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honour amongst thieves

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Eve spends two years at Six before she ditches the dour prudishness of government work for the riches and freedom of freelancing. She’s not stupid; she sees the writing on the wall, the slow shrinking of the ranks of active agents and the increasing numbers of “consultants.” Why pay for pensions and exorbitant hazard pay when a mercenary can get the assassination, infiltration, whatever done just as well? The contractor economy has come to intelligence-gathering, and it’s here to stay. She doesn’t wait to be made redundant. As a free agent, she gets to pick her assignments, set her own salary. Four years on, she’s even doing some of the same work she would’ve done if she’d stayed on with MI6. So when the Chief-of-Staff-of-the-week calls her and tells her to retrieve a hard drive in Istanbul, she doesn’t think anything of it. First-class flight, in, a few shots from her K23B, out, payday. Her life now boils down to a simple equation.

She continues to think this right up until she kicks in the door of her contact and sees a cold-eyed man in a well-cut suit put a bullet through the wall next to her head and slip outside, the hard drive tucked under his arm.

Due to the head trauma, she mainly remembers the resulting chase as an avalanche of screams and shots, building momentum and gathering speed until it crashes over her head and buries her. The last clear memory she has is looking through her rifle scope to pin down the man who’s somehow escaped atop a train and preparing to take the shot—she can always fish the hard drive from his sodden corpse if she needs to—when someone delivers a terrific blow to the back of her head. She lets go of the gun and rolls, regrets it when the brute who managed to sneak up on her snatches her rifle and bashes the stock across her face. As she grapples with the newcomer, she’s vaguely aware of the man on the train slipping away from her. That hurts much more than his friend getting her in a headlock and choking her unconscious. She’s not used to losing.

She tracks them for four months, not to get back into Six’s good graces but for her own professional pride. It’s unusual for assassins to work together, but she sees them, both together and apart, on the edges of CCTV feeds, in the rumours that circulate through the criminal underworld. She never gets any closer to them than the other side of the same airport. The bruises fade. She keeps working. Six’s new Chief of Staff seems to forgive how the last job turned out and sends her to kill a Russian agitator. It’s only when she’s smoothly captured and cheerfully beaten that she understands she’s become a loose end, that Six has sent her into a trap. There is no honour amongst spies.

Time passes. She’s not sure how much. She’s drifting in a haze of pain as gunshots split the air. A man kneels beside her, the blue-eyed bastard who’d gotten the better of her in Istanbul, and he slips a syringe into the tender skin at her elbow. Here to finish the job, she thinks before blackness overtakes her.

When she opens her eyes, she’s lying in a private hospital bed somewhere sunny and paradisaical, no explanation as to how she’s alive except the impossible.

She’s mostly healed when a mild-looking man in a suit comes for a visit. “Eve Moneypenny,” he smiles. She offers him a seat.

“My boss was very impressed by your tenacity and skill,” he says like he’s laying out mortgage plans, “both in Istanbul and when you continued to track our activities in the following months. We think you’re good, but you could be great—if you had backup, support, stability.”

“I quit MI6 for a reason.”

“Six won’t offer you what we can. You can be a part of something where having good people in the field is just as important as the 0s and 1s of it all. We give each other protection and assistance; all we expect in return is loyalty. It’s a fair deal. Fairer than many you’ll hear in this business, Ms. Moneypenny.”

With a pang, Eve realises she misses it, the certainty that if she got herself in trouble, someone would be fighting to get her out. But fiercer than that, brighter than that, is the knowledge that she alone can never match what this man is offering, the skills of a team working in concert. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Eve Moneypenny has never in her life settled for being anything less than the best, and she’s not going to start now.

“Yes,” she says.

– ♠ –

They call themselves Seven after the fashion of Five and Six, a handful of British expats whose considerable services are for hire so long as the job does not immediately threaten the lives of UK citizens. Their leader is a tall, slim man who goes by the letter “M.” Just M. It’s a while before she meets him, and even longer before she knows what to make of him.

The man who recruits her is called Bill Tanner, and that’s all she knows about him for a very long time. He’s exactly as bland as his wardrobe would suggest; he likes footie, pale ales, and museums, and makes small talk with her about what she did over the weekend and the latest movies. She’s seen him punch out a confused Triad member who confused him for another drab-looking Englishman, so he’s not helpless, but he doesn’t really go out into the field. It takes her a while to figure out what his role is.

