When he was five his parents divorced.
His mother married another man.
They divorced another four years later.
When he hit puberty, life became difficult. Strange. Weird. Weirder than before where the kind of child he was drew unsavory attention from the school bullies.
His mother didn’t remarry a third time, but she also couldn’t deal with a son who grew more distant with each day, who immersed himself in the world of the world wide web, who was more at home with computers than the reality of people of flesh and blood.
A psychological evaluation attested him a genius level IQ. Highly gifted, they called him. A computer whiz kid. Able to write his own code with only eleven, a code no one else seemed to be able to understand, but his programs were a creation of beauty and exceptional efficiency.
When he was fourteen he knew he was in trouble.
Not because he was sought after by prestigious universities, all hunting him, wanting him to attend their U.
Not just legally because he easily hacked into systems.
No, something else was wrong with him.
It was eating away at him, from the inside. It was a place he couldn’t shut down, a door he couldn’t lock, and it was slowly killing him. It was an addiction he couldn’t drop. It was always there and no amount of restriction helped.
He could have gone insane. He could have killed himself. He could have ended up in the psych ward.
Instead he had ended up here. MI6, serving Her Majesty the Queen. Her youngest agent, though he was as far from the field as possible.
He wasn’t whole. He had never healed. The door was still open and the whispers streaming through a constant companion. He was part of this world and he had come to accept it, blocking it all with the help of his new employer. He had learned shields, but they weren’t enough.
One day he might break under the pressure. One day he might have to rely on his curse and greatest ability.
He knew it would kill him then.
* * *
MI6 employed few extraordinary humans.
Well, no. MI6 employed extraordinary people. They were ready to die for their country. They went out into the world and protected their homeland and the whole world with it. They lived and died for their conviction. They would never give up their secrets.
They would sooner give up their lives.
MI6 didn’t employ supernaturals, though. Or that many preternaturals. There was hardly a difference for the British Secret Service. For one, they were both rare. For another, they were almost always trouble.
Anyone who is special is trouble in their own right. Of course, any Double-Oh would agree. They were trouble and special. Special trouble. It was because of how they had been trained and shaped to perform at such a high capacity, to kill without a conscience or remorse or second-guessing. They were tools, weapons to be deployed, and they knew it. They functioned perfectly. Few reached the ripe old age of retirement.
But to their own knowledge, none of their colleagues fell into another category than human.
Not all of the preternaturals working for MI6 had perfectly useful abilities. They might be more resilient, faster, quicker on the uptake, and one could breathe underwater for a limited amount of time, but they were trouble. Those who were faster than the regular human could get caught; those who were stronger could be felled by a single bullet to the brain. One memorable agent with a tougher skin than a normal human ended up crushed when a building was dropped on him. Preternatural ability only went so far.
Double-Ohs were special agents. They had a special understanding of loyalty and life. None of them would rely on anything but their instinct, their training and their tech, as well as their handler.
MI6 had long abandoned the idea to employ the truly supernatural. They were far and few between. Time and age and the modern world had made some of them extinct or so rare, they wouldn’t come forward to live their lives on the edge, saving the world, and getting a government salary in return.
Not that employing a vampire would give MI6 an edge either. They didn’t even make good villains due to certain limitations and lifestyle habits. They also didn’t have the ambition to risk their lives. Most went about their days as any citizen. Werewolves had been coming and going in small numbers. They never stayed long. Their pack mentality made it hard for them to be field agents and while it was even harder to kill one of them, and they were mean killing machines, MI6 had decided that Double-Ohs wouldn’t see a shifter in their midst. It was hell on the clothing budget anyway.
But then there was 007. James Bond. The agent with a reputation that bordered on the fantastic and whispers that he was a preternatural had come and gone through the ranks. He defied everything. Even death. He was the longest-running agent in their ranks, he was a loner, a charmer, a deadly, cold-blooded killer like all the rest and still… not like them. He had gone up against everything and always come back, sooner or later.
And every time others diligently got out of his way in those first few hours. It was like the creature that resided inside him, the monster that killed and bloodied its claws, was in upheaval, wanting more, wanting to go out and right into the next melee.
MI6 office workers avoided him. Q branch watched him carefully as he returned broken weapons and gadgets. His whole being crackled with danger and death, like a lightning storm about to rain down on them.
After M had debriefed him the world could breathe again. Like a switch had been flicked and the predator was caged again.
The whispers prevailed.
Bond was different. He was not like others. The other Double-Ohs wouldn’t let on what they thought about their fellow agent, gave the whisperers and rumor mongers sharp looks.
Bond was successful. It was all that counted.
* * *
Handling 007 was a nightmare.
He went against orders.
He conveniently lost tracking devices or communication gear.
He sometimes refused to talk at all, not calling in even though the handler knew he was alive and kicking and in possession of a perfectly good phone.
He destroyed his weapons and equipment.
He was hell to work with.
No one in his right mind really, truly wanted to, but he had handlers with each mission. Mostly only for that one mission and then they threatened to resign if they had to work with him again.
It suited Bond just fine. He would rather run without a handler.
Neither Tanner nor M would have any of that and it was her final word that counted. It was she who protected her Double-Ohs and Bond in particular. He was her best, he was the one who got the most dangerous jobs done and came back.
Whispers grew louder, but no one could think of any kind of preternatural who could rise from the dead.
If Bill Tanner knew more than the others, he kept his mouth shut about it.
* * *
With the new age of technology and the ever-spreading world of cyber warfare, a new breed of agents came.
It was a brave new world.
With them a young man working in Q branch, rising to be the head of it within a year. His employment had been pushed by the former M, now retired – a good word for ‘killed’ – and few knew what he truly was.
He was a genius.
He was a tech nerd.
He was highly intelligent, fast, worked computers like magic and did the impossible with the technology at his disposal. He wrote code no one else understood at first. He wrote programs that baffled other genius-level engineers. He was one of a kind and scarily perfect when it came to the interaction with the cyberworld.
He was Q.
And every gift came with a terrible price.
Q’s was simple and complex in one.
Q was a technopath. He had an instinctive understanding of everything technological, of every machine. His mind was able to attach itself to those machines, be it a household item or a complex computer system, and he could hack it. Not just by using a remote device but by employing his mind.
It was terribly effective.
It was terribly debilitating for him, too.
Because it was also so terribly easy to get lost inside this alluring world of codes and artificial life.
Q held himself together by not allowing his abilities to ever fully surface. He couldn’t use what came naturally to him because he had no protection. It was so easy to get in and so difficult, maybe even impossible, to get out.
Drawbacks. Yes, this one was hell.
So Q did most of his hacking by remote. No system was truly that well-protected that he couldn’t wade through the security and do something terrible to it.
Still, the lure of cyberspace was incredibly strong. As were the headaches and downright migraines that came from their alluring signals. Even in a watered down version his technopathy had him suffer from those headaches that didn’t leave, that no amount of pain medication would ever cure. He swallowed the pills, but they were temporary relief at best.
Sometimes… sometimes he took little steps, tested the waters, wanted to see if he might find a way to work within his full capacity.
Those were the days he spent with debilitating headaches, vomiting and such a misery he never wanted to go anywhere near a computer again.
He came back, though.
He was Q. He was needed. And he knew he was the best there was.
It didn’t stop Silva from entering the system. It didn’t stop the cascade of events. Q knew it had been his fault to a degree, that had he been at the top of his game he would have been able to counterattack. As it was, he had failed.
No one knew exactly what he could really do. No one had ever witnessed him doing it, aside from the former M. Mallory, as her successor, had been briefed, but he had never witnessed the full extent of Q’s abilities, and he found him more useful as a handler of his notorious Double-Ohs and a supplier of equipment to bring his agents home alive. He wouldn’t push the young genius into a demonstration; there had been a clear warning in his file.
Q proved himself when he survived handling James Bond on their first mission together and didn’t threaten resignation should he be paired with the agent again. Actually, the two of them got along perfectly.
Well, within limits.
There had been arguments. There had been discussions. There had been downright insubordination that would have had previous handlers grow gray hair. There had been one memorable occasion of insults traded that suddenly turned into snarky banter, then a completely normal conversation.
It bemused and baffled everyone.
Of course Bond had his doubts about such a young quartermaster, but he had, to everyone’s surprise, given him the benefit of a doubt.
The whispers had turned to murmurs of disbelief, especially among the others who had worked with 007, that Bond would trust in his handler’s words and do what he told him. To a degree, of course. And not without trying his own methods first, which usually ended with a lot more death and destruction.
James Bond was a brilliant mind in a body honed as a weapon. He was smarter than he let on, he was quick on his feet, he understood more of Q’s tech babble than others, though he would never confess to it, and he thrived under the pressure of a mission. Death followed him, violence was second nature, but there was more. Q knew he had only just scratched the surface.
Even after the fallout, even after M’s death and Bond’s emotional decline for a few weeks, Q had been there, hadn’t so much as twitched at whatever the Double-Oh did. He had taken the verbal abuse, the cold looks, the broken guns and other gadgets thrown onto his table. He had repaired what could be repaired, had scrapped the rest, and he had replaced the tools 007 needed for his trade.
And he had calmly accepted the handler position once more for a new mission.
Bond had tried to make his life hell, of course. Q didn’t expect anything less. It was how they worked. But he was who and what he was for a reason. He didn’t lose an agent just because of sloppy wifi, remote areas or interference from shielding technology or new devices MI6 hadn’t yet heard of. He was always there, whether Bond wanted it or not, even if he ditched the earpiece. He was there and he watched and he helped his agent, tireless and faithful and with the right amount of snark. He guided him, he protected him, he gave him the access he needed, broke into supposedly secure systems, stole information about a target’s home, and he became something more.
It was when Bond lifted an iPhone off a tourist to get back into contact with him that the first tentative bonds strengthened. Bond had been the one seeking contact, not the other way around. Q would have been perfectly fine with tracking him through his tracer and the various, very helpful cameras all over the world. There wasn’t a feed he couldn’t get into sooner or later.
But Bond had talked to him.
It had been the beginning of what could be quoted as a wonderful friendship, but was something else.
And if Q found it easier to ignore the lure of technology, found the headaches decreasing and had days he felt absolutely normal, he didn’t really notice. Handling 007 was a full-time job.
“I believe I lost the gun.”
Q looked up from his tablet. “You believe,” he echoed, not really making it a question. “Do you still have it on your person or not?”
“Then you believe correctly, Mr. Bond. You lost my gun.”
“I also believe it was my gun.”
Bond looked unrepentant.
“You know those guns cost no small amount of money.”
“I need a new one.”
“Money I need to account for,” Q went on.
Bond kept looking at him.
“Money I could very well use for other projects, aside from supplying you with new guns you conveniently lose again.”
“I also need a new phone.”
Q raised his eyebrows. “Really.”
Bond didn’t react, his stare unnerving for many but Q didn’t so much as blink.
“There are requisition forms,” the quartermaster said mildly.
When Bond didn’t leave he shook his head, giving a put-upon sigh.
“Come back tomorrow.”
“I’m leaving tonight.”
Q glared at his agent.
Bond smirked and leaned closer, an imposing figure that could strike fear into other engineers.
“Oh please, 007. This only works in school yards.”
“You’re my handler. You should be aware of my needs.”
“What you need is a stern talking to about losing valuable resources of the agency you work for. You cost me more money than all your other twelve colleagues together.”
“I’m also still waiting on my car.”
Q’s expression reflected annoyance. “I don’t live to serve you, Mr. Bond.”
“I’ll put it on my Christmas list.”
Q scowled. “Double entendre, 007?”
Bond smirked more. “I don’t know what you mean, quartermaster.”
It got him a new gun and a slightly scratched phone. The agent studied it with a faintly bemused expression.
“005 brought his back. See how that works?” Q turned back to his tablet. “He received a replacement. You’re not too old to learn how to as well.”
Bond didn’t respond. He watched his quartermaster, then a slow, slow smile stole over his lips.
“Does it explode?”
Q heaved a sigh. “Does everything have to explode with you?”
“It’s an added bonus.”
“You’re a nightmare. Go. Leave. No explosive devices for you.”
The smile grew, then he turned walked away.
Q’s underlings watched with wide eyes and open mouths as the Double-Oh disappeared out of Q branch. Their boss worked on, unaffected by the exchange and the look and the physically intimidating man.
* * *
He was tired. Old and tired and burned out. He had served Queen and Country and he had died for them over and over again. He had felt time and age gnaw at his very soul and he knew each time might be the one to break him for real.
Then Eve shot him.
His death back then had been almost welcome. He had enjoyed it. Maybe a little too much. He had tried to forget who and what he was, just be and live in the moment, but no amount of female company, alcohol and dangerous games passed the time.
The thrill was momentary.
When he came down, he crashed spectacularly.
Three months and nothing changed. Three months and he felt the same. Drugs and sex and more drugs. Alcohol and pain medication and beautiful women.
He was a Double-Oh agent. He was at the very top of the food chain. Double-Ohs were killers. Not everyone was made to be like them, not every agent received the license to kill. It was an absolution, a carte blanche. He didn’t have to justify his kills, aside from in front of M throughout a debriefing. He was free and yet he was chained in so many way.
He hurt. All of him, right down to his bones. Physically he was back; mentally was another question. Of course M had him evaluated and James Bond wouldn’t be who he was, what his reputation promised, if he hadn’t fought the psychologist every single step of the way; and then some.
His aim was off. His physiological condition was downright catastrophic. And the psychological damage…
He was old and he was tired and the burn inside him was nothing anyone could help with. He was losing part of himself again, and maybe the next time it would be for good.
M had known. It had been in her eyes and he knew it was in his.
“The next one might be the last,” she had stated.
Bond had known it was probably the truth. “I can take it,” he had replied stoically.
M’s expression was frozen, distant, but he knew her too well. She was worried. For MI6, for herself, and maybe for him.
“This is who I am, M,” he had told her. “This is what you made me.”
“I gave you a release, Bond. I didn’t make you the preternatural you are.”
“You’re still looking,” he had remarked, voice lowering.
M had looked on, still not even twitching. “You are the best agent of MI6, 007. I’m still hopeful.”
But Bond had given up on any hope. Hope was for novices, for the young. He was too damaged, too hardened. Nothing could heal this anymore.
She cleared him for field work, even though he had barely managed the forty percent that were in his file. Silva had shown it to him and it had been a shock to his system.
He came back from the dead, but he left part of him behind every time.
Maybe this was the last time. A final warning shot.
Bond had been ready to surrender to the darkness, after eliminating Silva.
But then he met his new quartermaster. Young, looking the part of the nerd, the computer geek, with his calm voice and very self-assured manner. There was nothing intimidating about him physically; Bond had bullied geeks like him if the mission called for it. Mentally was another matter. Looking into those brown eyes, hidden behind oversized glasses, the agent had seen something else.
