherlock knows the man will have gathered his thoughts enough to formulate a line of questioning and Sherlock really is not looking forward to that. He imagines it will be significantly worse than when he dosed John with an unknown chemical substance and proceeded to terrorize him in military lab.

Strictly for scientific purposes of course, not that it seemed to appease John to hear.

"Is that," John says, his gaze finally shifting to where Moriarty lies on the ground, blood still seeping from his head. "Is that Moriarty? Is he really dead?"

"He is very much dead," Q confirms. "Shot with a very real bullet that came out of a very real gun held by a very real MI6 double-o."

John nods, but Sherlock can't tell how much is actually sinking in. The man looks a bit glazed. "That's…that's very good."

"I should probably be off," Q says, stepping away even as Sherlock flashes an accusatory gaze at him. Bastard. The least he could do is stay and help Sherlock explain.

Q flashes a smug little grin and continues edging toward the door. "I have a few agents on loan from MI6 that I should probably return. I'll see you both later," he promises, and then he's gone.

"Sherlock," John says, gaping at the door through which Q has just neatly escaped. "What the hell happened here?"

________________________________________________________________________________________

"Did you just leave your brother alone with his flat mate and a dead body on the roof of Saint Bart's?" Bond asks as he falls into step. Q knew the agent would be lurking about, but he has to admit that he didn't see what direction Bond had come from.

Tilting his head to the side, Q asks, "Would you think it was terribly irresponsible of me if I said 'yes'?" Bond raises his pale eyebrows expectantly and Q lets out a huffing breath. "Look, I was only concerned with protecting any innocent bystanders that my brother might accidentally overlook in his own scheme. Sherlock's the one who intended to swan dive off the roof. Why don't you ask him what he planned to do with the body?"

"I doubt he even considered the papers would inevitably conclude it was a murder-suicide," Bond says. "Besides, I can't ask your brother anything because he's undoubtedly being harangued on the rooftop where you left him."

"You'd be wrong to think he hadn't anticipated the possibility. More likely he simply didn't care what the papers said, one way or another. Besides, you can't tell me you're afraid of Doctor Watson." Waving a hand, he continues before Bond can formulate a denial, "Mycroft has probably been tasked with the business of removing Moriarty from the roof."

"Yes. Your eldest brother with the ambiguous government position and apparently infinite control," Bond continues to look unimpressed with Q's nonchalance. "The one you felt the need to prevent from witnessing the culmination of your plan for, and I'm using your words here: "Everyone's general protection and continued happiness", and yet suddenly you are not at all concerned with him having access to the corpse of someone that I shot through the head."

Q stops walking. "You have a point."

"Yes, I rather thought so."

Q turns on his heel and starts walking back in the direction he came from, Bond matching his pace. "In my defense, I hardly thought you intended to actually shoot and kill the man."

Bond releases a sort of huffing laugh and shakes his head. "You made a very compelling argument as to why I should."

"I know I did." Q glances sideways at the other man's profile. "But MI6 would have probably liked to ask him a few questions."

"I think it's unlikely they would have faired better than Mycroft did when he had his chance to interrogate him."

"Any chance you will get in trouble because of it?"

"Some," Bond acknowledges. "But I've done far worse things with far more dubious reasons. I think Mallory will forgive me, and if not then I'll simply escape the country with you."

It's a teasing grin that Bond flashes at him, but Q can't bring himself to smile back. He thought he'd feel different when this was all over. Relieved that Sherlock was safe, or proud that a plan had come together and that no one was hurt. Maybe the usual rush he gets when things come together just so.

He feels those things, but there's something else. A tightness, a tension that he can't begin to decipher.

Being silent will only emphasize how off things suddenly feel, and Q can't take the chance that Bond will figure out that something is wrong. So Q bumps softly against the agent's side, dropping his voice low and hushed because he knows very well that it will distract Bond better than anything. "Bond, I have to tell you something."

Bright blue eyes flicker to him and then away. "Yes?"

Q licks his lips. "I really have no idea why I'm walking back to the hospital. I haven't got a body bag on me and I took a cab over here. I don't know what additional fees they charge for transporting a corpse."

________________________________________________________________________________________

Before they even make it back to Saint Bart's MI6 is there sorting things out. "Did you call them?" Lysander asks as he watches agents bustle around interrogating Sherlock and John and a few hospital personnel milling on the sidewalk.

"Just after I disarmed the assassin I found in that building over there but before I shot Moriarty," Bond confirms.

Lysander turns to survey the controlled chaos and then huffs. "If there's no need to smuggle a body from the scene, then what am I doing here?"

Bond shrugs. "I assumed you might like to see for yourself that everything is being suitably resolved."

"There you are!" Sherlock says, speeding over to them, his coat flapping out behind him so that he looks like a particularly deranged bird. "Make certain you run all the necessary tests on the body. I want to be certain that it's Moriarty who's been shot."

Bond nods agreeably and makes all the appropriate assurances, and endeavors to remain patient and calm under the barrage of questions and demands that Lysander's older brother is currently leveling at him. "If we had the computer key code this would be so much simpler," Sherlock says with a sigh. "Confirm with actual records and data the real identity of James Moriarty."

"He never admitted where the code was?" Bond asks.

Sherlock waves a dismissive hand. "It was fake. All of it."

"Really?" Bond casts an assessing glance toward Lysander, wondering if the younger man was aware of this or not. Remembering the handwritten notes and the muttering, not to mention the curious amount of time that Lysander spent locked in his office, Bond has his own suspicions. Out of the corner of his eye, Bond catches Sherlock leveling an equally suspicious glance at his brother.

"It's a shame," Lysander agrees readily, a balanced amount of regret and disappointment in his voice. "Oh well."

Sherlock's eyes narrow further. "We'll talk later. I'm going back to Baker Street before someone tries to put a blanket on me. Do I look like someone who is in shock?" He goes flapping away before anyone has the chance to answer.

"There," Lysander says, interrupting Bond before he has the opportunity to ask any more questions about the code. Across the way, the body of James Moriarty and the assassin that Bond killed are being loaded into an unmarked black truck to be taken to MI6. "Now you can say it."

"Say what?"

Lysander smiles at him. "Now you can say that it's over."

"Rodriguez in custody, Moriarty is dead along with some of his top assassins, and MI6 has a few promising leads to begin tackling the syndicate."

"Between the agents who turned traitor, the assassins that you didn't kill, and that woman you brought in, you should have plenty to go on even if you don't manage to convince Rodriguez to talk."

Bond shifts "About that woman…"

"What about her?" Lysander catches sight of something in Bond's eyes or his manner because he laughs and shakes his head. "There are so many reasons why you don't have to explain anything to me, Bond, that I hardly know where to begin."

For some reason, however, Bond feels very much as if he wants to. "Still…" he says.

Lysander shakes his head. "The deal was that when this was over I would be free to disappear back into the shadows." He casts a pointed look around the street. "It would appear that this particular assignment has come to a rather definitive end so," he holds out his hand. "It's been a pleasure, Mister Bond."

"A handshake." Bond stares at Lysander's long-fingers slender hand hanging in the distance between them. Then he looks up into those bright green eyes.

"Problem?"

"I should think so." Taking Lysander's hand in his own, Bond tugs the younger man forward until their bodies are leaning together like two sides of the Eiffel Tower. While Lysander is still off-balance Bond raises his hands, one pushing through wavy dark brown hair to cup the back of the younger man's head as the other frames the side of Lysander's face, thumb resting just beneath Lysander's chin so he can maintain full control of the kiss.

It should feel like a good-bye, but it doesn't. Bond is very familiar with 'good-bye' kisses, and this feels more like the start of something than the end, which suits him just fine. He's not all that ready to let this man go, impetuous, infuriating, smart-mouthed genius that he is.

His mobile is ringing in the breast pocket of his jacket, which is the only reason why Bond let's Lysander go, stepping back just enough that he can take out his phone and check who's calling: Mallory.

"James," Lysander says, his voice cracked and husky.

"One moment," Bond mouthes, and answers his phone. "Wait, say that again?" he asks, when Mallory's voice comes across the line in a crackle. Plugging his hear to block the noise in the street Bond shifts as he tries to establish a better connection.

"Alright," he says when Mallory successfully imparts his new orders. "Understood." Bond disconnects the call, tucking his phone back in his pocket as he turns. "I have to go back to headquarters, would you…" but when he turns around there is no sign of Lysander anywhere.

Chapter Text

The new MI6 is cold white-painted stone and hastily tiled floors, wide-open spaces crammed with desks connected to empty rooms by narrow hallways; some parts of it feel packed with people and purpose, others are merely haunted. It's not the first time that Bond has been in the place but he suspects it will take some time to adjust. As he walks across the pristine white tiles of Q Branch he catches himself glancing out of the corner of his eye, trying to catch a glimpse of something that isn't there any longer.

"Everything all right?" Moneypenny asks as her high heels click loudly on the floor. When he flashes a quick glance her gaze is expectant and knowing. It's possible there's the hint of a smirk hiding at the corner of her mouth, or it may simply be that he is feeling defensive.

He says, "It's fine," and leaves it at that.

The answer is plainly inadequate for Moneypenny but she lets it drop, instead gesturing in the general direction of the holding cells, where Tiago Rodriguez waits, contained behind tinted bullet-proof glass. "We've sent some of our best to interrogate him. Mallory even gave it a go himself, but Rodriguez is refusing to cooperate."

The guards standing at attention on either side of the door to the makeshift prison appropriately armed, Bond reads the history of their combat training in their posture, the narrow-eyes that shift constantly around the room assessing and reevaluating potential threats. Satisfied, Bond turns his attention to Moneypenny. "He's survived six months in the custody of the Chinese. There's no reason to suspect that after less than forty-eight hours with MI6 he'll start talking."

Eve tips her head in grudging acknowledgement. "The trouble is we're short on time."

The two glass doors flanked by the guards abruptly make an angry hissing sound and abruptly become transparent as they slide open. From the corner of his eye Bond notes that both guards have their hands braced on their guns but it's Mallory who steps out of the room and after a second to ascertain that he is alone and that the doors are drawing shut, the guards relax again. For one fleeting moment Bond gets a glimpse of Rodriguez' bright blond hair and wide smiling face before the doors close completely, the glass once again opaque.

"Good, you're here," Mallory says, acknowledging Bond.

"Sir."

Eve shifts her position as Mallory joins them. "I was just filling him in on the situation."

"Good." Mallory turns his focus to Bond and takes over. "There's every reason to suspect that Rodriguez has automated the release of the NATO agents' identities. Unless we get the relevant information we can assume that five more names will go out at the start of next week whether he's in our custody or not. We need to make certain that we seal-off the leak."

Bond entertains a few ideas regarding information extraction, his thoughts derailing when a passing consideration of seducing the relevant details out of Rodriguez produces an image of Lysander's sly green-eyed gaze and quirking lips.

Mallory's mouth thins into an unhappy line as he interrupts Bond's thoughts by saying, "He's insisting on speaking with my predecessor."

Bond narrows his eyes. "You're not serious."

"I don't like it any more than you do, but if there's even a remote possibility that he'll cooperate we have no choice. So long as she agrees."

"She'll agree. That's not the problem."

Eve flashes a smirk his way. "Are you worried she might throttle him, Bond?"

"Yes," Bond says, completely honest. "And if you worked for her as long as I have, you'd be concerned, as well."

Mallory's mouth lifts upward and he chuckles. "Yes, well. It's a risk we'll have to take. If she does accept I want you there, 007."

"As bodyguard?"

"Yes." Mallory's eyes narrow sharply. "Try not to kill anyone, while you're at it."

"I think I can manage."

Mallory looks infinitely less certain. "We can hope. I'll go speak with her. You two keep an eye on things here."

Bond waits until Mallory has left before he glances at Moneypenny. "Do you think we're being overcautious?"

"You'd prefer we were lax and regretful, rather than overcautious and confident?" she asks.

"I don't know. Maybe it's because of this mess with Moriarty, but catching Rodriguez seemed far too simple."

"You didn't even have to use your gun." Bond can recognize false-sympathy when he hears it. Eve flashes him a wry smile. "I suppose that's the advantage that Lysander gave us. He's terribly efficient and frighteningly clever. I'm going to miss having him around."

Of course he should have known better than to think that she had really let the matter drop. He ignores the meaningful sideways glance that she shoots him but can't help but say, "Q-Branch certainly won't function the same."

There's a full-blown teasing smile on her face now, if he cares to look. Bond does his best to avoid just that as Moneypenny asks, "Just Q-Branch?"

He says, "Yes," and then turns on his heel. Mallory asked them to keep an eye on things but there are two guards inside the room with Rodriguez, and two more guarding the door on the outside, not to mention a swarm of agents meandering the hallways between the holding cell and the exit. Bond feels like he's wasting time. "I'm going to pay a visit to Hamish."

This actually makes Moneypenny laugh. "You mean you're going to go and pester him. He's working on Rodriguez' computer equipment and doesn't have time to entertain your requests for new equipment."