Tanner’s a connector; he has a contact in every country, a mole in every secret service, a doctor at every safe house. Tanner’s informants procure weapons and transportation for her, fake necessary documents for her, make introductions for her, and smuggle her across borders. Tanner knows every operator and every potential employer, he knows who’ll pay them well for the simple jobs and whose money to avoid taking at all costs, who’s under surveillance and who might be nursing old grudges against his people. Slowly, Eve realises that it must have been Tanner who had tracked her investigation after Istanbul, Tanner who must have evaluated her record, taken her measure, and decided that she could be an asset.

When she steps off the jet bridge in whatever city Seven has staked out as its headquarters this year, Tanner always meets her at the airport.

The man who knocked her out is Alec Trevelyan, whose laughing manner conceals a darkness Eve is very familiar with. Trevelyan is easy, a paid killer just like many of the agents and freelancers Eve has known, just like Eve. When they’re properly introduced, Trevelyan’s gaze sweeps her up and down before he says, “I suppose I can’t call myself the pretty one anymore.” The sarcasm is obvious; a mottled scar spreads over the right side of his face, the reminder of a long-ago burn.

“Oh,” she says, “I think we can share. It’s lonely at the top.”

Trevelyan may be just another assassin, but he’s a very, very good one; she’s seen him take blows that would down a lesser man and keep fighting like he wasn’t even winded. She’s better with a gun, but he’s lethal at hand-to-hand and displays a cruel cunning that has hollowed a way through many tight spots in the past. She’s not sure what he thinks about her. She’s not sure why he’s here.

And then there are the Bonds.

The Bonds are, Eve eventually surmises, the closest thing this little gang of miscreants has to an office couple. They’re an adorably drama-free pair—married for years and nary a scandal in sight, regardless of how much Bond wields his body as both weapon and prize. James is the one who got away in Istanbul, and he, like Trevelyan, is a wolf-eyed predator cut from the same cloth as Eve. For someone who almost killed him, Eve is strangely wary of him; there’s something about his eyes, something that suggests that even if she had managed to shoot him that day he’d still be standing in front of her now. He does the job with brutal efficiency, usually cutting through several buildings and people on the fastest way from A to B. If Trevelyan is a fist, Bond is a wrecking ball, a tightly-contained nuclear explosion of a man.

Theoretically less terrifying is “Everyone calls me Q” Quinlan, a big-eyed, bespectacled hacker who apparently ranks among the world’s experts in cybersecurity and once replaced every picture of the FBI’s ten most wanted with photographs of cupcakes. Q gathers most of the information Trevelyan, Bond, and Eve need to complete their jobs, makes them fun gadgets to take out into the field, and occasionally acts as a handler when something goes catastrophically wrong. Q likes animals, old crime shows, terrible knitwear, and fast cars. There’s nothing intimidating about him except the shadow of Bond that hovers over his shoulder. This may be all that Eve ever learns about them, except that Q inexplicably takes a liking to her, which means that Bond, grudgingly, terrifyingly, begins to think of her as a personal friend. Q starts showing up at her flat with pizza, beer, and movies before they’re released. It’s been a long time since Eve was someone’s friend. She thinks she’s rusty, but getting better all the time.

Trevelyan is a good fuck. Q is a good friend.

Bond is—something else.

– ♠ –

In the basement armoury of the cute little suburban house that serves as Seven’s current headquarters, Bond tells her, “You need to watch your soft spots.”

Eve looks up from the glorious selection of small arms she’s been exploring. It’s not the first time Bond has spoken to her, but it’s hardly a common occurrence at this point. Bond is still cleaning the gleaming Barrett M95 he’s just used to kill—someone. Eve’s part of the family now, but they’re still feeling her out, judging how much they can trust her with. “I don’t have any,” she says. She tries to think of someone or something that an enemy could genuinely use against her and comes up short. Certainly she’s got fewer open liabilities than Bond, who wears his wedding ring on a chain around his neck to avoid telltale tan lines.

Bond’s eyes stay on the gun but he smiles at her for the first time. It’s a small thing, just a curl of the lip, but not malicious, almost… friendly. “Everyone has weaknesses. The only way to survive is to make them untouchable.”

“Do I look like a woman with weaknesses to you?” she purrs.

He snaps the bolt back in place and cocks it. “You don’t see them yet. It’s hard to see close-up through a rifle sight. But they’re there.”

There’s something about the certainty of him that makes her feel like he’d swung the gun in her direction and taken a shot. For a long time afterward, that’s what she sees when she looks at Bond: a warning.

