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Sigh No More

Chapter Text

 

“Love; it will not betray you

Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free

Be more like the man you were meant to be.

 

There is a design, an alignment to cry

Of my heart to see

The beauty of love as it was made to be.”


Sigh No More - Mumford and Sons

 


 

The name’s Bond. James Bond.

 

His CV is impressive (if one has the appropriate clearance to view it):

 

  • Royal Navy Commander RNR
  • Companion on the Order of St. Michael and St. George
  • A Servant of Her Majesty’s Secret Service: MI6
  • Special Designation Double-Oh Programme: Code name Double-Oh-Seven (007)
  • Special Training: 
  • [redacted]
  • Service Record:
  • [redacted]
  • [redacted]
  • [redacted] [redacted] [redacted]
  • [redacted]
  • [redacted] [redacted]
  • [redacted]
  • [redacted]
  • [redacted] [redacted] [redacted]
  • [redacted]
  • [redacted]
  • [redacted] 
  • Kill Count: [redacted]

 

As the highest ranking agents within the hierarchy of MI6, the Double-Ohs are in a league all their own. They are revered as much as they are feared and while they aren’t quite legendary, they are all the gossip. When people think about the lifestyle, they conjure up adrenalin-ridden images of fast cars, explosions, and gunfire. They think about the gambling and the sex and the women, the obscenely expensive hotel rooms, the bespoke suits and diamond cufflinks. Bond supposes that’s alright and he’s not about to correct anyone. He’s had his fair share of all of those things--some more than others--and while the lifestyle certainly can seem glamourous, it’s only because those things are exciting to the uninvolved.

 

They’re not boring or ordinary, so they’re worth talking about. No one spares even a thought that Double-Ohs experience their fair share of terrible things as well. There are, of course, the ones that everyone can see when Bond swaggers back to Six, because he’s usually wearing them proudly: the knife slashes, the bullet holes, the road rash, the burns, the broken bones. Then there are the ones that no one but Medical sees because of their gruesome nature, the ones that none of the Double-Ohs can smile through: the ones as the result of torture, from unspeakable things. And then, sometimes, there are no physical marks at all. Those are the ones that Psych is supposed to see, but doesn’t, because people like Bond don’t let people like that inside his head. He keeps all those scars close to his chest so that people keep talking about fast cars and beautiful women and diamond cufflinks. They don’t need to know about the laundry list of things that are most definitely not included on his CV, but can certainly be found if one happens to be looking in the right place.

 

It might read something like one of Psych’s checklists (but only maybe, because Bond has never stuck around through an entire session to find out):

 

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Insomnia
  • Rampant alcoholism
  • Frequent substance abuse
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Blatant disregard for authority
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Paranoia
  • Adrenalin junkie
  • Anger management issues
  • Recommendation to not be returned to active duty.
  • (Mandatory retirement by age 45: 2 years and 3 months.)

 

Bond’s bitter about the last, and it has less to do with the fact that he’s getting on in age and more to do with the fact that he won’t know what to do with himself if he lives to see retirement. Bond would rather blow his brains out than be useless, than be bored, and that’s exactly where he’s heading if he’s not excessively reckless before that expiration date. But dying means failing, and Bond’s not a failure. He’s too stubborn for that. And the stubbornness, he knows, is what will eventually be the end of him. So he’s a walking, talking self-fulfilling prophecy. But then again, most Double-Ohs are.

 

Still, it’s all so tiring.

 

It’s not like how it used to be. The excitement isn’t there anymore. The thrill of the chase is gone. Bond’s too busy thinking about if he’s going to be fast enough, if he’ll be suave enough, if he’ll have enough in him to pretend to be someone else, even just for a night. He’s thinking about his knees and his bad shoulder and the old breaks and sprains that hurt him when the weather changes. He’s thinking of this when he’s waiting in airport terminals and train stations for hours in uncomfortable plastic seats, when he’s sitting in cabins and carriages and trying to ignore the sick sort of twist in his gut at pressure changes and drops or rises in altitude. He’s thinking of this when he’s breathing in dry, recycled air, when he’s hoping that he won’t have to go through another tedious security check, have another cardboard sandwich, engage in small talk with another lonely passenger.

 

James Bond, 007, is tired of the job he loved, still loves, in the same way he still loves M even though she’s gone. But he’s tired down to his bones, even more so because he knows that retirement will ease none of it, because he’s a little too old for fieldwork and a little too restless for deskwork. There’s no medium, no in-between. He does this until he dies, or he retires and fades away. Neither option is truly appealing.

 

Until he decides, Bond keeps taking planes and trains to foreign locales. He keeps seducing and drinking and shooting. He’s still good at it, he still loves it, but when he’s on the way back to London with his bones aching, he wonders how much longer he can last.

 


 

Bond doesn’t think much of his lifestyle until it happens one evening.

 

He finally arrives in London after a long series of connecting flights from his assignment in Borneo, and he’s leaving the gate when he sees someone waving at him. It’s a pale hand stretched out above the crowd, attached to a woman with dark hair and a beautiful smile. At first, Bond thinks it’s Vesper, but he crushes that rising bloom of hope before it can manifest. It hurts like a scab that’s been reopened, and Bond feels raw and hurt in a way he hasn’t since Venice. He wants to look away, but she’s lovely and looking right at him and smiling and he can’t. No one has ever been waiting for him like that, like they are overjoyed he’s alive and whole and home.

 

He wants to run to her, this stranger who is smiling and bouncing on the balls of her feet with excitement. But as Bond nears, he sees that her eyes are not really on him, but somewhere just past his left shoulder, and once they’re through the gate, someone pushes past him and runs to her. Bond pointedly casts his eyes to the carpet so he does not have to see their embrace. Then he hails a taxi and tries to forget.

 

But he can’t.

 

He thinks a lot about it. He wonders if he had someone there waiting, maybe it would not be so bleak. It’s a long-shot, but he wonders if it’s possible, because in that one moment when he thought that stranger had been looking at him, Bond did not feel the ache so acutely, the weariness so fully.

 

In that moment, he did not feel so alone.

 

So Bond makes a decision, albeit a poor one. It’s a few missions after Skyfall and he’s run-down in a way that he cannot even put into words. Something about it possesses him to call Moneypenny, because even though she shot him off a moving train on accident, she’s still one of the friendliest faces he can think of. She comes to the airport in a company car driven by a professional escort from MI6. She is not waiting at the gate when Bond arrives, but in the back seat of the vehicle, texting on her mobile. As they drive back to his flat, Moneypenny spends the time alternating between disapproving glares and soft, but firm, lecture about the importance of exercising personal safety. She ends her well-intended tirade as they pull up the kerb outside of Bond’s building, and there is a smoulder in her dark eyes that tells Bond she isn’t really angry enough to not have sex with him that night. She’s definitely lovely and Bond would not hesitate to take her to bed under normal circumstances. But Bond is tired enough from the last vestiges of adrenalin in his system combined with the exhausting feat of over thirty hours of air travel that he can’t even think of shagging her.

 

Somehow, he manages to politely extricate himself from the vehicle and goes up to his flat alone, where he drinks himself into a sleep that lasts thirty-six hours. When he wakes, his side is a mess of green and yellow mottled bruises and he has seventeen missed calls from Moneypenny’s personal mobile. He does not return any of them, and every time they come in contact for the next few weeks, she is civil in exchange, but nothing more. It takes some time for her to warm up to him again, though it might be from his silent apologies via anonymously deposited beverages and sweets rather than conscience. He does not regret refusing her that night, but knows now that he will never get another chance. Somehow, that doesn’t bother him like it would have when he was younger and he’s grateful for her company and advice when she offers. Despite their now-strictly-platonic friendship, Bond tells himself then that he will never call Moneypenny in for such a favour again.

 

The next time, Bond is hurting from the aftermath of a car chase that left him limping away from a twisted wreck in Bogota. His shoulder is probably sprained and he’s bruised and cut in places that can thankfully be covered up to not elicit too many questions. He’s forced to fly coach to get out of Colombia before an arms dealer can slice off all of his fingers and toes for revenge, and it’s during a pit stop in Ft. Lauderdale that he calls Tanner. He and Bill had always got on and Bond thinks that maybe a mate is just what he needs to ease the tired thing in him that just can’t be soothed. Tanner picks up after the first ring, and there is a bit of edge to his voice when he hears Bond’s request.

 

“Are you in need of medical assistance?” Tanner asks.

 

“No. I just need a ride,” Bond lies, and Tanner might not believe him, but he agrees.

 

When Bond touches down at Heathrow, there is no one waiting for him at baggage claim, but there is a sleek Town Car idling just outside of Arrivals. Bond slides inside, careful not to pull the dental-floss stitches in his leg as he does so. Tanner takes one look at him and asks if he wants to go for a pint. Honestly, Bond just wants to go back to his flat and forget Colombia ever happened, but he agrees, because he hopes the company will help. That is how he ends up spending half the night in some shithole bar around the corner from Six, drinking with the Chief of Staff. Tanner doesn’t complain much about Mallory like Bond thought he might, but he grouses about audits and some sort of staff shuffle in Intentions for a good hour, then goes on about footie for a bit until Bond makes an exaggerated glance at his watch and proclaims loudly that he is calling it a night. As much as he likes the ordinary night having a pint or two with a friend to talk about work and West Ham, Bond needs another scene. He refuses the car, catches a taxi, and goes home. Tanner never brings it up or asks him out for another drink and Bond never calls him after that.

 

Bond decides then that he is not going to ask anyone again. It’s silly anyway; it serves no purpose other than that Bond has a desperately selfish need for someone to be there. It might be his age catching up with him, because in the past he’s had no problem being surrounded by strangers. It’s part of the job and he knows that. But now he feels weary and tired in a way he’s never felt before. Every time he disembarks, he sees the joy in people as they are reunited, which makes that exhaustion settle deep into his sinews until he’s heavy with lethargy and regret and nothing else. Families embrace, lovers kiss, children run to their parents, and in the middle of it, there’s Bond with a gun under his arm and a body that is far, far too old for this.

 

But Bond can’t quit because his family is dead and he doesn’t have a lover anymore and he doubts he will ever have children, so there really is nothing for him to do but this.

 


 

 

Bond is on his way to the airport in Singapore when his earpiece crackles to life and a soft voice murmurs his call sign.

 

“007.”

 

“Q,” Bond replies, glancing at his watch. It’s almost 0200 in London. He wonders what his Quartermaster is still doing at Six, especially since the mission has been over for about four hours now. But in the few months that Bond has known Q, he has discovered the other man has a track record of dependability and a habit of keeping long hours. “What do I owe the pleasure?”

 

“Consider this a courtesy call. We’re rerouting you. You’ll be flying back to London through Rome,” Q answers.

 

“That’s out of the way,” Bond says, knowing it could tack at least a few hours onto his overall travel time. “What’s wrong with Kiev?”

 

“You haven’t kept up on the news, have you?”

 

“Been a bit busy, Q.”

 

“The protest is gaining momentum. Intelligence on the ground says there will be an uprising in the near future. Government retaliation might turn violent.”

 

“Sounds like fun,” Bond says.

 

“We’re sending you the alternative route for your safety,” Q replies, ignoring his comment.

 

“My safety,” Bond repeats. He can’t keep the bitterness from his tone.

 

“You are an asset, Bond.”

 

There is something about the way Q says it that makes Bond want to believe him, but old habits die hard.

 

“Right,” Bond says, for lack of anything else to say, and cuts the communication.

 

He has two connecting flights to Rome and then a layover that is supposed to last for an hour and a half, but ends up stretching into three because of the weather. Bond has an itch in the muscles between his shoulder blades and he’s yearning for a soft bed more and more with each passing moment. He’s so very tired and the plastic airport seats are unrelenting. The coffee is surprisingly disappointing, which is by far the worst.

 

Desperate for distraction, Bond removes the earpiece from his pocket and surreptitiously slides it into the attachable case that looks like a Bluetooth headset. He slips it over his right ear and fiddles with his mobile so that it appears he is making a call.

 

“The coffee is shite,” he says.

 

At first, there’s nothing, but then the line goes live and Bond hears something that sounds like the gentle brush of hair over the speaker, then:

 

“Coffee is always shite,” Q replies.

