A senior officer of the Ministry of Defence, Commander James Bond C.M.G., R.N., is missing, believed killed, while on an official mission to Turkey. It grieves me to have to report that hopes of his survival must now be abandoned. It therefore falls to my lot, as the Head of the Department he served so well, to give some account of this officer and of his outstanding services to his country.
Expression stony, Alec Trevelyan reread the words from the memorandum M had sent out to announce that James had been officially declared dead. On stage, M was giving a similarly worded speech, lauding James’ service in vague, security-conscious terms. Looking up at the small, fierce woman, Alec reminded himself that he was a professional. He couldn’t show his anger and wouldn’t show his grief, but a hint of tension wouldn’t be out of line. Everyone at MI6 knew that Alec and James had been close for nearly twenty years, since their earliest days in the Royal Navy. He let his shoulders come to a tight, straight line as he folded the memo and slipped it into his pocket. Then he turned and looked at the other senior staffers – Double O’s, branch heads, executives, and liaisons from other organisations.
Was one of them responsible? Had one of them sold out two agents? For what price? he wondered, turning his attention back to M without actually hearing her words. The main assembly room was packed, standing room only. Though Alec could have demanded a seat up front, as the closest thing James had to a relative, he was standing at the back, where he could see everyone. He knew that someone inside of MI6 was responsible for what happened to James and Ronson, and a small, vicious part of him wanted to slip out, bar the doors, and light a fire.
If there was one thing he couldn’t stand, it was a traitor.
Instead, he waited in the shadows, conscious of the killers to either side of him. They were all standing against the back wall where their twitch-reflexes wouldn’t be set off by people moving around them. The news of the deaths had everyone on edge.
All of them were thinking the same thing. All of them, in fact, were probably looking at Alec as the most likely suspect. Questionable birth. Unknown upbringing. Intimate knowledge of James Bond’s fighting style and MO on a mission. It would be effortless for Alec to find a buyer for the sort of information that could give him a luxurious (albeit short) life anywhere in the world. There were people who’d bankrupt entire nations to get their hands on James, in fact; he was just that good at making enemies.
They both were, James and Alec. They just never made the mistake of allowing those enemies to live for very long.
The memorial service dragged on, and Alec’s fingers itched. Every instinct was urging him to tear into the crowd and start questioning people in the most bloody, efficient way possible. Someone had sold inside information. Someone had given the enemy – whoever that was – the intel on the Istanbul safehouse where Ronson was. And then James, that bloody idiot, had to go haring off to save his some-time lover, with a bloody green recruit as his only backup.
“Steady,” 009 murmured under her breath, glancing sidelong at Alec.
He forced his fists to unclench and nodded, wondering if 009 was the traitor. She and James had a vicious rivalry, but was it enough to sell out a fellow agent?
Possibly. She didn’t have a record of loyalty. At fifteen, she’d betrayed her family for their IRA affiliation, testified as an anonymous witness to their bombmaking, and then disappeared into the military. She’d been with MI6 as a field agent for six years, a Double O for two. She’d been assigned James as a field supervisor and gone out on two missions with him, which was two too many, as M should have known. The battle lines had been drawn the very minute 009 and 007 had been put in the same room.
Maybe the traitor was M herself. Alec stared across the room, watching as she returned to her chair, though she remained standing. A military chaplain took her place at the podium, and everyone in the hall rose for a minute of silence, cutting off Alec’s view of the short, authoritative woman who ruled MI6 with an iron fist. It was said that nothing happened in MI6 that she didn’t eventually discover, but hadn’t her own bloody Chief of Staff – Bill Tanner’s predecessor – been compromised?
Alec took deep, steadying breaths and tuned out the carefully non-denominational memorial prayer. This was all the service James would get. Ronson, whose body had been recovered and whose presence in Turkey wasn’t a political time bomb, would have a proper wake and graveside ceremony.
Just as well. The last thing Alec needed was for James to drag him to a bloody grave every time he decided to get stroppy. Bad enough he’d be bragging about coming back from the dead for months.
Desmond McCowen sat at his desk, not really seeing what was on the screen in front of him. After almost ten years – first the Home Office, then at MI5 – he had come to expect the sort of death and destruction that came from this particular brand of government work. More so since he had joined MI6 as one of Major Boothroyd’s Technical Services Section quartermasters.
But this was different. Not only had MI6 lost two field agents; one of them had been the legendary 007, James Bond. To make matters worse, he had been lost at their own hand – shot off a bridge by a fellow field agent. It implied an operational failure at every level, especially considering M herself had given the order – an order that never should have been necessary in the first place.
“Everything all right, Desmond?” Boothroyd said as he approached the desk.
Wasn’t the Major supposed to be at the memorial service? Desmond looked down at the clock on his computer. He was appalled to see that two hours had passed, and he’d barely made an inch of headway with the security program he was currently writing. “Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. I was just streamlining the security algorithm for the new comms system. Was there something you needed?”
“No, no, that’s fine. How close are you to finishing?” Boothroyd leaned against the cubicle wall, one arm draped over the edge.
“Not much longer. Should be ready for testing tomorrow,” Desmond replied. He wanted to ask how the service was, but felt it wasn’t proper. “Give me an hour, and I can run through it with you before I leave.”
“That’s all right, my boy.” Boothroyd straightened up. He seemed tired, as if the memorial had been not for an agent but for a close family member or loved one. Of course, Boothroyd had been at MI6 forever. He knew everyone there, and he still kept his hand in, running the most critical missions for the Double O’s. He gave Desmond a faint, fatherly smile. “Finish it tomorrow; we’ll go over it then. Just close up and go home. I think we all could use a day away from this place.”
“Er, all right,” Desmond said, surprised. Boothroyd had never sent him home early. Ever.
As Boothroyd walked away, Desmond saved his programs and then shut everything down. Much as he loathed leaving a project incomplete like this, he was in no shape to be working on anything. He’d just end up having to fix it tomorrow.
After everything was locked down, he grabbed his tablet, laptop, and an MI6-issued mobile phone, shoving everything haphazardly into his rucksack. Now that he really was leaving early, he didn’t want to have to be here any longer than necessary. The stench of recent death permeated every corner of the building, dragging down everyone’s spirits and making him crave fresh air.
The Technical Services Section occupied the sixth floor, with a lovely view of the Thames. Central to the building were the labs, two of which extended up into the seventh floor. The street-side of the sixth floor had been remodelled into offices a few years ago, but the occasional explosions meant no department wanted permanent residence there. The offices had been assigned as temporary workspace for the field agents whenever they were in town.
Desmond had made it a habit to pass the labs on the way to the stairs, mostly to see if there were any interesting experiments going on. He specialised in computers, but had an aptitude for engineering that a few night classes had honed. Much as he believed the future of TSS lay in cyber-security rather than explosives, maintaining the MI6 armoury did have its place.
As he passed the chemicals lab, an office door flew open, and a man came crashing out to hit the chemlab wall. Desmond stumbled back out of the way just in time to see the dark muzzle of a gun emerge from the office. Walther, he recognised, one rational corner of his mind cataloguing and analysing while the rest of him wondered whether or not he should run for cover.
The gun was followed by a hand, tanned and scarred and rock-steady, holding the weapon aimed at the dazed man, who cringed back against the chemlab wall, a rabbit trapped under a falcon’s shadow, too scared to move.
Oh, fucking hell, Desmond thought as the agent stepped into view. He was no ordinary field agent, but Alec Trevelyan – 006, rumoured to be the closest friend of the lost agent, James Bond. He didn’t even twitch in Desmond’s direction as he advanced on his chosen prey.
“Sorry, what was that about regs?” Alec asked in a mild, calm voice that sent chills through Desmond.
In his short time at MI6, Desmond had only ever encountered a Double O twice. The first had been at Medical, the day he went in for his intake testing. 003 had recently come back from a mission and could be heard two corridors over screaming at the doctors and nurses. Desmond had the unpleasant experience of being one bed over from her. The other had been up in Finance, where 002 threw a rubbish bin through the window of one of the offices. Rumour was they’d mucked up his pay slip by something like twenty pounds. Desmond learned quickly that the Double O agents were not to be trifled with.
But neither of those experiences could have prepared him for the look of murderous fury that Desmond could see buried beneath 006’s coldly neutral mask. This suit in front of him had no idea how close he was to death.
Desmond stood frozen to the spot, his brain warring over what to do. He could try and run, but that would be like turning his back on an angry bear. Or he could be stupid and step in. It seemed stupid was going to win out.
Taking a step forward, he turned to face the deadly agent. “006?” he asked as calmly as he could manage. “What are you doing?”
Alec growled. He actually growled, the sound coming from deep in his chest. “Interdepartmental politics,” he said, biting out the words.
Alec’s victim shot Desmond a desperate look. “I’m locking out –”
“No, you’re not,” Alec interrupted as though speaking to a particularly dim child. “Leave.”
Desmond saw Alec’s finger twitch on the trigger. Calculations flew through his mind – trigger pull, muzzle velocity, probable load of the round that was chambered. Exactly what all of that combined would do to the man pinned up against the chemlab wall.
Hoping that the agent’s anger was more single-minded focus and less murder spree, Desmond put himself directly between 006 and his would-be victim. Alec’s eyes – startling green – locked to Desmond, and the muzzle dropped, aimed more safely towards the floor.
“Alec,” Desmond started. He’d heard somewhere using a name could sometimes have a calming effect on would-be attackers. “I’ve no idea what’s going on here, but I don’t think shooting a fellow employee is going to solve anyone’s problem.” He glanced warily at the gun in Alec’s hand. “Might I suggest holstering your weapon?”
“Training suggests the simple solutions are usually the best,” Alec said, tipping his head to glare past Desmond. “I’d be doing MI6 a service. This one’s too stupid to take advantage of my distraction and run,” he snapped, barking out the last word.
The man finally scrambled up to his feet, kicking at the back of Desmond’s foot as he got his balance. Alec’s gaze shifted, and Desmond knew the man was taking full advantage of whatever shielding he could get from Desmond’s slender body.
Desmond flinched but held his ground. If Alec was offering up a way for the man to escape, Desmond knew the agent had no actual intention of shooting anyone. He turned to watch the man flee before finally looking back at Alec. “Would you mind telling me what all of that was about?”
Desmond might have expected the agent, deprived of his chosen prey, to shift his rage to the person who’d intervened. But as Alec holstered the Walther under his arm, the look he shot Desmond was anything but angry. It was slow and assessing, almost a physical touch, from hair to toes and back up. It was the sort of look that would get anyone short of a Double O hauled before HR for sexual harassment.
“I’ve never seen you before,” Alec said, and even his voice was completely different. The dangerous growl still lurked under the surface, but now it was all silk and interest and confidence, as if they were meeting at a nightclub rather than in a hallway that had nearly become a murder scene. Desmond had heard stories about being caught under the intense gaze of one of the Double O’s, and he wasn’t entirely certain the shiver he felt was from fear.
“I doubt you have. Most senior agents refuse to show their face in TSS considering how often and how spectacularly you damage our equipment,” he replied, going for false confidence. “I’m Desmond McCowen, quartermaster for TSS.”
“Desmond.” Alec looked him over again, frowning suddenly but not ominously. “You don’t look like a ‘Desmond’.”
“No?” he asked, hearing the tremor in his voice and hoping desperately that Alec didn’t. “What do I look like, then?”
Alec buttoned his jacket and smoothed it down as he took a step closer. He was three inches taller than Desmond and significantly broader in the shoulders. The subdued aura of danger still crackled around him like static electricity, despite how calm he seemed. “I’d have to know more about you,” he said, stopping only when he was a foot away, just close enough for Desmond to want to back up a step. “You’re one of my quartermasters, you say?”
“Among other things, yes.”
“Really,” Alec said, grinning as he looked slowly down Desmond’s body again. “And what other things are you for me?”
Desmond hid a sigh of relief as he realised the danger had passed, though he had no illusion that Alec would remain docile if provoked. His sudden interest in Desmond was obvious, even heavy-handed, but not quite crossing the line. And Desmond knew that if he turned and walked away, Alec would let him go.
Desmond began to feel better about the entire situation, but he was still wary. This was a grieving agent who’d recently lost his oldest friend in the world, and Desmond had heard more than enough stories of how field agents behaved at the best of times. Cede any ground to them, and they’d take it unhesitatingly before demanding more.
“The one in charge of the team that provides your weapons, gear, and up-to-date intelligence for use in the field,” Desmond said, meeting Alec’s eyes steadily.
He had the immense satisfaction of seeing confusion cross Alec’s face. Then Alec laughed, the sound rich and full of what felt like genuine amusement. “My quartermaster,” he said, smile turning sly. “Q. That suits you better.”
“I’m not really sure what to say to that,” Desmond responded before shaking his head with a smile. “But I assume that means you like me, and I much prefer that over being targeted as your next victim.”
“Not very clever,” Alec scolded, grin never fading. “I don’t know you. It’s a bit much for you to decide that I like you.”
Desmond paused, feeling slightly wrong-footed. “I assumed your nicknaming me meant that I’d gained at least some favour with you. Consider me better informed.”
“You did that with your pointlessly altruistic decision to save that cockroach from IT,” Alec said dismissively.
“My decision to see that man spared had nothing to do with altruism,” Desmond responded with a smirk. “The last thing I want to deal with is blood anywhere near the chemlabs,” he said, waving a hand in the direction of the labs.
Alec barked out a laugh. “I can settle for practical. In fact...” The sly grin reappeared as he moved, looking away from Desmond for the first time. With one hand, he gestured at the tiny office; the other hand brushed over Desmond’s back, slipping between his raincoat and the rucksack over his shoulder. “Do you do computers? You must do.”
Desmond looked up at Alec in disbelief before laughing. “Yes, as a matter of fact. Computers are something I definitely do.”
“Perfect,” Alec approved, giving Desmond a gentle push towards the office. “I need you to get past a security card reader so I can get at some files.”
Desmond stopped in his tracks, causing Alec to bump into him. “I’m sorry, what?” he asked, peering into the darkened office before looking back up at Alec. “Do you have any idea how many different regulations that violates?” He tried to sidestep Alec, but the position of Alec’s hand on his back under the rucksack made it awkward. Remembering what he’d stumbled upon, he had a feeling this had something to do with 007. Not wanting a gun pointed at his head, he chose his words carefully. “As much as I’d like to help, I’m not all that keen on losing my job.”
“You won’t get caught,” Alec said soothingly, giving Desmond another gentle push. “It’s important, Q. You know I have the authority to do damned near anything as it is.” His charming smile reappeared, and he leaned in a bit closer, offering, “I can make it an order, if you’d like that.”
He stared incredulously at Alec. “As much as it would appease my superiors to know that I was acting under the orders of a senior field agent, I think we can pass on the directives for now,” he said, shaking his head. “Why don’t you tell me what it is you need first? If I can help, I will. Then we’ll decide if you get to call me Q.”
Again, Desmond saw that look of confusion cross Alec’s face. Did no one ever stand up to the field agents? The expression disappeared in a blink, replaced by what Desmond was quickly coming to recognise as Alec’s ‘I want something’ smile.
“Agreed,” he said, and gave Desmond a slightly harder push to get him moving towards the door. “In private. Unless you want a third to join us, that is.”
Feeling his ears go hot, Desmond coughed and finally started moving. “No, I think I can handle this all on my own, thank you.”
Alec closed the door behind him, engaging the locks. Overhead, the air supply came on, filling the room with an irritating, low hum. It was a filtered air connection as well as a white noise generator. They were in one of the dark offices, used for reviewing compartmented secret files. The rooms were shielded against all forms of electronic and mechanical spying, swept twice a day for unauthorised devices. They were meant to be used individually, with a single chair and a minuscule desk that didn’t even have an Ethernet connection, much less wireless access.
Well, that explained the need to disable a card reader. Without network authentication, the laptop sitting on the desk was worthless except as a paperweight. Alec wouldn’t be able to get past the login screen to play Free Cell.
Desmond took off his rucksack and set it on the chair. No point in using it; the room wasn’t big enough for either of them to be sitting down. He turned as best he could to face Alec. “I can do what you’re asking,” he said, glancing back, “but I have to ask you one question before I do. Does this have anything to do with 007?”
He turned and saw Alec’s eyes had gone sharp. The smile was gone. “You don’t want to ask that, Q,” he warned quietly. “The less you know, the happier you’ll be.”
“If you think my knowing less of anything will make me happier, then your original assessment was right. You don’t know me.”
Paranoia was an institutional hazard. Alec’s predated MI6, going all the way back to when he and James had got roped into military intelligence while still in the Navy. The only change now was that MI6 escalated the stakes.
The timing was all too perfect. Some troll from IT happened to come after James’ laptop, only to be rescued by a quartermaster from TSS – someone the field agents were trained to trust implicitly – who happened to ask about James?
Some things were ingrained. MI6 believed James was dead, shot by a junior field agent who was either a misguided idiot or Alec’s next target. Had Desmond been sent to stop Alec? And god, who the hell named their child Desmond, these days? It reeked of a poorly constructed false identity.
He abandoned all pretence at flirting. Before, he’d planned to draw the Walther, so he’d intentionally left the chamber empty. Now, the Walther was in his hand before he was consciously aware he’d drawn it, and he racked the slide back to chamber a round. ‘Desmond’ stared at him in wide-eyed fear that was either genuine or a damned good act.
Desmond hit the wall chest-first, turning his head at the last second to keep from breaking his nose or glasses. Alec’s free hand landed between his shoulder blades; his other pressed the Walther’s muzzle to the back of Desmond’s skull.
“Then let’s get to know one another,” Alec said calmly, glad that he’d taken a dark office. He wondered if Desmond knew that the sound of gunfire wouldn’t penetrate the walls, with dark protocols engaged.
“What the fuck, 006!” Desmond demanded, his voice going low. “You asked for my help, but understand this is my job we’re talking about. I have the right to ask what I’m risking my career for.”
Alec studied what he could see of Desmond’s profile. Who the hell was worried about his job security with an apparently insane-with-grief assassin holding a gun to his head?
Suddenly wary that there might be two assassins locked in the tiny office, Alec twitched the gun, watching Desmond’s shoulders for any hint that he might move. He ran his free hand down Desmond’s back, pressing hard to try and feel anything hidden under his raincoat and the suit beneath it.
Desmond took a breath, fingers twitching against the wall.
“Don’t,” Alec warned, feeling over his arse and across to his left hip. He was wary of weapons that could be hidden under Desmond’s belt, but he took the risk of feeling all the way along the leather to the buckle. It was a simple buckle, not something that could conceal anything bigger than a razor. He pulled his hand up over Desmond’s chest, feeling for anything – a holdout pistol under his shirt, a knife on a strap around his neck, even a damned pen. He found a watch which he unlatched from Desmond’s left wrist, wary of poison-coated needles, and a mobile phone that went onto the desk.
“I’m not carrying any weapons, 006,” Desmond said rather pointlessly.
Alec huffed and didn’t respond, except to take a step back, pulling Desmond back with him by one hip. One more step would bring them to the opposite wall, but Alec didn’t need that much room. “Hands behind your head, fingers laced,” he said, dragging the muzzle down to Desmond’s nape. He kept his fingernail pressed to the front of the trigger-guard, rather than risking any pressure on the trigger itself. A twitch and he’d fire, but it wouldn’t happen accidentally.
Desmond put his hands behind his head, doing what Alec asked without hesitation. As soon as he had his fingers interlaced, Alec pushed him forward. He nearly let go to catch his fall, stopped himself, and ducked his head to keep from smashing his glasses into the wall. “Feet back,” Alec demanded over Desmond’s indignant protest. “Legs spread. Back farther,” he barked, trying to push him off-balance mentally as well as physically.
“Anything else you want me to do? Or can we get on with it and get this ridiculous exercise over with. Remember, you asked for my help,” Desmond pointed out.
“And you conveniently showed up at just the right time for that,” Alec countered, even more suspicious at the lack of fear. A kick pushed Desmond’s feet even further apart, until he wouldn’t be able to stand without telegraphing his intent. Warily, Alec crouched, lowering the gun to push at the small of Desmond’s back so he could search up and down each leg. He thought about having Desmond take off his shoes – TSS had issued shoes with knives in them long before America’s TSA had heard of such things – but there was no point. In this office, Desmond was likely to crack his own skull bending down to reach for a weapon in his shoe.
Alec found change and a wallet, all cards in the name of Desmond McCowen. A carabiner held keys, a USB drive, a small torch, and a multitool. That went onto the desk, next to the watch and mobile. Other than that, though, he seemed clean.
Alec moved the gun back up, though he moved his finger from the trigger to lay it along the slide. Then he took hold of Desmond’s jacket and pulled him back. Desmond staggered before he caught his balance. He didn’t try to ‘fall’ backwards into Alec and knock him off his feet, which would’ve been Alec’s first move to try and get hold of the gun.
Was he really innocent or just playing a long game in hopes of gaining Alec’s trust?
“All right, Q,” Alec said, allowing his tone to turn reasonable. “Let’s have that chat now, shall we?”
“And which chat would that be?” Desmond asked, trying to turn his head. A press from the gun convinced him not to move. “The one about why I’m helping you or the one about why you’re now attacking me?”
Alec stared at the back of Desmond’s head, wondering what the hell was going on. Anyone could break, but how would he break? Was he saying what he thought Alec wanted to hear? Was he genuinely innocent of any involvement?
Unfortunately, there was no one reliable, infallible method for ferreting out the truth. There were too many variables. Humans, James liked to tell the recruits he trained, were messy. Inevitably he followed that up with a discussion on how to make them even messier in hopes of getting at the truth, but the fact was that even torture wasn’t guaranteed to work. In fact, most of the time, it was less likely to get at the complete truth.
Earlier, Desmond had seemed interested. An emotional angle might work best. Alec generally preferred seduction over torture, in any case.
Hoping Desmond hadn’t been put off by the assault and search, Alec stepped back as far as he could and holstered the Walther. He ignored the shiver that swept over his skin and reminded himself that he could have his gun drawn, aimed, and discharged in a heartbeat if necessary.
“I’m sorry,” he said, letting his voice go soft and gruff, as if hiding his sincerity. He put a hand on Desmond’s shoulder and pressed, silently signalling that he could lower his arms. “I can’t take chances. James was my” – he hesitated, thinking quickly about what would be the most useful term – “best friend. I don’t know who to trust anymore.”
Desmond flexed his shoulders as he turned around. “I can understand that. And you have no reason to trust me. You still don’t. It’s true, you don’t know me. But you should know that I’m only asking because I’m actually like you, at least in this instance. I don’t like being kept in the dark.”
Quashing the urge to roll his eyes, Alec said, “Just...get me into the computer, without letting it near the network. Then you can go. No one will find out. As soon as I have the information I need, I’m destroying the computer.”
“No.” Desmond said, looking Alec square in the eye. “I will not help you unless I know what the reason is. If you tell me, I might know where to look to help you find whatever information you need. My job as your quartermaster is to get you through a mission. I can’t do that if I don’t have all the parameters.”
Either he was incredibly confident – and thus guilty – or he was insanely brave. Or just bloody stubborn. Alec searched for any hint as to his thoughts, but there was nothing to read. Figuring the best lie was nine-tenths truth anyway, he finally said, “Agent Ronson was killed in an MI6 safehouse.”
“Yes, I’m aware. As a quartermaster, I – Ooh...” Desmond’s eyes lit up in understanding. He took a step back, leaning against the wall behind him. “You think MI6 has been compromised and you don’t know by whom.” He glanced around, obviously taking in his surroundings before settling on the locked door. “And it could just as easily be me as it could be that man from IT. Or anyone here, for that matter.”
So he wasn’t an idiot. Alec allowed a hint of his earlier thoughts to return. It would be entirely in character for him to work out his ‘grief’ in bed with anyone he could catch; better clever, useful company than someone who was pretty but empty-headed. Of course, that made Desmond more dangerous, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“That’s why I need what’s on that laptop before it hits the network, in case something’s waiting to wipe it,” he explained, watching Desmond more circumspectly now.
Desmond sighed, pushing off the wall. “All right. I’ll help. If anything, maybe it will prove I’m not a traitor, although I very much doubt it.” He picked up the laptop and turned it upside-down. “You’d be a fool to trust anyone, and you don’t strike me as the foolish type. I’ll need my keyring.” He looked at it, but wisely didn’t reach for it until Alec nodded.
“What are you doing?”
“I have to disconnect the hardware first. There’s a failsafe if the computer thinks the hardware’s been compromised,” Desmond explained as he flipped out the screwdriver and started to remove the bottom plate.
Alec nodded, watching him more out of curiosity than suspicion. His instincts were telling him that Desmond was stubborn and perhaps too brave for his own good, but also honest. As Desmond started removing the tiny screws, Alec asked, “Where do you want to go for dinner?”
Desmond looked up, confused. “Dinner?”
“There are cameras in the hall,” Alec said, grinning at Desmond’s expression. “If you’re not the traitor, then we go on the assumption that he or she is watching every security feed in here, and I’m the next likely target. So either you’re helping me crack into that laptop, or we’re shagging against the door, and I’m enough of a gentleman to feed you after. God knows you look two dinners away from starvation,” he added, looking down Desmond’s slender body.
Desmond laughed as he turned back to work on the laptop, but not before Alec caught a glimpse of him going bright red. The young ones were always so easy to embarrass.
“Well, if you’re taking me to dinner and, as you say, I look on the brink of starvation, I suggest making it a good one.” He cracked the back casing and turned it over to shake a couple more screws out into his palm. “Other than that, I’ll let you choose.”
“St Ermin’s.” Alec grinned. “How do you feel about room service?”
The St Ermin’s was one of London’s understated treasures, with a deep courtyard leading between the two wings of the hotel. Either Alec had a room there or he’d called ahead while they’d driven there – separately – with Desmond trying his best to keep up with Alec, who treated London’s early rush hour streets like his own personal racetrack. Desmond might’ve thought Alec was trying to lose him, but he knew that all the Double O’s drove like that.
By the time Desmond pulled his car to the valet stand, Alec was waiting for him, sheltered from the rain, turning a hotel keycard between his fingers. He let the valet get Desmond’s car door and didn’t offer a hand or arm, though his smile seemed genuine and warm.
“Decide what you want for dinner, or would you rather wait until later?” he asked, turning to lead Desmond into the lobby. It was like a scene out of the movies, all white marble and ornate stonework with brocade upholstered furniture that would have been garish in a less grand setting.
Desmond fell into step next to Alec and lightly touched his sleeve; if they were about to head up to a room at one of the finest hotels in all of London, Desmond wasn’t going to be shy about it. Alec gave him a brief smile and offered Desmond his arm.
“To be perfectly honest, most of my meals consist of either caffeine, sugar, or some noodle-based, carb-like substance. Considering that has served me well for as long as I can remember, waiting to eat is just fine by me.”
“Or we can test your concentration. You can read the menu, and I’ll do my best to distract you,” Alec said as they started across the spacious lobby. “I’ll even let you phone in the order.”
“Is that a challenge, agent?” Desmond asked playfully. He wanted to smile at Alec, but he was afraid that, if he did, he would give away just how truly shocked he was at the turn of the day. It wasn’t that long ago that he was completely lost over the deaths of Bond and Ronson. Next thing he knew, he was thrown into an almost lethal situation with 007’s best friend, only to end up here with said best friend, on his way up to what could potentially turn into a spectacular shag. His life was not like other people’s lives.
Softly, Alec corrected, “It’s Alec.” Then, with a quick smirk, he added, “Q.”
Desmond sighed, trying not to laugh. “So that’s going to be a thing? Am I really stuck being Q now?”
“Mmm. I think it’s absolutely adorable.” Alec’s steps slowed as they turned towards the lifts. “Besides, I am not shagging anyone named ‘Desmond’. Who names their child that? If it isn’t some genetic obligation to a great-great-grandfather or something, it’s criminal.”
“Just a single great, actually,” Desmond – Q, apparently – replied. He stopped in front of the lifts and turned to face Alec, putting a hand on his chest. “And, if you must know, I’ve never been much of a fan of it, either.”
Alec smiled as if satisfied. “Then it’s decided, Q.” He stepped a bit closer, just enough to press against Q’s hand, and lowered his voice to just above a whisper. “Now call the lift so we can get up to the room, before I start undressing you here.”
Without looking away, Q reached over and pressed the call button. “Well, we wouldn’t want you damaging that stellar reputation of yours by doing anything untoward, now would we?”
“That’s incentive for me to disable the lift and have you in there later.” Alec leaned down, but instead of brushing his lips against Q’s, he turned to whisper in his ear, “They don’t need all these lifts in operation at midnight, do they?”
“Make it 2:00 a.m. and I’ll see what I can do.” At that moment the lift pinged its arrival. Both men walked into a thankfully empty lift. As the doors closed, Q turned back to Alec. He slid a hand down one of Alec’s arms and guided it to wrap around his own back before snaking his arms around Alec’s waist.
Alec looked down at him, green eyes dark and fixed intently on Q’s. “Really.”
“Fortunately for you, not only can I disable the lift without setting off the alarm,” he whispered before looking up over Alec’s shoulder, a mischievous glint in his eyes, “but I can disable the security cameras, as well.”
It was, Alec reflected as he nuzzled into Q’s hair, a bit suspicious that Q hadn’t even blinked at Alec’s cheerfully predatory demeanour just hours after a coldly professional memorial service for Alec’s lifelong best friend. Was Q being selfish, taking the opportunity for pleasure rarely found in TSS? Was this altruism – giving a grieving man what he might or might not need? Or was it something else? Was he hoping pillow talk might reveal the truth about James?
Christ, sometimes Alec hated being a suspicious bastard.
Not that he was going to turn down the opportunity to have a night of fun. If nothing else, Q had earned Alec’s best effort. The hard drive from James’ laptop was locked in the boot of Alec’s car, in an armoured compartment that would survive even a direct RPG hit.
The doors opened, and Alec herded Q out of the lift, down the hallway, and over to the suite without having to check the door numbers. The staff at St Ermin’s knew Alec and James. They didn’t have a permanent room here, but they could call on a moment’s notice and had a high chance of getting a suite, unless there was a particularly ostentatious wedding party in residence. Alec ended up here more than James only because Alec tended to light more kitchen fires that required temporary evacuation from his flat.
Optimistically, Alec had booked the suite for two nights. No one would expect him back at work for days, if not longer, and no one would blink at him kidnapping a bed partner from the ranks of MI6. Hell, Q might even get an informal note of thanks in his personnel file if he managed to keep Alec distracted long enough for his ‘killing rage’ to fade.
A swipe of the keycard unlocked the door. Alec pushed it open, crowded Q inside, and got one hand into Q’s long, soft hair as the door swung closed. As he pulled Q in for a proper kiss, he tossed the keycard in the direction of the foyer table and latched the security bar. Q’s skin was cool, and his lips were chapped as if he had the habit of biting them. Alec couldn’t resist the urge to bite for himself.
At the feel of Alec’s teeth, Q let out a startled moan. It took only a second before he was swiping his tongue across Alec’s mouth. Alec closed his eyes, not giving a rat’s arse about sweeping the room for lurking assassins – or for James, for that matter, which wouldn’t have surprised Alec.
He chuckled under his breath as he got his hands on Q’s raincoat and pushed it open. “Bedroom,” he said into the kiss, before indulging in another nip. “I want to take you apart.”
“What? No small talk?” Q laughed, running his hands up Alec’s chest as he looked hungrily up into Alec’s eyes. “You agents do so love to hear yourselves speak.”
Suspicion warred with delight at the thought that Q – and really, who the hell would name him Desmond? – wouldn’t back down. He shoved the raincoat over Q’s shoulders, and Q dropped his hands to let the coat hit the floor. Alec ducked and bit gently at his exposed throat, above the collar of his suit jacket. “I’d rather listen to you.”
“I’m really not that interesting.”
“Let’s change that.” Alec kicked the coat out of the way and gave Q a push back out of the foyer. A glance showed that he had a room with the bedroom on the right, so he turned Q in that direction, though he didn’t let Q move. He wrapped an arm around his body and bit into the soft fall of hair over Q’s nape, pressing until he felt skin beneath.
Q leaned down, exposing his neck even further. He reached back to hold Alec’s hips and rolled his spine, grinding his arse against Alec. Biting back his response, Alec gave himself a few seconds to enjoy the feel of Q’s body against his. At first glance, Q was small and fragile, too delicate to be allowed anywhere near a field agent. When he’d first stumbled upon Alec’s ‘mad grief’ act, Alec had expected him to run for Security. But he hadn’t backed down – and now, he was challenging Alec to keep going.
The next time Q writhed against him, Alec couldn’t hold back a low, satisfied growl. His determination to take his time was crumbling, but he had a reason for wanting to move carefully. Once he knew Q was most likely not a threat – once he’d searched every inch of him for weapons – then Alec could relax and luxuriate in the novelty of a new lover who wasn’t scared of him.
He got Q moving again, though he didn’t let go. Together, they stumbled towards the bedroom, with Alec biting at Q’s neck. Q’s suit jacket ended up in a heap at the foot of an armchair, landing with a rattle of plastic – Q’s mobile phone – that made Q look up. Alec took advantage of the movement to lay a bite right over Q’s pulse.
“Fuck the office. You’re not on call,” Alec insisted.
“True. But I would prefer my tech to stay in one piece should there be a call I actually need to take.”
“Then I’ll tie you to the bloody bed, so it won’t be your responsibility.” It was an empty threat – the beds here were all platform beds, with no convenient headboards or frames.
Q’s breath caught. He glanced around the room before twisting to look over his shoulder at Alec. “I’m disappointed, 006. The chair in the corner is a much better option. More versatile than a standard hotel bed.”
Adrenaline hit Alec’s bloodstream, and he tightened his arms around Q’s body. “My specialty is execution, not planning,” he challenged, no longer giving a damn if Q was an ally or enemy.
“Which explains your complete lack of supplies, as you put it earlier.” Q said. “Fortunately planning is my specialty, which is why I keep condoms and lube in my car, both of which are currently in the pocket of my raincoat, which you so conveniently left by the front door.”
Alec couldn’t resist a sharp bite as he dropped one hand low on Q’s body to hold him in place. Deliberately, he brushed the tip of Q’s cock with just one finger, making his breath stutter. “This is a bloody luxury hotel,” Alec countered as he started towards the bedroom again. The chair could wait – but god, he would have Q in it, or at least over it, before they left the room. “Concierge service. One phone call and we could have anything we want here.”
“Fair enough,” Q responded. “But why wait for hotel staff when what we need is ten feet away?”
Alec laughed and released Q. “Bathroom,” he ordered, pointing to the ensuite door. “If everything we need isn’t there already, we’ll revert back on your planning. I’ll even let you call the concierge desk to complain at the appalling service.”
Q turned back to Alec, confused, before finally his eyes narrowed. “You would treat a four-star luxury hotel like a rent-by-the-hour. I’m not sure if I should be offended or impressed.”
Grinning, Alec reached up to undo his tie – which he wouldn’t have worn at all, if not for James’ bloody memorial service – and said, “There should also be hotel bathrobes and tracksuits, since I let them know we were lacking any sort of luggage.”
Caught up short, Q started to laugh. “Impressed, then,” he said. He walked back to Alec and grabbed him by the hair, pulling him down in a searing kiss. He leaned back to look up at Alec, lust colouring his expression. “Definitely impressed.”
“Field agent, remember? Unconventional methods or not, we don’t fail.”
Trust a hotel like St Ermin’s to not do anything by halves. The marble ensuite was luxuriously appointed, with a shower big enough for two, the promised bathrobes hanging on the wall, heated towel racks, and an amenities basket on the vanity. Two toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, razors, shaving foam – all of that was normal. The two boxes of condoms (lubricated and unlubricated) and the bottle of lubricant, though...
Q stood in the bathroom, laughing to himself as he took off his glasses to drop them on the counter. He wasn’t what someone would call shy, but he also wasn’t the best when it came to reading people, either. He’d known right away that Alec was interested, but how did one go about flirting with a secret agent? Left to do anything other than take Alec’s lead, he’d probably be dead or worse right about now. He had been rather proud of himself for remembering to bring the supplies he kept in his car, only to be one-upped again.
Aiming to not completely lose all ground, he picked up the bottle of lube and reached for the condoms. Then, because he was always thinking at least three steps ahead, he unscrewed the cap and peeled off the safety seal. He binned the foil, screwed the cap back in place, and grabbed the box of unlubricated condoms. The lubricated ones would have just been overkill.
He walked back out to the bedroom where Alec was still comfortably leaning against the doorway. He’d tossed his tie on the foot of the bed, and his earlier threat of bondage came back to Q’s mind. The top two buttons of his shirt were undone, and his unbuttoned jacket hung open, revealing the Walther still holstered against his ribs.
Throwing the items down on the bed, Q glanced at the gun, wary of the fact that he was about to sleep with an assassin who’d just lost his best friend. He let it go, knowing that if Alec had really wanted to shoot him, he would have done so back at HQ. “I’m sorry. Didn’t you say something earlier about trying to distract me? I’m not hungry at the moment, but any other ways you can think of...”
Alec crossed the bedroom to stand in front of Q. He lifted his right hand, touching his fingertips to Q’s jaw, and leaned down to brush his lips over Q’s ear. “Don’t move,” he whispered as his other hand went to Q’s tie. He caught the knot with one finger and slowly applied pressure so that Q felt the tug on the back of his neck. Q itched to put his hands on Alec – to feel the subtle ripple of hard muscle flat against his palms – but he did his best to keep still as Alec unknotted the tie and then tossed it off to the side.
Q licked his lips as Alec took his time running his hands down Q’s arms. Everything in Q’s life was in constant motion; his brain, his hands, everything. It was taking extreme willpower to remain still when he so desperately wanted to reach out and touch.
Alec circled behind Q, reaching around his body to undo the top button of his shirt. He parted the fabric, letting rough fingertips graze over the hollow of Q’s throat before he undid the next button down. As the fitted fabric went slack, he bent close and nudged the collar out of the way so he could press his lips to Q’s neck.
“What can’t I do to you?” he asked as he moved down to the next button. He toyed with the bit of plastic but didn’t undo it yet.
Q reached an arm back, sliding his fingers along Alec’s neck to pull him closer. He let his eyes flutter closed at the thought of not what Alec couldn’t do to him, but what he could. “I don’t like humiliation of any kind. It would take moving mountains to get me to call you ‘sir’, so don’t even ask.”
Alec laughed and undid the button with a sharp tug. “Kinky bastard, aren’t you?” he teased, sliding his hand through the growing gap in Q’s shirt. His fingers traced the contours of Q’s ribs around to his side, pressing too hard to tickle. “What else? Or can I have free rein?”
“If you tie me down, give me an escape. Ever see a cat lash out for no reason? Well, that’s me.” Q opened his eyes, but didn’t look back at Alec. “And if there’s anything that might get me killed, I’m pretty sure an unintentional kick to your face would do it.”
“Since I don’t plan on letting you give me a reason to kill you, I think we’re safe on that account. Besides, it’s rude to the hotel staff.”
“Yes, because no one has ever accused a Double O agent of being rude.” The feel of Alec’s hands on his body, as well his voice in Q’s ear, caused everything around him to narrow down to those two points. Q closed his eyes again to focus on everything Alec was doing, letting the feeling of both wash over him. It wasn’t often that something managed to shut his brain down; most things in this world weren’t worth the time and effort. So when he found something – or someone – good enough, he revelled in it.
“I plan on being very” – Alec’s hands moved back to the next button – “very not rude.” He opened the button and pulled the fabric apart. The shirt collar fell open a bit more, allowing Alec to bite at Q’s exposed shoulder. As Q leaned into the bite, Alec’s hands dipped into his shirt, fingertips teasing beneath his waistband.
Q tried to come up with some witty response, but the more Alec moved his hands over his body, the less coherent his thoughts became. That was just fine by him. Of all the possible lovers he could’ve found at MI6, he’d somehow managed to find the deadliest and most dangerous, and so far it was bloody brilliant. Unable to get his voice to work, he ran his hands up Alec’s thighs and reached around to feel Alec’s arse instead.
Two more buttons and a quick tug freed the shirt from Q’s trousers. Instead of pulling the shirt open, Alec tugged the back of the collar and began to kiss his way down Q’s spine as he pulled. Q shivered at the touch, not realising that the cuffs were still buttoned until the shirt fell free of his shoulders.
“Let me guess,” Alec said, crouching as he neared the small of Q’s back. “Swimmer? Cyclist?”
Q smiled. “Runner, actually. Long distance.”
Alec gathered the fabric to draw Q’s hands behind his back. Standing, he leaned close to say, “There’s a thought. One of these days, I’ll let you escape, just so I can hunt you down.”
As far as Q was concerned, if the evening continued going the way it had so far, the idea of being kept longer seemed absolutely delicious. He laughed as he stretched his fingers, barely teasing over Alec’s trousers until he reached where the fabric had gone tight. “If you think you can catch me, by all means,” he said confidently.
With quick, sure movements, Alec wrapped the shirt in a messy ball around Q’s wrists, holding them lightly trapped behind his back. “Don’t let that fall,” he said, moving around in front of Q. When he touched Q’s throat, Q couldn’t hide his startled flinch, though he relaxed slightly when Alec’s hand trailed down, drawing a slow, gentle line all the way to Q’s waistband.
Q had to remind himself that while his wrists were bound, he was still free to step back and away if he had to. He closed his eyes, taking a few deep breaths to completely calm himself. Instead he focused on Alec’s hands and what they were doing. Without consciously realising it, he stepped into the touch.
Alec caught his hips, holding him steady. “Don’t move,” he warned again. When Q opened his eyes, Alec crouched down in front of him, never looking away. He smoothed his hands down the front of Q’s trousers, all the way to Q’s ankles, before moving both hands to Q’s right foot. “Lift.”
“I would love to, but with my hands behind my back and nothing to balance against, I will fall over,” Q said, looking down at Alec. “Sadly, I have the coordination of a baby giraffe.”
This time, Alec’s smile was gentle, just a bit lopsided. “I won’t let you fall,” he said confidently. “Trust me.”
Tentatively, Q lifted his right foot. He got about three inches off the ground before he started swaying on the spot. Trying not to panic, he started to lower his foot again before Alec caught him, one hand on his hip, the other on the heel of his shoe. Q huffed. “Told you.”
“Easy,” Alec said, fingers pressing into Q’s hip as he tugged the shoe off Q’s foot. “Step back. I’ve got you.”
Q did as he was told, before slowly lifting his left foot. With his feet spaced a bit farther apart, he had better purchase on the ground to keep from falling over. Why that thought didn’t occur to him the first time around, he had no idea.
“Good. So you can be trained,” Alec said as he took off the other shoe and guided Q’s foot back down to the floor.
“Oh, shut up,” Q said, going for petulance, though all he did was make Alec laugh. He nudged at Alec with one foot. “Let’s remember which of us gives the orders when TSS is supporting your missions in the field, 006,” he challenged.
Alec continued to laugh, sliding his hands up under Q’s left cuff, over his sock, as far as his trousers would allow. “You’re bloody adorable, Q. I may not give you back to TSS after all,” he said, tugging the sock down slowly, pausing to feel Q’s calf on the way back down.
Slowly, trusting Alec to not let him fall, Q pushed his leg back into the touch. “Well, you have to go out on missions sometimes. Maybe I’ll just sneak back in then.”
“That just makes it easier for me to find you when I come back.” Alec pushed the sock down off Q’s foot before he went back to feeling Q’s muscles. “You’re deceptively strong, for a lab rat. What else are you hiding?” he asked, lifting Q’s trouser leg as much as he could, until his fingers brushed Q’s knee.
Q looked down at Alec with a knowing smile. “Nothing you’re going to find as long as you keep my trousers on.”
“I don’t plan on rushing. I have days before anyone will give a damn that I’ve kidnapped you.” Alec let the cloth fall back down to Q’s ankle and turned his attention to Q’s other leg.
“I’m a quartermaster, Alec, not your bloody IT victim. I have also never taken sick leave. I give it twenty-four hours – tops – before Boothroyd notices I’m not there.”
“One day to smuggle you out of the country. Got it. What’s your preference? Swimming or skiing?” Alec asked as he tugged Q’s other sock down and off.
Q froze, panic creeping back in. He looked down at Alec again, fear evident all over his face. “I don’t fly, Alec.”
Alec looked up, smile vanishing. He rose and slid his hands up Q’s arms to cup his face. “That’s just an excuse to have you in my car,” he said, leaning in for a kiss.
Q untangled his hands and reached up as best he could to hold Alec’s arms. After a moment, he pulled back, searching Alec’s face. “I’m sorry. It’s just any thought of flying and I freeze up.” He smiled at Alec. “Please keep going.”
Instead of going back to undressing Q, Alec stayed still, gently brushing his fingers over Q’s face. His eyes narrowed slightly, though Q didn’t think it was in anger. Then he leaned in for another kiss, lingering and indulgent, sending tingles through Q’s body until his hands clenched on Alec’s arms.
Unexpectedly, Alec dropped his hands to Q’s body, pulling Q tight against his chest before he lifted and turned. A second later, Q’s back hit the bed, and he let out an indignant shout of protest.
Alec laughed and followed Q down, knees to either side of Q’s body, hands braced above Q’s shoulders. “Bad quartermaster,” he scolded with a grin. “You moved.”
Q laughed, his eyes sparkling. “I did warn you not to startle me.” He sat up as best he could, stopping just short of Alec’s mouth. “I’m thinking more ‘bad agent’ than ‘bad quartermaster’,” Q breathed before closing the distance and stealing a kiss of his own.
The kiss broke with a nip to Q’s bottom lip, sharp and fast. “‘Bad agent’,” Alec quoted in mock-disbelief. “I’m doing all the bloody work here. Isn’t your job to make my life easier?” He knelt back on Q’s thighs, his weight compressing the edge of the mattress, and he looked down at Q’s body. His smile changed, amusement fading into avarice. “There isn’t a single agent who can take me, if I decide not to give you back,” he threatened, looking back into Q’s eyes.