And his interest had been piqued.
The pain was suddenly secondary. The darkness ignored.
M’s death threw him and he had her blood on his hands for days to come. He saw it, smelled it, tasted it. He bit at every hand that tried to help him, he accepted his forced leave until he could get a clean bill of health, and he still didn’t fall completely.
Skyfall had cleansed him. It had burned away the past and it had left the future a blank slate. M had never given up on him, had wanted him to go on, and he would. Bond knew he would. It was his vow as he held her in his arms, the tears flowing down his cheeks. Tears he hadn’t even shed when his parents had died.
Skyfall was gone. Burned to the ground. He had come out of that fire.
He was back two months later.
Q was there to greet him for his mission, just a delivery to be made within his own country. Easy. Get his feet back under him.
Q. His handler again.
Things developed from there.
It didn’t mean he listened when the younger man told him where to go, what route to take. He provoked him, waited for the inevitable explosion, but Q was this calm, sometimes monotone voice, surely and safely guiding him through danger. He watched out for him, he found him even when contact was lost, and he supplied him with equipment.
The latter was one reason to visit Q branch, wheedle more tech out of the tech guys. Q would have none of it.
He was still waiting for an explosive device hidden cleverly in an ordinary package.
He was still poking at Q to give him a new car.
Q simply gave him that Look and it was impressive all on its own.
Q was impressive.
Bond was impressed.
He kept gravitating back to the labs, watching his quartermaster, learning about him, and he went as far as stealing his file. It was ridiculously easy and ridiculously short. That was the moment Bond believed that there was more to the head of Q branch than anyone let on, least of all M. His predecessor had kept a lid on Bond’s true nature, so why not have the same happen when it came to Q?
That he felt more relaxed around Q than any time before escaped him. That he liked the quiet hours, just watching and learning about this man with a genius level IQ never figured into the equation. That he lived for their verbal exchanges, the sparring, the arguments, the snappy replies, it wasn’t registering.
He felt more alive. He felt like his old self. The dark hole inside him that tore him to pieces, that made him such a perfect Double-Oh agent and still left him less and less human, was still there, but the darkness was now only a quiet hum that had him at ease.
When he talked to him, when they ran missions together. His aim was back. He had a perfect score. He still evaded psych eval, but that was to be expected. M cornered him about it and he did his mandatory session, which let the psychologist grinding his teeth, but it was all part of the game.
Bond didn’t catch on to the fact for the first few months at all.
But when he did, the hunter snarled and started to stalk its prey.
After the third successful mission, M decided to make it a permanent thing. Q would be the only one handling Bond. Q had no problem with that. He was able to multi-task; actually, his definition of multi-tasking would give anyone else an aneurysm. Other Double-Ohs relied on his intel and he delivered it, parallel to talking to Bond about something or other, maybe mission related, maybe just to bring the man down from an adrenaline high after a chase.
He was running higher risks now himself. He used technopathy to keep the agents entrusted to him alive. He could only verbally talk to one, but it didn’t mean he couldn’t send data or crack an easy code like an afterthought.
The headaches were still there, but they were minimal. Usually they disappeared while chatting with 007.
Being what he was didn’t come with superpowers, though. His baby-steps concerning using technopathy were confined to Q branch. Q would have to be insane to cast himself into the net and remote-access a system halfway across the world. He had only done that once in his early teenage years. He had paid dearly for it. No, he stayed within the safety of MI6’s server network. He knew his environment here.
They ran smoothly together. They were a unit. They had each other’s trust and confidence.
It didn’t mean Q could get his agent to Medical or a psychologist more easily. Bond abhorred psychologists and Medical was for the weak. Never mind that they put agents back together again. Never mind that they were professionals. Never mind that they served Her Majesty, just like the agents whose care they oversaw.
“I believe they are better equipped than you when it comes to stitching you back together,” Q remarked when 007 spent another evening with him in the lab.
There was a butterfly bandage on one cheek and his hand was wrapped. Knife wound, Q had been told at his pointed look.
“Crippling yourself because of shoddy workmanship is ‘fine’ in your vocabulary? Fascinating.”
Bond quirked a little smile. “If you are so worried you can look at it yourself.”
“I’m an engineer, not a medical doctor.”
The little smile got larger.
“Go and get this looked at, 007,” Q ordered dryly.
I’ll still be here when you get back, was the unspoken addition.
The sharp eyes sparked and something seemed to touch Q deeper than words or a gesture could. It was momentary, intense, and gone again. The agent rose fluidly, the grace uncanny, each move measured to use a minimum of energy for maximum effect.
And an effect it had. Q was mesmerized by his own reaction, this rightness, this completeness.
Bond walked away and he watched him, almost openly staring.
The Double-Oh agent was back within an hour, his wounds professionally treated, though he still refused psych eval.
“It’s called mandatory for a reason,” he said dryly as the other man took a seat once more.
At the even expression Q added sarcastically, “If you fail to understand the word, 007, look it up in a dictionary. I believe they still have books around here.”
That got him that weird little smile and Bond only settled back more comfortably.
Q gave him a put-upon look, then turned to work. He wondered if all of that was an act or if 007 was somehow truly immune to the death and carnage wreaked at his own hands. The human mind could only take so much, even if the Double-Oh agents were a special breed. They needed those sessions to get rid of the baggage, the emotions that came unbidden, to free them of that weight and have them function again.
James Bond wasn’t like them.
Q knew it and he was digging deep to discover what he was. It was a wonderful distraction, as well as a dangerous game because his target knew what he was doing.
But he let him.
It was a riddle all on its own.
He didn’t slip for a moment that evening. He had his technopathy under perfect control. Q wondered how he could feel so safe and secure in the knowledge that should he wander off the beaten path in his mind he wouldn’t suffer from it like he usually did.
Maybe because he did wander, unconsciously starting to sink into the mainframe to check on progress reports, sliding along an external line to a near-by server of an international bank. He pulled back when he discovered what he was doing.
The headache wasn’t coming. There was a slight pressure behind his eyes, but otherwise he was fine.
Q didn’t take much notice of the fact that Bond was gone again, slinking away under his radar. He was too puzzled about this new development, but he wasn’t suicidal enough to start experimenting with his brain right now.
He would have to watch this.
When Bond brought back all his equipment the next time, his gun, his specialized phone with all its interesting little functions – no, it didn’t explode – the multi-purpose watch, and the earpiece, Q was barely able to hide his surprise.
Bond lifted a corner of his mouth. “You’re easy to shop for.”
“You are calling me easy, 007?”
“I would never dare, Q.”
The phone was functional. The gun, slightly scuffed, too. Q would have to run a few checks, but this was truly amazing. James Bond, notorious agent of MI6, a mystery to many and the bane of many an existence, had brought back his gear.
“Do I get an exploding pen now?”
“What are you? Five? You’ve been a good boy and want a gift?”
Bond leaned in a little closer. “I’ve never been a good boy, Q. You read my file. You should know.” His voice was low-pitched, almost throaty, and in a semi-dark bar with raunchy music and beautiful people swaying to an ancient song it would have been pure sex.
Right now Q was simply annoyed.
“I know you like to blow things up. A psych eval sounds very appealing to me right now.”
“I’d settle for a car, too.”
“What is it with you and your car obsession, 007?”
“It’s a nice car.”
“Which you like to destroy nevertheless.”
“If the mission calls for it.”
Q scowled. “I have yet to read one of your reports where I came to the same conclusion you did when you wrecked a valuable piece of equipment.”
“You should get out into the field then.”
“No, thank you.”
Bond cocked his head a little, studying the other man like Q had said the most interesting thing. Q wasn’t to be deterred by a mere look from the Double-Oh.
“You simply derive a perverse pleasure from wreaking havoc and blowing stuff up.”
“If you say so.”
“I didn’t blow it up the last time.”
Q’s exasperation rose a notch. “You let a mad man do it for you. Not a selling argument, Bond. Come back when you have a better one.”
“Oh, I will.”
And with that he left again.
Q watched returned to his current project, which also didn’t explode.
Truly a bloody riddle, that man.
Whenever they were in the same room together, others watched carefully, fascinated by the feral predator that was licensed to kill, and the hacker who handled him so perfectly.
They saw the tension, they saw the silent respect, they witnessed the banter and kept on wondering. Confrontations between Q and 007 became something to watch, to listen to, to talk about. If Q took notice that whenever he told his agent calmly, decisively and almost like a parent not to go down that road, not to blow up what could be hacked, and not to shoot out a system that was very well able to help and not hinder them, there were people watching.
It didn’t bother him. This was his job. That Bond lived to make it hell was secondary. He had come to expect it, actually enjoy it, and he missed their encounters when Bond went silent.
He was also always there when the agent was back, when they simply talked quietly, with no mission objective in mind.
One who watched from afar was M. Thoughtful, silent, knowing all there was about those two men and aware that maybe, just maybe, this was what it had all boiled down to. Maybe this was what his predecessor had put into motion, knowing it might work. Maybe it was the beginning of something MI6 had been gearing for the day they had gotten themselves a very special Double-Oh by the name of James Bond.
Mallory knew that M had known this man for most of his life within the ranks of MI6, had protected him, had given him the most difficult assignments, and only after becoming privy to the extra file on 007 did Mallory understand. It was what took the edge off, what kept this man human enough to function until he could find the balance he so badly needed.
So maybe this was it.
He would wait.
And hope for little to no collateral damage.
“So, what are you?”
Bond looked up from his study of the tablet. His eyes were unreadable, his whole expression stony. Q watched him with a slight smile, curiosity in his own eyes, calm and open and… inviting.
The quiet air around the agent had changed subtly. Like a storm brewing in the distance, the air charging, hairs standing on end. The lightning within the wintery eyes was there, a flash so brief and gone again, it could have been an illusion.
Q knew it had been there. He knew Bond by now, had worked with him enough to understand a few things about this man. Probably more than others ever would. He looked and saw the primal force underneath the well-tailored, expensive suits, the clean-shaven features, the perfectly coiffed hair.
“You’re not a supernatural,” he went on, ignoring what others would call a clear warning to back off. Q had never been good at backing off. “I’d say preternatural, but I can’t be sure. Not even your files give me a hint, aside from the fact that you are hard to truly kill.”
The agent gave him an icy smile. In a feline it would be a warning. Q ignored warnings, too. “Of course you read my file.”
“Of course. It’s required. I need to know who I am handling, 007. M has seen to it that your file is rather… short.” He cocked an eyebrow.
Bond gave nothing away, though the rigid line of his shoulders spoke of a growing tension.
Coming into Q branch, hanging around his handler, playing with gadgets whose innards were spilling out all over the work table, had become a thing. Q liked to work late, enjoyed the quietness of the place when only those who had to be here were around. Mostly handlers of other field agents or his own people pulling overtime on various projects. Those usually filtered away by midnight or one the latest.
It was the time Bond slunk in, graceful, deadly, silent. They rarely spoke. Bond watched, his sharp eyes following whatever Q did, and suddenly he was gone again. Like a ghost. Sometimes he brought with him tea or something to eat. Sometimes he only had a paper that he pretended to read. Sometimes food would be left when he disappeared.
“I can feed myself, 007,” Q had once remarked.
“Doesn’t look like it.”
He had scowled. “Are you insulting me?”
There it was again, that crinkle at the corner of his mouth, that weird little smile. Then Bond had been gone again.
Q realized after a while that he enjoyed those moments, that they spoke more than words, that they showed a lot about his agent.
Hm. Proprietary, wasn’t he, all of a sudden? But it sounded good and it felt good. Bond, for all his charm and suave moves and coldness and killer instinct, the danger oozing off him wherever he went, was his agent. Bond trusted him. Bond relied on him. Bond asked for his help. Many had remarked on how strange all of that was since 007 was old school and his disdain for having handlers with him 24/7 was common knowledge.
“Please don’t toy with that, 007,” Q said, looking pointedly at the semi-finished project.
“Short files haven’t stopped you so far,” Bond remarked and set down what would maybe, one day, be a very specialized cell phone that would make Apple cry because their iPhone would look like a stone age toy next to it.
“No, they never have.”
Those ice blue eyes met and held his. Q didn’t shy away, didn’t drop his gaze. He knew what he looked like, what people thought of him when they first looked at the lanky computer tech, the whiz kid, the genius. They saw someone looking so much younger than his years, dressed in unbecoming cardigans, wearing oversized glasses, featuring a mop of dark hair, and they would believe the first impression.
Good for them.
Q liked to be underestimated. It was how he had gained this position. It was how he had survived so far. It was how he handled being what he was. Technopaths were rare. There were only five others like him in the whole world. More had been borne, of course, but aside from those other five, everyone else had turned insane. It took a mind like steel and a stomach just like that to survive moving through cyberspace, hearing and seeing everything, touching a world no one could imagine, that was a far cry from what movies made them believe.
Q had survived. He had been stronger than the lure, the pain, the despair. He had pulled himself out of the abyss, but it was a daily fight. He knew he was missing his anchor and surfing the net without it, relying only on his abilities, would get him killed one day.
“How far did you dig?” Bond wanted to know, voice casual but holding a knife’s edge.
Q held the inquisitive gaze, aware that those five words also had a deeper meaning.
“Apparently not deep enough.”
“What stopped you?”
He cocked his head a little, studying the older man, the impassive features, the shields surrounding him like armor.
“Dead ends only lead so far, 007. I find it easier to simply ask the questions I have.”
Bond prowled around the confines of Q’s workspace like a ferocious, old wolf, eyes roaming, taking everything in. Really more of a big cat. Maybe even something more dangerous. Like a raptor, those Spielberg movie creatures that were a far cry from reality. Like Bond. The man defied reality, defied logic and nature. He stood out among a group of specially trained killers employed by the government, all of them unique. Q was fascinated and intrigued.
The agent’s body showed tension, coiled to spring into action, take out a threat. Whatever could be threatening down here, Q didn’t know. Maybe not something, but someone. Q himself. Q, who teased 007 with knowledge he might or might not have, with his abilities to go past firewalls and security that had been called unbreakable.
When he looked up, his expression was unreadable again.
“Quid pro quo, then. What are you, Q?”
He blinked. Q hadn’t expected Bond to suspect the young quartermaster was anything but a tech geek, though a genius level one. His words implied he suspected or even knew something more. Well, he shouldn’t be that surprised. This was a man who was by far more than many believed, who liked to be underestimated as well, and who pulled off the fantastic on missions that agents called suicide or worse.
“I am your quartermaster, 007.”
It got him a terrifying smile, one that should have shaken him to the core but didn’t. Interestingly enough the smile and the expression sparked something inside Q. Not the thrill of a possibly dangerous creature coming for him next. Not the arousal others felt when Bond gave them an example of his charm and oozing pure sexuality. No, it was different. It touched deeper and it was welcome and confusing in one.
