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Ulysses

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They didn’t even wait for the fires to be put out before summoning him. He stood in the bunker -- one of Churchill’s bunkers -- and tried very hard to concentrate on what M was saying, but he couldn’t stop thinking that the old building was still on fire, and here he was, probably about to be fired himself. He couldn’t stop his hands shaking either. He couldn’t do a lot of things right now.  He wasn’t ready for this. Why hadn’t Q --

But the Quartermaster was dead. He’d known that from the moment he saw the blank eyed stare; that long, old face -- familiar and yet empty. An agent who couldn’t adapt quickly wouldn’t survive. Everyone knew that, but no one had expected...

“Are you even listening to me?”

He blinked out of his reverie at M’s exasperated tone, the fire in her eyes challenging him to return to the present.

“Yes ma’am,” he said quickly. Her face was half-blurred by the obstruction of a deep gouge in one lens. He honestly wasn’t certain what had hit him. Medical had forced an oxygen mask over his mouth for a while, but he hadn’t even needed stitches, and the bruises were well-hidden by his cardigan.

“Then what did I just say?”

“You… you were asking if I was the one who filed the report about refurbishing the computer systems two months ago.” His voice felt like fire in his throat and sounded scraped high and raw, like an out-of-tune violin.

“And were you?”

He nodded. “But I don't know if it would've stopped--”

“We'll never know now, since your proposals were shot down by older and supposedly wiser heads.” She sounded deeply irritated. “They told me you were a cocky little shit.”

He couldn’t disagree with that. It had been presumptuous of him to even put forward the proposal, but he'd loathed how inefficient the old systems were. They'd have to revamp now, of course. All too late for the Quartermaster.

“Here.” M waved to someone behind him. When he turned to look, he saw Tanner coming forward with a red briefcase. Tanner laid it out on M’s desk, opened it, shuffled through, then pulled out a file and handed it over.

He took it from Tanner with shaking hands, and tried to read it, but his glasses really were very badly scratched. The words swam together, shattered and blurred in one eye. “Sorry, what is this?”

“Paperwork for the new head of Q-Branch,” Tanner said.

“Of course.” The words were like glass in his throat. Smoke inhalation was a bitch. His brain felt slow and foggy, like it was full of smoke too. “Who shall I take them to?”

M lifted one white brow. “They’re for you, Quartermaster.”

He almost dropped the papers, as though they might snarl and bite. “What?”

M’s gaze was steady. “We need to get up and running as soon as possible, so after you sign these, Tanner will take you down to temporary Q-Branch so you can tell him what needs doing.  Those suggestions you made two months ago? They’re a good start, but we’ll need more than that. I think I don’t need to tell you that we can’t allow what happened at HQ to happen again.”

The Quartermaster -- the previous Quartermaster’s blank eyes swam in front of him, like the specter at a grim feast. “Ma’am, I -- I’m not... Surely someone more senior--”

“Seniority is no guarantee of efficiency, and efficiency is what we need.”  M didn’t stand up, but she still seemed to be a towering presence. He felt her words like they were an iron bar being strapped to his spine. “We are facing a new kind of threat, and we need to move fast to counter it. I need a Quartermaster who understands that threat -- who else could possibly do that better than the man who pointed out this very vulnerability two months ago?”

“I’m… due respect ma’am, but I’m not -- I’m not ready to say--”

M looked positively affronted by this. “I don’t give a damn if you’re ready. You are needed."

He swallowed, and swallowed again. He could still taste smoke and the sharp air of the oxygen mask. Somewhere, the building was still burning. He picked up the pen. His hands had stopped shaking, but he still couldn’t see through his scratched glasses.  “Show me where to sign.”


He adapted quickly. He understood the importance of that, now more than ever. By the time his bruises faded, he was the Quartermaster, through and through. They even buried his old life in the condemned rubble of their ruined base. No one would use his old name ever again: the position of Quartermaster was too important, too valuable to risk anyone even finding him, much less blackmailing or manipulating him.

Being legally dead was disturbing on an intellectual level, of course. But Q felt a visceral, shameful relief once it was done. He had no family to mourn him, no real friends outside the agency. Killing his old identity gave him clarity and freedom. He felt like a snake that had shed a too-tight skin. He was the Quartermaster, and now he didn’t have to worry about being anything else.

“There,” he said to R, their heads bent together over the computer. He pointed to the screen. “Fix that and anyone who wants to hack us will have to walk into the bloody control room and plug in manually.”

R sighed and went back to fix the coding in their firewalls. Her hair was done up in braids today, like a crown looped around the top of her head. She never wore it the same way twice, and Q had no idea where she found time for that.

Q leaned back, eyes scanning over the screen as she worked. “Right,” he said sharply. “I’m going to go off-site and try to hack in. See if you can stop me.”

“We’ve got minions for that,” R said, looking up.

“They’re not as good as me,” he said, confidently. “But let’s get Clarke and Patel out there too.” Clarke and Patel were ex-black hats, not quite as good as Q, but better versed in the dirtier tricks. “Three heads are better than one.”

“Alright,” R said amiably enough.  She wasn’t quite as young as he was, but she was younger than her predecessor, and hungry to prove herself, just like Q -- and standing in a dead man’s shoes, just like Q. Neither of them thought about it much. Most everyone left in Q-Branch these days was young, hungry, and standing in the shoes of dead and/or recently fired men.  

Despite this, Q was proud of his department; they were coming back stronger than before. Being able to build his own systems from the ground up was a dream, even if Churchill’s tunnels were less than ideal. The relative youth of those who remained in the department had been turned to advantage. What they lacked in experience, they more than made up for in drive, ambition, and an ability to run all night on energy drinks and cheese puffs.

“I’ll call for a car.” Q jumped nearly out of his skin when Tanner’s voice spoke at his elbow. For a man who supposedly wasn’t a field agent, he could walk without making a damn sound. A slight smile quirked the corner of Tanner’s mouth. “Come on.”

“I can take the tube,” Q protested automatically.

Tanner visibly resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “No you can’t.”

Of course he couldn’t -- he was the Quartermaster now, and more importantly, he was supposed to be dead. He wasn’t allowed to take the tube or visit any of his old haunts.

“Fine,” Q said. “R, don’t forget to--”

“I won’t,” she said, waving him away.

It felt a bit like leaving his child with the babysitter, but he walked away from Q-branch with Tanner pacing silently at his elbow.

“So. Tanner. Any hot goss from upstairs?” he asked, jokingly. Tanner was notoriously close-lipped with those who didn't have security clearance, but he also had a bone-dry sense of humor. He had a habit of answering that sort of question with something like ‘well it was a bit touch and go with the space lair and the orchid poison, but that’s all sorted now.’ So Q was thrown when he was answered with a simple:

“Bond’s back.”

Q missed a step. The loss of 007 and Ronson might have been somewhat overshadowed by all that followed, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t still a raw wound. It seemed in poor taste to joke about that, especially after everything, but...

Tanner’s smile was mild but not ironic, and belatedly Q remembered that he was the Quartermaster now, and that meant that he had all the clearance. He’d probably heard the last of Tanner’s farcical cover stories.

“You’re… not joking?” Q guessed.

Tanner made a face.  “Seems I owe Trevelyan a hundred quid when he gets back from Yakutsk. Bond’s definitely back. He’s doing his re-entry exams now. Seems he’s been on a beach somewhere, doing God-knows-what, probably drinking with scorpions. Anyway, he broke into M’s flat last night to report in.” Tanner said all this in a calm, even tone, apparently unsurprised. But then...

“That… does sound like 007,” Q allowed, thinking back to the stories he’d heard, in the days when he was just another Q-Branch Minion. 007 had been a legend before Q was out of uni. And while M had never been officially accused of playing favorites, the news that she had sacrificed 007 for that drive spoke volumes about its importance. “Does Eve know?” Q asked suddenly.

“Yes.”

“Is she… alright?” Q hadn’t known Eve very long, but he liked her.  And with good reason; she’d practically saved his life.

“She can look after herself.”

Q didn’t doubt that. He still remembered her -- smoke streaked and bleeding, evacuating Q-Branch almost single-handedly, gun out, covering them against an unknown threat. He’d seen her file; she’d been a top scorer on the tests to become a field agent. Taking the suspension after Bond’s death -- absence -- had been a bitter pill for her to swallow.

They were nearly out of Q-Branch by now, near the weapons development labs. Q paused, Tanner stopping with him.

“She’ll want him back in the field sooner rather than later, won’t she,” Q said. They weren’t talking about Moneypenny anymore.

Tanner’s lips turned down at the corners. “Whether she wants it or not… he has to pass his tests first.”  

Q gave a swift, thin smile. “Of course. Just one moment, I need to sort something out,” he said, before stepping aside to visit the labs. He just wanted to make sure that the palm-grip on the Walther was ready to go.

Tanner’s face said it all: he didn’t think 007 would be ready, and while Q didn’t doubt Tanner’s assessment, he had a hunch... 

I don’t give a damn if you’re ready. You are needed.


Q went out the next day to the National Gallery cafe, drank Earl Grey and tried to hack past the firewalls they’d been building. He’d never been so pleased to be thwarted in all his life. Feeling rather smug, he ordered a scone and nibbled it while checking the feedback from Clarke and Patel. They’d had no more luck than he had. MI6 was as secure as they could make it, and Q felt a kind of wholesome pleasure at a job well done.

Once he’d finished his scone, he got a text informing him that 007 was en route.  He took the discreet black box and the little envelope that he’d been entrusted with and went to walk through the exhibits.

He found 007 staring down The Fighting Temeraire like it was his next target. He’d only seen the agent before from a distance before. The double-ohs came swanning into Q-Branch regularly, but they didn't linger. They were all striking; from Scarlet (004, with fire in her green eyes and her choppy bob dyed whatever color was called for by the next mission) to Eddie Donne (001, who looked disturbingly like Mr. Rogers.) Even 006 was striking by his absence (he'd been in deep cover in various parts of Russia since before Q joined MI6.)

Still, Bond was something of a standout. Obviously there was his age (he was the most senior double-oh in more than one sense) but his leonine grace, the glowing tan, the honey-blond hair -- no one could escape being struck by it, and Q was an observant, thoughtful sort of fellow. A small frown tugged at the corners of Q’s mouth. He’d never seen stubble on the double-oh’s chin before -- it was more silver-white than gold, and the tan did nothing to hide the shadows lingering under his eyes.

Q’s first cat had been a positively murderous stray named Brewster. She’d been old already when she started haunting the fire escape of his student housing, but she’d gone on to live another ten years out of sheer spite. So he recognized the look on 007’s face the moment he saw it -- like was only still breathing as a savage fuck you to the world around him.

The frown quirked up into a smile at the thought. He glanced at the Turner masterpiece, and suddenly he knew exactly what he was going to say.


Eve picked him up after the meet with Bond, since Q still wasn’t allowed on the tube. Q had a car of his own, but it was questionably road-legal, so he never mentioned it.

“How did he look?” Eve asked.

Q paused, thinking back to the grizzled bulldog of a man that he’d left in the Gallery.  “He looked like shit, to be honest,” Q said, but he was smiling to himself as he said it. For some reason.

“Good,” said Eve, without taking her eyes off the road. He glanced over. Her eyelid twitched.

“What on earth did he do to you?” he asked, bemused.

“Nothing,” she said, settling back in the driver’s seat and cruising easily around the car in front of her. He felt safe with her behind the wheel, even though he knew her reputation among the other field agents. How she drove in London seemed to be quite different from how she drove in the field.

“Come on, Moneypenny, you can trust me, surely. I already know he’s a horrible prat. He told me I still had spots.”

“You do still have spots.”

“I really, really hate you.”

“No you don’t.”

They drove on in silence for a few moments, but then, out of the blue, Moneypenny said: “He told me that it isn’t for everyone.”

Q looked at her, eyes scanning over her face and reading uncertainty. He didn’t think he’d ever seen uncertainty on her face before. “What isn’t?”

“Field work.” She enunciated the words with precision -- and something else. Spite, perhaps.

“Well then he’s a prat.” Q frowned. “You scored higher than he did on your field tests,” he pointed out.

“Have you been snooping?”

“I’m the bloody Quartermaster,” it still gave him a small thrill to say it, even now, “I don’t have to snoop.”

She laughed. “You cocky bastard."

“It has been said.”

“Well.” She settled back into the driver's seat. “I’m not going to let James bloody Bond keep me out of the field.”

“Didn’t think for a second that you would.”


“Strip the headers, trace the source,” ordered Tanner’s voice in crisp, calm tones.

“Bollocks to that,” muttered R in a low voice so he couldn't be overheard on the line. “We should shut down.”

“We have our orders,” the Quartermaster said. His long, solemn face was tense with worry. He looked over at the minions in the cybertech division, “You on it?”

The head of the cyber division didn’t need to be told to get on it. He was already on it, hunched over his computer, green eyes scanning back and forth behind green-rimmed specs. All he had to do was link Tanner’s laptop into what he was already doing.

“Getting the trace back now,” said Tanner’s voice a moment later.

The head of cybertech had written this tracer programme personally. It was racing through the code, pinging a location for them faster than any commercially available product, but he couldn’t help thinking that it could be faster, somehow, there had to be a way to make the code better, more efficient. He was full of dread that they weren’t going to get the location in time. His nerves were pulled tight and singing, he felt sick to his stomach as the hack’s source isolated.

“It appears…” Tanner’s voice stuttered with shock. “It appears to be your computer, ma’am.”

Faintly, M’s voice came down the line. “Shut it down.”

He was already moving to follow the order when his hands snapped back from the keyboard. A jaunty musicbox rendition of God Save The Queen started playing from every computer at once. He looked over and saw the Union Jack popping up, with M’s disembodied head laughing, in a Monty Pythonesque mockery, from every direction. It all burned away.

THINK ON YOUR SINS

He looked over and saw the Quartermaster’s old, long face, slack with shock.

Then he smelled the gas.

Then his memory skipped like a needle jumping from one track to another -- because one moment he was sitting at his desk, staring at the Quartermaster and the next --

The next --

He was on his back. His vision was blurred, something obstructing his sight in one eye. He reached up, terrified to feel blood -- but there wasn't any. He pulled off his glasses -- one lens was scored with a deep gouge. He put them back on and tried to look past the obstruction. There was a hole in the ceiling, and everything was hazy and swirling with black smoke. Lights flickered, on and off and on, and then off again. For good. One emergency light strove valiantly on, tinting the whole of Q-Branch with red. His ears were full of a high pitched ringing and the breath had been knocked out of him. He tried to inhale and his lungs burned, his throat burned. He coughed. He tried to sit up. Where was he? His desk was metres away -- how had he gotten over here?

Something was burning somewhere, but all he could see was thick black smoke. He looked the other way and saw--

And saw --

Blank eyes, staring up at the hole in the ceiling, a familiar old face, long and almost comically shocked, but his eyes were empty in a way that made his whole body crawl.

The Quartermaster was dead.

Someone grabbed him and he looked up to see a woman, her dark skin smeared with smoke but her eyes hard as flint. Moneypenny, he remembered. The suspended field agent assisting Mallory. Her lips were moving, but all he could hear was the ringing. She had a gun out, pointing into the pall of smoke. She grabbed his arm, hauled him to his feet. She put a hand on the back of his neck, forcing him to duck as they moved.

He was shaking. The hacker. They weren’t just behind the firewall, they were in the building, they were under his very skin somehow, crawling around in his brain and laughing, laughing. His ears were ringing with it, and the ringing was just getting louder and louder and…

 

 

… Q was awakened from a dream of black smoke and blank eyes by his phone. He shook the lingering ringing from his ears and answered. "What?" His voice was rough with slumber.

"They’re on their way back," said Tanner’s voice tartly in Q’s ear. Did the man ever sleep?

"Who?" Q mumbled.

"Bond and Moneypenny. They got Silva and they say they’ve got a present for you. Get into the office, won't you?"

Q glanced at the clock. It was nearly time for him to wake up anyway. "Right. Be there in an hour," Q said.


007 didn’t remind Q of Brewster any longer. Something had changed in Shanghai and Macau and the South China Sea. He was less vicious stray and more caged tiger as he paced through Q-Branch to deliver Silva’s laptop personally. Q set it up to run some diagnostics. He didn’t think for a second that it would be easy to get in, but he equally had no doubt that he could. He was half worried that 007 would be a nuisance, but the agent was silent. There was a strange look in his eye, like he was mulling over something. Q wasn’t sure what it was, but he’d heard rumors that Silva was a real snake, that he could get under your skin with a few choice words. He wondered what Silva had said to 007.

But he had enough to do with Silva’s laptop here; a tantalizingly locked box full of possibly deadly treasure. Q waited for his diagnostics to finish, drumming his fingers idly on the desk.

“Am I really supposed to believe that your name is Quinlan Devereaux?” 007 said in a low voice, barely above a rumbling purr.

Q blinked. He looked up from the computer; 007 was standing there, feet shoulder-width apart, hands tucked into his pockets, a half-mocking imitation of parade rest. It took him a moment to realize that yes, of course 007 had access to his official file but also, of course he hadn’t known Q’s name before he became Quartermaster. He was thorough, but he wasn’t the sort to learn the name of every minion in Q-Branch.

“Sorry?” Q said, adjusting his glasses to buy himself time.

“Had a bit of spare time on the flight.” One muscular shoulder rolled lazily. “I was curious. It’s not much of a cover name though, is it. Quinlan Devereaux. And your predecessor was Quentin Cleese. And before him was Quincey Boothroyd and the very first was a Mr Quintus Algernon, I believe?”

“You can’t really think I’m just going to tell you my old name?” Q said. “After all the trouble we went through to bury it?”

007 smirked, blue eyes twinkling. Q could’ve been mistaken, but it seemed approving.  “Well,” he rumbled. “I can find out on my own.”

Q rolled his eyes and turned back to his computer. “I’ve no doubt that you can, but I’d ask that you don’t. The new identity is part of my protection. Not all of us like to throw our real names around like candy at Christmas,” Q retorted tartly.  He narrowed his eyes at the diagnostics, mentally trying to make them go faster. He didn’t much like having 007’s attention fixed on him this way -- it was… distracting.

“Well. Not all of you can look after yourselves, I suppose. Hide if you can’t fight.”

Q felt his eye twitch, and was reminded of Eve, tense behind the driver’s seat when she picked him up at the Gallery. Silva wasn’t the only one who could get under your skin with a few well-placed words. He knew that Bond was baiting him, poking him to see what he would do. When he spoke, it was with a frost over every syllable. “I don’t think I need to tell you--”

“Pyjamas. I remember,” said 007, sounding bored now.

“--that as your Quartermaster, not only do I have the highest security clearance, I also know the backdoors to our firewalls, and I have seen blueprints for weapons that were deemed too dangerous to even build prototypes for.” Q looked back at Bond once more. “I’ve had my RTI training, just like you, but I’d really rather not test it, for all our sakes.”

Bond’s expression had sobered again, turning thoughtful.  He inclined his head ever so slightly, conceding the point. Q’s diagnostics pinged at him. Q scanned them, but they hadn’t found anything he wasn’t expecting. Q reached over and started up the laptop.

“Now. Looking at Silva’s computer…”


...Looking at Silva’s computer had been a mistake. Q could’ve kicked himself for it, for not double and triple checking, for not just bloody thinking it through.

They told me you were a cocky little shit.

This had all been deliberate, and he’d danced in Silva’s hands like a marionette, his every move playing into the master plan.

I’m your new Quartermaster.

You must be joking.  

It had left him second guessing himself for the rest of the mission; it had slowed him down spotting Silva, seeing where Silva was headed -- this was the first real fight of his career as Quartermaster, and he’d been on the back foot every minute of it.

Not such a clever boy.

His hands were shaking again. It had taken a tremendous effort of will to stay quiet after the little Bond-dot arrived at Whitehall, listening to the screams, gunshots, and explosions that followed. It felt like he was blindfolded and gagged.

“Q? I need help.”

Q’s eyes tracked over the map, back and forth. His nerves were still singing, but he’d be damned if he let it show. “I’m tracking the car -- where are you going?”

“I’ve got M. We’re about to disappear.”

“What?"

“I need you to lay a trail of breadcrumbs impossible to follow for anyone except Silva, think you can do it?”

A sick, jittery lurch twisted Q’s stomach. He checked behind him. Q-Branch was a disturbed ant colony, swarming with people trying to track down the damage done by the virus Silva had left them. No one was paying attention to him. He looked back and leaned in towards the mic. “I’m guessing this isn’t strictly official.”

“Not even remotely.”

“So much for my promising career in espionage.”  But his mind was already back on track, speeding like a bullet train. Could he do it? Certainly. And given that all this was at least partly his fault… He gritted his teeth and swallowed Earl Grey like it was cyanide. He honestly didn’t know which was more galling; that he’d let Silva into their systems, or that Silva had known that he would. Was he truly as predictable as emergency protocols that hadn’t changed since the Cold War? 

...youth is no guarantee of innovation...

“Right,” Q said lowly. “You’ll need some equipment, hold on.”

"What?"

Q pulled his earwig, switched Bond’s feed to his phone and put the phone against his ear before striding out of Q-Branch, not wanting to risk being overheard. “You’ll need to change vehicles. M’s car is tagged and so is yours, I expect.”

“What?” 007 sounded affronted.

“You can’t really be surprised that MI6 keeps tabs. Especially on you.” 007 made a disgruntled sort of growling noise in his ear. Q was out in the hall now, and glanced either way to be sure that he was alone before striding away towards the gent’s. “Lay low for a bit, meet me at my flat later. I can get you a clean car, but I don’t know that I’ll be able to get you much by way of munitions,” he said apologetically.

“Oh I think I know where I can lay my hands on a few.”

Q sighed. “Of course you do. Well. 1900 hours. You know where my flat is if you’ve seen my file.”

“1900 it is,” 007 confirmed.

Q hung up and pushed into the loo. He went straight for the sinks, turned on the taps. He took off his glasses and splashed frigid water onto his face. He looked up at his own reflection -- fuzzy and indistinct at this distance.   

My complexion is hardly relevant.

Your competence is.

“Not such a clever boy,” Q told himself through gritted teeth.


Q felt jittery and unsure as he waited for Bond to turn up. Even though his phone showed him Bond approaching, and even though he keyed off certain security features to let Bond up, the knock at his door still made him jump nearly out of his skin. He peered through the peephole and found glacial eyes staring back at him.  He opened the door. “Where's M?”

“In the car -- we've got a few minutes while she takes it around the block. Moving target. Harder to hit.”

007’s gaze prowled around, trying to peer past Q into his flat, as if he thought there might be threats lurking under the couch. It did nothing to soothe Q's nerves. He felt self conscious. The little quirks that had attracted him to the place suddenly felt like he was revealing too much. He didn’t move to invite 007 any further than the entry hall. “I can assure you that there’s nothing in here more dangerous than you. Potter can be quite vicious, but he’s sleeping.”

007 narrowed his eyes at Q and looked no less wary. “Boyfriend?”

“Cat,” Q snapped. “Here.” He held out an envelope.

Bond glanced over Q’s shoulder one last time, then took the envelope and opened it. He pulled out a jingling ring of keys. He arched a brow in silent question.

“It’s mine. It’s completely clean. Picked it up when MI6 was decommissioning old equipment -- had to take out the trackers, of course. If MI6 knew I had it…” He cleared his throat. “It was a wreck when I got it. I fixed it up, made some. Additions.”

“Additions? Why Q, you naughty boy," 007 rumbled, pulling papers out of the envelope now.

Q ground his teeth. The car had been a pet project of his practically since he started at MI6. He'd saved it from the scrapyard and spent years painstakingly restoring all the Cold War-era gadgetry, from the glory days of Q-Branch, back when they really did do exploding pens. It was a relic from a bygone era of spying. It was a piece of history, he'd told himself, to mollify his conscience when he first nicked it.

It was also incredibly deadly, and if anyone found out that he had it, much less that he’d restored it…

007 was looking over the papers from the envelope. Specs for the car, it’s capabilities, location of the garage where he kept it.  Q folded his arms tight over his skinny chest, lips thinned. He was expecting to be mocked, any minute now. He knew what it looked like; a boffin like him playing spy -- it was as bad as those skinny internet shut-ins who kept genuine katanas on their walls.

But when 007 looked up, it was with barely contained excitement. He seemed to be practically vibrating with awed glee. “You restored the ejector seat?” he said, blue eyes alight with an inner fire, and in an instant, Q knew.

007 wasn’t mocking him, because somewhere underneath his suave exterior, sociopathic tendencies, and cool-guy sunglasses, he was just as much a geek as Q was -- about cars if nothing else.

Q’s heart did… something funny.  “Feel like Christmas now?”

Q was treated to a full-on James Bond grin. Not the half smiles and smug smirks, not the feline amusement or the predatory flash of teeth… this was like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. Deep lines framed his mouth, his eyes became sapphires nearly lost in crow’s feet, and his teeth stood out white against his warm golden tan. It very nearly bowled Q right over.

007 looked back down at the papers and made a happy growling sound somewhere between a laugh and a purr. Q was not remotely prepared for the shiver that went rocketing down his spine. The sheer charisma on that man, dear God --

“You’ve been holding out on me, Quartermaster.” He looked up, eyes more pleading than Weasley's when he was angling for treats.

“Holding out--” Q spluttered. “We’ve barely known each other a week, I was hardly going to tell you about my borderline-illegal restoration project, was I?”

007’s eyes narrowed.  “Hang on. You don’t even drive. You take the Tube, you said.”

“Just because I take public transport doesn’t mean I can’t drive,” Q griped, folding his arms again. “She still runs like a dream.”

“I don’t doubt it, Quartermaster.” 007 tossed the keys up, following them with his clear blue eyes, and snatched them back out of the air, still grinning. “Still. It's a crime that she doesn't get out more often.”

Q opened his mouth, closed it. Christ, that smile. It was making his heart stutter and race as surely as if he were staring down the barrel of 007’s gun. But then, charm was just another weapon in the hands of a double-oh. He cleared his throat.  “Yes. Well. Bring it back in one piece, and perhaps I'll let you take her for a spin. Occasionally. How's that sound?”

“Quartermaster, I could bloody kiss you.”

Q gave a thin, strained smile as 007 made to leave. “Please don't.”  Then, a he took a swift step forward. “007--”

The agent stopped and looked back, head cocked.

“Where are you going? Where should the breadcrumbs lead?”

007 blinked. His expression shifted again, becoming more distant, more shuttered. “Skyfall,” he said. “It’s in my file. Thanks for the ride, Q.”

Q watched 007 go, heard the locks click shut behind him. “I’m never going to see that car again,” he told the closed door. 


The day after Skyfall was a long day. Bond had to be brought back from Scotland. There was damage control to be done. More emergency protocols and contingency plans. And it had to be done through a haze of shock and loss. By the end of the day, long after he should've been gone, it was all Q could do to put his head in his hands and just not cry.

“Come on. You need a drink.”

It was Eve, thank God. Q’s head slipped off his hands and he looked up at her. There was grief around her eyes, mirroring the grief wrapped tight around his heart, choking him. She held out his coat. He took it.

They were halfway out of the tunnels when Eve paused, asked him to wait a moment.

She came back a moment later with James Bond in tow.

The man looked dead inside, all systems down, and Q couldn't help remembering the last time he’d seen Bond; his face lit up by excitement for his new toy. The car hadn’t come back, but that bitter twist of regret didn't even register beside the gaping maw of their other loss.

Eve ordered them a cab -- they went to a restaurant called Rules and she showed her MI6 ID to get them in the door. Q had never been there before.  It was a bit out of his comfort zone; all leather seats and dark wood and walls covered in vintage prints and paintings. It was empty save for the man behind the bar, which seemed suspicious for a Friday night.

That brought something like life back to 007’s face. His eyes were prowling again, looking for threats. “What is this place?”

“Mallory's regular,” Eve explained. “He bought it out for the evening; everyone who comes here tonight will be MI6, and the drinks are on him.”

Q felt a surge of gratitude towards the man. They claimed a booth and ordered drinks. Well. Eve and Q ordered drinks. Bond ordered a bottle.

Q couldn’t think of a single thing to say into the heavy silence between them all. He wasn’t sure he wanted to say anything -- the air was too weighty with their loss to be disturbed. Q glanced at Eve, but she didn’t look up from her drink.

He glanced at 007. Bond drank like a man who was drinking alone; and drinking to forget. Why had he come here with them at all? Why not go straight to his flat? Perhaps Eve had twisted his arm somehow. Perhaps the fact that he was still living out of a hotel had gotten to him. Perhaps even Bond didn’t want to be alone tonight.  

“I remember, after that field mission -- the one where you --” Eve paused, swirled her tumbler in Bond’s direction.  “She looked at me, and she just said: ‘I’ll thank you to remember that’s my kill you’re getting credit for.’” Eve shook her head and looked down again.

Q bumped his elbow against hers. She didn’t look over, but her lips pursed in what might have been a small, bitter smile. For the first time, it really hit Q what it must have been like for her; Bond had been her supervisor on that mission. She’d been a young but promising field agent, and Bond's death had cut her off at the knees. To lose him like that, and then to get him back only to lose M…

Bond didn’t say anything. He didn’t emerge from his cloud -- he didn’t even look up.

“I can’t imagine the place without her,” Q said suddenly. “It won’t feel…”

“The same?” Eve said.

Q shook his head. “Safe.” He adjusted his glasses. “Which is nonsense. I think it’s because she wasn’t there when they blew up the old HQ. I know it isn’t logical but… on some ridiculous level I feel like they wouldn’t have dared if she had been there.”  He shrugged, laughed bitterly at himself, and looked back down at his drink. “It's stupid.”

“Extremely.” It was 007’s voice. He still sounded faraway, a low rumble on the horizon. “Thank god we’re all spies here. It would be dreadfully embarrassing for you if anyone found out you thought that.”

Q kicked him under the table, then belatedly remembered that the double-oh could kill him seven ways from Sunday. Luckily there was no immediate retaliation.

007's expression was guarded, his blue eyes revealing nothing at all. Then, without warning, he said: “After a mission went south -- one of my first after I made double-oh -- I broke into her flat.”

Eve sighed. “Of course you did.”

“She said…” he paused long enough to take a sip from his tumbler and swallow it. "She said ‘I knew it was too early to promote you.’” Bond was looking down at his glass now, and after swirling it contemplatively, he finished it off and poured another. 

Q couldn't help staring at him. He looked older and more grizzled than ever. He hadn’t shaved since he left for Skyfall -- since all of the rest of it. And Q remembered how long ago it had been that James Bond was promoted into the 00 Programme. Perhaps not that long ago compared to other careers, but double-ohs simply didn't live as long as Bond had. They simply didn't. 007 had been with M longer than any of the rest of them.

“She also said that the next time I fancied blowing up an embassy, I should shoot myself first,” he added.

“Oi. That’s my job,” Eve cut in.

That made 007 smile -- a half smirk, a ghost of the smile that Q remembered from three nights ago.

“What about you, then, Quartermaster?” Eve prompted.

“We're not actually doing this, are we? Favorite M qoutes? She’d hate that, you know,” Q pointed out.

“Yes well. Let’s carry on to spite her,” 007 rumbled.

Q gave a half-smile. “Alright. When she first promoted me to Quartermaster,” he started.

“Right after your twelfth birthday, wasn’t it?” 007 cut in.

“Watch it, Gran,” Q shot back. Bond winked at him -- actually winked, the bastard.  Q cleared his throat and looked away. “Anyway. She said ‘I don’t give a damn if you’re ready. You are needed.’”

They smiled at that. “That sounds like M,” 007 murmured, topping off his glass and then tilting the neck of the bottle towards Q. Q wasn’t normally a scotch drinker, but he’d finished his gin, and Bond had drunk more of that bottle than he probably ought to.

“Go on then,” Q said, holding out his glass. He didn't care at this point that the lingering gin would mix horrifically with the taste of scotch. Bond filled the glass, and Q lifted it. “To M, I suppose.”

“To M,” Eve agreed.

Bond’s blue eyes drifted from one to the other, then he lifted his glass too, with an ironic twist to his mouth.  “Her name was Olivia,” he told them, his tumbler chiming briefly against theirs. “Olivia Mansfield.”

Chapter Text

Bond took a week’s leave between his return from Skyfall and the reading of M’s will. He wouldn’t go to the funeral, not a fucking chance. He planned to drink M’s memory every night, and lose himself in recollections. It would be an ugly, messy process, like draining an infected wound. He had done it before, and now he would do it again. And he would do it alone, as fast and as brutally as he could, so he could get back to work as quickly as possible.

He changed hotels, out of sheer habit. A moving target was harder to hit after all. He tapped one of his personal aliases to book the room. If he'd used an MI6 assigned alias, they could track him, and he didn't want them to come after him. He put out the Do Not Disturb sign and locked himself in.

It was still a nice hotel, of course: with glorious plate glass windows, a positively hedonistic bed, and a well-stocked bar. Bond didn’t faff about when it came to hotels. Why sleep on a shite mattress if you might die tomorrow? He didn’t faff about with his liquor either; he'd brought his own bottle of Glenfiddich despite the selection in the hotel bar. Glenfiddich was more M's taste than his, but he didn't fancy a fifty-year-old Macellan just now. Perhaps he never would again.

His room had a spectacular view of the tumble-jumble skyline of London: a confused mess of landmarks and architecture, bisected by the Thames, but with no real focal point, no cohesion. Wren churches and brutalist office buildings and Georgian townhouses jostled each other, trying and failing to block out the urban decay and housing estates. No matter where you looked at it from, no matter how high up you got, London always looked a bit of a mess. He cracked open the bottle and didn’t bother with a glass.

The taste of it bloomed silky over his tongue, with oak and cinnamon, and a long bright burn following. It sent him right the way back... 

The first time he’d met M he’d been a very young naval trainee angrily trying to get himself court-martialed before he’d even set foot on a boat. A woman calling herself Barbara Mawdsley had commandeered him. With his help, she exposed one of his higher ups as a Russian informant. Later, when she stepped in to stop him actually being court-martialed, he’d discovered that she was MI6. Agent 001. She’d taken a bullet to the shoulder during that mission, and at 52 she ought to have been retired anyway. They’d parted cordially -- sharing a few glasses of good scotch -- but they were not friendly. They had not gotten along during the mission. If he’d been less reckless, she wouldn’t have gotten shot. Though, they probably wouldn’t have gotten their man either.

After that, she had followed his tumultuous naval career with all its highs and lows, and shortly after he made commander, she’d approached him about joining MI6.

She hadn’t needed to ask twice.

He leaned his forehead against the glass and stared down at the city. The hard surface felt like ice against his skin, and the long drop gave him a twitch of vertigo, like he was standing on a cliff's edge. He thought about disabling the smoke alarm, but he didn’t have any cigarettes on him. He thought about hitting up one of his contacts in London for pills -- but he just didn’t feel like leaving the room. Most of the time, Bond felt like stopping would be a fatal mistake. Like a great white shark, if he stopped moving, he couldn’t breathe.

But sometimes it seemed like he couldn’t breathe anyway.

You’d think he’d be used to this by now. Losing people. It wasn’t as if he’d ever really trusted that she would stay. He wasn’t stupid enough to trust that anyone would stay, not by this point.

Although. Grudgingly, he admitted to himself that he’d had immense, almost reverential respect for her, which he had studiously disguised as complete disdain. The more he came to respect her, the more he acted like he didn’t, out of sheer contrary pidheadedness. So he broke into her house, and her computer, and her files, over and over again.

A fairly competent psychologist would probably have told him that he was trying to prove that he didn’t respect her in order to convince himself that he didn’t think of her as a parent. Pathological rejection of authority. Because if he admitted that someone had authority over him -- essentially stepping into the role of a parent -- he couldn’t keep ignoring the fact that he had already lost more parents than most people had in their lifetimes.

She wasn't his mother, but she was more than his boss. She was a guiding star; a cold and distant reference point that reminded him where his duty lay. She'd helped him find his magnetic north, and helped him find his way back, time and time again.

He couldn’t imagine going to work without her lurking upstairs somewhere, the spider at the heart of the web he was trapped in.


In the first twenty-four hours of his leave, Bond marinated himself in scotch, taking a break only long enough to go out for supplies and grab some takeaway. As the sun was sinking behind the messy London skyline, someone knocked on the door of his hotel room. He immediately thought of that pretty agent -- the one who'd shot him. Still. Bond drew his gun, even though he was nearly halfway through the Glenfiddich and probably couldn’t shoot straight. He waited.

It wasn't that pretty agent. Not this time. “Room service,” growled a familiar Yorkshire accent.

Shock washed over Bond, and the gun wavered, lowering. It couldn't be. He was meant to be in Yakutsk, infiltrating the Russian mafia -- he'd been in bloody Siberia for the last year, and Moscow for the three years before that... But who else would be able to track him down when he was using one of his personal aliases?

"I know you're in there, you bastard. Open up or I'll break it down."

Bond smiled and levered himself out of his seat to answer the door.

006 looked like shit: travel-rumpled and exhausted, his gingery hair longer than he liked and greyer at the temples than Bond remembered. Even so, Alec was taller than Bond, younger than Bond, and more handsome, in all honesty. He was aging better too; his stubbly jaw wasn’t going all jowly. The bastard.

“Trevelyan,” James said, would-be-casual.

“Bond.” Alec’s grey eyes -- almost lost in crow’s feet -- flicked down and behind James, fixing on the half-demolished bottle of scotch on the hotel bar. He raised the vodka bottle he held. “Suppose this is all mine then?”

“Suppose it is,” James said, letting the door swing open.

006 and 007 were nearly the same age, although Alec had earned his double-oh status several years after James. He was the field agent assigned to work with 007 after Casino Royale and Bolivia -- after Vesper and after Quantum. James had trained Alec, and Alec’s pitch black humor -- a cocktail of Russian fatalism and Northern stoicism -- had kept James from getting himself shot at a time when he was still a bit lost and raw. James had recommended Alec for double-oh status, and after that they became the go-tos on those missions extreme enough to need two double-ohs.

“So. Shall we sing ding dong the witch is dead?” Alec said, twisting the cap off his vodka.

“Please. At least have some respect for the living.” James slipped his gun into his shoulder holster, grabbed his scotch, and sank into the chair unsteadily. He should probably have disarmed, but he didn’t like to.

“Oh fuck you very much, I was a choirboy," Alec grumbled.

“You poor bastard.”

Alec dragged the spinning desk chair closer and sat. He took a pull from his bottle. He didn’t grimace. “Congratulations on coming back from the dead, by the way. You won me a hundred quid off Tanner.”

“Did I? How very obliging of me. What’s my cut?”

“This,” Alec said, holding up the bottle. “But since you didn’t wait for me, I’m taking it back.” Another swig.

“Fair enough,” said James. He let his head fall back and listened to the buzz of alcohol in his system, overpowering the shriek of his own thoughts.

“Christ,” Alec said. “Been a while since we did this.”

“Well, we’re getting old.”

“На миру́ и смерть красна́,” said Alec, his Russian as flawless as his English was butchered.

It took James's alcohol-soaked mind a moment to find the translation for that.

 

 

 

The last time they had been like this was after his second mission to Montenegro. It was a honeypot mission, and Bond volunteered for it, because he didn’t want anyone to think that he couldn’t stand to visit Montenegro. He couldn’t, but he didn’t want anyone to think that. Even himself. Especially himself. Two years in, one messy revenge mission later, and he still couldn’t stand to say her name aloud. A dear friend of mine...

M hadn't wanted him to go -- not that she said anything to stop him going, but she hadn't wanted him to. He could tell from the way she narrowed her eyes when she said don't cock this up, 007 before handing over the details of the assignment.

 

He seduced a young widow, the daughter of a crime lord. She was a pretty thing; brown curls, blue eyes, a wicked smile. She put on a good show of joking, gambling, and laughing. She was happy to have a bit of fun with a charming card shark like him. He got the bugs planted and the codes stolen, and no one the wiser. Job done.

But then the next day she’d tried to walk into the sea with stones in her pockets. It was nothing to do with him; she was just grieving. She’d lost a husband and a child, and even a handsome blond lover couldn’t fill that void. He didn’t need to save her. He’d gotten what he needed, and if she killed herself, that was a neat and tidy way out for him.

But there was a confusion in his head, a muddling. He hadn’t been sober since he arrived in Montenegro. He couldn’t let this woman drown, with her dark hair and her blue eyes. He couldn’t.

He didn’t realise he was the one in trouble until he’d pumped the water from her lungs and watched her take in a choking breath. He almost sobbed himself, shaking with relief.

“Teresa!” he called to her, his hands trembling, hovering over her face, her shoulders. Another name was there in his mind, faded and worn with time, but still powerful.

She choked and spat water and sucked in another breath. “Didn’t I tell you?” she said thickly. “Teresa is a saint. Call me Tracy.”

By then it was too late, and Bond was the one who needed rescuing.

 

He went off the rails, again. He fell hard and fast, again. He didn’t care. He didn’t analyze it, he just leapt without looking and the next thing he knew, it was weeks past his check-in date and he’d ditched his trackers so that he and Tracy could go skiing in peace. M could have fired him, or burned him, or had him killed. But she sent Alec instead.

 

One morning, Tracy went out early to the slopes, and James opted to lounge around like a big lazy cat, enjoying their hotel room -- he'd meet up with Tracy for lunch and hot chocolate and then they'd go skiing together. The simple peacefulness of it all felt like a sinful luxury.

And then there was a knock at the door, and it hadn't been room service, or Tracy, but an angry spy with grey eyes like steel and a mean right hook. He'd sucker-punched James right in the jaw. While James was reeling, he pushed his way in and slammed the door behind him.

“What the hell are you thinking?" Alec bellowed, right in his face."You're gonna get yourself court-martialed, you're gonna get the poor lass killed!”

“I won't let that happen!” James snarled back, rubbing his aching jaw.

“Ah Christ,” Alec groaned. “You think you love her, don't you.”

James stuck his chin out -- he'd been so bloody stubborn when he was younger. An absolute bulldog of an idiot. “You think I'm not capable?”

“I wish you weren't, mate. But this?” He waved a hand furiously around. “This isn't love you daft bastard!”

“And how would you know?” James sneered, vicious and unkind.

Alec didn't rise to the bait. “I know you,” he snapped. “I know what you like.”

“Oh don't tell me I've turned you at last.” James leered nastily. “You know I don't like men that are taller than me.”

The first time Alec had seen James seduce a man, their friendship had been awkward for a few weeks after, but Alec had adjusted and James had forgiven him. So Alec rolled his eyes and ignored the jibe. “Don't be an arse. What are you planning to do, marry her?”

“Why the hell not?”

“Because she's the enemy and you’re a spy! You love being a spy. Queen and country, and all that.”

“Can't I have -- just this one time, can't I have this? Haven't I fucking earned it?” James roared in rage, and hurt.

“Oh, for fuck's sake, James,” Alec said, pitying. “Course you have. After everything you've given? You deserve someone who understands you. You deserve someone you can trust. But she's not the one.”

“How do you know?”

“Because she's got dark hair, and blue eyes, and you saved her from drowning.”

“I know she isn't Vesper,” James snapped. He’d been vaguely proud of himself for being able to say it. He’d thought, at the time, that it was a sign. “I'm done with Vesper, I'm over it.”

“You’re really not. I don't reckon you ever will be.”

James saw red -- he took a swing at Alec, sloppy, but fast and hard. Alec rolled with it easily, and gave as good as he got. Better, even, because he wasn't blind with rage and frustration. They fought like family; ruthlessly, and knowing each other's weaknesses. James jabbed at an old shrapnel wound, making Alec swear and aim a kick at a recently healed bullet hole. It was no holds barred, absolutely merciless. Alec was better, though, and in the end, he pinned a snarling, swearing James to the carpet.

“This is for your own good, mate,” he said, as he jabbed James with a tranquilizer.

 

After that, Alec called the girl's father and made sure she was taken care of, before checking James into a different hotel. Moving targets and all that. James had been furious with Alec. Their friendship almost hadn’t survived it. But Alec had been doing them both a favor. James was a spy through and through, and Tracy was the suicidal daughter of a crime lord. It could only end in disaster. He had been cozying up to a time bomb, and Alec had saved him from a world of pain.

It took time; Alec had plied James with scotch until James finally snapped and broke all the furniture in the room, raging out years of bottled up frustration. Because venting his revenge on Quantum hadn’t changed anything. Two years gone and he was still alone. And he hadn’t learned; he kept falling for it, over and over. And he kept losing. Not just the girls, everyone. His parents. His foster father. His first CO in the Navy. Vesper. Mathis. Now Tracy.

James had been furious with himself, then. For falling for it again. For letting his guard down again.

“Sometimes…” he'd confessed, in a scotch-hazy slur in a hotel in Switzerland, “... Feels like I'm the one drowning.”

Alec had put a hand on the back of his neck and squeezed. It was more soothing than any lover's touch, more grounding. Bond's shoulders slumped, tension leaving him. “Ah, come on, you fucking drama queen. Buck up. Na miru i smert' krasna," Alec had said -- in Russian, James had thought at the time, though he'd been too plastered to be certain. So he asked.

“What's that?”

“With company, even death loses its sting.” 

 

 

 

“Oi.”

James opened his eyes unevenly. Alec was there, manhandling him out of the chair. James grumbled at being disturbed. Alec dragged James's arm across his shoulders and heaved him up, over, and then down onto the bed. James rolled over, burrowing his face into the pillow. The room was spinning, and given how calcified his liver was at this point, he must have drunk a truly inadvisable amount of liquor. Alec would stay, though. He would make sure James didn't die of alcohol poisoning. James had never had a brother -- well, he had once, for a brief while. But Franz had been terrifying -- the stuff of James's childhood nightmares. Alec wasn't like that. Alec was a real brother; a brother-in-arms.

He might have said some of that out loud, because he could vaguely hear Alec laughing at him. James didn't care; he was drifting off now, but he distinctly heard Alec say: “Closing time, James. Last call."


“So this new Q,” Alec said the next day, after they felt a bit more human. “What do you reckon? Is he someone’s brat, or someone’s bit on the side?”

Bond shook his head, mouth full of room-service bacon. Not that he didn’t get where Alec was coming from; the Quartermaster looked far too young to have earned his post. Only fair to assume a bit of nepotism or favoritism. But James could still clearly remember the calm and immodest way that Q had said I invented them. It had brought a smile to his face then, and it brought a smile to his face now. “Boy wonder," he said. It cost him something to say it, but... "M knew what she was about when she hired him." 

Alec scoffed. “Bollocks. I’ve got guns older than him.”

James thought back to their new Quartermaster: his dark, floppy hair, flickering gaze, long, sensitive fingers. His cocksure confidence, cool demeanor, and youthful enthusiasm. He'd been impressed with the boy's -- man's abilities. It had been damn useful to have Q his ear. Q knew when to speak and to be silent, even if he’d nearly frozen up a couple of times. But everyone did, on their first mission. “He’s inexperienced. But he’s good.”

“Oooh, high praise,” Alec said. “He can change his own nappies, then?”

“And yours, I should think.”

Alec mimed being stabbed. James dimpled at him.


They didn’t go to the funeral. Alec didn't like funerals any more than James did. But they went jogging the day after the funeral, and ran around the place where Olivia Mansfield had been laid to rest beside her husband. Alec razzed him for being slow and old. James responded by attempting to trip his running partner and the two had tussled like teenagers for a moment before James elbowed Alec in a rib he didn’t know was broken and Alec jabbed him sharply in the shoulder he knew full well was still healing.

“Ah come on. What’s a little torture between mates?” Alec said, clutching his aching side while James massaged his shoulder and glared.


That night, they took the remains of their scotch and vodka and got very, very drunk on the hotel roof, which they shouldn’t have been able to access, but then… it was them. Somehow (James didn’t clearly remember how) they’d commandeered a pair of wing chairs from the lobby so they could stargaze in comfort. The leather creaked under him and he stared up at the distant night sky, faded by the light from the city far below. Most of the stars weren't bright enough to be seen, but he managed to find the pole star glittering dimly in the north. But then, that was part of his training, not just as a spy, but as a navy man. Even when he was off his face, he would always be able to find a guiding star.

“Are we too old for this yet?” James said, slightly slurred.

“Bloody hell I hope not,” Alec mumbled. His accent had thickened, James noticed. 

“Good, ‘cos… I don’t reckon I know how to stop anymore.”

“I dunno if ye’re talking about drinking or working but… either way. Ye ‘n me both, mate.” Alec stretched his longer legs out and then slumped back in his chair with a groan.

James's mind had wandered again. “How did she have time for it?”

“How did who have time for what?” Alec asked.

James didn’t answer, but carrying on made his point clearer. “She had a husband. Kids. I just don’t… She was a double-oh. And then she was M. Just… how?”

“Ye jealous of her, Bond?”

James snorted. “No. She’s dead and I’m alive, what’s to be jealous of?”

“Aye, but she actually had a life, like ye said. Husband, kids, home.”

“Not my style. I can't stop working.”

“Neither could she.”

They lapsed into quiet, since James didn't have an answer for that.

“Ye know ye can be happy, don't ye?” Alec said.

James rolled his head to one side and gave Alec a flat look. “We are killers and whores,” he drawled. “People like us don't deserve to be happy.”

“Oi! Bollocks to that. We can be happy if we want. Though, to be fair, I pity the poor woman -- or bloke -- that eventually gets saddled with you.”

“Oh ta very much,” James grumbled. They lapsed into another moment's quiet. “I can't imagine it anymore, to be honest. After Vesper, I could, sometimes. But now?” He sighed and shook his head. “There's just the work, now. Can't stop, can't slow down.”

He tried to picture the person that he could love with what withered heart and soul was left to him at this point. He was so bone-weary and drained; he couldn't imagine anyone making him feel again. What would that even look like? Someone who didn't mind him working long hours and being gone for weeks at a time? Someone who didn't mind his aching scars, his hair trigger temper, the way he carried his gun almost constantly?

Didn't seem a very likely person to exist, somehow.

“Ah quit feeling sorry for yerself ye toff bastard,” Alec grunted.

James threw the cap of his scotch bottle at Alec’s head.

It bounced off his temple and Alec glared balefully. “Ye wanna dance little man?” he growled.

James just laughed at him, shaking his head. Alec could take him -- this was a point that they had settled several times over the years. Trevelyan was taller, stronger, faster -- Bond was a slightly better shot (when he was on his game, which he wasn’t just now) and he was better at both chess and poker. But in an out-and-out fight? Alec would win every time. He was tough as a Siberian winter and twice as cold. Speaking of...

“You’ve got to go back to Yakutsk, don’t you.” It almost sounded like I'll miss you.

“Well ye know how it is. Bratva won’t infiltrate itself.” It almost sounded like I'll miss you too. “Takes time. Ye gotta earn their trust.”

“Trust?” James scoffed.

“Quaint, isn’t it?” Alec looked over at James, smiling lopsidedly. "Who trusts me?"

"Only a fool," James declared.

"I told ye, didn't I? Told ye before, and I'll tell ye again; ye deserve someone ye can trust, James Bond."

James just scoffed at that. But the more he thought about it, the more he thought he really had trusted M. Much as he didn’t want to admit it. That was part of the reason it had hurt so much when she hadn't trusted him back. Take the bloody shot. His shoulder still ached.

He tipped his head back and closed his eyes. He had that feeling again, like he was the one drowning. He wished vaguely that he'd told M he trusted her, before it was too late. Before she'd betrayed him by leaving. Like people always did.

“Oi,” Alec said, softly.

James looked over, recalled to the present. Alec was holding out the neck of his bottle in James's direction. “Fer England?” Alec asked with a wry smile. Bond was Scottish born, and Alec was a Ukrainian orphan who'd been adopted by a not-very-nice couple from Yorkshire. The joke was that neither of them were actually English. It wasn’t the whole joke, but that was where it had started.

“For England,” Bond said, clinking the neck of his scotch against Trevelyan’s vodka.


Trevelyan left the next day. Bond sat in his hotel room, alone, for exactly an hour before he lost it and went to MI6 even though he was still on leave. That pretty agent (the one who'd shot him, he should really find out her name) wasn't at her desk, so he had to go looking for someone else to harass.

He ended up wandering into Q-Branch just because the nerds there always jumped so pleasingly. They were still in the tunnels, though it looked like Q was going through specs for a new location with his second-in-command, R. R was a jolly looking middle-aged woman who wore her hair in ridiculous styles and, if Bond recalled correctly, lived with 004. She was older than Q, and he honestly wasn't sure why she was his second-in-command and not the other way around. But then... age is no guarantee of efficiency. 

There were two others with Q, only one of whom James recognized: the old head engineer of R&D had apparently survived the blast. When he looked up and saw Bond there, he glowered with the memory of a thousand destroyed prototypes. The weedy looking young man on Q’s other side -- Pakistani, Bond thought -- had to be the new head of cybertech, since word was that Q himself had been the old head of cybertech.