Q stared unflinchingly back, thinking it really was obvious no one ever stood up to Alec. Whether that was because he was a Double O or one-half of the legendary duo that had been 006 and 007, Q didn’t know. What he did know was that Alec responded to a challenge. So, he figured, why not give him one? “Then it’s a good thing that I’m not an agent,” he said.
Alec looked back down Q’s body, moving one hand to brush his thumb over Q’s mouth. “The question is, what are you?” he asked thoughtfully. “Someone must have noticed how clever you are.”
“At twenty-eight years old, I’m the youngest quartermaster in MI6 history,” Q said, proud. “Someone already has noticed.”
“Twenty-eight?” Alec moved his thumb down over Q’s chin, holding him steady as he leaned down for another kiss. The cold touch of the gun against Q’s bare ribs made him shiver. “I didn’t think Boothroyd noticed anyone under thirty.”
Q let out a little laugh and smiled up at Alec. “He doesn’t.”
With a thoughtful hum, Alec moved his lips to Q’s cheek. “Then TSS can have you back, when I’m done with you. Anyone else, though...” He nipped at the edge of Q’s jaw. “There isn’t someone you want to tell me about, is there?”
“Not at the moment, no.” It was rather presumptuous of Alec to try and lay claim to him already, but he honestly didn’t care. It had been too long since Q had been with anyone – longer than he was willing to admit out loud, anyway. And here was a man blatantly using sex as a way to work through the loss of the only person who seemed to mean anything to him. If Q had to be an anchor for that grief in exchange for mind-blowing sex, then he was happy to do his part for Queen and country.
Apparently satisfied with the answer, Alec shifted on top of Q, careful not to crush him against the mattress. “Move up,” he said, sliding a hand down Q’s arm to his wrist. He felt around until he got hold of the button on Q’s cuff and released it.
Q pulled his arm out while simultaneously trying to wriggle his way across the bed. As his shirt caught underneath his body, he reached over to try and undo the other cuff, only to have Alec slap his hand out of the way. Q looked up, surprised.
“You’re mine,” Alec insisted, catching Q’s wrist to unbutton the cuff. When the fabric fell open, Alec lifted Q’s hand to touch his lips to Q’s fingertips. “Any objection, quartermaster?”
Q smiled. “Right now? None at all.”
Every time Alec thought he’d figured Q out, something changed. Playful spirit edged close to a dangerous, secret-agent-level of determination and strength. Innuendo inched towards threat. One moment, Q fearlessly stood up to an apparently angry assassin. The next, he’d been gripped by terror at the hint of flying, and he hadn’t been faking. And while it was clear that Q was sexually invested in the game they were playing, Alec couldn’t determine all the stakes.
He was the youngest quartermaster in the programme – or was he? Q’s features had the fae, ageless look that meant he could play at being ten years older or younger than his claim of twenty-eight. He was attractive without being obvious bait, and his build meant that he was deceptively strong. Had his ‘balance difficulties’ been an act meant to put Alec at ease?
Not that the potential threat would stop Alec. He released Q’s hand and shifted back to get at Q’s belt. Perhaps the night would end with them trying to kill one another, but at least they’d enjoy themselves first. Alec wasn’t going to let danger get in the way of achieving his goal of taking Q apart. He wanted to see what was hiding under that precise diction and tight self-control.
As he unbuckled the belt, he slid off the side of the bed to stand with Q’s legs trapped between his. Q didn’t move other than to prop himself up on his elbows, watching with intent in his eyes. Alec tugged the tongue out of the buckle and considered pulling it free, but a belt was worthless for decent bondage and too tempting to use, either for kink or as a weapon.
“Where the hell were you six months ago?” Alec muttered as he went for the waistband clasp instead. “Whose missions have you been running, if not mine?” Not that a junior quartermaster would be allowed anywhere near the Double O’s; there were twenty times as many field agents as there were Double O’s, and Boothroyd tended to run the most dangerous Double O missions – the ones Alec and James got – himself.
“I’ve only run about five missions so far, none of them for Double O’s,” Q said, continuing to watch Alec undress him. “Actually that’s not true. I ran two secondary agents for a mission of 003’s about two months back. I’m supposed to start training for the Double O Programme, but I’m not entirely sure that won’t be put on hold after recent...events.”
Alec hesitated. M herself had been running James during the Istanbul fiasco, with intel from her Chief of Staff, Bill Tanner. A paranoid corner of Alec’s mind wondered if Q had put himself in the position to encounter Alec in hopes that he’d request Q for his next mission – which surely would be a follow-up to go after the hard drive that Ronson had retrieved and then lost.
That could be useful, Alec thought as he unzipped Q’s flies. Ten years ago, the Double O’s had got their intel via sporadic radio contact with HQ. There was none of this real-time monitoring and updating rubbish that could be so dangerous, blinding agents with false security when HQ missed something that was obvious in the field. If Q contradicted what Alec experienced, he’d have proof that either Q was an idiot – which he wasn’t – or that he was a traitor.
And if not...well, it could be useful having Q’s quick wit and sharp mind guarding his back.
“Fortunately, I don’t give a damn about policy,” Alec said as he pushed the fabric aside. He ran a finger over Q’s cock, not entirely hard but definitely interested, and felt it twitch under his touch. “As I said earlier, you’re mine now.”
“Oh, fuck,” Q whispered, his head dropping back against the bed. “That’s fine. That’s good. Just, you know, don’t stop.”
The lust in Q’s voice hit Alec like a bullet, shattering his continuing analysis of Q’s behaviour. The possessiveness growing in him made him lean down over the bed to get closer to Q, and as he stroked hard over Q’s cock, with only the thin cotton of his pants separating their skin, he demanded, “Say it, Q. Tell me you’re mine.”
Q lifted his head at the words. His pupils had blown wide, naked want painted all over his face. “All right, then. I’m yours,” he responded, the corners of his mouth twitching up. “At least for tonight.”
Alec couldn’t help but laugh at that. “Good enough – for tonight,” he countered, determined now that this quartermaster would be the one running his operations, at least for the near future.
He stood and tugged the trousers down; Q lifted his hips as best he could, with his legs half over the edge of the bed. Alec stripped the trousers off, revealing muscular legs with a faint dusting of dark hair, and then kicked the clothes back away from the bed.
“Move up the rest of the way.” Alec glanced at the condoms and lubricant Q had brought out of the bathroom. “Don’t lose track of those, either.”
“Please,” Q chided. “I never lose track of anything.” Instead of scooting up the bed, though, Q sat up, running his hands over Alec’s chest. He went to reach for the top button of Alec’s shirt, but hesitated, giving Alec a questioning look.
Alec caught Q’s hands, feeling the sharp bones of his wrists, the unscarred knuckles, the long fingers that he’d watched disassembling James’ laptop. If he let Q undress him now, he’d be without an excuse to carry the Walther; if he didn’t, he wouldn’t fully enjoy Q’s body.
Was Q a threat?
Alec’s instincts said maybe. It wasn’t a no, but it also wasn’t a definitive yes, and Alec had never wanted to live a safe life. He let go of Q’s hands with a nod and shrugged out of the jacket, absently saying, “In four days, I can have you on a beach in Malaga, assuming you wouldn’t catch fire if exposed to sunlight.”
Q made quick work of the buttons on Alec’s shirt. He pushed open the fabric without actually pulling it free and proceeded to lick a stripe up Alec’s chest as far as he could go. “I’m certain that wouldn’t be a problem, but I suggest bringing an SPF of about, oh, three hundred with you,” he said, laughing into Alec’s chest. “You know, just to be on the safe side.”
“Don’t worry. I always preferred skiing. James is –” He cut off, knowing Q would attribute it to grief, rather than the slip it had been. Sure enough, Q’s expression softened, and he rested a hand on Alec’s bare chest.
“I’m very sorry, Alec.” Q gave Alec a small push, giving himself enough room to stand up. He looked like he was about to say something else, but hesitated before leaning in to lightly brush his lips against Alec’s. Never taking his eyes off him, Q stepped back to lie down across the bed again, scooted himself up, and waited.
Alec nearly told him. James was alive – he knew it. There was no body, no evidence of James’ death beyond that idiot agent’s claim to the kill. MI6 had sent in a dive team and searched the river, with the assistance of Turkish police. They’d found nothing and finally written it off to the river’s strong current, but Alec knew better. James had come back from certain death before; they both had. It was what they did.
But even if he wanted to trust Q, he couldn’t make that decision for James – not until he knew more. So he let false grief take over his expression, only to bury it under a fiercely possessive lust that he didn’t have to fake. Traitor or not, at this moment, Alec wanted Q, and made no effort to hide that fact.
He unsnapped the holster from the left side of his belt, wrestled it off, and dropped it onto the bedside table. The room phone and tissues hit the floor, shoved out of the way. Q flinched in surprise, lifting his head, only to drop back down when Alec crawled on top of him, stealing his breath with a kiss.
Q wrapped his arm around Alec’s shoulder, while he snaked his other hand up into Alec’s hair, pulling him closer. He bit at Alec’s lower lip before sliding his tongue out to lick at where his teeth had just been.
Distraction, Alec thought, calculating what his response would be if he genuinely believed James had died in Istanbul. He’d planned it all out last night, in broad strokes: how he’d get into a fight with someone at work, whoever was stupid enough to cross his path, and how he’d find someone to fuck, preferably someone from work, but if not, whoever he could pick up at a bar. He’d been operating under the assumption that he was under surveillance since the moment James had gone rushing off to play white knight.
Fortunately, his plan still held, and he allowed Q to take control of the kiss. It required no acting skill at all for his response to be genuine; Q held nothing back, and Alec happily took everything he offered.
Carefully, Q went back to tugging at Alec’s clothes, never moving so fast that he’d set off a grieving agent’s reflexes. Alec let him fuss with the shirt and buttons and belt, as long as it didn’t mean he had to stop biting and licking at Q’s mouth and throat. He was probably leaving marks, but right now, he didn’t care. And the possessive voice in his head purred in satisfaction at the thought of being able to look at Q’s neck and remember having him.
He’d been serious about warning off anyone else who thought to get their hands on Q. Traitor, genius, or both, Q was his. Not in a settle-down-and-retire sort of way, but his interest in Q would automatically catch the other field agents’ interest, and they’d wonder what about Q had drawn Alec’s eye. The last thing he wanted was one of them seducing Q out from under him.
That thought, though, reminded him that he needed Q not just happy but sated. If Q wanted to stay, then he’d hopefully be inclined to be entirely honest. Alec had seduced more than one double agent to England’s service.
He sat up and let Q help him out of the shirt. Then he crawled back off the bed and stood long enough to get rid of his trousers and pants. Q reached for his own pants before he caught himself. Deliberately, he smirked at Alec and folded his hands behind his head.
“I assume you’d like to finish what you started, 006?”
Alec grinned and let his eyes travel down Q’s body as he took off one sock, then the other. “As I said earlier, trainable,” he teased as he met Q’s eyes again. He tossed the socks aside and reached for the waistband of Q’s pants.
Q lifted his hips as Alec slid the material off. “You call it trainable. I call it adaptable.” He grabbed at Alec’s arm, pulling him down on the bed. Pushing Alec over onto his back, Q sat up to throw a leg over his body, straddling him. He ran his hands up Alec’s arms to his wrists. Then, with an abrupt tug, he pushed up to pin Alec’s wrists to the mattress above his head. “The question is, agent, how adaptable are you?”
Adrenaline hit again, a rush of heat that flooded his body and sharpened his senses, and he wondered if Q was showing his colours. Confident that he could get free with ease, he catalogued the firmness of the mattress and the precise placement of their bodies and allowed Q to hold his wrists in place.
“I’m the best MI6 has, for a reason,” Alec challenged, wondering if Q would hear the combat-readiness in his voice or if he’d assume it was nothing more than lust. Deliberately, he pushed his heels against the edge of the mattress and thrust his hips up, fighting not to let his eyes fall closed as his cock pressed against Q’s body. “Try me.”
Q used his surprisingly long fingers to gather up Alec’s wrists in his right hand. He ran his left hand down Alec’s body, brushing over his cock just as he leaned down to bite hard into Alec’s shoulder. Alec drew in a sharp, surprised breath and closed his eyes, feeling the sting of the bite spread under his skin, a perfect contrast to Q’s light, teasing touch.
Long seconds passed before Q released the bite and kissed the mark he’d likely left. Then he asked, “Something like that?”
Alec’s laugh was sharp. He opened his eyes to see Q watching him intently. “Not a bad start.” He took a deep breath, shifting under Q’s slight weight. “Or is that all you’ve got for me?”
Q gave Alec an assessing look. “I think it’s your turn, then,” he said, a glint in his eyes. He let go of Alec’s wrists and sat up. “Hands behind your head, fingers laced.”
Alec’s pulse kicked up at the deliberate reminder of what had happened to them back in the office, when he’d done his cursory search for weapons. He couldn’t help but grin at Q’s continual need to push, to challenge. Thinking Q might be the most damned fun enemy he’d had in a very long time, he folded his hands comfortably under his head, weaving his fingers together, resting his thumbs at the back of his neck.
Then he smirked confidently at Q, forcing his body to remain relaxed and calm. “Well?” he said.
Slowly, Q leaned over, bracing his arms to either side of Alec’s body. As his mouth came down to kiss with bruising force, he pushed his hips against Alec’s body. Sparks lit behind Alec’s eyes as his cock slid against the soft, smooth hollow of Q’s hip, and he didn’t bother to hide a soft moan.
But the kiss ended abruptly, and Alec lifted his head, eyes open. With a sly grin, Q slid down Alec’s body, arching his back so Alec felt every inch of delicious friction from Q’s body. “Fuck,” Alec muttered, letting his head fall back against his hands.
Q’s soft laugh ghosted warm over Alec’s chest. He followed the trail of his breath with little flicks of his tongue, soft kisses, and sharp bites that left Alec’s skin tingling. He shifted, thrusting his hips up in silent demand, only to have Q pull away. Alec shivered at the absence of Q’s warmth; with a frustrated huff, he lay still, and Q lowered himself once more.
He kept crawling back down Alec’s body, until Alec felt the hard press of Q’s sternum against his cock. Q’s tongue teased lightly over Alec’s abdomen, nearly tickling him, though he suppressed his laugh instinctively. After a few seconds, Q moved farther down, pushing Alec’s legs apart so he could settle between them.
When Q nuzzled against Alec’s balls, Alec let out another quiet moan and spread his legs even more. The combat-aware part of his mind warned him to stay alert, but the rest of him didn’t give a damn. He was more than content to lie there and let Q do whatever he damned well pleased. He hadn’t anticipated that Q was hiding such a playful nature under his reckless bravado.
Q lifted his head and exhaled, his breath hot over Alec’s cock, teasing without actually touching. Alec inhaled sharply and lifted his head to watch. Their eyes met, and Q smiled sweetly, lowering his head. His lips parted, and Alec closed his eyes again to better concentrate on the feeling of Q’s mouth, only to have Q turn his head at the last instant. He bit Alec’s hip instead, and Alec flinched in surprise, opening his eyes once more to stare down at Q.
Q lifted his head and caught Alec’s eye. “Oh, I’m sorry. Were you expecting something else?” he asked innocently.
Alec nearly moved his hands to get his fingers into Q’s inviting hair. But that might well lead to a game of ‘Do as I say, or I stop’, and Alec was feeling less playful with every second that passed. He dragged in a breath, muttered a few choice words in Russian, and rested his head in his hands again, reminding himself not to underestimate his quartermaster.
Q’s laugh was almost believably innocent. Almost. “Sorry, 006. I don’t speak Russian. Would you care to share?” But instead of giving Alec the chance to respond, Q leaned down and licked a hot stripe up Alec’s cock. Alec stopped breathing, muscles going tense with the effort to keep from thrusting up. When Q reached the tip, he stopped again, maddeningly, and lifted his head to look up and meet Alec’s eyes. “You were saying?”
Baring his teeth in a humourless smile, Alec said, “I’m too polite to translate. No need to stop what you were doing.” He could hear the tension in his own voice, adrenaline and desire fighting for dominance in his blood.
Losing all pretence of teasing, Q leaned back down to take Alec all the way in his mouth, not stopping until Alec hit the back of his throat. Another curse escaped, and Alec reached down unthinkingly to tangle his fingers in Q’s hair, though he didn’t know if he wanted to stop Q or hold him there.
Caution and training won out – barely. He gave a sharp pull, and said, “Condom.”
Q pulled off Alec slowly, lightly dragging his tongue and teeth along the shaft as he did. He turned and reached for the box of condoms. Reluctantly, Alec let go of his hair. Q pushed the lube into Alec’s reach and then knelt back to rip open the box of condoms. He took out a strip and dropped the rest of the box on the floor.
Turning back to Alec, he held up the strip. “Would you like the honours or shall I?” he asked. Then, smiling, he leaned over, putting his weight on his other arm to whisper, “Before you answer, you should know that I guarantee I can do it better than you can.”
There were too many possibilities for Alec to read specifically what Q wanted or intended. Really, though, he didn’t care. Q had caught him by surprise enough for him to be both wary and intrigued.
So he grinned and deliberately pulled his hand back, resting it beneath his head. “Prove it.”
What must Alec think of him? Q knew people were always underestimating him. His slight frame and posh accent almost always meant he was pigeonholed as a pushover, so he’d spent the better part of his life constantly proving people wrong. But Alec was different.
Where most people just assumed Q incapable of holding his own, Alec constantly demanded more – a challenge Q was more than happy to accept.
He ripped open the sachet and discarded the wrapper. He unrolled the condom just enough to get it started, then put it in his mouth, holding it in place with the tip of his tongue. The flat taste of latex filled his mouth, but he ignored it, knowing that in a few minutes he wouldn’t even notice.
When he wrapped his fingers around Alec’s cock, he was rewarded with a rough exhale that wasn’t quite a moan. Q slid his hand down to the dark blond hair and held him steady. At the first touch of his mouth, Alec lifted his head. Concentrating on unrolling the condom with his lips and tongue, Q didn’t look up until the rolled edge was all the way against his fingers. He cheated and rolled the last bit in place with his hand as he lifted his head to smirk confidently.
Alec’s arms were tense, muscles standing out beautifully under scarred, tanned skin. He muttered something – more Russian, Q suspected – but it seemed unconscious. This time, Q didn’t ask for a translation. It was good enough to know that he’d completely captured Alec’s interest with his trick.
Q settled back down between Alec’s legs and took hold of his cock. He ran his fingers up and down lightly, as though petting, until Alec shifted under his touch. Only then, when he knew Alec wanted more, did he lower his head again. He had no intentions of seeing this particular act all the way through to the end, but this was something he loved doing, especially with such a responsive partner, and he was determined to indulge himself for as long as he could draw this out.
He started with light back-and-forth swipes of his tongue over the head, circling around to wet the condom so his lips could slide more smoothly. Alec’s breath hitched when Q closed his mouth around the head, and when he pulled off, Alec growled in protest. Q shot him a quick grin, only to see that Alec still had his head back, eyes closed, though he was anything but relaxed. He was breathing from his abdomen in a tense rhythm that betrayed the effort it cost him to maintain his self-control.
Wondering just how far he could push – and refusing to think how unwise it might be, given Alec’s profession – Q lowered his head again. With no gag reflex, Q was able to take Alec deep, all the way to his throat, in one quick move meant to catch Alec off his guard.
Alec grated out rough words in Russian, finishing with a very recognisable, “Fucking hell, Q.”
Q pulled up, exhaled a short laugh through his nose, and then pushed back down again with a swallow that he knew Alec would feel. He slid his hands over Alec’s hips, holding him in place. Then he started to move, using his tongue to press Alec’s cock against the roof of his mouth, keeping his lips tight under his teeth.
Once he’d got a slow, steady rhythm, he looked up again. This time, he saw that Alec had lifted his head to watch. His green eyes were dark, and his breath came in shorter pants. He’d lowered his forearms beside his body so he could prop up on his elbows. The intensity of his stare made Q falter, and he swallowed again before he lifted off Alec’s cock.
Breathing hard, Q met Alec’s somewhat overwhelming gaze. “Was that more what you had in mind?” he asked.
Alec shifted to one side, freeing his right arm so he could reach forward. He brushed his thumb over Q’s mouth, lightly enough to make his skin tingle. Then he drew his fingertips up, over the bridge of Q’s nose and into his hair. Never looking away, he pushed it back out of Q’s eyes before he twisted the strands around his fingers and clenched his hand into a fist.
He pulled, drawing Q up his body, and said, “One of us is getting fucked, Q. Which would you prefer?”
“Honestly, if there was any chance that you weren’t going to be fucking me, do you really think I would have stopped what I was doing?” Q huffed at Alec, although it came out more playful than he intended. “Not very astute, agent.”
Alec’s answer was a quiet, satisfied growl. He bent one leg to set his foot flat on the bed, then pushed, rolling Q onto his back, never releasing his hold of Q’s hair. He ducked his head to bite at Q’s exposed throat. Over the sound of his breath, Q heard him reach across the duvet. There was a familiar plastic click, and then Alec muttered that same Russian word – a curse – before he let go of Q’s hair.
Knowing what Alec was thinking, Q said, just a bit smugly, “I broke the seal already. No need to stop what you were doing.”
“Did you,” Alec murmured, leaning back so he could tip the bottle over his free hand. When the contents poured smoothly, he laughed. “Clever little bastard, aren’t you?”
“You should expect nothing less from your quartermaster,” Q said confidently. “I see to it that I’m always at least three steps ahead of everyone else around me.” He was keenly aware of the fact that, while this was just sex, Alec had said he wanted Q running his ops. Or, at least, that was how Q interpreted it; he’d heard rumours of how possessive Double O’s could get when it came to playing favourites at HQ. Q was not going to screw this up by showing Alec anything less than his best, both inside the bedroom and out.
Alec stared down at him, eyes no less intense but somehow sharp and dangerous. Then one corner of his mouth twitched up, and he knelt back between Q’s legs, swiping one slick finger down the length of Q’s cock. “How do you want to come?” he asked as his finger moved down over Q’s balls.
Q’s eyes fluttered at the touch, his head falling back. It had been a long time since someone had touched him like that. As much as he enjoyed giving head, he wanted to feel Alec deep inside him. The way Alec was teasing, though, almost made him forget that in favour of seeing where Alec would take this. Almost.
Fighting to open his eyes, he kept his head back, instead focusing on the sensation of Alec’s fingers, now beneath his balls, teasing lightly. “Well,” he started, his voice rough and clipped on the end of the word. “As much as I quite enjoy what you’re doing now, I’d much prefer –” He cut off with a gasp as one finger dipped lower, pressing against his entrance. “I’d much prefer if you started fucking me. Soon.” But instead of obliging, Alec slid his finger out, and then dragged the tip lightly up. Q let out a whimper at the sudden loss of sensation. He lifted his head to glare balefully down at Alec.
Alec grinned wickedly. “Is that all you want? Or is that just to start?” With his free hand, Alec pulled Q’s leg up, so his foot rested flat on the mattress. “I could finish you with my hand, my mouth...whatever you’d like.” He turned and bit the inside Q’s knee as he pushed his finger back inside, to the first knuckle.
Q swallowed back a second whimper as the intensity of both Alec’s touch and Alec’s bite scattered his thoughts. He opened his mouth to speak – to answer Alec’s question – but gave up quickly when Alec twisted his finger out. The drag of rough skin on sensitive nerves stole Q’s breath.
When Alec pushed back in, he added a second finger, and the slight strain made Q groan and try to push back, seeking more. “Stay still, Q,” Alec warned lightly. He shifted to the side, pushing Q’s leg back down, which changed the angle of the two fingers pressed just past Q’s entrance. Alec pushed them deeper inside as he settled down on the mattress beside Q. His forearm just brushed Q’s cock, and his wrist pressed against Q’s balls.
“Which would you like?” he asked, his voice gone soft, dangerously playful. “I could use my hand while fucking you” – he pushed his fingers inside, hard and sudden, with just enough of a gentle curl that Q saw sparks behind his eyelids – “and let you come like that. Or I could take my time” – he dragged his fingers out slowly, so that Q felt every delicious inch, before he eased them back inside – “and fuck you half the night, and then finish with my mouth. Could you be good for me and not come until then?”
Oh, god. He desperately wanted to see how long Alec could hold out, but at this rate, Q didn’t think he was going to last much longer. Q searched for his voice, trying to find some coherent response to offer. “I...I –”
“Or I could push you up against the headboard,” Alec interrupted with a sudden, hard thrust of his fingers. He pulled them out and back in again, almost growling out his words. “Pin your hands to the wall. Fuck you so hard, the neighbours would hear every gasp. Hold you by the throat. Let you breathe just enough to feel every thrust.”
Q’s eyes flew open at that. He turned his head to face Alec and reached over to grab him by the nape, pulling him in for a rough kiss. The movement caused Alec’s fingers to shift inside Q, making Q grip tighter as he moaned deep into Alec’s mouth. He broke off only to lean over and bite at Alec’s ear. “Yes. That one. Do that.”
“Fuck,” Alec said, so softly that Q almost didn’t hear. His hand went still, and he stared at Q, silent, for a few long seconds that crackled with intensity. “Now? Or more of this?” he demanded.
With every thrust of Alec’s fingers, the edges of reality seemed to blur just a little bit more for Q. If Alec was trying to wreck his self-control, he was doing a damn good job. And he wasn’t even actively touching Q’s cock. As Alec twisted his fingers yet again, he hit just the right spot, causing every nerve-ending in Q’s body to light up at once. “Ah, fuck!” Q cried out before pulling Alec back down for another searing kiss. “Now! Fuck me now!”
Alec’s laugh was wicked but tight, a thread ready to snap. He gave one last thrust before he dragged his fingers out, making Q bite back a whine at the absence.
Then Alec twisted around, moving faster than Q could track in his dazed state. He pulled Q up and onto his knees and then shoved Q around to face the headboard. Heart pounding, Q arched his back and spread his legs, wanting – needing – Alec inside him now.
Alec caught his wrists and laughed again as he pinned them to the wall with a hard thump that rattled the painting hanging over the bed. For one brief moment, Q thought about the neighbours actually complaining or even calling for hotel staff to interrupt. Then he felt Alec start to push inside, scattering any rational thought beyond yes and now and more.
The thrust wasn’t hard and burning, but instead was slow and deliberate, giving Q just enough time to breathe through the effort of relaxing. By the time he felt Alec’s hips pressed to his arse, Q was gasping and shaking with need. His chest had gone tight, and every inch of his skin had come alive.
“Fuck, Q,” Alec growled, his fingers pressing painfully against Q’s wrist bones for a moment. His other hand slid up Q’s spine and snaked around his throat. When he dug in with his thumb and forefinger, Q’s pulse thundered in his ears. Voice strained to the breaking point, Alec asked, “All right, Q?”
Q was practically vibrating with desperation at having Alec buried deep inside him, pressed up against his arse. Some distant corner of his mind tried to remind him that he was exposed before one of the deadliest assassins in the world, but he couldn’t be arsed to care. All he knew was that Alec needed to start moving soon. Now, even. “Yes,” he said, but the sibilance clipped off as Alec’s hand tightened, cutting off Q’s breath.
“Feel free to be as loud as you want,” Alec said, leaning in close. The shift in angle dragged his cock almost completely out, making Q whimper almost silently against the hand around his throat. Then, deliberately, Alec thrust back in, saying, “No one will hear you.”
Q’s head dropped down between his arms, making Alec’s hand that much tighter around his throat. The lack of oxygen made Q see spots. Instead of the panic he’d expected, though, it only made him want to see how far he could go. He had always been tenacious and single-minded to a fault. If Alec wanted to completely break him, he would have to try harder than that.
Deciding Alec might need a little incentive, Q rolled his spine, driving Alec’s cock that much deeper. Then he straightened his arms, pulling against Alec’s hold on his wrists, before shoving himself back off the headboard, slamming into Alec’s chest.
He twisted to say something – to dare Alec to do more – but he barely managed to inhale before the world spun. The delicious pressure of Alec’s cock inside his body disappeared. He hit the mattress face-first, flailing to brace himself with his hands, only to have both arms wrenched back. Alec’s hand tightened around Q’s wrists, strong enough that Q’s fingertips tingled, and his shoulders burned from the strain.
The panic that had been curiously absent earlier came at him full force. What had happened? What had changed? All the possible scenarios started screaming through his head, everything from the very humiliation kink he’d set as a limit earlier to the terrifying possibility that he’d triggered an assassin’s PTSD response.
Trying to make sense of the sudden shift, he turned so he could breathe and reminded himself to stand his ground. He glared up at Alec as best he could from this angle. “What the fuck, Alec!”
Instead of answering, Alec stared down at him, no hint of arousal in his expression. There was only an icy blankness in his eyes, something Q hadn’t seen before, even when Alec had been enraged at the tech from IT who’d come for James’ laptop.
Q felt his insides go cold. This wasn’t the same situation as it had been back at HQ; not even remotely close. This was the look the Double O’s were famous for. What made them so fucking good at their jobs. Q closed his eyes against the lethal intensity staring down at him and took a breath as best he could considering how hard Alec was holding him against the mattress.
When Q opened his eyes again, he didn’t look back up at Alec. Instead he focused on the bedroom door, his current – and only – escape route. As soon as he did, he felt Alec’s weight shift, and he knew that Alec had twisted to look at the doorway. “Alec?” he said, as calm as he could manage. Falling back on his own training, Q tried to keep his voice neutral and level. Boothroyd had explained that during a fight, agents needed reassurance in their ears, not tense panic. “What happened? Where did you go?”
The mattress shifted again. Slowly, Alec’s hands relaxed, releasing Q’s wrists. Q straightened his arms, then hissed at the burning pain in his shoulders. Softly swearing in Russian, Alec moved to sit at the edge of the mattress, his back turned to Q.
As slowly as possible, wary of provoking another attack, Q sat up behind Alec, resting a hand lightly on his back. Alec’s muscles twitched as he exhaled, but he didn’t pull away. Ignoring the slight flinch, Q moved in closer, stopping just short of actually leaning against him. “Alec,” he said, this time more firmly. “Please tell me what just happened. I’m not going to leave, but I would really rather not end up in hospital from a broken arm, either.”
“You won’t. You’re safe.” Alec took a deep breath and straightened, rolling his shoulders and neck as if easing his tension. “I’m sorry.” He turned and looked over his shoulder at Q. Without the fire of lust in his eyes, he looked drawn and tired. He lifted a hand to brush his fingertips over Q’s leg. “I shouldn’t have brought you here.”
“Like hell, you shouldn’t have,” Q huffed. “You don’t think I know you? Or, at least, who you are? You don’t think I realise that one of the deadliest assassins to ever walk MI6 just lost his best friend? Or that someone at HQ is responsible for that loss?” he demanded.
Q paused, staring vaguely around the room. He knew Alec was trying to ferret out the traitor; it just hadn’t occurred to Q until this moment that Alec still thought it might be him. He tried to find it in himself to be bothered by that fact, but he couldn’t. He knew better. When it came to the Double O’s, sex and death were almost always one and the same.
He finally turned back, locking eyes with Alec. “I’m not an idiot, Alec. I knew what the fuck I was getting into the second I cracked open that bloody laptop.”
Alec didn’t bother with false guilt. He glanced at the gun on the bedside table, though he didn’t reach for it. Instead, he stripped off the condom and tossed it in the direction of the bin. “I’m sorry,” he repeated. He glanced back at the mattress, shoved the strip of condoms out of the way, and lay down, taking a deep breath as he pressed his hands over his eyes. “You’re too fucking perfect for me, Q. Desmond.” He let out a sharp little laugh. “Tailor-made bait. And I’m an over trained, paranoid arse.”
Q – no way was he going back to Desmond – crawled over to Alec and straddled his legs. Alec dropped his hands and looked up at Q as though surprised he hadn’t left already. Q leaned over, bracing his hands on either side of Alec’s head. “Q,” he corrected, smiling. “I’m afraid we’re stuck with that now. But I have to ask...” he said tentatively. “Do you still think I might be the traitor?”
Alec took a deep breath and lifted his hands to rest gently on Q’s waist. “If you are, you’re a bloody idiot. Or playing a longer game than I can figure out.” He tugged, trying to get Q to lie down on top of him, but Q resisted. Alec gave up with a sigh and said, “No. I can come up with a hundred reasons you might be, but my gut says you’re not.”
“Well, as much as words mean very little to people in our positions, let me just say it anyway. I’m not. Ambitious, yes. Stubborn, absolutely. Stupidly brave in the face of almost certain death? Apparently.” Q smiled shyly at Alec. “A traitor, though, is something I’m definitely not. With my intelligence and skills, MI6 wouldn’t let me live five minutes if I turned against Britain.”
“Good. Because I would rather not hunt you,” Alec said calmly, running his hands up Q’s back. “At least, not with the intent of killing you when I caught you.”
Q laughed, feeling the heat make its way back through his body. “Well, then I guess I should ask you the more important question.” Q leaned over until he was mere inches from Alec, his breath mingling with Q’s own. “Why haven’t you started fucking me again?”
“Fuck,” Alec said with a laugh as he dragged his fingers through Q’s hair. “You’re mad, aren’t you? You’re not TSS. You escaped from Psych, and saw your chance to flee the building with me.”
“Has that ever stopped you before?”
“Oh, hell no. I escape from Psych all the time.” Alec twisted his fingers and tugged Q’s head back, then raised up enough to nip at Q’s throat. “But unless I’m mistaken, I’ve been doing all the bloody work here again.”
Q let his eyes flutter closed again under Alec’s touch. This was good. This was what he liked. Q wrapped his right arm around Alec’s shoulders to get purchase before sliding his left hand down Alec’s chest, still slick with sweat from earlier. He found Alec’s half-hard cock and got his fingers around near the base, giving it a firm tug. Alec shifted and let his eyes close as though consciously trying to relax.
“If I remember correctly, though, I’m the one that got this party started,” Q whispered before leaning in to run his tongue up the side of Alec’s jaw.
Alec huffed in amusement, though the sound was clipped. His hips twitched, pushing up against Q’s hand. “I did that in my office. Or did you forget the search for weapons?”
“Oh, I never forget anything,” Q responded confidently. “But, like I said, I knew what I was getting myself into.” He turned his head to brush his lips against Alec’s. “I don’t need to be handled with kid gloves, Alec. I hope I’ve at least proved that, if nothing else.”
This time, Alec’s laugh was more genuine. He chased Q’s lips so he could nip before he lay back with a smug grin. “Why do you think I thought you were the fucking traitor? Look at you. Courage and stupidity in equal measure, all these gorgeous muscles hidden under your work clothes... Give me a year and I could make you the perfect assassin.” His grin turned mischievous as he added, “We could go freelance. Take over some small tropical country together.”
Q wrinkled his nose. “As much as that sounds pleasant, I actually like the cold, rainy weather.” He laughed, mildly embarrassed. Proper Londoners were supposed to complain about the weather, not embrace it. “Don’t tell anyone; it’s my secret shame.”
“Good. Because I hate the damned heat.” With a twist, Alec shoved Q over onto his back and followed, trapping Q beneath his body. He grinned, the predatory edge returning to his expression. “I’ll teach you to ski instead. Then I can fuck you all night in front of a fireplace.”
“Okay, now see, that sounds lovely,” Q said, running his hands up Alec’s arms. For the first time that night, he took a good look at Alec’s body: tanned, hard-edged, and scarred. He might just be the most beautiful person Q had ever seen – not that he would willingly say that aloud. Ever. “But why don’t we start with you fucking me now?”
“Impatient little shit, aren’t you?” Alec challenged, reaching out for the condoms. “Who says romance is dead? Would you like me to set the dresser on fire for ambience?”
Q didn’t believe for one second that Alec wouldn’t do exactly that if he said yes. Actually, he was surprised Alec hadn’t suggested it before.
“I would say yes, but considering how quickly you’d have to fuck me to get us out of here before the fire brigade showed up, why don’t we save that for tomorrow?” He smiled innocently up at Alec. “Besides, I do believe you mentioned something earlier about having me in the lift. I think I’d really like to see where that goes first.”
Dinner was room service delivered from the restaurant downstairs. When Alec had placed the brief order – a sampler plate as a starter, chef’s choice steaks, sommelier’s choice of wine, and a bottle of chilled vodka. Q had pointed out the absurdity of having food delivered within the same building. Alec had trumped the argument by threatening to toss his clothes out the window.
The suite was one of the smaller ones, with a sitting room and bedroom but no kitchenette or proper dining table. The room service attendant set up a rollaway table between the armchairs in the sitting room. As soon as the man was done, Alec tipped him generously, told him not to come back for the dishes, and locked the door behind him.
Then he went back to the armchairs, where Q was already settling in, wrapped up in a bathrobe that was almost too large for him. To Alec’s delight, he hadn’t gone to hide in the bathroom when the attendant had arrived – a nice change, considering that three-quarters of Alec’s dates were part of a covert mission and the other quarter were usually with people who were married and trying to hide their affairs. Often, it was both.
“How much do you know about the failed mission?” he asked, skipping the wine to pour a glass of vodka instead. He held it out to Q, realising only then that he’d forgotten to ask his preference for drinks. He’d been thinking instead of the mission, and hotel room mission briefings were never with anyone but James, and always involved more vodka than was probably healthy.
Q accepted the glass from Alec and took a sip. “Not very much, to be honest. I’ve never worked with any of the agents involved – Ronson, Bond, or Moneypenny,” he said, waving the glass vaguely as he ticked off the names. “Boothroyd wasn’t even there when the incident happened, although I understand he’s heard the recordings.” He stopped, taking another sip. “I haven’t, though.”
“I have them,” Alec said, thinking Q had earned at least that much trust. He poured a glass for himself and said, “I have all the relevant files.”
Q stared up at Alec, wide-eyed. He opened his mouth to say something, but closed it. After a moment his eyes narrowed. “Honestly, I’m not surprised. Have the two of you actually ever heard of regulations and security clearance protocols, or are those just merely suggestions?”
“The things they gave us in our orientation packs?” Alec nodded with mock-innocence and uncovered the starter plate. “Afraid I lost them in my first house fire.” He picked up an oyster and offered it to Q.
He took the oyster, laughing. “I’d believe that if I didn’t know for a fact that those particular pieces of information aren’t meant to ever leave –” He stopped and laughed again, snickering around the oyster. “Oh, yes, seems I was right. Merely suggestions,” he said, smiling to himself.
Grinning with relief that Q wasn’t going to be a pain in the arse about regs, Alec took the other oyster for himself. “Ten weeks ago, a laptop was stolen from a NATO central command base in Belgium.” He tipped the oyster back into his mouth, buying time to think of how much information Q needed to be effective and useful. After he swallowed, he said, “No idea what’s on it, but it was enough to turn NATO into a bloody hornet’s nest. And it’s the reason M was running the mission. Ronson got hold of it, only to have it re-stolen.”
“And that’s when Bond intervened, I’m assuming?” Q asked.
“He wasn’t even a minute behind whoever it was.” Alec knew the logical follow-up was to pursue the location of the laptop, but that wasn’t his priority. To head off any questions, he said, “We need to find out who betrayed Ronson’s safehouse. The killers not only knew the location but also the password to get Ronson to open the door. He took out one of them, but it was just a hired gun. So who hired them?”
Q looked at his drink, swirling it around thoughtfully. “Is this why you think someone at MI6 is involved? Because they knew how to get to Ronson?” Q asked, facing Alec again. “It’s not that I don’t agree that that’s possible, but this all started with NATO. There could be any number of agencies with corrupted parties who might still be able to gain the trust of one of our own. Why are you so certain it’s us?”
Pleased that Q was asking the right questions, Alec scooped up a few scallops and transferred them to his plate. He pointedly pushed the starter plate towards Q; he seemed the type to end up starving himself when something new caught his interest. “You’re right. At first, it looked like NATO itself had been compromised. But a bit of digging shows that we had records of that laptop as well as the security details for the day of the theft. The safehouse was set up by our head of Station T. I trust him,” he added, giving Q a quick look. “It wasn’t him, or any of his people. So either someone’s able to crack our systems, including secure comms from Station T and NATO HQ, or they’re already inside.”
“Fuck,” Q whispered, seemingly ignoring the plate of food. “Well, that explains the gun to my head,” he said, smirking a little. “What are you asking me, Alec? No, wait. That’s not the right question. What are you telling me?
Alec smiled humourlessly and ate one of the scallops. “I’ve heard it all, Q. That the Double O’s are all outdated, misogynist dinosaurs – and that James and I are the worst of the lot, because we’ve managed to not get –”
He stopped himself, realising what he was about to say, and covered it by taking a drink. The vodka was icy and crisp, the perfect excuse to take a deep breath as though pushing aside an emotional reaction. Anyone else would’ve felt guilty about the deception, but Alec had no room left inside himself for guilt. What Q didn’t know wouldn’t get him killed.
He put the glass down and looked across the table at Q. “The point is,” he said slowly, carefully, “we’re not illiterate barbarians. Every Double O who wants to survive past the first mission knows computers are just as important as guns. I could get most of that information, and probably not get caught, but I have intimate knowledge of MI6’s servers. And no, no one else knows that, so please do keep it to yourself.”
“I’d ask what knowledge you have, but I have a feeling you won’t tell me,” Q said, evenly.
Alec shrugged. “I shouldn’t even be telling you this much. We don’t talk about it amongst ourselves. Better to be underestimated than have MI6 lock out information that might one day save our skins.”
“Then I go back to my original question,” Q started, leaning forward to set his glass on the table. “What is it you’re telling me? What is it you want from me?” he asked before settling back into his chair. “You know I’m a quartermaster for MI6, so you know I must be good. But you’ve also seen me help you break into and steal MI6 hardware with minimal questions asked, so you know I have absolutely no qualms about doing what must be done for the bigger picture.” He gave Alec a hard stare. “What is it you want from me?”
“Help me find a way to see who’s looking at the wrong intel,” Alec said bluntly. “Something unrelated to...their job or current mission. Anything suspicious, but not suspicious enough to set off internal security alarms.
Q continued to gaze at Alec, assessing him. “Done.” Q answered after a moment. He leaned over to pick up his drink and threw the rest back in one shot. “When do we start?”
“Now. By now, the rumours have spread about what you and I are doing. Tomorrow – or the next day – I’ll smooth it over with Boothroyd. You keep your head down, because we don’t want M to come sniffing around with questions. Set up monitoring to track anyone who accesses the wrong mission files. Surveillance, logs, whatever you like. If you need gear and can’t get it from Boothroyd, tell me and I’ll get it for you.”
Q smirked. “That’s it? Is there anything you’d like me to do with the rest of my day?” he teased, shaking his head. “I don’t think you understand, Alec. I’m a proper genius – child-prodigy and everything. Please keep that in mind when asking for what you need.”
Alec laughed. “This is just the start. I’m positive there will be more. And if you think of something, let me know. I need a partner, not a bloody robot.”
With a brief nod, Q picked up the vodka, pouring himself another drink. He took a sip before turning back to Alec, giving him another assessing look. “One thing, though. You should be aware that the reason I’m so willing to help you is because you told me why. It’s like earlier at HQ,” he said, turning the glass idly in his hand. “You wanted my help with the laptop, and I refused until you gave me a good enough reason – until you explained it to me. I will help you to the absolute best of my ability, but only if you remain honest and forthright. If there’s information you have, I want it.” Q glared at Alec. “This is my career – and possibly my freedom – on the line here, Alec. Anything less from you, and I will have you shot.”
Not a hint of Alec’s thoughts showed on his face. He listened and continued eating the scallops, but his mind was racing. Q could be useful. Q would be useful. And the minute Q found out that Alec knew James was alive, he’d walk away. But this was more than just operational security. This was James’ life. Q wasn’t the traitor – Alec was sure of that now – but was he able to keep a secret?
“Have you heard of social engineering?” he asked, uncovering his main course. The steak was perfectly cooked, the jacket potato simple and garnished only with butter. “And eat while you talk. No need to pretend manners here.”
Q looked down, seemingly surprised to find food in front of him. Without touching the lid, he looked back up at Alec. “No. I’m sorry, I haven’t. Is it something I should know?”
“It’s what we do – the Double O’s. You hack into systems through anything from back doors to brute force cracks. We do the same, only to people. Seduction, intimidation, cover identities, false credentials – it’s how we crack a mind’s security, you could say.” Alec reached across to uncover Q’s plate and stacked the lid on top of his own. “You – you’re mostly resistant to it,” he admitted wryly, “but ‘mostly’ isn’t ‘completely’.”
Q smiled at Alec, ignoring his subtle hints to eat. “I’d say I’m surprised, but I’m really, really not. Truth be told, after everything you just told me, if you hadn’t been trying to break me, I’d be severely disappointed in you,” he chided. “Of course, that said, feel free to try again. Anytime you’d like.”
Alec laughed and cut into his steak. “You see the problem, though. It’s the classic issue with anything in espionage. I can tell you everything, only to have you end up compromised or manipulated into revealing your knowledge, or I can tell you nothing and risk you not making a critical connection.”
“Is that your way of telling me you won’t be giving me everything? Or that you haven’t?” Q asked. “I understand what you’re saying, Alec, but please keep in mind that I live in a world of information. Anything less than full disclosure makes me extremely nervous.”
Alec smiled wryly. “Welcome to MI6. You’ll never have full disclosure.”
Q huffed at the response, mumbling something under his breath that Alec couldn’t quite catch. Q continued to swirl his drink around in his hand, apparently lost in thought. He didn’t look up when he responded. “I understand that. It doesn’t change what I said.” Q took a drink, finally meeting Alec’s eyes. “There’s very little that I can’t get for myself. Actually, there may not be any piece of information I can’t obtain. It’s why the government came for me when I was only twelve. It was better to shape someone like me to work for them than to lock me away.”