“You are something else, Q.”
And that could be understood one way or the other. Q pretended it to be an innocent remark.
“Thank you, 007. So are you.”
No more was spoken that night and Bond disappeared some time later. Again. Like a phantom, a shadow, a ghost. Q worked on, mystified, his interest tickled, but he refused to give in to temptation. He knew going in deep, digging around MI6’s servers, would most likely incapacitate him for days.
With a new mission on the horizon that was not an option.
The game continued between them. As did something else. It grew and it became more, something Q couldn’t attach a name to. He couldn’t favor an agent when on a mission, but in a way 007 had become his primary concern, his primary agent.
M had sanctioned it after a stand-in had Bond conveniently lose his earpiece and disappear for two days, then resurface to be picked up by a retrieval team. All in one piece with only a cut to his forearm to tell the tale.
Q had been mystified when M told him that no one else would handle James Bond from now on. Q would always be there for every other agent, too, assist their handlers if need arose, but he wouldn’t share responsibilities concerning 007.
Yes, a mystery.
Maybe he should have caught a clue that time he was working on a new code, so absorbed in his work that he didn’t realize he was slipping. He was going in deeper and deeper, fingers stilling on the keys, his mind doing all the work.
The screens around him showed the faster and faster coded lines, the speed inhuman and clearly not natural.
No one noticed.
Q was in his world, doing what he did best, for all intents and purposes and outward appearances absorbed in his latest project.
He startled out of his zone-out when his name was spoken, low, dark, like an impossibly sharp knife cutting his ties to the computer world.
It had never happened before. Nothing could get him out of this zone if he slipped, least of all a single word. His codename. Nothing ever penetrated the fog. Q was convinced that should he go under completely he wouldn’t even feel the pain of a bullet biting into his body.
But he heard the word.
And it snapped him out of the deep, pulled him to the surface and doused him like cold water.
Q turned, looking into a pair of inhumanly blue eyes that bore into his very soul. He felt the pulse again, corresponding with something he had felt before when this man was around him. It wasn’t sexual. He wasn’t falling to his knees, weak-minded, weak in body and spirit, to surrender to this man. He was a lot stronger than that and Bond had yet to understand who his quartermaster truly was.
Bond met his eyes, all calm and cool and distant. All that control Q so dearly lacked. All that power coiled to spring, that danger and primal storm. It was like a hurricane of immense proportions, picking him up and whirling him around. It swept over him and didn’t leave him standing.
He blinked again.
The man in the black suit didn’t change. He was there, solid and real and an immovable object.
Bond’s smile was hard to interpret. “Q.”
The spell was broken when one of his underlings sidled up, carefully eyeing the Double-Oh in their midst, handing Q a tablet. He took it without taking his eyes off Bond.
The smile was still there, knowing and just this side of cocky.
Something had happened that Q wasn’t privy to, but it was also something he had to ignore. He had projects to run.
So he did.
And he pushed the incident away.
Too bad James Bond wasn’t someone to be pushed away that easily.
What was he doing?
The water was warm, nice, but it didn’t relax him. His muscles were tensed, like preparing for a fight, and Bond curled his fingers like claws against the shower stall.
What am I doing? he asked himself again and again.
He still felt old, but no longer tired. Something inside him had woken, refused to curl up into a tight ball of misery and die.
He no longer hurt.
He no longer sought solace in death.
The water was soaking him and he rested his head against the cool tiles, trying to blank his mind.
He no longer courted danger, no longer wanted the pain and the adrenaline rush and the thrill of the kill to feel alive for just that one moment. He would die for his country. He would do everything necessary to acquire what he was sent out to do, to kill who he was targeting, to steal what needed to be back in England.
But the pain was no more.
The aching, debilitating pain that had him seek out death and ask him for another round.
Because of Q.
What am I doing?!
Bond would have no qualms to take what he wanted and needed, to sleep with whoever he wanted. It fed the beast in him. It calmed his preternatural side just as well as dangerous jobs.
But Q wasn’t that. He wasn’t a way to sate the hunger. Not in that way anyway.
Q represented something else and the dark side of him had taken notice, was puzzled, drifted back to him. He didn’t court him like a sexual object. He just… watched.
Bond switched off the warm spray and stepped out of the shower, dripping water everywhere.
Q wasn’t prey. Q wasn’t a target. Q wasn’t a prize to be gained. He wasn’t a quick fuck, to be used for a purpose and then forgotten.
Bond exhaled slowly, looking at his mirror image.
Cold blue eyes looked back.
What was he doing?
He couldn’t stop. He wanted to be around his quartermaster, enjoyed the calm voice in his ear, the annoyed running commentary, the exasperation, the small smiles, the verbal pats on the back, and the quiet competence the man exuded.
He enjoyed Q.
Something inside of him, something usually only attracted to the promise of the kill, of blood and violence, murmured agreement.
This was bad.
And he needed it like the air to breathe.
* * *
Bill Tanner had been watching for a while now. There seemed to be a line of worry permanently etched into his face when it came to James Bond. They were good friends, played golf together, and Tanner had seen him on his worst days. He knew that Bond was a preternatural, but the Double-Oh had never told what kind. Whatever it was, it ate away at him, had him throw himself in front of a bullet or a knife or a missile. It had him run into the most dangerous situations and come back bruised and battered and torn – and looking more alive than ever.
And sometimes, in those moments, Tanner had seen the preternatural and shied away from it. It was raw power and danger, a dark, ferocious, volatile power that ran untamed under this human guise. It demanded the adrenaline rush, be it from violence or sex.
In time Tanner began to understand a little when it came to James Bond, but he never got it all.
M apparently had. She had cultivated and fed that creature, and she had tried to control it to a degree because of what she gave 007.
It had never been enough.
With M’s death, Bond had taken the downward spiral, but he had survived. They all had. Lucky them.
Tanner also knew about Q. He knew exactly what the quartermaster was and it was impressive. What impressed him more was the slowly developing… chemistry, for lack of a better word, between Q and 007. Something was subtly changing, something was drawing Bond to the head of Q branch, and Tanner was sure James had no idea what it was.
Mallory was quite aware of what was going on. He presumably knew all about the preternatural 007 truly was and if he let it happen, there was a plan in motion.
Tanner didn’t question it at first. Not out loud.
When Bond started to migrate to Q branch more and more often, when a look or a word from Q had him listen, when the technopath was slowly but surely showing signs of weaning himself off of pain medication, Tanner asked the question out loud.
“Do you really think it’s a good idea?”
Mallory smiled thinly. “It’s the only idea we ever had when it comes to 007. My predecessor set it into motion. I believe she was right in her assumptions. His preternatural side was almost out of control after Istanbul. You saw it. You know it, Bill.”
Tanner silently studied the security feed from the labs. Bond was watching his quartermaster, all ease and clean, sharp lines, relaxed and… Tanner almost laughed… yes, peaceful.
“It could blow up in our faces.”
“Spectacularly,” M agreed.
“But you believe it worth the risk?”
“I believe it’s the only way to keep Bond in one piece.”
Mentally and physically. All of him. Tanner thought of the ferocity he had seen before, the dark creature. If it was appeased by Q, who was he to argue? But he knew it wouldn’t stop at this casual encounter in the labs. Bond, if he decided he wanted more, would take it.
Tanner wondered if Q was prepared to weather that storm.
“It might also be the only way to help our quartermaster,” Mallory added pointedly.
The Chief of Staff frowned. “You don’t really believe someone like James Bond could be a viable anchor to anyone, do you?”
Ludicrous! Bond was no more stable than organic peroxides.
“This is heading for disaster,” he muttered.
“It’s heading in the only direction there is. I believe the expression best suited is ‘fingers crossed’.” Mallory’s smile was even thinner. “And if it blows up, let’s hope the fallout is minimal.”
Knowing Bond, it wouldn’t be.
* * *
It felt natural. It was so normal. They chatted about inane things when there was a lull, when Bond was waiting, staking out a target, or simply sitting in his hotel room, unable to sleep and cleaning his weapons. Q could have ignored the dull moment, turned to his projects until the agent needed him again, but he was always there. The mic was open, the line steady and encrypted, and he found himself talking to Bond about the most normal things.
“Almost better than the radio,” Bond teased on a long drive across a monotonous landscape.
“Almost?” Q huffed.
“Your taste in music is abhorring, Q.”
“You requested the last titles, 007.”
That he had. And Q had managed to deliver as promised, even though Bond was in the middle of Russian nowhere, heading for a supposedly abandoned research lab where he would hopefully find what they were looking for.
The chatter passed the time. It revealed tiny little tidbits about each of them to the other. It was the only sound in the quiet of the night as Q stayed on diligently, never tiring.
Bond teased him. Taunted him. Had him sometimes lose his aloof coolness. Q would smile, silently congratulate the agent on a ploy well played. He would shoot back, hit his intended target, get a rise out of the deadly weapon he claimed as his agent.
When he was home, Bond kept appearing in Q branch, he kept bringing him tea – always from a different tea or coffee shop -- and he questioned him casually about seemingly innocent things. One or two questions, easily deflected by the quartermaster, who retaliated with one or two questions himself.
Bond would smile. “Q.”
Q would raise his eyebrows. “007.”
The smile grew, showing teeth that might have an edge to them that Q could be imagining. The thrill was back and if it had a trickle of sex, so be it, but it was more again. He held on to the sensation, storing it away for later examination.
It was their game and they played it like professionals.
* * *
One supposedly simple mission had Bond abruptly drop off the face of the Earth and while Q wasn’t worried per se, he felt a niggle of unease.
He gave it an hour. Then three. Then five. Finally he decided that he had waited long enough. Of course Q knew that agents had to disappear, that they lost all devices that would give their position away. Any tracer could be traced by another genius hacker, he knew. Any tracker could be tracked.
Q trusted Bond to be past the childish phase where he got lost on purpose to annoy his handler. If he disappeared it was for a reason, not to get a rise out of the quartermaster.
So he haunted the internet, going through countless security feeds of the area Bond had last been seen in, ran software programs he had encoded himself that were surefire deals in finding people. MI6 employed them to keep track of oh-so many persons of interest.
Bond stayed gone.
Until he reappeared, bloodied but alive, beaten within an inch of his life but still breathing. He had made it to a safe house, had found his way back into Q’s circle of surveillance, and Q had immediately effected a retrieval.
He watched from afar as his agent was brought home to England.
He watched as doctors treated his wounds, threatened to tie him to a bed should he leave, and then cursed as he did just that.
Q had never felt such relief; it almost floored him.
Bond was back at Q branch, looking like the worst case of roadkill Q had ever seen, tracking his quartermaster’s movements as he silently sat in a chair.
Everyone gave the battered agent a wide berth and Q was more convinced than ever that Bond was preternatural. He was giving off vibes. Heavy, dangerous vibes. No man or woman in his, or her, right mind would approach the man, but who was Q to judge his sanity?
So he scowled at him. “You should be in the hospital.”
It got him that strange little smile, that crinkle at the corner of Bond’s mouth. It was probably only his imagination that there was a flash in those cold eyes, something hot and hungry and dark, something clawing at Bond to be released and held in check with unnatural strength. It was looking at Q, judging him, evaluating him, and Q was strangely pulled toward it.
He only scowled some more, then shook his head. Hopeless case. Bloody Double-Ohs.
Bond migrated to the couch Q had in his lab. He ended up on his back, eyes closed, his bandaged arm resting almost protectively over the banged-up ribs.
Q stopped what he was doing, eyes drawn to the still figure. Still but not peaceful; never really peaceful. Oh, Bond was dozing, but there was a tension there, one that only bled out of him after a few hours down here. With Q. Doing nothing but be around.
He was getting to the bottom of what James Bond was. He saw it whenever the man came down here, whatever state he was in. He heard it in every syllable of every word. He could read it in those icy eyes.
Like just now.
So very primal under the human façade and so very broken.
He stopped at that thought, but it settled in his mind. Damaged, broken, but not lost. He knew the man’s file; he knew all there was to know about 007. All his missions, all his losses, all the service he had worked for his country, for his Queen. Q knew the profile of the man, the official one, the Double-Oh. He had also listened to the grapevine, the rumors about Bond losing his edge, walking a fine line, about how he was the most soulless of them all at MI6.
No, he had concluded at this stage of their partnership. No, not soulless. The man had a soul and it was dominated by a preternatural so primeval and dangerous that it tore him apart.
Q was so close to solving the riddle that was his agent, James Bond, 007, and the answers might be more terrifying than not knowing at all.
Bond had truly dozed off, something that had never happened in a crowded, semi-open space like Q branch. Part of himself had settled down, appeased, like this was where he had to be to catch some relief, and he had caught some much needed rest.
A presence alerted him and his eyes snapped open, looking straight into the calm, slightly quizzical brown eyes of his handler. Q, in his ridiculous v-neck sweater, broad, bold stripes and an affront to fashion. Q, holding two ceramic mugs. One his own, the silly little Scrabble mug with the bold Q on it.
“I believe you will need this,” he only said, eyes never leaving Bond’s as he held out the other mug. White. No letter on it.
Bond sat up slowly, trying not to show how stiff and sore and generally exhausted he still was, and took the hot beverage. Coffee. Black.
His preternatural side was quiet. He felt at ease still.
“It might not appeal to your fine cuisine palate, but we still have leftover Chinese in the fridge.” At Bond’s look Q added, “You missed lunch.”
A glance at the clock told him that yes, he had. Amazing that he had slept four hours straight. It should tell him so many things about his own state of mind, about the preternatural he was, about Q. Right now he was simply astounded and tried to hide it.
“I promise it isn’t poisoned.”
Bond smirked. “You’ll taste it for me first?”
“I’m not your mother, 007.”
“You lack certain motherly aspects.”
Q snorted. “Believe me, no one at the Pan-Fried Dragon wants to poison us.”
“There’s more than one way to use a poison, Q. Not all are used to kill.”
It got him one of those exasperated looks. Hopeless, it said. Hopeless and stubborn.
Q left and was back with two cartons of leftovers, pointedly not tasting what was in the one he held out to Bond.
A brow rose.
Bond took the carton, smirking a little. It smelled good and he didn’t think anyone would do anything to the food.
In the end they sat on the couch, Bond finding a position that didn’t aggravate his injuries any more than necessary, sharing leftover Chinese.
No one disturbed them.
Q’s underlings were too baffled and too freaked to ask for their boss’ input or feedback on anything. They just stared, amazed and terrified by the ongoing development between the two men.
Bond found he had never been this comfortable before – leaving out the injuries and pain.
He left almost reluctantly, about ten minutes before Q would usually call it a day. He snuck out almost unseen, though Q was probably aware of his departure.
And he was back the next day.
Q should have realized that something else was happening at the same time, too.
His headaches grew less. His mind stretched its legs more often. And whenever he was in danger of sliding, Bond seemed to be there.