– ♠ –

They let her come to them slowly. Tanner vets her jobs now and Q texts her random bits of intel that admittedly prove quite useful on a few occasions, but she works solo at first, just as before. She moves into a small but amenity-stuffed flat a few blocks away from their base of operations. She learns the ins and outs of Q’s palm print–encoded gun and the other fun surprises tucked around his home workshop. She gets used to the little invasions of privacy, like when instead of asking what her favourite colour is, Q just pulls her internet history and orders the pair of shoes she’d looked at the longest without purchasing for her birthday. He modifies the heels to conceal a set of lockpicks, a USB drive, and a distress beacon complete with tracker, so she lets it go.

Things change when she starts going out on joint assignments with Trevelyan and Bond. They aren’t suddenly forthcoming with her, exactly, but a certain camaraderie has always linked people who’ve killed together, who’ve bled together, who’ve stitched up each other’s wounds together. She learns that Trevelyan is a vodka snob and Bond drinks scotch and soda when a job goes well and whatever will get him good and drunk when it doesn’t. She imagines them as two barely-restrained guard dogs who are growing used to her scent and allowing her into the inner workings of Seven one step at a time. She starts to linger after the weekly meetings during which Tanner and M brief them on the ever-changing state of global politics and the criminal underworld and to which Trevelyan inexplicably brings baked goods. She finds herself bringing exotic teas back for Q, like Trevelyan and Bond do. She explores the city that is Seven’s temporary home, finds a favourite restaurant, a favourite fashion boutique, a favourite pub. She lets herself have habits when she realizes that Q’s obsessive control over the local traffic cameras and CCTV means that she’ll have plenty of advance warning if someone tries to kill her.

When they ask, she comes to dinner.

The closest frame of reference Eve has for the dinners is her very vague memories of her mother laying out a meagre Seder table, matzah and bitter cerasee and a pair of ready meals. Night shifts at the hospital had left her mother with little time to cook, but she always made her own haroset from expired dates and Tesco-brand wine and roasted the eggs herself, for what it was worth. The two of them would sit around the table, the bare walls of their flat even more barren after a vigorous spring cleaning, and Eve would stumble through the blessings and the Four Questions and watch as her mother steadily drank her way through the ritual four glasses, and then a little more for luck. As an adult, she’s accustomed to fancy restaurants or eating out of the cereal box at midnight, with no middle ground. This is different. Sometimes they order takeaway after one of their weekly meetings and talk shop; these nights often end in shooting competitions or sparring bouts.

Other times, whenever Q or Tanner or, more rarely, Trevelyan get a notion, Eve pulls up outside a colleague’s residence for an evening of food and conversation that might almost come from normal people and doesn’t leave till late. Tanner serves up a solid repertoire of British comfort foods in his discreet but luxurious penthouse, and Eve imagines that these are things she might have made if she’d chosen a life that was at all concerned with things like cooking and grocery shopping. Trevelyan spends as much time on the Bonds’ couch as he does in his ever-changing series of extravagant flats and, baked goods aside, can make exactly three things excellently: beef stroganoff, chicken karahi, and lasagne. He can also spit-roast a rat, but that’s a skill that doesn’t come up as often. Bond and Q’s spacious, elegant house always promises something delicious from Bond’s travels and something experimental from amateur mixologist Q. Sometimes M even comes.

Some nights Eve finds herself thinking about one of the few things her mother could cook, the black cake that she’d made for Eve’s birthday every year, and whether she could find the recipe online.

– ♠ –

Some nights are spent crouching in a sniper’s nest, in a Tokyo high-rise or a Berlin clock tower or Somalia or Syria or any other desolate, forsaken desert. Ignoring the bruise where the gun is braced against her shoulder, the scrape of her elbows against the floor, becoming just an eye and a trigger finger. Counting her breaths, not the hours.

Sight. Trigger press. Exhale.

This, at least, is still the same.

– ♠ –

Eve has never met anyone better at killing people than James Bond.

The first time she sees this particular talent in action, they’re sprinting across the Plaza de Bolívar in Bogotá trying to catch up to a drug smuggler that had unfortunately pissed off the wrong rival. He’d been tipped off to their presence, probably by a mole in the cartel that had hired them, and he’d had an ambush waiting for them the moment they landed. Bond and Eve dispatch them without much trouble, but their target is proving to be slipperier. They follow him down side streets and into a huge church, all but deserted at this time of night but still blazing with light for the odd lost soul who might wander in at three in the morning. Eve is thrown into a pew hard enough that she blacks out for a moment, and when she resurfaces Bond is pinned down behind a column as the target sprays fire in his general direction.