As Bond entered, Q’s eyes darted up, scanned across Bond’s features, and then darted away again. The Quartermaster's gaze never seemed to fully settle, Bond noticed. An odd quirk -- made it look like he was always speed-reading whatever was in front of him. Q put a hand on R’s shoulder and stepped away from the group to meet Bond halfway. Bond found that oddly satisfying. He was enough of a disturbance to pull the Quartermaster away from his meeting, and that was pleasing. There was no alarm on the Quartermaster's face, however, only a mild, unruffled query. “007,” he said. “I thought you were on leave.”

Bond stuck his hands in his pockets and glanced around him. It was satisfying to see the minions looking swiftly away from his gaze. No pity. Only fear. He still had it. “I am,” he said.

When he looked back at Q, the young man had folded his arms high on his chest and cocked his head like a quizzical little bird. “You do understand that the idea behind taking leave is to actually… leave.”

“Must remember that for next time,” Bond drawled, resting his weight easily back on his heels, a picture of broad, spreading confidence next to the single elegant brushstroke of Q’s posture.

“Yes. Well, since you’re here, step into my office, won’t you?” Q didn’t wait for agreement, simply walked past Bond and expected obedience.

Bond raised an eyebrow, but turned to follow. As they walked, he leaned in over Q’s shoulder, close and intimate. “Feels like I’m in trouble.”

Q didn’t bat an eye at that. “Perhaps you are.”

Bond gave a low chuckle. “Well. What else is new, I suppose.”

Q’s office was directly across the hall from Q-Branch. Once they were in, the Quartermaster closed the door behind Bond and lowered the blinds. Perhaps Bond really was in trouble. He scanned the room; it was sparse and industrial, with a steely desk bare of all ornament except, oddly, a pair of spectacles. They were the plastic-rimmed sort, like what Q wore, but with green frames and one lens deeply scratched. Bond wondered whether they’d been damaged in an R&D accident or what.

Silva's laptop was there too, Bond noticed, with great distaste. He hoped that it was only there so Q could thoroughly wipe the drive and then melt it down. Perhaps explosively. Perhaps he would let Bond help with that. 

“007,” Q started.

Bond looked up, expression mild. “You know, unlike some people, I actually have a name,” he pointed out.

Q smiled so thinly it didn't even look like a smile. “I am aware. Half the terrorists and criminals in the world know your name, I would wager.”

“You would win.”

“007--”

“Don’t you find it awkward, though? I mean, your girlfriend…?”

No reaction from Q.

“...Boyfriend?”

Equally no reaction, but Bond thought he detected a certain shifting in the shoulders that indicated Q's preference. Possibly.

“Your lovers,” Bond decided. "They must have a terrible time remembering which letter of the alphabet to call out.” He leaned a hip against Q’s desk, lounging like he owned the place. “Unless you date outside the service, but no matter what the official guidelines say, they really prefer that you don’t. It’s so much easier to keep secrets in the family.” He smiled: one of the wolfish ones.

Q blinked rapidly a couple of times, face expressionless. He opened his mouth. “If that was meant to be flirting, you’ve missed the mark,” Q told him flatly. “And if you’re hoping to get more exciting equipment by seducing your Quartermaster, I can only say that if you want equipment from me--” Q’s eyes flashed dangerously “--you should’ve brought back my car in better condition.”

Bond opened his mouth. A memory passed before his eyes: the poor, beautiful car, going up in flames. Fucking philistine, he'd thought at the time. But also: Q will murder me. “Ah.”

“Yes. And if you couldn’t bring back the equipment intact, then you should’ve disposed of it more thoroughly. Given that it was stolen MI6 property.”

There had been one or two other things on Bond's mind at the time, but that was certainly careless of him. “...Ah.”

“Yes.”

“So they’ve recovered the effects from Skyfall, then?”

“What remains of them,” Q said, with crisp enunciation and an accusation in his eyes.

“And…”

“Questions are being asked.”

Doubtless MI6 would want to know how a car that had supposedly been decommissioned and scrapped half a decade before had ended up in the possession of a famously unstable double-oh. “Ah.”

“Yes,” Q said a third time, drawing it out into an angry sibilant.

They stood in silence. Bond tried valiantly to keep the smile off his face. Q seemed about to puff up like a kitten and take a swipe at his nose. But smiling would be a mistake, Bond knew, because he’d seen Q hack into London’s CCTV network like he owned it, and Bond had no doubt that the Quartermaster’s ire would be all-encompassing and devastating. “Don’t worry about it,” Bond said.

Q narrowed one eye in an angry, skeptical squint. “I don’t actually feel better.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Bond elaborated with a lazy shrug.

Q folded his arms again. “Now I feel even worse.”

Bond feigned being wounded, pressing a hand to his chest and letting his mouth fall open.

“You do know that Mallory is the one who's asking questions, and you can’t actually murder Mallory because that would be treason,” Q said.

“I said I’d take care of it, not that I’d take care of him.”

“That’s a very fine distinction.”

Bond mimed thoughtfulness at this. “Why yes it is.” Bond grinned. It was one of his more terrible grins. The one that promised violence. Even the generally unflappable Q looked slightly alarmed.

“Bond!”

Bond got a quiet little grenade explosion of satisfaction at having persuaded Q to use his name rather than his designation. The terrible grin widened.

Q opened his mouth, obviously about to scold. Then he sighed heavily and waved one delicate hand -- he had rather lovely hands. Elegant. “As if I could stop you anyway.”

“Oh, Quartermaster,” Bond purred. “For you? Anything.”

Q rolled his eyes and yanked open his office door. "Out," he ordered.

Bond smirked as he left, feeling pleased. Even without M, life would go on. There were other people in MI6 worth seeing, other people worth his time. Worth defending. He still had his duty, his work. He still had a job to do. Even if the guiding star had changed, that didn't mean he'd lost his magnetic north.

It would be good to go back to work.


When Bond finally got around to checking his mailbox, he found a single unmarked envelope inside, with an equally unmarked DVD. And when he popped it into his laptop, and M's face appeared: wrinkled, and grim, and determined, her eyes burning through the screen from beyond the grave...

Suddenly he could breathe again.  

Chapter Text

A few days after Bond was officially back on duty, Q sat outside M’s office, waiting his turn to answer for the suspicious piece of equipment that had turned up during the Skyfall coverup. Bond was in there now -- and if Mallory was ripping him a new one, Q couldn’t hear it from out here. Perhaps the room was soundproofed. Probably the room was soundproofed.

“Relax,” Eve said, without looking up from her work. “You’ll be fine.”

Q huffed. His leg jiggled. “Am I in trouble?”

“I don’t see how you could be.” Eve looked up, frowned, then leaned forward, elbows on her desk, ignoring the paperwork she’d been working on. “Why would you be in trouble?” Suspicion seemed to be creeping into her voice.

Q blinked at her. But of course -- she didn’t know. No one knew anything except him and Bond. Q tried to think how he would act if he were, in fact, not a thief. “Well. I’m here, aren’t I? I feel like I’m in trouble.”

Her eyes narrowed. He hated working with spies sometimes. “Well you’re not,” she said, tightly amused. She went back to her work. The smile didn't fade, but that didn't mean she believed him. 

In the weeks after M’s death, Eve had slipped into her new job with grace and ease. She seemed happy, as a matter of fact. “Enjoying your new position?” Q asked, changing the subject

“I am, thanks.”

“You don’t miss being out there?”

She stopped what she was working on, smiling with her eyes more than her mouth. It was a very knowing sort of smile. Almost smug. “I think I like being on my home turf better.”

Q had seen her file; she’d been a stellar trainee, for all that she hadn’t excelled out in the field. Now that he’d gotten to know her a bit better, he fancied that he understood why. Eve Moneypenny was a bit of a control freak, to be honest, and the field was full of variables: too many to be sure of every one, especially if you were on the ground. She had a hell of a tactical mind, though. It seemed like a waste to keep her behind a desk, but then… perhaps she wasn’t just behind a desk.

The more Q thought about it, the more it made sense. Eve had tremendous potential, but perhaps that potential was put to best use in an environment where she could better manipulate the variables; where she had more control. Home turf, like she said. A guard dog wasn’t any less specialized than a hunting dog, but one didn’t use a rottweiler like a bloodhound.

“Well,” Q said. “If it makes you feel better, I feel a lot safer.”

Eve’s eyes widened, very fractionally, and her lips parted, as though about to say something.

The door opened, making him jump, and speaking of hunting dogs, there was Bond, swaggering out with a smirk and a glitter in his blue eyes. He’d certainly bounced back.

"Bond," Q said, by way of greeting.

Bond looked, if possible, even more smug, as though Q had just told a hilarious joke. "Q." And then he winked -- the absolute tosser -- and went to chat with Eve.

“Quartermaster,” said a voice from within the office.

Q leaned forward and peered in the door. Mallory was there, standing just inside. He crooked a finger. Come here.  Q swallowed and stood up. He went into the office, and shut the door behind him. Once it was closed, they were muffled in a silence too absolute for comfort. Definitely soundproofed.

“Sir?” Q said, standing in front of the desk.

Mallory walked around to take his seat, waving vaguely for Q to sit too. Q did, feeling the leather of the visitor chair creak under him.

“We’re going through what was recovered from Skyfall, starting to sort out one thing from another,” Mallory said idly.  He leaned back in his chair. “Found some interesting bits and bobs, including this.”

He opened a file and tossed it down on the desk between them. Q’s stomach lurched. Christ, Bond, what did you do to her? He thought, staring down at the burned out shell of the once-beautiful Aston Martin. It was barely more than a steering wheel. Some small part of him screeched in agony at the ruined remains of his beloved pet project. All those hours spent refurbishing and fine tuning...

He could feel Mallory’s eyes on him. He cleared his throat. “That looks like it used to be an Aston Martin,” he said, as innocently as he could manage.

“A DB5 from the mid sixties,” Mallory confirmed.

“Poor thing.” Q frowned.

“Question is, how did it get there,” Mallory said flatly.

Q blinked up at him. “Well I presume that it was driven--”

“That Aston Martin was supposed to have been destroyed 5 years ago, when MI6 was clearing old equipment out of storage. It was fully loaded; gun barrels behind the indicator lights, a bullet shield in the back window, a revolving license plate -- it had a bloody ejector seat, for Christ’s sake, it should never have left MI6 custody,” Mallory grumbled.  

Q said nothing, but he could feel himself sinking into his seat.

“Honestly, I’m glad it didn’t go to the crusher, it was a beautiful machine. Bond claims that it was M’s.” Mallory scoffed. “The real question is how did Bond get it out of MI6, and where’s he been keeping it for the last 5 years?”

Q was a genius, no one disputed this. Still. It took him a moment to catch up. Mallory knew that the car had been stolen before it’s scheduled destruction. Bond had lied to protect Q, claiming that it was M’s car. Mallory didn’t believe the lie, but he did believe that Bond was the one who’d nicked the car.

Meanwhile, the real thief was blinking and squirming in the leather seat right in front of him. “Um?”

“I cannot have agents -- well, let’s be honest with ourselves here, I cannot have Bond driving a deadly weapon around London. I need to know how he got it so I can make sure he doesn’t bloody do it again.”

Q wasn’t sure whether he wanted to keep Bond out of trouble (as if that were an achievable goal) or if he was actually, on some level, a bit miffed that Mallory didn't even consider him a suspect. Anyway, he was a rubbish liar, so what was even the point?

Q straightened his glasses. “Bond didn’t take the Aston Martin five years ago, sir. I did.”

Mallory scoffed to show what he thought of that claim. “If you think--” He froze.

Q took a steadying breath.

Mallory looked up, but to the middle distance, not to Q.  His eyes were unfocused but narrowed. Probably running through the features. Bullet shield, rotating license plate… More than Bond could’ve fixed up. Bond was sharp, certainly, but he was a hunting knife, not a scalpel. And he certainly wasn’t trained to repair a functioning ejector seat and concealed guns.  

Mallory turned his gaze on Q and Q met his stare evenly, calmly. He was the fucking Quartermaster, he reminded himself. I'll hazard I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field.

Mallory leaned back in his chair. “Right,” he said, sounding… almost impressed.

There was another long pause. The silence of the soundproof room was oppressive.

“Well. Since it was M’s car, I think we ought to get it restored, don’t you?” Mallory said, suddenly.

Q was thrown again. “Sir? But I said--”

“I heard what you said.” Mallory -- M -- tipped his chin down, meeting Q’s gaze steadily. “Did you hear what I said?”

Q blinked. It took him a moment to process, then he smiled, very slightly, and said: “Yes sir.”

“So. The car. Director Mansfield's car. I think we can find some money in the budget to get it restored. As a memorial to her. I’d like you to oversee it. You can handle that, can’t you?”

Q’s heart crawled into his throat, his fingers twitched on his knees. Building the car from the ground up, again... he'd learned so much since the last time. He could fix the suspension maybe, upgrade the engine, perhaps. He'd have to make new gunports from scratch... He could feel himself smiling against his will. “With pleasure, M.”

Mallory's lips twitched. “Good. Thank you Q. Dismissed.”

“Very good, sir,” he murmured. He was, if he were honest with himself, a bit pleased, in fact. Elated, perhaps. The car would live again; and he would get to resurrect her. Finding parts would be a real bitch, but it would be well worth it.

He let himself out of M's office. Bond looked up from where he was leaning casually on Moneypenny's desk; all coiled strength and rugged elegance. He was smirking. Bond must be thinking he was so clever; that he’d shielded Q from Mallory’s wrath, and ruffled the new director’s feathers all at the same time.

Not that Q wasn’t flattered that Bond had lied, had tried to preserve Q’s job in the wake of all the rules they’d broken, but… Well. Q was the fucking Quartermaster. He could look after himself.

Q smiled like the cat that got the cream, and winked. He just got to see Bond’s brows shoot up, and then he was walking away, with a new spring in his step.


 Q made himself busy. Or rather, Q made himself more busy, since being Quartermaster was already all-consuming. Now he was also trying to hunt down parts for the Aston Marti in what should probably have been his free time. And on top of that there was his... other project.

He was working late -- he often did. He'd lost himself in the slippery code, making notes on a separate laptop, picking apart the programming like a mortician picking through an autopsy. He didn't notice that it had gone dark, or that Q Branch was empty. They were still looking for a new location, but Q had become almost fond of the tunnels. They hardly ever gave him the creeps anymore, even at night. Although sometimes the sound of doors unlocking still gave him an unpleasant shiver.

He hummed at a bit of coding on the screen, then picked up a screwdriver, suspecting that there was something hardwired that was preventing his access. He started to unscrew one of the laptop panels. He didn't notice the glass door opening behind him, or the approaching footsteps.

“What the hell are you doing with that?"

At the sound of Bond's voice, sudden and loud as a whip crack, Q fumbled the tiny screwdriver he was holding. It fell to the desk with a clatter. He looked back over his shoulder and saw the double-oh stalking towards him with a deep scowl fixed on the laptop open on Q’s workstation.

Silva’s laptop.

“It's fine,” Q said. “It's perfectly safe. Well,” he corrected, looking down at the laptop with a small frown. “It’s not remotely safe. But it's not connected to the network, and I removed all wireless capability. I've got it completely isolated.”

Bond was still scowling at the machine like it might bite them.

“Honestly, 007, have a little faith in your Quartermaster,” Q grumbled.

Bond looked sharply up to Q’s face. “Since when are you back to calling me by my number?” he said.

Q blinked. He hadn’t realized he'd stopped. He always tried to call the double-ohs by their numbers rather than their names, partly for security reasons (one didn't want to let slip an assassin's identity in a moment of weakness) and partly because it helped him keep the distance he needed to maintain in order to be an effective Quartermaster. 

“Nevermind,” Bond said, a little tetchy still. “I'm meant to take you home.”

“Why?” Q said.

“Because you've been working for 48 hours straight, you bloody idiot.”

Q blinked at Bond. It felt strangely like one blink might have lagged behind the other. It also felt like someone had covered the inside of his eyelids with sandpaper, now that he was thinking about it.

“Yes,” he allowed. “but--”

“I know, I know.” Bond rolled his eyes at the feeble protest. “It's hardly your fault that 009 needed you to hold his hand through the catacombs, and I’m certain that whatever this is--” he waved a hand at Q’s workstation, glowering at the laptop, “--is too important and simply cannot wait, but--”

“No, it’s fine, it can definitely wait." Q shook his head. Now that he'd been pulled out of the trance of work, he could admit that he probably needed to take a break. "I just mean... why did they send you?” Q clarified. Bond was just returned from South Africa. Or was it South America? "Sending a double-oh to remind me that sleep exists... seems like overkill."

Bond looked grouchy about this too, for some reason. “I noticed,” the agent said shortly.

Q closed his eyes and… yes, his mind was a bit sluggish, perhaps. “You... noticed?”

“What with 009 being useless, and Tanner and Moneypenny both being out sick…” Bond looked disgusted by that -- as if disappointed that any MI6 employee, much less two, could succumb to something as common as influenza. He shrugged. “I honestly think that everyone assumed you just went home late and got back early.”

Everyone but Bond, apparently. Who had noticed. Who had probably hacked into entry and exit records to confirm that Q hadn't left the building. Who had only just gotten back from south... somewhere and was probably about to be sent... somewhere else.

Q didn't know what to do with that, so he lifted his chin in an approximation of his usual frosty manner. “I could’ve done,” he said mulishly.

“You just admitted you hadn’t. Why are you being stubborn about this?”

Q looked at the laptop. Silva’s laptop. He worked with it whenever he could find the time. There was so much in there -- not just valuable intelligence, but also revolutionary programmes and brilliant coding... And, if he was honest, working on it felt like penance. Think on your sins.

He sighed, closed out the programme he was working on, and shut the laptop. It was work that required constant vigilance, and he was hardly at his best right now. “You’re right.”

Bond's look was softer all of a sudden. As if he'd worked out why Q had the laptop still, and sympathized. He probably did. He was kind enough to pretend he didn't, though. “Of course I'm right," Bond said loftily.

Q set his equipment to shutdown and reached for the bag of work that he always took home.

“Leave that,” Bond advised. “It'll still be here in the morning.”

Q blinked, slow and uneven, and then nodded. He took his wallet, phone, and keys, leaving all the rest in Q Branch. He was, he noticed for the first time, the only one left there, aside from the skeletal night crew. And when he checked his watch, he realized why.

He plodded after Bond, and in a moment realized that Bond was leading him to the garage. “I can--”

“No." Bond sounded like he was trying very hard not to laugh at Q. Bond frequently sounded like that. By this point, Q didn't have to look to know that Bond's blue eyes would be sparkling with suppressed mirth, even as he continued, gruffly: "I'm on my way out anyway. I practically drive past your flat on the way to mine.”

Q… wasn't certain that was right, to be honest. But he also wasn't in any position to argue. He was too tired to feel odd about getting a ride in Bond’s (extremely nice) car. He was barely awake enough to notice that Bond wasn't driving like a complete maniac, for once.

Q relaxed back into the leather seat and watched the city going by. Bond didn't need to be told where Q lived -- Bond had been there before, of course. Q remembered that -- a smile that lit warmth through his whole flat, through his very bones... It was a nice smile. Bond should smile more. Q closed his eyes. He could ask Bond to help him with the Aston Martin, maybe, once they found all the parts they needed. Bond would smile at him over the hood. There would be smears of grease on his broad, capable hands. Maybe his forehead too; a smudge or two leaving black streaks against his golden tan...

“Quartermaster.” Tight amusement. “Quartermaster.” Louder this time.

Q jerked awake, forehead bumping against the glass. He straightened his specs and looked over to see Bond’s lips curling up on one side. Dimpling lopsidedly.

“Hello there, Sleeping Beauty,” Bond said.

Q grunted. “Piss off.” Which made Bond laugh outright, a glint of the sunshine smile flashing in the darkened car. Q’s stomach flipped. Shit. He vaguely hoped he was coming down with the influenza that had kept Tanner and Moneypenny out of the office, but he was quite sure that wasn't it.

Q rubbed his face and tried feebly not to think about Bond smiling or laughing or doing anything at all. He glanced out the window. They were at his flat. He shook himself and reached for the car door.

“See you tomorrow, Q.” Bond’s voice was like a rumble of thunder on the horizon.

“See you tomorrow, Bond.”

The car pulled away as Q let himself into the building. He took the stairs, and by the time he'd reached the top, he'd realized that he should really stop lying to himself. James Bond was incredibly attractive, obviously. All the double-ohs were, each in their own unique way. But this had gone beyond aesthetics. 

Q had a crush. How vexing.


Q was still not convinced that his flat was on the way to Bond’s, but it became a thing nonetheless. Q generally took the Tube into work (now that he’d been cleared to), but Bond would drive him home. When he was around. Which, in all honesty, wasn’t very often.

But that was fine. Bond was a busy man, but he wasn't in the same league as the Quartermaster. Q only seemed to get busier as the weeks went on. They were moving locations. The old MI6 building was badly damaged, and rumors spread that there was something going on in Management, but no one seemed quite able to say what.

Still, they could hardly stay in the tunnels, when they had been so thoroughly compromised. Q-branch had picked out a temporary location beneath an old Victorian warehouse-turned-office building. It was central, but would be easy to secure. The bottom two levels -- the vaults and ground-floor offices -- would be perfect for Q-Branch, though a bit cramped. But if they put R&D below, and had Cybertech and Ops Support share the offices above... Some people’s toes would get stepped on, but it would also make for a healthy cross-pollination of ideas between departments. 

Sadly, planning restorations for the move did not keep Bond completely out of Q’s mind. Aside from the occasional rides home, Bond often stopped by Q-Branch even when he wasn't picking up equipment. They were becoming friends, it seemed. Despite the ridiculous crush, Q rather liked being around Bond. It was very relaxing, which was probably a bad sign. He didn't have to remind himself to feel badly about how much he loved his job. Not around Bond. Eve always gave him side-eye when he waxed poetic about work. Even R had a strict "no shop talk" policy when they were outside the office; she always needed to decompress, to get away from what they did.

He understood why, of course. Q had done the maths once, in a fit of boredom. Q-Branch had more kills to its name than the entire double-oh programme. Q personally was -- and he didn't kid himself about this -- a mass murderer. The fact that he used computers, drones, tech... The fact that he killed from a distance didn't make him less of a killer. That was all bad enough, but worse... Q took a kind of wholesome pleasure from a job well done. Even if that job involved sabotage that killed dozens of people. They were bad people, and Q couldn't bring himself to feel too guilty about it.

Obviously, he couldn't mention that to Eve or R. He didn't want Psych coming after him with their concern and their clipboards.

But Bond... Bond was cold-blooded killer. He was perfectly happy to sit with Q and drink tea while Q did some long-distance murdering. They laughed about it afterwards, and even though Q's latest victim was a very bad man -- almost a literal Nazi -- it still occurred to him that he and Bond were possibly in the same category when it came to sociopathic tendencies.

It didn't say much for Q's sanity that their shared interest in creatively killing the Queen's enemies only made his infatuation exponentially worse. It wasn’t too distracting though. Nothing wrong with a harmless crush on a coworker, after all. And honestly, who didn’t have a crush on at least one of the double-ohs? 

One might think that Bond's frequent absences would keep affection at bay. Out of sight out of mind and all that. But the problem wasn't that Bond was attractive, physically. He was, of course. But it wasn't the broad shoulders or the tailored suits that got Q where he lived. Q lived very much in his head, which was fine most of the time. It made him extraordinarily good at his job. Unfortunately, living in his head rapidly became part of the problem. 

Because Bond was in his head now. Even when Bond wasn’t there, he was still there. Q was in his ear on missions more often than not. Even when Bond was reduced to a dot on a screen, or a small explosion over a satellite feed, his rumbling, purring voice was still there in Q's ear. His terrible puns were bringing a smile to Q's face. His little grunts of pain were grabbing tight to Q's heart. His clever observations, his sheer power, his terrifying efficiency were all in Q's head now. And that was just so...

Inconvenient.


Months and months after Skyfall, Bond was in the Bahamas, at a health clinic called Shrublands. “Two birds with one stone,” M had said drily. “Since your last physical was abysmal, you can do a bit of R&R while you keep an eye on Count Lippe. Perhaps you could even cut back from six martinis to three, give your liver a bit of a break from all the poison, hm?”

Fat chance of that.

Q was in Ops Support (they were still in the tunnels, because someone in Management was refusing to sign off on the move) when a red and black medical distress beacon flashed up on the screen. “Code Juliet,” he called to the room. Q Branch Ops Support was the central switchboard for all the branches, and during a medical emergency they were on alert to come up with whatever the agent needed to keep breathing, like arranging for a medevac, or talking them through turning a car battery into an impromptu defibrillator. He heard chairs spinning behind him as half the room set aside what they were working on. He’d patched Medical into the call before it registered who the beacon was from.

Bond.

Code Juliet meant poison.

“007. Status?” Q said, and part of him was shocked by how calm he sounded.

All he could hear was harsh breathing, followed by a grunt, a thud, and a scattering sound, like something being dropped. “Dammit--” Bond’s voice, but slurred, drunken sounding.

“Medical is on the line,” said a woman’s calm voice as Medical joined the call. “Processing the bloodwork. What’s his status?”

“Status, 007. Report," Q said, a bit sharper.

Heavy breathing crackled down the line. “Substance ingested, uhhhh five minutes ago. Roughly. In a smoothie," he added, still enough himself to sound disdainful. “Tasted… funny. Vomiting induced but... Motor function impaired and… heart's going, uh, weird.” Bond trailed off faintly, then in a thin, pained voice. “Please advise?”

There was a moment of quiet -- Medical would be conferring together over the readings from Bond. No one else needed to hear that; the agents were under enough stress already, they didn’t need to listen in on all the details of how they might die. But it was all still too fucking slow. Mentally, Q hiked the Smart Blood Programme a few notches up his considerable list. He turned to his branch. “CCTV, I want eyes on Bond now,” he ordered the room.

“Alright, Bond, you’re going to be fine.” The woman from Medical had a deep, soothing, authoritative voice.  “There should be an orange combipen there, can you see it?”

“CCTV coming up,” said someone behind Q.

And suddenly he was there, slightly grainy but large as life on the oversized screen. Bond, sitting on the pavement next to his car, in slacks and an open white button down. He had the medical kit lead jabbed into his forearm, and another screen oh-so-helpfully gave Q a visual on Bond’s wildly erratic vitals. Not that he needed a monitor to tell him the obvious: Bond looked terrible, visibly shaking and pale as death even through his tan as he looked around for the combipen. “Honestly,” Bond said. “Does this happen to me more than the others?”

“No,” the woman from Medical said coolly.  “Orange combinen. Have you got it?”

He was casting around on the ground beside him, Q could see. He zoomed in. The contents of the kit were scattered, like he’d spilled them getting it out of the car. Sweat shone on his forehead, sticking his hair up in spikes. He was breathing hard, looking to his left, his right -- Q scanned the image. Thank god that CCTV cameras did color these days. “On your left, halfway under the car,” Q said, as calmly as he could.

Bond grunted and slid down to reach under the car, fumbling around with one clumsy hand, his back to the camera now.

“In your own time,” said the woman from Medical, sounding a little tense now. “But also quite quickly.” Bond's heartbeat was becoming increasingly erratic, racing and stuttering. 

“Goddit,” Bond slurred, coming up with the vividly orange combipen gripped in his hand.

“Right in the thigh, if you please, 007,” Medical ordered.

Bond jabbed the device into his thigh through his slacks without a moment’s hesitation.

“Roll away from the car,” Medical ordered. “Now.”

Q had to bite his lip, because an order like that could only mean one thing. Bond groaned, but followed the directive, falling to his side and rolling away from the car a foot or so.

He sprawled out on his back -- a strange, guttural sound came down the line and Q winced -- it sounded like Bond was being eviscerated. And then he started to seize, horrible tremors shaking his limbs, a force like electricity arching his spine, heels skittering on the concrete.

The monitor flatlined and Q could’ve sworn that his heart stopped too.

“Dammit, he pulled the lead,” Medical said. “We’ve lost the feed on him, can you get us a visual?”

Q tapped at his keyboard, linking Medical into the CCTV feed. He couldn’t take his eyes off it, off Bond. He’d seen agents dying over CCTV feeds before, but he’d never felt like he was there. This wasn’t just another agent. This was Bond. Convulsing, in a carpark somewhere in the Bahamas, miles away where it was still sunny outside.

One last spasm, weaker than the others, and then Bond went still. The flatline droned and Q jabbed a key to silence it.

“007?” Q said. “Bond, are you still with us?”

A sharp inhale crackled down the line. “Here,” Bond croaked. Q let out a shuddering breath of relief that he could feel tingling in every nerve.

“Don’t move,” Medical ordered. “Dammit, 007, lie still."

Bond was already sitting up, back to the camera, shaking fingers grabbing the car for support. “Can’t do that,” he said. The idiot.

“You need to lie still,” the woman said, slowly, like Bond might be stupid -- which he clearly was. “The combipen buys you time, but you still need a medevac.”

Q shot a look at R. Medevac, the Bahamas -- they needed --

“Already on it,” R said. “They'll be there in five.”

“Can’t do that either,” Bond was saying with a groan.  “If Lippe’s made me, he made the nurse who’s been helping me.”

Then leave her, a selfish part of Q howled.

“Bond,” said Medical, “if you don’t keep still, the medevac might as well not waste their time.”

“Q,” Bond said. He was leaning heavily against the car, head tipped back, trying to catch his breath. “Where are the damn saunas from here? Lippe said he’d--”

“Lie down, 007,” Q ordered, his voice sounding frigid in his own ears.

“I have to--”

"I said lie down,” Q snarled.

Silence fell around him. Q didn’t look over his shoulder -- he could feel the rest of Q-Branch staring at him. Their Quartermaster didn’t lose his head in a crisis. Ever.

Bond’s head lifted and looked directly at the CCTV, and suddenly color didn’t seem all that marvelous. Even through a grainy camera on the other side of the world Bond’s eyes were heart-stoppingly blue.

Q swallowed. “I’m going to set off the fire alarm in the building,” he said, and that icy control was back, steadying his voice. “That will get your nurse out and in a public space faster than you could.”  His fingers were already flying, head dipping down to look at his own screen. “So have a bit of a rest, won’t you, 007? Medevac is on the way.”

Q looked up long enough to see Bond nod, then sag, then sink, shuddering, to the ground. He hit a final key and set the fire alarms off all over the health clinic. Bond was lying on his side on the pavement, half curled in on himself. Q minimized the feed to the Quartermaster’s screen; he didn’t think Bond would much appreciate the whole of Q-Branch watching him twitch and shiver in a heap while he waited for medevac.

“Medical signing off. Don’t drift off, Bond,” Medical advised. “If you slip into a coma, I shall be very cross with you.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Bond sighed.

Then it was just him and Bond on the line. Q patched Bond’s feed into his personal earpiece. Behind him, Q-Branch was settling, still unnerved, but calmer now the danger was mostly passed.  Q put a finger to his ear and stared at his screen, where Bond lay in the shadow of his car. Q still couldn’t bear to take his eyes off the man. It felt like his heart was being pulled out, string by string, and dragged through the feed to the other side of the world. Q swallowed.

“Well. How was that for rest and relaxation?” he said.

Bond chuckled weakly. “Oh I don’t know. It was alright for a bit there.” A familiar lilt in his voice. Smug bastard.

“The nurse was nice, I take it?” Something painful twisted in Q’s chest like a wounded animal writhing -- but it was bearable.

“Mm,” a sound of pure, sexual appreciation. “Very… friendly. Doesn’t deserve to die in a steam bath, to be sure. Pat Fearing -- can you make sure he made it out?”

Q’s eyes snapped away from the feed as though Bond had suddenly exploded into a supernova; too bright to look at. The Quartermaster stared down at his keyboard, his fingers hovering over it. They twitched, clenched into fists. Can you make sure he made it out? Not Patricia Fearing. Patrick.

This was… not bearable.

“Q?”

“Checking now,” Q said. His voice sounded icy calm through lips that felt numb. “Fearing, you said? And he’s... a nurse?”

“Mm.” Smug, smug bastard. “A masseuse.”

Q would murder someone. Possibly an innocent masseuse. He shook the tremors from his hands and typed. The picture came up. Damn his eyes, a devastatingly handsome man with skin like smooth black glass and a charming smile. Dimples. Q hated him with a deep and abiding fire for no reason at all. He engaged the facial recognition programme and sicced it on the security feeds around the hospital.

There were about a million questions in his head, but he bit his lip to hold them back. He was the Quartermaster, dammit. This was part of his job. This was part of Bond’s job. It wasn't that Q was jealous -- no, he was, there was no denying that he was. He was green with envy, but not jealous of Bond in the possessive sense. No, he was jealous of Patrick Fearing, in the same way that he was jealous of his counterpart in the NSA, who got twice the budget and three times the toys Q did. He was jealous of that bloody masseuse the way he was jealous of people who weren't afraid of flying -- people who could actually enjoy travel. Bond was a beautiful, exotic location that Q had never visited and Patrick bloody Fearing had. So yeah, Q was jealous. He was quietly livid with himself about it, but he was undeniably jealous.

The facial recognition programme pinged a moment later. “There he is,” Q said breezily. “Alive and well I assure you.”

“That’s a nice change,” Bond groaned.

“Do we need to bring him in for questioning?” Q asked, cold and clinical. Distance was what he needed. Distance.

“I don’t think he knows anything, but Lippe might go after him.”

“We’ll bring him in for protection, then.”

“Thank you, Q.”

Q stared at the screen, breathing through his nose and hoping Bond wouldn’t hear it. “R will take you from here,” Q said abruptly, and waved R over. In an instant, she was at his side, quirking a brow at him. He shook his head and pulled his earwig out before Bond could say any more.

R’s brows pulled together, something between pity and sympathy, as if she guessed, which was more humiliating than anything Q could dream of. He ducked his head and walked out of Q-Branch.  He needed space. He needed a moment to breathe.

A hopeless crush on a straight co-worker was one thing. It was safe, because it couldn’t come to anything. It was just about aesthetics, it wasn’t dangerous. A hopeless crush on a bisexual assassin though… that was… more complicated.

He needed to get James Bond out of his head. And fast.


After Shrublands, Bond was directly ordered to take it easy. And for once, he actually did. For almost 48 whole hours. And then he was gone again. Not on a mission, thankfully, just on vacation. Though no one believed for a second that Bond would take it easy, wherever he'd gone.

Q couldn’t help wondering if he was going to the Bahamas.

He tried to avoid thinking about it by working. The parts for the Aston Martin were coming in. The Smart Blood programme was almost ready. And Tanner and Moneypenny finally confessed that their sick days hadn't really been sick days; they’d been on loan to MI5 arranging a massive shakeup. Q didn’t trust this combined intelligence organisation -- the Joint Security Service. He didn’t trust Denbigh. Q knew the power of surveillance, and he didn’t like Denbigh’s new building with an instinctive kind of anxiety, the way a deer wouldn’t trust tall grass. So he dug in his heels and used all his power as the head of Q-Branch to resist a move.

And yet, despite Smart Blood, and the Aston Martin, and Denbigh’s Centre for National Security, and all the rest of it, Q still found himself lying awake nights, trying not to think about bloody Bond and his bloody masseuse.

Q decided that he really ought to try and find someone to date. If only out of sheer desperation and self-defense.

He hadn’t dated very much since he started at MI6. He considered himself married to the work. Some people assumed that he was asexual, like R. Some people even assumed that he and R were in a relationship. Q didn’t much care that people thought that, and R found it hilarious. Luckily R’s longtime girlfriend didn’t mind either; 004 -- Scarlett or Scar to her friends -- could’ve broken Q over her knee without too much trouble.

Q wasn’t asexual; he’d had some serious boyfriends (and one girlfriend) back in Uni, but they were a distraction from his studies, always wanting more time than he was willing to give, more energy than he had to offer, more commitment than he was able to provide. Q liked sex just fine, but he could live without it. He wasn’t interested in a relationship that could only end in flames, and he wasn’t interested in casual sex -- too messy, too awkward. Not to mention the risk to security and his own safety.

He certainly wasn’t interested in a suicidal masochists who’d been sleeping with women -- with people -- since Q was in primary school.

It had been easier when he thought Bond was straight. There had been a safe amount of distance then. Like he was admiring a work of art, or a celebrity. Something desirable, but unattainable.

Shrublands had changed that. Pandora’s box was open; Bond slept with women and men. It was too late for Q to protect himself, because Bond was already in his head.  Countermeasures needed to be devised.

Thank Christ for Eve Moneypenny.


Sometimes, if it wasn’t too busy, Q and Eve would pop out of the office around three and head to a local cafe. Eve would have a coffee, Q would have tea, and they would sit in a booth and chat about Not Work Things. On this afternoon, Eve was talking about the bloke she was dating -- a really gorgeous silver fox called Greg.

“So, um, speaking of,” Q said shyly, when Eve had stopped and was sipping her coffee.  “Remember that bloke in the office you were telling me about?”

“Lou Ponsonby?” Eve’s eyes sparkled. “The one who told me how much he liked your arse in those godawful plaid trousers?”

“Yeah, him.” Q looked down at his tea mug. “Only I was wondering if--”

“If you’re going to ask me to give you his number, I’m going to say no for two very important reasons.”

Q looked up, and Eve was still smiling, that wicked half-smile that seemed to be an integral part of field agent training. “Oh?” he said.

She nodded. “First of all, this isn’t primary school, and you can ask him yourself. But second of all…” She tipped her head back, watching Q through narrowed eyes. “I actually like Lou. And I reckon you would too, so I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to date him if you’re just trying to get over... someone else.”

Q swallowed something bitter and sharp that wasn’t tea. “Ah,” he said.

“Yes,” she drawled.  “Quite.”

Q cleared his throat. “Is it… is it that obvious?”

Eve chuckled. “Not really, but remember where you work.” When Q glanced up at her, her smile was kind but amused, and he suddenly recalled that he literally worked in a building full of spies. “R mentioned what happened…” She shrugged one shoulder. In this setting, in public, of course she couldn’t say that dreadful fuckup at Shrublands, but Q understood what she meant. “Don’t worry. Your minions aren’t talking about you behind your back. Your boss--” Mallory, Q thought with mild panic “--doesn’t have a clue,” Moneypenny assured him. She arched a brow. “That’s what he keeps me around for.”

Q breathed a sigh of relief at that. He couldn’t have borne the humiliation. If M -- the previous M -- were here, she’d have seen this coming a mile off, but then she’d probably have said something sharp and cutting that went straight to the point and set him right. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Christ, I’m a mess.”

“Possibly, but I wouldn’t worry about it. He has that effect on everyone.”

Q just groaned, all too aware of that.

“Although, I think it’s worse for you.”

“Because I’m completely pathetic?” Q guessed.

Eve shook her head very slightly. “Because you’re his friend."

Q swallowed.

“You actually care about him, as a person, not an asset or a mark. And he cares about you, in his way.”

“You're not actually making me feel any better about this,” Q said, still staring down at his teacup, now with something sick in his stomach, something squirming and full of nerves.

“Good.”

That made Q look up sharply. Her tone had turned deadly serious, and she wasn't smirking anymore.

“I like Lou Ponsonby just fine, but for the record I like you better, and I really don't want to go to your funeral, so I'm going to be honest. This is something you need to take seriously. Remember what he does.” He wasn’t just Bond, Q recalled. He was 007. When had he stopped thinking of Bond as 007? “Being his friend is a hell of a responsibility, and a hell of a risk. He's outlived most of the people who loved him.”

Eve’s stare was steady and ruthless, and Q felt like his heart was being twisted and squeezed, all his roiling feelings and insecurities wrung out of him for examination and he couldn't help seeing, in his mind's eye, a grizzled, weary man, staring at a painting of a bloody big ship.

And then...

“Breaking news--” said a tinny voice from the television over the barista bar. “Mayhem at a Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico City…”

Chapter Text

After Skyfall, the video from M had been a godsend. It gave Bond purpose again, fired him like a bullet from the end of a gun. Anyone who got in his way at this point would find themselves becoming collateral damage. Once Bond got something between his teeth, he never let go. He had a name -- Marco Sciarra -- and all the resources he could commandeer on the sly. It would be more than enough. Sciarra's days were numbered. It was a kind of hobby; it kept him from getting bored, not that he had much time to be bored. 

He still had work, of course. And there was more than enough to go around. In the immediate wake of M’s death, there was clean up and catch up to be done. MI6 was scrambling, and homeless, and all the double-ohs were working overtime just to keep up. Somehow, between flying from Argentina to South Africa to Stockholm, Bond managed to find time to notice that Q hadn't slept in 48 hours and made sure that the poor bastard got safely home. He wasn't sure why that was so important. It just was.

He didn't go home himself that day: instead he'd gone on to meet an informant who told him that Sciarra had some connection to a secretive Portuguese crime lord. Count Lippe. It was a tenuous link, but enough for Bond. He'd known it would be a long haul, following such a faint trail. But he trusted his M. She wouldn't have given him this assignment if it wasn't important.

Months passed. When Bond was around, he’d give Q a ride home from work -- least he could do after what happened to Q’s car. And… it was pleasant. Q was good company. He understood the value of silences, but was always ready with a quip when it was called for.

And what's more, Bond didn't have to temper himself around Q. Didn't have to hold back the dead-eyed violence that was curled up inside him, waiting to strike. Q wasn't frightened of Bond's lethality. And Bond... He'd rolled his eyes the first time Q made grand claims about his own deadly efficiency, but Bond didn't roll his eyes any more...

 

One day, shortly after Skyfall, he'd popped by Q-Branch to pick up equipment for his fifth mission in four days. He wasn't as young as he had been, and if he was looking a little worn around the edges, that couldn't be helped. Q looked up from his work station in R&D, which was crowded with boxes. They were supposed to be moving, but no one seemed willing to pull the trigger on that, or say where they were going. Q pursed his lips in disapproval. "Where are they sending you?" he said, looking more like a schoolmarm than a spy.

"Colombia. That drug lord... Hammerstein-Gonzales, El Coronel. Mallory needs him taken care of."

Q leaned back in his chair, frowning. "He's the one with the... asthma and a fondness for Nazi memorabilia, isn't he?"

"The very same." Bond rubbed his eyes. "008 was supposed to take care of it, but he got held up in Argentina. Are you going to equip me or what."

Q was silent for a long while, and Bond instinctively bristled at the way the Quartermaster's eyes looked critically over him. But before he could come up with something waspish and defensive to say about their age difference, Q tipped his head back and spoke. "Go wait in my office. I want to run something by M. Take a nap on the sofa or something, you look like death warmed over." Without another word, Q rose from his seat.

Bond rolled his eyes, already grouchy from lack of sleep and the ache in his over-abused joints. "I don't need coddling, Q."

"Then I suppose it's fortunate that I was giving you a direct order and not, in fact, coddling you at all," Q snapped back. "My office. Go."

Bond was vaguely sullen about it at the time, but as it happened, the couch in Q's office was very comfortable. The whole space smelled faintly of bergamot, and there was a kettle on the shelf below a wall of screens. There was also a perfectly ordinary corkboard on the opposite wall, covered in to do lists and cryptic reminders. The green specs -- the badly scratched ones Bond had seen once or twice before -- were hanging from a pin there. Bond wondered whether what they were a reminder of.

He catnapped reluctantly while he waited for Q, but it couldn't have been more than twenty minutes before the Quartermaster returned. "You're off the hook," Q said. "I'll take care of El Coronel."

Bond narrowed his eyes. "How?"

Q was just sitting down at his desk and looked up, his dark greenish eyes flickering over Bond's face and body language. For a moment he was silent, considering options. "Would you care to watch?" he asked, mildly. 

Bond did, so Q put it all up on the small wall of screens. Most of the coding was somewhat beyond Bond's ken, but the results were... Impressive. El Coronel had a private gas chamber for his enemies. And his house was practically hermetically sealed, because of his own chronic asthma and allergies. Q engaged a lockdown protocol while El Coronel was sleeping in his bed. Then he had rerouted the lethal gas from El Coronel's execution chamber into the air conditioning vents. They watched El Coronel and several of his closest henchmen choking to death, clawing at the windows. Q made Bond tea, and they clinked mugs together once it was done.

"You hardly need me at all," Bond said.

"Yes," Q agreed. He looked over at Bond, a small smile on his face. "It's a good thing you're so pretty."

Bond threw back his head and laughed. 

 

After that, giving Q a lift home was less out of concern for Q's wellbeing and more because he genuinely enjoyed the man's company. They were... friends, it seemed. Bond was faintly surprised by this development, but mentally added Q to the list of people at MI6 he more-or-less trusted.

Though, not enough to tell him about M's video and the hunt for Sciarra. Not yet.

Eventually, Bond found Count Lippe, when the man cropped up in the Bahamas. Bond deliberately botched that physical in a scheme to get to Shrublands and Lippe -- normally a simple watch-and-report like that would've been given to someone less... specialized than 007. Aside from that unfortunate spot of poisoning, it went quite well. With the help of a highly agreeable masseuse, Bond managed to get a date and a location: where Sciarra would be next. The masseuse had even survived, which was surprising, given Bond's track record.

That bit of intel had led him to Mexico, where he finally -- finally -- got to kill Marco Sciarra.

Despite all the myriad ways Mexico had not gone exactly to plan, despite all the grief it had caused and the stress writ large on the new M’s face, Bond found that he didn’t give a toss, really.

He was following instructions that his M had left him. His M had trusted him to do this. He'd be damned if he didn't see this mission through to the end.


Q was hiding. From Denbigh, if anyone asked. From someone else, in all probability. But he couldn’t escape the rumors, even in his Q-Branch lair. They'd finished the move -- more or less. Q had thought that it would be good to have all the Q-Branch departments mingling and mixing, sharing ideas and techniques. He hadn't counted on the gossip. Everyone was talking about Mexico, about Bond, in low voices and grim tones, the way you would talk about an earthquake or a tsunami, or someone who was about to die. Q couldn’t help feeling that the comparison was accurate.

Eve came down towards the end of the day with an order from M. “He’s giving you the go-ahead on the Smart Blood,” she said, dropping the authorization on his desk. “First dose goes to Bond.”

“Of course it does.” Q blinked at the papers, Mallory’s signature scrawled across the bottom.  “How optimistic of M to think that will even slow Bond down.”

“M also gave strict orders not to give Bond anything else at all. The DB10 is going to 009 instead. He said, and I quote, ‘if Q gives him so much as a toothpick, I’ll have his hide.’”

“Well I imagine Bond could probably take down a small government with a toothpick,” Q allowed.

“He did say you could give him a watch, if it would help Bond get to the office on time. But he also suggested that perhaps it would work best if you shoved it up his--”

“I can see that M is feeling the pressure,” Q said calmly. He set the papers in his inbox and opened his laptop. If the DB10 wasn’t going to be assigned to Bond, he’d have to make some adjustments to the settings. Bond would hate this. The DB10 was a beautiful machine, and cars were one of the few simple pleasures in Bond's violent and complicated life. Perhaps Q would wave the car in front of Bond's nose like a choice piece of steak before he took it away and gave it to 009 instead. Bond certainly deserved that, and worse.

“Everyone’s saying he’s finished,” Eve said neutrally. Too neutrally. "Bond, I mean."

Q looked over, his gaze sharp on her face. “You don’t think that.”

“Neither do you,” Eve accused.

Q smiled thinly. “No, well. We know him better, I suppose.” He went back to what he was doing -- calling up 009’s preferences and seeing how they would apply to the DB10.

Eve drummed her fingers on Q’s desk in a tense rhythm. “You get the feeling he’s not telling us everything?”

“Does he tell anyone everything?”

“I suppose not,” Eve said, sounding miffed.

Q looked up at her over his glasses.  “Just because we’re his friends doesn’t mean he trusts us.”

“He can, though,” Eve said.

“Eve, have you forgotten that time you shot him? Because I haven’t forgotten the time I let Silva out of custody.”

She hummed in irritation at that.

“He doesn’t have to trust us,” Q said, going back to what he was working on.  “We’ll still help him,” he added, with resignation.  He didn’t have to look up to know that Eve was giving him a sympathetic gaze. He didn’t want to see it.

Facing Bond tomorrow was going to be hard enough -- he had no idea how he was going to keep his cool; torn between wanting to punish Bond and help him, between being angry at his recklessness and grateful beyond all logic that Bond was okay.

This time. For now.

“Anyway,” Q said, without looking up. “I can’t say I blame Mallory.”

“For tagging Bond like a dog that got into the neighbor’s garden?”

“Then giving him a thwack on the nose and taking away all his toys,” Q added, smiling.

Though, he admitted to himself, he’d probably still give Bond the exploding watch.


 “S-Shall we get started?”

Q’s face was inches from Bond’s and at this distance, Bond could see that Q’s deep-set, dark eyes, always mobile and flickering, really were more green-hazel than blue, though only just. Bond narrowed his eyes, irritated at having the gun taken away. He hadn’t even gotten a chance to see what improvements Q was making. Q’s adam’s apple bobbed very slightly -- one didn’t irritate a double-oh without some natural anxiety, after all -- before he turned away to set the gun aside.

Bond watched the gun going with some regret. It looked like a new model, he thought, and with a special scope, but Q just carried it away like a parent setting the non-child-friendly toys on the high shelf. Bond tucked his hands in his pockets and looked around Q’s workshop. It looked like a junk shop, but Bond could tell that most of this junk probably cost thousands of pounds apiece. Or more.

“This way,” Q said, leading the way out of his workshop and into the larger central vault of R&D.

Bond paced after him, watching his body language for some clue as to what Q had in store for him. The Quartermaster was damnably difficult to read; which only made him all the more interesting to Bond.

He’d always had a soft spot for people who lacked obvious tells. Like Vesper. He could think of her with only a gentle, almost fond pang these days; being reminded of her didn't hurt like it used to. And he could be honest with himself that he had a type. That type was usually very dangerous, and Bond had seen Q work often enough now to know that the slightly-ill-fitting suits and eccentrically patterned shirts were not so different from the skin of a poison arrow frog; a warning to stay away, not an invitation to poke.

Q wasn’t giving anything away. He led Bond into a small side vault -- there was a chair and some sort of contraption on a rolling table. There was even a tech on loan from Medical, judging by his lab coat. Bond didn’t care for Medical, and stared at the tech until the poor bastard visibly started to sweat.

Q ignored all this. “Jacket off.”

“What, no foreplay?” Bond said, shrugging the jacket off and hanging it on the back of the chair.

Q just looked at him with a chilly little frown, radiating disapproval. He was so bewitchingly un-ruffle-able. “Foreplay is for people I like.”

“Ah. You’re cross with me.”

“Does that set me apart from anyone else in MI6?” Q asked mildly. He indicated that Bond should sit, and Bond obeyed without hesitation. Q tugged the rolling cart closer with one foot. It looked like a scanner of some kind; cylindrical. Perhaps a miniaturized X-ray or MRI or something. Q pulled on some latex gloves. “Arm.”

Bond, surmising that there was going to be some sort of injection, probably a tracking device, rolled up his sleeve. It would be easy enough to dig the damn thing out later. Irritating, but hardly difficult. Q would be careful not to do anything that might damage Bond’s dominant hand, even upon removal. Q was careful like that. It was part of the reason Bond had no qualms about following Q’s orders.

Q’s hands guided Bond’s arm through the strange cylindrical device: the scanner also seemed to be a stabilizer for the injection. Bond wrapped his fingers around a handle at the end.

“Just relax.”

An x-ray popped up on the screen in front of them. Made sense. Didn’t want to hit anything vital, after all.  Q’s hands touched his wrist and elbow, adjusting where his arm was resting.

“That’s it, lovely. Now you may feel a small--”

“Christ!”

“--prick.”

Bond rolled his eyes. It had burned like fucking fire, as a matter of fact. And it hadn’t felt like a tracker at all. When he looked back at the screen, he didn’t see the by-now familiar microchip. Something was in his veins, rapidly spreading out through his bloodstream, dispersing through his system. It would be a bit trickier to carve that out...


 “Will you do something for me?”

Yes, probably, Q thought, and was rather desperately sad about it, since whatever it was was bound to be awful. “What do you have in mind, exactly?”

“Make me disappear,” Bond rumbled, casual and low.

Q’s mouth went dry. He was seeing visions of exploding tower blocks in his head, of Bond convulsing in a carpark somewhere -- but this time without proper backup from MI6. He was also seeing himself dragged before M to answer for Bond’s sins. He glanced over at Tanner, but the man was looking at a motorbike. Q’s lightning brain had a moment to wonder if Tanner rode a motorbike (seemed likely, from the knowledgeable way he was eying the engine) before he snapped back to Bond, and Bond’s oh-so-simple sounding request.

“Erm. May I remind you that I answer directly to M?” Q said softly, staring at Bond’s profile as he put the explosive watch on his wrist. Q had a sudden urge to take it back. “I also have a mortgage. And two cats to feed.”

“Well.” Bond turned the full force of his blue, blue eyes on Q, damn him. “Then I suggest that you trust me.” He shrugged, very casually. “For the sake of the cats.”

Q opened his mouth to say something waspish about how Bond wasn’t as good at threats as he thought, or perhaps to say something about how he had no life outside this job, something that Bond ought to be able to sympathize with, but…

He heard a scuff of feet behind him. He looked over his shoulder. Tanner, looking as mild and unremarkable as ever. Q made himself smile, and laughed half a chuckle. He already knew that he was going to do exactly as Bond asked, and he rather hated himself for it.  “Well, it’s lovely to see you, 007. Lovely...”