 

“No it isn’t. You’re just too young to appreciate the taste,” Bond tells him. Q snorts. It’s a natural, simple discourse between them that feels natural instead of rehearsed, makes it seem like everything is forgiven.

 

Maybe that’s why Bond can’t help it, because otherwise he isn’t quite sure why he interrupts Q’s explanation about the health benefits of daily tea-drinking to say:

 

“I’ll need a ride.”

 

Q pauses at his words, and Bond can practically hear their conversation shift gears.

 

“Do you want me to arrange a car for you?” Q asks.

 

“I want you to come get me,” Bond says.

 

Q’s line cuts for a moment, much like a hitch of breath in the midst of their transmission. Bond regrets it in that span of sixty seconds, wishing beyond all wishing that he can snatch the words back without having to face the repercussions. But then the silence ends and Q says:

 

“Okay.”

 

He doesn’t ask why or question Bond’s physical or mental health. He doesn’t laugh or judge or jeer. He just says okay like it really is fine that Bond asked, that he doesn’t mind. Bond feels the pain between his shoulders ease somewhat.

 

“Okay.”

 


 

 

It’s sleeting in London when he finally touches down that evening.

 

Bond rubs a hand over his face as they pull into the gate and the fasten seatbelt sign darkens. Almost on cue, everyone rises from their seats to collect their suitcases from the overhead compartments. He wearily joins the masses, thinking about how much he wants a shower and a clean set of clothes and his own bed. Bond shuffles off the plane with the rest of the tired-eyed passengers around him, adjusting the strap of his bag over his shoulder as he walks from the terminal to the baggage claim exit.

 

But before Bond can even make for the doors leading to the passenger drop off and pick up location, he sees Q standing near one of the baggage carousels. As usual, he’s poorly dressed; Bond has an overwhelming urge to take his anorak out into the carpark and put it out of its misery, alongside that hideous pair of plaid trousers. But Q is there and when he sees Bond, something minute shifts in his expression, softening the edges around his eyes and mouth. If Bond didn’t know better, he might say that Q is genuinely happy to see him. Because of that, maybe he can forgive Q’s choice of attire, at least for right now. It also helps that, for what Q lacks in style, he makes up for in gifts; Bond cannot even get a word out before his Quartermaster is thrusting a tall takeaway cup at him.

 

“What’s this?” Bond asks, taking the cup. Even with the cardboard band, his fingers burn with the heat of the beverage.

 

“Poison,” Q replies, expression deadpan.

 

“Thoughtful,” Bond says.

 

“And don’t forget it,” Q tells him.

 

Bond takes a whiff. It’s dark roast coffee with a dash of cream. When he tastes it, there is the small, but appropriate amount of sugar. He wonders how Q knew, but he supposes knowing is his Quartermaster’s job.

 

“Thank you,” Bond says, and means it.

 

“You’re welcome,” Q says. He’s not really smiling, but Bond has heard that tone over the comms before and knows that he is, in his own way.

 

“Shall we?” Bond asks, and Q nods before turning to lead. There is no car idling outside at the kerb to wait for them. Instead, they take the skywalk to an elevator that leads them to the parking garage. The night air is cold and damp. Bond clutches onto his coffee as they walk down the rows of neatly parked vehicles. Q fishes out a fob from his pocket and presses a button. Bond hears the far-off honk of his car in the corner of the garage nearest the exit. When they arrive, Bond lays eyes on a tiny blue compact; the headlights are already on and the engine is running.

 

“You drive a Prius,” Bond says, not asks.

 

“It’s fuel efficient,” Q replies.

 

“It’s a Prius,” Bond says.

 

“If you’re that jealous, I can outfit one for your next mission. They come in bubblegum pink now,” Q says, and Bond quiets immediately. Q might look like he’s halfway to starving, but Bond knows he’s no pushover and that he can make good on his threats. Bond recalls 004’s miserable luck after first meeting Q and regarding him poorly; the Double-Oh’s flights were late, delayed, or never showed up at all, credit cards never authenticated, and the only available vehicle in the region on one mission had been a poorly constructed American brand that wouldn’t shift above second.

 

Bond moves around the small vehicle and throws his bag into the back seat before sliding into the passenger side, coffee still in hand. The interior is warm and smells like mints and cigarettes. There is a Tardis ornament hanging from the rearview mirror. As Q gets behind the wheel and closes his door, Bond taps at it and watches it spin.

 

“Let me guess. It’s bigger on the inside,” Bond says.

 

“You know your Doctor Who,” Q answers, with something like surprise.

 

“I’m not completely uncultured,” Bond replies.

 

“You could have fooled me,” Q grins.

 

Bond doesn’t rise to it, waiting in anticipation for the inevitable conversation, lecture, unofficial debrief, but it never comes. Q pulls out of the space and drives for the exit. He pays his ticket and follows the slick drive to the main road. Bond drinks his coffee and focuses on the way the headlights turn the sleet into streaks of white in front of the windscreen. The tension is easing out of him by inches, and the ache that is usually there is replaced by something soft and warm. The silence is soothing, punctuated only by the rhythmic sweep of blades across glass and the murmured sound of something playing almost inaudibly from the radio. In response to the tranquil atmosphere, Bond feels himself slipping into a quiet headspace. He is just aware enough to know that Q is there and present and breathing beside him--that he is not alone, that he is safe--and that Q’s presence doesn’t equate expectation. Bond can just be, for the first time in a long time.  

 

It seems that only one span of a breath passes, but Bond knows that he is mistaken, that he has somehow lost time. He knows because in one moment, they are leaving the airport proper and the next, they are pulling onto the street of Bond’s flat. The clock on the dashboard says that it is half past ten. The last time Bond experienced such a lapse had been after Skyfall, when he had been heavily sedated for two days. Bond sits up straighter in his seat, moving slowly so not to let his disorientation show, because he doesn’t let his guard down like that--it’s too dangerous in his line of work--and if Q notices, he doesn’t say anything.

 

“Is this the right one?” Q asks, tilting his head to regard the identical facades of the buildings beyond the window.

 

“Yeah,” Bond says. “It’s not too far out of your way?”

 

That is the closest he can get to asking if he had inconvenienced Q with his request.

 

“No, you’re on my way,” Q replies. He is looking at Bond, and in the half-light his eyes are soft and dark, but not expectant. Bond looks at Q’s lips, then quickly looks away. He blames it on the hour, his disorientation, Q’s kindness. It’s nothing else but that.

 

“Good,” Bond eventually says, because he doesn’t know what else to say. For the first time in a long time, Bond feels a creeping sensation of awkwardness. Q agreed to drive him, but didn’t ask for anything. Normal people didn’t do that because normal people wanted things. But Q does not seem to be normal; he never had, actually, ever since their first meeting. Bond isn’t sure what it means, but he does like that Q doesn’t feel the need to fill the silence with empty conversation.

 

“You should get some sleep,” Q tells him. He pauses a moment and reaches beneath his seat to extricate something, which he holds out to Bond. It’s a compact umbrella. “Here, take this. It’s my spare.”

 

Bond looks at Q, then the umbrella. Q sighs and takes the cold cup of coffee out of Bond’s hand and replaces it with the umbrella.

 

“So you don’t get wet,” Q elaborates, as if Bond is a child. When Bond accepts it, their fingers brush as Q pulls away.

 

“Thank you,” he says, before stepping out of the car. He puts the umbrella up against the wind, then grabs his bag out of the back seat. Q rolls down the window just as Bond is shutting the rear door.

 

“Good night, 007,” he says.

 

“Good night, Q,” Bond replies.

 

The window rolls up and Q pulls away. Bond stands on the pavement and watches his tail lights disappear into the distance.

 

The night is cold and dark and wet, but Bond can still feel the warmth of Q’s fingertips lingering on his skin.

 


 

 

He wakes at noon the following day, refreshed, not hungover, and ready to debrief.

 

Usually, Bond finds it a struggle to do this after an assignment. The combination of fading adrenalin and travel exhaustion leaves him sluggish, often intensified by the remnants of drink from the night prior and the still-healing injuries to his ageing body. It sometimes takes hours for Bond to be able to dress and confidently smirk and swagger like normal. He sometimes has to practice in the flat before he goes out, like stepping into a part. Taking on a mission, going to MI6: both require a role he must play.

 

But today, Bond finds he has enough energy to not force the motions. He showers and shaves and slides into a crisp, clean suit. He even takes a late breakfast, which he usually cannot stomach after long air travel. After some debate, Bond decides to take the Jag into work instead of calling for a driver. It will never be his Aston, but does the job of getting him from point A to point B while he's in London, even if it only rarely leaves the underground garage beneath his building. The seats are still stiff and it has a distinct new-car smell to it, all smooth leather and polished chrome. It's nothing like the well-lived, deep-scented blend of mint and cigarettes that pervades Q’s vehicle. But somehow, Bond thinks he liked it more than he wants to admit, and pointedly does not revisit that train of thought on the way to Six.

 

Before making his way to see Mallory, Bond stops at Q-Branch. It is late enough that most of the floor has cleared out for lunch. There are a few stragglers here and there, and of course, Q at his plinth as usual. He is focussed on his screen, seemingly unaware of Bond’s approach. But when Bond is within an arm’s reach of him, Q speaks:

 

“Good afternoon, 007.”

 

“Q,” Bond greets him in return. Q looks away from his computer to assess him for a moment, a deliberate, once-up-then-down glance that might have meant something if it wasn’t coming from Q.

 

“It’s good to have you back in one piece,” Q says, then returns to his work and continues: “I do hope my equipment has returned in the same way.”

 

“What do you take me for, Q?” Bond asks.

 

“Someone who wrecks my equipment,” Q replies.

 

Bond knows this conversation; it’s a variation of one that they have almost every time he returns from fieldwork. Q is not treating him any differently than before. What happened last night is completely separate from today. Q is telling him your secret is safe with me and Bond believes him, even in the world of espionage, where trust can get you killed. And it’s all because Q is Q, who trusts in him and who Bond trusts in return.

 

“You wound me,” Bond says.

 

“I intend to if you’ve damaged anything,” Q replies, and pauses from typing to slide a tray in Bond’s direction. The agent removes his Walther from the strap under his arm, drops the clip, and empties the chamber. He places it onto the mat, followed swiftly by his pristine earwig and a slightly burnt radio transmitter.

 

Q glances at the assortment of items.

 

“I suppose that’s better than nothing,” he says, sounding unimpressed.

 

Bond is about to say something smart in reply, but he does not. Instead, he places a final item down onto the desk beside the tray. It is the small travel umbrella that Q had give him the night before.

 

Q stops what he’s doing, fingers hovering over the keys as he looks at it, then at Bond.

 

“I’ll take more care next time,” Bond tells him, and Q isn’t smiling with his mouth as much as he is with his voice when he replies:

 

“Promises, promises.”

 


 

The next two missions are back-to-back, and Bond ends up taking an extraction helicopter back to London from Lyons so that he can be tended to by Medical. He’s fuzzy with pain medication and aching with wounded pride afterward when forced on mandatory two week leave. But once he’s fighting fit, he is sent out again to another corner of the world with nothing but a manila folder and a premade kit that holds a gun, a tablet, and an earpiece. He spends the next seventeen days in South Korea before he finishes the job and is on his way back home.

 

He gets stuck trying fly out of Seoul because of a technical error with the plane’s navigation equipment, so he spends the night on an airport floor, first in line for standby. Q is with him, a soft whisper of breath and movement on the other end of the comms.

 

“What are you doing?” Bond asks, when he’s sick to death of the silence only punctuated by PA announcements and crying children.

 

“Crossword puzzle,” Q answers.

 

“Oh?”


“You sound surprised.”

 

“I pegged you for Sudoku.”

 

“Sudoku is too easy,” Q replies. Bond strains his ears over the murmuring passengers in seats and on the floor around him. Q is tapping something lightly, like a pen against the edge of a desk, perhaps against his lips. The fantasy of those said lips comes to mind and is strikingly vivid: soft, tasting like mint and cigarettes, red and kiss-bruised and swollen. Bond clears his throat in an attempt to keep his thoughts from wandering into inappropriate territory. It’s just been too long since he’s been with someone because he wanted to and not because of work. And Q’s the only soul that’s treated him like a human being in such a long time that he’s projecting where he shouldn’t.

