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Everything passed in a blur in the hours after Alec dragged Q away from the bridge. His feet were a blur under him as they tried to out run all the Infected that had honed in on them. The trees around him were a blur, they were moving too fast and his eyes were still too cloudy with tears to see clearly. Even his hearing seemed distorted, but that could have either been from the explosions earlier or the roaring in his ears that hadn’t stopped since he saw James’ neck become a bloodied mess.
If it weren’t for Alec guiding him along by his arm, he would have never even made it ten feet away from the bridge.
In the back part of his overwrought brain, Q reasoned that there was probably a bit of shock that he was still working through, but the Infected were hardly going to care about that, and there were no small medical blankets around to help either.
Every few feet they ran, he had to fight off the urge to rip away from Alec and turn back, but he kept pushing forward knowing that if they turned back now they’d be no better off than James.
Fuck, Q felt sick every time he thought of what his lover must be going through at that point. Did another swarm come for him? Would he be strong enough to escape? Was he finding shelter to wait for the inevitable? Would he even wait for the inevitable to come?
He swallowed back the bile that threatened to come up his throat at the thought. He bit back the whimper that tried to come up too, knowing that it would only stress out Alec even more.
Q was not so selfish to think that he was the only one suffering between the two of them. James had been Alec’s best friend for almost as long as Q had been alive. They were more loyal to each other than most married couples, and the two of them had just had to abandon James to save themselves. It went against everything they’d ever believed in. He had no doubts that Alec was as heartbroken as he was, and yet he was managing to keep them both alive and moving forward despite that.
He stuck close to the agent’s side as he let them through the trees, keeping the road in sight, but using the woods as cover for them as they tried to move past the hoards that were still making their way towards the noise from earlier.
He had told Q gruffly that if they could make it past the incoming line of Infected, they would stand a chance to survive another day. A chance. Statistically a chance could be anything from less than one percent to almost a hundred percent, but he didn’t ask for specifics because he already knew it was dismally low.
Q didn’t feel much like living in that moment, but he’d made a promise. The last promise he’d ever made to James and he would at least try for his sake. It was the least he could do.
Q stumbled over a rock, and almost fell to the ground if it weren’t for Alec’s quick reflexes pulling him back up and pulling the boffin closer to his side.
“Careful, Q. Easy does it,” he said hoarsely. His eyes were empty.
Q wondered if his own looked any better.
Off to the west they heard another set of screams, and they both froze in place there until it passed by them, still moving in the direction of the bridge.
When the sounds faded, he felt Alec gently pulling him along, “Let’s go. We’re almost past them. Just keep going.”
Just keep going…
So this is what it feels like to be a dead man walking.
Well, dead man running anyhow. He’d turned tail and ran away from the sight of Q and Alec leaving, too much of a coward to watch the best thing that he’d ever found go off without him. Even though he was already bitten, already with one foot in the grave, he couldn’t seem to get himself to stop running.
He knew that Infected would soon be coming his way, and he wasn’t too keen on letting the bastards take another chunk out of his flesh, so he began to seek out some of the border houses they had spotted peppered through the woods. The bite on his neck burned as if someone was holding a flame to it, throbbing and screaming, but he didn’t let his feet falter as he tore through the brush.
He’d already checked two of the potential shelters, but they were weak and wouldn’t withstand the weight of more than a few Infected pounding on the doors.
He was already dead though, wasn’t he? So why was he bothering at all to find a place to hide when death had already given him a waiting list number?
It made no sense, but James had lost all control of himself it seemed. Maybe it was the first stage of the virus? Or he just couldn’t turn off that switch in him, the survival above all else instinct that he thrived off of as an agent.
He was so tired. And his heart felt empty, like it had already stopped beating. Every time he thought of Oliver and what he was going through then without James by his side he wanted to scream. Distantly he knew Alec would do everything he could to protect them both, but it was supposed to be James doing that, damn it!
He hated that he could feel frustrated tears in the corners of his eyes. He felt like a child bemoaning the unfairness of life, but he couldn’t seem to get it to stop. In between the branches and rocks he dodged, he kept picturing Q’s face in that last moment. There was an agony there that James had experience far too many times in his life, and wished that he could have spared Q from ever having felt it.
But it was too late now.
Courtesy of one fucking Infected that got in a lucky nip.
As he ran deeper into the woods, he tried to recall all the news reels he’d seen on the virus before the programmes had all stopped airing and the world fell silent. How long did he have? What would happen first? What would happen last? When would he no longer be himself?
He didn’t want to become one of them.
Q’s vision was starting to grey out at the edges when Alec finally called the all clear and let them trot to a stop. All around them they were still covered by trees, but Q could see the lines of the road and a few dark houses off in the distance.
He blinked a few times as he looked around the area they stopped in. It was a small clearing. Hardly a clearing at all, more just an absence of a tree or two, but there was enough space for Q to finally pull away more than a few inches from the agent’s side.
The sky above them was a stain of oranges and pinks, sunset falling quickly around them.