 Bond’s favorite off license was an unassuming, grimy little hole in the wall. George, the grumpy old codger who ran the place, had owned it for as long as Bond had worked at MI6. Bond kept the place in business almost singlehandedly, and in return, there were a few things that George always kept in stock.

“Bollinger,” Bond said, leaning one arm on the counter, careless of the grimy linoleum, and how out of place his impeccable Tom Ford suit was in this establishment. He scanned the place casually. The familiar shelves of alcohol, cracked flooring, buzzing fluorescent lights. No one else in here just now. Door at the back, locked. Door and windows at the front -- the windows almost completely papered over with adverts. One of George’s security cameras was out, Bond noticed. No light under the lens.

“I’ve got a bottle of the 2002,” George grunted. “Will that do?”

Bond looked away from casually casing the place (habit). “And a bag of ice if you’ve got some.”

George rolled his eyes, reminding Bond aggressively of Kincade. “Lucky bastard.”

The corners of Bond’s eyes crinkled in a minimalist smile. He raised a brow at George.

“Well I presume you’re not drinking it alone,” George scoffed. “Not the Bollinger, at any rate.” He turned and went to rummage in the back room, where he kept mostly Bollinger, scotch, vodka, and Gordon's -- the latter three being Bond’s preference when drinking alone.

“I’m not drinking it at all,” Bond said. He pushed off from the counter and walked over to the broken security camera, cocking his head at it.

He glanced back and saw that George had poked his head out of the back room. He was staring at Bond, his bushy brows lifted high in surprised.

“It’s a gift,” Bond explained. George’s brows lifted further. Bond didn’t do gifts, generally. Scotch was Bond’s everyday drink. Vodka and gin (paired with a special bottle of Kina Lillet) was to remember. But Bollinger was a tool for seduction, not to be drunk alone, and in all the years Bond had been coming here, never given as a gift. Bond smirked, turned away, and reached up behind the camera. He was fairly sure that a wire had come loose, and he was right, as it happened.

“Must be a special sort of bird,” George said, disappearing into the back room again.

“Yes he is,” Bond said, quietly amused. George didn’t hear him. Bond managed to get the wire back in place and the light sparked on as the security camera came back to life. Bond smiled in cat-like satisfaction. Couldn’t have George getting robbed while Bond was in Rome.

“What’s the occasion?” George asked, coming back with the bottle of Bollinger and a small bag of ice.

Bond went back to the counter, overpaid generously, and didn’t bother with a bag. He smiled, predatory and slow. “I’m stealing a car.”


 “Do one more thing for me, then you’re out.”

Q stared at Bond, not trusting him for an instant. He was stressed and still sick-feeling from the flight over, angry with himself for coming at all, wondering why the hell it was that he felt he owed Bond this, when all Bond ever did was use him. He wanted to howl at Bond that he had nothing outside of his job at Q-Branch, that he had given up everything to work there, that he was, in fact, legally dead. It was more than just a career Bond was asking him to risk; it was his life.

Christ, those eyes were blue, and so bloody earnest, even if it was just another mask. And then Bond looked down, and there was something like an apology in it, an unspoken please. “Find out what you can from this,” he said, handing Q a ring.

Q turned it over in his fingers; silver, with a wicked looking octopus design on it.  A piece of evidence, and Q remembered something about Bond. As much as he used his friends without mercy, he showed even less mercy to himself. It wasn’t about ego (not anymore) and it wasn’t about pride (as a general rule). It was always about duty. About loyalty. As little as Q had outside of work, Bond had less. As much as Q had given to his job, Bond had given more, and for longer.

Q could have snarled with sheer frustration, because already he knew that he would agree to this, and he knew that Bond knew. He wanted to be furious, but...

Bond wasn’t asking any more of Q than he would ask of himself. And probably, he was treating his friends in exactly the way he would want them to treat him. And that was so infuriatingly noble that Q could just throttle him. He slowly looked up to find Bond staring at him, those clear blue eyes intent and full of…  something.

But Q was too full of pique to try and decipher it just then.  “I really, really hate you right now.”

“Thank you, Q.” That smirk. That bloody smirk. Q would murder him. Providing he lived long enough.


“So, you and I will have a quiet word with C—” Bond’s eyes went to the window and lingered on the slim, shadowy figure leaning against the railing, waiting with Tanner “—while Q hacks into the system and stops it going online.”

M cast a glance towards the door, and Q beyond it. “Won’t be easy.”

“He’ll find a way.” Bond’s eyes flicked to the door, to Q, then quickly back to M. “He always does.” Bond trusted the instinct that told him as much. He trusted Q.

M nodded. Mallory hadn’t been the M to hire Q, but he’d learned the man’s value over the past few years. He knew better than to underestimate the seemingly too-young, seemingly too-fragile Quartermaster. Appearances were deceptive. Bond closed the zip on the bag of guns and ammunition M had brought and settled back into the vaguely insubordinate approximation of parade rest that was as good as Mallory was ever going to get out of him. Fuck you for doubting me, the posture said. I was right all along.

Mallory’s gaze didn’t falter. His eyes were earnest. “It’s good to have you back, 007.” It wasn’t an apology, but it was an acknowledgement. And… there was a something too knowing in his eyes.

Am I back? Bond wondered. He pushed the thought down, settled into himself, into a stance less openly disrespectful. “Sir.”

M gave a crisp little nod. “No time to waste then.” He grabbed the bag and turned to go.

Bond didn’t look back at Madeleine before leaving. They’d talked beforehand. She knew what to do, she knew what would happen. She would be safe, and he needed to be focused.

Out on the rickety fire escape, Tanner gave him a swift nod, before following M down the stairs. Q lingered a little, his deep-set eyes flickering up and over Bond’s face, expression unreadable. Bond’s was equally stoic and impossible to decipher — had to be, because Q actually asked: “Are you alright?”

Bond blinked.

Was he?

He’d recently discovered that the brother of his nightmares was not only still alive, but was actively going out of his way to continue making Bond’s life hellish. He’d been behind the deaths of all the people Bond had dared to get close to. Franz — Blofeld had been manipulating his life from behind the scenes, sabotaging his happiness and indirectly shaping him into the half-broken half-human monster he was today. And yet, despite that, there was a fey blonde creature in the room behind him with a face he could never forget and a sullen way of looking at him that made him feel too old and young again all at the same time. He couldn’t shake the feeling that she was going to be taken away from him, one way or another. They always were.

But that didn’t scare him half as much as the thought that he was on the verge of losing MI6. Even if it was a strange, fucked up place that used him as often as it looked after him, MI6 was more than his job, more than his place of work. It was M and Tanner and Moneypenny. It was Q. It was home.

Was he alright?

“Does it matter?” Bond said at last. There was a job to do. Whether he was alright or not wasn’t overly relevant.

Q swallowed. He blinked fast, looking strangely vulnerable and unreal in the darkness. Otherworldly. “Alright,” Q said, nodding. He understood. Of course he did. “But… Do come back in one piece, Bond.”

Bond didn’t react. His instinct told him that this mission wasn’t like the others. It would be the end of something. He wasn’t sure yet whether or not it would be the end of him, or the end of something else.

Q’s gaze was steely and dark in the half-light. “It’s not a request, 007,” he said, his voice gone frosty and sharp.

A sphynx-like smile tugged one side of Bond’s mouth. Crow’s feet appeared at the corners of his eyes and he nodded once. “Understood, Quartermaster.”

Q nodded again. Bond waved for him to go first, and then followed him down the rickety stairs. Mallory was in the lead, head down and forward, wolf-like in the shadows, with Tanner behind, so ordinary seeming as to be nearly invisible. Followed by Q, slim and almost delicate-looking but more deadly than all of them combined. And Bond last of all, the aging lion on their heels.

One equal temper of heroic hearts, Bond thought, without knowing why. He jogged to catch up with Mallory, so they could finish strategizing. As he passed Q, he put one hand one the man's shoulder and squeezed.


Q hadn’t thought that working in Q-Branch would give him quite so many nightmares as it did, and yet, after everything that had happened since Bond’s disastrous trip to Mexico…

It started with memories: the glass exploding next to his head, bullet passing so close he was sure he could feel it brush his curls, the sound of it deafening.

And before that, on the plane home, feeling sick with more than flight nerves and too nervous of being followed or kidnapped to take anything for it.

And before that, hiding in a storage cupboard between cable cars, holding his breath, hoping to be overlooked.

And before that, trying to get off the gondola and having his way blocked by the strangely knowing eyes of someone he’d never seen before. Looking back at the bald man already in the cable car and seeing an equally eerie and knowing smirk that promised violence. Promised all kinds of things.

He dreamt that they’d come for him. After he got away from them, on the gondola, they’d come for him again, at hotel. He thought it was Bond, but it wasn’t, and then there they were. Smiling horribly.

He dreamt that it hurt. That they hurt him in every way Q had seen over the years of working at MI6. And on some level, he knew that it was just a dream, but he still couldn’t wake from it. And even though it was all a dream, he didn’t talk. He never told them what they wanted to know, even when he heard his own ribs cracking under their fists. He never gave Bond up. Not even in dreams, not even to save his own life. He would never... 

He dreamt that they locked him in a room -- a hot, stifling, bright room. They left him there to die -- if he didn’t die of his injuries, the heat in the room would burn him alive. Slowly.

But before the end there was an explosion, and then there was a cool, calloused hand on his face, a flash of blue eyes, a reassuring voice rumbling through him. He dreamt that Bond saved him…

 

For some reason, that hurt more than the rest of it. The dream-bruises faded when he opened his eyes, panting and panicked and drenched in sweat. The imagined tortures shrank into the shadows when Q turned on the lights. But the dream of Bond saving him, of Bond coming back for him -- that just hurt worse as he regained full consciousness. It was so shameful and pathetic. Because Bond was gone, and he wouldn’t be coming back.

Not for Q, at any rate.

Bond deserved to be happy, Q told himself sternly. Or at least, he deserved a bit of peace. A rest, for once. He deserved someone who would remind him that living really was worth the trouble. And if Bond had found that someone in Madeleine Swann, Q would be happy for him.

Even if it killed him.

Q rolled out of bed. It was three in the morning, but he wouldn’t be going back to sleep now. He could have a shower, some tea. If he got to the office early, he could at least get some work done...


Bond was quietly pleased that his credentials still got him access to MI6 -- though he was pretty confident he could’ve broken in anyway, if he’d needed to. He left Madeleine outside, though he wasn’t quite certain why. They’d been connected at the hip since the bridge, but this… Instinctively, he knew that he needed to do this alone. Bond ran mostly on instinct; it hadn’t failed him yet, and when it told him he needed something, he listened. That was what had brought him to MI6, and that was what told him to ask Madeleine to wait.

The elevator sank slowly down. It smelled like motor oil, concrete, and cordite. In other words, it smelled like Q-Branch, like MI6, like home, and that made Bond smile, even if the sensation was tinted with nostalgia. It wasn’t quite like old times. The early hour turned the familiar into a liminal space: caught between one world and the next. The Branch was too quiet, the building too empty. But Bond knew that at least one person would be here. Because of course he would be.

The elevator ground to a halt. Bond looked up as the doors parted.

Q looked too scrawny to be allowed in the hollow, shadowy vault of Q-Branch’s R&D department, and the way he sat -- lanky limbs pulled in close at the elbows and knees -- made him look even younger and smaller. Two laptops were open in front of him. The desk lamp made a faint warm glow in the chilly pre-dawn light. Steam coiled off a mug of freshly brewed tea -- James could almost smell the bergamot as he strolled closer.

“Bond?” Q said, his head shifting to one side, curiously bird-like.

Bond said nothing -- it could hardly be anyone else, even though he’s been gone for days by now. Q would see soon enough. He let a faint smirk tug the corner of his mouth and then let it fade back into that mildly impassive expression; his resting blank face.

Q stammered, voice catching on an incoherent query for just a moment before he got out: “What are you doing here?” Voice high, reedy with surprise.

“Good morning, Q.” For just a moment, Bond let himself pretend that this was just the start of another mission, and he was just here to requisition the equipment he needed. In a sense, that’s what it was. But he couldn’t resist looking around lingeringly. They hadn’t been in this building very long, but Q-Branch was still Q-Branch, no matter where they put it. He would miss this place.

Q swiveled in his seat and got up to come around the desk. Bond rolled to a stop, settling back, hands in pockets. His eyes flicked over Q. It was impossible to tell if the man had lost weight, or if Q simply preferred his suits to hang off him like he was a half-stuffed scarecrow. The grey suited him though. So did the blue check of his shirt and the dark maroon cardigan. Bond wondered if there were patches on the elbows of this suit too. Something told him yes, because Q was like that and apparently wanted everyone to think he was a child dressing up as an eighty-year-old.

“I thought you’d gone,” Q said, and he couldn’t quite keep the smile off his face, or contain the naked hope that spilled out of him.

Oh Q, Bond thought, regretfully. I missed you too. “I have,” he said, almost apologetic. He couldn’t stop the smile on his face, and didn’t want to. His blue eyes crow-footed at the corners, assessing. This might well be the last time he saw Q, and he was going to savor the moment, even if it was bittersweet.

He opened his mouth, wondering if he could perhaps find the words for the almost-apology he wanted to give. There was quite a lot he wanted to tell Q, but Bond was a man of precious few words -- a polite way of saying that he was a tight-lipped bastard. He’d spent too long training himself to withhold and extract information, he no longer knew how to give freely. If this were Alec, they would have a code phrase for this precise situation. But he and Q didn’t have code phrases, and Bond didn’t know how to say Thank you. I’ll miss you. I’m sorry to ask this.

So instead, he just said:


“There’s just one thing I need.”

The hope withered in Q’s chest, because he knew exactly what Bond was about to ask for. How could it be anything else?

Q knew what his answer would be, too. Because apparently he was just as pathetic as he had always feared. He hadn’t even gotten to work on the car with Bond, like he’d always secretly wanted to. He never got to see Bond leaning over the hood, golden and grease-smeared, and beaming like the sun. No, Q had worked on the car angrily, and alone, and full of bitter regrets. And now he was just supposed to roll over and let Bond have this too?

It was bad enough to think, in theory, that he would do anything Bond asked him to do. It was worse to have that theory tested and proved again and again. He would risk his career, his reputation, his very life for James bloody Bond. Q hated himself, a little. Perhaps more than a little. Perhaps almost as much as he hated Bond in that moment.

Except… Q smiled sadly. He didn’t hate Bond at all. Not even a little bit.

Quite the reverse, in fact.

Chapter Text

What does an international super spy do when he’s having a mid-life crisis? Many of the same, cliched things that other men do; get a ridiculous car, date a woman young enough to be his daughter, travel the world aimlessly.

Of course, when an international superspy does it, there’s a higher body count. Madeleine didn’t want anything to do with her father’s world -- the world of SPECTRE and MI6. And Bond really wanted to give retirement a try, this time. He wasn’t getting any younger after all, and this was what people did, wasn’t it? Still, realistically... Madeleine alone might have been able to hide in peace. Bond alone might have been able to hide, though probably with significantly less peace. Together, they would be a magnet for trouble, no matter how far they ran or how carefully they hid.

One month in, a cell of SPECTRE terrorists caught up with them, and they only escaped alive thanks to those lovely gunports and that beautifully simple bullet shield. The car was practically an arsenal in and of itself, and it had been significantly upgraded during its resurrection. The guns had tiny targeting cameras, the body armor had been improved, and the engine…

It was almost as good as having Q in his ear. Almost.

As the van full of SPECTRE goons went up in flames, Madeleine looked over at him, breathing hard, eyes hooded, and said: “What now?” just as she had all those weeks ago on the train.

They could barely keep their hands off each other long enough to check into the hotel.

 

Afterwards, they lay together, legs still tangled under the sheets, Madeleine’s blonde hair fanned over the pillow and Bond’s eyes fixed on the ceiling.

“And what now?” Madeleine asked quietly. She hadn't asked that on the train, he thought. But things had changed between them since then.

“Not as young as I was, you’ll have to wait a bit, or--”

Madeleine rolled onto her side and put one small, pale hand on his sternum to quiet him. “That isn’t what I meant.”

He knew it wasn’t, but he didn’t have an answer to the real question. He reached up and caught her fingers between his. Her hands were so small and soft, nothing like his own. Even Moneypenny had gun callouses. Even Q's hands were dotted with faint scars from his work in R&D. But Madeleine didn't have the hands of a spy, even if she could shoot like one when she had to. He made himself look over at her, even though he still didn't have an answer, and he was sure that she could see that.

She smiled at him, but it was a sad smile. She understood him, perhaps too well.

“You tell me, then,” Bond said, changing tack. “What now, Dr Swann?”

“I can’t tell you.” She pulled her hand out of his and rolled onto her stomach, propped herself up on her elbows. She stared at him with those all-too-knowing eyes. “I think you are a bit lost, Mr. Bond.”

“Am I?” He tried to sound amused, airy.

“Mhmm. And I can’t tell you which way to go,” she added. “You have to find your own way. Only you can say what's next for you.”

He thought about what she’d said, before they started all this. I can’t go back to this life, and I can’t ask you to change. It felt like a prophecy, somehow. They both had known how this would end before it even began.

He swallowed, and tried to find the words. She was patient. She knew that he wasn’t good at this: finding true words and just giving them away, without them being torn from him or tricked out of him. It went against all his training. Sometimes he didn’t even know what the words should be.

“Can’t I just be lost with you for a little while?” he said at last, looking up at her.

Her smile widened, showing the endearing gap between her two front teeth. “Alright. Why not.”


Eve Moneypenny knew everything that went on in MI6, eventually. On the one hand, Mallory knew everything that went on in Management -- all the twists and turns of politics, all the back stabbings and back room deals. That was his sphere. And on the other hand, there was Tanner, who knew everyone’s personnel file back to front, who knew everyone’s darkest secrets, and pretended not to. That was his sphere. Moneypenny had become the place where those two spheres overlapped: the liaison between politics and personnel. And then on top of that, she had become friends with all the secretaries, which meant that she basically had her her finger on the pulse of the whole of MI6.

So eventually, a missing equipment report crossed her desk. The infamous DB5 had been reported as a lost asset. She puzzled over that for a few minutes. Then, on a hunch, she checked over the logs, seeing who had checked out the car, and then reported it gone. She found a very contrite missive from the Quartermaster himself, who said he had taken it for testing and then there had been a malfunction.

That… seemed very unlikely. By now she knew that Q had stolen the car in the first place, and wondered briefly if that was what had happened here. But it didn’t quite fit. Moneypenny did some more digging, found that he’d been alone in Q-Branch in the wee hours of the morning when he filed the report. Further digging showed that someone else had been in Q-Branch earlier; someone whose access badge really should have been revoked, but wasn’t.

At that point, Eve cottoned on.

She was so incandescently angry with Bond that she briefly contemplated putting a hit out on him. She had the connections. She could do it. And Bond had manipulated Q into giving him the DB5. Either Bond knew that Q had a crush, and simply didn’t care about Q’s feelings, or he didn’t know and was just unbelievably dense. Either way, Eve was rather inclined to kill him properly this time.

Bond was supposed to be Q’s friend.

Still. Instead of putting the hit out, she went down to Q-Branch. The Quartermaster was in Ops Support, running a mission for 004. Scarlett was in Paris, still cleaning up the mess that 009 left after he botched that job in the catacombs. R was nowhere to be seen, naturally -- she couldn’t run ops for 004 anymore, that was company policy for couples within the agency.

“Alright 004,” Q said, his voice as soft and controlled as ever. “When I tell you to, climb the fence. But not before -- it’s electrified, and we need to wait for the guards to go past. You’ll have exactly ten  seconds to get over before I turn the fence back on. Understood?”

“I wouldn’t need this if you’d just given me more grenades when I left,” Scarlett whinged over the comms.  

“Stealth missions are not generally compatible with grenades, 004." Something sour in his tone told Eve that Scarlett had already used more grenades than Q would’ve liked.

“Says you.”

“Alright, 004, I’m going to count down from three, then you go up and over. Three, two, one, go.”

Scarlett obliged, the dot that marked her location moving swiftly across the map of the compound.

Gunfire sounded.

“Q, there are a few more guards than you told me there would be,” Scarlett said mildly.

“Well that’s what happens when you set off grenades, 004." He sounded very calm, which was remarkable really, since R was one of Q's best friends and 004 was the love of R's life. But that calmness was what made him such a remarkably good controller in Ops Support. "You have five seconds left.”

“Merde--”  

“Three, two, one...”

Q hit a key and they heard a faint buzzing over the comms, followed by a strangled, gurgling yelp.

Q looked up, apparently unconcerned. “I do trust that wasn’t you, 004?” Eve couldn’t help noticing that his hand was gripping the edge of his desk with white knuckles.

“Of course not, Q darling,” Scarlett said airily. “I am peachy keen, as they say. Can't say the same for the guards who tried to follow me.”

“Well get a move on. You’ve got a busy schedule of assassinations to keep up with.”

“Understood. I’m going dark until I get to the next target. 004 out.”

The comms went dead. Q’s shoulders slumped and he took his headset off, muttering to himself. “Bloody grenades. They have the gall to call themselves secret agents, honestly.” He ran his hands over his face and through his hair. “What's next?”

Eve heard footsteps coming up beside her, so she wasn’t startled when R said: “What brings you down here?”

She looked over at Q’s second-in-command. R’s hair was artfully curled today, sweeping across her shoulders in a retro style that suited her round face beautifully. “Nothing in particular. Scarlett’s on to her next target, safe and sound.”

“Of course she is,” R said smugly. “And how’s our boy holding up?” she added, nodding to Q’s back.

“Scar threw more grenades than he would’ve liked.”

“Of course she did.” A fond smile curled R’s crimson-painted lips. She sounded terribly proud.

“So. How would you say he’s doing?” Eve asked.

R lifted a brow. “Checking in on him?” she spoke lowly -- neither of them wanted to be overheard in the Branch proper.

Eve lifted a shoulder. “He’s arguably one of the most valuable assets we’ve got,” she said. “Checking in on him is the least I can do.”

“Mm.” R didn’t seem convinced. “Well. He overworks himself.”

“Don’t we all?”

R’s smile was sad. “Q takes it to the next level. Especially since all that SPECTRE nonsense. He hasn’t snapped yet, but...”

Eve raised both eyebrows. “Is that likely?”

“By my calculations, he’s been averaging about 4 hours of sleep a night for the last month…” R shrugged. “He’s managing, for now.”

Eve folded her arms and looked back at Q. He was back on the comms, talking 003 through a relatively simple bit of hacking. He seemed composed. No more stressed than anyone in a job like that would be. His voice never wavered, his calm never faltered. “It doesn’t show.” Which was worrying, to be honest. That cool control that Q held onto with both hands… There could be fractures underneath and who would know? Who would Q talk to? Like everyone in MI6, the Quartermaster had regular meetings with the psych staff, but... “The therapists are supposed to let Tanner know if there’s cause for concern..." There was an unspoken question there.

“And you can bet your arse that the Quartermaster knows that,” R said drily. She shook her head. “No, he’s good at hiding it. But don’t worry, I speak fluent Quartermaster. If he's ever in serious trouble, I’ll let you know.”

“Right.” Eve paused. “If I arranged for him to get some comp days, would that help?”

R considered. “It wouldn’t hurt, I don’t think. But let him run a bit longer, he needs to…” R winced. “Forget, I think.”

Eve thought of Q’s hand, white-knuckled on the edge of his desk, and his slumped shoulder, and the weary way he said what’s next? She thought of Bond, probably fucking his way across Europe in Q’s bloody car. She knew how much Q had loved that car, and worse -- Bond knew. And Bond had doubtless known that Q wouldn’t refuse him anything. Because Bond was a horrible person like that.

She imagined, vividly, what it would be like to break Bond's nose with her fist. Or to stand over him with her heel on his carotid until he understood that he simply wasn't allowed to hurt Q that way.

And then she wondered when exactly the Quartermaster, arguably MI6’s deadliest asset, had become her baby brother.

She also wondered what the hell Bond had been thinking when he took that car.


The truth of it was that Bond hadn’t been thinking at all. He was a man who ran on instinct more than anything else. He never slowed down long enough to think about the consequences. He took what he needed to complete the mission, and right now the mission was…

He wasn’t sure what the mission was anymore. Protect Madeleine, but the truth was that Madeleine could protect herself -- and she could protect herself better when he wasn’t trailing after her constantly setting things on fire.

But he’d just learned that there was a reason that he’d spent his life miserable and alone. There was a reason that he lost everything, over and over again. There was a reason, and that reason had a face, and that face had once been a brother to him (albeit a brother from the depths of hell). So perhaps the mission was to be happy, to figure out what happy looked like to him, free of MI6, free from duty and murder and all the rest of it.

It seemed that happy was not something that came naturally to him.

Madeleine wanted to find another clinic, in a beautiful remote place, somewhere she could feel safe. But James didn’t feel safe sitting still. So they compromised; moving from one beautiful, remote place to another. They never stayed long enough for Madeleine to feel safe, and they always stayed too long for James’s comfort.

But an adjustment period was to be expected. He’d always known that retirement wouldn’t be easy for him. Three months in, though… he’d have expected things to be getting easier, not harder.


R came to Eve’s desk late one day, after Mallory had left -- after nearly everyone had left for the day. Eve had been about to leave, herself, and by the way R had her leather jacket on and keys in hand, she’d been about to leave too. “Moneypenny?” R said.

Eve looked up. “Yes?” she asked, but by R’s expression, she could guess what was coming.

“I think it’s time for Q to take those comp days, but…”

Eve sighed. “Don't tell me. You’re having some trouble prying him out of his office.”

“Bingo. I could probably get Scar to actually carry him out but...”

Eve shook her head. “You go on home. I’ll take care of it.” Eve had a certain amount of authority over Q that R, as his direct subordinate, lacked.

 

After the business with SPECTRE, Q had refused, point blank, to move into the CNS building. Mallory hadn’t just backed him, Mallory had joined him. MI5 could help themselves to Denbigh's old digs; MI6 would find their own home. All talk of a Joint Intelligence Service had been tabled for now. Both M and the new C thought it best.

They renovated the modest little Victorian warehouse/office block on top of the Q-Branch vaults. Upgraded security, reinforced construction, improved network capabilities, and a few other additions… but the brass plaque on the front door continued to read: UNIVERSAL EXPORTS. It wasn't as if every passerby needed to know where MI6’s new HQ lay.

So it was an easy walk from Moneypenny's office above to the Q-branch vaults below.

She found Q in his workshop. She wasn't surprised to see him working with the now-familiar yet still-sinister bulk of Silva's old laptop. Q hadn’t said what he was getting out of the machine, but Eve was clever enough to know that Q wouldn’t still be bothering with it if he wasn’t getting something.

He looked like shit. Eve had been keeping an eye on him, had watched him deteriorate. At first, his increased hours in Q-Branch had meant more gadgetry, more innovations. But projects snowballed, and exhaustion was a relentless bitch. Lately, productivity had plateaued, and the sag of Q’s shoulders had increased. She was pretty sure that he’d lost weight too, and frankly he didn’t have much extra to lose.

Q looked up from his laptop, lips slightly parted. His eyes tracked over Eve's face, blinking sluggishly. He looked ten years older. There was stubble on his chin for God's sake. She hadn't even known he could grow a beard.

“R sent you,” Q said. It wasn't a guess. “You're about to tell me I have some comp days I need to take this week.”

Eve stared at him, wondering how he'd gotten all that just from her arrival and her expression. “Don't you ever get tired of being the cleverest person in the room?”

Q smiled wanly. “You have no idea.”

He’d meant it lightly, but there was weight to the words. “Come on,” she said. “Pack that in. I’m driving you home. And I don’t want to see you back here for at least forty-eight hours.”

Q didn’t argue. He closed up Silva’s laptop and locked it away in his desk. He packed up his own laptop as well. She watched him, concern and worry rolling off her in waves. She hated to see Q suffering like this. The bastard was actually, literally pining away before her very eyes. And it was breaking her heart. “Maybe you should get Lou Ponsonby’s number,” she suggested. Q had asked once, and she’d refused, but she wouldn’t have the heart to, now. Not if there was even an off-chance that it would help Q recover from Hurricane Bond.

The flat, withering look he gave reminded her that this was very much not her lane, and she should probably have said nothing. Q sighed, looking resigned and… a bit humiliated, Eve thought.

“That... did not help,” Q said, with all the dignity he could muster.

It took a moment for Eve to realize what Q meant. Oh. Poor Lou. He had been looking a little strained and unhappy a few days ago. A messy break-up of sorts, he’d said. Poor Q.

“Stop pitying me,” Q said irritably. “And stop being cross with Bond. You can’t blame him for trying to be happy. It’s my own fault for letting it get this bad. I can have my terrible coping mechanisms, like everyone else in this hellhole. Overwork won’t kill me yet. And anyway, there’s no point being cross with Bond.” Q looked down, aggressively snapping the clasps on his laptop bag. “He’s gone.”


James started falling back into old habits. He hunted down any SPECTRE remnants foolish enough to come after them, naturally. But he also monitored SPECTRE’s communications almost out of habit, and occasionally dropped an anonymous tip in the direction of MI6. It was a kind of hobby. Madeleine hated it, but she’d said she wouldn’t ask him to change, and she was true to her word. He wanted, intellectually, to stop, but he couldn’t help feeling he had to… keep his hand in the game as it were. He didn’t want to lose the skillset he’d devoted his entire adult life to developing.

Once SPECTRE was really gone, then he could figure out how to properly settle. Surely.

Seven months in, someone started following them. And because James couldn’t quite stop being 007, he noticed. They were living in a small town in Alsace, near the fancy spa clinic where Madeleine was doing some temp work. One morning, he told Madeleine he was going for a walk. She said something vague but she didn't even look up from the medical journal she was reading.  

He went out into the town, apparently heading to the shops. When he felt the tail behind him, he turned as though heading for the cafe he’d been favoring, then doubled back back down a side alley and a moment later he was appearing behind his tail like a wraith. He grabbed the man's arm sharply and yanked it up behind the man’s shoulder blades, pulling him into a hold that was almost impossible to break.

To his surprise, his pursuer twisted and flexed out of the hold with ease, as though this were just the next step in a dance they’d done a thousand times before. The hood of his sweatshirt fell back as his pursuer-turned-target-turned-attacker twisted, blocked a punch, and pinned Bond against the whitewashed stone with one beefy arm.

Alec Trevelyan grinned at him; grey eyes savage and sparkling. “Easy, lad. Buy me dinner first.”

The tense readiness was gone from Bond’s shoulders when he said: “What the hell are you doing here?”

Alec released James from the hold and smoothed down the front of James's very French cardigan, which had been rumpled in their fight. “Paying respect to my elders. How are you?”

“Dying for a coffee. Join me?”

 

They end up having wine instead, sitting out on the patio and soaking up the sun indulgently. “Retirement suits you,” Alec said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you looking so… healthy.”

“Is that a sneaky way of saying I’ve gotten slow and fat?” James resisted the urge to rub the bruise coming up where Alec pushed him against the wall.

“Oh come on. You can’t still be sore that I pinned you. I always win in hand-to-hand.” Alec leaned back, smug as ever. “I’m just better, you know that.”

James rolled his eyes. “You still haven’t told me what you’re doing here.”

“I’ve got a few weeks off, changing from one… department to another, as it were.”

James hummed. That meant that Alec had completed his most recent mission and was being moved into another. He’d heard through the grapevine that the organization Alec had infiltrated had gotten busted. So that mission was over, but Alec’s cover was too valuable to be thrown away completely, so probably Six was having him keep his head down for a bit before he went back to Siberia to infiltrate another bratva. Or maybe they’d take pity on him and send him somewhere warmer.

“And what about you? How much longer are you planning to do this?” Alec asked, swirling his wineglass on the table. The red inside was lit through with sunlight, turning it crimson as fresh blood.

“Retirement is meant to be a permanent position, I hear,” James said, amused.

Alec just scoffed.

James lifted one brow.

Alec’s brow furrowed briefly, a disbelieving smile creeping onto his face. “No. Really? You?”

James shrugged. “Is it so hard to believe?”

“Yes.”

“You’re always telling me that I can be happy if I just… what was it? ‘Grow a pair and take it?’”

“True enough, but… I mean…  are you?”

“Happy? Course I am.”

Alec’s eyes flickered over James’s face and shoulders, like he saw something there that James didn’t. “Alright. Well. Congratulations then,” Alec said. “Free at last, is it?”

“I’ll drink to that.”

They did, while waiting for the food to arrive. They ate in silence for a moment, but Alec wasn’t quite ready to let it drop.

“Retired people often keep doing their old job on the sly and for no pay, do they?” he said mildly, wiping the corner of his mouth with the napkin, eyes wide and innocent.

James just rolled his eyes again.

Alec lifted both hands in mock surrender. “I’m just saying, mate.”

“I’m keeping a weather eye out for trouble. Watching my own back, that’s all.”

“Of course you are. Quite natural. And for the record, I’m with you on leaving MI6, but… I just can’t see you being happy not being a spy.”  Alec shrugged apologetically.

James gave an awkward half-smile at that. “Well… I mean, working for anyone else sort of constitutes treason, so…”

“Ah, don’t be so dramatic. Plenty of us go into freelance after retirement.”

“A freelance assassin is just a murderer, Alec.”

“Whatever you say.” Alec’s grey eyes twinkled, almost lost in smile lines. “Come on,” he said, in a low tone shockingly close to his seduction voice. “You can’t tell me you’ve never considered it. I know I have.”

James gave Alec a narrow-eyed, concerned sort of look. James had never, never considered freelance work. As amoral as he was, the only thing that kept him human was his belief that he served a greater cause. That greater cause was his country. Fucked up as she was, he would rather remove both his trigger fingers than betray the United Kingdom. Alec wasn’t as devoted to Queen and Country as James was, but James couldn’t believe…

“You’re just cranky that they’re sending you back to Siberia.” It was half a question.

“Have you ever lost a toe to frostbite? Not a pleasant experience, I can tell you.” Alec sipped his wine daintily.

James chuckled. “Ah buckle down, you big baby.”

Alec grinned, wolfish. He lifted his wine glass. “For England?”

A knot of anxiety unwound. James lifted his glass. “For England.”


Q found his balance, eventually. It seemed to have been a “fake it till you make it” situation. But at some point Eve stopped worrying about him. He got six hours of sleep a night instead of four or less. His work schedule leveled out. He pulled fewer all-nighters.

When the anonymous tips started coming in, everyone knew perfectly well who the tips were coming from. It was obvious. Mallory even joked that they should just put him back on the bloody payroll. Eve couldn’t help placing a few delicately worded questions Q’s way, but he just rolled his eyes and said “He doesn’t even work here and he still manages to ruin my schedule, honestly.”

But as the tips kept coming in, and Bond kept not coming home, Q’s mood began to deteriorate. The chilly professionalism that dictated his interactions during missions started to seep out into the rest of his life. He snapped at the minions, and even swore at Mallory in front of Eve once. He’d then immediately gone pale and stammered out an apology, but the loss of control spoke volumes.

Eve got it. She did. She felt a bit sore about it herself, and she wasn’t as attached to Bond as Q clearly was. Bond had said he wanted to try retirement. He clearly wasn’t trying all that hard, since he was still basically working.

So why didn’t he just come back?

Something was definitely going on, but by then, Eve had her own thing going on. She begged Q to let her get very drunk at his flat so she could freak out about it. Because he was a good friend, he agreed to this. They sat at Q’s little bistro table and drank gin and tonics -- or, Moneypenny mostly drank and Q mostly refilled her glass.

“He wants to move in together,” Eve moaned, while Q made her another G&T.

“Well, love, you’ve been dating him for what. Almost a year? He sleeps over at your place more often than not, doesn’t he?”

“That’s hardly the point.” Eve buried her face in her folded arms, her voice muffled by the tabletop.

“Forgive my confusion, but that seems like literally the entire point?” A refreshed G&T landed on the table next to Eve’s head and she looked up. Q was giving her a look, lips pursed, quizzical.

Eve took a fortifying sip. “Greg’s a detective.”

Q sat down with his own (barely touched) drink. “I’m aware.”

“He’s not an idiot, he knows I work for the government, and that my work is top secret so I can’t talk about that, and he’s fine with it, but he’s. He’s so. He’s…”

“What?” Q prompted.

Eve just shook her head. She was still a field agent when you scratched the surface, and hung onto her secrets like they were the only thing keeping her alive.

But Q had experience with that sort of thing. “Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this scared.”

That made Eve straighten and pay attention, almost offended.

“Don’t pretend,” Q said coolly. “If I can tell when a double-oh is bullshitting me, a field agent isn’t going to have any luck. You’re bloody terrified of losing this bloke. So what is it that makes him so special, huh? He’s so…?” Q trailed off and raised his brows, waiting patiently.

Eve sighed. “Normal. He’s wonderfully, blessedly, two-feet-solidly-on-earth, honest-to-god normal. And some of the people he works with are right nutters, and his job means that he sees the same kind of shit we see, but he’s still… just an average bloke, and that’s…” She sighed.

“You love him for it,” Q said kindly.

“I really do, Q.”

“And you don’t want to ruin that somehow by moving in with him, because moving in with him means that you need to get him enough clearance to start telling him things, and you don’t want him to ever stop being your touchstone to normality.” He really was very clever.

Eve sniffed loudly. She would not fucking cry. But it was bloody difficult. She nodded.

“That’s good,” Q said, in that frank, matter-of-fact way he used when he was giving instructions from Ops Support. “I know M’s grooming you to fill his shoes one day.”

Eve started -- not many people did know that, but Q just gave her a look that reminded her what he’d just said about trying to bullshit him.

“I’ve always heard that what made the last M so good at her job was that she had a husband, kids, a family. She never lost sight of what she was protecting. We go through a lot of shit, Eve. If you can find something that keeps you sane and reminds you what’s really important, you should hold onto it with both hands.” Q smiled at her and reached out. He grabbed her hand and squeezed. “So trust him. Move in with him. Get him the clearance he needs. You’ll never get bloody anywhere if you don’t.”

“When did you get so fucking smart about this shit?” Eve mumbled.

“I learned from a good friend.” He squeezed her hand again. His smile was tired, and sad, but very kind.

She thumped her head on the table again. “You’re right. You’re right.”

“Of course I am.”

She lifted her head and took another sip. “But what about you?” she asked, changing the topic with all the grace and poise of a stampeding bull elephant.

“What about me?”

“You’ve been in a shitty mood lately, Q. If it’s Bond--”

Q pulled back his hand as though scalded. “Eve. Not everything is about James bloody Bond.”

“Then what is it about?”

“It’s above your clearance.”

Eve’s mouth fell open. “What?”

Q’s expression was blank, unruffled, and completely unreadable.

“You must be joking.” Eve scoffed.

Q didn’t so much as blink.

“Q…” Despite the warming alcohol buzzing through her system, she felt like he’d just thrown a bucket of cold water over her. She knew where Mallory’s kids went to school. She’d been trusted with access to a doomsday scenario bunker, in case M didn’t survive. She knew the full mission briefs of every double-oh agent on duty right now, even those out on ops that weren’t officially happening. It had been over a year since anything was above her clearance. “What the hell are you working on?”

Q didn’t answer. Eve’s dread only increased. If whatever it was was serious enough to put Q on edge, then…

“It’s to do with Silva’s laptop, isn’t it?” she blurted.

He gave her a warning look, then reached out and firmly took her drink out of her hand. “I think you’ve had enough. Let’s put you in a bed, eh?” he said, with false cheerfulness.

Eve watched him going to fetch some pillows and blankets from the linen closet, and reminded herself once again that Q was not her baby brother. Even if he looked like she could break him over her knee, he was MI6’s most lethal operative.


At month nine, James couldn’t pretend that he was happy anymore. It wasn’t that he and Madeleine were fighting, per se. But she had this way of looking at him sometimes, like he’d disappointed her. Like she was looking at him and wishing she were looking at someone else. But perhaps he was just him projecting his own feelings onto her.

Great. Now he even sounded like her in his head.

He was driving too fast for the road he was on, but he’d desperately needed to get out, and sometimes a late night drive at high speed was the only way to feel alive again. Headlights revealed only what was immediately in front of him, and it passed by too quickly to be truly appreciated. But it wasn’t trees or countryside he was looking for: it was speed. It was the act of being in the car, and driving too fast, just an edge of danger, and knowing that he could handle it.

The car purred around him, and he tightened his grip on the steering wheel for a moment, before easing her around a corner just fast enough to make the tires squeal. The car was a comfort and a touchstone to him, a link to his past, to MI6. Without it, he really would’ve been lost. It reminded him to stay vigilant. It reminded him to be ready for anything. Madeleine was, in one sense, good for him; she helped him stay out of liquor glasses and pill bottles. But the car was what kept him sane and reminded him who he was.

Even so, sometimes as he drove at unsafe speeds along unsafe roads in unsafe parts of the world, he felt like a ghost of himself. A grey, faded imitation of James Bond, nearly transparent by now. In rude health, partly thanks to Madeleine's care, but barely even alive, some days. He’d thought that freedom would be more… freeing. He began to wonder whether the things that held you down and the things that made you happy couldn’t be one in the same.

And that made him think of MI6. And he couldn't think of MI6 without thinking of the people inside it. One person in particular was on his mind. But then, this was Q's car after all. So it was natural that he would think of Q. And because Bond was still Bond, it was natural that he should think of Q with an edge of sneaky desire: his memory lingering on slender fingers, the sashay of hips as Q walked away, pink lips pursing against the rim of a tea mug…

Perfectly natural. He was just restless, that’s all. Still adjusting to retirement, and remembering things with rose-tinted glasses.

He slowed down. He needed to turn back, he knew, so he turned off onto a pull-off. He was near the top of the mountain now, and before he turned the car and went back, he stopped the engine and got out. The air up here was crisp, a bit thinner than the valley where he and Madeleine lived, but clearer too.

There were no clouds, and by habit, he found Polaris and orientated his internal compass. The mountains and valleys around him were impressionist shadows, edged with the faint brushstrokes of moonlight. North was that way, over the mountains. Which meant England was just that way, along the line of the valley. And by extension, Scotland lay a few degrees closer to the polestar.

Bond leaned back against the car, tucked his hands in his pockets, appreciating the view in a way he’d rarely had leisure to in his life. It wasn’t as enjoyable as he’d assumed it would be.

SPECTRE had gone a bit dark these last few weeks. Not completely quiet, but quieter. Without their captain, the ship was sinking. That meant that Bond would soon have no choice but to properly retire, to really settle down and enjoy these views and stop daydreaming about a cool, crisp voice in his ear, guiding him through danger… Once SPECTRE was gone, then Bond would be able to relax. Wouldn’t he?

Instinct reached out with slender fingers and touched something in the back of his brain. Whispered in his ear like a voice over a half-broken comm. It wasn’t that literal, of course, and Bond would never have owned up to anthropomorphizing his own psyche, but nevertheless… when instinct spoke, Bond had always listened. It’s time, it said now. Time to go home.

Bond had never ignored his instincts before. But there was a first time for everything. Wasn’t there?

Chapter Text

Bond's latest retirement lasted a whole year. He was actually trying, after all. But some things simply couldn’t be resisted. No matter how hard you threw a ball, it always hit the ground eventually. And no matter how hard you kicked Bond out the door, he always came back.

It happened like this:

 

Moneypenny came back from a meeting with a briefcase of highly classified material. She let herself into M’s office and froze, free hand halfway to the gun hidden under her blazer.

But it was just Bond.

He looked older again; more rugged, more silver mixed in among the gold. He had stubble and she thought of straight razors. Though if he gave her one now, she'd have to think twice about whether or not to murder the bastard. He looked up, and his eyes were the same immortal blue.

He was sitting in M’s chair, and had his feet up on M’s desk.

“Miss Moneypenny,” he said blithely. “Lovely to see you.”

Moneypenny slammed the door behind her. She crossed the room and set the briefcase on the desk with a loud thud. Bond didn’t blink. “Didn't Q give you a watch?”

“I blew it up.”

“Shame. If you hadn't, you might've noticed that you're a year late."

“Am I?” He gave a throaty hum. “Tempus fugit.”

“So do bullets.”

“Ouch.”

“Too soon?”

Bond cocked his head, blue eyes glinting, narrowing. “You’re very angry with me, aren’t you.”

“How clever of you to notice.” She folded her arms and stood with her feet shoulder-width apart. “M is in confidential meetings all day, so if you're here to report in, you'll have to talk to his second-in-command.”

“A mini M?” Bond drawled. “Charming. Where is he then?”

“Bond,” Moneypenny said, without batting an eye. She moved her head very slightly forward, as though about to whisper to him that his fly was undone, or something equally embarrassing. “You're in. My seat,” she enunciated, very clearly, so he couldn’t miss her meaning.

She was absolutely delighted to see him visibly start. He looked down at M’s chair, then back up at Moneypenny. She lifted her brows expectantly, staring him down. He cleared his throat and took his feet off the desk. He rose. “Apologies, Deputy M. Or should I call you N?”

“Ugh.” Moneypenny took the seat Bond had just vacated as he moved around to the other side of the desk. “Don’t think I won’t shoot you. Again.”

Bond chuckled and sank lazily into the chair for visitors. “So what did I miss?”

“Your retirement party.” Moneypenny began to file away the top secret documents into various locked and coded drawers in M’s desk.

Bond scoffed.

“And what happened to Dr. Swann?” Moneypenny said, utterly without mercy. If Bond was here, he was alone again. And Bond’s relationships had never ended well.

But Bond didn’t glare -- he didn’t even flinch. He was smiling a sad smile -- but it was a softer, kinder sadness than she was used to seeing on his face. “Exactly what she told me would happen.”

Moneypenny narrowed her eyes.

“She couldn’t go back. I couldn’t move on,” Bond summed up, in his minimalist way.

Not that Moneypenny needed further explanation. Bond had proven himself incapable of retirement, and Eve didn’t know Madeleine Swann, but she had seen the file. And she did know what it was like to be totally committed to getting away from the world you’d grown up in. A bird might love a fish, but where would they live?

“I could’ve told you that was coming,” Moneypenny said crisply, still merciless.

“You wouldn’t have been telling me anything I didn’t already know,” Bond pointed out. “Still. Thought it was worth my… best shot.” He smirked at her.

She ignored the jibe. “Dr. Swann -- is she alright?” she said, with an unspoken: is she angry at you and likely to come back looking for revenge?

“She’s good at hiding. We parted amicably,” he said, with an unspoken would you believe.

Moneypenny arched a skeptical brow, but allowed that to pass. “Are you alright?” she asked, but with frost over her voice, like she was checking in on the status of some equipment, not the emotional well-being of a person she had once called friend.

“I’m fine," Bond said, starting to sound properly irritated. “It’s been since July, I've had time to get my head on straight.”

"July -- it's October, what on earth have you been doing the past three months?”

“Covering Madeleine’s tracks. Least I could do under the circumstances -- I did promise her father she’d be safe.”

“You should’ve reported in -- we could’ve helped,” Moneypenny argued, temper starting to get the better of her.

Bond narrowed his eyes. He was smirking again. “Did you miss me?”

She scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Not a chance. I’m the one who has to file all the paperwork to cover your pert little arse, remember? You being gone has been like a holiday.”

Bond leaned in, eyes sharp on her face. “Then why,” he said, “are you so cross with me? I know that look. You’re acting like this is personal. I thought you were supposed to be a field agent. You know what it’s like, you know why I did it,” he bit out.

Moneypenny stared him down, giving nothing away. She’d grown too, in the last twelve months. She’d always had a will of iron, but she’d become honed steel. She wasn’t afraid of him. She wasn’t impressed by him. And she certainly hadn’t been pining for him. Bond got nothing from studying her expression, and gave up a moment later, flopping back in the seat.

“Where’s Q?” He sounded downright petulant now.  “I went by the Branch, but he wasn’t there.”

Moneypenny went back to filing. “Oh now you’d like to know,” she muttered.

Bond was staring idly out the window. “Don’t tell me he’s taken the day off. I’m very, very old now, and may die of shock.”

Eve gritted her teeth and shook her head sharply, anger getting the better of her again, but Bond didn’t see. He was still staring out the window. When she spoke, her voice was smooth and calm. “He’s at the same meeting as M.”

“Must be quite the meeting. What’s it about?”

“That’s above your clearance, Bond,” Moneypenny purred. “You don’t actually work here anymore.”

Bond scowled. “Well when will they be back?” His voice was dangerously close to whining now.

“1600.” Eve looked down at the paperwork and now she didn’t bother to hide her anger. “You’re right, you know, I am still a field agent, and I understand why you left but not all your friends are--”

“Moneypenny,” Bond cut her off. She looked up sharply -- his voice snapped with tension. Bond’s face was alight with something dangerously close to fear. “It’s half past.”

She looked at the clock. The building where they’d had the meeting was only ten minutes away, and she’d not gotten an alert to say they were running late. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled. Something had happened. "Shit,” she said, soft but vehement.


Q woke slowly, with his ears ringing and his whole brain throbbing unkindly. His neck ached too, the muscles screaming from the base of his skull all the way down to between his shoulders, from the weight of his head hanging forward. He tried to lift it, and winced, a pathetic sound escaping him. He tried to lift his hand, and found he couldn't move his arms.

Then the fear set in. He snapped awake fully, adrenaline singing through him. The last thing he remembered was being in the car with M. He'd been angry... angry about how the meeting had gone, about what the big wigs had decided to do about The Rat Trap. He remembered looking up, and seeing the driver, Stephens, looking back at them, and then... nothing.

Now, he was tied to a chair, ropes tight around his legs, arms and chest. He’d been stripped down to his boxers as well, which was just spectacular. Exactly what he wanted. And his glasses were gone. All he could see was a blurry nothing.  His breath quickened -- and it hadn’t exactly been slow to begin with.

How fucking marvelous, he thought to himself with a thrill of panic.

He squinted, but he couldn’t see anything. Everything around him was blackness. He had no idea if he was being watched, or if there was anyone else in the room, or where he was. It was cold, though, and his skin was already prickled up with goosebumps. The room had a kind of muffled, absolute quiet that reminded him of M’s office. Soundproofed , he thought.

Oh lovely. Just bloody lovely.


It took sixteen grueling hours for Eve to get Bond reinstated. He raced through the tests with a snarl on his mouth. As acting M, she had the authority, and as Moneypenny, she knew exactly who to harass to get the paperwork through at lightning speed. It was made easier by the fact that Bond was actually in good shape this time. Better shape than he'd been in when he left, as a matter of fact. Even his psych eval was surprisingly OK. Dr Swann had been good for him.

Although clearly she hadn't been able to do much about his underlying impulse control issues, because as soon as he got his clearance back, he decided to take his considerable temper out on the poor bastards at Q-Branch. Moneypenny came down to find Bond raging away like a hurricane while R turned progressively redder and more furious.

“How could you lose someone -- much less the head of MI6 and the fucking Quartermaster -- in that Orwellian hellscape out there?!" Bond raged at a cybertech who probably didn’t fully deserve it. The tech seemed to have progressed beyond either fight or flight and become more or less comatose.

“007, if you don’t get the fuck out of my branch and let us work, I will shoot you with my taser until you piss yourself,” R snarled, with a surprising amount of vehemence and an even more surprising lack of fear, given that R was barely 5 foot talls. But then, it took a very special sort of person to date a double-oh, and Scarlett was almost as terrifying as Bond, in her way. Also, R hadn't taken a break since Q disappeared. Seventeen hours ago now. No leads yet.

Bond responded by kicking over a chair, childishly. It flew into the empty space between rows of desks, clattering alarmingly on the tile. “It's not your branch,” he barked back, absolutely feral.

“That's enough, Bond,” Moneypenny said sharply.

Bond looked like it bloody well wasn’t, as far as he was concerned, but he stormed out instead, leaving a profound silence in his wake.

R took a deep breath and let it out, eyes closed. She opened them and glared at Moneypenny. “Do me a favor and murder him, won’t you?”

Moneypenny just quirked an eyebrow. She didn’t need to say more. R’s mouth twitched. She looked exhausted, and wracked with guilt. This was at least partly their fuckup to clean up, after all. Bond’s little tantrum was an unprofessional overreaction, but that was his specialty. And it wasn’t like he was wrong. They had lost M and Q in the most heavily surveilled city in the world.

“You will fix this,” Moneypenny said, and though the words were stern, they sounded fortifying too. “But for God's sake take a nap or something, you’re no use to him dead on your feet.”

And then she left, heels clicking on tile through a deafening, chilly quiet. As soon as she opened the door, she heard the Branch erupt into activity, eager to repair their mistake. No one could be more motivated to find Q than they were. Well… perhaps one person was.

Bond was still in the hall, pacing like a caged thing. She hadn’t seen him like this before. Bond was usually so cold in a crisis, so detached. He was like Q that way. But there was something terrifyingly powerful in his rage, the way he seemed barely able to keep a lid on it.