Ignoring her Bond keeps moving in the direction of Q-Branch. He refuses to let his eyes wander toward the empty station on the right-hand side of the room but they do despite him. The computer screen is dark and the desk chair pushed in. There are no personal effects cluttering the area, no trace that the station has ever been occupied. Bond passes it and keeps walking.

________________________________________________________________________________________

By the time Q treks back to his flat his feet are sore and he's famished but he's managed to successfully exhaust himself enough that his thoughts and emotions are no longer in a tumult. He hadn't realized how inconveniently situated his flat is without the assistance of his bodyguard-come-chauffeur. There's no bus line that offers a direct route, which means he's spent a good while longer trudging about the streets of London than he anticipated though part of that has to do with the fact that he had gotten lost twice.

There had been a time when he had every stop sign and one-way road memorized. He and Sherlock used to spend hours pouring over city maps and setting obscure scavenger hunts for one another, each trying to outdo the other. Probably Sherlock still knows the city that well but Q found himself turning corners and discovering buildings and signs he'd never seen before, stumbling about like he was in a foreign land. Ironically, Q now knows those foreign lands better than he does his own home.

No, not home. Not for much longer at any rate.

"Oh good," he says as he chucks his keys on the front table and shuts his door. He hopes Mycroft knows he is being entirely sarcastic because his brother's presence in his flat is not at all a pleasant surprise. Especially as he spent two minutes standing at the bottom of his stairs contemplating the virtue of curling up for a kip right there, or whether his level of hunger warranted the suddenly daunting journey up his staircase and into his kitchen. "Are you staying for dinner?"

Mycroft is fiddling with his umbrella, sitting in the second of Q's green-velvet chairs. "No, thank-you," he says, and spared a rather pointed glance to Q's favorite chair, which remains vacant for him.

Q ignores his brother, the look, and the chair, and marches to his refrigerator. "You don't mind if I have something?" he asks as he goes. "I've missed lunch and my recollection of the morning is hazy. It's possible I overlooked breakfast, as well."

"By all means." Mycroft keeps his chair, though there is a faint rustling of fabric that indicates his brother has shifted slightly. That particular chair, Q knows, offers a direct line-of-sight into the kitchen and he tries to keep his body in front of the refrigerator in order to obscure the view. Anthea stocked his kitchen but most of that has been eaten or has gone off and Q hasn't replenished any of it. He hadn't seen the point until now, even if the point is merely to avoid one of his brother's lectures.

Mycroft clears his throat softly, undoubtedly equally aware of what Q is up to. "Very impressive, by the way. Your trick with the CCTV."

There's a carton of leftover Chinese from the other night, or he could make a sandwich. Deciding on the option that requires the least amount of effort Q takes out the cardboard carton and grabs a set of chopsticks from his drawer before heading into the living room. "That's a somewhat grudging compliment," he says, flashing a smug grin as he jabs his chopsticks into the box and collapses onto the sofa.

"I'm assuming you have some method of eliminating traces of your work. Otherwise one might question the rather incriminating message, which will no doubt lead to repercussions not only for yourself, but for others in significant positions in government." Mycroft grins like a crocodile and adds rather pointedly, "Brother dear."

"Are you asking whether or not you should start polishing your CV?" The pursed lips are answer enough. Q shakes his head, popping a piece of kung pao chicken into his mouth and chewing just to prolong his brother's suffering. "Ye of little faith."

"Not quite that." Mycroft doesn't elaborate.

There's a brief silence as Q munches on his mish-mash of leftovers. He could explain the technical aspects of his hack, but it's doubtful Mycroft could follow it. At the very least, Q supposes he might offer some explicit assurance that all will be well, but he's decided that he has yet to forgive his brother, and therefore he offers nothing but a perfectly blank expression as he consumes his dinner.

Mycroft sighs. "Is that it, then? The situation has been resolved and now you're returning to your carefree globe-trotting?"

"Hardly carefree." Q pokes his chopsticks around in the box and catches up a mouthful of noodles, which he chews thoughtfully.

Mycroft has never asked explicitly what it is that Q does to occupy himself since he left London, and Q never tells him. This means that on the few times when they have had occasion to talk, Mycroft carries on about Q being flighty and irresponsible, and Q has to pretend that he is precisely that or risk a lecture about 'acceptable risk' and 'dangerous games'. Never mind that Mycroft inevitably ends his preaching with a coded request to 'spy on this suspicious Moriarty character' or 'pass on word about this Chinese smuggling ring'. It's a difficult balance, but it's always worked for them before. The rather penetrating look at his older brother is currently fixing on him implies that this status quo is currently in jeopardy, and Q is too tired to deal with it at present.

He's too tired to do much of anything but finish his dinner, stuff his belongings into a bag and call a cab. There's nothing to be gained from lingering and this is his plan: get out as quickly as possible.

Short and sweet. There's no need for it to be anymore elaborate.

Maybe he'll stop by Baker Street but Sherlock will understand if he doesn't. Unlike Mycroft, Sherlock has never had a problem leaving England to visit Q.

Perhaps he'll head east, Q thinks. Prague, or Minsk. Or maybe he'll lose himself in Russia for a while. It's certainly a big enough and different enough place that he could manage it. Push away all thoughts of his family and MI6 and London and get back to real life.

Mycroft is still watching him expectantly when Q finishes chewing. Fiddling with his chopsticks, Q cocks his head to the side. "How did you get in here? Oh, of course. Anthea had a spare set of keys?"

"Naturally," Mycroft confirms snidely, adding a little sneer of a smile to compliment his tone. Then his expression shifts to something far less condescending if not still entirely aloof. "I don't expect there is anything I could say that might convince you to reconsider?"

"I don't belong here anymore."

Mycroft casts him a pointed look, one eyebrow rising. "Are you certain of that?" He lets the silence hold only for a second before he carries on as if he had never asked the question. "And the key code? Have you handed it over to MI6?"

Q clears his throat to avoid choking on his dinner. "What code?"

"Must we always play these games with one another?"

Q made up his mind long before he even finalized the program. He is well-aware that he is not quick to trust and he knows if he is ever going to hand-over the key code to anyone he would have to trust that person or organization completely and utterly. Mallory, MI6, Mycroft, none of them are infallible, none of them are entirely safe and none of them have Q's complete confidence.

He says, "Moriarty never had the key," and he knows that Mycroft will understand the truth in those words as well as his meaning: that he created the code himself and will protect it with everything he is until such a time that he deems it suitable to relinquish or destroy it.

The old Mycroft, the almost tyrannical force that had used and pursued Q until he had gone underground into hiding, would not have accepted this. He would have demanded the code and threatened to implement every ounce of his not inconsiderable power until he got precisely what he wanted.

This Mycroft, however, this mellowed version of his older brother simply says, "I see."

The answer resurrects that choking, aching, hollow thing that has been threatening to open its jaws on Q since he realized that this was all really over, standing on a street in front of Saint Bart's. He wants to say that he's pleased Mycroft has changed, that he seems happier or more settled, at least no longer harboring notions of despotic rule, but Q can't say any of those things because he has no wish to plummet into whatever emotional abyss is waiting for him.

He reminds himself that only a few hours ago this man now sitting so comfortably in his flat was prepared to fake their brother's suicide and let Q go into mourning for Sherlock knowing full-well that he was alive and well and haring-off after assassins.

Popping another piece of chicken into his mouth Q chews deliberately and swallows it down along with the threatening surge of emotion. "I'm sorry all your efforts were wasted."

Mycroft twitches the fingers of his right hand, braced on the handle of his umbrella. Q remembers this gesture as his brother's indolent version of a placating wave. "Hardly wasted. Merely a failsafe that happily proved to be unnecessary."

Again, Q is derailed. How can he muster his anger at his brother when Mycroft refuses to rise to the bait?

Toeing his shoes off, Q crosses his legs up underneath himself, not caring that it looks childish and utterly petulant. He scowls darkly at the amusement writ plain on his brother's face and chews on his dinner while darkly.

"I simply stopped by to congratulate you on your efforts and to make certain I didn't have to worry about a phone call from the PM. I didn't mean to disrupt your dinner."

"Wait, you're leaving?"

Rising smoothly from his seat his brother nods. "Yes. I do hope you plan to eat something more than a box of cold Chinese." Mycroft adjusts his suit jacket and checks his umbrella, and then pauses briefly by Q as he says, "I only wanted to say good-bye before you left." He waits a beat, as if to afford Q the opportunity for a final barb. "You should keep in touch, if that's at all possible."

There are any number of things that Q could say, and a thousand more that he wants to say, but as he sits there holding his soggy take-away carton, the chopsticks balanced on the rim, head turned up toward his older brother, Mycroft is already walking toward the door and all that he actually gets out is, "It might be possible..."

"Good." Mycroft offers him that stretching politician's smile that looks smarmy and false, but that Q knows is the mask his brother puts on to cover something real. Damnable feelings.

Then he's gone and Q doesn't feel hungry any more. He sets the carton on the side table, dropping his head into his hands because on top of everything else he's got a headache now.

When he sits up again he is startled to find Scheherazade balanced on the arm of his chair, her head bent over his cold chicken, breathing the scent of his dinner with a gleeful sort of appreciation in her blue-green eyes. He hadn't heard her enter the room, which is disturbing given that her collar sports a tiny silver bell that tends to jingle when she walks. Apparently, it only jingles if she wants it to.

She's sniffing because she has better manners than to simply stick her head into Q's dinner, but he knows her special weakness for Chinese food, and also that it's late and he has yet to set out her wet food, which is probably why she didn't bother to greet him at the door.

"I've been neglecting you, haven't I?" he asks as he runs a hand from her head down to her tail.

She tolerates him, but her pale blue glare clearly relays that she is generally unimpressed with his behavior of late. "All right, come on. Time for wet food."

Springing off the arm of the chair she prances happily in front of him, the bell on her collar jingling as she heads into the kitchen. Q retrieves the Chinese carton and follows her.

In her usual crystal bowl he spoons out a generous helping of her food: rabbit today, of which she is especially fond, and then places a morsel of kung pao chicken on a saucer and sets both on her mat, hoping that he might be able to bribe his way back into her good graces.

While she eats he musters enough energy to shower and, towel slung low over his hips, he makes it as far as his own bed before he decides that he can't kid himself anymore, there's no way he's leaving London tonight given how entirely spent he feels.

Spread-eagle, Q lies on his bed and stares at his ceiling, too knackered to dry off or change into his nightclothes or even switch off the bedside lamp, even if the bright glare is irritating him and preventing his falling asleep.

When he gets to Prague the first thing he'll do is rig-up the light-switches in his flat to respond to sound. A clap, he thinks, "Or maybe the sound of your yowling," he says when Scheherazade joins him on the bed. "But then the lights will turn off and on whenever you're cross with me." She sniffs his damp hair before settling herself directly in the middle of his pillows so he has no hope of having even one all to himself.

Q narrows his eyes at her. "Greedy." Unrepentant, she begins to lick her paws.

It takes him another moment to muster the strength, and then he crawls up the bed, eyeing the scant amount of space she's left for him critically and then switches off the bedside lamp. "Don't get too comfortable. We're leaving first thing in the morning," he warns her as she purrs in his ear.

________________________________________________________________________________________

The doors to Isolation open on silent hinges allowing them through to the room in which Rodriguez is being kept. There's nothing much there; it's a large square space dimly lit. At the very center is a platform on which sits a clear glass cylinder connecting the platform to a ventilation system in the ceiling. Inside, Tiago is sitting on a chair, the only thing outside of the man itself housed in the restricted space. In contrast to the shadows in the room, the cell is brightly illuminated, making Rodriguez' bleached hair look almost white.

His dark brown eyes skim over Tanner and Bond, but when they land on M he smiles wide like a shark. "You're smaller than I remember." Standing, Rodriguez paces close to the glass, his head bowing as he looks down on them from his prison.

M meets his gaze straight on, her expression letting nothing away of her personal feelings. "Whereas I hardly remember you at all."

"So cold. No remorse." Rodriguez chuckles, brittle and crackling. It sounds more manic than pleased. "Just as I imagined."

"Regret is unprofessional." M hesitates a moment, Bond thinks it's less about regrouping as it is a chance to reassess her strategy, which is confirmed when her tone changes, business-like and bored, as if her time is currently being wasted. "Mister Rodriguez," she says. "I am here as per your request, to ask you why you betrayed your country and to ensure that the destruction ends here. If you refuse to cooperate, I will leave now and happily never see you again."

Rodriguez slams both his fists against the glass. "Do you know what they did to me?" he shouts. "Five months kept in isolation, in a room without even air. They tortured me, and I protected your secrets, I protected you. But they made me suffer and suffer and suffer." He chuckles, soft and despairing as he shakes his head slowly. "And you stand there and ask me why I betrayed you? You ask me this?"

M doesn't point out that Rodriguez became an agent for MI6 knowing full well the risks as well as the consequences. She doesn't remark that the only reason he was ever in a position to be betrayed was that he crossed the line, changing the parameters of his mission out of arrogance or overconfidence. Nor does she point out that whatever the man's personal feelings, she was only ever his employer and not at any point a parent obligated to accept him unconditionally. Bond waits to hear any one of these things, but she says nothing.