 

“So what’s got you stumped?” Bond asks, his voice lower than before. The tapping stops, as if Q notices, but then it picks up again and he doesn’t comment.

 

“Not stumped,” Q says.

 

“You’re tapping,” Bond says.

 

“You’re distracting.”

 

“Can’t think?”

 

“Not with you talking.”

 

“And here I thought you missed me while I was away.”

 

The tapping stops again and there’s the shift of paper.

 

“Fifteen down. Starts with a, ends in e. Ten letters. Hint is listening to sounds produced by the human body,” Q reads to him.

 

“Auscultate,” Bond says.

 

Silence on the other end.

 

“Auscultate,” Q repeats.

 

“Auscultate. Look it up,” Bond says, and waits as he hears Q clicking away on his computer.

 

“Well colour me surprised,” Q says.

 

“Colour me surprised, too. Does MI6 know you play word games on the clock?” Bond asks.

 

“I’m not on the clock,” Q answers.

 

“You’re not on the clock,” Bond repeats.

 

“No, I’m at home,” Q replies. Bond imagines Q sprawled out in bed. He is wearing ridiculous pyjamas and drinking Earl Grey while he does his crossword puzzle. His feet are bare and he’s not wearing glasses. Maybe he’s smiling, just a bit, as he fills letters into small boxes. Somehow, the picture is endearing, even if it’s entirely in Bond’s imagination.

 

“Why are you still online?” Bond asks.

 

“You might need me,” Q says, like it’s the most logical thing in the world

 

“Q, I’m grounded for at least another few hours,” he replies, round the thing in his throat that hurts at Q’s words. “I’m not going anywhere.”

 

“You might need me,” Q says again.

 

For once, Bond is not quite sure what to say.

 

“Two across. Second letter v. Six letters. The clue is the name of a shorebird with an upturned beak,” Q says.

 

“Avocet,” Bond answers. He listens to the sound of Q’s pen scratching on the page of his crossword.

 

“Well, aren’t you just remarkable,” Q says.

 

“I have a lot of down time,” Bond answers, and runs a hand tiredly over his face. He’s exhausted and his back is starting to hurt, but being horizontal is much better than sitting upright in one of the uncomfortable chairs. He shifts his head a bit on the carry on bag that is currently serving as a pillow.

 

“So, crossword puzzles,” Q concludes, and Bond hums in the affirmative. “Do you like Scrabble?”

 

“No,” Bond answers. “You can’t play it alone.”

 

There’s a beat, like Q doesn’t know what to say, but then he comes in with:

 

“There’s an app. For Scrabble. Well, something like it. You can play with people virtually. I could put it on your mobile, if you wanted.”

 

“I’m not too old to find it in the app store myself,” Bond laughs, honest to God laughs, and it might be from less than four hours of sleep in the past two days, but it might be something else, too. Q huffs out something like a laugh in his ear, and Bond realises then that he’s never heard that sound from the other man before. It’s intimate somehow, like they are lying next to one another in the same bed and sharing the same space and breath and everything. It’s terrifying how much Bond wants it in that moment: a soft mattress in London with Q in his pyjamas and crossword puzzle and his dark eyes and red lips. Once again, Bond blames it on tiredness, on not having a lover in so long, because Q is Q and nothing more than that.

 

“Bond,” Q says quietly, his voice soft, as if he thought Bond had fallen asleep and does not want to wake him.

 

“What time will my flight be in?” Bond asks. He listens as Q shifts a few things over the line.

 

“If all goes well, at 0700 GMT, on the third,” Q replies.

 

Bond makes a thoughtful sound.

 

“Traffic’s bad that time of morning,” he says.

 

“Yes,” Q replies.

 

“It’ll cost a fortune to catch a cab,” Bond continues.

 

“It will,” Q concedes.

 

Bond stops there, because he feels weak asking, even though he wants to. Q must sense this, because Bond hears him sigh gently, as if he’s giving in despite his better judgment.

 

“I’ll bring you coffee,” he says.

 

“And breakfast?”

 

“Don’t push your luck.”

 


 

 

After a total of thirty-two hours of travel, Bond is finally back on English soil. His suit is rumpled from the flight and his eyes itch with tiredness. But he’s not so far gone that he doesn’t see Q standing on the other side of the gate. The other man looks like he’s just rolled out of bed, his hair tousled and slightly damp, either from the rain or a recent shower. He’s got a sleepy-eyed look to him that borders on grumpy, much like a cat who had been woken from a pleasant nap. He yawns as Bond approaches and holds out a cup and a white pastry bag in greeting.

 

“Breakfast,” Q says, as Bond fiddles with the bag. There are at least a dozen serviettes and, at the bottom, a monstrous cheese Danish, still slightly warm. “Come on. Let’s try to beat traffic.”

 

Despite their attempts to avoid the morning commute, they become stuck in the middle of it. The A4 is backed up as far as the eye can see. Bond takes that as his opportunity to tuck into his Danish. Q taps on the steering wheel. The radio is on, but it is so low that Bond cannot tell if he is tapping along with the beat or fidgeting. The silence is comfortable between them, something that Bond is still not used to, but finds comforting nonetheless.

 

They are crawling down a portion of the M4 when Q reaches into the middle console and fiddles with a tin of mints. Bond sees that his hand is shaking. He’s no mathematician, but Bond can put two and two together.

 

“You’re trying to quit smoking,” Bond says.

 

Q audibly bites into the mint.

 

Trying is the key word,” he answers round the munching.

 

Bond rolls up the empty pastry bag and puts it into the unoccupied cup holder. Q gives him a look and crunches the last bit of his mint.

 

“You can have one if you want,” Bond tells him. Q’s fingers twitch on the wheel and begin tapping again.

 

“Enabler,” Q says.

 

Bond laughs.

 

“I had one on the way over,” Q tells him. “I’m trying to get down to only one or two a day.”

 

“I won’t tell,” Bond says.

 

Q glances at him quickly, as if nervous, then looks back out through the windscreen pointedly. It only takes thirty seconds for him to crack, and then Q is leaning across Bond to open the glove compartment. They are close enough that Bond feels Q’s body heat, picks up the contrasting scents of sweet shampoo and ashy smoke.

 

“It’s only because it’s going to be a long day,” Q says aloud, as if to justify his decision. He packs the container against his upper thigh before flipping open the lid. With what is definitely years of practice, Q extracts a cigarette between his fingers and brings it immediately to his lips. He digs a Clipper from the console and lights the end. Bond watches as he takes the first drag, thinking that Q’s expression of pure pleasure borders on obscene. Q exhales with a sigh, filling the cab with smoke.

 

“Ah, sorry…” Q mumbles, rolling down his window a crack so that they can breathe easier. The silence that follows is just as comfortable as before, but strangely, it’s not what Bond wants.

 

“You don’t seem the type,” Bond ventures.

 

“Smoking?” Q asks.

 

“Bad habits,” Bond says, and Q grins as he flicks a bit of ash out the window. It’s strange how, out of the lab, Q can look so playful, but when at work he seems so untouchable.

 

“You don’t know me very well,” Q replies.

 

“I don’t,” Bond says.

 

Q pauses for only a beat.

 

“What do you want to know?” he asks, with a nonchalance that’s forced and slightly guarded.

 

Bond thinks about all the things he wants to ask why do I trust you and know nothing about you, why are you the only one who knows just what I need, how do you know just how I like my coffee, how can you work for MI6 and be so kind, what do you taste like, why do I want to kiss you to find out?

 

Instead, he asks:

 

“Did you know they make patches for that?” Bond asks, indicating the cigarette in Q’s fingers.

 

“I know,” Q says, and slides up the sleeve of his coat. There are two circular nicotine appliques on his forearm.

 

“You’re only supposed to use one at a time.”

 

“Normal people do. Considering the level of stress I encounter on a daily basis, I believe the recommended dosage to be more of a guideline.”

 

“That can’t be healthy.”

 

“Smoking isn’t either.”

 

“You’re right, it’s going to kill you one day,” Bond says.

 

“Everything’s going to kill us one day, didn’t you know?” Q replies, and his smile is just a bit jaded.

 

Bond looks at Q, watches him smoke until there’s nothing left but the stump of a cigarette, which he flicks out the window into the rain.

 

“Yeah,” Bond says, looking straight ahead. “I know.”

 

They don’t say anything else for the rest of the ride, but it’s not strained or awkward or uncomfortable. It’s just the two of them occupying the same space, trapped in their own thoughts. But when Q pulls up and throws on the emergency flashers just outside of Bond’s flat, the silence breaks.

 

“Do you want to come up?” Bond asks.

 

“For what?” Q asks. His eyes are very green, sharp and focussed in a way that’s not quite predatory, but something else that Bond cannot quite name. It makes his mouth a little dry.

 

“For coffee,” Bond says. Q’s eyes flick down to the carry away cup in the holder next to Bond and then back to his face.

 

“I don’t drink coffee,” Q says, but with a carefulness that is deliberate.

 

“Tea?” Bond offers.

 

For a moment, it seems like Q will accept, but not for the tea, for something else, or at least the possibility of something else. Bond balances on the edge of those sixty seconds, unsure exactly what he wants from the encounter himself. But then Q’s lips part in a breath and Bond knows exactly what he wants, and the thought is not as terrifying as he might have imagined.

 

“I’ve got to go to work,” Q says weakly.

 

“Work,” Bond says, hoping the disappointment steers clear from his voice.

 

“I know the concept is a little hard for you to understand, but do try to keep up,” Q replies, with a tone that’s slightly off, not quite as barbed as his usual brand of banter.

 

“You’ve certainly got a mouth on you,” Bond says.

 

“Yes, I’ve been told I’m very talented in that regard,” Q replies.

 

Bond can’t help but gape for a half second at Q’s words. Q lets him have the thirty seconds, waiting expectantly for the response with a raised eyebrow.

 

“You’re impertinent.”

 

"Is that the best you can come up with?” Q shoots back; Bond can tell he’s trying not to smile.

 

“You’re smiling,” Bond says.

 

“I’m late,” he says. “Get out.”

 

Bond does, but leans in through the open window.

 

“So should I take a rain check on that tea?” he asks.

 

The playfulness in Q disappears. Then he smiles at Bond like it hurts as he puts the car into gear.

 

“I’ll see you later, 007,” he says, a clear dismissal, and then he drives away. Bond stands on the pavement and watches him leave, much like he did after the first night, and wonders what would have happened if Q had accepted.

 


 

After that, Bond stops asking. He thinks that it is better that he doesn’t, because it will save the working relationship between he and Q if they stop seeing each other outside of a professional context. That is why Bond is surprised when he steps off the plane from Tokyo and sees Q, because he hadn’t called; he is no longer Q’s responsibility.

 

But Q is waiting. He is looking down at his mobile and texting, but he is there waiting. He has a windcheater folded over his arm.

 

“You’re here,” Bond says.

 

“Yes,” Q replies.

 

“I didn’t call,” Bond explains.

 

“You didn’t have to,” Q says, and hands over the windcheater before Bond can say anything else. “You’ll need this. It’s gusty.”

 

“It’s mauve,” Bond grouses.

 

Q grins.

 

“Beggars can’t be choosers.”

 


 

After each assignment, Bond finds Q at the gate every time. He begins looking for Q even before he’s through, feeling a clawing anxiety every time he does not see the other man right away, only to have it replaced with a happy sort of relief when he finally does land eyes on the Quartermaster. Sometimes, Q smiles when he sees him--just a quirk of his mouth, just in the span of a blink of an eye--and those are the best homecoming welcomes.

 

Bond has come to depend on it--seeing Q the moment he’s back on English soil--so much that he cannot bear the day he will arrive and Q will not be there. That is why, when his flight is late by at least an hour, Bond worries that Q will have left. It’s so late that he can’t imagine Q would have stayed and Bond doesn’t begrudge him for going home, especially after the long stretch of a mission they’ve both had. But just as he comes to their usual meeting point, Bond spots him sitting in a nearby cluster of chairs. He has a tablet in his hands and is reading with the sort of rapt concentration Bond has only seen out of him at work, which is impressive for nearly one in the morning.

 

Bond creeps behind him and looks over his shoulder, wondering if he can get a rise out of the other man as he asks:

 

“What are you reading?”