Q set his drink down and picked up his fork, twirling it a little bit before setting it back down with a hard clank. “I’m one of the best in the world, Alec, if not the absolute best. I’ll help you out and go along for the moment, but if there is anything you aren’t telling me that I think I should know, I will seek it out and I will find it. If that doesn’t work for you, then tell me now.”
Alec stared at him, wondering if Q knew it was already too late. With just the little information he now had, he could compromise everything Alec was doing – everything James was possibly doing. “Can you assure me that no one will be able to get this information from you?” he asked, even though he knew it was an impossible question.
“When you tried to break me earlier, were you doing your absolute best?”
“No. That, you wouldn’t have survived,” Alec said bluntly. “But there was a chance you were innocent, so...”
“All right...” Q said slowly. “Then, based on what you were doing and what you saw, how easily ‘breakable’ did you find me to be?”
Alec took a deep breath. There was only one way this was going to end, and that was with him trusting Q. The only question was if he’d trust a living partner or a corpse – and he knew which one he wanted.
“James is alive.”
So this was why Alec hesitated every time Q had asked for answers.
Q stared at Alec, silently questioning what Alec had just said and not really believing what he’d heard. Bond was alive? How? He hadn’t worked that mission, but he’d heard the story: Bond had been shot off a bridge. A rather tall bridge, in fact. Q wasn’t well versed in biology, but he did understand physics, and last time he checked, that sort of velocity should have killed on impact, even into water. After all, when reaching certain speeds, wasn’t hitting water basically the same thing as hitting concrete?
Unless there was something Alec wasn’t saying. After all, Q hadn’t been there for the incident. In fact, the only people who had been there were Bond, the target, and – from a distance, at least – Moneypenny. Was the incident not what it seemed? Or had Bond simply contacted Alec?
“How do you know that?” Q asked, warily.
Alec shook his head. “That’s not relevant. Even telling you James is alive isn’t relevant, except to tell you how bloody deep this goes. For all I know, M herself is at the root of all of this.”
There he went again, being evasive. Q had worked in government long enough to understand the concept of need-to-know – even if it rankled him sometimes – but Alec was taking it to spectacular levels. True, telling him that Bond was alive was not a small piece of information, but that just led to an entirely new train of thought: If Bond faked his death right after Ronson was killed and the laptop was stolen, could he be the traitor? Could Alec?
“You know, Alec, you keep telling me that the answers to the questions I’m asking aren’t relevant. You tell me that Bond is alive, but apparently how and why aren’t important.” Q paused, knowing he’d need to choose his next words very carefully. “You’ve just told me that there’s a traitor in our midst. Bond was the last person to see Ronson alive, and now Bond has faked his own death. Looking at this from my point of view, how am I to know that Bond isn’t the traitor? How am I to know that you aren’t?”
Somehow, he wasn’t surprised that Alec grinned, though there was no amusement in the expression at all. “I haven’t killed you. So either I am the traitor, and you’re alive so long as you’re useful, or I’m not, and I can use your skills to find out who is. Fun being a spy, isn’t it?”
“I think I like my computers better,” Q said, downing his second glass of vodka. Distantly he remembered there was food to be eaten, but it would have to wait. “If I refuse to help? Are you going to kill me for what you’ve told me?”
Alec put down his silverware, crossed over the edge of the plate. He’d finished half his steak, Q noted absently. “You know who I am. You know what I am. I don’t want to kill you.”
Q sighed, going for the bottle of vodka again. He had two options, he thought as he poured his third glass: He could help Alec or get up and try to walk out, hoping Alec let him get that far. Most likely he wouldn’t, but whether Alec would simply trap him here or actually kill him, Q wasn’t certain.
The truth was, though, something inside Q told him to believe Alec. Bond and Alec were a twenty-year-plus force to be reckoned with and the absolute best of friends. You didn’t need to be around them to know that; the stories and legends said it all. But Q had already seen enough to know that they would most likely always choose each other, even above MI6. If they came first and the mission came second, Q couldn’t see why Alec would tell him that Bond faked his death unless he was being sincere about everything else.
Q went to take a drink, but paused, already feeling a little light-headed. Setting the drink down, he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and let his head fall forward. “All right,” he said. “I can’t deny the fact that you’ve answered me every time I’ve asked, even reticently. If you’re willing to trust me with that knowledge, then the best I can do is offer the same in return. You want my help.” He finally looked up at Alec. “You can have it.”
Alec nodded. “Then you have one more choice to make.”
Q barked out a laugh before sitting back up. “Oh, really? And what is that?”
“Are you going to eat, am I going to get my gun and force you to eat, or do you want me to tie you to the chair and feed you myself?” Alec threatened.
Relieved, Q laughed again, this time more genuinely. He wasn’t opposed to the idea of Alec’s fingers being within licking distance. “While I don’t think you need to tie me to the chair, you’re more than welcome to feed me, if you’d like.”
“Q.” The voice was a low, quiet growl in Desmond’s ear, followed by the warmth of breath on his nape. “Q, wake up.”
“Tea,” Desmond grumbled into a pillow that was much softer than he liked. Had he fallen asleep on the couch? No, no room for him alone on the couch, much less the body pressed against his.
And it was a nice body, from what he gathered. Hard muscle, tight and solid, no softness around the middle or sharp joints digging into sensitive spots. He’d done well for himself last night.
This definitely wasn’t his bed. The mattress was too solid, no dip in the middle. Memory foam. That was it.
“Q.” This time the voice was full of humour.
That was a nice laugh, Desmond thought.
But still, there was the question of who was in the not-his-bed. And where he was, for that matter.
“You are absolutely bloody adorable like this, but I have much better ideas than sleeping.” This time, the words ended with a slow, firm bite to Desmond’s shoulder, just at the edge of the duvet. The bite started gentle, easing into a delicious, hot sting that got his heart properly started. Maybe he wouldn’t need tea, after all.
He moved, and the powerful arm around his body tightened. His arse was at just the right height to brush over the tip of a hard, interested cock, and the teeth pressed deeper into his skin when he writhed.
Then the bite ended, and recognition hit all at once. MI6. The furious assassin about to kill the idiot suit from IT. Alec.
He was definitely awake now.
Q reached back to slide his hand down Alec’s thigh, hooking it around the back of the knee, pulling Alec's leg over him. He then reached back up to wrap his hand around Alec’s nape before dragging him down for a kiss, morning breath be damned. His morning breath, at any rate. Alec had apparently been up for some time – at least long enough to brush his teeth. After a moment, he broke off, smiling. “Good morning. I’m up.”
Alec’s smile was lazy and self-indulgent, no longer sharp and tense as it had been last night. He got an arm under Q’s body and rolled onto his back, dragging Q on top of him. Q turned over to face Alec and got comfortable on Alec’s chest, resting his head on his hands as Alec tugged the duvet up over Q’s shoulders.
Grinning in satisfaction, Alec said, “Good. Do I get to keep you for today, or do you have, I don’t know, plants to water or fish to drown or something? Think carefully, because I might not even let you out of bed.”
“No plants, no fish. I do have a somewhat jovial Major to look after, though,” he answered good-naturedly. “So if I won’t be there to water him today, you get to be the one to explain why.”
“That’s fine. He’s not even fully aware of his surroundings until his third cup of coffee, except Medical made the staff replace his personal stash with decaf. I could keep you for a bloody week and he might not notice,” Alec said confidently, spreading his legs so he could trap Q closer against his body. “Did you come up with any brilliant plans in your sleep, or do you need to go to the bathroom before you can think properly?”
“Oh, yes, bathroom, please.” Q pushed up as much as he could, propping himself up on his arms. “And tea. I wasn’t kidding about the tea.” He leaned over to kiss Alec on the nose before scrambling out of bed, laughing at the smug grin on Alec’s face.
Q went into the bathroom and closed the door behind him with a soft click. He quickly took care of business before walking over to wash his hands and splash water on his face. As he brushed his teeth, he glanced towards the luxurious shower, thinking how good a shower would feel right now. His thoughts quickly dissolved into what that shower might feel like with strong arms pressing him into the wall, bodies writhing together, slick with soap.
Shaking his head, Q rinsed his mouth out before walking back into the bedroom. It appeared as though Alec hadn’t moved at all, except the alarm clock and box of tissues from Q’s bedside table had disappeared and been replaced by a kettle, a mug with a tea bag, and assorted packets of milk and sugar. The duvet was pointedly folded back on Q’s side of the bed.
“Took you long enough. I made breakfast.”
Q walked back to the bed and crawled in, sliding back into place on top of Alec. “Caffeine and sugar. My two favourite food groups,” he said with a smile.
Alec laughed and wrapped a hand around Q’s nape, pulling him down for a slow, lazy kiss. His other hand ran over Q’s spine, petting down to his arse. Then Alec pulled back from the kiss and asked, “Just how useful can you be before caffeine?”
Q tilted his head down to lick a stripe from the middle of Alec’s chest, all the way up to his mouth. He finished by capturing Alec’s mouth in a searing kiss, dipping his tongue in to taste him again. When the kiss broke, he snickered down at Alec. “I can make worlds crumble.”
“What about America? The skiing’s perfect in Colorado. We could take over. Carve an empire from the Pacific, over the Rockies.”
Q looked down at Alec in mock-thoughtfulness. “I’m not entirely opposed to the idea, but do we really need Arizona? I’ve heard they have creatures there to rival those in the Outback.”
“And California’s full of Californians. South of Seattle to San Francisco, and straight east. Do you want to do that now, or do you want to fuck me first?”
Q let out an exasperated huff that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Alec, have you learned nothing in the last eighteen hours?” he asked. “I can easily do both.”
Alec dragged Q down by the hair for a kiss broken by little amused laughs. Without the constant need to feign grief over his best friend’s death, Alec proved to have a relaxed sense of humour. It was simple and deep and made his green eyes sparkle. The lines around his eyes gave way not just to a man who fought hard, but laughed often. “I’ve never had a threesome with a computer before. Perhaps America can wait.”
“Well, if you insist.” Q turned his head to nip lightly at Alec’s ear. The feeling of day-old stubble, dusted along Alec’s jaw, tickled Q’s face. He pressed into it, enjoying the sensation. “Just keep in mind that whatever country you choose for our supposedly inevitable empire, it must have rain. I do so love the rain.” Q kissed at the spot just behind Alec’s jaw, burying his nose in Alec’s hair.
“You can have Portland. That’s south of Seattle, isn’t it?” Alec’s fingers tightened in Q’s hair, holding him in place. He pushed up with his hips and growled quietly. “I could just take you back next week. Monday. New things always start on Mondays.”
Q tensed involuntarily, before forcing himself to relax, embarrassed. God, he hated how he reacted at even the mere mention of flying. “Well, considering the only way we’re getting to Portland is by boat, I’m pretty sure even a legend like you couldn’t find a way to get me there and back by Monday.”
Alec drew back to give Q a strange look. “I’m not taking you to bloody Portland. I’m not even letting you out of the damned bed until Monday.”
Feeling his face go hot, Q buried himself in Alec’s hair again. Not only had he misunderstood Alec, but he’d reacted like a bloody five-year-old afraid of the dark.
Trying to cover his embarrassment, Q bit down on Alec’s shoulder. Alec made a soft, contented sound and held Q’s hair more tightly, not to pull him away but to keep him there. His other hand pressed insistently against Q’s arse. Q pulled back slightly to kiss the spot he just bit while grinding his hips down into Alec’s cock. This time, the sound Alec made was definitely a groan. He bent his legs, braced his feet on the mattress, and pushed back up against Q’s body.
“Wait much longer to –” was as far as he got before the electric kettle started rattle as the water inside began to boil.
Q reached out and ripped the plug out of the wall, careful to keep the kettle from toppling over. He leaned back over and started slowly sliding his hand down the side of Alec’s chest. “If there’s a traitor at MI6” – his hand slid over Alec’s hip – “shouldn’t we be doing something” – he moved his hand over between their bodies – “rather than screwing at a four-star hotel?” He finished his path by getting a firm grip around Alec’s cock.
Alec’s answering laugh was ragged. “Too suspicious. I’m mourning, remember? If we don’t at least get thrown out of the bloody hotel some time this weekend, it won’t look real,” he said, pulling Q down for another kiss, this one rough and demanding and all too brief. “Why aren’t you fucking me? I’m not answering you until you start.”
“I don’t see supplies,” Q said, peering down the bed as best he could without his glasses, before glancing over at the nightstand. “Unless you’re into both bareback and pain, I’m thinking we might need those.”
“Some quartermaster you are.” Alec wrapped an arm around Q and rolled onto his side, gently dropping him onto the mattress. Then he rolled the other way and leaned over the edge of the bed. “Check that side. We had everything last night. It can’t have gone far. Why do I have to think of everything? I got you tea.”
Q snorted. “You got me tea; you didn’t finish making me tea. But wait one second...” He let go of Alec and jumped out of bed to run out of the room in search of his coat. He found it still in a puddle near the door and picked it up to dig through the inside pockets for the condoms and lube. Items in hand, he ran back and tossed the small pile on the bed. “Why waste time searching for what’s missing when backup is so much easier to obtain?” he said, dropping back down on the bed with a smile.
Alec huffed out a laugh and gave up the search. He pulled Q into his arms, dragged the duvet up over them again, and kissed him more thoroughly this time, holding Q tight to his chest. “Clever and useful,” he approved.
“Youngest. Quartermaster. Ever,” Q followed proudly, punctuating each word with a light kiss. He reached over to grab two of the condoms and lube before sliding his hand back down to take hold of Alec’s cock. As he worked light but firm strokes over the shaft, he moved over to Alec’s right nipple, biting down hard. Alec groaned, gripping Q’s hair again to hold him in place. When he finally released his grasp, Q licked a hot stripe over the spot then kissed it lightly before making his way over to the other side, repeating the process.
Sliding down further, Q dipped his tongue into Alec’s navel with a soft exhale that tickled the hairs on Alec’s stomach. Then he slid down even further, settling between Alec’s legs, and licked a line up the underside of Alec’s cock before taking the head in his mouth. Hissing in a breath, Alec tensed, his hand tightening in Q’s hair just past the point of a comfortable sting. Before Alec could protest, Q lifted his head and tore open the top of a condom packet with his teeth.
Just as he had last night, Q put the condom in his mouth and rolled it down the length of Alec’s cock. “Fucking hell, Q,” Alec said roughly, combing his hands through Q’s hair. “That’s fucking perfect.”
Q just smiled languidly and took Alec back in his mouth, not stopping till he reached the base. He moved back up slowly, ran his tongue along the tip, then slid back down, firmer this time. Alec didn’t push up into Q’s mouth, but his legs tensed, pressing in against Q’s shoulders. Q could feel him making the effort not to fist his hands in Q’s hair again.
Then an unfamiliar ringtone cut through the building energy, and Alec’s whole body went still. He pulled hard at Q’s hair even as he twisted to worm his way out from under Q and the disarrayed bedding.
Q sat back, startled, as he tried to get out of Alec’s way, watching as Alec stretched to grab the mobile on his bedside table. His holster hit the floor, though he ignored it. He just put the phone to his ear and barked, “What?”
Q watched, curious, as Alec let out a sigh, tension bleeding out of his back and shoulders. He rolled up onto his side, stretched diagonally across the bed, knees bent so he didn’t kick Q, and said, “James. Fucking arse. Where the bloody hell are you?”
Q couldn’t help but stare, wide-eyed. He hadn’t had any reason not to believe Alec last night – Alec obviously knew Bond better than anyone and would most likely have a better understanding of the circumstances. But that hadn’t stopped the nagging thought in the back of his mind that told him this might have all been a grieving man’s delusion, at least where Bond was concerned.
But now it seemed Bond actually was on the other end of that phone. He really had faked his own death – or at least not reported in. Where was he? Why had he really stayed away? Was it part of the mission? Or was it something more? Q had a million questions and zero room to ask them.
“Can you get medical help? Do you need me to come out there?” Alec asked in the tone of a man inquiring about the weather, despite the ominous implications of his words. Q twitched, wanting to reach out, but couldn’t really move. Was Bond hurt? How badly? Why wasn’t he reporting in? Then Alec let out a snort. “Since when do you care about neatness? Bloody fucking Brit. Stitches aren’t meant to be permanent.”
Q needed to quell the stream of questions running through his head, so he rolled over to his side and plugged the kettle back in, without immediately switching it on. He still wanted tea, but he didn’t want the distraction of actually making it until he knew where this conversation was going to go.
“Your instincts were spot-on. I’m looking.” He twisted to look at Q. “I have help... Computer genius. And no, you can’t have him.” Alec laughed, though the smile didn’t reach his eyes. “No, this line’s clear. I’m at the St Ermin’s. You can’t come back. You’re more useful dead.”
Then he rolled his eyes. “Here. For some bloody reason, they call him Desmond. I fixed that. Call him Q. It suits,” he said, and took the phone from his ear. He tapped the screen and then dropped the mobile on the bed.
“– the hell are you adopting strays for, Alec?” came an unfamiliar voice, slightly deeper than Alec’s. The accent was just different enough for Q to wonder. Scottish?
“Be nice, James. You interrupted us fucking,” Alec said bluntly. He rolled off the bed, jostling the phone. “Say hello, Q.”
Q turned back and stared at the phone. There really was a dead man talking. “I – I mean, hello,” he stammered. He paused and closed his eyes for a second to collect his wits, reminding himself that he was a professional. When he opened them again, saw Alec getting up to leave the room. He turned to look back at the phone. “Good morning, 007.”
“Oh, Christ. You sound twelve. What the fuck, Alec?”
“Sod off, James!” Alec shouted as he went into the living room.
Q huffed in annoyance. Oh, this was definitely Bond. He sounded just like Alec. “While I’m sure one day we can all get a good laugh at how young I sound, there are more pressing matters to deal with at the moment,” he chided. “First of all, 007, I’m a quartermaster for MI6, not some prepubescent child. Secondly, would you kindly tell me what the bloody buggering fuck you're doing alive?”
“I was shot by a bloody novice,” Bond answered. His laugh was strained. “Did you at least find out if he’s the mole before fucking him, Alec?”
Before Alec could respond, Q cut in. “I’m aware of how good of a shot our agents are. I’ve seen the reports. What I want to know is how you survived that fall.” Even as a genius, Q still couldn’t work out how anyone could survive a drop like that.
Alec came back in, now holding a lit cigarette. He binned the condom he’d been wearing and sat down on the edge of the bed, twisting to face the phone.
“I don’t die,” Bond said flatly. “No room for it in the job description.”
“Then why the hell are you still bleeding?” Alec asked. Q gaped at him, surprised at the blunt, uncaring tone of voice. Q wasn’t exactly a people person, but he was fairly certain this wasn’t how two best friends were supposed to talk to each other.
“Because I fell off a damned bridge and had to swim something like two miles in a fucking suit?” Bond countered in the same exact tone. “And no. Don’t come here. You need to stay –”
“I know, I know,” Alec interrupted. He took a drag, and the sharp flare of the cigarette end betrayed that he really was tense. Upset. “Can you find a doctor who won’t talk? Threaten one?”
“I’m currently unarmed. I got some of the fragments out. That’s good enough. How long do you need?”
Alec looked at Q. “No idea. This goes deep, and none of the automated checks have caught a hint of whoever it is. Could be a few months.”
“Bloody fantastic,” Bond said flatly. “At least I’m in the Mediterranean and not Siberia.”
Remembering how guarded Alec had been the night before, Q spoke up. “I’m not the traitor, Bond.” He couldn’t believe how self-conscious that made him feel. “You know, in case you were still wondering.”
“I doubted that Alec would have fucked you more than once if he thought otherwise.”
“If I shoot you, I won’t miss,” Alec threatened, glaring at the mobile.
Q laughed, feeling himself start to relax, even if it was only fractionally. “All right, then.” Q looked up at Alec. “But perhaps we could curb the threats of violence? I’m not entirely certain Alec wouldn’t actually shoot you, and, frankly, there’s no reason for you to actually be dead if you don’t need to be. You won’t be useful that way.”
Alec barked out a laugh, switched the cigarette to his other hand, and reached out to ruffle Q’s hair. “See, James? Bloody adorable. And if he was the traitor, I’d be telling you to get your arse back here now. Since he’s not, you get a holiday. Isn’t that nice?”
“Tell me again why I called you? Q, what’s your safe number? You’re much more pleasant to talk to than that Russian bastard you’re shagging.”
“You’re only saying that because you aren’t the one shagging me.” Q instantly felt his face grow uncomfortably hot, as both Alec and James burst out laughing. “Oh, I, um... Sorry.” He turned away from both of them – well, from Alec and the phone – feeling absolutely mortified.
Refusing to look back, Q reached over to the bedside table and switched the kettle back on. It was about time he got that tea – that or he’d end up with the wine they hadn’t touched last night.
When Q sat back up, Alec’s hand went to his nape, holding him. Alec grinned down at Q but addressed the mobile, saying, “Can we get the next steps planned out so we can get back to the shagging, or did you want to listen in?”
“Sod off, Alec,” James snapped without any real heat in his voice. “I didn’t see anyone but the bastard who shot me. Light brown skin, 1.8 metres, medium build, either mid-forties or hard-used thirties, no scars or identifying marks. Short hair mid brown, balding spot centre of the crown. Glock 18, mediocre aim with it, but tenacious. Didn’t say a fucking word. He had the hard drive in an acrylic case, so he went in prepared.”
Alec glanced questioningly at Q. “Got that?”
Oh, how little they knew him. “Would you like me to recite it back to you?” He smiled innocently up at Alec.
Alec laughed and tugged lightly on Q’s hair, his coldly businesslike expression melting away into something almost affectionate. “Right. We’ll see what we can find out, but we need to concentrate on the mole.”
“Agreed,” James said at once. “The shooter was probably a hired gun. I can try and track down –”
“You can keep your bloody head down and not contact anyone, you arse,” Alec cut in. “You’re dead, remember? The second you go sniffing around our contacts, M will hear about it, and the game’s up.”
“I’m not assuming her innocence,” Alec said grimly, meeting Q’s eyes for a moment.
Q kept his expression even. When Alec had told him there was a traitor within MI6, Q immediately – and rightly, he believed – assumed it could be anyone, including M, herself. Hell, it could even be Major Boothroyd or Ms. Marsh, for all Q knew. It was the reason he had questioned Alec the night before. Alec wasn’t taking any chances, and neither was he.
“Right,” James said. “Q, you still there or have we scared you into running yet?”
Q snorted. “Oh, please,” he chided. “If M can’t scare me, what chance do you two think you have?” He looked at Alec and, pointlessly, at the phone. “Have you learned nothing from your quartermasters?”
“Well, there was Mary,” James said.
Alec grinned like a shark. “Learning experience, that one.”
Q huffed, trying to hide a laugh. He heard the story. “Well, if that’s the only way to keep the two of you in line...”
“No,” Alec said, right as James asked, “Should I book a flight?”
Q was saved from having to answer by the kettle’s click. He turned to finally make his tea, images of the shower seeping back into his thoughts, only this time he was pressed up against another body instead of the wall. He shook his head to clear it before his slowly reddening ears gave him away. Whenever Bond came back from the dead, though, would he and Alec... Nope. Best to stop that train of thought right there. Right now, one Double O agent was enough.
Q picked up the kettle, pouring hot water into the mug Alec had set up. He normally took it with a little bit of milk and sugar, but this conversation really called for it be black.
“Don’t make me shoot you,” Alec said, though he didn’t sound offended. If anything, Q could hear him grinning. “Stay there and try to stop bleeding. Do you have a safe line I can call?”
“Not yet. Working without resources here,” James said, all business once again. “I’ll keep you updated.”
“Call me tonight. We’ll get Q squared away with a burner,” Alec answered.
Listening to the agents discuss tech for him was starting to irritate Q. “Do you two – especially you, Alec – really not know who you’re dealing with? There isn’t anything I can’t set up from anywhere,” he exclaimed, his perfect self-control slipping. Well, almost perfect. He picked up his tea and walked over to Alec, irritation giving way to anger. “If you want my help, especially when it comes to tech, maybe you should leave that to me and go do what you do best. Find the fucking traitor!”
For a long moment there was silence. Alec stared at him, exhaling smoke politely to one side.
Then James said, “You’re right, Alec. He sounds bloody adorable.”
“Right. So, shagging him now, then off to let him muck with my gear.”
Seeing the interest reappear in Alec’s eyes, Q reached over to pick up the phone without breaking eye contact. “Goodbye, 007. You have your marching orders,” and hit end before Bond could respond.
Alec burst out laughing again. He dropped the cigarette into the rubbish bin and leaned down to kiss Q, just as the odour of burning plastic rose up from the bin.
Q looked in the direction of the bin. “Alec, did you even bother to try and put that out?”
Alec followed his gaze. Then he let out a vicious Russian curse and swept up the bin before heading to the bathroom.
Q followed behind Alec into the bathroom and watched as Alec set the bin in the shower before turning on the water. Q walked over and leaned against the counter. “You know, when I saw that shower, this was not what I had imagined for its intended use.”
Alec closed the shower door, leaving the water running, and turned to face Q. He let his gaze drop, skimming over Q’s body, then back up to his face. He smiled, lopsided and feral, and took one step to close the distance between them.
“Let’s go back to bed,” he said, reaching to take away Q’s tea. “You can tell me your ideas. You’re the genius. I expect them to be brilliant.”
Q ran a hand up Alec’s chest to wrap lightly around his throat, pulling him forward for a lazy kiss. To his delight, Alec didn’t pull away. He gave in to the kiss, settling his hands on Q’s hips. Q brushed his thumb back-and-forth across Alec’s Adam’s apple before sliding his hand around to Alec’s nape and leaning in to bite where his thumb had just been.
Alec slid his hands to the small of Q’s back and pushed closer. “Good start,” he said quietly. His next inhale was shorter, sharper. “We were interrupted. James has always had the worst fucking timing.”
Q eased off the bite and nuzzled into Alec’s neck. “Well, I’d say turn off your damn phone, but that may be considered poor form.”
“He won’t call back till he’s gone to ground somewhere safe,” Alec said with a short laugh. “It’s taken him this long just to get to a phone he trusted – wherever the fuck he is. No more interruptions.”
Q hummed in response and stepped back out of Alec’s grasp, revelling in the way calloused fingers slid along his hips as he did. He took Alec’s hand and walked him back out of the bathroom to the bed. He turned Alec so his back was to the bed and gave him a small push. Alec laid back down on the mattress and gazed silently up at Q, a tiny smile playing at the corners of his mouth. The sense of calm in Alec’s expression made the lines on his face softer and his eyes a beautiful hunter green. Q smiled to himself at the sight; he really was so pretty when he was compliant.
Q crawled up to straddle Alec and settle himself in his lap, arms draped around his shoulders. “So,” he started, letting his eyes travel over warm, taut muscle. “Are we back to me fucking you? Or did you have something else in mind?”
Alec’s grin turned sly. He wrapped his arms around Q’s body, letting his fingertips skim lightly over Q’s spine. “As I said, you’re the genius. What happened to impressing me?” he teased.
Q’s smile turned absolutely feral. If Alec was going to give him free rein, it was time he showed just how creative he could be. The condoms and lube were still on the bed from earlier. He tore off two of the condoms and handed them to Alec.
“You know, I’m not so sure I want to fuck you.” Sitting up on his knees, he uncapped the bottle and poured some into his left hand. He rubbed his fingers together, making sure they were coated properly. Grabbing Alec by the hair with his other hand, he locked eyes with him – lust driving away all rational thought. “I think I would much, much rather have you fuck me.”
And, with that, he reached back around with two fingers, and sank down.
James was alive, Alec thought, allowing himself that luxury only now, days after the shooting. His best friend was alive, he had a gorgeous body in his arms, and he had a mission to start soon. A day, two, three at the most. Whenever that instinct said he was ready.
James was alive, and he now knew it as a fact, rather than something that was half wishful thinking and the memory of the last time someone had told him James was dead. The little knot of fear inside him had come undone at the first ring on his private mobile – a number only one person had.
Now, finally, he could think again. He could see his future clearly, starting with Q.
That had been more than just a stroke of luck. Somewhere along the line, he’d developed a mental stereotype of the computer-loving, explosion-happy workaholics in TSS. And while Q fit that stereotype at first glance, with his neglected hair and glasses and too-thin frame, Alec had yet to manage to break him, either intentionally or accidentally.
And now, this. He cursed softly, feeling Q’s knuckles digging against one thigh as he worked his fingers into his own body. He might have considered pushing Q onto his back, either so he could better watch or so he could take over, but the hand in his hair encouraged him to let go. To stop doing and allow himself the rare luxury of simply enjoying – a luxury that he’d tried to chase by waking Q.
Remembering that waking, he leaned in slowly and bit Q’s shoulder in the same place. The movement stung at his scalp, but his hair was longer than strictly regulation, and he was careful not to pull free of Q’s grasp. Every little twitch and movement of Q’s body was magnified by Alec’s hands resting on his hips. His thumbs pressed against Q’s abdomen, catching the way his breath hitched in little gasps when he moved just right. His spine flexed, left shoulder twisted back to reach properly, and Alec couldn’t resist moving to that side for his next bite.
“Don’t stop,” he said against Q’s skin before he bit a third time, lower now, over Q’s collarbone. He was careful not to bite the thin skin too hard, but the motion of Q’s body scraped against his teeth anyway.
Q hissed in a breath, throwing his head back, and pushed into the bite. With every thrust of his fingers, his breath became more ragged, more shallow. As Alec eased out of the bite, Q leaned back down for a kiss that was messy and uncoordinated as he continued to work his fingers inside his body. When his hand shifted again, pressing hard into Alec’s leg, he let out a shaky whimper and bit down on Alec’s lower lip. “Alec,” Q gasped, breaking off the bite. “The condoms.”
Condoms, he thought, wanting to refuse, because he didn’t want this to stop. He licked at his lip, tasting the imprint of Q’s teeth, feeling the not-quite-bleeding sting. He moved one hand off Q’s hip, refusing to let the other go, and found where he’d dropped the condoms. He gathered them both in his hand and wrapped his arm around Q’s left side, trapping him close. Then he pushed back on the bed, feet scraping at the carpet for balance, pulling Q with him as he moved.
Q’s hand never stopped. Fucking hell, he was flexible, Alec thought distantly. He gasped when Alec’s leg pushed against his knuckles, but he didn’t stop moving until Alec let himself fall back, reluctantly releasing his hold. Q caught his balance with his free hand braced against the bed; his other hand never came out from behind his body. He looked down at Alec with a smile. “Impressed, yet?”
Delighted at the challenge in Q’s voice, Alec said, “You’ll have to try harder.” He picked up one of the condoms and ripped it open, hands moving in the narrow space between their bodies. He let his fingertips brush against Q’s cock and grinned when Q’s breath caught. “Don’t stop,” he said as he rolled the condom onto Q’s cock, regretting that he’d never bothered learning the trick of putting it on with his mouth. He’d have to remedy that.
Then Alec inched down and encouraged Q to crawl up the bed. Alec stopped only when he was able to lick at Q’s cock, tasting latex, loving the way Q’s breath stuttered.
“Fuck,” Q whispered, still not releasing his fingers. He leaned forward, thrusting gently into Alec’s mouth, and arched his back to push his hand in further.
The angle was awkward, but Alec didn’t care. He propped himself up on his elbows, muscles straining, and took Q’s cock as far into his mouth as he could, licking at the condom so he could move more smoothly. He could feel the way Q strained to be polite about not pushing deeper, but Q’s hips twitched against his fingers, moving forwards and backwards. When he hit the back of Alec’s throat, Alec moaned encouragingly.
Taking the invitation, Q moved up onto his knees until he was practically over Alec’s head. He moved tentatively at first as they tried to find the right rhythm. Alec made himself stop trying to match Q’s movements and let Q set the pace. As Q started moving, he kept working his fingers inside his body. Alec stroked and petted Q’s arse and thighs, fighting to keep his breath as Q sped up. Soon, Q twisted slightly to the left, letting out a ragged cry, before thrusting hard against the back of Alec’s throat.
“Oh, god, Alec, please,” Q ground out. “God, I’m sorry, but please. Please don’t stop.”
Alec tensed his gut to hold up his weight and grabbed for Q’s hips. The second condom, forgotten, fell from his hand as he closed his fingers over sharp bone. He dug in with his fingertips, encouraging Q to thrust harder, and tried to suppress his gag reflex as he pushed up with his tongue to give Q more.
He felt the first tremors of orgasm and pressed harder with his tongue and fingers, wanting nothing more than for Q to fall apart like this. Q twisted his fingers again, and Alec moved his hand back to cover Q’s. He pushed hard against thin, delicate bones, trying to drive Q’s fingers in even deeper, and he felt Q’s arse clench, cock pulsing hard against his tongue. Q cried out what sounded like Alec’s name, but it was cut off abruptly as Q lost his balance and fell forward against the mattress.
An instant too late, Alec caught him and pushed up, supporting Q’s hips just enough to be able to breathe. He held back a cough as he licked more gently, easing Q through the last twitches and thrusts. Q was light, and even with the terrible angle, he could support Q's weight forever, just to feel him come apart like this.
Q lay there bonelessly for a few moments before slowly pulling his fingers out to wipe them on the duvet. He inched back down until he was eye level with Alec. He leaned in for a soft, unhurried kiss before pulling back, looking completely sated. “I’d ask if you were impressed now, but that seemed to take a turn for me there,” he said sheepishly.
Alec couldn’t remember having a partner who made him laugh as much as Q. Of course, the fact that Q wasn’t trying to kill him helped. He ignored the insistent, unsatisfied need that was urging him to roll Q over and just take. Instead, he turned onto his side to face Q and kissed him again as he reached down to pull the condom off him. “I don’t mind. Do you mind?” He had a vague memory of putting the bin in the shower, but he didn’t want to get up, so he reached up to the closer bedside table and dropped the condom, making a mental note to leave a generous tip for housekeeping.
“Actually, I do, a little,” Q said with a huff that didn’t quite reach the glint in his eyes. “You don’t think I actually worked that hard on myself to stop now, do you?”
“You’re just a scrawny little thing,” Alec teased. “Don’t you need to rest up and have tea before we give anything else a try?”
“You forget, Alec, I’m a long distance runner,” Q responded. “I’d hazard a guess my stamina is actually a bit better than yours.”
“One of these days, I’ll let you escape. We’ll see how long you can hide from me,” Alec threatened, thinking that day might be in the very far future. He would have been alarmed at how intent he was on keeping Q, but he’d never been one to do things by halves. James was the one who fell in love easily – meaning twice in the last ten years.
He just hoped he didn’t share James’ curse.
As the youngest and newest quartermaster, Q spent more time working on side projects than running field operations. The assignments had been almost insultingly easy, and he’d considered speaking to Major Boothroyd or Ms. Marsh until now. Now, he was too distracted thinking about his two agents.
The rumours had already been in full swing by the time Q finally reported back to work that morning, after his absence Thursday and Friday had been smoothed over by Alec. Q had ignored all of the questions and looks – somewhere between slyly knowing and awed that he’d survived – and Boothroyd had finally put an end to the gossip by ordering everyone back to work.
Then, to Q’s horror, the old Major had awkwardly advised him, in his most kindly way, “It’s, ah, good to have, ah, a good working relationship with the...” He’d waved a hand. “They can be a little, er, free-spirited, but...” Thankfully he’d let it go at that, giving Q a gentle pat on the shoulder before he escaped.
He was still technically working on his security upgrades, though he was spending more time staring at the screen and mentally building the code to watch internal data requests and alert him to anything suspicious. The problem, of course, was that ‘suspicious’ was an ephemeral definition that he couldn’t quite lock down. He didn’t want the static of false positives – legitimate database hits – but he also didn’t want to be so discreet that he missed an actual trail.
So he didn’t notice immediately that the work centre around him had gone quiet until a shadow fell over his cubicle wall. He looked up to see Alec standing there, looking gorgeous and just a little scruffy and very, very dangerous.
“Good afternoon, 006,” Q greeted, calm and professional. “Is there something I can help you with?”
In the four days they’d been locked away in Alec’s hotel room, Q had grown used to his affectionate smile, the way he looked at Q not just with lust but with what Q thought was actual fondness. Now it was gone, and Q suddenly understood how a rabbit felt when a hawk circled overhead.
“Yes,” was all he said, looking down Q’s body as though mentally undressing him. “You’re done here for the day. Aren’t you?”
Q looked up in time to see Boothroyd come out of his office, gazing at him questioningly. As much as Q wanted to get up immediately to help Alec, the rumours flying about wouldn’t help to give the impression that they would actually be working. “Unfortunately, no, I’m not,” Q said, looking Alec directly in the eye. “I have at least another hour of work – priority two work, actually – that needs to be completed before I can go anywhere.” Q glanced back at his computer and resumed typing. “So unless your needs are priority one – and you can prove it – I suggest you come find me then.”
Alec stepped into the cubicle and leaned down, bracing one hand on the desk beside Q’s mouse mat. The office had gone silent. Q didn’t dare look up to see if Boothroyd was heading his way or just staying out of it.
Only when Alec’s lips were right beside Q’s ear did he whisper, “Anything to report?” His voice was soft, rich with the affection that had been missing.
The tension Q felt when Alec first walked up eased under Alec’s more relaxed tone. “Nothing, as of yet,” Q answered without looking up
“You’re mine tonight,” Alec said just as softly before he stood. “Major.”
“006,” Boothroyd said, a hint of exasperation in his voice as he walked over. “Did you need something?”
“Just a little chat.” His hand slipped across the back of Q’s chair, one finger dragging along Q’s shoulder blades before he stepped out of the cubicle. “With you, if you have a moment.”
“Oh, all right. Come along, then. And don’t bother Desmond, 006. Very important work he’s doing.”
“I’m not bothering him. Am I bothering you, quartermaster?” Alec asked slyly, turning back to Q.
“Only when you’re speaking, 006,” Q quipped, smiling innocently.
Alec laughed, sharp and vicious. “I’ll remember that,” he threatened before he pushed away from the cube wall and headed for Boothroyd’s office.
Q heard the door close. Trying to hide his concern, Q turned back to his monitor and the various programs he had running. Alec would never say anything that might shine a poor light on him, so worrying himself over what he and Boothroyd were discussing was wasting too much of his energy. Besides, Alec was working to ferret out the traitor among MI6. For all Q knew, Alec was currently interrogating Boothroyd in his special, aggressively Alec way. Or not. He hoped not.
Before he had a chance to really see what was in front him, he caught a hint of perfume that warned him to turn around. Danielle walked over and put a hand on Q’s shoulder. “Do you have a moment, Desmond?” she asked in a kindly, concerned voice.
Q knew better than to trust that tone of voice from her. Kindly usually meant annoyed, whereas concerned almost always translated into irate. The two together sent a chill down Q’s spine. “Um, yeah. I mean yes. Yes, ma’am.”
Grabbing his tablet, Q got up and followed Danielle to her office with more than a little trepidation. She stopped just inside the doorway to wait for him, closing the door behind him as he entered.
Instead of sitting across the desk, Danielle gestured for him to take one of the guest seats while she took the other. She turned as much as the chair would allow so she could face him. “I understand you and 006 are...close,” she said delicately.
Oh, god. This wasn’t happening. This was not happening. He could handle talking about his personal life with his colleagues, if he had to. Hell, he could probably handle it from Boothroyd. But not Danielle. Anyone but Danielle. Q desperately tried to remain calm in hopes that his face wouldn’t start turning a violent shade of puce.
“Um, well, yes, I guess so. Ma’am,” he stammered. “We really only just met last week. I’m not sure if close is the word I’d use, but –”
“Yes, well,” she interrupted, looking just as uncomfortable as Q felt. “There, ah – Last week, that is, Major Boothroyd excused you – And oh, you’re not in any trouble at all,” she assured him sincerely, meeting his eyes for just a moment. Her smile was slightly strained. “Nothing to worry about there, Desmond. You’re doing an excellent job. You’ll find out the details at the team lead meeting tomorrow at eleven, but we want you to support –” She cut herself off with a little shake of her head. Her gold earrings glittered under her carefully styled hair. “Well. We’re very happy with your work. Really, it’s remarkable how well you fit in, for being here only a few months.”
Despite the compliment, Q’s smile was strained. There was simply too much about this conversation that was uncomfortable. “Well, thank you, ma’am. I, um, very much appreciate the support.” He darted an eye towards the door. “Was there anything else you needed? I do have quite a bit of work to finish...”
“Oh. Er, yes, Desmond,” she said, lifting a hand as though to stop him. She glanced at the door herself as if wishing for someone to interrupt, saving them both from the conversation. “It’s just...well, part of your duties as a quartermaster are to work closely with the field agents, yes, but you don’t...you don’t need to... That is, you shouldn’t feel concerned at all about standing up to them when they get...stroppy.”
Q had to make an Olympic-sized effort to hide just how mortified he was. “Yes, ma’am, I, uh, understand,” he tried to reassure her, but couldn’t bring himself to look her in the eye. “And I have no reservations about how to handle them when they get ‘stroppy’. I believe it’s what makes me such an effective quartermaster.” He darted a glance towards the door again, silently praying that a land war would spontaneously break out and spare him whatever else she had to say.
“Good. Excellent. Well, then,” she said, obviously willing to seize the opportunity to end the agonising conversation. She reached out and patted his arm. “If you have any difficulties, you can refer 006 to me. I’ve dealt with him before.”
“Yes, ma’am, I’ll keep that in mind.” Seeing the look of concern on her face, Q paused before getting up. He really didn’t want to get Alec in trouble. Q was just as much responsible for their four days shacked up in a hotel as Alec. He turned back to her. “Ma’am, please know that 006 has done nothing wrong. My absence last week was my choice, not his. But since I was with him, he was kind enough to call in for me, so as not to concern anyone here about my whereabouts. I hope you understand that.”
She couldn’t quite hide her soft, relieved sigh. “Of course. Thank you, Desmond. Best get back to work now.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Grateful to finally be done with the conversation, Q didn’t hesitate to leave. Despite her ability to call the toughest Double O to task with nothing more than a warning look and mild words, she’d never been fierce with Q. He hated the thought of her feeling like she had to defend him. That wasn’t her job.
As he headed back to his desk, Q went through his mental checklist of work he had to finish for the day. He had told Alec an hour, but the brief conversation with Danielle had probably set him back about thirty minutes. Alec would just have to wait. Hopefully, Major Boothroyd could keep him distracted for a while.
“Go ahead,” Alec said as he settled into the guest chair in Boothroyd’s office. “Start the scolding.”
“Oh, nonsense,” Boothroyd said, sighing himself into his high-backed leather chair. The hydraulics creaked in protest. “You don’t think I haven’t had a” – he made a dismissive gesture – “little office fling now and again?”
Anticipating some horrid story about Boothroyd in the closet at a sixties Christmas party with two secretaries and an eighth of weed, Alec flinched inside, though he let no sign of it show. He needed intel. He needed access. And he needed to stay on Boothroyd’s good side to get it.
Instead, he fished his cigarettes out of his jacket pocket and said, “Sorry it had to be one of yours.” He offered the pack to Boothroyd.
“Rubbish. That stuff will kill you.” Boothroyd opened his desk drawer, took out a carved wooden box, and opened the lid. Inside were his pipe and tobacco. He’d long since disabled the smoke alarm in his office, and heaven help anyone from Facilities who bitched. “There isn’t...er...paperwork I’ll need to watch for, is there?”
Alec lit a cigarette. “I didn’t intimidate him into anything, if that’s what you’re asking,” Alec said, biting back the urge to snap. He knew he shouldn’t take offence – Boothroyd was from another era – but this was the sort of thing that gave the Double O’s a bad name. Headquarters staff seemed to believe field agents were incapable of treating civilians with any sort of respect or consideration. Not that Alec hadn’t used that reputation to his own advantage more than once...
“Good, good.” Boothroyd started packing fragrant tobacco into the bowl of the pipe. “Desmond. He’s a good lad, that one. A little...skittish.” Boothroyd ducked his head to look at Alec over his glasses. “Do try not to scare him away.”
Certain that Q – his Q – couldn’t be scared away, Alec said, “If he can’t handle one agent, he doesn’t belong in the quartermaster programme.”
Boothroyd chuckled. “Yes, true. But it’s not your job to weed out the weak – at least, not on British soil.” Laughing at his own joke, he took the pipe in his teeth and started patting his pockets. Politely, Alec got up and flicked his lighter, holding it steady for Boothroyd. After a couple of puffs, Boothroyd nodded and drew a deep mouthful of smoke. “Thank you. Anyway, I suppose this means he’s got your stamp of approval?”
“I haven’t broken him yet,” Alec pointed out, rather liking the idea of giving it a try. “Do you have someone you’d rather I go after? I haven’t been around in a while. Who else is new?”
“Oh, there’s always someone. The turnover in government these days is horrifying. No loyalty,” Boothroyd complained mournfully. “But you can tell, you know. You get an eye for who’s going to last out the next year or two.”
“And who won’t?” Alec asked, wondering if his target would be acting like a short-term employee or one who was in for the duration. It probably came down to loyalty. A short-termer wouldn’t care about things like keeping a regular work schedule, filling out administrative paperwork, and following the rules. Get in, sabotage the intel servers, get out. It was what most junior field agents would do.
Alec, though, would go long-term. Build a cover identity. Ease into the work. Be just the right type of employee – either always in early, bright-eyed and helpful, or absolute middle-of-the-road. Never make waves or only make the right kind of waves. Become invisible through mediocrity. And he wouldn’t strike for weeks, perhaps months, depending on his mission.
Whoever had taken out Ronson and nearly caught out James had to be more like Alec than one of the new agents. Alec’s fingers twitched, and he took a drag, letting the smoke calm the urge to go out into the office and start interrogating people.