Cold blue eyes. Calm center. A quiet air of authority and control. Pulling him back and centering him on the Double-Oh agent.
Q didn’t get it. For all his genius, that particular connection escaped him.
Something was changing between them and it was so subtle, so slow, so… stealthy.
When he did catch on, it was at the most inopportune moment and right before things went nuclear.
Because the next mission Bond was cleared for went to Hell in a handbasket almost right from the moment the agent walked off the plane.
It got worse with each step, with each path of fiery destruction Bond carved in his wake, and Q was hard-pressed to keep his agent alive. M was yelling at Bond to get out, but Bond insisted he could get the information and bring it home. Q worked as quickly as he could, but it wasn’t fast enough. The system he was tackling was broken into independent circuits, each autonomous from the next, each able to take over should Q take one down. Every surgical strike was taken and then buffered.
He was losing. A rather new concept to a man who was used to walking through a computer like it was a stroll along the seaside.
Well, Silva had tricked him. It had been a rookie mistake, really. Q had gnawed on it for days after the whole mess, going over the hacker program, marveling on how delicately it had been put together.
If he had been able to technopathically interfere…
Yes, he might have discovered the virus. He might even have been able to stop it, but at the time, like today, he had been caged in his abilities. He could have unraveled the tightly woven net, maybe even in time, and he might just have damaged himself beyond help, too.
He was a cripple. His brain was working on half its capacity and that handicap had cost them. Too many had died.
Q had pushed the guilt away.
Now he was facing a similar dilemma, one that would cost another life.
Looking at the grainy feed from the remote camera, listening to the sound of death and destruction, to the harsh breathing of the man whose life he held in his hands, and aware that safety was not far away if he could get Bond to the fighter plane of which he should have stolen the blueprints, Q made a decision.
He closed his eyes, tuning out M’s demands for Bond to retreat.
Have to do it. Have to bring him back. I can do it. M trusted me, gave me this. She died partially because of me. I owe her.
He stopped typing, aware that it was no use. Q placed the palms flat on the cool surface.
I can do this. I’ve done this before. I know the system and piggy-backing is easy.
He completely opened his mind for the first time ever since he had clawed himself out of the pit of shrieking terror and insanity and become who he was. Back then Q had sworn to himself to never do this again, never go out without an anchor, but this was what he had to do. He had a life to safe, Bond’s life, and he had to bring him home.
Blue eyes, like a wintery landscape, so hardened and icy. He saw them in his mind, saw the darkness in there, the fire, the indestructible core of this man.
Q held on to that image, like a life-line, like an anchor. He saw the blue eyes and the rough face, felt the coolness and the security.
And he homed in on the very location James Bond was at, following signals only a skilled technopath of his level could. It was like he had never stopped, like he had always been here, right here, in this world of code and cold logic. He felt it all and it was wonderful, amazing, like an addiction he had tried to kick but couldn’t
No distractions. Nothing from the outside could interfere. Just pure codes and energy and communication of a kind only he could understand. There was no doubt where he had to go. Inside his mind his path was clear like it had been lit up with runway lights.
If he hadn’t been so exhilarated, so fixated on saving his agent’s life, he might have stepped back and wondered how he could so easily track him in a world that was filled with mind-numbing mazes; the whole world was out there, but he knew where he had to go.
He was using direct communication, the earpiece so easy to access it was child’s play.
::I can deactivate a few of the automatic defenses long enough for you to reach the hangar::
Bond didn’t ask how or if Q was sure. His trust was total. “Guide me,” he only said.
He also didn’t ask why.
He simply ran as Q used a great deal of his abilities to scramble certain circuitry, aware it would come back online the moment Bond was through.
But his agent made it to the hangar alive.
::The plane:: he told the field agent.
Bond, a much clearer image in his mind now, looked surprised for a second, then did what he was told.
Q had already forgotten about the defenses and was busy hacking into the novelty fighter jet, powering it up and preparing it for take-off.
“I hope you know how to fly that thing,” Bond remarked as he strapped himself in.
::I was hoping you did::
It got him a smirk, but sharp eyes roamed over the controls.
“Got a handbook for me, Q?”
::They hardly come with one, 007::
“Then you got to be mine, I believe. If you can manage that, which I suppose you can?”
Q chuckled briefly. ::You doubt me?::
There were by now men running toward the hangar. Bond calmly adjusted his flight helmet and assessed the jet, noting where the weapons were.
“How about we skip the prelaunch and just launch?” 007 suggested evenly.
::A very good idea::
He would regret this in more ways than one, he knew. But it was the only way to bring his agent back home alive.
Q dove head-first into the challenge and he forgot everything but the need to bring James back home.
Launching an unknown prototype with only his mind, using himself as the interface and becoming the pilot until 007 could take over, was something Q hadn’t done a lot. Well, at all, actually. This was the first time and it was different from hacking a normal computer system. Or playing a computer game. Or running a simulation.
It required a lot more multitasking and he knew he was running himself into the ground, setting himself up for a migraine from beyond.
Unaware of what was going on outside his brain, Q rose with his task, working at a speed that was only rivaled by a real computer. Encryptions broke under his assault, code was rewritten, electronic surveillance was rerouted or blacked out. He only breathed a mental sigh of relief when the jet was airborne.
Of course it wasn’t the end of it. How could it? The bad guys always shot at stuff and this time was no different.
Q spread himself thin as a he turned the security system against their enemies, making them run for cover, but it had him miss the two jets going after Bond, who had by now learned the rudimentaries of flying this particular prototype.
They didn’t hesitate to shoot at their own prototype to bring it down.
They actually did.
Q launched himself at the electronic core of the first jet, rudely interrupting functions, slashing at whatever he could reach. He had no time for finesse. He had a prototype to fly home and two more bogeys to get rid off.
Sadly, he only managed one.
The machine gun fire of number two did unspeakable things to the jet 007 sat in.
Q didn’t pull out fast enough and the backlash of separation hit him like a sledge hammer between the eyes. The pain spiked, burned every synapse in his brain, melted the gray matter into sludge.
He had no time to scream.
There was simply nothing at all.
* * *
The old M had always known what a time bomb she had on her hands in form of a technopath heading Q branch. Of course she also knew that Q had himself under perfect control, that he didn’t venture into any systems by accident, and that without a safety net he wouldn’t be able to function at peak capacity, if at all. His abilities were limited to a perfect understanding of the workings of machines and his natural genius.
When she had found the young man, Q had been at the brink of a total breakdown. He had tried to understand what he was, working with it, becoming what he could. He had been unable to master his abilities and it had nearly destroyed him.
M had offered him a home. She had offered him a job. She had given him back his life and his sanity. It had been hard work. She had also tried to find such a safety net for him, drawing on the very rare resources all over the world when it came to the understanding of technopathic abilities. Aside from Q, only one other technopath willingly exposed himself to the non-stop noise of civilization, to a world of machines that were part of every minute of the modern life, and he was close to the edge as it was. The others had chosen to abandon modern civilization and had turned to remote corners of the world where a GPS system or a satellite phone was about as modern as it would get. Only one of them talked to her and she had been an impressive woman.
When M had died and Mallory had taken over, he had known that for Q to work with everything he had, he needed the anchor that kept the agile mind from succumbing to the temptation everywhere, that would balance him, would feed him what he needed and demand nothing in return. The woman M had talked to had said that technopaths didn’t need an electronic security net. They needed a person. They needed another mind that was their opposite, that was the cool control they lacked when moving through cyberspace. And they needed to accept that person.
It sounded fantastic.
It was an impossible task.
Until the moment Bond was caught between a rock and a hard place and Q decided, without running that decision through M, that he would do whatever it took to get his agent out alive. And what it took was the quartermaster diving headfirst into cyberspace without a safety net, without an anchor, without anyone realizing it until too late.
That the jet went up in flames and debris was almost secondary to the commotion around Q as the young man collapsed, lifeless, pale, barely breathing. Medical personnel swarmed the area, pushing aside those who wanted to help. There were sharp commands and then Q was whisked off, M following with a brisk pace.
He didn’t die that night.
The head of Medical informed M that brain functions were good, there was no sign of damage so far, but they had to wait until the quartermaster woke.
Now M stood at the foot of the bed, looking at the narrow, ghostly white features, watching Q breathe, wondering to himself.
So this was the collateral he had been trying to avoid. A technopath who had used his considerable talent without an anchor to save the person who might just become that important addition to him. A technopath who might or might not know who 007 truly was. If he did, M mused, he had more guts than he had given the kid credit for. If he didn’t, well, things would get even more interesting.
He didn’t have to ask where Bond was. 007 would report back. He always did. That was what he did best, as he had once remarked: resurrection.
M smiled thinly. He had been briefed on this Double-Oh after the former M’s death. He had been handed a file that existed only on paper and contained just a few, old pages. It had read like fiction, but it explained so much. It was why he believed that 007 would be back soon.
And when Bond was back, all bets were off. M might not be the first to work with the obstinate man, but he was someone who had finally found something to connect Bond to MI6 and something to hopefully balance Q in his abilities. His predecessor had chosen Q for a different reason, had given the technopath a chance to be a part of something, to be himself and work on his control. Q had never failed her. Inadvertently she had also found the perfect match for James Bond, a handler who had stayed with him mission after mission and seemed to thrive when he came head to head with the obstinate field agent.
It would be explosive and volatile and probably doomed to haunt M to his end, but it would hopefully work.
He finally left Medical with the standing orders to let Bond enter whenever he came, whatever time it was. If he was right, nothing would stop the other man from coming here, continuing what had started months ago, and hopefully would be completed soon.
An asset. Or a liability. Whatever came out of this, whatever the old M had planned to do, Mallory only hoped it would be the asset that would prevail. If Bond could finally control his preternatural side and if his mere presence anchored their fully functional technopath, they would become an incredibly effective and powerful asset indeed.
Or things would truly blow up in his face and destroy both men for good. Bond would accept no weaknesses in a partner; Q needed his anchor to be alive.
M felt a headache coming.
If this whole thing turned out to be viable and stable, he knew he was going to be in for a ride.
* * *
Bond was back within twenty-four hours, looking battered and bruised but alive. A split lip, some superficial scrapes and cuts, a barely perceptible limp. No one really asked how he had done it; it was generally accepted that nothing could keep him down.
And no one could keep him out of Medical where he stood in the same position M had barely twenty hours earlier, his inhumanly blue eyes taking in the man in the bed. His quartermaster.
Q was asleep and the doctor he had cornered had reassured him Q would be fine. He had already woken once, had been thoroughly examined, and there had been no brain damage. He was simply stressed, his brain overtaxed.
Bond smiled darkly.
He tapped his earpiece but heard nothing. Q was silent. All of him was silent.
Such a strange sight.
The glasses that hid his face were on the table next to the bed. He looked naked somehow. Younger. Less angles in a narrow face that shouldn’t look so vulnerable. Stubble, dark and standing out against the pallor. Q was always clean-shaven, no matter the time or place. His eternal bed-head was there, though. It was a reassuring sight.
Bond walked around the foot end of the bed, eyes never leaving the silent man, taking in the heart monitor, the IV line, the bruise along one temple where Q had bumped his head when he had collapsed.
Like a puppet whose strings had been cut, had been written in the report. Bond had read it all, had reviewed the reports of everyone involved in the mission. They had been left for his perusal courtesy of M. The head of MI6 had wanted him to know what had happened and now Bond did.
Q had risked everything.
For an agent he handled and wasn’t otherwise attached to.
Blunt fingers skimmed over the cool, pale skin of Q’s hand.
Bond almost laughed at that. Who was he lying to?
He had felt it deep inside right from the very beginning, from the moment he had looked into the brown eyes behind the oversized glasses, intelligent, bright, open and accepting. He had seen more in the man than what many probably did at first. He had looked past the geek and discovered more. With each visit to Q branch he had uncovered another layer and his suspicions as to what Q might be had been confirmed.
He simply hadn’t made that last, logical connection between them. The one that bound his preternatural side to the technopath.
Part of him had rumbled in appreciation at the power this man wielded so smoothly, at how dangerous it made him, maybe the most dangerous of them all. Bond also knew that Q could never be what he was unless he wanted to end up insane or brain-dead.
Now he had done something incredible to save his agent and the agent in question had come back alive.
The predator in him growled softly, his fingers curling around his quartermaster’s wrist in an almost possessive move.
He shared Q with no one at all. No other agent was directly handled by the head of Q branch any more. Q provided back-up, he gathered intel, but the other Double-Ohs had their own full-time handlers.
Q was his alone.
If someone would have been there to see his smile, dark and possessive and feral, they would have backed away very slowly.
Bond had never felt like this toward anyone, not even Vesper. She had been someone to appease the creature inside him, cooling the burning heat to a bearable level. She hadn’t taken the edge off, though. She had only ever managed to calm him for a little while until the fire that burned his veins was back and he had to leave. Missions kept him docile, though everyone would probably disagree.
Docile and James Bond didn’t figure together. His preternatural side didn’t know the word.
Nothing added up in this equation.
With Q things had turned around completely. His voice was calm and sure in his ear. The banter between them was natural and touched something inside Bond he hadn’t thought existed any more. His presence was cooling him down, taming the darkness, had him drift back to his quartermaster again and again, and he liked spending time with the younger man.
The predator almost purred when Q was around. Like a kitten it seemed to curl up, wanted Q close. Q was accepted. Q was his. Q belonged to him.
Bond found himself rubbing a thumb over Q’s pale skin, calming himself and the deadly thing inside him. He found his breathing even out, peace settling over him. It was a sensation he hadn’t known before in his life, never with Vesper or any other woman. He was reacting on a completely different level to Q, one that wasn’t purely sexual.
Not that the quartermaster wasn’t attractive. He was. And Bond would be a fool not to want him. He could easily imagine them together and it made him want to taste those lips, his skin, hear him voice his pleasure as James explored him thoroughly.
The creature inside him, the soulless, dominant, uncompromising alpha, agreed.
But this ran deeper than carnal pleasure and now he knew why. He should be furious, he should be fighting it, this… something that could throw a wrench into his life but probably wouldn’t. It was something that had begun long before now; now that he had realized what it was. It had started when they had met, when this young man had sat down next to him and talked about art while not talking about art at all. It had started with a handshake and a smile and his own response to it all.
Bond smiled slightly.
He had fallen. He had surrendered without knowing and it had been mutual. They had danced around each other, testing the waters in their own way, without violence from his side, and they had found compatibility.
Like a glove, one might say. But Bond wouldn’t say it. Too many serrated edges.
He knew it was way more complex and complicated in one. It was them on a level no one else could achieve.
He leaned over the sleeping man, touching careful fingers to the bruised skin, barely a breath of a contact that caressed the cheek and then brushed over the right temple.
Q moved ever so faintly without waking.