 

Q does not even flinch, flicking his finger over the screen to move to the next page.

 

“A book about the emergence of modern typography,” he says.

 

Bond leans closer. He smells Q’s shampoo as he nearly brushes an errant curl with his cheek. Q, seemingly unperturbed by his presence, turns the screen toward him so that he can see the page. There is a block of regular text and then images of illuminated manuscripts and their unique font.

 

“Typography,” Bond says. He’s still a bit tired from the journey and isn’t sure he understands. Why would a tech geek be so interested in such a thing?

 

“Yes. Hand presses, like the printing press, that sort of thing,” Q explains.

 

“Oh,” Bond says. “It doesn’t seem like something you’d know about.”

 

“It’s not. That’s why I’m reading about it.”

 

There is something about the way Q says it that makes Bond's heart skip three beats. Intelligent people have always been his weakness, the ones who are blindingly brilliant and still want to learn beyond the scope of their existent knowledge. They are always pursuing something interesting, something new, just because of the simple fact that it exists, believing ardently that everything is worth learning. And there’s something so beautifully irresistible about that kind of passion. So much so that Bond can’t help but be attracted, entranced, overwhelmed by them. By Q.

 

“What?” Q asks, looking at him.

 

Bond realises about five seconds too late that he’s been looking at Q and smiling. By that point, it's too late to stop, so he doesn't.

 

“Nothing,” he says, and Q smiles, too.

 


 

Bond is in Morocco and having a drink at the outdoor hotel bar when he catches the distinct scent of Q’s cigarettes. A dark haired woman walks by with the fag in her hand, on her way to a cluster of empty lounge chairs near the pool. Bond sees no harm in it, so he gets up and follows her. They have a nice--albeit boring--round of conversation. She offers him a cigarette halfway through, and Bond politely accepts. It’s a menthol, Bond should have guessed; it explains why Q chews mints to combat his cravings.

 

She makes eyes at him and touches him when she can and positions her body in the way that says she’d like to sleep with him. Again, Bond sees no harm in it. It’s not really for work or pleasure, but he takes her to bed. He doesn’t know her name and doesn’t care to, because when he kisses her, he’s too busy trying not to think about Q and what he tastes like. Her mouth is soft and pliant and she tastes sweet, like pineapples and liqueur. It should be pleasant, but Bond does not find it arousing. Still, he’s a gentleman, and so he goes down on her and brings her off, but then politely refuses her offer of reciprocity.  

 

On his way out of her room, he steals her cigarettes.

 

He’s got other things to do that afternoon, but when he’s alone later that night, he pours himself a drink and sits at the edge of the bed and lights one. He wonders if he’s infatuated with Q because of the circumstances, because Q is the only one who has treated him kindly in years. Eve tried, and even though there’s no hard feelings about the whole take-the-bloody-shot business, Bond still feels a barrier between them that keeps them on one side of just friends. Tanner tried, too, but the years have driven a wedge between them and Bill’s more concerned with things that Bond tries hard to avoid, so they have very little to talk about, and less and less in common. Everyone else Bond might have turned to is dead or doesn’t exist.

 

So Q’s really the only one who understands what it’s like. He’s the one who designs the weapons and gathers the intelligence and guides missions from across oceans. He’s the one who will push all physical limits to be available for an agent, for Bond, even if that means taking his work home with him because you might need me. He’s the one that always brings Bond home.

 

Is it fair, then? To want him? Even if it is only for just one night?

 

Especially if it is just for one night?

 

He thinks about Q’s lips and his long fingers and those green, green eyes. He thinks about what he would have done if Q would have accepted to come up for tea. Bond knows that he would have taken Q up to his flat and kissed him until his lips were red and bruised. He would have pinned Q to the wall and wrecked his hair with his hands and pressed their bodies together in such ways that Q would be digging his short nails into Bond’s back. He would have waited until Q pulled back from him, until his dark pupils overtook all remnants of green, until Q’s voice broke as he-

 

Cigarette ash crumples onto his skin and burns in his hand.

 

Bond shakes it off and snubs the end out on the bedside table. His little fantasy has left him hard. A beautiful woman had just had him in her bed not even a few hours ago and Bond could not manage an erection, yet a passing thought about another man has made him ache. Bond scrubs a hand over his face and thinks, no, he’s not going to consider Q to be anything more than a friend.

 

He lies back in bed and breathes in the lingering trace of smoke. When he closes his eyes, he tastes Q on his lips, on his tongue, and moves his hands to the flies of his trousers.

 

He lets himself indulge, just this once.

 


 

Bond doesn’t expect to see Q when he disembarks in London a week later. Even though he stopped asking Q to come to the airport, they usually spoke when he was between flights, even if it was just a few messages over SMS in between their games of Scrabble. But this time, Bond remained pointedly offline so that he had no communication with the other man. He had been worried about saying something he might regret, so while waiting for his connecting flight he had hid in one of the smoking sections and finished off the pack of cigarettes. He didn’t even have a taste for them, but they reminded him of Q, and smoking was safe whereas everything else was not. But then he sees Q standing by the exit and feels that want surge back to him.

 

“Need a ride?” Q asks.

 

“Always,” Bond says.

 

They don’t say anything on the way to the car, but Bond looks at him and Q looks back. Once or twice, they catch each other staring and look away. It’s only once they’re in the lift leading to the garage that they speak, and Q is the one who leads.

 

“You’ve been smoking,” he says.

 

“I have,” Bond replies. Q leans in his direction, close enough that the sleeve of his anorak brushes Bond’s jacket. He smells strongly of mint.

 

“It’s my brand,” he says, and tilts his head just a bit so he’s looking up through his lashes. They’re long and dark and very pretty.

 

“I thought they smelt familiar,” Bond answers. Q straightens, pulling out of Bond’s personal space, taking the sweet, fresh scent with him.

 

“Do you miss me when you’re away?” Q asks, and he’s teasing with Bond’s own words, bantering, not asking honestly at all. And it’s not really anger that makes him crowd Q into the corner of the lift, but something else that drives Bond to desire that closeness, to finally break down the walls of propriety between them. They’re not touching, but are close enough that they can if they want to, close enough that Bond feels the tremble move through Q’s body at their proximity.

 

“Yes,” Bond says. He sees Q swallow, a gentle bob of his Adam’s apple, and Bond wants to follow it with his tongue. Fortunately, the lift shudders to a halt, waking Bond from his trance. He moves back just before the doors open, where a few people are waiting politely with their bags for them to exit the compartment. Q goes first and Bond follows. The back of his neck and ears are slightly red.

 

The biting cold takes off some of the edge, which helps Bond think a bit more clearly. He wants to say something, but can think of nothing. That is, until he’s about ready to get into the passenger seat and sees the bag on the floor. The entire car smells of Chinese food.

 

“You brought me dinner?” Bond asks, as he takes up the bag and puts it on his lap for the ride. It’s still warm. Bond’s stomach growls in response.

 

“You need to eat,” Q tells him, as he pulls out of the garage to pay the fee.

 

“You’re one to talk,” Bond replies, pointedly casting a glance at Q’s slight frame that’s a little more appreciatory than anything else.

 

“I have a fast metabolism.”

 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you eat before.”

 

“That’s because I only feed on the night of the full moon.”

 

Bond stares. Q laughs. It’s the first time Bond’s ever heard him laugh.

 

“It’s a joke, Bond. Haven’t you ever heard one before?” Q asks.

 

“Not from you,” Bond answers.

 

“I can be funny,” Q says.

 

“I didn’t think you had it in you,” Bond replies.

 

“Hush, eat your dinner,” Q tells him, and Bond politely refuses on the basis that he doesn’t believe in eating while in a moving vehicle. They go back and forth on the issue until suddenly, they are outside of Bond’s flat.

 

“Do you want to come up and help me with this?” Bond asks, indicating the carry away. It’s slightly cold by now, but probably still edible.

 

“I think you can handle it yourself,” Q replies.

 

“I could,” Bond says, “but I wouldn’t mind company.”

 

Q looks at him and it makes Bond think of the first night Q drove him home and looked at him the same way, with the same something that made Q smile sometimes like it hurt.

 

“Don’t,” Q says. He’s not teasing or laughing or sarcastic. If anything, he sounds a little defeated.

 

“Don’t what?” Bond asks.

 

“Don’t do this,” Q elaborates.

 

“What?”

 

“You know.”

 

Bond does. He remembers watching Q swallow in the lift, how he wanted to trace that ridge with his tongue; how dark Q’s eyes had gone with how much he wanted Bond to do that to him.

 

“Why?” Bond asks.

 

“Because,” Q says.

 

“That’s not a reason.”

 

“Yes, it is.”

 

“No, it’s not.”

 

Bond leans over the gear shift and console until he’s practically nose-to-nose with Q. So close, Bond sees Q’s eyes go soft and impossibly dark. He takes that moment to move forward, but Q turns his head to the side so that Bond misses his mark, kissing at the corner of Q’s mouth.

 

“We can’t,” Q murmurs, and his lips brush Bond’s momentarily as he pulls away.

 

“Please,” Bond says, before he even realises that he’s following Q’s lips, that he’s begging. Q presses his palm against Bond’s chest and gives him a gentle nudge to move back, to push him away.

 

“Good night, 007,” Q says, with rejection in his voice and remorse in his eyes.

 

“Good night, Q,” Bond says, and gets his things.

 

He watches Q drive away, then climbs the stairs to his flat. He drops his bag at the door, bins the food, and falls into bed fully clothed. It's not disappointment, Bond tells himself, his mouth hot with regret, lips still tingling where Q's had brushed his. The ashy bitterness of too many cigarettes lingers at the back of his throat, reminding him all too much of the man who looked at him like he wanted him, but still pushed him away.

 

Bond buries his head into the pillow and wishes he could scrub the taste of Q from his tongue.

 


 

Bond doesn’t get down to Q-Branch much anyway, but after that night, he finds more reasons not to go.

He takes a mission in Greece and keeps up only minimal contact for the duration of the assignment. Talking to Q shouldn’t hurt, but it does, and so Bond keeps the comms open only when he has to. Because of it, the whole assignment ends worse than what Bond anticipates. Not only does the intel burn up in a rather fantastic explosion, but he is then punched out of a fleeing helicopter, which sends him plummeting into the Mediterranean Sea. The drop isn’t far enough to kill or seriously injure him, but enough to jar his bones and hurt his pride. It takes him a long time to swim to shore, even longer to escape the police and press unnoticed. He doesn’t check in with Six--because he really isn’t ready for that abuse on top of everything else--when he returns to his hotel room to drink until the pain goes away.

 

The next morning, he wakes up on the bathroom floor in his still-damp clothes, shivering and hurting more than he can ever remember. When he sits up, his body violently opposes the motion and a pain lances through his bad shoulder with such intensity that Bond’s vision goes dark at the edges. When the pain recedes, his stomach clenches and Bond vomits weakly over the edge of the tub. It smells like alcohol and bile and blood.

 

He knows he’s bad off, but isn’t about to call anyone. With agonising slowness, he strips and bathes, then redresses. He leaves the ruined clothes on the bathroom floor. When he checks his mobile for his flight information, he ignores the messages waiting en masse in his inbox and voicemail. He gets the information, calls a cab, and goes to the airport. Because he’s lost his gun and most of his equipment, he doesn’t have to submit to any background checks or other security investigations. The line moves quickly. He doesn’t remember boarding the plane, but he’s in first class when comes to. The night sky beyond the window is dark indigo, endless, serene.

 

The riotous sounds and memories in his mind quiet. There is no Venice or Skyfall or MI6. There are no terrorists or slave traders or politicians. There is no fighting, there are no guns; there is just an infinite stretch of sky and silence and peace. He thinks, if there was any a good time to go, it would be now.

 

Bond closes his eyes and wills himself to disappear.

 


 


 


 

 

Instead, he dreams about Q.

 


 


 


 

  

The flight passes in a blur. At times, everything is clear--colours, patterns, the sound of the in flight movie--but then there are chunks of time missing in between all of it, where Bond finds himself sitting with Q in the car just outside of his flat and Q’s eyes are dark and wanting and Bond says tea and Q says yes. Then the plane shakes a bit and he’s back to staring at his own reflection in the window glass, tasting ash on his tongue. He feels like he’s underwater even at over 40,000 feet. It’s like drowning slowly and he wonders if he’s still floating somewhere in the Mediterranean, dreaming, dying, dead.