“You wouldn’t know any of those types,” Boothroyd assured him. “No sense letting them near anything important.” He leaned back, chair creaking, and puffed contentedly on his pipe. “No, I save the best of the lot for you lads. Desmond, of course. And Thomas – that’s his name, despite him programming the email system to call him TJ. Eryn – German girl. You’ve probably seen her around.”
“That can’t be all of them,” Alec said when Boothroyd fell into contemplative silence. If he had two people on his short list, this could be settled by the end of the day, especially since he’d eat his bloody Walther if it turned out TJ was the mole. TJ was brilliant, easily distracted, and had been working his way up the ranks for the last four or five years.
“Well, no. But most of them are quartermasters or our ComSec shift lead liaisons.”
Alec nodded, though he really should have guessed. The two most sensitive posts in TSS were the quartermasters – the men and women who consolidated intel and equipment to work directly with the field agents – and the ComSec liaisons who monitored secure communications to gather that intel in the first place. That widened the pool, bringing it closer to thirty suspects, maybe a bit more, depending on how many hot desks they had working. And that sparked the thought that maybe this was tied in with geography. Hot desks were temporary teams formed to focus on one particular area – the Afghanistan hot desk had been in operation long enough that they were calling themselves the cold desk by now.
He’d nose around some more, and no one would think twice. He was bored and grieving the death of his best friend. M wouldn’t send him out in the field in an emotionally compromised state. All he had to do was keep away from her, since she’d see through him in a second. That and not foul up whatever plans Q had.
He leaned forward and stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray Boothroyd wasn’t permitted to have, according to regs. “Always good to see you, Major.”
“You, too, my boy. Don’t be a stranger,” Boothroyd said, teeth clenched around the pipe so he could extend his hand to Alec. “And I’m sorry for your loss.”
The words stung far less, now that he’d actually heard James’ voice, though he was very aware that they weren’t out of danger. Not at all. “Thanks,” he said quietly, and left the office to see what sort of trouble he could stir up.
Q rubbed his eyes as he stared at his three monitors – one turned upright – while lines of code and data scrolled across the various screens. He had missed his last cup of tea, and he was starting to mildly hate life. It didn’t help that, as his general workload continued to mount, he was starting to wonder if a fourth monitor wasn’t in order. Not that it would surprise anyone. People still talked about Kyle’s seven-monitor setup from six months ago when he was running a joint mission for 002 and 008. Kyle hadn’t slept for the three days of the mission and only left his monitors to use the bathroom. He’d ended up in Medical when Boothroyd and Danielle had realised he wasn’t taking breaks, not even to sleep or eat.
He checked the time on his mobile, wanting to be ready to go when he’d said be. According to his phone, he had about five minutes until he was ‘supposed’ to be done. While his critical work really wouldn’t stretch beyond the timeframe he’d given Alec, the truth was, he fully understood why Kyle had never really left his desk during that mission. Trying to help Alec and James, Q probably could pull the same type of shift without even noticing.
Keeping an eye on Boothroyd’s door, Q actually noticed this time when Alec appeared in the cubicle farm. As expected, Alec started strolling over to Q’s desk, so he made quick work of shutting down what he didn’t need and locking up the rest to keep running. Even though regs stated no critical work was to leave MI6, Q had still set up his personal laptop to hack into his desk, so he could work from home during those few times Danielle had herded him out.
Q smiled at Alec when he walked up. “Just finishing up,” he said before dropping his voice. “My monitoring programs are running, and I can check them from anywhere. Did you talk to Boothroyd? What did you find out?”
“Enthusiast,” Alec accused quietly. He snatched Q’s parka from where it hung on his cube wall, took hold of his arm, and gave him bare seconds to grab his bag. Then Alec pulled him out of the cubicle – thankfully most of the others had gone for the day, so there was no one to really see – and brought him to the emergency stairs, rather than the lift.
A hard shove opened the door. The metal thunk echoed loudly through the stairwell. As the doors swung closed, Alec pushed Q against the wall, ducked his head, and stole his breath with a kiss.
Q gave in to the kiss for about a second before he pushed a hand against Alec’s chest. He knew he didn’t actually have the strength to move the agent, but Alec still backed off just the same. “Alec, please. We’re at work and the rumours going around are bad enough.” He thought about his conversation with Danielle. “And when I say bad enough...” he muttered, shivering slightly.
Alec pouted, releasing Q before he stepped away. “Did someone say something to you? I never bothered checking in my weapon after my last mission,” he said, an angry edge coming into his voice.
“Well, unless you plan on shooting up half of TSS, along with both Ms. Marsh and Major Boothroyd, I think it might be best to curb that notion,” Q teased. “Honestly, though, it doesn’t matter what people are saying, just that they are. I would very much like to stay a quartermaster, if it’s all the same to you.”
Alec huffed and turned guiltily away. “Do you want to come home with me tonight? Or would you rather not?”
“Alec,” Q said, quietly. He instantly felt bad. He hadn’t meant to come off sounding quite so petulant. He reached up to touch lightly at Alec’s jaw, turning Alec back to face him. “Yes, I want to come home with you. I’m just worried about my superiors looking at me today and only seeing you, not my work. Does that make sense?”
Relaxing a bit, Alec turned to brush his lips over Q’s hand. “Boothroyd knows you. He identified you as one of his best. Even if he did keep calling you Desmond,” he added sullenly.
Q laughed quietly, smiling at Alec’s childishness. Most of the time, he loathed behaviour like that, but on Alec it was simply charming. “Well, I guess you’ll just have to set them all straight, won’t you?”
This time, Alec nipped Q’s hand before he wrapped an arm around Q’s waist, pulling him away from the wall. “We’ll stop for takeaway. I’ll tell you what I learned on the way home, and then I’ll feed you and not let you leave my bed.”
Deciding he didn’t really give a damn about the cameras, Q wrapped his arms around Alec’s shoulders, pulling him in for a sweet and lazy kiss. He followed it by leaning in to kiss Alec’s jaw before whispering in his ear. “Sounds absolutely perfect.”
Forty minutes later, they were in a flat that could have been gorgeous with a little furniture. The open floorplan featured windows with a panoramic view of London, a pristine kitchen in stainless steel and white marble, and not too damned much else, other than a bed off to one side and two dozen moving boxes, some of them falling apart, tucked away in the corner. Half the boxes had been looted, with contents spilling out in a magpie’s treasure of primarily clothing and weapons.
Why Alec had what looked like an authentic Crusader’s greatsword, Q wasn’t certain he wanted to know.
Alec threw his rain-damp coat on top of a bent metal folding chair by the door. “Make yourself at home,” he invited, carrying the pizza box to the kitchen.
Q tried to hide a laugh as he set his rucksack down by what he assumed was a coat closet and looked around. The general lack of any real furniture – save the bed – made him think Alec had only been living here a short while. The mess of the boxes and the fact that things seemed to be strewn, well, everywhere told a different story.
According to Alec’s file, he had spent the vast majority of his life moving from one place to another. Born in Britain and raised in Russia, only to return to the UK long enough to join the Navy and be shipped out, he had never really lived anywhere long enough that he could call any one place home. Even though he’d lived as a Londoner for the past ten or so years, he’d still spent so much time in the field that he’d never had the chance to really grow attached to the city. At least, not in the way most people did. But, then again, Alec wasn’t most people.
Looking at how Alec’s life made him live like some sort of crossbreed between a vagabond and an undergrad, Q felt a pang of sadness for him despite the fact that it was also mildly adorable. At least it explained why Alec didn’t intend on letting him out of the bed. There wasn’t anywhere else for him to go.
“You know, Alec, I would make myself at home, but my home has a table. With two chairs. And a television,” Q teased, laughing. “Should I just strip now and get into bed? I’m guessing that was your master plan all along anyway.” He turned to look back at Alec, letting his suggestion show in his smile.
For one brief instant, Alec looked at the emptiness. One corner of his mouth twitched up and he shrugged, eyeing the bed more speculatively. “I can tie you down and feed you. That’s a brilliant plan, don’t you think?” he asked, taking paper plates – naturally they were paper – out of a cupboard.
Q walked up behind Alec and wrapped his arms around his waist. “You know, the fact that you live in a quarter-furnished flat and you chose pizza for dinner...” Q laughed into Alec’s back. “I’m sorry, but the uni-student jokes are just too easy.”
Alec huffed and nudged Q with an elbow, though he wrapped one hand around Q’s wrists to keep him in place. “Be nice. That’s a bloody expensive mattress. Not to mention it was a pain in the arse to get up here. Why bother with anything else?”
Q planted a light kiss between Alec’s shoulder blades. “Well, if you had a couch and television, we could turn on either something with an exorbitant number of explosives or something meant to be, oh I don’t know, scary, and pretend to watch it while I straddle you and lick cheese off your chest.” Q reached up to lightly bite at Alec’s neck just below his ear. “But, you know, if that sounds boring to you...”
Q tried to pull back, but Alec held on more tightly, leaning his head back until his hair brushed Q’s shoulder. “You’re a menace to my bedsheets, and you’d bloody well better be equally creative with the furniture I do have,” he warned. Then he let go enough to turn, switching Q’s wrists from one hand to the other to hold them trapped against his back. His other hand tangled in Q’s hair, and he met Q’s eyes, frowning. “What the hell is it about you?”
Q did his best to hold Alec’s gaze, but the dazed, wondering, caring expression made it difficult. It wasn’t the look of someone only interested in sex – and Q wasn’t sure he disliked it. “I’m sure I haven’t the foggiest idea what you mean,” he managed to scrape out.
Instead of answering, Alec hummed thoughtfully before pulling Q into a kiss, slow and demanding. He only released Q’s wrists and hair when Q shifted, pulling against his hold. Then he dropped his hand to Q’s shoulder, ran his other hand up Q’s arm, and ended the kiss by casually saying, “Food first. You can even sit on the counter or find some boxes that won’t collapse.” He grinned at Q, without a hint of whatever he’d just been thinking.
Q shook his head to clear the moment, and smiled easily up at Alec. He glanced around, looking for the best place to set up shop for dinner. The counter actually wasn’t a bad idea, Q thought. He grabbed the paper plates to set next to him and twisted to hop up.
Once in place, he pulled Alec close between his legs. “You did say you wanted to feed me.” He crooked an eyebrow at Alec suggestively.
Alec grinned in approval and reached up to take off Q’s glasses. “Not that you aren’t bloody adorable with them, but I’d rather not break them,” he muttered, setting them well out of reach. Then he leaned in close, bracing his hands to either side of Q’s hips. “Close your eyes.”
Q hesitated for a brief second before complying. “If you could also try not to ruin my shirt, that would be lovely. It’s actually the nicest one I own.”
“In that case, why are you still wearing it? Eyes still closed,” Alec warned, moving away. A moment later, Q heard the sink running. Without opening his eyes, Q used the opportunity to take off his shirt and toss it in what he thought was the general direction of what would, with furniture, be the sitting room. Better safe than sorry.
He heard Alec wash his hands – or so Q guessed. Then he heard the rustle of cardboard, and the air filled with the smell of cheese and tomatoes, as well as chicken and vegetables. He twitched in surprise when he felt a gentle touch on his bottom lip. Alec’s thumb swiped across, making Q shiver when the callused fingertip reached the corner of his mouth.
Then there was a different touch, this one sharp with spices. Q bit into a slice of grilled chicken, one side covered with tangy sauce and a thin bit of melted cheese.
Q licked his lips as he swallowed. The flavours that danced around his mouth were a strange mix, but one he liked. “Pesto?” he asked. “I’ve never had pesto on pizza before.”
“What do you think?” Alec pressed a feather-light kiss to his throat.
Q’s breath hitched at the touch and he leaned forward, chasing the kiss. “I – I like it,” he whispered raggedly. God, Alec was good at this.
Laughing, Alec drew back, and the next touch on Q’s lips brought the taste of crispy dough, sauce, and vegetables, most likely grilled. The bell pepper he recognised immediately, but it took him a second to figure out the cucumbers and some sort of squash. It was surprisingly good.
As soon as Q had chewed and swallowed, Alec licked at his lips. “Not bad.”
Taking control, at least for a moment, Q put his hands on Alec’s waist to pull him in for a kiss and taste himself on Alec’s lips. “Chicken, pesto, and veggies?” Q asked when he pulled back, still not daring to open his eyes. “I must say, I’m mildly impressed. My pizza knowledge tends to not extend much beyond that of simple pepperoni and cheese.”
“Uncivilised heathen,” Alec accused, leaning comfortably against the counter, Q’s legs to either side of his hips. “Here, try it all together. It’s as close to perfection as you can get from a chain.” He touched Q’s bottom lip, applying gentle pressure until he let his mouth open. Then he held up the pizza for Q to take a bite.
Instead of leaning in for the bite, Q reached up to lightly drag his hand along Alec’s arm, gently guiding the slice towards his mouth. He brought in enough of the slice to get at all the flavors Alec had fed him thus far. As he bit down and chewed, he felt for Alec’s face with his other hand, resting it along Alec’s jaw, back near the nape of his neck. Before Alec could respond to the touch, Q swallowed and pulled him in for a demanding kiss, swiping his tongue into Alec’s mouth so he could taste him.
He heard a quiet thud, and then both of Alec’s hands were on him, holding his arms lightly as he gave in to the kiss. Q leaned closer until he felt Alec’s suit jacket brush against his bare chest. Alec’s fingers traced over Q’s biceps, thumbs rubbing circles up onto his arms.
Q slid his hands up through Alec’s hair before wrapping his arms around his shoulders. He tightened his legs invitingly, pressing himself into Alec’s body. When Alec ran his hands over Q’s back, pulling him close, Q let out a small whimper as he tightened his own grip. For all intents and purposes, it had been less than a week, but already Alec was carving a spot in the tightly controlled space that was Q’s world. Even the Walther pressing against Q’s ribs had become familiar. The part that was unfamiliar – even a little bit scary – was just how welcome it had all become.
“Bed?” Alec asked, thinking the damned pizza could wait. A hint of conscience nagged at him – Q either had the metabolism of a hummingbird or a startling sense of self-neglect when it came to his diet – but Alec was, with effort, able to ignore it. Q was a bloody adult, perfectly capable of deciding if he was hungry or not.
As he opened his eyes, Q merely hummed in response before pulling Alec in to nip at his ear. Taking that as assent, Alec dropped his hands to Q’s arse (still regretfully clothed) and tugged him down off the counter. He let go long enough to take off his jacket and toss it vaguely towards the sitting room where Q had thrown his shirt. Q went for his holstered gun, and Alec waited for the little shiver of tension that came from someone else touching his weapon – anyone other than James – but there was nothing.
“Mattress holster,” Alec said, allowing Q to draw the Walther so he could shrug out of the holster. Q opened his eyes, blinking a few times to adjust to the light. He took Alec by the wrist and guided him to the bed.
Q walked up and stopped, looking at the bed. “Um, which side?”
Alec huffed in amusement. “Both. My spare’s on the far side.” He reached out with his free hand and tugged up the duvet to show a holster suspended between the mattress and box spring, positioned for an easy draw. He toed off his shoes and kicked them under the bed, out of the way.
Q walked over to the closest side of the bed and tucked the Walther into the holster. Alec stared at him, thinking he was going to need to get Q out of his clothes more often. The men Alec ended up seducing on missions were either soft, over-indulgent types or assassins like himself. Q was new. Engaging. Interesting.
“Shoes,” Alec said, stopping at the foot of the bed. He’d never bothered buying an actual headboard and footboard.
Q looked up at Alec, confused. “I’m sorry?”
“Shoes off.” Alec tossed his shoulder holster on the floor beside the bed, thinking he’d probably need to get a proper bedside table someday.
Q snorted. “Well, obviously,” he replied. “I wasn’t intending on shagging with them on. Unless, you know, you’re that guy. In which case, you’re creepy.” Q looked over, a wickedly gleeful expression on his face.
Alec grinned. “I’m a bloody assassin, Q. It’s my job to be creepy,” he pointed out. “Shoes. And socks. Just kick them under the bed.”
Q sat on the edge of the bed and took off his shoes. As each shoe dropped, he revealed socks that were a shade of bright, almost aggressive blue flecked with yellow. Alec had to look again before realising the yellow spots held stylised bats. Specifically, the bats from the classic television show, Batman.
He wondered if he should take credit for the sudden shift in Q’s wardrobe. Last week, Q had been wearing perfectly normal, professional black socks.
“Now I have to see what pants you’re hiding under those sensible wool trousers,” Alec said, grinning.
Q looked up, perplexed. “I’m sorry?” He followed Alec’s line of sight down to his socks. “Oh, those,” he snickered. “Actually, if you must know, these are rather normal. I wore black socks last Wednesday since it was Bond’s memorial service that day. Seems it wasn’t needed. Should have just gone with my Iron Man socks, as originally planned.”
“James would like that better,” Alec said truthfully, utterly charmed at Q’s odd habits. What else was he hiding under his bland, carefully professional exterior? “Clothes off.”
Q smiled at the challenging note in Alec’s voice. Stripping off his socks, he stood and rested his hands on his belt before looking up at Alec, his fringe falling in his eye. Slowly he grabbed at the leather tongue of his belt, pulling it through the hook. He paused for a moment before ripping the belt off entirely and tossing it at Alec. “You can decide if it’s useful.”
Alec caught the belt and stopped breathing, remembering how fearlessly Q had put himself into Alec’s hands this past weekend. “What makes you think I don’t have something of my own I can use?” he challenged, though a moment’s consideration confirmed that he had no bloody clue which of his packing boxes might hold anything useful at all. He hadn’t pushed any sort of sexual boundaries for...two flats? Maybe three. He tended to spend too much time on missions and not enough at home finding people who’d be receptive to anything more than a quick shag.
Q slid down off the mattress and strolled over to him. “Alec.” Q leaned over to bite at his collar, tugging at the shirt Alec still wore. “Why would I give a damn about whether or not you have your own” – using his teeth, Q released the first button on Alec’s shirt – “when I’ve placed mine so willingly in your hands?” He looked up, locking eyes with Alec.
Any other time, Alec wouldn’t have hesitated to double the belt and give a sharp smack or two, playfully or not. But something in Q’s expression made him hold back. It wasn’t fear – it was trust.
Instead, Alec lifted his free hand to Q’s hair and pushed his fringe back out of his eyes. “Don’t stop,” he encouraged quietly, letting the belt slip through his fingers until he held it negligently by the buckle.
Without taking his eyes off Alec, he reached down to tug lightly on the belt in Alec’s hand. He threw the belt to the floor before running his hand up to rest on Alec’s wrist. Doing the same to Alec’s other wrist, he guided Alec’s hands up to his trousers. “You wanted me naked. Go on, then. Unbutton them,” he said raggedly. Keeping his hands on Alec’s wrists, he pressed lightly into the clasp, encouraging him.
Alec couldn’t suppress a quiet laugh, thinking that Q would never fail to surprise him. He would never surrender easily, nor for very long – moments, yes, but he’d always fight back. And he was comfortable in his skin, Alec thought, unclasping the waistband. He found the zip and tugged it down slowly, letting his knuckles brush over Q’s cock. Q wasn’t shy about his body at all.
He moved his hands out to Q’s hips and caught hold of his trousers and pants. He pushed them down an inch, baring sharp hipbones and smooth skin, and leaned in to brush his lips over Q’s. “Now what?” he teased.
Q gave Alec a lust-filled smile before guiding his hands to push the trousers and pants all the way down. Without breaking eye contact, Q reached up to hold onto Alec’s arms while he stepped out of the material pooled around his ankles, kicking them off to the side.
Once he was done, Q laughed wickedly. “Leave that up to me.”
Q ducked his head and tugged at the second shirt button with his teeth. Once it was free, he pushed the fabric aside to brush his nose against Alec’s chest. Wrapping his arms lightly around Alec’s waist, he slowly sank down until he was eye level with the third button. He licked over the material before pulling the button through the eyelet.
Alec bit back a curse, staring down at Q, absolutely captivated. “Q,” he said softly, wanting to lift his hands to touch. Q’s light hold kept him still, as if moving might break the fragile connection between them.
Q continued down Alec’s shirt, making quick work of the fourth and fifth buttons, only stopping when the shirt met his trousers. Breathing heavily by now, Q rested his chin against Alec’s belt, looking up with eyes gone lustfully dark. Just like Alec had done on their first night together, Q tapped gently at Alec’s legs to lift each foot and remove his socks. Alec had a better sense of balance, deftly managing the task. If Q noticed, he chose to ignore it.
Free to move, Alec carded his fingers through Q’s hair, tugging lightly. The cement floor had to be cold, and Alec had vague thoughts of scooping Q up and getting him onto the high, warm bed, but he couldn’t. “You’re beautiful like this,” he said roughly, looking at Q’s pale, strong body.
“Thank you,” Q whispered so quietly, Alec almost didn’t catch it. As he watched, Q ran his fingers along Alec’s belt to work it free and slowly undo his trousers, taking his time with the button and the zipper. Everything went still and distant; Alec’s senses narrowed to just him and Q, magnifying the sound of the zip into a hissing rattle. Q rested his head on Alec’s stomach as he pushed the fabric aside. He slipped his fingers into the waistband of Alec’s pants and pulled everything down in one smooth motion. Once Alec had stepped out of the puddled cloth, Q mouthed gently over Alec’s cock before looking up again, as if waiting for instruction.
After an entire long weekend together, Alec wouldn’t normally bother with the same partner. Hell, he rarely kept the same one two nights in a row. By then, he’d learn enough about what his partner liked and didn’t, what made his partner squirm or cry out in desperate pleasure. Once the mystery was gone, though, Alec’s interest inevitably waned. Except with Q.
Now, he tugged Q’s hair until he knelt upright, and then caught him by the shoulders to lift him back to his feet. Q felt perfect in Alec’s arms, sharp bones digging against his chest and hips. A nudge tipped Q’s head back, and Alec kissed him again, thinking he wanted to take this slowly. All damned night, even.
Q kissed back, sliding a hand around Alec’s waist and moving the other up Alec’s back to play with the hair at the base of his neck. When the kiss broke naturally a moment later, Q searched Alec’s eyes, trying to suss something out. Whatever it was he was looking for, though, got lost under a sudden haze of intent as he leaned back in for another kiss, this one needy and demanding. His grip tightened against Alec, as though trying to tether himself to the spot.
Alec pulled Q with him as he turned and backed up against the bed. He sat and pushed onto the high mattress, never letting the kiss break as he settled onto his back, holding Q on top of him, until he felt soft, cool skin everywhere against his body. “Q, fuck,” he muttered between kisses, wrapping one leg around Q’s. He tried to move up farther, but the push of his hips sent pleasure tearing through him. He flattened a hand over Q’s arse and held him in place. “Tell me what you want.”
Q rolled his hips against Alec’s, sending another shock of pleasure through them both. He pulled one leg up and planted his knee next to Alec’s thigh, getting a better purchase on the bed before propping himself up on his arms to look down at Alec. “God, Alec, I....” Q closed his eyes and rested his forehead against Alec’s. He leaned in for a brief, but intense, kiss before glancing back down again. “I want you inside me. Please.”
Yes, Alec thought, twisting to roll Q abruptly onto his back. The startled, wide-eyed look of surprise held Alec still for one moment, before Q smiled. Then, remembering why he fucking hated his flat, Alec swore viciously and pushed up off Q. He needed to find something to pass as furniture.
Q raised an eyebrow, looking at Alec questioningly. “You don’t know where the supplies are again, do you?” he asked, the corner of his mouth quirking up as he tried not to laugh.
“Bathroom. I need proper bloody furniture,” Alec complained.
He didn’t bother to turn on the bathroom light. He pulled open the medicine cabinet, found the bottle of lubricant on the bottom shelf, and then reached out before he hesitated. He looked back out the door at Q, who was stretched out languidly across Alec’s bed. The sight froze Alec in place, and Q smirked as if he knew the effect he had on Alec.
“Condoms?” Alec asked a bit incoherently, thinking they probably should have had this talk before now.
Q sat up to glance at Alec, surprised. “I’m clean,” he said before falling back down on the bed, laughing humourlessly. “Painfully so, actually. That said, when was the last time you let Medical anywhere near you?” Q glanced back over to regard Alec, letting the implication of the question stand for itself.
“I’m healthy. Regular blood tests keep the damned vampires happy. It’s their stitches I can’t stand. I usually have James do them.” Then, because Q was Technical Services, he added, “I sweep regularly for surveillance. We’re safe to speak openly here.”
“Then I think we’re good,” Q answered as he went back to staring at the ceiling.
Alec’s breath caught. He’d thrown out the question casually, not really thinking about the implication. But having Q with nothing between them – having Q as his – was almost too much to consider.
He closed the medicine cabinet and crossed silently to the bed. He tossed the bottle onto the duvet before he crawled slowly on top of Q, ducking to lick over his abdomen and chest. Knowing what he would have was enough to push the urgency aside. A small part of him wanted to ask if this was really all right or how often Q let his lovers have this, but he indulged in another kiss instead, tasting the contrast between Q’s body and his chapped lips.
Q grabbed for Alec, pulling him down until they were pressed together from knees to chests. He spread his legs encouragingly before bending his knees. He pushed his hips up, biting down hard on Alec’s bottom lip.
“Fuck.” Alec snatched at the lubricant and opened it. Thankfully, the bottle was three-quarters full, so he didn’t have to deal with a bloody safety seal. He licked at Q’s lips one last time before pushing back to kneel between Q’s legs, staring down at his body. His ribs pushed against his skin, and the soft trail of hair was dark, drawing Alec’s eye further down.
Alec spilled a puddle of lubricant onto his palm, capped the bottle, and tossed it to the other side of the bed. He slid his dry hand down over the curve of Q’s arse, encouraging Q to lift a bit higher. Ducking, he nipped the inside of Q’s knee as he curled the fingers on his other hand, moving them to spread the lube.
When he brushed one slick fingertip lightly from the base of Q’s spine to his balls, Q arched his back in surprise only to push back down again, chasing the sensation. He closed his eyes and shivered at the touch, his breath catching. Alec repeated the motion, his finger travelling more smoothly now, watching every subtle reaction. Q was so damned sensitive, Alec thought he could do this for hours.
But there was time for that later – other long weekends and holidays and the once-interminable downtime between missions. Alec was no longer thinking of Q as a resource to find the MI6 mole, to be used and discarded once it was safe for James to return. He rubbed his jaw against Q’s knee and eased the tip of his finger into Q’s body, feeling the tight resistance ease as Q began to relax to his touch.
Q squirmed a little, then pushed down slowly, as if to encourage Alec further. “God, Alec,” Q breathed, his eyes still closed. “Keep going. Please.” He reached down, grappling for Alec’s other arm as though looking for a second point of contact. When his hand found purchase, he used the leverage to lift himself up slightly before pushing back down, trying to work Alec’s finger deeper inside.
“Patience.” Alec caught Q’s hand and laced their fingers together. He used their joined hands to push down on Q’s hipbone, holding his body pinned. Deliberately, he eased his finger out a bit, gently pressing all around, knowing how his rough calluses would feel against sensitive nerves. Q sucked in a breath; his eyes tightened even more as he gripped where Alec held his hand pinned down.
Alec kissed the inside of Q’s knee again as he pushed into Q’s body a bit more, and then pulled his finger back out almost all the way. “Fucking beautiful,” he said softly, lapsing thoughtlessly into Russian. He eased out and brushed over Q’s skin again, from tailbone to balls, listening to the way Q whimpered at the threatened loss of contact.
Unable to deny Q, Alec pushed his finger back inside. Q’s body relaxed, and Alec found no resistance – only soft, inviting heat. He swore under his breath again and pushed deeper, carefully stroking with his fingertip.
Softly, Q began to plead, “Don’t stop,” and “Alec,” and “More.” His fingers tightened against Alec’s, and Alec squeezed encouragingly, though he kept his other hand moving gently, exploring Q’s body.
When he pulled his finger out, Q let out a frustrated whine. Hiding a grin against Q’s leg, Alec carefully pushed two fingers inside. There was no resistance at all – only a quiet, stuttered exhale as Q tried to lift his hips invitingly.
“Fuck,” Alec said, wishing he had better words, in Russian or English, to show Q how incredible this was. He thought he’d experienced everything this past weekend – Q’s playful side, his beautiful surrender, his hedonism and avarice – but this was more. This was them, not just Alec doing something to Q.
Q pulled his hand free so he could reach down and cup Alec’s face. He slowly guided Alec up for a kiss that was just this side of desperate. When the kiss finally broke, they were both gasping for air. “I’m ready,” Q whispered, his voice ragged and just a touch frantic. “Inside me. Now.”
Alec nodded, withdrawing his fingers from Q’s body. He silenced Q’s gasps with a kiss as he cleaned his hand on the duvet. Then he reached between their bodies as Q rolled his spine to lift his hips off the bed as best he could. Leaning down for another kiss, Alec brushed his hand over Q’s cock, stroking once just to hear him moan appreciatively. Then he reached further down between his own legs, biting back a groan as he took hold of himself.
Not wanting to hurt Q, he said, “More –” but Q was already feeling for the lube. He found it and nearly tore the cap off when he snapped it open.
Q cursed softly as he fumbled with the bottle, pouring more than was necessary into his own hand. Without bothering to close it, he tossed the bottle carelessly off to the side. Q rubbed his fingers into his palm and, obviously not wanting to let anything go to waste, he slid his other hand to Alec’s arse, pulling him down to take both their cocks in his over-lubricated hand. Alec couldn’t hide his groan as pleasure tore through him. He thrust against Q’s hand and cock, catching his balance with a hand against the mattress.
“Q. God, Q,” he grated out, closing his eyes.
Moving his free hand up to Alec’s nape, Q pulled him down into a messy kiss as he twisted his hand over their cocks and dragged upward. Alec groaned into Q’s mouth, losing the kiss under the sensation of Q’s long, wonderful fingers. Q stroked a few more times before letting go of himself so he could thumb across the tip of Alec’s cock, finally releasing him as well.
As Q broke off the kiss, he barely moved back, breathing into Alec’s mouth. “Now, I think you’re ready.”
Unable to speak, Alec concentrated on slowly pushing into Q’s body, savouring the feel of having no barriers between them. He stopped breathing until his hips pressed tightly against Q’s arse. Needing to be even closer, he leaned down as far as he could, meeting Q’s eyes. “You feel fucking incredible.”
Q huffed out a little laugh. “You’re gorgeous, you have a licence to kill, and you’re bloody amazing in bed,” he noted. “I’m thinking you’re not so bad yourself.”
Alec managed a rough laugh of his own. “Really,” he murmured, resisting the urge to let loose his self-restraint. Instead, he got his knees under Q’s body, supporting him, and started to move with smooth, steady thrusts.
“Oh, god,” Q groaned. He rolled his back, giving Alec more purchase to push in deeper. “Okay, well maybe a little bit better than ‘not so bad’.” Q laughed as he smiled up at Alec, his eyes sparkling despite the fact that only a small rim of green showed around the edges of his blown pupils.
For one moment, Alec stopped moving. He looked down at Q, thinking that this couldn’t possibly be real. The world around them was falling to shit, with James nearly dying and Ronson actually dying and MI6 vulnerable from the inside, and all Alec cared about was the man under him. That perfect smile.
He shifted his weight, bracing up on one hand so he could brush his fingertips over Q’s mouth. Q’s eyes softened as he lightly kissed Alec’s fingers. Then Alec started to move again, finding the perfect angle and speed and rhythm. Q closed his eyes, let out a loud moan, and arched his back.
“Alec, please,” Q whined. “Please touch me.”
Without interrupting his rhythm, Alec moved his hand down to circle Q’s cock, causing Q to gasp. Concentrating, Alec matched his thrusts to the motion of his hand. Q started to shudder, thrusting his cock up into Alec’s hand as he continued to plead quietly. Alec told himself to back off – to hold Q at the edge – but the lure of watching Q fall apart was too strong. He let Q’s clumsy thrusts set the pace, saying, “Let go, Q. Show me how you feel.”
Q gripped the mattress on either side as he tried to push into Alec’s fist while driving back onto his cock at the same time. It only took a few more thrusts before Q’s orgasm overtook him, crying out as he arched his back into Alec’s hand. The way Q’s body went tight was nearly enough to push Alec over the edge, but he forced himself to hold back, to thrust more gently and soften the brush of his hand against Q’s cock, easing him through.
As Q came down, he started twitching before he finally opened his eyes, lightly batting Alec’s hand away from his cock. He smiled up at Alec sheepishly. “Sorry. Oversensitive.”
Alec went still, straining to breathe steadily and evenly. “Too much?” he asked, though the answer was obvious the moment he moved. Gritting his teeth, he rested his hand on Q’s hip and tried to be as gentle as he could, easing out of Q’s body. He exhaled sharply and backed away, then took a deep breath as he looked back up at Q. “You all right?”
“Yes, yes. I’m fine,” Q said turning a shade of red that had nothing to do with post-coital flush. “I’m sorry, but this whole lack-of-condoms seems to have had the rather positive effect of making this” – Q waved vaguely between them – “a little bit more intense than usual.” Q looked up through his sweaty fringe. “Please. Don’t stop.”
“Idiot,” Alec said fondly, knowing Q was too sensitive. He got up out of the bed, a little unsteady, and waved for Q to stay where he was. Alec had barely unpacked, but he at least had a bathroom cupboard full of towels. He went into the bathroom and started to clean up, though he looked back when he heard the mattress creak.
Uncomfortably aware of the affection he was feeling, he picked up another towel and tossed it at Q. “Shower?” he asked, trying to sound casual.
Dropping the towel on his shoulder, Q reached up to rest his hands on Alec’s hips. He smiled lazily at Alec, relief playing across his features. “Sounds perfect.”
As it turned out, Alec had a lovely oven that had never been used – an oven that now had melted cheese scorched to the bottom and a once-pristine grill with a few pieces of chicken and vegetables seared to the metal, since he didn’t actually own a baking sheet. Not that Alec seemed to care. Keeping one arm wrapped around Q’s shoulders, he plucked a slice out of the box resting across their laps, over the blanket, and said, “I got some intel from Boothroyd earlier.”
Q snuggled closer to Alec and carefully wrapped a leg over him. It jostled the pizza box, but didn’t topple it. After a truly luxurious shower, in which Q got to finish what they started in bed, Alec had all but shoved the food at him, threatening Medical if Q didn’t learn to eat properly.
Now they sat tucked up together in Alec’s bed, sharing the pizza they’d barely touched. Q had to admit, it was surprisingly good, even if it wasn’t his choice of toppings. He wasn’t a fan of eating in bed, but considering the rather Spartan surroundings, he wasn’t going to complain. After all, it was either the bed or the floor; at least the bed was comfortable.
Reaching over, Q guided Alec’s hand over to take a bite of the slice, only to get grease all over his own chin. He looked around for napkins, only to end up laughing. Alec didn’t own plates. Why would he be trusted to have napkins?
He turned to Alec, mildly desperate. “A little help here, please? Also, what did you learn?”
Coughing out a laugh, Alec shifted the pizza box onto Q’s lap. “Sorry,” he said, dropping the slice into the box. He went into the bathroom, and Q heard the linen cupboard open. “Boothroyd divides his people into long-term and short-term. You’re long-term, if you were wondering,” he added as he came out with a stack of striped towels that looked new and didn’t match anything in the flat. He put them down and climbed back into bed.
Q huffed a little as he grabbed at one of the towels to wipe his chin. He glanced at Alec incredulously. “Alec, I’ve been ‘long-term’ since the government came sniffing around when I was twelve.”
“True.” Alec moved beside Q and picked up the abandoned slice of pizza. “But he likes you. Even if he does call you ‘Desmond’,” he added, leaning over to kiss Q’s cheek.
Q turned his head to give Alec a quick kiss in return. “As you seem to constantly, conveniently forget, Desmond is my actual name.” He couldn’t help but laugh. He really wasn’t fond of Desmond, and the more Alec called him Q, the more he came to love it. He just wasn’t wholly sure he wanted anyone but Alec using it. It felt almost...private. “Besides, I like how ‘Q’ sounds coming out of your mouth. Not sure how I’d feel about anyone else calling me that.”
Alec growled and nuzzled at Q’s neck before he bit. “Let’s not find out just yet.”
Q hummed at first, leaning into the bite. “I’m quite all right with that,” he finally responded. He reached up and gripped Alec’s hair, not hard, but to hold him in place for just a moment longer. When he finally released him, Alec eased gently out of the bite.
Wanting to keep Alec close, Q tucked himself into Alec’s side before picking up a slice of his own. “Now, what were you saying about the Major? You said you got intel from him.”
Alec shifted to get his arm back around Q’s shoulders. “Let’s get your analysis first,” he said thoughtfully.
Q turned his head to glance at Alec, wondering what sort of analysis he was after. “Do I need my laptop for this? I have it in my rucksack.”
Alec’s expression turned curious. “Does it access the detection programs you’ve set up?”
“Of course it does. As does my desktop setup at home.”
“Why don’t you keep it here?” Alec offered. “I may need it, if you don’t mind. Not now, though. It’s really your viewpoint I’m after.”
Q shifted a little, surprised. The Double O’s – Alec and Bond especially – weren’t exactly known for seeking the opinions of anyone who wasn’t, well, them. Q wasn’t entirely sure what that meant for him, and he wasn’t about to ask. Instead of answering, he simply waited for Alec to keep going.
“The short-termers don’t make it to leading teams or any sensitive intel,” Alec continued from earlier. “They’re not decision-makers. The long-termers are invested in MI6. There are advantages and disadvantages of each, when it comes to infiltration. Which do you think is our mole?”
“I honestly couldn’t answer that,” Q answered truthfully. Taking in Alec’s assessing look, he kept going. “Please don’t misunderstand me. It’s not that I couldn’t make an educated guess, but there’s simply not enough data. What is the bigger picture? The files that were stolen, what were they for? If the information on that drive was meant to be used against NATO, then the mole would most likely be doing a smash-and-grab, so short-term. But if the purpose of the information is to take down MI6 itself, then we’re looking at long-term.”
Alec nodded slowly and took a couple of bites of pizza. “Why MI6?” he asked thoughtfully. “Why not a bigger, easier organisation? Size compromises security. Why not the CIA? Or go the other way. Why not some small unit with a few people. Easier to find someone who can be manipulated or controlled.” He shook his head and took another bite, then pointed at Q with the crust. “It’s got to be MI6. As I said last week, it’s no coincidence that all this connects back to us.”
Q picked up a piece of chicken from his slice and popped it into his mouth. He really wasn’t hungry, but probably did need to eat. Chewing slowly, he leaned back, not looking at Alec. “I know,” he said sadly. “The truth is, regardless of the scenarios I presented, I’m certain you’re right. I just hate the idea that someone I work with is trying to do harm to something I work so hard for.”
“That’s the price of espionage,” Alec said softly. “You always question. You never know who you can trust. Everyone always has another motive. And just when you think you understand, something changes – politics, alliances, enemies – and –” He cut off, shaking his head. “That’s why people go rogue. You’re taught to trust only yourself, and eventually you realise no one else gives a damn whether you live or die.”
Q looked down at his pizza slice, not really seeing it. “That’s not true, you know.”
Alec’s arm tightened around Q’s shoulders. “Have you read my file?”
“I’ve read every agent’s file – both field and the Double O’s.” Q smiled ruefully. “Of course, that may depend on what you're asking me. Are you asking if I saw the file I have access to as a junior quartermaster? Or the one I have access to because I’m just that good?”
Alec laughed. “I knew I” – he hesitated for a single beat – “wanted you around for a reason. Did you read about my history?”
Q paused, not really sure how to respond. It was one thing to read the files of the agents, to delve into their personal lives. But now that he was in bed with one of them, he couldn’t help feeling just a tad guilty at the knowledge he held.
Finally he turned to look at Alec. “I did,” he answered carefully. “But, I have to be honest, I’m not really sure what it all meant. I’m aware that you were born here, but you were raised in Russia until your parents died.” He stopped, glancing around at the flat. “I just never understood why you came back.”
Alec took one bite of the crust he held before he dropped it into the box. He wiped his hands on a towel as he chewed and swallowed. “Opportunity. Maybe revenge, at first,” he said quietly. “I didn’t know what else to do, so I enlisted. The Navy was the first recruiting office I found. I tested into the programme for officers. British subject by birth, no security issues... My parents were Austrian. I didn’t mention how long I lived in the USSR.” He shrugged. “It never came up. And then I met James, and he helped make sure no one found out, until we came to MI6. By then, it didn’t matter.”
Q tensed a little at Alec’s words. The two of them – both Alec and Bond – lived in a world of secrets and lies. It was was their job, what they were trained to do. But Q couldn’t help the fact that it still bothered him they had initially tried to keep information from Britain, as well. It made him wonder if there was any information that MI6 still didn’t have.
Now wasn’t the time to ask, though. Not when Alec was already trying to be truthful with him. “Keep going,” Q encouraged.
“My parents were Communists. They met here, in London. Their parents knew each other. After I was born, we went to Austria. Then we went to the Soviet Union.” He got up out of bed, heading for the open area beyond the kitchen. “We ended up in a closed city outside Nizhniy Novgorod,” he said, his Russian accent becoming stronger as he spoke. “I was too young to remember much of anything. My mother taught English. Colloquial London English.” He picked up his suit jacket and started rifling through the pockets.
“So you didn’t learn it in the Navy?” Q asked. Distantly, he wondered how accurate Alec’s English was in that area. If he’d learned it from his Austrian mother, there was every chance he had a bit of it wrong. Maybe it would be in his best interest if he took up Russian.
Alec laughed roughly. “I learned most of it from James. Or re-learned it.” He took out his cigarettes and went to the hob. He turned on the flame and bent down to light the cigarette with complete disregard for his long hair so close to the flame. “I wasn’t allowed to speak it at home. Whatever fluency I had, I lost. I remembered enough to get by at the recruiting office. Hell, I think half of why they wanted me was because I spoke German, Russian, and English.” He exhaled smoke and started searching through the kitchen drawers. “James helped me get rid of the accent. Before then... It’s not good to be different in the military.”
Q felt a pang of sadness for Alec. While he wasn’t military himself. Q knew all too well what it meant to be different. He had always been the skinny kid obsessed with computers, never really able to make friends. It also didn’t help that he’d discovered at an early age that he was gay. He’d spent most of his childhood and teen years trying to hide that fact. He had been bullied enough, as it was.
He got up and walked over to where Alec stood in the kitchen, smoking. He leaned against the counter, watching Alec, waiting for him to continue.
Alec flicked ash into the sink. “When I was sixteen, my father killed my mother. Then he killed himself. I don’t know why,” he said bluntly, going to the fridge. “Maybe a doctor or psychiatrist could’ve stopped him. Maybe it was my mother’s fault. She was always irrational – crying or screaming at everything. Maybe he just snapped, or she went after him.” He opened the freezer and took down a bottle of vodka. “Sorry there’s nothing else. Not even any coffee. It’s this or water.”
Q gazed at Alec sympathetically as he took the vodka out of Alec’s hand. He unscrewed the cap and took a drink directly from the bottle. At Alec’s startled look, he smiled a little. “I’m sorry, but this isn’t really a drink-from-glasses conversation,” he said, handing the bottle back to Alec.
Alec huffed and took a drink, closing his eyes as if to hide the stress Q could see in his expression. “True.” He put the bottle down and tapped the cigarette over the sink again. “I have no reason to be loyal to Britain. Not any country, really.” He looked at Q, meeting his eyes. “I have James, though. And even if Britain turns on him, he’ll have me. That’s what keeps us loyal.”
Q couldn’t quite parse what it was he was hearing. Was the only reason either Alec or Bond stayed loyal to Britain because Britain hadn’t turned on them? “Alec, I have to ask something,” he started slowly. “What keeps you here now? Yes, James is alive, but it was M who ordered the shot that got him ‘killed’.” Q emphasised the quotation marks. “Or, more importantly, what if James had died? Is there anything keeping you loyal – anything at all – beyond each other?”
“If he’d died?” Alec shrugged and exhaled smoke up towards the vents in the high ceiling. Then he walked around the kitchen counter to the window and pushed it open. Cool rain blew in. “Vengeance.” He started back towards the kitchen, looking directly at Q.
Q stared at Alec, all the air in the room seeming to disappear in one quick rush from his lungs. He was suddenly hyper-aware of the fact that he was standing in the kitchen of one of the most lethal men in the world. A man who had basically just confided to him that he had no qualms about committing treason – no, turning traitor – for the sake of his best friend.
Q knew he should leave. He knew he should report Alec and Bond, and shift this whole bloody mess onto someone else’s plate.
He knew he should be afraid.
Except that he wasn’t. He tried to find the fear he knew should have come, but it simply wasn’t there. Alec wasn’t telling him just how much of a liability he was. He was giving Q the definition of true loyalty; real and absolute. He was telling Q what made him and Bond so good at their jobs. They both knew that there was always something worth coming home to. Something worth fighting for.
And it wasn’t some intangible idea, like fighting for Queen and country. It was real and it was whole, and it would never leave either of them anywhere to die.
He'd never had anything like that. He, too, had lost his parents early, and with no siblings and no real friends, the intangible ended up being all that he knew. But he wanted it. He wanted what they had. Something real to fight for.
Q blinked and looked away. He picked up the bottle of vodka and took a drink before setting it back down, stealing a moment for himself. He turned and leaned back against the counter, bracing his hands on either side. He looked over finally and locked eyes with Alec. “Just promise me something.”
Alec dropped his cigarette in the sink and leaned past Q to pick up the bottle. “What’s that?” he asked.
Q pushed off the counter and rounded on Alec. Stepping into his space, he reached up to grab Alec’s hair hard enough to sting. “If you ever do decide to go rogue, make sure you give me enough time to pack.” With that, he kissed Alec hard, driving his intent home.
Holding Q close, Alec pushed the vodka back on the counter, thinking that if he were at all rational, he’d get out, because this was a trap. Q didn’t know him. Q couldn’t be offering what Alec thought he was hearing. But he couldn’t deny that Q was in his arms with no hint of reticence or intent to betray him, and he couldn’t let go. It was more than just wanting Q – it was knowing Q was his, as much as he was Q’s. He hoped.