She could use that.

“M’s Office,” Moneypenny said, every syllable a honed blade. "Right now.”

Bond’s lip curled, but he still paced after her like she had him on a lead, however tenuous and taut.

Once they were back in M’s office, as soon as the door was closed, Bond whirled on her. Moneypenny raised one finger. “Speak to me the way you spoke to that tech and I’ll do more than threaten to shoot you. And I don’t have a taser.”

Bond closed his mouth, nostrils flaring. “There is a mole in MI6,” he said, flatly.

“I’m well fucking aware of that,” she said. This could only have been planned with help from the inside. The worst of it was that the mole was almost certainly inside Q-Branch. Who else could’ve orchestrated that disappearing act?

“You need to cut me loose,” Bond added, his eyes as blue-hot as blowtorches.

“I really don’t,” she said.

“I've been out of the loop for twelve months, so you know I'm not the mole.”

“Do I?” she challenged. “Twelve months and you happen to come back the very same day that M and Q are taken? Would you trust you?”

Bond said nothing, nostrils flared and jaw clenched tight. “You got me cleared for service,” he pointed out through gritted teeth. “You're not going to bench me now.”

She wanted to trust him. Her instincts were screaming at her to trust him, that he was the only one she could trust. And yet, logically, she knew she shouldn’t… “What made you come back?”

Bond’s expression shuttered over. “Nothing in particular,” he said.

“Bullshit,” she said flatly. “Bullshit.”

“I…” Bond gritted his teeth and paced over to the window. The sun slanting in through the window sketched his outline in burnished fire. He half turned towards her. “I’ve been listening in on SPECTRE’s communications, but they’d gone… quiet. I thought. Maybe they were done. Maybe I was done. Maybe I could...”

“What?” She found herself smiling incredulously. “Come home?”

“Yes,” Bond said, sharp like broken glass.

Moneypenny stared at him. He looked away, hands tucked back in his pockets, staring down at the city, all coiled power waiting for a release. “What were you hoping to come home to?” she asked quietly.

Bond didn’t answer.

“Bond, I’ve never seen you lose control like that before,” she said. “You need to tell me--”

“I don’t need to tell you anything. You need to tell me what he was working on,” he said, cutting her off.

And they both knew he wasn't talking about Mallory.


The darkness started to press in on him, and when Q began seeing faces in it, he knew he needed to do something because sensory deprivation was actually an extremely effective form of torture. He had no idea how long he had been here, and the longer he stared in the dark, the more time stretched and distorted around him, the tickling fingers of madness just beginning to tease.

He just had to hold on. They would be looking for him already. If they didn't find him within three days, his own emergency protocols would take effect and help them locate him. Hopefully.

He just had to survive.

He began visually calculating Fibonacci out ad infinitum. It was terribly soothing, but not quite soothing enough to fully silence the voices that he knew weren't really there.

He might have drifted into a fitful sleep. He wasn't sure how long he’d been in there when a door creaked open. He flinched away from the harsh fluorescent light that came pouring in. He couldn't make out more than vague shadowy shapes without his glasses, but the hands that grabbed him roughly and started untying his bonds were too real, too vivid. His skin crawled.

They grabbed him by the arms and dragged him out into the harsh light. Q didn't struggle, didn't say anything. His resistance to interrogation training had focused almost entirely on self preservation, because he was too valuable. Too valuable for a kidnapper to simply kill, and too valuable to go unrescued. He just had to stay silent on what mattered without antagonising them too much.

He did, as it happened, have a cyanide molar -- one of a very few non-field agents who did. But he honestly didn't think he would have the guts to use it. He’d seen what it did to Silva. It wasn’t meant to be a pleasant way out. It was meant to be a last resort.

He half wished he’d asked for the explosive alternative, like Bond had.

They brought him into another room. He felt bare concrete under his feet, and briefly, a drain. He stepped in something wet and sticky. He looked down and saw a vague mess of red. A coppery metallic tang filled his nose. He tried to look around, but without his glasses, everything was fuzzy and indistinct. There were the two men holding him. He thought there was another man standing by a table, and another man sitting in a chair. Very still.

Mallory, Q guessed, squinting at the seated figure.

“M here is having a little rest,” said a voice -- the man by the table. He sounded Spanish, or perhaps Portuguese. “You’re here to entertain us in the meanwhile, Quartermaster.”

Q was hauled off his feet and tied down -- to what felt terrifyingly like a surgical table. He dug deep and tried to remember training. Focus on your breathing, deep and even. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Don’t tense up. He started calculating the Fibonacci spiral again.

“Open his mouth for me, won’t you?”

One of the first things they did was pull his cyanide molar. That was before they even started asking him about the Rat Trap.


 “He called it the Rat Trap. It was Silva's laptop that provided the base coding. It's a programme designed to hack into any system. It goes on a flash drive or a hard drive or whatever. It has to be physically plugged into the network, but once it's in, it can't be stopped. Firewalls, security measures, they’re useless. It gets into the system, and does… whatever you want it to. Copy information, wipe drives, lock out users.” Moneypenny paused, took a breath. “That's what the meeting was for; to decide whether to actually commission a full prototype, whether the risk outweighed the benefit. If it fell into the wrong hands...”

“It started out in the wrong hands,” Bond pointed out in a growl. “I’ve no idea why you thought it wouldn’t find its way back there.”

“Yes. That's rather the point. Q didn't wholly approve, I don't think. Although I’m not sure. To be honest, a lot of it was above even my clearance, so.”

Bond was still staring out the window. The sun was well up by now. Eighteen hours since Q and M disappeared. He had gone still; his expression closed off. “Who did know about it?”

“Q was working on it alone,” Moneypenny said. “So it was just him until a few weeks ago when he finished his designs.”

“Right around the time SPECTRE went quiet,” Bond rumbled darkly. “I should’ve bloody known.”

“That’s when M was told, and M told the new C and the Home Secretary. They’ve kept it quite the secret.”

“But you know.” Bond’s eyes were turned on her, cold and calculating.

“Since yesterday morning,” Moneypenny said calmly. “But by all means don’t trust a word I say. There’s no obvious suspect here. So if you’re smart, you’ll consider everyone a suspect.”

“I always do,” Bond said, without the slightest flicker of emotion on his face.

Moneypenny pursed her lips into a narrow line. "Trevelyan is back in the country, too, you know. He's on leave but -- "

"I know," Bond said. "But he could be compromised. I'll work alone."

She nodded. Then she turned away from him and went to the desk, pulling open a small drawer. “They'll keep them both alive. They’re too valuable to kill.”

“That's what I'm afraid of,” Bond told the window softly.

“Here.”

He turned and found Moneypenny offering him a discreet little earwig. “It’s one of M’s personal comms. Secure as it gets. You have one, I’ll have one. You get out there, see what you can dig up. I’ll try and root out the mole here, keep you up to speed.”

Bond just nodded. She's could see him slipping out of himself, into some other skin. Or perhaps he was slipping back into his true self. It was hard to know whether 007 was part of Bond, or Bond was part of 007. His blue eyes turned glacial. He put the earpiece in with short, efficient movements. His gaze was cold, disconnected.

Instinctively, she felt that it wouldn’t be enough. And she trusted her instincts. She needed more than 007. She needed Bond, in the place beyond his impersonal agent self. The place where his rage lived. The place that had no limits, and accomplished the impossible because it was what was needed.

“Bond,” she said. He looked up.

For a moment, her lips wanted to seal over the words. What she was about to say… It was a knife wound too deep to exist between friends. But M and Q’s lives were on the line. He didn’t need her to be a friend. And she didn't need him to be cold; she needed him to be a towering inferno.

“He never got over your leaving like that,” she said flatly. “Never.” She didn’t need to elaborate. She wasn’t stupid. She knew who Bond had really come back for, perhaps better than Bond did.

Emotion flashed across Bond's face -- for a moment he looked at her like she really had stabbed him. Then he looked like he might stab her. Then he reached for his agent calm again, but missed rather badly and hit white-hot fury instead. The wrath of God incarnate. A muscle in his jaw went tense and twitching. His fingers curled like they wanted to wrap around someone’s throat.

She nodded. “You’re ready. Now go find them.”


Q kept thinking about the Bahamas. He wasn’t sure why; it had been ages ago that Bond went to the Bahamas, and Q had stood by on the line listening to Bond being poisoned. Ages since he watched Bond convulsing in a carpark while Medical talked him through counteracting whatever was trying to kill him this time. Since Bond asked him to save his latest conquest, and Q had discovered, to his mortification, that this latest conquest was a man .

It wasn’t that Q wasn’t sure why he remembered that particular mission; it was seared into his brain indelibly. It was just that he wasn’t sure what made him think of it now . Perhaps it was his brain trying to find a happy place, which led naturally to cliches about tropical islands. Which then led naturally to Bond.

But Bond was long gone, and Q was a long way away from the Bahamas.

He was back in the dark and soundproofed room. His chair was gone, and they’d tossed him on the floor. They’d given him a gallon jug of water, some crackers, and a bucket. He’d adjusted to the chill of the room, and stopped shivering, which was good because shivering hurt. Breathing hurt.

The missing molar ached dully, but they hadn’t taken any more teeth, so that was a blessing. Though undoubtedly they would eventually, and his mind skittered away from that thought like a roach from light. They’d left his hands untouched -- they said he would need them to programme the Rat Trap for them. He’d refused, of course. He would continue to refuse, no matter what. They’d stuck to fairly run of the mill beating at first but…

The soles of his feet shrieked and throbbed.

He tried not to think too much about what had happened when they stopped beating him and moved on. At that point, his screaming had woken Mallory and they’d thrown Q back in this cell so they could go back to interrogating the more valuable M. Anyway, the solitary confinement was just as hard on Q’s sanity as the pain.

He needed a distraction. Perhaps he could recite a book series from memory -- but that just made him suddenly fretful about his cats. Poor Potter and Weasley. How long had he been gone? Would Moneypenny remember to feed them when their automatic feeders ran dry? Or would she be too busy to think of it? As soon as he thought that, he could hear their plaintive meowing, grown weak with hunger, trapped in his flat and starving to death.

And if they died, that would be the end of him, too. Why had he made his emergency protocols dependant on his bloody cats ? Why had that seemed a good idea?

He pressed his hands against his closed eyes. The bruises there blossomed painfully, a dull throbbing ache through his orbital ridges. Perhaps he could just… if he could just get away from this somehow. He’d always lived mostly in his head, he just needed to imagine himself somewhere else.

He thought about happy places -- and immediately his traitorous mind took him back to the Bahamas. Again. He groaned.


“Uhhh Miss Moneypenny?” said a tentative, American-accented voice, as Moneypenny was leaving Q-Branch. They’d managed to figure out where the footage had been switched to a pre-record, but they were no closer to finding the missing car.

Thirty six hours now, and she’d listened to Bond snarling interrogations and torturing every SPECTRE goon he could find in London, with just as little success as she’d had.

She turned and saw that she’d been followed by one of the minions. He was new -- a lanky, dark-skinned American expat, a former grey hat. He was wearing a graphic tee-shirt under his blazer, which made her narrow her eyes. This wasn’t some bloody internet startup, after all. But Americans would be American. And she’d reviewed his personnel files herself when Felix recommended him. “It’s Hardison isn’t it?” she said.

“Yes ma’am,” he said -- his accent making the word unfamiliar-sounding. May-yum . “I’m… new.”

“I know. Do you have something to report?”

“Maybe -- yes. Look, at my old job, I sometimes did a little…” he wobbled his head. “Corporate espionage. Type. Work. Anyway. Point is…” he looked behind him, at the door that lead to the rest of Q-branch. “Everybody knows there’s got to be a mole in that room. Nobody’s talking about it, but everybody knows.” He looked back at her with his brows lifted and his brown eyes very wide.

She didn’t even blink.

After an awkward pause, he cleared his throat. “Yeah, so um. Here’s the thing. I’ve been monitoring the network traffic. Going back through the logs. It’s… an old habit.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Did you have permission to do that?”

“...I’d like to plead the fifth.”

“We don’t have a fifth amendment here in the United Kingdom.”

“Right. Um. So I noticed this ping -- a tiny spike in outgoing traffic, exactly the same size, about once a day. And I thought… maybe check who was on their computer at that time? So I went back through the security feeds--”

“Did you have permission for that ?”

“Imma plead the fifth again,” Hardison said, before barreling right on. “I couldn’t figure out whose computer was sending it, but I noticed… the ping only happened whenever the Quartermaster was working in his office, behind closed doors.”

Moneypenny went cold all over. “You want to be quite careful about what you say next.”

“I am aware. And I am not accusing anyone of anything. Except… They say he was working on Silva’s laptop. And I had to ask who that was, and then I thought... maybe this Silva guy could’ve had a failsafe? In case someone disabled the network connections on his laptop. Maybe he had something to piggyback off another laptop and… I don’t know. Distress beacon? It’s about the right size for a screengrab and I thought… Even just a screengrab of whatever someone was doing on his computer would be… telling. But small enough to go unnoticed.”

Eve stared at him, calculating, and he stared back, looking part apologetic, part terrified. She raised a finger. “Say nothing,” she warned.

“No, ma’am,” he promised.

“Good work, Hardison. Get back to it.”

“Yes ma’am.”

She watched him go back into Q-Branch, then turned away. She didn’t put a finger to her ear when she said: “Bond? Did you get all that?”

Bond’s voice was low through her earpiece. “I should’ve shot that bloody laptop years ago.”

“Tell me about it,” she murmured. “So we know how they knew about the Rat Trap. At that point it was just a matter of getting someone on the inside to tell them when Q and M were out of the building. Provide them with the name of the driver and blackmail to get him to cooperate.”

“You do realise you’ve actually widened our suspect pool,” Bond said flatly. Only a handful of people knew about the Rat Trap. Any number of people might know the time and place of a scheduled meeting like that.

Eve pinched the bridge of her nose. “It’s still most likely to be someone in Q-Branch. It could even be Hardison himself, trying to throw us off the scent. Bloody hell. Have you got anything?”

There was a sound, like a body hitting dirt. “Nothing yet,” he growled. She didn’t need to know what he was doing, she decided.

“Meet me at Q’s flat tonight so we can regroup and strategize. I need to feed his cats anyway.”


In the room, with it’s blackness, without his glasses, time passed without meaning. The panic rose and choked him, and then fell back like the swell of a tide; something that couldn’t be stopped, couldn’t be fought, and each time it felt like he would drown in it. And then he wouldn’t, and his overwhelmed mind would check out, like an overheated computer shutting down abruptly for a few minutes, before rebooting and beginning the whole torturous process over again.

He was fairly certain that the room wasn’t actually crawling with insects, but that didn’t make it less disturbing when he saw them. He was fairly sure that his dead parents weren’t snarling and hissing at him, but that didn’t make it less upsetting. He tried talking to himself, imagining himself elsewhere, the pathetic meditation techniques he’d learned, but nothing worked for long. He couldn’t think his way out of this; it was his brain that was the problem.

He avidly wished that they hadn’t taken his cyanide molar. Not that he was ready to use it, but not having it made him feel trapped, a feeling like claustrophobia’s more nihilistic cousin.

Fibonacci alone wasn’t quite cutting it anymore. Too simple to distract him, even while plotting the mesmerising spiral that went with it. Mathematical perfection was not vivid enough to stop the dark from pressing in. He could hear his own heart, his own blood (however much remained in his veins). There were hands in the shadows, reaching out towards him, to paw at him, and prod the burned and blistered soles of his feet. Closing his eyes made not a damn bit of difference, since it was just as dark with eyes open.

He almost wished they’d come back and start hitting him again, just for a change. An idea struck him. A sick idea, but if it worked… he found a bruise on his ribs, with his clean, unbroken fingers, and started pressing at it, sending a dull throb of pain through his chest. He pressed it for one second, then for one second again, then for two, then for three. He imagined the spiral again, charting out its growth by pressing his fingers for ever longer periods against the bruise, marking the passage of time. In his mind, the Fibonacci spiral was a clear, sky-bright, glacial blue. It was a comforting color for reasons he didn’t like to think about too hard.

Chapter Text

It was well after midnight when Moneypenny came around the corner, heading for Q’s flat. Everyone at MI6 was still working non-stop. Three days now, and each second fell with increasing weight. Each click of her heels against the pavement was the ticking of a countdown clock. But they didn’t know what it was counting down to, or how much time was left.

Traffic buzzed by on the main road. In the shadows between one streetlamp and the next, she was joined by Bond. He had bruises on his knuckles that hadn’t been there before. They said nothing to each other as Moneypenny went to the door between the Starbucks and the bookshop. She had a key, and let them both into the narrow hall shared by all the apartments in the building. It was all charmingly bare brick and worn hardwood inside.

Q’s flat was on the sixth floor, and there was no elevator. Bond wondered whether this was all the cardio Q got in a day otherwise spent hunched over a desk or pottering about the lab. He could all too easily see that slim form trudging up these stairs after a long day, narrow shoulders hunched in, laptop bag tucked under his arm, wearing one of his godawful suits. It would probably have patches on the elbows. For some reason, the image felt like a bullet in Bond's shoulder and he pushed it violently from his mind. He unclenched his fists. 

Q’s was the only flat on the top floor -- which was quite convenient for security reasons. Bond noted the subtle signs of extra surveillance installed in the hall, in the stairwell. He remembered them from the first time he came here. He guessed that the cameras were hooked into Q’s facial recognition programmes. 

Moneypenny had another key out. “Q gave me all the access codes and copies of his keys. To refill the automatic feeders for his cats if he was ever… Away,” she finished, as she stuck the key in the lock. She opened it and stepped in, gesturing for Bond to follow. He did and she closed the door behind him. Immediately, she was popping the cover off a discreet little security box by the door and putting her palm against it. This was followed by a code, and then she closed the box.

Something pressed against Bond’s leg and he jerked back.

A cat stared up at him -- an absolutely massive ginger shorthair, not fat, just big. Bigger than some small dogs Bond had seen. “Mrrp?” peeped the cat.

“Mrooow!” said another, much louder cat. This one, the same size as the first, but a black longhair, materialized out of the shadows and stared disapprovingly from the end of the entry hall.

“Alright, alright. Come on you two,” Moneypenny said to the cats, heading off towards the kitchen. They followed, complaining loudly about her lateness.

Bond peered about. He’d only been in the entry hall before, and was desperately curious to see more. There were two doors off to the right. Bathroom and office, he guessed. Perhaps a small bedroom, but his money was on office. At the end of the hall was a little three step rise into the main part of the flat. He’d never gotten that far last time, and for some reason it felt like walking into a sacred space.

Moonlight and a dim glow from the streets filtered through high windows into the two-story living area. To the right, a mezzanine bedroom capped the tight but neat kitchen. An old iron spiral staircase rose up, giving access to the loft sleeping space, and on up to what Bond suspected would be a small rooftop terrace. A little bistro table with four chairs was tucked into one corner of the living area, and a comfy-looking sofa squashed into the other. The tele was a flat screen, mounted flush to the wall, connected to a media computer and some kind of gaming system. It seemed like the sort of cramped, shitty little flat that would belong to an artist or a student, but... 

But Q had stamped his personality on every bloody surface just the same way he'd stuck stickers all over his bloody laptop. The colors were not over-bright, but they were quirky, like one of Q's stupid ties. Everything was comfortable and lived in. There was a teapot on the table, and mugs squirreled away on nearly every flat surface. The ropes of cables that connected the TV to the gaming system and computer were bundled together with zip ties -- and Bond recognized them as the reinforced zip ties that Q-branch had been developing.

Moneypenny was in the kitchen, opening cans of catfood, when the flatscreen came on, flooding the living area with bluish light. Bond’s hand flew to his holstered weapon, then froze.

“Moneypenny,” he said sharply.

She was out of the kitchen and back at his side in a flash. So they were both there when the face on the screen started speaking.

It was Q.

“Hello Moneypenny,” he said. “If you’re seeing this, then you’re here feeding my cats, and I didn’t disable the emergency protocols.”

Bond’s heart was doing something that made him think of digitalis and other cardiac-arrest inducing toxins. Q’s face was wry, self-deprecating. He blinked rapidly behind his glasses. Bond drank in the details with wide eyes: that unruly hair making his whole face strangely top heavy, the nervous way he swallowed, the little mole just there... There was a bookshelf behind his head -- not from work, must be his home office.

This was the first time he’d seen Q in a year, and it felt like flinging himself out of a plane without a parachute.

“Christ,” Moneypenny muttered.

“Hopefully,” the recorded Q went on, talking over her, “I'm just on a trip, or whatever, and I forgot. In which case, ignore all this. But if I’m, er…” he looked up, visibly searching for some euphemism and not finding it. “Missing,” he settled on, “then you should go ahead and log on to the computer in my office. The password is… Something like M,” he said vaguely, looking terribly embarrassed. Obviously he had just realized that perhaps Moneypenny wouldn't be alone, perhaps she had been coerced here, or perhaps his programmes had been tricked. He looked absurdly self-conscious and it was so achingly endearing and all Bond could think was that he would fucking murder anyone who had laid a finger on this ridiculous man. The Q on the screen gave a small, shy flash of a smile, and then the tele went black.

Bond and Moneypenny exchanged a look, and the next instant, Moneypenny was heading back into the entry hall, making a beeline for the office.

There was a truly spectacular three-screen setup dominating one side of the room, and another cosy sofa that looked like it was frequently slept on. There was the bookshelf, as Bond had suspected, loaded with references, and -- like another bullet, but this time to the gut -- a large collection of art books. The poetry of Keats. Leatherbound copies of The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, the Silmarillion. Well-worn paperbacks of a children’s series Bond vaguely recognized, but he’d been overseas when it was at its peak, and missed most of it.

Moneypenny went to the computer and found the power button. A login screen, with two options for users. One was a picture of the scrabble letter Q, and the other was, surprise surprise, a penny.

Moneypenny clicked on the latter and was prompted to put in a password. She glanced back at Bond -- he’d always been faster at guessing passwords. “Something like M?” she prompted.

“Olivia Mansfield,” he said, without a moment’s hesitation.

He was right. A loading screen came up. Bond came to stand beside Moneypenny. Something pressed against his leg again. The orange cat was staring up at him with pleading eyes, even as it licked its whiskers and reeked of cat food.

The programme finished loading. “What--” Moneypenny drew in a sharp breath. “Oh! Oh, Q you bloody, bloody genius.”

Bond looked up. There was a map triangulating. The western hemisphere, then narrowing in on Europe, Great Britain, the southeast, until finally, London dominated the central screen. There were two differently colored dots pulsing in separate locations. One blue, one green. The side screens both showed the unmistakable jumping line of a pulse monitor, and other readings he recognized as medical in nature. The right hand screen was blue against a black backdrop. The left one was green.

Bond’s pulse picked up as he realized what this had to be. The blue monitor showed a quickening heartbeat. “I take it he didn’t delete the Smart Blood files after all,” Bond said mildly.

“And gave himself a dose. Look. Bloody hell, they didn’t even take him out of London,” Moneypenny breathed, pointing to the green dot. It was near the river -- a part of town that Bond recognized as being slightly dodgy. Bond’s eyes flicked to the green pulse monitor. It was a racing, high and fast like a rabbit’s, which made him feel as though he were about to spontaneously combust. Not that he showed it, of course. 

He was out the door a moment later.

“I’ll mobilize a team,” Moneypenny called after him. “We’ll be there in half an hour.”

“I’ll be there first,” Bond threatened, already leaving the flat.


Q felt, very oddly, as though he were floating outside himself. The oppressive silence around him had pushed him out of his body. The instinctive panic felt… oddly distant now. He could feel his heart racing, the sweat that covered his bare skin, but his mind had become unmoored. He was elsewhere. But the elsewhere was just another nowhere. He’d become one of the faces screaming in the shadows.

He'd been here years. That wasn’t possible. But it was more than the three days, he was sure. No one was coming for him.

He wished again for the cyanide molar. He wished for them to come back and beat him. He wished--

The door snapped open without warning. Light stabbed at his eyes and he scrambled away awkwardly, without letting his blistered, throbbing soles touch the ground.

“You ready to talk?” said the man. He was Portuguese, Q was pretty sure -- and his voice was like daggers, over loud compared to the oppressive silence.

Q tried to remember how to talk. Tried to remember what defiance was.

The Portuguese man laughed at him. “Perhaps you are.”

“... Afraid not,” Q croaked at last. “Don't fancy it yet. Check back later.”

“If I remember.”

The door closed again. The light and sound was gone, and Q's brain shrieked into the silence, longing for the stimulation to return.

He shook all over, a violent tremor, heart racing. Then he started screaming.


Bond’s earpiece ended up in the Thames, because he was very tired of Moneypenny snarling at him to wait, just bloody wait you arse--

He certainly wasn’t going to wait. Bond's rage was like an engine -- it drove him forward. He couldn't have stopped, couldn't even slow down. He was too fucking furious, too white-hot with the anger of it. He stole a car, parked it three blocks away from the building Q was in, and ran the rest of the way down side streets and alleys. One block from the place, he skidded to a halt and leapt up onto a fire escape, hauling himself up and then climbing all the way up to the top of the building.  

The building where Q was being held was an old, brutalist dockside warehouse. It was fenced off, and by the signage, Bond guessed that it was scheduled to be refurbished into posh flats. He recognized the name of the company as one that answered to SPECTRE, but he had exactly no time for that now. He scanned the place, spotted one obvious security guard -- the bored-looking, chubby sort, if you didn’t look too close. But he also spotted three other, less obvious security guards patrolling the roof. No helicopter, he saw, which was good. But the guards were well armed.

Can’t go in that way. Bond was used to having this voice in his head. At some point, he’d gotten so used to having Q in his ear that he’d internalized it. Try to find another angle, why don’t you, 007. He could perfectly recall that very precise pronunciation curling around his number. Double. Oh. Seven.

He went back down the fire escape.

 

It simply wouldn’t be a mission of his if he didn’t end up in the water, he thought. But swimming in the Thames was unpleasant even by his standards. The currents were brutal, and unexpected, and the river had the reek of ages. But he’d been a navy man before he was a spy, and he’d always been a strong swimmer.

He cut diagonally across the current, head above water because it was dark, and there was no way he was going to risk opening his eyes underwater and getting some kind of horrific infection. The sound of passing boats covered his approach, and he spotted only one guard here at the dockside. Presumably there were more within shouting distance. As he got closer, Bond let the current carry him more and more, until it swept him right under the old pier. He grabbed a pylon, and waited a moment, listening.

Footsteps overhead. They didn’t quicken or slow. A steady pacing that passed directly over him and then away.

Bond grabbed the edge of the pier and pulled himself up just enough to see. The guard was walking away. Bond pulled himself silently out of the water and onto the pier. He rushed the guard, slit his throat, and swung him over the side in one smooth motion. The body hit the water with a splash, but that could hardly be helped. He’d be spotted soon enough anyway. He raised his Walther and fired two shots. One for each camera winking at him from the shadows. It would be a help to Moneypenny’s team when they arrived. But that wasn’t his primary objective.

If M and Q were here, Bond needed to make sure that they stayed here. Primary objective was to cripple the enemy’s ability to evacuate their prisoners. 

There were two boats at the docks, he made a beeline for them. Two efficient shots turned the engine of one into a smoking mess, and the other one he simply unmoored and turned on the engine, sending it out into the current. No one would be leaving by that route.

Shots hit the decking beside him, and he ran for cover, hands instinctively over his head. He ran, not into the building, but around the side, bullets following him. Those bloody rooftop guards. He raised his gun, aimed at a shadow high above, fired a few shots, and had the satisfaction of hearing someone cry out and fall. He didn't stop, though.

Around the side of the building, he saw a car. The door opened and a burly man was raising a gun. Bond fired first. The man fell.

Bond took the gun that the guard had dropped and shoved it into the back of his trousers. Then Bond kicked the body out of the way and slid into the car. He took a moment to load a new clip into his gun, then started the car -- the keys were in the ignition. Headlights came on. Two figures came out of a side door ahead. He slammed the accelerator and ran them down without mercy. He veered around the corner of the building, and saw, among the darkened construction equipment, two back SUVs. He turned towards them, skidding on gravel. He put down the accelerator and braced for the impact.

It was a satisfying double crunch -- slamming the first SUV into the second, crushing all three beyond driving. The airbag went off in his face, but he was fighting free of it soon enough. He didn’t bother with the crumpled door, just kicked out the windshield and crawled through with his gun raised.

The lights came on, blinding him for a moment. More shots fired, and he leapt through to the other side of the wreck, ducking into the shelter of it as best he could. He scanned the yard. Only construction equipment left out front.

Not very useful for getting two prisoners out through the streets of London, so he left them.

Then he changed his mind.

Bolting from cover sent up another spray of bullets. First they scuffed into the dirt behind and around his pounding feet, and then they pinged off the reinforced steel of the bulldozer. He hauled himself inside, and hurried to get the damn thing started, bullets digging into the roof and all around. The first thing he did was raise the scoop like a shield between him and the guards on the roof.

Then he started the thing rolling towards the main loading zone: the big garage-style door that led into the factory. A few guards came out, saw what he was doing, and dove out of the way. He opened the door to shoot them, then ducked back into the cab and braced himself, watching the closed gate come towards him

It caused his bulldozer only mild inconvenience, and then he was through into the main part of the old factory floor.

He dove out of the cab, letting the bulldozer carry on its merry way. He hit the ground, rolled, and got to his feet running, with his gun raised.

The factory floor was empty. A guard appeared through a door. He fired and the guard dropped. He stepped over the body and went through the door -- a stairwell. He heard footsteps from above -- the guards from the roof, no doubt. 

He went down instead.

He kicked through the door at the bottom and found himself in a fluorescent-lit basement corridor with doors off to the right and left. A guard burst out and he fired without hesitating. The guard went down with a bullet in his throat. A door opened to the right, further down and Bond turned his gun but--

It was M. His hands were bound hastily in front of him, and there was a gun pressed to his temple. So, Bond didn’t shoot. The man’s face was badly bruised, and he was bleeding from one temple, as well as from an assortment of shallow knife wounds. His filthy shirt was open, showing bruises, burn blisters, and lashmarks. His hands and eyes were clean -- in case they decided that they needed his palm print or retinal scan, Bond knew -- but it looked like he was missing several fingernails.

“Sir,” Bond said, low and wary.

“What took you so bloody long?” said M. The gun pressed savagely against his head. Whoever was holding it was well hidden behind M’s body mass.

“Don’t take another step Mr. Bond,” said a voice.

Bond frowned. He recognized that voice, but it took him a moment to call up the hazy memory of sweltering heat, blazing tarmac under his back, a baritone laugh…

“It’s Lippe, isn’t it?” Bond said, not lowering his gun.

“Drop the weapon!” Lippe ordered. “Unless you want to outlive yet another commanding officer."

Bond’s eyes flicked to M. M didn’t so much as blink. There was something fatalistic in that steady stare, and Bond guessed that Mallory wouldn’t blame Bond for his death, as long as Bond shot Lippe after.

Bond paused, eyes narrowed to blue slits. Then, quite deliberately, he winked at M. He lowered his gun, set it on the ground, and kicked it so it audibly skittered across the floor, sliding to a stop between them.

Lippe peered around M’s shoulder, then straightened.

“It was reckless of you to come alone,” he said.

Bond raised his hands. “Guilty as charged, I’m afraid. What did you do with our Quartermaster?”

Lippe laughed nastily. “Wouldn’t you like to know. Your boss here is quite the stoic, but your Quartermaster screams very prettily.”

Normally, Bond took pride in being difficult to rattle, but these words -- they dug into him like fingers in a raw wound. Bond’s eyes went to Mallory’s face, and there was something about the grim set to his thin mouth, the way his brows pulled very slightly together -- he looked faintly ill. Bond took a breath to stop his hands from shaking with the rage of it.

Footsteps pounded closer down the stairwell behind.

“That’ll be my guards. Now if you’ll just kindly put your hands on your head.” Lippe pressed the gun harder against M’s temple.

Bond paused, staring at M.

M winked back at last.

The bound man threw himself forward at the same moment that Bond went for the gun he’d stuffed down the back of his trousers. Lippe tried to get his own gun up in time, but Bond put a bullet between his eyes before he could. There was no time to check the kill, he went sideways to shelter in a doorway as the door behind him burst open and the guards started shooting. Bond tried to squeeze himself further into the doorjamb, and looked across the hall.

Mallory had snatched Bond's dropped gun in his bound hands and was now sheltering in a doorway across the hall. The corridor echoed with the deafening bangs of gunfire.

Bond leaned out into the hall and fired, fired again and again. The guards were taking cover too, it was hard to get a clean shot. He got one cleanly through the eye, saw him drop, winged a second and hit a third right in the throat. Bond fired until he had no more bullets left and snarled his dissatisfaction, tossing the gun aside.

Mallory met his eyes across the hallway. Bond saw him huff an irritated sort of sigh, as if to say must I do everything myself? He raised the gun in his bound hands. Peeked out from cover. Fired once, twice, thrice.

The hall went quiet, except for a small, desperate groan. Mallory fired once more. The groaning stopped.

“Clear,” Mallory said, stepping out into the hall. He held up his bound hands. They were steady, even if he looked about ready to keel over. Bond obligingly stepped over and cut the tie with a knife from his belt. He moved to grab Lippe’s gun, checked how many bullets were left -- the clip was full.

Mallory was stripping guns off the dead guards.  He dragged their bodies into the hall and closed the door to the stairwell. He jammed one of the guard’s weapons through the door handle and looked back at Bond. “Find Q. I’ll hold the corridor.”

“You know where he is?”

Mallory shook his head. “I haven’t seen him since the first day.”

A chill settled into Bond’s bones. “I’ll find him,” he said. “Moneypenny’s sending backup.”

Mallory nodded, not quite smiling, but definitely pleased.

Bond didn’t wait any longer. He started searching the corridor, kicking down doors. Empty room after empty room presented itself. Somewhere overhead, he could hear gunfire. Backup had arrived, apparently from both sides. The corridor turned, but each door presented only more empty rooms. Utilities, storage, filing, unused cells, there was nothing, nothing, nothing. And then--

Bond almost thought the room was empty at first, because it was so dark and so quiet. Then, over the gunfire that seemed to be getting louder now, a faint noise -- a whimper.

His heart skipped a beat. There was a pale shape in the shadows. A bare, skinny back and a dark mop of hair.

“Q?”

The shape didn’t respond. Bond hadn’t thought that fear had any new ways to surprise him, not by now, but he was wrong. He stepped into the room, carefully, as though afraid to see too much. His gun was still almost raised. His eyes adjusted to the half-light in the cell.

Q was on his side, back to the door, curled in on himself, wearing only boxers. His pale skin was marred with splashes of purple, yellow, and green. Bond found his eyes fixing on a bruise in the shape of a boot and felt pure rage suffuse him. The back of Q's neck, where dark hair curled against pale skin, was damp with sweat, despite the chill in the room. Either fear or fever. Could be both. Q's feet were bare, and Bond’s lip curled at the sight of shiny red blistering. Burned. They’d burned the soles of his feet. Not much chance of him making a run for it like that.

Bond approached with caution. As soon as he stepped through the door, he noticed the muffling effect. The room was perhaps eight feet by eight feet. No lights. No sound. Complete isolation, sensory deprivation. Which made it all the more worrying that Q’s hands were clamped tight over his ears, fingers digging into the sides of his head. Like he was trying to block out even the silence.

But he was shaking, and that meant he was alive.

Bond lowered the gun, crouched down, and reached out to grab Q’s shoulder, to roll him over.  His fingers barely made contact with Q’s skin when Q flinched back, rolled over and scrabbled away, desperate. Bond could see his face now -- wild with fear, eyes darting over him, but strangely blank. He looked young without his glasses, despite the shadowy stubble on his chin.

“Q--” Bond said again, low and urgent. He needed Q to speak, needed to hear that voice, needed to know that Q was alright, needed--

Q pushed away until his back was against the wall.

Something was clamped tight around Bond’s ribs, squeezing. He didn’t know what to do with this twitching, feral version of his Quartermaster. It frightened him. This wasn’t how he’d wanted to see Q -- after so long away, he’d been looking forward to Q’s sharp tongue, his frosty calm, his quiet dignity. Instead there was this… Q didn’t even seem to recognize him, and that hurt.

He didn’t know what to say, how to reach Q. He could still hear the distant gunfire, and Q’s hands twitched at each shot. Bond stood and stared down at him, and some instinctively protective part wanted to snarl, to just get Q up and get him out.

Q swallowed. He swallowed again. When he opened his mouth, Bond saw that there was blood on his teeth and it made him feel like he couldn’t fucking breathe. Teeth -- they'd probably pulled his cyanide molar. When Q finally spoke, his voice was hoarse. Bond wondered if it was from long silence or from screaming. “Still not ready to talk,” Q wavered. That voice, usually so steady and musical, was hoarse and wrecked sounding. “Try again next time. Sounds like you lot are busy anyway.”

Bond stared at him. His blonde brows furrowed. Q blinked, and squinted.

Of course Q didn’t recognize him. He didn’t have his glasses. Christ, why hadn't Bond realized--?

“Bloody hell, Q, it’s me," Bond said gruffly.

The eyes widened, staring in Bond’s direction, but clearly not seeing him. Q's lips parted. “...Bond?” His voice was so small, so…

The thing around Bond’s ribs ratcheted tighter. His training snarled at him to grab Q and find somewhere more secure. But he pushed the instinct aside. He glanced out into the hall. The fighting hadn’t gotten any closer. A part of him wanted to go find it, go punch something until the clamp around his chest eased and he could breathe again, but... Moneypenny and Mallory would take care of the remaining guards and secure them a way out. They didn't need him in that fight.

And Q didn’t need 007 right now.

Bond holstered his weapon.  He raised both his hands. “Sorry I’m late,” he said. He crossed the room -- it only took two steps. He sat down beside Q, his back against the wall. “Moneypenny will be down shortly,” he added. “I’ll wait here with you, shall I?”

He looked over at Q, and Q stared back at him. They were shoulder to shoulder, but Q still squinted.

“Still can’t see me?” Bond said, quiet.

Q shook his head.

Bond paused, studying the anxiety writ large on Q’s face. He leaned in. Their shoulders pressed together, and Bond leaned in a little further. Like he was going for a kiss. He knew when Q was finally able to focus on him, because his eyes widened and some of the tense lines of his face relaxed.

Bond smirked.

“Oh you absolute bastard," Q breathed.

“Now I know you can see me.” Bond leaned back, chuckling. Their shoulders were still pressed together. Q’s hand found his upper arm, squeezing tentatively, as though to reassure himself of Bond’s solidity. The fingers shook. Bond didn’t comment on that. He didn’t need to be told when someone was only barely keeping it together. He didn't want to do anything that might shatter the Quartermaster's fragile control.

“Bond,” Q said, after a moment. “Not to complain or anything, but. You are soaking wet. And. You rather reek.”

“Oh ta very much,” Bond said mildly. “See if I ever swim the Thames to save your arse again.”

Q’s fingers didn’t release his arm. “The…” He was still breathing quick and low. Shock, probably. “Are we in London?”

“Never left,” Bond said. He reached over, and brushed his knuckles over Q’s shoulder. Q twitched, but Bond set up a soothing drag, from his shoulder, down towards his elbow, and then back up. His hands were mostly dry, even if the rest of him was still dripping. Q shivered. “Hm. I’d offer you my jacket but--”

“No thank you,” Q said, so primly that Bond smiled. Q didn’t comment on the fingers rubbing against his arm, though, so Bond didn’t stop.

They listened. The gunfire seemed to be subsiding. No way to tell who was winning, though.

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Q said. “But you weren’t… You were…” Q sounded hopelessly confused. Overwhelmed. “I thought you’d gone?” Something about the way he said it… Bond could tell that Q was wondering whether he’d gone mad, questioning everything, wondering whether this was all a hallucination.

“I came back,” Bond said simply.

“I… did they call you back in?” He seemed to be straining to figure this out. Bond swallowed back something bitter and angry. He knew that the effect of isolation on memory and cognition was temporary, it would fade with time, but still… To see Q’s magnificent mind straining to figure out anything at all made him want to bring Lippe back so he could kill the bastard all over again.

Bond didn’t stop stroking his knuckles along Q’s bicep, and Q didn’t loosen his grip on Bond. "This isn't a hallucination, Q."

"That's just what a hallucination would say," Q pointed out.

"You haven't had many hallucinations, have you," Bond said drily.

"No, you're right, even a hallucination of you wouldn't be this good at dodging a simple bloody question," Q grouched, and he sounded so like himself that Bond wanted to just -- just close his eyes and pretend that he really was home, that everything wasn't all so deeply and dramatically fucked up. "I'll ask again, 007--" the number curled off Q's lips and slipped down like the first soothing burn of the best whiskey after a long day "--did they call you back in?"

"No," Bond said. He wouldn't lie to Q right now. Not when Q's skin felt so fragile under Bond's knuckles. "I just… Came back."

"Oh…" Q didn’t sound less confused.

“Pure coincidence I’m afraid,” Bond said lightly.

"I call it excellent timing."

The gunfire stopped, and Q’s other hand snapped up, grabbed Bond’s where it was stroking his arm, and clung. Bond let him. He curled big, calloused fingers around Q's slender, white-knuckled ones and stroked his thumb over Q's knuckles and said not one single thing about it. He knew how to comfort someone, and knew perfectly well what it felt like to be rescued after too long in the lonely darkness. He wanted, achingly, to put his arms around Q, but he was still soaking wet, and Thames water had no business being anywhere near potentially open wounds.

“It’s alright,” Bond settled for saying. “Mallory’s guarding the door at the end of the hall. If it’s anyone other than our people, we’ll hear him shooting,” he said it calmly, matter-of-factly.

“Oh cheers, I feel much better now,” Q said with a brittle little laugh, his voice taut with tension, and his fingers still tight around Bond’s.

Bond didn’t say anything about that, and neither did Q.

“Anyway, Lippe’s dead, so we’ve cut the proverbial head off this particular snake,” Bond said in warm, soothing tones.

“It was Lippe? The arsehole who poisoned you in the Bahamas?”

“Mm,” Bond said. “With a smoothie," he reminded Q.

That made Q laugh, weakly. Bond studied Q’s profile and didn’t bother to mask his concern or check his stare. He just let himself look. Q looked unbelievably young, and thin, and fragile. His head was tipped back, eyes closed, jaw set against whatever was paining him. Probably everything.

Bond knew it wasn’t logical to feel that this was all his fault somehow. He had no evidence to suggest that he could’ve prevented this had he been here from the start, but…

He still felt loss, and knew he had only himself to blame for it. He’d missed MI6 over the last year; missed Moneypenny and Tanner and even Mallory. But he’d missed Q more. He had missed Q with an ache that he tried very hard not to think about. He’d been longing for Q’s snark and cleverness, for Q’s voice in his ear. He'd missed that, and he'd stubbornly, stupidly refused to come back, burying himself in his infatuation, ignoring logic and his instincts and... 

Q shivered violently and his fingers tightened on Bond’s arm and hand. It made Bond’s chest ache, made him feel like he couldn’t breathe. Q should be furious with him. Q should be asking about the car, or sniping at him about the grey in Bond’s hair. But it was clear that it was all Q could do to just cling to Bond and keep holding himself together for a little while longer. It would be some time before Q could be himself again. Bond would have to keep waiting to get that voice back in his ear like it used to be. They weren't home yet.

“Clear,” said Mallory’s voice from the end of the hall. “007, have you got him?”

“He’s here,” Bond called back, without taking his eyes off Q. “I’ve got him.”

He didn’t leave Q’s side.

Chapter Text

Q was overwhelmed. After so long drowning in the dark and quiet, now he was drowning in the light and noise. Blurry figures came into the room, and Q almost screamed in wild, irrational panic when Bond’s hot, calloused hand let go of his. But then a familiar voice said. “There you are!”

“Eve?” Q said, squinting at the slim and blurry silhouette.

“Oh Christ,” Eve was kneeling in front of him, still unfocused, but he thought he recognized the shape of her hair. Her hands fell on his shoulders. He flinched. He couldn’t help it. “How are you?”

“I’m afraid I can’t walk,” Q told her. “My feet…”

“We’ll get you a stretcher,” said M’s voice from the door.

Beside him, Bond moved -- he was standing up, and Q had to resist the urge to grab him, to make him stay. Instead, he hooked his hand around Eve’s wrist as a substitute. “Stay with him,” Bond ordered.

“Of course,” Eve said, her voice tense with concern. Concern for him. He’d known that they were colleagues, of course, and friends, but he’d always imagined that his attachment to them was stronger than their attachment to him. But now, that concern washed over him, shocking him with its strength. Her hands patted his hair gently. He wondered if this was what having a sister was like.

Bond was leaving the room, his wet shoes squeaking on the concrete, and Q swallowed, swallowed again. Shamefully, he could feel his eyes pricking, and he was unspeakably grateful when Eve didn’t say anything about his trembling lower lip, and just pulled him into a gentle hug. It was almost too much -- too much contact, and smells and sounds and sights, but even so… some tension seeped out of him in a thick, shaky sigh.

“Bloody hell,” she whispered. “You just can’t go scaring us like this, Quartermaster. Our tender hearts will not survive.”

“I’m fine,” Q lied, nonsensically. “I’m fine. I didn’t give them anything.”

“Of course you didn’t,” she said. She pulled back, her hands gripping his shoulders. “I almost wish you had, you look like shit.”

“Oh ta very much,” Q said, voice wobbling.

Squeak, squeak -- the sound of wet shoes on concrete was like nails in his ears. “Medical’s on their way down with a stretcher.”

Bond was back. Q let out a shuddering breath. The broad shape of him crouched down next to Q. “Here. I found these.” He was reaching for Q’s face -- Q almost jerked his head away, instinctively, but then there was a delicate brush -- warm calloused hands, and soft-edged plastic.

His glasses. Bond adjusted them on Q’s face, like Q was a child, like he couldn’t do it himself. Q reached up to touch the frames. He blinked. He’d been blind for days, seeing everything clearly almost made his eyes water.

Bond’s face was right there; rugged as he remembered, with a growth of silver-blonde stubble on his chin and a little line of worry between his brows. Q could stare at him for days.

But that was… probably weird. Eve was smiling kindly at him and for some reason, he didn’t mind her pity. He should probably want to punch Bond, but he was just too fucking grateful right now.

“And this,” Bond added, and then he was moving something around Q’s shoulder. A blanket. It was unbearably scratchy against his skin, but he gritted his teeth and bore it. It was worth it to be warm, and to have something solid weighing him down. He still felt strangely… disconnected. Untethered. Shock, he thought distantly. This was shock. It felt like he was floating away.

Bond’s hand fell on his shoulder again. Broad and warm even through the blanket. And Eve was gripping his other shoulder tight. If he was drifting, they wouldn’t let him drift too far.

 

Q’s mind skipped like a needle on a track, like it did all those months ago when the old MI6 exploded.

The next thing he knew, Eve and Bond were picking him up in a gentle chair lift, their arms linked under his knees and behind his back. He roused enough to make an indignant sound at being carried like a child, even though there was simply no way he could’ve stood on his own. Malnourished. Dehydrated. Injured. Traumatized. Bond and Eve were nearly the same height, he realized vaguely, as they ignored his protests. A moment later he was being set down on a stretcher, his throbbing feet carefully stretched out in front of him.

There were med techs all around him, too many of them, too much noise. He seemed to be seeing everything all at once, in confusing flashes. There was Mallory, bruised and bloodied and leaning heavily on Tanner, who looked oddly comfortable in his tactical gear. There was 004 -- Scarlett -- with one sleeve cut away while a tech applied a bandage to some unseen injury. R would be furious. Beyond her he saw 006 -- Alec, who was still meant to be on leave after his mission in Russia. He had a bandage held to the back of his head and was grimacing. Beyond that was 003, Jack Mason, and 008, Billie Charteris, both of them laughing over bullet wounds.

Every double-oh agent not in deep cover, Q realized, plus Eve and Tanner. Also, Tanner seemed to be the only uninjured party.

Q’s throat and eyes burned, and he dropped his head into his shaking hands. It was all too much. Too many voices talking, too much light burning through his lids, hot choking gratitude in his throat and behind his eyes. He tried to tune out the voices, even though on some level he knew the questions the med techs had were important. A growl of sound cut through the chatter, a low voice rumbling something in displeasure. Q couldn't focus on it, couldn't focus on anything, it was all spinning noise and color and nonsense. He tried to block it out. A spiral jumped into his mind, unbidden, and he whispered one, one, two, three, five, eight, thirteen--

He jerked back when a hand touched his shoulder.

It was only Bond. There were fewer techs around him now. He could breathe again. “Lie back, Quartermaster,” Bond said, a warm rumble. Q did, the stretcher creaking under him. The one med tech still standing by had his arm. He was putting an IV in. Q looked over, vaguely anxious about it, though he wasn't sure why. He was certainly dehydrated, malnourished, probably had an infection. “It’s alright,” Bond said, with that easy confidence that seemed to be woven through the very fabric of him. Q believed him. Was too exhausted to do otherwise, anyway. A moment later, Q felt numbness coiling through his limbs, a blessed relief. “We’ve got you, Q. We’ve got you...”


 They didn’t let M and Q go to any old hospital. Instead, both were taken directly to Medical, deep in the belly of MI6, as though the building herself were a great dragon, curled protectively over her most precious treasures.

Q wasn’t up to much conversation the first day. And the second day, an infection that had already taken hold developed into a raging fever that left him pretty well out of it for several more days. M fared better, although he’d borne the brunt of the physical torture. But he’d played that game before. SPECTRE wasn’t much more creative than the IRA. By the time Q was awake, conscious, and recovering from his fever, M was already discharged, and it was just Q left in Medical. Q and whichever double-oh agent was “hanging out.”

While Q was unconscious, the double-ohs had come to a collective Understanding. They didn’t have to discuss this -- double-ohs never were known for their ability to discuss -- but without discussion, they acted. They took it in shifts to hang out in Medical. Just casually. This made Medical extremely nervous, since double-ohs never ‘just hung out’ anywhere, and certainly not in Medical. In fact, for a fully-conscious, unrestrained double-oh agent to voluntarily stay in Medical, while still in possession of all his limbs… It was all but unheard of.

Q slept a lot. His magnificent brain seemed to be coming back online in stages. Every single one of the double-ohs had been in solitary at some point in their careers. They knew how it was, after. Humans are social creatures, craving stimulation. A brain, so long disconnected, so long without anything to process, took time to reboot. Sometimes it came back slightly misaligned, and it took effort to get the settings where you wanted them again. Alec had even experienced sensory deprivation as torture before, and very kindly offered Q some clip-on sunglasses that looked extremely awkward, but blocked out enough of the horrible fluorescent light in Medical to let him see comfortably, without leaving him feeling like he was back in the dark.

Bond even smuggled Q’s laptop down to him, though refused to bring any of Q’s work projects. It was probably for the best; Q still wasn’t confident in his ability to focus, but having the laptop was an unspeakable comfort. And as long as Bond sat beside him, idly flicking through a dog-eared copy of Guns and Ammo, no one was brave enough to tell him he couldn’t be on his laptop.

“Not that I’m not flattered,” Q said, “But I’m also not sure that I merit the homicidal honor guard,” Q confessed to Moneypenny one day, while said honor guard had been ordered away to fetch tea, and probably check that the tea wasn’t poisoned.

“You’re the Quartermaster,” Moneypenny said idly, without looking up from Bond’s copy of Guns and Ammo. “You merit more than that, to be honest.”

Q had no idea what to do with this. Orphans make the best recruits, M had always said. For the first time he wondered if that was because orphans were more likely to adopt their co-workers as family -- like ducklings imprinting on whoever happened to pass nearby. Highly trained assassin murder-ducklings.


 After a week, Q was told that he could go home, as long as he finished out his course of antibiotics responsibly, and stayed off his feet for an additional week, until the burns were fully healed. This meant a wheelchair. Q sighed in resignation, but it would be worth it to get away from the fluorescent lighting in Medical, which was awful.

“You can stay at mine,” Bond said, with that easy, swaggering confidence of his. As if he were stating something obvious and logical.

“Um?” Q said.

“You live in a split level, sixth-floor, walk up,” Bond pointed out. “My flat has an elevator. And it's flat.”

“Didn’t they sell your flat?” Q said.

“Technically he wasn’t dead this time. So they converted it into a secure location instead,” Eve said. She was leaning on the handles of the Dreaded Chair, holding it steady as Q eased himself in. “You’ll be safe as houses,” she added, chipperly.

Q frowned. He wasn’t sure that he wanted to be that close to Bond. On some level, buried underneath his fragile state and deep gratitude, he was still furious with Bond for leaving. And on another level below that one, his crush lurked like some kind of horrible sea creature, ready to drag him under with a smothering fondness.

But. He also had a suspicion that Bond and Eve weren’t telling him everything. That perhaps they had their own reasons for wanting him in a safehouse. A safehouse that contained one particular double-oh agent. But if they weren’t telling him about it, they had their reasons for that too.

“Alright,” he said, slowly. He still wasn’t feeling quite 100%, and it was easier to just acquiesce.