 

By the time the wheels touch down at Heathrow, Bond feels out of his head, like he is watching himself go through the motions from some other plane of existence. But then the cabin depressurises and the doors open and Bond comes back to himself. The pain is the most apparent--a dull ache on each exhale, a sharp burn on each inhale--followed closely by the weakness in his legs and arms and an incessant pounding in his head. He tries to distance himself from it the best he can, to compartmentalise everything, but even still, it takes all he has to walk and breathe and not just stop.  

 

And then he sees Q.

 

At first, he thinks that he imagines him, that his image is the result of a hallucination brought on by pain and barely any sleep. But then Q cuts through the crowd, the mass of bodies and noise and movement around them. He’s there and his eyes are green and Bond is drowning in him, in Q. Bond doesn’t know what to do or think or say. He’s exhausted to the point where he just can’t anymore. His bag slides down his arm and to the ground, falling with a heavy thump at his feet. Before Bond can think about what he’s doing, he’s leaning forward, until his forehead comes to rest at the junction between Q’s neck and shoulder. He presses his cheek against Q’s throat so that he can feel his warmth, the flutter of a pulse. Q smells like tobacco and tea and mint and rain and Bond wants to wrap himself in the other man and sleep forever.

 

Tentative hands move over him: one lightly smoothing along the line of his shoulder to rest at the centre of his back; the other slides up his neck to cradle the back of his head. Long fingers card through his hair with a tenderness and care that makes him want to cry.

 

He doesn’t know how long they stand there or how, when he comes back to himself, he’s in the passenger seat of Q’s car and they are pulling up to an empty parking space a few buildings away from his flat. Bond wants to say that he’s fine from there, that he’ll see Q in a few days once he’s pulled himself out of this state of mind, but the words are cement in his mouth and he can’t utter a syllable. Q doesn’t say anything either, but he gets out of the car and comes round to Bond’s side. In silence, Q releases his seatbelt and guides him out of the vehicle toward the appropriate building. Q’s hand in his is an anchor, something strong and steadfast and safe. Bond lets him lead, focussed more on putting one foot in front of the other.

 

He barely sees the things in front of him, but is aware enough to make associations. A lift, a familiar hallway. A door opens. He recognises the grain of hardwood beneath his feet as the foyer floor in his flat. It smells like disuse and sterile cleaner. Warm fingertips touch his wrist and press lightly; Bond follows their unspoken command, walking in Q’s footsteps until they stop, until Q eases him down to sit on the edge of a bed. His bed. It’s soft. Bond feels his lids grow heavy.

 

Deft fingers loosen and remove his tie, his watch, the cufflinks at his wrists. They slide the jacket and empty double holsters from his drooping shoulders, then undo the buttons of his shirt. The room is cold, but Bond only shivers when the fingers skip lightly over the bruises and breaks in his skin. The hand withdraws and Bond follows with his eyes, until he is looking at Q, who is kneeling on the floor between his legs. It might have been sexual in any other situation but this one, because Q is not touching him like a lover and Bond feels no lust for him, only gratitude. Q removes Bond shoes and socks, then his belt, before having him lie down on the bed. The moment Bond is horizontal, he sighs all the way down to his bones.

 

“You just live to make me worry, don’t you?”

 

Q’s voice is soft, like his touch on Bond’s hips as he unbuckles his belt and slides it through the loops of his trousers. The trousers go next, and Bond knows he should feel something--embarrassment, arousal, something--but there’s nothing but weariness that is only comforted by the crisp ripple of a sheet over his skin, followed by the heavy warmth of the duvet.

 

“You’ll be alright,” Q tells him, and Bond wants to believe it.

 

He wants to believe it so that he doesn’t disappear into that vast, empty nothingness. Not now. Not when Q is finally here. 

 

The fingers trace his cheek, touch his hair, and he’s rooted in these physical gestures of affection, even if only for a moment. Then he feels Q draw away, hears him switch the bedside lamp off so that the ceiling above him is endless dark grey.

 

“Stay,” Bond says into the void. It’s the first word he’s been able to say in hours.

 

The hand comes back, sweeping fingers through his short hair. Then there’s the slight shift of the mattress as Q sits next to him.

 

“Just until you fall asleep,” the dark answers.

 

“Stay,” Bond says again, closing his eyes, “until I wake up.”

 

Soft lips brush against his temple.

 

“Okay.”

 

And Bond sleeps.

 


 

He wakes the following day to the sound of the front door closing with a quiet click.

 

Bond listens to the silence for some time before opening his eyes. He is on his side facing the window. It is raining. He can hear it against the sill. The sheets beside him are slightly rumpled, as if someone had just been beside him. When Bond lays his hand on them, he finds the fabric is still warm.

 

 


 

Q doesn’t say anything about it. Neither does Bond.

 

But sometimes Bond sees him looking, and he looks too, but that’s all.

 

Chapter Text

It’s several weeks later and Bond is sitting in a terminal in Cairo when he discovers he can’t connect to Q. He taps at the earpiece a few times, but gets no response. It is the same with his  mobile. After fifteen minutes of radio silence, he gives it up as a bad job and calls Eve, because if anyone knows what’s going on, it’s her.

 

“Eve,” Bond says, when she answers.

 

“Bond,” she replies. Her voice is somewhat strained.

 

“What’s happened?” Bond asks, and when she doesn’t answer right away, he asks: “Is this line secure?”

 

“The line is secure,” she confirmed. “There’s been trouble in the Middle East.”


“When is there not trouble in the Middle East?”

 

“We’ve lost three agents.”

 

Bond is silent.

 

“MIA?” he asks.

 

“Confirmed dead,” Eve replies. “The bastards made sure to record it.”

 

“Have we been compromised?” Bond asks.

 

“Negative,” she says, then sighs. “But it’s a nightmare. Mallory is working to get this covered up before the press gets hold of it.”

 

Bond makes a noncommittal sound. He wants to ask about Q, but knows he shouldn’t, so he lets her talk for a bit before ringing off. He stares at the mobile in his hands. Three agents dead. The Middle East. Most likely a small op, probably monitored by Q-Branch or its subdivision TSS. It would have gotten to Q by now, if he had not been directly involved, and that means that he is most likely working with Mallory and other department heads on the issue.

 

Trying not to worry, Bond pockets the phone and waits for boarding to begin.  

 

When he sees Q hours later, it’s not the man who has been waiting for him at the gate these past few months. This Q is pale and hollow-eyed and his lips are pinched in a way that tells Bond the situation is worse than he thought.

 

“Q,” Bond says, but Q looks right through him.

 

“I killed three people today,” Q tells him. Bond’s throat tightens at the flatness of his voice, the unblinking stare, and he wants to touch Q but doesn’t know if he should. Q makes the decision for him and leans forward until his forehead presses against Bond’s chest. “I made a mistake and I killed three good people.”

 

Bond drops his bag and puts both arms round Q.

 

The other man is almost as tall as him, but in that moment, he feels very small. It’s not right Bond thinks. He is but a shadow of the man Bond met in the National Gallery, who Bond had considered too young and naive and optimistic; someone who had probably never seen anyone die before, had most likely never been the cause of it. And then, M, Silva, hundreds of other innocents, now, their own people.

 

Bond wonders just how much more Q can take before the light is gone from his eyes.

 


 

Bond keeps his arm round Q as they make their way toward the garage from baggage claim. Q walks beside him in a daze with which Bond is all-too familiar, knowing intimately the numbness that can be overwhelming after a particularly difficult assignment. Despite his first hand knowledge, Bond does not know what to do, because he is well aware that everyone deals with it differently. For Bond, sometimes it is drink, other times, sex, but there are also the times when he can’t do anything but sit and stare and wish for sleep that won’t come. Or sleep and fall prey to the nightmares. He gently squeezes Q’s shoulder, but the other man makes no recognition of it.

 

When they arrive at the garage, Bond fishes around in the pockets of Q’s anorak until he finds the keys. He honks the car horn a few times to find it, and discovers the blue compact wedged in a spot that is designated for motorbikes. Bond unlocks the door and helps Q into the passenger seat, then walks round to the driver’s side. Once he is behind the wheel, Bond sees that the console ashtray is filled with cigarette butts; the car is saturated with the scent of smoke and tobacco.

 

“Q…” Bond says.

 

Beside him, Q is mute, his expression vacant.

 

On the journey, Bond tries several times to get Q to respond to him, but he can’t coax a peep out of the other man, let alone his address. With no other recourse, Bond makes for his flat, parks the small vehicle round the block from his building, and then leads Q by the hand. It’s drizzling, so Bond pulls up the hood of Q’s parka so he doesn’t get wet; Q doesn’t seem to notice, but the hand in his offers a small squeeze that Bond takes as recognition.

 

When they arrive upstairs, Bond removes his jacket, then Q’s, and hangs both damp garments up to dry. Q allows Bond to take his bag and shoes, permits him to lead on toward the bedroom, where he sits on the end of the bed. Bond can’t help but think he looks like a lost child.

 

“Do you want a shower?” Bond asks, but Q is focussed on some point on the wall and doesn’t answer. Bond uses the silence to search his wardrobe for something that Q can wear. He finds a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of track bottoms that might fit and puts them on the bed next to Q. The other man is still staring at a place beyond Bond’s left elbow. He’s not blinking, just staring like he can’t look away, like everything will fall apart if he does. It reminds Bond of that night with Vesper, when all her logic and intelligence and life gave way to numbness in the face of death. But where Vesper had never been tainted by such a thing, Q has. He’s pushed buttons that have killed people before--bad people, innocent people--but never their people, their agents, the ones that Q will stay on the line for, even when he’s off the clock, because he cares too much. Before he can think of what he’s doing, Bond touches Q’s hair, lets his fingers smooth down the side of his cheek. His skin is soft and warm. Q leans into his hand and closes his eyes.

 

“I can’t feel anything,” Q says.

 

“It’s the shock,” Bond replies. “It will wear off soon.”

 

Q opens his eyes and looks at Bond. There is so much vulnerability in his expression that Bond almost forgets how to breathe.

 

“And when it goes away?” Q asks.

 

“You’ll feel everything,” Bond says.

 

Q drops his gaze to his lap, but he raises his hand to cover Bond’s before he can pull away. He presses his cheek against Bond’s palm, like Bond’s touch is the only thing keeping him there. Bond remembers a similar night when he had been on the cusp of disappearing, when the only thing preventing that were the hands on him, the press of lips to his forehead, the warm body next to his.

 

It is then that Bond knows what Q needs.

 

Bond is more gentle than he has ever been in his life, even more so than the last time he dismantled a landmine, than all the times he had been faced with bombs that had pressure-sensitive triggers. He keeps his touch as soft as he begins to disrobe Q. The buttons of his shirt part and the fabric falls away from his slight shoulders, his sharp collarbones. Q has a neck as long and pale as a swan’s, and Bond wants but doesn’t take. Instead, he helps Q into the oversized shirt and has him lie back in bed. When Bond goes for the flies of his trousers, Q raises himself up and tries to kiss him, but his eyes are still far away, removing all possibility of consent. Despite his own selfish desires, Bond pulls back.

 

“You don’t want to,” Bond says.

 

“I do,” Q replies.

 

“I know, but not right now,” Bond tells him, and Q turns his face away. He lets Bond take his glasses and put them on the bedside, then allows Bond to get him into track bottoms and cover him up with the blankets. Bond touches his hair and Q closes his eyes again.

 

“I just don’t want to be alone,” Q says.

 

“You’re not alone,” Bond promises, sitting on the edge of the bed. Q shivers under the blankets, under his hand, until Bond kicks off his shoes, removes his belt and braces, and gets under the duvet with him. Immediately, Q slides close to him so that they are touching stomach-to-stomach, hip-to-hip. Then he curls up against him and rests his head on Bond’s shoulder. His cheek is fever warm against Bond’s skin. Bond moves his arm round Q, encompassing him until he can feel every breath, every flutter of his eyelashes. He smells like salt and rain and cigarettes.