Q shivered, thinking about the dark that was coming in soon.
“We can try a few of the houses and hope for the best. I’ll take watch tonight,” Alec said swiftly.
The houses were so dark and unwelcoming from where Q stood and he recoiled at the thought of getting stuck inside if they got surrounded. Somehow, the idea of being closed in right then made him feel sick. Too many times they had been surrounded in the last week and he just couldn’t stand it again! He was already suffocating as it was.
He was shaking his head before he knew what he was doing, “I’ve got a hammock in my pack. We can both fit. I don’t...I don’t want to stay in the homes of any more dead people. Please,” he begged, hating how pathetic he sounded.
Alec’s eyes softened and he nodded, “Okay. There’s a good tree up there, let’s go get set up. We’ll get you settled and then I’ll check them for supplies before coming up.”
“Not a problem, Q. Now, up you get.”
He’d found an empty shack further down the river. From the window he could see clean across to the town that they had just escaped. It looked so quiet and peaceful now, but it felt haunted.
The shack he was in wasn’t particularly fortified structurally, but it held an impressive array of farming equipment that looked practically medieval. There was even a wicked looking scythe pinned up on the wall, and James tried not to think too metaphorically about it as he arranged some bundles of moldy straw into a bed for the night. He managed to unearth an old black hoodie from a hook on the wall. After shaking out the spiders, he was able to pull it on, just to feel something soft against his itchy skin.
He’d dodged his way around the Infected and couldn’t hear any in the area as he inspected his shelter for the night. He wondered if it would even matter come morning. He was somewhat sure that he at least had another day or two before he would completely succumb to his fate, but what did he know. He didn’t even know what he was doing at that point.
He could feel the weight on his hip from where the gun and single bullet were hooked. He could end all the questioning now if he wanted, save himself the suffering, but something inside him told him not yet. Could have been his inner chicken balking at the thought of ending it all himself, or the inner agent never willing to give up until the job was done or he was dead, or a mix of the two. Either way, he kept it with him but didn’t even place a finger on it in doubt.
As he lay down in his scratchy bed, an image of Oliver popped up in his head. He tried to make the image smile for him, or laugh, but all he could see was the soul deep sorrow that he felt and imagined Q feeling too.
He didn’t let himself think that they hadn’t made it. He was suffering plenty as it already stood.
He was exhausted. Bone tired.
The straw was hardly comfortable, but as weary as he was he didn’t expect his body to put up much of a fight when the sun set and he lay down.
But he couldn’t sleep.
For hours he stared straight ahead, the only visible thing in the shack was the gleam of the scythe on the wall, lit up by the glow of the moon through the dingy window.
He wished he had chosen a different place to sleep, but he was too tired to move now.
He missed Oliver. Missed holding him. Missed breathing him in.
Without him, James already felt dead inside.
Q was cold. Inside and out.
Even squashed against Alec’s side inside the hammock, he felt frozen from his lips to his toes.
Swallowing hard against the sob that wanted to escape, Q tried to carefully shift himself away from the agent at his side. As much as he wanted to feel warm again, it felt wrong to be this close to anyone besides James.
The urge to cry rose up in him again and he bit his lip so hard he tasted blood.
“It’s alright. Let it out if you need to,” Q heard whispered.
Q shook his head, trying to ignore the burning behind his eyelids, “Can’t. What if they hear?”
“I know the saying goes ‘shoulder to cry on’, but I promise you that mine is fully capable of being cried into as well. Built-in muffler. Give it a go,” Alec whispered back, reaching a hand up behind Q’s head and guiding it down to his shoulder.
As soon as Q’s mouth hit the fabric, he began to wail.
It was hard to tell beyond his own agony, but he thought he felt Alec’s shoulder shaking under him.
He may have even heard the occasional sound of a wet breath being sucked in.
And if there were dried tear tracks on both their faces in the light of the morning, neither of them commented on them.
When James woke next, he didn’t know how much time had passed. It was lighter outside, but from his angle from the floor he couldn’t tell how high in the sky the sun was. Normally he would have stood up to go bloody check, but he couldn’t move.
He was melting.
He must have been because it felt like he had fallen asleep on a skillet only to be dunked into a bucket of ice every few seconds. He’d never felt anything like it before. Of course he’d had his fair share of fevers in the past, but this was a heat that dulled out all sense of being.
Panting like a dog, he could only lay in the sweat soaked straw and try to keep himself from falling asleep again. Whenever he tried to shift, he could feel the way his clothes stuck to his skin, soaked through as the fever raged through him. The black hoodie he wore was too hot and not enough at the same time, but he was too weak to pull it off either way.
But he was still himself.
He was floating on fire, but he knew who he was and had no desire to bite anyone besides Oliver. Just a nibble, he swore.
Everything aches under the searing heat.
If he could put his feet under him he would run to the river and throw himself in if just to escape it for a moment.
Every shift of his leg, he could feel the gun there, but his fingers never drifted towards it.
He had promised Q he would live.
He still wanted to live.
He still wanted to fight.