An MI6 car delivered them to Bond’s flat, which was in bloody Notting Hill.

“You posh wanker,” Q grumbled, as Bond wheeled him through a shiny foyer, past a man who was clearly (to Q) undercover MI6, and to the elevator at the back.

“I'm a posh wanker? Remind me where your accent's from?” Bond said drily.

“You bastard, you said my flat was on the way to yours.”

Bond hit the button for the first floor and the doors closed with a soft whisper. “I take a circuitous route in case I’m being tailed.”

“I live in Bloomsbury!"

“And I like the British Museum.”

“Liar.” The doors opened again with a soft ding.

“I can be interested in history and assassination,” Bond said, rolling Q out of the elevator now. "The two overlap often enough." Bond’s was the only flat on the hall, and seemed to take up this entire level of the townhouse. He unlocked it, and Q wondered what sort of security Bond used, aside from a lock. He imagined that it involved explosives and/or hidden gun turrets.

Bond’s flat was, technically, very nice. Hardwood floors, high ceilings, beautiful period mouldings. The sheer amount of square footage was an outrageous luxury this close to the heart of London. So it was really a shame that Bond had all the decorating sense of a child who was allergic to color and raised by wolves. There was a sofa, a television, a coffee table. There was art (unhung), there were boxes (still packed), and there was exactly one personal item (a truly hideous ceramic bulldog draped in a Union Jack.)

“Food?” Bond offered casually, completely unembarrassed by the state of his “home.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re not vegan or anything, are you?” Bond said, wandering off towards the kitchen, leaving Q sitting in the middle of the flat.

“No, although I am exquisitely particular about my tea.”

“Good,” Bond said approvingly.

Q rolled forward, wondering if he was allowed to investigate the space. Of course, he had to be. He’d be living here until he was back on his feet -- literally. Still. He felt like Daniel in the lion’s den. And the fact that Bond’s flat was about as comfortable as a coffin didn’t help.

He rolled forward, peering into an open door. Beyond, he saw a bed: king sized, rumpled sheets, casually dropped clothing on the floor. Bond’s room. Q turned away from it quickly. He wasn't sure why looking at a slept-in bed felt so intimate, but it did.

There was another door across the living room. Q rolled over to it. In a fit of boldness, he reached up and turned the handle. He was half expecting a small armory or a torture chamber, but it was another bedroom. Smaller bed, crisply made. It had the look of something from IKEA. Probably something MI6 had put here, for when it was a safehouse. He was pleased to find it had an ensuite with a tub. He was already itching for a soak. The nurses had said he could as long as he kept his feet dry.

He rolled back out of the guest room to find that the living room was starting to fill with delicious smells.

Bond looked up from whatever he was cooking and raised a brow.

“This is the most depressing flat I have ever seen,” Q informed him. “Thank you for letting me stay.”

Bond smirked, with all the unselfconscious elegance of a cat. “You’re very welcome, Quartermaster.”


Q teased Bond into hanging some of his art while the food simmered. Bond sighed dramatically, put a nail haphazardly into the plaster, and hung a very cheap copy of The Fighting Temeraire directly across from the sofa. Q stared at it, then at Bond. Bond just sauntered away and went back to the carbonara he was making.

“Are you taking the piss?!” Q asked, outraged.

Bond dimpled at him; the sun coming out. “Oh, always.” Q laughed to hide how breathless the smile made him feel.

When the food was ready, Bond served up two plates, and uncorked a bottle of sauvignon blanc. He set it all on the coffee table, and Q gingerly shifted himself from his chair to the couch without too much difficulty. He felt terribly slobby, eating on the sofa, but Bond didn’t have a proper kitchen table. Clearly, he either ate on the couch or at the kitchen bar, where there was exactly one bar stool. It was possibly the saddest thing Q had ever seen. Bond didn’t care, of course. He was remarkably unembarrassed. Utterly shameless, in fact. Which only made Q more self-conscious about how slobby he was. It didn’t help that Bond was still half-dressed in work clothes, his suit jacket hung over the back of a chair, with his shirtsleeves rolled Navy-crisp above the elbow and his collar undone to the third button. He still had his shoulder holster on. Q, on the other hand, was wearing plaid pyjama pants and a tee-shirt that smelled of Medical.

But as soon as he got a mouthful of the carbonara, he didn’t care. “Oh my god," Q moaned.

“Hm,” Bond agreed, sounding smug.

“I could be wrong, because I’ve been eating hospital food for the last week, but this seems obscenely good.”

“It is,” Bond said, immodestly.

“Where did you learn to cook?”

“Deep cover in Rome,” Bond said. “Seemed like a skill worth keeping.”

“I’ll bloody say.”

“It’s very useful for seduction too,” Bond said, in a sinfully deep voice.

Q almost choked, which made Bond laugh. “You absolute bastard.”

“Always, always.”

After that, they ate in silence. Mostly silence. Q couldn’t stop making noises of appreciation and deep gratitude. Partially because the food really was very bloody good, and partially because it made Bond twinkle blue and flash smug teeth every time.

After the food was done, they got into the wine with more vigor. Q was feeling pleasantly warm and properly full and safe . “So,” he said, refilling his glass. “Are you going to tell me what’s really going on?”

Bond looked over at him, too innocent.

Q returned the gaze with a very flat look. “I assume that you haven’t told me before because you and Moneypenny were concerned about surveillance in MI6. I also assume that you’ve cleared your own flat of any bugs.”

The innocent look was replaced by something more genuine. It reminded Q of when he and Bond first met -- that look of fond, bemused respect when Bond had said Q, and shook Q’s hand with a warm, calloused grip.

“Moneypenny and I are pretty sure there’s a mole in MI6,” he said at last.  

“I thought you’d determined that Silva’s computer was the mole,” Q said. He still hated himself for being tricked by Silva. Again.

Bond took a sip of wine and tipped his head to one side. “Silva’s computer told them what you were working on, and how close you were. But it wouldn’t have told them that you were going to be in a meeting, or what car you were taking, or who the driver’s family was.”

Q swallowed. The driver’s name had been Stephens. They’d taken his family hostage and forced him to sedate Q and M before driving them to the docks. Stephens hadn’t made it. Nor had his wife. Q had an awful sneaking suspicion that his daughter would end up joining MI6 one day. Orphans and all that.

“So. A mole.” Q sipped his wine. “Any idea who it is?”

“A few. They were careful -- they wouldn’t have lasted this long in MI6 if they weren’t careful, so it’s slow going.”

Q nodded. He frowned, brows coming together. “It’s funny,” he said slowly. “You always know there’s a possibility of this sort of thing. It’s MI6, so everyone wants a man on the inside. Only a matter of time before they succeed.” He sighed. “But still. Feels like you can’t trust anyone ever again.”

“I don’t,” Bond said.

Q looked over at him. The agent was staring down The Fighting Temeraire again. And there was that look: the spiteful fuck you to the universe. Bitterly resolved and world-weary.

“You trust Moneypenny,” Q said.

Bond looked over at Q. Blue eyes targeted Q’s face, calculating. A dangerous edge came into Bond’s expression as he took a breath and leaned in, conspiratorially. “If Moneypenny tries to get into this flat without warning me,” he said. “The elevator will drop her into the basement. And if she takes the stairs, she’ll find the doors won’t unlock. And if she tries to come in the fire escape, she’ll find me there. With a gun.”

Q’s mouth went dry with sudden fear for his friend. Both of his friends. He could feel his eyes widening. Q had blood on his hands, and had no illusions about that. But he had also never watched the light leave someone’s eyes from up close. Bond had.

007 leaned back on the couch and finished his glass of wine with a kind of savage determination. He didn’t pour another. Instead he got up and prowled into the kitchen. He had gotten out a tumbler and a bottle of scotch before Q finally swallowed and found his voice.

“You trust me.”

Bond looked sharply over, blue eyes widening. He was still 007 around the edges, his shoulders tense and ready. His eyes slithered over Q, and Q could only imagine what he saw: a skinny boffin in pyjama bottoms and a tee-shirt, a tousled mess of dark hair and glasses that made his head look too big for his neck.  Bond looked away and poured two fingers of scotch into the glass.  He said nothing, which made Q feel a bit of a fool. He cleared his throat and took another sip of wine.

“Why did you come back?” he asked the glass, not quite brave enough anymore to look at Bond while he said it.

“Couldn’t very well leave the Quartermaster and the head of MI6 at the mercy of Count Lippe.”

It was a deliberate evasion, and Q wasn’t fooled. “Bond.”

“You know, if you’re going to be staying here, you may as well start calling me James,” Bond said, before Q could say anymore.

Q wanted to press for a straight answer, but he was too tired and too buzzed to keep verbally fencing with Bond like that. “Oh fine, but if you start calling me Quinlan I’ll change your ringtone to Secret Agent Man."

“You could always tell me your real name,” James said innocently.

“Not a chance.”

“It’s something dreadful, isn’t it. Like Nigel or Boris.”

“Christ, no.”

“It’s not actually Quinlan, is it?”

“I really do prefer Q,” Q said primly.

James chuckled. “Alright Q."


Q learned many things over the course of the week at James’s place. On day two he learned that James could do an amazingly tasty Pad Thai and on day three he learned that James’s butter chicken was to die for, and he made his own naan.

Also on day three, Q discovered a personal well of manipulativeness and deliberately got his wheelchair stuck on some of James’s boxes. James spent the rest of the evening actually moving into his own flat. Q had to show him how to properly hang a picture and berated him wildly for it. James threatened to hang him to the bloody wall. But by the end of the evening, they cracked a beer in significantly more comfort than the previous nights. James’s flat was still sparse, but at least it looked like someone lived there.

 

By day four Q had concluded that James never took off his shoulder holster at home. Perhaps this was a side effect of him apparently being assigned to be Q's personal bodyguard (since James had made not one single whisper of noise about going back to work) but something told Q that this was just James being James. Or, probably, James being 007. He wore it while cooking, while having his coffee, while cleaning the small arsenal he kept n the flat. Q was half-sure that it went into the shower with him.

But then on day five, Q learned that this was not the case, when he came out in the morning to find James wearing nothing but a white towel slung low around his hips. He was leaning back on the sofa and manspreading in a way that was frankly obscene. He didn’t even look up from the Times. “Morning,” he drawled.

Q had not had enough caffeine to deal with this yet, so he just grunted and roiled over to the pot. Luckily, James liked his coffee to be black as sin (just like Q) and was exquisitely particular about his tea (just like Q). So the caffeine was all very acceptable.

 

On night five, Q dreamt that he was back in the room, and it was so quiet that he couldn’t hear his own screams.

He awoke to find 007 standing in the doorway with his gun in one hand and the holster dangling from the other. The lights were on. 007 was wearing loose track bottoms and a tee-shirt. He looked ready for murder. Then, a moment later, he looked completely broadsided by the realization that there was no one to kill. Comprehension dawned across his rugged features.

“Oh shit,” Q said, and was ashamed to hear his voice high and reedy with panic. “Shit, shit, shit, I’m--”

“If you apologize, I will shoot you,” Bond said flatly.

Q closed his mouth.

Bond sighed and went to hit the lights.

Don’t--” Q begged.

Bond let his hand fall. He pursed his lips, looking at Q. Then he simply crossed over to the bed. Q couldn’t look at him, too embarassed by his own shaking, the way he was breathing like he’d just run a race. Bond turned on the bedside light, and then turned off the overheads. That was bearable. Q closed his eyes and huddled under the blankets, too ashamed to watch James go.

Except James didn’t go. The bed dipped beside Q. He looked over and saw the man had shrugged on his leather shoulder holster on over the grey tee shirt and was leaning back against the headboard.

Q stared at him. James looked over, his expression mild, as though none of this were odd. “Something you want to say, Quartermaster?”

Q shook his head and rolled over so his back was to James. He stared at his own hand lying on the pillow in front of his face. He started to trace a spiral against the white sheets. 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8-- James sighed and the headboard creaked as he leaned back against it. Q lost his focus. He did that a lot lately. The doctors had warned him he would, at first. But it had been getting better. This was probably just a little relapse.

There was no reason at all to feel as though he were being dragged back into the dark.

Q couldn't possibly stand the silence for one second longer. "Did I ever say thank you?"

"Don't start," James said, sounding cranky about it. 

Q only paused for a moment. "Did I ever apologize--"

"I told you not to--"

"--about the Smart Blood?" Q finished, talking over James, his own voice sounding waspish and brittle in his ears. 

James said nothing.

Q didn't dare look over. "Bit creepy, I suppose. Invasion of privacy and all that, but you're rather difficult to follow, and I wanted to know where my bloody car was, dammit." It was a thin defense. Q was sure James could see right through it. He hunched his shoulders and started tracing the spiral again. 1, 1, 2--

"I don't mind," James said simply.

Q went still. He waited for some kind of elaboration. He should've known better. Finally, he slammed his hand on the pillow, pushing himself up, twisting around to glare at James. "That's it? You don't mind?"

James shrugged. He looked utterly at his ease, legs crossed at the ankle, hands folded on his stomach. "I don't mind," he repeated.

"Why not?"

"I'm a double-oh. Privacy isn't really an option for us." He leveled a steady blue gaze at Q. "And anyway. I'd gotten used to having you on my shoulder. Nice to think you were still there even after I left."

Q blinked rapidly a few times. "Oh."

"Yes. And you can't say it wasn't useful. Dosing yourself as well. Clever."

"Of course it was clever, it was my idea," Q said reflexively.

James rolled his eyes, as though to say you're ridiculous. “Get some sleep,” he ordered.

“I doubt that I’ll be able to,” Q said, with an attempt at dignity. 

“Try,” Bond advised.

In the wee hours of morning six, Q learned that he could he could sleep like the dead as long as the bedside light was on and a double-oh agent was radiating heat through the covers beside him.

 

Frustratingly, Q never did learn why James had come back. And he never learned to find the courage to confront James about that, or about the way his heart felt like it wanted to crawl out of his chest and just bloody live in James’s shoulder holster where it would be safe.


 On day seven, a Friday, Q walked out of Medical under his own power, which felt more like triumph than it ought to. Moneypenny invited him out for a celebratory drink after work. James made some vague excuse about meeting up with an informant and vanished into the night. Regret was thick in Q’s throat.

Still, Moneypenny was good company. She made him laugh. They went to his flat afterwards. Weasley was frantically happy to see Q, rearing up to bash his face affectionately against Q’s when Q leaned down to pet him. Even the more aloof Potter leaned against his legs and purred thunderously.

Imprudently (though they did both have the next two days off) Moneypenny got out the gin, and they went up to the terrace to enjoy the crisp night air with a pair of equally crisp G&Ts. They were both loose-limbed and giggly when Eve leaned over and punched his arm.

“So how are you really ?” she asked.

“Fit as a fiddle. A… a spindly one. With not much muscle mass.”

“I mean you and Bond."

Q groaned loudly and turned his head, burying his face into Eve’s shoulder.

She cooed and patted his hair clumsily. “That bad is it?”

“I just… it’s so… fucking pathetic,” Q mumbled into the material of her jumper. “If I had the balls, I’d just… just ask him or whatever. Then at least I’d know. But I’m too…”

“Oh Christ, not like there’s any point asking him," Eve said. “He’s never going to confirm or deny anything, is he? S’like you said. He doesn’t trust anyone. Not really.”

Q sighed heavily and shifted his head to stare out across the rooftops of London. He thought of that first night at Bond's flat, of what Bond had said about Moneypenny, and what Q had said after. You trust me. Bond hadn’t confirmed or denied that either. A few stars twinkled overhead. “Is is fucked up that I wish he was straight? Or that he’d never bloody come back. Or that he’d at least tell me why he came back.”

“Darling. Darling."

“I know, I know, it’s so sad.”

“No, nooo,” Eve cooed. “Jus’... Just… Look, right… don’t freak out.”

Q’s head snapped up, which made the whole terrace sway around him. “Oh my God,” he gasped, a sudden suspicion breaking through the alcohol haze.

“I said don’t freak out!”

“Oh my God. You’ve slept with James Bond?!” Q said, outraged.

“Like. One time,” she said. “Look, it’s not -- we’re mates, he and I.”

“Mates who sleep together?"

“One time!” Eve put both hands on his shoulders. The swaying steadied marginally. “And it wasn't like... I know where he's been, so I didn't, like... But he's got lovely hands, you know? Really lovely."

"Someone please kill me now," Q moaned, squeezing his eyes shut.

"Shhhhh. Just listen, okay? He’s a sad, sad, sad little man. And he’s got, like, two settings, yeah? With him, it’s either no feelings or all the feelings. And that’s… that’s really bad for a spy, innit? And it’s been… they’ve used it against him. In the past.”

Q could see the file -- the briefing he'd been given for 007, as he'd been given a briefing for all the double-ohs. He opened his eyes. “Vesper Lynd?” he guessed.

“Yeah. Among others. So he… bottles it up. We all do, it’s a field agent thing. But he’s…”

“Really good at it?” Q guessed, since Bond was the best at everything.

Eve wrinkled her nose. “Really bad at it, actually.”

Q stared. But it didn't look like she was lying. And why would she? “But he…”

“Shh, shh, it’s a terrible secret and you mustn’t tell. Don’t get me wrong, he’s excellent on honeypot missions, and he sleeps around all the time without getting attached. He’s still a double-oh. So he doesn’t fall every time, but when he does, he gets compromised. And quickly.”

“Eve,” Q said slowly. Was this her way of letting him down gently? Was Bond attached to someone else? To Madeleine still? To Eve maybe?

“To be clear, that’s not what happened between him and me,” she said. “We just had a bit of fun. Also, I take it as a compliment that he’s not romantically interested in me, because he’s got… just the most rubbish taste in women.” She actually shuddered, then shook her head.

“Then… what are you telling me?” Q asked wearily.

“There’s this… understanding, among the other double-ohs. When Bond is gone on someone, they do what they can to get him out before whoever it is gets killed and he gets hurt. Seems to happen about once every other year, and mostly they’ve managed to protect him. Like. A couple of years before he ‘diiied,’” she drew the word out ridiculously, “there was this girl called Tracy, and I swear, if Alec hadn’t been there, Bond would’ve married the poor thing, which would’ve been a complete disaster because her father ran a crime syndicate. And there was this girl in Japan--”

“Please, please stop.” Q  tried to fit all this rambling into his knowledge of Bond. It didn’t seem to click with his suave ladykiller persona, but it explained Vesper Lynd, certainly. Madeleine Swann, too, perhaps? “Is… that why he came back? Did they bring him in to keep him from getting hurt and Madeleine from getting killed?”

“No! M told them not to. Wanted to give him a chance to actually retire, if he could make it work,” Eve said. “But he… he came back on his own. And Dr. Swann is fine, I checked.”

Q closed one eye and then the other. “I… don’t know what that means.”

“Me neither,” Eve confessed. “I’m just saying. He’s been burned. A lot. So, I guess. Don’t expect him to… make sense.”

“But it’s always women, isn’t it?” Q said, sounding pathetic even in his own ears. “Always.” Despite what had happened in the Bahamas. Perhaps that was a fluke, or just Bond being… flexible for a mission.

Eve scratched her forehead. “I don’t reckon anything about Bond is that straightforward.”

“Haaaaa! Pun!” Q said. They laughed woozily for a moment, then drifted into silence. They were both slouching back in their chairs now, letting the night cool their booze-warmed faces, and staring up at the stars.

“I think what I’m saying…” Eve began, then stopped, then started again. “What I’m saying is that what you and he have is different? He cares about you. Christ does he care -- you should’ve seen him when you were missing, I’ve never seen him like that.”

A thick lump crawled up Q’s throat and he swallowed. Sometimes he could still feel Bond’s knuckles brushing up and down his arm, that reassuring contact almost all that he could stand after so long lying alone with only the darkness to touch him. He couldn’t have said anything, even if he wanted to. But Eve was still rambling.

“And I don’t know what he thinks it is, or what it actually is, cos it’s none of my business. But whatever you two have, it’s not fast . Bond’s girls, his… flames, I guess, they're... explosions , really. Vesper, and all the rest of them. It happens fast, and it goes bad quickly. What you and he have is… steady. And guiding. Like a star,” she finished whimsically, waving a dramatic hand up at the night sky.

Q blinked unevenly and tried not to let the swelling sensation in his chest actually choke him. A part of his brain that wasn’t fully saturated with gin cringed at the sheer maudlin absurdity of it all. “Stars are actually explosions too, you know,” he pointed out.

Chapter Text

Moneypenny stayed with Q all weekend, which left Bond free to... pursue avenues of inquiry. He really had slunk off to meet with an informant the night that Eve got drunk with Q. The meet had turned into a mission when the informant came up dead with a name written on the floor in his own blood. The name -- Tania Romanova scrawled in a near-incomprehensible copper-stinking mess of sticky half-dried blood -- had been traced to a Russian defector who had just turned up in Istanbul. Bond was meant to be heading out there (oh joy, his favorite ever city) to bring her in, but first...

First he needed to do some housecleaning.

Stage one of housecleaning: Internal investigation. M had given him carte blanche to find the mole. 007's leash, already tenuous at best, was off. And that was terrifying. No one dared to question this, because they weren't stupid. They didn't need to be told that there was a mole in MI6, they were bloody spies, after all. So everyone who wasn't M, Q, or Moneypenny was busily trying to prove that it wasn't them, and therefore avoid Bond’s wrath. While Moneypenny was babysitting an increasingly irritable Q, Bond was tearing through departments, and suddenly everyone in MI6 was learning exactly what it was like to be on the receiving end of Bond's considerable skillset.

He came into departments with a terrifying smile on his face, and before the secretaries knew what had hit them, they were handing over top secret information on their bosses, their bosses' bosses, and their boyfriends. Even the most hardened human resources expert was defenseless before his ruthless charm offensive. And when that wasn't effective, Bond's uncanny ability to guess passwords meant that very few doors stayed closed to him for long. A few very unfortunate souls even got pulled aside for full-on interrogations, and came back white-lipped and shaking. No one asked them about it. By Monday, no one was even willing to meet Bond's eye for fear of drawing his attention.

Monday was also Q’s psych eval, and his final follow up with Medical. By lunchtime he was cleared for duty by both. Before the end of the day, he was back behind his desk, sipping Earl Grey and coolly guiding 009 through a mission, only mildly inconvenienced by the Great Firewalls of China.

Bond came down to watch, because stage two of housecleaning was to check up on his Quartermaster. Moneypenny, in addition to bodyguarding, had been observing. Her report was that Q was doing ‘better than expected,’ and that she had no qualms letting him go back to work. Bond did have qualms about it. During his stay at Bond’s flat, Q had shown clear signs of all the usual after-action bullshit; a slight tremor in his hands, occasional spells of blankness when he was clearly reliving something, the nightmares… All stuff that Bond was intimately acquainted with, but Q had none of Bond’s experience, none of his coping methods. Q wasn’t used to this sort of thing.

So when Bond heard that Q was running 009's mission in Beijing, he made his way to Ops Support to do a bit of observation for himself. No one reacted in an obvious way when he stopped to lean in the doorway and watch them all. A few darted glances at him and then looked quickly away. Again; they weren't stupid. One poor cybertech -- the one that Bond had shouted at while Q was missing -- still shook in his boots every time Bond so much as wandered by. Poor bastard was shaking in his boots now, as a matter of fact. Occasionally Bond fixed his eyes on the back of the cybertech’s neck, just to watch the sweat breaking out there. It was funny.

But mostly he was watching Q.

Q stood at his workstation in Ops Support, monitoring several screens at once. His back was ramrod straight. A mug of tea steamed gently nearby. Q was intent on the work, his head swiveling from screen to screen, his fingers flying over the keyboard, efficient and unhesitating. He whipped orders out like he always had; calmly and confidently and without any sign of indecision. It was like nothing had happened. It was like he hadn't spent all last week a shaky, traumatized mess.

That should have been satisfying, should have soothed the growling, snarling tension that coiled around Bond’s guts. This was, after all, the Q he had been missing for the last year, but...

“No, 009.” Q didn’t look up from his screen as he said this, and 009 (crouched on a rooftop on the other side of the world) hadn’t said anything.

Bond raised his brows at the non-sequitur, and several techs looked up from their stations at their Quartermaster.

“I haven’t even done anything!” Came 009’s sulky reply. There was an unmistakable guilty undertone.

“You’re thinking of doing something, I can see what security feeds you’re checking on your phone,” Q said, serene and no-nonsense. Apparently he was monitoring what 009 did on his phone while simultaneously hacking feeds and tracking security activity. “I’m telling you to sit still, so you will sit still.” Mild -- relaxed even. Not a hint of a tremor in his hand.

Bond didn’t trust it.

“Listen to music or something," Q suggested. "I’ve loaded some Sinatra on your phone, so you can listen to My Way and think about how we’re going to do this my bloody way.”

009 made a huffy, dissatisfied noise. Someone sniggered in the bullpen as Q turned away from his computer.“Franklin, why aren’t you--” He looked back at the terrorized, sweaty cybertech. At that point, Q’s gaze fell on Bond, and he sighed heavily, sounding extremely put-upon. “007, please stop paralyzing my employees with fear. Don’t you have a plane to catch or something?”

“Not right now. Just here for my equipment.” It was a lie, but he did need to get his kit, so it was a believable one.

Q waved a hand. “I’m busy. R can take care of you down in R&D.”

“She doesn’t like me much right now,” Bond noted, his gaze flickering to Franklin the Petrified Cybertech. Poor Franklin. He was not coping with the trauma of being shouted at by a double-oh nearly so well as Q was apparently coping with kidnap and torture.

But at least when Bond looked at Franklin, he knew he wasn’t being tricked.

“That’s a risk you’ll have to take, I’m afraid,” Q said, turning back to his screen. “009 is about to do some rappelling.”

“I am?” 009 sounded absolutely delighted.

“Not this bloody second, stay where you are,” Q snapped, hurrying back to his station. He flapped a hand in Bond’s direction and Bond took the hint. He couldn’t stay without attracting more attention, and he really should fetch his kit and get a move on.

 

As it turned out, R wasn’t cross with him any longer. She was a naturally cheerful person, and her wrath was a summer storm; violent, but passing quickly. Plus, Bond had managed to bring the Quartermaster back in one piece and anyway, R was far too busy being cross with Alec at the moment.

“Not a bloody chance, Trevelyan,” R was saying as Bond let himself into R&D. Alec was leaning on her desk, clearly in the midst of flirting outrageously. “The last thing you ‘helped’ me ‘test’ ended up exploding. I have learned my lesson. Bond!” She beamed sunnily at him when she saw him in the door. As soon as her back was turned, Trevelyan winked at him over her shoulder and started shuffling through things on her desk, like he was looking for something worth stealing.

Bond didn’t even bat an eyelash. Alec was an incurable kleptomaniac, and had a huge stash of stolen gadgets at his flat. “Hello R,” Bond said softly. “Q said you could play Santa for me?”

“Yes! Let me just…”

R bustled off, smacking Alec’s hand away from whatever he’d been trying to slip into his pocket as she passed.

“You wound me!” Alec cried, as though R had besmirched his non-existent honor.

“And you irritate the hell out of me,” R retorted, before striding away to fetch Bond’s kit.

Alec sidled around the desk and joined Bond, both of them leaning back against it, shoulder to shoulder. 

“How’s the head?” Bond asked.

“Better. I only see double for the usual reasons now.”

“Congratulations.”

They unconsciously mirrored each other: identical coiled sprawls of lazy muscle and easy grace. They were a pair of equally matched jungle cats; a stocky golden lion and a taller gingery tiger.

“So,” Alec said. “I hear you’re off somewhere?”

“Somewhere,” Bond agreed.  Need to know, after all. 

“Well let me know if I can help at all.”

“Will do.” Bond thought he might, actually. It would be useful to bring Trevelyan in on this -- cautiously, of course. They had to be cautious of everyone. But Alec knew Istanbul better than Bond -- he’d been embedded in Russia and Eastern Europe for years, and Istanbul had been the closest hub, and his main point of contact back to MI6. If he didn’t know someone, he’d know someone who did. But for the moment, he couldn’t even tell Alec that he was heading to Istanbul next. Although, possibly Trevelyan had already guessed -- he was very good, after all. Perhaps even better than Bond.

“What about your Quartermaster?” Alec said idly. “Surprised to see him back so soon.”

Bond just grunted. But Alec spoke Bond’s peculiar language of silence and monosyllables with shocking fluency. Bond said ‘hm,’ and Alec heard ‘I am equally surprised, and additionally, I am skeptical and suspicious. I may even be concealing worry.’

Alec eyed Bond. Bond ignored that. But Alec was just enough of an arsehole to push for details. “Has it slowed him down? If he’s second-guessing himself, that could--”

But Bond was already shaking his head.

“Alright. Good, then.” 

Bond shifted his arctic gaze sidelong and stared Trevelyan down.

Alec lifted his brows. “Not good? Is he making bad calls, or--”

“He hasn’t missed a step,” Bond said, simply.

Alec blinked at him. “Well that’s good, isn’t it? He’s a good Q, I’d hate to think he’s--”

“He hasn’t missed a step,” Bond repeated, frowning slightly now, and speaking with greater emphasis.

“Oh.” Comprehension dawned slowly over Alec’s face. Q hadn’t missed a step, but Q was, for all his deadly efficiency on a computer, emphatically not a field agent. He should have missed a step. He should be a wreck. He should not have cleared Psych so easily. “Alright. He’s hiding it well, is he?”

Bond nodded, grimly.

“So…” The word drew out into a long, uncertain half-question. That broad Northern burr drew out the vowel into shapes that were at once strange and familiar to Bond.

Bond looked over at Alec, one brow raised, and found Alec looking back with the same expectant expression, as though he was waiting for Bond to figure it out now. That wasn’t necessarily unusual. Bond and Trevelyan were pretty evenly matched, so sometimes Alec missed a trick that Bond didn’t, and vice versa. Now, Alec was staring at Bond as though waiting for Bond to catch up, but Bond couldn’t think what he had missed. By Alec’s expression, it was pretty obvious.

“Just because he’s hiding the fallout doesn’t mean there wasn’t any,” Bond said, covering his uncertainty with irritation.

Alec’s incredulous look did not fade or falter.

“What?” Bond said, properly irritated now.

“I mean… Who cares, though?” Alec said. Bond glowered, prompting Alec to raise his hands before continuing. “Not that I don’t care about the lad, he’s a good kid and a good Quartermaster, but as long as his work doesn’t suffer, what's it to us? No one gives a damn that we lie to psych. No one gives a damn that my personality is 90% trauma, because I still get the job done. You’re just the same. ” He narrowed his eyes. “What makes the Quartermaster any different?”

The look in Alec’s eye was knowing -- too knowing for Bond’s comfort. He said ‘What makes the Quartermaster any different?’ but he meant ‘What makes the Quartermaster any different to you?’   It occurred to Bond that Moneypenny had probably seen and thought the same things. Yes, of course Q was traumatized. But it wasn’t affecting his work, so let him work. It wasn’t a very friendly thought, but it was a very M-like thought, and that was what Moneypenny was turning herself into.

And she was right. Alec was right. What made the Quartermaster any different from the rest of them? What made the Quartermaster any different to Bond?

“Nothing, I suppose,” Bond lied. Alec looked like he was about to push, but, luckily, R came back with his kit so Bond didn’t have to think about anything he didn’t want to think about.


 Bond went to Istanbul (which led to many merciless digs being thrown in Moneypenny's direction) and soon was on his way back from Istanbul, playing escort to an ex-terrorist and a very important piece of tech, supposedly developed by SPECTRE to encrypt their communications. There really wasn’t much for Q-Branch to do except arrange a secure line for Bond to check in once a day. It was all very dull, and Bond’s sulky voice and heaving sighs showed it. M ordered Bond to enjoy himself. He was on the bloody Orient Express , after all. It was a leisurely, luxury train ride. Poor 009 was backpacking across Mongolia, so Bond should count his blessings.

On Wednesday, Bond closed the door of his compartment, checked on the little gadget he was babysitting, and picked up his fancy earpiece.

“007 reporting in,” he sighed. “All clear on the Orient Express, I’m afraid.”

“Hello 007.” It was R, sounding like her usual sunshine self. “Message received. How are you holding up?

Bond flopped onto the bed. “Bored out of my bloody mind. I’m sure that Tania is double-crossing me, but she hasn’t acted yet, so everything is extremely dull.”

The whole set-up (informant dead, name written in blood, defector in Istanbul, etc) was highly suspicious. It smelled an awful lot like a trap to Bond, like he was being lured into the jaws of something, but that had never stopped him in the past. He certainly wasn’t going to let it stop him now.

But that didn’t make waiting for the trap to close around him any less tedious. He sighed. “How are you?”

“All quiet here,” R said. “Just me fielding check ins from poor sods like you.”

“Mm.” Bond made himself count to five before asking what he really wanted to ask. “How’s Q?” He injected as much bored disinterest as he could into the question. He had a fair amount of bored disinterest at his disposal, so he was pretty confident of success.

“Oh he’s... fine,” R said.

Bond blinked. Something about her tone didn’t… sound right.

“I mean,” she continued a moment later. “Not that he’d let on if he wasn’t. But he’s fine. Did you hear about him getting 001 and Vicky through that minefield with only a blurry satellite photo? It was a pretty neat bit of--”

“What do you mean he wouldn’t let on?” Bond said, eyes narrowed at the ceiling of his bunk.

“Nothing particular,” R said. “But he’s very smart, isn’t he? If there were something amiss, he wouldn’t be so stupid as to show it. I wouldn't worry about him. He’s handled worse.”

There was something in her tone again. Bond wished he could see her face, but… now that he was thinking about it, he didn’t really know what R’s tells were. “Worse than being kidnapped and tortured,” he said flatly.

“Apparently.” He could hear the smile in her voice. But he could also hear steel. He was reminded of a woman in Japan who had simpered at him sweetly while at the same time literally sliding a knife between his ribs. “But we orphans don’t take abandonment well, do we.”

Ah. And there was the knife. It hurt more because she was right. Of course she was right. She had been there for the year that Bond wasn’t, and she saw what Bond’s absence had done to Q. Bond had gotten hints from Eve, from various people glaring at him like he did something to personally offend him. Scarlett, for example, had pulled him aside, after they got Q back, and threatened to skin him alive if he ever abandoned them like that again. But she hadn’t meant ‘them,’ had she. She’d meant 'Q.’

He knew what they meant. He knew it on a deep, visceral level. Because it wasn’t the bullet from Eve’s gun that knocked him down and kept him down the last time he was in Istanbul. It was M -- his M -- saying ‘take the bloody shot!’ It wasn’t just Vesper’s death that had thrown him so hard he slipped into a spiral. It was hearing that voice on the other end ‘wondering if you’re ever going to deposit the winnings…’ and suddenly knowing that Vesper wouldn’t be coming back from her expedition to the bank. It wasn’t standing over his parents’ graves that made him hate Skyfall, it was hiding in the dark and hearing, over and over on repeat in his head ‘I’m so sorry, lad. They’re not coming back.’

So no. Orphans really don’t take abandonment well. But still. The thought that his leaving with Madeleine had hit Q harder than Q being kidnapped and tortured was…

More than Bond was equipped to handle just now. He was on mission. He put it aside, filed it away. He’d deal with it later. Or never.

“No,” he said, because R was still right, and that deserved acknowledgement. “We don’t.”

R hummed on the other end. “Oh, and Moneypenny wanted me to tell you that they’re considering bringing 006 in on this,” she’d moved from chipper back-stabbing to chipper professionalism. Perhaps that meant she’d decided to hold off on further punishment for now.

“Good idea,” he said.

“Alright. I’ve got 005 reporting in. Good luck 007."


 Bond didn't generally need luck, but it was, occasionally, a great comfort to have a god in his ear. The train ride ended in Paris two days later and Paris ended with the Russian equivalent of a double-oh chasing him through an empty office building late at night. It had been a trap, after all -- a trap for him, as expected.

It was a gloriously exciting end to an otherwise overwhelmingly meh mission. The enemy agent was a rather infamous assassin called Rosa Klebb. She and Tania had been coordinating all the while. Tania was now safely in custody, but Bond had gone after Klebb, who was clearly the brains of the operation. Now, they were hunting each other in a game of darkly complex three-dimensional chess. It was the most fun Bond had had since coming back out of retirement.

And Q’s voice was in his ear the whole while, calm, soothing, and confident. Bond was on cloud fucking nine about it.

“I can’t see her, unfortunately. She’s being quite efficient taking out the cameras.” Q sounded vexed. It made Bond smile.

“That’s alright, I’m sure I’ll manage.” Bond was wriggling through an air duct, following Q’s instructions to lead Klebb into a blind end where he could trap her for detention, all without exposing himself to her throwing knives. He had his gun in one hand, and he could feel the commandeered fire axe pressing against his back where he'd shoved it through his belt.

“Don’t speak,” Q said, sounding cross and distracted. “Your voice is bound to echo in there, you don’t want her to overhear you.”

I do want her to follow me, though, Bond thought.

“Now there should be a vent coming up, I want you to drop through into the room, step out into the hallway, and go left, all the way to the end. I don’t have eyes there, so watch your back.”

“Always,” Bond breathed.

“Hush. I mean it 007, Klebb is an expert with those throwing knives. According to 006 she laces them with tetrodotoxin, for which there is no antidote.” Q’s voice was terse, and if Bond wasn’t too badly mistaken, he sounded worried. Keys clicked rapidly in the background. “Medical is already on alert, and Station F is sending backup.”

“Why Quartermaster, I’d no idea you cared.”

“I shall have Medical cut your vocal chords upon your return if you don’t stay quiet. You should be at the vent now.”

He was, and popped it open. The room below was dark and empty. He dropped silently to the floor. There was a door, as Q had said there would be, and Bond checked that it was clear before stepping out into the hall.

But he didn't check thoroughly enough, it seemed. A knife zipped past his ear and buried itself in the plaster. Bond turned his head and saw Klebb coming towards him from the left. The direction he was supposed to be going. She’d anticipated his movements, though perhaps she didn’t realize his endgame. He drew his gun and fired; she ducked into a doorway.

“Do not engage her, 007,” Q snapped in his ear.

Bond ignored him, bearing down on Klebb’s cover.

"Bond, I repeat, do not engage. Go the other way, we can find--”

Bond ignored this too. He could see the door, the one he wanted to get Klebb into. The point had been, initially, to trick her in there and then lock her inside, where her poisoned knives couldn’t get to him, and then wait for Station F to arrive and retrieve them both. Now, it looked like a more direct approach would be required.

"James," Q snapped in his ear.

“Rerouting,” Bond said coolly, coming around to chase Klebb out of her hiding place. Another knife flew past, perilously close to his face, but the change in angle allowed him to get a bullet into the wood next to her. She rolled away from it -- he could have hit her, but they wanted her alive.

She leapt, cat-like, to her feet, and raced down the hall, her severe blonde ponytail bouncing with each step. He pursued, inexorable as death, and equally fearless. He fired again, right on her heels. When she tried to turn left, a bullet grazed her shoulder, warning her not to. She dodged right and he put a bullet in the outside of her thigh.

With a snarl of pain, she dove forward into the room at the end of the hall, turned, and sent one last knife hurtling at him. He ducked it, reached the door, and slammed it closed. He pulled the fire axe he’d taken earlier from his belt and used it to jam the door shut.

Klebb’s face was in the window, glaring murder at him with eyes as icy blue as his own.

“You have reached your destination,” Bond said, smirking.

Q breathed a sigh of relief in his ear, and Bond felt a horribly familiar warmth blossom in his chest. It filled him with a kind of instinctive dread.

The enemy agent leaned in, her lip twisting nastily. “You’ve got something,” Klebb told him in accented English through the glass of her makeshift prison. She tapped her left cheekbone. “Just there.”

Bond put a hand to his face.

It came away bloody.

He stared at it. I swear this happens to me more than it happens to the others, he thought. Klebb winked through the window at him and blew him a kiss. He swallowed. “Q. What was that you said about tetrodotoxin?”

Bond heard the unmistakable sound of Q’s mug of Earl Grey shattering on the floor. There was a long, dreadful pause.

“James-- ” Q breathed, then stopped, but the single word had already coiled around the warmth in James’s chest and was squeezing. “007,” he started again, collecting himself. “Listen very carefully now. You have--” he stuttered very slightly “--less than seventeen minutes, possibly, so you’ll need to go and meet the medevac halfway.”

“How long until they--”

“Don’t speak, just move. Left down the corridor, there will be an elevator waiting for you, but don’t run, walk.”

Bond reacted: turned like an automaton and walked in defiance of every instinct telling him to run.  Klebb’s muffled laugh followed him.

“Try to keep your heartrate down, please.” Q’s voice didn’t waver now, didn’t even shake. He was as cool and calm as ever. This was why he made such a good Quartermaster. This was why he excelled at guiding agents. He never lost his head.

Bond took a breath and let it out, consciously slowing his heart, fighting the adrenaline urging him to do the opposite.

“Can you tell me what the injury is like?” Q asked.

“Just a scratch.” There was the elevator up ahead, at the end of the hall. It dinged cheerfully and the doors opened for him. He resisted the urge to run. Q must have been holding the doors for him somehow, because they waited; a light at the end of the tunnel.

“I’m afraid a scratch will likely be enough,” Q was saying. “It’s a paralytic. You’re going to start to lose feeling. It’ll begin with pins and needles in your face or fingers, most likely.”

“I’m at the elevator now,” Bond said, stepping inside.

“You don’t have to tell me, I can see you,” Q said primly. The doors closed around Bond, and the descent began. Bond felt his stomach lifting, flipping, and he hoped it was just the rush of the descent. “All you have to tell me is the minute you start to feel those pins and needles. And don’t lie about it.”

“Understood,” Bond said. He clenched his jaw and breathed deep and slow through his nose. “What comes after the pins and needles, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Just keep working on lowering your heartrate.”

“Q. What comes after ?”

“...The paralysis will spread. As I said, there’s no antidote. But the medics will keep you breathing, keep your heart beating. They will keep you alive while the toxin works its way through your system.  All you have to do is not die before they reach you. I do hope that’s not too much to ask.”

“I’ll do my best,” Bond said through gritted teeth. He tried to slow his heartbeat, but… Dying of a paralytic, suffocating when his diaphragm stopped working -- not on his list of pleasant ways to go. He’d rather been hoping for a sudden and fiery explosion, as it happened. Bullet to the brain, maybe.

“Calm, 007,” Q soothed. “Trust your Quartermaster, you’re under his protection.”

As soon as the word trust slipped down the line and slithered into Bond’s ear, he went quiet. He listened to the elevator whooshing down, his blood in his ears, pumping poison through his body. He hadn’t trusted anyone in years. He hadn’t even trusted Madeleine, despite the heady wine of infatuation coursing through him, making his withered heart feel things all over again. He hadn’t trusted himself with Madeleine, perhaps. After all these years, after Vesper, how could he trust himself with anyone?

He didn’t want to trust Q. The people he trusted either ended up dead or betraying him. And he fell for it like a bloody fool every single bloody time.

His lips began to tingle.

“Q?”

“Yes, 007?”

“I think it’s--”

He didn’t even have to finish his sentence. The elevator was already slowing. “Well let’s get you down the rest of the way a bit faster, yes?” The elevator juddered to a halt and the doors opened. “Can you still feel your fingers?”

“Yes, but my face feels--”

“That’s fine. There’s a window at the end of the hall, do you see it?”

“Yes?” Bond felt like his vision was starting to tunnel, but he could see the window there.

“Kindly empty your clip through it, won’t you?”

Bond did as ordered. He felt like a puppet in Q’s hands. He raised his gun and fired until the clip was empty. The window at the end of the hall shattered and fell out, revealing the glittering black of a Paris night beyond, paling towards a coming dawn. Someone screamed -- gunshots, after all.

“Well done. Now if you’ll just walk up to the window.”

Bond did. He couldn’t feel his fingertips or toes anymore. His gun clattered to the ground. He stood at the edge of the window, swaying dangerously -- it was full length, a whole wall of glass that was now gone. He was still a few stories up, he thought, but it was all becoming terribly confusing.

“007." That voice caught his wandering attention. Q needed him. "I need you to turn around, back to the window, fold your arms on your chest, and let yourself fall.”

“What?!”

“You mustn’t jump, mind. Just put your heels right to the edge and drop. It’s a sort of trust fall,” Q said lightly.

“You’re not here to catch me,” Bond pointed out, angry and -- yes, a bit frightened.

“Let’s be honest, I couldn’t catch you even if I were there,” Q said. “But after all this trouble I’m not going to let you die now. Will you follow my orders or not?”

Bond gritted his teeth. But he turned his back to the window, folded his arms over his chest, and leaned back. His body, his instincts screamed not to, but he resisted. Past the tipping point, and then he was weightless. Air rushed around his numbing limbs, cradling him like invisible hands. He closed his eyes.

WHUMP

The landing was not exactly soft, but it wasn’t pavement either. He opened his eyes and stared up. He was in an alley between the towering office block and the building next to it. He was… faintly surprised to be alive.

“Q?” he asked, the word sounding odd in his ear, but by this point his lips were completely numb. “What?”

“You’re in a dumpster, 007.”

“Ah... just where I belong then,” Bond quipped, without even needing to think about it.

Q laughed, one single, breathy hah . “Just lie still, 007.” Q’s voice sounded softer now, quieter, and Bond guessed that Q had switched him from the speaker to his headset. “Medevac is at the end of the alley, coming to get you. Tetrodotoxin is rather nasty stuff, I'm afraid. You're probably going to be lucid right the way through. I'll be here with you every step. We've got you, James.”

The sky above, between the office blocs, was beginning to fade out from black to blue. The sun was starting to come up. A new dawn. James closed his eyes and let Q’s voice wash over him.

 

He'd have lost his bloody mind if Q hadn't been there in his ear, softly monologuing in that low, precise accent, ever soothing and cool-headed. Reminding him to focus on his breath, to breathe in with him, talking Bond through it calmly, collectedly.

When the Medevac reached him, he couldn’t even protest the tube they shoved unceremoniously down his throat. The sheer indignity of it all -- but Q still said “Do stop complaining, you’re going to be fine,” just as if he had been complaining. And that was a comfort. A kindness.

He’d never gone quietly to a hospital in his life. It wasn’t in his nature. Wasn’t in the nature of any double-oh. “Perhaps we should dose you all with tetrodotoxin more often,” Q observed glibly. “It would spare the med techs an awful lot of trouble and grief.”

Bond might have laughed, if his diaphragm hadn’t been completely paralyzed by that point. As it was, he could feel a hysterical, panicky sound trying to escape him -- but there was nowhere for it to go, no way for it to get out. That was probably for the best. Uncontrollable terror-giggling would have clashed somewhat with the ultracool James Bond mask he had spent his professional life carefully crafting.

He was a prisoner inside his mind, staring out while he was rushed into an ambulance, and then, later, rushed in the back door of the nearest hospital, and into a private room. Time slipped past Bond without him being able to grab hold. Q’s voice was the only anchor here, the only thing he could hold onto, and Bond was unspeakably grateful for it. It gave him something to focus on other than the way the med techs were shouting and callously hooking him into all kinds of machines and monitoring equipment.

Bond was accustomed to disconnecting himself from bodily discomfort, when the job required it. He could almost imagine that this was just another day at work when he needed to ignore the pain. Just another day at the office, pushing to get every last ounce of power left in his aging frame, finding his limits and then blowing past them with a careless two-finger salute. It was like that. Nearly…

Who was he kidding? It was nothing like that. It was a bloody horror show. He had no control, no power over his own body, trapped in his head, completely helpless.

It was almost worse once they got him stabilized, because then there was nothing more for them to do. They did their best to assure him (and Q, still in his ear, corroborated their assessments) that his prognosis was actually not bad, that it looked like the dosage in Klebb’s daggers leaned more towards “incapacitate” than “instakill.”

That didn’t change the fact that he’d be lying here, paralyzed and helpless, for the next 12 hours, probably, and the doctors advised him to get some rest, like that was an achievable fucking goal, and then left him alone.

Well. Not quite alone, thank God.

 

“You’ll be happy to know that Klebb is in custody. M will be coming personally to question her. He’s quite confident that she had help from the mole when she and Tania set up this trap for you. You won’t tell anyone, I trust?” Q said with a gentle, teasing jab.

Since Bond couldn’t even open his mouth of his own accord, it didn’t seem likely. He couldn’t even roll his eyes.

“Don’t roll your eyes at me,” Q said fondly.

On one level, he was grateful to not be alone -- to have Q there in his ear. But on another level, a level more deeply and consciously buried, something that wasn’t toxin or paralysis squeezed around Bond’s chest. Even when his physical being was paralyzed, whatever lived inside the husk was still very active. And now it was untethered. There was no external action to distract from the internal turmoil. All he had was that voice, its almost musical rise and fall, each word precise and delicate and beautifully formed. Bond clung to Q’s voice like a child.

And when Q said, “You’re going to be fine, James.”

Bond trusted him. God help him, he trusted Q, and it would probably be the death of both of them.

“I know you must be bored out of your skull just lying there and letting machines do all your breathing for you,” Q said in Bond’s ear. The Quartermaster was starting to sound hoarse. How long had he been talking? How long had Bond been paralyzed? Bond wanted to tell him to rest his voice, that just the sound of him quietly breathing in his ear, perhaps the occasional tip-tap of some keys, or a sip of tea, that would all be enough. “You should really get some sleep,” Q said. “Rest up a bit. I’ll give you some music, if you like.”

Tip-tap, tip-tap went the keys. Bond heard a slurp of tea, and when Q spoke, his voice was slightly less rough. “You posh git, you like classical,” Q accused. “You always say to load your cars with rock, but you always end up tuning into the local classical station, don’t think I didn’t notice. And you make fun of 009 and his big band obsession. So here you are. Something unexpectedly cultured and oh-so-very British.”

What are you, my DJ? Bond thought in Q’s direction.

But then the music started. And as much as Bond pretended not to love anything, he really did love The Enigma Variations. Not that he would ever admit to such a thing. He wanted, selfishly, for Q to stay on the line and keep talking to him, but he was also… strangely tired. He found himself drifting off with Elgar in his ears and an image of Q somewhere in MI6 with a mug of tea, soothing his throat, and watching over Bond. Like he was Bond’s guardian angel -- or no, Bond didn’t much like to think about angels, because he doesn’t think they’d want anything to do with him.

No, Q was his patron deity, a household god. More familiar than an angel, more honest. Gods made mistakes, and had messy affairs, and killed people who didn’t deserve it. That was more like the world that Bond and Q lived in. Q was Bond’s household god, and Bond would keep him in a shrine just inside the front door, protecting and protected all at once.

Chapter Text

There were three problems simmering away at MI6, and it was Eve’s job to keep the lid on. And just now, she had the sneaking suspicion that all three of them were about to boil over at once, like volatile Q-Branch experiments left too long on their Bunsen burners.

Just business as usual, really.

First and foremost among them was the lingering question of the MI6 mole. Only Eve, Bond, M, and Q were fully privy to all the details, but plenty of people had guessed. It was a building full of spies, after all. So obviously the mole was Problem No. 1, but that didn’t mean that Problems No. 2 and 3 were any less potentially cataclysmic.

Problem No. 2 was the Quartermaster himself, who might have passed his psychological evaluation, but was also probably well able to outthink the MI6 psychologist. The stress of Q’s job would be enough to put anyone else into a coma, even someone who hadn’t just spent three days locked in the darkness after being kidnapped and violently tortured. It hadn’t affected his work -- yet -- but that didn’t mean Eve wasn’t monitoring the situation very fucking closely.

Unsurprisingly, Problem No. 3 was James fucking Bond. That was very much business as usual. Bond was always as much a huge problem as he was a tremendously valuable asset. His attachments were notoriously troublesome, and the fact that he seemed to be becoming attached to the Quartermaster could so easily end in disaster. Moneypenny had watched them circling each other; it was like watching a timer counting down in unfamiliar numbers, and not knowing whether that timer was attached to a fiery explosive or a confetti cannon loaded with paper hearts and condoms.

Mallory could see it all coming, of course. The current M really was brilliant, and always three moves ahead. But Mallory wasn’t like the previous M. He didn’t know either Bond or Q well enough to really check in on them. That’s why he’d made Moneypenny his right hand. Arguably, as chief of staff, Tanner could also have done this, but there was a problem with that too.

Tanner was on their list of suspects. No one liked it, least of all Tanner, who looked very kicked-puppy every time he found them cutting off their sentences every time he stepped into the office. He didn’t say anything about it; didn’t protest his innocence or demand that they confide in him. That wasn’t proof of anything. Tanner was smart. If he was innocent, he’d understand that they had to suspect everyone, even him -- that wouldn’t stop the puppy eyes, but he’d accept their suspicions with grace. And if he was guilty, he was too smart to act any different. So as much as Eve and Mallory didn’t want to think it, they had to treat Tanner as a suspect.

Whoever the mole was, M had stressed that they were probably becoming desperate, and planning their next move, and that the likeliest target in MI6 was still the Quartermaster. He was vulnerable, and incredibly valuable, and clearly SPECTRE wanted him and his Rat Trap.

