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bloom on my skin, echo in my soul

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MI6 doesn’t allow soulbonds. 

It’s a security risk, he’s told, and he sits at his little metal table in a cinderblock room and smiles tightly. 

“Will it be a problem?” the woman asks, her eyes sharp and he smiles, all sharp teeth and angles and shakes his head. 

“Do I look like someone with a soulmate?” he asks, dripping contempt. 

She smiles at him, then, and it feels more threatening than anything else she’s done so far, up to and including throwing him into this windowless cell. 

“Very good. Welcome to MI6,” R says crisply. 

~*~ 

 

Not everyone has a soulmate, and even fewer have a viable soulbond. Greyson knows the stats--he memorized them when he was in grade school, when ink, black and blood red, first dotted over his skin and pain sank like a hot poker into his gut. 

This is what he knows. 

Less than forty percent of the population has a soulmate. 

Of that forty percent, the soulbond manifests as a mark for all of them, empathetic pain links for five percent and telepathic bonds for point five percent. 

There was an almost even split about bonding without physical contact first. 

Greyson woke up with pale clear skin when he was eight and while reading, he crumpled in agony. Ink smeared across his thigh and pain spiked in his gut and thoughts, frantic and foreign, spilled across his mind while he sat still and shaking in his desk and listened to history lessons. 

~*~ 

 

Q likes Greyson, and R trusts him, and despite--or perhaps because of--his unorthodox recruitment, the Double-Oh’s find him intriguing. 

He’s set to work in front of a terminal of screens and told to build their infrastructure into something that can’t be hacked. 

“Anything can be hacked,” he says, because it’s true, and Q smiles at him, this smart sharp thing that makes him think he’s done something right. 

Everything at MI6 is a test, he’s learning. 

“Do your best,” they tell him, giving him a cup of tea and plenty of space, and he does just that. 

~*~ 

 

When he’s sixteen, the voice in his mind that he’s never spoken back to, never done more than listen to when it rambles, stops. 

There’s no pain to accompany it, but there’s a pressure in his lungs that worries him and he lies in bed, and listens to silence that’s terrifying, and touches the red and black on his thigh and up his belly, and he doesn’t speak, really, but he reaches, a feather light brush of reassurance and solidarity and he breathes again, against that damnable pressure and light-headedness, when he feels someone reach back

~*~ 

 

He builds a maze and layers it with traps and safety switches, a nest of viruses and hidden caches of data and escape matches that only someone trained would find. 

It takes six months, months of working too long and sleeping too little and fielding R&D questions between coding, and consuming tea that’s placed at his station by R and Q and later, the rest of the branch. 

He’s reclusive and quiet and short when he’s drawn into conversation, and only ever seems alive when he’s in front of his computers and his face is lit by their glow. 

But he’s coding something that will protect all of them, and they like him for it. 

~*~ 

 

He learns to live with it. 

With the constant bruises, with the stabbing pain echoed in his body, with the scars that never last. 

With the voice that rumbles with threat but never at him. 

He learns to live with it and he learns to hide it. 

Because soulmates are not common enough to be trusted, and he wants a life, something beyond the violent rage on the other end of this bond that he never asked for. 

Do you miss me? They whisper, sometimes, and he never answers, because he doesn’t know if it would be a lie or the truth. 

~*~ 

 

The first time he walks an agent through a mission, he’s punch drunk and his eyes ache and Nadia is trembling as she stares at the screens, indecisive. 

“Go down the stairs,” he says, and nudges her gently to the side, “take the fourth floor exit. Excellent. There’s a guard in the second hall to your right--that’s lovely, 002. Take their weapons--” 

He listens to the sharp rapid breathing and walks the agent through the building swarming with guards and all the way to the embassy. And for the first time since he joined MI6, he doesn’t itch for a keyboard and quiet solitude. 

For the first time since a voice echoed in his head, he doesn’t feel alone. 