And wasn’t that a complete fucking cock-up from how this all should have gone? He couldn’t hold back a sharp laugh, and he nearly lifted Q off his feet, pulling him even closer. “We’ll tear MI6 apart to find the bloody bastard who did this,” he said into Q’s hair.
“Yes, we will,” Q said confidently. After a moment, Q started laughing viciously before leaning back to meet Alec’s gaze. “You do realise, with me on board, there is no bloody force on earth that can stop us?”
Alec grinned, burying his hands in Q’s hair to hold him still for a brief, intense kiss. “Egotistical little bastard, aren’t you?” he challenged, thinking he’d never seen someone more clever – more wonderful – in all his life. Alec was tempted to hand Q a gun and a laptop and then sit back to watch the flames spread.
“I didn’t get this far in life by second guessing myself.” Q leaned forward slightly to pull against Alec’s hands and licked across his lips. “When I said I could make worlds crumble, I wasn’t stretching. There isn’t a database on the planet that I can’t hack,” he breathed into Alec’s mouth. “I’m the best for a reason, Alec,” he said before biting Alec’s lip. “I simply don’t like being anything else.”
Alec turned, crowding Q back against the counter. “Is that why you’re MI6?” He ducked his head to nip at Q’s throat and then licked over his pulse. Q’s skin was cold; Alec had the vague thought that he should go close the window, but the smoke hadn’t cleared, and the thought of getting Q to shiver his way back under the blankets was appealing.
Q arched into the touch. “More or less,” he breathed out. “I actually hacked the MoD when I was twelve. The courts gave me two options. I possibly faced incarceration and a potential lifetime ban on anything that could be, well, hooked up to anything else.” Q shuddered, but whether it was from the memory or the touch, Alec had no idea. “Or I could hone my skills and eventually work for the government. I guess they saw the potential there and decided it wasn’t worth it to waste it.”
Alec let out a huff that made Q shiver. “Coercion doesn’t breed loyalty. I knew that by the time I was ten,” he said a touch bitterly, though he didn’t allow his mind to linger on childhood memories. He concentrated instead on tracing the contours of Q’s shoulder with his lips and tongue, losing himself in the taste and texture of the skin stretched taut over Q’s bones. “Why stay?”
“Simply put? I owe my life to this country and to MI6. I didn’t find out until after my stint at the Home Office that it was Boothroyd directly who’d saved me from going to jail. You must understand something.” Q touched Alec’s jaw, making him look up. The expression on Q’s face was naked and completely raw. “I was that kid growing up. I was skinny and awkward and irrevocably gay – even if I did try to hide it. If it wasn’t for the fact that I knew something was waiting for me after childhood was over and done with, I would have put a bullet in my brain.”
Alec didn’t hesitate; he pulled Q into his arms, holding him tight, fighting to hold back the unthinking rage that urged Alec to destroy anyone who’d ever hurt him. “Q,” was all he managed to say. He wasn’t meant to deal with feeling like this. For years now, he’d lived with clear targets, clear objectives, and his only emotional connection had been to someone as shallow and damaged as he was. At least he knew better than to offer to kill someone for Q. So he kept his mouth shut and just trapped Q in his arms, hoping irrationally that someone would break in and give him the excuse to shoot.
Q held on, running his hand up and down Alec’s back. “It’s okay, Alec, really.” He pulled back to look up at Alec’s face, tensing against his hold. “Being a teenager is hard for everyone. I just learned how to channel it once I had the outlet to do so.” He smiled soothingly. “Honestly, I probably at least had that easier than most of my –”
He went quiet when the mobile buried in Alec’s suit jacket rang. Alec twitched in surprise, crushing Q against him. Instead of fighting Alec’s hold on him, Q simply turned to look at the phone, keeping his arms around Alec. When Alec continued to let it ring, Q turned to look at him inquisitively. “Were you going to answer it?”
Alec nodded, reluctantly letting go of Q. “It’s James,” he said quietly. The worry he’d felt for Q only moments before flooded back into him, but this time all he could think of was James. Had he stupidly refused to find a doctor or veterinarian to take out the bullet fragments? Had the bleeding even stopped? Had the shooter found him again?
Seeing Alec’s hesitation, Q walked over and picked up the jacket. He reached around inside, searching the pockets, finally pulling the phone free. Walking back over, he hit answer before putting it on speaker phone and setting it on the counter next to them. “007?”
When there was no immediate answer, Alec said, in Russian, “It’s clear.” Then he switched to English, adding, “It’s just me and Q. Are you all right?”
“What are you, my mother?” James asked, and Alec grinned at how much stronger he sounded now. “Can’t you do any better, Q, or has he locked the bloody door on you? You can call 999 on him, you know.”
Q laughed. “Well, I tried, but my phone seems to have mysteriously disappeared. Why do you think it was me who answered?” He looked back up at Alec and smiled impishly. “I need a rescue squad.”
“Tell them not to bother sending clothes,” Alec said, wrapping his arms lazily around Q. “And you haven’t answered my question, you arse.”
“I’m fine,” James said, his voice infuriatingly casual. “What have you found?”
“It’s been five fucking days,” Alec protested. “And you’re on vacation in the bloody Mediterranean. It’s miserable in London.”
“It’s always miserable in London, except when it’s sunny. Then it’s just fucking confusing.”
Q punched Alec lightly in the side. “What the fuck do you know about miserable? You’ve been in a four-star hotel or here with me practically the entirety of that time frame.” He leaned in to kiss Alec’s shoulder. “Quit your bitching. Both of you!”
Alec laughed, and he heard the slightly tinny echo of James’ laughter, relaxed and easy. “He’s adorable when he’s stroppy, James.”
“I can’t wait to see for myself.”
“Get your own,” Alec countered, feeling unusually possessive. He wrapped his arms more tightly around Q and refused to look more closely at his feelings. He’d never minded sharing anything with James before, from weapons to girlfriends, but Q was...his.
Q ran a hand up and down Alec’s back, leaning in to rest his head on Alec’s chest, facing the phone. “Bond,” he said, tersely. “Is your line secure? You haven’t contacted me yet to set you up properly.”
“Prepaid burner phone,” James answered. “Bloody thing’s analogue, so no texting me pictures of what you two are up to. It’s all I can get hold of out here. I’m at the arse end of the arse end of nowhere.”
“Weapon?” Alec asked.
“I’m set. And the locals are friendly.”
“What’s your cover?”
“On the run from an ex-wife.” James laughed. “I’m paying for intel on anyone sniffing around for a foreigner, in case ‘she’ sends a lawyer after me.”
Q exhaled slowly in that mildly irritating way professors use when they’re about to explain something to one of their students. Or a five-year-old. “A burner phone? And a simple domestic? Really?” Even though Q was buried against Alec’s chest, he could practically feel Q rolling his eyes. “Do they teach you nothing in finishing school?”
“Finishing school?” Alec asked, grinning against Q’s hair.
“I’m working with emergency funds,” James said in his own defence. “I’m in the middle of blasted Turkey. Be glad I found morphine, or we wouldn’t even be having this bloody conversation.”
“You didn’t get it from a doctor,” Alec guessed.
“Broke into a pharmacy. Close enough.”
“Which means, bullet fragments,” Alec muttered, resting his head on Q’s. “Bloody idiot.”
Q turned to kiss Alec one more time on the chest before pushing him back. He looked between Alec and the phone, as though talking to both of them right there in the kitchen. “So, here’s how this is going to work,” he started, and Alec could hear him slipping into his role as quartermaster. “Bond, I’m stealing this phone from Alec, and you are calling me tomorrow to get you set up on a more secure mobile. I expect you to find a decent smartphone that I can program between now and then. As for the cover story, you should have talked to me first. You bloody agents always think the domestic cover will do, but you always forget just how vicious bad relationships can get. The wrong person might want to exploit that and will have no problem selling you out to whomever may be trying to snoop around.” He turned to look directly at Alec. “Once we have actually secured our comms, you will tell 007 everything you learned from your conversation with Boothroyd. There’s not much he can do with it from his current location, but an informed agent usually means a less dead agent.” Q turned back to the phone again. “007, you will do nothing but sit on that information unless either Alec or I tell you otherwise.” He looked back and forth between the phone and Alec. “Do I make myself clear?”
“Absolutely, quartermaster,” James said, laughing.
Alec grinned and pulled Q back into his arms for a lingering kiss that he felt all the way through his body. “You’re wonderful.”
“Fucking hell, Alec, if you’re going to shag him, at least mute the damned phone,” James complained.
“It’s his phone now. He can do what he bloody likes with it. He’ll give you whatever number he sets up for me later.” Alec let go of Q enough to reach for the phone. “Do you need anything else now? Do you have anyone there?”
“I will, in about an hour, when the bar closes. Don’t worry about me. Q, don’t let him do anything stupid.”
Q smirked, opening his mouth to say something. He paused instead, letting whatever he was about to say die on his lips. His eyes softened, before he quietly said, “I promise,” and reached up to brush his lips against Alec’s.
Wishing that James had someone to look after him – his own Q – Alec brushed his fingers over Q’s cheek. He turned just enough to tell James, “We’ll bring you back in one piece.”
“I know,” James said quietly before he rang off.
Alec leaned back against the countertop and spread his legs to either side of Q’s body, sinking down so they were at the same height. “Thank you.”
Q blinked back at him, surprised. “For what?”
“For helping. For taking care of him.” Alec settled his hands on Q’s hips, petting just hard enough to keep from tickling. “He’s all I had, before...” he said, hesitant to add you to the end of that – hesitant to even think it. He couldn’t afford to think beyond the mission. Not now, while all three of their lives depended on rational thought, rather than emotional compromise.
“Well, it is my job, after all,” Q said, the corners of his mouth quirking up into an almost-smile. “And besides. He’s your family. It’s the least I could do.”
“He’s yours now, too,” Alec corrected. “He’ll protect you – do whatever you need. If something happens to me, you’ll still have him.”
“Yes, Alec.” Q smiled sadly. “I believe you.”
A week and a half of fair weather and Alec’s presence at MI6 ended with an assignment for Alec, unfortunately unrelated to the matter of the traitor within MI6, and the start of a solid week of rain and gusting winds. Q looked out the conference room window, a sheet of impenetrable grey, and waited for the meeting to start.
At least the tea was good. The smaller conference rooms had single-use machines that produced a flat, weak brew. The tea here was real, even if it was generic black tea, and there were two plates of biscuits left over from a previous meeting.
Twenty-two people pushed the conference room to its limits, with a few of them exiled to sit along the walls. TJ was sitting halfway on the table, joking with the three team leads who’d conferenced in from their operations rooms, where most of their attention was supposed to be on active missions instead of the department meeting. Boothroyd and Danielle were at the far end, writing down the month’s relevant missions on whiteboards. Q couldn’t help but wonder why they didn’t just use an electronic whiteboard or – even less high-tech – a simple projected display of the database, filtered to show recent active and closed missions. At least Danielle had pretty handwriting, in contrast to Boothroyd’s sharply slanted scrawl.
“All right, sit down please,” Danielle called, sitting down at the head of the table, with Boothroyd at her side. Q took one of the conference table seats and set his tablet in his lap, angled to rest against the table’s edge. The attendees were split, half with tablets, half with conventional pens and notepads.
“Well, it’s been a bloody dismal month,” Boothroyd said after they did the roll call. Secretary duties were passed from person to person. This month was Kyle’s turn, which meant at least Q wouldn’t need to make sure he’d been recorded as attending. Unlike some of the others, Kyle was thorough, or so Q understood. He’d only attended a half-dozen of these meetings so far and was still trying to get used to Boothroyd’s unique management style.
“I don’t believe we need to review statistics –”
Danielle’s calm voice was interrupted by Boothroyd’s, “Yes, we bloody well do!” He smacked his hand flat on the table, and people flinched all around. “Two agents dead. Unthinkable! We haven’t had this sort of nonsense since 2002. We’re not losing one more,” he said, turning to glare around the table at each of them in turn. “I don’t care what needs to be done. If you have a hint that our agents don’t have the most up-to-date intelligence or the resources they need to get the job done, you come directly to me or Ms. Marsh. Understand?”
That set the tone for the rest of the agonising meeting, which ran half an hour over schedule as Boothroyd tore into every single active operation, writing in frantic hieroglyphics until he asked Danielle to take over with the whiteboard. For the first time in his MI6 career, Q was grateful that his current active assignment was to shadow Nathan as he ran 004 in Ottawa, which meant Nathan had to answer all of the questions on behalf of their team. Thankfully, 004’s mission was an easy one involving some carefully placed bribes, and Nathan escaped without more than a warning to ‘stay on top of every last buggering detail’.
As recording secretary, Kyle gave his report last, passing his tablet over to his second-in-command, Lisa. “The Americans are cooperating with running down the intelligence leads they recovered from Abbottabad, but negotiations for direct access are still bogged down in diplomatic circles above our pay grade, sir. 0013 is on track to follow up on the heroin connection, but I could use more assistance. Our archives of potentially useful material go back forty years or more, but without Kaleidoscope up and running, we have to do our keyword searches manually.”
Boothroyd huffed in annoyance, but Q recognised the way his eyes had gone glazed. The poor man was lost with anything more complex than a spreadsheet. Q’s first assignment at MI6 – to upgrade internal security by implementing a new encryption protocol – had left Boothroyd all but cross-eyed during the presentation.
“Solution?” Boothroyd asked as he had after each summation.
“I’d like to propose another team lead take 0013’s mission, so I can concentrate on programming Kaleidoscope. Perhaps Desmond,” Kyle said, turning to look down the table with a nod. He grinned at Q, adding, “He’s already familiar with our database structure from his work on Canary Trap, so if I have questions, at least I’ll know where to find him.”
“Desmond.” Boothroyd tipped his head down to look over his bifocals, searching out Q. “No, I think you should take Kaleidoscope, Desmond. Best not to change quartermasters mid-mission, Kyle. You and 0013 have a rapport. Desmond, how long?”
Q scrambled to come up with a reasonable answer – one that would give him enough wiggle room to come in ahead of schedule. “I’d have to familiarise myself with the work that’s already been done, sir. I can give you a better answer by” – he didn’t dare look down at his tablet, but did the maths in his head instead – “next Monday, the first.”
“Done. Kyle, get with him on that,” Boothroyd ordered.
“Yes, sir.” Kyle shot Q another smile before taking his tablet back from Lisa.
Boothroyd got to his feet. “All right. Meeting’s over. Back to work, everyone.”
Danielle rose as well, and Q saw her take a breath, obviously thinking of some way to soften Boothroyd’s orders and buck up morale, but she gave up with a sigh and instead went to clear the whiteboard.
Out in the hall, Kyle called, “Desmond!” He jogged to catch up to Q and grinned. He was about ten years older than Q and had been at MI6 for just over a year. “Well done on getting Kaleidoscope. I’ve had to cobble together some workarounds to the alpha version. Care to go over them?”
Q tried to hide his flinch. He hated workarounds. “Yes, let’s,” he answered, doing his best to stay professional and neutral.
“Buck up. After Canary Trap, this should be easy,” Kyle said, grin flashing again. “Half the bloody problem is that the oldest data is scanned in, and nothing until 2003 is actually meta-tagged in any sort of useful way. Let’s not even talk consistency of formatting.”
Q started walking in the direction of the cubicle farm. “Has anyone even tried to fix that?” He flipped his tablet on, searching for the program that would let him access the Kaleidoscope server. “We have new hires and security-cleared admins for a reason. Has no one attempted to update the files and sort through the meta-tagging we do have?”
“I ran up an analysis on what it would take, a couple of months back. It would eat our entire administrative budget – by which I mean MI6’s as a whole – for seven years. I was told to prioritise.” Kyle grimaced. “How the hell can you prioritise when you don’t know what’s there in the first place? Mark my words. Somewhere in those files, we have the name and location of every bloody enemy on our most wanted list, only we don’t know it, because it’s buried under all the dross.”
Q grimaced at the truth in Kyle’s words. Budget and time were the two biggest hurdles TSS faced. They had the intellect. They had the talent. They even had the bloody hardware. It was just a matter of finding people with the right skills and security clearance and the time. Always time. Even now, despite a part of him being elated that he’d finally pulled ahead of the pack, he felt the pressure of time. Alec was out there, with Ilana running his op, and Bond was still in hiding.
Bond, he thought, fingers twitching towards the pocket where he carried Alec’s old personal mobile. Alec had gone into the field with a new, sterile burner phone for emergency communications only. Q knew that Alec’s morale depended on regular conversations with Bond – who, idiot that he was, still hadn’t gone to a physician to have the bullet dug out of his shoulder – but Alec was being monitored, not only by MI6 but possibly by the enemy.
“You in there, Des?”
Q shook his head, pushing away his wandering thoughts. “Sorry. Coding in my head,” he lied easily.
“Yeah, this is one hell of a task. We can’t discuss this in my ops room – too unsecured – but why don’t we meet at” – he glanced at his watch – “say, half-four? Gives you time to poke around a bit, gives me time to make sure everything’s in order with my team.” He smiled wryly and offered, “I can even call home, let the wife know I’ll be having another late night.”
Q had a check-in call with Bond at nine, local. Other than that, without Alec around, he was sadly devoid of anything resembling plans. “That’d be helpful. Thanks.”
“Half-four it is.”
Q walked back to his desk, trying to separate his thoughts between the phone in his pocket, Alec on mission, and the first bloomings of an algorithm that could potentially cut the filtering process of Kaleidoscope down to a fraction of where it currently stood. There was nothing he could do about his first two concerns; best put all his energy into perfecting the third.
With his usual luck, the mobile in Q’s pocket rang just as he got out his keys to his flat. After fumbling to get the key into the lock with one hand, he answered without looking at the caller and opened the door to walk in.
Knocking at the light switch with his elbow, he kicked the door closed, and finally put the phone to his ear. “Yes, 007, this is a secure line,” he said with his now customary response. “What have you got for me?”
“And hello to you, too,” Bond answered snarky. “How’s your day been?”
“Oh, you know. Life or death. Queen and country,” Q said with a laugh. “Boring as usual.”
The flat was small, with just barely enough room to walk in the door before slamming into the kitchen counter off to the right. He dropped his keys on it and juggled the phone so he could take off his coat and shake off the rain. The coat went onto an overcrowded hook on the back of the door. He’d need to switch out for his winter parka soon.
“Better. No news yet, I take it?” Bond asked, his voice more relaxed. A bit charming, in fact.
Q toed off his shoes and kicked them in the general direction of his futon bed – well, couch right now. Marguerite, his cleaning lady, must have been in today. “Unfortunately, the traffic across the servers has turned up nothing unusual yet.” He walked over to the fridge to see if Marguerite had left him anything to eat. She did so like to feed him. “Luckily, I’ve started a new project today that could potentially clean up our databases even further, meaning I’ll have a better chance of spotting anyone making suspicious information requests.”
“Good. I’d like to get off this bloody beach,” Bond complained. “Where’s Alec? He didn’t fall asleep on you, did he, the bastard?”
“Ah.” Q paused, pulling out the casserole dish. He figured Alec would have told Bond he was on mission, but he wasn’t entirely sure if they’d spoken before Alec had to leave. He sniffed the contents of what appeared to be some form of stew before setting it on the counter. He headed over to his desk by the window. “Alec left last night for Venezuela. A heroin cartel trying to make a name for itself.” Tapping the computer to life, Q turned to look out at the rain again. “He didn’t tell you?”
“Fuck. This is the intel from Afghanistan, isn’t it?” Bond let out a frustrated huff. “I need to be there, Q. I can’t do a bloody thing from here. He should have backup.”
Q pulled off his glasses and dropped them on the desk before rubbing a hand over his face. “I get that, Bond, I really do. But you need to stay there for now. Let me handle this here.”
Bond didn’t answer immediately; when he did, his voice was sullen once more. “I know. Is he all right? Has he checked in? M’s not running his bloody op herself, is she?” he added more sharply.
“He checked in at Station V when he landed in Caracas, but not since.” Q sat down at his desk and leaned back, closing his eyes. “It’s been less than twenty-four hours, Bond. There wouldn’t be anything to report.” He tried to ignore the concern in Bond’s voice. It wasn’t the tone of a man worried about a friend; it was the sound of someone scared for his own safety. And it was – in a way. Alec and Bond were more than friends. Hell, they were more than family, and Q knew it. As much as he wanted to believe that he’d grown to mean something to Alec in the last few weeks, he knew that when it came right down to it, Alec and Bond would always be each other’s first thought. It wasn’t as if Q was trying to get between them, but the closer he got to Alec, the clearer it became there was simply no piercing the veil that was James Bond.
“I know, I know,” Bond said with another sigh. “Obviously I haven’t heard anything. I have outside contacts who could be useful, you know.”
“And would those be MI6 contacts or your contacts, Bond?”
“Mine. Well, mine and Alec’s.”
Q sighed. “Then that won’t help. At least not if you try to contact them.” He rested his free arm on the desk and laid his head down. As much as he loathed to admit it, talking to Bond was making him miss Alec. Seriously, how did normal people do this? “You must also remember that if they’re his contacts, as well, he’ll most likely use them. You have to let him do his job, Bond. He’s very good at what he does. He’ll be fine.”
Or at least he hoped so. It would only take a few keystrokes to pull up Alec’s mission file, but if he did that, he would be as bad as Bond. The last thing Alec needed was for both Bond and Q to get distracted from the task at hand. Q pushed down the unfamiliar – and rather unwelcome – sense of anxiety he was experiencing and tried to concentrate on Bond.
“I know,” Bond muttered. He exhaled again, this time less petulantly. “What else is going on? How’s the weather?”
“How’s the weather?” Q repeated, barking out a laugh. “It’s wet and raining, obviously. It’s London. God, just how bored are you out there?”
“You have no bloody idea,” Bond grumbled. “It’s been sunny and gorgeous every fucking day, and I’m living with a woman who could probably make a fortune as a model. I’m ready to stab someone.”
“Just don’t stab her,” Q said, smiling. Realising Bond was feeling chatty, Q dug through his desk for a Bluetooth earpiece. “Sort of defeats that whole ‘fortune as a model’ scenario, I’d think.” He turned to look out at the rain. The streaks of water against his window made the glass look like it was melting. He closed his eyes and breathed in, as though trying to smell the wet London air from inside. “It’s gorgeous here, too, actually. I love the rain. Did I ever tell you that?”
“It hasn’t rained here once. If I’m not back soon, it’s going to be snowing there. Or what passes for snow, as Alec would say.” Bond laughed quietly. “You haven’t heard him bitch about Londoners in snow yet.”
Q tried to ignore the disquiet he felt. If Bond was back by then, Q didn’t know if Alec would still want him around. He switched to the earpiece, dropped his phone in his pocket, and then asked, “Why? What’s so bad about Londoners in the snow?”
“As you’re aware, a centimetre of snow, and the whole bloody city falls apart. Remember –” Bond cut off. More cautiously, he asked, “Have you seen Alec’s files? Do you know where he’s from?”
“I have, actually,” Q assured him. “I read his file and yours. Quartermaster, remember? It’s my job to know” – Q broke off just short of saying ‘you’ – “my agents.”
Bond laughed again, this time over the sound of creaking furniture, followed by footsteps. “This probably wouldn’t have been such a bloody cock-up if I’d had an actual quartermaster rather than M coordinating. Tanner was doing his best, but M... Bloody bitch.” Q heard the sharp snap of a cigarette lighter, followed by an indrawn breath. “Always sticking her fucking nose –”
“007,” Q cut in sharply. Was Bond really that stupid? “Please tell me you aren’t actually smoking less than a month after being shot off a bridge.”
Bond went silent, before somewhat guiltily saying, “No.”
Q huffed at the blatant lie coming through his mobile. “Well, that’s good. Because if you had been smoking, I would be forced to remind you about the incident back in ’09. How long was it again that Medical chained you to the bed for ignoring recovery protocols?”
“Christ, you’re a pain in the arse, aren’t you?” Bond asked, though Q could hear a laugh in his voice. “Does Alec let you get away with this?”
“Like he has a choice in the matter.” Q smirked. “Someone has to keep him in line, after all.” He got back up and walked over to the kitchen in search of a bowl. He needed to eat, as usual, but his appetite was spotty at the best of times, and with Alec gone....
Bond laughed, though the laugh broke apart with a cough.
Q started laughing himself, even if it was a bit strained. “I’d say ‘I told you so’, but since I’m fairly certain you still haven’t sought medical attention for your bullet wound, I’m going to let what I can only assume is mildly excruciating pain do that for me.”
“I can’t exactly go to the local doctor – which there isn’t – with a bullet wound. That sort of thing will attract attention from what passes for the police around here. And no, before you ask, there isn’t a veterinarian, either,” he added wryly. “I wasn’t kidding about being in the arse end of nowhere, Q. There are fifty people living here at most, and three-quarters of them are fishermen. The rest work at the local bar.”
Q pulled out a spoon before transferring contents of the stew into a bowl. “First of all, I wasn’t going to even suggest going to a vet. I swear, you agents think that anybody that has the prefix ‘Doctor’ in front of their names passes for a medical professional. You’d probably go to a bloody dentist, if you thought they had the proper tools on hand.” He put the bowl in the microwave and set it for two minutes. He turned to lean against the counter while he waited. “Secondly, no one said you had to stay in that town, Bond. You are fully capable of moving locations without being detected; we just need you to not get involved. And finally, really? You think drinking is any better than smoking?” He smiled affectionately. “Only you two...”
“I’m living a perfectly virtuous life while the sun is up. Swimming is more than enough exercise, and I’m very good at it.” Then, a bit more slyly, he added, “You must be interesting in bed, if Alec’s too busy fucking you to indulge in other vices.”
The image of Bond dipping in the waves, taut muscles slick with sea water, slammed to the front of Q’s mind. Thanking whatever gods were at his disposal that no one was around to see him blush, he shook his head before answering. “Yes, well,” he scratched out. “Better to keep him entertained while his favourite toy is missing. Or at least out of reach.”
Bond’s laugh was the sort meant to send shivers down one’s spine. “And now that he’s out of reach?” he all but purred. “What will you do for me, Quartermaster?”
And there it was again. Q’s mind flooded again with Bond, half-naked, swimming in the Mediterranean. His face started reddening so fast, he was manically half tempted to see if he’d actually caught fire. These two really didn’t know how to play fair.
Q paused for a second, trying to reorganise his thoughts. “What will I do for you?” he responded, only half-calm, before taking a deep breath, then letting it out slowly. “I’ll tell you to go to sleep – sober for a change – find a doctor, and get that bloody bullet out of your chest.”
After a moment’s silence, Bond burst out laughing, this time genuine and full of amusement, rather than seduction. “It’s barely past eleven. It’s not as if I have to be up at 0500 to shoot someone.” His voice slid right back into that seductive purr, adding, “I can lounge around in bed all I want, tomorrow morning. Or now, in fact, but I’m all alone. That’s never fun.”
“Where’s your supermodel? And really, swimming isn’t enough exercise for you?” Q teased. “I can’t imagine that would be very good for your shoulder.” At that moment, the microwave dinged, making Q flinch in surprise and knock the Bluetooth out of his ear. He dove for it, scrambling to put it back in. “Sorry! Sorry, Bond, are you there?” he yelped into the earpiece. Now he really was mortified. “Sorry – Microwave.”
He got the Bluetooth back in place in time to hear Bond laughing even more loudly now. “You all right there? You need a keeper, don’t you?” he teased.
“Me!” Q protested as he opened the offending microwave to get at his dinner. “I’m not the one who once shot up a coffee table over a text message alert!”
Bond huffed. “I’d been looking for a bomb not an hour prior! And besides, the text was from M, bitching at me. That’s worthy of shooting more than a bloody coffee table.”
“Oh, well if it was M then,” Q declared, waving vaguely, “by all means!”
“Alec was right,” Bond said between suppressed laughs. “You are bloody adorable.”
Q smiled down at his food, that damned blush creeping back up again. He could see why Bond and Alec were friends. Or, more likely, a bloody perfect tag team. Q had it coming from both sides, and if he had to admit it to himself, he didn’t mind one bit. “Adorable won’t win me any points as a quartermaster, but at least I can keep you entertained.”
Like a knife slipped between two ribs, so sharp it was almost unnoticed, Bond’s voice dropped and slid through Q’s defences. “This is a very good start, Q. What have you got for me next?”
The spoon stopped halfway to Q’s mouth, as Bond’s words rolled over him. Bond and Alec really were closer than brothers – closer than most twins, actually – and he knew they shared damn near everything. Did that include him?
The problem was, Alec wasn’t here to parse that out. As much as Q wanted to see where this conversation might go, it wasn’t fair to do so while his – well, Q wasn’t sure what he and Alec were – was thousands of miles away. Q took the mouthful of food, stalling. The last thing he wanted to do was say the wrong thing and have Bond’s incredibly thick wall of defenses go right back up.
Q swallowed the stew and sighed. “What I’ve got for you is a good night’s sleep,” he replied in his most calming voice. “As fun as this conversation has been, I don’t think it will serve to do either of us any good.”
Bond sighed. “I’m not interrupting, am I? Have you got company?”
Q laughed to himself, noticing the implication behind Bond’s words. “No, Bond,” he replied. “Right now my only company is you.”
“In that case, I should stay on the line with you, don’t you think?” he suggested. “Alec wouldn’t want you to be bored, after all.”
Pulling the phone out of his pocket, Q checked the battery life to see how long he could get away with being on this call. There was no ignoring where Bond was going with his subtle flirtations. While talking to him was a lovely distraction, Q felt horrible, not knowing if he was somehow betraying Alec by letting this conversation continue.
Sliding the phone back into his pocket, Q picked up his bowl and walked over to flop down on the couch. “Well, according to my phone’s battery, you have two hours to keep me from getting bored. Then you’re cut off.”
“Oh, has the electricity gone out?” Bond asked innocently. “Or is that your way of saying I can’t have you all night?”
Q laughed. “You do realise that I’m” – he paused, unsure how to finish that. Dating? Involved? – “shagging your best friend, right? I mean, is there anything you two don’t share?”
“Not that I can think of, no.”
“And have you discussed me? Or is it usually just a given?”
Bond’s momentary silence felt significant. Guilty? Q wondered.
“We’ve been a bit busy,” Bond finally said. “But if he’s kept you this long, there’s something interesting about you. Why don’t you tell me what that is?”
Q couldn’t hide the flinch that, luckily, no one could see. “To be perfectly honest? Other than the fact that I’m the best at what I do professionally, and I’m willing to help you both, I’m not entirely sure.” He sighed. “You two aren’t exactly known for being repeat offenders when it comes to your conquests, so I’m a little lost as to why he’s still around.”
Bond hummed thoughtfully. “Really,” he murmured. Then, like a switch had been flipped, he was all business, saying, “Let me know when he’s back from his mission, will you? And if you have any updates for me...”
Q flinched again in surprise. He wasn’t very good at reading people, so he wasn’t really sure what he’d said wrong. He tried to collect himself before continuing. “Yes, 007,” he said, as neutrally as possible.
“Thanks, Q. And be careful. Even Alec and I will be hard-pressed to kill everyone at MI6 to avenge you, if you get caught. Though breaking you out of custody could be interesting.”
Q’s laugh was a little melancholy at the turn of the conversation. “I will,” he said quietly. “I’d hate for you to come out of hiding simply for me.”
“Don’t think I wouldn’t,” Bond said softly, before he rang off.
Q pointlessly tapped the button on his earpiece to end the call. He stared ahead, not really seeing what was in front of him as he tried to deconstruct the conversation he’d just had. So far, his calls with Bond had been nothing more than status updates on either his work or Alec’s. Not much movement had happened in the last few weeks, so the bits where he did talk to Bond tended to be brief before Alec took over, usually disappearing out on his balcony or finding somewhere private wherever they were, to talk to Bond. Q never asked what they’d talked about when Alec returned.
He’d thought Bond was just flirting with him out of boredom. At least, that’s how it seemed to start. But he’d just admitted he’d risk the whole mission if Q was in trouble, hadn’t he? Except that something Q had said seemed to shut him down, as well. But... What?
God, Q really didn’t understand people sometimes.
MI6 had procedures for everything. Mission briefing and prep. Equipment allocation. Comms checks. Cover identity. While the mission itself was generally left up to the agent – especially if said agent was a Double O and didn’t bother to check in with HQ – returning brought its own special rewards. After action reports. Medical. Debriefing. Explaining why the fuck you chose to embed one of your gun’s magazines – empty of ammunition – in someone’s skull.
The last was a bit complicated, at least from Alec’s point of view, so he skipped that part of his report and went down to TSS instead, past the empty cubicle that had been Q’s, a cubicle which no longer had D. McCowen on the nameplate.
Where the fuck was Q?
An agent freshly returned from the field was never at his best. Alec could feel the sharp edges of his recent experience clawing at the inside of his skin, but he held them in check as best he could as he went to Danielle’s office and knocked. Politely, even.
“In!” Danielle yelled. As soon as Alec opened the door, she gave him a quick up-and-down, assessing look before her lips parted on a sigh. “006, have you ever gone to Medical first?”
“You’re far prettier than any of those bloody vampires,” he said automatically, giving her his number two grin. “Where’s Desmond?”
One arched blond brow shot up. “Desmond? You do realise it’s been...what, nearly two months since you and he...?”
Alec shrugged tensely. “He’s got –”
“If you say ‘stamina’, so help me, I will stab you,” she threatened.
He grinned. “That’s what I love about you, Danielle. You always know what I’m thinking.”
She crooked a finger and pushed her keyboard away so she could fold her arms on her desk. Reluctantly, Alec entered and sat down opposite her. He hid a wince at how his suit scraped over still-fresh burns.
“He’s working on a secure project,” she said when the door clicked softly closed. “And he’s doing very well at it; he has a bright future ahead of him here. So I don’t want you mucking it up for him. If you’re going there to tell him you’re through, be kind and send him a note instead of dragging –”
“Wait, wait,” Alec interrupted, ignoring the way his gut flipped at the thought. “I was going to take him to dinner.”
“So you can embarrass him at –”
“Oi!” He kept himself to English with an effort, though Danielle was nearly as fluent in Russian as he was. “I’m not... No! Christ, if you must know, I was going to take him to dinner, and then back to my place for a leisurely shag, assuming my landlord hasn’t thrown me out, since I –”
Danielle gaped at him for a few seconds before she cut in sharply, “Have you ever heard of discretion? Out, Trevelyan. Out!”
“You invited me in!”
“And now I’m uninviting you! He’s down the hall.” She waved him off, cheeks going bright under her foundation. “And tell him he’s not to let you back into the office until you’re...”
“Satisfied?” he asked, getting up a bit stiffly.
Alec grinned. “See you at the Christmas party, then.” He closed the door before he could get himself shot for blowing her a kiss. He went down the hall, suddenly feeling much better. If Q had his own office, he was well on his way to running his own agents – to being Alec’s quartermaster, not just informally but officially. Even if it meant Alec had to kill off the competition, if Q ended up assigned to someone else first.
Q’s nameplate was in a brass holder beside one of the windowless doors that filled the heart of TSS. Alec didn’t bother to knock. He pushed the door open and grinned – his best grin, in fact – before stopping in his tracks.
Q was at a somewhat battered wooden desk, with a man leaning over him, one hand on the back of his chair, the other one on the desk. He wasn’t instantly familiar to Alec – late thirties, dark hair in a blandly professional cut, suit jacket open, tie hanging down to brush at Q’s sleeve.
Alec’s hand twitched, and he clenched his fingers to keep from giving in to the temptation to draw his gun. The MI6 identification card clipped to the stranger’s jacket was the only thing that saved him from bleeding.
“Out,” he said very, very quietly.
Q turned to look up, smiling when he saw who it was, only to turn right back to the monitors in front of him. “No, you out,” came his perfunctory reply. “Give us ten minutes.”
Startled, Alec stared at Q, thinking he should protest or shoot the other person or at least say something. Instead, he settled for fixing the other’s face in his mind, marking him as a potential future target. Then he muttered, “Stairwell,” and left, wondering if everyone was going to throw him out today.
Probably a good time to stop in and see M, if that was the case.
But he didn’t bother going up to the eighth floor. Instead, he went to the north stairwell, where agents had been disabling the smoke alarms for years. The landing was almost comfortable, with an ashtray stashed in a dark corner. He sat on the top step, pulled out the ashtray, and lit an American cigarette, wrinkling his nose at the taste. He eyed the contents of the ashtray, mentally tallying up which agents were in town and which were in the field. There were none of James’ special black cigarettes with the three gold bands at the filter – not that he’d expected James to return without the all-clear from him.
Alec exhaled smoke and sighed. He unknotted his already loose tie and undid the top two buttons of his shirt. He’d only bothered with it at all because...because...
Well, not to look good for any one person in particular. It was just something he did on occasion. Though he hated ties, and that was without factoring in the burns.
By the time he lit his second cigarette off the end of the first, he’d pulled off his tie and stuffed it in his pocket. It wasn’t as if Q hadn’t seen him without a tie before. Hell, if he was going to think that way, he might as well not wear pants, either.
Q sat back and breathed for probably the first time in – he glanced at his phone – three hours. Trying to pull 0018 out of that clusterfuck came down to a near-impossible feat on Kyle’s part, with him somehow managing to remote-detonate one section of the building directly behind the agent’s target. That was a trick Q was going to have to learn.
Q turned to smile up at his new cohort. “Did we really just do that?”
“That was all you, mate,” Kyle said, shaking his head in disbelief. He leaned down a bit closer, keeping an eye on the door. “Sorry, but I’m not fool enough to even try that – especially not after what happened in Costa Rica.”
“I meant 0018’s mission. What about Costa Rica?” Q asked, confused. Alec had been in Venezuela, the last time he’d checked.
“Oh.” Kyle chuckled. “Good work with the mission, too. Thanks for the assist. I can’t fucking believe we’re stuck using Windows. Bloody worst time for a blue screen.”
“True, but if there isn’t at least one technological catastrophe, what would be the fun in it?” Q laughed. “But seriously, what happened in Costa Rica?”
Kyle shot Q a look. Then he shrugged and straightened up, saying, “You’ll probably hear about it soon enough. 006 crossed into Colombia ten days ago, and things went bad. He had one check-in at Station P, in Panama, and then nothing until he called to arrange exfiltration. All targets eliminated. There was a fire.”
“Of course there was,” Q all but sighed. “It’s not a 006 mission if something isn’t set ablaze. I’m starting to think he might be a closet pyro.” He gave Kyle a knowing smile. Every Double O had some trademark style of elimination, some brand of violence they preferred. The agents would never admit it – and the MI6 execs hated identifying markers of any kind – but it helped TSS when it came to outfitting them. They knew which toys each agent worked best with.
“Yeah, but he was in the narcotics depot when he lit it up. Ilana lost contact with him after that. I didn’t hear he’d got back in-country. I didn’t even think he’d survive that.”
“I’m sorry, what?” Q exclaimed. He swivelled around in his chair, almost slamming into Kyle in his haste to stand up. Alec hadn’t looked like he’d been in a fire. He was in a suit, for Christ’s sake. “Are you sure?”
Kyle held up a hand. “Desmond... Look, I know the rumours going around about you two. Before you say anything, I don’t care. Believe me, I know how they can be. If I wasn’t married...” He shook his head. “But you can’t get involved with them. You need to keep a professional distance, or you can’t run their ops. You need to be able to think of the mission first.”
“This isn’t news, Kyle,” Q said, rankling at yet another person trying to give him ‘the talk’. “I’m a professional and damn good at what I do. If I thought my relationship with 006 was going to get in the way of that, I’d put a stop to it.” Q took a deep breath and tried to calm down. He needed to check on Alec, which meant he needed out of this conversation. “I appreciate what you’re saying, I really do. But please let me handle my personal business myself.”
“All right. Just –” Kyle cut himself off and shook his head. “Go find him. And if he needs to go to Medical...I’ll get everything squared away here,” he said more gently, waving at the pile of folders he’d brought in hours earlier.
Q nearly nodded, but there were protocols. The office was in his name, even if the most confidential thing he had in here was the department meeting schedule sellotaped to the wall. He really did need to finish his more secure, network calendar, but god, that project was tedious. “No, it’s fine,” he replied, looking around. “We’ll both do it. It shouldn’t take more than five minutes to tidy it up. Alec’s probably off somewhere on his third cigarette. What’s one more?”
Kyle laughed. “Flame. Definitely his signature,” he agreed, and started gathering up the scattered files.
When Kyle had rushed in earlier, he’d been carrying paper backups of all the mission files: timelines, reported intel, building blueprints, electrical and network schematics, and everything else he needed to successfully run the mission. Now, Q straightened out the piles as neatly as possible, while Kyle sorted documents into their proper folders. As Q extended a rolled, flimsy blueprint, Kyle reached, knocking it from Q’s hand. For one awkwardly polite moment, they both reached for it. Kyle ended up under the desk, retrieving it from the nest of computer cables strung between the wall and the tower, while Q eyed the door, hoping Alec didn’t get impatient and return. The last thing Q needed was for Alec to make assumptions about why Kyle was under the desk.
Then Kyle rose, shoved the blueprint in with the rest of the rolled pages, and asked, “That everything? Looks like. Will you be all right? If you need help, you can always bring Security, you know. They’ve handled agents just in from the field before.”
Trying not to get irritated again at being treated like he needed coddling when it came to his personal business with one of the agents, Q just smiled politely. “Thank you, but I’ll be fine.” Q waited and tried to be patient, eyeballing the door and hoping Kyle would get the hint that it was time to leave.
“Right, then,” Kyle said, following Q’s line of sight, before he gave Q an encouraging smile. “Take care, Des. See you tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Kyle,” Q said, finally giving him a warm smile. He grabbed his parka and bag to walk Kyle out so he could lock the door. “See you, tomorrow.”
Remembering Alec’s comment about the stairwell, Q turned and headed in the direction Alec would most likely to be in. The agents tended to use the one with the broken smoke alarms, thinking they were the ones disabling them for their own use. What they didn’t know was that Boothroyd kept them disabled because it was the stairwell closest to the explosives lab TSS used for some of their small, non-lethal projects. An incident several years back involving a miniature gas grenade, a completely cleared out MI6 – and one very pissed off M – meant keeping those smoke detectors disabled was really in everyone’s best interests.
Q pushed through the door and looked over the railing, spotting Alec about one and a half floors down. Trying not to look eager or panicked, he trotted down the steps as casually as he could manage. When he came upon the agent, shoulders slumped and suit now a minor rumpled mess, he stopped, unsure of what to do. “Alec?” he asked, hesitantly. “You all right?”
Alec exhaled a thin stream of smoke as he turned, moving a bit more slowly than normal, to grin back at Q. “Fine. Still busy?”
Q shook his head. “Nope.” He smiled tentatively. “All done for the day.”
Alec nodded and crushed his half-smoked cigarette into the ashtray, next to the remains of three other identical butts. He hid the ashtray in the corner and then got to his feet, with the help of the railing. “Your flat or mine? Or do you have plans?”
Q couldn’t hide his confusion. “I – What, I don’t...” He shook his head, unsure of what plans Alec might think he’d have. Unless Alec was hoping he would have plans. He did seem rather nonchalant after having been gone for three weeks. Maybe, Q thought, this was his way of giving Q an easy out. Q really didn’t want to think that that was what he’d meant. “No, I’m – I’m free.”
“Good.” Alec gingerly patted down his pockets before saying, “No idea where my fucking keys are. You can drive.”
“Yes, that's fine,” Q offered. “But did you need to go to Medical first? I heard there was a fire. And that you were in it.”
Alec huffed dismissively and started down the stairs at a slow jog. “No need. It was three, four days ago by now. It’s what, Wednesday?”
Q couldn’t help but laugh. “Um, Alec?” Alec stopped and turned around. “It’s Friday.”
“Fuck.” A hint of exhaustion flashed across Alec’s face, and Q realised, despite the poor stairwell lighting, that Alec looked like hell. His blond scruff wasn’t quite up to being a full beard, but it was close, and there were dark shadows under his eyes. Worst of all, the aggressive spark that always made Alec seem so alive was gone, as if the only things keeping him going were habit and determination.
Then Alec turned away and started back down the stairs. “Pizza night, then?” he asked lightly. “We can go to my flat, if you want. I can pick the locks.”
Q hurried down the stairs to try and catch up with Alec before grabbing him by the arm to turn him around. Before Q could draw breath to speak, Alec hissed and jerked free, raising a hand to the gun holstered under his left arm. Q flinched and took a step back, but the instant Alec’s fingers brushed the butt, he went entirely still.
Then Alec closed his eyes and curled his fingers into a fist as he let his hand fall back to his side. “Sorry,” he said, before letting out a soft, vicious string of curses in Russian, which Q realised he was starting to recognise. Alec turned away from Q and hit the glass window in the door, cracking it. Bloody pieces fell when Alec pulled his hand free.
Without blinking, Q waited a heartbeat before reaching up and taking Alec’s hand tentatively in his own. He could feel Alec’s eyes on him as he examined the damage. “You’re a bloody idiot, you know that?” Q asked quietly. He slowly started picking out the small pieces of glass stuck to Alec’s knuckles, mindful that it probably hurt like hell, no matter how tough Alec liked to think he was.
Once he’d got all the fragments out that he could, he gently pried back Alec’s fingers, to slide his hand into Alec’s palm. He finally looked up into Alec’s war-torn face, as Alec slowly seemed to relax.
Q brought up his other hand to brush against Alec’s jaw. “You look like shit,” he said, smiling. “Pizza is fine, but we’re going back to my place. It may be small, and my bed is not nearly as comfortable as yours, but I have my entire monitoring system set up there to track this mission.” Q leaned in to lightly brush his lips against Alec’s.