There is no point reasoning with a madman.

"You abandoned me there," Rodriguez continues. "I had only one thing left: my cyanide capsule in my back left molar. You remember. Right?" He takes a shuddering breath, caught in the memory. "So I broke the tooth and bit into the capsule and it burned all my inside but I didn't die. …Life clung to me like a disease. And then, I understood why I had survived. I needed to look in your eyes one last time."

"Well I hope it was worth it. Mister Silva, you are going to be transferred to Belmarsh prison where you will be remanded in custody until the crown prosecution service deem you fit to stand trial for your crimes."

"Do you know what it does to you? Hydrogen cyanide?" With horrified fascination Bond stands and watches as Rodriguez reaches his fingers into his mouth and pulls out half his upper jaw and cheekbone. The entire left side of the man's face sags, his eye drooping down exposing the red underside of his eyelids. When he speaks, Rodriguez' voice is deep and distorted, which makes Bond wonder about the rest of the damage, less visible but perhaps more severe. "Look upon your work mother."

Unflinching, M steps closer to the glass prison, staring straight up into the man's face. "How did you escape the Chinese?"

With a sigh, Rodriguez rests his head against the glass. "Moriarty." He sighs again, thumps his forehead against the glass and makes a deep keening sound. When he stands upright again, Rodriguez fits his cheekbone back into place, and despite knowing the extent of the damage and looking for any sign of it in the man's face, Bond can no longer see it.

"Tell me," M orders, her tone brooking no argument.

"Moriarty came to me," Rodriguez says. "I don't know why they let him in. I was barely coherent by then. I was in agony." The corner of the man's mouth quirks upward and he laughs, fond and amused at once. "He didn't ask me anything, he didn't say a word to me. I remember looking into his face and thinking it was a dream, a hallucination."

"I don't know how much time passed, but one day the guards, they came into my cell and they told me to get up and they marched me through the halls and out the door." Grinning, Rodriguez shakes his head, like it's a funny joke. "I didn't know I was being set free. I didn't know what was happening even when the guards went back inside and the gates closed behind me. There was a sports car waiting, uh…" he snaps his fingers as he tries to remember. "A Lamborghini. Ooh, beautiful car, gleaming orange, like the sun. The door opened and a man called my name."

M nods. "Moriarty was in the car."

Rodriguez smiles. "The very first thing he said to me was: 'We have to do something about that face.'" He chuckles. "I thought he was lying. I thought there was nothing that could be done, but he took me to a place and they fixed me. They made me better."

"What did he want in return?"

Rodriguez shakes his head. "Nothing," he says. "Not at first. Jim always played the long game." Not for the first time Bond wonders if there was a romantic connection between Rodriguez and Moriarty. "He waited," Rodriquez continues. "Until I was back at MI6, working in Q-Branch because apparently after keeping all of the agency's secrets despite the torture, I was still a security threat."

"How did he contact you?"

"We spoke mostly through computers, but sometimes we met in person. He gave me work, small puzzles for me to solve that grew more difficult, more complex. Then one day he asked me to code something for him: a key that could open any lock in the world."

Rodriguez laughs and shakes his head. "It was impossible, of course, but it made me think. About MI6. About all the doors that I could open."

"You started planning your revenge."

"No," Rodriguez says, shaking his head slowly. "I planned my revenge every day that I spent recovering from the torture in that hospital, and every day I wasted in Q-Branch." Grinning, Rodriguez wanders closer to the glass. "Moriarty made me realize that I had the tools to respond to the stupidity running rampant within MI6."

M's chin jerks upward. "Are you referring to the regime change?"

Smiling, Rodriguez says, "Regime change." He paces to the back of his cramped prison as he shakes his head. "What a polite way of saying that you were muscled out of power."

"No one lives forever, and I certainly had no intention of running MI6 as long as I did. I was happy to step down."

Rodriguez looks at Bond, raising his finger and pointing at M. "You see?" he asks. "Does she have you convinced at all? She certainly hasn't fooled me."

"Whatever you believe, Mister Rodriguez, is irrelevant," M says, impatience creeping into her tone. "Tell me what I need to know."

"All right," Rodriguez says, pacing forward again. "I will tell you." Bracing his hands on the glass, he lets his eyes close and for a moment breathes. When he opens his eyes again, he flashes a smirk at M. "There is no way to disable the program I created. It will send out the names of every NATO agent automatically, five names each week. When those names are finished and MI6s bridges with its allies have been burned, the program will reveal the name of every agent employed at MI6 until there are none. Then it will hemorrhage your secret documents, your off-the-record meetings, every mission that never officially took place. You see," Rodriguez continues, "It stopped being about just you, mother."

"Really," M says. "What's it about now?"

"Weakness. This agency exalts technology as much as it fears it; look at Q-Branch, run by incompetent fools who cobble together trinkets in a dusty basement, out of sight and out of mind. The only way to make any of it change is to reveal how weak it is, and that is what I am doing."

Again, Rodriguez turns his attention back to Bond. "Still want to go down with this ship, Mister Bond? Do you still think it's a worthy cause?" he asks. "Everyone has a weakness. Even you."

"Very true," M says, speaking up before Bond finds his voice. "What's yours, Mister Rodriguez?" In answer, she receives only gleeful laughter and after a moment of standing there and listening, she turns on her heel, Bond and Tanner falling into step behind her as she leaves.

The moment they are out of the holding room and the doors have closed behind them, M turns to Tanner. "I want to know everything that is on that computer. Has he transmitted the lists? If so, to whom? He mentioned a program. I want to know exactly how it works and, more importantly, how it can be stopped. This is priority number one."

"Yes, ma'am," Tanner says, nodding abruptly and striding off as quickly as he would have done in the old days when M was still head of the agency.

As if sensing where his thoughts have gone, she turns to him. "When I was first promoted to head of MI6 they used to call me the Evil Queen of Numbers." Bond well remembers. He also remembers that, somewhat ironically, it was Tanner who coined the title. Certainly it hadn't stuck for very long, especially after Tanner began snapping at anyone he caught referring to their chief at all derisively.

Once M garnered Tanner's respect the man's loyalty had been and apparently still is unflappable. Bond isn't certain that Mallory can claim the same level of devotion.

Up to this moment, however, Bond has never realized that she might have been aware of Tanner's change of heart. Let alone Bond's own.

She cuts him a sideways glance, a mischievous quirk to her mouth. "Didn't think I knew about that, did you? Well, I did." She stops walking, and Bond stops with her in the middle of an empty, haunted hall en route to Q-Branch.

"I suppose the nickname was a reference to my penchant to rely on statistics and sound analysis over impulse and initiative." Bond well remembers the start of his career at MI6, and his promotion to Double-O status, the constant butting of heads and banter that served as their bizarre working relationship. At the start he had been more than aware that she had disapproved of him. It had taken him a shameful amount of time to realize that even if this were still true, she at least trusted him.

"Difficult judgment calls are part of the job," she continues. "In my position as Head of this agency I had no choice but to make those choices with the least amount of bias, and with the best interests of this agency and the country in mind. My personal feelings were irrelevant."

"And data is unbiased."

She nods. "Precisely." Her gaze grows distant, unfocussed and she adds, "It's quite an adjustment to make. Transitioning to a desk job, let alone such a political post."

"You used to be an agent?" Bond asks. "A double-o?"

"Well," she says, her mouth again quirking. "That's a story for a different day, isn't it?"

Abruptly, her gaze cuts sideways, sharp and knowing and Bond knows precisely what she is about to ask. Stubbornly, he keeps his gaze diverted and hopes it might deter her. It doesn't. "He seemed almost as interested with you as he was with me. Apparently you made quite an impression."

"It's been known to happen."

Her lips twitch. "He singled you out when he spoke about weakness. Why? It sounded as if he knew something particular."

Shaking his head, Bond says, "I can't imagine what. Outside of our conversation on the island I've barely spoken to him."

Lips pressed together, M regards him for a moment. "He's right, what he said about weaknesses. We all have them, whether we admit it or not. In our profession we usually devote the majority of our efforts toward pretending we are invulnerable, but in my experience the best way to deal with vulnerability is to know it. Find it before somebody else does, and take the appropriate steps to fortify it. Otherwise defeat is inevitable."

"Speaking from experience?"

She smiles. "You forget. I had a husband once, and still have two children."

Bond flashes her a bright look as he wryly says, "Not to mention you're still alive."

"Yes," she agrees. "I'm doing quite well for myself." She meets his gaze, strong and steady as she says "Take it under advisement."

He nods. "I will."

________________________________________________________________________________________

"Ah, Q," Sherlock says when Q pulls open the door. He says it as if they have come across each other by chance. As if it is somehow surprising that Q would be in his own home at six o'clock in the morning.

Sherlock is smiling widely and looks altogether too chipper, and if he didn't know better Q would think his brother is over-caffeinated, but he has long-since learned to recognize the manic glee that is Sherlock Holmes on a mission.

What that mission has to do with Q, and why it required Sherlock to wake him from a perfectly good and very much needed rest is something that he isn't so much interested in. Currently the entirety of his focus is going into recollecting why it is not a good idea to murder someone on your own doorstep. No matter how many friends one might have made within MI6.

Sherlock brushes past him into the flat, pulling off his gloves as he says, "You're an early riser. Don't pretend that I've gotten you out of bed."

"You have, you unbearable bastard, and what the hell are you doing here, anyway?" Q shuts the door, stumbling in his brother's wake in the direction of the living room.

"A visit," Sherlock explains succinctly. "That's what brothers do, isn't it?"

"Most people call ahead before they drop-by. It's considered polite." Pinching the bridge of his nose, Q adds "Also, visiting hours usually begin after the sun has risen."

"You know how I feel about hyperbole. And how was I to know you would pick today of all days to sleep-in?"

Q glowers. "Well, I did. You have pulled me unwillingly from my bed. I am still in my pajamas, I haven't had coffee—"

"You prefer tea."

"—Or breakfast," Q says, pushing on and ignoring the interruption. "Which many people consider the most important meal of the entire day—"

"I've always preferred luncheon."

"And I, supper, but that's not the point," Q persists. "The point is that I am not at all happy to see you."

"Noted. Shall I put the kettle on? Oh look, biscuits, have one of those." Sherlock thrusts the entire tin at him before returning to the task of rifling through the kitchen cupboards. "Sugar always makes you more agreeable."

Scowling, Q pulls a biscuit from the tin and bites off the corner. He tries, because he dislikes proving either of his brothers right about anything, but he does feel better after the first nibble. He finishes the rest of the biscuit and fishes back into the tin for another.

By the time he's finished the second he's feeling less irritable and begins to take-in his brother's appearance. "Did John chase you out of the flat?"

The look he receives in answer is filled with disdain. Which is as elegant a confirmation as Sherlock might give. "I pay half the rent, which means half of 221B is mine and therefore I cannot be chased from it like a rabid stray."

"That's not what I asked."

There's a stretch of silence as his brother fusses with the tea, and Q briefly considers making a proper breakfast and plucks another biscuit from the tin instead. "He's angry with me," Sherlock says.

Tucking his bare feet up beneath him to conserve warmth, Q swallows his mouthful. "I can imagine."

"I don't understand it." Sherlock picks up both cups of tea, delivering them to the table before collapsing rather dramatically onto his own chair. "I was the one who would have been inconvenienced. Mycroft was prepared to cover the expense of the flat so John wouldn't have even had to move. I would have been traveling through Europe risking my life and chasing assassins and criminals while he continued on, exactly as he has been."

Q spares his attention from his biscuit long enough to cast a withering glare at his sibling. "Don't be obtuse."

Sherlock stares morosely into his teacup. The silence stretches and Q considers the merits of having a breakfast that consists entirely of sugary biscuits. He reaches for the tin just as Sherlock says, "I see you've already packed."

"Mm." His eyes flicker in the direction of the hall even though there is no clear line of sight from the kitchen. Q doesn't need to see his front hall to know that his bag is packed and waiting. All that's left is for him to wash-up and change clothes, add his pajamas and kit into the bag along with Scheherazade and drop off the keys to his flat in the mailbox where Anthea can collect them.

"Are you as irritated with me as John is?"

"Well spotted."

Sherlock huffs. "I don't know what to say."

Pausing over his cup of tea, Q glances up. "You might start with an apology?"

"Why bother? You know I wouldn't mean it."

"True."

"It was the only way—"

"It wasn't, and you know that," Q says emphatically. "At least admit that you needed help, and that if you weren't so bull-headed maybe we might have come-up with something together a good deal sooner, and avoided half of the fuss."

"I considered that possibility—"

"And?" Q prompts when his brother trails off.

"I think your premise is flawed."

Q drops three cubes of sugar into his tea in the hopes that more sugar will make his urge to throttle his own brother disappear. "This is why I'm leaving," he mutters to himself.

As he might have expected, however, Sherlock overhears. "You're leaving London because I irritate you?"