When he pauses to reload, Bond glances out from behind the pillar, aims, and brings the massive crucifix hanging above the target’s head crashing down on him.

In the next moment, he’s dragging her out onto the street before anyone can investigate the deafening crash, and she doesn’t have time to think about it until they’re at the extraction point and waiting for Q to reroute a charter flight their way. But once she’s noticed it, she sees it everywhere. It’s in the cold efficiency that radiates from him, the way he snaps a neck with a well-rehearsed motion, the way he can make anything into a weapon, the way he can bring down buildings to kill one man (and has). In quick succession she sees him kill people with a stapler, a prosthetic leg, and wet concrete.

He’s not covert, he’s not specialised, there are better snipers and bombers and fighters. Bond is just… inexorable.

– ♠ –

In his own way, Q is a good match for him. Q sometimes retreats into a sterile, unblinking focus doing something esoteric to his computers, and nothing, not his boss’s attempts to get his attention or his own bodily needs, will snap him out of it. He drudges through the electronic muck of their dirty business without flinching or even much emotion, a placidity at odds with his youth and personality. Above all, his hands are steady. On the weapons he hands them, on the wires of a bomb, on the stitches Bond sometimes sports when Eve knows for a fact he hasn’t seen the doctor M has on-call for them at all times.

In other ways, Q is a complete mystery. His past, how he acquired his skills, what he did to get the coldest man Eve has ever met to fall in love with him.

“James wants me to take down the nonlethal first security countermeasure,” Q confesses tipsily to her one night as they binge Midsomer Murders on his massive flatscreen, “but what if some idiot new hire of M’s gets drunk enough to start taking ill-advised bets?” Eve can only imagine; Q designed their motley gang’s truly nasty security protocols, and that’s nothing compared to the Bond house. “Or a run-of-the-mill burglar tries to take my TV? It’s a nice TV! Practically the belle of the HD ball! I couldn’t bear the guilt! And it’s not exactly as though James’s taste in real estate is inconspicuous…”

Eve has seen Q cackle as he sets up shifting passwords as detonator failsafes, blow up chemical weapons stockpiles from space, overclock nuclear reactors with the press of a button. He also goes a bit gooey-eyed at blatantly manipulative RSPCA adverts. He’s full of contradictions that way.

Nothing about Bond, on the other hand, in any way contradicts his dead-eyed, practised violence—except, of course, for the obvious. There’s something about the way he handles Q with such tenderness, the way part of him is always aware of where Q is when they’re in the same room, the small touches they exchange, Bond lifting Q’s glasses so he can rub at his eyes after a long day, Bond’s arm around Q’s shoulders and rhythmically brushing his knuckles up and down his neck when they’re watching a movie, that hints at a softness to the man that only comes alive in Q’s presence. He brings him gifts. Leather gloves from Buenos Aires, a gorgeous painted tajine in Fes, increasingly cheeky mugs and tea memorabilia, the best so far being a knitted hat in the shape of a teapot that Q wears incessantly in the winter months.

She catches him peering at a gorgeous crystal decanter in the window of an antique shop while they’re on assignment in Paris. “Fifteen in July,” he grunts when he sees her looking.

“That looks more like a gift for you than for him,” she teases. Bond shoots her a closed-mouth look that might almost be a smile.

But fifteen years—Q must’ve been little more than a child. Eve pictures him, wide-eyed and just starting to understand his little hacker’s game had consequences, and feels a pang of something startlingly like compassion. And interest.

– ♠ –

She asks Trevelyan about them in a dingy hotel room as they wait for the Polizei patrols to stop. It can’t all be luxury hotels and five-star resorts.

Trevelyan doesn’t even take his eyes off the street through the tiny crack in the ratty curtains. “What do the likes of you and me need to know about love?”

– ♠ –

Here is the story of James and Q Bond, as Eve eventually pries it out of them:

As a young, talented professional killer, James Bond had been recruited by the head of an infamous crime syndicate that specialised in arms and antiquities smuggling. The head of the organisation had taken it upon herself to hone his skills and nurture the budding killer she saw in him, and under her tutelage he flourished. By the age of twenty-seven he’d already carved out a formidable reputation for himself in blood and carnage, and was set to continue building the prestige and reach of his employer one death at a time for the next twenty years. He could’ve made more than millions going freelance, of course, but no one has ever doubted James Bond’s personal loyalty. His future was laid out for him as relentlessly as the path of a bullet.