At the first touch, Alec caught Q’s shoulders, fingers digging into his parka. One abrupt push had Q pinned back against the wall, and the kiss went from light and gentle to fierce, almost desperate, in a heartbeat.
It took Q half a second before he was shoving Alec back into the railing behind him. Startled, Alec released Q and jerked his hands back. “No, Alec,” he ordered. He took a deep breath and said, evenly but firmly, “I am not your conquest. Not tonight.”
Alec’s expression went absolutely neutral. “Fine.” He straightened up without taking a step closer to Q. “I can get a taxi. No need for you to play chauffeur.”
Q stared back at him, getting more irritated by the minute. When he had taken on the post of quartermaster, he had had to sit with someone from Psych to go over standard protocols for agents both in the field and those immediately returned home. He knew how possessive and defensive they could get. But this was different; this was his lover. And like hell was he going to let him act like an overgrown five-year-old.
“You know what, Alec,” he said, going just as neutral. “Fuck you. We’re not doing this – this dance you agents do.” Q walked up, stepping into Alec’s space. “You need your hand looked at and you need whatever’s going on under there” – he gestured towards Alec’s suit – “looked at. And you will let me do that. And if then I decide you’re well enough...” He smirked up at Alec. “Then you can fuck me however you’d like.”
Silently, Alec studied him as if Q were speaking a foreign language. Then he looked uncomfortably away and nodded, quietly saying, “All right.”
Taking his chances, Q rested his hands on Alec’s chest and leaned in for another kiss. When he didn’t immediately break away, Q lightly ran his hands up to rest on Alec’s nape, letting the kiss deepen. After a moment, Alec very carefully moved his hands to rest on Q’s hips, so lightly that Q barely felt the touch through his parka. Humming his approval, Q scratched at the now too-long hairs brushing along Alec’s neck.
When the kiss broke off naturally a few moments later, Q leaned back slightly to smile up at Alec. “My place?”
Somewhat uncertainly, Alec said, “Your laptop’s at my place, right? Can’t we use that to monitor everything?”
Knowing his agent probably just wanted to go home, Q figured it was simply best to concede. He brought his hands around to rest along Alec’s scruff and answered quietly, “Yes, we certainly can.”
“Who exactly allowed you to get on a plane like this?” Q asked, looking at Alec’s once-beautiful body in horror. He’d at least had the good sense to duck when he’d lit the building on fire around himself. The burns were patchy over his shoulders and the backs of his arms, which explained his violent reaction when Q had touched him. None were blistered, but the reddened skin looked more than painful enough. And that was before Q got to the defensive wounds on both forearms, the bruising on his legs, and what might well have been a graze from a bullet that had skittered over his ribs.
“I stole a boat and went to California. I flew out of San Diego. Do you really think a Californian would stop me from coming back?” Alec asked, kicking aside his pants.
Q huffed at Alec. “I’ve heard they’re a skittish lot out West. I’m surprised they even let you in.”
Alec gave him an amused look before he walked into the bathroom. “Do you actually think I went through customs? I abandoned the boat and swam in.”
“I’d ask why some lifeguard didn’t stop you, but I saw an episode of Baywatch once. I’m not in the least bit surprised.”
Alec laughed over the sound of the shower starting. “They’re still driving convertibles with the top down over there,” he called back. “Made it easier to steal one. The local station wasn’t happy, but fuck what they think. Are you joining me?”
“Obviously.” Q said as he walked into the bathroom, taking his shirt off in the process. “Someone has to make sure you don’t fall and, oh I don’t know, break a hip or something.”
“Break a hip?” Alec turned away from the shower to stare at him incredulously. “I’m not even forty. And I’m in better shape than most of you techies.”
Q laughed, his expression bordering on mocking. “Not right now, you’re not,” he teased. He unbuckled his trousers and slid them off along with his pants. Realising too late that he still had his shoes on, he awkwardly sat on the toilet to kick them off. “And don’t they retire you lot at forty? Put you out to pasture or something?”
“I am entirely capable of putting you over my knee,” Alec threatened. Water splashed out of the shower stall as he walked towards Q. “Would you rather we do that instead?”
Finally kicking his clothes off to the side, Q stood up and ran his hands over Alec’s chest, careful to avoid any burns or bruises. His eyes followed the path of his hands before he looked up and smiled wickedly at Alec. “As tempting as that sounds, I think I would prefer you clean before I start sliding anywhere across your...person.”
Alec caught Q’s hands, trapping his fingers. “We’ll put it on the list for later, then,” he said before he leaned down to kiss Q briefly.
As Alec went to pull away, Q chased after him, hoping to make the kiss linger and capture the playful mood Alec seemed to be in at the moment. After everything Q had seen, he knew it wouldn’t last. For now, though, Alec seemed content to lose himself in the kiss, without demanding anything more than Q’s touch on his chest.
After several moments, Q broke off, only to trace a path with his lips down to Alec’s chest. He licked at one of the few undamaged spots of skin he could find, just above where Alec held his hands. Finally, he moved back up to nuzzle lightly against Alec’s neck. “I’m so glad you made it back in one piece. More or less.”
Alec laughed quietly and tipped his head to rest his cheek against Q’s hair. “I always come back. It’s what we do – James and I,” he said softly. ”How is he? Is he okay?”
Q suppressed the tension he felt at Bond’s name. “He’s all right. He misses you. Well, actually he’s bored. I’m pretty sure that translates to missing you.”
“Good. ‘Bored’ means ‘not dead’.” Alec tightened his hands carefully against Q’s. “Thanks for checking on him.”
Q kept quiet, not sure how to respond. He wanted to talk to Alec about the conversation he’d had with Bond a couple weeks back. He was certain that Alec wouldn’t be angry, but given that he didn’t even know where they stood, it felt awkward asking Alec how he felt about Bond flirting with him – and him flirting back.
Deciding it wasn't worth bringing up at the moment, Q finally looked up at Alec and said, “You’re welcome.”
Alec leaned down to steal one more kiss before he stepped towards the shower, tugging Q with him. “What about you? What have you been doing?” He shifted one hand to cover both of Q’s so he could reach back with the other and open the shower door.
Q allowed Alec to guide him into the shower and under the spray. Tilting his head back, he let the water slowly soak his hair. “As I’m sure you noticed, I was promoted to team lead.” He brought his head forward, blinking the water out of his eyes. “The other team lead you saw in my office – Kyle – he and I have worked together on a couple of missions.”
Too casually, Alec asked, “Is that what he was doing, then?” He buried his fingers in Q’s wet hair and combed back through the strands with a gentle tug, though his own breath hitched when he moved too quickly, probably aggravating the burns on his back.
Q reached up and caught Alec’s hand, pulling it back down slowly. “No, Alec,” he said gently. “I think it’s time you let someone take care of you for a change.” To show his intent, Q reached up and ran his fingers through Alec’s hair, mirroring the movements that had just been used on him.
Alec let out a sigh and closed his eyes; his hands skimmed down Q’s sides to his hips, disrupting the water running over his skin. “It’s not exactly something that ever happens,” he admitted. “Unless you count the damned vampires.”
“You know, Alec, I’m pretty sure the doctors don’t try to stick you with a needle every time you walk into Medical.” Q laughed quietly. “Or, if they do, it might have something to do with the state in which you drag yourself in.”
“Or they’re black market blood dealers,” Alec challenged, grinning down at Q. “I’m lucky to have escaped this long with most parts intact. Be glad I’m stealthy that way.”
Q quirked an eyebrow up. “Stealthy, huh?” he asked. “I believe I’ve been able to catch you off guard quite a few times, already.”
Alec’s green eyes lit up for the first time since he’d come back. He caught Q’s face gently between his palms and said, “Collar. Bell. Solves that problem.”
Ducking out of the shower spray, Q leaned his cheek against Alec’s palm, laughing. “If you want me in a collar, you’re going to have to be a lot more creative than that, I’m afraid.”
“Give me two weeks so I can move properly,” Alec said, leaning down for another kiss, this one with a hint of the ferocity that had come upon him so suddenly an hour earlier, in the stairwell.
At first Q tried to keep a small distance between himself and Alec, afraid of aggravating the wounds that peppered Alec’s body. But the more the kiss deepened, the more Q lost himself in it, and soon he found himself pressed against Alec’s chest, his hands fluttering to find purchase somewhere on his back. “Alec, we really should stop,” Q breathed. Ignoring him, Alec tugged harder on Q’s hair before he ran his hands down Q’s back and nuzzled at the side of his neck. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I don’t mind,” Alec answered in a low growl as his hands found Q’s arse.
“Well, of course you don’t, you masochist.” Q tried to sound stern, but he was sure his stuttered breath gave him away. This was such a bad idea.
Alec laughed and pulled Q’s hips sharply forward. Before, Alec hadn’t been aroused at all; now, the evidence pressed hard against Q’s abdomen. “Feel free to take advantage of that,” he invited, ducking his head to bite at Q’s throat.
“Oh, god,” Q moaned, leaning into Alec’s touch. He was going to regret this; he just knew it. Letting out a ragged breath, he reached up to grab hold of Alec’s hair. “If we’re doing this, you’re turning me around and fucking me up against the wall, where there will be as little contact as possible. I will not be responsible for damaging you...further...”
He trailed off, staring suspiciously at Alec, who was failing to hide his grin. When their eyes met, Alec barked out a laugh and pulled Q into a kiss, smiling the whole time.
Q laughed into the kiss. “You’re incorrigible, you realise.”
“You make it sound like I’m a bloody rental car,” Alec said, still struggling against his laughter. “‘Not responsible for damage’ and all that. Just for that, I should make you fuck me instead.”
Q stopped breathing as the image of him slamming Alec into the shower wall filled his mind. The idea of having that much control over something so powerful pushed him from interested to almost painfully hard. The thought made his hands tighten where he gripped Alec’s back.
Alec growled and stopped laughing, pulling Q in for another hard, demanding kiss. “Now,” he said before he bit Q’s bottom lip, fingers scratching over Q’s arse.
Q whimpered into the bite, completely torn. He pulled back, only to lean in and drag his mouth along Alec’s jaw. “Alec – Fuck – I really don't want to hurt you,” he said raggedly, desperation creeping into his voice. He looked up at Alec, only to be met with the same feral edge he’d seen their first night together. “Haven’t you had enough pain for one day?”
“Try me,” Alec challenged, lifting one hand up to Q’s hair to hold him in place. His fingers twisted sharply in Q’s hair as he lifted Q’s arse, pulling him up onto his toes. “How do you want me?”
“Bed,” Q managed to get out.
Alec laughed and released Q slowly, stealing another kiss as he lowered Q back to his feet, careful not to let him slip on the marble floor. “Not complaining about my lack of furniture now, are you?” he challenged, sliding his hands over Q’s body as he stepped back to watch the water run over Q’s shoulders and down his chest. “You’re fucking gorgeous on my bed.”
Surrendering to the fact that this was actually happening, Q raised up on his toes to lick along the opening of Alec’s parted lips. He reached around Alec to get at the shower handle and turn the water off, letting the sting from Alec’s hand still in his hair centre him. Leaning back, Q locked eyes with Alec. “Just wait until I have you bent over it.”
Alec’s hands tightened. “Fuck, yes.”
When Q finally pushed inside him for the first time, Alec couldn’t help but think it was bloody perfect. Everything else receded, driven from his conscious mind by the feel of Q’s cock and his hands and his breath on Alec’s shoulders as he leaned down, swearing in quiet whispers. When Q inhaled, his chest brushed against the burns across Alec’s back, but the sting just added to the sensation, dragging him deeper into his body and away from his fucked-up mission and the traitor in MI6 and all the cares of the world, until there was nothing but them.
He closed his eyes, knowing that somewhere in the future, he would want Q to move – to fuck him hard and fast and not stop – but right now, they’d achieved a perfect balance. The bed was a soft, safe refuge, with just enough give that Alec didn’t feel any pain from his bruised knees and abraded hands; the vent in the high ceiling poured warm air down over still-damp skin, keeping the chill at bay.
“Never stop,” he said in soft Russian.
As if he understood, Q started to ease almost all the way out, going so slow, Alec barely felt a hint of movement. He shivered, muscles tensing down his spine and into his legs. He lowered his head and exhaled, fingers digging into the duvet.
As Q slid back in, he ran his fingers up Alec’s sides, using just enough pressure not to tickle. Resting his forehead on Alec’s back, Q reached up to lightly grip Alec’s upper arms. Once he was buried deep inside Alec, as deep as he could go, he lifted his head to press a kiss to a patch of skin that wasn’t tingling with pain.
“Fucking hell, Q,” Alec said tightly, forcing himself to remember his English. He wanted to move, to spread his legs wider and push back and arch his spine, but he held perfectly still. Better that Q did this – decided how fast and how deep and everything else, so that Alec only had to feel. To give.
“Oh, god, Alec,” Q whispered. “God, you feel so good.” Q ghosted along Alec’s back, careful not put pressure on his burns, until he was kneeling upright behind him, resting his hands on either side of Alec’s hips. “Is this okay? Am I hurting you at all?”
“Don’t stop.” Alec’s hands fisted in the duvet. “Don’t fucking stop, Q. Please.”
Q’s breath stuttered at the request. He pulled out faster this time before pushing back in, hard, whimpering at the sensation. “Fucking hell, Alec.” He repeated the motion, his grip on Alec’s hips tightening fractionally with each thrust. Before long, Q had found a slow, but steady rhythm, letting momentum drive him.
Every thrust built up deep inside Alec, stealing his breath and searing the tension and rage from his body, leaving behind a building fire that spread under his skin until he was moving with Q, pushing back, head hanging down as he panted and surrendered to his own body. It was like swimming in deep water, like jumping from a plane, a perfect moment where he was a part of everything around him, and the only thing required was that he was there. He could feel every thrust, every breath; he even imagined he could feel Q’s heartbeat and the pulse of blood through his body, everywhere they touched skin-to-skin.
As Alec pushed back on him, Q pushed forward, rolling with it until he was thrusting, hard and fast, into Alec. Q’s breath came in short gasps as he started cursing again, this time in several different languages, including what sounded like Russian.
He felt the first stirrings of Q’s orgasm, and the grip on his hips become painfully tight. Wanting nothing more than to feel Q surrender to his own body, Alec moved as best he could, taking over their rhythm when Q faltered. He tensed and rolled his spine and demanded, “Now, Q. Now.”
A couple more thrusts and Q completely tipped over the edge, crying out as he came. Alec shifted his weight and reached back with one hand, catching Q’s hip and holding him deep inside. Q grabbed at Alec’s hand, nails scraping over his torn knuckles, sending sparks of pain up through Alec’s arm, nearly making him flinch.
“Q. That’s it, love,” he said, spreading his fingers to trap Q’s, holding him tight. Q curled his fingers to grip Alec back as he eased through the tremors of his orgasm. As he slowly pulled out, he leaned down to kiss a slow, lazy trail up Alec’s spine. Q finally reached around with his other hand to take Alec’s cock, making Alec’s breath catch again. He released Q’s hand and dropped back to all fours, his whole body shivering as Q’s fingers started to move, made clumsy with exhaustion – not that Alec required much at all, with Q pressed close, the aftershocks of his orgasm still singing along Alec’s nerves.
He came with barely a whisper, closing his eyes as the pleasure spread through his body, chasing away the last of the tension and darkness. Distantly, he heard Q’s voice speaking softly, encouraging him, and Q’s fingers eased, hand moving more slowly until he stopped, leaving Alec to push against his fingers one last time.
“Q.” He lifted his head.
Q leaned in again to plant a kiss on Alec’s back. “Yes?”
It took effort for Alec to kneel upright. His back scraped against Q’s chest, and this time, the burn was sharp and painful, clearing away some of the fog clouding his mind. He twisted so he could get one hand on Q’s nape and pulled, saying, “You’re perfect,” before dragging Q into a clumsy kiss.
Q brought his hands up to Alec’s face, steadying himself, as he deepened the kiss. He dipped his tongue into Alec’s mouth, exploring every last inch he could reach. Pushing aside the pain, Alec turned even more, kicking at the duvet and dragging Q away from the mess so he could hold him properly. He ended up on the edge of the bed, Q straddling him with his arms wrapped loosely around Alec’s waist, carefully avoiding the burns on his back.
When the kiss ended, Alec stared up at him, absolutely captivated by Q’s eyes. Slowly, Alec lifted a hand to push Q’s wet fringe out of his eyes. “Q.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Alec,” Q promised. “Not until you tell me to.”
Something inside Alec – some little hint of worry or fear that Q might leave – melted away. He wanted to laugh and point out that Q hadn’t even found the first aid kit and the pizza they’d picked up was still cooling on the counter, but he couldn’t. Instead, he pulled Q against his chest, holding him tightly despite the pain, thinking that nothing mattered except the two of them, here and now.
“You have fantastic hands,” Alec said between bites of cold pizza. He rolled his spine tentatively, feeling the stretch of scorched, healing skin under cool ointment. “If I’d had a bloody rocket, I wouldn’t have had to light the fire myself.” He twisted to look behind him, only to have Q push his head back around to keep from mucking up the tape at the edges of the gauze. “This is why we have timers. Timer, detonator, lovely block of plastique. Improvisation has wrecked more of my suits than I care to count.”
“You know, that’s actually a question I have,” Q said thoughtfully as he carefully taped another piece of gauze onto Alec’s lower back. “Why do you always wear suits like that on missions if you know they’re just going to get destroyed?” He reached over to pick up another strip of gauze and the tape. “I mean, they’re not inexpensive, your suits. Why not just wear something a little more breaking-and-enter...ish?”
Alec laughed, resisting the urge to turn around and steal a kiss. “I’m going to use that on my next requisition form. ‘Breaking-and-enter-ish’. Can you put that in the database with a code or something?”
Q snickered from behind Alec. “If I did, would you actually fill out the form for once?” He tapped Alec on the back of the head to get his attention. “Because the last time I checked, the TSS new-hires were not your personal secretaries.”
“I’ve filled out forms!” Alec protested, gesturing at Q with his pizza crust. “I was in the Royal Navy. You have no idea how many forms I filled out. By hand, too. I’ve done my time. Besides, I have things to do. Governments to take down.”
“Don’t let the Major hear you say that,” Q said. “He lives for paper forms.”
“I know.” Alec shuddered and switched the pizza crust for a fresh slice. “You can find someone to take care of my paperwork, though, can’t you? There must be people who’ve irritated you. Short termers. I can help weed them out.” He arched back against Q’s hands as Q smoothed tape over one shoulder. “I’m being helpful.”
Q paused before going for another piece of gauze. “Actually?” he mused. “Yes. Yes, there is. Tristan down in the chemlab. A week ago, he dropped the same vial twice in one day while we were working on a new chemical grenade. And both times we had to be quarantined in the lab for four hours.” He twitched in irritation. “You know, feel free to also shoot him, while you’re at it. And not just because his name is worse than mine.”
“Isn’t that one of your Arthurian knights?” Alec teased. As Q switched to the other shoulder, Alec reached back, sliding a hand over Q’s bare leg. “God, you’re in bloody fantastic shape. I should keep you naked.”
Q leaned in to kiss just above the burn he was about to work on, and Alec didn’t bother trying to hide his shiver. “Thank you, I think. And while I’m not entirely opposed to being naked with you as often as possible, I think regs require we wear clothes to work. Or so they tell me.”
“This isn’t turning me away from my kidnapping plan. But we can leave that for another day. Finding the traitor is big enough that they won’t bitch when we run off.” He turned to look back at Q without a care for the gauze. “Skiing. Fireplace. You don’t get out of that,” he said, refusing to consider the fact that he didn’t plan for a future with anyone like this. Ever.
Q tried to hide his customary flinch at the mere mention of travel before he reached up to brush a hand along Alec’s jaw, leaning in to give him a hard but brief kiss. Before he could speak, Alec caught his hand and softly said, “Driving, Q. No planes. I promise.”
Q smiled as he looked down, obviously embarrassed. “I’m sorry. I’m overreacting, I know I am. It’s just...” He glanced away, lost in a memory. “You see, my parents died in a plane crash when I was fairly young. Right before I hacked the MoD, to be precise. It was my way of lashing out over the loss, I suppose.”
“I’m sorry.” Alec dropped the pizza in the box and twisted to face Q.
Instead of answering him, Q simply sighed and reached up to brush his fingers along Alec’s jaw. “Anyway, it was a mechanical failure, and the plane went down shortly after take-off. All those safety checks required by BATA, and something still went wrong...” He continued to stare off in the distance until he finally snapped out of it. Shaking his head, he huffed out a small laugh and reached over for another strip. “In any case, I’ve been wary of flying ever since.”
Alec took the gauze away from Q, set it aside, and caught both of Q’s hands in his. “I promise, if we ever have to fly anywhere, it will be life-or-death, and I’ll have exhausted all other options. And considering how many times I’ve stolen boats, believe me, you have a much better chance of getting seasick than even seeing a plane up-close.”
“Well, luckily for you, motion sickness isn’t an issue for me.” Q smiled, some of the brightness returning to his eyes. “So steal away.”
Alec laughed and kissed Q’s hands, holding tight, marvelling at how comfortable he was with someone who, at least compared to James, was a complete stranger. “Christmas,” he suggested. “Christmas to New Year’s. We’ll get this all settled, bring James home, and then, wherever you want. Whatever you want.”
Q’s breath caught as he looked up at Alec in surprise. “Would Bond be coming with us?”
Alec blinked, hands tightening around Q’s. “Would you –” he began, before he caught himself. Did Q want James with them? They’d been on the phone almost every day since this had all begun – including far too many days when Alec had been halfway across the world and out of touch with everyone. Had something happened between them? James was charismatic, Q was brilliant, and... Alec liked Q, and he and James had damned near the same taste in partners. They’d taken advantage of that more than once.
But could he share Q?
Alec glanced away, wondering just how he felt about that. Not jealous, precisely, but... Was this how James had felt with Vesper? Alec had never met her. When everything had happened, Alec had been on a mission of his own, two thousand miles away. He’d come back in time to patch James up from the aftermath, and except for one drunken ‘I was going to ask if you wanted to come with us’, they’d never discussed her again.
“Alec?" Q asked, concern now colouring his expression. “Are you all right? What were you about to ask?”
“Sorry.” Alec gave Q a quick smile and leaned in for a kiss. “I’m just focused on bringing him home, that’s all,” he said, uncomfortably aware that he was avoiding the issue altogether. There was no point in even thinking about it, though – not until the mission was complete and James was home safe.
Q kissed back, confusion never leaving his eyes. “If you’re sure...” he trailed off. He sat up, trying to catch Alec’s eye again. “You know, I only asked that because it seemed like –”
At that moment, Q was interrupted by his mobile ringing on the edge of the bed – the very one that would have only one person in particular on the other end. They both glanced at it before Q gently pushed Alec aside to reach for the phone. Alec hid a relieved sigh as he turned away from Q. Business first. They could deal with anything else later.
Leaning back up in place behind Alec, Q hit answer before putting it on speaker phone. “Yes, 007, this is a secure line.” He glanced up at Alec. “How are you?”
“No change. Report on Alec?” James asked.
“I’m fine,” Alec said, dropping a hand on Q’s bare leg. “Central America’s lovely, by the way. They miss you in Colombia, I’m sure.”
“Did you get yourself arrested again?”
“No, but I shouldn’t go back to Costa Rica any time soon.” Alec grinned, feeling better already.
“Christ, Q. Can’t you do anything with him?”
Q rested his head between Alec’s shoulder blades as he tried to hide a laugh. “I’m working on it. But you know how it goes; the older they are, the more stubborn they get.” Alec could feel Q’s smile as he kissed his back. “I fear it might take me a while. Possibly months.”
“I’ve been trying for years, with no luck. He’s barely housebroken.”
“Oh, you’re one to talk!” Alec challenged with a laugh. “You throw knives when you’re bored.”
“You light fires.”
“It’s damp and cold in England. I’m helping. Aren’t I helpful, Q?” he asked, grinning over his shoulder.
“So far, I’ve patched up seven separate burns on you, and we haven’t even made it to the front,” Q chastised. “I’m not exactly sure helpful is the word I would use.”
“Burns? What happened?” James asked sharply.
“Nothing,” Alec said firmly, before Q could get helpful. “I had to get rid of a great deal of heroin, very quickly. Fire is efficient.”
Q smacked Alec lightly on the head. “I don’t think efficient is the word I’d use. Keep searching,” he smirked, trying to seem exasperated. He glanced over to grab another strip of gauze before realisation seemed to hit him. He looked up sharply at Alec, a mild sense of panic settling into his normally smooth features. “I’m sorry; did you just say you were in a warehouse full of heroin when you lit that fire?” He dropped the gauze and reached out, his hands fluttering as his eyes trailed all over Alec. “You’re not high right now, are you?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s been, what, five days?” Alec caught Q’s hands again and couldn’t resist kissing his fingertips.
“And you thought I was bad?” James challenged.
“Sod off,” Alec said cheerfully.
“Yes, but!” Wide-eyed, Q glanced back and forth between the phone and Alec’s face. “Isn’t heroin supposed to be one of the most addictive drugs on the planet? I’ve read that it only takes once to become highly addicted to it. Do we need to take you to Medical? Is that why you’ve been surly? Are you detoxing–”
“Surly? Surly?” Alec protested. “I’m fine, Q – and you, stop laughing,” he snapped at the mobile. “I took some precautions, you know!”
“Some? Tell me what these ‘some precautions’ are,” Q demanded. “You do realise, if I’m not satisfied, I am taking you to Medical, right?”
Alec let go of Q’s hand so he could reach out and mute the phone. “I’m fine, honestly,” he said gently, taking hold of Q’s chin to meet his eyes. “I’m paid to take stupid risks, but not like that. It’s just burns, that’s all.”
“I promise,” Alec said sincerely. “What you see is all that happened to me. And even that looks worse than it really is. No stitches. Nothing’s even broken this time.”
Q nodded and dropped his gaze, clearly embarrassed. “All right. I believe you.”
Alec leaned in and kissed Q gently, feeling a bit overwhelmed. “I’m sorry,” he said softly when their eyes met. “I should have explained all this to you. The only one who’s ever given a rat’s arse about me is James, and he’s every bit as bad as I am. I shouldn’t have assumed you’d understand.”
“It is new to me,” Q admitted before resting his forehead gently on Alec’s shoulder. The tone of his voice made Alec think he wasn’t entirely talking about Alec’s post-mission injuries. “Just, you know, don’t hold my tendency to sometimes jump to the worst possible scenario against me.”
Alec put his arms around Q, holding him close, just as James said, “Right, so, I assume you two are currently being held hostage by our enemies, or that M’s sent her bloody watchdogs to bring you in. If so, go fuck yourself, you –”
Alec snatched up the phone and hit the end button, without releasing Q. “He’s useful, but not to be trusted out in public,” he said, kissing Q’s cheek.
Q closed his eyes, leaning into the touch. “After the many conversations I’ve had with him, I hazard he’d say the same thing about you.”
“I have an excuse. I’m a nekulturny foreigner,” Alec said with a laugh. He shifted on the bed, crunching a gauze wrapper under one hip, and settled Q in his arms. The abrasions on his hands and forearms stung where they touched, but Alec didn’t care.
“You’ve been in this country for twenty years,” Q said as he reached down to curl a hand around one of Alec’s thighs. “That’s no longer a valid excuse.”
Alec growled to hide his laugh and bit at Q’s shoulder. “You’ll have to keep me in line then. You damned Brits like that sort of thing, don’t you? Imposing order on the world? You certainly didn’t go into the quartermaster programme for the lovely work environment.”
Q turned to smile up at Alec, a wicked glint in his hazel eyes. “Oh no, I went into the quartermaster programme because of 002. I mean, have you seen those thighs?”
Caught up in planning how to best break 002’s legs, Alec didn’t even realise his arms had gone tight around Q until Q started batting at Alec’s own thigh, his breathing going shallow despite his laughing. “Um, Alec?” he managed to wheeze out around little huffs of laughter. “Can’t breathe here!”
Alec let go of Q, finally recognising the protective, territorial urge for what it was. “Sorry.” He got out from under Q, brushed the gauze wrapper off his hip, and got out of bed, wondering where the fuck he’d put his cigarettes. He didn’t need to think about how to handle whatever with James and Q or 002 and Q. “What are we doing tomorrow? Do you have anyone I can question yet?”
Q stared at Alec incredulously. “I was – You know what? Never mind.” He shook his head and turned away from Alec to start collecting the discarded medical supplies. Gathering up as much as he could, he got down off the bed and started heading towards the makeshift bin in the kitchen, avoiding where Alec was opening drawers in there. “Tomorrow is Saturday, Alec. While I have a couple options in mind, I would prefer any form of interrogation to take place at HQ, which means we’re limited to the working week.” Pulling out what was nothing more than an old bucket with a liner from under the sink, he shoved the supplies in before shutting the cabinet door a bit harder than necessary. He finally turned back around to face Alec. “So, no, there is nothing going on. In regard to the mission, we have no plans.”
Guiltily, Alec gave up on the cigarettes. He nearly reached for Q’s shoulder but stopped himself. Bad enough that he could all too easily picture being alone for the weekend; he didn’t want Q to leave now. And he didn’t even know what he’d done, except save them both from what could have been a very uncomfortable moment.
“I’m sorry,” he said, bracing himself as if Q had a gun to his head.
Q’s eyes narrowed as he gazed at Alec, assessing him. He opened his mouth to say something, but quickly closed it as he repeatedly clenched his fingers. After long, tense moments, he seemed to relax, falling into an easy smile. “It’s okay,” he said as he closed the distance between them, wrapping an arm lazily around Alec’s waist. “The thing about 002 was just a joke. I didn’t think it would actually bother you that much.”
Relieved, Alec pulled Q close, resting his cheek on Q’s mussed hair. “We get” – he tripped over attached, because he didn’t get attached – “territorial. And 002 is a complete bloody arse.”
“Oh, he is not,” Q scolded. He lightly slapped Alec on the back, reigniting the pain, making Alec hiss. Flinching, Q tried guiltily to back off, saying, “Oh, god, I’m sorry.”
Alec tightened his grip on Q’s slender body, holding him close. “Don’t.” He exhaled, breathing through the pain, though he reminded himself that now was not the time for on-mission detachment. Q needed... He deserved better than that. Rubbing his face against Q’s hair, Alec said, “It’s fine. Stay. Please.” Only when the words came out did Alec realise stay went far beyond the simple embrace.
Q leaned back in, wrapping his arms around Alec to rub light circles against the parts of his back that weren’t bandaged. “All right,” he said quietly. He rested his head on Alec’s chest. “What do you mean by territorial?”
This time, Alec’s tension had nothing to do with the pain that had yet to recede. Burns were insignificant by comparison. “If I say ‘you’re mine’, I come off looking like a bloody psychopath,” he said evasively.
Q let out a slow, measured breath, going completely still against Alec. “And am I?” Q asked quietly, voice completely neutral.
Alec closed his eyes, thinking now would be a bloody fantastic time for some of his enemies to come crashing through the window or front door. When it didn’t happen, he asked, “If I say yes, what then?”
“Well, I just figured that once Bond was back – once the mission was over – you wouldn’t” – Q paused for a heartbeat – “need me around anymore.”
“No.” Alec pulled Q tighter against his chest before he let go, taking hold of Q’s shoulders. He pushed back enough that he could look into Q’s eyes, needing to see him, to read his reactions. “James is – He’s all I’ve ever had. I need him back, because he’s –” He shook his head, frustrated. “But you...” He took a deep breath and moved his hands to Q’s face, following the line of his jaw to his hair. “I came back here from Costa Rica, instead of stopping in Turkey, for you.”
Slightly wide-eyed, Q stared back, unblinking, and – Alec noticed after a moment – apparently not breathing. “Oh,” was all he said.
Awkwardly, Alec looked around for a distraction – any distraction. The pizza was still on the bed, along with the mobile that he’d cut off in mid-call with James. Guilt nagged at him, urging him to call James back, but he’d understand. At least, Alec hoped he’d understand.
So he fell back on the one plan that rarely failed him and got his hands in Q’s hair, holding him still for a rough, aggressive kiss. He’d intended it as a distraction, but something inside him almost purred in satisfaction at the way Q didn’t fight back.
Q’s hands skimmed carefully over Alec’s back as he tried to find somewhere to place them before finally bringing them up to rest on either side Alec’s jaw. He slid his tongue along Alec’s mouth, coaxing his lips to part so he could deepen the kiss. Alec shifted his weight, and Q let out a small whimper of protest and tightened his hold on Alec’s face. Alec surrendered, not wanting the kiss – this fragile, powerful point of connection between them – to break.
When they both finally needed to back off and catch their breath, Alec leaned down, resting his forehead against Q’s. He forced himself to ease his grip on Q’s hair. His heartbeat began to slow, and he took a shaky breath.
“I’m keeping you,” he said, his voice a rough growl. “Even after we get James back, I’m keeping you...if I can.”
Q closed his eyes and nodded, laughing quietly. “I already told you I wasn’t going anywhere until you sent me away,” he offered. He leaned in for a quick, gentle kiss. “So you might be stuck with me for a while.”
Q shouldn’t have been surprised that Alec knew how to run. He didn’t try to chat or point out scenery or interact at all, except to move ahead of Q whenever a runner came towards them. It might have been rude, except that earlier that morning, when Alec had awakened Q with a kiss and a soft, “Wake up,” Q had seen Alec slip a compact pistol into a broad elastic band around his waist. It was entirely invisible under his shirt, even without the cotton jumper over it.
Otherwise, he let Q take the lead through the early morning rain. They were in Kensington Gardens, which made Q wonder how Alec knew it was one of his favourite places to run. Alec hadn’t even asked; he’d just brought Q home to change from yesterday’s work clothes into his tracksuit, and then he’d driven straight to the park.
By the time they reached the edge of the lake in front of Kensington Palace, Q stopped for his customary break. He loved this time of day, before the tourists and the mums-with-prams descended to set up camp along the banks.
“Something wrong?” Alec asked, stopping beside Q, though he was scanning the area, rather than facing Q directly.
“Oh, no,” Q assured him. “I just really love it here first thing in the morning.” He looked up at the sky, blinking as water droplets ran along his eyelashes. He glanced over at Alec and smiled. “Well, I do when the sky isn’t trying to drown me, at any rate.”
Alec shot him a brief grin, though he was still scanning the area in a too-alert way. “Want to get under cover?” he asked, before he shot Q a vaguely embarrassed look. “Out of the rain, that is.”
Q smiled to himself. He knew Alec was being overprotective, something that would normally bother him, but he found it rather endearing. He glanced around and spotted the picnic shelter off to the left of the palace. Tapping Alec lightly on the arm to get his attention, he pointed over in its direction. “Would that work?”
This time, Alec’s smile was embarrassed. “Sorry. Over trained.” He took a deep breath and shook his hair out of his eyes. “We can stand here and, er, get rained on if you’d like. It’s a fine excuse for me to get you back home and into a hot shower.”
Q shook his head, smiling. “No, it’s all right, I’m not bothered. We still have several kilometres to go, so taking a break from, you know” – he gestured around the near-empty park – “open air is perfectly fine,” he replied innocently.
Alec laughed and jogged towards the shelter. Once he was under the roof, he raked his wet hair out of his eyes with both hands and shook off most of the damp. Then he reached for Q to pull him close, saying, “I’m sorry. I’m a paranoid bastard. Too much training on both sides of the asset protection issue. If it gets to be too much, just tell me to bugger off.”
Q rested his head on Alec’s shoulder, careful to avoid his burns. “No, it’s fine,” he said lightly. “Honestly. If you didn’t do...well, what you do for a living, then I’d be worried.” He leaned back to give Alec a reassuring smile. “As long as you don’t keep me” – he looked up into Alec’s eyes – “I mean, us from having a life, then it’s really not a problem.”
Slowly, Alec smiled. “I’ll buy you a Taser for your birthday in case I get out of line.”
Q snorted. “Oh, please. You seem to forget where I work, Alec. The things I have access to, I should have no problems keeping you in line.”
“Really.” Alec leaned back gingerly against one of the roof supports and pulled Q against his body. “Now you’re tempting me to misbehave. I’m an expert at insubordination, you know. I’ve been practising.”
Q hummed as he reached up for a short but demanding kiss. When the kiss broke, he tightened his grip around Alec’s waist to keep him from breaking eye contact. “It’s interesting you should say that,” he said thoughtfully as a gleeful smile played across his lips. “Because so have I.”
“Mmm. How good are you at picking handcuff locks? I’m just wondering if I need to brush up on my knots, or if cuffs are sufficient.”
“Alec, a good hacker knows that not every job can – or should – be done from their own computer,” Q said with a bit of mild petulance, even if he couldn’t hide his smile. “I’ve been proficient with lockpicks for the better part of fifteen years.”
“God, we’re looting the bloody armoury at work, and then spending the entire fucking week of the Christmas holiday in bed,” Alec threatened, brushing Q’s wet fringe back out of his eyes.
Q breathed out a quiet sigh as he closed his eyes at the idea of Alec and Christmas. He’d never admit it, but it had been years since he’d spent Christmas with anyone he even remotely cared about, and the idea held more than just a passing appeal. After a moment, he opened his eyes to look up at Alec contentedly. “Sounds perfect.”
The rain had died out to a drizzle. Alec kept to a brisk walk, feeling awake and sharply alert, thanks to the run. He squeezed Q’s hand and spoke softly. It was still early, but the park was beginning to fill with other pedestrians, and he didn’t want their conversation to attract any attention.
“You keep distracting me with sex, every time I want to talk about our progress,” Alec scolded with convincing innocence. “Care to update me, since if we get distracted here, we’ll end up arrested or on the run?”
Q reached over with his free hand to smack Alec on the arm. “Me!” he exclaimed. He narrowed his eyes, even if the accusation in his tone didn’t quite reach them. “I’m the one distracting you with sex? I think not!”
Alec laughed, absolutely charmed. “Yes, you are. And if you weren’t so bloody good at it, I wouldn’t keep getting distracted. Entirely your fault.”
“I...” Q started before he paused. “I have no good comeback to that,” he huffed.
“See? I’m trained at reading people, Q. You should trust me,” he said, giving Q’s hand a tug to pull him closer, so their arms brushed. “Now, update, please?”
Q looked out over the park and muttered something under his breath that Alec didn’t quite catch. After a moment he looked back, his expression a bit more serious. “I’ve narrowed our field of suspects down to about fifteen,” he said, “though I’m tempted to eliminate some based on personal knowledge alone.”
“I know, unwise. We could be looking for anyone,” Q interrupted circumspectly. They were both aware of security protocols when discussing work matters in an unsecured location. “I believe we can cross my name off the list.”
Alec grinned. “Does that mean I don’t get to interrogate you tonight?” he asked, letting go of Q’s hand so he could put an arm around his shoulders instead. They fitted together perfectly, with Q’s long legs easily matching Alec’s usual brisk stride.
Q snickered before he reached up to snap his fingers in front of Alec’s face. “Focus!”
“I am focused. The ideas I have...” He turned to kiss the side of Q’s head. “But yes, we can take you off the list, boring as that is.”
“And TJ? Kyle? Ilana, who ran your last, uh, sales account?” Q asked. “Danielle or Gregory?”
Alec shook his head, smile fading a bit. “We can’t, Q. I’ve seen far less likely people compromised.”
“But I know them, Alec.” Q looked up, clearly puzzled. “I can’t imagine that they –”
“Q.” Alec glanced around and then pulled Q off the footpath. He moved to face Q, gently taking hold of his shoulders. “I want to believe in them, love, but we can’t afford it. Anyone can be turned, from the bloke who runs the news kiosk in the lobby to the woman in charge of us all. I’ve done it before – turned people, I mean. Dedicated, utterly loyal people. Everyone has a price or a weakness, and there are people like me who are taught to exploit those weaknesses. We can’t afford to assume anyone is innocent.” He gave Q a faint smile and brushed a finger along his jaw, feeling the rasp of stubble. “You should even be suspicious of me.”
“Then I don’t understand,” Q said, confusion still colouring his expression. He paused to take a deep breath. “If you don’t want me to trust you, then why do you insist on trusting me?”
Alec took hold of Q’s face to kiss him again. “Because I’m a fucking brilliant judge of people,” he said confidently. “I trusted you with my closest friend’s life, and you haven’t made me regret it for a moment.”
Q nodded against Alec’s hands on his face. “Okay,” he whispered. “But I can’t, you know. I can’t not trust you. That may seem stupid to you, but I can’t help it. You’ve given me no reason to believe otherwise. So, even if it turns out that I’m wrong – that I end up losing in this – I have no plans to stop trusting you.” With a strained breath, as though bracing himself, he lifted his chin and met Alec’s eyes. “If that’s all right.”
“This is my job. My responsibility. If this all goes to hell, you were just following my orders. I’m not bringing you down with me.”
Q huffed in frustration. “Alec, you can’t ask me to do that. Besides, it’s not like everyone at HQ doesn’t already know about us. As far as they’re concerned, we aren’t just working together; we’re involved. And actually, they don’t even know that we’re working together, so if you go down, I will become suspect, no matter how you try to spin it.”
“I know. I know,” Alec said, brushing his fingers over Q’s cheek. “This isn’t the place for this. But you can blame me. Everyone would easily believe that this was my idea, not yours. And that leaves you free to help James, and he can take care of you. Keep you safe. That’s all I need to know – that you’re free and safe.”
“But, Alec, I –”
“Q.” Alec moved a finger over Q’s lips. “Please. I won’t bring you down with me. Even if –” He hesitated for an instant, flinching inside against how much the thought hurt. “If something goes wrong, I need to know you’re all right, even if it means I can’t have you. And that means I need you to be careful. Everyone is a suspect. Even me. Even James.”
“Alec,” Q whispered as his breath started to hitch. He looked down, avoiding Alec’s gaze. “You can’t ask – I can’t be expected to – I just...” He went quiet, his laboured breathing the only sound Alec could hear. Q reached up to awkwardly wipe his face before, finally, he looked up and nodded. His neutral expression would have seemed cold if it wasn’t for the red around his eyes. “I understand. I won’t compromise this mission. If you go down” – he took a deep breath – “I’ll let you.”
Irrationally, Alec wanted to protest, because he knew he’d earned Q’s loyalty, but this was more important. Years in the military had trained Alec to survive anything. Q was a civilian, and if the mission burned and Alec took the hit for it, Q would still be free, with James to watch out for him. He pulled Q into a brief, tight hug, conscious that they were out in public, in an unsecure location.
He wanted to get Q home and safe and re-stake his claim all over Q’s skin, to reassure himself that right now, Q was his. “Then don’t trust anyone,” he whispered, reluctantly releasing Q. He started walking again, heading for the park exit where they’d left the car. “When you go back on Monday, watch all of them – especially the ones you trust the most.”
The drive back to Alec’s was quiet and tense. As the rain started to pick up again, Q rested his head against the cool passenger window and tried to reconcile everything Alec had said to him. He’d asked Q to not trust him. To let him take the fall if the mission went to shit. And as much as he tried – as much as he knew Alec was right – he still couldn’t bring himself to turn against the man who had come to mean more to him than anyone had since his parents had died. The realisation shook him to his very core.
His faith in Alec didn’t just rest on the mission or his skills as a soldier and agent. Hell, it didn’t even rest simply on Q’s life. He trusted Alec with everything he was capable of giving him. He’d meant it when he’d said he wouldn’t leave unless Alec told him to. It wasn’t physically possible, not anymore. He’d lost that ability their first weekend together, though he couldn’t bring himself to admit it until now. Once Q chose to give his loyalty to someone, there was nothing he wouldn’t do to protect that person. Alec had earned that loyalty – and now he wanted Q to be willing to betray him to keep himself safe.
“No,” Q finally spoke as they pulled into Alec’s parking spot. He lifted his head to turn his steely gaze on Alec.
Alec put the car in neutral and turned off the ignition before he turned back to Q. “Sorry? ‘No’ what?”
Q unbuckled his seatbelt and shifted so he was completely facing Alec. If he was going to be honest about this, he might as well get it out now before he lost his nerve. “I understand that the mission has to come first. Queen and country must always come first. But I will not choose my life over yours. You can’t ask that of me. If I wanted a comfortable, safe life, I would be living in Histon, teaching uni brats HTML coding at Cambridge.” Q took a breath, steeling himself a moment to get out what he needed to say. “This is espionage, Alec. And while I will heed your advice and keep everyone around me under suspicion, I will not – I will never – choose me over you.”
“You idiot. You incredible, amazing idiot,” Alec said softly, holding out his hand.
Q reached out and took it, grateful that the semi-lit parking garage hid just how deeply he was blushing. “That’s true, I may be an idiot,” he said as he turned to look back out of the passenger window. “But I’m the idiot who’s going to keep you alive and right here with me.” With a hint of indignation creeping into his voice, Q turned back to lock eyes with Alec. “No matter how hard you try and push me away.”
Alec laughed quietly and turned to fully face Q, resting one knee beside the gear lever. “I’ll stop trying, if you promise to keep yourself safe. That’s the only way I can concentrate on the mission.”
“And how, exactly, have I not – You know, never mind.” Q squeezed Alec’s hand, reassuring himself that Alec was still there. That he wasn’t running off to play some sort of white knight that would most likely get him killed. “I don’t want to fight with you about this. We need to discuss the mission. We need to start weeding through the names I’ve collected as potential suspects – as improbable as some of them might be.”
Alec smiled and leaned over for a brief, somewhat awkward kiss, and Q made a mental note to suggest something other than a horrendously expensive sports car for their next outing.
“Someone will notice if I start interrogating,” Alec said thoughtfully. “You’ve got monitoring in place. If you can think of a way to bait one of them into doing something stupid, have at it. But otherwise, it’s just a waiting game.”