"No," Q says on a sigh. "I'm leaving London because there's a strong likelihood that if I don't, I'll strangle you while you're sleeping."

Sherlock sniffs. "My roommate has a gun."

It's on the tip of Q's tongue to respond that his roommate not only has a gun but several knives and also a sniper rifle when it occurs to him that Bond isn't staying at the flat anymore. Instead, he says, "When have I ever been afraid of a man with a weapon?"

"Now you see why I was less inclined to involve you with Moriarty," Sherlock retorts, taking an eloquent sip of tea as he eyes Q slyly over the rim of the cup.

Q would very much like to accuse his brother of feigning fraternal concern in order to distract him from the issue at hand, but he is so thoroughly caught off-guard by the possibility that Bond was actually right, that Sherlock might have been acting, at least in part, out of concern that he completely forgets what it is they're arguing about.

Of course, this is when Sherlock says, "Did you actually work with Moriarty?"

"Yes." He catches himself as soon as the word is out but figures there's no harm in explaining. If Sherlock decides to be upset about it there's not all that much he can do because Q is leaving the country all the same. "I did. Off and on."

"You knew who you were working for?"

"Of course I knew. That was the point." He hates to use the word 'spying', but really that's what it was. Infiltrating an enemy organization because it was obvious Moriarty was a threat; just as it was obvious Mycroft had no one clever enough to send out on the job. Not anyone who wasn't easily traced back to the British government.

Whereas Q's identity when it came to hacking was well established. Solid enough that Moriarty had come to him, without Q even having to attempt initiating contact.

"How long?" Sherlock asks.

"It wasn't like that," Q says. "We never met face-to-face and it was contract work, not a permanent position."

"Before the Black Lotus?"

Q considers for a moment, and then nods. "Yes. Before your case with the Black Lotus."

Sherlock takes a sip of his tea. "Before the cabbie?" he asks, setting his teacup down again.

"No."

"But you admit," Sherlock presses. "That your interest in Moriarty had some connection to his interest in me."

"What do you want me to say?" Q asks. "If I confirm that you'll accuse me of sentiment and of sticking my nose where it doesn't belong. If I deny it you'll claim that I'm lying."

"You would be lying."

"Then why bother?" Q shrugs and picks up his tea. "I made contact before he ever strapped Semtex to your flat mate and threatened to have you shot at a deserted swimming pool."

Sherlock narrows his eyes. "It was you. You're the reason Mycroft got hold of him."

"Please," Q scoffs. "Mycroft would have gotten hold of Jim Moriarty whether I was involved or not. I passed on some data that our brother found useful."

"You've been passing information onto Mycroft," Sherlock says, dropping his teacup onto the table with a thudding bang. "What happened to all the bad blood, brotherly feud business?"

"You're the one who persists in naming Mycroft your arch nemesis. We've been working together quite well for several years now," Q says with a cheeky grin, but has to add, "However grudgingly."

Sherlock snorts rather derisively. "Sentiment."

It is incredibly satisfying that Q is able to say, "Well, I won't be listening to a lecture about that from you any time soon." Especially as it has the effect of immediately forcing Sherlock to shut his mouth, however petulantly, and reach for his tea.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Hamish takes a particularly long and exaggerated breath before he says "Perhaps it would be best if you went home, 007."

It's not the first time Bond has heard the suggestion over the course of the past several hours and he's gotten rather skilled at ignoring it as if nothing at all has been said. He's aware that he's hovering, and that he's not actually useful in Q-Branch, but he has no desire to retreat to a hotel where there will be nothing for him to do but sit and think.

"Sir," one of the branch techs currently tapping away at their computers says. "The system appears to be booby-trapped."

"Hm." Hamish turns his attention away from Bond and focuses on the laptop he has sitting on the table at the center of the room. "Ah yes. I'm familiar with this."

"With what?" Bond asks as he steps forward.

Hamish spares him a brief glance before he returns to his work. "Mister Rodriguez has established failsafe protocols that will wipe the memory of this device should we attempt to access certain files." He looks up and flashes Bond a reassuring smile. "I've encountered it before, several years ago in fact, on the personal computer of an individual the agency was attempting to entice into the fold."

"And?"

Hamish flashes a quick smile. "Happily, as he was the creator of such failsafes, I received a bit of on-the-spot training, as it were. He was happy to fill in the gabs in my knowledge before he went on his way."

Bond has the uncanny sense that Hamish is talking about Lysander but he refuses to test his theory because his entire purpose for making a nuisance of himself in Q-Branch rather than kicking-up his heels at home is he is trying not to think of the younger man.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Eve says as she strides to the front of the room where Bond is standing. "If anyone is feeling an easing of tension in the air, I can happily announce that it's because Tiago Rodriguez is no longer on the premises. He's en route to Belmarsh."

The applause is half-hearted at best. When she casts Bond a questioning look he points out, "This is Q-Branch, Moneypenny. Their primary concern is the computer."

"No luck then?" She peers over Hamish' shoulder to get a look at the screen.

"None!" Hamish snaps. "And if every agent in this blasted place is going to come down here and ask me silly questions then I can't be expected to make any progress, can I?"

Eve takes a hasty step back. Bond shares a look with her but can't quite clear the smirk from his face. "Bastard," she mouths accusingly at him. Then, slyly, "Shouldn't you be going home, James?"

"That's what I have been saying!" Hamish says.

"We're through, sir," another tech announces, again distracting Hamish. Bond turns so he can observe the screen at the front of the room that is currently displaying what Hamish is working on.

As far as he can make out, it is a rather large and elaborate red spider's web. "That's not what a normal computer looks like, is it?" Eve asks, peering at the screen.

"Not usually, I imagine," Bond confirms.

"A puzzle," Hamish murmurs, adjusting his glasses as he squints at the screen of Rodriguez' laptop.

On the larger screen Bond watches as the perspective of the web shifts left, then right, and then down. On the right side of the screen form a string of gibberish until, quite suddenly and only briefly, the string of apparently random letters becomes something that Bond recognizes. "Stop," he says, stepping forward. "Go back. There…"

"Gabriel Sutic?" Hamish says as he reads the name on display.

Eve raises her eyebrows. "He's one of our agents." She turns to Bond, comprehension clear on her face. "One of the people we discovered was working for Moriarty."

Bond nods. "Hamish, use that as your key." Just like that the entire web begins to unravel, names of individuals linking to organizations that in turn link to other organizations to which they are affiliated. All the way to James Moriarty.

"This is Moriarty's syndicate," Eve says, somewhat needlessly. She shakes her head. "Rodriguez said he decided to break away from Moriarty before he began planning his strike on MI6, so why is Moriarty's data the most encrypted files on this laptop?"

There is only one way that any of it makes sense, only one reason that he can think of as to why Rodriguez would leave this information and not leave any other trace of his own plans. Bond says, "Narrow the web to names linked to MI6."

It takes a moment, but soon the screen is narrowing on a single section of red lines showing a web of names that Bond is familiar with. Many of them he knows from days spent routing moles with Eve. Some of the names, however, weren't in any of the files that he was given to peruse.

"Moneypenny," he says. "Who is transporting Rodriguez to Belmarsh?"

When he looks away from the screen Eve already has her phone pressed to her ear, her tone urgent as she speaks. It's a brief conversation, and when she disconnects she shakes her head. "No good. They've lost the truck."

"How many of the agents on the truck are listed here?" Hamish asks, clearly trying to be hopeful.

Bond has never seen Eve furious before. It's chilling. "All of them."

"Right." Hamish clears his throat. "We can assume that Rodriguez is free. The question is: where is he going?"

"He wants to destroy MI6," Eve says.

"No. He wants to show its weaknesses," Bond counters.

She meets his eyes. "Where else are we weak? He's attacked headquarters already, our agents, and now our technical branch. What else is there?"

"It's still personal for him."

"Oh no," she says. "You mean Mallory?"

"Or M," Bond agrees, darkly.

She makes a frustrated growling sound and snaps, "Well, which is it?"

There's no way to be certain. Rodriguez' vendetta began with M but Bond is more than a little aware that the agent made his feelings toward Mallory and the changes the man has been making to MI6 quite clear. "Get to Mallory," he tells Eve. "I'll find M."

"I'm sending out support to both addresses," Hamish says. "You better get moving." Bond's well on his way before the head of Q-Branch completes his directive.

________________________________________________________________________________________

"What the bloody hell do you think you're doing, bursting in here like that?" M demands when Bond marches through her living room with his gun drawn.

"Are you all right? Has anyone come by?"

"Of course I'm alright," she declares, somewhat imperiously. "And who do you think would come by? I'm under bloody surveillance, and my family thinks I've gone to Norway."

"Rodriguez has escaped," Bond says as he finishes his check of the main floor and returns his weapon to its holster, exchanging it for his mobile. "We assumed he had two possible targets. You or…"

"Or Mallory," M finishes, and then waits as Bond completes his call.

"Clear at this end," Bond says. "Eve?" He sets his mobile to speaker when M gestures impatiently at him.

"Mallory's been shot," Eve says. "He took down the two agents who attacked him, both of whom were on the list. I've got an ambulance on its way and the support's arrived."

"Well that doesn't make sense," M says, frustration evident in her tone. "Why would Rodriguez send someone else to finish his personal vendetta?"

"His personal vendetta is with you, ma'am," Bond points out. She narrows her eyes at him but keeps silent.

"It doesn't answer our question though," Eve says. "Bond, if he didn't come here, and he's not with you?"

"It's you," M says, turning to Bond. "What he said in the holding cell, about weakness. He was telling us his next target."

"What weakness?" Eve asks over the line.

"Well I don't know," M says. "But I suspect Bond might."

In actuality, Bond is drawing a blank. It's not so much that he imagines himself foolproof, because he isn’t an idiot. The trouble is he isn't tied to anyone on paper or on the complexities of the Internet. He has no living relatives, no close friends with whom he spends his time. Even a skilled cyber terrorist as Rodriguez couldn't trace anyone to Bond unless he had been physically stalking him, which hasn't been the case, obviously.

Except there's one person with whom Rodriguez did see Bond. Just a glimpse, just for a moment, but that might have been enough. That smile, Bond feels like an idiot that he didn't realize it before: the leering, triumphant grin that the other agent had given him. Of course Rodriguez would remember what Bond had said on the island and that would be enough to color a simple, brief interaction.

"Eve," Bond says. "It's Lysander."

"I'm closer," she says, and disconnects.

Bond tries to ring Lysander but manages only to connect with the answering service. He text Sherlock: "Where is Lysander? –Bond" and receives an immediate response: "En route to Prague, likely –SH".

It's absurd to feel disappointed about the news, given the circumstances. If Lysander's haste to leave London manages to save his life, then Bond can feel happy about that. He makes one more call, this time to Mycroft, and actually slumps into a chair when the man drawls, "My brother intended to leave last night. It's likely he's well on his way by this time, Mister Bond. Should I pass on a message?"

"No, thank-you," Bond says, and disconnects because he wants to leave his line clear. He's still waiting for Eve to arrive at Lysander's flat.

Slowly, he becomes aware that he's under scrutiny. When he looks up, it's into M's calm, steady gaze. "He's not like the others, is he?" she asks.

Bond very much wants to say something biting and sarcastic. Perhaps even derisive. In the end, all that comes out is, "Apparently not."

His mobile rings, and he answers it, standing up as he holds the phone to his ear. "Tell me."

"There's nothing here," Eve says.

"Nothing?"

"Everything's in order. The furniture is here, some of the books are gone, but nothing seems out of place. His bedroom's empty," she says. "No clothes in the drawers. His study is cleared as well."

"Nothing that suggests struggle," Bond clarifies.

"No," Eve confirms. "Just that he left, which we know he was planning to…" Over the line he can hear her opening cupboards. "His mug's gone."

Bond frowns. "His mugs are gone?"

"No," she says, half laughing. "His mug. The red one that said 'Keep Calm'. The one he always used." Bond refuses to admit that he knows exactly which mug. Even if he did admit it, he's not certain it could be construed as having any sort of significance because Lysander was obsessive about his mug, always seeking it out, and muttering curses at Bond if he put it in the dishwasher and didn't immediately start the cycle.

"Wait a minute," Eve says, and then Bond listens to a strange sort of shuffling over the line, and the sound of a cupboard opening and closing, followed by a distinctive high-pitched mewl. "What are you still doing here?" he can hear Eve asking.

Bond already knows what she has found even before she picks her phone back up and says, "I've found Scheherazade. She was in a cupboard."

In a cupboard, which Bond remembers Lysander explaining is what she does when she feels under threat, which she would likely feel she was if a strange man burst into her home and abducted her master.

"Bond?" Eve is saying over the line. "Are you still there?" he doesn't need her to say the words aloud, but she does it anyway: "Rodriguez must have Lysander."

The question is, why?

Chapter Text

There is a car idling at the side of the road. A black sedan stopped in the shadows between two street lamps, which Eve knows is likely not by accident. The vehicle has no distinguishing characteristics and the rear windows are tinted so she can't make anything out, but she can see the figure seated behind the steering wheel, a chauffeur's cap tipped low obscuring a man's face. Though the vehicle is paused not even one full block from the relocated headquarters of MI6, Eve can tell that this is not a company car.