“We will talk,” Bond promised in a low voice.
There was no answer forthcoming and he hadn’t expected one.
The bruise would be gone soon. The pale skin would be unblemished again.
Bond felt no murderous rage at all. He felt like nothing could push him out of this contentedness right now. Not when his quartermaster was around, not when he had his voice in his ear or saw him close by.
It was new and delightful, like standing in a warm summer rain. All around him there was this man.
Yes, they would talk.
It was time.
He left like he had come, silent and without anyone watching but the night nurse and the security cameras.
Q had been put on sick leave and while he had expected it, it came as an inconvenience. He had woken with a lot less of a headache than expected, too. His mind had been like slush, moving lazily, cataloguing his condition.
Aching. Bruised. Tired. Thirsty. Slightly sick. Headache creeping up his spine.
All in all not too bad.
After abusing his abilities like that, pulling out like an amateur, and after ill preparation to do this in the first place, Q hadn’t really thought of coming around to a mild hammering behind his eyes and a dry mouth. Excruciating pain, yes. Vomiting, sure. Vertigo, yes, that too. But no more than a simple headache? Not at all.
It confused him.
Q knew himself. He had been his best watcher for all his life. He had been there for all the excruciating pain, the endless madness of losing himself in the web, the hours spent trying to piece himself together after another escapade. It had never been this smooth; it shouldn’t have been this smooth. He had stepped into the maelstrom and worked without finesse, more like a blunt instrument hammering away at the obstacles in his way.
More like Bond with an explosive device.
That thought had him almost smile.
It made him want to look into the mission files. He could do it, but that would mean technopathy and right now his brain felt too tender to attempt sliding into MI6’s servers undetected.
It also had him want to talk to M, but his superior had only stared at him and sent him home.
Q was confused.
It didn’t stop him from going into work, ignoring everyone who sent him cautious and/or worried looks, and hacking MI6 via his laptop to find out where Bond was. He had no doubt his agent was alive and had made it home.
While he wasn’t up to his usual speed and fast moves through the intricate world of the net, he had pulled what he had needed and confirmed that 007 had reported in, alive and well, had been checked by Medical, and had been sent home as well.
Q doubted he was anywhere near his flat.
The mission files were password protected and while it would have been easy on any other day to break in, Q was too mentally exhausted to give it a try right now.
“I told you to go home.”
M’s voice startled him a little, which told the quartermaster just how bad a condition he was in, and the headache increased a notch or two.
“I’m fine, sir.”
“You’re not,” the head of MI6 told him firmly, voice low and only heard by Q. “I know what happened. I know what you did, Q. Go home, rest and recover. You have until Tuesday.”
Q blinked. Four days? “That’s a bit excessive, sir.”
“If I see you here before Tuesday, if I see any trace of you hacking into this place, if I so much as suspect that you aren’t following orders, there will be consequences, Q. Have I made myself clear?”
“Yes, sir,” he sighed.
He knew M was right. He needed rest. He had to get his still scrambled brain into order and being here didn’t help. Q felt the teasing presence of technology all around him more acutely than ever before. One wrong step and he might slide along a connection and lose himself in the cyberworld.
“Go,” M repeated.
And he went.
There was a car waiting for him and Q didn’t even argue. He just got in and let the driver take him home.
* * *
Of all the places where Bond could be, it turned out to be Q’s flat. Located strategically near the new MI6 and close to all amenities he might consider needing, the place was a model of security and functionality, and also a bit bigger than a single man should need it to be. Q had made sure he was safe here, that no one could simply break in and take what they wanted, including Q himself, so he was slightly perturbed to find 007 sitting on his couch and reading.
Blue eyes met brown and Q raised an eyebrow.
Bond mimicked him.
He was dressed in blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and a brown leather jacket that looked as well-worn as the jeans. The boots completed the rather casual look.
Not something Q had ever seen on him outside of work-related undercover work. Whenever Bond was at the agency he was wearing either suits that were tailored to fit him perfectly or sweats as he ran courses or went to the shooting range afterwards.
“So I take it you made it back in one piece,” Q remarked as he closed the door.
“It seems like it.”
“You have a penchant for defying death, 007.”
“You have an expensive taste in electronics.”
“It’s my job.”
“I would truly find it difficult in your position.”
Q dropped his keys in a bowl and hung up his coat. “Let me reassure you that my salary is enough to splurge a little here or there.”
Dancing. Around and around the knowledge they both had. Q was pretty sure he had an idea what kind of preternatural Bond was by now, and if his suspicions were correct, they were both unique and rare in their abilities, as well as damaged and alone. Only one was a ferocious killer, though.
Bond rose with a fluid grace that belied his age. His supposed age on paper. Q had dug around, of course, had found tantalizing hints and little side notes. Nothing to reveal much, nothing that could have someone come to conclusions; at least not someone who wasn’t Q.
“I’d find it dangerous, too.”
He met the cold eyes, saw the glimmer there, the hunter, the predator, and he knew Bond was done dancing. He was done playing. He was going for the kill. This was what their interaction had boiled down to.
Q was ready. He had been ready the first time he and this man had been paired as handler and field agent, when Bond had ruthlessly tested his limits and had found that Q wasn’t easily shaken. He also wasn’t to be dominated by a Double-Oh or pushed around by anyone else.
“Danger is in the eye of the beholder.”
Bond was all hard muscle and killer instinct, all ruthlessness and focus, and now that focus was on Q. “I agree,” he said, so close now.
Q wondered when he had allowed himself to be backed against the wall.
He wondered when his headache had stopped annoying him.
He wondered when this weird calmness had settled over his mind.
It was like touching darkness, cool and smooth as silk, impenetrable and strong and unbreakable. It was there and everywhere. It was in his mind and touching all the agitated nerve endings he usually ignored in favor of functioning like a human being. It soothed the burn that was his gift and curse.
It was… gentle and soft and loving and only his.
Q gazed into the eyes, so unnatural and cold and still so fiery and warm.
“You were in my head, Q.”
“I was using the earpiece. Surprisingly you still had it on you.”
“I like to hear your voice.”
“Finally getting to the point where I’m useful, Bond?”
“You were always useful.”
Banter. Back and forth.
“You stopped the defense grid.”
“I interrupted it for as long as you needed.”
The blue was to drown in and Q scrabbled for a hold, unable to let himself fall. Part of him knew what this was, that this was what he had wanted all his life, but another part, the independent one, snarled that giving in would be submission. He wasn’t going to just roll on his back and bare his throat. He wouldn’t fall for the overpowering, dominant male. He wouldn’t shy away and evade those icy eyes.
A callused hand gently cupped his neck, the rough thumb stroking over his skin. Bond could easily break his neck, Q realized. Restrict his air flow, do unspeakable things to him. He was a trained killer. He knew ways to torture and kill that wouldn’t leave a trace.
Looking into the eyes of this cold-blooded creature, able to flick a switch and feel nothing at all as he took a life, Q had never felt safer than now. Meeting the gaze of the predator lurking deep inside James Bond, Q wanted nothing more than to take away the shields and face it fully. He wanted this man unrestrained, casting away civility and all his pretention, and just be… who he truly was.
Q knew he could take it. He wouldn’t drown. He wouldn’t shatter. He wouldn’t even break. If he would be in danger of any such thing, the preternatural would never have made his move.
Bond leaned forward, resting his forehead against Q’s, the contact so much more intimate than anything else. His other hand slid over the narrow hips and around his back, holding the younger man without trapping him completely. Strong fingers traced the small portion of Q’s spine that he had access too. Dangerous, deadly hands on his body.
“You were there,” he whispered, words barely audible. “With me. And you nearly lost yourself.”
“It was a calculated risk,” he answered automatically, congratulating himself on his firm control. This was no different than handling his agent out in the field.
Stay calm. Center. Reasonable voice, perfect pitch, rationality in every line. It soothed the beast and kept the human functional.
“Without a safety net.”
He knew. Bond knew. And Q knew that the former M would never have revealed his secret to anyone unless necessary. Telling it to her most obnoxious operative hadn’t been necessary. As for the new M, Mallory hadn’t made up his mind yet.
“Without someone to reel you back in,” Bond continued, moving back a little to look into Q’s eyes. “Or did you know what had happened by then?”
The contact was electric, frizzing through him, making him want things he had denied himself so often before. It was something that would set into motion so many things, such uncontrollable things, Q balked at it. Still, he yearned.
He saw the same yearning in the blue, blue eyes. The hunger, the need, the brittle chains keeping in check a super-predator. Q wasn’t prey. He wasn’t a new chain. He was.. he was more. He was a missing part. So very different from the vicious nature of James Bond, so very much his equal.
“This is a supremely bad idea, 007.”
“It’s the best I ever had. After everything, it’s the only idea. Theoretically you were without an anchor point, Q,” the agent drove his point home.
The thumb kept caressing him, kept maddeningly distracting his mind.
“It was necessary,” he managed.
“It saved your life.”
“As you said, I’m hard to kill. I always come back.”
“There’s a first time for everything.”
Bond smiled. Maybe it should be frightening, but it wasn’t. It had never frightened Q.
“My first time was a long time ago.”
“I figured you aren’t a virgin any more, 007,” was the aloof answer.
It got him a chuckle. “In all the good ways, no, I’m not.” He leaned forward. “I stopped counting, Q.”
“One-night stands or deaths?”
“If you intend me to be the former, you will experience the latter,” the quartermaster quipped.
Now the smile was different, more predatory, less killer, though. The creature was delighted, wanted the challenge, and Q wanted to see it.
“Now you are questioning my intentions?”
Q curled slender fingers around the hand at his neck. The other mimicked what Bond had done, slipping around his waist.
“This isn’t just for now, 007. I’m not a conquest to be disposed.”
“Who says I want you only once, Q?”
He smiled lopsidedly. “Your file? Past relations? My brain?”
“You are confusing work with yourself.”
“I am work, Bond. We work together.”
“You’re not a target.”
Q stared at him, hard. “Aren’t I? You don’t bind yourself, 007. Ever. You are a free agent in so many ways. You can’t be chained.”
The gaze was almost unnerving. Patience barely tamed, a hunger barely contained. Q refused to be baited into surrender because of those intense eyes.
“I’ve always lived on a chain, Q. My whole life. My nature can’t be free.”
“In death, yes.”
“In life, too. But this might not be the best time to test a rather wonky theory.”
“The theory that you need me? That you need a counterbalance to do what you do? That you need some measure of control that you
can’t achieve yourself because you get lost in the pretty lights?” Cold blue eyes regarded him. “That theory?”
He met the sharpness unflinching. “Yes, that theory. I have been dealing very well on my own so far.”
“Look where it got you.”
Q stared at him in contempt. Bond just smirked.
“I know what this is,” the agent went on. “And you know it already happened. Whether we want it or not, you have me. That amazing, genius brain of yours has made its choice.”
It sent a cascading warmth through him that had Q want to do a lot of things, not all of them safe.
Safe for him, safe for Bond.
“If we go this way…”
“We already have, Q.”
“You’re not fighting this a lot.”
“Now you’re quoting a Pratchett-Gaiman novel.”
007 smiled, pulling Q gently forward until their lips touched. “Do you know what I am?” he whispered.
Q blinked rapidly. He saw it clearly now, the last chains breaking. He saw it sitting there, waiting, ready to strike, beautiful and deadly and so desirable. And so dark. So terribly dark. Always hungry, always ready to sink its claws into a victim, draw blood. It faced death with relish and would rise again and again, breaking apart more each time. It was a vicious circle, life and death, rebirth and destruction, and there was only one way out of it.
Q represented an alternative to that solution.
“Yes,” he managed.
“I know who you are, Q. This is the only way it works.”
Because some preternaturals lived like that, hard and fast and close to death, but only one could come back from it. Rare and exquisite, powerful and fiery and hot and demanding. A creature caught between supernatural and preternatural, so strong that death didn’t debilitate his mind.
Bond should be a quivering wreck. He should be terrified by his rise from death over and over again. He should be torn apart, screaming his soul’s pain out until he grew hoarse.
He had survived and he had a mind of steel, a resolution so strong nothing could shatter him. He couldn’t be broken because what was inside him would never be that weak. It would take over and turn him into the ancient primal thing that had survived forever.
Q looked at him, aware of it all, fascinated by it all. “You want the bond.”
“I need it.”
Q tilted his head a fraction.
“I need you, Q. I can feel it running through my soul,” Bond hissed.
And the quartermaster needed this fierceness, this raw, untamed power. He needed it to survive himself and it was the only way. Bond needed him to stay human, a likeminded partner to balance out the fire and the ice warring in its veins. He needed someone who could give and take just as badly, someone who needed James Bond like he needed his quartermaster.
Q knew he had the strength for it. Bond would accept no one else. He would break and discard the weaker and Q wasn’t that weak. He wasn’t a chain either, a master to handle the preternatural being. This didn’t call for power, only balance.
“You’re the only choice. You who are always telling me what to do,” Bond went on, voice so smooth, so convincing, so… hypnotic.
Q fought the pull. He wasn’t a conquest. He never would be.
“And you never listen,” he countered.
“I’m a bad example.”
“Amazing how long it took you to realize that, 007.”
“At least I did, unlike a certain quartermaster.”
He stared into those blue, blue eyes, heard the siren song of this man, his need betraying his mind. The sensuality was overpowering.
They would be perfect together.
They would be terrible together.
It would be the end of everything.
It would be the beginning of a life he could finally live.
It would bring them down. It would tear them apart. It would be…
Q almost smiled.
It would be a rebirth.
How quaintly appropriate for this man.
“Is this how you seduce your targets?” he tried for normalcy, for banter, getting a rise out of the agent.
“Do I need to seduce you?”
“You could make an effort.”
“I think I am. You’re mine,” Bond murmured into Q’s ear, lightly biting his earlobe.
“Belonging goes two ways, 007. Possession, too. You have to understand that if we do this, we can’t go back again.”
The kiss that followed was hot and heavy and powerful, and Q understood why women – and men – swooned under Bond’s expert lips and tongue. It was everything, promised the world, took him in fully and refused to let him go. It was perfectly rehearsed and still felt so natural. It was… James. It was purely him.
He could taste the fire underneath. He felt the ice surrounding this man like a shield, impenetrable unless he let someone in.
Q had one stab at this, one chance. One mind he could link himself to.
His safety net. His anchor. The one mind stable enough to become the safe haven Q needed. The mind he could reach out to, the mind he was telepathically using, and might be abusing, he knew, that wasn’t a machine. The only one he could touch and feel so safe and complete with.
He almost laughed. Stability. Bond meant stability. A man who blew up the world as a hobby. A man who skipped psych evaluations and whom every psychologist had tagged unstable. A man who was his perfect counterpart, his perfect anchor.
“I’m not going back,” Bond whispered into his ear. “I can’t. This is it. I need this. I need you. I need to be free.”