Q let go of Alec’s hand so he could open the car door and climb out. He shut the door to lean against the car and look across the roof as he waited for Alec to get out. “You know, we may not have to wait this out,” Q wondered nervously. He had an idea forming, but being that he was both new and not an agent, he wasn’t exactly sure if it would work. “What if we ran a false mission?”
“Go on,” Alec said as he circled behind the car to head for the lift, holding out his hand.
Q pushed off the car and reached out to intertwine his fingers with Alec’s. “Ronson’s mission got burned when the hard drive was stolen, correct? Well, what if there was a ‘lead’ on the current whereabouts of that drive?”
Alec shot Q a sharp-eyed glance. “See who goes poking around after it,” he said softly. “You’re in place to track that sort of thing, aren’t you?”
“I am,” Q said hesitantly. He really didn’t know if this was going to be astronomically stupid or border on the impossible. Or simply both. “But I was actually thinking we would send you on a false mission. We set you up with ‘intel’ in regards to the location of the drive. We then send you to, well, wherever we choose, and make it look like you’re right on the tail of whoever currently has it. See who goes poking around that.” He glanced back at Alec, hoping for some sort of reassurance that this wasn’t complete rubbish.
Worse, dangerous rubbish. Sending Alec off on a fake mission could flush out whoever was behind the security breach, but if they failed to catch the traitor, it could implicate that Alec had information he shouldn’t have, making it look as if he were the traitor instead.
“That’s brilliant,” Alec said quietly, his expression going distant.
“Really?” Q asked hopefully. He resolutely ignored the part of his brain that instantly regretted Alec’s approval. They had a mission to complete, and there was no room for emotion in it. “If there is anything that doesn’t work in that scenario, I need you to tell me. There’s no margin for error.”
“No, no. Think about it.” Alec shot him a grin. “I have contacts all over the world – ones I run, personally. I get a message, and I’m gone. I don’t even need to have you ‘run’ the mission. Better if you don’t, in fact. You can watch from the outside. If you get caught nosing about, you’re a paranoid boyfriend, not a collaborator.”
“Yes, that could – what?”
“What what?” Alec reached past Q to press the call button for the lift.
Q tugged at Alec’s hand to get him to turn and look over. Had Alec just referred to him as his boyfriend? It seemed they were headed in that direction – Alec had called Q ‘his’, after all. But this was Mission Alec. Most likely, he was simply referring to how HQ would see it, not what he actually was. If he asked Alec and he was wrong...
Q shook his head and smiled at him, nonchalantly. “You know what? Never mind. I think I understand where you’re going with this.” With his free hand, Q started fidgeting with the hem of his shirt. The elevator really couldn't get here fast enough. “So, what were you saying?” he asked casually. “Who would run your mission, then?”
Alec shrugged, unconcerned. “Whoever’s assigned. I’ll just drop out of contact. It’ll scare anyone watching, if they think I’ve gone dark because I’m close.” He tightened his hand on Q’s, meeting his eyes. “And I’ll stay in London, to keep an eye on you.”
Q shook his head. “That won’t work. All agents are required to check in with the local station when going out on a mission. If you don’t turn up at least somewhere, that will instantly throw up a red flag.” He turned to give Alec a quick grin. “As much as either of us feels about going against regs, it won’t do anyone any good if we don’t at least appear to be following protocol.”
Alec smiled back and said, “You’ve never run me or James before. Trust me. If I follow protocol, everyone will know something’s wrong. The only times I deal with HQ are when I’m bored or when I need something. Just think of me as a teenager with weaponry and an expense account.”
“That’s so cute.” Q snorted. He leaned in to give Alec a quick kiss. “Five-year-old, maybe...”
“Are we back to insubordination? I think we’re back to insubordination,” Alec said, pulling Q off-balance, into his arms.
Q leaned in for a truly lazy kiss. Whether he and Alec were officially a couple didn’t matter. Right now, Alec was his. And he, Alec’s. What did matter was the mission, and they finally had a solid plan to finish it off. Wherever they stood with each other could be figured out after Alec was done setting the world on fire.
“No, 0015, your other left.” Q hid an exasperated sigh as he drew up the schematics of the building directly across from the agent’s current location. He was finally running a Double O mission solo – 0015 had been sent to Mumbai to put an end to a hopelessly stupid foreign national who was selling state secrets off a laptop using a basic Norton firewall. Q secretly felt he deserved to die simply for that reason alone.
As Q zeroed in on the office that housed the offending piece of hardware, he heard the Ops room door click open, and turned to see Kyle walk in. Holding up a hand, he turned back to his computer and the agent on comm. “0015, please head to the fifth floor, third door on the left, room 28. The laptop should be sitting on the desk. Let me know when the package is secure.”
“McCowen, I –”
Before 0015 could finish, Q muted his headset and turned to his colleague. “Hello, Kyle,” he said, confused. He wasn’t aware Kyle had been called in on such a fairly routine mission. “Was there something I could help with?”
“Just heading out for lunch with a few of the other leads. Did you want to join us?” Kyle asked with a friendly grin.
“Oh, I can’t,” Q responded, relieved that Kyle hadn’t been sent to check on him. He pointed casually at his computer and smiled. “Dealing with idiocy on a global scale at the moment. But thank you.”
Kyle chuckled. “Right, then. Good luck with that,” he said, heading out of the office.
Q shrugged before he turned back to check on 0015’s progress. Seeing the Double O’s location, he let out an irritated huff before taking the mute off his headset. “0015, the last time I checked, you only had one left, and neither before nor now did it reside on your right side.”
Q heard 0015’s footsteps come to a halt. “And what the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means you’re heading in the wrong direction.”
Forty minutes later and 0015 was heading back to Station M – package secured – leaving behind one extremely dead target. Q sat back and smiled, having just completed his first successful mission. He reached for his phone to text Alec – who was currently away on their ‘mission’ – when an alert message came through on his work mobile, reminding him to take a paracetamol.
Someone was in his work computer.
He left the ops room as quickly as possible, without being too obvious, and went to his office. The paracetamol alert had been his own idea; it was an automatic text sent by his home computer, which was illicitly monitoring his workstation. He’d been expecting texts to remind him to check his automatic bill payments: water bill indicated suspicious access in the CommSec server, electricity was email, car insurance was priority two secure storage, and so on.
The ‘paracetamol’ alert shouldn’t have ever happened. Q had only installed it, in fact, because he could test it from his desk to verify that the system worked.
He was back in his office in under a minute. He closed the door and nearly dropped his laptop in his rush to get to his computer. Then he remembered Alec’s caution – Always act as if you’re being watched – and he forced himself to relax.
A twitch of his mouse woke his computer to show him his usual password entry screen. His skin crawled at the thought that someone might be observing, possibly keylogging, but he forced himself to type in this month’s password as normal.
Once past the login screen, he found only the applications he’d had open before: email, calendar, the department’s project server, and 0015’s mission folder. He wanted to get a look at all running processes, but he didn’t dare alert whoever was in his computer.
Instead, he went through his emails with one hand while he got his tablet out from where it had been locked in his bottom drawer. The tablet had mobile access, and Q had cracked the building’s network to give it an outside connection, though doing so pushed it beyond the building’s security; he couldn’t check what was going on right in front of him without tunnelling back in.
It took agonisingly long seconds for him to use his tablet to access his home computer and, through that connection, get an access log for his work computer. In between swiping the screen, he scrolled through emails without actually reading them.
Then, as the access log came up, he let out a sigh. There were no current external connections.
Had it been a false alarm?
Relieved, Q put the tablet away and began a meticulous search of his computer’s logs. It took him nearly an hour to find the almost-unnoticeable breach, because it was so unremarkable. In fact, Q himself overlooked it the first time, thinking it was nothing more than a routine security check by the authentication server. That was how it bypassed MI6 standard security, in fact: by disguising itself as accepted, authorised code.
But it was targeted at his internal IP address. Why? How? IP addresses were assigned by IT’s security department –
A knock interrupted his thoughts.
“Enter!” he barked out. He really didn’t need anyone stopping by at the moment. Colleague meant an unwelcome distraction. Supervisor meant guilt if he didn’t explain this right away.
Kyle and Ilana walked in, both grinning and relaxed; lunch had probably gone over, though Major Boothroyd didn’t mind a bit of indulgence now and then. It made up for long nights and weekends.
“You missed it,” Ilana said, dropping into the guest chair across Q’s desk, leaving Kyle to lean against the wall. “You know Andersson from Intentions? We saw him in line at the cafe behind that new agent – you know, the really hot one with the legs and the hair – and god, was it painful to watch how hard he was hitting on her!” she exclaimed, laughing. “I heard she’s good with a sniper rifle. I wonder if he knows about the clear shot their office has from the building across Vauxhall.”
Q laughed, hoping they wouldn’t hear the strain in his voice. “And Andersson was so proud of his upgrade to a desk with a window, too,” he said, remembering the way the pretentious twat had bragged about it a few weeks earlier. “He should probably learn to duck.”
“He’d be lucky to be shot by her. She’s” – Kyle cut off with a guilty wince – “a very nice person, I’m certain, and my wife and I should invite her over for tea.”
Ilana turned in her chair to kick at Kyle’s ankle. “Arse. Married arse,” she accused. “So what was so bloody fun that you stayed here, Des?”
“Computers,” Kyle answered on Q’s behalf. “He was probably done with 0015’s mission ten minutes after we left, and then spent the rest of the time trying to load Counterstrike onto our mission servers.”
“Better than Angry Birds,” Ilana said, flicking a fingernail against her tablet.
“Now, now, children,” Q chided, raising a hand as if to silence a pair of squabbling siblings. “Those games have been proven to both stave off boredom on missions and work on reflexive movements needed in the field. Or so 006 likes to tell me.”
The sight of the tablet tugged at the back of Q’s mind, though. Kyle was holding one, too. Damned near everyone had one, these days – iPad, Android tablet, even bloody Windows 8 tablets.
And if Q had used a tablet to access his home computer, why couldn’t someone use a tablet to breach his security?
His throat closed at the thought that one of these two – two of the best quartermasters at TSS – could be the traitor. It couldn’t be.
Q tried to remain calm as his mind filtered back through his interactions with both techs, searching for any sort of anomaly he may have missed. Several events came up, but they also could be attributed to work irregularities. That or paranoia.
“...because I don’t think I could handle my boyfriend constantly being gone, not knowing if he was ever coming back.” Ilana’s voice filtered back into Q’s head. “Des. Oi, Des! You in there?”
Realising he’d missed something, he looked up from his train of thought, guiltily. “I’m sorry, what were you saying?”
“Your boyfriend, 006.” She tapped her foot against the desk. “He’s off on mission again, which means he’s off-leash and out of contact. Again. I spent three-quarters of his last bloody mission redoing the meta-tags on my photo album, waiting for him to check in. How the hell can you stand it?”
“Yeah, not asking for any details,” Kyle said, holding up a hand, “but are the, er, benefits really worth the hassle?”
Q looked thoughtfully at the two of them. Were they trying to suss out what Q knew about Alec? The questions were subtle, but Alec had said that the best interrogations were the ones you didn’t see coming. God, Alec really was making Q paranoid.
Q was still unsure of the best approach, so he figured he might as well try honesty. “It depends on what you think is a hassle,” he said, looking up at Kyle. “Is it hard not knowing where he is? Sure. But he’s fighting for the same thing we are. That alone makes it worth it. And, if nothing else, I’m with someone who I can actually talk to about my work.” He stopped, wondering if that actually had been too much. Seriously, how did Alec do this? “Well, at least the work he’s cleared for.”
“You just wait,” Ilana said wryly. “Once you get saddled with a long mission –”
“God, surveillance,” Kyle cut in, rolling his eyes.
Ilana shuddered theatrically. “You try keeping a bored Double O awake and alert for fifteen hours. They don’t care if all comms are recorded, you know.” She flashed a wicked grin. “Comms sex. It’s the MI6 equivalent of sexting.”
“Ilana!” Kyle scolded, struggling not to laugh.
“It’s true! And don’t tell me they haven’t tried it with you. ‘Married’ is just a challenge to them.”
Thinking about the texts from Alec that currently resided on his personal mobile, Q began to blush furiously. Before either of them could notice, Q got up and started ushering them out. “Well, as lovely – and enlightening – as this conversation has been, not everyone here has had the pleasure of actually eating something today.” He kicked the edge of Ilana’s chair before lightly pushing Kyle out the door. “My hunger is making me irrational, and if the two of you try and keep this discussion going, I may be forced into cannibalism.”
“Cannibalism or something else?” Ilana asked, tucking her tablet under one arm as she stood. “Baskerville’s paying a bounty for samples of actual zombies, you know.”
“God, not the Baskerville rumours again,” Kyle said. “We’re professionals. Must we have urban legends?”
“Ask Desmond. He’s dating one,” Ilana teased, nudging Q’s arm as she walked out into the hall.
Q went back for his rucksack so he could follow them out. “Which should make you wonder,” he turned to shut the door and lock it. “If Alec is both an urban legend and real” – he gave them both a quick grin – “what would make you think that zombies aren’t?”
“Good point,” Kyle conceded. “But you should get lunch before we take you into custody and bring you to Baskerville. It’s a long drive. No sense letting you snack on the way.”
“True,” Q hummed thoughtfully. “Besides, if I’m going to be stuck with needles and made to glow blue, I would much prefer doing it on a full stomach.” He waved at them both before heading towards the lift that would take him to the garage.
Once alone in the lift, Q pulled out his mobile to text Alec, both to check in and report what he’d discovered. He didn’t expect Alec to respond, but he at least wanted to make sure Alec was in the loop
All is well. Heading to lunch. Made a discovery, but need to research more before moving forward. – Q
As the doors opened, Q slid his mobile back into his pocket and walked towards his usual parking spot. He didn’t warrant his own space, but he tended to get here so early the lot was almost always deserted. As he got closer, something about his car caught his eye. Walking around to the passenger side, he saw that his rear tyre was flat.
“Well, shit,” he mumbled in frustration. He knew nothing about changing a tyre. Besides, MI6 security protocols didn’t allow employees to make any sort of vehicle repairs in the building’s garage. He would have to head back in to find someone from Transport to bring in his car and have them change it. Getting someone to come out would alone eat up his entire lunch hour.
Rankled, Q headed back towards the lifts, deciding he would rather stop at the Pret-A-Manger across the street than deal with all of that right now. Better to call when he got back and wasn’t expected to be anywhere. As he waited for the lift, he pulled out his phone to text Alec again.
Turns out I have a flat tyre. Horrid mess. Starving, so just heading to Pret. Miss you. – Q
He heard the soft chime of the lift and looked up to see Kyle step out. He was wearing his coat and had a rucksack over his shoulder. He grinned when he saw Q.
“Deciding where to go?” Kyle asked.
Surprised, Q came up short in his response. “What? Oh, yes. Just heading across the street.” Wary of what he’d discovered earlier, he suddenly became nervous about being down in the garages alone with Kyle. “I’m, uh, just heading back up. What are you doing down here?”
“0019 needs support in Manila, and they’re twelve hours behind us.” He grimaced, still standing on front of the lift. “Guess who gets to tell the wife he’s working late shift? Again.”
As the lift doors started to close, Q tried to reach out around Kyle and hit the button to stop them, but missed it before they shut. He let out a frustrated sigh before he hit the button again to call the lift back.
“You all right, Des? I thought you were starving.”
Q tried to suppress both his paranoia and his irritation as he turned back to him. “I am, actually. Turns out I have a flat on my car, so I’m just going to run over to Pret and grab a sandwich.”
“You’re eating that rubbish?” Kyle shook his head. “I can give you a ride somewhere. Delays me having to go home with the bad news. I didn’t even know we had any active ops in Manila,” he complained, starting back towards the parking area. “Have you heard anything?”
“About Manila? No, no I haven’t.” Q didn’t immediately follow him. “You know, it’s quite all right. I actually have too much work piled on my desk, so it’s better if I just grab something quickly, anyway,” he said nervously before he could stop himself.
Kyle laughed. “And that’s what happens when you live on caffeine and sugar. Come on, Des. You at least need a decent lunch to offset all the carbs, or you’re heading for a truly epic crash.”
“The sandwiches there are decent...enough,” Q protested. He reluctantly started following Kyle. He really didn’t know much other than his own vague observations. If Kyle wasn’t the mole, he had no real excuse for turning down the offer. And if he was, well then, all he would do is raise suspicion by constantly saying no. “All right,” he conceded as he trotted to catch up. “Where are we headed?”
“You tell me.” Kyle shifted the rucksack on his shoulder and took a set of keys from his coat pocket. “Paris sounds safely far from my wife. God, she’s going to kill me. I mean, she’s the one who said, ‘It’s a promotion, go for it,’ and now she doesn’t like the hours?”
Q laughed as he walked around to the passenger side. “So says the man who, not fifteen minutes ago, was criticising the hours my boyfriend keeps.” After Kyle unlocked the car, Q opened the door to get in, but stopped short at the black bag resting on the passenger seat. A hint of fear spiked through him as he wondered – for no reason he could think of – what was in that bag.
Kyle circled around to the driver’s side, gave Q a puzzled look, and then peered into the car. “Sorry, I feel like I live in this car sometimes.” He got into the car, put his rucksack gently into the backseat, and then picked up the gym bag and tossed it back. He gave the seat a cursory brush, scattering a few crumbs onto the carpet, and then started the ignition. “Be glad I got most of the cups and wrappers out.”
“It’s not a problem.” Q climbed in and set his own rucksack on the floor between his knees. “If it’s alright, we can head down towards the National Theatre. There’s a surprisingly decent taco stand by the water over there. Does that work?”
“Fine by me. It’s not Paris, but the traffic will give me a bit of an excuse.” Kyle started the engine, put the car into reverse, and twisted to look back over his shoulder. “Though if you don’t mind, you’ll need to make your own way back. I don’t think she’d accept that much of an excuse for me being late. Sorry.”
“That should be fine, it’s really not that far. I’ll just get one of those rent-a-bikes the mayor keeps going on about.” Q snickered as he relaxed a little. Kyle wasn’t acting like a person who was trying to hide something. He decided he wasn’t going to kill Alec anymore for being right. Just for making him paranoid. “I could probably use the exercise, regardless. The number of hours I spend here have started to border on embarrassing.”
“God, not you, too. Medical’s been warning me about my blood pressure for six months now. I’d like to see them work our damned hours and not go above normal.” He shifted into gear and turned towards the exit. “And how are we supposed to not live on salt, sugar, and caffeine if we don’t leave our bloody desks?”
“You get salt?” Q asked, feigning shock. “God, I haven’t seen crisps in the machine since... What month is this?”
Kyle laughed, rolling down his window as he turned up the ramp to the exit. “No idea. Not Christmas yet. Someone would be bitching about politically correct seasonal decorations.” He opened his coat, and Q tensed, but all Kyle did was take out his pass. He stopped at the card reader and swiped the pass; the security gate lifted, and Kyle gave the guard a friendly wave as he started the car forwards again.
As they turned out onto the Albert Embankment, Q noticed Kyle’s wedding ring. Something about it tugged at the corner of his mind, but he couldn’t put his finger on what. It appeared to be plain gold and a little bit tattered. It wasn’t very modern and especially not sturdy for a person who sometimes worked with his hands. Q wondered if it had belonged to Kyle’s father. “Family heirloom?” he asked, point at the ring.
“This?” Kyle lifted his hand and folded his thumb in, turning the ring. As he did, a slender, gently curved needle slid free of the ring’s scratched surface. “Not exactly.”
Recognition slammed into Q as Kyle looked away from the road long enough to lash out, fingers curled, needle aimed right at Q’s bare throat. Caught by surprise, he couldn’t get his arm up in time to block, and he felt the needle’s sting blossom into fire that spread down into his right arm and chest, branching out through his body.
Q had just enough time to remember a conversation he’d had with Boothroyd about the merits of micro-injectables of Propofol in rings before the entire world went hazy and black.
“...Yes, sir. We’re clear. Everything’s in place...”
The voice sounded distant. Like the time Alec forgot he was on speaker and walked out of the room, still talking to Q.
Or maybe he was dreaming. Yes, that must be it. It would explain the darkness. It couldn’t be time to get up, though; he was still tired. Maybe just a few more minutes.
Q was cold. Wasn’t he at home? He didn’t think so; his bed was moving. Was he with Alec? Where was Alec? Sweet, lovely Alec. He missed Alec. He should call for him.
“About five minutes away, sir. No, sir. I was careful.”
He tried to open his mouth to say something, but his voice didn’t seem to want to cooperate. Well, that was vexing. Alec wasn’t going to come to him if he couldn’t even say that he was waking up. He really needed to open his eyes. That should help.
“No, he’s coming around now.”
Q blinked as daylight finally filtered through. He slowly looked over to see Kyle behind the wheel of a car, driving. Confused, Q tried to move, only to realise his hands were locked behind his back, wrists circled by hard metal cuffs.
“Acknowledged, sir. Out,” Kyle said and then tapped the Bluetooth earpiece. “Try not to vomit, Desmond.”
“What?” Q’s voice was raspy, as though it had been out of use for several hours. “What happened? Where am I?”
“‘What happened? Where am I?’” Kyle repeated. “Really, Desmond, is that the best you can do? For a bloody genius, you’re damned boring.” He shot Q a smooth, oily smile that was nothing like his usual friendly grin. “Or, should I say, for un criminal buscado en Colombia, eres muy decepcionante.”
As Q’s head started to clear, everything up to the point where he’d blacked out came flooding back. His flat tyre, Kyle showing up to help, taking the offer for a ride... All of it. The last thing he remembered was seeing Kyle with Boothroyd’s prototype Propofol ring before everything had gone dark.
It was Kyle. This whole time, Kyle had been the mole. But instead of actually listening to Alec about being wary of everyone at MI6, Q had willingly – and easily – got into Kyle’s car instead of trusting his own instincts. If he survived this, he wouldn’t be surprised if MI6 sacked him for being an idiot.
He shook his head and tried to reconcile what Kyle had just said to him in Spanish. He’d called Q a Colombian criminal. So that was it, then. Kyle was going to use MI6’s own tactics against him by having him deported back to Colombia as some sort of drug lord. Brilliant. “Bueno, tal vez debería simplemente decirte vete al carajo,” Q spat out. “How’s that?”
“Much better. Keep up the attitude, Des. Makes it more believable.” Kyle laughed and took off the earpiece. He dropped it in his coat pocket, slowing the car as the road turned towards a thick copse of trees.
“You hacked my computer.” Q really was such a fucking idiot.
“And a pain in the arse that was. Could you be more fucking conscious of regs?” Kyle complained, shaking his head. He glanced in the rearview mirror before pressing the accelerator a bit harder. Q was forced back in his seat; the handcuffs dug painfully into the small of his back.
“Well, since you appear to be too busy turning traitor, someone at MI6 has to do the work and stay on top of protocols.” Q sneered at him. “Otherwise, everyone's jobs would turn to shit, and then where would we be?” He tried to get a sense of where they were, but all he saw were trees on the right side and a steep embankment leading down to fields on the left.
Kyle gave a derisive sort of laugh. “I don’t think anyone’s jobs are going to be a problem for very much longer.”
“And what the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Sorry, Des. I know this is the part where I’m supposed to reveal everything instead of killing you, but this isn’t the bloody movies. You’re the fucking genius. You figure it out for yourself, if you like.”
Q sat back in a huff. He had no sodding clue what Kyle was going on about. All he could parse was that it had something to do with MI6, which meant this was far from over. He desperately wanted to get to his phone and send Alec a text, but that was never going to happen. He turned to glare viciously at Kyle. “If I’ve been your target, then you know I’m not alone in this.”
“Yes, I didn’t expect you to get so caught up with 006. Why the hell didn’t he drop you? The field agents never fuck anyone twice outside a mission.” Kyle glared at him.
“Well, the only thing I can gather is that I’m just a better quartermaster than you,” Q shot back. “I’m interesting.”
“For your sake, I hope so. La Rata likes your type: fragile and easily broken.”
Q snorted. “You know, it rather says a lot that I say ‘better quartermaster than you’, and you follow it up with ‘fragile and easily broken’. I wonder what that must say about you?” It was clear Kyle didn't want to reveal what he knew. Q had no way of knowing how long he would survive this, but if there was any chance of learning anything, he had to get it and find a way to get that information back to Alec. “La Rata? You get away with calling your boss The Rat? Or is he just so enigmatic, he likes to go by some clandestine name that makes sense to no one but him?”
Kyle opened his mouth to answer, but a loud bang cut him off. Instantly, the car fishtailed violently to the left, throwing Q against his seatbelt. He caught a glimpse of the road and trees as the car spun, leaping onto the shoulder. Q’s stomach dropped when he saw the steep hill, and he jerked at his hands, bruising his wrists painfully.
Then the car skidded and stopped, facing the road. Acid filled Q’s throat as the world teetered violently. He heard another sharp report – gunfire, a corner of his mind acknowledged– but he was too busy trying not to be sick to care.
A third gunshot shattered the rear window and the front windscreen. Kyle was shouting, swearing viciously. Cold, damp air rushed into the car, and Q breathed in as he held back the bile rising up in his throat. Kyle shoved his door open and ducked to crawl out of his side of the car.
Q turned to try and see who was out there. His mind had already started analysing the sound of the bullet in an irrational attempt to determine what type of gun was shooting at the car. He shifted just in time to see Kyle slam up against the back door on the driver’s side.
“Well. Kyle Williams, isn’t it?”
After a moment, Kyle shouted, “What the fucking hell, 006! You have no auth–”
A gunshot rang out, painfully loud in Q’s ears, making him flinch. As the echoes died down, he heard the stomach-twisting sound of shrieking. The screams almost drowned out Alec’s calm, familiar voice.
“Desmond is mine.”
Oh, god. It was Alec. It really was him. Q leaned forward, straining against the seatbelt and the cuffs on his wrists, to twist around and see for himself. All he saw was Kyle writhing on the ground next to the open door. “Alec!” Q shouted desperately. He needed to get the fuck out of this car!
A shadow passed behind the rear window, made indistinguishable by how the glass was spiderwebbed. Then Q’s door wrenched open, and Alec leaned down, looking, well... Not like Alec. His hair was dyed brown, as was the beard he had apparently grown since he’d left. He wore a black leather jacket and stained, ripped blue jeans. He looked like the kind of person one usually crossed the street to avoid, and Q breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of him.
A bit hysterically, Q said, “You look like a street corner hit-for-hire, you know that?”
Alec grinned, laughing shakily, and kissed Q’s forehead. “No charge for you.” He paused for only a second before he reached past Q and disengaged the seatbelt.
“Damn well better not be,” Q grunted as Alec helped him out of the car. He lost his balance and tried to grab hold of the side, only to have the cuffs send shocks of pain through his bruised wrists.
“Easy, love. I’ve got you,” Alec said, his voice tense. He lowered Q to the leafy, wet ground. “I’m going to find the keys, all right? You’re safe now. Nothing’s going to happen.”
It wasn’t until that moment that Q realised how silent everything was. Kyle wasn’t screaming anymore. Actually, there was no sound coming from the other side of the car at all. “Kyle? Is he...?”
Alec frowned and looked up. “No idea,” he said, taking an unfamiliar Glock 17 from his pocket. He squeezed Q’s shoulder and stood, warily circling around the back of the car. His footsteps were loud on the leaves.
Q leaned back against the wet side of the car, shivering at the cold that seeped through his clothes. His stomach still churned, and there was a dull throb in his wrists, but he was safe now.
It was some time before Alec came back, no longer holding the gun in his hand. “We need to go. Can you hang onto a motorbike?” he asked, crouching down beside Q. He urged Q forward with a gentle hand on his shoulder, adding, “I found the keys.”
Q leaned forward to allow Alec to get at the cuffs. “Yes, I think so. Agh –” Q flinched at the sudden movement of his wrists coming free.
“Easy. Breathe and relax, Q. You’re safe,” Alec said soothingly, holding Q’s shoulders. His fingers rubbed circles against Q’s jacket. “I’m sorry, love, but we need to go, as soon as you think you’re ready. I won’t leave you here.”
Q looked up in surprise. “I should bloody well hope not!” he snapped. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “God, I’m sorry. I think I might still be a little bit drugged.” Opening his eyes, Q braced his hands on Alec’s arms to stand up. “It’s fine; we should go. Just –”
Alec cut him off, pulling him into a tight, crushing embrace. He was absolutely silent, not even breathing. Despite the ache he felt all over, Q grabbed on, digging his fingers into the soft leather of Alec’s jacket.
Alec let out a shaky breath and whispered, “He’s dead. You’re safe.”
Q could only whimper in response. He buried his head in Alec’s shoulder and held on tighter. He was safe. He was fine.
“You’re fine. You’re safe,” Alec said as if trying to convince them both of that. He rubbed one hand down Q’s back and up again. “I’ve got you. You’re safe, I swear.” He turned to kiss the top of Q’s head, still not letting him go. “God, I thought I’d lost you. Those texts – You were fucking brilliant, sending them.”
Confused, Q lifted his head to look at Alec. Was he talking about the two at lunch? He’d sent those before he’d run into Kyle. “Which texts are you referring to?”
Alec ran one hand up Q’s back to cup his face, though he still held Q close to his body. “The two you sent. You sent them, didn’t you? About lunch and your car?”
“Well, yes, but...” Q shook his head. “That’s what was really going on. They weren’t code.”
Alec smiled, the expression sweet and gentle on his fierce, bearded face. “I know. But that didn’t stop me from looking for you, to make sure you were all right. I’ve been tailing you this whole time.”
Q started snickering. “And here I thought I’d done some sort of amazing spy move that I was unaware of.” Q’s snickering turned into peals of laughter. A part of his mind worried at just how maniacal he sounded. He leaned into Alec’s chest again as he shook with hysterical relief. “Okay, either I’m still drugged or I’m traumatised,” he said, giggling madly. “So yes, I think it’s time we got me out of here.”
Alec sighed and ruffled his fingers through Q’s rain-damp hair. “If you can laugh, you’ll be all right,” he said, more to himself than to Q. “Can you hang onto me on the motorbike, or should I steal a car? This one’s damaged.”
Q eyed the car as though it had personally offended him. “No cars,” he said firmly. “The motorbike should be fine; plus it’s quicker. Just, will you grab my pack from inside the car? You might also want to grab both of his, if possible.” He glanced past Alec’s shoulder into the car. “He accessed my computer from a tablet that I have to assume is in one of those bags. I want to know how he did it, as well as what other possible intel he was hiding.”
“I’m taking everything.” Alec’s arm tightened around Q’s waist before he let go, tensing up again. In what Q had come to recognise as his agent-voice, he said, “There was an explosion at MI6, Q. I can’t get hold of anyone. I saw it happen as I was following you.”
“An explosion? What explosion? How bad?” The brief moment of relief Q had felt was gone; his gut twisted in fear. He released his hold on Alec, only to take his hand, trying to tug him towards the bike. “We have to go back, Alec, right now.”
“We will, love,” Alec answered steadily. He held his ground, glancing back at the car. “I need to search the car and him.”
Realisation hit Q, and he stopped to turn back and face Alec. “Wait, I don’t understand. If there was an explosion at HQ, why did you keep pursuing me?”
Alec gave Q a sharp look. “Because no one else was going to help you. You’re mine, Q. And I’m not going to let anything happen to you, no matter what.”
Exasperated, Q let go of Alec’s hand before giving him a hard stare. “You’re an idiot, you know that?” Without thinking, he reached into the car and pulled out all three bags. His bruised wrists ached from the weight. Turning back to Alec, Q shoved both of Kyle’s bags against his chest. “I mean, you’re my idiot. But you’re still an idiot.” He slung his own bag over his shoulder.
Laughing sharply, Alec transferred both bags to one hand and pulled Q into his arms. “Get the bike up. I’m going to do a quick search – and you don’t need to help,” he added, releasing Q with a quick kiss. He pulled Kyle’s rucksack onto his shoulders. “Don’t even look. I’ll be right there.”
Q nodded before he headed over to the Harley Alec had apparently stolen. He heard Alec moving behind him, but he resolutely kept his back turned while he figured out how he was going to lift the bloody motorbike. If Alec didn’t want him to look, it was probably for the best.
He was still staring down at it when Alec walked up beside him. Without looking up, he said, “I’m sure there’s a way I should be able to lift this thing, but I have to be honest, my genius is failing me at the moment.”
Alec bent down and retrieved a black helmet with a smoked visor that rested on the ground next to the bike. He brushed off most of the leaves and said, “Try this on. I’ll hold your glasses.”
“Actually, with a properly fitted helmet, I should be able to wear my glasses just fine.” To prove his point, Q took the helmet, flipped the visor up, and pulled it down on his head, glasses staying firmly in place. It was about one size too big, but if he tightened the chin strap enough, it would hold on just fine. He turned to grin triumphantly at Alec.
Alec laughed and brushed one finger over Q’s face, tracing along the edge of the helmet. “Good,” he said, and then offered Q the gym bag. “Hold this.” Once his hands were free, Alec hauled the bike up by the handlebars; the once-beautiful chrome finish was scraped down to raw metal on one side from the tarmac. He got on, checked to make sure the key was still in place, and hit the ignition switch, causing the bike to roar to life. He held out a hand for the bag. “Climb on.”
Q glared one more time at the bike as he handed the bag over. He rested a hand on Alec’s shoulder to awkwardly throw his leg over the back. Sliding into place, he finally flipped the visor down before wrapping his arms around Alec’s waist. Despite the helmet, he rested his head awkwardly on top of the rucksack between Alec’s shoulder blades. “All right, let’s go.”
Alec moved one of Q’s hands to the gym bag resting on the gas tank. “Don’t let go of that. If you need me to slow down, tell me.” He covered Q’s other hand with his, pressing it against his abdomen for a moment.
Q breathed a short sigh of relief. He had no idea what was waiting back at HQ – what kind of damage there was or, worse, who was injured, possibly dead. But for right now, out here on the edges of London, they were successful. They had found the mole, and Alec was finally back in his arms.
By the time night fell, Alec was ready to shoot the next officious arse who got in his way. Only Q, walking at his side, attention almost wholly engrossed in the tablet he’d found in the mole’s rucksack, kept him at all calm. Alec wasn’t going to kill anyone in front of him. Q had been through enough today.
Why the hell they were in the Royal Treasury, of all places, Alec had no bloody idea. The building was a security nightmare, split between a half dozen different government agencies, without proper streetside barricades or sufficient checkpoints to lock down all the entrances even now, after the attack at MI6.
“Well, that’s how he did it,” Q said grimly.
“That’s how who did what?” Alec asked, spotting a couple of familiar Section 20 soldiers down at the far end of the hall. That had to be where they’d find M.
“Kyle. If that was his name. He compromised the building’s environmental controls and the chemlab’s safety protocols.” Q shuddered, leaning against Alec’s left arm; Alec had Kyle’s rucksack over his right shoulder. “The blast was targeted at the eighth floor, executive offices, but...it must have taken out most – if not all – of TSS.”
Alec stopped and caught Q’s arm. A tug pulled him close, and Alec closed his eyes, not caring that they were in full sight of everyone in the hallway and a half dozen cameras. Alec had been in the field long enough. He understood the danger he faced – they both faced – simply by being MI6 employees. After all, the mission always came first; Q had said so himself. And while Alec knew that Q was obviously safe, he needed the reassurance of feeling Q in his arms. Later, he would deal with who had died and who had been injured.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Q reassured him. He gently tightened his arms and kissed Alec’s shoulder. After a moment, Q lifted his eyes to gaze directly up at him. “I’m right here. I’m safe.”
Alec took a deep breath and nodded, holding Q for just a few seconds longer. Then he turned, keeping one arm around Q’s shoulders, and went back to walking down the hall. “I know,” he said somewhat irrationally. Of course he knew Q was fine and unharmed despite his kidnapping.
Before he could even think, Alec yanked Q back, putting himself between Q and the person who rushed out of one of the side offices they’d just passed. His hand went to the pocket where he’d been carrying an illegal pistol for three weeks now – a pistol he’d surrendered at the last security checkpoint – before he identified Danielle Marsh. She was the least threatening person in all of MI6, the one person who he could never bring himself to fully believe was a traitor, but he still didn’t step aside.
Q placed a hand on his wrist and turned towards him. “Hey,” he whispered, his tone serious. He looked up to trap Alec’s gaze, his expression just as hard. He set down Kyle’s gym bag. “It’s only Danielle. It’s fine.”
He turned away from Alec looking to close the last bit of distance with Danielle. He threw his arms around her in a fierce hug. They clung to each other for a few moments before Q leaned back to take her in. “God, I’d heard that TSS was almost entirely caught up in the blast. Are you okay? How’s the Major? Where is he?”
Alec saw the answer in her face before she spoke, and he moved up behind Q, resting a hand on his shoulder. Q had been at MI6 for less than a year, but Alec knew he and Major Boothroyd had been close.
“I’m sorry. He didn’t –” She cut off and shook her head. “They said it would have been very quick. He wouldn’t have felt anything.”
“Oh, god...” Q reached up to grasp Alec’s hand on his shoulder. He turned to look at him, the expression on his face absolutely horrified. He turned back to Danielle and pulled her in for another crushing hug.
Alec moved closer behind Q without releasing him. With his free hand, he touched Danielle’s arm, and she met his gaze for a moment. Her eyes were red and tired-looking, washed clean of cosmetics. She nodded and closed her eyes for a moment, hugging Q tightly.
“We need to see M,” Alec finally said, releasing Danielle.
“Of course.” She took a breath and let go to step back. She looked awful, with dirt smudged on her wrinkled jacket and skirt, and one sleeve torn. “Desmond, why don’t you come with me? I could use your help.”
Alec’s hand tightened – he didn’t want Q out of his sight.
Q glanced back at him, mouth open, about to say something. The expression on Alec’s face, though, brought him up short, and whatever he was about to say, died on his lips. The determined expression that had been there melted away as Q sighed in resignation. He finally turned back to Danielle. “That’s fine, Ms Marsh, but 006 will need to come with us, if that’s all right.”
“We need to see M,” Alec repeated. He forced himself to let go of Q’s shoulder.
“You should report in,” Danielle said in that calm, controlled way of hers. She’d never hesitated to stand up to any of the field agents. Her eyes narrowed slightly as she added, “You’re supposed to be in San Francisco.”
Alec shrugged. “I lied.”
Danielle let out an irritated huff and glanced at Q. “Did you –”
“Don’t,” Alec warned, lifting a hand to reach for Q, though he caught himself.
Q moved slightly until he was positioned between Alec and Danielle. “Ms Marsh, 006 is right; we really do need to see M. May I report back to you when we’re finished?”
Danielle nodded, not meeting Alec’s eyes. “Go ahead,” she told Q. “I expect to be here through the night.”
Q reached out to touch her arm. “Thank you. We appreciate it.” He glanced back at Alec, meaningfully. “Honestly.”
Alec nodded, though he couldn’t bring himself to say anything. As Q picked up the gym bag, Alec put his arm around Q’s shoulders and turned him back the way they’d been going. He wanted to say something to comfort Q, but the news that Boothroyd was dead – the thought that others he knew might also be dead – had pushed him even deeper into a practical, emotionless mindset. He needed to report to M. He needed to point out this was all her bloody fault. He needed to get James back. And he needed to get Q somewhere safe, somewhere they could both recover from the day.
Q leaned against Alec’s side as they walked towards the guard office. Just before they reached the doors, Q stopped and turned towards him. He placed a hand on Alec’s arm to get his full attention. “Look, I understand that you’re upset. Today has been an absolute cock-up, regardless of how things turned out earlier.” He gave Alec a gentle squeeze, keeping Alec grounded here rather than back in the field where Q had been in danger. “But you cannot behave around M the way you just did with Danielle. I won’t allow it. The information we have is vital to what’s going on here, but that could easily be overshadowed by the fact that you aren’t even supposed to be here. If you go in there playing scary watchdog, you might easily find yourself in jail or worse.” He brought his hand up to touch lightly on Alec’s jaw and force him to lock eyes with Q. “Do us both a favour, okay? Stand. Down.”
Alec took a deep breath, reminding himself that Q had never seen him dealing with M. Really, Q had no experience at all with the ugly reality of politics at MI6 – at least not with the executives – and Alec was fine with keeping it that way. “All right,” he said mildly, turning to press a kiss to Q’s fingers, ignoring the fact that the guards were right there.
Q smiled up at him affectionately. “Once more unto the breach, dear friend?”
Alec managed a faint smile and nodded, relaxing a bit more as that possessive, overprotective part of himself began to accept that Q wasn’t just safe but unharmed by his experience. “Right,” he said again, and turned, almost hoping that the guards would try to stop them. They weren’t that foolish, though, or they’d been paying attention to the brief meeting with Danielle. They let Alec open the door without a challenge.
Inside, M and Tanner were seated opposite one another, laptops and phones vying for space on a shared desk. When the door creaked, Tanner twisted around, and M looked up, her sharp eyes going wide.
“Well. I should have known you’d be back just in time,” she said.
“You’re welcome,” Alec answered in the same harsh tone. He walked in, leaving Q to follow, and gave Tanner a brief nod before he locked eyes with M once more. “You need to clean house better. Your traitor’s dead.”
Q tugged on the rucksack Alec was carrying. He unzipped it, saying, “I have some access logs, er, remotely saved, since I assume our network is down, but everything else” – Alec felt him tug something out of the rucksack – “is probably here.” He walked over to M’s desk and set down a laptop and tablet. “Kyle Williams, ma’am. He was a quartermaster and team lead for TSS. He was also working on deciphering the encryption of Canary Trap since it seems he either had – or had access to – the stolen hard drive that went missing three months ago.”
“Who the hell is this?” M asked, eyeing Q for a moment before turning expectantly to Alec.
“My quartermaster. The one who helped me uncover the traitor.”
“Start from the beginning,” M ordered, gesturing Tanner aside. When he got up, she motioned for Alec to sit, but he pushed Q at the chair instead.
Alec caught M’s eye and said, “Someone inside knew where to find the laptop. Knew where the safehouse was –”
“Three months ago. Istanbul,” Tanner interrupted.
Alec gave him a brief nod. “It’s taken that long for someone to come sniffing around the files Q – Desmond – was watching.”
M eyed Q. “Watching?”
Q didn’t bother sitting down. Instead, he put the gym bag on the seat and said, “Yes, ma’am. It was clear that this was an inside job from the start. I set up a tracking program to monitor traffic around our security networks. We needed to see who was accessing information beyond their scope.”
“What did you find?” Tanner asked. “We have safeguards in place –”
“Not good enough,” Alec interrupted. He put the rucksack down beside the gym bag.
Q gave him a reassuring look. “We knew that whoever it was had access below those safeguards. It had to be someone with sufficient clearance and network permissions. That helped narrow the pool down.”
“You did this independently?” M asked, looking to Alec again. “You were supposed to be in San Francisco.”
Alec shrugged. “I lied,” he said for the second time. “I’ve been working this op for the last three bloody months.”
M’s nostrils flared as she huffed. Instead of trying to scold Alec – she’d learned long ago that was pointless – she turned back to Q. “Go on.”
Q glanced warily at Alec. “Yes, ma’am. Today, someone accessed my office computer while I was running 0015. There was almost no trace of it, so I knew it had to be someone using a tablet for external, untraceable access.”
Tanner said, “Tablets and smartphones are disabled in the building.”
Q shook his head. “Not really, sir. There are ways.” He looked back at M. “I was trying to leave the building to grab lunch when I discovered I had a flat tyre.”
M’s eyebrow arched, and Alec said, “The Albany mission.” He’d used the same fucking trick on his target. A punctured tyre, a well-timed offer for help, and one shallow grave later, no one had any idea what had happened.
“I see.” This time, M’s expression held a bit more respect when she looked back at Q. “Go on.”
Q glanced briefly at Alec in confusion before continuing. “Well, ma’am, that’s when Kyle approached. I told him I was heading out and he offered to drive me. I had my suspicions about him, but at the time I believed that, whether they were founded or not, refusing him didn’t seem wise.”
“From the moment he saw you in the garage, the only thing you could’ve done was run for security,” Alec said softly. “He trapped you into thinking –”
“You can explain the nuances later, Trevelyan,” M interrupted. “I take it this was all before the explosion?”
“About ten minutes before,” Alec said.
“Yes, where the hell were you when that happened?” M demanded.
Alec stepped in front of Q, shouldering him aside to lean down against the edge of M’s desk. “Retrieving my quartermaster and killing your traitor,” he said softly.
Q turned back to Alec. “006,” he said, giving Alec a hard stare.
Maybe it was the flash of surprise in M’s eyes, or maybe just the fact that it was Q – and Q was safe – but Alec backed away, turning instead to root through the gym bag. “Whatever papers you want to review, they’re all in here,” he said, addressing Tanner rather than M. He liked Tanner.
“Ma’am, please excuse 006.” Q said, voice completely neutral. Surprised, Alec glanced over his shoulder at the back of Q’s head. He caught Tanner staring, his expression speculative, as if really noticing Q for the first time. “With your permission, I would like to continue.”
“Oh, by all means,” M said, sounding just as intrigued as Tanner looked.
“Yes, well, shortly after leaving, Kyle – which I believe may have been a cover identity – drugged me using a ring from Major Boothroyd’s field kit archives. It was an old wedding band with a hidden syringe of Propofol.” Q paused, taking a deep breath. “I awoke sometime later, out near Biggin Hill Airport. It took some coercion, but he revealed that he had been the one to infiltrate MI6 and help steal the hard drive in Istanbul.”
Alec tensed at the memory, but turned his attention back when Tanner softly asked, “The papers?” It was a distraction, but it worked. Alec went back to rooting through the clothes inside – jumper, button-down shirt, black wool trousers – to pull out a manila folder, passport, and ‘official’ documents from Colombia.
“Why all the bother to kidnap you?” M asked Q. “This is a hell of a risk to take for a junior tech.”
Alec drew breath to answer – forcefully – but Tanner held up a hand, giving a nod in Q’s direction. He still had that speculative, intent look in his eyes, and Alec realised M wasn’t being a bitch out of habit. She was testing Q.
