"At the next hallway turn...um...left — no, right — um, wait, just a second, 007, I'm checking..."

Bond skidded to a stop, panting. His whole body was flushed with adrenaline and rage, and he just barely controlled the urge to take the earwig out of his ear and stomp on it heavily.

"Just bloody decide..." he started to growl, but before he could say any more a different voice interrupted the line, refreshingly crisp and decisive.

"...and next time call me before it goes tits up..." the voice was saying witheringly as it faded in, the acerbic tones paradoxically calming Bond instantly, dissipating the red haze of frustration that had been clouding his brain.

"007," Q said, his voice calm and even in Bond's ear. "Sitrep."

"Objective secured. Need an exit," Bond answered, hoping his sigh of relief was not loud enough to be audible to Q. God knows the young pup was arrogant enough. "Flesh wound to the thigh, mobility slightly impaired. Two bullets remaining, out of clips. And for god's sake sack that other babbling idiot."

"He will be dealt with," Q said in that clipped way of his that no doubt had the hapless field support agent's balls shriveling. "In the meantime, let's press on, shall we? Turn left, second door on the right, one flight down. I'm afraid there are two at the bottom of the stairs, make your bullets count, why don't you?"

"Thanks for the helpful tip," Bond gritted out, the stab wound in his thigh screaming at him as he pounded down the stairs. Speed was more important than stealth at this point, with every goon in the building looking for him now and more escape routes being cut off every second.

His first shot was clean but the second man charged as he was firing and it was somewhat messier, Bond's bullet landing in his shoulder. A brief but intense bout of hand-to-hand combat left Bond standing over a second body, battered but victorious.

"Another coming around the corner in five seconds. Listen, 007, do not throw your Walther, do you hear me? Do not throw your Walther."

Bond threw his Walther. "Missed," he grunted.

"Dammit, Bond." Q's voice was a perfectly-balanced blend of aggravated and resigned. "The corpse on your left has a knife in a sheath at the small of his back, throw that instead why don't you?"

The other man had ducked back behind the corner, giving Bond time to pull the knife from the corpse and weigh it consideringly in his hand.

"Doesn't have the right balance, does it?" Q said, making Bond wonder exactly how good the resolution was on the CCTV system he had hacked into. "Never mind, reinforcements have arrived and these ones are actually armed, so back into the stairwell you pop. One more storey down."

A thud of bullets hit the stairwell door as Bond ducked back down it.

"Turn right, fire axe on the wall seven metres down on the left-hand side."

"Got it." Bond tucked the hunting knife into his belt and hefted the axe.

"Four doors down on the left, the door with the electronic lock — don't smash it, you heathen!"

Bond froze with the axe raised over his shoulder.

"It's an electronic lock, I've already opened it for you," Q hissed.

Bond twisted the knob and sure enough the door opened smoothly.

"Four conduits along the left-hand wall. Cut the second from the left."

Without hesitation Bond smashed the axe into the conduits. A fire alarm immediately began blaring.

"Mmm...good." He could hear the furious tip-tap of Q's fingers on his keyboard. "I've set all the fire doors to lock rather than unlock by default. We should have our run of the place now. Two doors down, on the right. Into that office, check the desk."

Bond raised an eyebrow at the title under the name on the door: Chef de la sécurité. Bond rummaged through the desk drawers. "Just clips, no weapon."

"Of course not, 007, he's out chasing you, he'd hardly leave his primary firearm behind." Q's eye-roll was practically audible. "Keep looking."

Bond rummaged through the right-hand drawers. "Oh wait, a Taser. That's something."

"Indeed." Q's voice was dry. "Take the clips as well, there's a good lad. And oh look, 9 millimeter, they would have been perfectly compatible with your Walther, may I point out, had you not thrown it like a sodding boomarang..."

"Temper, Q."

"Turn right down the hall, then left at the next corridor. I'll open the fire door as you get there."

Bond raced along a labyrinth of corridors at Q's command, fire doors magically unlocking as he approached each one.

"Stairs on your right, up you go, one flight."

"Admit it, Q," Bond panted. "You're just trying to make sure I get in my cardio for today." He concentrated on Q's voice, trying to block out the throbbing pain in his thigh, but he stumbled nonetheless, having to lean heavily against the metal stair rail as his head swam for a moment. Dammit, he must be losing blood faster than he had thought.

"Almost there, 007." There was a note of strain in Q's voice, and Bond's eyes automatically locked on to the CCTV in the stairwell. He imagined Q, standing before his bank of monitors at HQ, long pale fingers flying over his keyboard as he watched over Bond, and the thought was strangely heartening.

"In, oh, 17 minutes you'll be back in the tender arms of MI-6, I assure you," Q said, his voice wiped clean of any emotion now. "Arm the Taser now."

Bond gritted his teeth, nodded once, and pressed the button on the Taser, feeling it hum to life as he shoved himself bodily up the last few stairs and into the corridor.

"Now this is the tricky part," Q said, ignoring the answering snort of derision from Bond. "Fire door on the left. I'm going to open it in seven seconds. Stand directly behind it as it opens and immediately fire the Taser at the hallway floor inside, understand? Four, three, two, one..."

What in the sodding hell is he up to? Bond wondered, but obediently shifted the Taser to his left hand.

The lock on the fire door clicked and Bond twisted the knob with his right hand, pulling. The door opened with a wet, sucking sound. Ah, Bond thought, hitting the trigger on the Taser just as a stream of water rushed past.

The Taser hummed and jerked in his hand, immediately followed by the splashy thump of bodies hitting the wet ground.