 

Bond feels very protective in that moment, because for the first time their roles are reversed. Q is the one Bond has come to in moments like these because Q is always the one in control, who acts as Bond’s anchor, who stays on the comms even after he’s gone home, who always takes care of Bond and never asks anything in return, who looks at Bond with longing but never acts on his desire. Q might be his truest friend in all the world and yet, it’s not enough, not like this. Bond hates himself for wanting him--for wanting more of him--after Q has already give him so much, but even more so because he knows that he has a track record of breaking beautiful things. I would destroy you Bond thinks, and it hurts because he knows that Q would willingly give himself up to that fate, even knowing it would undoubtedly end in heartbreak.

 

“Does it get easier?” Q asks.

 

It is then that Bond sees the depths of Q’s selflessness; while Bond is thinking about Q, Q is thinking about those agents. He is probably seeing their deaths behind his eyes, hearing their screams in the quiet room, and Bond is ashamed of himself.

 

“No,” he says honestly, because if he knows one thing, it is that Q does not deserve a lie.

 

But the moment the single word leaves his lips, something damp and hot bleeds through the fabric of Bond’s shirt, and Q’s breath is nothing short of trembling when he says:

 

“I didn’t think so.”

 


 

When Bond wakes the next morning, Q is still in bed with him. His cheeks are tearstained and flushed sickly with fever, his lashes long and dark against the pink hue. He looks exhausted, even asleep, and Bond doesn’t have the heart to rouse him. But the moment Bond shifts and the bed moves, Q’s eyes open. For a moment, there is nothing behind them, just a dark, endless green. And then awareness comes, followed by pain, and Q closes his eyes with a sharp intake of breath. When he opens them again, his expression is guarded, and Bond feels like he is lying next to a stranger.

 

“Q,” Bond says and the other man turns away from him. A moment later, he is up and out of bed, glasses on, gathering up his clothes from where Bond had left them the previous evening.

 

“I shouldn’t have stayed,” Q says, as he disappears into the bathroom.

 

Bond gets up and puts on his dressing gown, listening to the sound of the tap turning on, then off in the ensuite. Q emerges a few moments later, dressed in yesterday’s wrinkled clothes. He scrubbed his face, but he still looks unwell.

 

“You don’t have to go,” Bond tells him.

 

“I do,” Q says, and hurriedly pushes past him out of the bedroom. Bond follows him to the door, where Q is shrugging into his coat. He’s so small and tired that Bond wants nothing more than to take him back to the safe confines of his sheets, but it’s inappropriate. Instead, he says:

 

“Don’t blame yourself, Q.”

 

Q puts his back to Bond and aggressively pulls the strap of his satchel over his shoulder.

 

“It’s my fault,” he answers.

 

“We know the risks,” Bond says. “All agents do.”

 

“But it’s my job to minimise those risks,” Q answers.

 

“There’s only so much you can do. You’re not God,” Bond says.

 

“They trusted me,” Q snaps, and his voice breaks a bit at the end. “And now they’re dead.” He shoves his feet viciously into his shoes. Then he stands in front of the door and stares at it for a long time without speaking. There are no words, just their breaths and heavy silence and Q looking at the door like he wants to leave but doesn’t know how.

 

“Three agents dead and all I can keep thinking is what if it was you,” Q says, voice heavy with guilt and pain.

 

“It’d be a relief. For everyone,” Bond replies, before he can stop himself, because it’s true, and everyone else but Q can see that.

 

The moment the words leave his lips, Bond knows that it shouldn’t surprise him that Q is angry, so angry that he turns and comes at him to lay a blow across his face. What does surprise him is the force of it, because Q is so slight that one wouldn’t think he had it in him to make a Double-Oh stagger. Bond looks at the other man, cheek burning where he had been struck; Q’s expression is twisted into something so anguished and infuriated and heartbroken that it steals Bond’s breath away.

 

“If that’s how you feel, then don’t you dare show your goddamn face in my department ever again,” Q says, his tone as harsh as acid, as his ultimatum. He doesn’t give Bond a chance to reply and storms out of the flat in a rage, slamming the door behind him. Something in Bond’s mind tells him that he should go after Q, but a more logical part of him says to wait. He’s never seen Q like this before, but he can tell that there will be no reasoning with him at this juncture.

 

So Bond is left standing there, alone in his dressing gown, feet bare and cold on the hardwood floor. He rubs at his cheek, where the stinging flesh his hot beneath his palm. It’s a bit fucked up, but Bond can’t keep himself from smiling.

 

He doesn’t think anyone has ever cared about him so much.

 


 

 

 

Q is brimming with anger; Bond can feel it the moment he steps inside the branch three days later. It crackles in the air like electricity, threatening anyone who comes near. But Bond’s never been one for self-preservation. He goes right up to Q and puts the offering at his right elbow. It’s a cup of Earl Grey, just the way Q likes it. Q pointedly does not look it, or in his direction, just as the minions are pointedly making an effort to not be obvious in their spectatorship.

 

“I’m sorry,” Bond says, quietly enough for only Q to hear.

 

“No, you’re not,” Q replies, staring straight ahead at his computer. “You meant exactly what you said.”

 

“I did,” Bond answers, “but I can still be sorry for that.”

 

Q types something and then deletes it, jabbing at the backspace key with more force than necessary.

 

“You think your life is meaningless,” Q says. His hands stop. He looks at Bond with impossibly green eyes. “You’re wrong.”

 

“Am I?” Bond asks. He realises then that he’s drawn closer to Q, much closer than professionally appropriate.

 

“You are,” Q says, and his hard expression softens marginally. “Which is why you should leave the thinking to the professionals.”

 

Bond smirks and Q almost smiles, but doesn’t.

 

“Noted.”

 


 

Bond doesn’t know where they stand after everything.

 

Q still gives him equipment and stays on the comms and sometimes, they play Scrabble together when time allows. And Q still picks him up from the airport and brings him food, but they don’t talk much. Q always stares straight through the windscreen and answers Bond in monosyllables. Their rides are as quiet as they always have been, but now there is something strained in the silence. Bond feels it--the uncomfortable chafe of the unspoken things--and he desperately wants to soothe it in any way he can.

 

“Q,” Bond says, one night, when they are just pulling up outside of his building. His back his bruised from falling out the back of a truck and rolling down a ravine, but otherwise, he is in one piece and ready to have this conversation. Beside him, Q is stoic and wordless, like stone, like marble. But then Q moves, and his lips part for the first time in a half an hour.

 

“Bond,” Q replies, not looking at him as he shifts into park.

 

Bond reaches out and puts his hand on top of Q’s. The other man grips the gear stick tightly beneath his palm.

 

“You’re angry,” Bond says.

 

“No,” Q answers, and his hand trembles. Bond caresses it with his thumb.

 

“Q,” Bond says again.

 

“Don’t,” Q tells him, but doesn’t try to pull his hand away. Bond takes it gently in his, bringing it to his mouth so that he can kiss the backs of Q’s fingers.

 

“I really am sorry,” Bond murmurs against his knuckles.

 

Q turns to him and Bond holds his breath, because the other man is looking at him like he hasn’t looked at him in weeks, touching him like he hasn’t in twice as long. The tips of his fingers touch Bond’s chin, smooth over the stubbled line of his jaw to his right ear, and the brush of Q’s warm skin is electrifying. Bond wants, and when he looks at Q, he sees that same desire reflected in his dark eyes. But then Q swallows and turns away. He takes his hand with him, putting it just out of Bond’s reach on the steering wheel.

 

“It’s late. You should go,” Q says.

 

With those few words, Bond understands where they stand. Even if the attraction is mutual, even if they could be so good together, there is nothing Bond can do but respect Q’s choice to not let it go on any further, to remain friends. As much as the regret feels like acid in his throat, Bond accepts it with a mute nod.

 

And he goes.

 


  

Two weeks later, things go tits up in Mumbai and Bond gets the life nearly beaten out of him by the henchmen of the man he was sent to kill. When they’re through, Bond has more broken bones than whole ones and he tastes blood and vomit in his mouth, which is caked with sand. They don’t kill him, but instead, throw him in a box in the ground and then shovel dirt on top of him.

 

So this is it Bond thinks, as he struggles to breathe through the pain of his injuries, through the thinning supply of air in his makeshift coffin.

 

“Q…” he says, even though he knows his communicator is lost and crushed to bits above him somewhere. He doesn’t know why, but he says it again and coughs until his vision tips and starts to go black at the edges. Bond wants to say so many things, but he can’t. It wouldn’t matter anyway.

 

Not now.

 


 

 

 

When Bond opens his eyes again, he doesn’t see darkness or smell the dry earth. Instead, he there is the dim glow of hospital lights and the harsh scent of plastic and sterile cleaner. And there’s something else beneath it, something subtle and out of place, but pleasant. It takes Bond entirely too long to recognise it as mint.

 

With great difficulty, Bond manages to turn his head. He knows the room: Medical at MI6 in London. Home, which is definitely better than dead. The fact that his body doesn’t hurt tells him that he is injured enough to warrant strong pain medication. He should probably be worried about that, but Bond is entirely too focussed on the figure in the chair beside his bed. It is Q, slumped in the seat at an angle that looks uncomfortable. His eyes are closed and his chest rises and falls evenly with sleep. There is a blanket half-draped across him, most likely the work of a night nurse.

 

Bond watches Q for a long time, drinking in the sight of him greedily, something he does not feel ashamed of after believing he might never see the other man again. He doesn’t know if it’s the light or the drugs or something else, but Bond is almost overwhelmed by the perfection of Q’s lips, the curve of his lashes, the rounded tips of his pale fingers. Selfishly, Bond wonders if things would be different if they did not work for Six, if the something between them could be nurtured; it might mean something more than just looking and wanting but never having. Bond sighs, a weak exhale of air that aggravates his dry throat and makes him cough weakly. Immediately, Q is awake, pouring water generously into a small glass, which he presses to Bond’s lips. Bond drinks without any pretense of politeness. It is only when he drinks his fill that he leans back, and Q does too, setting the cup on the bedside. When Q looks at him, Bond sees that his green eyes are bright, the waterlines red, and Bond knows then that he’s been crying.

 

“You look like shit,” Q tells him, his voice rough with sleep.

 

“You look gorgeous,” Bond replies.

 

Q smiles, but it’s pained, and Bond doesn’t know if it’s him or the drugs, but he would give anything to make that hurt go away. Q hesitates a moment, then leans his head down on the bed and puts his hand over Bond’s. Through the haze of painkiller, Bond feels his warmth, the gentle brush of lips over his knuckles.

 

“I thought you were dead,” Q says, so quietly that Bond almost doesn’t hear him.

 

“You know me. Too stubborn to die,” Bond replies, and his tongue feels thick, like he’s trying to speak from underwater.

 

“You’re an idiot,” Q replies, but there’s no heat to it.

 

Bond looks at the ceiling and then closes his eyes. He falls back asleep with Q’s damp cheek against his palm.

 


 

Bond is in Medical for almost three weeks.

 

Q does not leave his side.

 


 

Bond’s had worse, but he’s still miserable.

 

He has dozens of lacerations and contusions, a broken nose, several sprained ribs, a fractured wrist, and two shattered fingers on his right hand. His head is sore, like a bruise, and when Bond complains, Q tells him that he is recovering from a concussion and that he’s more than fortunate that it didn’t hemorrhage in his sleep.

 

“You say fortunate,” Bond grumbles, at the end of his first week. He and Q are playing Scrabble on a traditional board on Bond’s hospital bed tray. It’s the first time that Bond has been able to sit upright on his own, and while it takes him some time to arrange letters on the board because of the cast on his arm, Q is nothing but patient.

 

“Yes, fortunate,” Q replies, as he straightens one of Bond’s crooked consonants. Bond does not argue.

 

“Don’t you have work to do?” Bond asks.

 

“Do you want me gone?” Q asks.

 

“No,” Bond says.

 

Q lays out the word stubborn and Bond wants to laugh at the jab, but he can only smile because of his bound ribs. It hurts his face and his healing broken nose, but it’s a smile, nonetheless.

 

And Q manages to smile too.

 


 

The nurses torment Bond.