“Not really, ma’am,” Q insisted. “I wrote Canary Trap. That was the decryption program he needed to unlock the drive that was stolen.”
“You did Canary Trap?” Tanner cut in. “You’re the one Major Boothroyd nicked from MI5?”
Q glanced sideways at Tanner. “I, um, yes, sir. That was me.”
Alec saw the look that Tanner and M exchanged. “Did he get it?” Tanner asked.
“Unfortunately he did, sir,” Q answered nervously. “All he needed was my IP address to access my computer through an external vulnerability. As he and I worked closely together in my office on several occasions, it would not have been difficult for him to acquire.”
“Today,” M said, looking to Tanner, who nodded grimly. “Was he the one who blew up the office?”
“No.” Q looked back at Alec, eyes widening. “He was on his mobile when I woke up. I heard him say ‘we’re clear’. As for who he was talking to, I’m unsure. He referenced his boss, but the closest I could get to a name was ‘La Rata’.”
“La Rata.” M looked to Alec. “Have you run his contacts?”
“Not yet.” Alec took the papers away from Tanner.
“He was married. He kept mentioning his wife,” Q said. “Could she be involved?”
Alec nodded, mentally jumping ahead as connections sparked. Danielle would have access to personnel files through HM Revenue & Customs. All he needed was an address.
But where once he would’ve been out the door without another word, now he hesitated, looking to Q. Rationally, he knew Q was safe – or as safe as he’d ever be while working for MI6 – but there was nothing rational about how Alec felt.
Q looked up at Alec, knowingly. “Go,” was all he said.
Alec nodded, shoving the papers back at Tanner before he headed for the door. Danielle, security checkpoint to retrieve his illegal gun, and then he’d find out just what the traitor’s wife knew.
“You’re running him,” M said as the door swung closed behind Alec.
“Yes, ma’am, I am,” Q answered. The assessing look she gave him set off his nerves, but there was no way he was going to let her see that.
With a quiet, thoughtful sound, she turned to Tanner. “Well?”
“Ministerio de Defensa Nacional identity card. He must have been planning this for weeks, ma’am,” Tanner said, frowning. He leaned past Q to slide several papers in front of M. “It’s an extradition order. The Border Agency wouldn’t have looked twice, no matter how much of a protest McCowen put up.”
One dark silver brow arched as M read the papers. “It seems McCowen’s a cyberterrorist with ties to something called Silk Road?”
“Dark Web organisation, ma’am,” Tanner explained. “Sort of...Amazon or eBay, but primarily for drugs.” Q looked up in interest. As Chief of Staff, Tanner would naturally have knowledge about all sorts of criminal factions, but he had still always struck Q as just a suit: very inconspicuous. The fact that he knew anything about Dark Web was surprising.
“Ma’am, he called me a ‘criminal from Colombia’. I can only assume this is what he meant,” Q suggested. He looked at the papers in M’s hands as a flash of anger and terror spiked through him. If Alec hadn’t been following them, someone would probably be torturing him right now, trying to wring out the secrets behind Canary Trap.
“That’s right out of our field operations manual,” Tanner said.
“Every bloody third world dictator’s stolen a copy of our field operations manual,” M growled unhappily. “Bloody internet.”
“Who trained him? Who was running him?” Tanner pressed, looking between Q and M for answers.
“I believe that Kyle – or whatever his name was – planned on taking me to this La Rata person. Unfortunately, it appears he suicided after Agent Trevelyan ran us down. You’ll have to double check that with 006, though. I was removed from the situation at that point.”
“Loyalist,” Tanner guessed.
“Or a fanatic.” M fixed Q with a sharp look. “Go find out. Coordinate with Ms Marsh. She’s currently seeing to what’s left of Technical Services.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Q reached out to take the papers, only to falter at the last second. He wasn’t sure if she and Tanner planned on keeping them. He cleared his throat and said, “If I’m to do a proper job, ma’am, I’ll need to take all of this with me.”
M didn’t answer right away, but continued to give him the same appraising look she’d used when Alec had left. It took all of Q’s willpower not to look uncomfortably away.
After what felt like an eternity, she turned back to her own computer and waved at the items in question. “That’s fine,” she responded, absently.
It was clear to Q that he was being dismissed, so he quickly scooped up the papers and shoved them back into the gym bag. The laptop and tablet went into Kyle’s rucksack, which he slung over his shoulder before picking up the gym bag and his own rucksack. With a perfunctory nod towards Tanner as he passed, he let himself out.
Q started down the hallway, only to stop and lean against one of the walls. He dropped the bags so he could place his hands on his knees and take a few steadying breaths. In the span of several hours he’d discovered the mole, got himself kidnapped and knocked out, and been present when his maybe-boyfriend shot the man, only to have MI6 blown to kingdom-come, where his friend and mentor had died.
And none of those rattled him nearly as much as his first meeting with M. No wonder Bond was always calling her a bitch.
Finally, someone was taking security seriously. MI6 had literally gone underground, with limited points of ingress that were easily secured, an infrastructure that was at least seventy years old but easily controlled, and nearly a hundred feet of rock and earth overhead. The rats, in Alec’s opinion, added to the ambience. If nothing else, they’d give the admin staff some well-needed exercise if they swarmed.
Aboveground, Technical Services Section had once been a pristine, well-funded maze of laboratories, workshops, server rooms, ops rooms, and offices. Now, it was a pit of cafeteria desks set up on plywood stretched over never-used Underground tracks, folding chairs, and raw bulbs strung from wires nailed into the tiled walls and ceiling. Alec hopped down from the platform, ignoring the stepladder that definitely wasn’t regulation, before he turned left and headed down into the tunnel. For once, not a single tech even noticed him; they were all too busy setting up workstations and arguing over power cables.
He found Q and Danielle, both looking adorable – in different ways – in urban camo acquired from the soldiers guarding the facility. They were at a junction of three tunnels, connecting a Frankenstein’s monster of servers and cables to power strips and routers hanging from the tunnel roof. Because Q was actually standing on the table, hooking up each wire that Danielle passed him, Danielle noticed Alec first.
“Trevelyan. You’re back.”
“I am,” he said tiredly. He’d got two catnaps in the last three days and was on his feet only because of caffeine and amphetamines, and he knew he was going to crash all too soon. He put a hand on Q’s leg and said, “Aren’t you just bloody adorable?”
Q reached down to take the latest strip from Danielle and smiled at Alec, looking just as exhausted as he felt. “God, I don’t feel like it,” he responded. “But, thank you.” He looked at the jumble of cables in his hand and shoved them at Alec. “Here, hold these.” As Alec took hold of the wires, Q grabbed at one and started counting ports on the router.
“His wife’s dead. He must have killed her,” Alec said. Only after the words were out did he consider softening the news, but by then it was too late. “I’m sorry. Did you know her?”
“No, I didn’t,” Q said thoughtfully. “Actually, I’m not even sure I knew her name. He only ever referred to her as his wife.” He looked down at Alec curiously. “Are you sure she was really his wife? Was she even involved at all?”
“I don’t think so, no. He killed her before she’d even got out of bed, probably that morning.” To keep Q from asking for the grisly details, Alec said, “There wasn’t a single piece of tech left in the house. I ran down what leads there were, but...” He shook his head and leaned against Q’s leg, needing more of him than a single point of contact. “I’ll tell M, get a few hours of sleep, and go back out.”
“You certainly will not,” Danielle interrupted. “When was the last time you slept properly? Don’t answer me – I know you, Trevelyan. You’ll just lie. Q, come down –”
“Q?” Alec interrupted, looking at Danielle. He dropped the rest of the Ethernet cables.
Danielle gave him a steady look in return. “For once, you were right, Trevelyan. ‘Desmond’ doesn’t suit him nearly as well. Q, down,” she ordered, looking up at Q. “Take him home. It’s three in the morning, we’re ahead of schedule already, and my husband has probably forgotten what I look like. We’re done here.”
Q looked down at her in protest. “Yes, Danielle, that’s true. But we still –”
“Q. Now,” she said sternly.
Alec held up his hands, saying tiredly, “I’ll help you down and cover your escape.”
Q reached down and took Alec’s offered hands, half-falling into his arms. “I can disable the new security cameras and give us a good five-minute head start.”
“Which will get you fifteen feet in your state,” Danielle said. She dropped her own bundle of wires, carefully set down the crimping tool, and said, “Out, both of you. Trevelyan, if you bring him back any time in the next forty-eight hours, I’ll have you executed.”
“We’re not arguing with her,” Alec told Q, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “Your flat or mine?”
“Will you stop asking me that? You hate my futon and always complain that the shower isn’t big enough for you, let alone two people. Besides, half my things – including my entire bloody computer system – is now at your place. Just take us home.”
“I can’t call it home if I’m never there,” Alec said, starting back down the tunnel. “You should just stay there. Your whole studio can fit in my sitting room. And you’ve got furniture.”
Q leaned into Alec’s side and put an arm around him for support. “Your flat is closer, but I don’t actually have furniture. The studio came furnished.”
“There are places you can buy furniture, I hear. You could go buy us a couch or a table,” Alec suggested.
Q looked up at Alec petulantly. “I don’t have time for that. Aren’t there people to do that for us? Can’t we find people here to do it?”
Alec waved a hand down the tunnel, starting towards the makeshift TSS office. “Minions. Make one of them buy us furniture. If they argue, threaten them with me.”
“I do that all the time, actually,” Q snorted. “It’s quite effective.”
Flattered, Alec asked, “Really? You threaten them with me?”
Q smiled at Alec. “Of course. I have my own pet Double O. Why not use that to my advantage?”
Alec grinned, feeling better than he had for days. “Genius,” he approved and kissed the top of Q’s head. “You don’t need clothes, do you? You have some there. And you really are fucking adorable like that. All we need is to get you a gun and grenades.”
“Really? You like me like this?” Q looked up at Alec suggestively before dissolving into fits of exhausted laughter. “I’m sorry,” he said between giggles. “But all I can think is, between your fire fetish and my explosion fetish, required of any good TSS employee, we won’t last a month before getting tossed out on our arses.”
Alec burst out laughing and hugged Q close. “But we’ll never be bored.”
Q sighed contentedly as they walked. “Wait. Are we talking about moving in together?”
The question stopped Alec in his tracks. The question had far too many layers for him to decipher in his current condition – which, to be fair, was an all too familiar post-mission state. He had no reason to believe he’d ever actually be able to answer it, so instead he shook his head and said, “We’re just being practical.”
Twenty minutes later, as they walked into Alec’s flat, Q shrugged out of his coat. He hung it on the hooks he’d recently installed by the door after a spirited conversation with Alec about why draping coats over any available surface was simply poor treatment for such expensive outerwear. Then he reached over and took Alec’s coat before it landed on a pile of boxes and hung it up next to his own. He toed off his shoes and shuffled into the kitchen. He couldn’t decide if he wanted tea or not, given that tea was soothing, but caffeine was probably not the wisest of choices at the moment. After staring blankly at the cabinets for several moments, he realised the higher brain function needed to make that decision had long since passed.
Alec came up behind him and tugged him close. “Bed.”
Q slumped back against Alec’s chest and closed his eyes. “I’m not sure I have the physical capacity to make it that far.”
“Same.” Alec laughed tiredly and tugged Q in the direction of the bed. Together, they stumbled around the kitchen island. “Aren’t you glad we don’t have more furniture to trip us up?”
“Says the man who just told me to buy more.”
“You’re the bloody genius.” Alec stopped and kicked off his shoes, clinging to Q for balance. Then he got moving again, tugging at Q’s borrowed camo overshirt. “You’re supposed to try and stop my fucking stupid ideas, remember?”
Before Q could answer, Alec pulled him closer and started undoing the buttons. Once the overshirt was open, Q looked down to see he was wearing a black T-shirt he didn’t recognise. Alec pushed at the camo overshirt, almost trapping Q’s hands before he finally worked the over-large cuffs off, still buttoned.
“I think you summed it all up with the word ‘try’,” Q said, snatching awkwardly at his glasses when Alec pulled the hem of the T-shirt up over his head. A gentle toss sent the glasses onto the kitchen counter, near where he’d set up his computer. “I learned quite some time ago that there is no stopping you when you’ve decided that one of your ‘fucking stupid ideas’ is brilliant.”
When they reached the bed, Alec let go to undo the top three buttons of his shirt. Then he pulled the shirt over his head, remembering the cuffs too late. Q chuckled to himself and rescued Alec from the terrorising shirt. He couldn’t help but think that, for once, Alec was the one who looked absolutely adorable.
His bloody adorable assassin.
“Online,” Alec said incoherently. “Online furniture catalogues. Ikea or something. Have it delivered. Send your minions to put it together. Shoot the ones that can’t understand the instructions with those bloody stick figures.”
Q collapsed onto the bed and shimmied up to the nearest pillow. Trousers were just going to have to stay put. “I’m not shooting anyone,” he said, his voice muffled by the pillow. “That’s what I have you for.”
“God, I want to fuck you on the firing range, only it’s been blown up,” Alec complained over the rustle of dropping clothes.
Q hummed in response as conscious thought started slipping away. “’S fine. I can build you a better one.”
The mattress dipped beside him. Alec sprawled at his side and draped an arm across the small of his back. “Later. You’re in no shape for building anything right now.”
“And you’re in no shape for fucking anyone right now. So we’re even.”
Q woke up to darkness. Not complete darkness – there was ambient light filtering in from, well, somewhere – but it was definitely night. He rolled over towards the cardboard boxes that had been acting as nightstands to check the time on one of his phones, only to realise that neither phone was there.
Disoriented, he sat up and looked around. When he and Alec had come back it had been dark, so how little sleep had they actually got? Remembering he still had his trousers on, he checked his pockets for a phone. When he found them both – one in each back pocket – he saw quickly that both were dead. Perfect.
Q slipped quietly out of bed and padded to the bathroom. He shut the door behind himself before turning on the light, blinking at the sudden brightness. As his eyes adjusted, he checked his watch, only to see that he and Alec had actually slept through the entire day.
Q started going through his morning – well, evening now – routine, trying to be as quiet as possible. Even though they had slept for a good fifteen hours, he didn’t want to wake Alec unless necessary. As Q finished brushing his teeth, he stared at himself in the mirror. Despite the rest, his skin still held the sallow tone of someone who hadn’t seen sleep or sun for days. It was depressing how much truth there was in that.
The door clicked open, and Alec walked up behind Q, meeting his eyes in the mirror. He rested his hands lightly on Q’s hips, tucking his fingers inside the waistband of the camo trousers Q still wore. “You left,” he complained drowsily, nudging Q’s head aside so he could press a kiss to the side of Q’s throat. “Why’d you leave?”
“I’m sorry. I was just curious of the time,” Q said. He turned to wrap his arms around Alec’s shoulders and burrow into his neck. “I didn’t want to wake you.”
Alec growled and rubbed his hands over Q’s back. “Food. Bed,” he murmured into Q’s hair. “Is there any food here that’s not walking and speaking on its own? Does anything in the fridge have its own driving licence yet?”
“Most likely, at this point,” Q replied sheepishly. “To be perfectly honest, I may not have checked since before you went on mission.”
“Right. Neither of us has been home. Should we just burn it and start over?” Alec proposed, ducking to nuzzle at Q’s throat. “Or order in so we can get to the shagging?”
“Oh, please no, my computer setup is here. Please don’t make me move it again.” Q arched into the touch and reached back to slide a hand around the nape of Alec’s neck. “God, I’ve missed you. If you want to order in and not leave for, well, ever, I’m not exactly opposed to that idea.” He leaned back to smile brightly up at Alec. “Hey. You can finally implement that kidnapping plan you’re always threatening me with.”
“Brilliant,” Alec approved. “Find a menu, order what you like. I’ll get the shower started.”
Bond should have come here first. Fucking bitch, M. Fucking ungrateful bitch. She could have at least pretended to be happy to see him. He should have come here first, for a shower and spare clothes and a backup weapon and decent vodka instead of M’s overpriced whiskey. If nothing else, Alec didn’t have an alarm system to disable.
Finally, he was home, where he belonged – not his flat, but his city. His territory.
He wriggled the lockpick; when he felt the pin give, he supported it across one finger and gave a twist. With a quick click, the lock gave way, and Bond relaxed his hand so he could pull out the picks. As soon as the door cracked open, he heard Bad Company’s Ready for Love.
Since when did Alec listen to Bad Company?
Curious now, Bond let himself into the mostly empty flat and turned to close and secure the door. Then he went into the kitchen, thinking he needed that drink immediately, and stopped when he saw an unfamiliar computer on the counter. Alec was no novice with computers – he had a laptop, assuming it hadn’t caught fire by now – but this seemed excessive. Three monitors? The computer was the source of the music, which made sense, since Alec’s iPod had died to a bullet in Los Angeles almost a year ago.
He took another step, passing the monitors, and stopped when he saw a slender, unfamiliar body seated upright on the bed, facing the wall. Pale skin, dark curly hair... Not quite Alec’s usual type, but definitely interesting. Bond leaned against the counter, thinking he definitely should have come here first.
Whoever it was, he moved with confidence and experience, rolling his hips forward as he sank down onto Alec’s lap. Presumably Alec’s. Bond doubted anyone else would be here, since Alec didn’t do off-mission threesomes without him.
Late or not, at least Bond hadn’t missed this. It was gorgeous to watch, slow and sensually deliberate. He pulled off his jacket and dropped it quietly on the counter opposite the computer.
The computer, he thought, turning away from the bed to look at the elaborate rig. Six speakers, three monitors, a mouse that glowed blood red... This wasn’t just a computer; it was as well-loved as Bond’s old Beretta or the backup revolver Alec kept on the far side of the bed.
He turned and looked back at the bed. Was that Q?
Bond started walking without conscious thought, because this couldn’t be Q. Not after this long. Alec had messaged Bond the all clear, which meant they didn’t need Q as their pet technician anymore. So why the hell would they still be shagging? Other than Q’s obvious skill and enthusiasm, Bond mentally conceded.
The moment Bond stepped into Alec’s line-of-sight, Alec’s hands went to Q’s hips – if that was Q – to hold him still. Over the faint sound of protest, Alec roughly asked, “You couldn’t have stayed dead twenty more fucking minutes?”
Whoever it was on Alec’s lap whipped his head around in shock. After the initial flash of embarrassment crossed his face, resignation seemed to set in. Letting out an annoyed huff, Alec’s partner said, “Why am I not surprised?”
“Don’t let me interrupt,” Bond suggested to cover his own surprise. That was definitely Q’s now-familiar voice. Why the hell were they still fucking?
Alec slipped into harsh, irritated Russian. “Fucking shit. Go the fuck away –”
“Alec.” Q turned back towards Alec and placed a hand on his chest. “Be nice; you haven’t seen him in three months,” he chastised, in English.
“I am being nice,” Alec protested. “I haven’t shot him.”
“Not exactly a welcoming host, though,” Bond said smoothly, covering his sudden sense of discomfort. He felt like an intruder here, which was...wrong. Alec was his, not Q’s, and Bond had nowhere to go – no one besides Alec.
“Well, of course he isn’t,” Q replied irritably, turning back to Bond. “He’s your best and oldest friend in the world. Since when did either of you two ever need to play host to each other?”
“I’ll find a hotel,” Bond found himself saying for the second time tonight. He’d expected M to throw him out, but not Alec, even by proxy.
“No, you won’t,” Q said firmly. He leaned back away from Alec, only to freeze. He glanced over at Bond apologetically. “If you wouldn’t mind giving us a few moments to...disentangle? There’s leftovers on the kitchen counter. Eat something, please; you look like death.”
Grateful for the chance to escape, Bond went to the kitchen, trying not to listen to the heavy silence as Alec and Q left the bed and went into the bathroom. Together.
As soon as the bathroom door closed, Bond turned to look around the flat, wondering what the hell else had changed in his three-month absence. Makeshift bedside tables, for one, made from piled cardboard packing boxes. One stack held an absolute rat’s nest of cables currently hooked up to four mobile phones, two of them MI6-issue. One of the other phones, Bond recognised as Alec’s old personal mobile – the one Q had been using these past three months, since confiscating it from Alec.
The other differences were equally subtle and profound. Someone – Bond suspected Q – had installed coat hooks by the door and had actually gone so far as to hang Alec’s coat from one. Bond stared at it, wondering if he should hang his own coat, but he had no idea if he’d be staying, despite what Q had said. The stack of packing boxes had been straightened out, each one neatly labelled with its contents. Looking back towards the bedroom area, Bond suspected that he’d find the wardrobe split, with Alec’s clothes on one side, Q’s on the other.
Christ, what the hell?
Bond ignored the takeaway containers in favour of finding Alec’s cigarettes stashed not in his coat pocket but in a kitchen drawer, next to two empty Walther magazines and a set of miniature screwdrivers. Once he had a cigarette lit off the hob, he found the vodka in the freezer and poured himself a drink.
Alec followed Q into the bathroom, closed the door, and leaned back against it, thinking this was a complete fucking disaster. His practical side wanted to clean up – or at least finish. The rest of him, though, was stalled between two equal forces pulling at each other from opposite sides.
James had nowhere to go. Naturally he’d come here; Alec had been expecting it. Just not now. And not while Q was here, even though Alec couldn’t imagine that Q would go back to his tiny studio on the edge of London. He belonged here.
Which was the problem. Because so did James.
“Fuck,” Alec muttered, avoiding Q’s eyes and going right for the shower.
Q’s arm twitched, as though to touch Alec as he passed, but he let it drop back down. “So, um, Bond’s back...”
“I messaged him when I left the Treasury building...three, four days ago,” Alec explained as he turned on the shower. “I thought he’d be back in London sooner. Or later. Or not now.”
“Did you want me to leave?” Q asked.
“No.” Alec had no idea what to do with both James and Q here, but he knew he didn’t want Q to leave. Deliberately, he held the shower door open and turned, waiting for Q to join him. “Please stay.”
Q glanced towards the bathroom door. After a moment’s hesitation, he walked over to the shower and stood in front of Alec, his eyes filled with uncertainty. “All right."
Alec wanted to reach for him, but everything felt different now. James was back and Q was here, but Alec had no idea what either of them expected. On a mission, he’d know precisely what to say to smooth over the awkward situation, but this wasn’t a mission. Q was more than that now.
He finally turned and stepped into the shower, thinking they’d get nowhere like this, no matter what anyone finally decided to do. Q followed him in and closed the shower door behind them. Silently, he reached up for the soap and poured some into a flannel before absently doing the same for Alec. When sex wasn’t involved, they had this down to a routine, switching places to wash efficiently without risk of elbowing one another.
“We’re not shagging,” Alec said, taking the flannel without meeting Q’s eyes. “Never were, though we’ve shared.”
“I’m sorry, we’re not what?” Before Alec could explain, realisation dawned in Q’s eyes. “Oh. You mean, you and Bond... You’re not – I mean, you’ve never – You haven't?” Q asked, clearly not sure how to address what Alec was saying to him.
Alec shook his head and concentrated on washing. “No. Well, not that I remember. We’ve been drunk a few times, back in the Navy, and missed a weekend or two, but it doesn’t matter. That’s not... That’s not who we are to each other.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Q asked. He stopped scrubbing his arms and just stood there, watching Alec.
“This is what he does, though. When it all falls apart, he comes here, or I go to him.” He took a breath, wondering how he could explain to Q – a non-combatant civilian – just what they meant to each other. “He used to have a key. I doubt he still has it.”
“Did you want to get him a new one?” Q turned his back to Alec, placing his flannel back over the shower head. He didn’t immediately turn back around when he said, “If it’s easier, I could just give him mine.”
Certain responses were, by now, pre-programmed in Alec. The adrenaline hit out of nowhere, with no target or focus. He was simply aware of everything – how the steam fogged the glass wall to his left, Q’s too-light touch against his body, the not-quite-slippery soap underfoot. Did Q want to leave? Over the last three months, they’d gone from strangers to something else, something neither of them had defined. Q’s clothes were in Alec’s wardrobe because it was convenient to leave them there after a night of using the washer and dryer Q had found in a cupboard near the front door. His computer was in the kitchen because it had more processing power than the laptop.
And now, the mission was over.
His instincts urged him to step towards Q and touch him, to take hold of Q’s shoulders and turn him around, but he didn’t trust himself. “Do you want to?” he asked instead, recognising the carefully neutral tone of his own voice.
“Bond has nowhere to go,” Q reminded Alec, as he turned back to face him. “I’m worried that I’ll be in the way.”
“This is London, not the bloody Sahara. There are –” Alec cut off before he could point out just how many damned hotels there were, because he didn’t want James at a hotel. He was back from the dead. They hadn’t seen each other for three months. The idiot still had a fucking bullet in him. Alec needed to take care of him, to assure himself that James really was still alive and all right and not more damaged than he’d implied.
“Alec, look, this is your best friend we’re talking about. Bond – James – is out there in the kitchen, broken and desperate. We forced him to stay in exile for the past few months, and he wasn’t here when it all went to hell. I would be shocked if he didn’t feel like he was partly to blame. Like he could have done something had he been here.” Q closed his eyes for a moment before continuing. “He needs you. And I know you want me to stay, but right now I’m no different than any –”
“You are different,” he said, which was a bloody stupid thing to say. Stupidly obvious, really. He took a deep breath, looking down at Q. “For twenty years, it’s just been me and James. I’ve only known you for three months. But I’m not going to throw you out because the mission’s done and he’s back.”
“But if it would be easier –”
“No, Q.” Alec dropped the flannel so he could take hold of Q’s face. “No. I want you here. You’re important.”
Q nodded. “I was, yes. You needed my help, and something...came of it,” he said, waving vaguely between them. “But you said it yourself: twenty years against three months. How important can I be compared to that?”
“How the hell can I answer that?” Alec asked defensively, lowering his hands, though he didn’t step away. “For twenty fucking years, all I’ve had were England and James. And it only took three months for me to choose to come after you and let MI6 burn.”
Q’s stared at Alec, his eyes going wide at Alec’s words before his expression finally softened. He rested a hand on Alec’s chest and leaned in for a gentle kiss. “I love you, too,” he said quietly.
Alec’s instant denial died unspoken, buried under a terrifying sense of elation. Suddenly this was no longer about sex and companionship, but something far more important – something he wanted more than anything, but that could be all too easily destroyed, now that James was back. “Q... I won’t choose between you two. I can’t.”
Q wrapped his arms around Alec’s waist. “You’re an idiot, you know. I would never ask you to do that. And I’m sorry if I gave you the impression that I was. I don’t think I’m more important than Bond. If anything, I’m fairly certain my asking you repeatedly if I should go is proof enough.” He met Alec’s eyes. “I would never ask you to choose.”
Could this work? Every one of Alec’s previous relationships had either been centred on a mission or had fallen spectacularly apart when his partners caught a glimpse of the real him. But Q knew who he was. He’d been honest with Q in a way he never had before. And Q still wasn’t running away.
He put his arms around Q and closed his eyes against the shower spray. Reassured that Q wouldn’t just leave, he let himself focus instead on the more immediate problem at hand. “What do we do with James?”
Q settled against Alec, turning to rest his head under Alec’s chin. “We take care of him. Whatever he needs.”
“Do you want –” Alec began, before he stopped himself and took a steadying breath. “I don’t expect you to...do anything with both of us.”
“I know you don’t.” Q turned his head to kiss at the hollow of Alec’s throat. “But he told me you share everything, and I didn’t know if that...I know you don’t expect that of me, but is it something you want?”
This was where someone else would have already made a decision, but Alec hadn’t. In the beginning, when Q had been nothing more than an interesting resource and a diversion, Alec had thought the possibility almost inevitable. Now that Q was more, Alec possessively, selfishly wanted to keep Q for himself.
“What do you want?” he asked tentatively, wondering if he might react unreasonably if Q said he wanted James.
“I want you,” Q said honestly. “And one agent is about all I can handle, at the moment. Besides, James is in no shape to be dealing with anything that’s more complicated than food, sleep, and possibly a trip to Medical.”
“We’re not sending him to Medical,” Alec said without hesitation. “He still has the bullet in him, though. Everything we need is in the medical kit.”
Q stared at Alec in horror. “You’re not actually suggesting we cut it out of him, are you?”
“We can’t leave it in him,” Alec said reasonably. “It’s been in there too long as it is.”
“Because he didn’t have access to a proper medical professional! It’s not as if he was going to cut it out himself.”
Alec looked back at Q. “Why not? He’s just not left-handed is all. He couldn’t do it himself, or he would have, by now.” Alec turned off the water and pushed open the shower door so he could reach for their towels. “We can do well enough. Can you do stitches?”
Q snatched his towel out of Alec’s hands. “Yes, I can, as a matter of fact,” he said, evenly. He started drying off without really paying attention to what he was doing. “But that doesn’t change the fact that we are not performing surgery on the kitchen counter!”
Alec nearly offered to bring James into the bathroom instead, but he suspected that would make things worse. In his most reasonable tone, he said, “We can’t just leave him like that. Have you seen him? He looks like shit, Q. We have to do something.”
Q took a deep breath, but didn’t say anything. He pushed past Alec to step out onto the bathmat. As he took down their bathrobes, Alec could still see tension visible in his shoulders. “I understand that. But first things first, he needs to eat, and he needs to sleep. The bullet has been in there for three months without killing him; it will still be there tomorrow.” Q handed Alec his robe before dressing himself. “Let’s not go cutting open your friend while he still looks like he just came out of the wrong end of a bar brawl, okay?”
Alec hesitated. Logically, Q was right, but that didn’t make him feel any better. “All right. But James needs somewhere to stay,” he said tentatively.
“He should stay here,” Q replied. “We did discuss buying furniture, anyway. Might as well make it a sofa bed. That or I could just steal my old futon.”
Alec laughed. “Am I that bad an influence on you? You were so innocent before me,” he teased.
Q stared at Alec, incredulously. “You can’t be serious. The day I met you, I stepped between some idiot I didn’t know and your gun. I stopped being innocent a very long time ago, 006.”
“Yes, but I was faking it. I hadn’t even chambered a round until I thought you were an actual threat,” Alec countered. “For now, James can have my side of the bed. I’ve slept enough for days.” Relieved, he opened the door for Q. “I think I have some of his clothes in the back of the wardrobe. Go burn what he’s wearing.”
“You go burn what he’s wearing, you damn fire-starter.” Q laughed before pushing past Alec and walking out.
Two glasses of chilled vodka dulled the ache that had settled into Bond’s shoulder since his return to London. He hesitated to let himself into the bathroom to find Alec’s stash of pills, but his patience would only last so long, if they’d got distracted in there.
The shower turned off, but the exhaust fan muffled the sound of their voices. Bond stopped the music playing on the computer, but he still couldn’t hear anything until the bathroom door opened.
“And honestly, Alec, we’ve both slept for the entirety of the day. What exactly do you suggest we do while Bond sleeps on the only piece of furniture we have?” Q asked as he walked out wearing an unfamiliar dressing gown. It wasn’t Bond’s – which he’d been hoping Alec had saved when MI6 had got rid of his flat – but it also didn’t have the new, ill-fitting look of something Alec might have for a guest. And it certainly wasn’t one of Alec’s old robes, or Q would be swimming in it.
“We could go buy more,” Alec suggested as he followed. “Or steal it. We have the keys to the bloody Royal Treasury now. All sorts of empty offices and antiques.”
We? Bond wondered. Alec hadn’t bought furniture, other than his bed, for five years, since he’d dated that interior decorator and had let her pick out everything. Did Alec even know where to buy furniture?
“Antiques wouldn’t work in – Are you bloody smoking again?!” Q stopped at the sight of Bond in the kitchen, cigarette halfway to his lips.
“No!” Bond answered reflexively, dropping the cigarette into the sink. Q took offence to smoking; he’d made that much clear on their many phone calls, always asking after Bond’s health.
“That’s fucking pathetic, James,” Alec criticised as he went to the wardrobe doors.
Before Bond could answer, Q turned to shoot Alec an accusing stare. “You’re not any better!”
“I’m helping,” Alec countered, giving Q his most charming smile. “And I’m not smoking. Do you see me smoking?”
Q glared at Alec. “No, actually I don’t, but tell me this: Why did the cigarette he just dropped in the sink look like your particular favourite brand?”
“You know my favourite brand?”
“Please. You think I don’t already know every place you have them stashed around here?”
“I thought it was my job to be the creepy stalker,” Alec said, smile giving way to a lopsided grin.
“Creepy stalker? I know because I spent a solid weekend organising this place, you git! If I hadn’t, you still wouldn’t be able to find that holster you rigged or those bloody throwing knives you love –”
“You let him touch your knives?” Bond interrupted, staring at Alec. “You pulled your fucking gun on me when I went near them!”
Alec stared from Bond to Q and back before demanding, “What the fuck did I do wrong here? Q! Fix it!”
Q continued to glare at Alec for a heartbeat longer before turning abruptly to walk over to Bond. He stuck out his hand and said, “Cigarettes. Now.”
“You’re not serious,” Bond said, blinking at Q.
“Now, Bond,” Q said with an edge of authority that Bond would never expect from someone so small and slender, looking like he’d lost a fight with a towel.
Why he actually opened the drawer, Bond couldn’t explain. Really, though, they weren’t his cigarettes. He handed over the pack before reaching for the vodka, thinking a third drink was definitely in order, after this.
“James,” Alec said in a warning tone.
Q snatched the bottle away from Bond and handed it to Alec. “Not until you head to Medical and get that thing out of your shoulder.”
“Though Q does do very nice stitches, I understand,” Alec said, reaching for the cupboard so he could take down two glasses.
“You know what, Alec? Stop helping.”
“When the fuck did you two get married?” Bond asked, finally recovering from the shock of seeing Alec – of all people – domesticated.
“What?” Alec dropped the glasses onto the counter and looked to Q. “What did he say?”
“Look at you two!” Bond answered before Q could speak. “You’re –”
“He’s our Quartermaster, you idiot! It’s his job to get all stroppy when things don’t go his way.”
Q walked over and deposited the cigarettes in the rubbish bag stashed under the sink. “If getting stroppy is what keeps you two from killing yourselves, then damn right I’m getting stroppy,” he said before turning back to Bond. “And we’re not married, Bond. Married people don’t shag.”
“Q… Those were my cigarettes,” Alec said.
Q gave Alec a flat stare. “Yes, Alec. I’m aware of that.”
For a few seconds, no one spoke. Bond broke the silence first, saying, “Married.”
“Bugger off,” Alec snapped, picking up the bottle of vodka.
“Don’t give me that. Everyone else who’s tried telling you what to do has got thrown out on their arse.”
Bond arched a brow, staring intently at Alec, trying his best to conceal his sense of growing panic. “Right. I’ll leave you to the honeymoon, in that case.” He turned and went for his coat, thinking he really was going to end up alone in a bloody hotel after all.
He heard Alec set down the bottle and take one step before Q said, “Bond, stop. Please.” As Bond picked up his leather jacket, Q walked over to place a hand on his shoulder.
Bond refused to turn and look at Q – at either of them. Phone calls aside, he had no idea what Q knew about what Alec and Bond had shared. Even when Bond had left MI6 for Vesper, he’d always intended on making a place with them for Alec. But there was nothing like that here – not now, at least. Maybe there never would be, or maybe it was just too new and unfamiliar. Or maybe both.
“There’s no room for me here,” he said, sorting out his jacket.
“I don’t want you to go, and I know Alec doesn’t either.” Q glanced at Alec before turning back to Bond, giving him an exasperated look. “I’m sure all of this has come as a bit of a surprise to you, but you are Alec’s best friend; you come first. This is where you belong. This is your home, James. Please let us take care of you.”
Bond knew how to read people; the sincerity in Q’s voice and body language made him hesitate, though he didn’t put his jacket back down. He looked past Q to Alec, who met his eyes without guilt or embarrassment, but also without expectation or demand that Bond accept Q’s presence in a place that had, until now, belonged to the two of them alone.
“Stay,” was all Alec said. It was an invitation, not a demand. Bond could choose to walk out or not, and Alec would accept it.
Bond looked back at Q, thinking of all the nights they’d spent on the phone – nights that could be distinctly divided into before and after, on either side of that moment when Bond had started to wonder about Q’s relationship with Alec. He’d nearly convinced himself that he’d misread the situation, because Alec didn’t get involved.
He finally hung up his jacket, not because he had nowhere else to go but because there was nowhere else he wanted to be. Alec hadn’t shut him out, and after three months of nightly phone calls, Q didn’t feel like an intruder – not precisely, at any rate. Bond had no intention of losing Alec, and if that now included Q, they would simply need to find a way to make it work.
Q eyed the jacket before he turned his assessing gaze on Bond. “Does this mean you’re staying?”
Bond laughed shortly, wondering how he could coax Q to let him have one more drink. “It’s bloody freezing outside, and that’s the only jacket I currently own.”
“Oh, not for long.” Q smiled innocently as he turned towards the kitchen. “Alec plans on burning all of your clothes.”
“You’re a bloody wreck,” Alec added helpfully. “And if you don’t go shower, Q will make you go stand on the damned roof in the rain, and then we’ll have to deal with pneumonia on top of everything else.”
It was pure instinct for Bond to give Q a smile and ask, “You wouldn’t do that to me, would you?”
Q turned to lean against the counter. “I suggest you take Alec’s advice, or I may be forced to let him light that fire with you still dressed.”
“Only because I haven’t had a decent shower in months,” Bond conceded.
Alec crossed the kitchen and opened the cupboard under the sink. He pulled out a rubbish bag and offered it to Bond. “I’ll find you something else to wear.”
“You’re not binning this shirt. I like this shirt.”
“No one likes that shirt, James. And I’m not binning it. I’m burning it.”
Q spoke up. “Please, though, not in the kitchen sink. I’ve heard the stories, Alec. I don’t need the visual.”
“Where else would I burn it?” Alec asked in a reasonable tone. “The bloody flat’s empty. We don’t even have a proper rubbish bin, and James had fucking well best get into the shower already, or I’ll burn it in there instead.”
Sighing, Bond started unbuttoning the shirt. “Are you sure you want him, Q?”
“Of course, he wants me. If nothing else, I’ve showered in the last month, unlike at least one of us in this damned flat,” Alec answered.
Bond huffed. “Or he’s settled for you despite your bad habits because he didn’t realise his other options.” He stripped off the shirt and offered it to Q. “Here. He’s your bloody problem now.”
Q took the shirt and tossed it to Alec. Then he turned back to look incredulously at Bond. “You were shot and didn’t bother getting the bullet removed. He came home covered in a multitude of burns and didn’t think to stop by Medical.” He smiled at Alec while shoving Bond purposefully towards the bathroom. “Considering that neither of you can be trusted to fend for yourselves, it seems you’re both my problem now.”
“I can see why you let him tell you what to do,” Bond said, looking over at Alec.
Alec grinned. “Fucking adorable, isn’t he?”
Q’s huff was light and affectionate. “We’ll see how ‘adorable’ you two think I am when I test out my wrist-mounted taser on you both.”
“Fuck everything else,” Alec said, dropping an armload of bags in the tiny foyer before he forced the door shut. He stomped snow off his boots as he latched the door, probably less for security and more to keep it from blowing open in the wind. “We’ll empty the rest of the truck tomorrow, assuming we’re not snowed in. Any trouble with the fire?”
Q poked gently at the logs, watching the fire slowly creep from the kindling to the logs. “I think we’re good.” He turned to assess the bags that Alec had brought in. When he didn’t immediately spot the one he was looking for, he asked, “Did you grab my rucksack? It was behind your seat. It has both my laptop and tablet in it, and I don’t care if the car is a bloody fortnight’s walk from here; there’s no locking us in without it.”
Since Q had been named head of TSS, he had taken on a new measure of paranoia. The fact that his appointment had come on the heels of the biggest security breach MI6 had ever experienced didn’t help. Apparently, Kyle Williams had only been the tip of the iceberg. Bond had killed Kyle’s boss, La Rata, but his childhood home had been destroyed and M had died. And now, Q was an executive with a security clearance that was actually higher than Alec’s and Bond’s – something that rankled them both to no end.
After the Skyfall Incident, Q had been all but chained to the tunnels that currently housed MI6 in an effort to rebuild. Alec, though, in his infinite stubbornness, made good on his promise to take Q skiing at the end of the year. Q never did find out what Alec and Mallory had privately discussed; he only knew that Mallory had authorised a full two weeks’ leave, out of the country, effective immediately.
He got up from his crouch in front of the fireplace. He wanted to tap into the resort’s security feed and cameras so he could keep an eye on everything surrounding their cabin. He didn’t really believe they would be attacked out here, on the edge of civilisation, but he wasn’t going to take any chances. Not anymore.
“You want me to go back out there? I’ll freeze to death,” Alec complained, unzipping his parka. He hadn’t bothered with gloves, a scarf, or a hat, and under the parka, he wore only a button-down shirt and thin jumper. He’d spent most of the last few hours of their drive failing to hide his amusement at how Q had bundled up against the snow outside their rented truck.
“Would you prefer that I go back out there?” Q walked over to root around through the small pile of bags Alec had managed to carry back in one go. He spotted his rucksack underneath one of the overnight bags and pulled it out triumphantly. He turned to glare at Alec, although he was certain the smile he was fighting to hide gave him away. “It looks like you’ve been saved from certain doom, you giant child.”
Alec caught one strap and tugged, pulling Q off-balance and into his arms. “No computers. Not tonight,” he scolded, leaning down for what Q knew was meant to be a distracting kiss so he could steal the rucksack.
Q laughed into the kiss, holding steadfastly to the other strap. “I just want to set up a security perimeter. Should only take five minutes.”
“That’s five minutes too long to wait before we’re fucking in front of the fire.”
“It will take at least that long for the fire to be sufficiently warm. Besides, you know I’ll just worry about it until it’s done.” Q leaned back to give Alec a challenging grin. “Unless, of course, you think you can find a way to distract me.”
“We’re safe. The only one who knows where we are is James. We both have guns,” Alec said, running one hand down Q’s abdomen to the flat, nearly invisible holster tucked into the waistband of his trousers. “And we are very, very fucking overdressed.”
Two weeks prior, Bond had walked into Q’s office and dropped a Springfield XD-S 9mm pistol on his desk. It had no serial number or security check-in tag, and no TSS inventory tags. He had told Q it was a gift; all he had to do was figure out how to smuggle it back out.
What surprised Q even less was the in-waistband holster that Alec had left on the kitchen counter when he’d returned home that night.
“All right,” Q conceded as he pulled his jumper over his head. “But I want it said that seeing the enemy coming before they get to the door – as opposed to after they break it down – would greatly increase our chances of walking away cleanly from a fight. If they shoot me, I’m shooting you.”
“Fine. Then I’ll be on top this time. Fair?”
“You would make excellent body armour.”
The brief distraction from perimeter security turned into lazy shagging in front of the fire, where they’d made a nest of pillows pulled off the couch and a blanket Alec had fetched from the bed. The fire had died down to hot embers, leaving the cabin in near-darkness. Sated and drowsy and warm, Q was perfectly content to fall asleep in Alec’s arms. He was tucked up against Alec’s chest, feeling more relaxed than he had in… Honestly, he couldn’t remember when. It was only one day in, and Q already knew this vacation was exactly what he needed – what they both needed.
“Why are you so fucking complicated?” Alec muttered almost too softly for Q to hear, despite how close they were. Before Q could rouse himself enough to answer, Alec continued, “I don’t do this. James has tried twice before, only he’s rubbish at it, and I’m even worse than he is. What the hell are you doing with me? You’re too smart for this.”
Q slowly opened his eyes, unsure of what to do. He could tell that whatever Alec was getting to was important, and he knew that if he moved even an inch, he would break this moment entirely. Instead, he just stared at the dying fire and waited for Alec to continue.
“You weren’t supposed to matter. You’re a liability. All someone has to do is threaten you, and –” Alec stopped talking and even breathing for a moment. “I couldn’t fucking understand how James could quit MI6 for that bitch, Vesper, but I didn’t even stop to think about letting it all burn to go after you.” His arms tightened around Q’s body. “I didn’t care if all of London went up in flames. You’re all that mattered.”
Q felt the same. He wanted to tell Alec he felt exactly the same. Q would do whatever it took – he would cheerfully beat the entire world into submission – if that was what he had to do to bring Alec home. He would always find a way to bring Alec home.
But now wasn’t the time to say that. It was clear that what Alec was trying to tell him had been building for quite a while. He could hear the fear and uncertainty – but also the determination – in Alec’s voice as he whispered into Q’s ear. And there was no force on this earth that would stop Q from letting Alec have this moment.
“I don’t think I’ve ever said it, outside of a mission – not once I stopped being an idiotic drunk twenty-something,” he admitted with a very quiet laugh that barely stirred Q’s hair. “The only thing I loved in this world was James, but not like this. I thought there might be something wrong with me. Not in a bad way, because it’s bloody useful when you kill people for a living.” He sighed and rubbed his face against Q’s hair. “If it comes down to it, though, I’ll quit just to keep you.”
Alec took a deep breath. “I love you,” he said, his voice still too low and soft to wake Q, had he been asleep. “I’ve never said it and meant it, until now, and it doesn’t even fucking count, because you’re sleeping. Fucking shit,” he added in Russian.
Q couldn’t wait anymore. It had been almost two months since the shower when Alec had all but implied the same. In that time, though, he had never actually said it. There’d always been truth to the idea that actions speak louder than words, and Alec had shown how much he cared for Q time and again. He didn’t think he’d actually needed to hear it, but that still didn’t stop his breath from catching when he finally did.
Q didn’t want to burn the moment by startling Alec. After all, he had only spoken because he thought Q was asleep. So Q slowly turned over to nestle into Alec, burying his face against Alec’s chest. As quietly as possible, just barely enough for Alec to hear, he whispered, “Ya tozhe tebya lyublyu.”
I love you, too.