Around the same time, a former greyhat hacker of some renown was turning away from Robin Hood-esque attacks on banks and harmless pranks illuminating government agencies’ security flaws to explore the darker reaches of the internet, where even finding which servers to hack is a puzzle in and of itself. Most of the activities of the hacker known alternately as Isidore, ninelives, and CAINE were kept quiet—illegal organisations aren’t keen on going to the authorities or broadcasting their humiliation to their rivals and enemies—but eventually someone noticed. Someone always notices. It’s one thing to pilfer a few hundred thousand from HSBC; it’s another thing entirely to sponge up the hidden funds of a terrorist organisation. One will get you arrested. One will get you killed.

The syndicate dispatched James Bond to take care of the problem.

“He was sent to kill me,” Q confesses. “But—”

When she asks Bond what happened, how Q might’ve finished that sentence, Bond says, “I fell in love,” and that’s that.

Bond ran. His reputation had taken a serious blow when he’d turned on his employer, but incredibly he’d built up enough of a name for himself to recover. When he washed up on Seven’s doorstep, it hadn’t been out of fear for his own life, but for Q’s. He hadn’t been the only enemy Q had made before they’d disappeared together. And though none of the people chasing them might have had his sophistication, they did know how to pull a trigger, and how to hold grudges. Q’s star only waxed brighter as he grew older and he started creating complex encryptions and cybersecurity measures—and subsequently became one of the only people in the world who could get around them. Maybe what Bond had wanted more than anything was for Q to hang it all up, for them to live quietly on a tropical island somewhere with their amassed millions and never worry about assassins or snipers or slow poison again, but he hadn’t asked, and Q hadn’t stopped. So they’d vanished together into M’s open arms instead, and Bond still killed people, and Q still hacked things he wasn’t supposed to, but they did it under an aegis of protection, a shelter made up of Tanner and M and Trevelyan and now Eve.

She knew the story from her years as a free agent. Everyone in the criminal underworld knew the story. The hacker and the hitman who ran away to live happily ever after. There are no names or affiliations attached; it’s a fairy tale, a bit of fluff to lull thieves and murderers to an uneasy sleep. As far as she knows, no one even considered that it might be real, that someone like them might love that deeply, that recklessly, and get away with it. But Q and Bond tell it with a depth of detail, a melancholy, that strips her of all doubt. If Bond and Q think anything of the illicit oral history that grew out of their romance, they don’t share it with her. It’s the little things that they linger over, revisit again and again in their recounts.

“She was also called M,” Bond tells her one evening. Eve doesn’t know what to say to that. Bond spares her the silence with a perfect lethal hit on their target at 1,400 meters with a .338 custom-built by the man he had once been ordered to kill.

– ♠ –

Some nights are spent doing the boring, unglamourous parts of being an assassin, staking out a target or languishing in an airport or waiting for hours upon hours to take the shot in some desolate, forsaken desert. But there are subtle reminders now that though she walks alone, she is not without friends. Little surprises like a box of pastries left at her hotel door or the water never running cold. The sleek lines of her equipment, whether a high-powered rifle or innocuous camera, and Q’s touch in every seam and angle. A voice in her ear drowsily recounting the latest exploits of Q’s fuzzy gremlins, or which mob boss is embroiled in whatever scandal today, or just being silent with her, a matched set of breaths.

Sight. Trigger press. Exhale.

“And you didn’t even get any blood on the painting he was looking at,” Q says, impressed. “Positively elegant, Ms. Moneypenny.”

She can see how a man would give up everything for him. For a chance to walk with him in the sun.

– ♠ –

Some nights are pub nights. On a quiet Tuesday in a moderately classy pub, Eve nurses a beer; unusually, Trevelyan, too, is keeping away from the hard stuff tonight. M’s come out with them this time, and he’s hunched in a corner with Tanner, looking as though they’re plotting serious schemes but occasionally bursting out with something about the footie match on the small TV above the bar. Bond and Q are on the tiny square of dancefloor, not so much dancing as just holding each other, taking small, swaying steps to a rhythm of their own making. Bond has his nose tucked behind Q’s ear. Q’s eyes are closed, all his trust in Bond to manoeuvre them both without incident.