~*~ 

 

The voice is comforting. He—Q decided long ago that his soulmate is man, just from listening to him talk for years—talks at the strangest times. Long rambles when he’s lingering on the edge of sleep, a steady ticking count in the mornings, a too bright white noise when Q was a boy studying and when he was a hacker on the wrong side of legal, and when he was buried in the bowls of MI6, piecing together it’s cyber defenses.

He’s chatty, and sometimes Q wonders if his soulmate is like this with the rest of the world. There’s a reserved quality to him in those early days, that slides away as the years slip past.

Sometimes, he lays in bed and aches with sensory echo, with the pleasure starburst bright in his soulmate’s mind, and a nameless gasp on his lips, and he feels loved.

~*~

 

Silva happens and the world comes crashing down, or maybe just his world. M is shaken in a way he’s never seen, and R is in the hospital and the Quartermaster is dead in the ruins of MI6.

He’s pushed into a position he knew he’d fill, one day, but not yet.

007 comes back from the dead and it’s a flurry of whisper in Q Branch. He watches his physical and psych evals, watches when Tanner and the others walk away and 007 trembles, on the verge of collapse. He doesn’t, collapse, though. He rallies, a beautiful broken thing, and M stamps his evals approved.

~*~

 

His soulmate never tells him this:

His name.

His location.

He tells Q about the world, rambling stories about his friends and his time in the Navy, about places he’s seen and books he’s read and on lazy weekends that come so rarely it sometimes worries Q, his soulmate tells him about the show he lies in bed to watch.

He knows his soulmate lives a life of danger and bears those marks, fading ink, on his skin, and the pain echoed in his body, but he never tells him.

Q—Greyson and Quillen and Ghost and Q—

He never tells his soulmate anything.

~*~

 

They sit in front of a beautiful painting and it’s…familiar.

It pulses in his gut like an echo, and eyes the color of ice in spring assess him, amused and dismissive and curling warm.

Everyone—Eve and R and Tanner and even M in her caustic, brutal way, warned him about 007. About his unpredictability and violence and his casual disregard for authority and dismissiveness, his aloof reserve.

No one told him that looking at James Bond, he’d feel the first hint of spring, a slow unfurling warmth hidden in the ice.

They sit in front of a beautiful painting and insult each other and find a common ground and Q’s lips curl into a smile as he retreats.

~*~

 

When they wipe away his past, they wipe everything.

They take Greyson Laurence, the only child of only children, orphaned at age ten, and wipe him away, place him in a box in the ground near his parents he can’t remember.

They take Ghost, a hacker on the wrong side of legal, infamous and a few countries and burn him, pin his crimes and actions on a dead body, take his bank account and wipe it clean.

They give him a new apartment and a new name and an untraceable account with his inheritance if not his ill-gotten earnings.

They do exactly what they promise—destroy who he was and create something new, keeping only the bits that will be of use to Queen and Country.

Quillen, as he is called now, an unsubtle maker that will one day morph into Q—Quillen finds he doesn’t mind.

They wipe away everything—except the voice in his head, the ink on his skin, the fading echoes of bullets in his shoulder.

~*~

 

He is used to echo pains and ink blooming dark and violent on his skin, used to it fading into shiny red sympathy scars. He’s used to makeup to cover the visible marks and clothes to cover everything else and the familiar grounding pain of being connect to another soul.

He isn’t used to the pain, one morning in his flat, pain that is sharp and searing, hot across his ribs. He gasps, and doesn’t need to lift his shirt to know that black ink is spreading like rivulets of blood.

There’s a moment, a hot rush of fear and vertigo, a whispered apology and he almost screams when pain explodes across his back, and fills up his lungs.

He wakes alone, his kitten licking at the rivulet of blood on his forehead, and his head aches, sharp and insistent and his.

He doesn’t hear his soulmate’s whispers or feel his body bloom with echoed pain, for a long time.

~*~

 

007 lingers in London after Skyfall, a wraith haunting MI6, lurking in Q Branch, his eyes bright and assessing. Eve, Q knows, likes him, in a way that few like the assassin. She doesn’t trust him, certainly not with Q, whom she’s irrationally protective of, but she likes him.