The next kiss grew into so much more and Q lost a few braincells when those expert hands that had killed and tortured and maimed in the name of Queen and Country, stroked over his skin, under his cardigan, under his shirt.
Looking into the sky blue eyes, reading the warmth and need and hunger for more, Q let himself fall completely, answering that demanding kiss, feeling the overwhelming urge to give himself completely.
It was what Bond demanded, what he wanted to give in turn. It was echoed, not in words or any such clear things, but he felt it. He felt the gnawing hunger of this amazing man to claim more than Q’s body. He wanted it all and he wanted to taste more.
Q was only too willing to give it to him.
He knew the precise moment when the phoenix was finally unleashed completely, when the vicious bird of prey swooped down and buried itself into Q’s soul. He felt the connection between them as his technopathic side claimed James Bond as his anchor, firmly lodging part of Q inside that sharp, dangerous mind. He felt the fire, he felt the ice, he felt the killer instinct and the ferocious blood lust of the phoenix. He was clearly aware of that killer instinct tamed by relentless training, to be used when necessity demanded it. He felt the professional detachment, the core of this man hidden under so many layers, no one had ever seen his true self. He felt it all and it didn’t scare him.
And he felt something else. Something just as powerful and overwhelming and warm. He felt the hunger for more than the kill. The possessiveness was almost overwhelming, drowning out everything else, and it was what latched onto the fractured mind of the technopath and pulled it all back together.
Q took it all in, gave himself up and took everything in turn. He came so hard, it overwhelmed his mind. He felt those callused fingers stroke him roughly a few more times as Bond emptied himself inside him.
Maybe there was a bite on his shoulder now, too. He was too hazy on that. There had been the brief, stinging pain, but maybe that had been his imagination.
His brain was trying to drag up anything he might know about James’ preternatural side, but in the mushy swamp of sexual high and exhausted pleasure was no room for analytical thoughts. He would have to look into this later, if the bite meant something, if this was just Bond or something more, something so primal it would kill to survive without a second thought.
Q was still breathing faster than normal when James settled his head on the pale chest, a possessive arm over the narrow hips, all warm and heavy around the quartermaster. Q scratched blunt fingernails over his scalp, playing lightly with the blond strands.
His. The phoenix was his. And he had found his own anchor in the dark nature of this merciless predator.
* * *
He had seen his agent without clothes often before. Bond had a knack for losing assorted articles of clothing, mostly his shirt, and cameras had shown Q what the man looked like.
Well-built, fit, trained, in shape. Hairless chest, perfect fat-to-muscle ratio.
The quartermaster had never been jealous. He knew Double-Ohs were required to keep in shape. It was how they survived. Their bodies couldn’t fail them on a mission. They had to jump, run, duck, fight in every position imaginable, and they had to run some more.
His own body wasn’t scrawny per se. He kept himself in shape, too, just not excessively. He didn’t have to. He had been employed because of his mind and that particular muscle was in peak shape. Everything else was a by-product and, Q had to confess, it wasn’t too bad working out and gaining a bit of muscular definition. Just because he was a scientist didn’t have to equal skinny and easily broken.
James had found out just how unbreakable he was in the last hours and Q had appreciated all this trained perfection up close and very personal.
Q arched into those deadly hands tracing lines over his body, brushing over his ribs, his sides, tracing his collar bone, then teeth scraped against his throat. Q carded his fingers into the short hair, pulling gently to capture that dangerous mouth with his own.
Bond was hot and heavy against him, plundering his mouth like he wanted to never let Q up for air again.
His hands were maddening.
The whole feel of that trained body, hard and unyielding and scarred by so many missions, a turn on like Q had never felt before.
Okay, so he was pretty much biased because this man was his perfect match in so many ways, his opposite and equal in so many more. And okay, so maybe he had a thing for the danger and the desire directed solely at him. But he didn’t think of himself as the weak little flower, fainting under the expert touch, swooning and whispering James’ name.
He just liked the feel of it all, what Bond did, what he could do, what he still might do.
The phoenix could never break him, only complete him, and Q knew Bond was aware of it.
Those cold eyes with their fiery depth met his own and he wondered what the agent saw. Whatever it was, he liked it.
The smile was tell-tale.
Bond was the first to wake and he enjoyed the opportunity to just look at the young man in bed with him.
He didn’t even know his real name and he didn’t care. Q was Q. James didn’t need to know what his name was to know who he was. It was like an instinctual knowledge, more than a name, a feeling, a heavy weight that had settled inside him with a certainty that was hard to ignore.
His technopath. His balance.
Bond smiled and played with the longish strands of dark hair. He liked the bed-head, even if he liked to tease him about it, too.
The phoenix was almost purring, sated and warm and so very much at peace at this moment. It felt the connection and it liked it.
He was Q’s anchor. He was the one Q needed. Bond smiled. It bound the younger man to him in such a unique way that no one else could ever reach. No one could replace Bond.
And no one could replace Q.
Younger than him. Not a field agent. Not even an agent in name. An engineer, a lab rat, the head of Q branch, a genius level scientist.
So many things that didn’t fit a man like James Bond, but Q fit. Serrated edges and all. He was there and he was his equal and the preternatural wanted all of him.
He didn’t feel like the countless women, and men, Bond had slept with. On the job it was sometimes necessity. Flirting led to sex. He had never said no to sex. He enjoyed it and it helped ease the tension level. After a mission, when he came back and the rush was still there, when the injuries ached and the wounds were still just scabbed over, the sex was to appease his primal side.
He enjoyed it.
Like he had enjoyed Q.
There was nothing soft about him, nothing innocent or breakable. It hadn’t been Q’s first time and the hunger the quartermaster had reflected showed Bond just how involved Q had been, too.
It had cemented something between them, this physical intimacy. It had shattered chains and torn off the last shreds of control. He still felt it rage through him at a more muted level and he wasn’t ready to let the other man leave his side for now.
Bond wished there was more known about his preternatural side. He had never met another phoenix, nor a preternatural that came even close. Vampires and werewolves, for all their primal nature, didn’t even come close to the ferocity inside him.
He had no clue if this was natural; normal. Was it his own emotion or one controlled by his baser nature? Did it help the bond?
Did it cement the anchor for the technopath? Was it simply carnal pleasure?
Q hadn’t been adverse to their get-together either. He had been very involved and very demanding.
Brown eyes blinked open, no longer hidden behind glasses, and Bond smiled as he leaned closer.
The burst of emotion at that exchange was new and overwhelming. It was them. Only them.
“You don’t really need them, do you?”
Q was silent, his face strangely impassive. Bond waited. Finally the younger man sighed softly.
“No, I don’t.”
The agent watched him, still silent.
“I found out early on that I can get lost quite easily. In the world of the web, that is. I can’t help it when I lose control of my brain and slide into the net. That’s why I don’t use my abilities. The glasses are a filter for other stimuli. When I work. Or when I’m outside in an area with too much electronic interference.”
“They are like a shiny object for me.” Q grimaced. “They are access. It seems technopaths are flighty and easily gratified.”
Blunt fingers traced the soft skin around the now unshielded eyes and Bond looked into the brown irises, found unease and acceptance in one in there.
“I wouldn’t call you easy in anything, Q. You don’t need them here.”
“No. This is home. I made sure I wouldn’t fall into any traps.”
“I’m not going to break the habit of wearing them, James. If I slip…”
Bond smiled a little. “Training,” he murmured.
“Yes. And routine. I need this.”
“I wouldn’t demand anything you can’t give me, Q.”
The quartermaster studied him, those alert eyes strangely unnerving now they weren’t hidden behind glasses any more. Finally Q smiled.
“I think I’d like a shower now.”
Bond chuckled. “I’ll wash your back. Thoroughly.”
Q rolled his eyes. “Has any one of your countless conquests ever said no to you?”
“Not to my recollection. Do you want to be the first?” he teased.
“I believe I stated before that I won’t be a conquest. I was merely interested if those looks actually worked.”
Bond’s smile turned downright flirty. “Always.” He caught Q’s lips and kissed him. “Always,” he murmured when they parted a little.
Q studied him, up close able to see him perfectly, then his lips curved into a knowing smile.
“Shower,” he only said.
Bond let him get up, enjoyed the view of the slender form, the marks of their previous encounter clear and bright, and the darker side rumbled appreciatively.
Then he followed.
Q was fascinated by the scars. Should there even be scars? After all, the preternatural side that had Bond come back from death should make sure the skin healed without lingering ill effects. Then again, none of the scars hindered. They were marks of his life, his chosen profession, but they weren’t handicaps.
His agent didn’t look like a Franksteinian monster, no. He was all smooth muscle, hard and powerful, under deceptively human skin. He was trained to perfection, able to use all of his body in a way Q might only dream of, and he had perfect control over it. MI6 had seen to it that their agents were shaped to function with peak efficiency; maybe even beyond that. All of them. And all of them had scars.
Bonds were fading in some places, still reddish and glaringly obvious in others. The kill shot from Istanbul was simply a smudge that might soon be gone completely.
Q ran light fingers over a reddish line of recently mended skin. It wouldn’t leave a lasting scar, he knew, but for now it told of his survival of the jet crashing down. Luckily it had been over land, not water.
“When did you find out?” he asked.
Blue eyes the color of a glacier, calm, relaxed and totally at ease, watched him. Q briefly wondered if the eye color that had struck him from their first meeting was a preternatural addition or if this was simply fascinating genetics. Whatever it was, he never tired looking at them. Even if they were cold as ice and relentless.
“After my second death.”
Q raised a quizzical eyebrow. “Your second?”
“My first was through poisoning. I figured they had grabbed the wrong stuff. A bullet through the heart isn’t wrong, though. I died. I didn’t stay dead.”
Q felt more relaxed than in ages, too. Well-fucked, one might call it, but this went so much deeper. This was beyond the physical, which had been outstanding. James Bond lived up to his name. He lived up to so much.
No, this was from finally letting go, being himself, dropping shields, and nothing bothered him. He was aware of every electronic device in the room, but he couldn’t care less about them. He was firmly anchored within the darkness, the smooth, cool protection against the world. It wasn’t suffocating, it wasn’t sharp-edged or acidic. It wasn’t dangerous to him. It was all he wanted, it was what he had always missed.
Q let his fingertips follow a jagged line over the hard-muscled body.
“Rising from the flames?” he teased.
It got him a snort. “Hardly.”
Bond’s palm caressed the flat stomach, playfully close to his spent and limp dick, and Q wondered if resurrection happened in that particular area as well. If yes, he was screwed. Literally.
“She knew about you, too.”
Q nodded. “Looks like Mallory figured something out as well. Of course he knows about my technopathy, but the former M tried to find my anchor. She failed. The few who are like me are spread far and wide, away from technology if they can manage, and they have been on their own all their lives.”
Bond rolled over him, weight settled on his elbows, meeting the calm brown eyes. “You’re not going to be alone any more, Q.”
“Neither will you.”
“You were always in my head.” He carded strong, deadly fingers into the disheveled hair. “Always there. You refused to be shut out. I trusted you and didn’t know why, quartermaster. I don’t want to miss that again. I strangely like the inane chatter in my ear.”
“I know my way around a city.”
“Asking for hotel and restaurant recommendations anyway?”
It got him a relaxed grin. “You are my guide, are you not? It’s an all-inclusive package.”
Q snorted. “It figures you would see a mission like a vacation package.”
James kissed him, soft, wanting and…
Q refused to think it.
“You know me, quartermaster. I like adventurous vacations.” Gentle fingers brushed over the soft skin at his temple. “How’s the head?”
He was a bit thrown by the change of topic. “Fine.”
Bond kissed that spot, then his cheekbone, then trailed his lips over Q’s face.
“All of it?”
“All of it.”
And Q knew all of this had opened a door for him. He could stretch his legs again, maybe try out a few things, and he would have someone to keep him sane. James caught his lips, gentle and loving, but still rougher than a woman. Teeth scraped over his lower lip, shooting little sparks of desire through his system.
Damn the man!
* * *
There wasn’t exactly a book on preternaturals.
Q had checked. Extensively. Of course there were texts. References. Obscure little fairy tales. A few scientists had attempted to compile knowledge when it came to supernaturals and preternaturals. Some of them were even interested in helping, but it was never conclusive.
He had run searches, he had browsed the most obscure sites, he had hacked into servers, and he had prowled around dark chat rooms that were more than creepy.
Little to nothing could be found on those preternaturals who were believed to be extinct, rare or might never have truly existed. There were volumes on vampires and all kinds of shifters. Of course there would be. They were the more visible supernaturals.
A phoenix was a legend all in itself. They were intensely rare, close to mythological even. Some people highly doubted their existence and all reference made to indestructible humans who came back from the dead was laughed at as old wife tales.
But they existed. The phoenix was real and one was currently curled up in Q’s bed, scarred and very much alive. They lived a dangerous life, one of their choosing. That was as much as Q deciphered from the vague references in books that had been written decades, some even centuries before his time. Now and then there was a supposed sighting, but never a confirmation.
What he did find were multiple references made to their violent nature, how they thrived on it. They didn’t fear death; they embraced it. With time and age came the recklessness, the death wish. They always came back and the darkness would grow with each death, eating away at their souls unless they found something to fill the void. Each resurrection gave more control to the creature they were. Each death sliced them further apart.
What they needed was something to ground them. Something to interrupt that circle of death. They needed a strong handler.
At that he had almost laughed.
The phoenix was an extremely dark creature and it didn’t need light, it needed strength. It could never be tamed, it could never be a cuddly, warm being. It was wild and feral and no one’s pet. Ferocious by nature, dominant and deadly.
There were warnings. Obscure in most ways, but so clear in others. A phoenix destroyed what it touched. It destroyed itself little by little with each resurrection. It tore itself apart until one death would be the final one.
Unless something held it together.
Q detached himself from the internet, the ease astounding him again and again. Bond had worked wonders on his own fractured mind. It was only fair that the technopath was what held the phoenix together in turn.
His eyes fell on the sleeping man at his side. So trusting. So at ease. So relaxed. Of course, a wrong move or noise would have him switch from this peaceful creature to a murderous killer ready to take a life.
He wondered how often James had died already. How much had he fought to keep himself together, not give in to the monster and let the last shred of humanity slide away in the fire that was in his soul, the hellish nightmare that was his blessing and his curse.
“You think loudly,” came a soft murmur.
Those sharp eyes cracked open and the cruel mouth stretched in a soft smile.
“I can hear you, Q. Loudly.”
“You aren’t telepathic,” Q replied.
“I don’t have to be.”
He studied him, saw more life, more soul, in that expression than before.
“You done looking me up?”
Q snorted a little laugh. “You think too highly of yourself, Mr. Bond.”
“I know you, quartermaster. You have questions.”