"All clear, Bond, in you go. And — oh, look! You'll be passing your Walther in about six metres, do pick it up, why don't you?"

Bond ground his teeth at Q's obviously sham tone of surprise. "Q," he growled, his voice arctically cold. "Did you send me in a giant sodding circle just so I could retrieve your tech?"

"Nonsense, 007. We accomplished several objectives en route, this is just a happy coincidence. Besides, you'll need it in a moment."

The sprinklers were still drizzling desultorily as Bond splashed down the hallway, Q obviously having inactivated them only moments before. Bond wiped a forearm across his eyes, squinting against the drips before spying his Walther on the ground. Precisely six metres ahead, no doubt, only partially obscured by the limp body of one of the electrocuted goons.

"Will it still work?" Bond asked, scooping it up and snapping in one of the new magazines.

"O ye of little faith," Q said drily. "Waterproof and insulated against electrical charges, thank you very much," he said unnecessarily, as the palmprint recognition light had already turned a welcoming green. "Down the hall now, two lefts, to the freight elevator." Bond pounded down the endless corridors.

"...Which is why you shouldn't just chuck it away on a whim..." Q added, as if continuing his prior thought.

"Enough nagging, Q, or I'll be throwing it at your head next."

"Hardly a potent threat, 007, as I've already seen how abominable your aim is..."

Bond huffed a soft laugh despite himself as he jammed the button for the freight elevator, hearing it whir to life regardless of the fire lockdown. "That's a thought, Q," he said. "Maybe if you weight it like a boomarang it'll come back to me, and you'll up your odds of having your tech returned."

"Smartarse," Q said absently. His voice grew crisp again. "The elevator will open into the loading dock on the ground floor. There are two down there, as well as a delivery truck. Hard to get a clean angle, but I believe the keys are in the ignition. If not, I am assured that you are a dab hand at hot-wiring."

"Indeed." The freight elevator doors creaked slowly open and Bond ducked inside, hitting the button for the ground floor.

"Wouldn't work anyway," Q said thoughtfully.

"Hmm?"

"Weighting your Walther to return to you like a boomerang, the weight would constantly be changing as rounds are released..."

"It was a joke, Q."

"I suppose there could be a spring-loaded counterweight...here we are then, two baddies, one at your eleven o'clock, one at your nine o'clock. They don't seem to know what's going on, weapons not even drawn, although they are both armed..."

Q fell into radio silence as Bond took them out with two clean shots.

"Button to open the loading dock door on your left, the big green one," Q supplied helpfullly.

"Now that I would have been able to figure out for myself," Bond grumbled.

Bond levered himself up into the seat of the delivery truck, trying not to grunt in relief at finally being able to sit down. He turned the key in the ignition and fumbled for the handbrake with blood-smeared hands.

"Really, Q, 'baddies'?" he remarked, throwing the truck into gear.

"If there's a term you prefer, I'll make a note in your file," Q said placidly. "Turn right, and then left at the fork. The exterior gates, sadly, are a closed-loop system to each guard booth, so you're going straight through. I trust your truck has the necessary weight to prevail in that confrontation."

"Well, we'll find out, won't we." Bond couldn't help flinching as it hit, but the truck crashed merrily through and down the gravel road.

"Your prior hotel is no longer secure, I will direct you to a new location. Your luggage has already been transferred. A field agent and medic from the Diréction Générale de la Sécurité d'État will be waiting at the side entrance. I have cleared them both personally." In contrast to his crisp dry English, Q's pronunciation of the French words was fluid and flawless, the throaty tone of the fricatives sending a surprising jolt of awareness straight to Bond's cock — all the more remarkable given his degree of blood loss.

"You're wasted on Q-branch, you have the voice for a phone-sex call-in line." The words slipped out of Bond's mouth without forethought, although he had plenty of time to think in the sudden pause that came afterward and stretched on for endless moments. Bond hadn't realized until now how Q was always there, with an immediate reply. In all their banter Q had never before been at a loss for words. Ever.

"Q?" Bond had no idea what he was actually going to say next, and so he was relieved when Q interrupted.

"I'll keep that in mind should I need extra income on the side," Q said smoothly, although something in his voice sounded a little off. Instinctively Bond tried to analyze it. The enunciation of Q's already cut-glass voice seemed impossibly crisper, his usual unflappable demeanor now sounding simply...detached.

"I don't have satellite coverage of you right now, 007, are you woozy?" Q continued. "We disrupted communications at the facility and no one appears to be in pursuit. If you need to pull over I could scramble a retrieval team instead."

"I..." Bond felt his thoughts stutter, finding himself at a complete loss for once. Was Q trying to give him some kind of 'out' for what he had said? Why would he even need one, when everyone knew harmless flirtation came as naturally as breathing to Bond?

"I'm fine," he finally said firmly, his voice showing no trace of the riot of confusion in his head.

"Good." Q's voice turned brisk and businesslike. "I've booked you on Royal Air Maroc flight 281 from Maya-Maya Airport at 0305 hours. My apologies for the early flight, but best not to hang about. R will direct you the rest of the way. Safe travels, 007."

The line clicked softly.

"Q?"

"This is R, 007. I will be directing you from here. You have three kilometres until your next turn, is there anything else you require in the meantime?" The woman's voice was pleasant, and Bond had a vague impression of her from Q-Branch, a slight South-Asian woman with a warm smile.

"No." Bond gritted his teeth, driving on autopilot. He absolutely would not ask where Q had gone so suddenly. This was ridiculous. Why was he even giving it a second thought? And yet as R's voice guided him skillfully to the new hotel, Bond couldn't help but feel illogically, inexplicably guilty.