 

He wants a shower to wash away the sweat and grit and bits of dried blood still caked in his hair, but they force embarrassing sponge baths on him instead. It’s only when the stitches come out that he will be allowed to have a real bath, and the knowledge that it will be almost another week makes him surly toward anyone and everyone who comes to visit. Moneypenny stopped coming by after he’d snapped at her once, and Tanner only visited twice, for a grand total of about five minutes before he had to dash off somewhere else.

 

The only constant is Q.

 

Q is there when Bond wakes up and when he falls asleep. Sometimes, they will be in mid-conversation and Bond will nod off. He’ll feel guilty about it when he comes to, but Q never brings it up, just resumes their conversation where they paused. Bond is grateful for it, so much that even as Medical weans him off pain medication, he can’t be angry with Q, who holds his hand when the agony becomes too much and feeds him ice chips when he’s hurting too badly to do much else but lie there and wish for oblivion. He’s like an angel that way, always sitting vigil, never saying more than what needs to be said, his warm hand acting as anchor and safe harbour. Bond wonders if he leaves, because he never see him go, but Q’s clothes are different every day and his hair has been damp on a few occasions so Bond speculates he must. Though when, Bond cannot say, because more than once, Bond has woken in the middle of the night and found Q at his bedside, typing away quietly on his laptop.

 

“Do you ever go home?” Bond asks one night. Q’s face is blue in the reflection of his screen, the glare in his glasses bright in the otherwise dark room. He stops typing.

 

“Sometimes,” Q replies.

 

“You should sleep,” Bond says.

 

“I’m alright,” Q answers.

 

“Q,” he says.

 

“Bond,” is his reply.

 

“Why don’t you ever call me James?” Bond asks.

 

There is silence for a long time, so soothing that Bond feels his eyes falling shut of their own volition. It is only when he is on the edge of sleep that Bond swears he hears Q’s voice, quiet and remorseful in the dark.

 

“Because you’re not mine.”

 


 

In the middle of his second week, the nurses take to forcing Bond up and out of bed to walk about. It hurts his ribs and the bruises on his back, and whenever he puts his right foot out, it pulls at the stitches in his thigh painfully. He hates doing the lap around Medical, clinging to his IV stand in his thin cloth gown. It’s degrading and he feels weaker than a newborn child, but Bond hates it most because Q is there to bear witness to it. The other man doesn’t talk or look at Bond like he’s anything less, but it’s still the worst sort of punishment when Q has to slow his pace once, twice, just so Bond can keep up. He wishes Q would say something, but he never does. He just puts his hand on Bond’s elbow when things get shaky and helps him back into bed when it’s over.

 

Bond wonders if he does this out of guilt or something else entirely.

 

“It’s my fault,” Q says, when Bond asks.

 

“I don’t recall you beating me within an inch of my life and burying me alive,” Bond replies, and Q grits his teeth and looks away.

 

“I sent you there,” Q says.

 

“It’s your job,” Bond answers.

 

“No, it’s my job to bring you home,” Q replies, and shakes his head, “in one piece.”

 

“You brought me home,” Bond says, and reaches for Q’s hand. “You always do.”

 

Q doesn’t move for the longest time, then he moves his hand, twines their fingers together, and sighs.

 

“I just worry about the day I don’t.”

 


 

 

 

They take his stitches out on a Wednesday and schedule him for release on Thursday.

 

“I’ll need a ride,” Bond says on Wednesday evening, after the night nurse has left. Q looks up from his tablet with tired eyes and doesn’t smile.

 

“Okay,” he says.

 

Bond reaches for his hand, and Q lets him have it.

 

 


 

 

Bond is released in the afternoon, but it isn’t until evening that he gets home. The entire process from Medical to his flat is an ordeal, one characterised by a shameful wheelchair ride to the parking garage, pouring rain, and endless waiting. Bond has a difficult time managing the stairs up to his building, and both he and Q get soaked on the journey, Q even more so because he leaves Bond with the umbrella as he dashes back to the idling car to park it round the block. When he meets Bond inside, he’s drenched and panting, cheeks red from the cold and exertion, hair clinging to his forehead with moisture. Bond doesn’t think he’s ever seen someone so beautiful, and he’s overwhelmed with the desire to kiss Q, but doesn’t.


Instead, he leans on Q and has the other man help him to the lift and into his flat. He’s been away so long that the place smells stale with disuse.

 

“You’re soaked,” Q says.

 

“I’m not the only one,” Bond answers.

 

“You should have a bath,” Q replies, as if Bond had not spoken, and Bond does not argue.

 

Q leads him into the bathroom and has him sit down on the toilet lid as he fills the bathtub. The small space fills with the roar of the taps, but it’s nothing quite like Q’s expression when he turns to Bond and begins to undress him. There’s something painfully loud and sad and self-deprecating in his gaze, made all the more stark by the darkness under his eyes.

 

Bond feels a lump in his throat that makes it hard to breathe, because he’s thinking of the way Q cried for him and would not leave his side. It makes Bond remember how desperately he wanted to kiss Q in the dark interior of the car, the corner of the airport lift, in the corridor downstairs; how much he still wants to kiss Q now. That’s when he knows one night will never be enough, could never be enough, because Bond recognises this feeling--this terrifying, beautiful feeling--and thinks he might actually be in love.  

 

“Bond?” Q asks. Bond looks at him, at his own hands touching Q’s cheeks. There are water stains on his glasses. Behind them, Q’s eyes are dark and deep enough to drown him. Q moves his hands to Bond’s and gently pulls them away. The cool brush of his fingertips over Bond’s cold skin makes gooseflesh rise on his arms; he shivers when a droplet of water falls from Q’s wet hair onto his wrist.

 

“You should change,” Bond says, voice low. Q stops for just a moment to glance down at himself.

 

“I’ll be alright,” he says.

 

“You’ll catch a cold,” Bond tells him.

 

Q’s expression closes off as he finishes with Bond’s shirt, his belt, his socks. He takes the soaked garments and puts them into a neat pile onto the floor. Then he shuts off the water and helps Bond up. Without any pretense, Q divests him of his trousers and pants, gets him into the tub, and eases him down to sit in the warm bath. It should be embarrassing, but Bond surprisingly feels no shame, much like the last time Q did something similar for him. He wonders at it, at this intimacy between them that has nothing to do with sex. He wonders if Q feels it too.

 

After the initial sting of the water on his still-healing wounds, the warmth of the bath becomes soothing. The heat of it lulls him into a quiet place in his mind and Bond can’t help but lean back and close his eyes. Next to him, Q shifts and sits down on the bathmat. Bond turns to look at him.

 

“At least dry your hair,” Bond says, and Q huffs as he gets up to grab towels from the linen closet. He puts one over his head and the rest on the edge of the sink. Then he sits down again and begins rubbing at his hair vigorously. When he’s through, it’s sticking up everywhere and looks a mess, but it’s endearing all the same.

 

“There,” Q tells him, and drops the towel over his shoulders. He then reaches back and grabs a flannel off the top of the stack.

 

“You’re still going to catch a cold,” Bond replies, and Q doesn’t say anything, just dips the flannel into the water so that it’s saturated. Then he leans forward and grabs the bar of soap from the dish and lathers up the cloth. There are three nicotine patches on his arm.

 

“Gave up smoking?” Bond asks.

 

“For a bit,” Q replies, and gently begins working at the side of Bond’s neck with the flannel. His touch is soft, but his gaze determined.

 

“You don’t have to,” Bond says.

 

“You’re still covered in blood,” Q says, and his voice breaks just slightly. Bond looks down at himself in the water, at the black and blue bruises and the puffy, healing ridges where the stitches had been. The blood is everywhere but those tended to areas: caked under his nails, worn hard into the creases of his knees and knuckles. There are dried streaks on his legs where the sponge baths did not quite manage their task, and even when Bond rubs at it with his fingers, it doesn’t wash away.

 

“I’ve got it,” Q tells him, and makes him lean back once he’s finished with Bond’s shoulders and ribs. The water turns dirty, tinged copper brown as Q washes him with careful, attentive motions.

 

“Why do you do it?” Bond asks, when the silence becomes too unbearable.

 

“Do what?” Q asks.

 

“Everything,” Bond says, suddenly tired. Bond closes his eyes and sighs. Q stops, lets the flannel rest on Bond’s knee.

 

“I want to,” he says.

 

Why?” Bond asks, and opens his eyes to look at Q pleadingly, because he has to know, he just has to. Q regards him for a long while, his eyes dark and tired and as sad as the night he mourned three dead agents, but had been thinking what if it was you.

 

“I worry about you,” Q says.

 

“Because I’m an asset?” Bond asks, and the word feels heavy and wrong and poisoned on his tongue.

 

“No,” Q says, looking away. “It’s because I care about you.”

 

Bond is silent in the wake of that revelation. Q focusses on the corner of the bath, pointedly the furthest direction from Bond’s face as he continues.

 

“I just...I see...how they treat you...the other agents… you’re nothing but things to them. You’re not people, you’re numbers and it’s just…” Q stops and breathes like it hurts. “You don’t deserve it, Bond. You, of all people...you don’t deserve it.”

 

“So it’s pity, then?” Bond asks.

 

Q laughs, a broken little thing that pulls on Bond’s heartstrings.

 

“You really are an idiot,” he says, and turns his head. His eyes are still dark and green and slightly damp, but there’s something in that moment that steals away Bond’s already-limited supply of breath. There haven’t been many people who have looked at him that way before, and the few that have are now dead. But Q is very much alive and he is looking at Bond in that way that says so much without saying anything at all. And when his fingertips trace along Bond’s temple to his jaw, Bond swears his world stops because he finally, truly understands.

 

Oh,” Bond says.

 

Q withdraws his hand and takes up the flannel to wring it out.

 

“So that’s why I’ll always come when you call,” Q says, his voice all business again. “And I’ll come when you don’t. I’ll always be here.”

 

Bond stares into the water and wishes he would have understood this long ago, at the start of things, because he feels so stupid and wretched for what he’s done; because it’s suddenly perfectly clear that it’s never been lust for Q, not like it’s been for Bond. It’s been love. It’s been pure, unadulterated love all along. It makes Bond want to weep, because all those times he looked at Q--because he was curious, because he was hurting and lonely and needed someone warm in his bed--he had been looking but not seeing. Q had been telling him all along how he felt, with his eyes, always wanting, but never asking, always pulling away when Bond came too close. And why?

 

Because Q knew that Bond didn’t love him in return. Not like that.

 

“Q--”

 

“Don’t,” Q interrupts Bond before he can continue. “You don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to apologise. Just be quiet.”

 

“But--”

 

“No,” Q says, and Bond cannot see his face, because the other man has a gentle hand on the back of his neck, forcing him forward so that his head is bowed. “I don’t think I can hear whatever it is you want to say right now. So just be quiet.”

 

Bond closes his mouth. Warm water cascades onto him, wetting his hair, and then there is the cool lather of shampoo and the heat of Q’s hands massaging lightly at his tender scalp. Bond keeps his head down and let’s Q scrub at him, until all the dirt and blood and sweat is gone and there is nothing but clean, pink skin left behind and a hundred thousand unspoken words on his tongue.

 


 

 

 

“Will you stay?” Bond asks, once he’s finally in his own bed. His body is heavy with tiredness and he wants nothing more than to sleep, but Bond also knows that if he lets Q walk away now, there might never be another chance.

 

“I’ll come to check on you tomorrow,” Q says. His clothes are wet;. Bond notices that he won’t sit on the edge of the bed because of them. Or maybe it’s something else entirely.

 

“But I want you to stay,” Bond says.

 

“Well you can’t always get what you want,” Q tells him, and smiles just a bit, but it doesn’t reach his eyes.

 

“Please,” Bond says, because he’s desperate, because he wants Q to understand, but he doesn’t know how.

 

“I’ll stay until you fall asleep,” Q promises, as he pulls up the duvet.

 

“Stay until I wake up,” Bond implores, reaching for Q’s hand. It’s cold in his, still slightly damp, but Bond holds on, because he can’t let go, not now. He looks at Q in the half-light and hopes that his eyes can say what his mouth cannot.

 

Q kneels down next to the bed, until he’s just a shape in the dark beside Bond.

 

“I don’t think I can. Not this time,” Q says. His fingers are trembling like leaves of grass, like they had been the night in the car when Q had said he wasn’t angry, when he had told Bond without words that they could be nothing more than they were. Bond kisses them in the same manner as that evening, and holds them to his lips.