She can also spot a familiar profile no matter how low he pulls stolen caps down over his face.

"What do you think you're doing?" she snaps as she pulls open the front passenger door.

"Good evening, Miss Moneypenny," a smooth feminine voice answers from the back seat. M raises her eyebrows, her mouth pressing down on what might possibly be a smirk, a triumphant glint in her eye.

"Ma'am," Eve stutters. She cuts a sideways glance to Bond and realizes that he's smirking at her as well. It's enough for her to gather her wits and, with a quick glance out to the street, she slides into the front passenger seat and pulls the door closed.

She's off-balance and she knows it. It's late and she's exhausted and there's still more work to be done. The only reason she left HQ was because she desperately needed coffee that didn't taste like charred sludge, and now here she is.

Since it would be inappropriate to shout at the former head of SIS, it's to the supposed chauffeur that she directs her attention. "Lysander has been kidnapped by Rodriguez who has completely disappeared and could have left the country by now. Mallory has been trying to reach you, Hamish has been trying to reach you, and you're driving around London playing chauffeur?"

"I'm afraid the cap was my idea," M admits. "What with CCTV being what it is and, well it goes without saying that Mister Rodriguez might have found my flat and have it under surveillance. You see," she adds. "We're trying to be inconspicuous."

Eve huffs in exasperation and then draws her seatbelt across her chest, snapping it into place. "In that case, you'd better drive."

Dutifully, Bond pulls out into traffic and smoothly drives past the gates to MI6. Eve watches HQ disappear in her side view as she tries to compose herself. There's a very significant part of her that would like nothing better than to shout and rail at this man. Lysander Holmes has come to mean a great deal to her, he's brilliant and effective but more importantly, he's managed in a rather short span of time to become what Eve considers a good friend. She had hoped that the man currently driving her through London had come to value the younger man in some similar respect – God knows there was enough flirting and sexual tension to imply that something happened between them.

Yet here he is, driving about as if he hasn't a care in the world.

It takes a moment to remind herself that her urge to smack this man is unprofessional and, more importantly, would be unhelpful. With a deep breath she shifts into a more comfortable position in the front seat. "Alright. Tell me what's happening."

The last time she had spoken to Bond had been a little over an hour ago, when she had been at Lysander's flat and Bond had been with M. She had told him that Lysander was gone, that she had Scheherazade and Bond had said, "Take care of her," and then disconnected.

Eve had done another circuit of the flat, found absolutely nothing that might serve as a clue and no sign of Lysander anywhere. Even Scheherazade's food had been cleared away, and she had been forced to stop by a pet shop en route to her flat where she dropped off a rather subdued Scheherazade before she could return to HQ.

She'd been doing all of that, and organizing Q-Branch's search efforts and briefing Mallory who had insisted on coming in despite having just been shot, and all the while Bond had been doing … who knew what.

M clears her throat and says, "We've been one step behind Silva from the start. It's time to get out in front. Change the game."

Apparently, Bond has abducted the former head of MI6 in order to concoct half-formed and entirely ridiculous plots. She sighs. "I think that you're both losing sight of the fact that before Bond went ahead and pissed him off, this was a personal vendetta for Rodriguez."

"Oddly, it still feels personal," Bond says quietly.

Eve catches the exasperated and fond expression M flashes her agent in the rearview. "He may have taken Mister Holmes, but it's me and MI6 that he's interested in. Give him an opportunity for a trade and he'll jump at it."

"With all due respect, ma'am," Eve says, shifting around in her seat so she can face the woman head-on. "I think that if you give Rodriguez the opportunity to trade, he'll simply try and have it all."

"Yes precisely. That's our plan," M says, with satisfaction. "Everyone all in one place, which means fewer places to fortify. We can do it with fewer people, as well."

Eve flashes a sharp look to Bond and asks, "Fewer people meaning fewer trained MI6 operatives?"

M raises her eyebrows. "I don't see why we need more than the bait and a single gunman."

Eve blinks. "You're joking."

"Miss Moneypenny, we haven't known each other for very long, so I'll simply tell you. I don’t joke about missions," M says. "Go ahead and tell Mallory if you'd like, but I can assure you that if you use any official channels he'll shut us down. He'd have to, if only because the PM would have a thing or two to say about using a former head of SIS as bait for a traitor."

"Two agents are better than one," Eve insists. "I'll come."

Bond shakes his head. "We can't afford for him to think it's a trap. He has to believe that he has the advantage."

"He doesn't have to believe anything," Eve scoffs. "He'll actually have the advantage."

"I understand that you are hesitant, but I strongly feel that if we went through official channels and gave Mallory and MI6 time to put together a retrieval mission, Lysander Holmes will be long dead, and I won't stand for that," M says, resting her hand lightly on Eve's forearm. "Enough people have died on my behalf. I'll not have another name added to the list."

Eve sits back in her chair and pretends that she isn't brooding. Instead, she tries to think. "Why tell me, then? If this is an unofficial mission in which I play no part?"

M flashes a brief smile, as if finally Eve has managed to ask the right question. "We need you to liaise with Q-Branch, tell them as much or as little as you wish. We need a trail of breadcrumbs, as it were, to lead Rodriguez where we want him."

"Where is that?"

Bond reaches over, pulling something up on the GPS. "To here," he says, as Eve reaches into her bag and pulls out a pad and a pen, hurrying to jot the coordinates down.

"Do I want to know where this place this?" she asks as she caps her pen. Bond doesn't answer her, and M seems unperturbed.

"That's settled," M declares. "If you run into any difficulty, speak to Tanner."

"You've told Tanner about this?" Bond asks.

"Not yet, but I'm about to." M nods to both of them. "Excuse me."

Eve watches in the rearview as M holds a quiet conversation over her mobile. She drops her voice and glances over to Bond. "This is insane," she says, keeping her voice low. "You must know that."

His hands flex on the steering wheel. "It's the only way."

"No," she insists. "It isn’t. This isn't even a plan; it's just a simple, strategy-free showdown. We're the head of Intelligence in Britain. We can come up with something better."

He fixes her with cold blue eyes and a steel-eyed glare. "How would you suggest I kill Rodriguez and get Lysander back?"

She meets his stare head-on but can't hold the gaze for long. "Just tell me that, of the two objectives, getting him back is the more important," she says. "Tell me that this isn't some agent versus agent macho showdown that will end in a paltry victory and more collateral damage than Rodriguez is even worth."

There's a beat of silence, and she holds her breath. Then Bond says, "I'll bring him back," and she lets it go again.

________________________________________________________________________________________

It's a long drive from London to Glencoe, and M sleeps for most of it. Bond stops for petrol and coffee, drapes a throw over her when she remains fast asleep, and keeps driving. By now, he thinks glancing at the clock, Eve will have set Hamish to work establishing a trail.

He tries not to think about the time slipping away, how night has become morning, how long Lysander has been in Rodriguez' custody. It's unlikely that Lysander is dead. This entire fiasco has been personal for the agent, which means he is keeping the younger man to make a point, no doubt he has some elaborate plan in place to rub Bond's face in how he has failed.

For one horrifying moment Bond imagines Rodriguez torturing Lysander, shoving a cyanide capsule into the other man's mouth and forcing him to bite, holding him down as he screams and writhes.

Bond pulls the car over to the side of the road and climbs out, gasping in the cool air.

Rodriguez won't kill Lysander; Bond can tell himself that and feel relatively confident. The younger man will live at least until Rodriguez has made his little point, and judging by Bond's interactions with the man, that point will involve Bond and a spectacle, but the point is, there is every chance Bond will be able to save Lysander.

There is nothing Bond can tell himself to prevent thoughts of Lysander's torture, and possible mutilation. That would be entirely too much in keeping with what he has concluded about Tiago Rodriguez. There is a chance, however faint, that perhaps Lysander can appeal to the agent's love of technology, perhaps they can bond over computers or codes, perhaps Rodriguez will make the same offer to Lysander that he gave to Bond: join me, rule with me. Maybe that will delays the inevitable.

Bond can only hope.

"This is where you grew up?" M asks, wrapping the blanket around her shoulders as she steps out of the car, walking over to stand by him. Bond refocuses slowly, notices that mountains and the mist and realizes that they've crossed into Scotland, that they're close to their destination. "How old were you, when your parents died?" she asks him.

Bond smirks. "Your bedside manner has always been impeccable, M." She snorts, rather elegantly, but before she can respond he turns his gaze onto her and says, "You already know the answer. You know the whole story."

"Hm. Orphans always make the very best recruits."

Bond spares her a glance. "Rodriguez?"

She meets his gaze and, after a moment's hesitation, she nods. "Yes."

"Lysander?"

M smiles. "Christ no," she says. "His mother is alive and a rather formidable woman, despite her persisting illness. Not to mention that brother," she casts Bond a look, eyebrow raised and mouth turned down that gives him a sense that Mycroft Holmes caused M no small amount of difficult in her efforts to bring the youngest Holmes into the fold.

Then her expression shifts to something utterly fond. "You feel strongly about him, don't you?" Bond sticks his hands in his pockets and turns back to the landscape. There's a faint dry laugh before M says, "I thought so. It'll do you good. I was always concerned, after Vesper."

Clearing his throat Bond says, "I know."

"No, I don't think you do." When he risks a quick glance over to her, M is watching him keenly.

"Before you attempt to play matchmaker, assuming we are able to rescue him at all, Mister Holmes intends to leave the country."

M laughs, it echoes faintly, so it sounds as if all of Glencoe finds Bond amusing. "I always wondered what would happen if an irresistible force met an immovable object. As I said," she reaches out, grasping his arm lightly for a moment before letting it go. "He'll be good for you." Then she turns around and walks back to the car.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Bond hasn't visited his home since he left it. Not once. Perhaps that is the reason it is look especially barren these days. "Christ," M says beside him as they drive past the single proud stag mounted on the crumbling stone wall down the stretch of flat ground and up to the house. "No wonder you never came back."

"Mm," Bond says, then he turns off the ignition and steps out of the car.

Skyfall never felt like home to him, and that's something that hasn't changed with time. Of course, when his parents were alive the interior was somewhat more welcoming, the grounds better kept. Now there is dust on the wrought-iron chandelier hanging in the front hall, and sheets draped over what little furniture remains.

Except for two wingback chairs placed either side of a cold fireplace. "Hope you don't mind," John says, smiling as he sips what can only be tea out of a chipped China mug. "Made ourselves at home at bit, didn’t know when you'd make it in."

Sherlock waves an irritated hand in Bond's direction. "Put that bloody gun away. There's more tea if you like." As if Bond is holding his gun trained on these men because they've taken the last of the tea, and not because they have appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, in the middle of Bond's childhood home.

"How did you get here?" M demands as she strides over in search of the tea. "There was no car out front."

"Mm," John says, hastily swallowing his mouthful in order to answer. "Parked it down a ways and walked up. We didn't know what we getting ourselves into, but it was plain enough that our presence would be unexpected and we thought it probably best to keep it so."

"Now to the point," Sherlock says, setting his tea aside to steeple his fingers. "Where is my brother?"

John casts a scolding look at his flatmate. "Sherlock."

"As you are undoubtedly aware," M says, returning to the room with a cup in hand. "Mister Holmes has been taken by Tiago Rodriguez. We are here to ensure that he is returned."

Sherlock sneers darkly at Bond, and John is looking at them as if they are an especially lethal type of grenade that he is considering throwing himself on when the faint crush of dirt and stone beneath tires silences them.

Bond holds up his gun and slides to the side of the window, John equally armed joins him and they share a look. John's hands are steady and his gun is in good condition, for the first time Bond starts to consider the man's presence a welcome and potentially quite helpful intrusion.

"Who is it?" Sherlock asks, as everyone in the room proceeds to hush him. "Well, it's not this Rodriguez chap, is it? That looks like… oh hell, it is…" and then, with John and Bond both hissing at the man to fall back and keep away from the windows, Sherlock Holmes strides to the front door and throws it open. "Hello! You haven't missed anything. Come in, there's tea on."

"The man's a menace," John says to himself as he uncocks his gun and switches the safety back on. Even at this distance, Bond can make out the familiar figure of Anthea stepping out from behind the wheel of a rather posh and shining black car. She's dressed entirely in black with her hair stuffed into a black toque. She bends over to pull a rifle from the passenger seat.

M glances out the window, then flashes Bond a particularly scalding look. "I thought the trail was supposed to be nigh-untraceable? Did you send out party invitations?"

"Oi, you two come out and help!" Anthea calls, waving her arm at the window where John and Bond are still hovering. "I've got weapons in the trunk."

Weapons in the trunk proves to be an understatement, what she actually has is an arsenal. "Mycroft couldn't make it?" Bond drawls as he carries the last of the Semtex into the house.