Apropos of nothing, Trevelyan says, “I still think it sometimes. That I’ll do just one more job, one more job and then I’ll leave. I’ve tried the team thing and it was better than I expected, but it’s time to be on my own for a while. Like I’m meant to be.”

Her drink is bitter and bready on her tongue. “And yet you’re still here,” she says neutrally. Would she miss Trevelyan if he left? She tries to picture it and discovers that she can’t. Trevelyan looms over Seven like a protective shadow; that’s just who he is. When, she thinks, did she get so attached to a status quo?

“When I’m around them,” he says, nodding at Bond resting his cheek on Q’s curls, Tanner furiously gesticulating something as M shakes his head, “sometimes I feel like someone else. Someone who’s not an orphan and a criminal and a killer, someone who had a different life. Someone capable of friendship, of love. I like pretending for a while.”

Eve says nothing. Shamefully, horrifyingly, she, too, likes the woman that only exists during dinners at Tanner’s and quiet nights at the pub watching her colleagues dance. Trevelyan lets her brood in silence, which she’s grateful for. The good thing about her only ties to the world being other assassins and related miscreants is that they know when not to push. “Does you think it ever goes away?” she asks at last as she nears the bottom of her glass. “The restlessness. The feeling that you need to be the only person you can count on.”

Alec shrugs. “It gets quieter,” he says. “And so little about our lives is quiet. Savour it while you can.”

Eventually, he joins Bond for a game of darts, while Q, flushed with drink and bright-eyed from dancing, takes over ordering from her, apparently determined to get them both sozzled on fruity cocktails and tequila shots. Eve feels the shimmer of the Eve-that-might-have-been under her skin and lets him.

– ♠ –

Eve brings Q a puzzle box from Japan. Q gives her a barrette that explodes.

Eve steals a copy of the mutating virus Q is in paroxysms over. Q gives her a remastered copy of her favourite cartoon as a child which she barely remembered existed.

Eve shoots the man who is threatening to find their computer specialist and rip his fingers off one at a time. Bond gives her a surprisingly beautiful smile. So it goes.

– ♠ –

The life of an assassin is invariably short, brutal, tragic, and has a bloody and solitary end. Paid killers don’t celebrate birthdays. Paid killers don’t give up their lives to protect others. Paid killers don’t have families, or lovers, or friends.

What does that make her, then? What does that make Bond?

– ♠ –

And M?

Before it was M, his name was Gareth Mallory. He is fifty-six years old. He is a Sagittarius. He likes brandy, not rum; scotch, not bourbon; and has an embarrassing weakness for sparkling fruit juices. He has killed people. He has tortured and been tortured. He is a steady, implacable leader still capable of surprising her.

If Eve learns anything else over her years of service, she’s certainly not telling.

– ♠ –

Istanbul is hot, humid, sticky on her skin. Eve fans herself with the safety information card and savours the air conditioned interior of the plane while it lasts. For all that airports look the same, you can still pinpoint a geographical approximation of where you are on the globe by looking at the logos blazing across the fuselages. Sometimes she has woken up on a plane and only been able to guess which continent she was on by the airlines alone. It happens less often, now. Sometimes she wakes up and Q is in her ear reciting the date, time, and her coordinates. Sometimes he isn’t, but she worries less anyway.

She has a twelve-hour layover before the next leg of her trip back—they’ve been postponing dinner for her—and she thinks she might duck out to the Grand Bazaar and browse the jewelry, practice her haggling. It’s been a long time since she was last in Istanbul, and she might want a souvenir. Maybe a Turkish blend of tea.

The sun glares fiercely overhead and she finds herself thinking not of the next job or the sniper rifle she’s smugging in a tennis bag that was used to kill a man yesterday, but of Saturdays, and movie marathons, and Alec’s infuriatingly delicious lasagne. Almost five years ago, she knelt above the Varda Viaduct and tried to kill a man. Nearly four years ago exactly, Q gave her an expensive pair of even more expensively modified shoes, the first thing he ever fussily wrapped and presented to her with averted eyes and a faint blush. Last year he gave her poisonous lipstick. Bond gave her a very nice set of knives; Tanner gave her a gorgeous illuminated map; Alec gave her a hunting trophy. M gave her a mission. She can’t wait to see what she gets this year. She thinks it might explode. Q was tinkering with some nitroglycerin before she left and hastily hid it when she came in.

Her mother always made her black cake and sang, even if she did nothing else. This feels like that, but vaster, more durable. Like something that might actually last.

It is almost her birthday. And Eve Moneypenny is almost home.