The fire within him raged.
The next day passed in much the same blurred existence that had Q wondering if he had only dreamed them waking up and climbing out of the tree.
He recalled the news reports on the initial discoveries involving the virus. He hated that he knew that by this time James could already be experiencing symptoms. Fever. Aches. Chills. Twenty-four to Seventy-two hours the symptoms usually started. After symptoms arose...twenty-four hours later the heart would stop.
James could be dead by this time tomorrow.
Q bit his lip hard and felt Alec rest his arm over his shoulders, pulling him in close.
“Sorry,” Q gasped out, trying to force himself from crying again, “I’m over here blubbering like a fool when you’ve also lost someone you loved. I’m trying, I swear. I’m sorry.”
Alec shushed him, “I’m crying inside, I promise you. Don’t feel bad for still having enough life left in you to feel. To show it even. World’s filled with enough dead things masquerading as alive, don’t think you have to join us.”
Q didn’t know how to respond to that, because he had never thought of Alec as anything but vibrant. But the agent had been on his own for quite a while after the virus broke out, and who knows how that could break a man down. If it weren’t for having James by his side as long as he did, Q couldn’t be sure he’d have much left to feel either.
Each step he took that day felt heavier and heavier, as if the greater the distance they went from the bridge, the more he felt pulled backwards. If it weren’t for Alec leading him on, Q may have turned back several times by now, society be damned.
It didn’t mean he didn’t feel guilty about everything. Guilty about leaving James, and guilty for not caring much about what happens to the rest of the world. There was no escaping the feeling of failure that coated his very being. Still, while the tug to turn back to the bridge was strong, there was still the tug forward, towards home, that was still there. Only because he knew he needed to be strong like Alec and James, and save the world if he could. It’s what James would have done if their positions were reversed.
He’d do it for James, if not for the world then.
Was this the end?
Was he ready to end his suffering?
Was Oliver safe?
He needed to know. He had to know.
I made a promise.
Q didn’t want to get up the next day, but somehow his body managed to crawl out of the hammock and make his way down the tree.
There were some footprints on the ground, but even he could tell that that were at least a few hours old. The chilled breeze gusted through the woods, ruffling his hair and carrying the scent of grass and salt.
He pinched his brow in confusion, glancing over at Alec.
The agent had his chin raised in the air, like a hound catching a scent.
“Salt on the air. We’re getting closer to the coast. May reach it in the next day or two depending on who we encounter along the way,” he said softly.
Q nodded, finding it difficult to swallow past the lump that had taken residence in his throat the last three days.
Alec shouldered their pack and held out his hand to Q who took it and let himself be led on.
“Once we find a port city, we can start looking for a suitable boat to take. May take a day or two to gather fuel and supplies after that, but we can sleep on the water at night in the meantime. We’ll be safe there,” he said as they trudged through the brush.
“We can, um, use the boat radio to contact MI6. Let them know we’re coming,” Q croaked, his vocal cords still raw from all the tears shed recently.
Alec seemed startled for a moment, as if he had forgotten that there would be people they knew waiting for them. He looked thoughtful as they continued on.
Perhaps Q wasn’t the only one unsure about returning home.
I promised. I promised….
As the sun began to set again, Q found himself reluctant to stop and rest, because once he was still his mind would wander again. He knew exactly where it would wander to.
Another twenty-four hours had passed half a day ago. That meant…
It could be over.
The brightest flame in his sorry life may have finally gone out.
He didn’t want to think of it.
If he slept surely he would dream of nothing but James’ handsome face, distorted by decay and death. He didn’t want to see it. He didn’t want to imagine it, but his torturous mind kept painting the image for him unwillingly.
He was still so cold.
He must have shivered, because he felt Alec pull him in tighter.
They didn’t speak. They both knew what each other was thinking.
The words were just too painful to say.
Because James Bond couldn’t be gone...he couldn’t.
Please don’t be gone.
It was cold.
The cold had never felt so welcoming before.
James blinked into the darkness, and wondered if it all had finally ended before he got a chance to settle things himself. Was this death? It was awfully blurry.
He blinked again and the image cleared up a bit. He saw the bloody scythe still pegged up on the wall. It was so dark though…
He glanced up where the window was, and saw the moon peeking through. Night then.
His tongue felt dry and clumsy, and his clothes were still damp against his cooling skin. With the cold air of an autumn night, they felt like ice.
Carefully, he raised to shaking hands up in front of his face. Those were his hands. They obeyed him when he willed them to clench into fists. Would they still obey him after he had died?
James didn’t know what the fuck was going on and he felt himself panicking as he felt a flicker of incredulous hope blossom in his chest that still moved when he breathed. He was breathing!
He took two of his fingers and held them up to his neck, searching out a pulse. He choked out a sob when he felt the steady throb against his fingertips.
He literally felt like death warmed over, but he was alive!
The sob turned into a laugh as he fell back into his stack of straw, not caring that it itched because it only meant that he could still feel!
He was alive.
He had kept his promise.
He needed to find his Oliver.