Maybe because he never held it against her, the whole messy shooting business.

She says that 007 is grieving, a child with a lost mother.

Q watches the surveillance videos and occasionally, sees him in person, and he sees something that Mallory and Eve don’t see, that he’s not sure anyone sees.

There is grief, bright and silvery in his eyes, yes.

But that grief is the foam on a sea of fury, buffeted along by rage as deep as the ocean.

And in the aftermath of Silva’s attack and hack and the deadly affair at Skyfall, Q understands that fury.

He’s felt it too, the same helpless, incandescent rage seething in him since 007 said, cold and lonely, “Agent down.”

~*~

 

There are times when the bond is still, when the voice in his mind doesn’t whisper, when pain doesn’t echo through him.

Times when Q thinks his soulmate is happy, a kind of peaceful contentment that makes Q ache with longing and jealousy and joy, a strange and potent mix.

And there are times when the bond is still and the voice is silent and pain doesn’t thrum through him, and Q knows, knows deep in his gut where the piece of him that belongs to someone he will never meet rests, that his soulmate is heartbroken. That grief and guilt and misery dogs his steps, drags at him with claws sharper than any weapon Q has felt the echo of.

A kind of misery and pain that makes Q ache with longing and echoed grief and the urge to reach, and reach, to draw his soulmate close and whisper, I am here. You aren’t alone.

He doesn’t.

He can’t.

Greyson Laurence is dead and Ghost is dead and Quillen is just a shadow clinging to a position and he doesn’t have, cannot have, a soulmate.

He bears silent witness to a grief that shakes him and wishes that he could do more.

~*~

 

“Q,” 007 purrs and the minions stir, a flock of pigeons disturbed by a great hunting cat.

Q sighs and hides his smile, and gives the agent a disinterested stare. “You haven’t managed to bring my equipment back unscathed, have you, 007?”

“I am in perfect working order, Quartermaster. Would you like a demonstration?”

A squeak comes from one of the minions and 007’s smile goes shark sharp and the tips of Q’s ears warm.

It is a strange and heady thing, to be on the other end of 007’s bright hungry gaze. Even though it is a game it is harmless and flattering, and there is this too.

“Excellent. I’ll just inform Medical that you’re ready for your yearly physical, shall I?” Q smiles sweetly.

The look on 007’s face, startled, apprehensive and pleased, is worth all the trouble his flirting causes.

~*~

 

His soulmate has a habit of falling in love.

It bothered him, the first time it happened, when the other man fell in a brief and passionate affair and infatuation that ended after a month.

It bothered him the time after that.

The third time, he almost expected it, the way the voice went wistful and longing, thoughts circling a nebulous, faceless person. Q sighed at his soulmate’s ridiculous antics and went about his business at Q Branch and a few weeks later, when he felt the familiar crushing loneliness and regret, he sighs, and prepares himself for a month of morose drinking, a pain and ink speckled body.

He falls in love and in lust and Q is only a little annoyed when he realizes there is something strange and longing and familiar in the voice in his head, pining and sweet. It’s teasing and longing because no one has ever kept his soulmate at a distance, and familiar because he has felt him in love over and over and over again.

He smiles to himself when his soulmate quotes poetry, badly and drunk, and compares the newest object of his affection to stars and suns and fey otherworld creatures.

He’s a bit mad, Q thinks, fondly.

~*~

 

“You didn’t need to shoot them,” Q observes and there’s a huff from the other end of the line, a gentle noise that makes Q shiver.

Ink is blooming on his ribs and 007 is cocky and grinning in his ear and on the CCTV he’s hacked. “But where’s the fun in that?”

Q snorts, inelegant and to the point, and 007’s lips twitch. “You have a window, 007, do hurry. Even you won’t be able to handle all of the guards should they realize you’re still there.”

“Doubting me, Quartermaster?”

“Recognizing the limitations of my tools, agent. Go—now.”

007 darts across the screen and into a server room, safe for the moment, and a sharp burst of affection and pride fills up his head, and Q rubs at his temple.