“I would ask them of you if I could be assured of an answer.”
He gazed at the pliable looking man, the softness nothing but a mirage. There was nothing soft about this man.
“There are no answers as to what you are, James Bond.”
Bond pushed himself up on his elbows, the sleepiness, the ease, replaced by the hard edge of a Double-Oh.
“Like there are no answers to what I am,” Q went on. “Or why we work. Why this fits.”
A corner of James’ mouth lifted slightly. “Maybe some questions just have no answers, Q.”
And maybe he didn’t need them.
There was a deeper knowledge in those too old brown eyes, something Bond knew himself. Their meeting had been accidental. That they worked so well together outside this connection had been astounding. That Q took on the hard, cold mind that was James Bond and needed it to focus his own abilities was baffling. The physical attraction had been a bonus. Bond was a sexual being and he used it as a weapon.
Not this time, though. He hadn’t used his charm. He hadn’t smoothly inserted himself into Q’s mind. It had been like a chemical reaction, two elements catching fire and the result had been mind-blowing.
It still was.
The phoenix wanted Q on all levels. There was no stopping the need and the hunger was maddening right now.
James pulled him close, nuzzled against his neck. Q held him, arms wrapped around broad, muscular shoulders, fingers tracing scars and imaginary lines.
It was frightening how well.
It was terrifying how deep it already went.
And neither man would give it up.
* * *
They had four days. No one expected either Q or 007 to report in. It suited Bond because he wanted those four days only for himself, with his quartermaster, to get to know the younger man who was now an important part of the preternatural. The phoenix was quite aware that Q represented a liability. He was needed, but also a danger. He was hungered after, but should he fall…
Bond gritted his teeth at that thought. Right now, this very moment in time, he had no idea what he would do should he have to choose between duty and Q. His preternatural, primal side howled in fury at the very idea that duty would kill this man. The trained agent and loyal servant of the Queen knew he would have to sacrifice all, even himself, to protect his country. It was a dilemma and he wouldn’t be able to solve it. There was no clear answer, no single solution. There was only the moment and the decision within.
Right now he pushed that thought away. He had just found his balance and he wanted to enjoy it. Nothing was forever, not even a phoenix.
So Bond listened to Q’s calm recital of his childhood, of his technopathy hitting him late in his puberty, about his struggle to stay sane with all the alluring technology around him. It would have been so easy to get lost in the ether, to give up himself and just be with the technology he was a part of anyway. M had found him when he had been so close to giving in and she had offered him a second chance, a new life. Q had grabbed it with both hands and not let go.
The four days were spent in the flat, living off take-out and what could be found in the freezer and fridge. Bond didn’t care. He didn’t want to share Q, claiming him as his for those four days, and Q had no problem with it.
So he explored. With his hands and his mouth and his eyes. He mapped the smooth, pale skin. He traced muscles that were hidden underneath cardigans and too wide sweaters. He found that Q kept himself in shape and that discovery got him a raised brow.
“Cliché much, 007?” his quartermaster asked. “Geeks and nerds have to be skinny kids with their ribs sticking out? Hip bones to use as coat hooks? Please.”
He kissed him. “I wouldn’t care if you looked like that.”
And he found it hot. He found it incredibly alluring to see that his chosen mate was physically fit. The expression in the brown eyes was knowing.
Bond also found hot spots, let his teeth scrape over vulnerable flesh, and marked the other man as his -- even though Q was far from meek and submissive; oh, very far. 007 found out just what really lay underneath that unassuming exterior and he loved every piece of it.
The phoenix crowed to itself in pleasure at the challenge, delighted in the feel and taste of the younger man. The predator was appeased; off its leash but tame. It was hungry, always hungry, wanting Q in so many ways, and Q fed it. Bond was surprised how… experimental his partner was, but not for long.
“It’s not my first time either, James,” had been the teasing whisper just before Q had gone down on his knees and given Bond a blow job that had killed a few braincells.
But everything grew exponentially into something that had Bond trying to hold back but found he no longer could. It had been slowly building, so slowly he hadn’t been aware of it. He had dropped all shields by then, had given in to the need to be himself, not James Bond, secret agent, but James Bond, the phoenix preternatural. He felt his untamed side rise and he felt it overpower everything else.
It was an encounter that left both men exhausted, slick with sweat, featuring interesting bruises.
Bond toyed along the slick crevice, felt Q hitch a breath, and he leaned over to kiss him deeply as he slid two fingers into the hot, slick opening to slowly pump them in and out. He found the small knob, teasing mercilessly, the predator rumbling softly as he demanded Q to submit. His technopath didn’t. He actually pushed back with a groan, his prick twitching again, and Bond deepened the kiss hungrily. He was hot and bothered by the time Q was really ready, demanding more, and he slid into his lover with a hard, smooth move.
This time the bruise was a bite against the long, pale neck.
It left him satisfied and unable to move. Q was a limp weight, spent and heavy against his side.
Two more days.
Bond smiled. They might not be walking by the end of tomorrow.
He suspected Q would never submit. The phoenix smiled darkly at the thought of the challenge. It liked challenges, even the ones it would never be able to win.
He had ordered them Chinese. Q raised his eyebrows when the delivery was spread out on the kitchen table. It was enough to feed a small army. Bond slipped an arm around his waist, pulling the mostly naked man closer, nuzzling the still damp hair.
“Got to keep your strength up,” he murmured.
Q snorted. “Talk about yourself, old man.”
Bond kissed him and Q smiled at him, so at ease, so different from the cool voice talking to him throughout missions. There was no detachment, no professional distance, just Q.
Sliding the towel off the narrow hips, Bond let his fingers explore the naked skin underneath.
“Insatiable, 007,” his quartermaster murmured.
“Hungry, Q,” he replied.
“Lunch is on the table.”
The gleam in the blue eyes was wicked and Q had little to no warning before things turned very intense and hungry indeed. Lunch was truly on the table and he didn’t mind that it bore the label ‘Q’.
He needed another shower after that.
James joined him for it and the younger man could repay the favor of before.
Thank god for microwaves.
* * *
They both returned to work on Tuesday. Bond looked smart in his white dress shirt, crisp and clean, and his dark suit with the silver and black striped tie. Q’s expression that morning when he had dressed had been tell-tale. They nearly hadn’t been able to leave to be here on time. Bond’s dark promise that he would repay Q tonight had the technopath want to blow him right here and right now.
Thankfully he had a measure of control over himself.
Q himself wore his usual outfit and Bond’s quirked eyebrow had only drawn a grimace.
“Not all of us are suave field agents.”
“No, some are computer geniuses with no sense of fashion at all.”
“I’ll have you know that cardigans are the rage right now, 007.”
“Hm, if you say so.”
And Bond was looking forward to peeling his partner out of it tonight.
* * *
The meeting with M and Tanner was brief and to the point. Tanner looked faintly amused, M somewhere between stoic and annoyed.
“I take it you got it out of your system, 007?”
“Not by a long shot.”
Tanner’s amusement grew.
“Is it going to be a problem?” the head of MI6 asked coolly.
Bond studied the man, shields firmly in place and not giving away just how raw and fresh his emotions still were. He had been struck out of the blue by how intense this connection between him and Q had become, how much he desired this man as more than a roll between the sheets. That sated the carnal hunger. But the phoenix clamored for more and Q had given that to him as well. And he hadn’t balked at facing down the thing that was death and destruction and rebirth in one.
“You knew it would be him,” Bond finally said evenly.
“My late predecessor had thought it might be.”
Bond allowed nothing to show. “She wasn’t completely wrong.”
M smiled humorlessly. “Let’s say she was dead-on, 007. If the last days proved anything, then that.”
“Now there’s only the matter of clearing you for field work,” Tanner added.
Bond gave him a low level glare. It glanced off the Chief of Staff as usual.
“It’s mandatory,” Tanner explained superfluously.
And a pain in the ass.
“I trust we won’t see another stunt like that.”
“I’m not his keeper. Nor is he mine.”
M’s expression begged to differ. “He’s your handler, Bond. You are his anchor. I believe the word ‘keeper’ is hidden in there somewhere.”
“Tell him yourself then.”
“I intend to.”
Bond smiled that half-smile of his.
“You know the drill, 007,” M continued. “I believe your appointment time is coming up.”
He nodded stoically and left, the dismissal clear in M’s tone of voice, and headed down to the shooting range.
This wouldn’t take long.
* * *
Q branch was still standing, which, according to Q, was a small miracle. The scientists of Q branch were a notorious bunch who loved to experiment and build new and interesting devices. He checked every section, every work desk and every chamber usually used for hands-on tests. Q had kept track of matters by laptop remote, even though M had strictly forbidden it.
Not that he could have stopped him. Technopaths were hard to keep out of a system. Q, who took such pride in his department, was even more dogged when it came to Q branch.
His team was watching him with a bemused air, some smiling their welcome, some waiting for him to say something about what had happened. Whispers about what had occurred had made rounds. No one really knew what Q had done and those who had an inkling as to what might have happened couldn’t be sure. M had told everyone it was need to know and none of them needed to know.
So Q had them staring at him behind his back and he ignored them. He was good at that.
* * *
The shooting range was a familiar place. He had been here often enough, for failures and successes. Lately the failures had eaten up his perfect score and Bond knew there had been many murmurs behind his back.
Today the murmurs changed pitch and tone. Two other Double-Ohs were currently at headquarters and while Bond wasn’t one to show off, he couldn’t help the pleased smile that was forming on his lips.
All his shots had been dead on target. Center piece.
004 cocked one eyebrow as she took a stance and emptied her own weapon into her target. “Back, I see,” was her only comment.
Bond didn’t reply, simply pushed the new target back further and reloaded. His aim was unwavering, all shots were dead on again.
001 nodded. “Back,” he confirmed as he prepared to leave for the day. “Good to see you’re home, 007.”
Bond gave him a half-smile. Yes, he was home.
* * *
Bond found his way into Q branch around late afternoon, carrying a sandwich and tea. It was a normal sight, both of them together at Q’s station, talking or just sitting amiably together. There was no inappropriate contact, though ‘inappropriate’ was a loose word around a man like James Bond.
Bond didn’t touch his partner. He didn’t kiss him. There were no soft smiles or warm expressions. There was purely Bond, like he had been before. Nothing had changed and still so much had forever.
“I see you have tormented your psychologist again,” Q said conversationally.
“I answered all his questions.”
The Look was back. Bond’s mouth crinkled into a tiny smile.
“You tormented him,” Q repeated.
“It’s the same old game.”
“You also passed the range.”
“Only good grades today. Do I get a new toy?”
Q’s annoyance was amusing and Bond stole the sandwich he had brought his quartermaster to take a bite.
“Are you tasting my food for safety reasons or to exasperate me, 007?”
“I believe it’s a little bit of both. M has cleared me,” Bond said calmly.
Q nodded his acceptance. Both men knew that this was more than their private relationship. This was James Bond, the phoenix, who needed the missions, who needed the taste of danger and the knife’s edge. It was in his blood, in his soul, and it was very much a vital part of him. That part, so cold and calculating and ruthless, was what balanced Q in turn. The technopath needed that fire and ice, he needed it to pierce through the confusion inside him, calm the chaos.
“I’m leaving tomorrow.”
“I believe we should get you the latest toys, as you call them, then,” Q replied evenly.
“Do I get an exploding pen?”
He rolled his eyes. “Next thing you want that car again.”
“It’s Christmas soon.”
“You do realize that the car is only a compensation for other aspects in your personal life.”
Bond gave his quartermaster a teasing grin. The wintery eyes held a dark promise. “Compensation you call it, Q?”
The haughty look was still firmly in place. “Fast cars, explosions and guns, 007. Look it up.”
“Oh, I sure will.”
No one in the branch was actively listening in, but everybody had their ears on the two men nevertheless. They were quite aware of it, too.
“I’ll add the books to your Christmas wish list.”
“I prefer the movie version.”
“Of course you would.”
Q walked over to the large suitcase that contained the equipment his agent would be issued. He had known about the clearance, about where his agent would go next. Bond’s eyes lit up with that ancient fire as he held his new, personalized gun.
“Please bring it back this time.”
“Losing a bet if I don’t?”
“I don’t gamble, 007.”
Bond looked at him, the gritty, rough air around him sparking. “Maybe you should take a chance now and then, Q.”
It got him a brief smile. “I already did when I took on you. My quota is filled.”
The predatory smile was brief and cold and filled with a promise. Bond took his gear and checked it, approval in each little twitch of his lips.
People were watching.
But no one dared to venture a guess as to what it was that connected the two men.
That night the phoenix made sure the technopath was completely at ease. James carded his fingers into the long, dark strands, kissing his mate with emotions he hadn’t felt in a long time. Maybe even for the first time. Vesper had been a potential partner. She had gone past his armor, had destroyed his shields, but she hadn’t seen the truth. She had been attractive and gorgeous in her own right. She had been the only woman at the time and his need for balance had let Bond consider her as what he needed.
She had betrayed him, had ripped him apart, had killed him in her own way. The armor had come back up.
It was still there and Q saw him anyway.
He was balanced perfection. Bond had never felt this much peace, this much inner equality between his human and his preternatural side.
He gazed into the calm, brown eyes, smiled as clever fingers trailed over his network of scars. Q was still interested as to why a phoenix didn’t heal the marks when he came back from the dead. Bond refused to become a guinea pig. He didn’t refuse Q an exploration of his body, though.
“Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone.”
“Don’t do anything stupid while you’re gone,” Q replied.
“Can’t promise you that.”
Q smiled more. “I know.”
He was at his station the next morning, feeling pleasantly sore from the quick, hard fuck this morning.
A reminder, his agent had told him, biting at a sensitive hot spot.
Yes, a reminder.
Bond was on his way. The chatter was easy and as always, the connection stable. In so many more ways than one.
Q reached out and found the heavily protected channel to his agent. It was amazing how easily he could run along that electronic wire without losing touch with reality. Like only a small part was needed and he knew exactly how small it had to be. He still didn’t try hopping systems, working outside the security of MI6’s well-known routes around the intricate world of the electronic net, but he might stretch out soon. Q knew he had to test this newfound stability.
The smile was audible. Q pulled back, feeling slight elation at the well-worked maneuver. He would have to do it again and again, try longer stretches, and he would work with his potential. Right now he worked with what he had at his disposal outside technopathy.
There was no visual, but Q didn’t need it. Bond would soon be in an area where he could use the cameras to his advantage.
He calmly guided him, voice steady and firm.
And his agent followed his directions.
After his next mission Bond came home with not so much as a bruise and it had Q flummoxed. When he also gave back his equipment in near-mint condition, the quartermaster stared at his agent in bafflement.
007 leaned against the desk, smug, eyes alight with something that had Q brace himself.
He glared. “007.”
“Not at all. Did you even go to Norway?”