 

“Why not?” Bond asks, and Q squeezes his hand.

 

“Because,” Q says, “I’m not ready to have my heart broken by you.”

 

The silence falls between them in the dark, to where they are nothing but breath and the single point of warmth where their hands meet. Bond knows that he should say something--anything--but the words are nothing but empty promises, and they die on his tongue.

 

So when Q pulls away, Bond does the least selfish thing he can.

 

He lets Q go.

 


 

Despite what Q said, he does not come to see Bond, and so he spends the next week recovering alone at home. Someone comes by and drops groceries and other necessities at his doorstep every other day, but by the time Bond gets up and hobbles to the door, the person is already gone.

 

When Bond can walk without tiring too easily, he calls a car to take him to Six, where he pointedly avoids Medical and goes to see Eve. She is waiting for him when he arrives in her office, and she pours him a cup of coffee before sitting down at her desk.

 

“It’s nice to see you up and about,” Eve tells him. “After everything.”

 

“After everything,” Bond scoffs into his coffee.

 

“You could have died, you know,” Eve says, as if he didn’t know.

 

“Says the woman who shot me off a moving train,” Bond replies.

 

“You will never let me live that down, will you?” she asks, round a smile.

 

“Never. And you should be proud of it. Not many people have the honour of saying that they killed me,” Bond says.

 

“So sure of yourself,” Eve replies with a smirk, that fades just a bit as she puts her coffee down. “But it is good to see you. We might never have found you, you know.”

 

“How did you all find me?” Bond asks.

 

We didn’t find you,” Eve says. “Q did.”

 

Bond’s hand shakes slightly, and he puts the coffee down before he spills.

 

“Oh,” he says, trying for nonchalant.

 

“Yes,” she replies. “He’s in a bit of trouble for sending in an extraction team without proper protocol, not to mention putting an unauthorised tracker on you, but I think the Board will forgive him, especially since you have a bad habit.”

 

“Of what?”

 

“Going off the grid.”

 

Bond looks out the window

 

“What kind of tracker?” he asks.

 

“It was in your earpiece. If it was destroyed, it was programmed to send out a burst signal with its last coordinates. Q sent in the team completely blind; he didn’t even wait for ground reconnaissance to clear the area. Luckily, your target had already moved on, so they were in no danger,” she explains, leaning back in her seat. “Despite how reckless it was, he made the right decision. If they would have gotten to you even a few minutes later, you’d probably be dead.”

 

“And Q?” he asks, voice tight.

 

“Wrecked. I’ve never seen him like that. He relinquished control to R after they’d found you, but I didn’t see him until after they brought you to Medical a few days later. Still in the same clothes, pale as a ghost… he wouldn’t leave your side, you know,” Eve says, and there’s something in her voice when she adds: “I think he loves you.”

 

“You sound disapproving.”

 

“I am.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because, I don’t think you know how to love.”

 

Bond looks at her and her dark eyes are amber in the afternoon light.

 

“It’s nothing personal,” Eve tells him with a smile that, surprisingly, is anything but contrary. “I just think a lot of things have happened and you don’t know how to love anymore. I think that you’ll hurt him and that’s just not fair.”

 

“Maybe you’re right,” Bond says.

 

They are quiet for a while, until the steam fades from their coffee and the shadows move on the wall. Just as he has the past week, Bond is thinking about Q’s lips and eyes and the feel of him, his warmth, the light brush of his fingertips, his kindness in an unkind world. He knows that he’s too broken and old to accomplish much, but he wants Q like he wants air, and he might have forgotten how to love, but he thinks that’s something.

 


 

When he leaves Eve’s office, he goes in search of Q. He finds the other man in his office, looking haggard and tired and somehow breathtaking. Bond hesitates in the doorway, but then limps in. Q shifts his focus from the computer to him, and under the weight of his green gaze, Bond wants to tell him everything--that he’s sorry, that he finally understands, that he might be the closest thing to in love as he possibly can be--but all Bond can say is:

 

“I’d like to take you to dinner.”

 

Q blinks, but doesn’t say anything, just makes a motion with his hand for Bond to close the door. Bond does so, and when he turns around, Q is standing beside his desk instead of behind it, and it’s very easy for Bond to walk the three steps to him, and it would be so easy to kiss him if Q would let him. But Q’s wearing enough armour in his expression that Bond stands just shy of touching him, knowing that this will not be a battle easily won.

 

The best things in life weren’t, after all.

 

“You don’t want to take me out to dinner,” he says clearly, with all his consonants and vowels so perfectly clipped that he nearly cuts Bond with them. “You think you do, but you don’t.”

 

“How do you know?” Bond asks.

 

“Because I know,” Q answers. “I know you.”

 

“No you don’t,” Bond says.

 

Q leans a hip against his desk and takes up a defensive stance.

 

“I know you feel guilty,” Q replies. “It’s my fault. You were looking for a friend, and I wanted something more. It was selfish of me to take advantage. I’m sorry.”

 

“I do feel guilty, but for different reasons,” Bond says, and steps closer, pausing just a breath away, where he can feel the warmth of Q’s body without laying a hand on him. “You were trying to tell me all along, but I was just too blind to see it.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Q says again, and straightens his spine and looks at Bond without wavering. It takes a strong sort of person to do that and if Bond was not in love, he would be now. “But I meant what I said. My personal feelings aside, I will always be here.”

 

“What if I want those personal feelings?” Bond asks, and means it.

 

Q looks at him, searches his face, and something cracks at the edges of his facade.

 

“You never did before,” Q says carefully, and it is then that Bond realises that someone has hurt him before, so his caution is nothing but warranted. It is the only defence mechanism he can employ to protect himself at this juncture, and Bond knows that what he says now will make all the difference.

 

“I didn’t know what I wanted,” Bond answers honestly.

 

“And now?” Q asks. Bond touches his cheek and Q’s breath stutters and stops, plunging them into a quiet that is so vast and deep that Bond swears he can hear their heartbeats.

 

“I want to take you to dinner,” Bond says.

 

“And after?” Q asks.

 

He’s still guarded, but hopeful, and Bond hesitates for only a moment, because maybe Eve is right when she said that he will just hurt Q in the end. Bond knows it’s entirely too possible because he’s selfish and reckless and nearly twice Q’s age and just that alone should make him walk away. But Q is there for him when no one else is, who stays on the line even after a mission is over because you might need me, who Bond trusts when he thought he would never trust anyone ever again. And he might not know Q’s real name or anything about his past or the small things, like his favourite colour, favourite song, but Bond wants to know more than anything.

 

“I’d like to kiss you,” Bond admits. Q smiles coyly, and Bond would be a liar if he said he didn’t think it lovely.

 

“You don’t have to wait,” Q tells him and closes the last sliver of space between them.

 

Q’s lips are warmer than Bond imagined, soft and sweet like mint, his tongue pleasantly bitter, a blend of tea and cigarettes. Bond loses himself in the taste of Q--that taste he had been chasing for months now--the perfect mould of their bodies, the beautiful tremble of Q’s skin beneath his hand. When they eventually part, Bond can’t say how much time has passed, but Q looks pleasantly dazed and Bond feels heady with the flavour of him on his lips.

 

“I think I’d like to do that again,” Bond says and Q’s smile chases away any lingering doubt about love in his mind.

 

“I think we can arrange something.”

 


 

They don’t have sex that night or the night after, or in the weeks that follow. Bond senses that the thing between them is still fragile, as breakable as his own healing bones, so he moves slowly, tentatively, and Q does the same.

 

It’s uncharted territory for the both of them, it seems, because they aren’t just friends, but they aren’t quite lovers either. They have yet to do more than kiss, even though Bond’s laid beside Q more nights than not. He thought it would be unbearable to endure, but surprisingly the warmth of Q beside him and the featherlight flutter of his lashes is enough. Waking up to Q next to him, propped up against the headboard with the morning crossword across his lap is enough. Knowing that at any time, Bond can reach for Q’s hand and he will not pull away is more than enough.

 

Bond’s not a romantic by any means, but when they do finally fall together, it’s nothing short of perfect. It’s perfect in the stinging crescent cuts of Q’s fingernails along his spine and the bruising grip of smooth, trembling thighs round Bond’s hips and the sweet, gentle keen the man makes when he comes. But the most intimate part of it all is that Bond is one of the very few who knows Q’s name, his true name.

 

After, when he whispers it in Q’s ear in the dark, the other man smiles brightly enough to light the room. The sight of it sends Bond’s heart skipping three beats and he’s two parts happy, one part terrified, because he never thought he’d feel this alive again, this in love again.

 

When morning comes, Bond awakens slowly to the gentle rustle of paper. He’s pleasantly sore--different from how he’s felt after his first few rounds of physical therapy--and the bed beside him is warm and weighted and when he opens his eyes, Q is next to him. He has the Times laid out in front of him and is chewing a mint while staring intently at that morning’s crossword, pen poised in his hand. It is much like the image Bond had conjured long ago, of Q in bed, bare-footed with his crossword puzzle. But in this reality, they are together instead of apart and Q is not wearing ridiculous pyjamas, but sporting only one of Bond’s button ups. It’s so big on him that he’s rolled up the sleeves to his elbows, and it’s endearing the point that Bond can’t help but smile.

 

“12 across, eleven letters. Second letter m, last letter e with the clue: undying, everlasting; also a purple-red pigment,” Q says.

 

“Good morning to you, too,” Bond says, scooting closer so that he can press his forehead against Q’s side. He smells like mint and sex. It’s intoxicating, even more so because Bond knows that he is the only one who will experience Q like this: still soft with sleep, touchable in a way that he rarely is in public. This Q is all for Bond, only for Bond. “How long have you been awake?”

 

“For a while,” Q replies. Bond slides his hand up under Q’s shirt, tickling along his ribs until the pen and paper are abandoned at the foot of the bed and Q is on top of him. They become a tangle of lips and tongue and limbs, a beautiful mess that sets every nerve alight in Bond’s body, so much so that his skin is electric and tingling by the time they part for air. It is then, when Bond looks up into Q’s eyes, when he is watching the black chase away the green at the edges, that it comes to him.

 

“Amaranthine.”

 

“Hmm?”

 

“The word. I think it’s amaranthine.”

 

Q sits up and reaches for the crossword and pen, which he uses to fill the letters into the respective boxes. When he’s done, he looks down at Bond with a smile that says he loves him more than anything in the world and it makes Bond’s heart stop.

 

“Never stop surprising me,” Q says.

 

Bond’s laugh is swallowed by a kiss, and when Q finally releases him, he makes the most honest promise he can:

 

“I’ll do my very best.”

 


 

Surprisingly, the injuries do not force him into retirement, but back out into the field once he’s able. Bond’s too much of an asset to let go when he can still walk, so Mallory hands him a file and sends him on his way. It’s just a recon mission--nothing too difficult--but Bond’s sore by the end of it, and he wants nothing more than a hot shower and a good meal and his soft, soft bed.

 

Q is at the gate when he arrives in London. He’s doing that expectant, half-hopeful little motion that Bond has seen so many times before from parents and friends and family members looking for their traveler among a sea of faces. But no one has ever done that for Bond before, so he’s not quite ready when Q’s eyes meet his and something tight in his chest unfurls slightly with relief. The corner of Q’s mouth turns up a bit and he raises his hand far above to crowd to wave at him, as if Bond could not see him, as if Bond might overlook that gaze that sought him and only him.

 

He may not be able to do this job much longer, but the prospect of retirement is not so bleak, because if he lives--and for once, he hopes he lives--he knows he won’t be alone. In the meantime, Q will be the guiding voice in his ear, the person who stays up late because Bond might need him, the one who will always bring him home. And Bond will still take planes and trains all over the world, and he’ll still shoot things because he has to, because he’s good at it. But he’ll start drinking less and stop seducing entirely, because even though Q would never judge him for these things, Bond wants to, for him, more than anything. And it might take some difficult months, but in return, Q gives up cigarettes and his bad habit of abusing nicotine patches. They’re not perfect by any means, and as unlikely a pair as any, but Bond couldn’t care less.

 

Because when Q’s arms are around him, he’s finally home.