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Sometimes all Eve wants to do is take her two boys and put them in a box somewhere, away from the world, where even they can’t hurt themselves.

Wandering into Q Branch, not even bothering with the flimsiest of cover stories these days, she watches one of the cleverest men she’s ever known (she likes to cover herself this way, if only so something slightly closer to the truth doesn’t accidentally slip out someday and make his ego somehow worse than it already is) running himself into the ground. She leaves him sandwiches because he won’t eat, cups of tea because water goes ignored, and stands by while he does what he thinks is necessary to save the world. Day after day she sees the bags under his eyes come and go – mostly just come, piling up until a man in his twenties looks more like he’s fifty – and knows that short of stocking up on sedatives, there’s no way to force him to sleep.

Q is focused and driven and determined and plenty of other words besides which all translate as ‘stubborn’. Whatever’s happened in his past – Eve has the files, naturally, but Q isn’t exactly unknown for making alterations when it suits him or just to prove a point – he hates to rely on anybody else to do his job. Agents he’ll allow, justifying them as the necessary guns, another weapon for him to wield from halfway across the world. But when it comes to his own work, the computers and viruses and gadgetry he pulls in around himself like a blanket, he won’t let anybody else in. Eve can get volunteers from the rest of his department – they all agree that he should sleep more, should eat at all, and when these people are saying that, most people would recognise they have a problem (except of course Q isn’t most people and she wouldn’t have him any other way) – but that doesn’t mean he’ll accept the relief.

“I’m not going to break apart if you touch me,” he tells her, sounding annoyed. She resists the urge to slap him, if only because he’s trying to hack the CIA and the last thing they want is for somebody to notice.

She wants to tell him that she’s scared that one day there’ll be nothing but a husk where an incredible man once stood; she wants to say that if he doesn’t sleep soon she’s going to taser him and drag him home like a caveman.

Instead she waits until his eyes light up with childish glee, and then she leans over to kiss him, if only to get his attention.

Of course, if Eve really wanted to worry, then she doesn’t need Q. Q at least has never been shot – by her or anybody else (he claims, although she’s often traced a scar on his shoulder that suggests otherwise) – or poisoned, or stabbed, or burnt (by something other than electrics). Q has never launched himself off buildings whilst aiming at a spot on the ground the size of a postage stamp when viewed from that high up, or been injected with experimental drugs, or faced any sort of torture beyond meetings of branch heads. (She forces weak humour into the thought to avoid the inevitability that some day, somehow, someone will try to break him, and while they’re unlikely to succeed, the thought is more than enough encouragement for her to check her personal armoury.)

Eve cares about James Bond, and while so far she’s escaped the various hideous deaths normally inherent with the position, she still suffers in her own way. She was a field agent herself for long enough to know that you don’t always have the answer; that ‘do or die’ is their motto and they cannot accept anything less.

She reads his mission reports before forwarding them to M (usually with such helpful commentary as drink recommendations or suggestions for soothing background music, or, on one occasion, offering to shoot him again), reflects on the fact that it’s entirely possible she’s in love with an immortal (a thought she will never breathe a word of to anybody ever), and then goes down to the range and proves a point again and again until she’s out of ammo and M’s sent a message not to allow her any more.

The very fact of Bond’s continued existence makes no sense. It’s so unlikely, so unique, and she can’t help but want to keep it going.

Not that she can tell him that. Just like Q, their relationship doesn’t allow for such sentiments. Perhaps with Q she can express her concern, coupled with a smile and a kiss and the distraction of Earl Grey, but with James, there is nothing. The two of them, Eve and Q, are already closer than he’s ever allowed anyone since Venice (he’s never told them that, but they both have the means and the motive for finding out). Anything more and they might be so deep under his skin he might fall apart – or so Eve imagines it, projecting his idiot head onto her punching bag late at night.

She wants to stop him destroying himself, and she can’t, because to do so would require him to admit he has a problem, and if she thinks Q ignores it, that is nothing compared to a man who has (so far) survived everything into double the age anybody expected of him. (Not that James is as old as he looks – none of them are – but she has suspicions about his teenaged years.) She can only talk around everything she knows that he hides in, and if he drinks a little less around them, vanishes for shorter periods of time, sometimes means it when he smiles, then she thinks she might be able to hang onto him – if only for a short while longer. Looking at herself in the mirror, she says that that’s enough, and doesn’t meet her eye.

Q will run himself into the ground and fall apart because to him the outside world is nothing but a distraction; James, too, is married to his work, to the extent that any life besides is nothing but an offering to be sacrificed.

Eve loves her job, she does: she loves babysitting M and pretending otherwise; she loves being the power behind the throne; she loves that she’s fallen between the cracks into a reality where secrets are currency, a man in the basement can hack anything anywhere, and a woman can be a trained killer and still waste an hour on Angry Birds.

But if she does give her life for it – the ‘if’ is optimistic, she isn’t blind to the way MI6 works – it’ll either be because it was her or M, or she simply never left.

She loves her obsessive boys, full of hidden anger and surprising patriotism, yet not for a single moment does she think that they’ll last without her. That’s clear enough from hearing the two of them over the comms, flirtation and high risks intermingling, James pushing and Q falling and both of them so caught up in the world that they’ve made that they constantly forget about the real one.

It’s a toss-up between which is more frustrating: knowing in the end they’ll kill themselves willingly and knowing she can’t say a bloody thing about it.

In the end, she can only show it through the little things, carrying a collapsed Q out of the room in a fireman’s lift (in heels, no less) or dragging James to bed when it looks like he’s set in with an illegal bottle and the melancholy. She brought them together and she holds them there, with fierce words and fiercer actions. She puts out the fires and tells on them to each other, and resigns herself to forever being the rock great men can cling to.

(That said, she’s no wilting flower, and when somebody does indeed try to take Q, she might not shoot them straightaway, but that’s only because M wants her to make him talk first.)

James at least has the sense not to say that they don’t need her. She’d grant him the wisdom of experience, if the attachment of the word to him weren’t laughable.

“What am I going to do with you two?” she asks, curled between them, fingers tracing under Q’s closed eyes or closed tightly around James’ wrist to keep him where he belongs.

“Well,” James suggests into her ear, “there’s always murder.”

She turns enough to glare at him. “I was thinking more along the lines of handcuffing you to the bed and never letting you leave.”

“Doesn’t sound so bad,” Q murmurs, beating James to the obvious punchline – and of course it’s obvious, because that’s how she has to do this, offerings of humour to cover up the concern that’s anathema to both of them.

It’s warm under the covers, and safe, and even if it bloody kills her, she is keeping the two of them here, again and again, for as long as she possibly can.

If anybody comes through that door, she swears to herself, it won’t matter that James keeps a gun in one bedside table or Q a knife in the other. She has one strapped to the back of the headboard, and contrary to what either of them joke, when she shoots, she shoots to kill.

It’s the least she can do, to keep them safe.

Until the inevitable tomorrow.