~*~

 

They live in the present, both of them. Q doesn’t allow anything to slip over into his soulmate’s shared emotions, only the barest brush of awareness to allow the other to know he’s still there. His soulmate lives and bleeds and loves and grieves, and never dreams about the future.

It startles Q, when he does.

When the sweet longing and affection drifts into dreams, gentle and hesitant, about waking up in bed next to a warm, lean body. When he catches his soulmate thinking, I could bring him here, on holiday. He’d love the sun.

When he feels the pang of loneliness in a quiet hotel room and the longing for a warm flat filled with familiar comfortable things.

He realizes then, this is different—the love that his soulmate has fallen into this time.

It matters.

~*~

 

It happens, like this.

Q is on the tube, half asleep, a take away cup of tea doing little to rouse him.

Q is snatched, taken by a prick in the neck and a bruising hand on his arm, and a voice in his head, screaming, is the last thing he knows for a long long time.

Q is woken, strapped to a chair, in a cinderblock room not so different from the one where he was held and questioned and offered a new life. There’s a low hum of frantic fury in his mind, and the taste of blood in his mouth and he wonders how his bruises look, painted across his soulmate’s body in blooming ink.

You have to tell me where you are, his soulmate says and Q—

Q closes his eyes and begins reciting the value of pi, blanking his mind.

He understands, abruptly, why MI6 does not allow soulbonds.

~*~

 

He can feel this—

Relief, sharp and intoxicating, in his soulmate’s mind.

Hands, gentle and soothing as he’s lifted.

A warm voice, soothing in a way that overlaps with the familiar voice in his mind.

Strong arms cradle him, and he knows that he’s safe, with the scent of 007 around him and pain riddled through his body and his mind washed in relief and awe.

“Don’t look,” 007 murmurs.

Close your eyes, darling.

He obeys, thoughtless, and curled into Bond’s warmth. He stirs when someone approaches and 006 says, “How is he?”

Bond doesn’t answer, and Q presses into him with a low whine, and lets himself be carried to safety.

~*~                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Bond won’t leave his side.

His soulmate is silent, a watchful kind of stillness in his mind, and now, away from the pain and terror and the blood, Q knows.

He can feel Bond’s eyes on him, icy blue, spring thaw, endless and steady and he wants to look.

He wants to reach out, brush feather light against the mind that has shared his own for most of his life, wants to see Bond’s face, when he does.

He wants to peel the pristine suit and button-up shirt away, wants to see his own wounds mirrored in ink across Bond’s body, like his so often has borne Bond’s wounds.

He wants the room clear, and the questions heavy in the air to fill up the silence.

He wants everything, for the first time, wants everything that a soulmate promises, and everything he can never have.

MI6 doesn’t allow soulbonds.

 

~*~

Bond lingers while he is discharged, and shifts away from the wall when M frowns at him. “I’ll take the Quartermaster home,” he says, and M arches an eyebrow.

“I can,” Eve offers and Q knows it’s going to be an argument, and he’s too tired for that.

“Bond will be fine,” Q says. “In case anyone has tampered with my security.”

Eve’s lips thin, and that will be a problem for another day.

“Q, you’ll need to debrief, tomorrow. And Bond—”

“Tomorrow, M,” Bond says, and there’s no room for negotiation in those two words, just steely impatience that is at odds with the hand gentle on his elbow, and the fingers on the small of his back, moving him forward and Q—

Q let himself be guided.

~*~

 

They don’t talk.

They should. He knows they should. But there are decades of words between them, of Bond’s words, echoing in his mind, emotions echoing through his soul, pain painted across his body.

“I missed you,” he whispers, the answer to a question asked once, a thousand times, again and again.

Bond’s smile is bright, beautiful, and when he kisses him, Q can feel it, a feedback loop of blinding pleasure, and the gentle thrill and awe that they are here, finally together.

 

~*~

 

MI6 doesn’t allow soulbonds. And yet--

The Quartermaster stands in Q Branch directing his agent to safety, and across the line, James murmurs in his ear, in his head, in his heart.