So Eve was going to kill three birds with one stone, and just bloody glue herself to Q’s side until everything was done boiling over (for the time being). She would make Q talk through his relationship with Bond, would make him confess how well he was actually coping, and keep him secure until the mole had either been found or made good their escape. Either way, they would know soon enough who the mole was. And once they were revealed, M would sic Bond on them, and then it would just be a matter of cleaning up the mess he would inevitably make while eliminating the threat.

That had been the plan, right up until Bond got himself poisoned. Bond getting himself poisoned set all the pots boiling over at once.


 “I have to go to Paris,” M said. “I’ve made it clear that I want to question Klebb myself and tripled the guard on her.”

Eve nodded, she was making notes on her phone, in a code of her own devising. “That way if the mole ends up on guard duty, it’ll be two against one,” she said. They could talk strategy in here, inside M’s soundproofed office, which was kitted out with a special bug-scrambler that Q had called ‘the cone of irritating static buzzing sounds,’ because he was a huge fucking nerd.

“The mole’s most likely here, though,” M said grimly.

“You still think it’s in Q-Branch?” Eve said, looking up.

“It’s still a strong possibility. But it depends when Klebb last had contact from the mole.” He sighed heavily and pulled on his coat. He still moved a little stiffly. Q wasn’t the only one dealing with the aftereffects of torture, after all.

“You want me to hold the fort?” Eve asked.

“Let Tanner take the reins. Give him enough rope to hang himself, if he’s going to,” M said, with a grim twist to his mouth. “You. Watch Q.”

She clicked off her phone. “Understood.”


 As soon as M was off to Paris, Eve made her way down to Q branch. It was evening again, but Q was still in Ops Support, according to R. He had been in Ops Support, in near-constant contact with the still-paralyzed 007, since he was poisoned in the wee hours of the morning, so he was coming dangerously close to the 24-hour mark at work.

She came around the corner and assessed the situation. Q had ceded the main part of Ops Support to the evening shift, who were running an op for 004, because despite everything, the world really did keep turning no matter what.

Q had set up shop in one corner with a hideously generic company mug, a headset, and a single workstation with only two screens. One showed life signs. The other showed a livestream of Klebb. Q kept running a diagnostic, making sure that no one was tampering with the feed. All the while, he spoke softly into the mic, lips moving slightly, a gentle steady stream of words going straight from his lips to Bond’s ears.

His voice might be steady, but his hands shook, Eve noted.

As Eve watched, he minimized the medical feed and pulled up bloody iTunes, of all things. He scrolled through and Eve saw an album cover on the screen: sepia oak leaves and the London Symphony Orchestra logo. He was still speaking quietly into the headset, a small smile fighting to pull at the corner of his lips. He hit play on the music, whatever it was. All she could make out from this distance was the composer name. Elgar.

Q reached for his tea mug and saw that it was empty. He looked up and seemed somewhat surprised to see that the day crew in Q-Branch had been replaced by the night crew. The night crew included the American who had helped Eve identify the outgoing transmissions from Silva's computer. He was on the list of suspects for the possible mole, along with Tanner.

Q got up from his desk, mug in hand, and turned. Then he saw Eve, and Eve saw his face.

He looked absolutely crushed. Destroyed. Like he's been run over by a bus then left out in the rain all night. When he saw Eve he tried to straighten, to pack away the expression into something cool, collected, and professional, now that he knew he was being watched.

But Eve had already seen. “Come on,” she said. “I'm taking you home.”

“I'm not going,” Q said simply.

“Don't make me tranq you.”

“I'm not leaving him--”

“Don't fret Quartermaster,” said a new voice; easy, deep, and lightly Northern. “I can mind 007 for you.” It was 006 -- Alec, who had known Bond longer than any of them. “I'm still pretty much on Yakutsk time, so it's no trouble.” Trevelyan smiled kindly, and patted Q on the shoulder in a big brotherly sort of way.

Q reluctantly handed over the headset. “He's sleeping now. I put on some music.”

Trevelyan took his seat, sinking back in the chair with the confidence and grace deeply ingrained in all the double ohs. He put on the headphones and quirked half a smile, approving. “He loves this shite. Bloody posh melodramatic bastard.” Bastid, he pronounced it, the accent coming out especially thick.

Q stared at Trevelyan for a moment, until Eve put a hand on his shoulder and walked him out of the room.

Q rubbed at his eyes with the heel of his hand, the weariness falling on him with increasing heaviness on each step as they made their way to the garage. “How can he stand it?”

Eve put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “It helps having someone talking you through it. You did good, Quartermaster.”

Q looked up at her, blinking. “No. No, I know that. I meant Trevelyan. How can he stand it? He’s so… Calm.”

“Desensitized, I should think. The double-ohs are very accustomed to losing people and not being able to help.” Eve squeezed again. “And this time he is able to help. And he’s not going to lose anyone.”

Q just rubbed his eyes again. She wasn’t even sure he’d heard her. The sooner she got him home, the better.


 When she parked the car at Q’s flat and started to get out with him, Q looked up at her quizzically. “You don’t have to come up with me,” he pointed out. “I’m not that tired.”

“I don’t know.” Eve grabbed a small overnight bag from the backseat of her car. “Thought we might have a sleepover.”

“What are we, twelve?” Q said. “You don’t have to watch over me, Eve, I’m fine .”

“I insist, actually,” Eve purred.

At that point, Q finally cottoned on. He still frowned, but he let her into his flat, keying them through the security measures. Eve dropped her bag next to the couch and bent down to scratch Weasley around his collar while he purred thunderously.

“So what’s going on?” Q asked, while he set the security measures to lock them in.

“While M is closing in on the mole, he asked me to keep an eye on our brilliant Quartermaster, that’s all,” Eve said.

“He thinks he can get a name out of Klebb?” Q said. He sounded exhausted, rubbing his eyes. His hands weren’t shaking anymore, but Eve wasn’t sure whether that was good or not.

“He thinks he can get more out of Klebb than she realizes she gave him, which is even better.” Eve cocked her head at Q. “You should go to bed,” she said. It was nearly midnight, and they’d eaten at the office when it became clear that 007 was going to need Q-Branch support through the evening.

“Yes,” Q said. “I was just going to kip on the sofa in my office. You can have the bed.”

Eve rather suspected that Q was going to load up the Smart Blood programme and watch Bond’s heart monitor all night, but she also wasn’t so unkind as to say anything. “I’m going to sleep in the living room. You should sleep in the loft,” she argued. “If someone does get in, I want them to have to walk by me to get to you.”

“No one’s going to get in,” Q said.

“Right, and no one was going to kidnap you either,” Eve retorted.

Q opened his mouth, then shut it.

“He’ll be fine. He’s through the worst of it now,” Eve said quietly.

“Shit,” Q mumbled, and put one pale hand over his face, shoving his glasses up and askew.

“Oh darling,” Eve said fondly. “You really are a mess.”

“Shut up,” Q moaned from behind his hand.

Eve didn’t, of course. “Go to sleep. Bond will still be there in the morning.”

Q made an ugly sound behind his hands, something between a scoff and a snarl. It made Eve frown. This wasn’t like last Friday, when the two of them got sloshed and commiserated about how terrible it was to have Feelings. That had been relatively good-humored, self-deprecating but laughing about it.

Q wasn’t laughing now.

“Q?” Eve said, tentatively reaching out. She almost wished she knew his real name -- it felt strange to call him by his title just now.

He slipped out of the chair, dropped his hands from his face, shied away from her touch before it could land and turned his back on her.

“I’m fine,” he said, voice mechanical and cold, like he was still in Q-branch.

“Q--” Eve started, without knowing what she was going to say next.

“I’m. Fine.” Q glanced back at her, and there was that iron control, like at work. “Goodnight, Eve.” He ascended the staircase, heading for the loft where his bedroom was.

A downside of her being glued to his side: if he was never alone, he’d never let himself fall apart the way he probably needed to. He was too bloody proud to do that while there were witnesses present. She sighed. “Goodnight, Q.”


 Bond awoke to find that his hands and face were tingling slightly.The paralysis was wearing off then. With a rush of relief, he lifted fingers to touch his ear. The sturdy Q-Branch earpiece was still there, as it had been through his whole ordeal. His skin crawled -- he could suddenly feel every place where he was hooked up to machines. He didn’t bother to call for a nurse. He sat up and tugged at the tape that held the breathing tube in place. He grabbed the tube and coughed as he pulled it from his throat. He spat to one side then swallowed. His throat felt raw. He hated those damn things.

“Good morning, 007,” said a familiar voice -- though not Q’s. The warm, slightly Northern burr was still welcome to Bond’s ear. “I see we still haven’t managed to get rid of you.”

“006, are you finally defrosted?” James said hoarsely, and was fucking delighted to find that he could speak. He glanced around the room -- if it was morning, it was still very bloody early. But then… he supposed that made sense. The mission, chasing Klebb, that had taken all night. It had been nearly dawn when he’d been poisoned, and then Q had talked to him damn near all day. He’s not certain when he finally drifted off, but it had probably been around dinnertime. His timeline was a little muzzy. It had all felt like years.

“It’s a work in progress. I sent your Quartermaster home for a bit of a rest,” Alec replied.

“And he left me for you to torture?” James said. “I call that friendship.”

“Well, what’s a little torture between mates,” Alec said breezily. “Anyway, he was dead on his feet, poor lamb. You should be nicer to him.”

James grunted at that. “I’m not nice to anyone.”

“Yeah, but you actually like him.”

“Don’t be absurd, I’m a grumpy old husk of a man with no feelings,” James said, groaning. There was not a single part of his body that didn’t hurt just now.

“Christ, for a spy you’re a terrible liar.”

“I was just poisoned, you should be nicer to me.”

“Yeah maybe the first time you get poisoned. Get past round three and no one cares anymore. Look, I’ve got to hand you off to R in a minute, they want me out in the field again, the bastards,” Alec said. “But I wanted to talk to you first.”

“That sounds like trouble.” James could hear a keyboard clacking faintly in the background, and wondered if 006 was in Q-Branch. He supposed he had to be.

“This Quartermaster bloke…” Alec had lowered his voice -- still perfectly audible to James, but James got the feeling that Alec didn’t want to be overheard. “I didn’t realize you were… interested in him.”

James's stomach swooped. “He’s the Quartermaster," Bond said, trying to laugh it off. "I'm interested in anyone who can rig pen to explode." But he could hear that his tone had changed, from easy conversation to faux-easy conversation. Trevelyan would know the difference, and he would know what it meant.

“You do put on a good show. Even I didn’t see it at first. If I had…” Alec cut himself off. “But I said he was your Quartermaster. And you didn’t correct me on that did you.”

James clenched his jaw. “Look, it’s not…”

“Mate, it’s none of my business,” Alec said quickly. “Just. For what it’s worth. I think you deserve someone you can trust.”

James thought of a hotel in Switzerland, and another in London, sitting on a rooftop with the taste of scotch on his tongue. He thought of Alec coming for him, saving him from himself. “You’ve said that to me before.”

“I meant it as a warning before.”

“And what is it now?”

“Encouragement,” Alec said softly.

James had not the slightest idea what to do with that. He swallowed, and if he was honest -- the thought of that, of trusting Q and letting Q know that, frightened him more than dying of paralysis.

“And here’s R now,” Alec said, switching tracks abruptly and putting on his extra-charming-secret-agent voice, as opposed to his having-a-chat-with-James voice. “Take good care of our lad, won’t you?”

Bond wasn’t sure if that was addressed to R, or to him.


 Q did not sleep for a long time. He desperately needed sleep, but it simply wasn’t in the cards. He stared at the ceiling and made himself be still. He couldn’t quite get his mind to stop racing, but he could at least make himself lie still and pretend to sleep. Maybe eventually it would be true.

He was wracked with irrational guilt -- he’d tried his damnedest to keep James from getting stabbed. It wasn’t Q’s fault that Bond’s suicidal tendencies ran so bloody deep. Still. In all the time he’d been Quartermaster, he’d not yet been behind the comms in Ops Support, listening as an agent gave their life.

He’d come damn close today, and that alone would’ve been enough to keep him up.

But it was worse than that, because it was James, and when had he stopped thinking of James as a number, an agent, an asset? James had gone from being a puzzle and a pain in the ass to being eye candy to being the embarrassing object of a workplace crush, and nowt, Q rather suspected that they were friends. For whatever value of friendship Bond was capable of.

No.

Q put his hands over his eyes, rubbing hard.  It was worse than that. It wasn’t that he’d almost lost an agent. It wasn't that James was his crush. It wasn’t even that they were friends. He could lie to everyone else, but lying to himself was an exercise in futility. Unfortunately, he was too smart to believe his own bullshit.

The pathetic fucking truth was that since that night when Bond kicked down the door of his cell and brought him out of the darkness, some part of Q was sure that he would only be safe as long as Bond was alive. Which was a bit unfortunate as it was so frequently Q’s job to facilitate Bond's madness. His sense of personal security was apparently now tied to a man who occasionally attempted fisticuffs with goddamn komodo dragons. All through the Paris Op, Q’s mind had been spiraling hopelessly in a loop of get him out safe or you will never be safe again. It was ridiculous, and dangerous, and irritating as hell. They weren’t even sleeping together, for God's sake.

Q rolled onto his side. He curled one arm under his pillow. He started tracing a shape on the pillow in front of his face, then forced himself to stop. He squeezed his eyes shut. It was probably a good thing that a contingency of his going back to work was mandated sessions with a trauma specialist. He clearly fucking needed it.


 Bond was reflexively flirting with the nurses and plotting his escape when Mallory came in. The man had his coat slung over one arm and his shirtsleeves rolled up. Somehow, with his braces and his stiff-upper-lip expression, Mallory always managed to look like he’d just walked out of the middle of World War II era movie. Just now, though, he looked more like he’s just walked out of the Blitz, his expression grim.

“Get anything out of Klebb?” Bond asked.

Mallory threw a Look at the nurses and they fled without needing to be told.

“Christ, worse than we thought. Is it Tanner?” Bond had his own suspicions. He’d hated to think of the mild-mannered and surprisingly deadly chief of staff, who’d been with them all for so long…

“Looks like it,” Mallory said. “Whoever it was had access to the double-oh mission files as well as Q-Branch.” Mallory pinched his nose. “Should’ve known when he got through that rescue mission without a scratch.”

Bond lifted an eyebrow. “He’s good. Didn’t necessarily mean anything.” Still -- that had been what first aroused their suspicions against Tanner. The chief of staff, standing there mildly smiling and not even bruised after the violent tussle to recover M and Q. Even Alec had gotten knocked about on that run, and he was damn near better than Bond. Still… “It couldn’t have been a Q-Brancher who just hacked into the double-oh database?”

“No. Once we knew that Q-Branch was potentially compromised, we deliberately kept this mission off the digital books until you were already on your way. Klebb knew the details before Q did. Only Tanner has the access to set something like this up.”

That wasn’t right, whispered Bond’s instincts. They were missing something. He sat up, and swung his legs off the end of the bed. He’d already traded in the bloody awful gown for real trousers and a shirt -- though in this case, “real” was a relative term, meaning scrubs, since his suit had been ruined in their haste to save his life. He frowned at his bare feet.

“The timing is… strange, though, isn’t it?” Bond said. He looked up. “If it was Tanner, why not act sooner?”

Mallory shrugged. “Didn’t want to blow his cover? Waited until there was someone else that could conceivably be framed for the breach -- someone like you, who’d just gotten back, so the timing looked suspicious.”

They’d forgotten someone, Bond could feel it. Someone hiding in plain sight, someone they thought they could trust. Someone else had known about the mission. Q had said something. They’d been given intel about Klebb, about her fondness for tetrodotoxin, and whoever gave that intel had to have been briefed in advance, and had therefore known.

Bond looked up sharply. The realization hit him like a knife in the back. “You said it couldn’t have been a Q-Brancher hacking into the double-oh mission files, but could it have been a double-oh who hacked into Q-Branch instead?”

It hit Mallory a moment later, and it washed over them both at the same time; the timing of it, the sheer improbability of that particular agent coming back so soon before the kidnapping, the probability of who could’ve been turned, and when, and how.

And what his next move would be.

“Oh fuck,” said M, before they both moved. Mallory reached for his mobile, and Bond automatically went for his gun.


 Q woke to Eve’s soft voice and the smell of bacon cooking in the kitchen beneath the loft. He rolled onto his back and for a moment he just stared at the cracks in the ceiling. The light coming in through the window was still grey and watery.  He'd only drifted off a few hours ago, he guessed. His brain felt like it was sloshing and staticky all at the same time. The memory of the previous day twisted his stomach and with deep dread, he lifted his head, trying to hear more of what Eve was saying, to catch some indication of whether Bond had made it through the night.

“And he’s gone?” Eve said. “But not out of the city?”

Q sat up. Perhaps Bond was alright and had hit the ground running, but… it seemed more likely that their mole had broken cover and was rabbiting.

“Yes, sir.”

She was talking to Mallory, then.

“That’s hardly necessary.”

Exasperation -- not with Mallory. Something about her tone suggested Bond to Q, but he tried not to get his hopes up.

“No, I suppose there wasn’t,” she said, still sounding exasperated and a little sad now. “Yes sir. No, sir, I’ll tell him.”

Q gave up any pretense and got out of bed. He went to the old, iron spiral staircase that linked the loft to the rest of the apartment and descended into the kitchen just in time to see Eve putting away her mobile. She looked up and the question on his mind must have been written all over his face. “Bond is fine,” she said at once. “He’s on his way back, the absolute tosser.”

Q… had to sit right there on the bottom step. He had to -- there was simply no other option at this juncture. He dropped his head into his hands and just… Just keep breathing. He’d said it so much to Bond yesterday, and now he said it to himself. Bond was alive. Bond was safe. So Q would be safe too.

Eve was watching him. “And we found the mole,” she added, once she deemed him stable enough for more news.

Q looked up. Her face was so grim, so tense. “Christ -- who is it?”

Eve's expression crumpled into hurt, self-recrimination, and confusion. That was more terrifying than the grimness -- it made Q's heart stutter and jump again. Then she took in a deep breath and said:

“It’s Alec. Alec Trevelyan.”

Chapter Text

Eve was still with Q when the security system trilled its alert and showed Q a broad-shouldered figure coming up the stairs like a great blond thundercloud. Q gave the clearance code and Eve gathered up her bag. She’d barely gotten off her mobile for the last hour. “No,” she said. “I can still make the meet, he’s here now.”

Q felt useless, and horrible, and frightened. Eve and Bond were swapping places; Bond to take over guarding Q, and Eve to follow up leads in the field. All of this made Q feel like the literal ball and chain holding them all back. But that was why he'd requested that Bond bring one of the secure work laptops, so Q could work remotely and stop feeling like the human equivalent of an infected appendix.

The door opened for Bond and he stormed inside, glaring at Moneypenny like she had a gun drawn on him. She didn't even bat an eye, didn't smile, all business. She didn't even say goodbye to Q as she walked out the door.

He hoped to God he'd see her again.

He couldn't believe they were sending her up against Alec Trevelyan. Logically, he knew she wouldn't be on her own, but he couldn't help thinking that she wasn't a double oh, didn't have all the training that Bond or Trevelyan had.

He was terrified for her.

Bond shoved the laptop bag unceremoniously into Q’s arms and started prowling through the flat in a way that screamed security check. Not that Q was complaining. But the tension that rolled off 007, the hurt barely contained in the set of his broad shoulders and the rage that simmered in his silence… it set Q on edge.

“James… are you--”

“Don't you have work to do, Quartermaster?” Bond said, his tone frosted over.

Q took a step back and collected himself. Without another word, he retreated to his office with his field laptop. Bond clearly didn't want the company. Q wasn't stupid enough to poke a lion while it licked its wounds.

It probably hadn't helped that Bond had then been assigned to watch Q instead of going after Trevelyan like he doubtless wanted. But M had wanted both 006 and 007 alive. He knew full well that 007 wanted to either murder Alec or die trying. In an unsurprisingly astute move, he'd given Bond a job the man wouldn't refuse: watching the Quartermaster. Bond wouldn't go AWOL baying for Trevelyan's blood while Q’s life was on the line.

Probably.


Bond felt tethered and unmoored all at the same time. He checked the perimeters twice because he didn't trust his focus just now. His mind keeping summoning up memories and replaying them ruthlessly. Alec laughing over a campfire in the middle of the Nicaraguan jungle. Alec putting his hand on the back of James's neck and squeezing as they walked away from another colleague’s grave. Alec tossing his gun to James, who caught it flawlessly and fired; like they were a single mind with two deadly bodies.

He hadn’t thought that he trusted Alec, per se. There was a tacit understanding between all the double-ohs. They would work together, they would drink together, they understood each other like no one else could, but part of that understanding was that they all had secrets, and if the time ever came, they would not hesitate to pull the trigger on each other. So Bond knew and accepted that one day he might be the death of Alec, and one day Alec might be the death of him.

I see we still haven’t managed to get rid of you.

James wanted to howl his rage, wanted to snarl and break something, but more than all of that he wanted to see Alec bleed for what he'd done.

And M had smacked him on the nose like a bad pup and sent him to watch the Quartermaster. Normally Bond took any order with a healthy side of only if I fancy it, but guarding Q was different. For starters, there was actually a chance that Alec would come for Q, so staying at the Quartermaster’s side was a decent (if unsatisfying) way to get to the traitorous bastard. But secondly, well…

I didn’t realize you were… interested in him.

Bond’s mind turned away from the thought before he could finish it.

He paced back and forth in Q’s living room, full of too much energy and rage to be still. The conversation kept playing over and over in his head, jumping from moment to moment and never quite alighting on anything.

You deserve someone you can trust.

He kept making this mistake. Trusting people. He never fucking learned. Time and time and time again, he trusted people, and every time they betrayed him. It would be one thing if Alec had just betrayed their country -- that would be enough, because whatever else he was Bond loved his fucked-up little corner of the world (warts and all). But Alec had betrayed him. Bad enough that Alec had gotten him poisoned and paralyzed and nearly killed -- what’s a little torture between mates? -- but he’d also compromised the whole of MI6, which was the closest thing either of them had to a real home.

And he’d gotten Q kidnapped.

You do put on a good show. Even I didn’t see it at first. If I had…

But Bond wasn’t about to try and convince himself that Alec had meant anything by that.

The door of the study opened and Bond’s head snapped up. Q, in a loose tee-shirt and faded, comfortable looking black jeans, was on his work mobile, and had his laptop cradled in one hand. “Well tell them that I’m not wrong,” he was saying.

He sounded like the Quartermaster again, which eased some of the tension in Bond’s chest. He’d been so furious when Q had looked at him with wide eyes as he came in, like a frightened animal, like he’d never left that room. Q wasn’t supposed to be small and terrified. He was supposed to be like this; a slim steel blade, an instrument of deadly precision.

“I don’t know what they were expecting to have happen,” Q said. “We knew this was coming sooner or later. It’s sooner, that’s all.”

He set his work laptop down on the little bistro table with a clatter. His lips were thin and turned down, eyes twitching narrow with irritation at whatever the person on the other end was saying.

“Honestly, they’re such fucking children," Q snapped. And that was unusual -- Q swore, but only very infrequently, and almost never at work. Bond raised a brow at the sign of underlying tension, unresolved fear, perhaps. “Whining about losing a toy -- at this juncture we have literally no other choice.”

Q went quiet again, listening, mouth pressed tight shut. He had one hand on his hip, staring out the high windows of his flat, cloud-filtered sunlight playing across the planes of his face. From his expression, and the tinny sounds of the voice on the other end, Q was being told off, very slightly, for his tone.

“Alright. Fine.” Q's voice was short, angry. “Let me know if they change their minds.” He hung up and tossed the mobile down on the table.

“What’s happened?” Bond said.

Q dragged a hand over his face and his gaze flitted to Bond and away again. “Seems like Trevelyan stole the Rat Trap. They’ll have a hell of a time decrypting it without me--” not even a hint of modesty there, “--but we have to assume that they will eventually.”

“And then SPECTRE will have access to any network they can plug a flash drive into.”

“Exactly. If we act to counter them now, we can save ourselves a lot of trouble later, but…” Q looked at Bond, an odd expression on his face.

“What?” Bond said, a bit snappishly.

Q chewed his bottom lip, eyes narrowed, as though he were thinking through something. Bond wondered what, but before he could reach a conclusion, Q was talking again: “I made a countermeasure for the Rat Trap,” he said simply. “A program that prevents it from working in the first place. It’s not easy to install, but you can… for lack of a better word, inoculate your systems. Makes the Trap completely useless.”

“So you  weren’t just making a virus. You made an anti-virus too,” Bond said, eyes widening as the realization hit him. “You didn’t--”

“Trevelyan didn’t get the anti-virus, just the Rat Trap. SPECTRE would’ve known I was developing the Trap from their screenshots of Silva’s computer, but the anti-virus is all on here.” He set the tips of his fingers very delicately on the closed lid of his work laptop, brushing the faintly unprofessional looking stickers that covered it.

Bond’s attention was now fully on this new intelligence from Q, all his brooding quite forgotten. Things were slotting into place, making sense. “So… that meeting you had, the day you were kidnapped. The Quartermaster, M, the new C. I’m guessing the Home Secretary, the Chairman of the ISC?”

“Plus a few others,” Q said.

“Of course.” Bond folded his arms over his chest, feet shoulder-width apart, a bitter little twist to his mouth. “You came forward with a countermeasure for the most dangerous piece of cyber-espionage technology that we’ve ever seen, and I’m guessing they said: Bollocks to that, let’s just inoculate our own systems and use that thing on everyone else.”

“And nevermind the consequences,” Q finished for him with a thin, angry twist to his mouth.

“Well you can hardly blame them for being greedy bastards.”

“And yet I do, and will continue to do so,” Q said softly. There was something bitter and defiant and angry in his expression. It was a look James was more accustomed to seeing on his own face.

His blue eyes narrowed and he cocked his head to one side slowly. “They told you not to tell me all this, didn’t they,” he said. “The whole 00 Programme is potentially compromised. Presumably that’s why they sent Moneypenny out after Trevelyan instead of someone with a license to kill.”

Q shrugged his slim shoulders -- he looked particularly boyish in his lounging-at-home clothes, a soft looking grey tee-shirt covered in sketchy white maths equations, and a pair of black skinny jeans worn to softness. He wasn’t even wearing socks -- it was oddly surreal, like seeing a hermit crab out of its shell.

“You could be fired for telling me this,” Bond pointed out.

“Honestly, 007 I don't know why you think I give a toss about any of that at this point,” Q said, almost waspish. “Whatever they say, you deserve to know what's going on,” Q said, unexpectedly genuine and forceful about this.

The level of passion in Q’s voice hit Bond harder than he was expecting. His lips parted, but then… there was something about Q’s tone that made Bond freeze, laser focus narrowing in. “Q,” he said slowly. “What are you planning.”

It wasn't even really a question. Q didn't look up, just flipped open his laptop without sitting at the table. He adjusted his spectacles, looking down at the login screen, leaning over it to tap something on the keyboard.

“Q?” Bond’s tone turned warning.

“I thought I might just post the antivirus to a freeware sharing site, that's all. It's my invention. I don't actually have to wait for approval, I can do what I bloody like with--”

Bond pushed the laptop closed with a snap, almost catching Q's fingers in the case.

Q glared at him over the top of his spectacles like a schoolmarm. “007, what do you think you're doing?”

“Stopping you from ruining your career,” Bond said harshly. “You wrote that programme on MI6’s time, with an MI6 laptop, using MI6 intelligence resources. Posting it online without authorization is treason.” Bond stared at Q. “You’re not stupid. You know all this.”

“I’m sorry, did you develop temporary deafness and miss the part where I don’t give a toss?” Q’s voice was marginally louder now, as though he thought Bond might really be deaf.

“You’re in shock,” Bond told him. “You’re not thinking right.”

“Oh please, I’m not one of your fainting flowers, 007, I am your bloody Quartermaster.”

“Yes you are my bloody Quartermaster,” Bond snapped. “And I would like to keep you.”

Q rocked back on his bare heels at that -- visibly thrown by the words, his lips parting slightly, green eyes blinking rapidly behind his specs.

Bond wasn’t used to hearing his own voice sound soft, understanding, but that was the tone that rang in his ears when he said: “Don’t give up your career for this. It’s not worth it.”

“Oh that’s fucking rich,” Q snapped, voice gone brittle and sharp as glass. He looked angry, hurt -- and not a generalized anger and hurt. He was angry at Bond. He had been hurt by Bond.

Bond has always been quite good at taking a punch, but that hit him right where he lived and knocked the wind out. “Q--”

“After all the shit you put me through last year? After SPECTRE, and-and rings and thugs, and -- after all that, you have the bloody cheek--”

“Q!” Bond was growing alarmed now, because the Quartermaster was actually shaking all over.

“I risked my job for you -- my whole life for you, for your bloody--your bloody hunch." Q’s voice, always musical and slightly lilting, now shook with emotion, a violin playing a thick vibrato note. “I have covered for you and lied for you!” Q stepped forward into Bond’s space, eye to eye with him, with rage seeping out of his every pore. “I got on a bloody plane for you, and got chased by SPECTRE’s thugs, and hacked into the CNS -- I nearly took a bullet. I would have. For you.”

Q shoved Bond hard with both hands, and Bond rocked back a step, letting Q have this because this… This wasn't a sudden outburst. This wasn't a deflection. This was months in the making, and it was Bond’s doing, anyway.

“I could’ve lost my career -- I gave up everything for this job, everything, and I was ready to risk it all for you. And the worst part? You knew. You knew I'd give you anything you asked for, you knew.”

“I wasn't asking for me,” Bond said, honestly for once, and meaning it to his core. He wouldn’t have asked all of that for himself, never. He didn’t deserve it. “It wasn't for me, none of it -- it was M’s last request. Our M.”

“Well I didn't do it for her,” Q said defiantly, head pushed forward on his slender neck. “I did it for you.”

And there was that squeezing again, like a belt around his ribs, ratcheting tighter and tighter. “Q, I--”

“And don't you dare fucking pretend it was all for her. The car wasn't for her,” Q cut in.

Guilt hit Bond. He hated himself all over again for his weakness, for the things he let infatuation do to him, and the things that then happened to the people around him because of it.

“You took my car, Bond,” Q accused. He was still shaking. And it may have been childish -- the car was just a car, but even Bond could see how the sheer indignity of it had stung Q. “And you drove away with Madeleine Swann beside you. You made me watch that, and you knew, you knew, you knew that I--” the singing chord of Q's voice snapped. He closed his mouth sharply, nostrils flaring as he visibly fought back the swell of feeling, of vulnerability.

There was no hiding it now. No pretending that Q thought of Bond as a platonic friend and nothing else. There was no pretending that Bond was the only one who was vulnerable to manipulation by the people he was infatuated with. James had done to Q what so many others had done to him. He couldn't hide from that, couldn't bullshit himself any longer. He'd used Q. And now he felt as though he couldn't breathe, as though his ribs would snap inward at any moment. “I came back.” It was his only defense.

Q let out a short, bitter laugh. “I wish you hadn't. I wish you had stayed away.”

“No you don't,” Bond said, with automatic confidence -- he knew a lie when he saw one. He hated himself for it, for prying Q open like this, but this was what he was trained to do. Pry people open. Leave them vulnerable. Use them for his own purposes. That's what he was made for.

He wished he weren't like this. There was no one in the world that he wanted to hurt less than this ridiculous boffin with his dumb suits and his wild hair. 

Q was staring at him. He blinked rapidly like he was still processing Bond's assertion. No you don't wish I'd stayed away. No you don't. Q looked like he wanted to tell Bond to fuck right off, and Bond sort of wished he would. Q shut his mouth. His lip trembled. “No I don't,” he admitted.

And then he grabbed Bond's face with both hands. When their mouths crashed together it was with a desperation that left even the hardened agent breathless. The kiss was all edges, all pressing, teeth hard behind lips, and a tidal, visceral push and pull. Q's glasses frame smashed against Bond's face and his fingertips dug into Bond's cheeks and he dragged him in closer, bodies pulling together by necessity. Bond's hands found Q's waist and steadied him -- the man was still trembling: utterly shattered and shaking under his skin. His breath shivered across Bond's cheek when their lips parted.

The silence in the flat rang, as if with the aftermath of an explosion. Tension sang in every line of Q’s whipcord body. Bond been in this position a thousand times before; some vulnerable creature pressed against him, seeking comfort. But this time Bond -- James was overcome with an irresistible urge to soothe and comfort and calm with no thought of taking anything else. It wasn't calculated, it was instinctive, even if tenderness wasn't what he'd been trained for. This was Q. And yes, he'd hurt Q before, but that wasn't what he wanted. What he wanted was this.

James ran his hands up to Q's shoulder blades and back down to his waist, feeling Q melt by fractions. He tipped his chin forward and met Q’s lips again, softer this time, pressing in to the kiss. He didn’t feel embarrassed by it, or wonder for a moment if he should or shouldn’t. Q wanted this, that was charted on every line and angle of him. Q's fingers gentled against his face, slid up into his hair, and to the back of his neck, curling over the thick cords and tendons, sliding through the short blond strands. Their lips parted and Q sighed against him -- it was the sweetest fucking sound that James had ever heard.

But before the kiss could deepen, Q pulled his head back and buried his face in James's neck instead.

“Oh shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit,” Q mumbled into his skin.

James rumbled a laugh and curled one meaty arm around Q's waist, giving him no chance to escape.

“Don't laugh at me you horrible old relic,” Q protested weakly. “I'm a bloody mess. It isn't nice to laugh. Christ.” His fingers tightened on the nape of James's neck. “Twenty four hours ago I thought you were dying and I was so fucking scared--”

“Oh you won’t get rid of me that easily.”

“Oh shut up, I very nearly had a breakdown in the middle of Q-Branch.”

“You didn't, though.”

James felt more than heard the skeptical huff that came out of the Quartermaster. “No, I put that off very nicely and I'm having it here instead.” Q seemed like he only wanted to burrow deeper into the sheltering arms. So James held him. Q's breath puffed across his collarbones and for a moment they just stood there in the weak sunlight of Q's flat, holding on.

“How dare you be nice to me,” Q said softly, with an attempt at wryness.

“Well I can always smack you around a bit, if you prefer.”

“You bastard.” There was no venom in it at all now. Q’s rage was apparently spent. He pushed back, his hands slipping down to James's shoulders. He wasn't quite meeting Bond's eye, that quick-moving gaze of his skittering away like James was too bright to be looked at directly. "I'm sorry.”

“Don't be,” James said at once.

“I shouldn't have--”

“Given the month you've had, you can do what you like,” James told him. “I’m certainly not complaining.”

James wasn't going to pretend that this was something other than a reaction to stress and shock; a vulnerable moment. Q had been pushed to the breaking point and then had gone and driven himself a bit farther -- with James's help. James knew what that was like. It ground down your defenses, chipped away at your inhibitions. You ended up doing stupid things, like kissing your co-worker -- even if that co-worker was probably a sociopath and definitely an assassin.

Q bowed his head, his hands still holding on to James's shoulders. Without really thinking about it, James slid his hands up Q’s sides again, pulling the soft t-shirt up. His pinkies trailed, dragging against the exposed skin, just a whisper of touch, but James knew exactly what he was doing. Q shivered and his head fell back with a soft but vehement "Shit." Throat exposed. James knew what to do with that, too. And hell. He wanted to, so he did. Q’s skin felt terribly thin under his kiss, pulse fluttering. If James bit down even slightly, he thought he would taste copper instead of salt.

“Don't,” Q said, sounding strained.

“Mmm,” James purred, voice buzzing against Q's skin. He could feel Q arching into the touch, wanting more. “Why not?”

“Because I'm your Quartermaster, not a mark.” Q sounded like he hated himself a little bit for saying it. “You're on duty anyway,” he added.

“This could be part of my duty,” Bond reasoned, pulling back to look at Q. “I'm very flexible about duty.”

“Oh my God you liar,” Q laughed. “Duty is the one thing you’re not remotely flexible about."

Finally, finally, Q’s ever-shifting gaze settled on James and stayed there, studying him. And bloody hell, no wonder Q always blinked and never stared. The intensity of his unmoving, deep-set, dark gaze was like being under a microscope. It was James's gaze that skittered away this time. He felt more naked than he had in years.

“James,” Q started.

“Come on, you need feeding.” James dropped his hands from Q’s sides. He leaned in and kissed Q’s forehead, just to show him that it was all kindly meant, that he understood.

But the fact was, while Bond was trustworthy (more or less) and happy (relieved even) to let Q lean on him, he wasn’t ready to lean on Q in return. Q would want to talk about Alec, about what happened in Paris, about what would happen next. And that was the last fucking thing James wanted to talk about.

“I’ll make something,” Bond said. “Don’t touch that laptop or I really will smack you around.”


This was what MI6 knew: Alec Trevelyan had not not been captured. He had not left London. He had not checked in with SPECTRE. And he had not died. As a consequence of this, James did not leave Q’s side.

For three whole days.

Q did not grab James again and snog him. But he did begin to wonder whether you could actually die from unresolved sexual tension. James was not helping. The man was pure weaponized sexuality at the best of times, but Q had never had that turned against him before, in such subtle and devastating ways. It was as if Q had unleashed him somehow. 

 

It would happen like this:

Q would be quietly working on his laptop at the little bistro table, and think that Bond was in the study, getting a brief from Moneypenny. But then suddenly the double-oh was literally breathing down his neck. One terribly broad, calloused hand would brush against his side, making him twitch all over and mistype whatever code he was writing. James would ask, with a laugh in his rumbling purr of a voice, what Q was working on, and Q would’ve completely blanked out by then, because he could feel James’s voice against the back of his neck, like those thin, pouting lips were hovering over his skin, about to kiss...

But the kisses never landed. James would drift away a moment later, leaving Q hot and cold all over, blinking rapidly and trying to reboot his brain.

 

Or like this:

When Q introduced James to the joy of video games, and discovered that 007 was not actually good at killing digital people. He was just beginning to feel a sense of triumph at that -- there was something deeply satisfying about completely slaughtering Bond, even if only in the realm of pixels and code.

But then Bond started to cheat: he slid his leg over Q’s on the sofa. Q was able to ignore that. But then Bond leaned in, as if leaning with the movement of his avatar, turned his head, and actually fucking bit Q's shoulder right where it met his neck. Q squawked and nearly died (both internally and on the screen) before recovering himself and shoving Bond away. 

Finally, at a crucial juncture in their on-screen battle, Bond abandoned all pretense and crawled Q's lap like a big warm cat, which not only squashed Q, but also left him extremely flustered. Bond smelled amazing up close, and Q wasn’t sure if he’d brought some kind of fucking musk or if that was just him. Q could only stare as his avatar fell in a hail of bullets and blood...

And then Bond was out of his lap, tossing the controller aside and strolling away towards the kitchen. "Tea?" he offered, radiating smugness.

 

And then there was this:

James did the cooking. "I'm not interested in living off tea and cereal, ta," James had said snootily on the very first day, and ran down to the Tesco's because apparently what remained in Q's cupboards was deemed insufficient. He also was awake and showered long before Q gave in to the claws and purring of his cats.

The upshot of this was that James would invariably make breakfast wearing only a towel, with his hair still damp from the shower and a cat winding and purring against his muscular calves, hoping for scraps. And every morning Q would stumble blearily down from the loft and get an eyeful. James’s back was tanned, and broad, and dotted with dozens of scars and hundreds of freckles, and he was muscular in a way that was for function rather than form -- slightly barrel-chested and full of stout, compact power under a layer of devastatingly human softness. Bond wasn't a bodybuilder, he was a survivor, and had probably been starved often enough to understand the value of a few fat reserves. He was an old, battle-scarred tank and Q had not thought that was his type, but he still had to hurry straight to the loo for a guilty shower every time, while James finished cooking with one of Q’s white towels riding far too low on his narrow hips...

 

Bond never crossed the line, never grabbed Q's arse or snuck a kiss or anything like that. It could all be played off as roughhousing, or a general disregard for personal space. Perhaps, if Q had a bit more willpower, he could have told Bond to stop. Bond might have even done it. But he was careful not to cross the invisible line that Q had drawn when he pushed Bond away and said "I'm your Quartermaster, not a mark."

He did everything short of stripping naked and doing a sexy dance on the other side of the line, but he never crossed it. Q got the feeling that if he wanted that line crossed again, he was going to have to do it himself.


 

It wasn’t all flirting and eating James’s amazing cooking. Q’s flat was... cosy would be a kind word. There was only one loo. And Q’s bed was in a loft not properly isolated from the rest of the flat. And Bond (with his eerily good hearing) had decided that the living room couch was the best place for him to catnap. He never let himself sleep for very long, but always seemed well-rested. Q supposed that 007 was used to this: protection details where he had to keep watch and stay alert and minimize the danger. 

That was a whole other thing: because sometimes, Q would be working at the bistro table, and Bond would be doing a perimeter check, and then without any kind of warning he would flop down on the sofa next to the table, put his back to the back of the sofa, fold his arms over his chest, he just sleep for a few hours, breathing soft and slow, sunlight catching in his silver-and-blond hair, face half smushed into the throw pillow under his head. Sometimes one of the cats would curl up with him. Sometimes both of the cats would curl up with him. Q could hardly blame them: he wanted to curl up with Bond too, but he knew full well that the point was that he could keep watch for them both, that Bond trusted him to wake him if anything happened. 

That did things to Q's head and his heart, but he tried really hard not to think about it too much. 

The point was that for the three days Bond stayed with him, Q’s privacy was pretty well limited to the times when Bond would commandeer the study to get updates from Moneypenny, or when he slipped out onto the terrace for a spot of brooding with a sneaky fag (even though Q told him irritably that his job was dangerous enough without risking lung cancer).

Suffice it to say that the flat was not really designed for two grown men to live comfortably side by side with two large cats, not to mention the elephant always in the corner.

The first time Q literally stepped on Bond’s toes, Bond hooked one arm around Q’s waist and snatched up his free hand. Like they were fucking dancing. Q’s chest pressed against Bond’s. He lifted Q off the ground easily, spun, and set him back down before the Quartermaster could do more than yelp in surprise. He had not swooned. But Christ he had wanted too.

The second time Q stepped on Bond’s toes, it was forty-eight hours in and they were both trying to make tea. Bond was suffering from the lack of space and insufficient caffeine intake, so instead of being gracefully, playfully swept aside, Q found himself being lifted bodily off his feet and simply set down elsewhere, with a sharply irritated glare from icy blue eyes. It was, in all honesty, a rather breathtaking display of strength. Bond had lifted him like he weighed no more than one of the cats. Potter skittered out of the way of his displaced person with an irritable yowl, and Bond growled. “Get a bigger fucking flat, Quartermaster.”

“I’m sorry,” Q said tightly. “Not all of us can afford to buy out the entire first floor of a townhouse in Knightsbridge.”

“You get paid more than me,” Bond pointed out. “You’re the Quartermaster.”

“It doesn’t go all that far, you know. Some of us have student loans.” He’d made his way back to the kettle now that Bond’s feet weren’t in the way. He poured hot water over the leaves in his personal pot. Bond preferred a sturdy breakfast tea to Q’s hand blended Jasmine Earl Grey, so they kept separate pots. “Plus, the retirement package is surprisingly shit, so I’ve been putting money aside for that. And also, in case you somehow missed it, London is not cheap, for those of us who weren’t born with a silver spoon shoved down our throats.”

Bond didn’t say anything to that. Q looked up to find Bond staring at him, looking bemused. “What?” Q said.

“For starters, just because my family had a manor house doesn’t mean I had money. That fucking place got all the money, trust me. But secondly, and more importantly… You’re saving for retirement?”

Q stared. And then his poor heart cracked very slightly because of course. Bond had money now because he wasn’t bothering to save for a future he didn’t expect to have. And that was… just heartbreaking. Q thought about the first time he saw Bond’s flat; the unpacked boxes, the unhung pictures. How often was Bond even there? He probably didn’t pay much for utilities he never used. “Of… course I am,” Q said, caught off-guard.

Bond’s eerie stare didn’t waver. “You’re never going to retire though,” he said, just sounding baffled, as though Q had told him that the sky was actually green.

“I…” Q squeaked -- actually squeaked. He was seeing the previous Quartermaster’s face in his head; a sweet old man, but dead long enough now that Q could be honest with himself about how hidebound and sloppy he’d gotten by the end. “I think I’m a good enough Quartermaster to not get blown up in my own branch. And I’m rather hoping that the kidnapping thing will have been a one-off, thank you very much,” Q finished, and poured tea through a strainer into his cup.

“If you think I’m going to let anothing like that happen again, you’re sadly fucking mistaken,” Bond said, in a low voice that made all the hairs on Q’s neck and arms prickle to attention. He resisted the urge to shiver. Or just collapse into a pile of jelly. Bond didn’t seem to notice, luckily. “That’s not what I meant, I just… Can you actually imagine retiring?”

Q opened his mouth to protest.

And realized that Bond was right. He tried to summon an image of a cottage by the sea, or in the Lake District perhaps, but all he could think was how bored he would be by it. He couldn't imagine ever wanting to retire, to give up his life as he knew it. He loved working at MI6. He loved how exhausting it was, how dangerous, how exciting. He loved making a difference, and he loved this vast game of three dimensional chess that they were all playing. Anyway, the Lake District had atrocious internet access.

Clearly the realization showed, because Bond chuckled, sending another wave of tingling from the nape of Q's neck down to the base of his spine. “Like I said, Quartermaster. Get a bigger fucking flat.” Bond winked at him -- actually winked, the complete tosser -- and prowled off towards the stairs for a bit of fresh air on the terrace. And probably another smoke.

Q couldn’t stop his eyes from lingering on James’s… assets. As he climbed the stairs they were… displayed to particular advantage, and Q couldn’t even be properly cross about Bond sneaking a cigarette. He leaned against the counter and took a fortifying sip of tea. Having Bond around was a huge comfort -- Q felt safe, but also…

These knee-weakening attacks of lust were making it hard to concentrate. Not to mention that he kept getting these heart-breaking glimpses of James -- the James that wore 007 like a suit of armor tailor made for him. The James who was an orphan just like Q. The James who threw himself into his work because he didn’t have anything else, just like Q. The James who didn’t take proper care of himself, because he was rubbish at valuing himself. Just like Q.

Lust was bad enough. The infatuation was just embarrassing. But this? Q was beginning to fear that he was in well over his head.

 

Q breathed a huge, slightly guilty sigh of relief when MI6 gave them the go-ahead to get back to work and decided to post a detail at Q’s building and dispense with the personal bodyguard.


Going back to his own flat after so long practically (and sometimes literally) in Q’s lap was an adjustment for Bond. He’d enjoyed teasing Q, flexing his powers of seduction just to see the poor Quartermaster jump a bit. It was perhaps a little cruel -- like a big cat toying with a mouse without ever actually letting it die. But it was a damn good distraction, and they’d both needed distracting.

Now, there was just his horrible flat. The Fighting Temeraire seemed to be accusing him of something.

He didn’t feel like cooking, so he called in an order to his favorite takeaway place; a grungy little Jamaican place that did a jerk chicken even he couldn’t replicate. He almost didn’t place the order -- it was what he used to get when he and Alec were back from a mission and too battered to cook for themselves.

The delivery boy was the son of the owners and grinned broadly at Bond when he handed over the bags. He refused payment, saying it was a gift with a flash of white teeth. Naturally that made Bond suspicious, but he’d personally vetted the couple who ran the place, and regularly checked their accounts to check that they weren’t on any extra payrolls.

When he opened the bag, there was an envelope inside. Bond tore it open, too curious to give a damn about powdered poisons or micro explosives. And as it happened, the letter wasn’t boobytrapped.

But it was written in a horribly, sickeningly familiar hand.

 

James,

I think we were always going to end up here, on opposite sides. For what it’s worth -- and I know it isn’t worth much -- I am actually sorry. My loyalty was always to you, not to England. I honestly don’t know why you care so much. You’re no more English than I am.

I’m not going to ask you to abandon your loyalty, but MI6 doesn’t care about you. You’re just a tool in their hands. Something to be used and cast aside.

When that happens, you can always come find me.

Yours,

Alec

Chapter Text

Q came into his office and found Bond lounging in his chair. He seemed easy and relaxed; leaning back with his feet up, smirking. But after a week at Bond’s and three days at Q’s, the Quartermaster had become quite adept at speaking Bond’s various silent secret codes. There was a kind of relaxed that was actually relaxed, and then there was another kind of relaxed that had violence waiting just under his skin.

This was the latter.

Q closed the door behind him, and lowered the window blinds.

“Q,” Bond said, without looking up.

“007. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Bond still didn’t look up. He didn’t answer either. This worried Q.

“Bond?”

“I need to ask for your help,” Bond said. He paused. His expression was completely unreadable. “For me, not for…”

It took Q a moment to cotton on. Not for MI6. Not for the work. Not for Queen and country. For Bond.

Q felt a stab and remembered a kiss, a desperate longing, the humiliation of being so exposed, so vulnerable. And Bond had been so nice about it at the time, so gentle and so understanding and respectful, like he didn’t blame Q. Even all the ridiculous flirting afterwards had been weirdly nice. It flustered him, certainly, but it also made it seem like Bond didn’t pity Q. He flirted, but he respected Q’s wishes. It made Q feel like he was in control, and there was a weird sort of apology in it. Like Bond felt bad for having used Q.

Like he felt bad about anything, ever. Q was suddenly incandescent with rage.

“You can tell me to piss off,” Bond said quickly. “I’m not -- You’d have every right to.”

“You’re bloody right I would. How illegal is this request of yours?”

“Very.”

“And how likely is it to get me fired?” Q snapped.

“About 50-50.”

“Jesus.”

“You can call me James.”

“I can see why you get shot so often.” Q huffed and folded his arms, lips thin with fury. “Get out of my chair.”

Bond rose, and Q practically snatched the seat away from him. Bond shuffled out of the way and Q sat in front of his computer. He booted it up, logged in, and started a certain programme running -- one that would confuse the MI6 monitoring systems into thinking that he was working on something other than what he was actually working on. He looked up at Bond expectantly.

Bond’s expression was shuttered off, unreadable. It struck Q with a sudden pang. He’d learned to read a lot of Bond’s supposedly unreadable expressions, but he hadn’t really known James that long, in the grander scheme of things. Probably the only person who could read that expression was currently on the run, having recently pulled a knife out of James’s back.

No -- Q was not going to feel bad for this man. Not right now. Not when Bond was taking advantage of Q’s feelings. Again. The wanker.

“Well?” Q said, brusque and impatient. “What is it?”

Bond couldn’t hide his flash of confusion, but then he seemed to realize that Q actually was going to help him, despite his being a complete and total bastard.  Bond cleared his throat.

“I need you to help me find an auction.”

Q’s eyebrows lifted.

“Of stolen MI6 software,” Bond finished.

Q went very still. His eyes flicked rapidly across Bond’s face like it was a book he was speed-reading. “You think Trevelyan is going to auction the Rat Trap off? For SPECTRE? I thought they wanted to use it for themselves?”

“I don’t think he’s working for SPECTRE anymore, though I doubt SPECTRE knows that.” A muscle went tight in Bond’s jaw, then he deliberately relaxed it. “With Blofeld in custody, they're on the way out, and Alec isn’t interested in going down with that ship.”

“You think he wants to go into business for himself?”

Bond nodded.

“Right,” Q said, with soft precision. “Well. He has to get the word out somehow, and very far under the radars of both MI6 and SPECTRE. Give me half an hour and I’ll get you a time and a location. And I'll keep it off the record, since that's clearly what you want.”

Bond paused. “You'll help me.” His voice was neutral, completely expressionless.

“Don't get me wrong, I am still very fucked off with you. But of course I'll help you. Arsehole.”

Bond wavered in the doorway, frowning now. He looked unsure.

Q glared at him. “You're welcome,” he said, very pointedly.

Bond fled.


 Q found the auction, of course.

“A little gallery called Art in the Blood, it's in Artist's Row on the Talgarth Road. They're having an auction for a piece called La jeune fille à l'agneau. The Rat Trap comes free with purchase, I understand,” Q finished drily. “All sorts of lovely people will be attending; hackers and thieves and mobsters from all over the globe. Plus a couple of actual art collectors, who will doubtless be terribly confused.”

“Doubtless,” Bond murmured. His glacier-blue stare was fixed on something distant. Narrowed. Thinking. He stood up. “Thank you, Q.”

“Absolutely not.”

Bond stopped in the middle of doing up his suit jacket. He didn't say ‘beg pardon?’ or ‘excuse me?’ or -- God forbid -- ‘sorry?’ but Q carried on as if he had.

“I've developed a sixth sense for when you're planning something harebrained that will likely get you killed. You cannot go to that auction, Alec will doubtless be expecting you to try.”

“Why would he be? It's foolish in the extreme,” Bond said neutrally.

“Which is why he's probably already banked on your turning up, guns blazing. We should tell M what we've found.”

“No,” Bond said sharply.

Q stared at him, lips thin. “And why not?”