"It's not his area," Anthea says, flashing a bright grin. Bond realizes that this is the first time he has seen the woman without her mobile. Which is precisely the moment when she pulls it out from the pocket of her leather jacket and begins to fiddle with it. "He works behind the scenes. Gunfights really aren't his forte," she says as she types something into her phone. Bond suspects it is a text to the very man they are currently discussing.

"It's not really my area, either," Sherlock says, poking at a box of TNT with the toe of his shoe. Unlike Anthea, he is not at all dressed for a gunfight. He's in his usual attire, replete with long coat and blue scarf. "I prefer the scimitar."

"What?" John asks. "The … what?"

"Oh," Sherlock says, ignoring his flatmate in favor of flashing one of his plastic smiles at Bond. "There was a man here earlier, some Kinky-fellow. I sent him away."

"Kincaid," John corrects with a particularly long-suffering sigh. Then he looks apologetically at Bond. "We didn't know how much he would know about the situation, and I didn't want to assume further civilian risks."

"That's fine," Bond says. He doesn't ask what they could possibly have said, because he's relatively certain that if he arrived at the house and started toting out guns and making tea, Kincaid would have crossed his arms and declared that he wouldn't be moving until he had some more information.

"Right," Anthea says, rubbing her hands together. "Lets get started, shall we?"

John moves Anthea's car to a spot just beyond the chapel, the keys waiting inside should they need to leave in a hurry. M sets out flashlights on the old dining room table and begins changing the bulbs, red light being softer and less instantly eye-catching as they catalogue their inventory and suggest strategies.

Of course, there is only so much strategy any of them intend to employ. Everyone present in the house knows this is merely a showdown, so while Sherlock and Bond plant weapons and set the Semtex and TNT throughout the house and in the chapel, M and John rig booby-traps and Anthea pushes furniture and old mattresses and wooden slates against the windows.

Slowly, the loose floorboards in the front hall become triggers for explosions, light-switches become lethal, and Bond's childhood home becomes a fortress fit for the battle royale that they are about to face.

The sun begins to set.

________________________________________________________________________________________

At dusk Bond detects movement at the front gates: three trucks releasing fifteen darkly dressed men, each carrying an assault rifle as they walk the distance from the gate to the house, spreading out. Sherlock has disappeared somewhere further into the house and taken M along with him. Bond stands at the front of by the window in the living room with John. "They're just striding in. Not even trying to take cover," John says from over Bond's shoulder.

"There'll be more approaching from behind. The goal will be to surround us."

"Right," John says, cocking his gun. Bond can hear the other man creeping across the floorboards to the next room, establishing his own position.

The first shot knocks a man in the middle of the cluster down. Anthea hadn't said where she was going, but Bond had seen her climbing out a window on the second floor just after they'd finished what passed for their dinner.

"Sniper!" one of the men shouts, and its echoed down the line: "Sniper!" and then another shot rings out and another man falls. Bond smiles. He is used to working on his own, used to relying only on himself. Having Lysander there to handle the technical aspect of things had been novel and enjoyable, but this is something else. Other people with guns, who are capable of looking after themselves in a fight and with their goals perfectly aligned with Bond's own. It's entirely possible, outfitted as they are, that this entire stand at Skyfall might not only be a success.

The first approach is stealthy. When the men get close to the house they keep low and stay in the shadows. They split up, a cluster moving round the back and the rest grouping around the front door. Bond waits his gun at the ready, and his focus splitting between the men and his Astin. Just as he's considering opening fire, the Astin's machine guns slide out and open fire.

Five men are taken out in the ensuing panic, the rest searching for the source of the fire, shooting blindly as their rigged explosion on the heavy front door detonates, allowing them to push inside. The Astin loses it's headlights and gains a pretty line of bullets along her hood, but the windshield is bullet proof and considering the amount of weapons fire she's just been hit with, she looks remarkably well.

Bond pushes away from the window, shifting toward the end of the hall, but not before he sees Sherlock roll out the front passenger door, firing his rifle as he moves, a great flapping shadow, and disappears round the side of the house.

The men that spill into the front hall are panicked but still organized. Three bunches, one moving left, the other going right, and the last group coming straight at Bond. He steps out, presenting himself as a target and moves off before they lock onto him as a target, in their haste to pursue him they pack tighter together and rush forward, triggering the explosives Bond rigged beneath the creaking floorboard.

Near the back of the house he can hear weapons fire, the distinctive sound of the assault rifles used by Rodriguez' henchman as well as John's AK-47. There's the snapping crinkle of boots on broken glass followed by the booming crash that indicates someone has flipped the light switch that was rigged with explosives.

Bond rounds the corner into the dining area in time to see M stepping around the corner at the opposite end, her Beretta held in steady hands. They dismiss each other quickly, their gaze sweeping the bodies collapsed in the center of the room and then away, checking shadows and listening for movement. "Tiago's not here," M says quietly.

"I know." Bond nods at her, and then they move on, M stepping back toward the hall and Bond pushing through to the end of the room to kitchen in time to see John layout three attackers coming in through the back. Their bodies topple one on top of the other, a makeshift barricade. Then John whirls on Bond, his eyes going wide as he registers that Bond is not, in fact, an enemy a short second before he jerks his AK up. "Nice grouping," Bond says, nodding at the stack of bodies.

John laughs, sharp and giddy, and then there's the 'snap snap snap' of a Beretta coming from behind, the room that he just left, and he spins on his heel heading back to M, worry knotting his stomach until to find nothing. The room just as he left it, with the addition of two more bodies neither of which belong to his once-employer.

"Give me the benefit of the doubt, if you please, 007," she a derisive voice from the shadows, and she steps forward just enough that the moonlight creeping in through the slatted wood highlights her silvered hair and sharp eyes. "All sorted?"

Bond fights the urge to smile. "The first wave, at least."

"Well, there'll be more," she says. She watches him as he moves to the window, peering out into the dark. "He'll make an entrance."

Bond frowns. "I know."

Pursing her lips she joins him looking out. "At least he didn't send Lysander in, with his mouth taped shut wearing a mask so we'd shoot him mistaking him for an enemy."

"Yes," Bond says. He hadn't even considered that possibility. "But I don't think that's the sort of message he wants to give me."

________________________________________________________________________________________

The distant, angry buzz of a helicopter is joined, a moment later, by the strands of a John Lee Hooker song, the lyrics promising to 'shoot you right down'. "Right," Bond sighs. "An entrance."

John steps into the room from the kitchen just as Sherlock and Anthea come in from the front. "Is it him?"

M scoffs. "I think it sounds bloody likely."

It's still bright enough that Bond can make-out the dark shadow of the helicopter against the sky, the music getting louder as it approaches. Glancing back into the room, he considers his options. Sherlock, from what little Bond saw, seemed competent with a weapon but Bond has no idea how the man might handle battle-conditions and the responsibility of someone else's life. Anthea has proven to be a crack sniper and she's in the process of wiping a shining blade on her trouser leg before holstering it. He'd rather prefer the woman at his back.

"John," he says, and the other man nods sharply and slings his AK over his shoulder, pulling his SIG-Sauer and holding it up with one hand while the other is extended out.

"Right," John says. "M, is it? Come with me, if you please." M glances from John to Bond, her mouth pinching in a clear show of irritation, but she nods and follows John out of the room.

"Any sign of my brother?" Sherlock asks as he sweeps toward the window. The rifle Bond had seen him with his grasped in one hand, but he's collected two assault rifles from their attackers, one of which he hands over to Bond.

"None yet," Anthea answers. "I saw the chopper, but who knows what it's carrying. It's an AW101, which can hold up to thirty people. He's probably fitted it with weapons, but no way to tell until he gets closer." Bond blinks at her, but she offers only a shrug. He waits for it, but she doesn't reach for her phone. "What do you propose?" she asks.

In answer, Bond shoulders the assault rifle Sherlock handed him and begins firing at the helicopter. He can see the brief sparks of light as his bullets strike the nose of the chopper, and a second later Sherlock joins him at the window, and then the chopper swings wide, offering his side to them.

The doors to the chopper are open, the interior is filled with shadows, but Bond makes out the shape of a machine gun mounted and he keeps firing until Sherlock makes a strangled noise and pitches sideways. "No!" he shouts, as Bond's weapons-fire goes wide before it stops entirely.

"What…?" Bond is about to snap, but he follows Sherlock's stare out into the darkness where Rodriguez is sitting and grinning, a flashlight held up to his face making him look ghoulish and then, after a moment, the light shift down and to the right and Bond suddenly understands.

Lysander's wrists are tied in front of him. He's slumped in between two men and though his feet are not bound he appears too weak to move. Bond wonders if that might possibly be an act or if the younger man has truly been beaten to such an extent. There's blood on Lysander's face, running down his neck and disappearing beneath his partially unbuttoned shirt, but his glasses are pristine.

Just as he is taking-in the sight, registering "alive" and "beaten" with elation and horror, someone gets behind the chopper's machine gun and lays down fire. "Go!" Bond shouts, grabbing Sherlock's arm even though the taller man is already moving, all three of them sprinting to the back of the house, to where John and M have taken refuse in the kitchen area.

"Behind the arch!" Bond shouts, as the gunfire follows them, ripping holes in the walls, destroyed furniture and lodging in the stonework but not, thankfully, managing to kill anyone as they all hunker beneath the thick stone archway.

"Why are we not shooting it down?" John voice asks through the bombardment.

"Q's on that thing with them," Anthea answers. "We can't do anything."

The helicopter circles the house like a hungry shark, firing all the way round. "Stay here," Bond says, and ducks out from cover, the gunfire following him as he works his way to the living room where most of the wood shutters have been busted apart. From here, he can see the Astin, and he can see Lysander, no longer held up but sitting on the ground his knees bent upward and his hands … his hands clawing at the face of the man behind the machine gun. Bond can see Rodriguez laughing as the other soldiers on the chopper kick and kick until Lysander stops his assault.

The gunfire starts again, but now the chopper is clearly looking for a place to touchdown.

Turning, he rushes back to the kitchen where the others are still hunkered down. "Go to the chapel," he says. "Use the tunnel."

"What tunnel?" John wonders.

"Honestly, John, keep up," Sherlock says, and together they escort M in the right direction.

"I'm staying with you," Anthea says. "My orders were very clear. I'm here for Q." He nods at her, and they head back to the front entrance, to where the door has been blown clear off its hinges and the narrow hall has been rendered impassable, the floor broken and spiking up. They cross to the right, through the living room, and they set up near the windows as outside the chopper begins to drift down.

It's not ideal, Bond thinks. The Astin isn't so close that it might do serious damage, but Bond would prefer if it were a bit closer. He waits as men spill out the side of the helicopter and doesn't do a headcount, he leaves that to Anthea, instead, he watches as Rodriguez' bright hair becomes visible in the waning light.

He's not kitted out like the first wave was, in military-type clothes and heavy boots. Rodriguez is in dark clothes, but he has no hat covering his distinctive hair, no mask. He's in a coat that's open and flapping in the wind, a turtle-neck and plain trousers. He strides with confidence surrounded by his men, struts, as if he is certain he has the upper-hand.

Bond waits until Rodriguez is on the ground, until he has a clear line of sight to Lysander, who is kneeling right at the edge, so close but surrounded by men with guns. Lysander's is looking around, at the hills and the sky, at the house. Bond is certain the younger man is searching for an opportunity, so Bond presents him with one, triggering the Semtex he rigged up beneath his Astin.

The car explodes in a burst of orange and red flame, Rodriguez and his men dropping to the ground on their bellies, and Bond has a glimmer of a moment where he sees hope, as Lysander stares first at the flame, then at the men lying at his feet, and he jumps.

He makes it four bounding steps before Rodriguez gets back to his feet and hooks out his arm, catching Lysander across his middle and dragging him back. The chopper lifts off the moment the younger man is shoved roughly onto it.

"Dammit," Bond hisses. There are two soldiers left on the chopper with Q and two pilots. The moment the chopper is back in the air it starts firing sporadic bursts down at the house, a spotlight sliding back and forth and, a moment later, Rodriguez pitches an incendiary grenade through the front door.

"What's our plan?" Anthea hisses as Rodriguez continues to walk along the side of the house pitching grenades into open windows. They can't get a clear shot of him, the Astin's explosion took out a number of the soldiers from the chopper, but not all of them.

"We need another explosion," Bond says. "A big one."

"Right," she says, then hops to her feet and sprints off, not even flinching as another incendiary grenade explodes just behind her.

He follows her, helping her drag the second gas tank to the middle of the house, where he adds the last of the explosives just for good measure. "Are you sure about this?" Anthea asks, as Rodriguez pitches another grenade, the explosion starting another small fire somewhere else.

Bond nods. "I've always hated this house." He strikes a match and lights the makeshift fuse and they takeoff running to the kitchen door. They keep running when they touch down onto the frozen earth, sprinting as fast their legs will carry them, and just as Bond thinks they might cover enough distance the bright spotlight catches them full on.

"Did you get a little warm?" Rodriguez shouts, noticing when the helicopter stops hovering and instead concentrates its light. He takes a step in their direction and then the explosion hits, the ground beneath their feet shaking and rumbling, the sky lighting up with fire.