“I believe I did. Ask 003 if you want. I also remember quite clearly that you were there with me.”
Q examined the completely unscathed cell phone. Not even a dent!
“I believe pairing you with other agents might be healthier for the equipment’s wear and tear.”
003 approached the desk, sporting a bruised cheek bone. “While it’s hell on the agent paired with this menace,” the man commented, but there was no bite in it. “Hey, Q.”
“003. What happened?”
“Your partner happened.”
Q didn’t twitch a single muscle at the ‘your partner’ remark. Of course Bond was his agent. He was his handler.
“I told you to duck,” Bond remarked amiably. “You should have listened.”
003 snorted and handed Q his equipment. “Around you, ducking never helps, Bond. At least you got him back in one piece this time, Q.”
Q raised his eyebrows, glancing at the other Double-Oh while he examined the money clip camera. It was functional.
“And I’m thankful, 003.”
The agent smirked and turned to Bond. “M wants to see us.”
Q shot his partner a pointed look. Bond showed no sign of leaving.
“Shoo,” he said absent-mindedly when he turned back to examining the returned equipment.
“You heard the man,” 003 called. “Shoo.”
Bond went, but not without another look at his partner.
Q smiled to himself and only looked back up when the two men were gone. His underlings were glancing at him, some hiding grins, and he wiped his own off his face. He didn’t manage it completely.
Damn. What was that man doing to him?
* * *
Bond still slept with whoever he had to to achieve his mission objective. He still used his charm and sexuality like a weapon. It was a weapon, Q knew, had always known. Like so many other things it kept Bond calmer, more even-tempered, and it sated a hunger that normally only violence could. He was an attractive man, handsome and oozing sexuality. Women were drawn to him, freely flung themselves at him.
And 007 used every weapon he had at his disposal.
Q accepted it. Sometimes he was privy to it. And every single time it was far less disturbing than it probably should be.
It was Bond’s job. He did his job exceptionally well. He got his job done, he recovered data, stole objects, eliminated dangerous targets.
Q watched and listened and guided. He broke electronic locks, blocked cameras, interrupted security feeds without the watcher even noticing, and he pushed whole city blocks into blackouts if it was needed. He wrote complicated code, cracked encryptions, rewired servers from the inside.
All in a day’s work.
Jealousy didn’t fit into the world of spy games and death. It didn’t fit them because what they were individually was already far beyond natural. As a preternatural Bond sought his thrills and sated them.
Tanner shot him surreptitious looks sometimes, especially when he was there as Bond seduced his lady of the week, his one-night stand, his source of information or a key to the real target’s home.
Q returned it blandly, functioning efficiently, several steps ahead of his agent to spring into action the moment 007 had the necessary data.
No, jealousy didn’t figure into this. He knew that this was temporary and necessary. Q had part of Bond no one had ever touched, ever seen. It was more precious than any vows.
It was what linked them, balanced them and let them develop their full potential.
Q gave Tanner a brief half-smile as Bond left the lady’s room and reported back with the access codes.
Back to business.
* * *
It was just too bad that quartermasters couldn’t always control everything. Like Double-Ohs who were so set on their goal that they got themselves almost torn to pieces.
The retrieval team in Syria was there to pick up those not-quite-pieces, bringing home a severely injured James Bond, clinging to life with a fierceness that astounded Medical.
Until he died.
That fact was only known to M and Tanner, and of course Q. He had been watching through the cameras, waiting for his agent to stabilize of completely decline.
Bond didn’t do him the favor of stabilizing, the bloody bastard. Of course he would go the hard way and die. Q had come prepared and Medical wasn’t even aware of the death since none of the myriad of machines monitoring James Bond so much as hiccupped.
Q diligently informed M and Tanner of what had occurred as he kept on watching that no night nurse would make the discovery. Whether or not anyone suspected James was a preternatural was of no consequence; knowing that he could rise from the dead was knowledge kept so secret, no electronic file contained it.
Bond was moved into an isolated area.
Medical didn’t ask too many questions, but the head of the department protested briefly. M took him aside and whatever was spoken – no, Q wasn’t watching or using a lip-reading program to get that particular tidbit – it did the job.
Q was there when his agent opened his eyes. From death to life in a heartbeat. There was a soft inhalation of air, a twitch to his eyes.
Q hadn’t expected the literal rise from the ashes. That would have been preposterous. But it all happened so quietly.
What wasn’t quiet was the very air around the man. Maybe it was because of the connection between them, that unexplainable thing that was so powerful and strong and unbreakable. Q almost tasted the fire. It was the creature, pure and untamed as it rose from death.
Bond was too weak to even lift a finger, but that didn’t stop him. It was probably a deeply ingrained instinct, a reaction that happened without thinking. Pulling at the IV running into one arm, clawing at the needle, he tried to free himself from Medical with a stubbornness that was ingrained in Double-Ohs it seemed.
Q placed a hand on the fingers pulling at the needle. Cold fingers, the blood flow not back to normal, but still stronger than his own. He didn’t doubt Bond’s ability to break every single one of them if the touch was perceived as a threat.
“Leave it, 007.”
The slightly cloudy blue eyes sharpened. The phoenix snarled. Q held that gaze.
“I said leave it.”
“Are you my nanny, too?” he rasped.
He lifted one corner of his mouth into a half-smile. “With you, my job is never done. Now leave it. You were dead.”
“You are also not quite alive just yet.”
Bond exhaled slowly, grimacing. “I’m not staying here.”
“You are, preternatural or not. Tonight. Tomorrow we can discuss a different arrangement.”
Q just looked at him, calm and collected.
The glare intensified, but the agent was too weak to do much else.
“For once, just listen.”
“I always listen to you, Q.”
“Unless you don’t want to. Like right now. You’re safe here, James. I’ll be here.”
He briefly tightened his hold on Bond’s wrist.
“Give yourself time to heal. You’re not alone any more.”
The blue eyes, still unable to focus properly, spoke another language. The man had stubborn bred into himself. He gave the word obstinate a new definition.
But Q simply waited Bond out until his physical demands had him slide into sleep once more.
* * *
By morning Bond was gone.
Q had left the room for a necessary relief and to get himself tea and breakfast. It had been enough time for Bond to escape.
“James, you bloody idiot!”
The man had no self-preservation! Half torn apart, held together by too many stitches to count, he had fled Medical. Bond didn’t trust in doctors, he refused to stay put, and he was ‘fine’ even with a bleeding gut shot. Of course he was fine; he was a bloody phoenix! But he was also a first class idiot.
Q sighed deeply put upon and went through the security feed of Medical and the rest of MI6, hunting for his wayward agent. He found him after a while and it didn’t surprise Q that Bond had evaded almost all cameras. He was simply so good.
But Q was better.
He followed the injured man as he snuck out of Medical, then MI6, and then Q had to use facial recognition software.
He was impressed that even though he employed his own program, Bond managed to lose him time and again. He also seemed to be all over London. Yes, very impressive. Also ridiculous.
Then again, he had a good suspicion just where the man had disappeared to and when M demanded to know where 007 was, Q gave him all he had, which was little to nothing.
The head of MI6 looked livid, but he only turned and stalked out of Q branch. Tanner raised his eyebrows.
“You think you know where he went,” he stated.
“I believe so, sir.”
“Then go take care of him.”
It was the first time he took off work so early. With approval by his boss.
And of course Q found him in his flat. He had had no doubt. Looking like a shoddily reassembled puzzle of a man, stitches and bruises and scraped off skin. There were bandages peeking out from under the clothes that didn’t really fit Bond and which he had probably lifted out of someone’s locker. Half his face had met the ground with too much force, leaving a lasting impression until he could heal himself. One hand was in a cast where his wrist had been broken.
Q knew the medical facts and there was too much broken and torn in the phoenix for him to even move without excruciating pain, but the kind of agent Bond was came with a high tolerance for it. A very high tolerance.
“Would it have killed you to stay in Medical?”
“Most likely,” was the tired, rough answer.
The stubbled face looked older than Bond truly was. Regeneration was a slow process. Being alive was primary, the cosmetics came in the end. Bond was exhausted, so much it showed, but he was stubborn, yes. He refused to give in.
“I’m not a nurse.”
“I don’t need one.”
“Hallucinating now, are we, 007?”
Q approached calmly, aware of the danger the man presented in his current state. He was a wounded animal and recuperation needed time. He sat down on the bed, gazing at Bond.
James curled surprisingly strong but very lacerated looking fingers around the wrist closest to him.
Q smiled as he studied him. “Bloody stubborn git.”
Bond smirked. Then his eyes closed and he let himself fall asleep again.
Q stroked a gentle caress over the pale, roughed up features. The feelings inside him were numerous and conflicting.
Almost absent-mindedly he logged into his own net and sent a brief message to M and Tanner. Bond was still alive, he was with him, and Q would take care of the obstinate agent.
M’s answer was brief and to the point. ‘See that you do.’
Tanner only wished him good luck.
It took Bond a week to be back, to be functional, as he called it. Q was there, watching, guarding, taking care of his partner. Functional for Bond was walking more than three steps without breaking out in sweat or almost keeling over. It meant being able to see with at least one eye and have at least one hand working at eighty percent capacity.
Q called it a bloody nightmare. He called him all kinds of unfavorable words, too.
But he was there when the phoenix stretched its wings, the dark creature rising to full power and looking hungrily around.
It focused on the man bound to it in so many ways.
Q cocked his head, the even expression tinged with only a little annoyance at the display of dominance as Bond approached him.
“Really?” he asked, rather superfluously.
Bond’s hands were more gentle than anyone would have expected, fingers running over pale, smooth skin, carding into the long strands of the ridiculous mop of hair, then he kissed his quartermaster with a possessive need that was only a fraction of what was running hotly through his veins.
Q buried his fingers in the dark blue shirt, bunching it tightly, pulling him closer.
“I’m not a bloody girl,” he hissed.
“Oh, I noticed, Q. Quite early on.” The wintery eyes sparked with humor. “Missing some parts. Extra parts somewhere else.”
The spark was now too bright to ignore. It was also the beginning of a blaze that burned everything else like wildfire.
“Parts I really appreciate,” he added in that low, gritty voice that went straight through Q, having him react while he fought not to lose it.
He wasn’t a girl! He wouldn’t… Oh, bloody hell!
Q pulled him into a kiss that he ended with a bite to Bond’s lower lip. “Then stop treating me like I’m made of glass,” he whispered sharply.
Strong hands pushed him back, colliding with the wall, and somehow Bond suddenly had Q’s wrists trapped against the wall as well. The smile was downright hungry now; primal and so very, very hungry.
“I would never dare,” the predator breathed.
Q closed his eyes and his breathing hitched when blunt teeth bit at his throat.
* * *
He watched his partner as Bond stood in front of the bathroom mirror, semi-naked, and Q appreciated the view. There were only red lines left where stitches had held torn flesh together just a week ago. Bond looked like his old self again. The tired lines had smoothed out, the pallid skin looked healthy once more, and his strength had returned. He would hit the agency gym again and soon he would be back in shape.
M had yet to clear him, of course.
Q had no doubt that would happen.
James left the bathroom, light gray dress shirt still open, showing the smooth expanse of muscular chest and Q appreciated the sight.
Bond smiled, quite aware of the technopath’s reaction. “Q.”
Bond drew him close by grabbing the loose cardigan. He kissed him slow and with such single-minded intent, Q wondered if they might not be late this morning.
* * *
After this, Bond came home in one piece more often than not. He still had the battle wounds to show, but there was no doubt he was alive. Only once it was a close call and no one knew if he had actually died again or not.
He saw it in the cold eyes with their fiery center. He felt it between them as tension rose exponentially. He didn’t fight it when Bond took what he needed to calm down the primal side that always, always hissed and snapped at everything when he had pulled another miracle survival.
Resurrection might be his thing, but it came with a price.
Q was not frightened. He had never been. He looked at the phoenix, aware of everything. He felt the darkness and balanced it with cool logic. He gave James what he needed. He helped him stay human, healed the fractures and breaks, and he refused to let the beast tear itself to pieces.
He wasn’t a one-night stand. He wasn’t a good fuck who would be paid handsomely. He wasn’t a bed partner never to be seen again. He wasn’t someone Bond had to hold back with. He held his own against the force of nature, the preternatural beast that could never be tamed completely. He let the chains fall and gave himself to that hurricane.
Q came out well-fucked, tingling, featuring a few interesting bruises. He didn’t care about them one way or another. Anyone who claimed he was a meek computer geek had never seen him like this. He wasn’t passive; he had desires and demands. He was an equal.
Bond came out of it out of breath, exhausted, mellow, and clinging to his quartermaster like a lifeline. Yes, resurrection went a long way for a phoenix and his recovery rate had Q moan in pleasure-pain into the pillows, deciding that he truly didn’t have to be jealous of the marks Bond slept with. They would never have the man like Q had him. Never.
If Bond sometimes allowed Q to return the favor, it was never spoken about. If Q enjoyed sinking into the strong form, watching his agent lose himself in the pleasure the technopath gave him, it was never mentioned.
Never in words.
James looked at him, holding his gaze. Q knew what they were, what they shared. He knew what it meant for both men. He knew what he was for James Bond, preternatural, a phoenix. He knew James in turn had accepted his own part in Q’s life.
The explosive encounters grew less frenzied. The need was no longer so unstoppable and primal as the fact that Q was there to stay sank in. It was new for a man like James Bond, who had lived on this edge for too long. It was a learning process and Q watched it all.
* * *
Tanner didn’t comment on the fact that James Bond still didn’t have a new flat. His rented place had been given up and there were no hotel bills charged to any of the cards Bond used. He hadn’t requisitioned a place either.
Q worked as effectively as ever. The way he did it was pure magic, his fingers flying over the keys, calling up maps and data streams, the screens around him flashing with whatever was needed. Split screens showed camera images and stills. He talked calmly, evenly to his agent, guiding 007 through a maze of streets like he was talking about the latest movie he had seen.
Tanner listened to the easy banter, noticed the brief smiles as Q was amused by something Bond had said, sometimes replying with sharp taunts and teasing.
M had told him that their resident technopath had managed what no other had before him. He had tamed James Bond by unleashing him completely and had managed to keep control of the primal creature he was. In turn Q had found the quiet center he needed, that anchor that was his lifeline.
Tanner would never in all his life have called Bond calm or a collected center for anyone. He knew what was underneath the cover of civility. He had seen it often enough and it was terrifying.
Q could work with it. He had faced it and survived.
It could have ended in a tremendous explosion that might have taken out both men. It had ended in a partnership that gave both men what they had needed all their lives.
And maybe it would bring back Bond alive more often than before.
One could only hope.
So the first fic is done and somehow, somewhere in the middle of it this became a series called Firewall. Part 2 is in the making. Actually, so are more fics. Someone please give me my life back because those two have taken over!