“Alec's been in the department as long as I have. He'll still have contacts here. Anyone could be another mole.”

“How many contacts can he possibly have? 006 had been embedded in bloody Siberia since I was an intern!”

“That was what, six months ago?” Bond said lightly.

“Yes,” Q shot back, “just after you started collecting your old age pension, I think.”

“You wound me, Q,” Bond said, putting a hand to his chest. It was flippant, but that didn’t change the fact that he was being backed into a proverbial corner. Q was right, and he knew it, and he wasn't afraid to press his advantage.

“He knows you. He'll be expecting you to try something reckless, because this is personal for you," Q said, cold and utterly without mercy. Bond almost flinched. “The best way to surprise him is to bring M in on it.”

“No,” Bond repeated, sharply. His flippancy was starting to wear thin, and something ferocious lurked beneath.

“Why not?” Q snapped. “For God's sake, James, if you’re asking this of me, the least you can do is tell me why?”

Bond’s control snapped. “Because it’s Alec,” he snarled, suddenly feral.

Q took a step back. Hurt, and pain, and loss as deep as oceans flashed across Bond's face in quick succession. Confusion and anger. And then rage -- not at Q, but at himself. A self-loathing that curled Bond's lip and made him draw back a step. And then his expression locked down, the shutters pulled tight closed again.

But Q had seen, and he understood. If they brought MI6 into it, Trevelyan would be dead one way or another. And despite himself, despite all the pain Alec had brought him, Bond didn't want his already blood-stained hands made even guiltier by the murder of his oldest friend.   A license to kill is also a license not to kill.

Bond reached into an inner pocket. He pulled out a folded piece of paper, and tossed it down between them. He jerked his chin, silently giving Q permission to read.

Q did, scanning through.

… I think we were always going to end up here, on opposite sides… I am actually sorry. My loyalty was always to you… MI6 doesn’t care about you... Something to be used and cast aside… When that happens, you can always come find me…  Alec

“Oh Christ,” Q muttered.

“So I think you can see why I don’t want to bring M in on this.”

Bond was compromised. He couldn’t bring M in without explaining where his information had come from, where he’d gotten his leads. If MI6 got their hands on this letter... They wouldn’t let Bond near this mission with a ten foot pole. And more than that: they’d never trust Bond again. It would be the end of his career, and his career was his whole damn life.

Q knew the feeling.

He sighed and bowed his head. “You must know that he’s using this against you,” Q said quietly. He didn’t mean the letter, and they both knew that.

Bond was stubbornly silent.

“Fine,” Q said. He looked up. “Not M. But we still need help.”


Shockingly, Moneypenny agreed to it. Trevelyan would know her face too, but that was part of the point. They wanted to spook him into running for it or surrendering, thinking that she had the full force of MI6 behind her. She wouldn’t, and she wasn’t best pleased by that, but as long as they got the drive back, Q thought that they could all salvage their careers after.

Moneypenny would be going into the auction, posing as a buyer, and that was why Q was dressed as Eve’s driver. Art in the Blood was a little gallery on the corner where Talgarth Road met Gliddon Road. It was a beautiful old Arts and Crafts townhouse, part of a group of row houses originally designed to be studio homes for bachelor artists. Each one had a huge two story conservatory-style window projecting from the upper floor. St Paul’s Studios -- Artist’s Row.

Q brought the sleek black car around the corner and stopped. He got out, hat pulled low and sweating under his suit despite the chill. It looked like it was going to rain. He got out and ran around to open the rear passenger door for Eve. She was alone, and on a phone that looked far too expensive to be hers. With large owly specs obscuring her face and her hair in very artsy braids much longer than usual, she was almost unrecognizable. She got out without looking up from her phone, and shrugged her faux fur higher on her shoulders.

Q went back around to the driver’s door, glancing over just long enough to see Eve show her phone to the doorman. It had a legitimate invitation on it; Eve had tapped an old cover of hers as a hacker and Q had wrangled the details.

Alone in the car, Q pulled around the block, past the Barons Court Station. He found a parking spot there. The train tracks were between them and the back gardens of Artist’s Row, but it was close enough. Q flipped open his laptop on the passenger’s seat, then reached back and grabbed the tab on the back seat. He pulled the seat forward.

Bond crawled out of the trunk and into the back seat. “Ta very much,” he said. He was wearing what Q privately called his tactical turtleneck. He had a black peacoat and scarf gripped in one hand, but right now his only accessory was the ever-present shoulder holster.

Q looked away and pulled the computer into his lap. Bond crawled into the passenger seat. “No trouble so far?”

“Not yet.” Q opened the security feed and set the laptop up on the dashboard so they could both watch. Q had used some special tech in Eve’s phone to hop from there to the gallery’s ‘secure’ network. He was in their video feeds now. Eve -- and the mobile scrambler/trojan embedded in her phone -- had made it through to the upper story; the big studio room which was playing gallery/auction house just now. She was milling about, ordering a drink at the bar and admiring the art very knowledgeably.

“Have they made her?” Bond asked.

Q was hacked into other feeds too; the guard channels, and a few quiet spikes in the comms corresponded with Eve’s arrival. “Yes. But they’re playing it cool so far.”

Bond grunted. "As expected."

They'd discussed this: Trevelyan would be expecting MI6 -- or Bond -- to make a move. There would be orders, probably to watch and report. They would wait for the intruder to make the first move. They wouldn't want to make a scene and scare off all the buyers, if at all avoidable. That meant Q, Bond, and Moneypenny had a brief window of opportunity.

Bond shrugged on his peacoat. It was pissing down rain outside now, water pattering against the windshield. “Have you located the Rat Trap? Or Trevelyan?”

“Just a mo,” Q said. The Rat Trap was most likely being kept elsewhere, but people would want evidence of its functionality, so there would need to be a live connection, a link up. If there was a link up, Q could follow it, find the Rat Trap's location. Q had imagined that a guard, perhaps with a tablet or computer, would be providing proof of the Rat Trap’s existence and usefulness.

But he wasn’t finding any such offsite link.

“Q?” Bond said, checking his watch. They probably didn’t have long before Alec made his move, whatever it would be.

Q ignored him. He tried a different tack, though he couldn’t quite imagine that they would be so careless…

“I can’t believe it,” Q said.

“Q,” Bond said, irritated now.

“It’s on site.” He tapped through to Moneypenny’s earpiece. “Eve, it looks like the Rat Trap is on the back of the painting, maybe it’s in the frame or something, I’m not sure.”

“Did this just turn into a heist?” Eve said quietly, as though speaking without moving her lips.

“Nope.” Bond pointed at the screen.

A familiar head of gingery hair had just come through the front door, followed by half a dozen men in black.

"It's a trap," Bond finished, grimly.

“Oh my god,” Q said. “Is he suicidal?” Six men and Alec would hardly have been enough to fend off a strike team from MI6, which he had to assume they had, because there was M’s right hand woman.

Except of course, they were bluffing. And Alec had called their bluff.

“Eve, get out of there,” Q said, suddenly terrified for her.

“No. Take cover, I’m coming to you. Q. Bring the car around to the front,” Bond ordered, and then he was out the door.

Q stared as Bond barreled across the road, leapt up onto the brick wall and from there vaulted lightly onto the roof of Baron’s Court station. Q’s breath caught in his chest as he saw Bond slip on the rain slicked roof, but then he was running full tilt and surefooted along the roofline that spanned the tracks.

Q swore and started the engine. He wasn’t a stunt driver like Bond or Moneypenny, but he knew how to throw the car around the block, swerving around parked vans and unwary pedestrians. He pulled halfway onto the sidewalk on the far side of the street and got out, staring up at the studio, wondering if he should go in. But what could he be in there, except a hinderance, and perhaps a hostage? Rain pelted down on his head, his shoulders.

People were shouting inside, and Q heard the very distinctive sound of suppressed gunfire, his heart in his throat. People came pouring out the door, scattering like rats -- but then, they were all criminals, and the police would be here in minutes, probably.

Then the huge glass window shattered outward. Q ducked instinctively. Several people on the street screamed, and he heard cars on the main road blaring their horns, tires squealing.

A body came through the glass, but it didn’t fall.

There were two figures there. In the darkness, in silhouette, it was impossible to tell whether those broad shoulders were Bond’s or Alec’s. One was braced against the window frame, probably with shards of glass digging into his hand. The other was dangling out of it, his feet over empty air. They were linked -- hands gripping wrists, holding on. The rain was pouring down, soaking them.

Horns blared, and Q couldn’t even blink. There was a moment. The dangling figure shouted something short. The one in the window replied.

Q wasn’t sure who let go.

The figure fell.

It was only one story up; anyone could have survived a fall like that.

But no one could survive being impaled on a spiked iron fence.

Q couldn’t breathe. He vaulted over the hood of the car, scrabbling for his phone, for the flashlight in it, because it was pitch black, but he was sure he’d seen a black turtleneck -- black trousers and boots, dangling down. If Bond was the one that had fallen--

People were screaming but he could still hear his heart thundering in his ears, his own breath ragged. He ran across traffic, vaulted the fence and skidded to a halt by the body, raised his phone, the flashlight function on on now and casting a pool of harsh, unkind light.

Alec Trevelyan had fallen awkwardly, the spikes making a diagonal line from his left shoulder, through the middle of his chest, and just above his right hipbone. They glistened, wet with thick blood. As Q watched, the man made a choking sound. Blood bubbled out of his mouth and down his cheek. His grey eyes unfocused and the hands trying vainly to pull the spikes from his body went slack and fell back, dangling down like broken wings.

Q was no innocent, but a shudder tore through him. He could feel himself beginning to shake. He'd never seen the light leave someone's eyes before. He’d never lost an agent before, and Alec might’ve been a traitor, but he was 006 before that. He was Bond’s friend before that.

Q felt sick. He turned his light up, and there, high above, he found Bond staring down, one hand gripping the frame of the window, heedless of the glass. The other hand still reached, frozen. The blue eyes were wide, and Q had never seen Bond look so painfully, terribly young. It was the face of a child who had just discovered that he was an orphan.

Again.


Q had been doing this long enough to know that sometimes victory felt like defeat, but not even M’s death had left such a bitter taste in his throat.

Eve came out of the gallery, limping badly and carrying the picture in one hand. They found the Rat Trap hidden behind the backing, and Q sat in the car with her and checked that there weren’t other copies. Bond stood outside the car, giving instructions to the cleanup crew when they arrived. He was already soaking, his hair sticking up in wet spikes. The bandage on his hand was tinged pink.

“It’s all here,” Q said as his programme finished its scan. “This is the only copy.” He pulled it out of his laptop. It took three tries. His hands were still shaking. He couldn't stop seeing Trevelyan's eyes going distant and unfocused, or the raw horror and grief that had been branded across James's face.

“Then we’re going to get to keep our jobs,” Moneypenny said.

Q looked up again. Bond was no longer talking to the cleanup crew. Now he was just standing there, with his back to Q. His bloody hand clenched and unclenched in a rhythm that had to be driving shards of glass deeper into his palm.

“That’s something, I suppose,” Q said.

Moneypenny put a hand on his shoulder. He looked over at her. “This is a win,” she reminded him.

“Is it?”

Her mouth turned down slightly at the corners, doubt crossing her face. They both looked back outside.

Bond had vanished.


The debrief took what felt like years. It was past midnight when Q got out, and Eve had only gotten out an hour earlier, but she was waiting for him in his office. Q-Branch was dim, the night crew in the control room quietly working away across the hall.

Eve had changed out of her dress, but the braids were still there, though bound up on top of her head in a sloppy bun. “He’s not at his flat, or at Alec’s flat, or in Medical.”

“Of course he’s not in Medical.”

“He’s not at the firing range, or at Rules, or at that hole-in-the-wall Jamaican place he likes so bloody much,” she continued. “And if he’s jumped off a bloody bridge, I will murder him," she finished, her voice suddenly vibrating with stress.

Q put a tired hand on her shoulder. “It’s alright. Go home.”

Eve just glared at him.

“Get some rest, Eve. I can find him.” He tried not to use the SmartBlood too much, but he wasn’t going to be stupid about it. “I’ll take care of it.”

“Will you take care of him?” She asked it with a challenge in her dark eyes.

“Of course I will,” Q answered without a second thought.


The hotel was terrible, but it took cash without asking questions or seeking ID. It also took bribes, and when Q showed them Bond’s picture and handed over forty quid, the desk clerk handed back a spare keycard without a single obvious twinge of guilt.

Q knocked first. He wondered whether he ought to stand to one side, in case Bond decided to shoot first and ask questions later.

“It’s me,” he announced to the closed door. “I’m coming in, alright?”

There was no reply, but Q went in anyway.

Bond had taken the solitary armchair in the room and set it back against the far window. He was thrown into shadowy relief, but he had a clear sightline to the door and windows from that position. His hair was still wet, glistening in the light that filtered through the curtains. He had a gun in one hand, pointed at the door -- at Q -- and a bottle of vodka in the other. There were pills on the table, open and spilled everywhere.  

Q swallowed. If Bond had wanted to be dead, he would be dead, Q reminded himself. And he wouldn’t have done it with pills.

The gun didn’t waver.

“Go away, Quartermaster.” Bond’s voice was chillingly disembodied, and sounded very strange. But then his face was probably half numb from a combination of booze and pills.

“No,” Q said simply.

Bond cocked the hammer back. All show -- he just wanted Q to hear the click and be frightened off. As if. Q just frowned in disapproval at the dramatics and locked the door behind him.

He flicked on the lights and found Bond had a vicious, angry glare on his face, like he hated Q. He flinched away from the sudden brightness of the lights. His pupils were completely blown, Q could see that even at this distance.

“You idiot,” Q said, crossing over and checking the label for the pills. Painkillers, of course. It didn’t look like he’d taken too many, given the amount left in the bottle and on the table.

“Leave me alone,” Bond snapped. “You’re not fucking wanted here.”

“Yes I can see that. Too bad for you.” Q swept the pills off the table and into the trash can.

Bond growled. He hadn’t gotten out of the chair though. Perhaps he couldn’t. Q crossed briskly over to him. The gun lifted to point at his face. It wavered and shook. In this state, Bond could easily pull the trigger by accident. Q grabbed the barrel and lifted it to point at the ceiling, then pulled it out of Bond’s grip completely, in one artful motion. It was painfully easy to do.  

Next, Q confiscated the bottle. The neck was smeared with blood. Q set gun and bottle aside and grabbed Bond's wrist. There were a few ugly but serviceable stitches in his palm, and it was clean and smelt of alcohol. That was something.

“Ugh,” Bond slurred. “What d’you want from me?” he wasn't making the slightest effort to resist, though. 

“I want you to take off your wet things and get in the bed,” Q ordered.

Bond sneered nastily. “That desperate are we?” Bond opened his mouth, doubtless to say something unkind and probably obscene.

“Don't,” Q warned.

Bond closed his mouth.

“Get out of those clothes, you'll catch your death,” Q ordered again, then turned his back and got out his phone.

It was nearly 2 am, but he texted Moneypenny anyway to let her know that Bond was more or less in one piece. He could hear Bond getting to his feet, the slick unsteady sound of a sopping wet shirt coming off, then the sound of a belt and zipper, obscenely loud in the quiet room. Q did not look. His phone pinged. Moneypenny had thanked him with a reply that read: tell him to get bent, if he scares me like that again I’ll break his kneecaps xoxo.

“Eve is terribly cross with you.” Q could hear Bond shambling closer behind him and stiffened, suspicion filling him. Bond was off the rails, might try anything in a fit of spiteful rage and grief. He might even try crossing that line they’d set days ago, after The Kiss.

“Bed,” Q said sharply, without turning around. An order, not to be disobeyed. The approaching steps stopped, then retreated. A moment later he heard the creak of old springs, the whisper of sheets.

Q thought it was safe, but when he turned, Bond was reclining, uncovered by the sheets, wearing only black boxer-briefs. He was still damp from rain and sweat -- it left little to the imagination. Q clenched his jaw.

“S’matter, Quartermaster?” Bond slurred. “Don't like what you see?”

Q wasn't made of stone, and Bond was gorgeous, but... He liked Bond better in warm sunlight, with a towel around his hips, making breakfast. He liked Bond laughing and playful and smirky. This was none of that. It looked like he was at a porn shoot, complete with a dead eyed stare and a terrible grimacing imitation of a smile. It was all wrong.

“No,” Q said. And it was true. He hated to see Bond like this; broken and desperate and completely off his fucking head. Bond couldn't even hold a gun right now. He couldn’t possibly know whether he wanted this or not, and yet here he was, offering himself up like choice meat. Bond’s grimace faltered and faded. He looked unsure, suddenly. Lost. Q had the sudden horrible thought that Bond was so accustomed to being used, body and soul, that he’d just voluntarily throw himself in front of any train that happened to be passing and pretend he didn’t mind.

Q grabbed the sheets and blankets and pulled them into order. “I know this is the part where you usually have ill-advised sex with whatever warm body happens to be closest, but regretfully, I must decline.” He dragged the covers up to Bond’s chest. “I’m not going to take advantage of you, James,” he said, as gently as he could. “And frankly, it would break my fucking heart.” Shit. He hadn’t meant to say that last bit. He clenched his jaw and glanced up at Bond’s face.

He looked stripped of all defenses. His face was blank, but not like a mask. Just… blank. Like a dead man’s face, almost. He wasn’t performing anymore. The whites of his eyes were reddened, making the irises appear even more impossibly blue. There was a whole sea of pain there, and Bond was drowning in it. Q swallowed. This close he could see the goosebumps all over Bond's skin.

“Are you cold?” Q asked.

Bond shook his head. His lips were pale.

“Liar,” Q accused. “I'll make some tea.” He started to straighten up, but…

Bond's weak fingers grabbed the front of his shirt. He was yanked down, forced to sit on the side of the bed, and then there was another hand at the back of his neck, this one scratchy with stitches, and then Q was being kissed. It was sloppy, and demanding, and filthy. Bond reeked of vodka and bad cigarettes and sweat; he tasted of salt and bitterness; his cheeks were wet and his broad, calloused hands shook, clinging.

Q had to jerk his chin back to break the kiss, but he couldn't go far with Bond clinging to him. Desperate. Their foreheads pressed together and Q squeezed his eyes shut. Bond made a horrible shuddering sound, a sickly wet breath in, like he was dying.

“Sorry," James slurred, voice rough. Q wasn't sure he'd ever heard James apologize before. Not once. "Just... stay?"

Please, Q heard, in the silence between the spoken words. Don't leave me alone.

Q squeezed his eyes shut tighter. “I'm not going anywhere.”

That unlocked Bond’s fingers and he fell back. Q sat up, lips tingling from the kiss. Bond reached up with one hand and dragged his thumb over Q's bottom lip. He was drunk, Q reminded himself sternly. And high. And grieving. This wasn't Bond. This wasn't James. This was... a moment of weakness. Q would not take advantage.

Bond probably wouldn't even remember this. It would be a mercy if he didn’t. But that didn't change Q's position. He would not take advantage. He gently pulled the hand away from his face and kissed James's stitched up palm before putting it back down on the mattress. 

"Tea," he said again. The cure for whatever ails you.

There was a terrible kettle and a terrible assortment of tea, in bags, but Q made a cup of chamomile. James had to be propped up against the headboard, with the cup dwarfed in his two broad hands. He took a sip, all expression gone from his face again, his eyes far away.

Then, without warning, he started talking. This man who would barely admit how he took his coffee, as if that information could be turned against him somehow. Who had endured unspeakable tortures without saying a word. Who wouldn’t even answer a simple ‘how are you’ without evasion. As far as Q knew, Bond had never strung more than a dozen words together at a time. Even his reports and debriefs were famously tight-lipped.

But now, he talked.

He talked about meeting Alec, a few months after getting back from a hellish trip to Bolivia. He remembered a thousand gruesome jokes that Alec had told him then. He remembered that it had made him feel like living, not just like he was alive.

He talked about Alec saving his arse from that godawful mistake he'd almost made with poor Tracy. He'd trusted Alec then -- to call him on his bullshit, and watch his back. It wasn't all the trust he had to give, but it was more than he'd given in a long time.

He talked about their first joint mission as double-ohs, and their second, and the one in the chemical factory that went so far south that Alec had been declared dead, and how that had led to his being sent undercover in Siberia.

He talked about Alec coming back when M died, and how he wished he hadn't drunk so fucking much. Because he was sure Alec had helped, but he couldn't remember exactly how.

He didn't cry. Q wished he would. This was worse: hours went by, and even with long stretches of silence between stories, this was the most he had ever heard James talk. Christ, they’d been roommates for ten days, and James had never talked this much at a stretch. You could probably string all the things Bond had ever said to him end to end, and it wouldn’t be as many words as had just come pouring out of Bond. The tea was long gone. Bond ended up curled on his side and talking like his words were blood and his throat had been slit. He sounded hoarse, ragged. Gradually, the words came slower, and slower… and slower…

“I didn't want to… I didn't want…” the tired words faded into silence at last.

Q leaned over, peered at James's face. The last sliver of blue was gone behind reddened lids. His hitching breaths evened out. The tension that remained in his shoulders and hands went slack. His even breathing told Q that James had finally -- finally -- passed out, and he could only hope that some of the poison had worked its way out of James’s system.

Outside, the sky was beginning to lighten.

Chapter Text

James didn’t stir before noon, and when he did, he didn’t say a word, just took the paracetamol Q had left on the counter and locked himself in the bathroom. Q heard the shower running -- when Bond came back out, his hair was wet again, but clean, and he smelled of hotel shampoo. Q was on his laptop, working. Bond shrugged on his shoulder holster, and his jacket.

“Would you like a ride back to Notting Hill?” Q offered, without any comment on what had passed the night before.

Bond nodded, without looking up from where he was checking that his holster was secure. “Thank you.”

 

Bond didn’t say anything for the whole ride across town. Q parked the car just down the street from Bond’s flat -- it was a company car with all the features, including (almost certainly) a tracker. Moneypenny would know that Q had taken James home, that he was looking out for James in the aftermath.

“Come up. I’ll make some food,” Bond said abruptly.

“Was that a request or an order?” was the response startled out of Q.

Bond’s flat expression didn’t shift. He shrugged one shoulder. “Come up or don’t, it’s up to you.” His tone was cold, but Q couldn’t forget the way he’d sounded the night before; high and drunk and ragged, begging just stay.

Moneypenny would also know if Q stayed, and he spared a moment’s thought for what she might think -- what anyone might think, when they saw that Q had stayed the whole night at the hotel and then stayed for breakfast at James’s flat. He discovered that he did not give a single fuck.

Q followed James up to his flat. James went straight into the kitchen and started pulling out ingredients. He didn't take off his holster or say a word to Q.

Q looked around the flat. It was marginally less depressing with the boxes unpacked and the pictures hung. But it was still… sparse. There was nothing about it that told Q that the flat belonged to James Bond, aside from that hideous bulldog, which had found a new home on the mantelpiece. The furniture was nice, but generic. A placeholder. Plato's ideal of a couch, a bar, a kitchen: good, but impersonal. Even that print of The Fighting Temeraire -- it was just a mass-produced print of a famous piece of art. It had meaning to Bond, but it didn't make a statement.

But perhaps that was the point. The whole flat was a cover. Something so impersonal was also innocuous, indistinct, unremarkable. You could hide anything under a cover like that. On a hunch, Q slipped a hand along the underside of the kitchen table. His fingers found a gun secured there, the familiar ridges of microdermal sensors under his fingers. There was James's personal touch. How incredibly unsurprising that he'd commandeered Q-Branch equipment. Q made a mental note to call up a list of "equipment 007 has lost or destroyed," and reclassify it as "equipment 007 has potentially stolen for personal use."

No, he wouldn't do that. He let his fingers fall away from the hidden gun. He glanced back at the kitchen, watching James messing about with the stove, focused on his task, but probably still aware of every move Q made. James could keep the guns. Whatever he needed to feel safe, he could have. 

James made a full English with bacon and eggs and everything. He even took a moment to clear gun maintenance equipment off the table so they wouldn't end up eating on the sofa. All of this was done with barely more than monosyllables from Bond’s lips. In the midst of Bond serving steaming eggs (fried, per Q's request) Q finally worked out what was happening here.

Bond was still apologizing. In his silent, careless way. The way a cat might wordlessly leave a dead mouse on your mat in the middle of the night. Q wanted, desperately, to tell him he didn't have to, but he was also terrified to shatter the veneer of composure that covered whatever lurked under Bond’s skin.

Q didn't mind the quiet, anyway. And Bond seemed so withdrawn within himself, so locked away in his own head right now that he was barely capable of speech. He’d talked enough last night. And given his current standoffishness, Q had the sick feeling that James remembered every minute of his little bender. So they sat together in silence and ate James's excellent cooking. Bond stared at a point somewhere far from the world in front of them.

Can I do anything to help? Q wanted to ask.

No, Bond would say.

Do you want to talk about it? Q wanted to ask, because he thought James maybe did, on some level.

No, Bond would doubtless say, and probably hurry Q out the door.

Do you want me to stay? Q wanted to ask, because he was half sure that he was intruding, but he was equally half sure that Bond needed to not be alone just now.

I'm fine, Bond would probably say, and Q would have no way to tell whether he was lying.

So instead, when he'd had as much of the breakfast as he wanted, Q pushed the plate aside. “Can I see your hand?”

Bond blinked back to the present place and time, his eyes focusing on Q.

“The one with the stitches. If you don't mind,” Q added, holding out his right hand, palm up.

Bond silently extended his hand across the table to Q. The injured one, as Q had requested. Q cupped it, palm up, cradled between his two hands. It was like holding a lion’s paw: big and rough, scratchy with callouses and scars, capable, and oddly graceful. His thick, squared off fingers looked almost stubby by comparison to Q's, but it also looked like Bond could've snapped Q's fingers like twigs. He probably could have.

Q studied the cuts and the stitches and plasters that had been applied with a minute frown. He delicately traced the line of the deepest cut, barely touching the skin where several stitches patched James's palm together. The gashes cut through the lines there -- Head line, heart line, life line, Q thought, remembering a wikipedia article on palmistry. “Is that your palm-coded Walther?” he asked, glancing at the ever-present gun in its ever-present holster.

Bond nodded.

“Could you see if it'll read the left grip as yours?” Q asked.

Bond, like most of the double-ohs, could shoot with his non-dominant hand, though with nowhere near the accuracy. So Q had programmed the guns with both palm prints. But now, when Bond pulled the gun from his shoulder holster and shifted it to his left hand, the lights on the back of the gun only flickered green, then turned red.

Q huffed, annoyed at himself for not anticipating this. “Stitches and plasters interfere with the sensors,” he muttered. “We’ll have to come up with a patch for that, some kind of override maybe.” He reached out for the gun.

“Wouldn't need it,” Bond said, handing it over. “Wouldn't be shooting with a hand like this.”

Q was squinting at the microdermal sensors, wondering whether he could fit a fingerprint scanner on it somewhere, without interfering with the weight. And fingerprint scanners were so unreliable… “You would if you had no other choice.”

“There's always another choice.”

“No. Not always.”

Q said it without looking up, but then he played back the exchange in his head and realized how it sounded -- full of a meaning that he hadn't really intended. He could almost see two silhouettes in a broken window…

“I mean, you'll not convince me that a double-oh on mission wouldn't figure out a way to pull a trigger with their big toe if necessary,” Q added, before looking up.

Bond was smiling; not the big beaming smile, but not the dead-eyed grimace either. “Put in an override then,” he said. “Voicelock or whatever that turns off the sensors. Or a DNA scanner, make us all lick the gun barrel.”

“The enemy would be frightened and aroused,” Q noted.

The smile brightened very slightly.

“We’ll come up with something,” Q said, satisfied that, at least for now, James didn’t look like suicide on a stick.

“Who’s idea was it in the first place?” Bond said. “It’s damn useful, but it must have seemed a bit pointless to management.”

“It’s R’s baby, she’s more engineer than I am.”

“I know an Aston Martin that would beg to differ.”

Q smiled with pleasure and briefly wondered what had happened to the poor car. Probably at the bottom of a river somewhere, it hadn't come back to MI6, certainly. “Ta. But the palmprint thing: Scar -- Scarlett, that is, 004 -- she got shot with her own gun a few years ago. I think you were out on mission. We did some data analysis and found that it happens more than you might think.”

“No,” Bond said mildly, unsurprised.

Of course, Bond probably knew all too well how often that happened. “Heh. Right. R -- except she wasn’t R back then -- decided to do something about it. I think that was actually how she and Scar started dating,” he added.

“How romantic,” Bond said mildly.

“A match made in R&D,” Q said.

“By a beretta,” Bond said, amused.

“Who better to pay matchmaker for a double-oh?”

Q was still holding James's gun, he realized. James noticed too, eyes flicking down to the Walther in Q's hands, then back up to Q's face. The tension spiraled to a dizzying height. James’s brows were doing something complicated, his expression uncharacteristically open, more expressive than he had been all morning. His lips parted, like he was about to say--

Q's phone pinged in his pocket. For a brief moment, he wanted to hurl it out the window. Bond's eyes narrowed in a way that suggested he was thinking the same.

Q cleared his throat and handed the gun back before reaching for his phone. It was a text from Moneypenny.

I’m really sorry about this.

Not an auspicious beginning.

Bond must have ditched his phone. He’s the only one who knows everything that happened. When he’s ready, they really do need him for a debrief.

Q’s heart sank. Of course they would. James had probably murdered someone in full view of one of London’s busiest thoroughfares. Not just any old someone either: a former double-oh and current traitor. Of course they would need to debrief him.

Q looked up at Bond. There must have been something showing in his expression, because Bond’s blue eyes scanned over him once. Then a muscle in his jaw went taut.  His expression shuttered over and, shit. Well. Q’s heart was mostly cracks anyway so what was one more.

“You don’t have to go in right away--”

“No point waiting, is there,” Bond said, cutting him off. Without a word, he took the dishes -- both his, and Q's. The Walther was back in its holster, Q noticed.

“I need to return the car,” Q said hesitantly. “I could… if you wanted a ride in, I mean.”

Bond looked back over his shoulder from where he was putting the dishes in the sink. His expression was blank and unreadable again. “No,” he said. “But thank you.”

“Alright,” Q said. Then, struck by a sudden urge, he said: “Have you a pen and paper?”

Bond have him a curious look, but opened a drawer and pulled out a pad of sticky notes and a ballpoint.

“Now,” Q said, taking a sticky note off the top and scribbling on it. “I think this is how dinosaurs like you do this, right?” He looked up and found James was leaning across the counter, curious. So Q stuck the sticky note right to his chest. “That's my personal number. It extremely secure, I don’t give this number out to just anyone. You're a spy, so I trust you'll be discreet with it.”

Bond looked down at the yellow note stuck to his black shirt. “Of course, Q,” he said, bemused.

“Good. If you need anything… anything non-Q-Branch, obviously, just…” Q paused, a little flustered.

Bond looked up. His stare was intent; curious and cautious and narrowly focused and when he stared at Q like that -- the rest of the world seemed to just melt away.

“... call,” Q finished, before fleeing.


 James didn’t call.

He went in for his debrief and Q took the day off to catch up on sleep. The next day, when Q tentatively asked Moneypenny how it went, she just went tight-lipped and shrugged. “He hasn’t been fired,” she said. “M’s ordered him to take some leave.”

“What does that mean?” Q asked.

Moneypenny just shrugged. "Hard to say. But. M has his back. We have his back. That'll have to do."

James did not come back to MI6 that week.

Q booked himself an extra appointment in Psych, and actually talked to the therapist without trying to think eight moves ahead. The therapist looked relieved about that, and it occurred to Q that maybe the people in Psych were smarter than he realized. The therapist made some suggestions for coping and safe spaces. Q tried them out later and reluctantly admitted that yes, the people in Psych were much smarter than he realized. Additionally, he was an idiot for not doing this weeks ago.


 James continued to Not Call.

Q tried to work up the courage to do something about that, and failed.


 The next Q heard about James, the agent had been sent out on mission to South America. Q was frankly furious about that, but Moneypenny had talked him down by explaining that their hands were tied, that the person who reached out to them was an old contact of Bond’s and had requested 007 specifically. And, if Q was honest with himself, a mission was probably exactly what Bond needed to clear his head just now.

In the meantime, Q tried to resist the urge to look up 007’s debrief after the Talgarth Road Incident.

He did not succeed.


 Hacking into MI6 internal surveillance wasn’t precisely a cakewalk, but it wasn’t exactly a challenge either. Even so, Q caught himself literally glancing over his shoulder, as though Bond might turn up in the room there with him, even though Bond was still in Bolivia. Hazard of working with spies; one never quite trusted that one was entirely alone.

Another hazard of working with spies; degradation of the moral compass. This was an invasion of privacy on par with the Smart Blood. Perhaps Bond's lack of impulse control was catching. Q opened the video and put on his headphones.

The camera was somewhere in the upper corner of one of the interrogation rooms, looking over the shoulders of the interrogators, with a clear view of the suspect’s face. Bond was sprawled back in his seat, looking completely and artificially at his ease. His gaze flickered up and made brief, electric eye contact with Q through the screen. Guilt twisted at him, but Q didn’t stop watching.

There were two people sitting across from Bond; one was Mallory -- Q recognized his distinctive profile when he turned his head slightly to look at the man sitting beside him. Q didn’t recognize the other man, but Q had never been in enough trouble to merit a sit-down with someone who was probably Management.

“Mr. Bond, thank you for coming,” said Management.

“Thank you for having me.” Bond’s sarcasm was just subdued enough to fly under the radar, but only just.

If Management noticed, he didn’t deign to acknowledge it. “Now, if we can get down to business.”

Bond quirked an eyebrow, and Q could almost read the what, no foreplay? that he doubtless wanted to say. Because he was completely terrible and apparently wanted to be fired.

Management folded his hands on the table. Q could really only see his sloping shoulders and his bald patch from this angle. “We’re filling in details from the incident on Talgarth Road. Ms. Moneypenny and Mr... Q? Is it? They have given their accounts leading up to the death of Mr. Trevelyan, but we’re a little unclear.”

“How novel for you.” The sarcasm was perilously close to open insubordination now. Already. They were only 45 seconds in. Mallory’s head dipped and Q guessed that he was either pinching the bridge of his nose or wanting to.

Management was unflappable. “Mr. Q accounts for your arrival at the scene via the rear window. The security cameras were taken out, so we cannot confirm what happened after that. So. What did you see upon entering?”

Bond pursed his lips very slightly, then delivered his report. “Moneypenny was pinned down behind the bar. Three men down already; two of Trevelyan’s and one other. The patrons had mostly made a run for it by then.”

“And what did you do?”

“Shot two more guards and then took cover in the stairwell. Given where I was, where Moneypenny was, we had them pretty well cornered. But against the window, which was not ideal.”

“No?” Management said mildly.

“Windows are exit points,” Bond said, as though explaining that one plus one equals two. “Moneypenny took the last two guards and I went for Trevelyan so she could secure the objective.”

“The goal was to bring Trevelyan in alive.”

Bond’s eyes narrowed and a half-smirk crept over his face. “I’m well aware of what the… official goal was.” The careful use of the word official did not go unnoticed. Mallory really did pinch the bridge of his nose this time.

It had been a somewhat open secret that taking Trevelyan alive was ‘desired’ but perhaps taking him dead would be... not entirely unfortunate. Saved a lot of embarrassment all around, though Management would never admit to that. If Bond had killed Trevelyan in the house, out of the sight of civilians, in a less public arena, perhaps they wouldn’t have even bothered debriefing him.

“He and I had the same level of training, it was always going to be difficult to take him alive.”

“So you dropped him out the window?”

It felt like an accusation, and Q bristled just watching it. Who the fuck was this pencil pusher anyway, to question the decisions a seasoned operative made in the field?

Bond’s tone had cooled to something more impassive. “He attempted to leave via the window. I tried to pull him back in.”

“That matches up with what Mr. Q reported. He said that you were holding each other’s wrists, and then, Trevelyan fell to his death. Who let go?”

Bond’s expression was completely unreadable now, flat and emotionless. “I don’t know. It happened very quickly.”

“You and Mr. Trevelyan were friends, were you not?” Management spoke the words so innocently, but Q sucked in a breath.

A muscle tightened in Bond’s jaw. But when he spoke his voice was steady. “Alec Trevelyan was a traitor.”

“To the country?” Management looked up at Bond. “Or to you?”

Bond tipped his head one way, studying Management. “Are you implying that I murdered him for personal reasons?”

“Would it be the first time?” Management shot back.

Bond’s lips parted. For a moment he seemed speechless. His eyebrows were doing something complicated again, his mouth twisting despite obvious effort to remain emotionless. “I kill for my country, not for myself.”

“How reassuring.” Now Management sounded sarcastic.

Bond looked like he’d like nothing better than to punch the man. Q couldn’t blame him. “Was there anything else you wanted to know.”

“Mr. Q and Ms. Moneypenny said that you and Alec Trevelyan exchanged words before he fell. Is that true?”

“I suppose it is.”

“What did he say? What did you?”

“I don’t recall.”

“You don’t recall.” Management was unimpressed.

So was Bond. “That’s right.”

“You don’t recall the final words you exchanged with a man you once called friend, who then betrayed you, and his country? Forgive me if I find that hard to believe.”

Bond gave the briefest grimace of a smile. “It was a stressful moment.”

“It was a short exchange,” Management said sharply. “Surely you recall the drift of it?”

“No. I can’t,” Bond bit out, teeth bared. “People say a lot of rubbish when they’re about to die. And equally they say a lot of rubbish when they’re trying to convince someone not to die. Especially if that someone… was a friend.”

For the first time, Mallory spoke, cutting Management off. “I think we're done here.”

Bond was out of the chair before the video ended.

Q swallowed and took off his headphones. He was a bit glad Bond was in Bolivia. If he hadn’t been, Q might have done something ill-advised. He was also glad that he had given Bond his number without asking for Bond’s in return. It prevented him from doing something else ill-advised.

He did not resist the temptation to look up who Management was, nor did he resist the temptation to install a virus on the bastard’s computer in a fit of vindictiveness.


 Days went by. Bond didn’t return from Bolivia.

At first, it was difficult for Q to sleep. Several nights were spent guiltily watching James’s Smart Blood files, watching his vitals like they were the world’s most repetitive lullabye and Q was the universe’s creepiest stalker baby. It was ridiculous, and unsustainable, and Q was not an idiot. He made more appointments with Psych. It helped.

Days became weeks, and Bond went off the grid. The arsehole.

Sometimes Q felt like he couldn’t breathe, not knowing where Bond was, but… He adjusted. He was a grown adult, he could look after himself. Bond was a highly trained assassin, he had survived worse than this. Q remembered that he had been fine before Bond came along, and that despite all that had happened, he could be fine without Bond in arm’s reach. He made an effort to re-learn how to stand on his own two feet. And if he needed someone to lean on, there was always Moneypenny, or R, or even Tanner, who had magnanimously forgiven everyone for ever suspecting him (though he also hadn’t paid for his own drinks in some time now, and showed no inclination to change that state of affairs. Q stopped checking the Smart Blood. He slept better.

He still missed James. He missed James's smile, and the mischief in his blue eyes. He missed the simple physical presence of him, broad and bulky and sturdy in the corner of Q's eye. He missed the flirting, and the sarcasm, and the simple, childlike glee Bond took in Q-Branch gadgetry. Q didn't need to have Bond at his side to feel safe, but he still liked having the wanker around.

Plus... James didn't call. Q could deal with his own issues on his own, like an adult. Was James doing the same? James didn't have access to MI6's (admittedly excellent) psych department while he was in the field. He did have access to tequila and a truly staggering variety of drugs. He was not famous for his self-control. 

Q was allowed to worry about him. So he did. Constantly.

He wished James would call.


 A month and a half passed before Bond finally did return. Q was eyeball-deep in code at the time, working on a refined version of the Rat Trap antivirus. M wanted a prototype that they could get a patent on and start selling to their allies. All that the international intelligence community needed to know was that MI6 had discovered a new cyber threat, and had developed a valuable (and costly) counter-measure. No one needed to know that it was MI6's fault that the threat existed in the first place.

The first thing Q heard about it was a titter that ran through the staff, and the news that Franklin had retreated to a dark corner of R&D because his least favorite double-oh was back in town. Q's heart didn't precisely stop, but it did stutter in a warning kind of way. Moneypenny told him the whole story over a cup of tea. Apparently, after nearly a month off the grid, James Bond came swaggering into M's office with a golden tan and two beautiful, dark-haired women trailing after him. 

Q was momentarily, wildly jealous, but then it turned out that this was Camille and her lovely wife Izabel. Camille was interested in transferring her services from Bolivian Secret Service. In the month and a half that Bond was gone, there had been a regime change, and Izabel had incurred the wrath of several important figures. This had led to Izabel and Camille seeking asylum.

Bond suggested that Camille would make a very good 006 one day.

This did not fully compensate for the fact that he had blown something up. Again. Several somethings, according to his preliminary report.

Nor did it remotely compensate for the fact that he had not called.

 

The next thing Q heard about it was when several thousand digital miles of security footage arrived in his inbox, needing to have James Bond's stepid, smug face erased from it. Q sighed in irritation and got to work. He had a programme for just this purpose, but it needed monitoring to work correctly. He'd be doing this for the rest of the day, most likely.

Around 1400, he felt rather than heard someone arrive through his open office door. He didn't have to look up to know who it was. He didn't want to give James the satisfaction.

“You could have let us know that you were alive,” Q said, irritably.

Bond paused. There was something meaningful in the pause, Q sensed. He gave in to temptation and looked up. 

It was like missing the bottom step. James looked good. That tan was sinful -- even his hair looked sun-kissed. He was wearing a light colored suit, but he'd ditched the jacket somewhere and his sleeves were rolled up, fists pushed into his pockets, holster highlighting the breadth of his shoulders. There was one small bandage over his eye, but by this point Q had read some of the mission report. James was lucky to have gotten away with so little. And he seemed... settled. In himself. Q wasn't sure how to put it. There was nothing twitchy or tense in the way James leaned against the frame of the door, and the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes were from smiling, not from pain. 

“I wasn’t sure you’d want to hear from me,” Bond said, neutral. He seemed to have found his center of gravity in Bolivia, which was somewhat unfortunate, because it meant that he was, yet again, about as easy to read as the Vornych manuscript.

“When I give someone my private number," Q said slowly, “it means that I would like to hear from them.”

“I wasn’t… in any trouble, though,” Bond said, now with just the faintest hint of awkwardness.

Q narrowed his eyes, wondering if Bond could possibly be serious. According to reports, just last week, James Bond had blown up half a mountain and only escaped with his life by jumping into a plane that was already in motion.

But Q had a sick feeling that he knew what Bond meant. Physical danger wasn’t something that worried Bond enough to trouble someone else with it. And he did seem… better. Emotionally. On the surface, at least.

So Q said: “Right. Well. For the sake of clarity, you can actually call even when you aren't in trouble. You idiot.” And went back to work.

The door closed. But a moment later, Q jumped nearly out of his skin when he realized that Bond hadn’t left. He was looming over Q’s desk. He looked down, and casually started spinning Q’s empty scrabble mug; just an idle motion. Something to do with his hands. Q's eyes darted over Bond, searching for cues. What was this about?

“Did you watch it?”

Q was taken aback. “The… security footage? I have an algorithm that’ll erase your face, but…”

“Not that.” Bond didn’t look up. “The debrief.”

Guilt took the bottom right out of his stomach. “Ah,” Q said.

“Thought you would.”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have--”

“I don’t mind,” Bond said, looking up. His blue gaze caught Q’s and held it steady, so Q could could see that it was true. Bond didn’t mind. He’d wanted Q to see that. Why?

Bond stilled the spinning mug and put his hands back in his pockets. “Alec and I had a running joke.” His eyes were rather fixed on the Scrabble mug still. Perhaps it was easier to speak without meeting Q's eyes.

Q said nothing. What could he say?

“When we were on mission together. Before we did… whatever terrible thing we’d been sent to do. He would turn to me and he would say: ‘For England?’ And I would say: ‘For England.’ He’s -- he was born in the Ukraine. I’m Scottish. So. Bit of a joke.” Bond wasn’t smiling. His face was utterly expressionless.

“I guess… to him, it was,” Q said. “But you’re… you actually care about your country.”

Bond’s lip curled. “Not enough to say ‘for England’ before I go marching into battle.” He scoffed and rolled his eyes. "Christ."

Q couldn’t suppress a small chuckle. “Alright. So. A joke. Not for England. For what then?”

Bond’s lips were so tightly pressed together that Q thought they might never open again, but they did, a moment later, parting around a short sigh before James said: “It was pithier than reciting the St Crispin’s day speech.”

Q had to parse that, but he spoke Bond-ese quite fluently by now. It was a language mostly made up of unspoken things. And Q thought he understood: Alec would ask ‘For England?’ when he meant the question all field agents ask, sooner or later: ‘why shouldn’t I just lie down and die here?’ Not for England -- Alec didn’t care about England, and James was too good at reading people to miss something like that. So when James replied ‘for England,’ he meant something else.

Q suddenly knew what they’d said to each other that night, hanging out the window at Talgarth road. Rain pouring down from the roof, soaking them, glass digging into Bond’s palm, clinging to each other. Grip slipping. Who do I keep holding on for?

“For England, James?”

“For me."

If that wasn’t exactly what Bond had said, it was what he’d meant. It was what he always meant. Don’t do it for England, Alec, do it for me. Hold on for me.

And, clearly, Alec hadn't.

Q wondered if they had been lovers -- but it didn’t fit. Q had never had siblings, but he’d known some, in boarding school. He’d even made some, of a sort -- not all his friendships turned romantic, after all. We happy few, we band of brothers. The St. Crispin’s Day Speech.

“You’ve not had much luck with brothers, have you?” Q said quietly, thinking of a man with a scarred face, rotting in a prison and carving James Bond’s name into the walls.

One blond brow lifted. "Q, I think it would be safe to say I’ve not had much luck, full stop.”

“You’re alive.”

Bond smiled -- it was one of the worst smiles Q had ever seen on his face. “And what good is that?”

“As long as you’re alive, you can keep trying,” Q said, a bit sternly now.

“Mm. Sounds exhausting.” Bond sounded bored.

“Well tough shit. You can sleep when you’re dead.”

“Aren’t you a ray of fucking sunshine.”

“Aren't I just. Why are you telling me all this?” Q asked. “About you and Alec?”

Bond shrugged one shoulder, would-be-careless. “Knew you had to be wondering.”

Q swallowed. It was a pretty damn personal thing for James to share just because he knew Q had to be curious. “I wouldn’t have had to wonder if you’d said all this at the debrief.”

“Yeah, but I wouldn’t be working either. They’d have put me on extended mandatory leave and done the kind of psych eval I can’t outsmart.”

“Some word association perhaps?”

“Oh fuck off.” James's eyes were laughing now. 

Q propped his chin on one hand and stared at James. “Would it have killed you to just take the leave?” He asked, almost wistfully. 

Another shrug. “Might’ve done. I’ve not had much luck with taking leave either, you know.”

Q gave him an appraising look. That tan was… delicious, frankly. And Bond had put on a bit of weight -- in a way that made him look healthier, younger. And though they were talking about Alec, Bond did not look dead inside. He didn’t even look like he wanted to be dead inside. He’d found some measure of peace, perhaps. A small one.

Q couldn’t imagine that more time off would’ve done anything good for Bond’s mental health. And Q had to admit that Bond knew himself well enough at this point to know what he needed to do to recover.

I wasn’t… in any trouble, Bond had just said. And now he had explained more to Q. Because, for whatever reason, he thought Q deserved to understand.

And that… that made something in Q’s gut flutter.

“Did you tell Moneypenny all this?”

“No,” Bond said simply.

Q sat back, heart beating just a bit faster now. “Really?”

Bond shrugged, a lazy, muscular roll of shoulders. He didn’t elaborate.

“Well. Don’t I feel special.”

“Good.” Bond’s stare was heated.

Q wondered who it was who had seen fit to remove all the oxygen from his office. The moment spirated on and on and Q felt like a rabbit, frozen in the headlights, staring at Bond and completely paralyzed with wanting him.

Suddenly, Bond stepped back. Withdrawing. Q wanted to tell him not to. “Quartermaster,” he said, in farewell.

And then he was gone, door closing quick and quiet behind him. Tactical retreat? Fleeing the scene of the crime? Didn’t see an opening, so went in search of another angle?

Whatever it was, it left him breathless. More than Bond’s endless flirtations or sexual advances, this… intimacy between them. Trust. Whatever it was that they had, Q wanted more. And by god, he wasn't going to wait for Bond to finish circling and decide to make the first move.

Would an engraved invitation be overdoing it? He decided to take the weekend to think about that.


 On Monday morning, Q called Bond into his office to help identify someone on the feeds from Bolivia. Bond identified the latest silent henchman and told Q not to worry, because that man had disagreed with something that ate him, and wouldn’t cause any more trouble. Meeting done, henchman identified. Work issue resolved. Q closed the file and hit submit on the report. Bond straightened up, about to leave.

“Have dinner with me,” Q said before he could lose his nerve, without looking up from his screen.

There was a ringing silence from the hulking blond. And then, a soft, inquiring “Q?”

Engraved invitations would have been better. “I am asking you on a date, 007.”

Another exquisitely painful pause. “Why,” Bond said, without inflection.

“Oh for God’s sake, if you don’t want to go, just say no."

“I didn’t say no. I asked why.”

Q looked up at last, eyes narrowed behind his specs, lips thin and annoyed. “Because you drive me absolutely mad,” he said frankly, and with much more feeling than he had wanted to reveal.

Bond’s face was blank, his blue eyes eerily like one-way mirrors. Q wanted to pull his hair out with frustration at Bond’s sheer unreadability. He wanted, achingly, to kiss Bond again. Properly this time. And his eyes may have darted to Bond’s mouth, that curiously thin upper lip, that ridiculously pouting lower one. If Bond said no, Q would crawl under his desk and never come out. He’d make R bring him snacks and fresh clothes, and he would never ever show his face ever, ever again.

The silence spun on between them. Q set his jaw and didn’t back down, because there would be no point. It was out there, there was no more running away.

“Alright,” Bond said at fucking last. “You pick the place. I’ll pick you up. Six o’clock?” He wasn’t… smiling. But he sounded like he could be.

Q let out a breath out through his nose. “It’ll have to be Friday, we’re going to be stuck here late all week cleaning up your mess.”

Now Bond quirked a smile. Dimples, and an edge of sunshine. Q’s heart leapt -- he was in far too deep already. “Can’t wait,” Bond said simply, and then left.

Q's heart battered at his ribs. Quite deliberately, Q pushed his keyboard back and slowly bashed his forehead against the desk. Twice. He should’ve waited until Friday to ask. He'd be in an agony all week.

Chapter Text

On Wednesday, Q snapped and texted his second-in-command.

R - do u have a mo to talk personal stuff? urs, Q

Q! due for a break. buy me chips? urs, R

 

They sat on a bench by the river and ate chips with wooden forks.  “Alright. Spill,” R said as soon as they were seated. Her hair was done up like Rosie the Riveter today, and it was charming.

“It’s… Bond.”

She smacked his arm repeatedly in unrepentant delight.

“Ow,” he complained.

“Don’t be such a baby. Who snapped?”

Q sighed heavily. “Me. We’re going for dinner on Friday and I… am panicking.”

“Alright, alright, Auntie R will look after you. What are you panicking about?”

“My career, his career. His penchant for getting himself pretty much killed.  My penchant for working instead of paying attention to the people in my life. His chronic inability to let himself feel things like a normal person. My chronic disregard for privacy. His--”

“All the usual stuff then. Stop hyperventilating.”

Q shoved a chip in his mouth.

“Professionally, it’ll be fine. It’s an intense job, management knows that intense relationships are bound to form because of it. It won’t be any trouble -- it’s not like you ever go into the field -- but they won’t let you run his ops anymore,” she warned.

Q nodded. He’d known that much, though it still made his stomach clench with anxiety about putting James’s safety into someone else’s hands.

“Trust me, darling, the stress is not worth it. Not to mention -- you’d probably dislike listening to him seduce every person he wasn’t killing.”

Q made a face and shoved another chip in his mouth. He had thought of that, he wasn’t stupid. And James was good at honeypot missions, it wasn’t like he could very well demand that he stop taking them. He wouldn't want to. But. Listening in would be. Weird.

Anyway, it wasn’t the honeypot missions that worried him. It was missions like the one in Jamaica, in Paris, the ones where James’s survival hinged on the voice in his ear, on the support of Q-Branch.

R patted his knee kindly. “I’ll look after him as well as you look after Scar.”

Q nodded again, the clench of fear relaxing somewhat.

“Now. For the personal stuff -- when you end up seriously dating--”

“If. Big if,” Q muttered, thinking of all the ways that James could blow him off after one date, and how disastrous and humiliating it would be.

R just tsked at him and waved a hand dismissively. “There’s going to be a third person in your relationship, and that person is MI6. That’s just the way it is, I’m afraid. But you two are workaholics just as much as me and Scar. I don’t think either of you would really want it any other way.”