Bond lies on the ground, his head covered until the rumbling becomes more faint and then he flips over onto his back, staring up at where the chopper is dancing back and forth in a shaky rhythm trying to reestablish its balance in the sky.

There's a man clinging to the foot of the helicopter, his legs swinging wildly as the chopper moves. As Bond watches, the man's grip shifts and he dangles by one hand his shouts muffled by the roar of the fire. No one is coming to his aid, and Bond has a brief second where he thinks maybe Lysander has fallen out of the chopper, when he appears just barely visible, his hands still tied.

"Bond!" Rodriguez bellows. "Where is she? If you've hurt her I will kill you!" The spotlight is still fixed on Bond and Anthea, and as he walks Rodriguez begins firing at them, not trying to aim properly, shooting wildly, bullets striking the ground at Bond's feet and the side of the already burning house.

Bond takes a step back. "Run," he tells Anthea. "Split up." Her gaze shifts up to the chopper, then she spins on her heel and disappears, the light following her for just a second before snapping back to Bond.

In the chopper, Lysander is hanging out the door, looking down with wide eyes. Bond glances up at him for just a second before he turns, facing Rodriguez.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Rodriguez stops firing wildly the moment Bond turns to face him. He walks slowly, grinning, until he is only feet away. "Tell me where she is."

Bond smirks and opens his mouth on a retort when the circle of light that he is standing at the center of suddenly jerks sharply to the right, then the left. "Tell me!" Rodriguez shouts, a he holds his gun up threateningly, but then something else catches his eye. His head starts turning, tracking something.

With his opponent suitably distracted, Bond turns to see what the man is looking at just as Rodriguez turns on his heel and begins running in the opposite direction. The chopper does a perfect arching dive into the house, the nose punching down through the roof until the tail rotors stick upright in the air like a windmill.

"No!" Bond shouts, takes a staggering step forward before a secondary explosion pushes him back, Bond raises an arm to shield his eyes.

What happened? The pilots had been fine, the chopper had stabilized, and suddenly … suddenly…

Without anyone in the back of the chopper to subdue him, Lysander had contributed to the fight in the only way he could. Bond feels horribly sickened at the idea as he scans the ground, looks for any sign of the younger man in the debris scattered on the ground. There's nothing.

As he searches, he spots Rodriguez' figure cutting up the hill toward the chapel. Bond can't afford to mount a search. He has to trust that Anthea will do that for him. If nothing else, Bond is very good at seeking revenge.

He takes out the last two of Rodriguez' henchmen as he runs toward the chapel. Cuts through the dark happy for the rather impressive light his burning house is throwing because otherwise it would be almost impossible to navigate.

Despite the assistance of the fire, however, Bond still finds himself confronted with the damnable lake that his father used to call their 'little duck pond'. It's quite a bit larger than a duck pond, but it's frozen over and Bond can't afford the time it will take to go around, so he goes across.

Halfway to the other shore Rodriguez steps forward and fires a string of bullets at the ice directly in front of Bond, bringing him to a sliding stop. "Do you see what comes of all of this running around?" Rodriguez asks. "All this jumping and fighting, it's exhausting. You need to relax."

In the chapel there is a faint glow, for only a moment. Red light from the flashlight, used only for a second. Bond sees Rodriguez glance over and draw the obvious conclusion. A slow smile starts to spread across the man's face and he starts to raise his arm, to take aim at Bond, but Bond is faster. His fires the machine gun Sherlock gave him at the ice and sinks down just as Rodriguez pulls the trigger.

The water is freezing, hits him like a punch to the gut. He forces himself to keep his arms and legs moving, to keep his position under the broken ice, and to wait long enough for Rodriguez to tire of waiting and move away, intent on his own business.

He waits as long as he can, then Bond fights his way back to the surface, pulling himself up out of the water and back onto his feet. Every part of him is stinging and frozen, he's chattering and thinking about sitting down and curling in on himself and just taking a moment. Just one moment.

He doesn't, though. Instead, he forces himself to move, to run to the chapel.

________________________________________________________________________________________

"He wasn't in there," John says, coming to stand by Sherlock by the window of the chapel. He's still feeling a little sick at the idea that Q might have been on the helicopter when it went down. Sherlock hasn't said anything, but it's not a far stretch to think that if this is how he feels after only a few short weeks of knowing the younger man then Sherlock must be feeling a thousand times worse. "He's alive."

"Of course he is," Sherlock says, in that dismissive yet definitive way he has of doing that John suspects means he is simply being patronized. "You, M, sit there." He's drawn out an old wooden chair that he has placed at the top of the alter steps.

"What are you thinking?" John asks. "You're making her a perfect target. He doesn't even have to enter the chapel to get a clean shot."

Sherlock rolls his eyes. "John, the man is insane. If we play to his fantasy then he'll be distracted with how perfect everything is working for him, and while he's busy preening and explaining why all of this proves that he's not in fact, mad, I'll come up behind and shoot him."

"You're not shooting him," John sputters. Sherlock holds up a gun and raises his eyebrows meaningfully.

"Gentlemen, if you'll excuse me. I won't sit around like a sacrifice awaiting the knife."

Sherlock's expression contorts into a hybrid of pouting bafflement. "Why not? I've explained this, haven't I?"

"I've had quite enough of the monologues, thank-you, especially from this man. I'm aware I have guilt to bear here, but I'll not have my nose rubbed into it any further."

"Please," John says, stepping forward. "M, we should go out the back way. I'm sure there's a priest's entrance. But really, this is the next most obvious target, what with the house gone."

"We should have stayed in the tunnels," Sherlock mutters.

"Well, Mister Bond told us to wait here," John says. "But in the interest of everyone's continued safety…"

He doesn't get a chance to finish, because just as he is herding M in the direction of the back of the church, the front door opens and in walks a man in a leather coat with bleached hair and a grim smile. It can only be Tiago Rodriguez, even if John has never seen the man before. Resolutely, John turns to face the man, one arm reaching behind to keep M blocked behind him.

Sherlock slips like liquid shadow until he is directly behind the newcomer. "Of course," the man says. "It had to be here. Had to be this way … thank-you…" He shuffles forward, and just as Sherlock goes to raise his gun, Rodriguez spin on his foot and knocks it out of the man's reach. "Don't," he says. "This is between me and her. No one else has to die."

"No has to die at all," John mutters.

"I beg to differ," Rodriguez says. "I'm a trained SIS agent. If either of you get in my way, I will kill you both," his smile widens, "then I will kill her."

Sherlock sheds his weapons and holds his hands up, and John thinks there's some message hidden in the rather intent way that Sherlock is staring right at him, but he doesn't know what it is. Not until Rodriguez dismissive Sherlock's presence and focuses all of his attention on John.

John is not a trained SIS operative, but he's a soldier. All right, he's an army doctor but he's already explained on more than one occasion that he had his bad days. He tosses his AK aside but feels the comfortable weight of his service weapon in his pocket, which he slips into his hand. "I'm not stepping aside."

"Then, I am afraid I have no choice." Rodriguez raises his gun halfway and then simply stops. His body freezes, his face freezes; everything freezes. He's like a wax figure in a museum.

"What…" John asks, when it's been silent and still long enough. He takes a shuffling step back and Rodriguez suddenly goes lax and limp, toppling down onto the ground, a knife sticking out of his back.

"Sorry I'm late. I got into some deep water," Bond says. "I didn't miss anything, did I?"

"Not really," Sherlock says, from where he is leaning against the wall beside the chapel door, apparently he is examining his nails. "It's been frightfully dull. Please tell me you have my brother."

John has been a soldier in the field long enough, dealing with death and its effects on the living long enough to spot the way Bond half turns to Sherlock and then ignores the question in favor of double-checking that Tiago Rodriguez does in fact have no pulse.

"Is it over?" M asks, gently maneuvering John to the side to step forward.

Bond meets her gaze and nods. "He's dead." She slumps against a pew and nods.

________________________________________________________________________________________

There are flashing lights that greet them when they step out of the chapel, red and blue. "Are those ambulances? How could they possibly have gotten here so quickly?" John wonders.

Bond suspects that Anthea's periodic texting might be responsible, which is confirmed when they cross the distance to the still burning house and find yet another sleek black car parked some distance away, and the tall, slim figure of Mycroft Holmes leaning most of his weight on his umbrella. "I see you've been very busy," he says.

"Where is he?" Sherlock demands, striding forward. "Have you found him?"

"Naturally," Mycroft says, nodding his head to a cluster of medics and a gurney where Bond can see two socked feet. "It seems he took it into his head to jump from a helicopter, which would seem absurd until you realize where the helicopter was about to land. Which he did, when he decided to land it there."

"He's awake," Sherlock says, and then rushes off, sweeping down on the medics like a bird of prey.

"He survived all that?" John says.

"Mm. Considerably worse for wear, but otherwise yes," Mycroft says. He pushes off his umbrella and wanders forward. "It's good to see you again, ma'am," he says, shaking M's hand. "MI6 is still a few minutes out, but my people would be more than happy to see you home."

"Oh, home," M says with a relieved sigh.

She's about to hesitate, Bond knows her far too well not to see the resistance building in her, so he holds out his hand. "I'll take the gun. If you leave now, you might avoid being sent to hospital for check-up."

Her demeanor shifts automatically. "Do you think?" she asks him quietly. Then she turns, suddenly imperious and regal, and nods at Mycroft. "Very well, Mister Holmes." She turns back to shake John's hand, and thank him deeply, and to relay her thanks to Sherlock. Then she pauses by Bond, "Keep me posted, 007."

He nods. "I will, ma'am."

As M disappears into a shiny black car, Bond stares at the medics, who are now maneuvering the gurney across the uneven ground to the ambulance. "What was that, approximately twenty-four hours in enemy custody?" Mycroft asks, coming to stand by Bond's side.

"Right," John says, glancing between them. "I'll just go see if they need a second opinion." He scurried off to Sherlock and to Lysander and the ambulance.

"Are you going to lecture me about responsibility and taking care of your contacts?"

Mycroft flashes him a sidelong glance. "Is that what happened? You didn't consider his safety important?"

"No."

"Of course not," Mycroft says. "And I could stand here and lecture you until I was blue in the face, but I don't think anything that I say or don't say will change the facts, or how you feel about them." He sighs. "I'm reluctant to admit this, Mister Bond, but my brother has formed some sort of attachment to … MI6. Maybe that was something I would have railed against the past, but lately I find myself … encouraging it."

Bond tries to find some safe place to look and finds there is nothing: not the chapel where Rodriguez died, not the house that is still burning, where the chopper crashed, not the rubble where the medics had been clustered apparently having just pulled Lysander from it. Not Mycroft Holmes. "Your brother was almost killed by a psychotic, traitorous rogue agent. He was taken hostage, tortured, crashed a helicopter and then jumped out of it. This is something you'd like to encourage?"

"Consider, Mister Bond, that the alternative is a brother who barely exists at all, lost some place in the ether, or wherever it is he lurks with his codes." He tips his head to the side. "No, I much prefer it this way, with my brother alive and here. I merely wish to inform you that he spoke of his decision to crash the chopper and to jump from it, but he has refused to comment on where he has been or what he has been doing since he was taken."

"Noted," Bond says, though he is having difficulty making sense of any of this really. He's still stuck on the realization that Lysander is alive. That he lived through this.

"I don’t think very highly of sentimentality, Mister Bond. In my experience there are very few people who can be trusted, and mostly that is limited to blood relatives. However, it would seem in poor taste for me not to mention that when I asked what made him think nose-diving an AW101 into a burning house was a good idea he told me that he did it to save you."

Mycroft swings his umbrella in a smooth arch and says. "This is the point in the conversation where I explain that if this goes anymore pear-shaped than it already has, you and I will be meeting again, and I shall bring the full-force of my not inconsiderable power down on your head." He smiles widely, "Good-day, Mister Bond."

The eldest Holmes joins the cluster by the ambulance, and Bond lurks watching the house start to smolder. "He should be fine," John says, crossing over with a hideous orange blanket liberated from the ambulance, which he hands over to Bond. Bond holds it in his hands because he thinks if he were to throw it away John might become a little less cheerful. "He's banged up, but nothing that shouldn't heal."

"That's good," Bond says, fidgeting with the blanket.

"Put that on," John orders. "You're still dripping. There's another ambulance but right now they're wasting time with all the henchmen strewn about."

Anthea strides past, she's carrying a shiny steel thermos with a black leather grip in one hand, and her mobile in the other. There's a sniper rifle strapped across her back. John and Bond both turn and follow her progress as she passes. "You know," John says, bumping Bond's shoulder. "I'm starting to wonder if this is a Holmes thing, making friends with people who have guns and know how to use them."

Bond smiles. "They certainly seem to attract enough trouble."

"Mm," John agrees. "They do, don't they."