Q put another chip in his mouth and nodded slowly. “That’s pretty sad, though, isn’t it.”

“You save lives and kill people for queen and country, I think they usually describe that as heroism,” R said flatly. “Now…” She made a face. “The sex thing.”

“I'm not actually a monk, you know, you don't have to tell me how sex works.”

“That's a relief, since I am as gay as the day is long and have no advice that'll help you on that front,” she said, dry as a bone. “But that isn't what I'm talking about." She stopped to chew her bottom lip for a moment. Q found himself frowning, wondering what could have made her turn so serious all of a sudden. "Look. He's a double-oh. They're a different breed, you know that, but... I’d just say… Who he is on a mission… might not always line up with who he is at home. That’s just general advice, but…” She sighed. “You really do have to be careful.”

Q kept frowning. “Well obviously, I mean, given his work, but safe sex is always a--”

“More than that.” She glanced around, then looked back at Q. “They really do think of themselves as whores. All the double-ohs. Sometimes Scar gets back from a honeypot mission and she’d rather pull her own fingernails than even think about one of the toys--”

“Too much information, R!”

R shrugged, unashamed. “I’m just saying!” She sighed. “Part of what makes it work -- with Scar and me -- is that I have no expectations on that front, so she doesn’t have to... perform. It’s second nature to them, to figure out what you want and give it to you…” The pause was horrible, and her expression deeply sad. “Whether it’s what they want or not.”

Q felt a little sick. People sometimes joked about the honeypot missions, calling them ‘plush’ or talking as though they were somehow easier. Q had never really thought about it, except to think that it wouldn’t be easy for him. But now…

He thought about the night Alec died, about Bond lying on a bed smiling that horrible dead-eyed smile, and he was so grateful he hadn't let Bond talk him into anything.

“Don’t go thinking of them as victims. They’re not. And if you treat them like victims they will hate you for it. But… sometimes it takes a while to get them to switch out of work mode, that's all.”

Q swallowed. “I’m walking into a minefield, aren’t I?”

“Oh sweetie.” She patted his arm. “You’re already in the minefield.”


 Q got one text from Bond before the date on Friday. He assumed it was from Bond. The number was unlisted.

White tie? Black tie?

It took Q a moment to work it out. Then his imagination was assaulted by a vision of Bond resplendent in formal evening attire. It was devastating. He took a steadying breath and texted back.

NO tie. Semi-formal if you must.


 Of course, Bond must. He was devastatingly dapper with his shirt collar open and wearing an exquisitely tailored dark suit with a subtle plaid pattern in it. Q thought of the trousers that still hung in his own wardrobe -- the ones he'd worn to the art gallery, the ones that always made Bond's lip curl very slightly -- and wondered if he was being teased. Q was wearing the nicest of his not-fully-formal wear, and still felt underdressed and overbuttoned by comparison, although R had assured him that he was lovely.

Lovely didn’t feel sufficient somehow, but confidence would compensate -- he’d found a place that would, he was pretty sure, be perfect. Refusing to tell Bond where they were going until they were in the car gave him strength.

And then they got to the car.

And it was the car.

Q didn’t gasp, but he did freeze on the stoop, staring at the magnificent DB5 that he had rebuilt from the steering wheel only to have it snatched away.

“That’s…”

“Not a scratch on her,” Bond assured him.

“That seems wildly unlikely,” Q said.

Bond chuckled. “Well as it happens it’s true. Though I will admit that some of the gadgetry doesn’t work as well as it did. That suspension problem seems to have shaken at least one of the gunports. It pulls left when you fire. I got under the hood and fiddled around a bit, but it keeps pulling left no matter what I do.”

“I can fix that.” He could fix that right here right now, and he had half a mind to order sandwiches and do exactly that, but James was opening the door for him now. With some regret, he got in. Only once James was in did he give the address.

It was for a nice, plush, pub type restaurant by the water called River City. They had dinner, with wine, and talked about things other than work. Actually, they just talked about work in thinly veiled metaphor, because neither of them had lives. Conversation flowed easily between them, a back-and-forth banter punctuated by comfortable silences.

After dinner, Q grinned and led Bond downstairs. Q was mysterious about it and Bond was intrigued.

Downstairs was a bar called Trouble, which had a polished wood/plush leather/shiny brass aesthetic and lots of little corners and nooks. Each corner was stocked with a pool table.

James's expression lit up. “You do know I'm the best shot in the service. I will crush you.”

“Oh please,” Q said, grinning back. “You don't stand a chance.”

Bond shrugged out of his jacket, clearly ready to get down to business. “Care to put money on that?”

“Oh I think you can do better than that.”

Bond cocked his head, a tiny, wicked smile on his lips. He lifted a brow.

“Mind out of the gutter, Bond,” Q said. “Keys on the table.”

Bond threw back his head and laughed.

Bond ordered his whiskey neat and Q got a G&T. They claimed a table in a quiet, private corner, one of the old vaults. It reminded Q a little of Churchill's tunnels. Bond put the keys to the Aston Martin out where they could both see them. Q racked them up, and let Bond split. And then the game was on.

“It's still odd, calling you Quinlan,” Bond murmured as he lined up his shot. “Feels wrong somehow.” The triangular formation broke with a sharp crack, and a striped ball went into the pocket. He cocked his head at the spread and lined up his next shot.

“That’s funny. Q is about the only name that feels right to me anymore,” Q admitted.

James paused very slightly, pool cue poised at the ready, then he took his shot. Another striped ball vanished into a corner. “Really?” He said, leaning back from the table and not quite looking over at Q.

Q nodded with a self conscious little shrug. “Fits me better.”

It was the subtlest of clues about Q’s real name. A flash of blue told Q that Bond had registered that, and filed it away. But he didn’t push further. Not yet anyway. “Well. I've nothing to compare it with, but I rather like it.” James was walking around behind Q now, and leaned in until his lips were right at Q's ear. “Has a rather lovely ring to it.” Bond's hand settled, very briefly, on Q's waist. "Quartermaster," he said, a breathy growl that had no business outside the bedroom. And then he went off to line up another shot.

Q was suddenly rather warm and took off his jacket. He hung it carefully off the back of his chair while James sank another ball. He really was very good. Q waited, patiently.

Anyway, the view was excellent. Bond had already taken off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. His powerful shoulders showed clearly through his crisp white shirt. And when he leaned over to line up a shot, well…

Q could hardly complain about having to wait and watch.

But finally, there were no more shots that Bond could make and so he did his best to muddle things and then it was Q’s turn. He assessed the layout. Bond hadn't left him any obvious shots. But Q didn't specialize in the obvious. He considered the angle, the force.

And then he planted his pale, delicate fingers on the felt, lined up his cue, and sank three balls with one stroke.

He stood with smug, exquisite slowness, and turned to look at Bond. The man's eyebrows were near his hairline.

“I always did excel at geometry and physics,” Q said.

“I think I may have been taken in by a pool shark,” Bond said, looking positively delighted.

Q grinned.

 

They played a few games and drank their drinks and just chatted. It was easy. Comfortable. Familiar, even though it was new. Q won two out of three -- Bond actually was an excellent shot and all Q's prowess couldn't always overcome James's uncanny ability to improvise. The man was a bundle of instincts, always moving forward, always leaping into the void and finding ledges that shouldn't have been there.

When it wasn't his turn, Q was quite happy to lean on the wall and watch, entranced by all that grace and power, barely contained by a white button down and dress trousers.

Q was in so deep he couldn't see daylight any longer, and he had never been more delighted by that.

 

Q was starting to feel nervous again as they walked out of the bar. He'd had a wonderful time, and James's smile lines were out in force, but…

Q had been quite keen to not be too corny, to not overdo it with little candles and all that romantic shite that made him feel queasy anyway. But now he wondered if it had gone too far the other way. They could, conceivably, have been two mates treating themselves to a nice dinner after a long week. Had he played it too cool?

But then, as they came to the car, and Q turned to say something, he found himself being crowded up against it, James's body a wall of warmth in front of him. They were practically the same height, and stood eye to eye. Q couldn't look away from that intensely blue stare.

James kissed him.

It was whiskey-flavored, and heavy on tongue, and very fucking handsy. James's hands were solid and strong and demanding, just like the rest of him. He grabbed at Q’s waist, his back, his arse, taking great hungry palmfuls and pulling Q closer. Q returned the kiss with enthusiasm, letting himself be just as grabby as he wanted, because oh yes, fuck yes--

Someone walking by at the end of the alley whistled loudly and laughed. Bond looked up and over at the wolf-whistler and grinned so psychotically that Q had to suppress a giggle of his own. Bond looked ready to vault down the alley, unhinge his jaw and swallow the man like a snake.

The man was clever enough to keep walking at that point, and when Bond looked back at Q, the smile had softened considerably. “Shall we take this somewhere more private?”

Christ how Q wanted to. He slid his hands over James's broad shoulders in appreciation. He wanted to, and James wanted to. This didn't feel at all like a minefield -- it was nothing like that night at the motel, but Q felt drunk on more than just gin right now. He wasn't sure he trusted his own judgment. He sighed regretfully. “But darling. Would you respect me in the morning?”

“I've seen you demolish whole countries with a click of your mouse. You've saved my life from the other side of the world more than once,” Bond murmured, looking slightly down at Q with his head tipped back and a smirk on his lips. His blue eyes had gone dark, heavy-lidded. Predatory. “I have tremendous respect for you.”

Christ that look. It made Q shiver -- made him feel hunted, in the best way possible. He leaned in and kissed James's slightly whiskery cheek. “Mmm. But we've got all the time in the world.” Teasing. This was a game, a hunt, a pursuit. James liked nothing better than a good chase. And Q was just the same. 

"Mm," James said, looking pleased. “You say that, but haven’t I got a mission to Hong Kong next week?” he pointed out. 

Q pulled back. “Ye-es,” he said, with a mournful little smile. “So I guess you’d better return with all the equipment intact.”

Bond’s eyes lit in amusement, his smirk opening into a disbelieving little grin. “Why Quartermaster,” he said softly. “Did you seduce me in an effort to improve my rate of return on your equipment?”

“Not all the equipment, I know that would be far too much for you to handle.” Q smiled, very slightly, and brushed two fingers over James’s cheek. “But if you could bring just the one piece back…” he bumped his knuckles under James’s chin, lifting his face slightly so the light played across his smirk and caught in his eyes like blue fire. “... that would be marvelous.”

James laughed. "Cheeky bastard." Then he handed over the keys to the Aston Martin.


 Q couldn’t run the Hong Kong mission, but he convinced himself that it would be alright to listen in on the Hong Kong mission, as long as he did so from his office, where people couldn’t see him gnawing on his fingernails the whole time.

It was a mistake. R had warned him, and of course she was right. It was more nerve-wracking to listen than to be in charge.

But R was very good. She had promised to look after Bond, and she was as good as her word. She was confident, and clever, and always remained calm, even when Bond was being utterly ridiculous.  She had even given Bond better toys than Q did. Q came from a cybertech background, and preferred to keep it simple and be the god in an agent’s ear. R was an engineer originally, and didn’t have the tactical or strategic expertise that Q did. She preferred to anticipate her agents’s needs and equip them with all the toys they could possibly want, and let them decide what to do with them. In fact, given Bond's fast-and-loose style, disregard for instructions and authority, and fondness for gadgetry, R was probably a better fit to run missions for Bond.

Management preferred Q’s style; it was cheaper. And that was perhaps why Q was Q and R was R.

“Do not throw your gun, 007!” R snapped. “It may be out of bullets, but it still has a grappling line.”

“No it doesn’t, I used that as a garotte,” Bond said smoothly. A thwack. Bond had thrown his gun.

Which meant that he was out of weapons. Q listened to the flurry of thuds and grunts that followed, the unmistakable sound of someone having the stuffing beaten out of them.

“Acquired a new gun,” Bond said shortly.

“I’d rather you had brought back the old one,” R grumbled. She would learn, Q thought with a small smile. “Now take the corridor on your left…”


 Q was still in the office when his phone rang. He reached for his work phone, but it was silent and dark. Only then did he think to grab his personal phone, a heavily modified device covered in stickers. There was no name, just an unlisted number. He answered, warily. “Hullo?”

“What are you wearing?” Bond’s voice purred down the line.

“Hullo you.” Q laughed. “You’ll have to come to England if you want to find out,” Q said.

“Damn.”

“Oh are you not planning to return? That’s a shame, I thought I might give you an opportunity to win the car back.”

“As if I ever had a shot, you hustler.”

“Perhaps we could play something other than pool.”

“Poker?”

Q snorted. “Not a chance.”

"Strip poker?”

“What about chess?”

“... Strip chess?”

“You are incorrigible,” Q told him.

“Yes." Utterly, utterly shameless. "And I want that car in good nick, by the way,” Bond said.

“If that’s an elaborate way of asking me to fix the gunport, you know I will.”

“I’ll help when I get back.”

Q’s heart made a valiant effort to burst from his chest like an alien and shriek its victory to the sky. Bond had just, very casually, offered Q something that had been fantasizing about for over a year. And on top of that, he had as good as promised to come back. Which was not actually a promise he could make, but it made Q feel better anyway.

“Q?”

“Mm?”

“You sound echoey. Are you still at the office?”

“Yes,” Q said mildly.

“Haven’t you been there for about twelve hours by now?”

“Who’s counting?”

“Apparently just me. Go home. Get some sleep.”

Q’s heart gave another flutter at the thought that Bond was counting. “I’ll just finish this first.”

“Q,” Bond scolded.

“And then I’ll go home. Promise.”

“You’d better.”

And then he rung off.


 Bond got lightly stabbed the day before he was due back and decided not to report in to station H about it. It was just a shallow cut, and he’d rather stitch it up himself. If he went to Medical every time someone recommended he went to Medical, he’d never bloody leave Medical.

He stripped off his shirt and washed his hands, then dried them on a towel.

Then, on a whim, he got out the burner phone he’d picked up his first day in Hong Kong and rang Q’s number from memory, putting him on speaker.

Only one ring this time. “Hullo?” said a slightly sleepy sounding voice.

“Did I wake you?” Bond flipped open the medical kit and pulled out alcohol and swabs.  He didn’t usually bother with a numbing agent, but he did this time -- he didn’t want Q distracted by grunts of pain from his end.

“Oh hullo. Not really, just… dropped off watching tele. How’s Hong Kong?”

“Mmmm, bit dull.” Bond wiped blood away from the cut. “Just… cleanup now.”

“Mmm.” Bond could practically hear the lazy stretch in Q’s hum, and then a low rumbling sound in the background.

“Is that Potter or Weasley?” Bond asked. Ridiculous names, he thought. They were probably in reference to something. They sounded vaguely familiar. He made a mental note to look it up later.

“Both.”

“So you do actually go home sometimes.”

“Occasionally. It’s a very comfortable flat when there isn’t a double-oh agent in my lap.”

“You liked it.”

“Yeah, I did, you got me,” Q said amiably.

I have , thought an inexplicably smug part of Bond’s brain. “Have you always lived in London?” Bond asked, without really meaning to.

There was a moment’s silence, then an amused chuckle. “Is this an interrogation?”

Bond swabbed away the blood, barely wincing at the sting of the alcohol on his side. “I’m a naturally curious fellow. And your file is--”

“Pretty far above even your clearance,” Q finished for him. He paused, considering. “Is this a secure line?”

“It’s a burner phone that I am in fact planning to actually burn.”

“Well, that’s something.”  Q paused.  “I wasn’t born in London. I grew up in a house with a green door and a brass knob right in the middle, so shiny you could see your face in it. We had a little back garden full of herbs and roses -- my mum was nearly as good a cook as you, and liked fresh ingredients. She could grow anything there.”

Bond smiled. Q was painting a picture for him, without giving away any sensitive details. It was tantalizing. “Sounds idyllic.”

“Not as idyllic as a manor house on the moors, I imagine.”

Mostly what Bond remembered was a dark hole, and cold. “You never saw the place,” he said, disagreement in every syllable. He threaded the needle.

“Fair enough. Anyway, I wasn’t there long. I went to a boarding school,” Q said.

“Enjoyed it?”

“My parents died while I was away.”

Bond winced. “Sorry.”

“Well, thanks. But I wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t. Probably would’ve… ended up working IT and sleeping with a nice boy from Cheshire or something.”

“I could be from Cheshire.”

“But I so want to see you in a kilt, darling.”

Bond laughed, and tied off a stitch.

“What are you doing?” Q asked, idly curious.

“Just a few... loose ends to tie up, then I’m free and clear. I’ll be on a flight back tomorrow.”

“You’d better be. You’re supposed to help with the car, remember?” Q sounded almost giddy.

“I remember,” Bond murmured, smiling.


 The person who stabbed Bond apparently had a partner in crime, because the mission got extended when Bond was attacked by what seemed to be a ninja. Not that ninjas had any business being in Hong Kong. Or the present day. All Q knew was that Bond had been sent to Station H Medical and his flight back had been delayed 24 hours.

But he was alive, condition stable.

Moneypenny had texted him about it -- it was his day off, and normally he wouldn’t have gotten up so early, but he couldn’t get back to sleep now. He made a pot of tea and sat at his little bistro table. Weasley wound around his legs and Potter curled on the chair, aloof as ever. Q's heavily stickered phone sat on the table. Q waited.

This was what Bond did, Q reminded himself. He went to faraway corners of the world and put his life on the line. It wasn't as though Q was surprised that Bond had gotten hurt. Bond could handle himself, Q knew that, just as he knew that it was perfectly normal for him to be worried. It wasn't like he hadn't worried before, so of course he was worried now. In fact, he was a little surprised that he wasn't more worried. Shouldn't he have been tearing his hair out with worry? Checking flights to Hong Kong, or something? Just sitting up waiting for a call was pretty tame, considering that his -- that James had even hurt badly enough to actually stay in Medical, despite his deep aversion to anything remotely like a--

The phone buzzed against the tabletop. Q snatched it up, almost before the first ring was done. “Hullo?” he said, heart in his throat.

“Hey you,” came Bond’s voice, sounding a bit rough and slurred.

“Christ. Are you alright?”

“Mmhmm. Bit concussed but I'll be alright.”

“Bloody hell, James,” Q snapped.

“I’m fine. Not supposed to sleep, though and I'm…” James yawned, grunted.

“Stop that, don’t sleep,” Q ordered.

“That’s why I called you," James said irritably.

“What happened?" Q asked.

“I dunno, do I?” James sighed, staticky over the line. He really sounded nothing like his usual suave self. “Gardener hit me on the back of the head with a shovel while I was walking past a park. But then the gardener shimmied up a skyscraper, so we’re pretty confident she didn’t work in the park full time.”

“James Bond, you will be the death of me.”

There was a very long pause following this statement, then another sigh, heavier this time. “Yes, I expect I will,” James said. He sounded so tired.

Q swallowed, and tried not to think about the ones who came before him. He sniffed and adopted a deliberately light tone. “If you’re about to try and talk me out of this, I will fly to Hong Kong and hit you again.”

“I’m far too selfish to try and talk you out of this,” James said. “Anyway, I’ve already had that debate.”

“What?”

“That debate, whether to be with you, already had it.”

Q was somewhat confused by this sleepy, rambling version of 007. “Debate? With whom?”

“Myself.”

Q let out a short breath of a chuckle. “Oh yeah?" He teased. "And who won that debate?”

“I reckon you did,” James said simply.

Q laughed outright at that. Bond’s thinking was clearly a bit impaired; it was never this easy to get answers out of him. But then… Q remembered a shite motel, red-rimmed eyes, a thousand-yard stare. Almost never, he amended.

Still. Q was perhaps too selfish not to take advantage this time. A little bit.

He leaned forward, as though James were across the table from him. He put his chin in his hand and smiled. “I did, did I? When were you having this debate with yourself?”

“In Bolivia -- the second time. I didn’t know you the first time, obviously. But yeah, in Bolivia, after…”

After Alec.

“Might’ve started before that,” Bond said.

“Oh?”

“Mm. I spent a fair bit of time driving around in that car by myself, you know. During my brief retirement.”

The retirement with Dr. Swann. Q’s heart curled into a tiny, angry ball in his chest. “Oh.”

“Yes.” It sounded apologetic.

“You never told me why you came back when you did. Obviously I’m glad. Your timing was spectacular. But… I asked, a couple of times. You never answered.”

James sighed heavily. “I know.”

Q waited. James was silent for so long he thought the man might not answer even now. Q watched steam curling off his tea and wondered whether this was what it was like to sweat someone out during an interrogation. He wasn’t quite sure that silence was the best tack to take with James, but it also seemed like the only option sometimes.

"But you never ask why I left," James said, suddenly.

Q blinked. "What?" 

“It's okay. I get it. Orphans never are surprised when people leave."

Q swallowed thickly.

"But," James continued. "So you know. It was… I thought I could. Retire. Seemed like it was time. Past time, even, but…”

More silence. Q couldn’t stand it.  “But?”

Another sigh. Longer this time. It spoke volumes about being a genuine workaholic, so completely devoted to his job that he couldn’t imagine life beyond his duty. “It was different when I was younger. I quit once before, and I think it would’ve worked, if…” Q knew, without having to ask, that James was talking about Vesper. “But I was still… still a bit human, back then. A person. Do you know what I mean?”

Q thought about a name on a memorial wall. His name. His old name, his old life, buried in an empty grave. “Yeah. Yeah, I think I do.”

“I thought you might. So… That’s why I came back. You. Moneypenny, too, a bit. You don’t need me to be something I’m not.”

Q’s heart uncurled from its angry ball, like a hedgehog peeking out from its spines. “Yeah?”

“Although I wasn’t expecting… this,” he said vaguely.

“Getting hit on the back of the head with a shovel? Really? Frankly, I’m surprised it didn’t happen earlier,” Q quipped.

That startled a laugh out of James. “Who says it hasn’t?”

“Do me a favor and don’t make it a habit. It’d be a shame if you gave yourself amnesia and forgot how to get back here.”

“Oh I’d be alright. You’d bring me home anyway.”

“Would I, indeed? Sure I wouldn’t just trade you in for a younger model?”

“You are the younger model.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“You want me to make sense? I’m concussed . You ask too much of me.”

“All I’m asking is that you stay awake for now so you can come home tomorrow,” Q ordered.

Bond sighed, like he was a teenager and Q was asking him to clean his room.


 Bond did come back the next day, and even submitted to a few more tests in Medical before being sent home for a mandatory leave of one week.

Q didn’t even ask permission, just went straight to Bond’s flat after work. He was in the elevator before he remembered what Bond had said, months ago now, about people who dropped by his flat unannounced. There was a moment of terror, but then the elevator dinged politely and let him off on Bond’s floor.

Q didn’t quite know what to do with that. But he got off the elevator and went to Bond’s door. He knocked, and Bond was there to let him in a moment later. Q held up the takeaway he’d brought from the grubby Jamaican place James loved so much.

James twinkled and dimpled. He was wearing his shoulder holster with his shirtsleeves rolled up. “You’re not the usual delivery boy.”

Q rolled his eyes. “You’re not supposed to operate heavy machinery, I hear. Don’t know if a stove counts, but I thought I’d…”

Bond held the door open a bit wider, stepping aside and welcoming Q in.

“How’s the head?” Q asked.

“Ohhh they’ve given me all sorts of lovely things to keep it from hurting too badly,” Bond said airily. But he sounded more himself.

“Ah so you’re legally high this time?” Q said, arching a brow at James.

James shrugged, unabashed.

“Well at least take off your holster. You’re hardly fit to carry a gun right now,” Q said idly as he took the takeaway out of its bags.

A ringing silence followed the suggestion. Q’s brain caught up with the words he’d just said and told him that he was an idiot and he should let Bond do whatever Bond needed to do to feel safe--

There was a quiet thunk and Q looked over to see the holster now sitting on the table beside him. A moment later he felt a stubbly cheek against his, a wall of warmth pressing up against his back. “Whatever you say, Quartermaster,” Bond murmured, low in his ear.

Q let out a breath, feeling, for some reason, like he’d just successfully defused a bomb.

 

They ended up eating on the sofa and watching Planet Earth, which Q informed Bond was a traditional activity for people who were high. Bond said "alright," in a tone that suggested he was wildly amused by how darling that was. But Q supposed that Bond's encounters with drugs were less 'lie around and watch TV' and more 'how do I escape this torture dungeon when I don't know which way is up?'

James poured himself a glass of scotch in an almost absentminded way. Q stole the glass out of James’s hand before he could even take a sip, and then downed it all in one awful, burning swallow. He hated scotch. He gagged and shuddered all over for a full thirty seconds while James laughed at him. But James didn’t pour himself another glass, so Q counted it as a win.

Whatever the doctors had given James made him incredibly drowsy after about an hour, and so before the episode was over, James had put his half-eaten food on the coffee table and simply keeled over with his head pillowed on Q’s thigh. Whether he was asleep or just dozing, Q couldn’t tell and didn’t care. He put his fingers carefully in Bond’s hair. If Potter and Weasley liked it, he thought James probably would too.

Q could see the stitches at the back of James’s head, not very well hidden by his short blond hair. He felt a little bad for not feeling worse about it, actually. It gave him a little twinge of sympathy, and gratitude that James had made it back this time. Not that he hadn’t felt anxiety for James’s safety, or that the thought of James on mission didn’t keep him up nights… Still. It seemed like something that ought to give him more angst than it did.

But this was James Bond, after all. He was a phoenix. He couldn’t rise from the ashes if you didn’t let him burn.

“You’re thinking too loudly,” James complained, without opening his eyes.

“You should sleep in a bed,” Q told him.

James turned his head slightly to look at Q and waggle his eyebrows.

“Darling, I know you have a reputation to maintain, but do you really think that’s an achievable goal right now?” Q said, amused.

“Can I at least say... thank you?” James drew the sentence out in a way that implied all sorts of activities. His tongue darted out to lick his lips.

Q made a choked sound. “What for?”

“For being my guiding star,” Bond said, with a whimsical little lift at the corner of his mouth.

“Now I know you’re high,” Q said. He could feel his ears turning pink. Which was ridiculous. And delightful.  “And therefore in no position to consent to anything. So, tragically, I must decline.”

"Spoilsport," James accused. He didn't sound annoyed, though. He actually sounded pleased, a bit smug, perhaps. There was a fond crinkle in the corner of each blue eye, like he was smiling without moving his lips. He sighed and let his head drop back onto Q's thigh. He looked... pampered. Like Potter, in one of his rare, affectionate moods, when he just wanted to be adored for a while (though on his own terms, of course.) It was a good look on James, but Q couldn't help wondering how long it had been since anyone had just looked after James without having an angle they were trying to exploit. 

“At least stay the night,” Bond said, and there was no whimsy there now, just a genuine invitation, no seduction for the moment. The moment didn’t last long. “It’s a big bed,” he added, smile turning wicked. “And I’ll be able to consent to all sorts of things in the morning." 

Q couldn’t stop a smile from fighting it’s way onto his face. James grinned back; the one like sunshine, the one that brought out his full arsenal of dimples and smile lines.

How could Q possibly refuse?

Chapter Text

James had always been able to read people like books. It was a skill you picked up when there were no parents to watch your back, and James had honed it during his military service, and weaponized it at MI6. It wasn’t often that he got to use that skill for his own pleasure, but James wanted Q in a way he hadn’t wanted anyone for years. He was going to learn Q, cover to cover. Every inch of him, every line. He was going to memorize Q's every gasp and moan, the exact arch of his spine, the precise angle of his breathless, panting smiles. James turned his full attention on Q, and took him apart. That first night, and then every night he could get his hands on Q. And every night that Q could get his hands on James. And, in point of fact, a few nights over the phone, when they could only get their hands on themselves. James liked sex, and he liked Q. Putting the two together was extremely enjoyable. 

This was all pretty normal for Bond. Sex was fun, of course, but just another form of exercise. One that he was particularly good at, admittedly…

But there were other things. Things that weren’t at all normal for Bond, but were becoming normal for them . Things that left him feeling uneasy and out of his depth. He hadn’t been truly out of his depth in years. It wasn’t easy to quantify, wasn’t easy to catalogue what was throwing him off. It was a collection of small moments, and not-so-small moments, and every moment was underlaid with tension, like an unexpected minor chord in an otherwise familiar tune.

This became normal: Bond would go on mission. R ran his missions now, which was fine. R gave better toys than Q anyway. He actually did get an exploding pen, eventually.

The bulk of Q and James's work interaction became 20% Bond playing lab rat for the latest invention, and 80% being dressed down for dropping millions of pounds’ worth of equipment into the ocean or wherever.

Sometimes they went to dinner after. Sometimes they spent the night in Q’s nest, and other times they went to Bond’s safehouse. It depended upon exactly how much shit had hit which fan. Bond’s flat was closer to MI6, and armed to the teeth, but Q’s flat had softer edges, more comfort, and tighter security.

They had toothbrushes at each other’s places. Bond stashed a couple of guns at Q’s, and Q made some modifications to secure lines at Bond’s.

All of that was fine. Logical. Made sense. That was how people acted, and while it wasn’t what Bond was used to, it shouldn’t have made him feel unsure.

But he did feel unsure. And he wasn't sure why. He wasn't getting tired of Q, not at all. He'd been half worried that he would, but days turned into weeks turned into months, and James wasn't bored. He became comfortable (which was novel), he settled in (which was downright strange), he adjusted to all the little things that were becoming normal for them. But never stopped feeling uncertain. Unsafe, his instinct whispered. This can't be safe.


 Bond taught Q hand to hand combat and helped him improve his aim -- shooting in the firing range to test a weapon was very different from using that weapon in the field. And as much as Q worried about Bond in the field, only one of them had been kidnapped on the way to the office, in the heart of London.

So Bond taught Q to defend himself. He showed him how to break a hold in close combat. He showed him how to keep a gun steady even with adrenaline screaming in your veins. He showed him how to throw a larger opponent. He did all this with grim seriousness, but also... His approach was decidedly hands on. In a way that made Q throw him heated looks, after. Probably not a great idea, he didn't want to create a Pavlovian response between self-defense and lust, but.

It was payback. Q had been teaching Bond how to calculate angles in pool, which had led to Q looming behind Bond’s back, his delicate, pale hands directing Bond’s with soft touches. His voice low and musical in Bond’s ear, almost like the old days, but at the same time tantalizingly different. It was an interesting reversal of what Bond was used to -- he wasn’t often on the receiving end of that sort of seduction. It should, perhaps, have been laughable, seeing skinny, soft-spoken Q taking charge. But it hadn’t been laughable at all. It had made desire coil and warm in Bond’s gut.

So yes, if Bond’s touch lingered while teaching Q how best to slide a knife between an attacker’s ribs, that was only to be expected. Turnabout was fair play, after all. It was just a bit of fun.

But there was, undeniably, a strange feeling in Bond’s gut the whole time, like he was standing on the edge of a cliff. A kind of internal vertigo, almost like terror. It left him breathless in a way he didn’t understand.


 But there was a lot that Bond didn't understand. More than he ever let on. For example: he found himself telling Q things, without even needing to get hammered or concussed first.

After a grueling assassination -- in Kansas, of all the horrible, boring places -- he went to Q’s, put his head in Q’s lap and just. Started talking. The target had been a spy, a hacker funneling MI6’s secrets out via the CIA. Bond had teamed up with Felix and tracked down the leak to a literal white-picket-fence. Poor bastard. There had been a photo of two lovely kids in his wallet. James found himself saying it aloud, the words just coming out of him without his permission: he never wanted to have kids himself, if only to spare his eventual murderer that particular exquisite pain. No one deserved that.

For the first time, and to Q, he talked about the night he became an orphan. It had been the first time his parents left him home alone. He had been looking forward to being the man of the house, for a little while.

Q didn’t say a word, and he didn’t stop moving his fingers through Bond’s hair, not once. And there was the feeling again. Bond was sure this time: it was fear, sick and twisting, and ever-present, underlying every good thing Q brought into his life.

He just couldn’t figure out why.


 They had their first shouting match, as a “couple” (they both preferred to say it with sarcastic emphasis) six months in. It was, predictably, work-related. It was, surprisingly, not James’s fault.

Not that James knew that. It happened after his first post-Q honeypot mission. He wasn’t sure how MI6 had managed to go six whole months without needing him to seduce someone, but lately his missions had been all violence and vent-crawling, no whoring necessary. They hadn’t asked for that -- Q had never made any request, formal or informal, and James certainly hadn’t. M was too busy to make that happen for them without being asked, and Moneypenny would never coddle them that way.

No, as a matter of fact, it had been Tanner. The chief of staff had practically thrown rice over them when they reported that they were, now, “officially” a “couple.” (Q had rolled his eyes, while Bond’s lips twitched disdainfully.) Tanner had begged, borrowed, and threatened as much as he could, in order to provide them a “honeymoon phase” free from constant STI checks. (Q rolled his eyes harder, Bond’s lips twitched in fond bemusement that time.)

But all good things must come to an end, and frankly, Bond was just too good to bench indefinitely.

He spent a week on some woman’s yacht, using Q’s Rat Trap to copy out every detail of the smuggling ring she ran. She was fine, he supposed. Attractive enough, and clever, and just a little cruel. His type, he would have thought. Before. But he never felt even slightly tempted to speak to her unguardedly. And while he did take off the shoulder holster a couple of times, he never wanted to. He certainly didn’t enjoy it.

When it was over, he took satisfaction in a job well done, but it definitely felt like work.

 

He’d been looking forward to coming back, to coming home. He’d been so impatient that he went off the grid and called in a favor in order to get back early. He’d even returned all his equipment and gone to Medical like a good boy.

And yes, he had broken into Q’s flat, fine , but that was only because he couldn’t be arsed to get his key out of the secure lockup. He came in through the window, turned off the alarm, and dropped onto Q’s couch with a sigh. A moment later, Potter hopped up beside him and yowled, reminding Bond that he had Important Duties. Forget Queen and Country. There were cats to feed.

James fed the cats, and got a nice dinner cooking besides, one that could simmer on the stove until Q got back. He helped himself to a book from Q’s shelves and finally learned the origin of Potter and Weasley’s names. He wondered if Q had grown up reading these books. He checked the publishing date. It made him feel more-than-usually old and lecherous. He kept reading. He ignored the ping of his work phone. He was off-duty, dammit. If it was important, they’d call again. This was Q time.

All he needed was for Q to actually bloody turn up.

 

It was after dark before Q finally did arrive. Without looking up, James said: “Of all the characters to name a cat after, why not McGonagall?”

“A black haired cat and a ginger? How could I call them anything other than Potter and Weasley?” Q said testily. That made James look up, in time to see Q drop his bag unceremoniously on the coffee table. Someone was in a bad mood. James couldn't help being a little disappointed. “What the hell are you doing here?” Q grumbled.

Perhaps a lot disappointed. Instinctively, James hid his reaction. Without losing his cool, he raised an eyebrow. “Making dinner? There’s curry on the stove and the naan should still be warm.”

“I ate at the office. You went off the grid.” Q’s expression was dark, and strangely hard to read.

“Yeah, well.” Bond set the book aside, and sat up. “I was impatient." A little annoyance crept into his voice. It had been weeks on that bloody yacht with that bloody woman. This was not the homecoming he'd been hoping for.

“Were you.”

Q’s voice couldn’t have been colder. Bond’s focus narrowed in on him, frowning. Q was angry. Why? Bond had gone off-grid before. Q didn’t usually worry about it, but...

“I should’ve called you,” Bond decided. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to worry you.”

Q’s mouth twitched unhappily. He turned away, went into the kitchen. “I wasn’t worried.” It didn’t sound like a lie.

Bond’s brows came down and together. It couldn’t possibly be about the mission, about the woman, could it? They had talked about it before he left. Q had joked about it, teased him about it. They had both teased Tanner for trying to protect them as long as he had. Q had laughed about it, for Christ’s sake. It couldn't possibly be... could it? “Q... we both knew that this would happen eventually.”

Q had been getting out a mug, about to make tea. Bond saw it happen, almost in slow motion. Shock washed over Q’s face, and pain, like Bond had put a gun in his gut and pulled the trigger. Q’s fingers spasmed. The mug slipped. It bounced off the counter, fell to the floor, and shattered. Q didn’t even react, just stared at the cabinets, his blank shock visible in profile to Bond. He blinked, that fast blink that meant he was thinking something through, processing. Then, his brows snapped down and his eyes narrowed behind his glasses.

Bond stared, not moving. He was a highly trained agent, and he could smell danger in the air.

Q turned slowly on the spot, broken mug crunching under his shoes.

He was furious. Incandescent rage was written in every line of him. Bond had stepped wrong somewhere, and the fear that always lingered in the back of his mind expanded to suffuse his whole being. And at last, he worked out what it was.

He was terrified, terrified, of losing Q. Of course he was, but still...

Hell of a time to have that epiphany.

“You think… You think I’m mad about the mission?” Q said, in the quiet-dangerous voice generally reserved for ordering the executions of human traffickers. “You think I’m mad about her?”

“Just… working my way through the list of things I might have fucked up,” Bond said slowly, not moving an inch. It was always wiser to keep still in the face of a dangerous creature.

“Well, I know this might shake the foundations of your world, 007, but it isn’t always about you,” Q whipped back, vicious.

“I didn’t say it was.” Bond’s gaze darted over Q, cataloguing. Tremor in the right hand. Shadows under his eyes, which were red-rimmed. Clothes rumpled -- he’d been at the office for a while, possibly since the night before, and the tension in his shoulders was--

“Don’t fucking do that,” Q warned. “Don’t read me, if you want to know what happened, you can fucking ask.”

“What happened?” Bond said, alarm crawling higher in his chest, beginning to tug at his hind brain.

“None of your goddamn business,” Q said, voice strange and harsh.

The panic shrilled through him, screeching. He held himself very still and tried not to rise to the bait, tried not to give Q the fight he was clearly looking for. But. Some things were too deeply ingrained.

“Is it not?” Bond said, his own voice gone deep and distant. “Well. My mistake.” He stood up in one swift, graceful movement. His jaw was tight, and he knew full well what he looked like now. Pissed off, cold, and don’t-fuck-with-me dangerous.

He’d trained himself to look that way when he was scared.

This could only go downhill from here, and Bond knew when a tactical retreat was called for. He didn’t look at Q once as he went out the door. If he slammed it, well. It might have been cliched and dramatic, but it was also very satisfying.

 

By the time he was half a block away, the high-pitched squeal of his anxiety had given way to a building storm of anger. He was trying to be helpful , and Q had been deliberately fucking --  

Bond was ninety percent sure that he’d done nothing to deserve that, and he still didn’t know what had happened to --

What he really wanted to do, right now, was hit something. Someone, preferably. He remembered that his phone had pinged earlier, a message from work, from Moneypenny. Maybe there was a mission...

He opened it, and stopped dead in his tracks. A businessman on his phone nearly crashed into him and swore under his breath, but Bond didn’t look up from the text message.

We lost Jack today. Q was on OS.

Jack Mason was the youngest of the double-ohs. Not as young as Bond had been when he started, but close. He was -- he had been doe-eyed, brown-haired, with a devastatingly crooked smile and a soft, Welsh accent when he wasn’t thinking about it. He’d killed two armed terrorists in hand to hand combat for the privilege of being called 003.

He’d helped rescue Q and M from the warehouse by the water. He’d taken a mean bullet graze across his ribs, and laughed about it, after.

And now he was dead, and Q had been on Ops Support when it happened, and everything suddenly made a lot more sense.

They didn't talk about it, in a strange kind of superstition. But Q had never lost an agent, not while he was running the op. He had never been in charge when an agent didn't come home, never had to listen to someone die on the other end of a call he was running.

We both knew that this would happen eventually, Bond had said. Of course Q had looked gut-punched.

“Shit,” James told the empty air, before turning around and practically running back to Q’s.

 

He banged on the front door. If Q wouldn’t let him in, he’d find another way. He’d break in again, climb up the side of the building like a goddamn spider if needs must, but--

But Q yanked open the door. James had half expected to find that Q had imploded during his brief absence, but in fact, Q looked just the same: Prickly, and pissed off, and (now that James was looking for it) desperately upset.

“What?” Q snapped, his body still blocking the way in.

“Moneypenny texted me. About Jack.”

James barely got his hand up and slapped against the wood in time to stop the door slamming in his face. Even angry, Q wasn’t stronger than Bond. He shoved hard, but James shoved back, and the door stayed open.

“Who the fuck do you think you are?” Q said, outraged.

“The longest serving double-oh in history,” James said, with cool authority. “It wasn’t your fault, Q.”

“How the hell would you know,” Q said, his voice taut with emotion, on the ragged edge of breaking. “It was my op, you weren’t there, you have no--”

James shoved the door open, forcing Q back a couple of steps. “It wasn’t your fault,” he said, relentless.

Q laughed, mocking, and horrible. “He wasn’t you, you know, he didn’t take stupid risks. He just did exactly as he was told. Exactly what I told him to--”

James slammed the door behind him and grabbed Q’s upper arm. “It wasn’t--”

“Stop saying that! Stop saying that,  it's just s tupid --”

“It wasn’t your fault,” James said, louder.

Q twisted out of his grip like a wild thing -- like Bond had showed him how to do, in fact. And then he shoved hard at James’s chest, pushed him back. “Shut up, just fucking shut up or I swear to Christ--” He grabbed the front of James’s shirt and pushed again, hard, rattling James’s back against the door with bruising force. There was rage in his face, and James knew the look of violence coming on, knew the look of a man about to dive headfirst into a fight he couldn’t win. It was folly for a skinny boffin to punch a double-oh. Self-defense training or not, Bond could break Q over his knee if he wanted.

But James just lifted his hands, palms out. “I’m not going to fight you, Q.”

Q’s face twisted into a grimace. “Why not?” He snarled, and bashed James against the door again, hard enough to make it shake in its frame. James just let him, compliant and loose. Q’s fists were balled up in his shirt, knuckles pressed against James’s chest. His eyes, dark behind his spectacles, were red-rimmed and fixed with a desperate laser fury on Bond’s expression.

“Because I don't... I don't want to hurt you,” James said. He meant to say it as a quip, a clever joke. Teasing. Unfortunately, about halfway through, he discovered that he meant it. He didn’t want to hurt Q. He would never, never hurt Q.

But Q’s face just twisted further into grief, into something raw and hurting and beyond anger. “Why not?” He said, and it sounded…

He was pleading.

Bond’s heart had been broken before, but never quite like this. Not for someone else’s sake. Q was begging him to fight, knowing that he couldn’t win. He wanted to be punished. Wanted someone to hurt him, to get some of the pain inside him out. Bond had been there, he knew that feeling. He knew what it was like to want that, to put some of the pain on your skin instead of in your head. And he had done it to other people, before. To marks. To targets. For information, for leverage, for--

He swallowed thickly. Why this, he wondered vaguely. Why did this of all things turn his stomach? Why did this, of all the fucking things he’d done, send him spiraling back into memories like--

He swallowed again, and shook his head hard. “No. I… No.”

Q’s shoulders dropped. The fight left him, all in a rush. His fists went slack on James's chest. It almost looked like he was about to collapse. James put his hands on Q's shoulders and squeezed, gently.

“Hard limit, I’m afraid,” James said, soft and apologetic. “Won’t hurt you. Can’t do it.” He’d hurt too many people. There was violence in him all the time. He wasn’t going to cross that line with Q. He didn't want to. He didn’t dare.

Q bowed his head. “Christ. That was a such a fucked up thing to -- I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have--”

“Not your fault,” James said, quietly now.

“God, shut up.” Q leaned slightly forward, pressed his forehead into Bond’s collarbone. “Just…”

James put his arms around Q and let him shudder in silence.

 

They were both a little raw, after that. It was weeks before they stopped circling each other like wary cats. It wouldn't be the last time they fought, of course. But James never did cross that line, and Q never pushed him like that again.

It was almost worse, to watch Q punishing himself in the days that followed. James stayed with him, and kept a sharp eye out, just… in case. He never caught Q with a razor blade or anything so overt, but… It was still hard to watch him stay late at the office every night, and turn away from the food James brought him. He even oversteeped his tea so it was bitter, which was ridiculous. James wasn’t even sure that it was conscious, on Q's part. He was treating himself like shit in a thousand small ways. James had done worse to himself, he knew. But it was harder to stand by and watch it happen to someone else.

When Q tried to skip out on his mandatory grief counseling, James put his foot down. That led to another screaming argument. The word “hypocrite” featured prominently. The end result was that Q agreed to go to “the stupid bloody grief thing” only if Bond signed up for regular sessions of his own.

When Bond submitted the request, Tanner was so surprised that he was actually speechless for ten whole seconds. Moneypenny looked out her window, as though to check that the Thames hadn’t fucking frozen over or something. James just rolled his eyes and walked away.

He did not expect anything useful to come of it, but… The counselor Psych assigned to him was an ex-operative herself, who had lost both legs during the Troubles and now walked around on bent carbon fiber springs. She was hard-faced, and had eyes that could pin him to the wall and make him squirm. After just one session, she started bringing a deck of cards. They played poker for confidences rather than money, and he lost more often than not.

It wasn’t completely horrible, actually.

 

A few weeks later, he realized that they had survived their first big fight. It hadn't resulted in Q leaving. No one had died. In fact, it had gone as well as a fight could be expected to go.

For some reason, that only made Bond more nervous.


 Their special interpretation of normal was an ever-expanding thing, a boundary that kept moving, encompassing more and more and more, an ever-growing collection of tiny moments that echoed deep.

Sometimes, at night, Bond would curl around Q and just hold him, pressed warm and firm against his back until the genius could get a good night's rest even though it was too dark and quiet in the room.

And sometimes Q would come up behind Bond and just wrap his arms around Bond's stomach and press his forehead against the back of Bond's neck until the tension he didn’t realize was there eased out of him, and he could take off the shoulder holster.

This all became normal, but Bond’s anxiety didn’t go away. He knew what to call it now: anxiety. A vague, nameless fear.

He was too selfish not to take what Q was offering, and with both hands. But the deeper he got, the more he quietly tried to prepare himself. He was perpetually half-braced for disaster. Q was going to be taken away from him, eventually. Just like everyone else he'd ever let himself care about. Someday, he knew he would end up standing over Q’s grave.

He tried, he truly did, but couldn’t stop waiting for the other shoe to drop.


 While on a mission in Manila, Bond got himself shot in the thigh and had to take medical leave at the same time that Q was due some vacation. They took a couple of weeks off and decided to go on a driving holiday. It was the one year anniversary of their first official date, a fact which both of them knew and neither acknowledged.

They spent the day itself tinkering with the car, making sure it would survive the long, aimless drive they were planning to take.

Q loved tinkering with the car. Bond loved helping Q tinker with the car. They bickered about what could and couldn't be weaponized. The argument grew heated, but not with anger. It ended with the two of them fucking over the hood, still arguing about whether or not to add a flamethrower.

 

They drove from town to town along the coast. Dover, Hastings… they skipped Brighton and went to Portsmouth instead. James was a navy man first, and unrepentantly fond of sailing ships. He got unnecessarily starry eyed over tall ships in the harbor. He gave Q a surprisingly thorough tour of HMS Victory. After that, they went to the Mary Rose Museum, which housed the remains of a 500-year-old ship. It had been painstakingly dredged up from the ocean floor when Bond was still a teenager. He'd gone to the grand opening, and several times after, but he hadn't been back since the museum re-opened in 2013, after they finished conservation on the wreck. The last he'd seen it, they were still constantly soaking it with water and chemicals, to prevent further deterioration. Now it was dry, and the lights were a little brighter.

“It’s a common misconception that she sank on her maiden voyage,” James said quietly. They were standing in the viewing area looking out over the remains of the massive old warship. “She was in service for thirty-four years, fought in three wars.”  And then, centuries on the sea bottom, lying on her side in the silt. It had very neatly bisected her, revealing all the decks, the depth of the hull. It was eerily skeletal, and strangely beautiful. “Poor old thing.”

James caught Q staring at him, eyes wide, as they looked out at the ragged remains of the Tudor-era vessel. “What?” Bond said, all aloofness and arched brow.

“Nothing. Just.” A smile pulled up the corner of Q’s mouth. His gaze was steady, unflickering, and warm.

“Just what?”

“You’re geeking out. About ships.”

Bond sniffed and looked back out at the exhibit. He shifted his weight off his still-healing leg. “ You geek out. I have specialized knowledge.”

Q snorted. “Yeah, alright. Whatever you say.” He bumped his shoulder against Bond’s. “Next time, a sailing holiday?”

Bond didn’t look over, but he knew that Q had seen the half-smirk that was his minimalist way of saying fuck yes.

 

A few days after that they went to Lyme. James sunned himself on a rock studded with spiraling fossilized ammonites. Q walked by the sea, studying the broken bits of prehistoric beasts that were scattered in and among the pebbles. He’d taken off his shoes and socks. His trousers were rolled up to his knees, and he waded into the water as far as his shins. James caught himself watching Q’s shuffling little steps with the same sharp greed that had previously been reserved for curvaceous women in white bikinis. When exactly had skinny boffins become his type?

Q came back to James's sunny spot with a smirk and a really beautiful if oddly shaped rock. It sparkled in the sunlight. He held it out to Bond, looking terribly smug for some reason.

"What's this?" James asked, taking the offered stone. It didn’t look like a fossil, but…

"It’s for your mantle. To go next to the bulldog. It’s a coprolite,” Q said, sounding very pleased with himself.

James narrowed his eyes. “A what?”

“A prehistoric piece of shit. Just like you.”

James tackled him despite the ache in his healing leg.

 

They ended up in Cornwall, near Land's End. Bond wanted to go cliff diving or something equally mad, but his limp prevented him, and he didn't protest too much. He let Q drive this stretch and just enjoyed the shockingly nice weather that made Cornwall so unexpectedly lush and lovely.

They stopped at a little seaside village where the houses were colorful, and the plants were tropical, and the doors all had shiny brass doorknobs right in the middle.

There were basking sharks in the harbor that day, and even though they probably shouldn’t have, with Bond’s leg, they went swimming, along with several adventurous surfers and a couple of enthusiastic conservationists. The basking sharks were terrifyingly massive, and completely harmless. But even Bond got a little thrill of fear to be so close to something so big, jaws agape as if to swallow him whole.

 

Later, they checked into a hotel and drank wine on the balcony. Later -- much later, the other shoe finally dropped, though not in the way that Bond had been waiting for.

 

They were in bed, skin to skin and sleepy in the aftermath. James felt sated and comfortable, and safe. Q’s head was pillowed on his chest, hair tickling under James's chin and the side of his neck. A year ago, he might have wanted a smoke, but it made Q wheeze and cough, so he’d quit. He rubbed Q’s bicep, callouses dragging up and down the smooth, soft skin.

Q sighed, heavily. “I’ll tell you,” he said out of bloody nowhere, as though they’d been having a conversation, as though James had asked a question, which he hadn’t. “But you have to promise to keep calling me Q. I really do prefer it.”

James went very, very still.

“You can laugh if you like, though. It’s admittedly silly.”  Q lifted his head to look down at Bond. He was smiling, a dreamy little smile that Bond had spent the last year completely obsessed with. “It’s Ulysses, believe it or not,” he said. “Ulysses Hope.”

James stared. “Seriously?”

Highly Google-able, you can see why we had to bury it.”

“Ulysses?”

“My dad was an avid sailor and my mum was a classicist.”

“That’s hardly an excuse. They sent you to boarding school with that name?”

“Well I was there at the same time as Benedict Cumberbatch, so it wasn’t as if mine was the worst--”

“You went to Harrow?!  You call me posh, but you went to Harrow?"

“On scholarship! You went to Eton and Fettes,” Q said, defensively.

James felt completely blindsided. It was marvelous. Almost nothing surprised him anymore. And it was so rare that the surprise was actually nice . Q dropped his head back onto James's chest.

“Well I can see why you prefer Q,” James rumbled.

“Yes,” Q said, amused.

“You can't startle me like that, you know. I'm very, very old. Liable to drop dead from shock at any second.”

Q tsked in disapproval. “Don't you dare. I'm not done with you.”

James chuckled. For a moment they lay in silence, his mind ticking over what he had learned. “Bloody hell,” he said suddenly, thinking of their walk through the town, of shiny brass doorknobs. Of gardens with roses and herbs. Of a late-night phone conversation, while he was in Hong Kong. Have you always lived in London? “Is there an empty grave in this town with your name on it?” he asked in a rush.

He felt Q shrug against him. “Yeah.”

“Would it be safe to visit?” James said, feeling strangely dizzy with delight. It meant nothing, but the thought of standing over Q’s grave, as he’d always known he would, but without the loss… It felt like he would be breaking a curse.

“If you like,” Q said, amused. He lifted his head again and kissed James lazily. “Morbid weirdo,” he murmured against James’s mouth.

James knew what he wanted to say in reply to that. He paused for a moment, let the tension in himself sing. It had been a long time coming by now, but even longer since he’d dared to consider saying these particular words aloud. In the moment before it happened, he acknowledged that it would, and he let himself believe, for the first time since he was six, that it really was going to be alright. Only then did he say it, lightly, as if it meant nothing:

“Love you too.”