________________________________________________________________________________________

Eventually, MI6 arrives, contributing more cars and people and chaos to the area. Bond begins to lose track of people, Mycroft and Anthea and Sherlock and John, but he doesn't lose track of the ambulance where Lysander has been stationed. Medics are limited, and there is a considerable amount of carnage in the area. As he waits, the crowd around the bus where Lysander has been taken diminishes, then reduces to nothing at all.

Bond waits a moment longer, taking the opportunity to shove the orange blanket through the slightly opened window of Mycroft's car, and then he paces across the distance.

There is a rather formidable bruise blossoming along the right side of Lysander's face from his chin all the way to his brow. Bond can see little nicks and scratches on the younger man's cheek and forehead, a slice across the bridge of his nose that has been covered by a sticking plaster. His hands are tightly wrapped in bandages that disappear beneath the sleeves of his shirt and there is a hideously orange blanket draped over his shoulders. His clothes are torn and thoroughly soot-stained, and there are smudges on his skin where the dirt has been half-heartedly rubbed away.

All in all he looks fairly wretched, perched in the back of an ambulance where he has apparently been forgotten, feet dangling down to the ground.

"You've survived to fight another day?" Bond asks as he walks over.

Lysander offers him a tired smile. "Apparently."

The wreckage of Skyfall is still smoldering behind them, people in dark uniforms rushing back and forth across the frost-stiffened grass and shouting at one another, Bond wonders if they are trying to put out the flames or ID the bodies. For MI6 both tasks are equally important. Perhaps the fire is slightly less so.

"You jumped out of a helicopter."

"A crashing helicopter," Lysander corrects. "Believe it or not, the odds were slightly more in my favor plummeting to earth without a parachute than if I had stayed in that infernal contraption a moment longer."

Bond smiles. "You calculated the odds."

"Of course." Lysander sniffs, adjusting the blanket around his shoulders. "Anyway, you blew up your Astin."

"That was different."

Bright green eyes fix on him. "Really?"

Bond meets Lysander's disbelieving gaze, shifting closer on stiff legs until he can drop down beside the younger man, perching on the back of the ambulance. "I didn't do that for you, I did it for Queen and Country."

Lysander smiles. "Well, on their behalf-- thank-you."

Bond leans just slightly, unsure of the extent of damage to the younger man's body and unwilling to cause more pain. There's an answering press of weight against his side as they sit, leaning into one another. "It was worth it."

He feels Lysander's shoulder twitch slightly as if in an aborted shrug. "I think I could improve it, anyway, your car."

The wreckage of Bond's beautiful Astin Martin is in a blackened heap ten feet from the front of his burning house. There are orangey-red embers sparking threateningly, casting shadows on the twisted metal. "You'll have to salvage it, first."

"I've got some of Mycroft's people working on that."

Bond shakes his head. "I doubt there's enough to rebuild an entire car."

"Well, if you don't want it, I'll keep it for myself."

They lapse into silence, observing the controlled chaos from the back of the ambulance. Bond wonders where the medics have gone, and if Lysander is well enough to be sitting around the way he is. His breath sounds labored, and his inhalations are hitched and short.

"I suppose I should apologize for destroying your home."

Bond shakes his head. "You didn't."

Green eyes roll in his direction, narrowing with impatience. "I'm at least partially responsible."

"Don't feel too guilty," Bond advises. "It's not actually my home."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that I sold it. The paperwork has all gone through and the money's been deposited, so I suppose we're all trespassing at the moment."

Lysander blinks out at the crumbled, charred remains of the house that is still burning, at the twisting tail of the helicopter who's tail rotor is still spinning, sticking up at the center of the house like a chimney. The blackened earth and what's left of the Astin and the cluttering sprawl of bodies over the ground. He sighs. "I hope whoever bought this place has good insurance."

Bond's still laughing when the medics jog over. "Sir, we should be getting him to hospital now."

Standing away from the ambulance Bond looks into bright green eyes that are perhaps a little bit glassy. "Cracked ribs," Lysander explains. "I really don't recommend jumping out of helicopters without the appropriate equipment."

"I could have told you that," one of the medics says as he helps Lysander onto the gurney. "Are you traveling with us, sir?" he asks Bond.

In answer, Bond takes another step back. One of the MI6 agents is already calling for him, and a medic from the other ambulance is eyeing him suspiciously. Bond has been trying to keep his shivering down to a minimum but he suspects that he's on borrowed time. Sooner or later a medic or perhaps John, will corner him and insist that he be properly checked over.

"Bond," Lysander calls just as the medic goes to pull the other door closed. The man pauses, sitting back so Bond has a clear view of the younger man. "Do you suppose it would be alright if I stayed for a while? In England?"

"What happened to disappearing back into the shadows when everything is all over?"

The answering smile is exhausted but no less bright. "I might have changed my mind."

It's impossible to prevent his lips from quirking upward even as he pushes the door of the ambulance closed. He checks the handle to make certain the doors have locked and then taps his knuckles against the side twice. The bus pulls away, up the dirt road and through the gates of Skyfall.

"There's a man over there insisting that you ID the body. He won't believe me when I tell him that it's definitely Tiago Rodriguez," John says, jogging over. "You haven't had anyone check you over, have you? Right. Come on. You've probably got hypothermia and you can be as stoic as you like, but I'm certain I saw one of those bastards score a hit on you. You're not doing anyone any good standing about patiently bleeding to death." He stops mid rant and narrows his eyes suspiciously. "Why are you smiling?"

Bond shakes his head. "No reason at all, Doctor Watson."

Chapter Text

Lysander is sitting up in his hospital bed when Bond enters the room. He has a tired but no less bright smile to offer as greeting. "The trouble with being taken to a secret MI6 hospital when you have a brother like Mycroft is that he throws his weight around and intimidates the staff, and the next thing you know, you've been swaddled in gauze and taken captive by a bunch of concerned doctors who have somehow got the impression that you are more fragile than glass."

Bond raises his eyebrows. "Is that your way of saying that it's not as bad as it looks?"

The bruises have faded some, and for all his claims of being 'swaddled in gauze' it's really only Lysander's ribs that have been bound, and a few injuries that have a square-cut bandage over them. Nevertheless, the younger man raises an eyebrow casting a pointed look down at his own person. "Does it really look all that bad?"

"No," Bond admits, and leans over for a real greeting: swift and more chaste than he'd prefer, but a proper kiss just the same. Then he steps back, settling onto a chair conveniently pulled up to the bedside. "I've been issued orders."

"No rest for the wicked, is there?"

"Apparently not. Between Rodriguez and Moriarty there are plenty loose ends for us to wrap up."

"That's where you're off to? Wrapping up loose ends?" When Bond nods Lysander tips his head to the side, his mouth quirking upward. "I suppose by the time you come back I might have even been discharged from here. You could find yourself reporting to me, even."

"Why would I do that?"

There's a hint of glee that lights up the green depths of the younger man's eyes. "You're looking at the latest recruit to Q-Branch, 007. Since all the vetting has already been done, and my old application was still floating about, I'm technically already on the payroll because Hamish pushed everything through as fast as he could. Mallory was happy to speed things along."

"I imagine he was. That's quite a bit of red tape he's just neatly avoided."

"What, shift a few dates around and he never has to admit to the higher-ups that he had a civilian of dubious allegiance working for the agency? I can see how that might reflect poorly." Lysander tilts his head, considering. "I suspect Mallory might not have understood, however, that when my brother volunteered my information to you, he did so fully intending to be the 'high-up' to whom Mallory would report. I suppose there's some comfort in realizing that even as he tossed me blithely out to the wolves he did bother to put a failsafe in place."

This is one thing Bond thinks he will never understand about the Holmes brothers. For all their excessive eye-rolling and complaining and sniping, they are so clearly fond of one another, and fiercely protective. He has no idea who they are attempting to fool with their claims to the contrary, but suspects that the answer is simply that they mean to fool one another and, even more surprisingly, that they frequently succeed in this endeavor. John had floated the idea of selective intelligence, reasoning that someone as observant as Sherlock Holmes couldn't possibly be so vastly obtuse when it came to deducing the obvious in his own siblings. Bond is inclined to agree.

It is either that, or each of the three stubborn Holmes men are simply that determined to never speak of the levels of sentimentality their brothers are capable of reducing them to.

Possibly it is not an either/or scenario, but a little of both.

Rather than risk broaching this topic with Lysander, however, Bond sets the small paper bag he has brought onto the younger man's bed, within reach. "What's this?" Lysander asks suspiciously, already reaching for the bag. "Oh, brilliant," he declares, raising the mug aloft and smiling at it happily. It is plain white, bearing the letter 'Q' on one side and is part of the Scrabble series of mugs, which Bond sought out specifically because he had felt it was appropriate.

That, and he was growing tired of hearing Lysander complain about the personal items Rodriguez had destroyed: "Every mug, smashed," he would say, about six minutes into the familiar tirade. "It's wanton destruction. What did he imagine I would do? Beg him to stop, offer him valuable secrets to preserve a three pound novelty item?" Then, about eight minutes in, inevitably, "I miss my bloody mugs! They were gifts. I'll have to start the entire collection over."

"You're welcome," Bond says, when the younger man beams at him. Any further comment he might make is disrupted by a quiet but familiar 'mewing' and the lump that he had previously mistaken for Lysander's hip moving. It takes a second to process exactly what he is seeing. "I didn't think cats were allowed in the hospital," he notes, as Scheherazade crawls out from beneath the white hospital sheets and stretches. Clearly bored.

"They're not." Lysander seems inordinately proud to be thwarting this particular rule, holding his empty mug in one hand while the other reaches out to scratch at his cat's head. She purrs and resettles on his lap, contented. "Eve brought her round for a visit. It didn't take much to convince her to leave Scheherazade with me for a while."

"I'm sure your doctors will be ecstatic."

"I refuse to listen to you lecturing me on appropriate hospital behavior, James. Besides, if they want to keep me here when I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself, at home, then it serves them right."

"I can see you're going to be quite a handful."

"I certainly intend to be."

Bond has to kiss him again if only because the devilish grin and the glint in those green eyes remind him so plainly that, despite the odds, Lysander is here and alive and making a full recovery, however slowly. That somehow Bond has managed to keep this one and, if he has any sort of say whatsoever, he intends to ensure that Lysander Quillon Holmes remains a citizen of the United Kingdom, an employee at MI6, and a constant at Bond's own side. He does have a habit of making things interesting.

"I have to go," Bond says a short while later when his eye catches on his watch. "Hamish is expecting me at HQ and my flight leaves in two hours."

"Right, go. Leave me here, wasting away on my sickbed."

"Hm. You said it wasn't as bad as it looked and that you were perfectly capable of taking care of yourself at home."

"Which is true," Lysander argues. "But you didn't offer to break me out of this bloody place, and now you're leaving and I'm still kept here, hostage."

"You hardly need my help to escape this place. If you weren't concerned that your brother might break into your flat to ensure that you were indeed alright I suspect you would be gone from here already."

Lysander narrows his eyes. "Which brother?"

"Pick one."

The younger man sighs, collapsing back into his collection of pillows looking petulant. "I'm humoring them. By the end of this week…"

"Try and avoid blowing up an agency-run buildings while I'm gone. They're a bit sensitive about that sort of thing."

"And you return your equipment in one piece."

Bond raises his eyebrows. "I haven't been issued any equipment outside of a gun and a radio."

Lysander's Cheshire cat grin stretches wide as he pointedly runs his eyes down and then up Bond's body. "That's not the equipment to which I was referring."

The response startles a laugh out of Bond, and he has to lean over the bed once more to give the cheeky little bugger a kiss. "I'll see you when I get back, Lysander."

"James." Lysander's voice halts him again just as he reaches the door. "I think you may call me 'Q' now, if you like."

He stifles a grin by testing the name on his lips, "Q."

Q sniffs, his dark eyebrows rising above the frames of his glasses. "But not when we're at work. We still have to maintain an air of professionalism."

"Of course," Bond agrees readily. "When I call you 'Q' at work, naturally it will be a reference to your status as an employee within Q-Branch, and not in any way an overly familiar title for someone I happen to be seeing socially on the side."

"I thought I was supposed to be the one causing trouble?"

"We'll take it in turns."

On the bed, sprawled over Q's outstretched legs, Scheherazade yawns widely baring sharp white teeth before resettling. Q strokes her head idly and proposes, "Sixty-thirty."

"We're not arguing about which, of the two of us, will inevitably cause more trouble." He meets Q's impudent look with an expression that he hopes brooks no argument. "I'm going to go dismantle a global crime syndicate and you're going to endeavor to recuperate and avoid overthrowing the government while I'm gone." He pauses for a moment, then says, "Fifty fifty."

"That's a serious limitation on my penchant for causing chaos, James. I hope you're worth it." In answer, Bond returns to the bed, cups the back of Q's head allowing his fingers to tangle the muss of dark hair as he maneuvers the younger man's head back and takes him into a thorough, determined and plundering kiss. When Bond steps back Q's glasses are sitting askew on the bridge of his nose, his cheeks flushed and his hair ruffled. Bond pauses to offer one more scratch to the top of Scheherazade's velveteen-soft head, and then turns on his heel, smiling.

 

The End.